By Charles Matthias

Part II: Heart

The more time Charles spent with his clanmates, the more he adopted their ways. Soon he, too, was calling Slomer an old coot, and jockeying for position among the other clan members. Fights broke out often enough among them, but they never got past a few scratches and bruises - the loser was quick to submit and acknowledge inferiority. Despite the squabblings, they were always clanmates by the end of the day, and thus, firmest friends.

Charles found the whole inner workings of the system quite attractive, for the jackals never held grudges, or if they did, they never lasted very long. So as they continued on traveling south through the Lion's Jaws, he found himself embroiled in the drive for dominance. He had never been a fighter before, but now, it seemed natural, almost necessary. It took him all of five seconds to assert his dominance of the old coot, who never fought back anyway, or seemed to care. As the days passed, he established himself over some of the other jackals.

There were a few he did not challege despite his eagerness for rank. He refused to challenge Germes, and of course, nobody challenged Anaid. Faltaf, the operator, was never around to get challenged anyway! So it was that among the one-coppers, Charles was one of the higher jackals.

Not that his work schedule became anymore interesting, he still spent much of it working alongside Germes, who quietly dispatched his challengers as he did his duties. Charles, however, was able to pry loose his tongue, and his friend seemed to enjoy their conversations.

They chatted incessantly about places they had been, and the things they had seen. Working on the Rail had shown them all many great and wondrous sights. Ma'erth was a stunningly beautiful place, so wild and untouched that it startled Matthias's twentieth-century mind. He'd traveled across the country before, but then, there was always a home just over the next hill, or a city upon the horizon. Here, there was nothing of the sort. It could be days before they even saw another animalkin but themselves. Always he kept his eyes on the lookout for two in particular, but he never saw nor heard anything about them.

One day, while they were working near the engine room on one of the coolant valves along a subsidiary fuel line, Charles noticed that Germes seemed quite agitated about something. So naturally he asked his friend what was bothering him.

"We're only a few days from Keener's Grove. I'll get to see Lodera again." Germes announced as he gripped the wrench in his grease-soaked paws.

"Your mate?" Charles asked as he held down the metal plate.

"Yes. We'll be staying there a few days, and I'd love to introduce you to her."

Charles grinned, his tail wagging at the thought. "I would like that. Are there many jackals at Keener's Grove?"

"Just the entire Keener clan; we are but a small part of it."

"How many jackals are there in the Keener clan?"

Germes shook his head curtly, too caught up in his work for the moment to answer. He tightened the screw one last time, and wiped his paws on his pants legs, smearing the grease through them. The mechanic leaned back on his hind paws and licked his nose thoughtfully. "I'd say there are just over a hundred of us."

Charles was slightly surprised at how few there were. "But that means, that about a fifth of our clan is here on this rail."

"That sounds right," Germes agreed. "We are one of the larger jackal clans west of the Lion's Jaws. Rumor has it that there are some ten times that to the East, but I've never seen anything like that." Charles could not imagine trying to explain to any of his fellows what cities were like in his old world. The sheer size would be too much for them to conceive. They'd think him mad. And for some reason, Charles agreed, it was mad.

"Who leads the clan?"

"The three-gold does. Her and her mate the two-gold do actually." Germes voice became quite reverent when he mentioned those with earrings of gold.

Charles felt slightly subservient as well at the thought of such rank. He also was filled with a desire to see her. It was strange, but he could not get such notions from his mind. "Will we get a chance to see her?"

Germes nodded slowly, and Charles felt a wave of relief rush over him. He reached up with one paw, and fiddled with his copper a moment. His vulpine ears twitched, and he let it go. Because he was male, he could only ever hope to gain two earrings like Anaid. And he knew that he would jump at a chance to gain another. Charles reflected how odd it was that he had so easily confromed to the social norms, but could not find any reason to worry about it.

"I am glad." Charles announced as he finally stood back on his hind paws, the repair finished. "How did she get to be a three-gold?"

"Her mate overpowered the previous two-gold." Germes turned to look back down the length of rail cars, as trees and rocks sailed past the windows. Anaid was not in sight. "They aren't challenged often, usually only in bad times."

"When was the last challenge?"

"This last winter. We always have hard winters. All females are supposed to mate, so that we may have plenty of children. We need the ones that die as food after all."

"Of course," Charles found himself saying. It was a hard thing to say, eating children was a terrible thought. But that was how they had to live.

His fellow jackal became silent again. The yellow eyes gazed across Charles's face, and then past them towards a place that Matthias had never before seen. How the newest member of the Keener clan wished to see the place they called home!

Faltaf died that night.

Both Charles and Germes had been asleep when the shouting from the foward cabins had commenced. The new one-copper's dreams had been of a fair lady jackal, one who had been brutally murdered by a ravenous and slovenly lion. With glee the jackal had ripped out the predator's throat with his very own jaws, and let the vultures have the prideless beast's flesh.

When he awoke, Charles still felt that image inside of him burning brightly. And for a brief moment when he smelled the burning fur and flesh and saw the confusion in the engine room so far ahead, he thought he had been transported back in time to that moment when the two cars had collided. But it was only a moment, and then he remembered that his mate was gone.

The other jackals rushed to the front where the hideous fires stank and burned. A dancing figure strode beyond, struggling against the fumes. Anaid was shouting to his clanmates, ordering them to put out the flames with whatever they could muster. How Charles wished he had a fire extinguisher, but this was a much more primitive world.

Suddenly they were all thrown from their feet, as the train began lurching to a stop. The jackal behind the flames was none other than Faltaf, the rail operator. Charles could tell, not sure how, but he could tell, that Anaid knew there was no hope for the one-silver.

Suddenly, the figure burst through the flames, a sick and twisted caricature of what once was a jackal. The red fur was all gone, burned off to reveal blackened and scarred skin over every centimeter of his flesh. From the eye sockets came streaming a vile liquid that had been the creature's eyes. Still hanging where the left ear should have been, was a small silver earring.

It took them ten minutes to finally quench the flames, using shirts, jackets, as well as much of their supply of fresh fluids. Anaid stormed into the forward cabin as soon as it was safe to do so. Charles peered after him, as did the other jackals. The two-silver made a quick glance over all of the equipment, noting the way the black soot scarred some more than others. His eyes finally came to rest on a totally warped panel that Matthias recognized all too well.

Anaid then stepped back outside, and stared down at the body of his operator. He then cast his eyes about the jackals present. It was late at night, and there were no passengers on board. Some shrunk from his glower, but Charles stood fast, his tail stiff, and his muscles hard.

"None of the controls were damaged; we may continue on our way as soon as this panel and valve is repaired. Germes," Anaid said with a touch of reproval, "I am promoting you to operator." He reached down and pulled the piece of silver from the body and handed it to the stunned jackal. "Here is your earring."

Germes swallowed hard. "May I request that Charles be my assistant?" he asked.

Anaid glanced at the stolid figure. "Of course. Charles, once this is taken care of, I shall have for you another copper." The two-silver then glanecd at the others assembled. "If this is your shift, I want you to take care of the body and prepair it for later. Also, repair the damage done here, and clean up the mess. We'll need to make up for our lost time tomorrow, so let us get this done as quickly as possible."

Anaid left the others to the work, and gave Germes a withering glance. "I shall wake you when it is time to get moving again."

"Yes, Anaid," both Germes and Charles intoned respectfully.

No sooner had Charles finally managed to get back to sleep, the sight of another burned body chilling him deeply, then their leader had gently woken them. It was still dark outside, but neither protested. Yawning and stretching, the two jackals made their way past the scene of the accident, and into the control chambers of the train itself. Like Faltaf before them, this would be their homes for now.

Germes had been on the Rail long enough to know how to work the controls, and he quite contentedly showed Charles what to do. For the most part, Matthias just watched the younger canine work, trying not to think of what had happened in this very room only hours before. However, as the sun began rising over the peeks of the Lion's Jaws, casting its golden rays down upon them, he felt that he had to say something.

"Does this happen often?" Charles asked, jerking his paw over his shoulder to indicate the now-rebuilt panel.

Germes glanced at it, and shrugged. "No, not often, but it does. Usually after a faulty repair."

"But we were working on that yesterday."

Germes nodded.

"Doesn't Anaid know that?"

"Of course he does." His fellow jackal said it with such resignation that Charles was left to wonder just why they had been given this task.

However, he could not resist one last quip. "Ours is not to question. Ours is to do and die."


"Nothing." Charles muttered under his breath, his yellow eyes looking back over what had once been a trail of soot. The world roared along by the them, the morning coming to life, not caring that the night had ended one.

A few hours later, Anaid returned to the engine room with an order. "Charles, go to the mess."

"Yes, Anaid," he said without thinking, leaving his friend to tend to the train's course by himself. Though the train moved along tracks, it required constant observation. If the train began to move too fast, or too slow, then they would damage the tracks, or even completely fly off of them. Though such was unlikely, it was certain to happen if nobody was there to watch.

There were a few other jackals in the mess, but there was only one thing being served to any of them. When Charles saw it, he wanted to back out slowly, and then run to the toilets, shove Slomer out of the way, and retch. For the body of Faltaf lay on the table, cooked properly, and prepared for their stomachs.

But he did not do any of that. Instead he sat down, and helped himself to a portion, which amounted to ripping several of his former clanmate's ribs free. And then he stared at it, and felt the eyes of the others upon him. He had not known Faltaf that well, and he wondered, what had been the one-silver's dreams or hopes? Surely not to be a meal for his fellows at his age!

Glancing up at the doorway, he saw Anaid step through. Those yellow eyes of the two-silver just gazed quietly at him. So he raised the meat to his jaws, and ate. After all, Faltaf would have hated for his flesh to be wasted upon any but his own clan.

Anaid sat down next to him, and broke away one of the dead jackal's arms, and began to eat away the muscle and tissue. Charles said not a word, but felt compelled to finish the portions he had taken. It didn't even taste bad. In fact, he found that he rather liked the flavor.

After finishing off one of his ribs, breaking it open to get the marrow free, he turned to his elder and asked, "Are we going to save any of this for later?"

Anaid shook his head and said between bites, "It would be spoiled and no good to anybody."

Nodding absently, seeing the logic in what he said, Charles returned to finishing off the last of his meal. It was still a clanmate, and it was partially his fault that Faltaf was dead. But this was just flesh - flesh without a spirit.

Anaid finished his own meal before turning back to face Charles. Licking the bits of blood and meat from his jowls, the two-silver said "I have your second copper with me."

And only a minute later, Charles had his head laid down upon the table, the nail nestled closely against the flesh inside his ear. He could feel his first copper gently resting against it. And he stared up as the hammer was raised, and then brought sharply down towards his head. He never flinched, nor did he cry out. When he left the mess, the tinkling sound of two copper earrings could be heard.

It was only a few more days unitl they reached Keener's Grove. They had been moving through the lower mountain elevations for the past few days, but the day before they reached their tribal home, they began a sharp zigzaging course down into a small valley between the snowtopped peaks. They dipper back below the treeline and into the world of green and pale sunlight just after sunrise that last day, and continue further through the depths for several more hours before they finally burst into a sudden clearing and Charles knew they had arrived.

Like all of their stops, the Rail station was on an elevated platform near a community. This one seemed much like the Compoud in many ways, from its wooden double fence fortifications to the watchtowerss at both ends, as well as the construciton of many of the buildings. After that, the similarities ended. For everyone there, was a jackal, just like him. Charles felt his heart lift at the sight, and his tail wagged uncontrollably.

Germes's tail was wagging aso, and when the one-silver brought the train to a stop, he shot Charles a canine grin and murmured, "We're here."

"It's beautiful," Charles remarked, as he stared out the front screen. And indeed it was. They were nestled in a narrow valley between two rows of mountains, the land rolling back and forth, with a large blue sky overhead. A small river cascaded over a rocky overpass, tumbling down into the surf below and continuing on its way through several sawmills. In the distance past the longhouses there were fields set aside for a herd of cattle, and he could see them grazing lazily.

The longhouses themselves were set up on much the same design as Hagen's, except that there were more of them. In the center of Keener Grove was a larger house, with four lamp posts on each corner. Charles could see people going in and out of the other buildings, but not this one. Its entrance was an undisturbed black.

"Are you coming?" Germes asked from the back door to the cabin.

Charles turned about, and put his tail between his legs in embarassment. "Of course!" He quickly caught up with his friend and joined Anaid and the other jackals who were filing out of the Rail. They carreid no passengers to this place, they'd made sure that none were on board before they left the last station. This was a place for jackals, and only jackals.

Charles was third in the procession, after Anaid and Germes. He cast an eye over his shoulder at the one-coppers, noting that each one of them seemed pleased to be back. Slomer was the last in the line, as usual. The old coot was whistling between his lips.

When they stepped out of the tower and into the fields themselves to the few assembled jackals who had come to greet them, Matthias realized something that should have ben obvious to him for the last two weeks. All of the jackals one the Rail were male. The anatomical differenecs were too remarkable to miss, as several slightly smaller figures with two or three earrings each happily greeted them.

Charles stared in a git of surprise, though he liked what he saw. They were a few inches shorter, with more slender faces, but from their chest to their belly they had five sets of nipples. They were not that large, but they were noticeable. One particular female ran up to Germes, and they hugged each other tightly. That must be Lodera, the two-copper realized.

Taking a look around, he saw that most of the jackals seemed to have had mates waiting for them. Anaid did not however, nor did Slomer, but he'd expected that. The two-silver was acutally tlaking to another male jackal that had been waiting, this one with an earring of gold. Charles stared at it dumbstruck. This was a man of power.


"Yes?" He turned, and there beside him was Germes with his mate.

"I'd like you to meet, Lodera, my mate. Lodera, this is my good friend Charles." Germes was obviously very happy at th emoment. For one so given to silence, his boisterious behavior set Charles off balance. However, the winsome smile that Lodera gave him, her serene yellow eyes blinking up at his, was enough to get him back on track.

"Ah, it is pleasure to greet you, Lodera." He replied extravangantly, bowing slightly in her presence.

"And you, Charles," Her voice was soft, a very strange juxtaposition with the harshness of so many of the other jackals. He noted that she only had two copper earrings as well; he wondered what Germes's elevation would mean for her.

"He has just joined our clan, and I was wondering if he could stay with us until he finds a place of his own."

Lodera nodded. "I'm sure we can find room for him." She then put her arm about Germes's, adn grinned, her canines showing between her jowls. "Shall we go home?"

"Yes, I am eager to be home. Charles, we'll show you where the place is." Germems motioned for him to follow, and follow he did. Matthias took a brief glance back and saw that Anaid had goen off with the one-gold, and the others were all going their separate ways as well. Then, he turned back to follow his friends into Keener's Grove.

Their place amounted to two rooms inside one of the longhouses on the outskirts of the grove. It was spartanly furnished, with only a single window per room to let in light, and a single bear-skin rug. He did not ask if the bear had been sentient or not. There was no bed - they slept on the floor, which was fine for Charles - and they had no kitchen. There were a few personal items about the place, a small dresser for their clothes, and a few trinkets on top of the dresser, as well as one small statue of a jackal.

They did have a small pantry with a few foodstuffs though, mostly drinks though. Germes was quick to offer Charles sometihng to drink, and a place on the rug to sit. However, from the way Lodera was looking at Germes, he figured that now was not really the best time to be around, so he excused himself, promising that he would come back in the evening, and began to explore the town.

Most of the longhouses themselves were just like the one where his friend lived. Though there were as he came closer to the central building other facilities. The smithy was quite busy, and one could hear the clanging of hammer upon metal throughout the grove. There were no marketplaces, but the center of town did seem to be a field where all of the jackals could gather.

Beyond the field was the large building he had seen from the train. He realized that the single entrance was not completely dark, but light did come from inside. Apparently, they used some of the fuel for the trains in keeping the inside of that building lit. Guards on either side of the entrance way, kept him from stepping inside, but he could see the faint silhouette of an extremely large jackal. It was almost certainly a statue of some sort.

He wandered on further south till he finally came to the open fields where the cattle grazed. Leaning aginst the fencing, he watched them for a time, licking the sides of his jowls reflexively. He counted about twnety or so out to pasture. A long narrow building stretched along one side of the grove, flush against a sheer cliff face that appeared to rise up out of the ground itself, and a few cows were going in and out of the double doors.

Watching the progress of the sun, Charles walked back and forth from end to end of the encampment, noting that it was nearly dusk when he had completed a full circuit of the place. It was partially his fault for trying to climb some of the rock walls that bordered their domain. He'd always loved doing that when he was a kid, and had not wanted to resist the temptation. Another jackal that had been tending the cows had argued with him for a moment, but had relented when Matthias convinced him that it would cause no hard.

However, when he returned back to Germes's room, he was indeed very tired, and so quickly curled up on the hard floor in the first room. Germes and Lodera were quite sedate when he had entered, despite the strange smell to the place. They had given him a bite of something to eat - he didn't ask what - and then let him get his sleep. There would be plenty of time for questions on the morrow.

And ask questions he did. Most were simple, and quite readily answered. None we remet with silence, but not all were answered directly either. Over the coure of the following two days, he learned about life in Keener's Grove. As he was a two-copper, many gave him deferential respect, but there were a lot of one-silvers about. They mostly acted as guards for the perimeter or for the central building.

Although he had not noticed the first time, the pastures were well defended, with hidded Jackals almost everywhere keeping an eye out for intruders. Th eimportance of the cattle was not lost on them. Much like in his old world, they were used for milk and for meat. But without them to feed off of, they would surely have to set upon each other in the winter just to survive.

And as Charles continued on his questing about his clan's home, he saw evidence of this borne out. There were very few children. By his count, there were at most thirty young boys and girls, all of them of varyig ages. Talking to Germes he discovered that a jackal was mature by the age of eight, but only one kit in ten lived that long.

To his chagrin, Charles suddenly found himself middle-age. In fact, Lodera told him that he was almost a scandal about the clan. Imagine a jackal of 22 not having a mate! It was unheard of. She even let him know about a few of the younger vixens who would love to be with a man of his age. In fact, she even introduced him to some of the riper fruits of the clan - and they were very ripe! His tail was between his legs for several hours afterward.

When he told Germes of what his friend's mate had tried to do, he found no sympathy. "You really should find a mate, Charles. It is for the best of the Keener clan. The females are going to go into season in the next week or so."

Germes then leaned over a bit and nudged him. "Besides, why not take one of Lodera's friends for a mate? If you don't, the three-gold might just assign you a mate for the winter season, and you never know what you'll get stuck with then."

"You mean, we have to mate?" Charles was dumbstruck by the idea.

"Of course! It is the only way we can keep our numbers up after all," Germes replied nonplussed. However, the anxiety on Charles's muzzle must have been plain. "You had a mate before. What is wrong?"

Charles saw her beautiful face, with upright ears, golden-red fur, bright shining eyes, and demure muzzle staring back at him. She was heavenly! But that was all he had left of her, and he didn't want to lose it. "Karen died just over a month ago. I don't think I am ready yet."

Germes nodded, and patted him on the shoulder. The one-silver's eyes took in the pain, and comforted him. "I understand, Charles. But that is life. I just hope your new mate understands as well as I."

Charles nodded, not wanting to discuss it anymore.

However, one thing that he never found out about through simple questions was what exactly the purpose of that central building was. All amswers were vague and circular. "What is that house in the center?" "That is Keener's Place." "And what is Keener's Place?" "It is the house at the center of Keener's Grove."

So it was with a bit of surprise that Germes woke him up early the tihrd morning of his visit there and announced that they had to be at Keener's Place within the hour. "Why do we need to go there? What is there anyway?"

Germes was brushing out a few knots in his fur. Charles felt a few in his own fur, and hoped that his friend was finished with the comb soon. "Today is the Rite of Choosing. All members of the Keener Clan must be present."

"But what is Keener's Place? What is inside that house?"

"The statue of Keener, the greatest among us. Only the three-gold is allowed inside there on any other day." Charles remembered the silhouette he'd seen through the doors. That must be the staute. Was this some form of quasi-religious ceremony?

"So what do we have to do?"

"Well, I was hoping you would be my brother."

"Your brother?"

"Yes, in the event one of us is chosen, our brother will take up our responsibilities in our stead."

"What do you mean chosen?" Charles was not sure he liked the way this was going. Germes however, handed him the brush, and the two-cooper began to work out the matting in his rust-colored fur.

"You'll see," Germes assured him. Charles really did not like the sound of that!

When they finally assembled inside the Keener Place, Charles was stunned by how similar it looked to the Catholic Church he'd been attending for the last year. The lamps arrayed along each stone wall were shining brightly. The altar at front was covered in a ceremonial cloth. The statue rising behind the altar was not of a crucifix of course, but still of a majesticly suffering jackal.

There were no pews, so they sat on the rough stone floor. To his knowledge, this was the only building in the entire grove made entirely from stone. Matthias wondered where the quarry had been, he certainly hadn't seen one in the area.

It took him only a moment to realize it, but there was only a single female in the entire chamber. The rest were all men. Scanning about, he saw Anaid, Slomer, and the rest of his friends from the Keener's Fang. But only one female was present. She was standing behind the altar, with the large statue framing her shaply figure. Charles had never seen her before, but upon looking at her left ear, knew immediately who she was. It was the three-gold.

Her voice was crisp, and once the room was silent, and all were present, she spoke. "We now stand in the presence of our protector, Keener. It is in his name we gather, and it is in his spirit that we are guided to this Rite of Choosing. May his hand guide us in this the most important of choices. May he guide you."

"Yes, may he guide us!" The crowd responded in unison. Charles quickly said it as well, feeling a bit uncomfortable for not knowing the rituals. However if anybody noticed, they did not say so.

And so the three-gold continued with the pronouncements and beseechments given up to Keener. At regular intervals, the men would chime in with affirmations of their commitment, or theirdesier for this near divine jackal's help. Charles found himself saying the words too.

As she talked, Matthias learned more and more aout this enigmatic jackal that was carved in stone before them. He had died over a hundred years ago, but in doing so had cemented an arrangement that had brought peace upon his people. There were colonies of other predators about, but none more so fierce than the lions to the west. In Keener's day, the jackals and the lions were in constant warfare. However, because of this one jackal's insight, he led them to a peace agreement, letting each have their own land.

What gave Charles the most pause however was the means via which Keener had finalized the treaty. He gave his own body and blood to feed the lions, so that his people might live. The paralells were not lost on him, but for some reason, he felt like something was remarkably different from the Keener of his old world. But, it wasn't untilt he three-gold pronounced it, that he had any notion of what his unsettling premonition might be.

"And so, like he before us. Each season of the year, one of our own males, is chosen to follow in Keener's footsteps, and give up his body and blood, for all of our clan!"

Before Charles could even recoil in horror, the congregation replied, and he was compelled to join them "We offer ourselves to be chosen as a sacrifice for our brethren. For the good of our children, of our mates, and of our brothers and sisters and all the members of our clan! We are Keener's children. We are jackals. We are ready!"

"Then come before the altar, each pair of brothers, and draw forth the stone that Keener has prepared for you this day!" She announced in a rising falsetto.

Then everything went silent, as from the front of the room, each pair of jackals stood, and came forward. Charles watched with rapt fascination as they each stood to one side of the altar, and reached underneath the ceremonial cloth. Then they drew back their arms, and held forth white stones each.

"You have not been chosen," the three-gold uttered solemnly. The two jackals returned to their seats, a look that bordered on disappointment on each of their faces.

Charles leaned over to Germes and whispered, "How does one know if they've been chosen?"

Germes replied, his voice anxious, "If you draw the black stone. There is only one."

Charles nodded, and continued watching, hoping against hope that he would see a black stone before Germes and he would be called towards the altar. Time and time again, two jackals would walk to the altar, tails erect, and ears upright, and time and time again, two jackals would return to their seats unchosen. Despite the numbers going forward, no black stone was ever seen. Even Anaid and Slomer, brothers to each other, revealed only white from beneath the cloth.

And also, for a brief moment, Charles could see the face of a beautiful lady jackal, one who ha been burned to death. Would it be so bad to draw the black stone? He would finally be with her again. But such images were dispelled when to his right, Germes stood, dragging Matthias up by his arm.

Charles tried to maintain his composure as he and his friend walked towards the altar. The large statue before them peered only up into the sky, the muzzle raised aloft, the pain clear, but the glory even clearer. It offered him scant comfrot as the eyes of the three-gold peered at them. Germes instinctively took his place at one end of the altar, and Charles took his own.

Staring momentarily at the cloth, he could see where the stones lay, but the thick fabric gave no indication wof what color they may be. There was only a dozen or so stones left, and one of them was black. However, he had no choice. He was a jackal. He had to draw forth a stone.

So Charles reached under the cloth, as did Germes, and grabbed one of th nearby pebbles. Clutching it in his paw, he drew it forth, hodling it tightly in his palm. As he opened each finger, he saw the faces of his parents still lost in this world, Cori and Hall, The Captain and Nena, Jeremiah and Cassie who was proudly displaying her picture of him as a unicorn mare. Each one passed before him, good people all. And then he opened wide his paw, and looked.

White. It was a white stone.

Charles breathed a sigh of relief and looked over at Germes who stood transfixed on the other side of the altar with his paws open.

Black. It was a black stone.

"One has been chosen!" The three-gold chanted reflexively in exultation. "Keener has chosen Germes the one-silver to follow in his footsteps."

There was a chorus from the congregation, but Charles did not hear any of it. He simply stared across the cloth to his friend. Germes looked back, the expression on his face totally unreadable.

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