I wrote this for a challenge in my school's writing club (started by moi!). Here is the list of criterea I had to fill:
- The story must have a fox in it.
- The story must involve a bolt of cloth at the beginning.
- A character fakes a skill, but the intention bhind the action is not what it seems.
- A character becomes joyous during the story.
- During the story, a character finds a long-lost friend.
This bolt of fabric has tumbled through dreams and legends for generations. It’s whispered that the fabric is woven from the hair of the gods. Songs sing that its silvery strength can carry the weight of ten thousand men if used properly. Maidens murmur that a dress made out of its lengths can make any ugly servant become a beautiful princess. Minstrels call it the Cloth of Dreams.
For all these centuries, I’ve been the one to guard the Cloth. Only someone pure of heart will be the one to possess its resilient beauty. That person, wherever he is, is the next in line to protect it as I have. The Cloth must never be marred in its splendor, in its power. That much was made clear to me when I first accepted this position. Then it was a wondrous gift, a position of honor. Now it remains as a pleasing curse.
There is a knock at my door, and I press my paw more firmly against the door that shuts the Cloth’s glow out of sight. I notice for the thousandth time that my fur has gone gray. “Who dares?”
The door opens, and Tilsworth limps through. “Your servant, Lord Fox. I’ve brought you your lunch.” He claps his hands, beckoning three others forward with a tray full of meat. They’re obviously new here, nervous and jumpy. It’s like they’ve never seen a fox the size of a merchant wagon. I feel myself sneeze in disgust.
“I would rather hunt,” I snap. Still, they went through all the trouble of bringing it to me…I take an experimental sniff.
“I’m sure, my lord. But because you must stay here, I thought we’d bring you something freshly caught this morning. Two rabbits, skinned to your liking.” Tilsworth has the servants leave the tray at my feet. “We’ll leave you to your peace. If you need anything, you know how to summon us.”
Yes, I know. I’ve known for years. “Thank you, I suppose,” I grumble, if only to keep my demeanor of superiority. I take my first bite once they leave. As Tilsworth said, it was skinned to my liking. I hate it when he’s right.
The minutes tick by as I eat, and it isn’t long before I must entertain those who claim to be pure of heart once more. I started having these audiences a century ago. (Or was it two? I can never remember anymore…) I ask only for the pure of heart, and all I get is vain maidens, greedy men, and hopeless orphans with cruel intentions.
With this unfortunate memory in mind, I allow the first of the inquirers to come in front of me. I know that my bloody muzzle is intimidating, and I hope that it will frighten away those who are willing to waste my time.
I see ten, maybe twenty people before my fur begins to stand on end in my irritation. I nearly bark out the order to shut up the doors, but one elderly man enters, jerking a young girl by the wrist. I feel my intrigue prick up in a way that it hasn’t for many years. (How many years? I can’t remember…) “Speak,” I command.
“Lord Fox,” the man stammers, bowing low. “I come to you, pure of heart and sound of mind. I wish to see the Cloth in all its brilliance.”
“You’re well-spoken. Why do you wish to see the Cloth?” This question always startles my visitors, and the same holds true with this one. I watch him stare up at me in momentary shock before he answers.
“The Cloth is said to hold dreams between its fibers.” That’s one I haven’t heard before, even in all my experience. “I hope to find mine.”
But just behind him, the girl shakes her head. Golden hair brushes eagerly across her shoulders, and her cobalt eyes struggle to gaze into mine. There’s something in her that I haven’t seen before. I’m struck by the need to know what it is.
“What is your dream? How is it you can’t find it yourself, without the use of the Cloth?” I ask him, but I’m only stalling. The girl’s mouth is forming words, but my eyesight is going, and I can’t see well enough to decipher them.
He looks to his feet before turning his gaze back to me. That’s all I need to see. I growl, and he cowers. It’s very satisfying. “Leave,” I tell him. When he takes the girl’s wrist, I growl again. “Leave, but let the girl stay. If she wishes.”
The girl nods and, in a show of independence I don’t expect, wrenches herself out of the man’s grasp. “You can go now,” she tells him. He spits at her feet in his anger but retreats. Then she turns those strange eyes to me once more. She curtsies. “Thank you, Lord Fox.”
“Come up here.” Despite what I may think, I fear leaving my spot about the Cloth’s door. She does as I ask, and I smell innocence on her flesh. It’s strangely new, nearly intoxicating. I bring my nose closer to her face and breathe deeply.
Her hand gently strokes my muzzle. “Do I seem like I would taste good, Lord Fox?” she whispers.
“What? No, don’t be foolish. I’m simply curious. You’ve got to allow an old mutt some things.” Her touch feels good. I don’t think I’ve experienced attention like this before. Surely, if I had, I would remember.
Her careful hands travel up, behind my ears, and it is all I can do not to kick my leg like some…some mindless house pet. “Now, child, that’s enough. Why were you with that man, hm? Can you tell me that?”
“I would like to. I’m not sure you will believe me.” Suddenly, her words are wooden and heavy. She’s lying, and I feel it’s the first time she’s done so. My heart sinks. Am I wrong about her? Did she come only to seek the Cloth, like so many others before her?
“What is it that I won’t believe?” I place my nose under her palm, unable to help myself. She smells especially sweet, like a dream.
“Well, I…I can tell stories,” she invents. I feel the quickened pulse in her wrist against the tip of my nose. She’s nervous. “Wild and wonderful stories, about different worlds, and they’re all true.”
I lay down and pat the ground beside me with my paw. She obeys and hesitantly leans against me. Her cool little form soothes me. “I do love a good story,” I confide in her. “In fact, there’s nothing I love more, perhaps maybe the Cloth. Will you tell me one?”
“I suppose so, yes. There…there once was a prince who…Well, he…” Eager, I expect, to get out of her lie, she tries to change the subject. “How did you get so large, Lord Fox?”
“From living so long, I imagine. Now, what about that story?”
She cuddles close to my leg. “I don’t have one, my lord.”
“Then why, may I ask, did you say that you did?” I prod her with my nose, but lightly, until she looks at me. I smell saltwater before I see it run down her face. “Don’t cry, little one. Just tell me.”
“I don’t want you to cast me away. I don’t want to go back to that horrible old man and his crone, but I’m so afraid of being alone. Please, if I’ve disappointed you, punish me something awful.” Her little fingers tangle themselves in my chin. Her body shakes. “Punish me, but don’t make leave.”
Lapping up her tears as carefully as I can, I gaze at her in my own kind of wonder. “You’ve only known me for a short while, my dear.” Funny, that I should call her that already. My dear. “Why do you want to be with me so badly?”
“Because I can tell you’re a good soul.”
“You’ve honored me. What is your name?” For a moment, I fear that she’ll have no answer to my question, and that I’ll have to name this remarkable creature. But she does answer, my fears are relieved.
“Viralai, sir. It’s too fancy for a girl like me, I know.” She pulls her hand away from me again, crossing her arms about herself defensively. “Most people just call me servant girl.”
Though she has stopped crying, I lap up the few tears remaining. “Viralai sounds like a perfect name for you. It’s strong and beautiful.”
“And what’s your name? I mean, besides Lord Fox.” Viralai smiles, almost to herself. “You must have another name besides that.”
“I do, but I don’t think you would be able to pronounce it,” I tell her. I secretly enjoy her smile. The light of it is much like the Cloth’s glow.
She nods, perhaps considering that. “Do you think you could translate it, for me? I feel like I’ve known you forever. I’d like to know your name.”
I rest my head in front of myself, and I wonder if I should call in Tilsworth. Would he know what a human child likes to drink? Mere water wouldn’t be enough for her… “My mother used to call me something…I think it means ‘Fiery One,’ in your language. Not that I’m very fiery anymore. My red fur finally faded out when I was one hundred years old, I believe. Of course, now I think that’s young…”
She lets me trail off, patient child that she is. Then she nods. “May I call you Silver Fire, Lord Fox? I think it suits you.”
“Yes,” I accede. “Yes, you may. Listen, Viralai…You honored me earlier. I wonder if you will allow me to honor you?”
“If you think I deserve such an honor,” Viralai permits. Yes, she’s a wise child as well. I hope it doesn’t fade, like my own strength has faded.
Still, my aged mind protests against this. Why, she’s younger than I was when I was first put here! By comparison, anyway. “You say I’m a good soul. Viralai, I believe you are pure of heart. Will you accept that?”
She snuggles closer to me, and I begin to hate myself. She’s so young! “Yes, I will,” she murmurs. She’s nearly lulled to sleep by my even breathing. “Of course, I will.”
“Then stand, and let me show you what I’ve longed to show someone else for centuries.” I sense her pulling away from me and feel empty. I stand anyway and flip the door open with my claw. Old Widow stares up at me, her eight legs twitching. It glimmers beneath her.
“Is it time?” she asks. Last I saw her, she was little bigger than a button. Now she’s the size of my own over-large paw.
“It is. Old Widow, you became pure of heart because your suffering washed your heart clean. That is why you have been the second line of defense for the Cloth for so long.” I look at Viralai, and I watch her quiver. In fear? In awe? In my own anxious state, I can’t tell. “This is Viralai. She, I believe, was born pure of heart.”
“I fear you think too much of me, Silver Fire,” she murmurs, her eyes wide. “Far too much of me. I don’t deserve to see this.”
“Ah,” mumbles Old Widow. “But you’ve just proven that you do deserve it. Do you think I set out in my life to rest upon the Cloth for so many centuries? I haven’t seen Fox since he first laid himself across the door. I’ve seen no one since he first laid across the door.”
“And we can finally speak again, old friend.”
“We spoke before as well, Fox. It was only through the door. I missed your furry face.” As if to prove it, she touches my nose with her long leg.
“And I missed your bright eyes. Now, please, allow Viralai to see what she will be protecting as she grows old the way we have.” Forever obedient, Old Widow climbs off of the Cloth and onto my paw. We watch Viralai lift it carefully from its home.
“It’s…it’s incredible! I’ve never felt anything so soft and smooth…and look how it shines!” Her hands tremble. “I’m allowed to look at this for the rest of my life?”
“It comes at a price. As long as you guard the Cloth, you will never die. If it’s ever damaged, you will suffer the knowledge that it was your fault. This bolt is precious. You must never let it come to harm.” My heart is heavy with my own guilt. I shouldn’t do this. She’s so young, so young!
Old Widow nods. “I could stay and help you, if you truly wished. I’ve been here for so long, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that. It wouldn’t be fair.” I watch as Viralai carefully folds the Cloth once more. She lowers it into its home with the utmost of caution. “Perhaps you could stay because you want to. Then you could talk to me whenever you want to, and ignore me when you want to.”
I know my tail is wagging, and I know that Old Widow is laughing at me, but I don’t care. She’s staying! She’s staying, and I don’t think she’ll ever resent me for choosing her! I cherish the sensation of her arms around my neck, her laughter. “We will never want to ignore you!” I promise her.
“Speak for yourself,” Old Widow cautions, but I know she’s teasing. She was always doing that before I closed the door for the final time. “Every once in a while, I might want to have a few moments to myself.”
“You really are happy to have me here, aren’t you?” Viralai tightens her grip on my neck, and it’s my turn to laugh. It feels strange to me, though she’s pleased by it. I hear her laugh again.
“Yes. Yes, I really am. Do you want me to prove it?” I ask her, tucking my head across her shoulders.
But she shakes her head, one of her hands reaches over to cautiously stroke Old Widow’s head. She mumbles, “You don’t have to do that.”
“But I want to,” I insist. I wink at Old Widow before I release a howl. Tilsworth nearly bursts through the door. It’s the first time I’ve summoned him in five, maybe six hundred years. “Tilsworth, I have an important task for you.”
He hurries to tidy himself, and I laugh again. That startles him. “Yes, anything, sir. What is your wish?”
“Find out what little girls like to eat. The Cloth has a new guardian.” Allowing him to stumble over his words and leave, I slip my head over Viralai’s shoulder’s again. “Welcome home, child, my dear, Viralai.”
“Thank you, Lord Fox, my lord, sir, Silver Fire. Never leave me.” She pulls away and lays a kiss on my nose. My tail thumps on the floor in response.