They are in league with miraculous lives those that go through the world in an animal’s company. To rove with them is to drink from the philtres of mouths and the cups of haunches, and by which we first know ourselves to be free. They do not assert their light or feign all answers, but they are made, all the same, of a different order that keeps an original faith. Streams mingle, birds and men foregather, and thus is the troth of the wretched confirmed.
The fox came to the wood in the springtime when the hunt was out. He was only a small word on a far wind, but the idea of himself, measured by sea and heath, was steadfast and he had roamed the hills blessed as a waif and a stray. When the intruders came with their spit and clamour, they felt not the tremble in the body of the god of small things. Outside of their experience, you would think the country rare to them, but they could not distinguish the bounds. He had seen them glimmer in the early sun, horse and man merging into one flame. They stirred on the further hill and though the Master railed them, thinking to prime the host for the trail, they ranged for a time in a fit without east or west.
It was willow country in the troughs and valleys, with here and there dark chambers where the earth was cool. Gorse and scrub, tumbling over stones, concealed the outlaw from the pack and from that safe house he heard all the winds of the year, the loury weathers. There were still some pools to be found near the tomb that had not been so spent by the sun. Hazel and fir grew dense around them and he could see the marks where owls had stooped to drink: shapes in the earth where, with green wings, the sylph had slept till morning. In one such place the sycamore keys had kept the warmth of its body, and he took these up with store of incense and colour to take with him into winter days. Behind green trees, the yellow flowers were the bright lights to follow upon this earth whose heart holds deeper sanctuaries.
At the moor’s limit of lines of hawthorn trees, where the sheep had strayed from the rain, there were meadows overgrown with thistle and ash. He thought perhaps he would be safe where the runs were old and the markings strange, but the maze of the thicket will break and hinder the creatures too though we ascribe to them their patterns and set paths. He pushed on through the blackberries and thick grass that swirled in tunnels toward the wood. When he reached the taller trees, he was so drawn that he fed on crumbs of green leaf and bud for nourishment. They were waxing soft and fair in May, the wands of elm and blackthorn, with a sweetness to taste of outlying growth that refined for him, in moisture and light, a new frontier.
The rain fell harder so that the sheep were roused. He heard them bleating in the lower meadow, and louder for the coming of the robbers of spirit. He hastened along the margins but the wind that came down into banks of white and green would take his breath, and he faltered where the fence line broke and the white tree grew. He had seen it from the heath, going to and fro in the belly of the trees, a mood as of some private god stirred from its mystery. He looked up, blinking in the rain, feeling a shape alight with soft hooves in high branches. The leaves trembled silver and grey and he thought of the cries of many animals untethered from the rod of the bone.
When ice floes appeared above him in the running water, the pack turned away from the field and did not think to trouble the wood. White limbs gathered in the flutes between boughs and they wrinkled in quarries of olive and bronze where the bark was new. The shards broke upon him but were soon to melt so that from the rain and the torrent a pool was formed that birthed the brindle foal. The waters were full with the yellow of last year’s growth but the horse came forth at first in the browns of the underside, with shades that you see sometimes in moss that clings to willow branches. The colour crossed her flanks and vanished in pits from which emerged the pearl and white the fox had seen on the upper bark: a milky coat that dressed the horse throughout and yet with stripes of honey and gold that flowed through the neck and body. She could be no more than a year in age, he thought, but there was fire in the horse that spoke of rings of summer and the land’s full circle. She stepped from the pool and made for a rise, turning her head to look back as if in invitation. It seemed to the fox that his companion was so veiled that she must covet the weight of the trees; as if there was a lore to be squeezed from each bud and flower to tighten her muscle and thicken the blood. Though waxing at times to a hardy body, with days to square her and give her bulk, she endured as a fire in a brittle dream, as September leaves are bright but frail, made ready for a cleansing wind.