The Fox Bride
by Mari Ness
He carried the squirming animal to his--no, their, he had to remember that now, their--bedroom, struggling to avoid her sharp teeth. The oversized ring he had given her glimmered on her left front leg; she had spent most of the evening biting and licking at it, when she had not been growling. He had ordered the musicians to play louder, to cover up the noise, but the growls still lingered in his ears.
When he reached the room, he secured her chain to one end of the bed, and sat gingerly at the other end. The waxing moonlight flooded the bed, giving a silver sheen to her red and snowy fur.
"When you are a woman, I can remove the chain," he told the fox.
The fox barked.
"I swear it," he said.
"Change for me," he begged.
The fox put a paw up to the chain.
"I swear it," he said again, extending his hand.
The fox leapt forward, and bit deeply into his finger. He cried out, trying to pull his hand away, but the teeth of the fox were sharp and strong. Blood spattered the silk and satin coverings before he could pull back his hand, and the tongue of the fox was covered in blood.
"Damn you," said the prince. "I didn't want this either."
But for his father's sake, he spent the night on the edge of the bed, just outside the range of the chain. He did not sleep much. If the fox slept, he did not know.
"Give it three nights," said the magician. "She will change."
"Give it three nights," said the seer. "She will change."
"Give it three nights," said the king. "Or I very much fear your neck will change."
"She bit me," the prince said.
"An excellent preparation for marriage," said the king.
"Consider her beauty," said the magician.
"Consider her passion," said the seer.
"Consider your life," said the king.
And so the prince returned to his room, and considered the red fox on his bed, tied to his room with a silver chain, and considered her beauty, her passion, and his life.
In the moonlight, even he, no lover of foxes, had to admit her beauty. His hand still ached with the pain from her passion. And so, he considered his life.
"Would it have been easier," he asked, "if I had been the one to find you in the woods, to bring you here to be my bride?"
The fox, watching the moon, did not answer.
"I would have had you remain a fox," he told her.
The fox did not answer that either, and that night, he slept on the cold marble floor, huddled against the wall.
"It has not been three nights," said the magician.
"It has not been three nights," said the seer.
"You are a prince," said the king.
"And she is a fox," said the prince.
"Speak to her," said the magician.
"Speak to her," said the seer.
"I have other sons," said the king.
And so the prince returned to his room and talked to the fox, as the waxing moon rose and cast its light through the windows. He spoke of his life as a prince; he spoke of wandering in the woods; he spoke of tales he had loved. He spoke until the fox curled into a small ball beneath the moonlight, until he could see from her steady breathing that she was fast asleep.
"This is the third night," said the magician.
"The night of change," said the seer.
"Change her into your bride," said the king.
"I cannot," said the prince. "She is no bride."
"You know our law," said the king, and his face was cold and stern. "The youngest prince must marry a fox, to bring their blood into our blood, to bring our blood into their shadows. Each of their sons shall become fine princes, and each of their daughters shall enter the woods."
"Those were women who could be foxes, or foxes that could be women. This fox is only a fox."
"A bride," said the king. "A bride. Take her, and make her yours, and bring your blood into her blood."
"She is no bride," the prince said again.
The king's face remained cold and stern. "If she is not, the fault is in you."
"Speak to her," said the seer.
"It is the third night," said the magician.
"The third night," said the seer.
"You are my third son," said the king, and if he wept, the prince did not see it. "It is your duty."
"That was all I was," he told the fox, after she tried to bite his hand again, after he handed her a few pieces of smoked fish. "A prince. A child. Someone to marry the fox. I never had anything else; I never did anything else." He took a small piece of fish himself. "Do you know, I have almost never left this castle?"
The fox turned her head to the moon.
"Even you were brought to me. I've read the tales, how my great uncles and great great uncles and beyond even that rode deep into the forest, sniffing the air and the moon, until they came across shimmering maidens with red white hair, and took them beneath the moon, and brought back screeching sons who could not be silenced, who barked at any sight of the moon, sons who married the princesses of the house. I've read the tales. But they did not let me enter the woods. They brought my uncle his fox bride, and said they would bring me mine."
The fox did not turn her eyes from the moon.
"I have nothing else," the prince said. "If you remain a fox, I remain nothing."
The fox curled herself into a ball. The prince thought of reaching out his hand, but the pain of her earlier bite still stung, and he found himself weeping instead.
"It has failed," said the magician.
"It has failed," said the seer.
"Your death shall be swift," said the king. "You are my son."
The prince stood before him, the fox on a chain by his side.
"Give me one more night," he said.
"That I can grant," said the king, before turning away.
That night, the prince brought to his room meats still dripping with blood, fine bread, and sweet cakes and pies, the freshest of fruits, and red wine. He sat on the edge of the bed, just beyond where her chain could reach, and tossed tidbits at the red red fox. She sniffed the food, but did not eat, and turned her eyes to the great window and the full full moon. He bit into the red meat, and felt the blood drip through his throat. He opened the window wide as wide.
And then he pulled out the tiny key around his neck, to unlock the silver collar around her neck, and pull her from her silver chain. He buried his hands in her soft soft fur, and slowly turned the tiny key. The collar fell off with a soft click.
"The window is open," he whispered.
And felt the small teeth sink into his throat.
The magician cast spell after spell; the seer saw vision after vision; the king raged on and on. But none of this brought back the prince, or the small red fox, and the king's justice went unserved.
But in the woods, some later said, on the nights of a waxing moon, those who fled the castle wall might catch a glimpse of two small foxes: one with fur of brilliant red and snowy white, with a golden band around her paw, and one with fur of richest brown and dusky white, with a silver collar firm around his neck.
This story was first published on Friday, March 20th, 2015