Part of the Winter in Azuria Faery Tale Series
Persephonie’s stories for the brumal faeries continue as the solstice draws closer.
For this tale, she takes them deep beneath the boughs of an ancient, mystical forest, where a skulk of foxes lives. One of these foxes, a young vixen named Flora, has a penchant for adventure.
Princess Flora needs only to meet her future companion, Fern.
The Daring Adventures of Flora & Fern
As told by Persephonie Arelle
There was once a vast, mystical forest that stretched to the edges of the known world. Its inhabitants took many forms, though they covered themselves in more fur than you or I.
One peaceful grove inside this tangled wood held a community of foxes, ruled by a fox king, Reynard, and a fox queen, Vixen. The king and queen had several kits, each a promising prince or princess to the fox people. But there was one, their youngest daughter, Flora, who showed a particular propensity for exploring where she should not and for roping others in on her mischief.
Flora’s favorite fellow mischief maker was a young tod named Fern. They met beneath a blush pink flowering tree one mid-spring day. Fern saved Flora, actually, though Flora slightly obscured this fact in her later retellings to her family. She had been exploring beyond the banks of the River Wilde, a forbidden place where young foxes were not to go.
“When will parents learn,” Persephonie said with a smile, “that such warnings are most often an invitation to a curious child?”
The faeries giggled in reply. Were any of them old enough to have faery children? How did faeries age? Did they remain always mischievous, or did their curiosity wane over the years of winters?
Flora was quite taken with the river. The rocks on the far bank glistened in a way she had not seen before. “I must cross,” she said to herself. “I will be the first fox to glow with the forest’s magic.” Her small teeth flashed at the thought. Flora swished her thick tail through the air and raised her ears to secure her floral crown.
She bounded onto the first three rocks with ease, but as the river deepened, the easy fox road disappeared. Flora splashed into the swollen, swirling waters, and the River Wilde whisked her downstream.
Fern was the last remaining member of his skulk. The fires had arisen swiftly and without warning. Though he had never before known loneliness, in those days wandering north, the alpha predator of hearts nearly consumed him.
Flora’s cry for help reached him first, followed by the struggling sound of splashing. Fern’s slender nose darted into the air. He bounded through the tall grasses of the riverbank, racing alongside the current. There, in the middle of the river, a striking, raven-furred vixen thrashed against the rapids, but on her own, she was no match for the river’s waves.
The tod’s heart leapt up to his throat—if only his family had been overwhelmed by a tide of water instead of flames . . . Find your new family, his grandmother’s spirit-voice whispered. Fate is presenting you with a chance.
Fern swallowed his fear and bounded downriver. With each bend, the vixen’s head stayed longer beneath the rapids.
His grandmother provided one further blessing—a mountain ash clung to the side of the bank, her lowest branches trailing tendrils into the raging waters. He would have but once chance to save her . . . Fern caught his breath and darted across the twisted branches.
The current turned the floating fox, sweeping her directly beside the lowest limb. Fern seized her by the scruff of her fur, his muscles bulging as he attempted to free her from the water’s jealous grasp. The mountain ash groaned beneath his weight—she could support one fox, but two was more than her limbs could take.
“You have but a moment,” the old tree murmured, “before you’ll have to return that from which the river you take.”
Fern steadied his heart. He’d spent long days spent alone, still coughing on the ash that destroyed his skulk, hiding in hollows from the shapes that slunk through the forest dark. If he could save her, he would be alone no longer.
With all his might, he thrust himself and the sodden vixen backward, clambering up the bank and the sloping tree. Her lowest limb cracked beneath his paws. They reached the solid trunk, and the limb broke free.
The rowan winced in pain, but nothing more said she.
Fern dragged the vixen over the branches and onto the rolling grasses of the riverside. He prodded her belly with his nose and rubbed his face against her throat, as he had seen his mother do the frigid spring when her kits arrived too early. She woke them, one at a time. They whimpered as life-breath filled their bodies.
The tod gasped as the raven vixen did the same.
Flora awoke to the glint of sunlight on a striking auburn fox crouching before her face. “Wh-who are you?” She asked, shaking with cold in the matted grass.
“Fern.” Golden eyes shone back at her, and Flora sighed, still recovering from her plight. The red fox tilted his head to the side. “How did you come upon your flower crown?”
The fox princess smiled. “The answer is a very exciting story,” she said. “Would you like to hear?”
Persephonie’s eyes shone as she studied the faeries following her story. She had forgotten, after that first night, to ask Babu if the faeries spoke to her during her tales. Were they trying to understand the magic of the tale? Or were they, like herself, like Flora, simply curious? Maybe that was why Babu had asked her to take over the telling of Cassandra’s stories to the winter faeries.
The five faeries chattered together, their voices melding into the pattern of frozen rain tinkling across hardwood branches.
“Wait, wait.” Persephonie held out her hands before her, trying to slow their sylvan speech. “I cannot follow you all speaking together.” She scrunched her lips together and chose the newest faery to join their circle. “Can you tell me what everyone has said?”
The faery nodded, and a tiny flurry of snow fell from her wavy, ice-blue hair. “Tomorrow,” she squeaked, “we will tell you a story.” The other faeries nodded in accord, the ice rising and falling once more. The newest faery scowled at her friends. Quiet descended in their small circle. “It is the story of the Winter Witch . . . she who cursed us, the brumal faeries.”
If you enjoyed this short story, be sure to check out some other short stories set in Azuria: