Chapter Twelve

Fox Island


Fox Island

Chapter 12

Fox became a pariah among the Liberi and it drove him mad. Though, they shunned him indirectly. They merely stopped seeing him, as if his presence irritated them. He was a gnat stinging their shins and elbows by the fire; one that they believed would go away if they simply ignored long enough.  

He slept outside of the village and was unwelcome at the evening fire. He fancied abandoning them altogether if not for his loyalty to Arvor and his hatred of the faceless Watano. The investigation was grueling. No one would speak to him, and those that did, did so hushed and afraid. 

It lasted a fortnight of this—hearing whispers and discomfort in the darkness. He had all but given up hope, ready to return to the beach, when he came upon fortune at the outskirts, along a crop of wheat and barley. A group of sack-cloth clad men harassed a mother and daughter. They pushed the woman down into the dirt and ripped her daughter from her arms. 

The woman fought, scrambling, scratching, biting and bruising. But her voice sounded like a pitiful whimper. One man held her down with his foot and another dragged the child away. The child lay frozen in the arms of her captor, like a fledgling fallen from the nest. 

Fox made out, “Jikarai is coming.” 

The men withdrew. The woman left despondent in pain, alone and broken; it was his opportunity. She mimicked Ina, curled against the tree and crying for her daughter.  

“They took your daughter,” Fox said. 

The woman was lifeless. “She is on the other side of the Marshlands.”  She replied, catatonic. 

“Look at me, child!” Fox ordered. 

The woman stared like a rabbit to a predator.  

“Tell me where Watano is.” 

She shook her head. “He is everywhere. And he is watching. He is the wind.” 

“Where is the place Uada?” 

The woman shivered. “Leave me alone! Go from me now!”  

Fox feared attention from the rest of the villagers. He held up his palms. “What is your name?”  

She appeared confused. “Kònya,” she replied.  

“Who gave you that name?” Fox asked. 

“The Voice of Watanei,” she replied. 

Fox licked his lips. “The birds in the air are the tori.” He smiled and pointed into the sky. She followed his gesture. “And the greatest of these is the Eagle-god, Aquilei. You know this don’t you, Kònya?”  

She nodded. 

“Watanei made the Eagle-god, didn’t he?” 

Her lips parted.  

“The monkeys dance in the trees and play with our things. We love the silly monkeys, don’t we, child? Yes, we do. And the greatest of the monkeys is the Monkey-god, Simei. He leads all the monkeys, doesn’t he? And he was created by who?” 

“Watanei.” 

“Very good, child.” Fox was a pleased teacher.  

“Watanei the Sky-god named the gods,” he continued. “Watano the Voice named you.”  

Her jaw clenched.  

“Who is the Fox-god, Kònya?”  

Kònya’s hand shook. Fox smiled and took it in his own. 

“Who is the Fox-god?” 

Vulpunei,” she whispered. 

“Who am I?” 

She hesitated. “I don’t know—” 

“—My name is Vulpunei!” 

“No!” 

“Is not my name Vulpunei?”  

Her eyes raced along the dirt, searching for an escape. 

“Do you know who gave me that name, Kònya?” 

Her head shook.  

“Watanei,” he smiled. “The same Sky-god that made the Eagle-god, the Monkey-god, beginning and end—he made the Fox-god—he made me.” 

Her pupils dilated.  

“Tell me where Uada is.” 

“Uada is Death,” she replied. “It is home of the dead. Only the Voice can go there.”  

“Why?” 

“These are things that only Watano knows. Not Kònya.”  

“Am I not the Fox-god?” He replied. “Now.” 

She pointed to the southwest, far over the tree-line. Fox stood and left her in the field of barley.  

She cried out after him, “You are not Vulpunei are you?” 

He smiled.  

Her disposition changed. Her body bent provocative and her eyes filled with the devil. “You are nothing more than the ones from beyond the ocean—the Englassmen.”  

He furrowed his brow. 

“You’re the ones that built it—Uada,” she hollered. “You brought death.” She reached into her sack and drew a stone blade. “I think you are as cunning as the Fox-god, anyway, Traveler.”  

She put the blade to her skin and ran it deep, from inside the wrist to elbow. The blood poured like milk and spilt onto the grass. Her knees became weak and fell to the dirt.  

He met the tree-line as quickly as possible without drawing attention. He was unsure if anyone witnessed his encounter with the woman. Despite her death, they would care little for her remains. She was beyond the Marshlands now, and they would do with her whatever they did with that little girl.  

Looking back, he adjusted his heading, moved a little to the south, and kept on west. He prayed it would not take more than a day’s journey for he did not have any supply or rations save a few fruits and his pocket-knife.  

A familiar flash and broad stroke of reddish-orange caught the corner of his eye. Under the cover of the forest, the familiar flickers of the animal danced along the ground. He searched in the underbrush until his eyes came upon the island fox, still and staring. 

Prior to seeing it, his heart rate raced from his encounter with the woman, but the fox calmed him. He sat down in the grass and waited. The fox’s hind legs rose and its back arched; Fox imagined it would run. Instead, it came close to him, within arm’s reach. Fox refused to move, fearing he would startle it. The fox turned and pranced ten paces away. It paused and looked back at Fox. The beast was not a beast at all. 

Fox stood; the animal remained still, watching. He took a step and satisfied the island fox. It leapt away, but never too far to leave Fox’s sight. Every few paces it would pause and wait until Fox came close again. As soon as he was only a few meters away, it would run ahead again; never too far, and never too close. The two ventured into the jungle together like this. Fox gave up understanding to belief; nothing was left in him now. He would follow the fox to whatever it led him. He thought he must be either brave or mad before its end. 

It didn’t take long until the two discovered the trail of the men with the little girl. It filled Fox with awe as his feet met the worn path. He no longer worried of getting lost, but realized he never could have with the fox by his side. The animal led him to it.  

It trotted ahead. Fox met its pace, and the two were moving briskly on the black path. The longer they walked, the more he noticed a change on the island. The trees were no longer palm, banana, papaya and ficus. They grew thin, tall and ominous; oak and pine, knit together and domineering. Needles covered the ground, choking out any vegetation; the low palms, pepper trees and brambles were long gone. It was a strange country; one lifeless and dark, but powerful and destructive. Nothing survived except at the top nearest the canopy.  

The island fox hesitated in the center of the path; something had startled it. Its hair stood on end and it lowered its head. Nearly crawling on its belly, the animal crept to the edge of the path. Here it looked back to Fox and sat on its haunches.  

Fox proceeded closer and saw they came upon the carcass of a doe with a broken arrow standing erect out of its neck. He never saw a dead body on the island except the adventurer long ago who he stole the rucksack from; now, he saw two in one afternoon. There she lay, once a beautiful doe, but now the remains of a meal; strewn open and cleaned of all her meat. Her face was eaten by wildlife and the bones remained. The kill was months old. 

The act of eating meat never bothered him. But living with the Liberi established an admiration of animals in him; it disturbed him seeing this animal murdered and used for food. He looked at the fox and felt inclined to apologize to it. The animal cocked its head as if confused.  

The friends sat together in the jungle, and Fox believed it was a moment of silence for the fallen doe, until the animal looked dumb and witless and stole off into the grim shadows. It was a wild animal again. In the blink of an eye, it disappeared. Fox waited a few minutes, in hope it would reappear. It would not return though.  

He proceeded on the footpath to what he believed ended at Uada. The jungle became silent around him. It was gradual; he realized that while the tree-line grew higher, and the fruit grew less, there was a great absence of any bird song. He stopped walking when all he heard was the soft crunching of needles under his loafers. He was alone; the loneliest he ever felt on the island.  

A breeze caught the tree-line and whistled in the distance. Far away, a loon wailed. The shadows fooled his eyes, and he saw men standing in the distance, but the longer he watched he saw them as the trees they were, growing tall, reserved and unreachable. He hated this part of the island as much as he hated the bog. Worse even, the bog was dead already; this forest was hunting him.  

He walked a few hours more until stumbling upon a strange sound he hadn’t experienced while on the island. It was a creaking and old sound from a lost memory; like two smooth stones sliding against one another, while some animal screeched in high-pitched agony between them.  

It was the noise of a metal gate being opened. It slammed shut, and he heard voices. He jumped off the path and hid on the ground behind a large pine.  

The voices were Liberi; two men in sackcloth, making the journey back to the village. Once the voices disappeared, he realized he wasn’t breathing. His hand clenched around his pocket-knife. He was on forbidden land; one that only the eyes of the sacred and expendable saw.  

He came out of his hiding place and entered the gate. It creaked and slammed shut. He looked before him to find a wide open bahia field, a plantation long ago, and in the distance a colossal manor made of stone. He was at Uada.





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