Running With The Pack: Eventide

By Sam Starrett

It was a beautiful day near the end of summer. The Golden Retriever, Red, sat on the back of his horse, his whole body sore from days of riding. The sun shone high in the sky, and it was a little after noon when our hero arrived back at his hometown of Dramstad.

He had joined up with all those dogs of his home city who had attended the peace meetings between cats and dogs. There was Red’s good friend, the Pekingese scholar Andreas. There was Red’s girlfriend, Cider, who had been occupying his thoughts more and more lately.

There were various and sundry other folks as well, but search as he might, Red could find no sign of his own parents either among the group he was now traveling, nor had he been able to do so or at the peace conference itself. He hoped they were all right, though he was going to be rather displeased if nothing was wrong and they hadn’t come.

Cider rode up beside him. He looked at her and smiled, and she smiled back. Then she looked off to the right and apparently saw someone she recognized. She turned in that direction and rode off slowly.

Red watched her back as she went. He had had little time to think of her on his almost three-month trip, but he had thought of her anyway. He had come of age some time ago, and so had she. Red wondered if perhaps, now that the peace treaty was underway and he was back at home, the time might be right for him to consider marriage.

Immediately Red’s heart started to pound inside his chest. Doubts began to fill his mind. How will she react? What will she say? Wait, that one’s thinking too far ahead. What will I say?

Red paused for a moment as he reached the edge of his hometown of Dramstad. He looked around at the group following him and laughed at himself. You didn’t entertain these cowardly doubts when you were setting off to enlist the aid of the Oligarch, he thought ruefully. He tried to shove aside his doubt and began thinking about when he might ask her. But then another objection suggested itself.

What of Aeradde’s offer? I couldn’t do that from here. I’d have to move to Goldpaw. How would that work out with Cider? Probably not well. She loves this place; the woods, the farms, the folk. All her family’s here, too. I know she’d sure hate to leave, and I’m not even sure I want to do this myself. I wonder if I could get back into business here. They’ve probably had to find another carpenter while I’ve been gone.

*******

Luna had not joined any caravan or group for her trip home. She needed time to be alone, to think, to consider whether she ought to take the position with Jabari.

It had taken her a few days’ solid walking to reach her old territory, and she was hungry. She had been able to hunt enough to live, but she had not been able to take full advantage of her kills, being always on the move, nor to kill all she would have liked, being in relatively unfamiliar territory. She reached the border of her usual hunting grounds and smiled. I will eat well tonight.

*******

Red and his companions rode through the streets of Dramstad. They were swarmed by the crowd, which cheered at them and sung their praises. Many danced, some whooped or hollered. Yet Red took little notice. His thought was with Cider. She’ll likely be expecting me to ask her soon, he thought, now that things are calm. I’d better make up my mind.

Gradually, the crowd slipped away. Red looked around him for Lucas, a German Shepherd he knew who also lived in Dramstad and was coming back from the peace meeting. Lucas had a stable, and Red needed somewhere to keep this horse for the night. Aeradde had loaned it to him and sent a messenger with Red’s group to bring it He saw him turning off onto a side street, and spurred his horse to follow.

When he got within shouting distance, he called out, “Lucas!” “Red!”, said Lucas. “You live on the other side of town. What’s going on?” “Actually, I need to find out if you have room in your stable for this horse I borrowed to spend the night. Aeradde sent a messenger to take him back, but he won’t be able to do it until morning, so I need a place to keep him.” Lucas nodded quickly. “I haven’t got any horses staying there at the moment, except my own. There’ll be plenty of room.”

“Great,” said Red. Lucas reached out for the reins, and Red gladly handed them over. “I’ll take him back to the stable, if that’s all right,” said Lucas. “You can go on home.” “Thanks,” said Red. “I appreciate it. Is it all right if I pay you in the morning? I don’t have a lot of money on me at the moment.”

Lucas buried his head in his forepaw. “Red,” he said, “you must be joking.” “What?”, asked Red. “You know I’m good for it. I’m not that poor.” Lucas laughed. “No, you misunderstand. I’m sure you have the money, but you’re not going to pay me tomorrow.”

“Sure I am,” said Red, now looking affronted. “I always pay my debts.” Lucas shook his head. “I’m sure you do,” said Lucas, “but again you misunderstand. You’re a hero, Red. You just ended a centuries-old conflict. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was getting pretty sick of it. Anyway, you’re a hero. You did perhaps the greatest deed in recorded history. The least I can do is take care of your horse for one night.”

“Listen,” said Red, “I appreciate that, but your enthusiasm is really rather overblown. You act like I did it all by myself.” “You played a huge part.”, said Lucas. “True, but that doesn’t mean–”

Here Lucas interrupted Red. “Red,” he said, “there’s no point in arguing. Your horse is staying at my stable, and you’re not paying.” And he rode off without another word.

Red laughed and started back toward his house. It was a long walk to the other side of town, but Red appreciated the time to think. He decided the first thing to do before considering marrying Cider or any other major decision, would be to determine whether he was going to Goldpaw.

He didn’t really want to. If he did, he would have to give up living in his hometown, which he loved. He would also have to give up his work as a carpenter, which he enjoyed greatly. And finally, it would mean having almost no chance to pursue his hopes as a Shatruff player, for although it would certainly be easier to find a sponsor in Goldpaw, he would likely have little to no time for the game as head of Aeradde’s foreign relations department.

Besides, although he was honored, he thought as he opened the door, he probably wouldn’t be very good at the job. He didn’t know cat culture half as well as Aeradde must have simply assumed that he did. And diplomacy was not really his strong suit. He had done all right with Brutus, but other than that, he had had professional diplomats do most of the negotiating for him.

I’ll sleep on it, Red decided, but I think I shall probably decline.

*******


Luna had eaten well. Feasted, you might even say. It was funny, she thought, but after all her time with Red, she had acquired quite a taste for cooked meat. Tigers were hermitic, as a rule, and thus did not travel into towns much. It was perfectly safe for them to eat raw meat, and so most never learned to cook it. But Luna now found the taste of raw meat disagreeable when cooked meat could be had, so she had built a fire near the middle of her favorite cave(there were several caves in her territory, but this one was the largest and the nicest) and had attempted to cook a gazelle she had killed.

It had turned out all right for a first try. It was much harder and blacker and crunchier than anything she had had with Red, and Luna suspected that she might have overcooked it. Nevertheless, it was much preferable to raw meat.

And now, having eaten, Luna was meditating. But her meditations were troubled by continual thoughts of Jabari’s offer. She wondered whether she ought to accept the position as the head of his new foreign relations department. Well, she thought, cooked food would probably be one of the perks, and I’ll bet it wouldn’t be burnt either.

Luna considered what her life had been before she joined the Underground, and what it had since become. Her old life seemed boring by comparison. Tigers lived secluded lives and pondered the mysteries of creation. At least, that was what Luna had always been told they did.

But that secluded existence no longer appealed to Luna. She loved the adventures that she had had, and the cause that she had fought for, and the friends that she had made, and cooked food. And she thought of Jun. If nothing else, she thought, he proves that it can be done. A tiger can live in a city. We need not be hidden away all the time.

Luna tried to focus on her meditation, but she simply couldn’t do it. I can see, she thought, that I’m not going to accomplish much, and I’ll probably be pretty irritable too, until I get this decision made. Should I accept Jabari’s offer?

Luna pondered the pros and cons of her decision for some kind. She was probably better-acquainted with dog culture than any other cat in the Felid Kingdoms, but that wasn’t saying much.

The best choice would probably have been someone from the Jungle Refuge, but for whatever reason, Jabari had chosen to ask her. And she had been thinking that she would like to get away from her lonesome life, by herself, in the forest.

That settles it, she thought. I may not have a perfect knowledge of dog culture and customs, but I am sure I could get by. And if Red accepts his post, he’ll certainly be able to help me. Even if he doesn’t, I’m sure I can persuade him to lend me his assistance from time to time.

Yes, Luna thought, I will accept the position.

She tried to meditate some more, but it was no good. She was too tired. Oh well, she thought, I’ll get some sleep and try again tomorrow. But then I’ll have to get into town and let Jabari know that I have accepted his offer.

*******

A few days had passed, and summer was turning into autumn. The leaves on the trees were changing colors, and Aeradde’s messenger had arrived back in Goldpaw, bringing with him Red’s borrowed horse–barring, of course, any misfortune along the road.

Red had found out that the townsfolk had indeed gotten another carpenter in his absence, and that he had temporarily set up shop in a building that used to be empty, right next to Red’s shop. The dog’s name was Jacob, and he was a distant cousin of Red’s from the other pack that was created when the original pack split in two when several families split off from the original Goldstone Pack.

Anyway, Jacob was a distant cousin of Red’s who Red had never met before, but he decided to go talk to him. He walked into the shop, but Jacob was nowhere to be seen.

Hmmm, Red thought. Perhaps he’s in the back. He walked further back, past an impressive line of projects that Jacob had created. Sure enough, there he was in the back, sawing away at a board. He was facing the other side of the room, so Red had a moment to look at him before Jacob noticed that Red was there.

Jacob was a Golden Retriever, as one would expect from a descendant of the Goldstone Pack. But Red had seen many dogs, and he could tell there was other blood in this one. It was said that the southern branches of the family had interbred with various other breeds. I can imagine that there was possibly a Great Dane in Jacob’s ancestry, thought Red, but I no longer believe the story about the poodles.

“Jacob?”, asked Red. The other turned around. “Yes, may I help you?” “Yes, I think you may,” said Red. “I’m Red.” “Red?”, asked Jacob. “Oh yes! I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m told you’re quite the carpenter.”

“Well, I used to be,” said Red. “I’ve been gone a while, and it would probably take some time before I got back into practice, but I’m not bad. And from what I see outside, you’re not bad yourself. So you’re my replacement?”

“Oh no, certainly not,” said Jacob. “At least, not permanently. If I was to stay here permanently, I would have built my own shop and not used this highly imperfect old building. No, I was only going to be here for a few months to help out my family–can you believe I was the nearest relative that was a carpenter?” “Well, one of the northern branches did die out,” said Red, “and the rest of us live here, so it makes sense.”

“Oh, that’s right,” said Jacob. “Old Donovan of Northbrook never had any children, and when he died, that was the end of the northeastern Goldstones. I was sorry to hear about that. I used to come and visit him from time time up there in Northbrook when I was just a pup. Anyway, I came and I’ve been doing fine, but truth be told, it was always just going to be until you came back. Then I would go back to my hometown.”

“Really?” asked Red. Jacob nodded. “Really.” “Well,” said Red, “that’s a relief. What are the people in your area doing for a carpenter while you’re gone?” Jacob leaned back and laughed, not unkindly, but a hearty, friendly sort of laugh.

“I don’t live in a village like Dramstad, Red. I live in a large town. It’s not the biggest in the Confederacy, but compared to your hometown, it’s huge. Anyway,” he continued, “there are many carpenters in my hometown.”

“Oh,” said Red. “All right.” “So,” said Jacob, “is that all you came to talk about? Whether I’ve replaced you?” “Yeah, that’s it,” said Red. He started to turn and leave, when he looked over at Jacob’s workbench. “Hey,” he said, “can I see what you’re working on there?”

*******

Once again, a meeting of the Pride of Sambar Rock had been called. The last time Luna had attended one of these, it had been an emergency meeting called by Jabari to deal with the “crisis” of the rising Underground. It’s funny, Luna thought, last time I came as a spy. If I had been caught, I probably would have been killed. This time I’m coming to accept a post as an official of the pride’s government, the first time a tiger has done so in almost thirty years.

Luna also noticed the contrast in attendance between last time and this. Last time, it being an emergency meeting, almost everyone in the whole city of Sambar Rock had attended. This time, there were very few spectators. It was mostly just Jabari and the four other members of the coalition sitting on their elevated rocks.

Luna strode boldly up to the center of the large, sandy circular clearing that served as the Pride’s meeting place. She genuflected briefly, then rose. “Luna of Sambar Rock,” said Jabari. “Greetings.”

“Hail, great one,” replied Luna. “Are you here to give us an answer?”, asked Jabari. “Indeed I am, sir,” replied Luna. “And what will that answer be?”, asked Jabari. “I have chosen to accept the position offered me.”

Jabari nodded and smiled, clapping his forepaws. “Excellent,” he said. “I am most pleased. He stood up high on his rock. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I would like to introduce you to this coalition’s newest officer, Luna of Sambar Rock!”

There were few there, but those that there were clapped. Jabari turned toward Luna. “You will not have a meeting-place rock, as those are reserved for lions of the coalition. However, you will receive an official residence in the city of Sambar Rock. When you are needed here, a chair will be brought to this place, as one has been.”

Luna looked around and saw no chair. “My lord?”, she asked. “Yes, Ministrant?” Luna smiled at the use of her new title. “There is no chair here.” “Bring out the chair!”, commanded Jabari. At once, several servants brought out a tall chair from behind one of the stones and placed it between the foremost stone, that of Jabari, and the stone to his immediate right.

Luna climbed into it and sat down. She looked around. She was, of course, lower than the coalition, but not enough that it was uncomfortable to look up at them. The stones were only about four feet high anyway. Luna smiled. Well, looks like I’ll be occupied for a while.

*******

It had been two weeks since Jacob had packed up and gone home. Red had set up shop as a carpenter again, and had been doing very well. Aeradde’s offer weighed on his mind. His question about whether he would be able to find work in Dramstad had clearly been answered. The only question left was whether he ought to stay in town for Cider’s sake, or whether he wanted to take the position with Aeradde.

Red thought for a long while, though he ought to have gone into his shop. He finally decided that he would be able to make no decision until he had asked Cider to marry him, and received an answer. He began to think. Now when would be the best time to ask her? Well, he thought, I ought first of all to get a ring. I ought secondly to do it in the right place. Somewhere romantic. Somewhere secluded. Somewhere like…like… Red’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Three loud raps sounded, and Red rose, looking around for his sword-belt. It was lying beside him on a stair. He slipped it on and half-drew his sword. I never would have done this before, he thought. I guess adventure has changed me. Still, one can’t be too careful. He looked out the window to the right side of the door. Before him stood a large wolf. He could see little through the window(it was at a poor angle to serve as a peephole; Red wished he had constructed the house differently), but he could tell it was no one he knew.

He opened the door. What he saw made him draw his sword three-quarters of the way. The stranger wore no sword, but there was a long knife on his belt, and a small buckler on his arm. His gray fur was flecked with black, and he reminded Red somewhat of the few descriptions he had read in history books of the ruling wolf pack before the Grays.

Red looked at him, then relaxed slightly when he saw the pouch engraved with the messengers’ symbol: an image of a pen and scroll beneath an owl with its wings spread over them both. This was the money pouch carried by all royal messengers. It also contained their messages, though Red noticed that the pouch lacked the characteristic bulge of a scroll in the side. “May I help you?”, asked Red. “Yes,” said the wolf. “Are you Red?”

“I am indeed,” said Red. “I am a messenger from His Highness Aeradde, alpha of Goldpaw.” “Oh,” said Red. “And what message does His Highness send to me?” “He wishes your reply concerning his offer of a post at his court.” “Oh,” said Red. “And how much time to I have to decide?” “You have until I leave your town,” said the messenger. “In two days.”

Red sighed. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll let you know.” Well, he thought, this complicates things.

*******

The next day, Red searched through all the money he had in the world, both at his house and at his shop(there was no bank in Dramstad); it wasn’t much. Of equal importance, there was no jeweler nearby, Red knew he had to propose to Cider quickly, but what could he do without an engagement ring?

Wait a minute, he thought. I know just the thing. About an hour later, he was sitting in the living room of his parents’ house. “So you see, Mom and Dad,” he said, “I need to ask Cider to marry me, and I need to do it soon. I also need a ring, but I can’t get one quick enough.” “So,” asked Red’s father, “What do you want us to do?”

“Well,” said Red, “there is a certain family heirloom that I was always told would someday be mine.” “Well, yes,” said Red’s father, “but the understanding was that it would be left to you, not that I would give it over while I lived.”

“I know that, Dad,” said Red, “but I have no other choice. If I don’t get an answer from Cider soon, there’s no way I can make an informed decision about Aeradde’s offer. And I can’t get to another town and back where they have a jeweler fast enough.”

“You know,” said Red’s father, “rushing into a big decision like this could have disastrous consequences.” “Last time I rushed into something, it worked out all right.”

“That just means you’ve got bad results coming the next time you do something dumb,” said Red’s father. “Dumb?”, said Red. “And just what is ‘dumb’ about what I’m considering doing? I thought you had warmed up to Cider.”

“Warmed up?”, asked Red’s father. “Well, you might say I have. She’s a fine girl. But marriage? Your head’s still muddled from a long journey. You ought to wait.”

“Wait? I’ve done enough waiting. If I wait any longer, she will probably look for someone who can make a commitment. And the journey has not muddled my head. It cleared it. And finally, I have two days to make the decision about whether to go to Goldpaw, and if Cider decides not to marry me, that’ll much increase my chances of going.”

Red’s father smiled. “So you want the ring that has been passed down through the last three generations of our family?” Red nodded. “Your mother and I will have to talk it over.” Red’s mother smiled.

“All right,” said Red. “Fine. You can talk it over. But make a decision quickly, please. I have little time.” Red’s father leaned over towards Red’s mother, and they both whispered back and forth for a few minutes. Red couldn’t make out many of the words, but from their tones it seemed as though Red’s father was wavering on the idea, while his mother supported it.

After a few moments, Red’s mother and father turned toward him. His mother was beaming, and his father smiled reluctantly. “You don’t look happy, Dad.”, said Red. “I must admit,” said his father, “I still have some misgivings. But I hope it works out.”

“You hope it works out?”, asked Red. “Is that all you can say?” “No,” replied his father. “I can also say one more thing. But I will have to say it in a moment.” “In a moment?”, asked Red. His father nodded and rose from his chair.

It dawned on Red what his dad meant, and he began to smile slightly, though he reserved his full smile for when his father came back and his expectations were confirmed.

Red’s dad left the room, and his mother smiled even more brightly. In about a minute, his father came back, carrying a small gold box. Red recognized it, and knew right away what was in it. Perfect, he thought. That’s the ring.

*******

Well, thought Red, here goes nothing. He lifted his hand and knocked on Cider’s door. She looked down from the window above. “You look somewhat familiar,” she said. “Come on,” said Red, “it hasn’t been that long. And you were the one who got it all started, so if you haven’t seen me, it’s your fault.”

“You have no sense of humor, Red.” she said. “But I’m coming down.” A moment later, Cider opened the door and stood before him. “What’s going on?”, she asked, cocking her head sweetly to the side.

Red dropped to one knee. Cider looked at him quizzically for a few moments, then opened her mouth. Her eyes widened and an expression of shock appeared on her face. “Red…”

He looked up at her. “Let me finish,” he said. He pulled his right hand from behind his back and flipped open the golden box to reveal a beautiful ring. “Cider of Dramstad, daughter of Alpho, will you marry me?”

She smiled. “Red,” she said, “this is rather sudden.” “We’ve been seeing each other for a long time,” he replied. “True,” said Cider. “I guess I should have known that this would happen soon.”

“I don’t like the tone of that statement,” said Red. “What, don’t you like the ring?” “No, of course I do,” said Cider. “It’s beautiful. Solid gold, and four emeralds surrounding a large diamond? No, it’s got nothing to do with the ring. I just…need some time.”

“I understand,” said Red, “and normally I would have no problem with that. But…” “But what?” “Well,” said Red, “I kind of need a decision by the day after tomorrow.”

“Whyever do you need it so soon?”, she asked. “Well,” said Red, “a messenger of Aeradde arrived today. He wants me to make a decision about Aeradde’s offer of a post at his court by the time he leaves.”

“I see,” said Cider. “Why don’t you get up?” Red looked down and noticed that he was still on his knee. He shook his head and got up. “Of course.” Cider smiled at him. “I’ll tell you what,” said Cider. “I’ll come by your house tomorrow with an answer, all right?”

Red nodded. “All right.” He turned to go. Well, that didn’t go so well, he thought. She didn’t seem very happy. And now I have to go back to work. As if I’ll be able to concentrate on Manfred’s rocking chair now.

*******

As it happens, Red did have some difficulty concentrating on Manfred’s rocking chair. But he did his best, and took the next day off so he wouldn’t miss Cider’s call at his house.

It was about three o’clock. Red had just eaten a late lunch, and he was beginning to think that Cider wasn’t coming, when he heard a knock on the door. That’s probably Cider, he thought. He jumped up and ran to the door. He was so nervous, he made the tactical error of opening the door without his sword on, and without checking at the window who it was.

As it happened, however, it was Cider. “Hey,” he said nervously. “Hey,” she said. “Mind if I come in?” “Not at all,” he said, and stepped aside. They walked slowly over to the table and sat down. Red was in no hurry to hear the answer. Perhaps he should have been; it would have ended his suspense. But he feared what the reply might be.

“Well,” she said, after a long pause, “I guess you’ll be wanting an answer as to whether I’ll marry you.” Red nodded, noting that though her tone was grave and her speech slow, she was suppressing a smile.

“It was not a hard decision,” she said, grinning openly now. “I was a little caught off-guard by your proposal, though I guess I shouldn’t have been.” She sat back and grinned a little more. “Well?”, asked Red. “As soon as my head cleared,” said Cider, “I realized that I love you. And there’s no one I’d rather spend my life with. So I accept.”

*******

It was a beautiful ceremony. It came quickly, too. Only a month after Red’s proposal, at the beginning of autumn, as the leaves fell from the trees, Red and Cider were wed. Almost the whole town was in attendance. All of Red’s pack was there, and all the local Underground members from the Bone and Hound, and all of Cider’s pack, and many friends and neighbors besides.

Luna, too, attended. She seemed to have aged much more than a month since Red had last saw her. Not that she looked old, exactly. But she had a different bearing. Red decided it was probably due to her post at the court of the coalition. It had changed her. She carried herself almost regally now.

Red wondered if he might have been the same way had he accepted Aeradde’s offer. He remembered the look on the royal messenger’s face when Red had told him that he refused Aeradde’s offer, sending the messenger home with a “no”.

The wolf had asked him if he was sure, told him what a great opportunity he was missing. But Red said no. He had talked it out with Cider. She loved this place, and to be honest, so did Red. He might well have stayed anyway, but she really wanted to. This way Red stayed near his family and out of the spotlight, where he could rest for a while, relatively speaking, and still cherish his dream of one day playing Shatruff professionally.

The wedding was held in the open air, under the shadow of the autumn-fading forest just outside the town. They had considered the gaderspott, but it was right in the center of town, and it was stone surrounded by buildings. Both preferred the colored shade of the forest’s edge.

There was only one temple in Dramstad, to the city’s patron god, a fairly minor deity named Saruk, and so there was little choice of a priest, but Red and Cider didn’t mind. They were both quite friendly with Damon.

Holding his long golden rod, which was topped with the symbol of Saruk, a bear with claws raised high, Damon the Great Dane priest spoke the words of the vows, and Red and Cider repeated them.

“Do you, Red of Dramstad, son of Luis of Dramstad, take Cider of Dramstad, daughter of Alpho of Dramstad, to be your wife, to have and to hold, come what may, and promise to be faithful and true for as long as you both shall live?”

“I do.”

“Do you, Cider of Dramstad, daughter of Alpho of Dramstad, take Red of Dramstad, son of Luis of Dramstad, to be your husband, to have and to hold, come what may, and promise to be faithful and true for as long as you both shall live?”

“I do.”

The priest lifted his rod high in the air between the two of them, then brought it down. He pulled it away between them, and it shone in the light in a way that Red wouldn’t have thought possible with so much shade. “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” said Damon. “You may seal this commitment with a kiss.”

*******

Sixteen years after Red and Cider’s wedding, Luna was still hard at work in the Kingdoms’ government, though Jabari had since died. She traveled a lot, settling disputes about borders and collaborating hard with her friends and opposite numbers in the government of the Canid Confederacy when an international issue came up, such as when a dog committed a crime in the Felid Kindgoms.

She occasionally visited Dramstad, and not a week went by but either she or Red wrote to the other. She still maintained her old hunting grounds in the woods, and she had a son. When he was first born, she had to take a long leave of absence, but he was old enough to fend for himself during the day now, and she had come back.

Her son’s name was Jonathan, and he showed some of his mother’s anomalous tendencies. He often came down out of his mother’s territory and hung out in town, and he took an unusual(for a tiger) interest in Luna’s political career. It’s a good thing, too, though Luna. I will be gone at some point, and someone will have to take my place. It seemed that Jonathan would be perfect in that role.

*******

If we may gloss over sixteen years in Red’s and Cider’s life as well, we would see them in a much-expanded version of the same house Red lived in when they got married. They had two children, one of whom, a daughter and the younger, came into the kitchen while Red was reminiscing on these things. He heard her coming, but did not raise his head until he heard a loud cry of “Whoa!”

At that point he jumped up and turned around. His daughter lay on the floor, a thick book beside her. “Are you all right, Juniper?”, he asked, extending a hand. She took it and he pulled her up. “Yeah,” she said, “I’m okay.”

“You really shouldn’t walk around reading like that,” said Red. “Well,” she said, “this book is just so interesting.” “Oh?”, asked Red, a smile filling his face. “What is it?”

Literary History in the Canid Confederacy, Volume I: Posttheonomic Poetry and Pseudophilosophical Fiction in the Sixth Century.” Red rolled his eyes. “Sounds positively gripping. Have you been writing anything yourself lately?”

“Well,” she said, “as a matter of fact, I have. I just finished another fable.” Red laughed. “I can’t wait to read it. Just so it’s not too convicting.” He winked. “The moral of that last one was not quite to my liking.”

“Just shows that you needed it,” said Juniper. “But I don’t know what to do next.” “You have no ideas at all?”, asked Red. “Well,” said Juniper, “I do have one. It’d be a big project, but I’ve been thinking that someone ought to write your story.”

Red leaned back in his chair. “I have a lot of stories.” Juniper looked at him and dropped her head to the left in mock frustration. “You know which story I’m talking about. The big one. The important one. How you ended the war.”

“Oh,” said Red, “well, that one isn’t just my story. I can help a lot, but it will be a big project. You ought also to talk to Aunt Luna.”

It was at this point that Red’s older child, his son Keagan, entered the room. “Good luck with that one, June,” he said. “What do you mean by that?”, asked Red. “You know what I mean,” said Keagan. “Aunt Luna’s always too busy for anything like that.”

“That’s not true, and you know it,” said Red. “Why, she was here, um….just a few months ago.” “That doesn’t count.”, said Keagan. The sound of the front door opening was heard, and Red turned around rapidly. Cider walked in, smiling. “Nice to see I can still turn your head.” She sashayed over and kissed him on the cheek. Both children turned away and made gagging faces to each other.

“You will always be able to do that, dear,” said Red. “We’ll see,” she said. “I heard a little of what you were talking about, and Keagan’s right. It doesn’t count as a visit when Luna comes to whisk you away on some adventure, and you two run off and relive the glory days.” Red laughed. “Well, I’d hardly call what happened a couple of months ago an ‘adventure’. Truth be told, Luna simply needed help navigating over a little ways west, and knew that I was familiar with the area.”

“Anyway,” said Juniper, “it is hard to get in touch with Aunt Luna.” “I’ll tell you what,” said Red. “I’ll arrange to have her come and visit sometime soon. You can get her story then.”

*******

Luna sat in her office, the door finally shut. She sighed. Finally, a little time to myself, away from the court. She looked down at her desk. What’s this?, she thought. Oh, a letter from Red. She picked it up, broke the red seal with her claw, and withdrew the parchment within.

Dear Luna,

I received your last letter. You make yourself sound so busy, yet somehow you still have time to write to a nobody carpenter in a nothing town. Interesting. Speaking of which, business is good. I’ve been helping a friend of mine put up his house. I’m giving him an excellent deal on it too, though he keeps implying that I ought to do it for nothing.

All of us send our love; Cider and I, of course, and Juniper and Keagan(you wouldn’t believe how much they’ve grown just since you last saw them), and most of the old Underground members, though Anika moved away a few weeks ago, west toward the Hallowed Mound, to take over a small farm left to her by a dying uncle, and Elof died of the plague while traveling abroad last month, as we just found out today.

We were sorry to hear that. We’re having a funeral in two weeks. You should come. Maybe you can stay and visit us a few extra days. The kids have been wanting to see you, and Juniper is interested in writing up our story. I told her she should talk to you. How’s your son? I hear he takes after his mother, hanging around cities and all that. Not at all proper for a tiger.

Write back to me as soon as you can, or otherwise feel free to come visit anytime. You might not have time for a letter if you’re coming to visit. I know you don’t live too far away, but letter carriers still only cross the river with armed escort. It’s regrettable, but there still exists some animosity between our peoples, or at least a memory of such.

Perhaps I’m being impatient. It hasn’t even been two decades, yet I expect to undo centuries of war. In any case, write, or visit preferably, as soon as you can.

Sincerely,

Red of Dramstad

Luna grinned. So Red wants me to visit him, hmm? I think I will.

She tried to go through some papers, but it was getting late and she couldn’t focus. Enough of this office work for today. She scrawled a notice that she would be out of the office the rest of the day, got up and left it on her door, and walked out of the building and into the streets. Turning off at the first opportunity, she ran out into the forest, to return to her old hunting grounds.

********

About ten days had passed since Red had sent his letter to Luna across the river. He was walking down the street, returning to his shop after delivering a chair to a friend who lived nearby.

He wondered if Luna had received his letter. If she had gotten it and written a response right away, he should be getting it in a day or so. I guess she might have time to write and come to visit.

Oh well, he thought. No harm done. Hopefully she’ll come. Secretly, Red hoped that Luna would come again, needing his help with something. Preferably something that involved a little more excitement than finding his way across the Nord Foothills.

Red smiled. He did miss adventuring. Before his great journey to the South, he had engaged in many operations around the Dramstad area for the Underground. But after that, there was little left for him to do.

As he arrived in front of his shop, Red considered whether maybe he ought to have accepted the position offered him by Aeradde. But no, for then he would have given up the wonderful life he had now. Perhaps he never would have married Cider. Certainly he preferred to raise his pups here than in Goldpaw.

No, Red had made the right choice, and he would stand by it. Nevertheless, he did enjoy the occasional adventures with Luna since the big one, which had come to be known as the Great Southtrek.

Red turned the knob of his door absentmindedly and was surprised to find he had left it unlocked. Bad move, Red, he thought. You’re much too used to having apprentices around. For although Red had hired couple of apprentices over the years, he only had one now, and that one was not at the shop today.

However, when Red entered his shop, everything seemed to be all right. In truth, Red had expected that. There was no real crime in Dramstad, but Red liked to play it safe.

He looked around briefly, then locked the door and went into the back of his shop. There, sitting on his very own workbench, was an enormous cat who Red immediately recognized as Luna.

Lounging on the other side of the room, underneath Red’s pegboard, was a slightly smaller tiger who seemed to be asleep. “Hello, Red,” said Luna. “Hello, Luna.”, said Red, taking a step back. “What are you doing here?”

“You said to come for a visit.” Red began to laugh, and Luna joined in. The tiger lying on the floor underneath the pegboard opened his eyes, stared straight at Red, and rolled them. Red grinned and turned back to Luna. “I take it this is your charming son, Jonathan.” He turned back to the other tiger. “I thought you were asleep.”

The smaller cat rose to his full height. Though he was not yet as tall as his mother, at well over six feet high, he was still quite imposing. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m Jonathan, but I wasn’t asleep. I was just bored.”

“Ah,” said Red. “The carpenter’s shop isn’t doing it for you, eh?” “No, not at all,” said Jonathan. “Is there a library in this town?” Red smiled. “You have good taste. But no,” he said, “at least not a public one. However, if you’ll come back to my house, I have a fair collection of books. And you might try Andreas’s house.”

“Who’s Andreas?”, asked Jonathan. “He’s a scholar friend of mine. Lives near the edge of town. He’s getting old and a little grouchy, but I’m sure he’ll let you use his books if you tell him I sent you.”

“Neat,” said Jonathan. “I’ve been looking for a history of political systems in the Felid Kingdoms, especially the area around Sambar Rock.” “Oh,” said Red, “well, if you’re interested in politics, you’ll get along well with my son. He’s about your age, always talking of how he wants to run for alpha. But you can let him tell you. Why don’t I close up shop and help you two get settled in?”

*******

The funeral for Elof had been beautiful, and Red and his family were returning home with Jonathan and Luna. No one particularly wanted to talk, but the silence was awkward.

“So,” began Luna rather lamely, “do you think you have enough for your story, Juniper?” Juniper shook her head. “It’s a good start, but I need more facts.” She and Keagan walked a little faster to catch up with Jonathan, who was a ways ahead, and the three adults had a little time to talk among themselves.

“It was a nice service,” said Red. Cider wiped her eye with a forepaw. “It certainly was,” she said. “He was a great dog.” Luna merely nodded solemnly and looked off into space, to the east.

“You know,” said Luna, “I was always told that the abode of the blessed dead lay far to the east. Yet most dogs seem to believe it to be in the west. You don’t think there are two, do you?”

“I don’t know,” said Red, “but that wouldn’t line up well with the tales of how the two races were both created by a united pantheon in the beginning, and how they were friendly for a long time. I guess we’ll find out some day.”

Luna nodded. “I hate the idea that dogs and cats wouldn’t wind up in the same place. I’d miss you all so much.” “And we you.” said Cider. “But let us not worry about that which we cannot change.”

“Advice worthy of a tiger-sage,” responded Luna, and the three fell silent.

*******

If we may be permitted to skip over twenty-five more years in the lives of our heroes, we would find both Red and Luna aging and somewhat the worse for wear. Things had changed around Dramstad, that’s for sure.

Red now had three apprentices, several of his former apprentices had become journeymen, and his shop was greatly expanded. There had been from time to time other carpenters that popped up in Dramstad, but none could match Red’s quality work and all soon packed up.

Red’s daughter Juniper had come of age about ten years ago, though she had not left home until she married four years later. It was not uncommon for young females in Dramstad to wait until marriage before leaving home, though Cider had moved out right away, in no small part to help her do more extensive Underground work. She had finished her account of the Great Southtrek, entitled Steps of My Father, and it had achieved great popularity throughout the Confederacy. This popularity had no doubt been increased by the rapid creation of books enabled by the importation of large book-copying devices called “printing presses” from the Jungle Refuge

Meanwhile Keagan had moved out almost as soon as he came of age, and had not followed his father’s footsteps as a carpenter. Rather, he had, ironically enough, enlisted with the army. Though the Confederacy was no longer at war in the east, its western border still needed defending from the barbarian tribes.

As a matter of fact, he had performed so well that he quickly rose in the ranks and played a key role in the defense of the city of Greenhaven, so much so that the savage chieftain Raul agreed to pay tribute to the Confederacy.

There had been some interesting fireside discussions over that particular choice of Keagan’s. Red had, curiously, always supported Keagan’s enlistment. It was Keagan’s mother, Cider, who had opposed it.

She had felt that it was no different than the war that she and the Underground had fought long to end. And she wasn’t the only one. Many former Underground members had their doubts. But the fact remained that the barbarian tribes were an entirely different situation than the old war.

Whatever the propaganda may have said to the contrary, the Felid Kingdoms were a nation and a civilized people. One could negotiate with them, communicate with them. The barbarian tribes were not unified, and they attacked the borders and raided towns, looting and destroying.

At this point in the argument the naysayers would point out that the Kingdoms too used to attack the Confederacy. But Red and Keagan had an answer for that as well. First of all they would point out that the Underground never inhibited the defense of either nation, except inasmuch as they convinced some cities to send no soldiers to the combined armies.

They would further point out that what had been done with the Kingdoms could not be done with the barbarians. Except once or twice in error, the Confederacy never attacked a tribe but it attacked them first, and they didn’t slaughter innocents. There was no feud, no endless pointless revenge cycle, merely national defense.

Many still didn’t like it, but they could come up with no argument against it, and generally fell silent at this point.

After a few years as a skillful military officer, winning glory at war with the barbarians, Keagan had come home and found the pack in a state of disarray. And that meant the town was in disarray, as a small town like Dramstad would generally only have one or two packs(Dramstad had two). Apparently, there had been a scandal involving the alpha taking bribes to sell the pack’s best hunting grounds for next to nothing.

When Keagan arrived at home and found out, he also discovered that though everyone wanted the old alpha gone, no one particularly wanted to replace him. So he announced his own candidacy.

When Red came forward and endorsed his son, the old alpha made the surprising move of requesting a dominance battle in place of an election, which Keagan accepted and then won. Of course, the ritualized battle kept either one of them from mortal danger, but the old alpha didn’t look good when he came out of it and Keagan did become the alpha of the pack.

After his skillful negotiation to get the pack’s hunting grounds back, Keagan became a rising political star, quite popular in the town, and quickly rose to alpha of the city of Dramstad.

Meanwhile, Luna had retired as head of Jabari’s foreign relations department, and her son had taken over for her. Keagan had worked closely with him to open up trade, and Dramstad had grown as a trading town and the site of one of the largest bridges over the Great River on the Great Western Continent.

And so things progressed, with relations between dogs and cats gradually improving, for many more years. Red and Luna remained happy and healthy, and visited one another often. Things changed little now, and it was always an improvement.

*******

But all things must come to an end. And unfortunately, that includes the lives of our heroes. After thirteen more years of happiness and prosperity, Red fell gravely ill.

At first, he merely felt weak, constantly tired. He was always pale, and his family worried a lot. But Red merely shook his head. “Old age, that’s all,” he would say. But Cider didn’t think so, nor did Juniper or Keagan.

One day, it got so bad that Red could no longer get out of bed. On that afternoon, as Cider stood by the bedside weeping quietly, Keagan gently knocked and entered.

Cider looked up. Keagan locked eyes with her and was frightened. He had never seen his mother’s eyes so empty, so devoid of purpose, so blank, so cold. Though he didn’t need to, he asked, “Was the doctor able to do anything?” “No,” said Cider blankly.

“Now, Mom,” said Keagan, “don’t give up hope. I’ve written to Luna, and she’ll send messengers, I’m sure, and we’ve sent messengers. Doctors will be turning up from near and far to save our national hero here.”

Cider shook her head again. “I doubt they’ll be able to do much. Our doctor gives him five days, if we’re lucky.”

*******

Luna was no longer a young tigress, and every day she found it harder to catch the deer and the antelope. She had retired her job at the court of Jabari, but she maintained a mailbox in town so as to remain in contact with Red.

This morning, she had found it very difficult to slay her morning meal, and she wondered how much time she had left. But when the messenger arrived bearing the news of Red’s illness, Luna’s old strength seemed to return for a time.

She felt stronger than she had in a long time as she ran for the city. But it was the strength of despair, and as soon as she had found transportation to Dramstad, it left her, and as she rode the coach out of the city and across the bridge, she felt herself weakened and she slumped in her seat.

*******

Over the next few days, doctors came from near and far, from everywhere in the Confederacy and even a few in the Felid Kingdoms. None could do anything. Luna was always by his side, along with Cider, and Juniper and Keagan were there almost all the time.

News of Red’s condition was sent throughout the Confederacy by messengers as quickly as possible. Even Aeradde came, though he was now very old and couldn’t get there as fast as the doctors, and he stayed outside Red’s room per canine custom.

Red’s sickness had kept him bedridden for eight days when it all ended. By his side were the last of the doctors, the ones who hadn’t gone home when they saw that it was hopeless to try to save him, his children, his wife, and of course, Luna.

When it became clear to Red that his time on earth would be measured in hours if he was lucky, he asked to speak to Keagan alone. The others dutifully filed out of the room.

A moment later, the door was heard to lock. A voice was heard to whisper, and another to whisper back. The two went back and forth for a few moments, and then Keagan came out, a sad, resigned smile on his face.

He turned to his sister. “He wants to talk to you next.” Juniper’s nod was nearly imperceptible, and her eyes did not leave the ground as she walked into the room. Again the door locked, and again two voices whispered back and forth.

The door opened again, and Juniper walked out. Neither she nor Keagan told the others what Red had said to them. No one asked. Slowly, one by one, everyone walked back in. First Cider, then Keagan, then Juniper, then Luna, and then the two doctors who remained. The latter two remained at a respectful distance a ways away from the bed.

*******

Aeradde stood outside the door. This was not his affair. He would give a beautiful eulogy when Red was dead, but Red’s last moments belonged to him and his family. But he wished he could be there. Red had saved him from himself. And just to prove how much he had needed it, Aeradde had been angry with Red at the beginning.

He smiled in spite of his sadness as he remembered how long it had taken him to realize that Red had done a good thing. He sighed. I wish I could be in there. he thought. But I can’t, and it’s no use bothering about it.

*******

Red’s breathing was ragged and slow as he spoke. “Cider, Keagan, Juniper, Luna, my time on this earth is running short. In a few minutes…I will be gone. But I have no regrets. I have been fortunate, and lived a full life. I love…love you all. Children, take care of your mother. Luna…it’s been fun. I’ll see you on the other side.”

Luna’s eyes widened. “But…the east…the west…” Red shook his head. “I’ll see you,” he said, and closed his eyes. The doctors bowed their heads and filed out.

Everyone who remained lowered their heads too. One by one, they collapsed, dropping to their knees or sitting down on the bedside or on one of the chairs in the room. And they wept for a long while.

*******

Red’s funeral was held in the Dramstad gaderspott. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it was centered around the gaderspott. People came from all over and more than filled the meeting area in the center of town. A raised platform was placed in the gaderspott’s center where Red’s body was laid in its coffin, and the family and Luna and Red’s closest friends from the Underground stood there with Aeradde and his mate Maria as the crowds piled in. Aeradde’s own royal guards acted as security and organized the people as they filed toward the platform to step up and see Red’s body, and down to allow others to do the same.

Aeradde stepped forward and gave a long and beautiful eulogy, telling of Red’s many great deeds and his wonderful devotion to his family and many other things that Aeradde had either opposed or known nothing about when they actually happened. He was followed by Luna, who also gave a beautiful speech, though she had to stop often to wipe her eyes.

Cider came up next, and she too was eloquent, though not as longwinded as either of the preceding speakers, and more emotional than either. Juniper and Keagan also said a few words apiece, and told stories of growing up with Red as a father. He had been a wonderful father, they said. He always encouraged them to follow their dreams, and never told them what they couldn’t do.

Red’s remaining Underground friends spoke too, telling many stories of the Underground’s early years and of Red’s lesser-known exploits. It would take far too much time and space even to begin to recount their tales, but they were many and wonderful, and perhaps one day I will write them down.

But our heroes’ tragedy did not end with Red’s death and funeral. As the strangers filed away, Luna stepped down onto one of the steps that lead off the platform. But it had not been designed for a tiger’s weight and size of foot, and it had endured much stress that day. It crunched under Luna’s weight, and the front of her foot stretched out over it anyway. She fell to the ground and moaned in pain, but did not rise.

Immediately, Juniper and Keagan ran down to help her up. They slowly drew her to her full height, but she could not support herself, and she was heavy. “A little help here,” said Keagan hopefully, and Aeradde gestured frustratedly to his German Shepherd guards, who quickly rushed down and held her up.

“I think she’s badly hurt,” said Keagan. “You’re right,” said Aeradde. “Lay her down,” he commanded, and his guards obeyed. “We need to carry her to Red’s house,” he said, “but we need to carry her on something.” He cast his eyes about. “You there!”, he shouted to a Poodle obliviously leading a horse away. The dog turned around and a look of horror came over her face.

“We need that horse!”, bellowed Aeradde. The poodle immediately started to run toward the group surrounding Luna, still leading the horse. “Sure,” said the Poodle. Aeradde’s guards quickly lifted Luna onto the horse, and the group went as fast as they could reasonably go toward Red’s house, where Luna was laid down on the couch downstairs.

“Quickly,” said Cider to Keagan, “run and get the doctor.”

*******

But the doctor could do nothing. Luna had broken a rib, and her lung was pierced. Any attempt to remove it would only make her die more quickly. Luna’s only family, her son Jonathan, was sent for, and three days after she fell, Luna felt herself about to go. Surrounded by family(for she considered Red’s family as her own), she smiled.

“May the gods bless you all.”, she said. “I love you. Go on. Finish what we started, Keagan and Juniper. Bury me by Red’s side, in Dramstad. And never forget. Never…forget.” And with that, Luna’s eyes closed, and she breathed her last.

*******

And now we come to the sunset of our tale. For although much more happened, we are primarily concerned with Red and Luna. Luna too had a beautiful funeral, attended by many from Dramstad, including of course, Cider and her children, and by the coalition of Sambar Rock.

It was also attended by Luna’s friends from the Sambar Rock Underground, and by one aged and gray, but still imposing, St. Bernard.

The two were buried on the same day, side by side in Dramstad, as Luna had requested. And it was ever after said, though of course some disputed it, that a new constellation appeared in the sky the very next night after they were buried, showing a Golden Retriever and a tiger standing side by side.

It is in any case certainly true that no one in Dramstad ever denied that the two met in the afterlife. They insisted, if pressed to it, that the tales must be wrong, or the world round. And years later, that was found to be so, when a cat from the Far North sailed all the way around the North Polar Ice Circle. And so, though it’s impossible to be certain, most everyone afterward agreed that Red and Luna had met on the fair shores.

In any case, that’s what all their legends said ever after.

Finis.

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