On Being a Leader
Ch. 4 in “The Book of Grumby”
By Rick Merriman as Grumby
I knew not that change was coming. As a Goldenfur I should have known. Besides the size and beauty of the sky, the coming of the sun each morning, and the strength of the earth beneath our feet… there is only one thing that remains the same – everything will change.
Reflections of Mootill
Mootill left the land of dreams and found himself under the shade tree where he had taken his midday meal. His mind was ablaze with dreams and their meanings, not only for him, but for his entire village. No, he thought, not just the village but for all of Mernac. The Fur knew he needed guidance on the meaning of these dreams and continued down the path he had been on before his lunch.
I am not sure I can become the leader of my clan, let alone one of these Champions Siberlee speaks of, Mootill thought, trotting out of the thicket of trees on the unkempt trail to his village.He was in a hurry – almost frenzied. So much, the Fur did not stop to swat the Blood Flies attacking his haunches or pause to pick out their stingers with his nimble fingers – even though it would mean painful bumps for a week. Instead he simply brushed the flies away with a great swoop of his golden tail and picked up his pace. There was only one place he could get the guidance he sought. Can I still get there in time? he wondered, looking at the setting sun.
The Fur originally meant to reach the village by early afternoon, but the Gods had other plans. Why did I have to sleep after eating? Mootill questioned himself ruefully. That is something I have not done since I was a cub. No, there was more than just chance to the sleep. For with the sleep came the dreams. The dreams were not only longer and more rambling than they had been before, they were even more confusing. Before, his dreams seemed brief, but this time when the Fur awoke, he found his day gone and the great ball was already heavy in the sky.
Soon the sun will roll off the edge of the earth to sleep with the stars. Mootill thought frantically, paws sending pebbles flying as he scampered toward his village. I must hurry and find Oomba!
Mootill wished to share this setting sun with the Wise One and receive counsel – he needed to decipher the dreams he had of Traesha the Succubus and those of Siberlee, the Mother of Nature. More than anything he wanted to understand why both his dreams and the traditions dictated he must kill the travelling Grayfur. Oomba had told him since he was a cub that dreams were not always what they seemed. Are these? Are they? And if yes, which parts?
He had been told the more his mind became troubled the more the dream needed interpretation and Mootill’s mind had never been more troubled than this day. This is not a time to be troubled. No, he thought, not only is it the eve of my first Chandralee, but is also the eve of my leadership ritual. Yes, Mootill affirmed, tomorrow is the most important day of my life!
But that is in the morning, Mootill focused himself into the now as The Wise One had taught him. Tonight? … tonight, I need to find Oomba.
Mootill knew once the sun began to disappear, Oomba could be found in but one place: the summit of The Oontrill Shrine. For countless generations this had been a place for peace and solitude and a shrine for reflection and thought. A mound made from the earth herself, one with the coming of night, only Goldenfurs could share. Mootill would have his exclusive attention, as Oomba, the Wise One, was the only other Goldenfur in the village.
Mootill made his way by the dwindling light of the setting sun, and by the warm flickering of the torches the Brownfurs were just beginning to light. These were at intervals down the only path in the village. At the end of the path he would find the Shrine.
I made it by the grace of Mother Dulan! He uttered thanks to the matron Goddess of his race. The Goldenfur then began traversing the familiar path up the shrine’s landscape. It was almost a mountain itself made of packed earth, stone and rock, and carefully decorated with patches of flowering Tiko plants and perfectly trimmed Kooja bushes. As Mootill moved up the path, the thorns of the Kooja bush began glowing dimly with the coming of night. Mootill had been taught the blue glow was really moonlight pressed into raindrops by Siberlee, the Mother of Nature. That this special rain only falls on the Goldenfurs’ Shrines so the Kooja bushes can drink the drops and softly illuminate the temple at night.
Siberlee, is there no limit to what you can do, mused Mootill reaching the entrance to the shrine. He smiled to himself knowing his thought was due to all the training he, and all Furs, received from birth. Siberlee, Dulan, and Sola were the three goddesses his clan chose to worship, and each had their own endearing anecdotes that explained the world. However, they do not always ring true. Mootill had seen Kooja thorns glow on wild bushes beyond the edge of his valley. Those were not on any shrine, and still they glowed. Mootill thought, as he started climbing the Fur-made mountain. What other Goldenfur tales and lore may be flawed? Traesha showed me there may be more flaws. How much of what she said was true?
It is heresy to think such thoughts! The Goldenfur pushed the thought from his mind quickly. It does not matter how the gods make them glow or what the succubus said about our book or traditions. The Kooja do their job and serve as a warning to all those without a Golden coat of Fur. The Goldenfur felt convinced after forcing the thoughts from his mind … but not as much as he would like to be.
Mootill could already see the warning working; The Brownfurs who had been waiting for the glowing thorns saw them in the dimming light, and knew it was time to finish their day’s work on the mound.
He felt reassured. Brownfurs, nay, all color of furs, know they must be gone from the shrine before the sun vanishes behind the mountains.
The shrine was enormous. Each day the village’s Brownfur males dug in the forest then moved untold sleds of dirt and rock to the top of the mound. This had gone on for more seasons than even Oomba, the Wise One, could count. Each day the Brownfurs’ loads of dirt pushed the shrine further from the village below and closer to the clouds. One day it would be close enough for Goldenfurs to hear the whispers of the Mothers of Sky and Sun plot against the Fathers of Wind and Moon. Then we will know all the secrets of life, Mootill thought, as he reached the Shrine’s summit where he found Oomba contemplating the heavens.
Oomba stood at the highest point of the mound, both eyes and ears pointed skyward. His sleek body caught between the golden rays of the setting sun and the warming glow of his small fire. The light made it easy to see his once-golden fur was now mostly white. His front haunches were snow, its whiteness traveling up the lower cat-like portion of his body to where fur became hair, then hair became skin covering the upper, human half of his body. The fur on Oomba’s canine back and belly were also the color of a fresh winter’s day, even the hair on human arms, chest, and head were sprinkled with the coming of age. Only Oomba’s four paws and tail retained their golden luster. Viewing the Wise One’s half golden, half white form reminded Mootill of the first tale told to all young Furs. A tale Oomba himself had shared with Mootill near 15 seasons ago: The legend of Golden Siberlee and the Seven.
It told of the creation of the Fur Race, when Siberlee, the Mother of Nature lay with a man, a lion and a wolf all on the same night to create the Race of Furs. Seven cubs were born, each with a different color, and each with different responsibilities according to the color of their fur – with Goldenfurs being the leaders. Whitefurs were prophets and the closest thing to the Mothers in the Heavens and some say even close to The One herself.
It was a rare occurrence and an honor for a village to be blessed with a leader who would one day become a Whitefur prophet. It had only happened five times since the Gods had placed Furs on Mernac. Nevertheless, it was quite apparent to Mootill that Oomba, with the coming of age and wisdom was slowly turning into one of those revered beings. Mootill was not alone in his suspicions. All in the village the same thing was whispered whenever Oomba did not come to the story fire at night. Oomba, of course, scoffed at the notion, and would chastise whoever hinted at it and would simply say that he was not destined to become the source of legends.
“Whitefurs and their deeds become things Scribes feel compelled to write about – usually muddling the details,” Oomba would say with a hint of contempt. But in his eyes, Mootill always thought he saw a hint of pride, but was wise enough not to vocalize the thought. “No,” Ooomba would always continue with his voice trailing off, “that honor… and burden will fall to one who is far more deserving than I.”
Mootill was not convinced. It is just Oomba being humble, he thought. The young Goldenfur knew in his heart that with Oomba, he was watching a legend in progress.
That night seeing Oomba’s half gold, half white silhouette against the setting sun was a visual reinforcement of Mootill’s faith in the tales of the Furs. Yes, most, if not all of our legends and traditions are based in fact, he decided. Traesha is wrong. My doubts in the dream of her were wrong. The sight of Oomba is proof enough of that.
Around the Wise One’s neck hung a claw from the mighty Tumba, displaying his position as leader. Embedded in the claw was the Star of Night, a clear crystal the size of a Fur’s eye. The crystal proclaimed him not only Leader of the pack but of all packs as far as a Fur could run in any direction for 40 days. Around the star were cavities for six smaller crystals, none was filled. Mootill had once asked the significance of the stone and cavities. Oomba told him it was not yet his time to have this knowledge, and the young Goldenfur was wise enough to know not to press for an answer. The elder would only speak when he was ready, and his tongue could be sharp if pressed before that time.
Even without the claw and Star, one would know Oomba was a Leader by his commanding stance, and the way he could look at any Fur without uttering a word, yet his wishes would be known and his bidding fulfilled.
None knew how old Oomba was, but it was rumored he had seen at least three or four hundred seasons. Even with the coming of age Oomba’s coat was still full, soft, and sleek. It was perfect except for two round pink scars – one on either side of his canine belly. The scars were nowhere near as old as the great Goldenfur leader but had been there before Mootill’s memories began. It was said that Oomba had been injured during Mootill’s first season of life. After the injury he had not moved and barely ate for two moons. During this time Oomba nearly entered the land of shadows.
Mootill shuddered as he remembered the stories he had heard countless times around the story fire. The tale went that Oomba’s wounds developed at the same time Mootill’s father vanished. No one but Oomba knew for sure, but it was rumored he was injured trying to save Mootill’s father’s life during the ritual to become the new Leader. It explains why my father was banished, Mootill thought. Ancient law dictated that no one from the clan may help a Goldenfur complete the leadership ritual. Or at least the part that involved getting the Tumba claw, Mootill thought. A Goldenfur who seeks or receives help has no place in the clan, not even in the dens of the lowly Orangefurs.
Both the young and the old Goldenfur stood at the summit of the Oontrill Shrine, heads tilted upward. Without a word they watched the golden sun slide behind the mountains in the east. As it did, the sky seemed to caress, then mix with the crimson sphere. A thousand hues of pink and orange erupted around the glowing ball.
Oomba, who had lived through more sunsets than any Fur, finally said, “No two sunsets are the same … it would be a great loss to miss even one.” They watched together in silence. It was not until the last ray of light was put out by the Father of Night that Mootill knew he was permitted to speak to the Wise One.
“I am not sure I can become the leader,” Mootill said flatly, echoing thoughts and dreams that had plagued him for many months.
Oomba did not look at the younger Goldenfur, he simply stared into the fire. The Wise One would not speak until he was ready. He often said, “Why speak to make noise – think – then you will speak your mind’s truth and not your heart’s babble.” Mootill waited in silence.
Oomba rose from his haunches and stood on all four paws. Mootill suspected the wise One’s aging joints troubled him, but he would never consider laying down in Mootill’s presence. Without speaking, the old Fur reached for his pipe of Tiko leaves. The younger Goldenfur knew the Wise One would smoke enough to sharpen his mind, but not enough to put him in the land of dreams as the foolish Grayfurs often do.
With all four paws firmly planted on the ground, the ancient one reached into the fire with his bare hands and plucked out a glowing ember, placing it next to his pipe. He drew in deeply until the Tiko leaves glowed warmly. The Wise One replaced the ember to the fire without even a hint of pain from the intense heat. After many seasons of picking up fire for his pipe, Oomba’s fingers were covered with calluses as thick as the hide of a Tumba.
“Mootill, are you afraid that you cannot complete the ritual? Are you afraid you will fail – as your father failed?” he asked, putting the Tiko pipe down.
Mootill’s mind felt a pang of pain – and fear. Oomba had never before mentioned his father failing the leadership ritual. When the younger Fur’s father was banished, he ceased to exist in the eyes or ears of the Gentle Ones. One could not speak of something that does not exist, it is so written in the Book of Goldenfur. Mootill could not believe Oomba had made reference to the phantom that had once been his father. I know what happened to my father, the young Fur thought, but it still stings to hear it said out loud.
Dwelling on the past, the young Goldenfur began to feel another shudder of emotion begin to grip him. Shame. He quelled the shudder and restored his calm by slowing the beating of his heart and clearing his mind – a trick Oomba himself had taught him when Mootill was but a young cub.
“It is not failure I fear, nor the fate of my father,” The Fur finally replied. He paused, as he knew Oomba would not like the remainder of his words, but he knew he must tell Oomba the truth. “I think the ritual is wrong.”
“Mootill thinks it is wrong to take a claw from the mighty Tumba?” The wise one asked, touching his own Tumba claw dangling around his neck. “You think it is wrong to do what Goldenfurs have done for untold generations?”
Hunting down a Tumba and stealing one of its claws was not the reason the young Fur thought the ritual was wrong. It was the other part – the part the Wise One had not mentioned.
“I think it is wrong for me to kill the traveling Grayfur.” Mootill blurted out.
“But he is only a trader, a Grayfur, not even of our clan.” Oomba replied.
It was now time for Mootill to stare into the fire. This did not sound like the Oomba he had known from birth. The Oomba he knew had always preached the highest regard for all life. The young Fur could not look at the Wise One as he spoke in a hushed whisper.
“Wise One, you have always taught me to never kill any creature when it can be avoided. Even in hunting, we are taught to take only what is needed to survive. How can you now speak of the Grayfur’s life with so little respect?”
Oomba did not speak for several minutes then answered, “You have learned the ways of the Gentle Ones well, Mootill. You are right, I was wrong to speak of killing in that manner. I pray for forgiveness from Sola, the Mother of Life. I did so only to help you. I know you must find the thought of killing a Grayfur difficult. I said it to try to make what must be done less difficult.”
“But, why, Wise One? Are we not known as the Gentle Ones? Do not all respect our pack for our love of life and adherence to the natural laws?”
“But without a strong leader, the Gentle Ones would soon perish,” said the ancient one sternly. “Our leaders must be willing to do anything to ensure the pack’s survival. Through the seasons, we have found our leaders must do things that contradict everything they believe in, just so that we may survive. Many Goldenfurs are not strong enough to do this. Before they become leaders, we must find out the strength of their convictions.”
“And if my beliefs are so strong, that I will not kill the Grayfur?”
Oomba’s eyes shifted from the glowing fire and centered on the young Goldenfur, his usual gentle and understanding eyes had a stern and forceful look to them. “You would not become leader. You would not marry the Silverfur, Loosha, you would have to leave the Gentle Ones forever.”
“Mootill,” Oomba continued in an even harsher tone, “you are the last Goldenfur in the pack, if you are banished there is no one to become leader when I die.” His tone softened before continuing, “My time is coming soon – you must do this so the clan can survive.”
“You will be with us for many more seasons, Wise One,” Mootill replied with fondness. He paused a moment; he wanted to speak more on his fondness for the old Fur and his well wishes for him but there were other concerns that needed to be addressed. Things which only his spiritual leader would have answers for – or he hoped he would have answers for. “There is one more thing that is troubling me…” The young Goldenfur paused again, not knowing if he really wanted to continue, “I have been having strange…dreams… dreams of the ritual – dreams of females, and more. And Oomba, I have been told to give you a message.”
The first of the two moons had just broken the tops of the mountains surrounding their valley. Their bluish glow was caught as a glint in the ancient’s eyes, and softly illuminated a pleasant smile on hearing that Mootill was having strange dreams.
“I was wondering when Siberlee would come to you. I thought it would not be until tonight’s slumber,” he mused. “This dream – did she appear as one not from our race, not a Fur? Was your dream of one who stands only on two legs?” Oomba asked.
“Yes,” replied Mootill wondering how the old leader could possibly know of his dreams.
“It was Siberlee, the Mother of Nature and all that is Good. It is the last thing to prove that you are now ready to become Leader,” Oomba said profoundly. Mootill noticed a softness briefly come over the ancient one’s face – as if he were fondly remembering a pleasant experience from the past. Then it was gone as quickly as it had come.
“Siberlee, as you know, is the matron to the human race, though she is also known as the protector of Goldenfurs. She comes to us in times of need – usually the first time is the night before we become leader – usually we see her in our own form. If we are strong in spirit or magic, we see her in her natural form. As you have seen her several times…your Ga, your magic force, must be even stronger than I suspected. Tell me, what is this message you say she has for me”
“She said that I was the one.”
“The one to become the leader of the champions?”
“Yes, how did you know, Wise One?”
“I knew the time of a champion was near, past in fact. There was another… I had hoped the burden would not befall you. But prayed it would be you at the same time. Mootill you have strength and powers beyond your understanding. Tell me more of this dream.”
“I have seen her in my dreams many times,” Mootill responded. “Of late, I see her each night. Every time, her message is the same – that I must complete the ritual, regardless of the cost, regardless of what I think will be the consequences. I then see myself doing all the tasks needed to fulfill the ritual, but at each step I see… no, feel her watching me in the forest. In my dream, whenever I turn around I feel her eyes on me as if she were controlling my actions.”
“The Dream this afternoon was different.” Mootill continued “Here it was not in the forest, as the other time. This time is was in a round chamber.”
“The Chamber of Champions.” Oomba whispered softly.
“This time she spoke of me becoming a champion, not only the leader of our clan. Oomba I need your help deciphering these dreams.”
“Tell me of them in detail” Oomba asked and Mootill shared all he could remember.
“They seem clear. You are sure she said you are the one.”
“Then there is little to decipher. You are blessed to have Mother speak so plainly to you. How could there be questions?”
“There would not be,” Mootill started, “If it were not for the other female in the dreams; the dreams that come before the dream of Siberlee… those dreams are wonderful… and terrible at the same time.”
Oomba did not immediately respond. Mootill could only imagine what he was thinking. Both were well versed in the Book of Goldenfur and both knew that dreams of any other than that of Siberlee during the leadership ritual would be of Traesha.
For the first several hundred seasons after the Fur race was created, Barak would send Traesha, the beautiful, albeit evil, succubus to dissuade Goldenfurs from becoming leaders. The succubus would then sap their loyalty to Siberlee and the other Mothers by laying with the Goldenfur in sin. It had been over a millennium since Traesha had tried to corrupt a Goldenfur in their dreams, but the danger she presented was as grave now as it had been then. More so if Mootill was to become a Champion.
“And what do you see in those dreams?” Oomba finally asked Mootill.
“She shows or tells me how most in our village will be attacked and most Furs will die if I kill the Grayfur, of how a terrible war will consume not only the Furs of Ooloo, but all the races of Mernac. All because I complete the ritual. And Oomba I looked at her deep in her eyes as you have taught me. She had the Twinge of Truth. Oomba, it is horrible… but for some reason it rings of truth. Is this possible, Wise One?”
“Eyes in a dream of a dream,” the mentor side-stepped the question. “In your dreams have you lain with her yet?” the Wise One asked bluntly, having no time for the proper Fur etiquette and subtleties.
Mootill was astounded by the question. It was the second time tonight that Oomba had broached a taboo subject. “She has tempted me,” he answered slowly, “but as you know I am betrothed to Loosha, so it would not be right. I am not the Leader yet, so it is not yet time for me to share my bed with a female.”
Oomba became angry. He despised deceit of any kind, even those of a private nature. “Mootill,” he told the younger Goldenfur roughly, “there is a time and place for discretion and double-speak – this is not one of those times. As far as you not sharing your bed, I know that you have visited the dens of the Orangefur sex givers for several seasons now.”
Mootill’s look of shame and embarrassment of this being said out loud seemed to crush the younger Fur. Oomba softened his tone. “There is nothing to be ashamed of. You have done nothing that young Goldenfurs have not done secretly, or so they thought, for as long as any can remember. However, Traesha is another matter. No matter how alluring she may be, you must know that her kind of beauty is simply chimera… it is one you will never feel in your heart or mind, but only in your loins. Her brand of beauty is nothing but a gateway to the clutches of Barak.” Oomba looked sternly at Mootill. “Now again I ask, have you lain with the succubus?”
“I have not,” Mootill replied sheepishly. He did not elaborate that he had been strongly tempted to. If those dreams had not always been interrupted by the dreams of Siberlee… there is no telling what I would have done, Mootill thought.
“Good,” the ancient replied, “make sure that it does not happen if she returns to your dreams. If you do, she will have power over you. I expect that Siberlee saved you from that fate by interfering with Traesha’s dream spells. Consider yourself lucky.”
“Yes, Wise One,” Mootill replied. The young Goldenfur knew that Oomba was right. Oomba was always right. But it still did not make his decision about the ritual any easier. Not only did he think the way in which the ritual was conducted was wrong… now he was half afraid that there may even be a glimmer of truth in what Traesha had told him – that by his becoming the leader of The Gentle Ones, he may inadvertently be responsible for a war. How could he live with himself it that came to pass?
Mootill pondered speaking to the wise one on what he knew of the Champions but there were other questions which burned even deeper in his mind. “Wise One,” Mootill spoke in anguish, “I do not want to be banished, but I do not think I can bring myself to kill another thinking creature. I do not think I can live with myself if those actions also cause the deaths of many of our people and cause a war. You have advised me all my life. I am torn – what should I do?”
The Wise One’s yellow eyes met with Mootill’s eyes, both of his hands clenching his Tumba claw medallion. The youth knew that Oomba wanted to tell him more, to somehow guide his troubled mind. Mootill could see in his eyes that Oomba knew some secret, something that would help him. Oomba raised the young Goldenfur as his own son when Mootill’s father was banished, and as a father he had advised him, coached him, loved him. But now he could not treat Mootill as a son, he must only treat the youth as a Goldenfur who may become the next Leader of the Gentle Ones’ pack.
“You will do what is right,” he said. “Much depends on you… much more than even you realize. It is not my decision to make – it is yours, but you will do what is right… what is… good,” Oomba’s eyes left those of the troubled Fur and returned to the uncountable points of light that now filled the darkened sky. Mootill was sure there was more that Oomba knew, and the young Goldenfur wanted more; he needed more, but he knew the Wise One would speak no further.
Mootill had hoped talking with the Wise would help, as it always had before … but he still did not have an answer. How can I turn my back on my responsibilities to the clan? … but how can I bring myself to kill another? And what of the consequences if I do complete the ritual successfully? And what of theses champions I am supposed to lead? Will I be successful? These thoughts plagued the young Goldenfur as he stared into the dying embers of the fire. He prayed to the Mother of Life and to the Mother of Nature for answers.
No answers came.
As Mootill began to retreat down to the village he wondered if any of the other champions were plagued with such questions and concerns. What were their names again? He played the dream in his mind. There was the Wood Elf Arumbus Talimar, A Human called Salina Stallworth… and a Fae… what was her name? …. Airianna, yes that is it.