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

Numbers up.

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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

His war was almost too long ago.
There were gadgets and gizmos but mostly the killing was analog.
Popular wisdom says that firepower and industrial might win wars; but it was then, as it always has been; spies and code breakers win wars.
American code breakers had cracked the Japanese code in the early 1930s, and the US president most probably knew that the Japanese were going to attack. He wanted the US in the war but he needed an excuse. He got one. It’s a hell of an advantage to know what your enemy is going to do before he does it, as Admiral Yamamoto found out.
His number was almost up but that was fine with him, he felt that he had lived too long anyway.
It had been a long time since anyone had asked him to crack a code.
There was a chill in the air and it looked like rain but nothing was going to stop his daily walk.
There wasn’t much else to do except walk.
He’d had that coat for as long as he could remember.
“If you buy the best it will last you for a lifetime.” He could almost hear her saying it, and up until now she had been right.
She had to go, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. 
Now he was just waiting.
 
He liked to travel but his kind of travel meant going to an interesting city and living there for a while. Sometimes a few weeks, but more often it was months. It all depended on the friends he made.
Cities are just bricks and mortar.
The places people love to talk about visiting are the ones where they met people and shared their lives.
After Mary died he traveled to the cities that they had loved. It was too painful and it just wasn’t the same if you did not have someone to share it with.
So now he traveled to places where they had not been.
He kept a dialogue going as though she was there with him.
 
He had some time to kill and walking was the best way to do it.
The young couple who lived in the apartment just below him had invited him to dinner and he was looking forward to it.
They were very young and very much in love.
He sometimes had to turn the music up in his apartment because he was embarrassed by the sounds that came through his floor. He felt that they deserved their privacy but they probably didn’t care, young ones were like that.
 The young couple was amazed that he was so proficient at number puzzles.
The young man was a maths teacher but he could not compete with the older man.
They had asked him a few times what he did for a living, but even after all these years he never mention Bletchley Park or any of his assignments back in the days when his ‘green and pleasant land’ was fighting for it’s life.
 One of the things that makes a good code breaker is the ability to accurately predict the reoccurrence of a number in a given sequence.
This ability had come in handy over the years.
He had been able to see significant changes in market economies before they had occurred.
 
His time on this earth was nearly over but before he went he wanted to give the young couple a gift that would set them up for a bright future. He could not teach the young mathematician how he did it, it was something you could do but not something you could learn.
 
Over dinner the conversation turned to the stock market and the world economy, as it often did.
The old man looked into the young couples eyes and said, “You know that I have had a lot of experience in equities trading, and you know that I’m pretty good at it. I never give tips, never ever, but just this once I’m going to tell you something and you can decide what to do with what I tell you.
Very soon there will be a break in the banking sector, and I’m not talking about a small retracement, I’m talking about a full on break. So big in fact that some banks may not survive. It has to do with housing loans and derivatives that have been created around that debt. There isn’t any way that these derivatives can continue, it’s basically a pyramid scheme and when it collapses it is going to take the overall market with it. This is going to happen very soon and you don’t want to be in the market when it happens. More importantly you need to be short the market index and you need to stay short until you see a double bottom with volume. This means that you will have to keep your nerve as there will be times when it looks like the market is recovering.
If you keep your nerve and ride it all the way down you will make enough money to set you both up for life.”
 
The young couple had a little money put aside and two days after they attended the old man’s funeral the market started it’s downward spiral.
 
The rest was panic and pointless questions with no answers.
 
The old man was reunited with his Mary and the young couple held their nerve for two years until the market settled and the young mathematician saw the sign that the old man had told him to look for.
Even though their initial stake was small they had realized an enormous profit; more than enough to give them choices in life.
 
Every year the young couple would visit the old man’s grave and let him know how their lives were going.
Each time they came the young man would place old house numbers on his grave.
The young man would prize them off gate posts and save them up for that one day of the year.
Amazingly, they would still be there when the young man added to the collection each year.
 
The old man took his code breaking secrets to his grave except for the one he gave to his young neighbours.
 
As long as their young lives continued they would remember the old man in the well-worn overcoat.
.
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