by Bill Hafoc Rogers
©2008 Bill Hafoc Rogers
No buts! Shoo, Mr. Minister of the Interior. Go out and play.
Jasper sniffled, but he turned and walked toward the exit. The rest of the mob of ferrets followed him out. Sighing, I closed the bedroom door.
Peace at last, Thunder said. His voice was wispy, faint, but I could hear the smile in it.
I turned back to the bed, smiling too, even though he couldnt see it. His eyes, his beautiful blue eyes, seemed filmed-over now. They looked toward me, but there was no focus in them, no recognition.
As much peace as you can find among my people, kind sir.
Its all the peace I want. Ill have more peace than that, soon enough. But its just as well. Im not afraid to go, Min; its time for me at last. Im just sorry to leave you alone Its too bad, too, that the rest of that mob didnt get their chance to say goodbye. But, well, theyre just too much for a tired old stallion to take, trying to listen to all of them jabbering at once, trying to remember their faces from their voices. So many children. So many!
I sat beside his bed and took his hand. It felt cold, but his grip was still strong. They were glad to go, dear. They love you, but you know about our so-called attention span. Its such a lovely day, with the sun shining and the waves washing up on the beach. There are butterflies to watch, shiny things to find, and games to play. Its a measure of how much they love and respect you that theyd come to see you at all, on a day like this.
He groaned. Epona help me, Ive become an institution! Like the Library itself, or the sea, or the volcano.
I suppose you have. But youve meant so much to all of us, for so long
He snorted, but there was a smile on his trembling lips. And so we sat there for a few precious minutes. I held my mates hand and stroked it gently.
Tell me about them all, I finally said.
What? Tell you about what?
Your other mates. I know you remember them. Ive seen your journals, when I was cataloging them for the Library. From the file names, I know you write about the mates you had before me. I know you think its not polite to speak of them while Im here to listen. But please, tell me about them anyway. Theyre my sisters, in a way. I really would like to know about them.
If you wish. Im glad youre not jealous of their memory.
I kept my silence on that. Who was the first?
He smiled. Miranda.
Miranda? The one with the same name as mine? No, no, she was only two mates ago, remember? Before me was Libeth, and before her the other Miranda.
This sort of thing is why I hate to talk to you about my earlier mates. Somehow I think this will disappoint you. Beloved, you are the third Miranda, the last Miranda. The first mate I ever had was Miranda Bright, from the Big Island.
He sighed. She was beautiful so beautiful. Her fur was golden, and she was the only ferret-woman I ever saw who had green eyes, bright green. She was small, smaller than you, but she was so quick and so strong.
Id only come here about half a standard year before. I finished the Librarian-Archivist certification, and the Minister of Education came to the mainland looking for someone to establish an archive out here. I was just a kid and I had no experience at all, but this fellowDooke Swift, his name wasdidnt seem to care about that. Or maybe he didnt know about it.
I told him his offer was excellent, but I didnt want to sign a six-month contract. He said they could reduce it to three if I wanted. I said that wasnt what I meant. Its not worth my while to pay all it costs to move out to the Islands if Im coming back that soon, I told him. Id like a one-year contract, and a two-year would be better.
He was astonished but I got my two-year contract, packed my little bag of paper books, and moved out here. I never went home again.
That turned out to be a very long two-year contract, then.
He laughed. It did, didnt it? But nobody ever questioned me about the terms of my employment. By the time the contract ran out all the Ministers of that government had passed on, and their successors probably never knew wed had a contract at all.
I never told them because I never wanted to go home. Miranda was one reason why. I loved her so! How could I take her to live among people who had such long lifespans compared to hers? They couldnt see how bright her short life was, how your people pack the experience and love and fun of three lifetimes into your few years Theyd ruin what time she had by mourning her even before she was gone.
And of course, I loved the fact that Im not tiny here. I never minded being a miniature horse, Beloved; minis like me are disgustingly healthy critters. Especially, we avoid the aches and pains of age that so many of our full-sized brothers and sisters suffer But I did get so tired of Big People stumbling over me, back in Rangeland. You might think theyd learn to look down, but they dont.
I came out here in 17 and took over the Archive It was in the basement of the old Meeting Hall. It was a fright, too. I love you fuzzfaces dearly, I do, but you couldnt stay focused long enough to organize a reference section if your lives depended on it, and you will not file anything. Not one thing! No wonder they had to send to the mainland for a librarian.
The Archive wasnt a public library, and I dont think the Ministry ever meant me to make it one. But once a librarian, always a librarian; I was going to gather a collection, no matter what.
I had no budget, but you can get a surprising number of things free Books in the public domain, government reference databases, evolved wikis, news archives, slightly obsolete textbooks, that sort of thing. My collection wasnt bad, and there was nothing to match it in the Islands.
The word got out. Sometimes a citizen would want to look something up, and the Ministers would get Security to lead them down to my musty underground hideaway.
Miranda, that first Miranda, she was one of those few readers. The Brights run sheep on the Big Island. Miranda was old enough to begin adult work, but she wanted to read up on what passed here as the latest in agriculture and veterinary medicine before she started trying to run things herself. And then she was staying around longer than she should have, and I caught her looking at me, and she caught me looking at her, and there we were.
Of course she didnt waste any time. We had the papers signed in a week. I was fourteen, legal age for my species, and I was horrified to find out that she was only two. I thought I was robbing the cradle.
We had to use sperm donors to have kids, of course. Of course they engineered the donor DNA to give the kids some of my features, right? Back then, that included these things they call feathers. He tugged at the long hair at his wrist. He had those feathers at his ankles too. I gave that feature up after Miranda died. I didnt want to change your species genome, even for something so trivial But today there are still ferrets with those feathers at their wrists and ankles, and theyre my children. Mine and Mirandas.
Half the ferrets in the Islands are your children.
He laughed. After so many generations, I suppose so.
So what happened to her?
The usual. She lived to a good age, almost seven, but she crossed the Rainbow Bridge in the end. I held her hand as she passed away He smiled, squeezed my hand. There were tears in his blind eyes.
And Elizabeth was next?
Yes. He sighed. She was dark, and rounded, almost more like an otter than a ferret. She was sweet and quiet, and thanks to donors gave me more fine children.
She cheated on me too. I guess we shouldnt have married. I knew about her affair, but I pretended I didnt and I let it go on. The other fellow made her happy, I think, yet I also think she was a little happier for not having to leave me At least I hope so. I hope it was best I hope what I did made her the happiest she could be. I wanted her to be happy, and it made me miserable when I couldnt. Perhaps I wasnt right for her, but I loved her. I loved her with all my heart.
After she died, I swore I wouldnt marry again Not here. Not among people who leave me behind after only a year or
He sighed. He was crying now, yet still smiling.
But then Seashine came along. She told me I was being stupid, and it wasnt right for a herd person like me to be alone She took charge, she arranged things. I cooperated with the inevitable, and she made me very happy. I loved her so much!
She told me things Ive never forgotten We all live the same length of time, and that length of time is called now, she told me. And as for death, as for our lifespans, nobody knows when their time is I might die before she did, for all she knew. Accidents can happen any time, she said.
She was right, of course Wed barely been married a year when Hurricane 33-8 hit. It flattened everything. It tore our little house off its foundations and blew us out to sea It tore her out of my arms, and I never saw her again.
The Oceania Coast Guard found me fifty miles off their shores, floating on an uprooted tree
Wait a minute. Elizabeth cant have been lost at sea. Ive seen her grave.
Its a sea-grave. Its a tradition among the otterfolk of Oceania, who saved me. I still remember the grizzled old Chief Petty Officer who told me about it while he was feeding me tea and canned fish, fish, fish. Its what we do when we lose someone to the Mother Ocean, he told me, and there werent tears in his eyes when he said it. No, not him, hed never weep in sympathy for anybodys loss, he was much too tough for that. No tears, not him, my big fuzzy butt. Wonderful old guy, that otter was.
Elizabeths grave holds a statuette that I held and wept over, telling ittelling herhow much I missed her The grave, it holds the love letters I wrote her, and her favorite old chew-toy from when she was little. There are some shells and pretty stones she picked up while we walked along the beach on the afternoon before we made love the first time, and a handful of sand from that beach.
I didnt know what to say.
I was still under thirty years old. I came back to the island, and I spent weeks salvaging my data modules from the ruins of the old Meeting Hall. I started building the Library with my bare hands I looked around, and people were helping me, and then there were more people, and more.
They said I was old as the volcano and the living image of fortitude. They said I gave em hope that I was a symbol that the People of the Islands would survive and would rebuild their world better than before. They said I was an inspiration to the nation. HellI only did it because I had all these data modules, and I had to put them somewhere!
He laughed, and he sounded almost young again.
And then, after we opened the Library to the public I met Jessie. Oh Epona, how I loved her! And and but oh, Min, I see them all around me. I see them and I love them and I miss them all. Theyre as they were when we were young together, for it seemed they made me young again, always young again, no matter how old my body became. I love them all so much I should go with them, wherever they want to take me. But I cant see you, Beloved If only I could! Your bright eyes, your smile, the way you wrinkle your nose I want to see you again, just one last time!
I held his hand tight. Youll see me again, love. Youll see me again as I was, and well be young together again. Go on ahead. Ill be with you soon.
He squeezed my hand hard, and smiled through his tears, and slipped away into the long sleep.
Jasper closed the Book slowly. He had long fur at his wrists. It was strange that Id never noticed that before. But of course, my eyes arent what they used to be.
He smiled. These are strange customs, Greatmother. Do you think they would have pleased Greatfather?
Oh, I think hes pleased. And if we somehow changed the service to make it our own, I think itd please him even more. Its good that we made his traditions ours, for he made himself ours, too.
The granite for the stones came from the mountains west of Rangeland, my mates native land. The engraving on his stone read:
HOLCOMBS DAYSTAR THUNDER
FOUNDER of the LIBRARY
INSPIRATION to the NATION
BELOVED MATE AND GREATFATHER
The other stones were arranged in a circle around his. It would take just one more to complete the circle. I wonder how he knew, way back then, how many there would be between the First Miranda and the Last?
Thats where you should bury me, I said, pointing to the open space. Do it just like the others, too, just like you did for him. He is ours, he belongs to the nationbut I belong to him. I want to follow his traditions.
Of course, Greatmother. I dont object. I almost understand this burial custom the horses follow. Here he rests with those he loved, in the courtyard garden of his great Library. Its almost as if hes still here with us, managing the place as he did for all those generations.
Hell want the Library to go on. It will need a new librarian once Ive crossed the Bridge. You could do worse than to send to Rangeland for one. Tell them it would be most practical if they sent us another minihorse.
I will, even if your real reason for suggesting it is sentiment.
Maybe. I looked at the circle of stones again, shook my head, and chuckled.
Here I am telling you to do when I die, as if it doesnt matter. How that astonished Thunder! It was like pulling teeth to get him to tell me what he wanted for hisfuneral, its called? And when he told me, it was as if telling me was the most cruel thing he could do.
Strange to fear death so much, when you live forever.
Oh, maybe not. Im six years old, Jasper. If I were a minihorse myself, Id be barely half grown. But as a ferret? Im an old lady, bordering on ancient. And if I live another six months, it will be a miracle.
Our lives are so short that we live with our own deaths every day. Everyone doeshe did, toobut with his natural lifespan being so long, maybe he forgot.
Maybe. Jasper looked at the circle of stones. Do you ever feel jealous that he had so many mates before he met you?
That wasnt exactly correct, of course. Here in my life record, sealed for twenty years so it cant be read until Ive been gone for generations, I can admit the truth.
I am jealous, sometimes, when I think of how many others will already be with him when I join him at the other end of the Rainbow Bridge. His mates, his children, grandchildren, generations of greatchildren, even now theyre all there with him. When we march on to Fiddlers Green, where all the souls of horses go, those who were in the cavalry will sound trumpets and rally, for theyll surely think an invading army has descended upon them just like in the old days.
But its all good. My beloved Thunder was a proper stallion; he deserves to be herd-stallion to a proper harem. Or, if you prefer, an improper one. We ferrets are kind of like that.
And surely such a stallion as hehis beautiful blue eyes, his gentle smile, his slow, careful touchhas enough love for all of us. Enough love for a whole world.