It took all the light of a year to fill the eye of the bird in flight. The fox, seeing her shape make for the nest of tall stars, tore her from the sky and would eat the narrow body if it were not for the hour and the season. This once at least he stayed his bite and took up instead in a hollow maw some water from a pool with which to steep the fractured wing.
If unction for injured birds is by ceremonial streams, then let it be provision for a new world. If administered by a man let him be witness to brute spirit, but if anointed by a beast then let him travel with the departed and do God’s work when the man is absent. There were many springs on the downs that gathered to make headwaters for the river, and he would drink from them for thought. The punctured eye that spilled in silver to the brook, it was a new treasure for his taste so that when he made once more for the hidden place between fields, he felt a ghost in his body that yet in short sleep disturbed him and was not without bitterness.
The yellow dawn would break new blood to seed a truth that could not be taught but only lived into being. Nursed by his forefathers never beyond feeling, he resisted the sacrament in its fullness, as when, invited by forest or sea to enter their deeper mysteries, you might think to reclaim some lost heritage but without assurance of survival. He passed out to the scrub through brakes of elder and hawthorn to shake off the scent on the wind. This is my covenant (for so the land would have it) and this is your trophy outside of living audience to which you must yield in the absolute.
As if to put physical distance between himself and the thought, he quickened his step, making for the heart of the downs where goat willow massed in a lozenge of green. Above a hundred pools they sang respite from the aberrant shapes that invaded wild places. Under the arching briar he thought perhaps their cool shadow would dilute the coming power, or instead on higher pasture there would be space enough to swallow the dream. Outlaw from convention of his own kind, and feeling the price of mercy, he dropped into a tributary channel where the flocks had been known to pass. Rarely the new lamb would be taken by gorse and branch to serve the river gods, and the old bones shone white fire among roots in that last sunrise.
The fox saw periphery colour, as an almond encloses the body of each material thing or the animal in its fullness. The sacred was only the visible, this much he knew or began to sense in the flood that sought the lowest places. He had seen it once about the body of the vixen where she lay broken by the roadside: a ring of fire brighter than he had known but which, along with his sorrow, he did not then fully comprehend. He had licked and nudged the deep wound only for flames to shift and murmur out of shape. The fire remained for a time though her form diminished and he could see her no more, only the glowing ground and a smudge of colour.
Here and there the refuge too was illumined with gold, and he saw for the first time how all things must bruise the delicate earth by virtue of an infective mortality. The buds and the branches they were stained with the pollen from springtime, and he could see the lines where he had passed in the morning, hair and breath and paw furnished as November leaf on the grass and in the maze of the thicket. Small birds were foraging in the trees and the gentle song, though not assuaging grief, softened his resistance for a time so that the voice reified in the early light. Let me die to the spirit, it said, for am I not irresistable earth, owned of an irrational body? It hurts to think of migratory breath, the prayers of an immortal season, for rather I am the warm element which is the earth’s disciple. Make this world in actual fact the longed-for territory, for the dead will seek the medicine of the soil.
He shook off his coat of dirt and stones to scatter the thought but the thunder and lightning they were buried deep so that the script prevailed no matter the rite or spell. The thought that now was a flare in his skull was in service to the blood, so that when he looked out through roots to the strange shapes moving on the hill, it seemed to him who bore the artery stone that they were as deviants from natural law. He arched his back against a bough, flattening his ears, for at the limits of hearing there was a noise of dogs, and it came down on the wind in those bitter channels prescribed by men who had defaulted the source. They had long sown their fate in the animal gut and yet, born of a ruin with which they colluded, and on account of precipitate reasoning, they had made them preeminent in sacrifice. The body as totem was spent, compelled as it was outside of wild and common nature.
In the empty land there is no resistance to fugitive will, just the orphic answer of elected birds that deliver the world from its own inscience. By diminished men that came down in ire from the hill, by their rags of flame in the fields converging, he had felt the rank and the size of his life. He made for his den under whitening skies as it pressed in from all quarters to a point in time, quietly momentous. Along a line of gold through the grass to the wood and the mouth of the ash.
The dogs were upon his earth while in haste he nuzzled the damp ground of his sleep. Digging and digging with teeth and nose and claw. In the upper air the noise was gathering to storm, and he went on with his work though the wailing shifted tone as they fell to the tunnel. The head of stone came forth from the roots as the land groaned and the darkness squealed. He need only push with his brow to tilt the gaze of the god from its earth, and he turned with his prize to the savage void, whining the dream of his blood.