Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #11: Growing Pains
Excerpts from the journal of Pandora & Karl, part 6
By Bernard Doove © 2006
22 February 2336
[Karl] After the euphoria of the birth of our son, there comes the hard work, right? Well, not really. Naturally I had to go back to the workshop, but mid-winter is a good time to have a child when youíre a farmer and farm chores have slackened off. Pandora was able to devote a lot of her time to Jakkar for a few weeks. Inevitably though, Spring approached, and she needed to get back out into the fields. Now as much as I am careful about our cubís health, foxtaur kits are remarkably tough, and many spent time with their parents in the workshops or fields. Pandora did this a few times before a better solution came along.
My relationship with my mother-in-law, Kallista, had varied greatly over time. When I had first come to the village, she had been polite but very cool. She did not approve of her daughter associating with a human. When we declared ourselves as denmates, she thawed out a bit. After all, I had accomplished what no foxtaur tod had done Ė made her youngest daughter happy. Thereafter, while she still didnít go out of her way to see me, we were on reasonably friendly terms. When Pandora got pregnant though, the change in Kallista was amazing. It turned out that her final reservations concerning me were due to me not being able to give her grandchildren, and when I proved otherwise and that child turned out to be a male, her affection for me grew to be almost embarrassing. It gave us an opportunity though. Kallista was semi-retired (I donít think any foxtaur fully retires), and she declared herself available for kit-minding duty. Five days a week, she turns up at breakfast time and takes charge of Jakkar. Pandora only has to interrupt her work then in order to breastfeed him. Itís a mutually satisfactory arrangement. On market days, Pandora takes him with her while she sells her produce. On Sundays, we have him all to ourselves. Life is good.
So what could make it even better? About six weeks after Jakkarís birth, Pandora sprang a surprise on me....
"I want another kit," Pandora declared at dinnertime.
Karl didnít quite choke on the forkful of food that heíd just put in his mouth. "What?" he sputtered when he recovered. "Another so soon?"
"Itís common practice for foxtaur mates to have a second kit soon after the first so that they can grow up together," Pandora said defensively.
"Are you sure that you arenít just making up for lost time?" Karl asked.
The insides of Pandoraís ears pinked in the foxtaur equivalent of a blush. "There is a little of that, admittedly, but honestly Karl, I think Jakkar would be better off with a sibling to grow up alongside and play with. I was the youngest child, and my nearest sibling was more than three years older than me, and I missed out on a lot. We can afford to raise another child, and with mother here to do the babysitting, it would hardly be much more of a bother."
"Enough! I surrender!" Karl said with a laugh. "I was far more concerned about you. Iíd love to have another child also. What would you like Ė another tod, or a vixen this time?"
Pandora smiled. "It would be greedy of me to want another son after scoring one first try, but I bet Jakkar would love a younger brother. However, it would also be nice to have one of each gender. I think Iíll just wait and see, and not worry about it. After all, itís not as if we have much choice in the matter."
About two weeks later during Pandoraís next heat, she successfully conceived. This delighted Kallista who, unlike her daughter, was adamant that this one was going to be a girl. Karl hoped that, for the sake of family harmony, she was right.
Karl had found out that foxtaur kits slept with their parents. Rather than being disturbed by them, the kits were comforted by their parentsí presence and slept more soundly than if left alone in another room. Once he got used to the idea, Karl rather liked the idea of having his son there also, but wondered what it would be like if their family grew much bigger.
Life was pretty idyllic for a while. Karl continued producing his highly prized custom furniture, with a couple of vixens now on the payroll, foraging for appropriate timber. Karl sought, and was granted, permission to fell a few select trees which were cut up and set aside for seasoning in order to be ready for future business. The village grew in prosperity, due in no small part to Karlís exports. The population grew also, allowing Pandora to increase the size of her crops. Both worked hard by day, and then played and made love enthusiastically at night. Both were extremely happy and the time just flew by.
Then one day as Jakkar was playing with his wooden toys that Karl had made, his parents were cuddling on the couch while watching him proudly. Then Pandora gasped as the first contraction began. Like the first time, they called Mishi, Springstep and all the others, but unlike the first birthing, there was not even the slightest bit of panic and confusion. Karl even had food and drink ready for Pandora and their guests, and it was almost a party atmosphere until the contractions grew to a crescendo, and it was time for the new kit to make his or her entrance into the outside world. The birth was much easier the second time around, and the delivery was textbook. Mishi held up the sodden kit who squeaked in indignity at being forced into the cold, bright world.
"You have a daughter!" Mishi declared.
Karl hugged and kissed his mate. "Congratulations, darling, you now have a beautiful set."
Pandora replied, "We have a set. Are you disappointed not to get another son?"
"No, love, Iím ecstatic. It means that this time Iíll have a daughter whom I can raise and love, unlike a certain ungrateful whelp."
"Weíll do it right, Karl. I promise," Pandora said, hugging him tightly.
The cleaned-off kit was handed to Pandora, who put her to one breast for her first feed. The proud parents watched her suckle for a while. Then Pandora suddenly said, "Sylvia Ė do you like that name, Karl? It means ĎForest Maidení."
Karl smiled, remembering all the permutations of possible names that Pandora had gone through for both males and females. "She looks like a Sylvia to me," he agreed.
"Welcome to our family, Sylvia Whitepaw!" Pandora declared.
13 January 2337
[Karl] The ancient myths say that from Pandoraís box, the last thing to escape was ĎHopeí. On this day, my hope for a daughter whom I could love and raise, was born of my Pandora. It is the most beautiful gift imaginable.
10 June 2338
[Pandora] Our second child has been as wonderful, as naughty, as good, as vivacious, as dirty, and as beautiful as any other kit. We adore her. As Iíd hoped, Jakkar has taken a shine to her, and I think they will become playmates when she gets older. Sylvia has taken to sleeping in Karlís lap a lot. Perhaps she is forming a particularly strong bond with him. He dotes on her. After the crushing disappointment of his human daughter, I think that heís trying to give Sylvia all the love that he couldnít give to Kathleen. I hope he doesnít end up spoiling her.
This summerís weather has been exceptional so far. We have had the perfect amount of rain balanced with the perfect amount of sunlight and warmth. The crops this year will be amazing. The surrounding forest is bursting with life. Itís difficult to work when so much beauty is there to be admired and explored.
Pandora paused to rest briefly. Since the first harvest, she had been working hard to ready the ground for planting the second crop. With conditions the best that they had been in decades, she hoped to get a bountiful second harvest before the cold weather set in. Time was of the essence though. She smiled as she looked at Jakkar, whom she had brought out into the fields with her for a change. He had taken the little hand spade and dug a hole and filled it with water. He was now plastered in mud on all four legs, both arms, belly and chest. In short, he was having a ball!
ĎNothing that a good bath wonít fix,í she thought. ĎMaybe heíll be a farmer one day, the way he loves the earth.í
Just then, she caught a whiff of a disturbing smell. The wind had shifted, bringing with it scents from beyond the ridge that her fields backed onto. Smoke! "Thereís a fire ban in place. No one should be burning anything in that direction," she said to Jakkar, although he didnít understand what she was talking about. The great drought a few years back, combined with the bumper growth of the underbrush this year, had left the forest in a precarious position fire-wise. Back-burning had ceased when it became too dangerous to control, but the foxtaurs had concentrated then on making firebreaks in an attempt to reduce the danger. Lightning was a constant worry though. While they had been fortunate during the drought, some wondered if their luck was being stretched a bit thin. However, the skies were clear today, so that seemed unlikely.
A shout drew her attention. Two hunter vixens had burst out of the forest and were running full speed in the direction of the village. There wasnít a path there, so Pandora surmised that they had taken a shortcut in their haste. One said something to the other that Pandora didnít quite catch. The one who spoke detoured towards Pandora, while the other continued unabated towards the village. The huntress pulled up in front of Pandora, panting hard.
The vixen, whom Pandora recognised as Willow, gasped out, "Forest fire! Coming this wayÖ when wind shiftedÖ Get to shelterÖ quickly!"
"How did the fire start?" Pandora asked, even as she grabbed her sodden son.
Willow growled. "We think itísÖ idiot hikersÖ Iíll kill íemÖ if I catch íem! Gotta go!" With that, she was off again to spread the warning.
As Pandora bounded towards her den with the protesting Jakkar underneath her arm, she thought, ĎThis is one time that we should have a bit of technology. A Unicom would get the word out a lot faster!í
Kallista was startled by Pandora bursting into the den and thrusting a filthy kit into her arms. Before she could ask what was going on, Pandora said, "Put the kits in the bedroom, then help me put up the shutters. Thereís a fire coming this way!"
When you live in a forested area, you learn to react quickly when warned about a fire, and Kallista had the children safely locked in the bedroom and was outside in moments. Pandora was hauling out the shutters from the storage shed. Like the den, the shed was a small cave with a stone wall built to cover the entrance. However, while the den had similarly fireproof walls, the windows were a vulnerable point. The fireproof shutters sealed and protected them. The front door too had been treated with a fire retardant. That only left the wooden porch at risk, but the occupants of the den would be safe.
The job was quickly done. However, rather than following Pandora inside, Kallista started heading for the village.
"Where are you going, mom? The fire could go through very soon. Come back inside where itís safe!"
Kallista looked torn. "My den isnít as safe as yours. I need to make sure my denmates have gotten the warning and help them prepare for the fire. You stay there with the kits. Nothing is more important than their safety now." Not giving Pandora a chance to argue, Kallista left at top speed.
Pandora looked around and saw billowing clouds of smoke pouring over the ridge. Soon the flames would line it, then come roaring down into the valley. She shuddered and went inside, firmly fastening the door, putting a fireproof draught-stopper along the bottom. She then had time to start worrying about Karl, and went over to the comm that she seldom used, and called his workshop.
"Canít talk now, love. Weíre rushing around like maniacs trying to batten down the hatches. Donít worry about me; I have a fireproof place to retreat to. Gotta go!" Karl replaced the phone, annoyed at having to give Pandora such a curt dismissal, but there was a lot to do in a very short time. The workshop was built of native stone, but a carpentry shop is always surrounded by much flammable material. He and Tobar were desperately trying to get as much as possible crammed inside in time. The fire shutters had been the first things to go up, and Karl could see neighbouring shops and dens being prepared similarly. He worried about those that were constructed partially of wood. Although the foxtaurs kept the grounds clear of underbrush and fallen branches, the surrounding trees could go up in flames and ignite the nearby buildings. It was a risk that foxtaurs took in order to be close to nature. Karl glanced up at the ridge and saw the first of the flames. ĎSometimes nature comes too close,í he thought.
When they had crammed as much as they could into the workshop, they closed and sealed the main doors, presenting an unbroken fireproof barrier to the oncoming inferno. Karl wondered if he should do something to help the others preparing to fight the blaze. He approached one foxtaur who was unrecognisable in a bulky fire-fighting coverall. Only a glimpse of head-hair enabled him to realise that it was a vixen inside. She was unrolling a long, thick hose that led to one of the elevated water storage tanks that were filled from the lake. Others were organising backpacks and other fire-fighting equipment.
Karl asked the vixen, "Is there any way that I can help out?"
"Yeah," she said. "Connect all those hoses to the pump at the tanks, then get the hell back inside where itís safe. We donít have any protective clothing for humans, so youíd only be a liability. Move it!"
Karl moved with alacrity. He quickly attached all the hoses, and then he retreated to the workshop. Closing and sealing the door behind him, he sighed in frustration at not being able to do more. It was going to be a long nerve-wracking wait.
Although she had faith in her denís ability to withstand a conflagration, Pandora nevertheless felt nervous as she heard the roar of the flames muted by the walls. To help keep her mind off what was happening outside, she bathed Jakkar. By the time he was dried off, she judged that it would be safe to venture outside.
The heat and smoke struck Pandora the moment that she opened the door despite the fire-front being well past. Their shady porch was a smouldering ruin, a few flames still trying to burn through the thick posts. She extinguished the embers with a few buckets of water that she had filled earlier. Only then did she take a really good look around. Her first impression of the devastation was nothing compared to the full impact as the smoke cleared to give the complete picture, and she gasped in horror. Normally the forest blocked any direct view of the village from the den, but the denuded trees and incinerated shrubs could no longer do so. Between the smoking trunks, she could see foxtaurs in their fire gear trying to extinguish flames. Everywhere it was black or grey except for a green patch in the open commons area, and the lush greenery along the banks of Crystal Creek. Beyond the village, she saw the fire-front as it crested the ridge on the other side of the valley. She barely noticed it.
"Mother!" she cried as she recognised the site of Kallistaís den. Pandora dashed back inside and hastily put on her saddle-pack. She put Sylvia into its pouch, grabbed Jakkar firmly by the hand, then raced towards the village. Dodging around fallen trees and spot fires, she headed straight for her motherís den, only to be brought up short by a vixen who blocked her way.
"Pandora, stop! Itís unsafe in there," the vixen warned her. The tree that had fallen on it had breached its fireproofing, and wisps of smoke still curled up out of the hole.
It took Pandora a moment to identify Capella, her motherís co-mate, covered in so much ash and soot as to be nearly unrecognisable. "Whereís my mother?" she demanded.
"She was hurt when she risked herself by trying to put out the fire when that burning tree crashed through the roof. The den is damaged but salvageable, and she saved a lot of our possessions because of her actions, but she got burnt doing so. Theyíve taken her to Mishiís infirmary."
"Thanks, Capella. Iíve got to go!" Pandora set off at speed.
Karlís workshop lay roughly between there and the infirmary. Pandora was glad of the excuse to make a diversion. Although the stone workshop was one of the oldest and sturdiest structures in the village, she still had to see for herself that Karl was safe before she went on. He met her outside as he and Tobar started opening up the place again to inspect the damage.
"Pandora! Why didnít you wait until theyíd put out all the fires before bringing yourself and the children down here?" Karl asked, concern making him a bit abrupt.
Pandora gave him a reassuring hug, then handed Jakkar over to him. "Itís mother Ė sheís been hurt. Look after Jakkar while I go check out how she is."
"Weíll all go. There isnít much that I can do until the fire-fighters make sure all the fires are completely extinguished."
Pandora didnít argue, and they hastened to Mishiís infirmary. They had a hard time getting in though because she and her helpers had their hands full trying to deal with several patients, most of them fire-fighters overcome by heat or smoke. Eventually Pandora was allowed in, and she rushed to her motherís side.
Kallista winced a little as Pandora hugged her in relief. Then Pandora looked over her motherís injuries. Kallista grinned in chagrin.
"I broke my arm when I tried to stop a burning tree from falling on the den," explained Kallista. "I got the burns while trapped. Donít worry, Mishi tells me that I was very lucky and theyíre only light. Iíd soaked myself before going out, so that protected me. They should heal properly in time."
"Thank heavens for that!" exclaimed Pandora, "but why were you crazy enough to go out in that?"
Kallistaís expression was slightly sad. "Since your sire died an early death, all that there is left to pass onto his children and grandchildren is kept in that den. I couldnít let that heritage be lost."
"But what of the heritage of Kallista Whitepaw?" Pandora asked. "How could we have replaced you?"
Kallista reached up with her good arm to pat Pandora on the cheek. "Iím sorry that Iíve caused you concern, dear. I promise not to do it again."
"Good! Now what are you and your co-mates going to do for a home until your den is repaired?"
Kallista looked uncertain. "IÖ donít know."
"You will stay with us," Pandora stated decisively. "Iím sure that the others can find lodgings with one of their children also."
"Wonít I be in your and Karlís way?"
"Donít be silly. You spend half the day there anyway. Besides, the den used to be yours before you gave it to me. You belong there."
"You were the only one of my children who wanted to continue farming. You deserved the den. My only mistake was letting you live there by yourself. You might not have been so lonely otherwise."
"And I might not have met Karl. And you probably would not have two gorgeous grandkits either," Pandora added.
Kallista smiled. "Quite right, and itís time that you got back to them. Iíll be fine. You two will have a lot of work to do."
Pandora gave her mother another hug. "Iíll check back later," she promised.
Karl met Pandora at the infirmary door. "How is she?" he asked.
"Sheíll be around a long time yet. In fact, sheíll be staying with us until her den is repaired."
"She will?" Karl was a bit dismayed at the thought of having his mother-in-law around all night.
Pandora laughed at the look on his face. "Iím sorry, love, but I promise that it wonít be too bad."
They started walking back to Karlís workshop. Now that she wasnít so frantic about the condition of her mother, Pandora took the time to look closely at the effects of the fire. Dens like their own had withstood the flames unharmed. Only any additions outside the walls had suffered. However, there were only so many caves in the area, and many of the newer dens were built with materials that were available locally. Nevertheless, foxtaurs built well with forest conditions in mind. Quarried stone was not only sturdy, but more resistant to extremes of temperature, and well-maintained slate roofs were also fireproof. Only the wooden frameworks were vulnerable, and they was cleverly sealed away from the elements. But fire is an unforgiving beast, and any chink in the armour was ruthlessly exploited, and sometimes the fire made itís own gap by dropping burning limbs on the roof and making a hole in its defences, such as had happened to Kallista. Pandora counted three smoking dens, including her motherís, that had failed to meet the fireís challenge.
Then, for the first time, Pandora really took in the entire scene and saw how the village had fared as a whole. Their picturesque community was now a study in greys, including a large portion of the population. Old shade trees had been reduced to smouldering stumps, carefully tended gardens were either burnt or crushed. Wind-blown ash was piling up in every nook and cranny. The wooden market stalls were now all piles of charcoal, as was every other wooden structure. Steam rose from some of the piles adjacent to the dens Ė fires that had been extinguished with water by the fire-fighters to prevent the more important dwellings from also catching alight. It looked and smelled a bit like she imagined hell to be.
Young kits were crying, their parents attempting to comfort them, while looking like they were about to burst into tears themselves. A few of the clanís Elders were beginning to organise a clean-up.
A noise overhead caused Pandora to glance upwards. She tracked the hum until she spotted the aircraft making it, and witnessed it pouring a never-ending stream of water on the fire.
"Too late for us," she said a little bitterly. "At least maybe Jakeís trading post will be spared a disaster."
"Not to mention the rest of the township," Karl added, spotting what Pandora was looking at.
"Iíd better go check our property for damage," Pandora said, "and prepare for momís arrival too."
"Will you be putting the extra mattress back into the spare room?" Karl asked.
"Thatís the best solution for now," Pandora agreed. Privately though, she wondered how long that arrangement would work. Her mate didnít know everything about foxtaur families yet. Rather than beg trouble, she decided to keep that to herself for the moment.
"Iíd better get back and help Tobar before he comes and hauls me back by my ear. Weíve lost some stuff for sure. How much is yet to be determined."
"Iíll have dinner ready at the usual time. Donít let him monopolise you for the rest of the day."
"Yes, dear," Karl said with mock meekness.
Pandora walked back, with Jakkar setting the pace. The kit was very curious about the burnt landscape, stopping to look and sniff at things and frequently sneezing from the ash. Pandora just found it very saddening despite the fact that she knew that it would regenerate.
Pandora found that the empty fields had acted as a partial firebreak, but even so she had lost a few fruit trees, including her favourite pecan tree and a blood plum. Others had been damaged but could be pruned back and recover. Some plants too close to the intense heat had wilted or been scorched beyond recovery, but Pandora reckoned that she had gotten off easily. She wondered how the other farmers and herders had fared, and if any people had lost their lives. Preparation had mostly spared the foxtaurs in the village, but what of those out in the forest, both foxtaurs and others?
[Karl] And that is how Crystal Creekís best summer became instead a major setback, and Kallista came to stay with us. Tobar and I lost some of our timber stockpiles that we werenít able to fit inside. The growth in the business had long since caused us to exceed the workshopís ability to store material. At least weíd managed to save some of the more precious timbers which we had put inside first. In hindsight, we should have constructed a proper storage building rather than the makeshift racks that weíd hastily erected. We planned to rectify that as soon as possible, but the village had higher priorities first. Some foxtaurs had their dens damaged or destroyed, but while there were a number of injuries, there were no deathsÖ at least not in the community. About two weeks after the fire, a hunter vixen came across the charred corpses of two people. At first the only thing that could be determined was that they were morphs. A subsequent forensic investigation finally concluded that they were a wolf couple who had been vacationing in the area, and that they had died trying to escape the fire. The time and place of their death made them the most likely cause of the source of the disaster Ė a poorly constructed cooking fire that had not been properly extinguished. It seems that nature had beaten Willow to the punishment of the fools.
While there was a lot of readjustment needed to cope with the fireís consequences, none were more personal than having Kallista staying with us. I erred with an earlier journal entry. It isnít just the children who sleep with the parents. The whole family sleeps together.
Karl liked his mother-in-law. He really did. Having her eat meals in his home and sleeping in their spare room felt a bit weird but tolerable. It would only be for a few weeks, after all. However, this was too much.
"You want her to do what?" Karl asked his mate.
Pandora had expected some resistance to the idea, so she replied patiently, "Love, itís a perfectly normal thing. Family always sleeps together. Mom put up with being alone for a few nights so that you could get used to having her around as a long-term house guest, but now sheís finding it hard to sleep at night.
"And sheís going to sleep with us every night?"
"Karl, look at our den. This used to be the home for my entire family, yet it has only one large bedroom plus a guest room. Why do you think it is so?"
"Are we supposed to make love in front of her too?" he asked irritably.
"Only if you want to," was Pandoraís startling reply. Before Karl could recover from that surprising remark, she continued. "Sometimes lovers prefer privacy, but the bedroom is the one place where that activity is always expected and allowed. Of course the adults always wait for the children to go to sleep, but most adolescents get a lot of their sexual education from watching their elders. Anyway, my mother says sheís quite prepared to wait until weíve finished making love before joining us to sleep."
Karl was silent for a few moments, and Pandora wondered if they were going to have their first fight in years. Eventually though, Karl sighed in resignation.
"Iíve tried my best to fit into this foxtaur society, but some things strain my sensibilities. Iíll try this out because you have asked me to do so, Pandora, but I canít guarantee that it will work out."
Pandora kissed him. "I canít ask for more than that, love. Iíll go tell mom."
She left to tell Kallista that she could join them. Karl briefly considered putting on a pair of shorts, but decided against it. It wouldnít make him feel more comfortable, and if Kallista found it awkward, it was best to find it out immediately. When Kallista entered the room, she walked over to Karl.
"Thank you, Karl," she said, giving him a motherly lick-kiss on the cheek before settling down on the bedding on the other side of Pandora, with Sylvia nestled between them.
A rather bemused Karl cuddled up to Pandora. He hadnít expected the kiss. It reminded him of his own mother, making Kallista seem more familiar. Of course he hadnít slept in the same bed with her since he was an infant, so it was still a bit weird. Nonetheless he went to sleep as easily as normal.
[Karl] I must admit that other than waking up sandwiched between two vixens occasionally, the nights in the bedroom were much as they had been before Kallista had joined us. She never interfered with our private lives, and always waited patiently for Pandora and I to finish making love at our leisure before joining us for sleep. However, despite the fact that Kallista is an attractive vixen in her right, I was never tempted to have her present while Pandora and I were being intimate. Iím not quite ready for that yet! When Kallistaís den was finally repaired though, she moved out immediately. Damned if I donít miss her!
[Pandora] Like Karl, I had gotten used to having my mother in the bedroom with us. With my mate and two kits, it finally felt like a full family again. I have missed that feeling more than I thought. I intend to ask mom to stay overnight with us occasionally. Somehow I donít think that Karl will mind.
6 November 2338
[Pandora] A second good crop helped ameliorate the losses due to the fire. Others didnít fare so well. Herders had lost some of their stock, hunters had to travel further to find prey, and Karlís wood foragers had to do likewise. A lot of time was lost replacing burnt structures, but more time was spent cleaning up the mess and dead trees, and then working to re-beautify the village. By the time of the harvest festival, our community had done a creditable job of re-greening the area. Crystal Creek Clan may not have come through unscathed, but we were undaunted.
21 June 2341
[Karl] Not all crises are so terrible as fires and droughts. The little ones can be important too!
Karl arrived home, looking forward to going to the swimming hole with Pandora. He was surprised to find Jakkar there instead of playing with the other kits in the water already. The boy had a distinctly troubled expression. Karl immediately squatted down in front of his son so that he could look at him on the same level.
"Whatís bothering you, Jakkar?"
The young tod seemed to be thinking of how to ask a difficult question. At last he said, "Dad, youíre my real sire, arenít you?"
Karl had expected this question sooner or later. He wondered what had brought this on though. "Yes, Jakkar, I am your real sire, and youíre really my son. I know that foxtaurs and humans canít have kits usually, but your Auntie Springstep made it so that we could have you, and your sister Sylvia, and hopefully some more sisters or brothers for you."
"Whenís my fur going to fall out?"
Karl nearly fell over in surprise. "What? Who told you that?"
"Kellen said that because my sire is a human, then all my fur will fall out like yours did," he replied worriedly.
Karl threw back his head and laughed, then hugged Jakkar. "My dear boy, Kellen is wrong in so many ways. First, humans never have fur, even when weíre just born. In fact we grow more hair on our heads afterwards, but thatís about it. We donít have any fur to lose. Second, while only a little bit of me is foxtaur, youíre completely one. Your fur is never going to fall out."
Jakkar looked relieved, then disgusted. "Iím gonna pull Kellenís tail for lying to me," he vowed.
Normally Karl wouldnít condone such behaviour, but Kellen was an older kit with a reputation for pulling practical jokes. Perhaps a little turnabout was called for. "I have a better idea, Jak. When we go down to the swimming hole, Kellen is likely to be there. You go to him and pretend to be very worried. Tell him that he was right, but itís even worse. Itís contagious! You can catch it like a cold from someone with it. Just touching him could make him catch it too, and because heís older, it could happen to him sooner!"
Jakkar started giggling. "That sounds like fun!"
"Letís grab your mother and drag her to the swimming hole to watch the fun, hey?"
"Okay! Mom!" he started yelling as he dashed out the door.
[Karl] We got a visit from Kellenís mother a couple of days later, demanding to know what weíd done to her son. I explained to the irate vixen just exactly what Kellen had done, and what we had done in return. By the time weíd told her everything, she was still angry, but this time it was at her foolish offspring. She said to me, "I told him that his stupid jokes were going to backfire on him. Serves him right. Iíll let him stew for a bit longer as punishment." Iíve known many people who think their children can do no wrong. Thankfully, although they have their faults, that is one thing that foxtaurs donít normally do, and they make sure their kits treat others with respect, or at least behave themselves. She bid us goodnight, and we heard no more about it. Jakkar and I still have a good chuckle over it however.
7 November 2343
[Pandora] This yearís Harvest Festival was especially enjoyable. Regrowth had virtually covered up all the signs of the forest fire by now, and the community had outdone itself in decorating the commons. This year, a roving troupe of foxtaur musicians had graced our festival and provided us with entertainment, in return for which we stuffed them with the best we had to offer from our bountiful harvest. Jake and Lavender had brought their daughter, Lilac, who often played with Sylvia. Springstep had brought hir mate, Silverbrook, and their cubs, Dappleback and Fastpounce, who had worn themselves out playing with the village kits. They found the playful felines new and fascinating! And then there was Jakkar who had just joined the foxtaur baseball junior league. When Karl had learned that he was interested in the game, he had immediately started helping him practice after dinner. Iíve been sitting on the grass with Sylvia who made daisy chains while I watched my mate and firstborn play and bond even more closely. Karl was always patient and encouraging with Jakkar, and he responded by listening attentively and improving quite quickly. I am so proud of them, I could burst!
We had invited Springstepís family to stay overnight with us for the second day of the festival. Chakats have similar ideas of family sleeping together as foxtaurs do, and seeing as Springstep was more like family than friend, I wanted to have them join us instead of using the guest room, but I made sure that Karl was okay with the idea first. A few years of mother staying overnight with us every few weeks had gotten him used to the idea though, and he agreed pretty much straight away. The night went well, and the children certainly made the most of the occasion, staying up much later than normal. Eventually though, they all crashed and were put to bed. The sight of foxtaur kits, a coyote pup and chakat cubs all piled together was adorable! We adults chatted over coffee late into the evening before Jake and Lavender excused themselves to head off home after fetching Lilac from the fur-pile. After doing a quick tidy-up, the rest of us headed for bed also. Springstep quickly diffused any remaining uncertainty on Karlís part by jokingly telling him, "No funny business. Iím not wanting a half-foxtaur child just yet!" I enjoyed having them there with us that night, and dreamed very pleasant dreams.
Springstep showed that shi could cook on a stove just as well as shi could in a laboratory, and made everyone breakfast. It was a pity that such a fine meal was wolfed down so fast by people who wanted to get the dayís activities off to an early start. We were all eager to enjoy the festival though. Of course, thereís always one sour note in every song of joy.
"Dad! Dad! Guess what?" Jakkar bounded up to Karl excitedly.
Karl grinned up at his son from his position reclined against a tree. "Guess? Youíve got ants in your ear and you canít stop hopping about?"
"No!" Jakkar said scornfully. "Be serious!"
"Okay, letís seeÖ you just finished a game of baseballÖ did you hit a home run?"
"Yeah, but that isnít it. Theyíve asked me to join the team thatís going to play against the Black Ridge Clanís team next week. Can you take me there?"
Pandora watched Karl closely, and saw how he determinedly he kept his smile of happiness for his sonís achievement, despite knowing that he couldnít make that commitment. Leaving clan territory was still very unsafe. His ex-wife still waited for him to make a slip. Only a couple of years back, the village Elders had informed them that Isabel had petitioned the inter-clan council to extradite Karl from Crystal Creek. The council members had investigated and, after learning the true situation, had told Isabel that she take her petition and shove it up her tail hole. Those were the councilís exact words, Elder Yuni had informed them with a grin. Foxtaurs frequently had an earthy sense of humour.
"Weíll make sure you get there, son," Karl replied, carefully sidestepping the issue for the moment.
"Thanks, dad!," Jakkar said as he threw his arms around his father and gave him a quick hug before bounding off happily to tell his friends.
Pandora waited until Jakkar was definitely out of earshot before asking Karl, "How are you going to keep that promise?"
Karl sighed. "Iím not sure. Heís too young yet to properly understand why I canít be caught outside of clan territory, but his feelings will be hurt if Iím not there."
Pandora said, "Maybe I can take him? The treatment that Iíve been getting for the homesickness has been good enough to let me last at least a few days now."
"Weíll probably have to do that, but Jakkar will still feel rejected. After all, Iíve been the one who has been practicing with him, not you. He will expect me to be there when he starts his first formal game after all these informal ones here to build his experience."
Pandora was struck by a thought. "This game will be played on Black Ridge Clanís territory, right?"
Karl nodded. "That sounds right."
"Couldnít we ask our clan Elders to petition theirs to extend clan protection to you while youíre there?"
Karl brightened. "Yeah, thatís worth a shot. Of course Iíd still have to sneak unseen between the territories, but I think that can be worked out." He got up and held out a hand to Pandora. "Come on! Letís go see Yuni right away!"
Pandora giggled. "Last I saw her, she was dallying with one of the visiting tods. I donít think that sheíd appreciate an interruption like this right now. I think that it can wait until tomorrow."
Karl gave her a lopsided grin. "Yeah, I see your point."
The couple did go see Yuni first thing the next day though, and she was in a very receptive mood.
"Iíve invited Steffenís troupe back again next year. It was good to have a tod of his accomplishments gracing our festival."
Privately, both Karl and Pandora thought that it wasnít just Steffenís musical accomplishments that Yuni was talking about, but they both knew when to mind their own business. Instead they just wholeheartedly agreed, then changed the subject. They explained their situation with Jakkar and Karl, and their idea of how to deal with it.
Yuni replied, "That seems like a reasonable solution. Iíll contact the Black Ridge Elders today to negotiate an agreement. I donít foresee any problems, so just leave it in my hands and Iíll get back to you when itís resolved."
Three days later, she called in on them to relieve the suspense.
"Black Ridge Clan has formally extended its protection to you, Karl. Thatís not all though," she hastened to add. "I felt it necessary to take this up to a higher level, and because the inter-clan council was meeting yesterday, I submitted a request for a ruling on the matter. The council has ratified your status as an honorary foxtaur, and they will be informing all the clans of your status. You will be able to go to any clanís territory and remain in complete security. Head of Council, Ashlee Honeytail, says to remind you though that this is the equivalent of granting citizenship, and therefore you have all the responsibilities of a clan foxtaur also, and are subject to clan laws. Lastly, she wishes you and your family good luck, and hopes to meet you in person some day."
Karl was surprised. "All this in just three days? Thatís not what Iím used to with a bureaucracy."
Yuni smiled. "Well, you were fortunate with the timing, but I donít think that you realise just how much interest that you and Pandora have aroused. While not everyone is happy about it, your mating and children have piqued the curiosity of all. Most are eager to see your partnership be successful, so you did get some priority."
Karl grinned at Pandora. "Hear that? Weíre notorious!"
Pandora laughed. "I suppose so. It certainly helps anyway."
They thanked Yuni profusely, then headed out, debating what to do next.
"I think that weíre going to have to leave Jake out of it altogether. Theyíll still be monitoring his travels even if itís unlikely that heíd fall for the same trap," Pandora said. "We canít risk him drawing attention to your presence at the other clans."
"Heíll be disappointed not to be able to watch Jakkar play," Karl replied, "but heíll understand. Looks like that thereís only one reasonable way, and thatís to hide on the bus thatíll be taking the players to Black Ridge. It shouldnít be too bad. I canít see them guessing that Iíll be aboard."
And thatís exactly what Karl did. Jakkar thought that his father was being silly, but he and the other kits cooperated in hiding him. Forewarned of his coming, a couple of the clanís Elders, one of the Justice & Enforcement, met the bus as it arrived. As Karl stepped off the bus with Jakkar, one stepped up with a smile.
"Welcome Karl Whitepaw. I am Tessu Silvermane. This is your son, I take it?"
Karl clasped forearms with the Elder in the foxtaur-style greeting. "Pleased to meet you, Tessu. Yes, this is my son, Jakkar. Heís playing his first inter-clan game today, and Iím very happy to be here to watch him."
Tessu nodded. "We understand the situation, and Karnak here," she indicated the stoic J&E foxtaur tod, "has the responsibility of ensuring that your sonís performance will be the only thing that you will have to worry about while youíre here."
Karl stepped up to Karnak. "Thank you, I appreciate this."
Karnak nodded gravely. "Itís my privilege," he responded.
"Good luck to your son and his team," Tessu said. "Youíre going to need it!" she added with a twinkle in her eye.
Karl grinned back at her. "Weíve got a good bunch of kits here, so weíre going to give you a good run for your money."
It certainly was a good game, and when Jakkar hit a home run, Karl proudly hugged and congratulated his son. Jakkar was so happy, he felt he would explode. Crystal Creek lost that day, but only by one run. They hadnít done so well in a long time though, so the near-miss left them feeling optimistic. The kits were singing in the bus all the way home.
"Race you home!" Jakkar yelled as they got off the bus.
Although he tried manfully, Karl hadnít the slightest chance of keeping up with his four-footed offspring, let alone beat him. He grinned as he ate Jakkarís dust. "At least he might burn off some of the remaining excess energy of his," he thought.
As the baseball season continued, Karl continued to accompany Jakkar to various clans. At each, he was generally greeted with courtesy and curiosity, and provided almost as much entertainment to the adults as the game. One village though, a rather stiff-necked bunch of traditionalists, gave him the cold shoulder, but otherwise let him be, honouring the inter-clan directive. Much to his relief, they did not single out Jakkar for any taunts, so Karl was willing to tolerate his own treatment. As the season went on though, he started to worry about how smoothly things were going, especially after a visit from Jake.
"Sheís up to something," the coyote told him with a puzzled frown. Ever since the last encounter with Isabel, Jake had made it his personal project to know about her activities as possible. "That new warrant for your arrest is still good, even if the foxtaurs have rejected it. Youíre risking too much."
"I canít let Jakkar down. You should see his eyes light up when he sees me there cheering him on."
"Every cub has disappointments occasionally. Think how much worse it would be if you canít be with him at all. I think that Isabel has found out that you have been visiting other clans. Someone has blabbed, and one of her informants has heard. I canít believe how much all this surveillance must be costing her. Itís got to be costing more than she can ever hope to get from you. If she wasnít leeching money from some other poor victim, sheíd probably would have been forced to give up by now."
Karl shook his head. "You still donít understand. Itís not about the money anymore. Yes, sheíll try to drain every last cred from me if she ever manages to catch me, but thatís not her motivation. Iíve won the last two bouts with her. Iíve cheated her of what she seeks to take from me. Iíve defied her. Thatís a totally intolerable situation to her warped mind. She will do everything in her power until the day she dies to squash me like a bug and achieve that final victory."
"And thatís why you have to stop sneaking around the clans," Jake added emphatically. "She will get you if you keep this up. Iíll take Jakkar on the next trip."
Karl sighed. He knew Jake was right, but he just couldnít face Jakkar and tell him that his father couldnít go with him anymore. He would understand once, but not the rest of the season, or ever again. Glumly he told Jake, "Iíll think about it."
Jake realised that further argument was useless at this time. "My offer to take Jakkar will always be open, you know that. Iíll let Pandora nag you for a while until you come to your senses. Iíd better get home before I cop it from Lavender for letting the dinner get ruined."
"Thanks, Jake. I always appreciate everything that you do for me, my friend," Karl said as he laid his hand on Jakeís shoulder.
"Itís never too much trouble, Karl." The coyote then took his leave.
Pandora didnít have to say a word. Her looks said that she agreed with Jake, but let Karl stew on his thoughts until after the children had gone to bed and they cuddled on the couch for a few moments of quiet intimacy. Eventually she said, "Well?"
"Well what?" Karl replied, deliberately not understanding.
"Are you going to keep sticking your head in the noose?"
"Thereís got to be a way around this."
"That didnít answer the question."
"I canít let Isabel control my life, even if itís just in this one thing. It would be a win for her, even if all she accomplished was spoiling things between Jakkar and me."
"The alternative is worse. What chance do you think youíll have of being there for him if youíre caught? Whoís going to take care of him and Sylvia, not to mention myself?"
"Now youíre being melodramatic. Besides, at worst you have your mother, Jake and Lavender, and even SpringstepÖ." His voice trailed off.
Pandora looked at him curiously. He just chuckled and gave her a wry grin.
"What?!" she demanded.
"Only that your lifemate is a big stupid idiot who has been hanging out with foxtaurs for too long."
"Iíll forgive you for being an idiot, but whatís that crack about foxtaurs mean?"
"It means that Iíve gotten so used to doing everything in the simplest and least technological way, that I fail to think of more sophisticated alternatives. Excuse me, dear. I need to make a comm call."
Listening to Karlís conversation on the comm, Pandora had to admit that he had a point.
A week and a half later, Karl was standing in Blackpaw Peak foxtaur village, conversing with the head Elder, when Jakkar bounded up to him excitedly.
"Dad! Dad! Guess what happened on the way?"
Karl said to the Elder, "Excuse me. As you can guess, this is my son, Jakkar. What happened, son?"
"There was a tree across the road, and there were workers cutting it up and clearing it away."
Karl nodded. "That happens occasionally."
Jakkar smiled because he knew that wasnít the interesting bit. "As soon as we stopped to wait, some of the men came over to the bus. One pounded on the door of the bus and said he wanted to be let in. He said that he had a warrant to search for a fugitive from justice. Kleo looked at it and his ID card carefully before she would let him in. He had a picture of me too! He said, ĎThat one is Karl Whitepawís soní, and asked me where you were. I told him that you were back home as you told me to do. He didnít believe me, and they searched the bus, including the luggage compartment. They were real mad when they didnít find you."
"I bet they were!" Karl said. "Did they give you any more trouble?"
"Kleo told them to get off the bus and bared her fangs at them. They didnít want to argue with her then. As soon as they were off and the tree moved, we drove on, but nothing else happened until we got here."
Karl turned to Springstep and said, "Looks like Jake was right on the money. He was only off by one weekend. Your air shuttle spoiled their nasty surprise."
The chakat grinned. "As I said, you should have called me sooner. They canít pull an aircar over except in a real emergency, and if they tried anyway, theyíd violate the terms of the warrant, so they wouldnít be able to hold you after that. Anyway, these trips give me a good excuse to see my godchildren. Speaking of which," shi said, putting a hand on Jakkarís shoulder, "letís go size up the competition, Jak."
"Sure, Aunt Springstep! Seeya later, dad!" Jakkar responded enthusiastically, and the two trotted off to rejoin the rest of the team.
"Thatís a fine son that you have there," the Elder commented.
"Iím extremely proud of him, and Iím relieved that I wonít have to miss any of his games."
"Youíre a very dedicated sire. I admire that. I hope that your son grows up to be as good a tod as you. Youíll always be welcome back here again. Thatís assuming, of course, that youíll want to come back after our team thrashes yours," she added with a grin.
Karl returned the grin. "Weíll just see about that, wonít we?"
[Karl] Jakeís spies reported later that Isabel was in an exceptionally foul mood for a week. It added spice to the win that our team had that day. Jake certainly made up for past mistakes with that warning, thatís for sure. Of course, if I hadnít been so dense as to not think of using an air shuttle before, it might not have come to this. I had definitely gotten used to the foxtaur philosophy of minimal technology though, and I have to not let that trip me up again. Still, I had a chance to stick one to Isabel, and I enjoyed it. Petty of me, but Iíll do it again if I get the chance. I owe her more than a little payback.
3 April 2349
[Pandora] Jakkar asked me today for a plot of ground so that he could make a garden of his own. Considering how many questions about farming heís been asking lately, I thought that it was a good idea for him to try some for himself from scratch, so I agreed. From the time that he was a kit, he hasnít been afraid to get his fur dirty, and heís often helped me after school. Iíve enjoyed having him around, but I think that Karl is a little disappointed that Jakkar didnít have more interest in his work. I think that Karl is missing something that is right under his nose though.
A rather busty adolescent vixen entered the workshop and stopped just inside the door for safety reasons as she had been taught. "Dad!" Sylvia called across the workshop.
Karl put down his tool and walked over to his daughter. "Shouldnít you be at home by now?"
"Oh, Iíve been home already. Mom asked me to tell you to bring home a new handle for the hoe," Sylvia replied, holding up the shattered stump.
"Easily done," Karl said, heading for a stock of wooden rods. Selecting one as suitable for finishing off as a handle, he asked, "What happened to the old one? Your mother doesnít usually mistreat her tools."
"It wasnít mom," Sylvia refuted. "Jakkar broke it while working on his garden."
Karl chuckled. "The boy doesnít know his own strength. Just give me a moment and Iíll have this finished off properly." Karl cut the piece to the appropriate length, then turned down the end a couple of millimetres to match the shaft diameter of the hoe. Finally he smoothed down the cut ends and handed it to Sylvia. "He should be able to finish the job now."
Sylvia nodded, but seemed reluctant to leave. "Dad, do you think that you could show me how to use those tools?"
Karl smiled. "What? Doing odd jobs here isnít enough for you? You want to earn more pocket money?"
"Iíd like to learn, thatís all," Sylvia replied, a little frustration creeping into her voice.
Karl suddenly realised that she wasnít just talking about doing more chores or indulging her curiosity. "Let me think about that, dear."
Sylvia brightened. "OK! Seeya!" She turned and left for home.
Tobar came up beside him and asked, "Donít you think that itís about time that you took on an apprentice?"
Staring at nothing in particular in the direction that Sylvia had departed, Karl said a little distractedly, "You know that Iíve been hoping that Jakkar would ask."
Tobar harrumphed. "And you know that heís taking after his mother. That boy has farming in his blood."
"Heís never told me that he wants to be a farmer."
"Heís probably worried about how youíd feel about that. Heís been close to you in every other way, and he might feel that heíd be disappointing you if he doesnít take up your profession. On the other hand, thereís Sylvia. Sheís truly daddyís girl. She adores you and wants to emulate you. This workshop has never been so tidy and organised since she started doing after-school chores here. She hasnít been doing that merely for the pocket money that she spends when Lavender takes her and Lilac to town. She wants to be around you and learn from you. Take advantage of that and youíll both be happy."
"OK! OK! I give in!" Karl laughed and clapped his hand on Tobarís back. "I may have been indulging in wishful thinking, but Iím not totally blind. Iíll offer her an apprenticeship tonight. Now letís get back to work, shall we?"
Having made closure on his unrealistic dreams, Karl found that he was both relieved and excited. He hadnít realised the subtle strains that he had been putting on his relationship with Jakkar. He would have to have a talk with him also and make sure that they were squared away again. Then there was the thought of teaching Sylvia his trade, and that pleased him mightily. Karl could hardly wait until he could go home.
Karl waited until after dinner to make his announcement. Sylvia had been wondering if he was ever going to say anything at all! He let her off the hook when the washing-up was completed.
"Okay, I have a bit of family business to attend to before everybody goes off and does their own thing." He quickly got everyoneís attention. "Sylvia, perhaps I should have said something much earlier than this, but youíre the perfect age to start now anyway. I need an apprentice Ė would you like to be that person?"
Sylvia practically threw herself into her sireís arms and smothered him with lick-kisses. "Yes! Yes! Oh, thank you, daddy!"
When Sylvia had calmed down, he noticed that Jakkar was looking relieved and was grinning at his sisterís joy. Karl beckoned him over and asked, "Son, is there anything that youíd like to say about this?"
Jakkar nodded. "I know that you would have liked me to follow in your footsteps, dad, but carpentry really isnít for me. I like to grow things."
"And youíd like to be a farmer like your mother," Karl finished for him. "Itís alright, son, I understand. Youíve always made me very proud, and youíll continue doing so by being a very good farmer. Youíll have an excellent teacher," he added, smiling at his lifemate.
Pandora smiled happily back at him, pleased that she wouldnít have to step in after all. While it hadnít become a crisis yet, if Karl hadnít picked up on his childrenís desires soon, she would have had to intervene. It was better that Karl had made the correct arrangement than for her to contradict him and correct him. Now everybody was happy.
"Thanks, dad," Jakkar said. "Iíll grow and pick the best stuff just for you and mom," he promised.
"Thanks, Jak," Karl said as he tousled his sonís headfur. "Weíll work out the requirements for both of you tomorrow. Tonight, letís celebrate with a jug of your motherís famous cider.
After they had emptied the jug, Jakkar settled down to read a book, while Sylvia worked on a sculpture. As usual, Karl and Pandora snuggled on the couch that he had built especially for them, and they talked over the events of the day. This time though, Pandora departed from the norm.
"When you apprenticed Sylvia and acknowledged Jakkarís vocation, you passed a checkpoint for my personal goals," Pandora told Karl.
Karl quirked an eyebrow. "Oh? And what would that be?" he asked.
Pandora snuggled up close and lick-kissed him, then whispered in his ear, "Time to have more kits."
For once, Karl wasnít taken by surprise. He replied, "Funny, I was just thinking the same thing the other day."
"Great minds think alike," Pandora said with a happy smile on her muzzle. "My next heat is due in about five days."
"Iíll be ready to do my duty, maíam," Karl replied in mock seriousness.
[Pandora] We arranged for the schooling for both our kits to be adjusted to emphasise what they needed to learn for their chosen careers. After school, Sylvia headed for Karlís workshop to spend a couple of hours learning the basics of her trade, while Jakkar helped me while I showed him the more practical side of farming, or he worked on his personal plot when I was too busy.
Our efforts to get pregnant again were successful, and even Jakkar and Sylvia were excited at the prospect of having a baby sister or brother.
[Karl] Sylvia is an absolute delight as an apprentice. She grasps concepts quickly and gains skills daily. She is everything that I had hoped that Jakkar would be and more. I see the same joy in the trade that I had had as an apprentice, and I think that she will do excellently as a professional. Iím as eager to find out as she is!
28 February 2350
[Pandora] I was showing Jakkar how to make repairs on our water pump when the first contraction hit me. Jakkar was very concerned, but I told him to just call his father and I could make my way back to the den without a problem. He did, and I did, but he also put on a kettle and called a few other people in the meantime. This one was a little reluctant to leave the womb though, so everyone who wanted to attend the birth not only had plenty of time to get there, but also get a good feed! Still, it was otherwise a quite normal birth. We did get one surprise though.
"Itís a boy!" exclaimed Mishi.
All the foxtaurs present were momentarily stunned. Getting one male in the family was about the most that any vixen ever expected. Getting two males out of only three births was extremely unusual. Then they all started talking simultaneously, and there was much laughter and joy. The poor kit was almost hugged to death!
Karl was very pleased. Unlike his mate though, he had had higher hopes of getting another son despite the typical gender imbalance in births. He had a name already picked out. "Iíd like to name him Xander," he said to Pandora, "if thatís okay with you."
"Zander? Why that name?" Pandora asked.
"Because my favourite grandfatherís name was Alexander, and rather than name our son either that or Alex, I thought Xander sounded like a good foxtaur name."
"Oh, Xander with an X." Pandora looked at the tiny kit in her arms. "Yes, thatís a good name for him. It keeps his sireís heritage in mind. And as a second son, I think heís going to be a very popular with the vixens when he grows up!"
[Pandora] I think nearly every vixen in the village came around to look at Xander when they heard that I had given birth to a second male. Itís nice to be notorious for a while, but eventually one gets tired of it. Fortunately things returned to normal fairly quickly. Jakkar looked after many of the winter chores for me, and mother was around often again.
Karl asked me whether I intended to try for a sibling for him like Jakkar and Sylvia. I told him, "Of course", and Iím pleased that he remembered. After all these years, I was afraid I was going to have to remind him!
30 January 2351
[Karl] Pandora and I are proud to announce that on this day, our daughter, Kalika, was born. Her name means ĎRosebudí, and I have to say that sheís the prettiest red rosebud that I have ever seen!
[Pandora] Karl never had the chance to properly experience having a daughter growing to maturity, nor did he grow up in a foxtaur village. I knew that eventually this would cause some problems, but I wouldnít shield him from them. He had undertaken to have a normal foxtaur family, so he also had to deal with normal foxtaur situations. I sympathise with him, but he must learn to cope.
[Karl] Sylviaís adolescence has caused me a couple of problems. Aside from the usual hormone-related incidents (which thankfully were very few), sheís having a reasonably smooth transition into maturity. However, Sylvia has taken after her mother in one significant way. As soon as she hit puberty, her bust had started filling out at a very fast rate. She already wears a halter to contain them, while many adults in this clan donít need or wear a top. Sheís starting to look a bit top heavy, but Pandora assures me that she had grown up exactly the same way, and a growth spurt would soon enough bring her back into better proportion. I am still concerned that she will be self-conscious about herself or, worse yet, suffer taunts from her peers. So far that hasnít eventuated. Perhaps itís because her mother is a prominent member of the community and is even bustier, which means that Sylvia isnít as unique as Pandora had been as a youth. I certainly hope so because I know that children can be cruel, no matter what the species.
Thereís still one problem though. As she has done since the day she was born, she sleeps with the rest of us, and I find that more and more disconcerting. It was my fetish for busty females that helped bring Pandora and I together. That condition still exists, but while my mind tells me that this is my daughter and not an object of sexual interest, my body reacts otherwise. Sylvia loved cuddling up to me as a tiny kit, and she still likes to do that. Itís a very uncomfortable situation for me sometimes, but if I refuse to let her cuddle anymore, her feelings would be deeply hurt. Instead, I focus on my lifemate at these times. Pandora, if youíve been wondering why Iíve been extra frisky lately, now you know the reason!
Karlís sleep was disturbed by someone constantly tossing and turning, finally waking him completely when a stray kick hit a tender spot. Sitting up, he realised that everyone else had been woken also. Pandora was already settling the kits elsewhere to let them get back to sleep. Jakkar was sitting on his haunches, oblivious to his conspicuous erection. Karl was aware that the young tod had taken up masturbating lately, and he was happier that he did that than chasing vixens at his youthful age. However, he was also aware that Jakkar did it when and where it wouldnít disturb the others. No, he too was looking at the source of the disturbance Ė Sylvia.
"Whatís wrong with her?" Karl asked, concerned for his daughterís welfare.
Pandora looked at him, surprise already turning into realisation. "Thatís right; you canít smell it. Sheís gone into her first heat. Itís a rather difficult time for foxtaur vixens."
Karl suddenly realised that Jakkar wasnít oblivious to his condition, triggered by Sylviaís pheromones Ė he was steadfastly ignoring it. Karl was relieved that however close the siblings were, it wasnít in a sexual way. "Oh. Is there anything that I can do to help?" Karl asked, feeling a little bit out of his depth.
"Not unless you intend to service her," Pandora shocked him by saying. Karl had heard tales of how some vixens desperately in search of a scarce male to mate, would sometimes take their own brother, or even their sire. He loved Sylvia dearly, but only as a daughter, and not sexually at all. No matter how deeply he got into foxtaur customs, that was something that he intended to refuse if he was ever asked.
"Of course not!" he blurted out.
"Then just leave this to me. We have ways of dealing with it. Iíll take Sylvia into the spare room with me for the rest of the night. Go back to sleep; this is vixensí business."
Karl wasnít going to argue, even if he did feel as if heíd been summarily dismissed.
Sylvia did not go to the workshop the next day, although she did seem to behave pretty much as normal by dinnertime. Nevertheless, she and Pandora spent that night in the spare room again. The bedroom seemed strangely empty without the two, and Karl felt distinctly naked without his mate beside him. The episode reminded Karl that his daughter was getting closer to being a fully mature vixen, and he wondered if their relationship was going to be the same wonderfully close one that theyíd enjoyed since she was born. He was relieved when the two vixens rejoined them the following night, and Sylvia lick-kissed him as she had done every night for years, and snuggled up to him on the opposite side to her mother. The two most important females in his life were where they belonged, and his world was back on track again.
18 May 2352
[Pandora] Since getting treatment for the homesickness, I have been able to leave the village for a reasonable amount of time. Iíve accompanied Jakkar to a few of his baseball games, but mostly Iíve been going out with Lavender once a month to enjoy shopping, meeting Lavenderís friends over coffee, and generally having a girlís day out. Sylvia had been coming with me more and more lately also, and it was wonderful to be able to share that mother/daughter experience. Sheís growing into a fine mature vixen and, although her father is still her favourite parent (which has been obvious all her life), there are more things to appeal to her female nature when she is spending time with me. Iíve always been happy about the closeness between sire and daughter as I had feared that Karl would distance himself from Sylvia as she grew older because of his experience with Kathleen. This never eventuated though, and the two have remained close all her life. I will never come between that. Besides, now that I have a new baby daughter, I may have the opportunity to be as close to her as Karl is to Sylvia.
However, while this journal entry is about a daughter, it isnít primarily about mine this time. Today, while we went shopping, Jake filled in Karl with the latest news....
"You look grim today," Karl commented.
"I donít have the best of news, Karl."
Karl sighed. "Canít be much worse than when we found out that Isabel hooked another poor sucker to bleed for funds to keep harassing me. Did your warnings about Isabel ever get through to him?"
"Iím not sure, but if they ever did, he hasnít done a thing about them."
"Well, we tried. So," Karl said as he handed Jake a mug of coffee and they settled comfortably into lounge chairs, "tell me what has gone kablooey this time."
Jake took a swig of his coffee before breaking his news. "Kathleen has been arrested for trafficking in narcotics. This also brought out something that I have suspected for quite a while Ė sheís also a heavy user."
Karl took the news in stunned silence. Despite everything that had occurred between Kathleen and himself, and although he held no unrealistic ideas of a reconciliation, he had still hoped that eventually his first daughter would make something better of herself. Instead they had taken a turn for the worse.
"I wish that I could say that Iím surprised," Jake went on, "but the more that I learned about Kathleen, the more that I could see that she had learned to be as deceitful, manipulative and greedy as her mother, but without Isabelís strong will and discipline. Sheís in a self-destructive cycle that I doubt will ever be broken."
Karl nodded. "Iím forced to agree, but it still hurts, Jake. Despite what she said and did to me, she is still my daughter, and no father ever wants to hear this sort of thing."
"I know I wouldnít," agreed Jake.
Karl gave him a lopsided smile. "Youíre a good father, Jake, and Pandora agrees with me. Lilac will break hearts in only the nicest way."
"You make it sound as if youíve been a bad father in comparison, and youíre not. Sylvia is a happy, healthy vixen with a bright future, and your other children certainly donít lack for love. It does you credit to still be concerned about Kathleen in spite of everything, but you can take that too far. The blame and responsibility lie entirely with Isabel. Let it go."
Karl smiled at his best friend. "Sorry to be a downer. Youíre right of course, but let me know if there are any further developments."
Jake nodded. "Of course."
30 May 2352
[Karl] After all that has happened with Isabel and Kathleen over the years, especially lately, I didnít think there was anything left that could shock me, but I didnít see this coming. Nobody did. Kathleen was released on bail pending her trial, the money provided by Isabel. Kathleen was staying with Isabel, of course. In fact her mother had insisted on it. In hindsight, that was the biggest mistake in a series that she had made.
Karl was surprised to see not only Jake but also Pandora in the doorway of the workshop, obviously waiting to catch his attention. He shut down the lathe and walked over to them, pulling off his safety spectacles. Before he could say anything, Pandora indicated the shop-front office, and she and Jake walked in there. Curiosity aroused, Karl followed, and was surprised again when they locked the doors for privacy.
"Whatís going on?" he asked in puzzlement.
"I have some important news," Jake began, "the kind that you only tell in person if possible. I just found this out a couple of hours ago, and I spent a bit of time verifying it before I came here. Isabel is dead."
"What!" exclaimed Karl. "When? How?"
"Karl," Pandora said as she took him in her comforting arms, "thatís not the shocking part. She was murdered last nightÖ by Kathleen."
Karl felt thunderstruck. His mind refused to comprehend it for several long seconds. Pandora and Jake waited for him to absorb that information and recover before continuing.
Jake explained, "My sources have confirmed this, and while the police are still investigating the circumstances, there isnít any actual doubt over Kathleenís guilt. Isabel had confined her to the house to try to keep her out of trouble and away from drugs, but Kathleen is too much like her mother to be thwarted so easily. There have been several loud verbal stoushes between them over the past few nights. A P.I. whom Iíve had watching the house since Kathleenís release on bail had no difficulty hearing exactly what has been happening. They fought over many things, but mostly it boiled down to Kathleen wanting a fix, and Isabel absolutely refusing to let her. Then last night, apparently Isabel caught Kathleen stealing a large sum of money from her and the following fight turned physical. Isabel was found bludgeoned to death. Kathleen was picked up this morning from some alley where she at last got her fix. Sheís currently under guard at the city hospital."
Karl was dazed. His nemesis was dead, but at the hands of his own flesh and blood. It was too much. "Iíve got to go home," he told Pandora, who nodded and gently escorted her lifemate out.
"Iíll let Tobar and Sylvia know that youíre taking the rest of the day off," Jake said.
[Pandora] No matter how badly he had been treated, no matter how much he had publicly denounced and disowned Kathleen, she was still Karlís daughter, and it was not in his nature to be totally unable to care about her. That is one reason why I love him so much. However, this news was the final straw, and he knew that she was forever lost to him. It took him a long time to recover from the shock. I confess that I was glad to hear that Kathleen died a couple of days later due to complications from the drug overdose. If she hadnít, I donít know how Karl would have dealt with the situation. Sometimes he cares too much.
[Karl] I buried Kathleen today. Jake had gotten our lawyer to get the old warrant cancelled, and I was free to travel with impunity again. I did not want my first taste of freedom in nearly nineteen years to be such a sad affair, but at least I have been able to lay to rest the ghosts that have haunted me for so long. I think that Kathleen will be at peace completely for the first time since she was brought into the world as a pawn for her mother. As for Isabel, I hear that her husband buried her somewhere. Donít know where, and I donít care. The poor fool still believes that she loved him.
Isabelís death has proved to be something of an anti-climax. After years of staying out of her reach on foxtaur territory, and dodging her traps off it, itís a relief to be able to go into town without a care, but other than being able to visit the trading post and Jakeís place at last, I find little reason to leave Crystal Creek. My life is focused here, and now that the last of my past has been dealt with, Iím happy to remain here indefinitely, raise foxtaur kits, and love my lifemate to the fullest. That old chapter is closed Ė bring on the future!
To be continued in Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #12.
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