The Fox and the Trickster - An Albino Vampire Fairy Story

By Ian Hunter

I am fox.

Son of fox.

Father of fox.

Old fox now. My colour's less bright, turning to grey. Perhaps I will live long enough to see my fur turn white, such foxes are rare. They used to call me the trickster, but I have no tricks now my hind leg can barely support me, thanks to an encounter with a trap in the forest, though I should count myself lucky my leg was not tore off, or I had to gnaw through it to escape.

My time of trickery is at an end, and I can only seek the shade behind the big house and live off the scraps that the children of the servants throw to me. Poor pickings, but enough for this old frame. Life is all I cling to now, all pride dissolved by age.

But I was enough of a trickster to know the genuine article when I see it.

A fox in human clothes.

Him.

Belanger.

The ghost that stalks the night.

Humans may not know the old tales, or prefer not to remember them, and learn their truth until it is too late. Yet, we animals know, sharing tales down the centuries. He is pale of skin and hair, this Belanger, but he is no ghost. He is something else, something other. More than death, but less than life, rising when darkness falls to seek his sustenance, and his pleasures.

Ghost, no.

Leech in human form, perhaps.

But always trickster.

Trickster, first.

*****

The Lord of the house is a hard man, claiming royal lineage, blood cousin to the king. The servants are treated harshly, enjoying food, and shelter, and little more, although they should think themselves lucky they are exempt from the taxes that ordinary folk pay. Pay and go hungry. Pay, or suffer the consequences. Which may be see your animals confiscated, your home burned down, your children sold into slavery. If you and they are lucky. For they could just as easily be hung or beheaded in front of your eyes, which some would say is twisted but better luck in these bleak times.

The people hate their Lord, but he lives in the big house and has soldiers to protect him, and he is particularly hard on his people at this present time, because his daughter is about to get married, and he is collecting additional taxes, enough to impress a king, and make the Lord brave enough to ask a favour of his cousin.To borrow a fabled necklace to adorn his daughter's throat on her wedding day. And he has raised enough money, eventually, and not too many homes were burnt, or limbs chopped off, or children hung. Perhaps the people were glad of the
forthcoming marriage, thinking the Lord's temper might change, soften a little, and times may become better.

The necklace arrived, like a web of silver strands, which had caught a swarm of jewels. The treasure was accompanied by some of the King's finest soldiers, their sole purpose to see the safe return of the necklace, and allow no-one to stand in the way of their duty.

Entertainers arrived for a week of celebration, and so did the trickster, riding in the back of a wagon, driven by a small woman who came from a land on the other side of the world. No more than a girl, with pale, yellow skin, and hair as black as the pools of her eyes, so deep they could drown anything, even love, even tenderness.

That first night, all the people flocked to his tent for his magic tricks, some which defied logic, yet they happened in front of their eyes. Word quickly spread of a true conjurer, perhaps a warlock, some whispered. By the third night, the Lord and his entourage sat at the back of the tent and watched, and waited until the end of the performance to extend an invitation to entertain at the wedding feast.

And so I met the trickster in the garden, the night before the wedding, as I slunk into the shadows, watching the Lord rant and rave to the kitchen staff, knowing this would end badly for one of them.

I could feel the trickster approach, his mind stretching out, freezing my body, flicking through my thoughts as if they were playing cards. On and on, he went, looking into my life, pausing only when I remembered each kill, my sharp teeth tearing through tender throats, blood gushing into my mouth. He savoured those memories, but he also lingered as I remembered the cruelty I had witnessed from these same shadows, the Lord mistreating his servants.

Then a cold hand stroked my head, moving down, scratching my back and lower, and I looked up at a handsome cold face, who smiled at me with some amusement, then his eyes flickered as the Lord commanded his soldiers to cut the throat of the youngest servant, a boy, whose only skill was to fetch and carry. The trickster gripped me tight as the boy was led outside and his throat was laid open, blood pooling around his crumpled form, then the trickster's grip loosened, and his body relaxed, with a sigh. He reached down, scratching that one spot, not even a fox with two good hind legs can reach.

It was bliss.

Then he was gone. A trick, making no sound, no noise, fading into the night.

One scratch, and I wanted more. One scratch and I was his, limping out to find a hole that led to the shadows of the court yard the next night.

*****

The guests were fed and bloated, ready for the entertainment. Only the King's guards seemed impassive, eyes never leaving the jewels around the bride's neck, hands never straying from the handles of their swords. Belanger was last to perform, causing coins to disappear and re-appear, making things levitate, reading minds, then he brought out a cabinet, wheeled it across the cobblestones and pulled the happy bride away from her husband. The light of a hundred torches caught the jewels around her neck and sent reflected stars off into the gathering. Gently, Belanger made her lie inside the cabinet and closed the door, spun the cabinet around, faster, faster, until it was a wooden blur, then he made it stop, suddenly, abruptly, and I knew there were those who were concerned for the bride's safety. At the very least she would be sick, disorientated, at worst, her bones would be broken.

Despite the cabinet's height and size, Belanger pulled it upright and opened the door.

The bride was gone.

With a grin and a bow, he stepped inside, closed the door and the cabinet fell backwards, thumping through the silence of the spectators. No-one moved, until finally the Lord rushed forward and opened the door, and peered inside, and tried to lift the cabinet, but could not, despite being larger than the trickster. Anxiously, he summoned some of his guards and they lifted the cabinet, flipping it over, pulling it apart, but there was nothing.

No trickster.

No bride.

No jewels.

The King's soldiers drew their swords.

And the screams began.

*****

I hobbled to my usual spot behind the house in time to see the Trickster among the servants, opening his hand and letting jewels flow on to their palms. They began to flee, on foot or on the back of some carts if they were lucky, as the night air crackled with the sound of the house burning.

Then a hand seized me and I knew this was my end, a sword across my neck my only reward. The trickster held me up and grinned, thrusting me into the arms of a passing girl, who squeezed me tightly and rubbed her soft face in my old fur.

So I went with them, to a land beyond the Lord's where they settled beside the river and lived off the fields, or what they could catch, and life was good even for an old fox like me. There are plenty of scraps, although I have to share them with the woman in the tattered dress and the silver strands around her neck, who lives in the narrow box wedged at the bottom of the dry, old well. She only comes out at night, and scrabbles at the stones, trying to get up, get out.

I pray I am dead before that happens, my fur white, body beyond being harmed, causing harm only to others, playing tricks forever.

Ghost of fox.

Trickster again.