Chapter 2: He met a scholar
One month later, after getting lost forty-nine times (that’s seven times seven) and taking the wrong turn eighty-one times (that’s nine times nine), Little Fox Spirit finally made his way out of the mountain, which had an impressive height of no more than five hundred metres.
The very first person Little Fox Spirit met after leaving the mountain was a man – and a man with a scholarly air at that.
Wow, a scholar!
Little Fox Spirit was extremely delighted. He rushed up to the scholar in excitement and peered up at him expectantly. “Are you a scholar?”
The man: “Well, I suppose…”
Little Fox Spirit: “Are you the kind of scholar that appears in stories?”
The man was stumped. Unable to make heads or tails of Little Fox Spirit’s senseless question, he had no choice but to reply with an awkward question of his own, “What kind of scholar is that?”
This was not the answer that Little Fox Spirit was expecting, and he became a little anxious as a result. “Don’t you know anything about scholars in stories? Haven’t you read any stories before?”
The man: “… ”
After circling around the man twice, as if working out how best to explain things to him, Little Fox Spirit replied, “The scholars in stories are the kind who get bewitched by fox spirits.”
“Oh? Do such scholars really exist?” The man found the explanation rather refreshing. “I’ve always thought there’s only kind of scholars out there – those who travel to the capital for the imperial exam. You’re saying that there’s another kind that gets charmed by fox spirits? What happens after they’re bewitched?”
“Yup yup, that’s right! All of them run into fox spirits on their way to the imperial exam and get bewitched as a result!”
Little Fox Spirit made the man sit down with him by a tree. Then, bursting with enthusiasm, he began rattling off the stories he had heard from Master. “After a scholar is bewitched, he will fall in love with the fox spirit. Even if he finds out at the end that the fox spirit merely wants to take his life, he never feels any regret.”
Perhaps because he found Little Fox Spirit’s big, round eyes particularly lively and adorable, the man showed no signs of impatience as he listened to story after story from the little thing.
At the end, Little Fox Spirit concluded, “This is the kind of scholars in stories – they are destined to meet and fall in love with fox spirits!”
The man: “So, I’m destined to meet a fox spirit, aren’t I?”
Little Fox Spirit: “That’s right!”
The man found the little thing truly fascinating. “Well then, since I’m a scholar, may I know where my destined fox spirit is?”
Now, it was Little Fox Spirit’s turn to be stumped. He stared at the man’s handsome face, frowning, and remained silent for a long time.
Just as the man was beginning to think that the little thing might have gotten stuck, Little Fox Spirit blushed all of a sudden and looked away. Face averted, he darted his eyes everywhere, sometimes at the sky, sometimes at the ground. After a rather long, bashful struggle, he replied at last in a whisper. Unfortunately, his voice was softer than a mosquito’s buzz, and the man could not hear it at all.
The man: “What did you just say?”
“I-I said… I said… I said that I’m your destined fox spirit!” As soon as the last word was out of his mouth, Little Fox Spirit scrambled to his feet, turned, and fled into the woods.
Yet, he did not run far before he stopped again to look back at the man. He seemed rather hesitant and puzzled: instead of giving chase, the man merely smiled at him without moving from his original position. “Hey,” Little fox Spirit asked, “why aren’t you chasing after me?”
“Should I be chasing you?”
“O-of course! I’m your destined fox spirit, you know!”
“Haha!” The man was tickled pink by the outburst. “If you’re the fox spirit destined for me, what are you running way for? Shouldn’t you be following me instead?”
That… seems to make a lot of sense. After some thought, Little Fox Spirit returned to the man’s side.
Frowning, he tugged at the man’s sleeve and muttered, “Master said that a fox spirit’s calling is to seduce men. You’re the first man I’ve met, and I think you’re quite good-looking, so you must be my destined scholar…”
The man seemed not to have heard him; he seemed a little deaf, actually, to Little Fox Spirit. “What did you just say?” the man asked.
“Nothing much. I said: I’m your destined fox spirit, so I’m going with you to the capital for the imperial exam!”
Just like that, on his very first day out of the mountain, Little Fox Spirit went on his merry, befuddled way and left with a stranger.