Posts Tagged Niamh Sharkey

the curing fox

It’s down below zero, late in the evening, the logs in the fireplace are glowing orange now. Snow is forecaste for tomorrow. Time for a tale. And so that it’s known that foxes aren’t always cunning and deceitful


Once upon a time there was a little girl, and one bitterly cold day she fell ill. She had a terrible cough and a rattling pain in her chest. Each breath she took was an effort. Her chest felt tight and sore. Her mother and father covered her with animal skins and blankets and kept her warm by the fire.

But she was getting worse and worse. She was breathing in short gulps, the colour drained out of her face and the light out of her eyes. Her mother called for old Duck Egg. She was a healer and she was old, old, nobody knew how old. Duck Egg came and went across to the girl. She bent down and gently lifted back the covers. Then she put her ear to the pale skin of the little girl’s chest, and listened. She listened for a long time. Then she sat up and spoke:

“I hear a she-fox walking, limping across the snow. I hear her footfalls on the crusty snow. Schaa, schaa. The fox is tired and weak. She has a long journey to make.”

The girl’s father said to Duck Egg, “Listen, I am a hunter. I will go and catch this fox and bring her back for you.”

And the old woman nodded and said, “Yes, bring the she-fox back here to the village.”

So the girl’s father strapped on his snow shoes and set off across the snow. Soon he found the tracks of a fox, its footprints and the swish of its tale over the snow. He followed the tracks all day, until, just before nightfall, he saw her, thin and tired, ahead of him.

Back in the village, Duck Egg listened to the girl’s chest again: “I hear the she-fox. The hunter is close; I can hear the sound of his snow shoes.”

The hunter kept on until it was too dark to go further, and then he stopped and made a fire. He warmed himself by the fire and close by the fox watched, its eyes shining in the darkness.

Back in the village the old woman listened again: “I hear a fire crackling, The hunter is sitting by his fire. The girl will be very hot tonight; she will have a fever.”

The hunter stayed up all night, staring into the fire; he was cold and tired, but he did not sleep. In the morning, at first light, he got up and began to chase the she-fox again. At last, he caught up with it and grabbed it. It was scared:

“Why have you chased me yestereday and today? I am tired and sick. Kill me now.”

“No, little fox, I will not kill you. There is a little girl who needs you.”

And the hunter took the fox back to his village in his arms, limp and thin, her heart beating fast.

Back in the village Duck Egg was listening carefully to the girl’s chest: “Her heart is beating very fast. The hunter is holding the fox and she is very frightened. He is on his way home.

It took a day and a night for the hunter to get home, and when he got home he went straight in to where his daughter was lying by the fire. Duck Egg was there. She smiled: “Give me the poor she-fox and bring some meat for it.”

She put the she-fox on the furs near the fire and the girl’s mother brought meat for it. The she-fox ate it up quickly, and then went to sleep. The girl slept too.

Old Duck Egg waited.

Then the girl and the fox woke up and opened their eyes at the same time.

picture by Niamh Sharkey

“Bring the fox more meat,” said Duck Egg. The mother brought she-fox more meat, and she ate it all up.

“Now open the door flap and let her go.”

So the father opened the door flap and let the she-fox go. The little girl watched as the she-fox ran out the village and disappeared into the whiteness. Its strength was back.

The girl was better too.

Old Duck Egg was quiet for a while, then she looked at the father and mother: “Answer me this: did the fox make the girl better, or did the girl make the fox better?”


I’ve retold this, checking my source now and then, Tales of Wisdom and Wonder, retold by Hugh Lupton (who seems to get regular mention here) and illustrated by Niamh Sharkey. Hugh Lupton tells it much better, but it’s getting late, and cold…

This is the first book that Niamh Sharkey illustrated. It’s interesting to see her talking about it here:

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