The fox-who-was-a-boy fled the wilderness into the wood, where forgetting has no place, into the wood that remembers every facet of the world, where all of history and knowledge flourish, where every tree tells a story made of words solid unspoken, as textured as bark. The boy-fox sought sanctuary in the thick, wrinkled skin of the forest, in its many branches of possibility, in its leaves that touch the wind and the sun’s golden gaze, in the rings of its ever-growing interior.
Deep in the forest, the boy-fox climbed up into a tree he found to his liking, a tree to represent all trees, a tall banyan that was itself a forest of trees, thick with roots and trunks and branches and leaves reaching up forever into the night sky, as if to touch the very moon and stars, where memory and knowledge dream.
In the arms of the tree, the boy-fox curled up to slumber, hugging his foxtail for warmth. The boy-fox dreamt himself a gray fox, chased by hounds and nobles on horseback. The hounds he alluded by scampering up a tree, not towering but squat, big around, and foreboding, not a banyan or any other sort of tree he’d ever seen before in any forest. Its roots struck into the earth and rock like the giant hands of old witches. Its branches spread like long, crooked gallows, and from them hung gray leaves like damp rags from men whose necks had long ago snapped. The strange tree stood reminiscent of a swamp, though the earth all around was dry as dust.
The hounds avoided the tree as if it were not part of the forest, and when the nobles arrived to find the hounds sniffing the tree’s perimeter, only one noble stepped forward into the aura of the tree. She was the Duchess, her gold embroidered dress of crimson and white lace flowing from her elegant, chestnut steed. Upon her large head, she wore a gold crown with a diadem of white opal.
“Fox,” she spoke, “Boy! You will not topple my kingdom nor usurp my power. I am the Duchess, and you will serve me as all others do. Hide if you wish, but one day, I will eat you for supper and wear your hide upon my swan neck!”
At this, the nobles rode from the forest to hunt another game, and the hounds dutifully followed.
The fox awoke from his tree to find himself snug in the great tree. But towering over him was a great owl, ivory and chestnut in color, with eyes of speckled gold. The owl then spoke,
“Boy-fox, listen! I am the great owl of the forest. I am the Hunger and the Duchess, the beast and the old man. The circle in the sea and the formless wind flow from the same source; from one I drink and upon another, I fly. I am the Forest, the Universe, and the teller of tales.”
The boy-fox yawned then replied, “All this is well and good, but what news do you have for me? When will the storms come? What of the Duchess and her party? What means the Forgetter and his letter? What role am I to play in this menagerie?”
The owl twisted its neck one direction, then the other before speaking again, “You are slave and savior, vessel and weapon, a trickster and a lullaby to trip up the Duchess and inspire the poet. The Duchess demanded commandments on clay tablets for you to lead her people from the wilderness, but all you must learn, you must etch upon your heart, for tablets can and will be broken. Learn and remember the path but tear down every signpost. The Forgetter will be your father and lover, and you must guide him, even as he holds your leash. Know well every animal you meet, whisper in their ears and learn their secrets, and in the eyes of the blind poet, you will unleash his storms.”
The heart of the boy-fox, burdened by the owl’s words, licked the owl’s feet then whispered in his pointed ears, “Teach me your secrets.”
The fox and the owl lay together in the arms of the trees until the fox learned to fly and to hunt mice from above, until the fox learned both Hunger and prudence. Then the fox left the forest to find those whose story remained untold.