The Coyote steered the flat-bottomed boat toward the riverbank nearest the pavilion. It was one of Mercy's favorite places. She loved the heavy smell of jasmine, roses, and wisteria, and loved watching the sun glint of the graceful webbing that stretched from pilar to pilar. "Can you jump far and wide?" Mercy asked, as the Coyote lept out of the little boat to stand calf-deep in the water. He grabbed the rope trailing its bow and pulled the boat to shore.

"I sure can," Gabriel laughed, in a voice that sounded oddly like a man barking. "And I swim too, slowly." He offered Mercy his paw. She took it and scrambled over the side of the boat to the shore. "I've never been here before," Gabriel said, as he looked up the little hill and took in his surroundings. "It's very quiet."

Mercy pulled at Gabriel's paw and lead him up to the pavillion. "Miss Spider's been here... see?" she asked, indicating one of two enormous webs.

"That's a big spider web," Gabriel said admiringly.

Mercy nodded, "She's a big spider. She doesn't like to eat things that make noise, either... just like you. But she... " Mercy pursed her lips a moment to think of how to describe it her new friend.

"She makes things be quiet?" Gabriel asked helpfully.

"Yes, that's it," Mercy agreed. "She wraps things up and kisses them... then they're very quiet. She says that's the polite way."

Gabriel laughed again. "I can imagine she would, at that. Very tidy, too, I expect?"

Mercy nodded vigorously. "Except... she leaves a bit when she's through. I think she should clean up more, but she says that's not her way." Mercy heard a slight movement behind the vines and was drawn to a pair of dark eyes, watching over her carefully from behind the wisteria. Gabriel seemed to hear the noise, too, but he didn't turn around. She looked back at Gabriel, taking in his fox-like ears, his caramel fur and his long bushy tail. "You remind me of someone."

"Anyone in particular?" Grr asked as he dropped to his haunches. "I'm not a real person, you know."

This news quite surprised Mercy. "You're not?" she asked, as she drew a bit closer and poked him on the shoulder. "You feel real."

"No, Mercy," he replied, "I'm like something that is there, but not what it seems. Like... how do you fit a tree in an acorn?"

"Oh!" Mercy smiled. "I know all about that! Little Red Cap told me."

"The Mushroom Man?" Gabriel asked.

"No," Mercy laughed. "She's a girl. But she's not like me. She doesn't have teeth." She paused, frowning a bit as she explained. "I mean... she has teeth but... they're not very useful. They're all round except for a couple."

A look of understanding crossed Gabriel's face. "Does she carry a basket?"

"Yes," Mercy and gestured further up the hill toward a clearing in the forest. "Her grandmother lives up there. Red Cap likes the wolves, but her grandmother keeps telling her to stay away from them because... well... one tried to eat her!"

Gabriel nodded wisely. "Because that's what they do."

"They wouldn't eat me," Mercy said, full of bluster. "I'm fast."

"No, I imagine not," Gabriel grinned. "You have proper teeth."

Mercy said proudly, "That's what Father says. Some day, I'm going to travel far, far away, just like him. Mrs. Fox says everyone wants to go somewhere."

The Coyote GrrBrool smiled. "Yes, the Foxes are like that too."
The young, porcelain-skinned girl sat on her haunches peering out from behind the crooked trunk of a toothbrush tree. She watched the Beast before her trying to determine what sort of animal he was. He looked rather like Mr. Fox or one of the wolves, but she didn't recognize his caramel coloring. Another observer might have thought it unusual to see a dog-like creature wearing clothing and walking on two feet, but Mercy had seen animals behave in the most peculiar way in the forest. She pulled a shoot off the bush and sucked on it thoughtfully a moment before venturing out.

"Hello, Beast!" Mercy called.

The Coyote turned quickly, but didn't seem to be startled. "Hello, Little One," he said with a distinctly canine grin, bowing his head slightly.

Mercy thought his smile looked warm instead of hungry, and she took this to mean there was at least the possibility he was a good Beast. She gave a polite nod in return. "My name's Mercy. What's yours?" The Beast said nothing for a moment, his eyes taking her in from head to foot. Mercy grew a bit uncomfortable, but decided that she'd given herself a proper introduction so there was no reason for him to not answer. She smiled encouragingly, this time revealing rows of very small, very sharp teeth. "You don't have a name?" she asked politely.

"No, I have a name," the Beast replied. "Gabriel... you can call me Gabriel."

Mercy tried it out on her tongue. "Gabriel. I like that. Like the angel."

"Like the angel, yes," the Beast said with amusement.

Mercy asked, "Are you an angel, Gabriel?" She was very curious, not having actually ever seen an angel. She'd thought from the descriptions of them in the tales she'd been told that they were quite horrible, all wings and eyes. "You don't look like one."

"No," Gabriel smiled, "I'm not an angel, I'm... a... I'm a creature of the wild, given human shape."

She dropped the shoot from her hand to the grass, and then kicked at the grass with the toe of her shoe. "Do you know how to row a boat?" She pointed down the embankment toward the the flat-bottomed boat moored near the mill. "We could look at the river, if you like."

The Beast nodded and began moving lithely toward the dock of the mill. "Who are you, Mercy?"

The girl laughed, thinking it was quite obvious what she was. But Gabriel seemed to be a stranger, so she explained nicely, "I'm a girl. At least that's what Mother says." Mercy followed the beast and took his paw when offered, scrambling neatly over the side of the boat and settling onto one of its wooden seats. The Beast followed, sitting opposite of her and taking the oars in his paws. "Have you had breakfast, Gabriel?" Mercy leaned slightly over the side of the boat and trailed her fingertips in the clearness of the spring-fed river.

The Beast looked at her disapprovingly. "Should you be all alone out here?"

Mercy looked up from the water and smiled at her new friend again. "I'm alone a lot."

"Because, if I haven't," Gabriel asked seriously, "What do you suppose I eat?"

Mercy grinned and her sharp teeth sparkled. She leaned over the side of the boat again, watching the water intently. Quickly her hand darted into the water. When she pulled it up, a silvery fish fought to escape her grasp. "Do you like fish?" She pushed the fish toward Gabriel.

Gabriel nodded, then dropped the oars. He extended one paw, took the fish, and bashed it on the deck three or four times. When the fish had ceased to move he bit at it, tearing the skin off to expose the fatty flesh underneath. He chomped down on it, his canines shredding the flesh.

Mercy laughed with delight and clapped her hands. "I like fish, too." She wiped her wet hands on her dress. "They're a little messy, though." She sat contentedly watching the Beast eat as the river carried them in its flow.

"I like fish," Gabriel said with satisfaction. "They don't make noise, and they are good to eat." Flecks of fish blood stained his muzzle, but he didn't seem to notice.

The girl nodded agreeably.