Foxfire

1. The Spitting Skull

Damn the One-Eyed King for being impervious to Fox-charm. I am beautiful and I know it. I would be lying if I said it didn't please me, and deliberately misleading if I allowed anyone to think, for even a minute, that I don't know how to use it.

My name is Fox and my life is Fox-charmed.
--- But a fat lot of good my Fox-charm is doing me here, sandwiched between Vann-the-Wolfman and the One-Eyed King — neither of whom have ears or sense enough to listen.
--- This is England. The 21st Century. And even in the Estates, these gang-governed, garbage cans of the realm, my voice is supposed to count.
--- Yes, I agreed to be Exchange for our tribe.
--- Yes, I agreed to leave my comfortable position as consort to Vann, King of the Vannas, and come to this primitive concern in the name of peace.
--- But I begged them not to handle it like this. Not to put me on a cattle stand and trade me, a woman, against Siggy, one of the Raven's finest male warriors. I see suspicion sitting on every shoulder. And weasely Luke, the King's right hand man, just waiting to stir it into mutiny. He never wanted peace in the first place — I can smell that from here. If I had fur it would be standing upright in warning. As it is, I have only a fox-fur collar to protect my throat, and the bow and arrows at my feet. While the warriors of our tribes gorge themselves under the fat full moon, my fox-sense must work fast — casting the Ravens into one of two piles: those to be worked upon and those to be discarded.
--- "Hackles down, Fox," Vann warns between two swigs of beer. "You're supposed to be concentrating on making a good impression."
--- I glare at the wolf of a man who's been my King and consort for the last two years. I should know the place of every hair on his hairy black head. The twist of every thought. But I don't. Not now. And obviously not when I believed I had him sitting in the palm of my hand. Otherwise I wouldn't be here. Despite my indiscretion. Some call it insubordination, but I still prefer to think of it as initiative.
--- "You're supposed to be concentrating on making this Exchange work," I say. "If they think they've been cheated, your peace won't last the week. And you need this peace — however short-lived — as much as they do."
--- Vann gives me a grim smile. "They love you, Fox. Look! Lust in every eye."
--- Rows of feasting tables stretch out as far as I can see across the grass. Each one is crammed with wide-eyed warriors. Men, all of them. And no denying my black leather is working its usual magic, though I am not sure it's for the best. "They see me as a woman."
--- "And a fine woman you are," Vann says, as he traces the contour of my jaw with long, sad fingers. "Even that mad bastard of a King is having a hard time keeping his one eye from devouring you, and that's after you slapped his face in public."