The Ferrets and the Humans
Once there was a team of ferrets, exploring mysteries, who landed upon a small blue planet and discovered a hidden valley that opened onto the land of the humans. The ferrets found these creatures a promising species, of grace and charm, intelligence and curiosity, of warm humor and great courage.
Because of this, and because of the dangers and promises ahead for the young race, the ferrets gave to the humans four powers with which they could prevail over the challenges to come.
The first was the power of fire, the second was the power of the wheel the third was the power of written language, the fourth was the power of courtesy and respect, one to another.
The humans were quick to learn, and cherished the gifts that the ferrets had brought. As the explorers prepared to depart, the humans begged them to stay and to share with humankind the delight of the brave new civilization that would rise.
The ferrets were touched, and promised to return. On the day of their departure, one human turned to them. “Of these powers, dear ferrets, which is the first among them, which would you have us guard above all others?”
“Well asked,” replied the ferrets. “Without fire can you prosper, and without the wheel and without the alphabet, for many have prospered on your planet and across the galaxies without these. The one power without which no civilization can long survive,
however, is the last, the power of courtesy and respect for each other and for all life.”
The humans murmured, understanding, and used their new letters to scribe the Courtesies on tablets of onyx, the words finished in purest silver. When the ferrets had departed, the new race learned swiftly, mastering the natures of fire and wheel and alphabet.
They pondered long, however, how best to protect the most precious of powers, and at last it was agreed to keep the Tablets of the Courtesies in the safest place their world could offer. From reverence, no copy was made, nor were its holy words read but by those who first had heard them from the ferrets.
And so it came to pass that the one essential of the Four Gifts was weighted in rare metals and precious jewels, locked within a giant chest of iron, and after a long voyage and with great ceremony, was given to the waves and buried, safe forever in the uttermost part of the sea.
How others deal with gifts we’ve given is not our decision, but theirs.
“You Don’t Remember sir?” Shamrock Ferret stood by a shattered window-wall that had once lifted seamless from rooftops far below, knowing she. dreamed, unafraid of the height.
‘Not laws,’ you said, sir, ‘not rules: Here is a constitution of courtesies, should you choose to live by them. The courtesy you show to those you love, show the same to all, be you a civilization of one . . .’ ”
Avedoi Merek wrote on scorched paper in the ancient Ferrune, his own words echoing from a reader generations removed.
“. . . or of millions,” he whispered as Shamrock fell silent, watching. He wrote as though in trance himself.
“. . . these courtesies to self and others will be your justice, lifting you beyond strife and destructions, now and forever.”
He no longer cared about too late, about hopeless, no longer despaired what one animal could say to a shattered planet. Letters flew beneath his paws, listing the Courtesies without so much as slowing, one to the next:
Whatever harm I would do to another, I shall do first to myself.
As I respect and am kind to myself, so shall I respect and be kind to peers, to elders, to kits.
I claim for others the freedom to live as they wish, to think and believe as they will. I claim that freedom for myself.
I shall make each choice and live each day to my highest sense of right.
Shamrock stood fascinated, a silent witness. The Courtesies were so fundamental to her race that many insisted they were not declaration but ferret nature, genetic code. Now, word by word, she watched the ideas written.
It was a stage, she saw, a raised circular platform, brighter than the dim about. It stood before an auditorium of seats empty save for herself. Beyond the seats, a council chamber.
Inlaid, high on a wall of dark wood, a silver map of the planet Ferra. Beneath it, the harsh figure of a two-headed creature, a winged serpent, emerald green, thunderbolts in one claw, arrows in the other.
Beneath the serpent stood a wide, curving desk, places there for nine governors; in four of them sat ferrets of varying furs and masks but of one defeated countenance. Each wore a black scarf, and an emblem affixed, the emerald serpent.
As Shamrock looked about her in the empty place, Avedoi Merek entered and walked down the aisle of the auditorium, alone. The gentle animal stepped to the center of the platform, stood quietly in his white scarf, the emblem of the serpent pinned at his throat.
An unimposing figure, she thought, no chiseled features, no penetrating gaze, yet about him . . . it was as though, when he took the stage, some great magnet energized.
As the remains of ferret civilization watched, the philosopher faced a world’s cameras and the surviving members of his nation’s council.
“You will forgive me if I am not so eloquent or entertaining this evening,” he said. “I have little to say, but perhaps I speak for most of us still alive.” .
He studied the remaining leaders, looked into the cameras beyond them to survivors on every corner of the globe.
“From this day forth,” he said, and then he paused for the longest while, “I withdraw my consent from evil.”
The words echoed from speakers in halls and homes and public spaces.
I withdraw my consent from evil. Any other time, the idea would have been a puzzle, a trick of words. Today, however, Avedoi Merek became the voice of a civilization’s conscience, stark and straight, and today a race of animals listened.
“I withdraw my consent,” he said, “from war.” Soft-spoken, an impossibility all of a sudden required.
“I withdraw my consent from violence,” said Merek. “From hatred. From malice.”
He looked into the heart of every one of his race left alive.
“I withdraw my consent from these. In my actions. In my thought. In my choices.”
He reached to the emerald serpent pinned at his throat, unfastened it, let it fall. “I withdraw my consent from evil. Forever,”
Once there would have been a flicker of lights across the map of the continent, protest from those needing to argue definition and circumstance, to cry for patriotism. Now, after what had happened, the map was still.
An entire society with the freedom and the power to destroy itself listened, numbed at how close it had come to doing so.
“We have one chance to save ourselves and our future. There is one way, and it is so simple that it is impossible.”
Watching, some ferrets fancied that they could see light around the face of this gentle creature, once chained and jailed, enemy of the state for speaking against a ferret war. The first hearts felt hope glimmer in darkness.
“May I ask?” he said. “Who has enjoyed our experiment with destruction? Who is happy for what has happened?” Two questions, and silence.
Enjoyed? the ferrets thought, smoke still rising from ruins about them. Happy?
Monty and Cheyenne
“Good barn,” said his visitor.
“Thank you. A little stouter than need be.”
“No. You’ll be glad, this winter.”
Monty studied his visitor in silence. How could she know about a winter yet to come? A philosopher ferret, he concluded. Rare ani mals, mystical and strange, they say. Now here one stands.
“Welcome,” he said.
“Thank you for inviting me.”
Don’t remember inviting, he thought. But I’m curious, of course.
Maybe curiosity’s the invitation. “I get three wishes?”
“No. One. All else follows.”
“I want to know.”
“That’s your wish?”
“And it’s done.”
That phrase again, he thought, like a sorcerer’s incantation.
“Your wish. It’s done. You know.”
“I don’t feel any different.”
“Nothing’s changed, but different you are.”
She explained, as to a kit, “I give you permission to become aware of what you know.”
“Show yourself. I ask, you answer.” The little animal moved, now,just a few steps in the dust of the morning, backing away from him as though she planned to become the size of a house. “Who am I, Montgomery Ferret?”
“I’m not sure. . .”
“Wrong. You are sure. You ate absolutely certain. But you lack courage to say the unusual.” She sighed. “I give you permission to be courageous.” Then, patiently: “Who am I, Montgomery Ferret?”
“You’re a philosopher ferret.”
“Was that so hard? I am, in your terms, a philosopher ferret.
How do you know that?”
He reached for his truth. “I know.” Would she understand?
A smile for the bravery of his answer. From courage, she thought, does wisdom spring.
The nutmeg creature rubbed her paws together, delighted that Monty had allowed her to appear at last. So much to say! “Where do I come from?”
Habit told Monty, I don’t know. Fear said, How could I know? Yet like all ferrets, he tested choices every day against his highest right, and thus had he been led, so far, along his way. His highest right had chosen Montana for his home, had chosen to meet his friend Cheyenne when both were kits. His highest right had let her go toward her destiny as hers had let him go to his. His highest right had lifted a roof beam this morning, and his highest right would find a way to teach his gift to others who cared.
Yet never had he asked for more than guidance, never had he asked his highest self to light those darks unlit by others. Now a lightning bolt: How can it answer if I don’t ask?
“I’m a philosopher ferret,” Kinnie said, quiet patience. “Where do I come from?”
Highest self, he asked silently, where do philosopher ferrets come from?
He didn’t have to wait, or to think. “Not from a place.” Of course. So simple: “From a direction of spirit,” he said, “a direction of caring.”
“Yes. Can you come from there?”
“Of course I can,” he said. Anyone can.
“Now a quiz. You know that I am a philosopher ferret because. . .”
She hinted, expecting a certain answer, “Because I leave no . . .”
She wants me to give her words, not mine? Monty tilted his head, puzzled. “. . . stone unturned?”
She frowned. “Pawprints! I leave no pawprints!”
Be patient when she veers, he told himself. She wants me to notice.
He looked, and sure enough. In the fine powder-dust, the floor of Monty’s barn-to-be, not a mark where she had stepped.
“I leave no pawprints because. . .”
Trusting, accepting her permission to be brave: “. . . because I watch your image within and project it where I will. You leave no pawprints because you are not of my outer world but my inner.”
Kinnie inclined her head, almost a bow to him. “Good! Not ‘the outer world,’ you said, ‘my outer world’!” She stepped to one side, looked down. “Of course I could leave pawprints. . . .”
It felt like puzzle pieces falling into place, for Monty, permissions like snowflakes, gentle, unique. He could have explained everything about her that instant, about her and about himself. Of course she could leave pawprints, if she wanted to.
How strange, he thought. Find the greatest teachers, ask the hardest questions, they never say, Study philosophy, or, Get your degree. They say, You already know.
The little ferret watched this in Monty’s eyes. “Then where’s the school for philosopher ferrets?”
“On the corner,” he replied, a smile for the picture he saw, one room in a forest glade, bright curtains at the window, a little chimney. “The school’s on the corner of the trail where I ask what I need to know and the road where I realize the answer.”
“I like the ‘realize’ part, Monty. That’s the place, all right. And I’m your teacher.”
Monty laughed. “No, ma’am. You’re the same as me.”
“Oh? Indeed.” She frowned again, paws akimbo, clove-color fists at her waist. “Don’t you mean I am like you, I am similar to you? Not the same as you.”
“You’re the same as me.”
Kinnie was quiet, studying him. When they get the idea, she thought, they get it fast.
“And who, then, are your fellow philosopher ferrets?”
Once the answer would have been impossible. “Every creature who cares to ask, find their own answers.”
“Every creature? You mean every ferret who cares to ask. Otherwise, philosopher ants? Philosopher humans? Philosopher elephants?”
“No,” said Monty. “What’s real for elephants is real for ants.”
All at once she approached, looked up to him, touched his shoulder. “Not bad, Monty Ferret. It took you a lifetime, but you’ve got the idea. The fun begins!”
He told his stories and he listened to hers, about her first days in a strange city, jammed with auditions, with disappointment, triumph, with acting classes.’ About her discovery as an actress, in spite of her comment when the floodlight fell. The screen test for First Light, the leading role, how lucky she had been . . .
“Not lucky, Cheyenne,” he said.
“There are lots of kits in Hollywood, Monty. Looking for a break.
Not many of them ever. . . there’s a lot of support, but it’s really hard. . .”
He lifted his water glass, watched her in a quiet toast over the rim. “‘She’s magic in the camera!’ Gemini Ferret said that, yesterday. He said everybody knows it: Jasmine Ferret’s one of the greatest stars in the history of film. ‘She’s not her character, Monty, she’s the soul of her character!'”
“He said that?”
“How. . ,” She reached for her glass. “How very kind , . .” Then she turned the conversation back to Montana. “Trish and Zander?” He smiled. “Zander’s in Scotland.”
“So much I haven’t told you. Zander cloned what they call rainbow sheep. There’s thousands of them now, they all want to see the Wild West. I’ll be working with him, a little, on that. And Trish found her mate, she’s married, moved to West Palm Beach, plays her harp still, recitals. Nakayama Ferret’s a CPA, his own accounting firm. ”
“Trish loved her music and her numbers.”
“So does Nakayama. He plays the flute, they do quadratic equations, for fun,” Monty ran his paw over his forehead. “I’m an uncle, Cheye! Little Chloe. As cute a kit as you ever did see . . .”
His voice trailed off, lost in how swiftly the old days had passed. He hadn’t known so many choices had gone by till this moment with his friend.
“And Monty?” she said.
He paused, decided not to burden her with his feelings. “Monty’s doing fine. I’ll probably never see the sights, like you and Zander and Trish. Don’t really much want to. I’m happy in Montana. That’s my home, Cheyenne. Montana and the delphins, ranchkits come learn to be paws. Pretty soon a fair-size flock of sheep coming to visit. I guess I love animals.” He wondered, do I sound like a failure, explaining?
He knows himself, she thought. What a success he’s become! She smiled, shy. “Is there somebody in your life?”
She thought he hadn’t heard, her friend studying his water glass.
Then he raised his eyes, looked directly into hers. “Why, yes, Cheyenne. There is somebody in my life.”
She pushed his meaning away. “That’s good to hear. I’m happy for you, Monty.”
“Thank you. I hope there’s somebody in your life, too.”
Since she had become the world’s Jasmine Ferret, since her first role in The Lady Speaks, the match-loving tabloid press had pondered who should be her mate. Her name had appeared a dozen times in the “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” column of Celebrity Ferrets Today, linked with Heshsty, with most of her leading actors. Once there had been rumors of Jasmine and Stilton Ferret, when she and the billionaire had passed through Los Angeles International Airport on the same day.
She thought about his question, wondered how to answer. “There is someone,” she said.
“If you have any trouble with this animal,” said Monty, “you tell him you’ve got a friend back home, he’s a wild ferret and he fancies he’s looking out for Cheyenne.”
“You don’t want to believe the press too much,” she said. “The tabs mean well, but how they carry on! Heshsty’s a dear, he’s my pal, we love to work together. I’d like you to meet him, someday.” She sighed. “No, the somebody I care about, I don’t have any trouble with him, Monty.” A trace of sorrow in her voice.
And there they left it. The hours weren’t enough for what they needed to say, but neither would the day have been enough, or the week. Meal finished, candle burned low, Monty rose. “It’s late. I’d best be on my way.”
They stepped from her trailer into the cool air, her silver fur turned bright as snow in the moonlight. “You’re glad, too, Monty? You’re happy being a ranchpaw?”
He smiled. “I get kidded sometimes, I don’t mind. I like being the ferret who talks to delphins, I like being a sheep-whisperer. There’s a lot to learn that nobody knows, or probably much cares. I care. That’s enough.”
“I care, too.” She hugged him gently, kissed his cheek the way she had when they had parted in Little Paw, so long ago.
They stood close in the quiet. If I tell her how I feel, he thought, and if she told me the same, what of her career? I’ll not say a word to change her future.
“Well,” he said, finally. “G’night, Cheyenne. You don’t know how much…”
“I know.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. If she told him how she felt, and if he felt the same, might it turn his destiny, might it stop a gift he would otherwise give to the world? She watched him for the longest seconds, considering. “I miss you, Monty. I miss home.”
“I miss you too, Cheye. Someday maybe you’ll come home. Not now. Not for a while. But . . .”
She warmed in his reminder that she had a choice. “Sometimes I forget I have a home. But I love my work.”
He said nothing.
At last she let him go. “Night, Monty. Thanks. So much . . .” She returned to the trailer, forced herself not to look back. She so missed him, the quality of him, his confidence. She missed the home she saw, shimmering there in the window of her friend. Had Montgomery Ferret lifted a paw or said a word, she would have stayed with him for the rest of her life.
He did not. Quietly, the door between them closed.
I’m just a country ferret, loved my mountains, the outdoors, Montana, and here I live. I loved my delphins, wanted to understand all the animals around me, now I do, pretty well, and we all get along just fine. I wanted to make their dreams come true, the little Scots, and the ranchkits, too. He smiled. We show ’em Action, Adventure, Romance on the High Plains! and sure enough, the sheep are happy and the kits go home strong and wise and kind, they earn their own respect. That’s what I wanted for them, and that’s what I got.
I’ve had a few questions of my own, he thought, found a few answers that work for me.
He lifted his hat and ran a paw over his forehead, smoothing the fur. A soul can learn a lot, in one lifetime, but even so . . .
Ladyhawke huffed, stopped, blinked to watch a small ferret, appeared from empty air.
On the middle of the stream, a shimmering nutmeg coat, a clove color mask, solemn amusement.
“Hello, Monty.” The ferret’s dark eyes locked on his. “Need some help?”
The rancher smiled down at her, nodded at the current splashing over her paws. “Counts as pawprints, does it?”
“It does, thank you,” she said. “Need some help?”
“I miss her, Kinnie. I miss Cheyenne.”
“I know she’s got her destiny, I know I’ve got mine. I ask within, and the answer comes back that everything’s okay, it’s just the way we meant it to be. I’ve done mostly what I came here to do, seems to me. Maybe she has, too, maybe not. But when I ask why did we want to be born in Little Paw, why did we become such good friends if all we were going to do was part forever” -he touched his hat lower- “what I get is there’s a reason, and I’m not sure that’s what I want to hear.”
“It won’t be-”
“Is there something we have to do that we haven’t done? You got some sort of cosmic agenda for us, Kinnie, or is this what it feels like, to know everything and still be sad? Missing her, that’s a sign I’m not a finished philosopher ferret, I guess.”
“Could be.” The little animal took a small step upward, to the top of the wavelets. No more splashing about her ankles, no more pawprints in the water. “And it could be that missing her’s a sign of another destiny between you. Could be a sign that you haven’t done everything you came to do, after all.”
“You can tell me what’s going to happen, can’t you?”
She shook her head. “Sorry. I can tell you a rule of space-time:
What’s going to happen has already happened. I can tell you a rule of consciousness: What you perceive is up to you.”
“And you’re going to tell me I’m a fool, feeling sad when always and everywhere I’m surrounded by love?”
The dark eyes twinkled. “No. I’ll let you say that yourself.”
He smiled at her. “Did I ask you to come find me here, talk to me this way?”
As though she hadn’t heard, Kinnie looked to the horizon, to Northstar Mountain. Then she turned back and nodded brightly. “You’re a dear ferret, Monty. You’ve learned much. You are greatly loved. ”
Ladyhawke blinked at where her rider’s other-level friend had stood, the stream chuckling over empty stones. The delphin tossed her head, Wouldn’t hurt to listen, Monty Ferret.
I listen, Lady-H, he said to her in his mind. Takes me a while, sometimes, but I listen.