Regiis Vulpes

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The old man waited; every winter solstice.

Pawprints in the snow — two sets.

The old prince had been married to the queen for more years than he could remember. They were happy enough, but the demands of office weighed heavily on them both.

None of us knows when our father will leave this life. 

When the old king died, she ascended to the throne, the new queen was very young. 

She took to her role bravely, and the young prince stood by her side.

There were fewer duties to perform in the winter months. They retreated to their favourite country estate — hundreds of years old. Large rooms — a stone fireplace in each one. Small dogs scurried from place to place, looking for attention, the older dogs wisely curled up before the fire.

One clear grey day, all the dogs ran to the French doors and barked a warning, clawing at the glass. Security at the castle was tight, but occasionally there were incidents. “Didn’t want to concern you, your highness. We caught him once he scaled the fence. Just a young bloke on a dare. Won’t do that again, I promise you.” A bedraggled young man between two large soldiers staggered past the window and into a waiting unmarked van. He looked sore and sorry, his long hair a tangled mess. His pitiful expression lingered long after the van pulled away.

The dogs were becoming more frantic, and the prince expected to see a soldier running through the snow, but no one came. Only the dogs could hear the sound of something desperately trying to free itself.

“Come away from the door.” The dogs obeyed, sitting a few feet back and waiting for instructions. “Wait there. I’ll call you if I need you.”

The French doors stayed open as the prince walked out onto the paved patio in his house slippers. The fabric absorbed the water from the snow, and it chilled his feet.

Determined to see what was going on across the lawn, he continued with numb toes.

As he reached the outer edge of the lawn, he heard it.

The fox looked at him with the same look he had seen on enemy soldiers as he and his comrades spilled into their trench.

The fox was trapped by its hind leg.

The prince removed his dressing gown and threw it over the fox’s head. The animal lay still.

Opening the trap was easy enough. The leg didn’t seem to be broken, but there was a lot of blood. The fox winced as the prince touched the damaged appendage.

With the dressing gown still in place, the prince picked up the fox and walked back across the lawn — his footprints the only break in the soft powder snow. He filled his own steps as he had done as a soldier. The memory made him sad.

Once back inside, the disciplined dogs could no longer contain themselves. They knew the scent of a dangerous intruder. They flocked around the prince as he walked through the house, down the corridor to the stairs leading to the servant’s quarters.

“Do you have somewhere I can deal with this?” asked the prince.

The cook looked at him with wide eyes.

“Are you going to kill it, your majesty?”

“No,” said the prince. He had a mellifluous voice, and she loved to hear him speak. His gentle tone told her that he meant what he said.

“I want to dress its wound before I let it go.”

“It probably won’t help, your majesty. It’ll get infected as soon as it walks through the mud,” said the cook. “I dressed a lot of wounds in the war.”

“I didn’t know that. Why didn’t I know that?”

“I nursed your brother,” she said, eyes down.

“God bless you for that,” said the prince.

In silence, they cleaned and dressed the fox’s wound.

The prince smiled at the cook — comrades in arms.

With the fox still wrapped up in his gown, the prince walked back through the house escorted by his pack of dogs.

“Wait here,” he said. “I’ll call out for you if I need help.”

The dogs sat at the open door.

Across the lawn once more to the bushes.

The prince put the fox down.

“Try not to chew off your bandage and stay out of the mud, if you can. Good luck — you’re going to need it.”

A year later, the prince’s dogs ran to the doors and gave the alarm.

At the edge of the snow-covered lawn stood an older fox and a younger male fox.

They stood in the snow until the prince appeared. 

They stared at each other for the longest time. 

When the foxes turned and walked back through the bushes, the prince turned to his obedient dogs.

“I think that’s our fox and possibly, that was his son.”

The prince walked across the house and down to the kitchen. The cook stopped what she was doing.

“Your majesty?”

“I think I just saw the fox we saved last year and his cub. The dogs will back me up, they saw it too.”

The cook wanted to laugh, but she held it in.

“We did it cook. You and me, and now he came to visit.”

 “I hope they stay away from our chickens.”

“Yes, there is that,” said the prince.

The prince smiled awkwardly and went back upstairs.

The following year, the scene repeated itself, but the year after that something had changed.

The older fox was not there. The damaged leg made him easy to recognise.

And yet, there was an older male fox and a younger male. They waited at the edge of the lawn, illuminated by the pure white snow.

Again the ritual played out. 

An extended period of locking eyes followed by the departure.

Every four or five years, the older fox would be a former youngster. As each elder fox met its fate, a descendant would take its place and the ritual would continue.

A tear would form in the ageing prince’s eye as he realised the passing of a senior fox.

The queen and the prince reigned for many decades, and as extreme old age was upon them, the weather patterns had altered to such a degree that the snow season came later and later.

The foxes arrived later in the season.

This year, the snow came even later.

The prince and the queen had returned to their duties, and no one was there to see the fox and his cub arrive at the edge of the snow-covered lawn.

They waited for the longest time, longer than was safe.

The first in a long line to not be able to express their gratitude, they turned and walked back through the bushes.

 

 

  

The artist: https://www.deviantart.com/sven-werren/art/Red-Fox-or-Firefox-394725272

The Way He Said It

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I’d been working on the idea for a long time.
When I finally took it to him, with all the excitement of a small puppy, he laughed at me.
It wasn’t so much what he said as the way he said it.
As though it wasn’t worth a moment of his precious time to even consider it.
  
I bundled up my shock and disappointment and confided in my best friend.
My friend’s advice was succinct and to the point, “Oh forget him, he’s an idiot.”
He handed me a large whisky and gave me the look of someone who wanted to know what my idea was all about.
He totally believed in me, and he was more than slightly surprised that I let this person rattle my confidence.

Bullet Hole: a SECRETS KEPT teaser

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Every time I arrive at Barry’s office, I notice something new.

I’d long since stopped asking him why his office is a table in the corner of the public bar at the Rising Sun Hotel in Richmond. “Convenient, centrally located with a well-stocked bar.” The well-stocked bar consisted of three different sized beer glasses with the vague possibility of a bottle of scotch, Most likely Black and White, and in recent times, “just in case one of these jokers brings his missus in here,” there is a bottle of Pimms.     

I’ve had all the necessary inoculations, but even so, I’ve never chanced my luck by having a drink at the bar.

“Get ya a drink girly?” was Barry’s opening line, as I arrived for our meeting. The neatly typed pages were folded into my handbag, and the public bar looked different. The familiar smells were the same — stale beer and a not unpleasant aroma of very old dust — a strong memory trigger from my childhood, fetching my dad from the pub so he could have his dinner — my private moments with the most important man in my life.

On certain days, you can taste the dust, but it is never visible. For visibility there would need to be sunlight and sunlight never penetrates this dingy room.

On this day, the room was bright — almost festive.

“What’s with the bright lights?” I said as I waved off Barry’s lethal offer of a drink.

“Boris and the staff are getting ready for the celebration. You need light to celebrate and to clean up a bit in order to celebrate,” said Barry with an air certainty.

“This place has staff?” I asked.

“You don’t think that Boris does everything on his own, do ya?” said Barry.

I glanced at Boris wiping the bar. He had one eye almost closed, and I resisted the urge to dig deeper into the complex running of the Public Bar at the Rising Sun Hotel.

“What’s the occasion, why the celebration?” I said.

“Ancient Ivan is getting out tomorrow. It’s going to be a hell of a welcome home party. Of course, most of Ivan’s contemporaries have carked it, but all the young ones will be there. Ivan’s a fuckin’ legend. He pretty much ran this town even after they banged him up. Tiny little bloke — knew everyone — had something on everyone, including me. Not a bloke to be messed with — fuckin’ legend,” said Barry with the sort of enthusiasm he reserved for attacking a beef roll with extra mustard.

“Be sure to give him my best wishes,” I said.

“Wouldn’t do any good. He doesn’t know who you are and let’s keep it that way, besides, the bugger’s deaf as,” said Barry.

“Jesus Barry, is that what I think it is?” I said. Our conversation had taken place with me in a standing position as I scanned the room for the signs of the aforementioned improvements. I’d given up due to lack of evidence and was about to take a seat at Barry’s table. I reached for a chair — the room was populated by a large collection of identical wooden chairs, all in various stages of decomposition. The chair I reached for had a bullet hole in the back of the seat — just about where a person’s heart would be. I’d assumed that everything stayed the same in this mysterious room, but not so. I’ve sat at Barry’s favourite table many times, and I haven’t noticed this chair before.

“Boris rotates the chairs every now and then — not mine but. My bum is nice and comfy in this chair. People tend to sit at the same tables, and the chairs start to come apart, so Boris rotates them. Gets a longer life out of a set of chairs that way. Bright boy, that Boris. Just like rotating the tyres on your car,” said Barry and I shot a look at Boris who was still rubbing the same spot on the bar — one eye was now completely closed. “That chair could tell a story or two,” said Barry.

“How long have these chairs been here?” I asked.

“Bloody long time,” said Barry.

“And that bullet hole?” I said.

“Interesting story that,” said Barry and I winced. Barry’s stories are often hair-raising and a tad too graphic for my tender sensibilities.

Barry launched into an exciting tale of gunplay, jealousy and sudden death.

“He got his revolver out and squeezed off a couple of rounds, but it was mostly muscle memory. He was fucked the moment the bullet hit him. Shouldn’t have been giving the big bloke’s missus one behind his back. We don’t normally allow gun play in here — it tends to attract the chaps in blue — but everyone understands affairs of the heart. We banned the big bloke from the Public Bar for a year, and it broke his heart. All that was years ago now. No one has been shot in here since. A few blokes have waved their shooters around a bit, but nothing serious,” said Barry.

“Was anyone else hurt while all this was going on?” I asked.

“Na, the bullets lodged in the wall over there. Holes are still there — bullets as well. We stuck that painting over them before the cops arrived. We told them he shot himself, being all broken hearted and stuff. I don’t think they bought it, but apart from the usual hassle, we didn’t hear any more about it. Case is still open but. Coroner brought in an open finding, so it is just hanging there waiting to drop on some poor bugger who the cops don’t like, just like that sword thing,” said Barry.

“Damocles,” I said.

“Yeah, that bloke,” said Barry.

“Not exactly the same thing, but what would I know?” I said.

I produced the typed pages, and Barry read them carefully.

“Bloody hell. How did you get her to tell you all this?” said Barry.

“I have charms you know nothing about,” I said, feeling very pleased with myself. I recognised the opportunity, acted on it, formulated a plan and carried it out. I’m not sure it gets much better than this.

“I’ve got a feeling that there will be more, but the stuff in there should do the trick,” I said with the air of someone who had done this type of thing all their lives.

My grandmother flashed into my mind, and I imagined her behind enemy lines, making instant decisions and risking her life.

Barry ordered another beer and tried once again to tempt me. “We should celebrate. I could get him to make you a sheila’s drink?” said Barry.

“No thanks Barry, I’m driving,” I said.

I stood up and my finger traced around the bullet hole in the back of the chair, and I tried to imagine the scene on that night. I must have been standing there for a while because Barry said, “Are you, alright kid?”

“Right as rain,” I said, gathering up my handbag.

The drive home left me time to think, and even the idiot who drove right up behind me most of the way could not dampen my high. Susan Smith, industrial spy. I would love to read that on a business card. I’d like to hand it to some would be Casanova who tried to chat me up at one of my husband’s work parties — it isn’t going to happen, but a girl can dream.

 

Version 2

Coming soon