Two young witches decide to take their fox familiars with them to the nearby town. They look so innocent together, and the foxes are completely tame. Some town dogs bark, but more “I see you” than “I hate you.” The cats and chickens just scurry out of sight, leaving a few women, carrying coarse woven bags, to and from the shops, to stop and stare. Through some windows and doors, they see young boys peering curiously, more at the foxes than the girls. Here and there, men tip their hats as they walk by, at first thinking the foxes were furs, then looking again when they see them move.Birchwood, and Oakley, neither smile nor frown; they nod politely to everyone who looks their way. They are extra careful not to do any magic or spells that might upset the townsfolk. They come for the blacksmith.
The clanging of his hammer and the flying sparks startle neither the foxes nor the witches as they draw nearer. Jeremy is making iron wagon wheel strips and spoke hub liners for the undertaker’s carriage. The heat from the forge, and the covering of soot make it hard to get close and see him plainly. The girls wait quietly, until he finds a stopping point and turns to them.
“What can I do for you?” he smiles pleasantly.
“Two pigeon cages for 12 pigeons each; four rabbit cages for 6 rabbits each, and one large, strong cage that could hold a fox, or a bear, or a wolf.” They agree.
“What can you pay in cash? What else would you have to trade?”
“20 silver-pieces, a dozen eggs, two laying hens, and a young nanny goat.” Birchwood, and Oakley say almost in unison.
Jeremy tries to figure out what he would do with the chickens and the goat. “I will do them all for the silver and the eggs.”
“Agreed, and when will they be ready?”
He thinks again, balancing the other work he has already. “The pigeon and rabbit cages, 3 days. The large cage, a week.”
The girls look again at each other. “We really have to have the large cage in three days. We will add the hens and the goat if you can do that.”
Jeremy thinks again. “OK, I will tell my other customers you have an emergency. You will have to wait on the other cages until I catch up on their jobs.”
“Here are 8 silver coins for now, the rest in three days.” Each girl hands him four pieces of silver. “Do you have a wagon to bring it to us? We live a few miles down the forest road.”
He nods; Birchwood, and Oakley turn and walk back into the forest.
Jeremy measures his strongest iron bars and ingots to be sure he has enough; now he goes to work. The hammering and quenching continue into the night and start again early the next morning.
His apprentice, Adam, keeps the forge right; he holds and turns and shoves the iron bars along the anvil; he helps bend the corners and weld the seams. Two assistants, Timothy and James, keep the wood and coal piles high, carry ingots and rods, and whatever else comes up.
One of the challenges is making the cage tight enough to hold a fox and strong enough to hold a bear. That calls for drawing wire to weave between the bars. Adam and Timothy heat, pound, and pull the iron through smaller and smaller holes until it is the right gauge to bend and weave.
Finally, the cage takes shape; six feet long, five feet wide, five feet high, 500 lbs. It has vertical, diagonal, and horizonal bars with the woven wire mesh welded between them. The door slides across the gate with eight latch pins. Two metal skids for moving it. Jeremy thinks, “No creature on earth could escape this cage.”
It takes Jeremy, Adam, Timothy, and James to load the cage up a ramp to the back of the wagon. The horse looks back when he starts to pull. The sun is close to setting when they start. The whole town gawks at the giant cage as it passes. Three miles seems like twenty, as the fog sets in. But then they see a light, a house, and a barn.
Birchwood, and Oakley are waiting at the door to the small barn. The men back the wagon up to the door, pull out the ramp and move the cage. Even with grease, it is a very tough job. Jeremy shows Birchwood, and Oakley the cage and how the door works. The girls are very pleased. The pleasant aroma of stew catches the men’s attention. The girls say, “Are you hungry?”
The stew is delicious and meaty. The fire is warm and the air sweet. “We have some cakes.” They gladly accept.
There is so much laughter, Birchwood’s, and Oakley’s normally sharp ears miss the first warning coughs and rustles. Now a deep vibration shakes the cabin; the doors and windows shut as the lights go out. A whirling lifting feeling of rising through the trees traps them where they lay. The cage was too late.
Jeremy and crew do not return to town by morning; a few people, mostly the mothers of the young men, begin to worry. Three men, Jason, Samuel, and Jacob ride their horses into the forest to see what happened. They ride slowly, all morning, calling their names. Samuel thinks he saw a red fox, but otherwise, nothing. They keep going until late in the afternoon, and when they come out on the far side of the forest, they still find no signs of a cabin, the men or the girls. Half way back, the strong scent of a bear spooks the men and horses. They gallop the rest of the way back, as the sun sets. The wind or the howl of a lone wolf follows at their heels.