Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #13: Tod's Choice
Excerpts from the journal of Pandora & Karl, part 8
By Bernard Doove © 2007
23 June 2367
[Karl] What is your definition of disaster? Heaven knows our family has had to endure a few. The drought and fire affected the entire village, but if you choose to live in a rural setting, those are just some of the problems that you must be prepared to deal with sooner or later. Then there was the flooding in the Spring following my first Obligation. Of course, even though Crystal Creek cuts right through the centre of the village, the foxtaurs had been smart enough not to build too close to it, so nobodyís den was affected. However, with my workshop on the other side from our den and the bridge rendered unsafe by the swiftly flowing water, it did present a problem to me and many others. The villagers swiftly constructed a temporary bridge though, so everyone was soon able to get back to their usual activities, or as much as the incessant rain would allow. It barely qualifies as a disaster.
[Pandora] Speak for yourself, Karl! Remember that Jakkar and I have to work out in those fields, rain or shine. We came home plastered in mud for weeks. That wasnít very pleasant.
[Karl] I remember. I also remember the fun that we had in the shower together, getting you clean!
[Pandora] Dirty old tod! But seriously, we had plants rotting in the fields and other problems due to the waterlogged soil.
[Karl] True, and thatís one of the problems that you have when you live off the land but you learn to take in your stride. The ice storm that we had two years later was far worse. We normally only get a picturesque covering of snow this far south, but that freak storm proved that we werenít immune to even the wildest winter weather. Fallen trees blocked the road out of the village for weeks, and I couldnít ship anything out except by air, a horrendously expensive alternative.
[Pandora] And I lost several fruit trees and others were badly damaged. Almost everyone in the village suffered in some way. Even after the thaw, the hunter-rangersí lives were made difficult due to all the forest trails being damaged or blocked. However, it was all repaired or restored, as is our duty of care to the territory.
[Karl] Itís an ill wind that blows no good though. Many of those fallen trees were good woodworking timbers which otherwise would not have been available to me. My stockpiles were bulging for ages! No oneís life was lost in either event, thank heavens, so even those have been mitigated by time. The same canít be said for a true disaster, and it doesnít have to affect the entire community for the effects to be devastating. The worst disasters can be very personal, for how can you mend a broken heart?
Karl wondered what happened to the idyllic day he had been enjoying. His daughter Sylvia and he finished a project which they were particularly proud of, so they quit for the day earlier than normal to celebrate. They headed to Meerka's Café. It was little more than a few tables outside her den but the villagers were amused to give it a pretentious title. Meerka served some of the best beverages and cakes in the state though and she never lacked for customers. Father and daughter celebrated with Black Forest cake while chatting with Meerka when she was between customers. Everybody enjoyed the glorious summer afternoon.
Eventually Karl decided to head home. He invited Sylvia and her denmate to come over for dinner to continue the celebrations, gave her a farewell hug and headed off towards his den. By coincidence he encountered Jacinta the huntress, his son Jakkarís denmate, as she emerged from a forest trail onto the main path. Strapped onto her saddle-pack was a small deer that she had shot that afternoon and was bringing back home for butchering.
"Are you in the mood for venison, Papa Karl?" she asked. As his daughter-in-law, she had the right to call him Ďfatherí, but Karl had insisted that she call him by name. She had compromised and called him ĎPapa Karlí in jest, but it had stuck somehow ever since then.
"Sounds like an excellent idea to me," Karl said enthusiastically. "Iíll get some potatoes, pumpkin and corn from the cool store and weíll have a proper roast meal. Iíll let Pandora know whatís happening."
Before he could do so though, they encountered a coyote morph walking down from the den. He was about seventeen years of age, but nearly a dead-ringer for his father, Jake, and had his same cheerful cheeky grin. He stopped to talk to Karl.
"Good afternoon, Uncle Karl. Youíre a mite early today, arenít you?"
"Hi, Joseph. Yep. Sylvia and I finished a job and we quit early. Weíre going to have a big fancy roast dinner tonight. Want to join us?" The boy was a frequent visitor to the foxtaur village despite its distance from Jake's place, spending a lot of time with Karlís children, Xander and Kalika, who were about his age.
"Iíd love to, but dad wants me to help him with a big job this afternoon that we canít put off, so I have to go now." He sounded very regretful.
"Thatís too bad," Karl said with a grimace, disappointment briefly flickering over his face. "That means that Jake canít come over for dinner either. Tell him that we finished the Markham commission and Iíll pop in to the trading post tomorrow to see him about shipping it."
"OK, Iíll do that. Catch ya later, Uncle Karl!" Joseph continued on down the path while Karl and Jacinta headed upwards. Karl diverged from the path into the fields where he expected to find Pandora, while Jacinta continued home. He found Jakkar first though, who pointed him in the direction of the pump shed. There he found Pandora surrounded by parts of a dismantled water pump, struggling to repair it for the umpteenth time.
"Donít you think that you should buy a replacement for that ancient thing?" he asked, startling Pandora who had been absorbed in her task. "Itís done its fair share of work. Itís older than you are!"
Pandora shrugged. "You know me Ė never replace what can be fixed. However, you may be right this time. I think that itís on its last gasp. Iíll get it going again for sure, but Iíll start shopping around for a replacement. At this time of year, I canít afford to have it out of action for too long. I thought that I would have this done before quitting time though. Are you a bit early?"
"Yep. Sylvia and I finished the Markham commission so we thought that weíd quit early and do something special. Jacinta has brought home a deer, so I thought Iíd cook up a roast venison dinner. Itíll take a while, so thereís no need to hurry."
"Good," Pandora agreed. "Ask Jakkar to pick some strawberries and somebody whip some cream. That ought to top off the meal perfectly."
"Will do, Love." Karl gave Pandora a quick kiss and headed back to the den after telling his son to pick the strawberries.
The meal was cooked to perfection, and the family enjoyed the fruits of their labours immensely. Dessert was served and the youngest kits tucked into the strawberries and cream with gusto. The older kits and the adults traditionally paused at this time to make any announcements, or lacking thereof, making a toast. Karl had a bit of both to make. He stood up with a glass of Pandoraís famous cider in his hand.
"As youíve all hear by now, today marks the completion of the Markham commission, the most complex and perhaps the most beautiful furniture we have ever done. I donít know if I could have done so well without the skills of my daughter, Sylvia. She is truly the youngest master of the trade that I have ever seen. I offer a toast to Sylvia who always makes her old man proud!"
There was a chorus of agreement and Sylviaís ears folded back in mild embarrassment at the lavish praise. It had been earned though and she accepted it gracefully.
Then Xander got up on all fours as Karl sat down. Everyone looked at him curiously. "Seeing as weíre on the subject of careers, Iíd like to make an announcement of my own." His sister, Kalikaís look was keenly expectant as if she knew what he was about to say. Xander continued, "Jacinta has agreed to take me on as an apprentice. Iím going to be a Hunter-Ranger."
"What?!" exclaimed Kalika. "Thatís not what we planned!"
"You are not!" Pandora said vehemently at almost the same moment.
Bedlam broke out as the three started arguing as all the others watched and listened in stunned silence.
"Thatís not what you planned!" corrected Xander.
"We worked it all out though!" Kalika jumped up on all fours to confront her brother.
"No son of mine is going to be a hunter!" Pandora placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward aggressively.
"Thereís no reason why I canít!" Xander replied defiantly crossing his arms on his chest.
"How could you do this to me?" wailed Kalika, throwing her arms in the air.
"What about what I want?" replied Xander heatedly.
"Only vixens can be hunters!" Pandora threw that in Xander's face.
"Only vixens are allowed to be hunters!" he shouted in frustration.
"We were going to travel and see the country!" Kalika grabbed Xander's arm, tugging him as if she could drag him back to her way of thinking.
"I want to see more of our land first!" Xander shook off his sister's hand in annoyance.
"Itís too dangerous for tods!" Pandora's voice got harder and louder as she emphasised her point, waving her hands dismissively.
"So itís okay to risk vixens?" Xander's voice rose to match his mother's.
"I donít want to be trapped on just one patch of land all my life!" Kalika's hands wavered helplessly in her uncertainty.
"So who says you have to be?" Xander countered in exasperation.
"Vixens have always done the hunter-ranger work!" Pandora pronounced in a tone that brooked no contradiction.
"And any tod who wants to do that work is totally repressed like youíre doing to me!" the tod added, the anger in his voice mounting.
"But weíve always done everything together!" Kalika insisted desperately.
"And it was great, but itís time that I followed my own course." Xander said, deliberately turning away from her.
"Weíve never repressed you!" Pandora said in outrage.
"Dad never has. You want me to be a normal boring tod!" Xander replied bitterly
"What was wrong with our ideas?" Kalika was stung by his rejection, and her tone had turned nasty.
"They were your ideas. I just went along until I found something better suited to me!" he reponded nastily.
"Iíve always wanted the best for you!" Pandora angrily retorted as she came practically nose to nose with her son.
"The best as long as it wasnít anything you didn't approve of!" Xander yelled in his mother's face.
"QUIET!" roared Karl.
Everyone was stunned. Karl never raised his voice to his family, but one look at his face told them that this was one exception that had better not be ignored, even by his lifemate. Karl normally deferred to Pandora as head of the family as was traditional in the foxtaur matriarchy, but this time she was part of the problem, and Karl was not going to let the situation degenerate any further.
"Sit down and shut up, all of you!" Karl said with a thunderous look on his face. No one dared object. When they had all settled down, he continued. "I canít believe how quickly a pleasant family dinner has turned into an all-in brawl. I thought that Iíd raised my children better than that. And Pandora, Iím especially disappointed in you. Look at the young kits Ė theyíre all upset from the anger and shouting. So now weíre going to talk about this calmly and rationally. No!" he ordered, raising his hand as all three started trying to speak simultaneously. "Iíll ask the questions and you can talk when I say so. Is that clear?"
Son and daughter nodded sullenly. Pandora looked ready to defy her mate, but another look at his determined expression made her back down.
"Okay, Xander, you said that you had decided on a career. Tell me more."
Xander replied, "You know how I have always loved travelling around and visiting other foxtaur clans? Well, I figured that I could choose a career that would let me do that and more. I loved listening to Jacintaís stories about what she did on her trips. I thought that it might make a good career for me also, so I discussed it with Jacinta and she seems to think that I would be good at it."
Karl nodded. "That seems fine so far. Jacinta, what was your honest reaction to Xanderís interest?"
"I was surprised at first. Itís true that there arenít any hunter tods in this clan, but I really couldnít think why there couldnít be. Xander has good grades in all the necessary subjects, heís confident and competent when hiking in the forest, he already has many of the basic skills, and he shows great promise with the traditional foxtaur bow."
"You let him handle a weapon?" Pandora blurted out.
"Pandora! Donít interrupt!" Karl told her. She glared at him but backed down.
"I am a professional hunter," Jacinta replied to her anyway. "Donít you think that I know how to be responsible with a novice?"
Karl could sense that the professional pride of the huntress had been stung. "Iím confident that you handled everything correctly, Jacinta," he said soothingly. "Now, Pandora, why the vehement opposition to our son being a hunter?"
"Tods canít be hunters. Thatís a vixenís job. I wonít let my son have the foolish idea that he can be one," Pandora said with determination.
Now Karl was surprised. He had honestly expected his lifemate to come up with some good reason for her opposition, but this was silly. "Is there a clan law that I donít know about that forbids tods from being hunters?"
"Hunting is the traditional work of vixens," Pandora replied evasively.
"Traditional, but is it the law?" Karl insisted.
"ItÖ thereís neverÖ" Pandora begun, then sighed. "No, it isnít," she admitted.
"Then your objection is either a strong dedication to tradition, which I really canít see you doing, or you have personal reasons for not wanting Xander to be a hunter."
Pandora looked up at Karl and he could see tears welling in her eyes. "But itís so dangerous!" she wailed.
Karl could at last relent and hugged Pandora. "Love, we cannot hold him back just because we fear for his safety. Nor can we hold tradition over his head like a sword. Also, you do our daughter-in-law a great disservice if you feel itís okay to risk herself, but not our son."
"I know," Pandora admitted, "and I do worry about her, especially for Jakkarís sake. Every year several hunter-rangers are injured by some means. I would always be worrying if Xander was going to be one of them, or maybe even killed."
"Now, Love, how many have been killed in all the years that I have been here? None. You are making the worst of a profession with known elements of danger. If our son is half as smart as we think he is, he will avoid taking unwarranted risks. Besides, there are very few professions that are totally risk-free. Just look at how I injured my ankle last year."
"That injured ankle didnít leave you stranded in the middle of the forest many kilometres from safety," Pandora countered.
"Pandora, you canít protect Xander from every possible thing that might go wrong. Youíre smothering him. Would you have raised the same amount of fuss if it had been Kalika who had wanted to pursue that career?"
"Itís a vixenís profession, so of course not," Pandora answered.
"I see. Itís not really just a safety issue, but because itís one of our sons. Itís the over-protectiveness of males thatís at issue here." Karl sighed. Once again a foxtaur trait was throwing a wrench into his life. "Pandora, I am in total disagreement with this practice of pushing tods into Ďsafeí jobs. Itís unfair at best, discrimination at worst. If Xander has his heart set on this career, I will support him totally whether it be against just you or the whole village."
"You are a stubborn tod, Karl Whitepaw," Pandora said.
"Would you like me any other way?" Karl asked her.
"No, I suppose not, but Iím never going to let you forget this if Xander comes to harm," Pandora promised.
"Fair enough," Karl conceded. "Now before Kalika explodes, Iíd better let our daughter have her say."
Kalika had barely been able to restrain herself while her father sorted things out between Xander and her mother. She seethed with resentment until Karl let her speak.
"Xander is breaking his promise to me!" she blurted out. "Weíve made big plans together. Weíre going to travel and see the world for some time while acting as representatives for the furniture business so that you could stop paying commissions to outside agents, and weíd keep the money in the family instead. If that worked out well, we were planning to go into partnership in our own business. Uncle Jake has been considering expanding his own business because of the amount of furniture that youíre selling through him, and itís only because you havenít been able to get more out faster that he hasnít gone ahead with those plans. Xander and I knew that would eventually change, so we proposed to Uncle Jake that we start the business for him in some prime location while he would act as the central warehouse. However, I canít do that all by myself. I never expected to have to do so. Xander was quite willing before Jacinta changed his mind." She gave the vixen an accusing look before she continued. "Weíve always done everything together. We played together as kits, shared our toys, played in the baseball team, partnered each other in various sports, helped each other in school, supported each other against bullies, been festival partners for the past couple of years, we even had our first sex together. Why is he wanting to break us up now?" she wailed.
Karl sighed. The bit about sex he had guessed but not known for sure. Ignorance had been bliss in that case. Heíd never be totally at ease with the foxtaur habit of casual incest. Now, however, it was clear what the problem was. Despite being the younger of the siblings, Kalika was the dominant of the two and had been making plans for both of them. Something had changed however. He turned to Xander.
"Son, did you really want to do that, and if so, what changed your mind?"
"I did want to do that originally. It was a good plan. Still is in fact, but I came to realise that I didnít want to see everything like Kalika does. Iím more interested in seeing our lands, exploring every nook and cranny, then perhaps doing the same with other foxtaur clans. I can do that as a Ranger, and provide for the family also as a Hunter."
"That seems reasonable," Karl agreed, glancing at Pandora meaningfully, indicating that he wanted no contradiction from her. "But why didnít you discuss this with Kalika?"
"IÖ couldnít." Xander couldnít even look at his sister as he admitted that. "She would have tried to talk me out of it, and then we would have argued just like we did just now."
"Of course I would have!" Kalika burst out. "Weíve been planning every detail for ages, and then you suddenly drop everything and leave me in the lurch. I canít do this by myself. I need you!"
"I know you do, sis. Thatís the problem Ė it leaves me with no room for what I need or want, and would have trapped me in your vision of our future. I think your plan suits you well, but Iíve changed and I have my own goals now."
Kalikaís eyes widened in realisation. "Youíve fallen for some other vixen!"
Xander nodded. "Itís true. Hassinia shares my ideas and goals, and I think my future lies with her. If all goes well with my training, we may become denmates when I graduate."
"Then where does that leave me?" Kalika asked bitterly. "Iíll be alone and unable to follow my dreams."
Karl was at a loss. Right at that moment he could not see a solution to that problem. He wanted the best for all his children, and her distress was having a bad effect on him also. He was about to offer some words of comfort and encouragement, knowing that those words would be hollow but not knowing an alternative, when Pandora broke in.
"You need not be alone, daughter."
Kalika frowned in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"
Pandora replied, "I mean that Joseph has been sweet on you for quite some time now, but you havenít even noticed."
"Joseph? He is? But heís a coyote morph and Iím a foxtaur; how could weÖ." Kalika broke off and looked guiltily at her father.
"Yes? You were about to sayÖ?" Karl asked her dryly.
Kalikaís ears reddened in embarrassment and she dropped that line of thought before continuing. "Are you really sure about that? I mean, I never really noticed him making any advances."
"Kalika, heís been coming all the way here to the foxtaur village nearly every day to spend time with you two when it would have been far easier for him to hang out with other friends in town. No offence, son, but it wasnít you he mostly wanted to hang around with."
Jakkar grinned. "Now that you point it out, that seems pretty obvious now. I mean, heís a nice guy, but he isnít exactly interested in much of what I like. As for Kalika thoughÖ." He left the rest unsaid.
A thought occurred to Karl. "Kalika, who told you about Jakeís plans to expand? That isnít something that I have discussed with the family as yet."
Kalika looked thoughtful, then said, "It was Joseph."
Karl nodded. "Joseph is a chip off the old block. Jake has told me that he was very likely to be following in his footsteps. I wonder if Jake realised something that we hadnít? Anyway, Iím thinking that Joseph has been making his moves in a subtle and appropriately coyote-sneaky way."
Kalika said quietly, almost to herself, "Joseph has been chasing me? IÖ I never even dreamed about that. I mean, heís cute and all, and he makes me laugh with his tricks, but heís always kind and helpful, and he gave me that great gift for my Coming-of-Age ceremonyÖ. Oh good heavens, he has been courting me, and Iíve been totally oblivious." She looked at her father. "Do you think that heíd be a good companion, dad?"
"I donít know why youíre asking me. You were prepared to go off with Xander without even hinting at your plans to me yet. Canít you decide for yourself if Joseph might make as good or better alternative?"
"Of course I can, but Iíd really like to know if you approve too."
"Well, thatís a first. A vixen asking a male if he approves Ė itís one amazing revelation after another," Karl said with a chuckle.
"D-a-a-a-d!" Kalika said with impatience.
"OK! OK! If what I feel counts for anything, then yes, heís a good kid and I wonít object if he wants to partner you."
Kalika looked to Pandora. "Mom?"
Pandora smiled at her daughter fondly. "Who am I to stand in the way of cross-species attraction. Give it a try. Even if it doesnít work out, youíre young and resilient. Life is a risky business, especially in relationships, but if you donít give it a try, you canít reap any reward." She said the last as she glanced at her lifemate in fond memory.
"Then Iíll ask him tomorrow. HmmmÖ whatís the bet heíll be ready for my question?"
"No takers for that bet," Karl replied with a laugh. "Iím glad that everything seems to have been resolved for now though."
"Not quite everything," Pandora demurred. "Iím still not happy with Xander being a Hunter-Ranger."
"No, Pandora, that subject is closed for two reasons. Firstly, I will not back down on my support of Xanderís career choice. Secondly, and more importantly, heís now of age and no longer subject to either of our hopes and wishes if he doesnít choose to be. He can and must make his own choices now, and we both need to support him on those."
Pandora was unhappy but resigned. She sighed and said, "Alright, but so help me if you get killed, Xander, Iím never going to let you live this down."
Xander laughed and walked over to his mother to give her a huge hug. "I promise to not get myself killed, mom. Iíll be the most careful Hunter-Ranger ever."
Pandora smiled back at him and enjoyed the moment, realising that he was almost full-grown now, and no longer her precious little son. Finally they parted and Pandora said, "I think that weíve been keeping those strawberries waiting long enough. Weíve got a lot more celebrating to do, so dig in!"
[Karl] One of the greatest strengths of the foxtaurs is their closeness. Even their worst enemy within the clan will be staunchly defended against outsiders. This applies all the way down to the family level. However, it can also be too close, and when something changes, it can drastically affect all those who are intimately involved.
We were lucky. Xanderís choice could have left Kalika heartbroken. If Joseph hadnít already been in the picture, I donít know what would have happened, but I doubt it would have been a happy ending. Although finding another partner for her plans seems to be an obvious goal, it certainly would not have been an easy one to achieve. Not many foxtaurs were willing and able to leave clan lands. However, Kalika did ask Joseph, and he was indeed ready and eager to be her partner. Time will tell if that will grow into something more, although itís off to a very good start. Not that Kalika needs our approval any more than Xander did, but she has it anyway.
Of course it would be a gross oversimplification to say that everything was roses now. Xander and Kalika had been extremely close all their lives, and Xanderís defection had affected Kalika deeply. Joseph could never replace Xander in her heart, and it would be a long time in healing. Joseph did a magnificent job of distracting her from her pain though. Sometimes I wonder if he knew better than any of us what was happening, and always knew what would occur when Xander made his break. He certainly slipped into his new role with studied ease, his cheeky grin never fading. If he is indeed destined to become my son-in-law, I will have no qualms about accepting him into the family.
7 June 2369
[Pandora] Itís hard to believe that itís been nearly two years since Kalika and Joseph started making plans as partners. As soon as our daughter had completed her studies, they had left to do the travelling that had been planned for so long. Having left before she was totally mature prevented the onset of the Territorial Attachment Syndrome that afflicted many foxtaurs, and they were gone from our den for too long. But now that they have established a west coast branch of Whitepaw Creations as she said she would, they have come home again for one very important reason Ė their formal denmating. The entire family is excited and a huge party has been planned. Jakeís family is here, of course, and Springstep brought along hir family also. Springstep unsubtly reminded Kalika that shi wasnít tired of being a godmother yet. Joseph mentioned something that sounded like Ďcoyotetaursí. I hope he was joking!
To be continued in Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #14.
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