Ulfsild’s Log: The Gryphon and the Fox

Strange how a memory can be linked so intrinsically to a smell. How a stray scent of jazbay can take me back to when I was little.

When the winter months approached, and the air began to chill, my clan-mother would bake tarts from stunted wheat and berries deemed too bruised or over-ripe. A sweet treat, if chewy and dry, but the young ones, myself included, savored every bite. The tarts were a good sign. That we had plenty stored for winter and needn’t be precious with scraps.

One winter, I was tasked with taking a basket of these treats to an elder. It was a hike uphill, and the air was sharp against my cheeks. The basket sat heavy in my arms as my breath billowed out in front of me. I must’ve stopped for a rest, with smoke from the elder’s hut one last stretch away, when I heard a soft, weak little bark.

Across the road, peaking from beneath a shrub, was a little fox. It seemed so small to me. I thought it was a baby, lost out in the cold, hungry. I reached into the basket and offered it a tart, breaking it into pieces and tossing them its way.

It flinched, nearly ran, but I saw its little nose twitch, no doubt catching the tart’s scent. It nervously ate the first and seemed, to my child eyes, that it savored it. It devoured the rest of the pieces in a flash. It was then that I noticed the scars. Thin lines around its ankles, small cuts along its coat. How many traps had it wriggled itself out of? How many of those traps had I laid myself?

It was then, while my mind wandered, that the fox leapt for my basket, deftly grabbing its handle tight with its teeth and bolting into the woods.

I was stunned, convinced that I’d been tricked. This was no weak, sad creature, but a mischievous thief. I chased after it as quick as I could. Dodging branches and bushes and thick drifts of snow until I tumbled down a riverbank and landed facing a hollowed-out tree trunk.

Inside was my thief among a litter of pups and its thin mother who bared her teeth at me.

I raised my palms to her and slowly lifted myself from the ground, careful to inch myself away from the trunk, from her babies. She relaxed, and so did I. I watched as she tended to her little ones, breaking the tarts down with her paws so they could eat small bites.

I don’t know how long I watched, but I remember how her ears perked when my clan-mother came barreling through the underbrush, red and scared. She thought I’d been taken by some beast, having never reached the elder’s hut. She was angry when I shushed her. “You’re going to scare the babies,” I said, to which she bared her teeth and barked scolding remarks.

How strange it was to realize I had a fox mother of my own.

It’s this memory that comes to me as I find myself on my hands and knees, following the scent of jazbay through the stacks of the Scholarium, praying that Shal doesn’t walk in and see me. It was as I rounded a particularly dusty stack of books on Quadriva Arithmetia, that I saw the strangest thing. A fox, front paws perched up onto my desk, its nose nudging a small piece of faerite I used as a paperweight.

All at once I was a child again, slowly lifting myself up from the ground, hands in the air as to not startle it. It looked at me, cocked its head to the side, and smiled. Suddenly it took the faerite into its mouth and darted through the stacks.

I wonder if it still would’ve ran had it known I was practiced at fox chasing. Had it known I could glide across the stone floors as if it were ice. That I knew every twisting corner and uneven cobblestone. Perhaps it was the smell of jazbay that gave the whole ordeal a sense of childlike bliss.

I nearly had the fox, my fingers just barely grazing the tip of its tale, when it leapt at and through a wall. It was so sudden, so jarring, that I didn’t have time to course correct. I braced myself, expecting fully that I would crash into the wall, when, miraculously, I went through it instead.

I tumbled into a snow drift and sank deep enough that I had lost all sense of up and down. I squirmed, trying to right myself, when I felt something grip my leg and tug me loose. Free from the snow, I became aware of powerful wing beats and a flurry of ice and feathers. A gryphon.

It dropped me, rather unceremoniously, and stretched out its wings until they obscured the entirety of the sky. It was pounding its claws into the ground, readying to charge, when the fox appeared between its legs, nuzzling the gryphon for attention.

The little thief offered the gryphon my faerite, to which the gryphon relaxed and looked at me apologetically.

I understood then what they were. A mischievous fox and their protective parent. I sat and watched as the fox kicked my faerite around and, I don’t know when it happened, but I awoke wrapped in the gryphon’s wings. Warm and safe.

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