by Bill ‘Hafoc’ Rogers
©2008 Bill ‘Hafoc’ Rogers

Home -=- #18 -=- ANTHRO #18 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-

   “But Greatmother..!”
   “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 couldn’t 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.”
   “It’s all the peace I want. I’ll have more peace than that, soon enough. But it’s just as well. I’m not afraid to go, Min; it’s time for me at last. I’m just sorry to leave you alone… It’s too bad, too, that the rest of that mob didn’t get their chance to say goodbye. But, well, they’re 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. It’s 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. It’s a measure of how much they love and respect you that they’d come to see you at all, on a day like this.”
   He groaned. “Epona help me, I’ve become an institution! Like the Library itself, or the sea, or the volcano.”
   “I suppose you have. But you’ve 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 mate’s 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. I’ve 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 it’s not polite to speak of them while I’m here to listen. But please, tell me about them anyway. They’re my sisters, in a way. I really would like to know about them.”
   “If you wish. I’m glad you’re 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.
   “I’d 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 fellow—Dooke Swift, his name was—didn’t seem to care about that. Or maybe he didn’t know about it.
   “I told him his offer was excellent, but I didn’t want to sign a six-month contract. He said they could reduce it to three if I wanted. I said that wasn’t what I meant. ‘It’s not worth my while to pay all it costs to move out to the Islands if I’m coming back that soon,’ I told him. ‘I’d 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, didn’t 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 we’d 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 couldn’t see how bright her short life was, how your people pack the experience and love and fun of three lifetimes into your few years… They’d ruin what time she had by mourning her even before she was gone.
   “And of course, I loved the fact that I’m 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 they’d learn to look down, but they don’t.
   “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 couldn’t 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 wasn’t a public library, and I don’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 they’re my children. Mine and Miranda’s.”
   “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 shouldn’t have married. I knew about her affair, but I pretended I didn’t 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 couldn’t. Perhaps I wasn’t right for her, but I loved her. I loved her with all my heart.
   “After she died, I swore I wouldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 I’ve 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… We’d 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 can’t have been lost at sea. I’ve seen her grave.”
   “It’s a sea-grave. It’s 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. ‘It’s what we do when we lose someone to the Mother Ocean,’ he told me, and there weren’t tears in his eyes when he said it. No, not him, he’d never weep in sympathy for anybody’s loss, he was much too tough for that. No tears, not him, my big fuzzy butt. Wonderful old guy, that otter was.
   “Elizabeth’s grave holds a statuette that I held and wept over, telling it—telling her—how 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 didn’t 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. Hell—I 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. They’re 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 can’t 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. “You’ll see me again, love. You’ll see me again as I was, and we’ll be young together again. Go on ahead. I’ll 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 I’d never noticed that before. But of course, my eyes aren’t what they used to be.
   He smiled. “These are strange customs, Greatmother. Do you think they would have pleased Greatfather?”
   “Oh, I think he’s pleased. And if we somehow changed the service to make it our own, I think it’d please him even more. It’s 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 mate’s native land. The engraving on his stone read:


   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?
   “That’s 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 nation—but I belong to him. I want to follow his traditions.”
   “Of course, Greatmother. I don’t 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. It’s almost as if he’s still here with us, managing the place as he did for all those generations.”
   “He’ll want the Library to go on. It will need a new librarian once I’ve 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.
   “What’s funny?”
   “Here I am telling you to do when I die, as if it doesn’t matter. How that astonished Thunder! It was like pulling teeth to get him to tell me what he wanted for his—funeral, it’s 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. I’m six years old, Jasper. If I were a minihorse myself, I’d be barely half grown. But as a ferret? I’m 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 does—he did, too—but 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?”
   “Jealous? Never.”
   That wasn’t exactly correct, of course. Here in my life record, sealed for twenty years so it can’t be read until I’ve 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 they’re all there with him. When we march on to Fiddler’s Green, where all the souls of horses go, those who were in the cavalry will sound trumpets and rally, for they’ll surely think an invading army has descended upon them just like in the old days.
   But it’s 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 he—his beautiful blue eyes, his gentle smile, his slow, careful touch—has enough love for all of us. Enough love for a whole world.

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