I thought I was going to wait until this was finished to write a little blurb about why I wrote it but I didn’t see a point. If I’m being honest, and I always try to be, this story arose out of a battle that I have been waging with the mice of the Northwoods and their attempts to establish dominance in my cabin. They are not winning but that has no bearing on the players in this story. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that mice, despite their size, are FEARLESS. Enjoy!
There is a legend among foxes of a cavern hidden deep within the mountains. Only whispers of its location remain, for no creature who found it has ever returned.
In this cave, there trickles a stream of magic water. It is said that one drink from its crystal pool would bestow the gift of immortality. It is said that a fox would become like crystal themselves.
It had been generations since a fox left the dale in search of the cave’s hidden waters. They had grown content with their fleeting lives among the tall pines and thick grass. Until one day, in a familiar fashion, chance met a fox with a mouse.
The mouse had found itself in a shallow hole in the ground with an opening the tiniest bit too narrow for the fox’s paw. Knowing that the fox would wait until the mouse tried to leave the opening to capture him, he did what no mouse had ever succeeded in doing before. He stood on his hind legs and, with his strongest mouse voice, tried reasoning with it.
“Mistress Fox, I beg of you! Listen! Spare my life. For with my death comes the death of any hope of finding that hidden place where foxes find glory. You know of which I speak. By my grandfather’s grandfather’s word, I swear it is true.”
“What do mice know of glory?” The vixen asked.
“We know where it hides. We slip through crevice, nook, and cranny and find lost things, as is our way. Many a useless thing we find but we never forget a sparkle in the dark. I can take you there…if glory is what you wish.”
Her amber eyes narrowed, skeptical of the offer. After all, a mouse will say anything to save its skin. The fox, thinking herself a clever creature, sat and thought of all the clever ways she could capture the mouse should this be an elaborate rouse for his survival. Convinced she had not overlooked any scenario of escape, and content with a light mousey snack should they fail to reach the hidden cave, the young vixen agreed.
“Well done, Mistress Fox! Well done! I shall take you the safe way. The Mouse way.”
“The mouse way? I follow only one way and that is the fox way.”
“If you wish to reach the hidden cave, there is but one path,” the mouse urged.
“Very well. The lead is yours, Mouse.”
The vixen followed the mouse through the glen until they came to a vast grassland. A lone hawk sat perched in a dead tree in its center.
“Here lies our first difficulty. It is imperative that you do as I do. Come, we’ve no time to lose.” “Can’t we just go straight through the grassland? I could pick you up in mouth and carry you to the other side.”
“It is our way to dart and dip and the way to the cave is braided in our memory. I’m sure a fox such as you will have no trouble keeping up,” the mouse smiled.
Hawk and harrier circled over head but the mouse safe under the belly of the fox traveled unseen across the grass “sea” that had claimed so many of his kind. For hawks are not known to miss/ignore OR are known to spy even the quickest of scurries. But never before had a hawk seen a fox move in such a way, Stuttering its way through the swaying grass, confused and jumpy. The hawk sat and watched as the fox zig zagged its way to the other side not knowing that a plump mouse was just underneath the belly.
When they were out of sight of the hawk, the vixen put a firm paw to the body of her escort. “You made a fool of me, Mouse! Did you see the way that hawk looked at me? Now, word shall spread of a foolish Vixen with too much jitter in her step. Do it again and I will forget our little ‘arrangement’,” she said snarling.
“Please! It was not my intention! It is the only path I know to take. Because of you, I was able to cross that vast grassland where so many of my forebears were taken. I promise, on my life, that it will not happen again.” He trembled beneath her claws.
“It had better not. ” The vixen took her paw from the mouse and smoothed her pelt in an effort to regain her composure. “Alright then, where to next?”
“To the Great Ravine, Mistress Fox. On the other side lies our goal.”
The pair walked in silence through brush and briar until the craggy entrance to the Great Ravine loomed ahead. The vixen hesitated, as no fox had ever crossed the Great Ravine and lived to tell the tale. She sensed her doom. The rushing waters at the bottom of the canyon thundered deep in her chest. The mouse, having continued on quite a ways, looked back for his companion. Before he could see her fear, the fox carried on.
They stood side by side and watched the river cut through the rock, rushing wherever it is rivers go.
“We mice used to have a way across but the river erased that path long ago. Now, only the most agile can catch hold where the hidden entrance greets you. You’ll know it when you see it. If you fail, we will both be at the mercy of the river.”
The vixen inspected the waters and scratched her ear absentmindedly as she formulated a plan. She scrunched up her fox a bit before speaking.
“I can get us there. Climb up on to my back and hold on tight.”
The water was cold as she stepped down into the shallows. The mouse felt like a knot at the back her neck where his claws clung to her fur. She took one step, then two. The smooth surface of the pebbles at her paws were too slick. She sputtered as she fought the current to keep her head above water as the river carried her down, down, down.
She bumped and banged against the boulders that stuck out of the water like jagged teeth until an odd sight greeted her ahead. A rock, carved by years of running water to resemble an outstretched claw, jutted out just over the water’s surface. In the chaos of the river, the mouse’s words echoed in her mind.
“Catch hold where the hidden entrance greets you,” If she could just grab it, the vixen could pull herself out of the water and onto the ledge. If not, well, she preferred not to think about it.
The vixen jumped with a mighty leap out of the water just in time to catch hold of the rock pile with her claws. She scratched and pulled her body onto the platform with gasping breaths full of water. She made it. But something was off. The knot on the back of her neck was gone. She frantically searched for the mouse until she found him laying near the other edge of the platform, soaking wet and unconscious.
“Mouse! Mouse! Are you alright?” The vixen nudged him until his little black eyes opened and he let out a weak squeak. The vixen exhaled a sigh of relief as he wobbled to his feet and bristled his fur as one does on the first morning of winter.
“That was a close one, wasn’t it? Good thing I had you. Never would’ve made it otherwise! Come. It’s not much further.” And off he went towards the open mouth of the cave, vixen following close behind.
The air in the cave was crisp and free of scent. They made their way through the dark over rocks and down tunnels that led to other tunnels. The light was minimal but the rock surrounding them held a glint every so often. The deeper into the cave they went, the more that walls seemed to sparkle.
“I thought I lost you back there,” the vixen said with concern. It surprised the mouse to see such care over a being like him from a being like her.
“We’re almost to our destination, Mistress Fox. Won’t be long now.”
The last bit of their journey brought them to a narrow hole with ample room for a mouse but barely enough for a fox. The mouse hopped its way over and began to walk into the black hole until he noticed the vixen wasn’t following.
“Come, Mistress. Just a little further. On the other side of this wall, glory awaits.”
She squeezed her shoulders against her body as flat as they would go and crawled into the tight space. It surrounded her on all sides and once the tip of her tail entered that hole, there would be no going back. She would have to continue or die. It was hard for her to breathe and the walls seemed to be closing in on her. Her world was dark except for a tiny pinprick of shimmering light up ahead. If the fox didn’t know better she would think she was crawling towards a star.
Relief washed over her as she freed herself from the tunnel at long last. She collapsed on the hard ground as she caught her breath. She would lay there forever is she could.
“Congratulations, Misstress Fox. You’ve made it to the hidden cavern of fox legend. Behold, the crystal pool!” The mouse’s words snapped the vixen back to her senses. She had made it! It glistened in the sunlight that found its way into the heart of the mountain through the hole in the ceiling. It was just as beautiful as the legend told. It was the deepest blue the vixen had ever seen.
The mouse let the vixen lead the way to the edge of the crystal pool. The water was so clear if was as it she was staring straight down into the earth’s core. She bent down to lap at it cold waters when the mouse spoke.
“Wait! I have one last question for you. What are you going to do with your newfound immortality? What do you hope to accomplish?”
“Well, that’s easy. I shall travel the land and take a fox’s rightful place as the ruler of the forest. I shall kill and eat as I please. All shall cower before me. Except for you. You shall be at my side until the end of your days.”
The mouse hung his head in disappointment.
“Very well, Mistress Fox. Drink from the crystal pool and claim what is yours.” She leaned down and lapped at the cold waters. The mouse looked away.
He walked with a hung head through the tunnels of the cave until the scratching sounds of a
mouse horde greeted him. The open chamber erupted in cheers. From among the mouse folk came one with silver fur covering his entire body. He beckoned to crowd.
“Rejoice! For our prince has returned to us!”
“Under hawk’s eye and over turbulent waters, our crown prince has returned from his year long exile triumphant! Not only did he brave the trials set before him, but he returned thanks to the hubris of our greatest foe, the wily fox! Now, he is back and we crown him, Lord Mouse of the Dale!” The mice cheered for their new king. A crown of crystal graced his head like as it did his father before him. And though he had accomplished what he set out to do, the mouse felt remorse.
He would go on to rule with a gentle hand and wise words until the end of his days but he would never forget the vixen doomed by the pool’s cursed waters. With one sip she was frozen in regret, forever crystalline. Forever silent. Long would the Mouse Lord’s story be passed down, from mouseling to mouseling, telling how he tricked a fox with a sparkle in the dark.