A Fools and Heroes tale... Contains background stuff and aaaaangst!
The Fox and the Wolf
The bed was laden with soft furs and velvet, the small child underneath almost drowned by it. She was a small thing, with blonde hair and big blue eyes that were surrounded by redness from crying.
Emilia knelt beside the bed, her arm cradling the small child. She'd only stopped sobbing a few moments before, and now her breath was coming slower, more calmly. It had been hours since Emilia had taken her from her father's home on the edge of the Brooke lands. The man was crazy with anger, so much so that Emilia had scooped the child up and left, carrying her to her own bed in the Manor.
She could understand why her brother was angry. But to lose his temper in front of his child, to speak to her in such a manner, that was out of order, and as such Emilia had simply left him to his dwarven spirits and his anger. He hadn't even really noticed she'd taken his daughter, although she'd told him pointedly that she was going to do so. In his rage, he'd broken his large mirror and a few chairs, and she wasn't going to let Geraldine see him act that way.
But now, Emilia worried for the morning when she'd have to face her brother again. He wasn't the kind to let a slight as big as she'd given him go.
“Aunty Em?” Geraldine said, pushing herself up slightly from the bed. “How come you became a knight?”
“What do you mean?” Emilia asked, combing the girl's hair. “I became a knight because it seemed the best way to get out there and do good things; saving people, stopping the bad guys, that sort of thing.”
“Bad guys like my daddy?”
Emilia paused, biting her lip. “Your daddy isn't a bad guy. He's just got mixed up in some stuff. Hopefully now the guards are involved he'll realise he can't keep doing things that are against the law, and it'll be good for him.”
“Is daddy going to get into lots of trouble then?” She whimpered, her face crumpling with guilt. “Is it going to be my fault? Will he be killed?”
“Oh, no!” Emilia shushed her, kissing her gently on the cheek. “Is that what you're worried about? He'll be here to get you in the morning I'm sure of it. He's had to pay the guards some money, and I guess that 'T' brand isn't going to fade much, but that's all. It's over with.”
“So, when did you decide you were going to be a knight?” Geraldine pressed, toying with Emilia's Sidhean holy symbol.
“When I was about your age, I think.” Emilia said, remembering back to when she was that small, that innocent. Before she'd ever killed or had to deal with the complexities of courtly politics. “It was because of a fox.”
“A fox?” Geraldine laughed, “did it tell you to be a knight?”
“No.” Emilia laughed, folding her arms underneath her head and staring into her niece's eyes. “I was upset about something, and I looked out of the window here.” She pointed up to the small window on the wall above the bed. “And I saw a fox. It was during the time your granddad had a cull of the foxes on our land, because they kept doing naughty things and spreading diseases. I hadn't seen one before, and so I rushed downstairs and opened the big front door, desperate to see it more up-close.”
“I've seen loads of foxes,” Geraldine said sceptically. “They're not that interesting. Why did it make you become a knight?”
“If you let me finish, I'll tell you!” Emilia rolled her eyes. “So there I was, standing just outside the front door in snow that was so thick it came all the way up to my ankles, looking at this little fox. It must have been a runt because it was really thin. Anyway, it looked like it was going to bolt when it saw me, but I fell to my knees, making myself really small. It came closer to me, and eventually it was so close I could pet it.”
“So petting a fox made you-”
“Wait a minute and I'll get to the point!” Emilia grinned, laughing at her niece's impatience whilst she was trying to be deep and meaningful. “So anyway, I petted the fox and it nuzzled into me, until suddenly it bolted.
“I looked up and saw the biggest wolf I'd ever seen in my life. It was taller than me, and I stumbled backwards trying to get back indoors, when I realised that the door was shut and it wouldn't open. The wolf was coming towards me, licking its lips and baring its big pointy teeth. I thought it was going to eat me, and it got really close, so I was backed against the door, trying to get away. Just as I thought it was going to bite me, something hit the wolf side on and it tumbled away, yelping. I had no idea what it was, but in the time it bought me I managed to run away from the door, knowing I could get in via the servants entrance. Just as I ran away though, I saw that little tiny fox fighting with the big wolf. But the wolf was so confused by this little snip of a thing trying to fight it, that it ran away!”
“So the fox came back and saved you?”
“Yeah. It came back and sat underneath my window for a whole week after that too.”
“Wow.” Geraldine's eyes were wide, till she jumped up and leaned against the window. “So why did that make you become a knight?”
“Because I saw this tiny little fox come back and fight for me, even although it had to fight a huge big dangerous wolf, just because I was kind to it when all the other humans were trying to kill it. A little runt fox managed to take on the big bad wolf and win. I wanted to feel strongly enough about people to fight for them, even when I was fighting things bigger and scarier than I was.”
“I want to be a knight too.”
Emilia smiled, standing up and picking the small girl up in her arms. As she swung her, blowing a raspberry on her cheek until Geraldine giggled in fits, Emilia looked up and saw two men walking up the path to her house in the dark. One of them was Gerard, her brother, Geraldine's father.
So Emilia quickly set her niece down on her bed, and covered her over with the fur quilts. “Come now, it's well past your bed time. Goodnight.” Having kissed Geraldine on the forehead, Emilia closed the curtains over on the window and slipped out of the bedroom.
She hadn't gotten more than a few paces from the door when Gerard came storming up the stairs, followed by his manservant. “You!” He spat, accusingly. “What have you been telling her? Telling her what a bad man her father is, hmm?
“Of course not, brother.” Emilia sighed, trying to walk around him down the stairway, away from where Geraldine could hear. But he wouldn't let her pass. Her brother was a short man, not particularly imposing, but she could smell the ale on his breath. “I'm sorry for what's happened, but-”
“No!” He screamed, and Emilia flinched as he moved forward towards her, his hands balled into fists. He wasn't exactly a match for her with her training, but he had some anger. “You had no right to go to the guards based on rubbish that my bloody daughter imagined up, and then take her away from me and poison her against me...”
“I am honour-bound to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and illegal slavery for your own ends isn't something I'm going to tolerate from within my own family.” She sighed, covering her face with her hand. It hadn't been an easy decision by any means. She glanced up, seeing the ugly “T” marked on her brother's face. Theft, and assault, was what he'd been charged with. It seemed pale when compared to the possibly hundreds of people he'd hurt, kept against their will, and sold. “And as for why I took Geraldine away...” Emilia shook her head, “you should know why. I couldn't be sure you weren't going to turn your anger on her. She didn't know that what she was saying to me was going to get you in trouble.
“And when I knew of it, I couldn't stay quiet. It would have broken more than one oath I made to Sidhe and my Order to do so.”
“What about your duty to your family?” He spat, his face turning red with anger.
“I am fulfilling my duty to our family by stopping you from harming my niece.”
“I would never harm her, you know I wouldn't.” Gerard growled. “She means everything to me.”
“Then why is she so desperate to be like me, to leave this place? Is it maybe because she, like me, just wants to get away from you? The way you act is-”
Gerard lunged, his hand outstretched, and Emilia had a split-second to react. But just as she was about to subdue him, she paused, feeling that to hurt her own brother might make her more like him. It gave him a chance, and he took it, pushing her back against the wall, his fingers wrapped around her neck.
He was close, his fingers tightening, and although Emilia was stronger, she had nowhere to push against him. Her fingers clawed at his, trying to free herself, but she was losing air, and strength.
Then from nowhere, a large vase smashed against Gerald's back. It fell into a million tiny pieces, but caused Emilia's brother to fall off-balance, and in the hesitation, Emilia grabbed his arms and twisted until she had him held with his arms behind his back. He couldn't move, but his anger seemed to seep out, seeing his crying daughter kneeling amongst the broken bits of porcelain.
Emilia let his arms go, and he turned to her, saying nothing. They locked gazes for a few seconds, and then he lowered his eyes, nodding slightly. Emilia knew it was all the apology she was likely to get, and nodded back.
“Come on, Geraldine. I think we should go home.”
As she was about to protest, Gerard held his hand up, silencing her. “It's over, Em, I promise.”
Perhaps stupidly, she believed him, and watched the two adults and her niece walk out of the door. It was the last time Emilia saw her niece.