The Wilderwood is a forest, a very strange forest. As one would imagine there are moles, badgers, mice and all the other creatures that would be expected to dwell in such a place; though if you had gone there in the spring in which our tale took place and had been hoping to catch a glance of the bright flash of a bushy orange tail, you may well have been disappointed. For although you may have upon a time thought you had seen a fox, you will have found yourself mistaken. For indeed there were foxes in the Wilderwood that spring, but they were pitiful creatures: Never would you have seen the rays of the sun dance upon their coats with the thoughtless abandon and gaiety that the season brings to mind. Instead the foxes of the Wilderwood shunned the light, hiding their shame. That is, all except one: one fox who had the most luxuriant of pelts that flowed across his back like the robe of a king, dappled with a thousand shades of copper as if from the setting of a thousand suns. On the night that followed the day in which our story unfurled this particular fox sat beneath the branches of a mighty tree.
For hours now Gerald had sat veiled within the shroud of his own thoughts. He knew now that the end of this day heralded a new dawn. How he felt about this new beginning he was still unsure.
With a twinkle in her eye like the radiance of the stars that lay hidden up above, Great Oak broke the silence.
“How do you feel now that you have what you desired, little fox?” asked Great Oak somewhat knowingly.
“And what was that? A beautiful pelt? Revenge? Now that I have what I wanted I am not entirely sure what it was that I wanted in the first place. When I looked upon the others with their scabs and bedraggled clumps of fur, do you know what I saw? I saw myself,” Gerald spoke softly, seemingly fixated on something that from the glaze of his eyes appeared neither near nor far.
“You are not happy?” Although a question Great Oak’s reply came with an air of knowingness, apparent yet subtle.
“I remember when I thought that I could never wish my life upon another soul, such was my misery; yet now not only did I wish my misfortune on others but I myself brought it down upon them. My victory feels somewhat hollow.” Gerald sighed audibly as he spoke, the beautiful lustre of his new coat seemingly at odds with the dejected figure that bore it.
“Some would argue that the other foxes made their own choices, that although you showed them temptation you did not force their actions upon them. Some might even say that in the end you saved them, but guilt is a strange thing. It can rarely be anticipated: for if we knew how badly we would feel as a result of our actions then perhaps our actions would have been different in the first place. Though there is one way in which you may relieve yourself of a little of the guilt you feel.” Gerald’s ears pricked alert as Great Oak’s words awoke him from his reverie.
“How?” was all that he asked.
“The other foxes were cruel to you, were they not?” Great Oak stared at Gerald now with an intensity that seemed boundless: the hollows of her eyes were great pools of onyx with wisdom untold filling their endless depths. Gerald’s throat tightened as he returned her gaze, almost rendering him unable to speak.
“They were,” came the meekest of responses.
“They were cruel to you when you were as they are now: wretched. Teach them to be better, now that you stand before them with your most beautiful of coats: teach them humility, teach them pity and teach them to be kind.” Gerald knew what had to be done.