Ben B. Bainton's:

The White Fox

"Case number 106, the great City of Pwan versus Wynne Vulpia. His Honor, the High Judge of Pwan, Sir Mightum Glorsie preciding. Be seated."

"What are the charges?"

"Theft of City property, assault on an officer of the City and attempted murder of an officer of the City, your Honor."

"Ah. And how does the accused plead?"

"Not guilty, you honor," Wynne said, as calm and cold as a distant, snow peaked mountain.

"Hmm. We'll see about that. I understand we have many witnesses who can place you at the scene of all the afforementioned crimes. I am also led to understand you refuse your right to be presented by a defense lawyer?"

"Yes, your Honor. I wish to handle my own case."

"Wery well. City attorney, you may begin your accusations."

"Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen. The state of the affairs is extremely simple," the lawyer began his well rehearsed speech. "Around 4 pm. on the day before yesterday, officers of the law where alerted to the City Museum. A jewel had been stolen from the ancient Crown of Pwan, the oldest of all the relics in this ancient and glorious city, with embedded jewels, each worth thousands of gold Swids. The jewel had been pryed out with some sort of small and sharp tool. The officer guarding the Crown had been strangled to unconsciosness, extremely silently. Then the thief made his or her way out of the museum, somehow managing to pass the routine examination of all leaving visitors.

"The City officers took swift action and blocked all exits from the city, inspecting thoroughly anybody attempting to leave the City, while other patrols conducted a detailed search of the City. It was at the east gate that the accused, miss Vulpia, attempted to flee the City around noon yesterday, and was stopped by the guards and searched. Hidden in a concealed department in one of her pouches the guard found the stolen jewel. Miss Vulpia thereupon assaulted the guard, and almost made her way through the gate, but was stopped by other guards, with considerable, but necessary, force. The first guard is still being treated by the City healers.

"The museum doorman on duty at the time of the crime claims he recalls miss Vulpia entering the museum, but does't remember conducting a search on her upon leaving the premises. In fact, he does not recall miss Vulpia leaving the premises at all. He says, quote, 'Oi shure would remember checking her hidden spots, har har, know what oi mean?' Your Honor, there can be no doubt that Wynne Vulpia stole the jewel. All that needs to be found out by this court of law, is how she managed to slip away from the museum with the jewel in possession, so that similar crimes may be prevented in the future."

"Your case is well presented and backed up. Miss Vulpia, do you wish to say anything in your defense?"

"Yes, your Honor, I have several items I wish to present to the court. Firstly, I wish to see it proven that the jewel found in my possession actually is part of the Crown of Pwan."

"Your Honor," the city City attorny readily answered. "We anticipated this approach from the defendant, and are prepared to give evidence that the jewel in miss Vulpia's posession and the one stolen are indeed one and the same. I would like to produce two pieces of evidence: first, exhibit A, the jewel confiscated from miss Vulpia." He placed a large, sparkling emerald, a green as deep as a shady forest lake, on the table. "And exhibit B, the great and beautiful Crown of Pwan." The audience gasped as he produced a huge, golden crown, sparkling like a rainbow of jewels, and placed it on the table next to the emerald.

"My assistant will demonstrate that this jewel fits perfectly into the empty slot in the Crown." His assistant did this. The jewel, of course, fit perfectly into the empty slot.

"The jewel certainly is from the Crown of Pwan. Do you still have anything to say in your defence, miss Vulpia, or are you ready to plead guilty?"

"Never, your honor. I wish to call the museum doorman to the stand for questioning." Wynne's request was soon fulfilled and the burly doorman was sitting behind the witness' podium in no time.

"You claim you never saw me leave the museum," Wynne stated. The doorman, nervous and sweating in front of the rather large audience, nodded. "But isn't it true that you also saw someone leave the building, that you had never seen entering?"

"Well," the big man mumbled. "Sort off. But it wasn't a someone. It was a something. Oi only caught a glimpse o' it. Looked like a dog o' some sorts, or maybe more like a fox. White as snow."

"Your Honor," the City attorny bursted. "I can see no relevance in this to the case at hand."

"True. Get to the point, miss Vulpia. I am growing hungry."

"Yes, your Honor," Wunny said, then turned back to the doorman, a bundle of nerves almost the size of the judge's belly by now. "Could someone have slipped by as your eyes were on this creature you claim you saw?"

"Absolutely not," he almost shouted. "No one passes thru' me door without me knowing."

"Very well then, did you ever consider the possibility of this creature and myself being one and the same?"

"Huh?" he said, and the word was reflected on the faces of everyone present.

"That is all I need from this witness, your honor." The doorman was relieved from his seat, and he looked very much relieved himself. A frowm had crept upon the judge's face.

"Miss Vulpia, I warn you: don't waste my time. If this nonsense is leading up to a point, please be so good as to get to it."

"Gladly, your Honor. But I most strongly object to your usage of the word 'nonsense', because every word is true. This doglike, or indeed more precisely, foxlike creature and myself are the very same. Since it is proven that I was in posession of the stone removed from the Crown, I might as well come out with it. Yes, I stole the jewel, and I am willing now to reveal my method and secret. It wa to be the crime of the century, but alas, the officers of this great town outwitted me, and I was caught."

"Well, this is more like it," the judge said, still looking puzzled. "But go ahead and explain to us how you managed to almost commit the crime of the century, and how does this fox nonsense fit into it?"

"As I just said, your Honor, I speak no nonsense. Maybe a short account of my past is in place, so you may all understand better."

"My mother was the daughter of an innkeeper from a small hamlet way up North. She was young and beautiful, long red hair and a bosom that could have stunned an army for hours. She loved to walk the countryside, and climb up mountains to see the sunset. It was on one of her long hikes that she met my father. She was caught in a blizzard, and my father saved her, guided her to a dry cave and kept her warm. From that day onwards they were the best of friends, and as time passed their friendship grew into love, and she gave birth to me." There were many moved sighs from the audience, but the judge frowned impatiently. Wynne went on:

"My father was an arctic fox."

This stunned the audience rather efficiently.

"That's impossible!" the judge exclaimed.

"Not impossible, I assure you. I myself am living proof of that. But I prefer not to imagine how..."

"I can understand that. But even if they were capable of the... erhm... act, it is still a biological impossibility that they could have produced any ofspring!"

"So one might think. But you all know what they say of the North. The moon is closer there, and we all know the moon has many mysterious powers. And I'm told I was conceived under a full moon on farthest of the Northern Reaches." The judge still didn't look convinced. The rest of the audience, however, listened to Wynne's story with wide-eyed wonder.

"Anyway," she continued. "Soon after I was born I was discovered to have inherited the qualities of both my parents. I kept shifting from human form to vulpine form, first randomly, but as time passed I learned to control this ability. I might still lose control under a full moon, but at all other times I am in complete contor of my form. I am a true werefox. So the crime of the century was as easy as one-two-free.

"First, I walked right in to the museum and up to the Crown, in broad daylight, paying the usual entrance fee. Second, I waited for a moment when the Crown room was empty and strangled the guard. But not too rough, only enough to make him drop unconscious. Then I loosened the jewel with a small, and extremely sharp chisel, pinched from a local jeweller. Third, I changed into a snow white fox, took the stone in my mouth, and ran past the doorman. There is no beast that could beat a fox at slipping through places almost unnoticed. If I had tried it in human shape, I would have been caught and searched. And all this in less than ten minutes...

"If it had not been for the swift action of the local lawenforcement officers, I would be far away from here by now, living like a queen."

All was silent for a moment. Then the jugde cleared his throat and spoke.

"This has probably been the most entertaining and interesting account of a crime I have heard during my entire long career. Regardless of its truth, I find you guilty of all charges and sentence you to five years of hard labor. There is just one more thing I wish to ask. Why go through all the trouble of removing a single jewel? Why not just carry away the whole crown?"

"Ah, very simple," Wynne answered. "Although the idea was inviting, I had to face the facts. The whole crown would have simply been too heavy for a fox to run with. I would have been easily caught at the door. That is why i came up with an ingenious plan."

"A plan?"

"Yes. A plan. Have you ever heard of the infamous alchemist, Count Shulver?"

"Yes. Mad Shulver they used to call him. Claimed he had discovered an ingenious new weapon. Some sort of sleep gas I think it was. He said it affected only humans, so a trained dog could carry a vial of the stuff to an enemy camp and do away with everyone there. No one believed him, of course." The judge's eyes brightened. He seemed to have grasped a notion of where Wynne was heading to.

"Exactly," she said. "Except that he was telling the truth. And as it happens, I was able to acquire one of the last vials of it. But it was no use at the museum. The outer door and the Crown room are too far apart for the gas to knock out both the doorman and the guard of the Crown. So I had to get the Crown out of the museum." While she was talking, she opened a secret compartment located in the heal of her boot and removed a tiny vial of blue substance.

"And since the case has been solved, the city gates are no longer guarded. And as it happens, this courtroom is located very near one of them, and I discovered long ago that all the guards and personnel in this building are gathered in this very hall during a big trial, like one of a major jewel thief. And now, your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, I am about to turn the almost succesful crime of the century into a most succesful crime of the millennium. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the unfortunate side effect of the sleep gas. It will make you forget everything that happened during the past hour or two. Very convenient for me and my little secret."

As the fumes started to lift, a slim, white figure slipped out of the building, a glimmering crown grasped in its jaws. It didn't need to hurry. The soft sounds of its passing were covered by the loud and steady snoring that echoed from inside, as it silently vanished into the lengthening shadows...