by Bernard Doove © 1997

I had been eagerly looking forward to returning to Garrek's village. We had promised to return at the next festival and I wanted to re-acquaint myself with the friends I had made on our last visit. This time all my mates and my younger sister would be coming and I wanted to introduce Chris to Garrek's family. Of course, I also wanted to show off my two darling cubs also.

Goldfur and Garrek had brought Eudora to meet hir grandparents a few weeks earlier, but they had the advantage of being able to commute for next to nothing because of their employment. The rest of us, except for Midnight, still had to pay our way and, even in these days of quick and economical air travel, a trip across the Pacific wasn't cheap. Nevertheless, money was the least of our concerns now. We were excited at joining in the revelries and competitions again and perhaps getting to make some more new friends.

As we did last time I visited, we left our vehicle at the town's central parking station and started to wander towards Garrek's home. Almost immediately, a few familiar faces came over to say a quick welcome to us. One foxtaur that I half remembered competing with told me that he hoped that I would give them the opportunity for a re-match. I grinned and assured him that it was on. The cubs were all attracting lots of delighted attention with Eudora's unique nature being the subject of much curiosity. This visit was getting off to a good start and I optimistically thought that this was going to be a grand experience. That was up until the moment I heard a female voice behind me.

"So, you brought the little freak back again, did you?" she said nastily.

I saw Goldfur's face suddenly go neutral and Garrek's mouth set grimly. We all stopped and turned to see the foxtaur vixen standing there apparently waiting for a reaction. I was confused, but obviously Goldfur was acquainted with this person and was on hir guard.

"Hello Ketta," Goldfur replied. "No, we didn't bring any freaks with us, but we did bring our beautiful daughter to see hir family again."

"She is a freak. She isn't a foxtaur and she doesn't even belong here," Ketta insisted.

"Shi is Garrek's child and has as much right to be here as you do," Goldfur refuted.

"You had no right to take one of our males as a mate. Now you flaunt it in our face and proudly show your half-breed cub as if it legitimizes your mating. Can't you tell that you're not welcome in this village?" With that, she stalked off without letting Goldfur debate the point any more.

My sister sadly watched her go, then turned to face the rest of us. When shi saw the stunned look on my face, shi said, "I suppose I had better explain. I had hoped that this would blow over but it seems to be getting worse. When we were all here last year, we enjoyed the company of many of the foxtaurs here who liked us and were curious to learn more about us. However, even then there were some who resented us. A small group, all of them vixens, weren't pleased that a chakat had mated with one of their clan, but they mostly just kept it to themselves and avoided us. Then Eudora was born and this seemed to tip them over the edge. Since the day we visited Garrek's parents after hir birth, they have been harrassing us and trying to stir up ill will against us. This is a strongly matriarchal society and these vixens seem to feel that I had no right going after one of their males and the fact that I wasn't even a foxtaur was unacceptable. They completely ignore the fact that it was Garrek's choice as much as mine and neither of us could help falling in love. But I suppose bigots have always been blind.

Shi sighed, then shook hirself and smiled. "But don't let it get you down. By far the most common reaction has been delight, and we have a strong proponent in favour of our mating also. Come on, they're waiting for us." With that, shi started off again in the direction of Garrek's house. I noticed that Garrek was still looking rather grim though and I knew that we hadn't heard the last of this.

There was no sign of any problem, judging by the welcome that we received. Garrek's mother rushed out to hug her son and his father was only a little behind, beaming happily at them. A year ago, Rikandor had been reserved in his opinion about their mating. Now it was blatantly obvious that a prouder grandfather couldn't be found. He greeted us all happily, but was most eager to cuddle his grandchild. We left Eudora in his safe hands and then I got a chance to introduce Kris and Quickpaw and show off my own cubs. After a lot of oohing and aahing over them, we finally proceeded inside. Jaleth then beckoned us to follow her into one of the bedrooms and showed us a crib where there was a beautiful little foxtaur cub fast asleep.

"Oh! She is gorgeous!" I whispered. "Garrek told us that you had given birth a couple of months ago. Your family has been growing a lot lately, hasn't it?"

Jaleth smiled her pleasure and said, "Yes, and we were very pleased to get another daughter. Rik and I felt that we both needed another child in our life and we decided to try for one about the time you were here."

I grinned back at her and replied, "Malena had hinted as much. I'm so happy for you. After having my twins, I know how wonderful it is. Speaking of Malena, though, where is she at the moment?"

"She and Miktar are helping out with preparations at the festival, but they should be coming back here very soon."

"Good. I have been looking forward to seeing her again too." We made our way back to the living room and I settled down on a rug with the others while Jaleth and Rikandor served up some coffee and muffins.

We spent a lot of time catching up on news since we last met. When this morning's incident was mentioned, Jaleth looked distressed and Rikandor was definitely annoyed. "That fool vixen doesn't know what she is talking about. Even when I was unsure about Garrek's choice, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. This has turned out better than I had dared to hope for everyone, but Ketta seems to think she knows better. She should learn to mind her business."

"But Ketta is a very influential person, dear," Jaleth said. "Whether her opinion is correct or not is not going to matter so long as she feels she has been slighted. She will make sure that everyone else knows it too and you know that there are others who are inclined to think her way."

"Then what are we going to be able to do to counter it?"

"At the moment, just being yourself is good enough. It was also well known that you were wary of this mating. Just go out and tell people how you now feel. Arguing directly with Ketta will only make things worse while malicious lies tend to evaporate in the face of truth."

"You've always been wiser than me, my love." Rikandor gave his mate a gentle hug.

"And don't you forget it!" she replied with a tender grin on her face.

Goldfur spoke up. "Our presence at the festival this year will be important. The doubters will be able to see for themselves and we will get it all out into the open. Maybe we can clear this all up this weekend," she ended on a hopeful note.

Jaleth sighed, then said, "I think you are being a bit optimistic, but for your sakes, I hope you are right."

Just then, the front door opened and two more foxtaurs came in. "You're here!", Malena cried with delight. She bounded up to us and gave her brother a hug, then Goldfur. I was stunned by how much she had matured in the past year. The lean teenager I had come to know had filled out into full maturity. Her physique was a young adult at the peak of fitness and her breasts had more than amply filled out to eye-catching dimensions. She was now an extraordinarily beautiful vixetaur, but she carried it with a total lack of self-consciousness. I was into my male phase and I felt myself being rapidly turned on. I was having quite a bit of difficulty suppressing my body's automatic reactions even though this was really not the time for such things. My turn for a hug was next and she seemed to linger a little longer, making me wish we had a little privacy for a more intimate greeting.

"Welcome back, Forest. You too, Midnight and Trina. And is this your other mate?"

"That's right. Malena, I'd like you to meet my lifemate Kris and my other sister Quickpaw. Folks, this is Malena, Garrek's sister. And the tod grinning his head off at her is Miktar."

"G'day mates!" he said with a creditable Aussie accent. "Did I get that right?"

"That was pretty good," I answered. "How long have you been practicing that?"

"Ever since you were last here," he admitted with an even bigger grin. He had a grown a lot in the year between our visits. He obviously was still keen on the outdoor activities as his youthful frame was looking well conditioned and he was growing up to be a very handsome foxtaur tod.

We settled back on the rugs. I noted with interest that Malena settled herself down next to Goldfur on the other side from her brother. I wondered how much of the initial attraction she had for my sister still existed despite the infrequent visits shi made.

The rest of the morning was spent catching up on events that had happened on both sides of the world since we had last met. A big lunch had been prepared which we enjoyed with scarcely any lessening of the conversation. After letting the meal settle for a bit, Jaleth chased us out of the house, promising to meet us a little later. I put on the special saddle arrangement designed for carrying my two cubs around. Goldfur had hir own backpack for carrying Eudora, but wanted to hold hir cub in hir arms for a while. Malena kept chatting with all of us, but I noticed that she kept closer to Goldfur. Something else was bothering me about her though, then I finally realized. She was just starting to come into heat. That ought to make things interesting.

You would never have known that there was any dissension judging by the amount of fuss that the foxtaurs made over our cubs. In fact, most were quite amused by the fact that Eudora was so foxy-looking except for hir paws. We meandered about the grounds, occasionally running across a familiar face and renewing acquaintances. The setup was the same as last year and this time we headed for the stalls first to see if we could pick up some more of the wonderful local handicrafts. This year I was determined to get something for Midnight that shi couldn't resist trying out. I had already found some absolutely gorgeous outfits for the cubs and I had just found a top that I wanted to get for myself when I heard the sound of that unwelcome voice again.

"So, you wouldn't take the hint and go away," Ketta announced loudly, obviously for the benefit of the little group of vixens clustered around her. "There you are, girls. This is what happens when you let just anyone into the village. They think they own the place, then they start stealing your mates."

I sighed as I looked in Goldfur's direction. We realised that we couldn't ignore this as Ketta seemed to have come here looking for a confrontation. I had to stand up for my sister and brother-in-law.

"Your festival has always been open to everyone and one of the purposes of this event is used for is to look for mates outside the village," I started arguing.

"Foxtaur mates!" she spat. "Not feline freaks!"

"So the only thing you have against us is that a tod has fallen in love with someone outside his own species and had the temerity to actually have a child by hir?"

"Foxtaurs should mate with foxtaurs," she insisted. "Some vixens already had an eye on him as a potential mate and one of them would have borne normal foxtaur cubs instead of this half-breed dual-sexed monstrosity."

"That's stupid," I said. "Both our species are the result of genetic engineering by humans. There's no such thing as a pure breed amongst us."

"Speak for yourself. We foxtaurs are purer than your mixed heritage. Oh yes, I know all about your hybrid nature and we don't want any part of it!"

Now I was feeling more than a bit peeved by her constant denigration of my species. My own ire was raised and I started replying a bit heatedly,

"Our species was the culmination of all that was learned from previous creations, so we are genetically better off. You could say that Garrek has sired a superior cub. We don't flaunt this fact in people's faces, but I am sure that I'm not going to let you put us down like this, along with Garrek."

"Foxtaurs have gotten along perfectly well without your 'improvements'," she said in a sarcastic tone. "And what about simply stealing one of our males away from the village?"

Garrek spoke up this time. "Nothing more happened than does at the festival where mates exchange clans for the betterment of the bloodlines. I am still part of this village and always will be. The only thing that Goldfur stole was my heart," he turned to look hir in hir eyes, and continued with deep affection in his voice, "And that shi may keep for as long as shi wants."

Goldfur took his hands and returned his gaze. "You took mine in return, my love, and I never want it back."

The love between them was palpable. They then joined muzzles for a lengthy kiss. I watched as an expression of disgust crossed Ketta's face and she whirled and stalked away, sycophantic vixens in tow. But not all of them, I noted. A few stayed, seemingly curious about this beautiful couple and their child. I wasn't sure how well I had handled the situation, so I sidled up to one of them to see if I could learn something, but she chose to speak up before I could ask anything.

"Ketta was spreading rumours about these two and the cub, and I was foolish enough to believe them for a while. She even implied that the child was some sort of deformed freak, but anyone can see that shi is a beautiful cub. I'm sorry that I even thought for a moment that there was something wrong."

I smiled at her in reassurance. "Then perhaps you can help improve the situation. Tell everyone you meet just what the real situation is and perhaps we can stop this before it grows too much."

"Willingly. Now please excuse me; it's my turn to have a play with the cub." She grinned at me and I let her go. I felt much reassured to realize that Ketta and her cronies were not being unanimously believed. I decided that I'd better not get too cocky though. Jaleth had warned us that Ketta was an influential person and she might yet cause us trouble.

We turned our attention back to the stalls, trying to recapture the happy mood we had been in before Ketta's visit. It was Kris who found the item that I was looking for. He held up a jacket that had been made to suit a female. It was one of those beautifully crafted soft leather garments and I strongly suspected that it was made by Purteshka the Leatherworker who had designed my favourite halter.

Kris brought the jacket over to me. "This is the kind of style that I'd choose to wear, not counting the allowance for a large bust of course. If Midnight doesn't like this, nothing will interest hir."

I agreed and purchased it immediately. I found Midnight at another stall, examining some hunting knives. Shi smiled when shi saw what I was carrying. "You aren't going to give up until I try that on, I suppose? No? Well then, I'd better give it a chance." I held it up so that shi could easily slip it on. As shi fastened it, a look of surprise came over hir face. "My God, this is so comfortable! I've never felt so unencumbered while wearing a top." Shi went looking for a mirror in a nearby stall and examined hirself, noting its handsome design that didn't overemphasize hir full figure; then shi turned back to me and gave me a hug. "Thank you, Forest. This is perfect for me. You have succeeded in getting me something that I want to wear."

I smiled back, happy to have pleased my mate. I said to hir, "Then would you like to show it off at one of the dances?"

"Let's do it!" shi laughed and, grabbing my hand, took off in the direction of the music coming from entertainment area.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent in a similar manner to last year, up until near the end of the evening feast. It was then that I noticed a vixen, who had been sharing our table, having an argument with Ketta. Straining to hear, I realised that Ketta was denouncing the vixetaur for having anything to do with us, but shi was accepting none of what Ketta had to say. I nudged Goldfur and pointed them out to hir. Shi sighed and shook hir head. I saw that Malena had noticed too and she was looking very unhappy about it. Goldfur put an arm around her shoulder in reassurance. Malena looked slightly surprised for a moment, then happily leaned her head on my sister's comforting shoulder.

The rest of the feast was pleasant. It seemed half the village came around to have a look at our cubs. Having fed myself, it was time to feed my children. Snowcloud had begun mewling for a drink, so I nursed hir while Patchwork continued to lap up the attention that the villagers were lavishing upon them. Goldfur decided that Eudora was due to be fed also and the foxtaurs could look at hir just as well while shi was at hir breast. This evening was proving to be good for our relationship with the foxtaur clan. People could see for themselves just what Goldfur and Garrek's cub was like and how we got along with all who came to look. Ketta was going to have to do a miracle to overcome the impressions made tonight.

There was one visitor to our table who had formed her own opinions a year ago. Dilenna the archer surprised Midnight with a present of a quiver she had made for hir. Midnight was delighted and the two spent much time discussing their mutual love of the sport.

We all took turns looking after the cubs so that we could all have a full evening of entertainment. Quickpaw said shi would take first turn because Patchwork had finally decided that shi was hungry too and my little sister had yet to feed a cub that day. We left Patchwork happily at Quickpaw's nipple and sought out the musicians. This time we were expected and they started up a lively dance tune for us. We grinned as we realised that they expected us to do the chakat style dance that we improvised last year. We didn't dare disappoint our hosts, so we enthusiastically complied.

Later, Garrek brought out his flute and joined in with one of the bands. He had been practicing a lot and, now that he had more self-confidence, he was willing to play for the crowd. I don't know what the standard of ability was in that village, but to my ear he seemed to be marvelous. Another flautist joined him in a beautiful harmony which brought thunderous applause. When he was finished, his fell was flushed with both pride and a touch of embarrassment. He found it hard to accept that he was that good.

It was quite late before our group made its way back home. My cubs were both fast asleep in my special backpack, gently rocked by my gait. Quickpaw had finally ran out of energy and was ready to drop. When we got to the house, we sent hir and Miktar off to his den. We took all the cubs to the nursery where we settled them all down without even waking any of them. This time Jaleth and Rikandor didn't go to their room. They excused themselves saying that they were expected over at a friend's home for a late supper. I thought that there was probably a lot more to it than that, but it wasn't any of my business.

We made ourselves some hot chocolate and congregated in the living room to unwind and work out sleeping arrangements. Seven of us was a bit too much for one small den. Of course there was also the matter of who wanted to be with whom. This time everyone knew that Malena would be involved so there would be no surprises... or so I thought. Malena made her way over to Goldfur's side, which was quite expected. It was obvious that her attraction to my sister had not waned and I counted Goldfur as being lucky to have the attentions of such a delightful vixen.

Unexpectedly, Malena asked, "Goldfur, could you and Garrek come to my room for a few minutes? I need to talk with you about something in private."

They consented and left for her room. I was rather curious, but resisted the urge to eavesdrop. I was to find out soon just what she wanted to ask.

*          *           *

Malena fidgeted a bit uncertainly, then made up her mind to start. "There are foxtaur customs that normally apply to what I want to ask," she said to both of them, "But the unique nature of your relationship has made that inapplicable, so I'm winging this a bit. Please forgive me if I make a blunder."

She turned to face Goldfur and then continued, "I have fallen in love with you, Goldfur, and I want to have your cub."

My sister was only startled for a moment before putting hir arms around Malena and replying, "I care deeply for you too, Malena, but are you sure about this? Are you sure that what you feel is love? Are you prepared for a cub at your age? And what of your brother; have you considered how it affects him?

Malena was reluctant to leave Goldfur's arms, but she needed to speak earnestly to all those witnessing her plea. "I think that I fell for you the first day we met and you taught me how to make love. Yet, as strongly as I felt for you, even I knew that this might just be an infatuation, so I kept it to myself. However, when you left, I felt that an important piece of me was missing and there was an emptiness that was only filled when you returned on one of your visits. You were always prepared to make love with me each time and it was always beautiful, but it made your leaving again that much harder. Well, I can't keep it in anymore. I love you Goldfur, of this I'm sure.

She had been speaking with more and more intensity, peaking with her earnest declaration of love, then she paused a moment. Goldfur and Garrek kept quiet, knowing that she had more to say yet. She looked fondly at her brother, and said, "I care for my brother a lot and I wouldn't do anything to hurt him, but I'm not doing anything to threaten his relationship with you. You know that our foxtaur society is socially matriarchal and I have the right to ask this, but the reason why we have this rule is because vixens outnumber the males and many tods take more than one mate. It's not unheard of for sisters to choose the same male, but this will be the first time that a brother and sister choose the same mate. Even so, what I am asking for is your child. You do not have to formally mate with me."

Goldfur replied, "No, Malena. Chakats do not have cubs outside of a declared mating. A child is a gift of love and if you don't love the one you are mating with, why would you want one?" Then shi looked at Garrek and said, "Chakat custom allows any number of mates, but we know that this doesn't necessarily apply to others. Are you comfortable with the thought of your sister being your co-mate?"

Garrek grinned, and answered, "Beloved, I can't see why the whole world doesn't fall in love with you." Then seriously, he continued. "I've seen how Malena reacts in your presence and I recognized it as much the same way that I felt. Even so, this comes as a bit of a surprise, but I couldn't imagine a better mate for my sister." He paused a moment in thought, then went on, "The possibility that she would want to continue her relationship with you had crossed my mind, and I was already comfortable with that. If she wishes to be a full co-mate, then I defer to custom. It is vixen's choice and I have no objections."

Goldfur looked a bit surprised at that. "Not quite the answer I expected, but certainly reassuring." Shi turned back to Malena. "But what about having a cub? We can all tell that you are in estrus at the moment. You aren't just asking because your body is urging you to do so? And if not, are you ready for the responsibility of a child?"

"I decided that I wanted your cub long ago, and not while I was in heat either. I've thought about what this would mean to both of us and how to take care of hir. I know that shi will be a chakat and will need to be brought up as such. In fact, that will be important as it will bring a chakat more intimately into foxtaur society as shi grows up. And as for being ready, just look at Quickpaw. Shi could hardly be a better parent and shi's years younger than me. We tend to have cubs early and I feel that I'm ready, so I decided that because I'm in heat, now would be a good time to try."

Goldfur looked at them both, then said, "It seems that I've been the only silly one here then. I've been holding back, not wanting to let my feelings for you get out of hand and thereby hurting Garrek. Oh, my darling vixen, I'd be happy and honored to be your mate." Shi embraced Malena tenderly.

Malena was smiling and crying for joy at the same time. "You're not the only silly one. I should have asked a long time ago." Then she kissed her new mate, long and passionately.

Garrek watched them, finding himself remarkably satisfied with the situation, except for one thing: "It seems I might have to find another bed partner tonight," he thought to himself.

*          *           *

We all cheered and clapped when the three came back and announced the mating. I was delighted that my sister had finally realized just how lucky shi was to have Malena's affection and I was already excited by the prospect of another foxtaur-chakat niece.

Everyone wanted to give the new couple a hug of congratulations. I sidled up to Garrek and said with a grin, "Now's my chance to get my paws on you for a while."

"What makes you think that you were the first to ask?" His eyes pointed towards another in the room.

Trina stood there looking innocent for a moment, then hir muzzle split into cheesy smile. "Hey, I can't help it if I saw the possibility first."

I conceded the point, but I knew I'd have my chance later. I turned to my other two lifemates who were waiting for me. Before we could begin though, Goldfur announced, "You will have to excuse Malena and myself. We're going to be a bit busy tonight seeing if I can be as successful with my new foxtaur mate as with my first." They then headed for Malena's room. Goldfur continued speaking to her, "There's this chakat mating ritual we have..."

Malena interrupted hir, "I know of it."

Goldfur smiled fondly at hir as shi closed the door. "Somehow I knew you would."


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
To be continued in A Forest Tale 10: Crisis

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