The full moon illuminated the expanse of virgin snow and the single set of tracks that bisected it. The fox that left them ran, heedless of his own exposure, as though something were calling him, urging him away from the village he had left behind, pulling him toward the wilds.
Some miles passed under the fox’s paws before he slowed. He was a handsome animal, with a gray back and red trimming his ears and snout, sleek and healthy despite his long run. His silver-gray eyes seemed to reflect the moonlight. But to an observer – had anyone observed him beyond the stars, the moon, or the bare black arms of the trees – he might have seemed disoriented. Whatever urge had pulled him here was fading, and now he felt only his heart hammering in his narrow ribcage. He sniffed the ground without understanding what he was looking for. Thirsty, he gulped a mouthful of snow. Eventually fatigue overtook him. He crawled beneath the low-hanging branches of a pine tree, curled up on a blanket of dry, dead needles, and fell asleep.
As the days passed the fox grew used to his surroundings. He survived off voles and rabbits, avoided the few other foxes he encountered, and every night bedded down under a pine tree. Nearly a week after his arrival, the man came.