Gentle Thief

(Part Three of “What May Enter Here”)

I sat upon my haunches in the early morning light. There was no need for me to be here. The boy knew full well his way and the way was short. No, it was not responsibility that drew me nigh, and not the boy I watched for. For a creature like myself, curiosity is the greatest flaw.

     The lights came on in the small clapboard house and I stood leisurely, stretched, and trotted off to the nearby enclosing clump of trees. There, I lay down, chin resting on paws, so that I might watch unseen beneath the leafy boughs, which nearly brushed the ground. It was a fair day and eventually all the curtains were opened in the house, presumably to let the sunlight in. I knew the woman’s habits well and watched with a unsettling delight as she moved from room to room, ending up in the kitchen, moving deliberately, moving with an economy of effort, while keeping her carriage tall. 

     I tried to see her beauty, but was unsure of what I saw. Dain had loved her enough to risk everything he had been raised for, and I had most certainly loved Dain, my only friend. I wondered what the flavor or scent of this human woman had been to capture the heart of a Fey man, but Dain had never been ordinary, had he? Fey or not, he had bent every rule made; becoming friends with one such as I, had been only one of them.

    Culley left at his appointed hour, carrying a lunch and shifting a rucksack over one shoulder as he turned to wave to his mother. I held still as a stalled breeze, as he passed, but Culley spoke “Good Morning Todd” softly with a smile, while seeming to look straight ahead. I smiled back, my red tongue escaping for a moment. I found it easy to be myself around him. The boy was defiantly Dain’s child in so many ways. I had met Dain at about this age. He was the first child of any kind I had met, my adoptive mother having rightly judged my safety to outweigh social interaction.

     Mora was already old when she found me, late in the night, mewling and whimpering in the back of a blood soaked den. Herself a victim of Fey power maneuvers, she guessed my plight and hid me away until she deemed it safe. Neither she nor I have ever gleaned the truth, even Dain’s endeavors in the lofty world of his family led to nothing. My mother was killed by an arrow; the other kits were easily dispatched with something blunter. I have no strong memory of it, only a time of terror and hunger ended in Mora’s arms. She gave me food and a bed and in the morning left to bury my family.  I did not see the arrow she had preserved until I was 16 and she told my story to both me and Dain.

     My kind have no name, I have met no other like me, nor had Mora. The word “Todd” simply describes “fox”, which Mora called me in the years before my first transformation at age 4 or 5. My bipedal form holds no name, nor do the other forms I may possess but which have not yet arisen for me. I still live with Mora, but since Dain’s passing I trust no other. I am now well known for my skills in parlay, I am held in trust by the highest in that land, but that trust is not returned, for I must believe one of them ended my family. I watch their eyes and I wait.

     Today is a different sort of inquiry. I give Ella another hour before I rise to announce myself. Trousers and shirt are stored in the feed cupboard by the chicken coop, by previous agreement. The hens have grown used to me, which I find irritating. One day I may reeducate them about this fox. I smack my jaws wetly, snuff the air, and fantasize choosing the brown one. Strange to raise them only for eggs: a waste. The clothing is soft; the trouser seams are bound down on the inside, so they will not rub. She chose this for me when I tried to wear Dain’s hard blue pants the other way out: its seams were unbearable! Ella says I am wearing clothing made to sleep in. I asked her why anyone would sleep in clothing and caused her to blush. I am as rough and graceless as a stable boy in this world, at times. We have both learned to laugh at our shared ignorance. Laughter heals, a truly universal magic.

     I press the button, which rings a bell. I delight in such things, still appalled at the easy magic these creatures have mastered.

     “Todd!” Is she pleased, surprised, or unhappy? I cannot decide. “Come in. I was planning to work today. Would you like to have tea in my studio?”

     “I have always wondered about the art you make, Ella. Thank you”, sometimes I am too blunt, but she seems unfazed by my expressed interest, which I judged to be remarkably rude as it left my mouth. Her smile seems genuine. I pretend I am Dain for an instant, to understand what called him to her. Immediately I falter, it seems too offensive. I am ashamed and silently ask Dain’s forgiveness before entering. I have no shoes to shed at the door, but I wipe my feet and she waves me into her inner sanctum.

  “Go ahead and look around, I will fetch the tea things.”

     I cannot even respond. It is by far the largest room in the house, with the roof as high as the second story. It appears to have been built on at a later time. The windows are notably different; large and unframed. Daylight sparkles across the room and brilliantly lights the paintings, and other stranger things hung on every wall. Canvass and oil I understand, but natural wood melded with glass or metal to create lifelike forms, is beyond me. She finds me slumped in a padded chair, my head back, my mouth open, as if I had been tippling.

     “I had no idea. Dain never said. Is it done with magic?”

     She placed the tea and food on the table while trying to control her face. She did not want to laugh at me.

     “Your complements are far too much for my simple work. I thank you,” was her controlled answer.

     She sounded so diplomatic and proper that I burst out laughing myself and she joined in. “Truly, I have never seen art of such shocking beauty and intriguing concept. Perhaps I sound like a fool in your world, but I am not given to flattery. Have you noticed?” I ended with this, in an attempt to disarm her and return to some sort of more natural conversation. It worked, but I was still over awed by the plethora of creation around me. We poured tea and I asked her to take me piece by piece through her work. It took over two hours. It was marvelous.

     At last we sat, the teapot empty, and I had no more contrivances that might allow me to linger. The day was passing and I could feel her desire to return to the work that was her livelihood.

     “Thank you Ella,” I spoke simply as this was all I had. Her responding smile was radiant. I could hardly look at her. She cast no glamors; that I might have fought. It was in her pure unsullied honesty that I might drown. In horror I knew this is what it had been.

She and Dain had actually fallen in love.

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