home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
2 April 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2005 by Walter D. Reimer
(Albert Sapohatan courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
December 22, 1936:
The Winter Solstice had started out with a light drizzling rain, but by the time the sun had set the clouds had finally moved off and the stars shone clearly in the chilly air. Canoes had been arriving at Sacred Island almost as soon as the sun had dipped below the horizon, and a large crowd had gathered under the flickering light of torches.
Ranua grinned as he held Miri’s paw, and she smiled back at him. Their fur was oiled and brushed with their family symbols, and Miri had a flower tucked behind one ear. He looked around and spotted Ari, who stood farther back in the crowd with a young woman he had planned on tailfasting. She looked very happy, and one of her paws gently ran over the slight curve of her belly.
“Hey, you,” Miri said as she squeezed Ranua’s paw, and as he turned back to her she asked, “Do you think Ari and Falana make a nice couple?”
He nodded, one ear dipping. “I think you’re prettier, though.” She laughed at that and elbowed him playfully in the ribs as they stepped forward to face the priestess.
The ritual was a simple one: each of them professed their love to each other, their love and their devotion was blessed, and they exchanged braided rings made of their mingled fur. Finally the priestess combed a distinct pattern in their oiled fur, signifying that they were Tailfast.
As Miri and Ranua moved to one side to join the other couples who were now admiring their own new fur patterns, the two men behind them stepped up to partake in the ritual. They looked a bit ill-at-ease, not being native Spontoonies. Ranua recognized them from the base on Moon Island, but didn’t think anything of it. Anyone was welcome to be Tailfast.
He held up and gazed at the braided ring of fur, Miri’s black and brown mixed with his white and lighter brown, and he saw out of the corner of his eye that she was studying hers with equal care. He leaned over to her and whispered, “I love you.”
She kissed him, and blushed as members of their families cheered and laughed, sharing the happiness they felt. As they and the other families and couples celebrated, attendants carefully concealed the carvings that consecrated the island.
January 2, 1937:
All six of them were back at the base early that morning, dressed in the same dark blue jumpsuits that they had worn the previous month. This time, though, the uniforms bore a single silver stripe on each upper left sleeve, which marked the furs who wore them as actual enlisted ratings in the RINS. Their families were gathered a short distance away as the six fell in and came to attention to be inspected and checked in by a tall, strongly-built weasel with a petty officer’s three stripes on his uniform.
Once he finished looking over the last of the group, he barked, “Your plane will be leaving in a half hour, which gives you the chance to say good-bye to your families. Hop to it, and be on that plane when it takes off.” He dismissed them then, and Ranua walked over to where his family and Miri’s were waiting.
The wirehaired terrier kissed his mother and shook paws with his father. “I’ll make you proud, Father,” he said quietly.
Tama smiled. “Make yourself proud,” he countered. “I already am.” He gathered his oldest son into a hug, then released him as Miri stepped forward shyly.
Ranua and Miri looked at each other, then grasped each other’s paws. “Stay safe,” she said.
“I will,” he said with a grin. “After all, I have to be back by June to renew our Tailfasting.”
She laughed, and the two kissed before Ranua released her, gathered up his duffel (and a box lunch that Imana had insisted on preparing for him) and walked toward the seaplane slip. The other five students said their farewells and followed him.
The walk felt like a lonely one, and as he saw the petty officer and a commissioned officer whose uniform sported the silver eagle feather insignia of a shaman he realized why he felt lonely. He was leaving a life behind, and starting a new one.
The six fell in before the weasel, and closed their eyes and mouthed prayers as the shaman pronounced a blessing in Spontoonie. Then they filed aboard the wide-bodied Bosanquet flying boat and settled into seats as the plane’s three engines started.
Ari finished fastening his seat belt and said to Ranua, “I hope none of us get sick on the flight up.”
“Me too,” the terrier said, and he swallowed hard as the plane started to accelerate to takeoff speed. As the plane banked and climbed, Ranua looked down on Spontoon, and resisted the urge to wave. He settled back in his seat and looked out the window as the plane headed northeast and Main Island receded behind them.
The plane had a five hundred-mile range, so it would have to take the trip to Seathl in long hops, with a few hours of down time at each stop while it was refueled and serviced. The first stop was a few small spots of land in the Nimitz Sea between Spontoon and Tillamook. The islands were a collection of volcanic cones peeking up above the water, and because of the shape of two of them had been named Les Grands Tetons. A third, slightly larger island, called God’s Armpit (possibly related to its location), had little to offer the passing traveler but the Naval Syndicate had set up a seaplane base there.
While ground crews tended to the Bosanquet, the passengers were allowed off to stretch their legs and look around. Ranua found a seat on a mossy rock looking out over the ocean and ate his box lunch as he watched the waves breaking against the atoll’s reef.
As he finished eating, Halli walked up to him. “Homesick already?” she teased.
He chuckled. “Yes, and I bet you are too.”
The rabbit nodded, and he said, “I think we’ll all be that way for a little while, at least. But you know something?” he asked, looking up at her. “I’m looking forward to this.”
“So am I,” she said in a happy tone as she ran a paw over her ears. “If I’m lucky, I can get into flight school. What will you want to do when you graduate?”
Ranua shrugged. “I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said, “but I’ll know it when I see it, I think.”
After discarding the remains of his lunch, he and Halli headed back to the plane.
Several hours later, Ranua awoke with a start as the plane banked and began to descend on their next stop. The island was South Tillamook, the fifth-largest of the island chain that made up Tillamooka. The island had several farms, a resort known for its hot springs, and an airport.
After walking around for a few minutes, Ranua returned to the Bosanquet to see another group of jumpsuited furs climbing aboard, talking and laughing among themselves. Their language was strange, but he picked out a few words that were common among the northern Spontoonies. He walked up to Ari and asked, “Who are they?”
The rat replied, “They’re recruits, like us, from Tillamook. They’re going to be training with us.”
“That’s great,” Ranua said. “I didn’t think they’d go to all this effort just for the six of us.”
The third and last leg of the flight took them over the islands that made up the bulk of Tillamooka, and over a broad strait. Ranua looked down, watching dense forests and extensive farms pass by under the plane, and stared ahead as a city began to draw closer. “That must be Seathl,” he said, and the others craned their necks to look as he pointed.
The city flowed up the sides of a broad fjord, centered on a thriving harbor filled with shipping of all sizes. The buildings looked a lot taller than the tallest buildings on Casino Island, and seemed taller still as the Bosanquet descended to land in one particular section of the bustling harbor.
The seaplane wallowed in the swells and taxied toward a waiting towboat. After securing a line to the plane, the boat started towing it toward the military base to the north of the city.
“Albert, are you certain that he managed this himself?” Defense Minister Heipua asked. The feline looked at the ferret as he glanced back down at his report.
The meeting with the old buck the previous week had served to remind Sapohatan exactly why he had lobbied for the Constabulary to hire him in 1934. The New Haven expatriate had quietly managed to put the skids to various criminal concerns on Krupmark Island, and had (entirely on his own) broken the latest of Spontoon’s own codes. A series of test messages had been sent to see if anyone else had managed the same trick, and so far it seemed that no one had.
Whether that would last was the source of some debate in certain circles, and every effort was being made to field a new cipher key as rapidly as possible.
Unfortunately, the buck was playing things very close to his chestfur. He had broken the S-3 cipher using a combination of his own efforts and a machine of his own devising, and while he was amenable to providing diagrams and specifications of the machine to Sapohatan, he was unwilling to participate actively, saying that he was “Too old to play the game.”
And, for the second time, he flatly refused to accept an offer of Spontoonie citizenship. He wouldn’t give a reason why, either.
“Yes, I’m quite certain,” Sapohatan said to the Defense Minister. “I hesitate to use the word, but his work was brilliant. But he won’t help us, either to set up a new code or break those of our, ah, neighbors.” He ran a paw through his headfur.
“Should we consider other options?” Heipua asked.
“No, I don’t think he will meet a fatal accident,” Sapohatan said. “You should meet him sometime; very quiet, unassuming, – an almost perfect cover.” He stood up, his tail’s motions betraying his feelings. “I’ll have to have a chat with our friend in Seathl.”
Heipua said, “I’ll make the arrangements. Will you take your wife with you?” She grinned as he considered it, then grinned and nodded.
RINS Training Center
January 2, 1937:
The sun was already well below the horizon as Ranua and the others finished getting their duffel bags out of the plane. They and the other students from Tillamook lined up as a petty officer approached them. “Hi,” the bear said. “Pass over your orders, you lot, and let’s see if you’re the people I’m waiting on.”
Each of the younger furs pulled slips of paper from their pockets and after the bear checked them off against a list, he secured their orders to a clipboard. “Okay,” he said, “follow me to your barracks, and we’ll get you all settled in.”