The Maiden to the Fox Did Say
by Amal El-Mohtar and Nicole Kornher-Stace





Oh. Hello.
I mistook you for a bank of leaves
autumn-rusted, shaking off
the winter like a blanket. I see you now
as something of what you are, I think:
your muzzle wants a mask, your feet
are black as riverdamp. Would you like a biscuit?
I've brought some to share.
Only keep your cold wet nose away
from the embroidered hem of my dress.




Biscuit? Thank you, sugar,
but I'm sweet enough. Not like you, though,
all treacle and roses as you are, betrinketed,
as innocent as death. Here, goose.
I bet you ain't never yet been lied to.
Or else never had the sense to see.
Don't you read books? Don't you know me?
This face? Well, I've got plenty. This one's best
for hunting pretty maids. And chickens.
Also juicy. Also sweet. Ah, how they sing!
Understand, girlie, I do get what I want,
but I give just as good.
You'll see.




What do you want? Not me, surely.

A goose can't be treacle and roses too,

not trinkets and death. I'm just a girl, fox,

with crumbs on my fingers, flour on my lips.

What could a fox, a many-masked fox,

with eyes like brewed beer, with a tongueful of lies,

want with my featherless skin?

Better you take the biscuit from my hand.

There's no better meal to be had from me.




Ha! That's the way I like 'em! Leave the carrion
for the crows, I always say; I'll have mine
green-blooded as a bramble shoot,
as venturesome, as tough. All the better to

well, never mind. Anyway, sugar,
you wound me to the quick. Am I some cutpurse,
then, to sneaky off with fripperies; some highwayman
to bully you with sheer charisma and a brace of guns?
I'm hurt. I die. Inter me at your slippered feet.
And on my headstone, please, inscribe:
Here lies the worst of knaves. No, sugar,
all I want's a game. Here's cards. D'you play?
See, if you win: a ring. Looks like your size.
What? No, that isn't blood, there, on that pearl.
It's . . . paint.




A painted fox! How novel, to be sure.
I do play. I will play. But a ring from your hand
is what I'd take in loss, Mr. Fox. Tell me:
what if you win?



Easy, sugar. A friendly game is all;
just thought I'd sweeten up the deal for you.
Look harder, and you'll find me quite the gentleman:
misunderstood as any poet up in any garret, down in
any gutter, yes; thankless as
a canary in a coalmine, or a monster in
a maze. I say again: a friendly game,
and ain't we friends? So: if I win

a token, sugar, of your fine friendly intentions
is all the blackguard that you take me for demands:
one kiss.




Not a fig? Not a pomegranate fine? I'll play your game,

but here's a deck, my autumn leaf, here's a pack of cards

much better suited to your bushy tail,

to your brewed yellow eyes, to my small hands.

Do you be the Knight of Swords, of gnashing teeth, of edges sharp and double

and I will be—well. That would be telling.

Draw your card, handsome. No, it isn't for you

to turn it over.

Let me.




Knight not knave? Why, sugar, you've
gone and made me blush. But those
are cards such as the country girls
will tell their fortunes on: where's my lover,
where's my ribboned hat, what will I find
at crossroads, will my house burn down?

It is my lot to be intrigued. All in
a workaday day's work, my lady; all
in fun. Well. You got that card flipped yet?
Let's see.




Don't peek, you, don't sneak a glance at mine!
That comes later. You wouldn't cheat me, would you?
This is your suit. Swords to be found here,
eight of them, shining, dance you into place.
Do you know Rapunzel? How for love of her hair
a prince thorned both his eyes to blackness
born of sharp brown and red? Your colours, sweet,
your autumn lies here, towered and shut,
and do you know where you're going?
Here: a second card.




Well, they do say, sugar, love is blind. They don't
say the same of me. I see what you're at. But your
hedge-witchery tickles my poor heart, your talk of
towers, roads, and thorns.
I bow to you. Go on.




This is your suit. The Three of Swords
stabs a heart three times, pulls slick red ribbons
from the pulsing meat of it, stains its edges scarlet, slices
ventricles and valves to glut itself on red, red salt.
You know this card? I see it in your brewed eye's corner,
a memory burrows in the damp hot sand.
You know this card.
It knows you better.
Betrayal suits you like a sleeve.
Shall I turn the third?




Er. Well. Hey, sugar, wasn't this
a friendly game? Where do the hearts and stabbing
figure in? You've got me wrong, I tell you, wrong.
But I am nothing if not generous. If it pleases you,
to my slander, my undoing, what you will: ah, sugar,
do your worst.




This is your suit. Wear it, my dear,
as this poor soul wears it, ah, to the nines,
the Nine of Swords sheathes itself in you,
batters you down into the dirt, the mud,
rubs that ruddy snout right in
while the edges sing light into your veins. Nine swords,
nine points, nine iron knives
to tickle your ribs from back to front
and anchor you in place.
There is your future, dear. Does it sound
at all incomplete?




Ah. Incomplete? No: complete as phantoms, sugar,
self-replicating, self-engendered, locked in memory.
But it does slightly
how to say itdisappoint. You've gone
and done it, sugar, and I'm ensnared, enhedgewitched,
what-you-will, for the first time in an age: yes, iron-bound,
and consequently bound to say (ah, though it chafes, these words
so rusty in a throat grown so accustomed to finesse!): ahem.
You've . . . won. There. It's out. My reputation lies in tatters. And
I dearly hope, you scrawny jezebel, you're satisfied.




Come, foxling, time for my prize,
and did you not wonder what I would claim, what I want?
You wanted a kiss from me. I want a kiss from you.
I want it with you bound and tricked,
I want it from your russet lips
I want it from your twisted tongue
I'll lick it from your pointed teeth.
And you will taste of marigolds,
of licorice and caramel.
I know. I could tell.
Did you think this meeting was chance?




About the Authors:

Amal El-Mohtar travels a great deal, but a carefully blended mixture of Outaouais riverdamp, cedar needles, and Damascene dust applied to her soles ensures that she's never too far from home. She is currently pursuing the elusive beast that is a PhD in Cornwall, England, sharpening her quills for the hunt.

Her poems have appeared in Mythic Delirium, Chiaroscuro, Abyss & Apex, Aberrant Dreams, Sybil's Garage, Astropoetica and Star*Line. She also co-edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to poetry of the fantastic, with the notorious Jessica P. Wick. The latter is known to have shaved two letters off her last name in a vain attempt to hide her true nature.


Nicole Kornher-Stace ( was born in Philadelphia in 1983, moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again by the time she was five, and currently lives in New Paltz, New York, with one husband, two ferrets, the cutest baby in the universe, and many many books. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in several magazines and anthologies, including Best American Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Ideomancer, GUD, Goblin Fruit, Lone Star Stories, Farrago's Wainscot, Jabberwocky, and Idylls in the Shadows, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her first novel, Desideria, was released in December 2008 (   




Poem © 2009 Amal El-Mohtar and Nicole Kornher-Stace. Photo by Cburnett, 2006.