Tom Tit Tot


Once there was an old dog-fox who lived on the banks of the river, along with his daughter, who was the prettiest young vixen that had ever graced the woodlands. Sadly, they were very poor, and belonged to no tribe that could protect them. And the daughter was a pretty beast, but terribly clumsy and too tender-hearted to slay any creature. Her father was terribly shamed by having such a soft-headed child, but he still cared for her as he had sworn to her mother on her deathbed that he would.

One night, the old fox was out hunting, when he ran across a patrol from a Juska tribe. Now these beasts were all fine and strong and well-trained, and they were not pleased at finding him on their territory. And so they bound him and dragged him before their leader, who was the biggest and strongest dog-fox that ever lived, and wore upon his paws and tail many rings of gold. And the leader demanded to know who the old fox was and how he dared to trespass upon his territory.

"Why, my lord, in my youth I was the best hunter of my day!" lied the old fox. "I see your beasts have been well-trained. In my youth none but the best could have caught me, and I do not feel my skills have faded that much. But my skills are nothing compared to those of my daughter! Never have I seen her lose a quarry! She can use a sword, a spear, a sling ..." He boasted at great length about his daughter's supposed skills, and the Juska leader was intrigued. "And as well as her great hunting abilities, she is the most beautiful maiden to ever grace the woodlands! Why, what a fine mate she would make for you, sir!"

"I would like to meet this daughter of yours, old fellow," said the leader. And the old dog-fox was hopeful, for if the Juska leader wedded his daughter he may be persuaded to allow the old fox into the tribe as well, and if not, at least he would be well rid of his soft-hearted and clumsy daughter.

And so the old fox took him to their little den by the riverbank, and the young vixen came to greet them, and the Juska beasts were all struck dumb by her beauty. But the leader seized her and carried her back to the camp, though she screamed and fought, and tethered her by the leg to a tree.

"At dusk," he said, "I will untie you, give you a sling, and let you wander whither you will until dawn. Bring me back seven young nightingales by dawn. Do not think of attacking me, I will be under heavy guard. Fail to return and I will have my tribe search the woodlands until they find you and drag you back. Fail to bring back the prey, and you suffer a slow and painful death."

So the poor young vixen curled up by the tree and cried, knowing it was hopeless.

At dusk she was untied and given a sling to bring down her prey with. She stumbled through the undergrowth, desperate to get away, making so much noise that she never saw a single bird, for they all flew before she came near them. She came to the river and sat by its banks, wondering if she should throw herself in and be done.

Suddenly she saw the reflection of another creature in the water. She turned, and saw a small slender pitch-black cat with twinkling brimstone-yellow eyes, dancing and skipping like an ember in a fire. He bore no Juska markings, so she asked him who he was and where he came from.

"I tell none my name and I answer to no lord, but I smelled thy fear," said the strange little cat. "Tell me thy troubles, mayhap I can help."

She hurled herself at his footpaws, pouring out her story and begging for help.

"My, that is a problem," he said, laughing and twirling. "But it just so happens that I can fetch thee as many fine fat birds as thou desirest. 'Twill have a price, though, pretty one."

"Anything, sir! Anything!" the vixen wailed.

"What is that pretty trinket round thy neck?" asked the cat.

"This? Nought but painted clay beads, 'twas my mother's necklace ..."

"'Twill suffice as payment this one time," said the cat. "Give me thy sling and wait here."

And so she gave him her sling, and watched him leave. She waited for all the night. Just as she saw that she must soon walk back to the camp, the little cat reappeared, clutching the finest nightingales she had ever seen, and he snatched the beads from her neck. She dropped to her knees and kissed his footpaws in thanks, but he stepped away and vanished into the woods. And so the young vixen returned to the camp, bearing her spoils, and all were astonished at her skill (not least her father).

But her troubles were far from over, for the leader promptly tethered her again, saying "If you can do it once, you can do it again. I want you to go out at dusk again, this time with a fishing spear, and bring me back three full-grown pike by dawn. Return empty-pawed or try to run, and we will track you down and slay you." This time, however, she did not cry; she hoped and hoped that the cat would be there again.

So when she was released, she ran straight down to the place by the river where she had met the strange little cat before, and sure enough he came. She told him what she must do this time, and he agreed to help.

"What wilt thou pay me this time?"

"I have no more ornaments, sir, will you take my belt? It belonged to my dear dead mother."

"'Twill suffice as payment this one time," said the funny little cat. "Give me thy spear and wait here."

And he took the spear, danced down to the riverbank, jumped in, and swam away. As the sun was close to rising, he returned, dragging three pike bigger than himself, strung by the gills on the fishing spear. He dropped them on the bank, plucked away the vixen's belt, and danced merrily away into the woods again. And so the vixen hauled the pike back to the camp - in the nick of time, for they were so heavy they slowed her down. The Juska were all well pleased with her offering, and the leader looked upon her and thought that her father had been right, she would make a fine mate. However, he decided to test her one more time, and so he bound her tighter than ever, telling her that she would be released at dusk again.

"This time, I will give you a sword. Bring me back a full-grown adder! Succeed, and you will become my mate, and rule with me over all this tribe. Fail or try to run, and every beast of the tribe will have their turn at torturing you before I finish you myself!"

This time the vixen was terrified. How could the strange little cat hope to find and slay a deadly snake? Still she remained hopeful, for he had surprised her before.

Once again, as soon as she was freed from her bonds, she ran down to the river and waited for the strange little cat. Soon enough he appeared.

"Why, what is the matter this time?" he asked her. "I smell thy fear stronger than ever."

"This time I must bring back a full-grown adder by dawn!" wailed the vixen. "Even if you can help me, I will suffer. The tribe leader has decided I shall wed him if I succeed! I fear him much, and what shall I do if he ever asks me to hunt with the tribe and you are not there to help me?"

The little cat sat in thought for some time. Then he said "I shall help thee. When I bring back thy prize, wed the tribe leader. He is a fine strong creature, and he keeps his word, and will protect thee well if thou dost obey him. I will follow the tribe, wait for me every night for one season and I will teach thee to hunt as well as any in thy tribe."

The vixen was most thankful and praised the cat greatly, until he said "And what wilt thou pay me for this?" At this a great terror fell upon her, for she had nothing left to pay him with. She swore upon her mother's grave to bring the cat whatever he asked for if only he would help her and be willing to wait for payment.

"Very well," he agreed. "When the seasons turn through one full year from now, I will come back, and take thy most valued possession."

"Of course!" cried the vixen. "Only a fool would value their possessions over their life, and a tribe leader's mate can always find more precious things."

"Wisely said, young vixen, wisely said," said the cat, took the sword from her, and danced away. Just as the sun began to rise he returned, dragging the huge and ugly corpse of a great adder.

So the vixen brought back the serpent, and there was a great celebration in her honour, and the leader took her for his wife there and then. She and her father were given the markings of the tribe, and they settled in. Every night, the vixen crept away from her husband's tent to meet the cat, and he trained her in the ways of hunting. He was as good a teacher as he was a hunter. Soon she could run as fast and creep as silently and shoot as accurately as the best of the tribe's hunters. Sadly, she still would not strike a killing blow, but if she hunted in a group or with her husband she never had to - "I saved this one for you," she would say, and he always accepted. After a season of this, the funny little cat left her to fend for herself among the tribe. She did not love her mate, but few leader's wives ever truly did, and at least he left her unharmed and protected her and her father. And when four seasons from the day she made her bargain with the cat had passed, she gave birth to a healthy male cub, of whom she and her mate were extremely proud.

However, that very day her mate left on a hunting trip alone, and the strange little cat returned that night as she lay in the healer's tent with her newborn.

"I have come for my prize. I believe thou didst agree to give me thy most valued possession," he told her. She reached to give him the beautiful gold necklace her husband had taken from a raid for her, but he said "No, not that." She held out her sword. "No, not that," he said.

Then she glanced for just a second at her sleeping cub.

"Yes, he is thy most valued possession," said the cat, laughing merrily, eyes aglitter.

The vixen screamed and threw herself at his footpaws, pleading with him not to take her child, the only beast left that she truly cared for. She offered all her jewels.

"What are silly trinkets to me over a life?" he told her, laughing hard.

She offered the protection of the tribe.

"Didst thou not hear me on our first meeting? I answer to no lord and I never will!" he said.

She offered to come away with him herself and be his mate, just so she could stay with her child.

"I care not for a mate, and I will not share my prize," he said. "Enough foolishness, give me the cub. Thou canst always have another!"

But she screamed and sobbed and begged and would not let him near the child, and finally he gave in.

"Very well, I shall make thee another bargain," he said. "Thou shalt have three days and nights to guess my name. If thou dost succeed, I will leave and never see thee more. Fail, and I take the cub." And so he vanished.

The vixen was most distressed, but at least now she had a chance. So she thought and thought for all the next day, and made a list of every name she could possibly think of.

At dusk the strange little cat reappeared and said "Tell me my name, pretty one."

And so she started on her list. Was it Blackfur, was it Goldeyes, was it Lightpaw? She asked every name she could think of until her throat was raw, but every time the cat said "No, that is not my name." As the sun finally began to rise, the little cat laughed and said "Two more nights to guess, and then I take thy child!" and vanished like smoke into the forest.

The vixen wept and tore her fur. Once again she tried to think of names. This time she went out and asked every beast in the tribe, and collected an even longer list of names. She told them she was asking for advice on naming her cub, as she could not let her mate know of her bargain with the cat as he would know she had cheated him. She was tired, for she had spent all night awake with the strange little cat, but she forced herself to remember every name she heard.

At dusk the strange little cat came to her again, and again she listed every name she had collected, and again he said to every one "No, that is not my name." At dawn, again, he laughed and stroked the head of her sleeping cub. "One more night to guess, and then I take thy child!" he said, and vanished into the forest. Once again the vixen wept and tore her fur. Her eyes burned with the need to sleep, but once more she had to leave the tent and ask every beast in the tribe if there were any names they had forgotten.

At noon, however, her mate returned with the spoils of his hunt, and demanded that she bring him wine. This she did, and she sat beside him while he drank, clutching her child and trying not to fall asleep.

"I saw the strangest thing on my travels," he said to her. "At sunrise today, I came upon a clearing. In the clearing a strange little cat with pitch-black fur and brimstone-yellow eyes was dancing and laughing, and singing to himself. And what he sang was this;

The fox's wit avails her not
She cannot guess the name of Tom Tit Tot."

At this the young vixen rejoiced greatly, though she kept it silent lest her husband demand to know the reason.

That dusk, when her husband slept, the little cat came to her again and said "Tell me my name, pretty one."

"Is it Thurstan?" she asked him.

"No, that is not my name."

"Is it Thelonius?"

"No, that is not my name."

"Then is it Tom Tit Tot?"

The cat screamed with rage and stamped on the ground.

"Thou wretched harlot!" he howled, waking every beast in the camp. "Did a devil tell thee?"

The vixen's mate, however, was woken by the shouting. He saw the cat, snatched up his bow and shot the intruder in the footpaw, pinning it to the ground. Tom Tit Tot screamed and cursed at them, and every beast in the tribe came running to look as he pulled and pulled to free his footpaw.

The vixen found herself filled with loathing as she thought of what the cat had tried to do. For the first time in her life, she wanted to kill. She snatched up her sword, leapt forward, and slew him. The tribe cheered for her, and she was well pleased that she was finally worthy of her reputation.

But that is not the end of the story, my dears. For you see, she remembered how her father had treated her, bargaining her away in exchange for his own life, and so she slunk into his tent in the night and slew him as well. And she lived long and happily, she ruled over the tribe herself when her husband was slain soon after, and her son grew up to be a great fighter.

So what is the lesson here, my dears? Well, the first is that even the weakest and silliest-seeming creature may surprise you, so always be on your guard - and worry not too much if you feel you have no skills at something, you can always learn. Second, if you fail, make sure you can take credit for another's work. Third, pretty trinkets are not worth your life. No, really, my dears, they are not. Nice they are, to be sure, but you can always find more, and you only have one life. And last, there is no shame in protecting your family as you would protect yourself. Why, one day you may need them to save you in return! And if you do *not* protect your family, well, be sure you sleep more lightly and run more quickly than they do.


This isn't as OOC for a vermin as it looks, I swear. Going by Antigra, at least some vermin mothers are insanely protective of their young, and real-world animals will fight to the death to protect theirs. Even one or two of the fathers seem to care on occasion - Ferahgo cared for Klitch in that he didn't kill him, and Sawney actually seemed to adore his adopted son Tagg until the whole business with Felch. Seems out of place with their attitude to the rest of the world, but whole societies have been built on the idea of "protect your family, screw everyone else" ... At least this explains how they manage to breed. (Other than "quickly and enthusiastically", heehee.)

"Tom Tit Tot" is the name given to Rumpelstiltskin's equivalent in an old British version of the story, as opposed to the German Brothers Grimm version. I thought it was more appropriate for a Mossflower story. No sniggering, please.


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