Chapter Eleven – Summer: The Foxes by Sally Cronin
Foxes are not liked by the farmers, especially those who have hens clucking around their farmyards. At night they hustle the indignant birds into their fenced off hen-houses, where they sit muttering all night on straw nests. As the moon rises above the forest, the red coated hunters slink around the paths, wending their way to their favourite hunting grounds. They are hopeful that there would have been a child who has neglected their chores and left a gate open, or a farmer who has supped too much beer in the pub, forgetting to herd his birds to safety.
The foxes knew to avoid certain farms, where shotguns with piercing buckshot had been fired in their direction before, and with sly cunning, the doglike creatures flickered in and out of the moonlight.
What the farmers forget is that by June, there are pups to be fed. Their father will leave them safe in their den, whilst he desperately tries to find food for the mother as she cares for their hungry offspring. Anything that moves is fair game, and rabbits and rats scuttle back into the shadows when they get the scent of the red devils. But even in the midst of the summer, when all kinds of creatures are abroad, the lure of the chickens and their eggs is fierce. Once the pups are old enough they will enjoy the softened meal that their parents will cough up for them to enjoy… and rabbits become even more wary, as their own young play in the twilight of the summer days.
However, there were a devoted couple of foxes that had been together for nearly four years. They usually searched for food side by side at night all year around, until this year when the female had given birth to three pups. On this particular night in early summer, the mother guarded the den and the dog fox had been gone since the sun went down. The night grew darker and the vixen became concerned that her mate had not returned yet.
The pups were becoming bolder and she knew that soon she would have to take them outside into the forest glade where their den was situated, to let off steam as they wrestled and played tag. They also now had bigger appetites; their demand for food was constant. She was looking forward to the few hours’ sleep she would enjoy when their father returned with enough food for all the family.
The night grew darker and the hoots of the owls in the forest reminded her of the passing hours. She had learned much in the last four years, and had seen the dangers that faced her kind as they hunted in the dark. They had encountered humans with long sticks that spouted fire who guarded the farms, and hidden in the grass were wires that nipped at your heels; sometimes catching you in their grasp. Stray dogs, much bigger than a fox, also patrolled the forest, looking for sport and a meal, and the vixen spent her days in fear for the future of her young offspring.
She still had some milk, and eventually she quietened the pups with a feed before tucking them into her belly to keep the warm as they slept. She kept vigil, waiting for the sound of her mate as he moved aside the branches that concealed the entrance to the den. Even though she was becoming desperate, she remained unwilling to disturb her babies as they snored gently beside her.
This pair of foxes was very unusual in as much as they did not hunt for other creatures and had never stolen a chicken or eggs. They only scavenged the food that had been thrown out from human houses and inns, preferring the tasty spices and seasonings that the scraps had been cooked in. Foxes would often overturn bins, rummaging around in the resulting mess to find edible pieces of cooked food and raw trimmings, especially in a hard winter. But it was strange to find foxes that only ate this by choice.
You see, these foxes began their lives very differently. The dog fox had been born into a wealthy human farming family at the south end of the forest. Tall, handsome and muscled from all his labour on the land, and caring for the large dairy herd, he had the pick of the girls from the local village and surrounding farms. At the dances he would twirl them around, and there was a fair bit of kissing behind the barn; leading to a slap or two.
Then one day, whilst walking in the forest, searching for a lost brown heifer, he spied a young maid washing in one of the small pools of water that collected after the rain. He had never seen anyone so beautiful with her long red hair that almost stretched to the ground, and delicate white skin like the finest porcelain. His heart was captured, and he moved slowly forward so as not to disturb this exquisite stranger, wishing to enjoy this vision as long as possible.
Then he stepped on a dry twig, snapping it with a crack that startled the ethereal creature into leaping to her feet and running off through the forest. The lad swore under his breath and turned to find the missing heifer standing right behind him with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
For weeks, the lad who was called Eddie would slip away in the middle of the afternoon before the evening milking, to the forest and the pool, in the hopes of spying the russet haired nymph again. Venturing further he came across a wooden fence that he knew was the boundary of the magic garden. His parents told him that the Storyteller was a good man, but that there were other creatures in the garden that might do him harm should he trespass. He walked the length of the wooden barrier until he was in sight of the Storyteller’s cottage; rewarded by the sight of the subject of his dreams, as she came out of the back door, and threw some corn down for the chickens. She glanced up and saw him watching her, and he noticed her wondrously blue eyes widen as she recognised him. Eddie smiled, and after a moment or two the girl beckoned him in through the gate in the fence.
He didn’t even bother to open it with the latch, vaulting over the top and walking nonchalantly over to the cottage.
‘Hi, I’m Eddie Walsh…I live down to the south of the forest on a farm.’ The girl seemed tongue-tied, but after a second or two she smiled at him and the lad was smitten for life.
‘Hello Eddie, I’m Dorothy’, she held open the door to the cottage. ‘Would you like to come in for some tea and meet my Pa?’ There was no need to ask twice, and Eddie was through the door like a ferret up a trouser leg. He was in heaven as he watched the slim girl as she led the way into coolness of the kitchen.
So a courtship began, and having met Eddie, the Storyteller was delighted that Dorothy had found such a strong and kind young man. After a few weeks Eddie’s family came over for Sunday lunch, and within weeks they young couple announced that they were engaged. There were wonderful celebrations with dancing and music, and you have never seen such a happy gathering in your life.
However, there was one who was not happy about the engagement, and that was a young Lerpersian who had been cast out of his father’s kingdom, several counties, away for behaving badly. He had been sent to the Storyteller by his father, to work in the magic garden and learn to treat both others and nature with more respect.
At first he had been surly and disruptive, but the Storyteller had been patient with him, listening to his gripes and gently putting him in his place. His name was Magnus, and after a few weeks he was finally asked to supper one night in the cottage kitchen, where he met Dorothy. He was not immune to her beauty, and his dreams began to be filled with visions of them being married and returning to his father’s castle with his honour restored. However, within days and as he was just about to ask for the hand of this stunning creature, Eddie turned up and ruined everything.
In the depths of the forest, in a dark and dank place, lived a goblin that was feared by all who knew of his devilment. Sometimes the villagers would venture to his damp cave to buy spells from him; of the evil kind. Business had been slow of late as the Storyteller had discouraged those around the magic garden from resorting to malicious thoughts and deeds, and the goblin was only too delighted when Magnus turned up with a request that would bring pain to the old man.
For the price of a stolen piece of gold from the vault at the Lerpersian castle, a spell was cast on Dorothy and Eddie that would devastate their families, and leave them forever wondering what had become of them. As the two lovers made their way through the leafy forest, hand in hand, the goblin cursed them to a life as foxes, to live beneath the earth in a den, struck dumb for the remainder of their lives.
To be continued….
Image Tales from the Irish Garden.
One of the reviews for the book
In the frequently confronting context of contemporary literature, how delightful to be lured into quite another territory and immerse yourself in a fully-fledged fairy story! With royal pigeons lovingly reared over centuries, minute messages written and rolled up on onion paper, the symphony of fairy gossamer wings as fairies dance around in a panic, and diets of quail’s eggs, served on oat and almond bread toast and more, this is indeed a magical feast.
Yet ‘Tales from the Irish Garden’ is far more than a fairy story …
In this stand-alone sequel to her introduction to the magical world of Magia, author Sally Cronin tells the story of Queen Filigree and her court who, obliged to flee their sunny Mediterranean home, seek refuge in the very different landscape of the ‘Emerald Island’. The characters they meet there, and the stories they in turn tell in their quest for personal and collective happiness, deftly hook us in from beginning to end.
Supernatural her characters may be, but they share some very ‘human’ traits – from minor squabbling to dealing with dressing for a cooler climate or the ramifications of property development and building like many of us! Seeing their struggles, their imperfections, and their all too human tendencies is a sobering experience, as we recognise ourselves in them. Thus, the tales function at one level as a myth about the human condition, leaving us that much more self-aware, as well as entertained. In lively and whimsical fashion, the author skilfully blends elements of traditional folklore with a sensitivity to contemporary issues; the result is an enchanting and enriching fictional journey.
The fanciful nature of the story and the sometimes capricious nature of its characters is perfectly complemented by the beautiful illustrations by talented artist Donata Zawadzka.
The author’s flair for story-telling and her innate sense of humour ensures that the book will delight anyone with an imagination, of any age and background.
If you would like to browse my other ebooks.. you can find their reviews and Amazon links: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019/
Thank you for dropping in and I hope you enjoy the rest of the book..Chapter Twelve and Thirteen next weekend. Sally.
The previous chapters of Tales from the Irish Garden can be found here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/tales-from-the-irish-garden-serialisation/