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6 February 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
Melli’s smile grew wider at his words. “Ranua, that’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I’m surprised you made the decision so quickly, since you seemed rather hesitant yesterday. What happened?” She gestured for the younger fur to take a seat while she leaned against the chalkboard.
Ranua sat and ran his paws lightly over the wooden desk for a moment as he collected his thoughts. He said, “Well, after you left I thought about it, and about what kind of opportunity it was. Believe me, I’m grateful that I’m one of the ones you think is good enough to be given this offer.” He squirmed a bit in the seat, which was much too small for him, and finally he stood up.
“I also talked it over with Miri,” and Melli nodded at the smile that flickered across his muzzle, “and she said she’ll support whatever decision I make. That’s good, because – well, we also decided to get Tailfast on the next solstice.”
The otter’s eyebrows went up. “Congratulations,” she said happily. “I’ll look for both of you at the ceremony.” She chuckled at his sudden blush.
“Thank you,” he said. “My Dad and Mom think it’s wonderful that we’re getting Tailfast.” He blushed again as his tail wagged. “Then my Dad and I had a talk, and what he said made me think harder about it, and … well, I made my decision late last night.”
“Why?” At his quizzical look, she asked, “How did you arrive at the decision to go?” Her tone had grown a bit sharper. She was no longer a friend; she was now a teacher and his Guide instructor.
Ranua ran a paw through his headfur as he straightened up a bit. Guide training demanded that the student report everything accurately. “You said that the opportunity would expose me to a ‘wider world of ideas.’ My father said that I have a path that I must follow,” he said in a clear voice. “I felt that if I refused your offer, I would not be satisfied with what I would be doing on that path. So I am choosing this one,” and he smiled, one ear dipping as he looked at her.
Melli nodded slowly. “A very good answer,” she said, and grinned. “You always were a good student, despite any peer pressure.” Ranua had stood out a bit when in high school, something that his classmates had disliked. That displeasure had usually been expressed by placing a rotting fish or similarly smelly object in the bag he kept his books in. Ranua had overcome that, and graduated with high marks.
A bell rang just then, and she said, “Another class is coming in shortly,” and she looked up at the clock. “I’ll let you know when you need to go over to Moon Island with the others,” and was only mildly surprised to see that he had left the room. The door? No, he had probably slipped out the window, and the otter grinned to herself as another group of younger students filed into the room.
Ranua went back to Casino Island with his mind made up. He had made the correct decision, he told himself, and now he would do everything he could to succeed. As he stepped onto the front porch of the business he paused to look over the neatly-arrayed stands of fruits and vegetables set out for the customers. One ear flicked as he heard voices inside the shop, and he peered in the doorway.
A smaller fur, a rat by the look of him and wearing a battered captain’s hat, was arguing with his father and Tamuharo. The two Spontoonies were trying to calm the fellow down and understand him, but the rodent’s Japanese was very fast. There was a paper on the counter, and Ranua guessed that the man was from a fishing boat or freighter, and was trying to bargain for supplies. The store did a good business with foreigners who stopped by to pick up cloth or foodstuffs, and while Tama and his younger brother knew a few words and phrases, the rat was talking too fast.
“Ohayo goziemasu ka?” and at the sound of Ranua’s voice the rat turned and studied the wirehair terrier. Before the man could say anything else, Ranua said, “Nihon-go wa hanase masen kara, ei-go wa hanase kudesai.” The rat turned to Tama. “You speakee Eengrish?” he said in badly-accented English. At Tama’s nod, the conversation then resumed but in English as the captain of the trawler bargained for supplies for his crew, Ranua helping with difficult words where he could.
When the rat left the store, Tama smiled at his oldest son. “Thanks, Ranua,” he said. “He was talking so fast I couldn’t follow him, and he obviously didn’t think we spoke anything but Spontoonie.”
“No problem, Father,” and Ranua turned to his younger brother. “You need to practice more, Tamuharo. Why don’t you use those books in our room?”
The younger terrier waved the idea off with a paw. “I can’t follow it,” he said.
“If you spent more time here, you might,” his father suggested, “and if Ranua is going away you’re going to have to help me. You can learn the same way I picked up what I know, from listening to the customers,” Tama remarked, picking up a pencil and opening his ledger. “I learned a bit of Russian and Japanese from customers,” he said as he made an entry in the book, “and so can you.”
“Well, maybe,” Tamuharo said slowly, and Tama winked at Ranua.
“Besides, you’ll have more room after Ranua goes off to Rain Island.” Reminding him of the advantages of having his older brother leave made the younger terrier grin, and Tama said, “Now, come here and I’ll show you what gets set down in the ledger …”
Syndicate Naval Base
November 23, 1936:
Ranua had been to the RINS-leased base on Moon Island many times over the years, including some hard training in paw-to-paw combat and firearms given by experts flown in for the task. The place took up over a third of the crescent-shaped island, and had the looks of being well-fortified. Just how well, and the state of the defenses for the rest of the archipelago, was kept very close to the chestfur for very obvious reasons.
But he had never been to the base Administration Building, a three-story wood structure less than a block away from the docks and the seaplane hangars. Melli had finished asking the other furs that she had hoped might be interested, and all had made the same decision that Ranua had. She had ordered them to gather here on a certain day in order to lay the groundwork for their eventual departure from Spontoon.
Like all the others, Ranua held a packet of papers in his paws, containing records from the various schools he had attended. The records included the other schools he had attended after high school. Spontoonie children could only rarely be thought of as uneducated in the Euro sense of the term.
There were six applicants including himself, three male and three female ranging in age from eighteen to twenty and in species from Halli Amura, a lithe rabbit femme who had attended Althing Gate with him, to Ari Parker, a burly rat who was also the youngest in the group, barely eighteen.
Melli had accompanied them, and now they waited in an anteroom with a bored-looking enlisted rating while she spoke with the base’s Command Syndic. The rating, a female weasel, had glanced at the group from time to time but attended to her paperwork. The door to the Syndic’s office was either very thick or soundproofed, because no one could hear what was being said inside.
Melli smiled at the officer and clasped her paws in her lap as he frowned at the papers in front of him. “I’m sure you were informed of the amendment to our treaty with Rain Island, Captain,” she said.
“Oh, I was,” Captain Ian Maxwell said. The black-furred Labrador dipped an ear as he said, “I am to screen six qualified applicants for an advanced training program that will, upon graduation, allow the applicants to become ensigns in the RINS. Am I right so far?” he asked with a grin.
“You know you are,” she teased back. “I know all about your memory, Ian.” The two started to laugh. Finally Maxwell opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of reading glasses, then scanned the list. “Hmm, seems pretty straightforward,” he remarked, “and I’ve already received a summary of what’s being taught.” He looked over his glasses at the otter. “I’ll be honest with you, Melli – we’re going to be putting these cubs through a major-league wringer for three months. Are you sure they can handle it?”
Melli smiled. “If I didn’t think they were all capable, Ian, I would never have asked them to do this.”
“Hmm.” He glanced at the list again, then laid it down. “I plan on administering the oath we usually give Spontoonie recruits, as well as the amended contract,” he said. “Ordinarily, as you know, we’d have a priestess in to witness the oath. Suitable?”
“Of course,” she replied. “Ian, why are you dragging this out?”
He chuckled. “That obvious, huh? Could it be I enjoy your company, Melli?” and both of them grinned. He sat back, the afternoon sun gleaming on the three inch-wide gold stripes on each shoulder of his dark blue jumpsuit. “Well, you can have them come on in, one at a time,” he said, “and will I see you at dinner tonight?”
“I’m not sure,” she said coyly. “Where?”
“Kanui’s, over on Casino?”
Melli nodded. “I think that’d be fine. Seven?”
Maxwell grinned. “It’s a date.” The acolyte stood and went to the door to call in the first of the applicants.
Ranua was the fifth person to be called in, and that fact only added to his slight nervousness. The other four had come out smiling solemnly, and had explained that the others were to be interviewed, and an oath given. The fact that Melli had not left the office meant that the oath would be sworn before the native pantheon. The door opened, and Melli beckoned to him, so he gathered up his records and stepped inside.
The room was not very large, twelve feet by twelve with a single window facing west. There was a desk and three chairs; Melli was settling into one, and the canine base syndic sat in another. Ranua sat in the vacant chair, and the canine held out a paw for his records. Ranua passed them over, and sat, ears cocked attentively as the officer looked through the file.
Blue eyes framed in black fur flicked up at him. “It says here you know some languages.”
“I speak Spontoonie, English, and some Russian and Japanese,” Ranua replied.
The officer nodded. “Can you read them as well as speak them?”
“Yes, sir.” He resisted the urge to lean forward as the older man took up a pencil and made a few notes on a pad. He finally shuffled Ranua’s records together and placed them in a folder, and took out several sheets of paper held together with a staple. “This,” he said, “is a formal contract. By signing this, you agree to join the Rain Island Naval Syndicate for service in the Spontoon Islands for a period not less than four years. It’s also understood that in case of a war or other emergency, your term of enlistment may be lengthened or you may be asked to serve elsewhere. Do you understand that?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Ranua replied.
“Also, the contract stipulates that you will be given a copy of the Syndicate rules,” and here the officer placed a book on the desk. “I’ll let you read it before you sign it,” and he passed the contract over to Ranua.
The wirehaired terrier read all three pages over carefully, then took a breath and accepted the pen the Labrador held out to him. The officer then witnessed the signature and said, “Now, please stand for the oath, and raise your right paw.”
Ranua complied, and with Melli standing beside him recited along with the taller RINS officer.
“I, Ranua Milikonu, call the gods of Spontoon and my ancestral spirits to witness that I shall bear allegiance to the Spontoon Islands and its alliance with Rain Island. I further swear that I shall defend both Spontoon and Rain Island to the best of my abilities, and shall abide by all of the rules of the Rain Island Naval Syndicate.”
As Melli chanted a blessing, the officer grinned and extended a paw. “Welcome to the RINS, Ranua.”