Chapter 17 - Fox

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Fox twisted and turned in his bed, his thick winter blanket dropping to the floor; too hot. It gave him space to move his limbs up and down, like a young bird about to spread its wings but not brave enough to fly just yet. The moon, grown twice in size, appeared high in the sky but not quite as high as the last time he had stared outside. Midnight had come, hadn't it? Wild bees were buzzing through his veins. He was eleven. Officially a man.

Unable to contain the excitement, he rushed out of his night prison and leapt down the stairs, momentarily flying, then landing on his feet with a thud louder than he had intended to.

Katla shot up, a slender emerald flame already dancing his in hand, the light illuminating his shock-filled eyes. As Fox let out a gasp, the lethal fire went out. From the darkness, his master croaked, "Gods in the heavenly halls, son, I thought you were a burglar."

"I'm not. I'm eleven." Fox jumped up and down, his bare feet lifting well off the floor and making stomping noises. "My birthday—it's finally here."

"You're too early with your celebration, son. You should be sleeping," Katla grumbled.

"But I can't. I'm eleven now," Fox argued, ready to dash off, race up all three hundred and thirty-one steps of Moonstone castle to climb onto the roof and shout to all of Moondale that he was the happiest man in the world. Why couldn't Katla be equally happy?

His master snapped his fingers, igniting the candle on his nightstand, then reached for the silver pocket watch he had bought a few weeks earlier from a merchant who had claimed that all fashionable magicians wore one. He clicked it open. "Hmm... looks like you're still ten years old."

Fox stopped jumping. "But the moon is already lower in the sky than before."

"Doesn't matter. It's about an hour until midnight."

"Oh." He pouted, disappointment falling to his stomach, killing the bees' buzzing. "Are you sure that watch of yours isn't broken?"

"Son..." Katla beckoned him to sit on the bed. As Fox sat down, confused, his master placed the silver chain around his neck and gave him the pocket watch. "Even if it were already a new day, you weren't born at midnight, were you?"

"I dunno. Father... I mean... the blacksmith... not Lord Brandon... always said that I came early into this world. When he was angry at me, he would sometimes say that he shouldn't have prayed to the Gods to make me cry when I was born because I never stopped crying afterwards. But, I don't think I was born at midnight. If I had, I'm sure Mother would have told me."

"Then let's assume that you were born at six. You can read six on the clock, can't you?" Katla asked, drawing an imaginary line from the north side of the miniature clock to the south.

Fox nodded. Telling the exact time was difficult—too difficult, but following the small arrow along the cardinal points was so easy that knowing where the big arrow was pointing to wasn't that important. It did many rounds around the clock anyway.

 "So my birthday starts at six?" he asked.

"Yes, son. Now back upstairs—on the double—wouldn't want you falling asleep in your birthday cake."

"Is Doe baking that sweet Jade Islandic cake?"

Katla gave him a pat on the side. "You'll have to wait until tomorrow."

"But that's not fair," Fox mumbled. "I wanna know now."

Soon he found out that were other things that were even more unfair, like the big arrow moving at a speed slower than a snail, slower than Sloth himself. A floating flame flickered above his head; bright or dim, time moved just as slowly. He even blew against the pocket watch, but it didn't help to persuade the God of Patience either. The God wasn't his friend, and never would be. 

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