By the time that my due date to give birth was only ten days away, I had to admit that I was counting the hours. My twin cubs were wearing me down, despite the fact that I had been on maternity leave. I was in my PTV (Personal Transport Vehicle) on my way to the spaceport to pick up my sister as usual. Goldfur had cut it rather fine this time. Originally, hir ship had been scheduled to return about three weeks ago, but an extraordinary find had extended the mission. Shi and hir mate had been concerned that it would go on so long that shi would give birth in deep space instead of at home with hir family. Fortunately, they made it with a few days to spare.
Because I had been ordered to take it easy, I had little to do and I had plenty of free time. I arrived at the port early and watched the coming and going of various craft. I kept wishing that I would see my dear admiral's shuttle while I was there, but I knew that he was still out in space somewhere. He had promised to be back in time for our birthing party though and I was quite sure that neither wild horses nor black holes would keep him away.
The public address system announced Goldfur and Garrek's shuttle arriving at dock 16 and I ambled over there to await their disembarkment. They were amongst the first to come out. There were a number of other people with them, all apparently wishing hir well for the coming birth. Then they spotted me and we were soon in a three-way hug. I noticed that a few of those other people were eyeing my own pregnant form and smiling. Obviously Goldfur had been talking about my pregnancy too and they had recognised me.
The first thing that Goldfur did when we got home was to call our parents to update them. Hir original estimate of due date had to be revised because of the extra amount of time that shi had been spending at high relativistic speeds. It was realised that at most, shi would deliver the day before me. The birthing party had to be rescheduled, but fortunately we had made allowances for the possibility of delay, so there would not be too much trouble. In fact, it was going to make things simpler. With the birth our cubs coming so close together, they could make it one big party for the both of us.
Midnight was already staying at our home. Since Chakat sires are always present for the birth of their cubs, shi had arranged hir last voyage to finish a week ago and had been staying with us ever since. Kris and Trina still had their jobs to go to and Midnight's presence had been a great comfort to me.
We spent a week basically relaxing and chatting about the latest voyages. The nights were filled with pleasant love-making amongst partners we had missed for some months. The days flew by and then it was time to go to our parents' house where we would have our cubs. When we arrived, the first thing we did after greeting our parents was to take a leisurely wander around the back yard. Because the house backed onto a state forest, the yard was effectively the entire wilderness area. It was mid spring and the usual bush scents were supplemented by the aroma of millions of flowers in bloom. The breeze whispered through the leaves as it wafted the smells our way and the steady drip of early rain added character to the soft background noise of the forest. The unseen bellbirds chimed their ringing calls, interrupted occasionally by the raucous laughter of a kookaburra.
We arrived back at the house in time for lunch. Our easy walk had not overtired me despite the burden of two fully grown unborn cubs, but it had given me an appetite. The birthing party was to start tomorrow. Because chakat pregnancies were so regular and predictable, these parties could be planned to the exact day with only rare misses. Goldfur's mother was a bit worried about the timing due to the strange tricks relativity had played, but shi assured hir that shi had kept very careful track of the days. There was actually more to worry about in the way of preparations for the guests, the first of whom were due this afternoon.
It was later that afternoon when a PTV pulled up out front and disgorged a single human passenger. He didn't get a chance to knock at the door because I had spotted him and trotted over to intercept.
"Boyce!" I cried throwing my arms around him. "You got here early!"
He laughed as he tried his best to return the greeting. "You knew nothing would make me late for this most special of times. Lord, you are looking big and beautiful." When I let him go, he put his arms around my pregnant belly and hugged it lovingly, saying, "Soon, little ones, we shall meet each other properly when I welcome you into the world."
I took Boyce inside the house, calling out that he had arrived. My parents were first to welcome him to their home, reminding him that it was as much his now that he was part of the family. While he was exchanging embraces with them, Quickpaw came tearing inside and pounced on him.
"Big brother! It's good to see you again," shi cried as shi nearly knocked him off his feet.
"Hello, little sister," he replied with a loving kiss.
They cuddled for a while until my mother told hir to let him meet some of the other family members that had arrived early. The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting with Boyce and introducing him to the other members of our clan as they arrived. We had a large dinner with some refreshment provided by Boyce who had brought along some of the ngi juice of which he was so fond. After the meal, Boyce went out to his vehicle and came back bearing various packages. They turned out to be gifts for each of the family members, unusual items brought back from far-flung planets. A few parcels were left unopened.
"Those are for the new cubs," he explained. "I hope you like your gifts, but they're not free, you know." He pulled out a portable display. "Now you have to look at the pictures I took on my travels!"
We all gave the obligatory groan but, in truth, his travelogue was most interesting and his commentary amusing and informative; far from being the typical vacation snapshots.
We did not make too late a night of it. Both Goldfur and myself pleaded tiredness, which is not so surprising considering how close to giving birth we both were. I said to Boyce, "You will be sharing a den with us tonight, won't you?"
"That's a rhetorical question, isn't it?" he grinned.
Goldfur replied, "Then come with us. Your suitcase has already been put in the room."
We kissed everyone goodnight, then headed for the den. While Boyce was completing his preparations for bed, I dug out a sheet from the closet and we were ready for him to snuggle between us when he came in. We slept well that night with Boyce firmly cushioned between our pregnant forms. We didn't even stir when Garrek and Midnight joined us later.
* * *
The anticipated day for Goldfur's cub had finally arrived. Many more family members arrived early that day, not wishing to miss the event. Everything started normally enough. Breakfast was a babble of voices excited with the prospects for that day. Boyce offered to make some of his omelettes and promptly got stuck making them for everyone. Then everyone pitched in to clear up and we were ready to receive visitors long before the first arrived. Then Boyce was kept busy being introduced to a steady stream of newcomers with whom he set about endearing himself.
Births are one of the great social occasions for chakats. Not only are they seen as the fulfilment of the love between the mates, but the continuation of the clan. The process of giving birth was not one shrouded in the mysteries of the sterile hospital ward, but a wondrous event to be witnessed by all those closest to our hearts. Amongst the first to arrive was Brightsong, the midwife, one of our clan who had chosen to specialise in making parturition as comfortable and safe as possible. Our creators had done everything within their abilities to make giving birth as easy as possible so that the process wasn't the agony it could be for humans, nor the ordeal it could be for the baby. The birth canal was wide enough to comfortably pass a taurform cub and many other adjustments had been made to ensure a safe, low-stress delivery. Nevertheless, the midwife helped to make the birth easier and was a comfort to the labouring mother, especially first-timers like Goldfur and myself.
The morning passed relatively quietly. It was not until mid afternoon that Goldfur interrupted hirself in mid sentence, then announced that shi had experienced hir first contraction. The excitement in the room leapt immediately. When shi had hir second, shi and the midwife headed for the nursery. This room had seen use only as a guest room for many years, but it was joyfully put back to its original use. Goldfur didn't go there for privacy; the birth was an event shared by all. This was done purely for the comfort of the labouring mother and convenience of hir attendants. A few others joined Goldfur there, whilst the others jockeyed for a position at the door. Garrek was by hir side, of course. He would take delivery of the cub under the watchful eye of Brightsong. Boyce was present by invitation. He was to be godfather to our cubs and he would give support during hir labour. I was there too, as well as the proud grandparents-to-be.
Goldfur's contractions rapidly increased, there being no long drawn-out labour periods for us. The time came when the midwife decided that it was time for Goldfur to start pushing, and then the strain of the birth started showing. Garrek stroked hir pregnant belly, softly murmuring encouragement to the cub. Boyce held hir hand stroking hir hair, urging hir on when shi was told to push. Brightsong started singing one of hir soothing tunes for which shi was named, making for a more peaceful and comfortable atmosphere. Then Goldfur had a huge contraction and shi pushed in time with it. The cub's head appeared and there was a cry of delight from the audience. Word was passed to those who were out of view and some gave up their position to let others witness it. From that point, the birth went swiftly and smoothly. All the long months of concern for the birth of this part-foxtaur cub proved needless as everything went according to normal chakat births. Garrek supported the upper torso as Goldfur again strained. The forelegs slipped free, leaving just the lower torso within hir. Brightsong encouraged hir, then told hir that shi needed to do just one more long, hard push. Goldfur bore down and the strain showed, but suddenly, the rest of the cub slid free. There was a cry of triumph from all. Garrek held the newborn up for everyone to see, hir mewling cries attesting to healthy lungs, then he and Brightsong started cleaning and drying the fur before finally handing it to the happy mother.
"Welcome to the world, little one," Goldfur told hir. "Boyce, say hello to the newest member of our family."
Boyce caressed the child's head, saying, "Hi there, darling cub. You are a much loved addition to this family and I'm proud to be counted as one of your carers."
After the mess was cleaned up, fresh bedding was added for the comfort of mother and child. Goldfur put the cub to hir breast where shi blindly quested for a nipple. Upon finding it, shi rapidly began drinking hir first meal. Goldfur sighed and closed hir eyes to better experience the pleasure shi took in this.
As the cub's fur dried out and fluffed up, we could get a better look at hir patterning. The most obvious thing was that shi had inherited hir colouring from hir sire. The same strong red fur predominated and the dark brown markings on the arms and legs were also present. Oddly though, the paws themselves weren't dark also. The foxy 'socks' instead were more like 'ankle-warmers' and the paws were covered with the same white fur as grew on hir belly.
Goldfur had been murmuring something to Garrek, who smiled and nodded approval. Shi then turned towards us, asking for our attention. "We have been asked how we intended to name the cub. We have decided to combine our naming traditions and now that shi has been born, we can give hir the descriptive part of the name. We have called hir Eudora Whitepaw. Eudora means 'Good Gift' and we want it to symbolise Garrek's and my joy in being blessed with this perfect cub." A cheer went up for the newborn child.
The others came into the room then to say their personal greetings to the cub, then left to allow others their turns. The nursery had just about cleared when I approached Brightsong. I said to hir, "You know how I'm due tomorrow?"
"Yes. Have you been concerned about anything you saw today?" shi asked.
"No, but it seems I just had my own first contraction."
"Oh! Don't be worried. You are concerned about this early start, aren't you?"
"Yes. Goldfur came right on schedule, despite having a cross-breed child. My mate is a chakat, so I expected there to be no difference."
"But you are having twins, and that changes things greatly. There have been examples of chakat twins arriving at slightly different times, but on top of this, I think that Goldfur's birthing has triggered the process within you too. If the next contraction comes after the normal interval, I'd say that everything will go as it should." Shi gave me a reassuring hug, then announced to everyone, "It seems we might be having a double celebration this evening. Forest has gone into labour!"
The crowd that had been dispersing immediately started gathering again, their excitement renewed. Not that it had time to abate much yet. I padded over to my sister's side and sat down beside hir. I tickled hir cub's ear, smiling as it twitched in response. I said to hir, "I'm glad you still managed to have your cub before me, Goldfur. It's only right that the oldest should have a cub first."
Shi smiled at me and replied, "Is that a little dig at me in return for calling you little sister all the time?"
I giggled in response. "Perhaps. Still, after having such a head start on me, it would seem silly if I had given birth first. Now it's my turn. I'm so looking forward to finally seeing them."
"I hope that your labour goes as swiftly and smoothly as mine. It was hard, but relatively painless, and there are so many loved ones to support you."
"Like me," came Boyce's voice from behind me.
I turned my face to him and saw him standing next to Midnight. "I knew you would be there, Boyce. No one has followed their progress more closely than you." I took his hand and rubbed my muzzle against it. He stroked my hair for a while in return. Then another contraction came upon me. Boyce noticed and attracted Brightsong's attention.
"Your charge requires your attention, Brightsong!"
Shi smiled reassuringly and said to him, "Stop fussing, Boyce. You seem to be more worked up about this than anyone else. All is fine. Come on over here, Forest, and make yourself comfortable. You've seen how we did things with Goldfur, so there shouldn't be any surprises."
Shi was quite right, of course. The contractions continued getting closer, their strength growing. My mates were all around me, encouraging and soothing me. Boyce was adding some encouragement to the cubs too. The pressure grew to a painful level, then Bright song said, "It's time to push, Forest. You've seen it done, so you know what to do."
I did as I was told, bearing down. Shi told me to do it again. "Shi is in a hurry to come out, Forest. Keep pushing as hard as you can when I tell you." It was getting harder to obey. I could feel the cub forcing its way out. The pressure was painful, but I knew that it would go faster if I intensified my efforts. I kept it up until suddenly there was a release. My eyes had been closed from concentrating on pushing and blocking out the associated pain, but I opened them when a cry went up among the others in the room. Midnight was holding up our firstborn in triumph. Brightsong was looking hir over and then left hir to others to clean and dry hir. Shi came back to my side and said, "The other will be ready to come almost immediately." Just then, another contraction occurred to prove hir judgement correct. "The same again, Forest. You did well for the first and the cub is perfect, so concentrate on the second."
I could describe the second in detail, but it was basically a repeat of the first birth. The second cub was in as much of a hurry to be born as the first, for which I was very grateful. I thanked God that I wasn't a human who so often had to go through hours of painful labour. This time it was my life-mate Kris who held up the newborn cub for all to see. Never was a fox so proud of his mate's cub, even if shi wasn't of his blood. His eyes sparkled and his tail twitched in excitement as he caressed hir.
When I was cleaned up, my cubs were at last brought to me and I could see what good work that Midnight and I had done. The firstborn was a beautiful silvery grey with white belly fur and black spotting. In fact shi mostly resembled a snow leopard. Shi kept up hir mewing cries until I brought hir to my breast to take hir first feed. I sighed in pleasure as I felt my milk flow into hir hungry mouth. Then I was ready to take a look at the second kit. This one had large patches of black, white and orange fur, randomly patterned all over pelt. This one had ceased hir birth cries but still seemed to be determinedly seeking something. I put hir to my other breast and shi rapidly found the nipple and started drinking. It was a glorious feeling having my cubs nursing at my breasts at last. I cradled them both and my purring grew until I felt sure it would drown out all conversation in the room.
When all the kittens were satisfied, other people had their turns at my breasts and Goldfur's. These were both my parents, Midnight and my little sister Quickpaw. They were going to assist us in feeding the cubs and drinking the milk of a chakat mother stimulated the production of baby's milk instead of their normal milkwater due to a hormone in the milk. The large size of our cubs meant that having two people to nurse them took the strain off the mother. Like all chakat sires, Midnight would share the responsibility of nurturing the kittens and that would generally be enough. However, because I had twins, Quickpaw had volunteered to assist also. Shi was absolutely delighted and thrilled to be able to help out. I hadn't been old enough to help feed Quickpaw when shi was born and shi knew how much of a privilege it was for hir. In Goldfur's case, hir mate was a foxtaur who could not help in that department, so my parents had insisted that they would share that pleasurable duty.
Quickpaw only needed to drink a little bit to get enough to stimulate the lactation process, then shi unbuttoned hir blouse to offer hir teats to me. I needed to drink hir milkwater to replenish my own stores of liquid and to boost my energy level with its sweet goodness. But most importantly, I completely drained hir breasts to make room for the new supply of baby's milk. I did the same with Midnight and was completely replenished by the time I had drunk hir dry. Of course, this was also a very pleasurable business for all involved, and I noticed that Boyce had been watching with just a hint of envy. I was sorry that we could not spare him any, but I was sure that someone would oblige him if he was to ask.
With all the necessary duties out of the way, Brightsong allowed the other family members to come in for a close inspection of the new cubs. Admittedly they were more intrigued by my sister's foxy cub, but I didn't lack for attention. Heck, even I wanted a closer look. Some offered possible names for my cubs, but Midnight and I would wait a while before deciding on them. We were not in the unique position that Goldfur and Red had been.
Eventually everyone's curiosity had been satisfied and the nursery was left relatively empty. Boyce hadn't left at all and was now proudly cradling one of my sleeping kittens. Goldfur and I placed the other kittens into their cradle, then pried the remaining one out of Boyce's grasp and put hir with hir siblings. We then rejoined our family who gave a cheer of congratulations upon seeing us. We walked with our arms around each other's waist, closer than ever. We had shared much all our lives and today we shared our ultimate moment of fulfilment. Today we had completed our own circle of life with all its joys and sorrows, failures and triumphs and new friends and mates to love and cherish. Now we would turn our attention to the future and building an even better life for ourselves and our children. As our kin crowded around us, we knew that we would never have to do it alone. Our family made us strong and the future was bright.
To be continued in A Forest Tale9: Clans
Thanks go to Roy Pounds for the names that he suggested for Goldfur's cub and for his continued inspiration.
Also a tip of the hat to Boyce Kline who truly did want to see these cubs into the world.
All characters are the creation of Bernard Doove except Admiral Kline who was created by Boyce Garald Kline Jnr, and is used with permission.
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