Turn the Shadows Into Light

pain is a forest we all get lost in
between the branches hope can be so hard to see
and in the darkness we've all got questions
we're all just trying to
make sense out of suffering
audrey assad, "carry me"

It may be a bit quiet around here for the next week or so, as I am soon headed out of town.  The Penslayer, of course, will be coming with me wherever I go, but whether or not I will have time or energy to conjure posts that may remotely interest you the future has yet to reveal.  So I offer the following from Plenilune.  Indubitably it is subject to change and alteration, and as yet is only a rough first draft.  But in the hopes that you will enjoy it I offer it up to your inquisitive eyes.

* * * * *

The fox’s voice was high and mocking and cut like a knife.  “You know that at Plenilune I am at my strongest.  You were a fool—a fool—” the word came out spittingly “—to try your hand at the height of my power!  You set your hand once to my thigh and broke me.  I guard it better now.”
Margaret leaned around the corner but the lintel of the stairway blocked her view.  She hid again, low in the dark corner of the wall, not knowing if she ought to come out—which she thought would be idiocy—or to stay where she was and listen.  She could hear Rupert pacing; his heavy tread crossed the width of the wine-cellar, measured and awful, and she knew he was furious beyond all bounds of fury.  The fox probably knew it, too, but he was in a reckless, blazing mood and would not be quenched. 
“And Rhea?” asked the fox.  “How is she?  Black-eyed and frothing at the mouth?  I’d keep that chit on a leash if I were you—you’re so damned good at making them.  Her mistaken sense of loyalty might upset everything for you.  It would have if she had succeeded.  Lucky for you, eh?”
Rupert growled, “I wouldn’t talk about a woman that way if I were you.”
“Says the man who bites them!” the fox barked back viciously.
There was a hissing noise and a thump.  The fox gave an abbreviated squeal from the other side of the cellar.  Margaret started up in horror and only just held herself back in time. 
“Ah!”  The fox groaned.  “That’s right, kick a fellow while he’s down!  That’s sporting of you.”
“Do you know your fault?” retorted Rupert.  His voice was growing farther away and Margaret could hear a scamper of paws as the fox attempted to dodge him.  He was not quick enough: there came another thump and squeal.  She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from sobbing.  “Do you?  You always were a prattling fool.  You talk!  And by my Lord Adam I am sick of your talking!  I will break your jaw to quiet you!”
It sounded as if he had succeeded.  There was a crack, a blur of shadow against the stairs, and the fox let out a single choked cry of agony.  There was another blow—a crate went over. 
“Where is your mockery now, red worm?”
Another blow.
Oh God, oh God, please make him stop!
“If I cannot kill you, I will yet take you past the brink of desire for it!”  Thump! thump! thump!  He was hammering the little thing.  Margaret’s stomach heaved.  “You would wrestle with angels?”  Thump! crack! crash!  “Guard against temporal blows, half-wit!”  There was a pause, a panting breath, a low canine moan.  “Well, physician?  Can you heal yourself?”
For a long time the fox could not answer.  With a silent shrieking that nearly tore her apart Margaret begged him to answer, to be able to say something.  Oh God, oh God, oh God where are you!
A rattling gasp—half a laugh choked off by pain.  “Give me a moment.  I’ll…conjure…bit of bandage…”
“Shuh!” replied Rupert scornfully.  There was a flicker of shadow on the stair again and Margaret was suddenly afraid he was coming back, but it seemed he had only bent over, or stood up.  “Lie there awhile in the ruin of your own making.  You know me for a patient man, but I will hold grudges until hell frosts and my patience is not everlasting.  And between the throbs of your headache mind this: I will brew a drink of death for you, no matter how hard you struggle against the chalice.”
“You would…miss me if you did,” said the fox with a touch of his old languid humour.
The shadow wavered.  “As soon miss a thorn in my foot.”
He was coming back.  Nearly tripping over her skirts Margaret retreated into the darkness, huddled down into as small and black a shape as possible.  Her stomach was heaving and twisting and trying desperately to squeeze up through her hands, but she did not dare let it.  She did not dare breathe.  The lamplight broke up into a man’s figure and Rupert emerged from the head of the stairwell, bent a little because he was still furious, his fists clenched at his sides.  She was horribly afraid that his uncanny sensing would find her but he seemed too distracted to take stock of the dark chamber.  He went on at once, melting into the darkness; she listened to the rattle of his footsteps up the stone stair and heard, with a sickening sense of relief, the door at the top crash shut.
With a hiccupping gag she lurched to her feet, caught her skirt under her shoe and stumbled, sobbing, reeling against the wall.  “Oh God, oh fox—”  Half falling she made it to the head of the stair and ran down, blinking through a blur of tears and a blur of nausea.  “Fox!” she called.  “Oh, fox!  I’m here!”
There was a bit of white movement behind an overturned crate.  She ran toward it; blindly she hauled wine-crates aside, shedding broken hunks of bottles and spraying wine about the floor. 
“Oh—oh dear God—no,” choked the fox when he stared up through black-rimmed eyes to see her.  “Go away.  Rupert will look for you—”
“You idiot!” she cried, kneeling in the wreckage of wood and wine and pulling the battered head into her lap.  She was sobbing so hard that her words came out in a broken rush.  “You idiot!  You stupid—st-stupid idiot!  How could you have done this?  You’re all I have!  Are you broken?  Oh God, you’re bleeding!” 
He was trying desperately to worm out of her hold and she was desperately trying to hold him.  He kept gasping out that she needed to go and she, in full hysteria, kept crying at him to hold still and to be quiet and to lie quietly and how could he have provoked Rupert so horribly?  At last he seemed to decide that the only way to calm her and keep her crying from bringing Rupert back down on them was to oblige her by lying, like a baby, on his back in the cradle of her arms.  His face was drawn in agony, all his little teeth showing through a fixed snarl of pain, but he kept still and after awhile Margaret could look at his busted brow and bleeding gums without feeling heaves. 
“You idiot,” she hiccupped.  “Oh, I hate you!  Is anything broken?”
“I always make mistakes with Rupert,” he replied in a voice of shadow.  “I always—ah!—I always lose my mind…  A few ribs, maybe.  It doesn’t matter.  I can’t see.”  A drop of blood ran into his right eye and he shuddered at the sting of it, squinting to get it out.
Manoeuvring him carefully Margaret wrenched at the lace collar of her nightgown and tore off a heavy piece.  “Oh!—ah!” he protested as she sponged at his eye.  “Wait, you need—grr!”  His black lips curled off his teeth as she bound the bloodied strip around his head.  A stain of red continued to spread across it—lace was not meant to soak up blood—but it kept the blood out of his eyes. 
“Please lie still.”  She put her arms around him and wormed her way over to his pile of blankets and propped herself against the wall.  He was rather larger than she had expected; his body was as long as a beagle’s and his limbs, slender and lengthy, did not seem to have any comfortable place to be put.  With extreme delicacy he curled his back legs in and turned his tail up over the white flash of his belly; he did not seem quite able to move his forelegs: they hung down his length in a listless fashion, twitching now and then with pain.  She managed to keep one arm under his hindquarters and one arm under his head and shoulders and let his body rest on her narrow lap.  She shifted him a little closer, carefully, trying to get him comfortable.
“You really oughtn’t—it isn’t—”  He kept trying to speak but every time he opened his mouth a trickle of blood leaked out. 
“You’re a fine one to tell me oughtn’t and isn’t,” she replied cuttingly.  She found she was not quite done crying.  A tear dashed onto his fur and hung there, a bead of diamond-blaze against the stained darkness of his coat.  “Now please lie q-quietly.”
He turned his head against her forearm and stared silently out through a swollen slit of eye.  He looked mournful and pensive—it seemed too much to hope for that he could be penitent—but he did not look angry anymore.  The fight seemed to have gone out of him.  She sat on the uneven bedding with his long weight in her arms; she wanted to rock him, gently, because that seemed natural.  He was big and soft and warm and in pain, and it was all she could do to keep from moving him gently back and forth in a rhythmic pattern to try to soothe him.  If she did she was sure it would hurt him; and anyway, if it did not make his bones grind and his torn muscles scream, it would hurt his pride.  He looked a little hurt now.
“H-h—”  He licked his bloodied teeth.  “How long are…are you staying?” he asked after a long quiet.
Her arms were falling asleep and one foot was already past hope, but she made no move.
He turned his head quickly, staring up at her out of one barely serviceable eye.  “You can’t stay here all night.  I forbid it.”
“I can, and I will,” she snapped. 
He tried moving, but to no avail.  The long space in stillness had cast his limbs in iron.  “I can’t have you holding me all night like a baby.  You must go.  By the twelve houses, woman, I’m not accustomed to not getting my way!”
“Pity for you!”
He choked off in mingled fury and pain and stared woundedly up at her.  It was rather awful how pointed his glare could be even when it was coming out of only one eye.  But he was right: she could not hold him that way all night long.  She gingerly picked him off her lap, her limbs screaming in protest, and carefully laid him down on the bedding.  She found a bit of blanket and put it over him, found another bit of blanket and wrapped herself up in it, and tried to get comfortable on the uneven pile beside him.  It was unbelievable how painful a bit of rolled-up blanket could be: a length was cutting into her hip and no amount of shifting would right it. 
The fox tried to move to his feet, got tangled in his own blanket, seemed to swim against a wave of nausea, and crashed down again, panting, defeated.  He gave no more protest.  He lay with his head on his forelegs, eyes shut tight against the throbbing, his little sides heaving under the blanket. 
“May I get you some water?” asked Margaret, feeling helpless.
He shook his head.
Without thinking she reached out and began stroking his head; the fur was smooth and warm; the long ears pulsed a little with blood as she drew them gently through her fingers.  He stiffened a little and moved his mouth as if to say something, but gave it up.  His brows relaxed.  His ears bent easily under the passing of her hand.  His breathing was still laboured, but the lines of his body seemed to have given in to the dark pressure of exhaustion.  If only he would go to sleep, she thought: at least then he would be free of the pain.
A little brokenly, a little shyly, she recalled Lady Kinloss’ lullaby.  It had been a long time since she had seen the golden-shell woman, alone in the dark which was her only friend, vainly trying to sing her baby to sleep.  Her own mother seemed petty now, like the minor annoyance of a small lap-dog after one has met the unfettered fury of a stallion.  Her hand rose and fell over the fox’s lean skull.  Was there no peace anywhere?  Was there no comfort or goodness or justice?  Must they all be crushed, she under her mother’s jibes and Rupert’s steady pressure, the fox by blow, Lady Kinloss by neglect?  How many souls cried out like the bare rosebushes of Marenov√©?  How many…

Sleep, sleep, my baby.

The fox’s right ear twitched; her hand rose and fell over it, bringing the faint white hairs to light.

Sleep, sleep, my baby.
And when you wake
I’ll give you a little black pony
With a coat of night
And eyes of dragon-fire.

Sleep, sleep, my baby.
Sleep, sleep, my baby…

She sang it twice, hoping there was not more that she had forgot or did not know, but the fox did not seem to mind.  His breathing slowly evened and her eyesight slowly blurred.  She did not remember dropping off to sleep.  Her hand grew heavier and slower and his breathing grew softer and quieter.  Confused dreaming images of picking the fox up and running away played in Margaret’s mind so that she thought she was doing so until she lost the dreams in one high wave of sleep that bore her off beyond imagination.

9 ripostes:

  1. Words fail so iw ill just leave a wish that he gets better and doesn't die.

  2. Yes, Jenny, words do fail. This is fabulous and gripping and I love the fox more than ever I hoped I could. Thank you for giving us such a huge chunk of this book to read! (Oh--and if you ever need a proof-reader you know where to find me. :D)

  3. I have just fallen in love with a fox. I'm not certain this is permitted, but the endearing creature has entirely stolen my heart. I MUST read this book! I'm already in love with it!! You weave words with magic, Jenny, you truly do. I try not to be envious. =)

  4. Well, I'm pleased. Holding this piece in my hands I still feel that it is pretty rough; it will probably undergo expansion and certainly polishing once I actually move up to this stage of the story. But still you liked it! and that is encouraging. ("Huge?" I thought, starting back from the screen. "It feels horribly short and truncated to me!")

    You make me laugh, Mirriam - though not deprecatingly at all. I've been asked how I write the way I do and, not really knowing, I've always replied that it is magic. I'm glad at least you believe me. :P And you love the fox! What a great, cheeky brain inside such a narrow foxy skull. He is a great character to write - very challenging, but always enjoyable, and I always have fun playing him and Margaret off each other.

    Rachel, I may take you up on that proof-reading offer some day. I know you are a good reader, politely critical and well educated...but to be honest my biggest compelling argument with myself for letting you proof-read it is so that someone else can enjoy it. :P

  5. *politely hems and haws*...well, to be quite honest myself, *my* biggest compelling argument as to why I offered was so that I could enjoy it. :D We are both guilty parties...truce? ;)

  6. I'm glad I make you laugh ^.^ I do the same to Abigail, and am considering making a proffession out of it. The only trouble with you posting excerpts, you know, is that it only tortures your poor readers and we must wait for the actual BOOK!! It's cruel, in a bittersweet way. Rather like giving us a sip of an entire mug of hot chocolate. ;)

  7. O.O






    (I'd better be on that proofreading list, you know, because if I'm not I shall be forced to resort to dastardly measures of the thieving variety on my next visit.)

  8. Oh Anna, how much I love you. Your incoherent acclimation is a balm on this cold, overcast, early New York morning. And of course I am ridiculously happy giving you pieces of this manuscript to read (it is, as yet, only pieces, because I can't write a straight line). I may make a literary trap to lure you over here, though...