More well padded twists and turns

 

Zane, high on the elation brought on by paw play and relief he and Knut were safe, danced crazily, Lihua laughing as Zane showed off less than fancy paw work.

     “Look at him!”  She squealed, “Zane, you’re so funny!”  Zane laughed merrily at his own antics.

      “I’m sorry about the dancing,” Zane said laughing.

      “I think your paws are cute,” Lihua said, Zane laughing merrily.

      “You think I’ve got cute paws?”  He asked.  Lihua smiled:

      “Yeah,” she said, “They’re cute.”  Zane laughed merrily and rolled onto his back, waving all four paws in the air.

     “The pads of those hind feet look very strokeable,” Lihua said.  Zane stopped kicking the air with his hind feet and wiggled the toes of his right hind foot.

     “Why not find out for certain if what your eyes are telling you is true?”  He asked.  Lihua smiled, padded forward and took hold of Zane’s right hind foot, the large bear curling his toes with pleasure as the cross bred panda cub’s paws explored the sole pad and toes of his right hind foot.  Zane, his eyes shining, flexed his toes, making his pads bunch and stretch, Lihua laughing at his antics.

 

Sire Patch sat in his favourite clearing in the wood thinking deeply.  His thoughts were disturbed by the sound of large paws padding down the track, indeed, as he pricked up his ears, he could hear two sets of paws, the large set, but also a tiny set of paws running to keep up with the owner of the larger set of paws.

       “I’m tired,” a tiny voice said, Patch supposing it to be the voice of a cub.

      “We’ve got to walk further, to find shelter before the nighttimes,” a stronger voice replied, “though I can see you are exhausted Ellie.  I’ll carry you on my back for a while if you like.  Now, let me get to my hind feet, and then you scramble up onto my shoulders and wrap your forepaws around my neck, hold on with your hind legs and put your feet in my forepaws.”  Ellie panted and scrambled upwards, Patch could hear her scrabbling paws and panting effort to get onto the larger creature’s shoulders.  Patch supposed both were bears, for no other creature, apart from man and apes could stand on their hind legs and be as tall as this larger creature sounded like he was.  Patch turned his head towards the sound, and sure enough, he saw the bear that now carried the cub, for it was a cub, piggy back style on his back.  The larger bear turned into the clearing, saw patch for the first time and nearly dropped the cub in fright.

     “Oooah! Hey!”  Ellie squealed, hanging on with her forepaws and scrabbling for purchase with her hind feet while her living transport tried to recover his poise.  Ellie struggled so much she fell off the larger bear’s back onto the forest floor with a thud and a squeal.  Patch got to his feet and padded calmly over to Ellie, the cub staring up in abject terror, while her friend, equally terrified, stood as if his hind feet were glued to the floor.

      We’re done for!”  The male bear wailed.  Patch knelt down beside Ellie and gently kissed her nose and paws, his gentle actions soothing her mind.

      “What are you doing?”  The larger bear asked.

      “Putting this cub at ease,” patch replied, “and if you wish, I’ll kiss your nose and paws also.”

      “Um, no, it’s okay,” the larger bear gabbled, sitting down quickly, as his legs were shaking so much they’d given way.

       “Please, please, don’t hurt Ellie,” The large bear begged, almost crying.

      “I won’t hurt her,” Patch said, gently picking up the bedraggled cub and placing her in his lap, hugging her tenderly in his paws.

       “I’ll look after her as well as you do,” patch said, smoothing Ellie’s ears with his right forepaw while holding her against his chest with his left, Ellie involuntarily wriggling closer, pushing with her hind feet to snuggle tightly.

      “Push with those hind feet little one,” Patch said, Ellie closing her eyes and pushing hard.  Ellie  gasped as she pushed hard against Patch’s right hind leg with her tiny hind feet, rocking her body back and fourth a little, pushing hard with her toes and heels as she tried to work herself deeper into patch’s hug.  Ellie even curled her toes a little in her efforts to push herself harder into the large grey bear’s hug while her friend looked on miserably, dreading every passing minute in case the large grey bear should do Ellie harm.

      “I love this little bear,” Patch said to her guardian.

      “I’m glad, so glad,” the nervous male bear replied, now having grabbed his right hind foot in his forepaws and begun squeezing his toes and pads in an attempt to calm himself.

      “I love pushing my feet against your fur,” Ellie said, “it feels lovely!”

      “Do you know how to play with your hind feet little one?”  Patch asked.  Ellie looked up at him:

       “I do, yes grey bear I do!”  She replied, “Want to see?”  Patch smiled:

     “Okay, Show me then,” patch laughed.  Ellie grabbed her left hind foot in her forepaws and massaged her toes with her right forepaw, the sole pad of her hind foot with her left fore.  Looking down, she contemplated the toes of her left hind foot for some minutes, and then looked up at Patch.

      “Do you know how to play with a cub’s hind paws?”  She asked.  Patch grinned:

      “I think I do,” he replied.

     “Show me then,” she said, “play with my hind paws, please.”  Patch grinned and turned Ellie round, settling her down on her back on his lap so he could reach her hind paws.  Ellie giggled as patch massaged the pads of her left hind foot, curling her toes to bunch her pads, patch tracing Ellie’s bunched pads and rubbing her curled toes, Ellie wriggling and waving her forepaws in the air in ecstasy.

      “You do know, you know how to play with a cub’s hind feet!”  She laughed delightedly.  Ellie’s friend looked uneasily at Patch.

      “We came together after I found Ellie wandering up and down the road after her mama had been hit by a car.  I took her in, and now we’ve been roaming for weeks.  I haven’t had time to play with her, though I know she likes having her paws played with, as whenever I get her onto my back to carry her, she will ask me to rub the toes of her hind feet with my forepaws as best I can.  And at night we will sometimes play, but here is dangerous, and I don’t let Ellie get too excited.

     “She can now,” patch said, tickling the heel pad of Ellie’s right hind foot, the little cub squealing with laughter and wriggling madly, patch tickling the pads and toes of Ellie’s right and left hind feet in turn, making her squeal and kick madly.

      “No need for her to be silent now,” Patch said, as Ellie, laughing, drew her hind feet up and grabbed them in her forepaws.

      “I love playing with paws!”  Ellie laughed.  Patch kissed her nose and the gripping toes of her forepaws.

     “Who have you found here Patch?”  Kamchatka asked, padding into the clearing.  Seeing the massive mama grizzly, Ellie’s male friend threw himself on the floor and howled with fear.

       “Now I’m not gonna hurt you, and nor is my cub,” Kamchatka said softly.

      “I’m scared!”  The adult bear yelled.  Ellie, becoming fed up with her adult companion, snapped:

     “Get up Seth you fool!”  Seth, hearing his adopted cub snapping at him, leapt to his feet, tripped over his paws, and landed in an undignified heap.

       “Now you are silly Seth!”  Ellie laughed.  Seth got to his feet and faced mama Kamchatka, who’d now sat down and was sucking her right forepaw, a sight which made Ellie crawl over to her, curl up in her lap and grinning, put her own left forepaw in her mouth and close her eyes.  Patch, seeing this rather peaceful scene, padded away, leaving his mama to smooth things with the older bear named Seth.  Ellie, hearing her newfound friend leaving, scrambled after him.

      “Wait for me!”  She yelled, stumbling and scrambling after patch, “I don’t want to see these two fighting!  Let me come with you!”  Patch stopped, considering reasoning with Ellie, but thought better of it.  Lying down, he let her clamber on his back, and then trotted off towards the house.

      “Don’t hurt me!”  Seth wailed at Kamchatka, who removed her paw from her mouth and sighed deeply.

      “You see a mama bear sucking her paw and take it as meaning she’s gonna hurt you?”  She asked.  Seth, seeing his antics were unwarranted, and that his adopted cub had run off with the grizzly mama’s grown cub, decided to play along, if only to see Ellie again.

       “Is my cub safe?”  He asked.

    “She is,” Kamchatka grunted, “as safe as if she was with you that are.”  Seth stared at the mama grizzly.

       “Grizzly bears aren’t the most tolerant of other bears,” he mumbled.

      “Most aren’t,” Koda replied padding into the clearing, sitting down, kissing Kamchatka on her nose and taking her paw in his.

      “You need not worry about being with Kamchatka,” Koda replied softly, Seth staring at the black bear.

      “Where is my cub?”  He asked.  Koda smiled, his teeth showing white against the black fur of his face.

      “Your cub is in the paws of another mama bear if only you knew it,” Koda thought.

      “Ellie is safe,” Koda replied, “Patch, that’s the grey bear you met, is playing with her in the house, tickling her belly and paws, making her laugh and loving her with all he has.”  Seth wriggled uncomfortably where he sat:

     “Now where do we go?”  He whined.

      “To the house I think,” Kamchatka said firmly, getting to her paws and trying to guide Seth to the house.  Seth sat immobile on the forest floor, refusing to move.  So mama Kamchatka threw Seth over her shoulder and padded back to the house on three paws.  Reaching the house, Seth got back his strength and punched mama Kamchatka on her shoulder.

     “Let me go!”  He yelled.  Mama Kamchatka ignored him listening to the sound of laughter coming from her lie up.  Smiling, she carried Seth into her lie up, from where the sound of laughter was coming from.  It wasn’t until she got into the lie up, that she realised the laughter was coming from patch, for his hind feet were being mercilessly tickled by Ellie, both having a great time.

      “I’m getting Patch back for tickling my hind feet!”  Ellie laughed as she tickled her friend’s right hind foot.  Patch laughed and submitted happily to Ellie’s tickling.  He sighed deeply as her tickling turned to stroking of his right hind foot, Patch curling his toes slightly, his pads bunching a little.

       “It’s cute to see you two playing,” Kamchatka said.  Ellie turned to her and covered her face with her paws in mock horror.

     “We’ve been found playing with each other’s paws patch!”  She squealed.  Patch laughed merrily.

      “Mama would love to join us, and that’s the truth,” he replied.  Seth stared at the scene.

      “So Ellie’s been accepted totally by your grown cub?”  He asked Kamchatka, who grinned, sitting down to watch Patch and Ellie’s play.  Koda, following slowly behind, padded in and sat beside his mate.

      “So who are you two?”  Seth asked Kamchatka and Koda.

      “We’re the president and first lady, if you get our meaning,” Koda replied smiling.  Seth looked at Ellie, then at patch, who now sat quietly, cradling Ellie in his lap, her paw held in his, his eyes gazing into hers.

      “You love my cub then?”  Seth asked.  Patch looked at him:

      “I do,” he replied, “I love her very much.”  Seth smiled despite his misgivings.

      “Hi Kamchatka,” Amafu said, crawling into the lie up, Seth staring at her.

     “A white lion, a white lion!”  Seth yelled, prostrating himself in front of Amafu, who laughed merrily.

      “You silly,” she said, “I’m noone special.”  Seth gazed at the white lioness in oar.

      “You are the stuff of legions,” he said, “a white lion that came from the gods!”

       “My mama is Imvula, not a god, she’s a lioness.  Now please, let me pass, or will I have to scramble over you to reach Koda.  Seth lay unmoving, so Amafu scrambled over his body, crawling to Koda, who embraced her tenderly in his paws, the little lioness giggling and cuddling close.

        “I love you little one,” Koda said, “mama told me of your birth and of how Petra helped you into the world.”

      “mama’s told me of my birth story too Koda,”  Amafu said, “it was a traumatic one, with mama running from the safari park while in raging labour, as the story went.”  Koda kissed the top of Amafu’s head, the large cub giggling with pleasure.  Amafu pushed hard with her hind feet, pressing her body hard into Koda’s hug, the black bear laughing merrily.

     “Push with those hind feet Amafu, push!”  Koda encouraged, the large cub obliging him by pushing as hard as she could, Kamchatka seeing the muscles in her hind quarters bulging as she pressed hard into Koda’s hug, the Black bear hugging her hard.

      “Amafu’s digging in her claws to get extra purchase,” Ellie observed.  Amafu laughed as she relaxed, exhausted but happy.

      “Was I?”  She asked, “I’m sorry if I was.”  Koda kissed her nose, then flipped her onto her back and kissed her paw pads, Amafu mewing and laughing with pleasure.

      “You silly soppy bear!”  Amafu laughed, pawing at Koda’s nose, Koda laughing merrily at the little lioness’s antics.

                        What kind of place is this?  What happens when they have cubs? Who looks after the cubs?  Do male bears get involved with cubbing?”  Patch nodded:

     “Male bears do,” he said, I did when my mate had her two, and we adopted one cub also.  I’ve also seen pandas have their cubs, tigers and lions too.”

      “I could never watch a cubbing,” Seth groaned, “it’s messy and dreadful.”

       “No it’s not,” Pakshalika said padding in, “a bit of a squeeze maybe, but not dreadful.  Cubbing is great!”

     “You didn’t say that after Fleur’s birth,” Goldie reminded her.  Pakshalika grinned:

     “I know I said I’d never have another cub, and that’s still holding fast, but I never regret a minute of any of my cub’s births.”

      “I could never watch a bear, lion or tiger in labour,” Seth moaned.

      “I’ve seen Sarafina in labour,” Ellie said, having caught the end of the video as she and patch got in from the wood, “it was amazing.”

       “You only saw the very end of it,” Patch said, “Sarafina was feeding her cub.”

     “Even so, that was amazing,” Ellie said, “I’d like to see the rest.”  Patch rewound the video and played the whole thing, Seth covering his face with his paws and wailing as loudly in real life as Sarafina was on the video.

      “The cub’s fine and mama’s just in labour, normal natural pains brought on by the cub’s passage into the world,”  Patch said.  Seth crossed his hind legs, grabbed his right hind foot in his forepaws, squeezed it hard and, curling the toes of both hind feet as hard as he could, roared loudly, his eyes tightly shut.

       “I’ll take him out into the wood and calm him down,” Kamchatka said softly.  Seth, crying now, was led from the room.

      “Why did he grab his hind foot and roar like that?”  Ellie asked.  “Yes I wanted to curl my toes, that are natural when emotional, but I didn’t want to wail and roar like he did, and I can imagine having a cub.”

       “Seth is sensitive I think,” Patch said.  Meanwhile, Seth, anxious, sat in Ekaterina’s old lie up, squeezing his hind paws in turn with his forepaws, as well as digging the toes of his forepaws into the pads of his hind feet, rubbing the pads and playing with the toes of both his hind paws with intensity, his eyes closed and teeth clenched.

      “I don’t want to see a mama having her cub!”  He whimpered, “I don’t want to see it!  No, No, no!”  Mama Kamchatka smiled at Seth.

      “I used to re-enact cubbings,” she said, “its okay, it’s natural, and it’s lovely.”  Seth groaned and passed out.

     “Now what do we do?”  Koda asked, padding into the lie up.

      “Let’s get him to Ekaterina, she’ll fix him,” Kamchatka replied.  Seth, crying, was carried to Ekaterina, who got him a large cup of tea and sat him down for a gentle talking to.

      “What can’t you deal with about cubbing?”  Ekaterina asked.  Seth, sniffing, wiped his eyes with his paws and sniffed hard.

      “It’s all that pain, all that noise, all that wriggling and pawing, everything!”  He sniffed.

      “All that’s normal,” Ekaterina replied, “yes there are difficult cubbings, but the majority go well, very well.”

       “There are some that don’t though?”  He asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

      “Some, but then, then the mama gets help with coping with the death of her cub, or with its disability, well here she does.”

      “I’m glad mama and cub get help,” Seth replied.

      “Have you ever felt a mama’s paw while she’s pushing against her cub?”  Ekaterina asked.  Seth shook his head.

     “No,” he replied, “you’re gonna make me aren’t you.”  Ekaterina smiled and took his paw.

      “I can re-enact a cubbing, if you’d like me to.”  Seth thought for a minute.

      “I can’t really say no, as long as you promise to stop your acting if things get too intense.”  Ekaterina nodded and gave him her right hind foot, curling her toes as he explored her hind foot with his forepaws.  Ekaterina curled her toes slightly, groaning deeply, and then panting hard.

      aouwhwhwhwhwwhah!” she groaned.  Seth felt Ekaterina’s toes curling and pads bunching, hearing her panting and gasping.

      “Do you want to grab your hind feet with your forepaws?”  Seth asked his eyes terrified.

     “Auwhwhwhwwhwhwh, aouchouwhwhwhwhwhwhwwh! No, no, NO!  Not yet, Not, not yet, E’e’e’e aouwhwhwhwhwwhah!”  Ekaterina replied, wriggling and panting.

      “This isn’t real,” Seth replied, “I know you’re not having a cub, you are doing well at acting, but that’s all it is.  That lioness, she wasn’t acting, I could see it, all the sweat, all the pain, everything!  It’s all on show here; you don’t seem to mind the sight and sound, and stress of a mama giving birth.”

      “It’s natural Seth,” Ekaterina said, dropping her act, “why should labour and birth be hidden?  It’s the start of a life, the final struggle for mama and cub before both are reunited outside the mama’s body.”

 

Meanwhile, Zane and Matoskah were disturbed by the sound of scampering paws, and then a huge bear lumbered into the room, saw Zane, ran to him and threw his paws around him.

      “Zane!”  The huge bear yelled, hugging the brown bear close.

      “Hello Jasper,” Zane said laughing, embracing the newcomer.

      “Matoskah, please, meet Jasper, an old friend from way back.”  Matoskah shook Jasper’s paw, then, on an impulse, hugged him tightly, the huge bear smiling and returning the polar bear’s hug.

      “You’re big and soft!”  Matoskah blurted, jasper laughing uproariously at Matoskah’s comment.

       “I have a lot of fur yes,” he said, “and you are not the first to comment.”

     “Why did you run in here?”  Zane asked.  Jasper looked sheepish.

      “I was chased by a male grizzly; he wanted to talk to me, but not me him.  I was in the wood, and he approached me, and I ran.  He’s quick!  I think I’ve lost him now though.

      “You think so do you?”  Kuruk asked, emerging from behind a curtain.  Jasper looked terrified!

      “Oh no!”  He wailed.  Matoskah laughed:

      “Kuruk’s only doing his job, protecting the community,” he said, “you should have stopped to answer his questions.”  Jasper looked the huge grizzly up and down, and then sat down heavily.

      “I’m at your mercy!”  He whimpered.  Kuruk plonked his considerable bulk down beside Jasper and took his paw.

      “Kuruk don’t want upset you, or hurt you,” the huge bear said.  Jasper looked into Kuruk’s eyes.

      “I’m safe?”  He asked.  Kuruk smiled and kissed his nose:

       “You are safe,” he replied, “and Kuruk know you look like sheep when you tell Matoskah you run off from me like scolded rabbit.”

      “It’s a scolded cat Kuruk,” Matoskah corrected him:

       “Rabbit, cat, both same, both run squealing when in hot place,”  Kuruk replied, “Kuruk see Rabbit jump on fire, and he sound like cat when burnt.  Kuruk chasing rabbit for eat him, and rabbit leap onto human’s fire and scream like mad.  Kuruk rescue burning rabbit and put him in water to cool down, but he already dead before Kuruk save him.”

      “But you wanted to eat the rabbit that was why he was running from you, so why save him?”  Jasper asked.  Kuruk looked troubled.

      “That fire make contest unfair, so Kuruk try save rabbit, but when rabbit die, Kuruk feel he not won contest, rabbit have no chance, so Kuruk bury rabbit out of respect for him as fellow creature of nature.  Now if Rabbit run as fast as nature make him to run, and Kuruk catch him fair and round, then Kuruk have right to eat him.”

       “Fair and square I think you mean.”  Matoskah said, trying not to laugh.

      “Kuruk know what he means,” Kuruk grunted.

     “So you showed the rabbit respect by burying his dead body,” Matoskah said.

      “Kuruk bury rabbit with respect yes,” Kuruk replied.

       “You have very strange customs Kuruk,” jasper said, “I’d have eaten the rabbit regardless.”

      “Kuruk not like that,” Kuruk said, throwing his paws in the air in horror.  Jasper stared at him:

       “So if it’s not a fair fight, or you feel the killing is unjust, you won’t kill anything?”  Jasper asked.

     “No,” Kuruk replied.

 

Ekaterina and Seth padded out into the woods.  Ekaterina, now determined to shake Seth’s fear of birth, decided to tell him of her own birth experiences.  Seth was visibly upset by her tale of giving birth to little Patch, and finding him seemingly dead.  He could hardly believe his ears when he heard how Furcone, having lost her own cubs, was burying their bodies, only to find Ekaterina’s cub in the earth, realising he was not dead and nurturing him underground.

     “He appeared in our lives a year later,” Ekaterina said, “I’d been mauling his death for all that time.”  Seth tried not to cry as Ekaterina recounted her tailed.

     “But now your cub’s okay?”  Seth asked.  Ekaterina smiled and nodded.

      “It’s okay now,”  Ekaterina said.

      “are there any other strange tales?”  Seth asked.  Kamchatka padded up behind him, resting her paw on his shoulder, ?Seth eye to eye with the huge mama grizzly.

       “I could tell you a tale,”  she said, “a tale of a mama bear who was killed by her partner in error, and of how I gave birth to her unborn cub.”  Seth stared at her:

      “That’s impossible!”  he replied.

      “It happened,”  Koda said, “I was there, “I was with Kamchatka throughout her labour.”   Seth stared at him:

      “I’ve made a lot of noise during a bad stomach ache,”  how did you know she was in labour?”

       “how do you tell if a mama is in labour?”  Koda asked.  Seth grunted:

      “I see her straining and hear her panting and yelling.

       “Same here, apart from seeing her straining though, I get paws on and can feel that,”  Koda replied.

       “What if mama doesn’t want you touching her,”  Seth asked.  Koda smiled:

      “I have never come across a mama who didn’t want a reassuring touch during labour,”  Koda replied.

      “Oh, oh, what is that!”  Seth roared, staring at something which had walked out of the house.  Koda’s nose told him who was approaching, and he smiled broadly.

      “Hello Sita,” he said, Sita padding up, touching his paw and nuzzling his ear.

       “Hello Koda,”  she said with genuine affection.

      “What on earth is that thing Kamchatka?”  Seth roared, waving his paw at Sita.

     “That thing has a name.  Her name’s Sita.  She’s um, how would you describe her Koda?”

      “Just as Sita,” he replied.  Sita rolled onto her back and waved her paws in the air, Koda tickling her belly and grabbing her right hind foot and tickling that also.

      “How’s little Toby?”  Koda asked.  Sita, recovering from Koda tickling her paws, smiled at the sound of her cub’s name.

      “He’s fine, he’s with jet at the moment,” she replied.

      “How can anything like that have a cub?”  Seth asked.  Sita strode up to Seth and swung at him, knocking him to the floor.

      “How can anything like that make comments?”  She asked, stepping over Seth and walking back to the house.

      “I’m glad you hit him,” Ellie said to Sita, “Seth needs to learn about this place, I’m learning, I’ve met your cub, he’s sweet!”  Sita laughed:

      “You met Toby?”  She asked.  Ellie smiled:

      “I did, I did!”  She replied, “He has the most gorgeous paws!”  Sita kissed Ellie’s nose, the bear cub scrambling onto Sita’s back and riding home on her.

 

Seth bristled with anger, picking himself up off the ground.

      “That creature will die!”  He yelled.

      “Is that so,” someone said.  Seth looked round, and screamed!

       Oooh no!”  He wailed turning and bolting.

       “Dear mama,” Kamchatka said, turning her head to face the spirit of her mama, who’d put the wind up Seth.

      “So he can see spirits too?”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka replied that this seemed to be the case.  Seth, terrified beyond anything he’d ever felt in his life, ran through the house, tripping over a loose rug and collapsing in a heap on the floor in Nuru’s lie up.  The lion, watching over Tigress Tess, who was very pregnant with his cubs, looked round as the bear crashed in on their domestic peace.

        “You seem in a hurry,” Nuru said calmly, glancing anxiously at tigress Tess, who was trying to relax and keep as calm as possible as her due date neared.

       “I saw, saw a spirit bear!”  Seth screamed.

       “Tornassuk is a striking bear, this is true,” Nuru replied.

      “No, no, not him, it can’t be him, though I’ve never met him, for this spirit was female, and Kamchatka, she called her mama!  So Kamchatka’s dead mama appeared to us!”

      “Now why would a spirit have appeared to anyone?”  Tigress Tess asked, “They don’t appear at random.  You must have done something to attract their attention, something awful probably.”

      “What makes you think I did anything awful?”  Seth challenged.

       “I saw Sita and little Ellie passing here a few minutes back, and they were discussing how dreadful someone named Seth had been to Sita.  He’d made comments about her ability to have cubs, and how dreadful she looked, and by extension, how awful her cub would look also.  Sita knocked this Seth to the floor, and then walked away.”

      “You are that Seth,” Nuru said.  Seth couldn’t deny it.

      “Yes, I made comments,” he whimpered, “but Sita is horrible, she is a misfit!”

       “Her heart is pure,” Nuru said, “that is all we ask of anyone here.  Keep a good heart, a gentle paw, or you don’t survive long here.”

        “She must be bitter about her parentage! About her blindness!”  Seth yelled, “You’ve got trouble on your paws there, Sita’s unclean, twisted, a wretched soul!”

       “How would you know this?”  Tornassuk asked, padding into the lie up.

        “She must crave the lighted world, the freedom of sight,” Seth roared.

      “It is not for her to crave the lighted world, but for us to understand her world of darkness,” Tornassuk replied, “for we create light here using resources which are finite, and soon we might have to sacrifice lights to save electricity.”

       “You mean pad about in the dark?”  Seth yelled.

       “Yes,” Tornassuk replied, “for darkness can be peaceful, a comforting place really.”

        “No it’s not!”  Seth yelled, “It’s awful, and dreadful, and scary, and nasty, and spooky, and makes me want to shit myself with fright!”

       “Most eloquent,” Androcles said, padding into his family lie up, “the darkness you fear Seth my friend is not the outer darkness that your eyes perceive, but the inner darkness of your own soul.  Think on this a while.”

       “But I took on Ellie!”  Seth yelled, “That was a companionate thing to do wasn’t it?”

      “Why did you take her in?”  Nuru asked, “Was it because you were lonely, or because she needed help and you could provide this help without thought of what that provision of help would do for your own situation?”  Seth hadn’t thought of things this way, and this was clear to all.

       “I was lonely,” he replied, “Ellie was wandering up and down the roadway, distraught and fearful, so I picked her up and took her from that place partly for her sake, but mostly for mine.”

       “So your provision of help was not entirely selfless,” Nuru concluded.

       “Ellie will in time have repaid your help, if you’d given it out of genuine kindness,” Tornassuk replied, “now though, she might not.”  Seth, unable to deal with this thought process, turned and fled!

       “Do you think he’s frightened of the darkness of his own soul Androcles?”  Tess asked.  Androcles smiled:

      “I don’t know,” he replied, “but it made him think about something other than Sita’s disability didn’t it.”  Androcles looked down at his paws, big paws they were, big spreading paws with large toes and fat pads, almost cubbish paws.

       “Admiring your paws again Androcles?”  Sarafina asked.  Androcles, smiling, nodded and smiled at Sarafina, liking the look of her.

      “Now you’ve just had a cub haven’t you?”  Androcles asked.  Sarafina nodded:

       “Is it that obvious?”  She asked.  Androcles grinned:

       “I saw your cub’s birth video,” he said, “it was sweet.”  Sarafina grinned:

       “I know I wailed and roared a deal,” she said, “but it hurt, you know?”  Androcles kissed Sarafina’s nose:

       “I believe giving birth to a cub hurts a great heal,” he said, “and I don’t blame you for curling your toes, screaming and roaring.”

      “Thanks,” Sarafina said with genuine feeling.

      “I want to play with his paws!”  Sarafina thought wildly, her paw covering Androcles.

       “Paw play has always pleasured me,” Androcles said softly, Sarafina giggling conspiratorially.

       “I like the look of those big fat paws,” she mewed.

      “Would you like to get better acquainted with my big fat paws?”  Androcles asked.  Sarafina smiled and kissed his nose.

      “Yes, please Androcles,” she whispered.  Androcles padded with Sarafina back to her lie up, where they found Nicolai playing with Kosey, the cub turning his head to his mama as she padded in.

       “Hi mama,” he said, “Nicolai and I have been playing together, he’s a playful lion bear.”

      “What’s a lion bear?”  Androcles asked.  Sarafina laughed:

      “That’s Kosey’s name for Nicolai, he knows Nuclei’s a bear, but also considers him a lion, as he’s always playing with him.”

       “So is this huge lion you’ve brought home going to look after us like Nicolai does?”  Kosey asked.

      “Yes,” Sarafina replied.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Seth seethed with anger about Sita.

      “I hate Sita so much!”  He roared at Ellie, who looked sadly back at him.

      “You hate her because you don’t understand her world, you fear her world, as you’re rapidly entering something like it yourself, and you don’t understand her world at all, though her world is not the world you’ll enter into Seth.  Sita’s world is filled with physical darkness, but is alive with spiritual light.  She’s a happy soul, you are not happy, so you hate her for being happy.”  Seth ran screaming from the house, pounding into the wood.

 

Meanwhile, Kuruk, padding through the wood, heard a whimpering sound coming from beneath a bush.  Halting in his progress, he listened to the tiny sound.  Kuruk crawled towards the bush, taking a brief look beneath the bush.  What he saw made him snort with surprise.  A half grown grizzly bear cub cowered beneath the bush, squealing as he saw Kuruk’s face.

       “Kuruk no hurt you little one,” Kuruk said, gently pulling the terrified cub from his refuge and looking down at him lying pathetically on the track.

      “Don’t, please, don’t, don’t hurt me!”  The grizzly cub begged.  Kuruk looked down as the cub drew his hind legs up to protect his belly and covered his eyes with his forepaws.  Kuruk watched as the cub’s toes curled as his spas med in a sudden a rush of fear, wriggling with the intensity of his terror.

        “Kuruk no hurt you little one,” Kuruk said softly, lying down on the track to get eye to eye with the cub, “so what be your name little bear?”  Kuruk asked.

        “Rocky,” the cub whimpered, trying not to cry, trying not to show his mounting terror.

       “Well come dear Rocky, Kuruk help you by taking you to warm place which you find safe and warm.”  Rocky wailed with fear as Kuruk picked him up in his paws and, getting to his hind feet, carried him back to the house.  Rocky, finally deciding in desperation he would do better to act like a helpless cub, turned his face to Kuruk, trying to beg for what little compassion the adult male grizzly might still hold for cubs.

       “I beg you not to harm me!”  Rocky choked.  Kuruk bent his head to Rocky and kissed his nose and the furry tops of his forepaws.

       “Kuruk no hurt you rocky cub,” Kuruk said softly, “you think Kuruk some big dangerous male bear, but he not.  You want know something little one?”  Rocky looked into Kuruk’s face.

       “Do I see gentility in his eyes?”  |He asked himself.

       “Tell me,” Rocky said softly.  Kuruk smiled and told Rocky how he, Kuruk liked to lie on his back with a bottle of milk in his paws and drink like a cub.  Rocky closed his eyes and imagined this huge grizzly rolling onto his back and clasping a bottle in his paws, drinking busily.

       “My hind feet would pedal the air if I did that,” Rocky thought, “would Kuruk’s?”  Rocky opened his eyes and looked at Kuruk, screwing himself up to ask the question.

       “Kuruk,” he said, “do you pedal the air with your hind feet while drinking your milk?”  Kuruk smiled:

        “How you think if Kuruk do thing?”  He asked.  Rocky smiled, feeling a weight lifting off his shoulders.

      “Rocky like if Kuruk do thing, show him how he pedal air with hind feet too,” he replied smiling.  Kuruk grinned:

        “Kuruk make deal with rocky cub,” Kuruk said, “if Kuruk show him how his pedal air with hind feet, Rocky shows Kuruk how he, rocky cub, does same?”  Rocky smiled broadly:

       “I will,” he said, “now, put me down on the floor so I can show you.”  Kuruk knelt, placing Rocky gently on the floor.  Suddenly the cub turned on Kuruk and threw his paws around his neck.  Kuruk found the cub’s little face buried in his shoulder, Rocky’s tiny forepaws clinging to his coat, his hind feet pushing hard, pressing his body  into Kuruk’s.  Kuruk embraced Rocky in his paws, feeling the cub’s efforts to push himself deeper into his hug.  Kuruk saw Rocky’s powerful hind leg muscles bunching as rocky pushed as hard as he could with his hind feet.  Kuruk felt tears welling in his eyes, and he knew, he’d fallen in love with rocky.

       “Take me home,” Rocky begged softly.  Kuruk’s paws embracing him tightly.

        “Tighter, hold me tighter!”  Rocky begged, Kuruk sitting down and lifting rocky off his hind feet, the cub pedalling the air with his hind feet as Kuruk pulled him onto his lap.

      “Kuruk hold you tight little Rocky,” Kuruk said.  Rocky, now sitting on Kuruk’s lap, pushed with the heels of both his hind feet to push his back into Kuruk’s belly, feeling the male bear’s huge forepaws embracing him from behind.

       “Please, groom me Kuruk,” Rocky begged.  Rocky looked up into Kuruk’s face, to find the huge bear smiling down at him.

       “Kuruk want groom you rocky,” Kuruk said.  Rocky lay down on his back in Kuruk’s lap, kicking the air with his hind feet and pawing at it with his forepaws.  Kuruk let rocky press his hind feet against his left foreleg, the little cub’s pads warm and soft.  Rocky, feeling resistance, curled his toes, closed his eyes and pushed hard with his hind feet.

       “Push hard little Rocky!”  Kuruk encouraged, Rocky closing his eyes, clenching his forepaws and pushing with his hind.

      “I am pushing hard!”  Rocky gasped, wriggling with effort.  After five minutes of effort, rocky relaxed, exhausted.

      “That was fun!”  Rocky said opening his eyes and smiling up at Kuruk.  Kuruk led Rocky back to the house, the cub walking quietly beside the massive grizzly bear.  Kamchatka met Kuruk and Rocky as they padded back to the house, the mama grizzly smiling broadly as she saw the half grown cub.

      “Where did you find him?”  She asked.  Rocky looked at Kamchatka, the mama grizzly reminding him of his own mama, for he stopped, his eyes troubled.

     “What is it little one?”  Kamchatka asked.  Rocky gulped, trying to be brave.

      “My mama was killed on the road,” he choked, “she was mown down by a big thing on wheels, a huge thing it was!”

 

Meanwhile, Koda was getting reports of a construction lorry which had hit a sow grizzly bear on the road.  The police had arrested the driver, breathalysed him and found him drunk.  Hearing Kamchatka had found Kuruk with a lost cub; Koda put two and two together, made six, and was ready to receive the cub.  Koda heard Rocky enter his lie up, turned and Kamchatka guided the cub to Koda’s side, Koda feeling the cub’s small paw in his.

       “I understand you are the leader of this place,” Rocky said, “Kuruk told me you need to approve my living here.”  Koda squatted on his haunches, getting nose to nose with Rocky, the grizzly bear cub nervously shifting his paws.

       “You’re okay with me,” Koda said.  Rocky felt Koda’s paw holding his, and smiled nervously.

       “Thank you,” he said.  The sound of scuffling paws made rocky turn his head, his eyes widening as He saw a young bear cub crawling towards him.  Rocky sat down suddenly, as the cub headed for him, then clambered into his lap, Rocky gasping with surprise as Toby’s paws embraced him.

      “Who is this?”  Rocky asked, as Toby nuzzled his ear.

      “My name’s Toby,” the cub replied, “my mama said I should explore for myself, so I’m doing what she says, so I came in here and you were here, so I thought I’d say hello.”  Rocky hesitated:

      “But saying hello isn’t clambering into a stranger’s lap and hugging them is it?”  Rocky asked.

      “Why can’t it be?”  Toby asked, “You sat down when you saw me, so I thought you’d want a hug, so here I am.”

      “I sat down with surprise, but, but, um, yeah, a hug is good too,” Rocky replied.  Toby rolled onto his back and waved all four of his tiny paws in the air, Rocky looking down at the cub’s pedalling paws, shining eyes and slightly open mouth.

      “You look playful little Toby,” Rocky said.  Toby pushed gently against the pads of Rocky’s right forepaw, Rocky smiling broadly.

      “Your pads are warm and paws playful,” Rocky said.  Toby laughed merrily:

       “I love playing with paws,” he said, “my mama taught me how to play with my paws and with hers also.  Mama Sita’s eyes don’t work well, so she plays by touch, the trapped paw game, chasing paws, rough and tumble games, that kind of play.”  Rocky smiled:

       “I like those games,” he said.  Rocky mischievously tickled Toby’s right hind foot, the little cub laughing and curling his toes with pleasure.  Georgia crawled into the lie up, Koda embracing her tightly and kissing her nose and paws.

      “Hi Georgia dear,” he said, Rocky staring at him and the shaggy large cub.

     “She’s amazing!”  Rocky thought as Georgia returned Koda’s kiss to the black bear’s nose and paws.

      “Is it right to kiss the nose and paws of the leader of your community?”  Rocky asked.

      “What do you think?”  Georgia asked grinning broadly.  Rocky looked into her face, loving the expression in her eyes.

      “You’re a cub who could kiss the nose of Eohippus without permission or retribution,” rocky said gently.  Georgia stretched out on the rug, flexing her paws and yawning expansively.  Then she reared up on her hind feet, pawing at Koda’s face with her paws, Koda and she wrestling together, Koda flipping Georgia onto her back with all four of her feet in the air.  Koda, his opponent vanquished, stood over Georgia, leaning down to kiss her nose.

       “So you play fight too?”  Rocky asked, staring at Koda as if he’d seen a vision of utopia.

      “Georgia was playing,” Koda replied, “and so was I.”  Georgia laughed merrily and hugged Koda tenderly.  She then pulled Koda down onto the rugs, arranging his forepaws and hind as if he were hers to do with what she wished, with Rocky staring at her in admiration.

       “How can you be so brave as to handle a big black bear?”  Rocky asked.  Georgia laughed:

      “I can make a mama grizzly roll onto her back and give me all four of her paws too,” she said, “or do the same for a male polar bear.  I’ll show you soon.”  Rocky stared in astonishment.

      “You can’t, you’re a cub!”  He replied.  Georgia giggled:

      “I can,” she replied.  Toby, catching on, looked at Rocky with a serious expression.

       “We all can do this,” he said, “we all can make polar bears and grizzly bears roll onto their backs and present us with all four of their massive paws.  We cubs can do that.  It’s magical you know.”  Rocky’s eyes looked dreamy.

        “They must be amazing cubs here,” he thought.

       “I can’t believe you allow drinking of alcohol here Koda!”  Seth screamed, charging into the lie up, waving a bottle in his paw.

      “Drinking of Alcohol?”  Koda asked.  Seth flung the bottle at Koda’s feet.

     “What the hells this!”  He yelled, “If it is not alcohol, then what is it?”  Koda picked up the bottle in his paws and explored it with care.

     “Where did you get this?”  Koda asked.  The answer came when Colar ran in, furious and upset.

      “That bloody bears”  He yelled, “Seth stole my cola!  Koda beat him now for his offence!”

     “Keep your fur on Colar dear,” Kamchatka said softly, “haven’t you got more drink?”  Colar fumed silently, Koda unscrewing the cap to the bottle and sniffing at the contents.

      “I wish you’d drink diet coke,” he said, “This is disgusting stuff Colar.”  Colar padded forward and took the bottle from Koda.

      “Paws off my drink Seth!”  He yelled, cuffing Seth across the head with his free paw before padding from the room in a dreadful mood.

       “That was a soft drink Seth,” Koda said, “now get out of here!”  Seth whimpered pathetically, padding from the room in a sulky frame of mind.

       “He infuriates me,” Sita said, padding into Koda’s lie up.

      “Seth’s a pain that’s for sure.”  Kamchatka said.

 

Meanwhile, in Tigress Tess’s lie up, Tess moaned and growled in labour, Ellie watching her wriggle and paw at the air.

      “ow’owowowow!”  Tess roared as her pains increased.  Closing her eyes, she clenched her teeth and curled her toes tightly, arching her back as she was forced to push hard for the first time.  Ellie heard Tess’s drawn out groan as the tigress was forced to strain hard for the first time.  Panting, Tess relaxed, Ellie having seen everything from the tigress’s closed eyes, to her clenched teeth, bunched pads, curled toes and straining tail.

     “Oooah, ow, ow, ow!”  Tess yowled as she wriggled and laboured, rolling onto her back and kicking the air with all four paws, labouring harder all the time.  Tess then did something which Ellie thought a cat could never do.  Arching her back, Tess grabbed her right hind foot in her forepaws and squeezed it hard, her tail arching towards her head, Tess grabbing the end of her tail in her mouth and biting down hard.

      “Oaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Tess screamed.  Then Tess relaxed suddenly, gasping and rolling onto her side, before starting to push hard against her cubs once more.

     “Urhrhrhumph, urhrhrhrhrhrumph! Urhrhrhrhrhrhrhrurhrhrhrumph!  Tess moaned as she pushed down into her tail, pawing the air with all four of her massive paws.  Ellie watched Tess labouring, knowing that things were okay, despite the tigress’s moaning and roaring.  Nuru, watching a little further off, was curling and relaxing his toes in unison with his labouring mate, Androcles watching Nuru closing his eyes and curling his toes when Tess did, and relaxing when she did also.  Tess suddenly got to her feet, growling and snarling.  Then she pushed down hard into her tail, squatting on her haunches.  Ellie watched Tess’s tail, feeling that to urge her to push and pant would be unnecessary and counter productive, for Tess knew more about labour than Ellie herself.  Tess strained hard twice, and then lay down, panting and pawing at the air, groaning as her first cub emerged.  Ellie saw the cub’s forepaws first, Tess groaning as the cub’s head jammed, then Tess wailed as the cub was forced further into the world, stretching her to allow the passage of its head.

     “oaocho’w’w’w’w!”  Tess screamed as her cub forced its way out, Tess trying not to push.  Tess managed not to push until the cub’s body was half way into the world, and then she caught her breath sharply and, yelling loudly, strained hard once.  The cub shot out, and Tess wriggled convulsively as the pressure released.

      “That’s it, done it!”  She panted after two hours in labour, “I hope there are no more cubs in there.”  Ellie watched as Tess cleaned up her cub.

      “That was amazing,” Ellie said.  Tess smiled broadly, shaking herself; her sweat soaked fur dark and scent strong in the lie up.  Ellie took tigress Tess’s paw, feeling her pads hot and damp.

      “You did well mama,” Ellie said.  Tess looked down at her newborn female cub.

      “I think I’ll call her little Ellie,” she said.  Big Ellie covered her face with her paws.

       “I don’t know what to say,” She said, “I did nothing to help.”  Tess kissed her nose:

       “You stayed beside me, and you didn’t have to,” she said, “and that’s all I wished for.  Now let’s see what sire Nuru’s doing shall we?  Nuru had collapsed after Tess’s cub’s emergence, and now lay whimpering on the floor.

       “I was never very good around birth,” he moaned.  Ellie padded over to Nuru and squeezed his paw.

      “You were almost labouring with Mama Tess,” she said.  Nuru winced at Ellie’s small paw’s tiny pressure on his large one.

      “My paws hurt!”  He said surprised, “my jaw does too, I’m exhausted Ellie!”  Ellie kissed Nuru’s nose and forepaws.

       “You laboured with your mate,” she said, “that was well done.”

      “I was a wimp, keeping out of her way,” Nuru replied.

       “I knew you were all there, that’s the thing that I will keep with me always,” Tess said.  The sound of a bear vomiting copiously made Androcles look out of the lie up into the passage.  Seth was kneeling on the tiles being violently sick.

      “What did you eat?”  Androcles asked.  Seth looked unwell:

      “I saw that tigress giving birth!”  He moaned, “I was looking for my charge, Ellie, and I saw the striped cat straining and expelling fluid and horrible stuff, and it was awful and disgusting!”

      “It’s natural,” Androcles said, “now get up, and clean this mess up!”  Seth got to his feet and looked at Androcles.

     “How do I clean this up?”  He asked.  Androcles showed him where a bucket and mop could be found with water and disinfectant.  He then showed Seth how to use it.  Seth washed the tiles, and then took a swift peak in at Tess and her cub.

      ”The cub is beautiful,” he whispered, “pity the process that gives birth to such a beautiful thing is so dreadful.”

       “A mama bear in labour is a great thing too,” Lunar said, “I had two cubs near me while I gave strenuous berth to Astra.”

       “You let cubs touch you while in labour?”  Seth asked.  Lunar smiled and nodded:

      “I would have had it no other way,” she replied, “Cubs need to know how they came into the world as much as adults need to know.”

      “You are so open about births,” Seth said, “I was never told how I came into the world.”

     “And now you’re suffering for it,” Kamchatka said.  Seth glanced at her:

        “You don’t know how awful it is for me to see a mama in labour,” he said, “It makes me extremely upset, enough to make me soil myself.”

     “I’ll introduce you to a tigress that enjoys having cubs,” Kamchatka said, “and also I will tell you how I like having cubs too.  I’ve not had cubs for years, but I might soon.”

      “You mean with Koda?”  Seth asked.  Kamchatka looked affronted:

       “Who else?”  She asked, “we’re not like wild bears you know, we are monogamous.”  Seth looked down at his paws.

       “I have a lot to learn about this place,” he replied, “nothing is off limits here it seems.”

       “it’s called freedom of choice,”  Koda said, “and there are a lot of off limits things, harming cubs is one, endangering the community another, and treating others like shit when you have no reason to a third Seth.  Seth looked at Koda.

      “But I haven’t,” he wined.

      “Sita?”  Koda asked.  Seth tried to storm past Koda, but the black bear threw him over his shoulder, Seth ending up in a screaming heap on the floor.

       “You will not get away that easily,” Koda said, “what you said to Sita was dreadful, and she was right to knock you down as she did.  Seth, you brought Ellie here, but you will leave alone if you do not start treating others with the respect they deserve.”  Seth got to his feet, his fur matted with sweat and stinking of vomit.  Koda waved his paw in front of his face and snapped at Seth:

     “Go wash, you stink!”  Seth was guided to the shower by Kamchatka and told how to use it, Kamchatka slamming the door to the bathroom telling Seth not to come out until he’d washed himself from nose to tail and cleaned his teeth.  Seth emerged after half an hour, and Kamchatka wasn’t impressed.

      “Here, I’ll wash you,” she said, shoving Seth back into the shower and getting the soap.  Seth then endured half an hour of Kamchatka’s washing methods.  Once she’d finished, Seth tingled from nose to paws.

     “That hurt!”  He yelled, having complained throughout.

       “If you act like a cub, I’ll treat you like a cub,” Kamchatka replied.  Seth swore at her, Kamchatka backhanding him across his face with her paw.

       “You dare swear at me!”  She yelled.  Seth covered his mouth with his paw and spat blood.

      “You hit me!”  He wailed.

      “Hmm, though you deserved it,” Kamchatka replied.  Kamchatka cleaned Seth up, and then led him to the drying room where they stood together as the warm air switched on and air dried their fur and paws.  Kamchatka led Seth from the room, Koda meeting them in the passage.

       “You don’t deserve to stay here Seth,” Koda said firmly, “First you insult Sita, and then do not ask Colar what he’s drinking before snatching his bottle of cola and making mischief by reporting him for drinking alcohol.  You are a pain in the tail Seth!”  Seth slunk from the house, unable to cope with the community.  Finding his way into the wood, he sat down in the clearing, burying his face in his paws.

       “I can’t cope!”  He sobbed, “This community are so permissive it’s dreadful!”  Seth’s attention was grabbed by the arrival of another creature, a large sow brown bear padding through the wood.  Seth stared at the sow bear, his mouth open in astonishment.

       “She’s beautiful,” he whispered.  The bear turned her head towards him, though she couldn’t have heard his voice.

      “You have seen me before,” the bear said, “but then you were too frightened of me to realise this.”

     “Who are you?”  Seth asked.

     “I’m Kamchatka’s mama,” the sow bear said, “I am walking through the wood to guide another spirit, Ellie’s mama’s spirit, to the bridge and over it to the other side.”  Seth looked at the mama bear:

      “Can you tell me how to cope with this strange community?” Seth asked.  Kamchatka’s mama sat down and considered the question.

       “I cannot tell you that,” the bear replied, “You’ll have to work that out for yourself.”

       “I can’t!”  Seth wailed.

      “If you can’t, then why not leave?”  The sow bear asked.

      “I can’t leave Ellie,” Seth said.

      “Ellie?”  The sow bear asked.

      “Yes, Ellie, my cub.”  Seth replied.

      “Ellie’s as much your cub as she is mine,” the bear replied, “Ellie’s safe, it’s down to you to decide whether you can cope with this community, or whether you want to leave this place and make your way into the world outside.”  Seth got to his feet and padded from the clearing, finding his way to the grave of lioness Rowena, tripping over the mound marking the lionesses grave.  Sprawling, Seth landed in a heap on the floor. 

       “You keep putting your paws in the wrong places it seems,” a voice said.  Seth looked up into the face of a furious white lioness.

       “I’m sorry, what have I done now?”  He asked.  Rowena’s spirit looked at her destroyed mound.

       “You tripped over my resting place it seems,” the lioness replied.

       “Who are you?”  Seth asked.  Rowena sat down and told him her tale.  Seth, moved by her story, found himself feeling genuinely sorry for the lioness.

       “I’m sorry for you,” Seth said.  Rowena looked at Seth, and Seth realised he really meant what he’d said, he felt genuinely sorry for the lioness, his stomach tightening as he felt her pain.

      “Now go back to the house and hear others stories,” Rowena said, “for my story on this earth is over, but you witnessed the beginning of a life I think.”  Seth nodded, getting to his feet.

      “You mean you want me to meet little Ellie?”  Seth asked.  Rowena smiled, shaking her head:

       “I’m not going to tell you that,” the lioness replied, “all I say is go back to the house and find out about the lives of others.”  Seth padded back to the house, thinking hard about the encounter he’d had with the lioness.  Entering the house, Seth met Sita, and instead of fearing her, he let her come up to him.

        “You seem thoughtful,” Sita said.  Seth looked at her:

       “Sita,” he said, “I’m sorry for what I said to you.  I am deeply sorry.”  Sita touched Seth’s paw, her touch warm and soft.

      “I am sorry for what I said about you and your cub.”  Sita’s toes curled round Seth’s, holding his paw.

      “I believe you,” she said softly, “you had an experience in the wood I think.”  Seth looked into Sita’s face:

       “You know about my talk with Rowena?”  Sita nodded gravely:

      “I do,” she replied, “I sat in the wood with you while you spoke to lioness Rowena, I heard you weep as she told her tale.  Your outlook changed, and now I approach you in that spirit.  You learnt much about the community here.”

      “What made you Sita?”  Seth asked suddenly, “what act of nature made you what you are?”

       “a mama tigress near death while in labour, and a bear who asked the most difficult question a male bear can ask, and survived the answer,”  Sita replied, “I am the product of a bear’s spirit and a tigress’s body.”  Seth looked at Sita, taking her in from nose to tail.

       “Want to look at the soles of my paws too?”  Sita asked.  Seth smiled and leant down to kiss the top of Sita’s paw which still covered his.

      “Which bear asked that question?”  He asked.  Sita smiled:

       “Sire Patch,”  she said, “he asked that question, and knows what it is to be in labour and to strain and push to deliver a cub, to curl his toes and scream and roll about to allow the passage of the cub.”

       “So rolling about is not a sign of pain?”  Seth asked.  Sita smiled:

      “I know how it is to have a cub,” she replied, “and my rolling about was partly in pain, but also to help the cub along.  The urge to wriggle and kick is strong, but it is to aid the cub’s passage.  Also, roaring, whimpering and growling is natural too.  Ask sire Patch what it was like to give birth to me, and he will tell you.”

      “Did you enjoy giving birth to Toby?”  Seth asked.  Sita smiled and nodded:

       “I did,” she replied, “and I’ve re-enacted his birth for him too, he was enthralled and asked me to pedal the air with my paws and curl my toes some more after the recreation of the birthing process.  Sita laughed suddenly:

      “Toby even imitated my kicking and rolling about,” she added, “it was cute.”  Seth smiled broadly.

      “So cubs copy their mamas in labour?”  He asked.

     “Cubs need to do that,” Sita replied, “it helps them to understand what they’ve been through.  It’s playtime for them really, and I encourage Toby’s playing.”

      “Toby’s paws are rather cute yes,” Seth replied, “from what I’ve seen of them they are anyway, and he’s cute too.”  Sita guided Seth to her lie up, where Toby sat playing with the toes of his right hind foot.  Seeing her, he scrambled to his feet, fell over his forepaws, and crawled to his mama, Seth laughing merrily.

       “Silly you Toby,”  she said before she sat down and gathered Toby into her lap, Toby clearly enjoying being handled by his mama, letting her manipulate his body and limbs without resistance.  Toby reached up towards Sita’s face with his paws, Sita lowering her head to let Toby touch her nose and mouth, putting his paw into Sita’s mouth, Sita licking Toby’s paw, the cub withdrawing his paw and laughing merrily at his mama.

       “I love you mama,” he said, Sita rubbing Toby’s belly, the cub wriggling with pleasure.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Billy and Kojack were hugging and comforting Billy’s older cub from another mating.  This cub, now a full grown bear, shivered and shook, sobbing and wringing out the scarf which Nicolai had given him to wipe his eyes.

       “It’s okay Hayden,” Billy said softly, “you’re safe here now.”  Hayden, upset and weary, tried to compose himself.

      “I saw such things, such horrors,” he sniffled, “it was dreadful sire Billy.  I saw death and destruction, and got sore paws and a sore mind, and tried to keep a good heart, but I found it hard to keep a good heart, so I ran for home, but home was gone, and a big bear with big paws told me of a place where I could get sanctuary, and I came here.  This bear was in the woods, and he seemed to know a lot about this place, he had a polar bear cub with him.  I ran into here, and found you, and now I’m crying and wringing out the scarf lent to me by a bear I didn’t know until he came to lend me his scarf, and now I’ve ruined his scarf, and now I’m here.”  Nicolai, thinking Hayden might like his paws played with, had sat down and picked up Hayden’s right hind foot in his forepaws, before massaging the bear’s pads and toes.  Hayden, so intent on telling his tale to Billy, paused and looked at Nicolai, curling his toes with pleasure.

       “I like that Nicolai,” Hayden said.

       “I thought that as you were wetting my scarf, I would try and make tings a bit better,” Nicolai said, “Your paws were just pleading to me for massage, so I did.”  Hayden smiled:

       “I’ve not had my paws played with like that since my mama played with them,”  he replied, “I like it, I never grew out of liking having my paws played with.”  Hayden wiggled, then slightly curled the toes of his right hind foot, Nicolai smiling and rubbing the tops of Hayden’s curled toes.  Hayden suddenly grabbed his left hind foot in his forepaws, squeezing his toes and tightly closing his eyes.

      “What’s the matter?”  Nicolai asked.

       “I’m trying not to lose control,”  Hayden whispered, “I love having my paws played with so much I want to wriggle and bounce about, kick and wave my forepaws in the air, all that and more.  Hayden curled his toes, making his pads bunch.  Nicolai, smiling broadly, stroked Hayden’s pads, the young bear pushing his paw into Nicolai’s.

       “I’d like to see you wave your paws in the air,” Nicolai said.  Hayden grinned.

      ?”Stroke my pads much more and I might lose control enough to do that,” he replied.  Hayden suddenly withdrew both his paws and crawled away, Kojack following him, grabbing Hayden’s right hind paw in his forepaws and tickling his pads and toes, Hayden laughing merrily and throwing himself down, banging the rug with his forepaws.  Then, raising himself up on his forepaws and pushing with the toes of his free hind foot, Hayden tried to free his right hind paw, while Kojack held on tightly toot, Hayden curling and stretching the toes of his trapped paw in an attempt to free it.  Kojack stroked Hayden’s bunching and stretching pads and toes, the stroking of his pads seeming to calm Hayden down.  Then Hayden tugged hard at his right hind foot, Kojack holding on tightly to his paw, Hayden wiggling his foot free inch by struggling inch, first his heel, then the main part of his foot, then with a sudden effort, Hayden freed his toes from Kojack’s grip, Hayden curling into a ball and grabbing his right hind foot in his forepaws, examining it anxiously.

       “That was fun!”  Hayden laughed, Kojack hugging him tightly and offering him his left hind foot for a return match.  Hayden took hold of Kojack’s hind paw and stroked his pads and toes, Kojack curling his toes with pleasure.

      “You two look very contented,” Bianca said, padding into the lie up.

      “Oh no, it’s the feline zebra!”  Kojack wailed, theatrically covering his eyes with his paws.

       “Feline zebra?”  Hayden asked, while Bianca and Billy laughed so much Bianca sat down suddenly.

       “I’m sorry,” she said wiping her eyes with a trembling paw, “I thought that very funny indeed.  Silly isn’t it.”  The feline zebra got to her paws and left the room.  Hayden smiled at Kojack and stroked the younger bear’s hind paw with gentle care.

      “Paw play is very important here I think,” Hayden said.  Kojack smiled and nodded.

      “I like playing with paws too,” he said, “it’s wonderful.”  Kendal padded into the lie up, and Kojack turned round to crawl to Kendal when Hayden grabbed his right hind paw, holding on tightly.  Kojack tugged hard, then even harder, dragging Hayden behind him as he fought to get to Kendal.  Kendal crawled to Kojack and kissed his nose.

      “You are trapped by the paw I see,” Kendal said.  Kojack smiled and wriggled madly, trying to free his right hind foot.  Kendal crawled to the bear’s hind paw and stroked it gently, Hayden holding Kojack’s paw with gentle care.  Kojack smiled broadly as Kendal’s stroking freed his hind foot.

      “Your touch is wonderful,” Kojack said to the cub, who grinned broadly.

      “Who taught you to play with your hind paws Kojack?”  Kendal asked.  Kojack smiled:

       “My mama taught me how to groom my fur and keep my paws in good condition, and one day, she showed me how to play with my hind paws too.  That was a very good time, for I played with her hind paws while she played with mine.  It was so wonderful!”  Billy smiled broadly.

      “I remember your birth,”  he said, “mama spent hours in labour, then squatting, she strained twice, before sitting down and reclining, straining hard to deliver your forepaws, before lying down on her side to deliver your head, body and hind legs.  She grunted and moaned and puffed a great deal, wailing loudly as your body came into the world and she was forced to bear down hard for the last time.”  Kojack closed his eyes, remembering his mama.

 

Rocky and Georgia played together in Koda’s lie up, the grizzly bear cub tickling Georgia’s paws, the female cub enjoying his attentions.  Then she whipped round and tickled Rocky’s hind paws, the grizzly bear kicking the air with all four paws.  Georgia grabbed Rocky’s right hind foot and stroked his pads, the grizzly bear giggling with pleasure and grabbing Georgia’s stroking paws in his forepaws, pressing them against his right hind foot.

      “I like that,” he said, “it feels wonderful!”  Georgia smiled broadly.  Ever since she’d learnt of her destiny to always be a cub in stature, she’d embraced her role, keeping her fur and paws in peak condition.  The sound of tiny scampering paws made both bears look round.  Two panda cubs ran in from the passage, closely followed by Yi jie, who panted after them, looking very harassed.

      “Bohai, Changpu, please!  Slow down!”  Yi jie begged.  The two cubs, crawling now, threw themselves into rocky and Georgia’s laps, the older cubs embracing each in turn.

      “Now you two are so cute,” Georgia said, kissing Bohai’s then Changpu’s noses and when Changpu rolled onto her back, the soles of her paws as well, the female panda cub laughing helplessly with pleasure.

      “I love paw play!”  Changpu laughed, Georgia tickling the pads of the cub’s hind feet, Changpu pushing her hind feet hard into Georgia’s forepaws.

 

Targon lay beside Tornassuk in their lie up, very heavy with cub.  Tornassuk hugged her tenderly, the cubs inside Targon kicking back at the spirit bear’s touch.  Targon laughed as the cubs kicked against her belly:

     “They’re very active,” she said.  Tornassuk kissed Targon’s nose and paws, the mama to be wriggling with pleasure.

     “Cubbing’s gonna hurt isn’t it,” Targon said.  Tornassuk nodded:

      “You can hold onto me tightly and scream lustily,” he said.  Targon smiled:

      “I think I will,” she replied.  Tornassuk hugged his mate tightly.

       “I will support you all the way,” he said.  Targon yawned, her teeth showing white against her black facial fur.

      “I’m so tired,” she said, “but I know this tiredness will only go away when I’ve pushed and groaned and screamed my way through agony to deliver my cubs.”  Targon laid her head on her paws and was immediately asleep.  Tornassuk watched over her all night, but her cubs showed no sign of wanting to be born. 

 

Targon’s labour started in the late afternoon of the next day.  Panting, she paced round her lie up, stopping every few minutes to lift a hind foot and moan through clenched teeth as contractions built and spent themselves.

     “Oooah,youch! oooah,yaoouch!”  Targon moaned, “Yowowowowowowowch!”   Targon suddenly sat down and began rocking back and fourth, doing sit-ups to ease her discomfort.

     “Oooah, ushoooah!”  She gasped as she rocked and wriggled.  Tornassuk watched her calmly but intently, noting everything, from Targon’s distressed face, to her sweat soaked fur and paws.

      “I’ll help you if you want Targon,” Tornassuk said.  Targon groaned softly:

      “I’m ok at the moment,” the mama black bear gasped, “but I’ll need help in a while.”  Targon grabbed her right hind foot in her forepaws and squeezed it tightly, closing her eyes and clenching her teeth.

       “oaaaaaaawhwhwhowowowowuach!”  She squealed.  Then, groaning, she lay on her back and drew her hind feet up, grabbing them with her forepaws, holding tightly to her hind feet while wriggling madly.

    Oooah! Aoww’w’w’w’w’w’w!  She screamed.  Then Targon crawled quickly round the lie up, Tornassuk following her, watching her hind paws and tail, watching black pads bunching and distressed toes curling and relaxing as Targon laboured.  Suddenly Targon stopped, then, screaming lustily, curled the toes of both hind paws harder than ever, her whole body arching, her nose touching the floor as she strained while gripping the rugs with her forepaws.

      “Yaaaaaooouch, oooah! Aoww’w’w’w’w’w’w! Yaaaaaooouch!”  She roared, rolling onto her side and frantically pedalling the air with her hind feet, groaning and straining.  Tornassuk touched Targon’s belly with his paw, feeling her stomach contracting, and hearing her squealing.

      “Cub’s coming now!”  She roared, “It’s coming so fast, so fast!  It hurts, it hurts!” Targon then sat up and straddled her hind legs, reaching down with her forepaws to catch her emerging cub.  Tornassuk watched as the cub emerged, Targon pushing and puffing, grunting and gasping.  Targon pushed hard down into her tail, and then invited Tornassuk in with a wave of her paw.

     “Catch your cub,” she gasped, Tornassuk supporting the emerging cub, Targon now completely paws off, only pushing down.  Tornassuk guided the cub into the world, his vision blurred by tears as he watched the emergence of a new life.

      “I think there’s a second cub!”  Targon yelped, wriggling as her first cub’s hind feet came free, “you can catch that one entirely on your own!”  Tornassuk smiled and nodded, for he wanted to do just that.  Targon cleaned up her first cub, and then settled to nurse it.

      “Its down to you to guide the next cub into the world,” Targon said, “I’ll get into a crawling posture and you can catch this cub.”  Fitting actions to words, Targon rested in a crawling posture, Tornassuk noticing Ekaterina pick up their first newborn cub and cradle it in her lap.  Targon pushed gently twice, gasping and blowing.  Then, catching her breath, she bore down into her tail with all her might.

    “E’e’e’e’e’e’e’oah! E’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’ouch!”  Targon complained, bearing down hard.  Tornassuk saw the cub’s forepaws, then Targon gave vent to a loud squeal and the cub’s head emerged.  Snarling, she opened her mouth and panted hard.

   “ow’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’wow!”  she gasped, u’u’u’ah!”  Tornassuk touched the pads and toes of Targon’s hind paws, then her tail, then caught the emerging cub.

       “Push Targon dear,” Tornassuk said gently, Targon grunting with effort.

     “Pull the cub a little as she pushes,” Ekaterina said, “Tornassuk pulling slightly downwards as Targon pushed.

      “e’e’e’e’e’e’eow, uuah!”  Targon complained.

      “Now push down one more time,” Tornassuk said to his mate, “but this time, I want you to do two things, scream loudly, and push down with all your might, but first, give me a huge smile.”  Targon smiled broadly at Tornassuk, and then set herself to bearing down hard, screaming and roaring the whole way through.

     “e’e’e’e’e’e’e’eouwhw’w’w’w’w’w’ouwuach!”  She yelled, feeling the cub come free somewhere in the midst of her effort, spending the rest of her excitement and adrenaline on rolling onto her side and kicking with all four feet, then, with Ekaterina rescuing and cleaning up the cub, Targon rolled onto her back and kicked the air with all four paws in triumph!

       “I did it!”  She yelled, kicking the air with all her might.  Tornassuk smiled, catching Targon’s right hind foot and kissing her pads and toes, the she bear laughing merrily.

      “Two grand cubs!”  Ekaterina said smiling.

      “I don’t know who really are the cubs;” sire Patch said, “Tornassuk and Targon seemed to have enjoyed the birth as much as they are excited about its outcome.”  Targon and Tornassuk hugged each other, and then Targon got down to nursing her two cubs.”

        “You were brilliant,” Tornassuk said to his mate.

      “I needed to scream and kick at the end, and you knew it,” Targon replied, “I needed that Tornassuk.”  Tornassuk kissed her nose and the sweat soaked pads of her hind paws, as Targon had her forepaws full with her two newborn cubs.  Targon laughed as she felt her mate kiss her nose and the pads of her hind paws, curling her toes slightly to show her appreciation.

       “You were wonderful,”  Tornassuk said to his mate, targon smiling broadly.  Targon’s two cubs, both female, drank their fill of Targon’s ritch milk supply, then settled down to sleep.  Tornassuk, smiling, watched over his cubs, proud of them and of his mate, who wearily settled down to rest after her strenuous effort.

     “What shall we name them?”  Tornassuk asked.  Targon looked blearily at him, her one eye looking tired.

       “Ask the spiritual leader,” she yawned.  Tornassuk smiled:

      “Well, I have, but he’s got no ideas.”

       “I’m going to sleep,” Targon mumbled.  Tornassuk walked from the lie up, smiling at Targon’s response to his question.

      “She forgets I am the spiritual leader,” he thought, “it gave me a smile though, which is always welcome” Tornassuk padded into the wood and sat down by the large lagoon in which the boats from the log flume ended up after they left the main ride tower.  Tornassuk had been told by Koda that to swim in the lagoon was dangerous, and Anook’s description of the belts, rollers and wheels that she’d seen when Koda had taken her up into the main tower had stuck with him.  Looking into the water, he mulled over the events of the last four and a half hours.  Targon had laboured for two hours birthing each cub, and now they were safe, Tornassuk was by the lagoon staring into the water.  A rumbling sound heralded the arrival of a boat, and Tornassuk looked towards the tower.  A boat emerged from the flume carrying Lunar and her cub Astra.  The two moon bears waved at him, Astra resting in the bottom of the boat, the heels of her hind paws on the side of the boat, Astra wiggling her toes at Tornassuk, who laughed merrily and signalled to Lunar that her cub was not in the proper sitting posture, which made Lunar spin round in the boat and pick her daughter cub up, sitting her properly in the boat and reprimanding her sternly.

       “Koda isn’t gonna like that,” Tornassuk said to himself.

      “No Koda doesn’t like that at all,” a voice said beside him.  Tornassuk looked to his right, to find the black bear sitting on the grass beside him.

      “How long have you been here?”  Tornassuk asked.

      “I followed you out of your lie up and have been sitting beside you ever since you settled here,” Koda said.  Tornassuk opened his mouth to ask a question, but Koda, sensing this, laid a paw on his shoulder.

       “I listened to Targon’s labour, I could tell she was crawling, when she was pushing, all that.”

      “She would have been glad of your company, and so would I have,” Tornassuk said.

     “I didn’t want to intrude,” Koda replied.

       “I needed support as much as Targon did,” Tornassuk said.  Koda kissed his nose.

      “You should have asked,” Koda replied, “I would have helped Targon.”  Tornassuk smiled and looked at Koda.

      “Koda?”  He asked, “Can, I mean, would, would you hug me, please?”  Koda embraced Tornassuk tightly, the spirit bear snuggling close.

       “Now are you feeling stronger?”  Koda asked after a few minutes.  Tornassuk smiled shyly:

       “I’m feeling more secure,” he replied, “but I don’t know if I’m ready to guide two cubs in this world.”

     “Noone is truly ready for that,” Koda replied, “even with the best planning in the world, noone knows if they can guide two helpless cubs into the world we live in.”  Tornassuk gave Koda his right hind foot, Koda stroking the male spirit bear’s paw, Tornassuk curling his toes with pleasure.

      “I’ll introduce you to our new cubs,” Tornassuk said.  Koda smiled and tickled the pads of Tornassuk’s hind foot, the spirit bear laughing and crawling away, Koda following him by crawling after him. 

 

Tornassuk led Koda into the house and crawled into his lie up, Targon seeing what was going on and telling Tornassuk with a wave of her paw to slow down and crawl past her.  Tornassuk did, guiding Koda close to Targon, Targon stopping Koda with her paw.

     “sit down,” she said.  Koda did, and Targon placed the eldest of her two cubs in his lap.  Koda embraced the large cub in his paws, the cub snuggling up close.

      “They were a real struggle to deliver,” Targon said.  Koda nodded:

      “I heard all about it,” he replied.

      “Koda was outside all the time Targon,” Tornassuk said.  Targon nodded:

      “I could smell him nearby,” she replied, “but I was in so much pain I couldn’t summon the strength to invite him in, or ask you to either Tornassuk.”  Koda explored the large female cub with his forepaws, the cub wriggling and making sure her paws got a good massage, laughing all the while.

       “She’s lively,” Koda said.  Targon was preoccupied; her second cub was very quiet, too quiet.

       “Um, Tornassuk,” Targon said her voice almost cracking, “I think…”  Tornassuk looked down at their seemingly sleeping younger cub, though he knew she was not asleep.

       “I’m sorry Targon,” Tornassuk replied, picking up the lifeless younger cub in his paws and kissing her nose.  Targon buried her face in her paws, sobbing inconsolably.

      “”What do we do now?”  Tornassuk asked.

      “You look after your living cub,” Koda said gently.  Tornassuk, comfort Targon and your remaining cub.  Be strong for them.  I’ll take your lifeless cub and ask sire Patch to check her over.

     “Don’t let sire Patch do anything to her, please!”  Targon begged.  Koda kissed her nose and gently lifted the lifeless cub in his paws, Tornassuk cradling their remaining cub, now very silent and attentive.

 

Koda took the lifeless cub to Patch, who, having seen everything on the camera, was ready to check Targon and Tornassuk’s lifeless daughter cub over.  Patch took the cub to a secluded room and then ran his paws all over the cub’s body, checking for fractures and anything abnormal.  Feeling her belly with firm but gentle pressure, Patch’s paws suddenly stopped, he was feeling something hard and unyielding beneath the digits of his right forepaw.

      “I think Targon’s cub died of impaction, colic,” patch said sadly, “of course we can’t check for sure, as Targon doesn’t want any exploration done.”

       “Could her second cub die too?”  Koda asked.

      “Possibly,” Patch replied, rubbing his chin with his paw, “but I don’t think lightening will strike twice.  Could I examine the other cub?”

      “We mustn’t cause Targon or Tornassuk anxiety,” Koda replied.

     “No,” Patch agreed, “and they won’t have seen what I’m doing here, as there are no cameras here.  Well none that broadcast to the rest of the house though.”

       “I’ll ask Targon if she will let you look at the other cub,” Koda said.  Targon, sitting outside the room with their second cub cradled on her lap, choked back her tears.  The older cub, hearing Koda padding from the room with her sister, had wriggled madly until Tornassuk let go of her, then she’d crawled quickly from the room, following Koda’s scent.  Targon fled after her cub, and now was sitting cradling the strangely silent newborn cub and listening to patch and Koda’s conversation.  Targon knew about colic, about constipation too.  She knew how quickly it could kill newborn cubs.  Targon lifted her newborn cub up to her eye level, examining her from nose to tail, the cub submitting to this with quiet understanding.  Targon then placed the cub on her back in her lap and began to run her paws all over her from nose to toes, the cub trying not to show how physically pleasurable her mother’s touch was to her, for she could feel Targon’s turmoil and anxiety.

      “Why are you not laughing with pleasure as you were when Koda explored you little one?”  Targon asked.  The large female cub grabbed her mother’s paw in both her tiny forepaws.

      “I don’t feel like laughing and wriggling with pleasure now,” the cub replied, “my sister is still forever now, and I want to be still for a while.”  Targon’s tears wet the cub’s head as she wept, the cub squeezing her mama’s paw as hard as she could in an attempt to comfort her.

 

Tornassuk watched from a little way off, grief stricken, but amazed at his cub’s perception of events, which for him and Targon were fast moving events, but for her, a cub of four hours born, must be a blur of activity, Events with which she was coping better than the adults in her life.

      “It is for Targon to do this motherly thing,” Tornassuk thought, “I am the sire of her cubs, but she gave birth to them.  I will stand by and only come in if she invites me.”  Targon noticed Tornassuk watching her and waved her paw at him.

     “Come,” she said, “come here, sit down and hold our cub’s paw in yours.”  Tornassuk padded over to his mate and sat down opposite her, taking the cub’s right forepaw in his paws, Targon taking her left forepaw in her paws.

      “My sister is still forever isn’t she,” the cub said.  Targon took a deep breath.

      “Yes my dear,” she replied.

      “So I need to wriggle and laugh for both her and me then,” the cub said suddenly.  Targon kissed her nose:

      “Only if you want to,” she replied.  Patch and Koda emerged, Koda carrying Tornassuk and Targon’s second cub’s lifeless body.

      “Should we let remaining cub touch her sister’s dead body?”  Tornassuk asked.  Koda sat down, cradling the lifeless cub in his paws.

      “Yes, let her touch the cub’s body if she wants,” he replied.  The young cub crawled to her lifeless sister’s body and touched her head, kissed her nose and touched her paws.

       “I’ll play for you,” she whispered softly.  Koda turned to Targon and Tornassuk and asked:

      “What would you like to name this little cub?”  Targon gulped hard.

       “If I’d not gone to sleep after the births of my cubs, she’d have a name!”  She wailed.

       “You can give her a name now,” Koda said softly.

       “How if we name her little Targon, after her mama who gave birth to her and nurtured her so well,” Tornassuk asked.

        “But I failed her!”  Targon squealed.

      “You did not fail your cub,” patch said, “Targon; it was not eohippus wish for your cub to live more than she did.  You gave ecstatic and generous birth to your cub, fed her and warmed her, and, when she passed into the spirit world, she was warm and felt no pain.  Now she’s across the bridge, and you will meet her spirit soon.”

      “Name her Targon then,” mama Targon said softly, picking up the lifeless cub and kissing her nose and paws.

      “What should we name our living cub?”  Targon asked, setting her lifeless cub down tenderly in Tornassuk’s lap...

     “How about Titania?”  Tornassuk replied.

     “Why Titania?”  Targon asked.

      “I read a book, it was on a computer in Koda’s lie up, by a human named Shakespeare, and I liked the name of one of the characters in it.”

     “As long as this human doesn’t shake his spear at me or my cub, then all’s well,” Targon mused, “but what was he doing shaking his spear anyway?  Is he a warrior?”  Koda put Targon right on Shakespeare, but she wasn’t really interested.

      “As long as this human is no threat to me or my family, I’m not interested,” Targon replied affably.

 

Targon and Tornassuk buried little Targon in the wood beside the spot where Tornassuk had found mama Targon trapped by the paw.

      “I remember this place,” Targon said softly, “it was a place of fear, but also a place of joy, where I met you Tornassuk.”

       “Do you know what my name was when I was born?”  Tornassuk asked.  Targon shook her head:

      “Noone told me you had another name,” she replied, “what was that?”

      “The name Tornassuk was given to me when I lost the black coat I was born with, and grew into the coat I have now.  The name Tornassuk was further confirmed when I assumed the role of spiritual leader.  My birth name was Blackberry.  I was, well, a little bit of a rogue I must admit.”  Targon smiled:

       “I could imagine that,” she said, “but I bet you were a fun rogue, not a nasty one.”

     “Ill advised commentary was my failing,” Tornassuk said, “but I was told my heart was in the right place.”

       “You dealt out justice to me that am for sure,” Swarupa said, padding up to the bears, then, realising what was going on, she gasped and sat down horridly.

      “I’m sorry,” she said, covering her mouth with her paw.

      “Let’s get this over with,” Targon said, looking down at little Targon’s dead body.  The badgers seemingly appeared from nowhere and dug a grave for the little cub, then Furcone padded up to Targon and, with a kiss to her nose, took little Targon’s body away, setting it down beside  the grave, ran her paws all over the little cub’s body, flexing legs and paws.

     “What is she doing?”  Mama Targon asked Tornassuk.

     “Furcone’s checking to make sure little Targon’s completely lifeless,” Tornassuk said gently, “it’s, um, a precaution, just in case the story of little Patch should be repeated.”

      “I suppose burying a cub alive isn’t the best thing to do,” Targon sniffed, “so this must be done.”  Furcone, having completed her checks, she buried little Targon.

      “I heard the tale of little Patch,” Targon replied, “It was, well, scary.”

       “We no want that happen again you see mama,” Furcone replied.  Targon looked at Tornassuk:

       “You helped little Patch become a bear didn’t you?”  She asked.  Tornassuk nodded.

      “I was as now,” he said, “white, not black.”

     “Why Blackberry?”  Targon asked.

      “It was Ekaterina’s idea I think,” Tornassuk replied, “she said my paw pads look like the skin of a blackberry, so she named me Blackberry.”  Targon smiled:

      “I would like to see your paw pads,” Targon said.

      “How if I make my fur black too?”  Tornassuk asked.  Targon laughed:

       “I don’t want you to go that far,” she replied, “but, well, that would be nice too, to see you how you were before you lost your black coat.”  Tornassuk hugged his mate, then padded with her and Titania back to the house, where he rubbed an oil all over his body to colour his fur black, and with care, applied that oil to his face and [paws.  Entering a room with angled mirrors, Tornassuk examined himself at all angles, even rubbing the blackening oil into his paw pads to make the transformation complete.  This oil would come out of his fur with washing with a special shampoo.  If he didn’t use the shampoo, and his fur didn’t fall out, which was the cycle of things, Tornassuk would outwardly be a black bear again.  Ekaterina found Tornassuk blacking up, and passed comment.

       “Going back to your roots?”  She asked.  Tornassuk explained, and Ekaterina could not help but assist Tornassuk in blacking up his fur and paws.  She touched up his nose and face, and back, helping him disguise places he could not reach easily.  Ekaterina then blow dried Tornassuk’s fur and both combed it extensively until both were satisfied.  Then Tornassuk, now with fur as black as it had been when he was born, stepped out into the corridor.

       “Oh, oooah!”  Jess said as she walked down the corridor, “Tornassuk, um, you look like you did when your name was Blackberry!  You have blacked up your fur, and, it’s, well, kind of cute!”  Tornassuk smiled, but didn’t know what name to go by now he was as black as the day he was born.

      “You look very handsome,” Targon said, after a quick double take, and a speculative sniff at Tornassuk to make sure she was addressing her mate, and not a stranger.  Tornassuk smiled as he saw Targon’s cautious manner.

      “You were unsure for a minute,” he said.  Targon grinned sheepishly.

       “I was,” she replied, “my eyes, um, eye, told me there was a black bear in front of me.  I had to check with my nose to make sure whom that bear was.”  Tornassuk laughed merrily and kissed her nose.

       “Now Targon love,” he said, “I am blackberry once again.”  Targon examined Tornassuk, now Blackberry very closely, looking for white hairs, but she found none, even checking the soles of his large paws, inspecting the fur between the toes of his paws, she could find no fault in his transformation from white spirit bear to black bear.  Targon looked down at Titania, the cub turning her closed eyes up to her.

       “I’m here mama,” she said, Targon sitting down and hugging her cub tightly.

       “I’m not dying yet,” Titania said.  Targon sobbed as her cub clambered up onto her shoulder, Titania making sure she placed each tiny paw carefully, gently curling her toes into Targon’s fur, her little claws gripping tightly.  Targon wanted to feel her cub’s progress to her shoulder.

      “Dig those toes in hard Titania, go on, you can’t hurt me,” Targon said.  Titania let herself slip a little, grabbing at Targon’s fur and scrambling untidily up onto her shoulder from her lap, ?Targon pushing the cub back a little to make her struggle and fight with all the fury Titania could muster.

      “I’ll hurt you mama if I dig my toes in hard,” Titania said after she’d been dislodged for a third time.

     “No you won’t, go on, dig in those toes, scramble, scrabble with your paws, slip, slide, claw, push with your paws, treat my fur like a wall, rip chunks of my fur out if you need to.  I don’t mind.””

       “But why mama?”  Titania asked.

      “Mama wants to feel your presence Titania love,” Tornassuk said.

      “Like I did when I was giving birth to you,” Targon whispered, “I want to feel you as well as see you Titania.”

       “mama doesn’t believe her eyes are telling her you’re alive little one,”  Tornassuk said, “go on Titania, show her you’re there, for mama can only see you from one eye, she’s unable to see from her left eye.”  Titania nodded:

      “So she uses her paws? Like me?”  She asked, grasping this concept with a rapidity which amazed her parents.

      “Yes, all the time,” Targon replied, “I feel the world with my paws, with my whole body actually.  So that’s why I want you to clamber up from my lap to my shoulder in a messy manner.  Claw, scramble, scrabble, paw at me, slip, slide, snarl, growl, struggle, dig those toes in as hard as you like, all that.”  Titania smiled:

      “Can I snarl and roar like you did while giving birth to me mama?”  She asked.

     “If you wish to, yes,” Targon replied.  Titania sat up and then got to her hind feet, splaying her hind legs to take her weight.

     “ooooahowhwhwhwhwhwhw’w’w’w’w’w’roarhrhrhrhrhr!”  She yelled, Targon smiling and guiding her to her belly fur, where Titania held on tightly with her forepaws.

     “Now time to clamber upwards,” Targon said, “I’ll keep my paws beneath you so you don’t fall, but you’ll have full movement of your fore and hind feet.”  Titania smiled:

      “I will enjoy this,” she said.

      “Please do all I ask,” Targon begged.  Titania felt her mama’s breath stirring the fur on the top of her head and turned her face to it, kissing her mama’s nose.

       “Now use those paws,”  Targon whispered to her cub, Titania scrambling upwards, sometimes letting a hind foot slip, sometimes a forepaw, sometimes slipping altogether, sliding down squealing and growling, while pressing her pads hard against her mama’s rough body fur to slow her progress.

      “Digging your toes in would help you keep your grip,” Targon said gently.  Titania, snarling, scrambled up again, curling her toes into her mama’s fur at every opportunity, whimpering as she pulled with her forepaws and snarling with every thrusting effort of her hind feet, acting as if the effort she made hurt her greatly.

      “Pull with those forepaws and push hard with your hind,” Targon said softly, “you can do it Titania!”  Titania whimpered, snarled and growled her way towards the summit of Targon’s shoulder.  Targon measured her cub’s progress by the feel of her hot pads and panting breath, her gripping toes and scrabbling claws.  As Titania reached the end of her journey, Targon tickled the pads of her cub’s right hind foot as she released her hold of her fur.  The tickling took Titania by surprise, and the cub lost her grip, sliding half way back down before with a supreme effort, and with a lot of squealing and anger, she dug in the toes of all four tiny paws, brining her slide to a halt.

      “Ooouanph!”  She gasped as she fought for a foothold.

       “Now that’s fun!”  Titania laughed as she regained her purchase.  This cub liked the rush of a risk, however small it might be.

       “You might have your pads tickled again and fall like that some more,” Targon said.

     “And if I do, I’ll scream and scrabble and roar again!”  Titania replied.  Titania struggled clumsily up to Targon’s shoulder once more, puffing and blowing exaggeratedly, as if she was very tired, which indeed she was, so her act was only half contrived.  This time, with only a little slip, she made her way to her mama’s shoulder.  Once she was there, she hung on with her fore and hind feet, Targon stroking her cubs back with one paw.

       “Now what?”  Titania asked, panting.

       “Do you want to slide back down to my lap?”  Targon asked.

      “Can I go higher?”  Her cub enquired.

     “No, that’s too dangerous,” Targon replied, “your paws are not so steady yet.”  Titania smiled and then slid backwards down her mama’s belly fur, checking her speed by wiggling the toes of all four paws to regulate her decent.  Reaching the bottom of her slide, Targon stopped Titania by catching her in her paws and slowing her down like she was riding a lift.

     “That was fun!”  Titania said, “Can I slide again?”  Targon lifted Titania up, and the cub slid again, using the toes of all four paws as breaks as she had before.  Targon caught her cub again.

     “Can you wiggle your toes like me mama?”  Titania asked.  Targon smiled and replied:

      “I can, “I’ll show you my hind feet if you’d like.”  Titania was interested.

      “Yes please!”  She replied.

       “I think sire Tornassuk would like to play with you too,” Targon said.  Titania smiled:

     “I’ll play paw games with him too,” she said.  Targon grinned.

      “I’m looking forward to it,” Tornassuk said.  Titania crawled off Targon’s lap and felt her way to her mama’s right hind paw, the she bear curling her toes as her cub explored her pads.

        “Your pads are wrinkling up!”  Titania laughed.  Targon relaxed her toes, her cub laughing merrily at this change:

     “Now your pads are back to normal!”  She exclaimed.  Targon curled her toes again:

    “Now your pads are all wrinkled again,” Titania said.  Stretching and curling the toes of her right hind foot, Targon played with Titania, Tornassuk watching with delighted eyes.

       “You have playful paws mama,” Titania said, kissing her mum’s pads.  Targon laughed merrily for the first time since she’d entered the house after little Targon’s burial.  Tornassuk lay on his back, his paws relaxed.  Targon watched him settle, and focused on his hind feet.  She saw wrinkled pads and when Tornassuk caught her looking at his paws, and curled his toes, making his pads bunch up, Targon gasped with emotion.

      “I love you from your nose to your paw pads Blackberry!”  She blurted, Tornassuk smiling broadly.

        “You can call me Blackberry if you like,” he said.  Targon grinned:

      “I like your paws,” she said, “and Ekaterina was right, your pads do look like the skin of a blackberry when you curl your toes.”  Tornassuk laughed:

       “You see it too then,” he said, “that’s kind of cute you know.”

        “Would you teach Titania how to play with her paws Blackberry?”  Targon asked.  Tornassuk smiled, he knew what she wanted when she called him Blackberry.

        “You want me to play with her like I played when I was a cub don’t you,” he said.  Targon smiled:

       “Investigate her paws, let her investigate yours, play like cubs both of you, teach her Tornassuk, but teach her how you would have done when you were Blackberry, when you first knew your paws, when you helped Swarupa have her cubs, when you were even gentler than you are now.””  Titania clambered into Tornassuk’s belly, the male bear wrapping his paws around the newborn cub and hugging her tenderly.

       “I love you little Titania,” Tornassuk said.

      “So what do I call you if mama says you have two names now?”  Titania asked.

       “What would you like to call me?”  Tornassuk asked.

     “I like Blackberry,” Titania replied, “but your name is tor, um, something likes that, and everyone knows you as that.”

     “But you can call me Blackberry if you like,” Tornassuk said.

      “But mama said you’re white, and that you put oils on your fur to make yourself as black as you were when you were born,”  Titania said.

      “I don’t mind being called by my given name, Tornassuk’s rather formal anyway, and I still like the name Blackberry.  Titania love, do you know how to play with your toes?”  Titania thought for a minute:

      “I don’t know,” she replied, “I can’t remember being taught how to play with my toes.”

 

 

Meanwhile, in the wood, Koda, walking to clear his head of the death of Targon’s youngest cub, which upset him greatly, Koda heard a whispered conversation between two voices hiding beneath a bush.

       “I’m so hungry,” one voice said, “and our cub will die if I don’t get food Patrick!”

     “Don’t shout!”  Another voice said, obviously belonging to Patrick.

      “But I’m not shouting,” the first voice said, probably the voice of a mama bear, Koda thought.  Then there was a small voice, complaining it was hungry too.

     “That’s a cub,” Koda thought quickly.

      “Our only hope is to find food soon!”  The mama bear whispered, “And why the hell are two polar bears and a cub skulking about like this anyway?  We’re in danger, we need food, let’s show ourselves to whomever owns this wood, and throw ourselves on this mercy!”

       “You think those who own this wood would let us into the big house?”  Patrick asked, “We’ve heard of Koda, we’ve heard of the community, but we can’t impose ourselves on them.  Oh yes, mama, imagine this, “please Koda,”  this said in a pleading voice, “please give us food, oh, and by the way, we can’t help you at all, as we’re so out of sorts and such that we’re no good for anything!”  He’s not gonna buy that is he?”

     “We must try,” the mama bear said dispiritedly, “it’s not our fault we’re here, that our home was destroyed by global warming and we had to run on ships and things, that we were hunted in Finland, Norway and chased across the span of Europe.  Who led us here, who gave us directions here, who showed us the way here?  My cub was born in a bush in France, we hitched a ride over here in the wheeled thing, then, then we ran, my cub barely able to walk on his paws, now, now we’re desperate here, little food, little hope, I’m dying, and if I die, my cub dies!  We’re desperate!”  Patrick sighed:

      “If only I could find something to give to Koda as a kind of peace offering,” he said, “then we might get a hearing, but we have nothing here!”  Koda padded to the bush and pulled it aside, revealing to Koda, if he could have seen them, the faces of three terrified bears.

      “I’ll play with your cub to allow you and your mate to find something for Koda,” he said, giving nothing away of his identity.

      “I’m too weak to play now,” the mama bear replied, “but we need to find a peace offering for Koda, we can’t not do so.”

      “I’m sure Koda would be happy he’d helped without the need for a peace offering,”  Koda said, “you three look peaceful enough bears, and that’s all the peace offering he needs I think.”

     “Do you know him?”  Patrick asked.

      “I know him very well,” Koda replied, “he’s my very good friend.”  Koda sat down, letting the cub’s mama pushes the cub towards him.  Fortunately for Koda, the poor cub was so weak he could hardly walk, so mama bear put him in Koda’s lap, so Koda didn’t have to betray his blindness, which would have given the game away.  Koda tried playing with the cub, but it was almost impossible as the cub was weak and almost helpless.  Koda listened to Patrick’s heavy paws padding away, and wondered what on earth they’d bring back to him.  Koda knew all the apples and pairs had gone, that season was over, so Patrick could not bring back one of those.  Would he kill a duck from the nearby duck pond?  Or would he come back empty pawed.  After an hour, Patrick returned with nothing.

      “We can’t find anything!”  He whimpered.

      “Find something with symbolism,” Koda suggested, “something which means peace.”

     “Doves and olive branches,” mama bear said, “but there are no doves, if there were we would have eaten them, and no olives round here either.”

      “How if you just give him your paw and swear peace unto him and his community?”  Koda asked.

      “But that’s madness!”  Mama said, “We can’t swear peace with our paws!”

       “Why not?”  Koda asked, “Right, why not pretend I’m Koda, how would you go about swearing peace unto him and his community, bearing in mind he can’t see of course.”

      “Um, well,” Patrick said, “we’d give him our paws, first our left forepaws, then our right, and maybe even ask our cub to do the same.”

      “Not necessary for the cub,” Koda replied, “the cub can’t make choices for himself yet, and he’s not old enough.”

      “How about with our hind feet?”  Mama bear asked.

      “You could offer to let him examine your hind paws for thorns and things, indeed, it is known the community do this as a matter of course with all newcomers to the community, it’s a health check thing.”

      “It can also be very pleasurable,” Patrick replied, “or at least I have heard it can be.”  Koda smiled:

      “Offer him the paw of peace, and you’ll be fine,” he said, “Koda won’t turn you out.”

        “I don’t know how you can be so sure,” Patrick replied, “but we will take your word as recommendation only.  What is your name?”

      “My name?”  Koda asked, “Its Koda.”

      “You lie!”  Patrick blurted, “Koda’s a huge bear, a massive bear!  He’s a big boy in these parts.”

       “He’s not very big,” Koda replied.  Mama bear looked into Koda’s face.

       “You aren’t telling untruths are you,” she said, “you are Koda, the Koda we have been speaking of all the time.”

      “I am the same,” Koda replied smiling.

       “So we’re sunk!”  Patrick whimpered, “We have nothing, we have no way of paying for our stay.  I can’t find olive branches, eggs, doves, ducks, nothing!”

      “You could pay with help around the house, if we’re talking of payment for things, which I think is a very uncomfortable way to talk at the moment,” Koda replied, “you could help with the raising of cubs, with the teaching of cubs too.  You could teach them about global warming, about your lives too, but right now,”  Koda rested his paw tenderly on the head of Patrick and his mate’s cub, “we need to save this little fellow.”  With that Koda got to his hind paws and carried the cub into the house, mama bear forced to follow him if she was to see her cub again, Patrick running after her.

      “Who have you got here?”  Kamchatka asked Koda as he padded into the house followed by an anxious mama bear and a whimpering sire bear.

      “You two look very frightened,” Kamchatka said to the mama bear and Patrick.

      “What is your name mama?”  Kamchatka asked the mama, bowing slightly to her.

      “My name?”  The mama bear asked, “it’s, um, Svalbard.”

      “Svalbard was your place of birth mama, not what your name is,” Patrick replied.

      “I don’t know,” mama bear said, [putting a paw to her head as if she had a headache, “I have no name then.

      “How about if we name you Berengaria?”  Kamchatka asked.

     “It’s better than Svalbard,” Patrick agreed, mama bear looked blankly back at Kamchatka.

      “You call me what you will,” she replied, being submissive to the point of annoyance.

       “What shall we name the young one?”  Koda asked.

     “How about naming him Randolph?” Kamchatka asked.  Patrick smiled and nodded:

     “But that leaves me with Patrick, which is rather common I think.”

      “Would you like another name?”  Kamchatka asked, “And who named you Patrick anyway?”

      “I came from a zoo,” Patrick replied, “I escaped and ran to the north to find my mate, and found, um, Berengaria.  Now we’re here, and Patrick, my given name though it is, sounds a little common.” 

    “But it means, of noble birth,” Koda replied, “it’s a nice name.”  Patrick was happy with that.

      “So what do Berengaria and Randolph mean?”  Patrick asked.

      Berengaria, that’s Maiden of the bear-spear.  And Randolph means shield wolf,”

      “But he’s a bear!”  Berengaria wailed.

       “I like that name, so it doesn’t matter does it?”  The cub yelled stamping his paws for emphasis.

      “No,” Berengaria replied.  Patrick looked at Koda.

       “Please Koda,” he begged, “please save my family!”

      “So you ran to the north to find a mate, and then the ice melted, so you dragged her back over European soil where she had the cub in France, then you found your way here?”  Koda asked.  Patrick admitted this was true.

       “Global warming hasn’t gone that far has it?”  Kamchatka asked, “To the point of melting a mama’s birthing den I mean?”

       “mama’s den wasn’t on the ice,” Patrick whimpered, “she denned up in an old shed, and of course the humans found it, and broke it to stop mama bears doing the same, and we ran from the place, and across Russia, and to France, and then to England, dodging immigration and other human impediments, swimming the channel, then hauling out at Dover, following a ferry.”

      “Mama swam with a newborn cub?”  Kamchatka asked.  Berengaria smiled:

       “I did,” she replied, “it was hard, sometimes we passed the cub from one to the other, Patrick carrying him, then I took him, we took it in turns, that way we got across.  It was dangerous I know.”  Kamchatka kissed Berengaria’s nose.

      “You are amazing, and you too Patrick dear.”  Berengaria bowed to Koda, kissing his paw.

      “You too are amazing,” she said.  Koda grinned.

       “Now let’s get these bears food,” he said, “for little Randolph needs real nourishment.”  With that he pressed a button on a panel in the wall and when someone asked:

      “Yeah what?”

      “Sid, that’s no way to answer the intercom and you know it,” Koda snapped.

      “I prepare food, and hate the bloody telephone,” Sid snapped back, “now if you want me to cook you something, I can,” Sid replied.

      “Yeah, get these bears here food please, he waved his paw at Berengaria and Patrick, “do your best for these two Sid.  Sid’s response was to click off the intercom.

     “So is he cooking for them or not?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “If he’s not, I’ll kick his tail!”  Kendal said, padding into the passage and up to Randolph and hugging the startled male cub who’d, just fed from his mother’s dwindling milk supply.

      “You look like good play material,” Kendal said.

       “What?”  Randolph asked, then remembering the dressing down Koda gave the voice named Sid, he added:

      “Pardon?”  Koda grinned:

      “You’re good at playing?”  He asked Randolph.

      “I am,” Randolph replied.

     “Then you’re good with me until I find you can’t play,” Kendal replied, “then, if you can’t play, I’ll show you how to play until you can play, then you’re good with me again.”  Randolph’s eyes told of his confusion at Kendal’s words.

      “Just get out of here, and take him with you,” Kamchatka said to Kendal, pushing Randolph towards him.  Kendal looked at the tiny cub in astonishment, then guided him gently to the soft play room, where the cubs played endlessly.

     “He’s too small!”  Kendal thought.  Sid brought food to Patrick and Berengaria, the two bears eating and drinking ravenously.  Sid confronted Koda.

     “Why did you snap at me on the telephone?”  He demanded.

     “Yeah what is not the best response when the intercom goes off,” Koda said, “that is all.  Just a simple, “hello,” would do.  It makes you sound petulant and unapproachable, and I know you’re not, for if you were, your son cub would be a right sod, and he’s not anything of the sort.”  Sid padded away, grumbling to himself about Koda’s dressing down, which led to Koda chasing him, catching him and collaring him.

       “If you want to grumble about basic polite conversation, you leave now!”  Koda yelled.

      “What about Kendal?”  Sid asked.

     “Kendal can stay or go, depending on his will,” Koda replied, “but if you don’t’ like rules of politeness, you can leave as soon as you will Sid, and that’s final.” Sid skulked away, very angry.

      “Why is he so rude?”  Berengaria asked.

      “He’s too self important, that’s his problem,” Kamchatka snarled, “I heard him ordering poor bramble about as if she was his skivvy, and she’s got more years at the job than he has, at least here.  I know he can cook, but a bit of civility wouldn’t go amiss.”

 

Meanwhile, in the soft play room, where Georgia held the fort, Kendal brought Randolph to the party, Georgia hugging him and introducing him to Astra, hardy, Morag and Pasha, the cubs hugging Randolph tightly in turns, then rolling him over and tickling his paws, which Randolph loved instantly.

 

“I wonder how Randolph is getting on.”  Patrick asked.  Koda showed him the screen then tapped into the camera in the soft play room.  Randolph’s parents saw him surrounded by other cubs, those other cubs tickling Randolph’s paws, as he was the youngest cub.  They kept this up until Randolph was exhausted from laughing.

     “Initiation over,” Koda said, “Now they’ll hug him and rub his paws to get the sensation back into his tickled pads.  They’re really gentle those cubs are.”

      “What are all those slides and nets and things,” Patrick asked.

       “That’s a playroom for the community,” Koda replied, “to give stimulation and playtime to the cubs and adults here.  I’ve played on this equipment, as have other adult community members.”

      “I want to roll in snow!”  Bearingia said, “I want it so much!”  Koda grinned and guided her to the snow room, where he opened a door and ushered her inside.  Staring round her, Beringia rolled onto her back and waved her paws in the air, wriggling and squearming like polar bears have done for years when cleaning their fur with snow.  Mama then rubbed snow into her facial fur and cooled her paws by rubbing it into the pads of her fore and hind feet.  Laughing, she invited Koda to join her, the black bear hesitant as his fur was not up to the riggers of arctic living.  Even so, he joined Berengaria and they played for a while, before Koda abandoned the enterprise as being just too cold.

       “Now let’s go to the warmth,” Koda begged, Berengaria following him on refreshed paws.

       “Thank you thank you!”  She said.  Koda kissed her nose and hugged her a little.

       “No problem,” he said, nuzzling her ear, Berengaria giggling with pleasure.

      “I can see now why everyone thought you were so big,” she said, “You’ve got a big personality Koda.”  Koda smiled shyly.

      “Now let’s go back to Patrick and your cub mama,” Koda said, leading Berengaria by the paw to the house.  Padding into the principal lie up, Koda’s house, Koda gave Berengaria tea, and motioned at the camera for his mate and Patrick to join him.  They did, and all sat down with cups of tea, a novel thing for Patrick and Berengaria who enjoyed their drinks very much.  Georgia brought Randolph back from the playroom, both she and he very excited and chatting animatedly.

      “We had such fun!”  Randolph said to his parents, the two polar bears smiling and Berengaria beckoning him to her side to drink milk, which he accepted, scrambling into her lap and drinking busily from her milk supply.  Sid brought food, and all adult bears settled down to eating.  Soon Berengaria wanted to relieve her, and Koda led her to the relieving place, telling her how to use it, the mama bear finding the idea of relieving herself in a designated place for hygiene very interesting and novel.  She was inherently a clean bear, and so was her mate, both quickly getting used to the idea of going to another place to relieve themselves, and quickly teaching Randolph the ropes too.

 

Returning from the relieving place, Berengaria settled down to sleep, very happy with her lot and feeling something she’d never felt before, security and safety.

      “Thank you Koda, and mama Kamchatka,” she yawned expansively, rubbing her eyes with clenched forepaws, Patrick watches her with tender eyes.

      “I love bearing doing that,” he said to Koda.

     “Doing what?”  Koda asked.  Patrick was about to remonstrate, but remembered just in time Koda couldn’t see.

       “Berengaria rubs her eyes with clenched forepaws and it looks so cute,” he said.

      “Sweet,” Koda replied.  Randolph and Berengaria woke in the late evening, the mama bear and her cub feeding together, mama eating food prepared by Sid, and her cub drinking busily.  After this, both mama and cub went to the soft play room where they met Georgia and some of the other cubs, including day old Titania, who crawled up to Randolph and hugged him as best she could, the older cub’s eyes filling with tears.

       “I love her,”  he thought, holding Titania close, then mischievously rolling her over to get at her paws, stroking Titania’s paws, the cub curling the toes of her hind feet, kicking the air with her hind feet with gusto and pawing at his nose with her forepaws.

       “I love this black bear,” Randolph said seriously to his mama, bearing aria laughing indulgently and ruffling his ears.

     “You can’t say that yet little Randolph,” she said.  Randolph looked down at the female black bear’s closed eyes.

      “What is your name little black lady?”  Randolph asked.

       “My name’s Titania, I’m only a day old, I know I look bigger, and my mama knows I’m bigger than I should be if I was wild, for she eats well, and paid the price when delivering me into the world, for she had to push and wriggle and roar, but she gave birth to me with no trouble.  You though,” here she grabbed his somewhat emaciated right forepaw, the older cub’s paw larger but less fleshed than her own smaller and younger paw, “you’re less well fed than me, but that will change if you live here for long.”  Randolph kissed her nose:

       “I want to stay here; Titania smiled and kissed his nose.

      “Your mama is a beautiful bear,”  Randolph said, “I can tell this, as her daughter cub is beautiful from her nose,”  he touched Titania’s nose, “to her toes,”  he touched Titania’s toes, then kissed the pads of all four of her small paws, Titania giggling with excited pleasure.

       “My mama is a wonderful bear, and so is my sire,” Titania said.  Randolph looked up to find a large mama black bear watching him with her head on one side.  He noticed her one eye was kindly, and evidently loved the look in her one remaining eye, a look which told him she approved of him playing with her cub’s paws.”

       “I think my mama wants to see you kiss my paws again,” Titania said.  Randolph kissed Titania’s forepaws first, her right forepaw, the furry top, then her pads, then her toes, then repeating the action with her other three paws, Titania wriggling and laughing.

      “I love that, I love that so much!”  She yelled as Randolph kissed the pads of her left hind foot, Targon smiling broadly.

      “You’ve found a love interest Titania?”  She asked.

      “His paws are warm and his kiss on my pads is lovely,” she replied.

       “I have never played with a cub’s paws before,” Randolph said, “I’ve played with my own paws, but not with another cub’s paws until now, and I love it.”  Titania giggled:

      “I love you playing with my toes,” she said, “stretch they curl them, or I will stretch and curl them for you.”

      “Would you play with my paws too?”  Randolph asked.  Titania hugged him tightly, throwing her paws around his neck.

       “Yes, please,” she said, kissing his nose.

       “Did your sire play with your mama’s paws while she was in labour giving birth to you little Titania?”  Randolph asked.

      “I don’t know,” Titania replied, “what makes you think Blackberry did?”

       “Because you evidently love the feel of your paws being handled by others,” Randolph replied.  Targon smiled:

      “Blackberry did touch my paws a little during my labour while I pushed down against little Titania,”  Targon replied, “I even grabbed my hind feet with my forepaws, drawing up my hind legs and grabbing my hind feet with my forepaws and holding on so tightly I dug my claws into my pads almost.  I held on so tightly!”

       “Did you enjoy giving birth to Titania?”  Randolph asked straight out.  Berengaria shushed her cub, but Targon sat down and smiled broadly.

      “I loved every minute of it,” she said picking up her cub and hugging her tightly.

      “I love you Titania,” Targon said.  Titania snuggled up to her mama and kissed her nose:

       “I love you too mama,” she replied.  Randolph looked at Targon’s body from her one eye, to her well padded paws, his eyes lingering on her paws, her tender forepaws, and her expressive hind feet.  Instead of showing emotion through her eyes, she showed it through her paws, tightly curling the toes of both hind feet when emotional, even drawing her hind feet up a little, pressing down hard with the heels  of both feet while hugging her cub in her forepaws.  Randolph padded up to Targon and stroked the pads and furry top of her left hind foot, Targon smiling and wiggling her toes in response to Randolph’s massaging touch.

       “Now I wonder if any cub would be brave enough to pad up to me if I was sitting down and grab my hind paws in their forepaws.”  Berengaria asked aloud.  Georgia padded up to her and touched her shoulder with her paw.

      “I’ll touch your hind feet with my forepaws,” she said.  Georgia played with Berengaria’s right hind foot, the mama polar bear curling her toes with pleasure.  Kuruk padded in and sat down beside Berengaria, Georgia realising his hind feet were different to the mama polar bear’s.  Whereas her soles had fur between the toes and around the pads, Kuruk’s foot had no fur on the sole at all, his pads being naked, but just as wrinkled as those of the mama polar bear.  Meanwhile Randolph was appraising Georgia’s paws, they were the paws of a ten week old cub, but she had the bearing of a much older bear.

       “You are at least four months old now aren’t you?”  Berengaria asked.  Georgia smiled and nodded.

       “I’m six months old,” she replied, “but my body is that of a twelve week old cub, enough to know how to play, and to be able to do things for myself, but I’ll be this stature all my life, or that’s what the spirit bear here says anyway.”

      “You have a spirit bear here?”  Mama Berengaria asked.

      “His name’s Tornassuk, though his cub,” she waved a paw at Titania, “she calls him Blackberry.  Apparently Blackberry was his given name when he was born.  Tornassuk is his spirit bear name, and Sire Patch, who is a grey bear with white paw pads, is Blackberry’s adopted sire.  He’s lovely, as are all the bears here.”  Blackberry padded in to the lie up, though he was no longer black, he’d washed the dye out of his fur, and now was snowy white once more, the bears staring at him in admiration.

      “He’s lovely!”  Georgia thought.

      “hi all,”  Tornassuk said, padding over to Titania and tickling her belly, the black bear cub wriggling and laughing with pleasure.

       “You are so lovely Titania,” Tornassuk said, Titania laughing and clasping Tornassuk’s paw in both her forepaws...

 

Georgia led Randolph and nut into the soft play room, where she rolled each over in turn and tickled their paw pads, the two cubs laughing merrily.  Hayden, seeing this, padded in, wishing to join in.  Georgia looked at him.

      “You’re not a cub,” she said, “you’re at least two years old!”  Hayden rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air, Georgia laughing so much she gave in and tickled his pads and toes, Hayden very happy indeed.

      “Now can I tickle your toes Georgia?”  Hayden asked.  Georgia crawled away, Hayden following her and catching her, tickling the toes of her hind paws, Georgia laughing helplessly.  Smiling, she ended the rough and tumble in Hayden’s embrace, Georgia snuggling up to the larger bear.

       “You’ve got big paws,” Georgia said.  Hayden laughed:

      “Not really,” he replied, “I’ve got big sole pads yes, but my toes, well, and they’re rather cubbish.”  Georgia smiled:

      “I like cubbish toes,” she said, “We should all remember how it was to have cubbish paws.”

       “Have you seen the soles of Nanuq’s paws?  He’s got furry soles on his forepaws and no fur on the soles of his hind!”  Georgia laughed.  Hayden had not seen this, but Georgia, having been adopted by Nanuq, had seen, and loved her adopted sire’s paws.

      “I’ve not seen Nanuq’s paws, but why would he have half and half?  Why not all naked soles or all furred soles?”  Hayden asked.  Georgia smiled and was about to explain, when Nanuq padded in.

      “I’ll sit down and you can explore my paws while I tell you of my sire and mama,” he said, sitting down, giving Hayden and Georgia access to his paws.

       “My mama and sire were Nanuq senior and Brunetta.  Brunetta a brown bear, and Nanuq, a polar bear, were great friends and mates too.  I was born of them, and have their characteristics in me, both polar bear and brown bear.  That is why I have naked soles on my hind paws and furred on my fore.  I love my paws, though playing with my hind feet does tickle a little due to the fur on the toes of my forepaws.  That’s kind of fun though, which is all that matters.”  Georgia grabbed Nanuq’s right hind foot and tickled the large sole pad, Nanuq laughing and curling his toes.  Hayden wanted to do the same, but couldn’t ask it.  Nanuq, feeling his questions, gave him his left forepaw then his left hind, letting Hayden touch the two very different paws on the same bear.

      “Can I say your paws are cute?”  Hayden asked.  Nanuq smiled and clasped Hayden’s left forepaw in his furred forepaws.

      “Of course you can, and I am glad of your thoughts on my paws.”  He said.  Hayden pressed his hind paws against Nanuq’s, the male cross bred bear curling his toes around Hayden’s, engulfing the younger and smaller bear’s toes in his larger ones.

      “Your pads are warm and soft,” Nanuq said.  Hayden laughed merrily.

       “I’m a young bear, so they should be,” he said.  Nanuq smiled and took hold of Hayden’s right hind foot, tracing his pads and counting his toes, just like he would when playing with his own cub.  Hayden, loving his attentions, curled his toes, making the large sole pad bunch up, Nanuq smiling and rubbing the tops of Hayden’s toes, the younger bear laughing delightedly.

       “Hey, I want some of that too!”  Rocky said, padding into the soft playroom.  Nanuq looked at him:

      “You wait your turn,” Nanuq said smiling.

     “But I don’t want to!”  Rocky yelled, falling to the floor and kicking the air with all four paws.  Hayden looked profoundly embarrassed, but Nanuq treated Rocky like a cub, going over to him and cuffing him gently in retribution for his bad behaviour.

      “You are so playful Nanuq,” Georgia said.  Nanuq looked up to where, fifty feet above his head, Kendal and Morag prepared to come down the zip wire.  Koda had made it mandatory for bears to wear harness up on the wire, as he was afraid of them falling.  Now Morag, tiny little bear that she was, was coming down the wire, screaming with delight, she shot over the heads of her watching audience, Georgia running to the bottom of the wire to help her down, Morag’s tiny hind feet straining to reach the soft flooring, her toes curling and stretching as she fought to touch the soft flooring, her toes inches from the floor.  Georgia, smiling, lifted Morag from the seat and down to the floor, Morag hugging Georgia tightly in thanks for her assistance.

       “I love you Georgia,” Morag said, nuzzling her ear, Georgia smiling and embracing her tightly.

       “I love you too little Morag,” Georgia said, kissing the smaller cub’s nose and forepaws.  Kendal padded over to Morag and ambushed her, rolling her onto her back and tickling her belly and paws, Morag laughing and kicking the air with abandon, Georgia smiling at the sight of her pedalling paws.

     “Who is having a good time here?”  Sita asked, padding into the room.

     “it’s Morag and Kendal, they’re having the time of their lives,”  Georgia said,  Sita smiling rather vacantly, Georgia wondering why she was not enjoying the sight of two cubs enjoying themselves.

      “She’s a bit down in the mouth today I think,” Georgia mumbled.  Toby padded in, saw the look on Georgia’s face, and looked at Sita.

      “Mama cant’ see you Georgia, that’s why she is looking a bit vacant when you describe what’s happening.  Georgia had forgotten Sita couldn’t see.

     “So what do you want me to do?”  Georgia asked.

     “She needs to know what is going on; your description is not enough.  Let her touch your paws, show her what’s going on.”  Georgia looked at Sita.

     “So you want me to let Sita play with my paws?”  She asked.

     “No,” Toby said, “just be a little more considerate, don’t tell her Kendal and Morag are having the time of their lives, without explaining more.”  Toby padded to his mother, touching her paw with his.

       “Please mama, come with me,” he said, taking her paw and leading her to Georgia and putting her paw into Georgia’s.

     “Here is Georgia,” Toby said.  Georgia looked up into Sita’s sightless eyes.

     “So you can’t see me at all?”  She asked.  Sita shook her head.

       “I forgot Sita,” Georgia replied sorrowfully, “I am so sorry for forgetting you can’t see.”  Sita kissed Georgia’s nose, Georgia looking at Sita with interest, her muddy brown fur with its stripes and spots, and banded tail, her blue eyes, and general unkempt appearance, which seemed to be a constant feature no matter how she tried to keep her fur in check.  Georgia looked at Sita, then at her cub.

       “How did you give birth to him?”  She asked.  Sita smiled:

      “I mated with jet, and then a few months later, had a roller coaster labour with Toby.  He used his paws to break my waters and to tell me he was ready to come into the world.  I wriggled and roared and kicked and cried through contractions.  About the only thing I didn’t do was sit back on my heels, I didn’t want to do that, but I did everything else.  Grabbing my hind feet with my forepaws, rolling about, drawing up my hind feet and kicking, all that, and I roared and roared.  I was a noisy labouring mama.”

      Can I see my birth video?”  Toby asked.  Sita smiled and padded from the room, Georgia trying to glimpse the pads of her hind paws.  Sita seemed to realise this, and crawled from the room, Georgia able to see the hybrid creature’s pads and toes, Georgia loving her even more because of this.  Georgia, now fascinated, padded after Sita and her cub, and witnessed Sita giving birth to Toby on a video, seeing close ups of Sita’s labour, from her face contorted in agony, and once her open screaming mouth, with large teeth and panting lolling tongue as she expressed her pain, to her closed eyes and clenched teeth as  she pushed down hard against Toby, to her  arching back and straining tail, and then her paws, both hind and fore, curling toes, pawing at the air, seeing her bunching pads, and all as if she was there with Sita.  Georgia saw a powerful display of vulnerability and gentility too.  When Sita sat up after wriggling her way through most of her labour to catch Toby, Georgia saw her sweating forepaws catching her cub with gentle care, her body straining to deliver the cub, her mouth roaring, the toes of her hind paws curling hard, while her forepaws gently eased the cub into the world.  Georgia looked at Sita sitting composed and rather proud with her cub in her lap.

     “Well done mama,” she said.  Sita laughed:

      “I would go through it all again,” she replied, “I enjoyed it, despite all appearances.  Pushing was amazing!  How liberating, how lovely!”  Toby clung to his mama, Sita tenderly stroking his back with one massive forepaw.

      “You are amazing Sita,” Georgia said.  Sita smiled broadly.

       “I had a cub; nearly all females can have cubs you know.”

      “You’re still amazing,” Georgia said.

       “Your body, face and hind feet were those of a mama giving birth mama Sita,” Toby said, “while your forepaws, while all this was happening, were gentle on me, pulling gently, guiding softly, while the rest of you pushed and strained hard.  That’s what Georgia means.”  Sita smiled:

      “So I curled the toes of my hind feet so hard, while my forepaws were relaxed?”  She asked.

       “Yes mama,” Toby replied, “that is how it is in the video.”  Sita looked thoughtful.

      “I wish I could see that,” she said softly.

       “We all wish you could mama,” Georgia replied, “and no more than your cub Toby I’m sure.”  Sita hugged Toby tightly, stroking him from nose to tail, obviously remembering the passage of his body into the world during his birth inch by straining inch.

       “You can trace my body with your paws often as you like mama,” Toby said, “I know that’s the only way you can remember how things were when I was born.” Georgia watched Sita stroking her cub and thought of her own mama.  Had she done the same as Sita?  Probably not.  Georgia’s mama was a wild bred bear and having cubs was a necessity for her, not a joyful thing at all really.  She’d loved Georgia in her own way, protected her from all enemies, but Georgia knew now, now she’d seen another kind of love for a cub, that the love she’d been shown was more utilitarian.  Georgia’s mama had loved her enough to give her the chance to go into the world and procreate.  Sita’s love for her cub was a different love, a deeper love, for she’d had Toby for different reasons, because she wanted to have him.  Sita didn’t need to have cubs like Georgia’s mama had felt the need to have Georgia; Sita wanted Toby for his own sake, and not for the sake of continuing her bloodline.  Georgia’s admiration for Sita leapt several notches when she realised this.  Indeed all the bears in the community, all the lions and tigers, every mama here, did not have to have cubs for the sake of having cubs.  This did not mean that some females did not have cubs to show they could do so, yes that still went on, or that some did not feel it was their duty, for that was often the case too, but females had the choice here.  Georgia also knew some mamas chose to have cubs regularly, Tigress Pakshalika’s tale was well known in the community.  The tigress that gave birth too many cubs, but kept them with her like a lioness would.  Georgia realised Pakshalika had made her choice, and lionesses and tigresses both had despised her for her choices, but she’d made them, and stuck by her cubs.  Georgia looked back at Sita, who was still stroking Toby with those tender paws, the same tender paws that had helped him into the world in his time of need.  Georgia looked away; her heart aching for her own mother to have done for her what Sita did for Toby when he was born.  She knew though that her mama had probably been lying on her side while giving birth to her, had probably not felt a thing, let alone cried and curled her toes, and strained hard.  Only pandas and bears like Sita did that, crying their pain to the world.  Georgia had seen Yi Jie’s labour, and knew pandas made a lot of noise while having their cubs.  They were not afraid of showing their pain.  Georgia’s reverie was cut short by the feel of gentle paws around her, then a kiss to her nose.  It was only then she realised she was sitting in Sita’s lap, and that she’d buried her face in her paws and was crying.

       “What’s up Georgia?”  Sita asked.  Georgia poured her heart out, every little bit of her thoughts came tumbling out of her mouth, they sounded disjointed, ungrateful thoughts to Georgia when spoken aloud, but Sita seemed to understand.”

      “My mama had me because she thought her duty was to have cubs,” Sita said, “but when I was born, she hardly cared for me.”  Georgia gasped:

     “So it’s you of whom they tell the tale,” she said, “you the bandy tailed bear cub, the maoxiong, the one Anook thought were sacred.”  Sita smiled sadly.

     “It is me,” she replied, “and they probably told it as if in ancient times didn’t they?”  Georgia nodded:

     “The old badger, honey what’s it, she did yes,” she confirmed.  Sita smiled:

     “I’m not as old as all that,” she replied, “I’m three years old just, not as old as Nanuq you see.  Georgia looked into Sita’s face.

        “Nanuq seems very old and wise,” she said.

     “He isn’t old at all,” Sita replied, “but his years are younger than his wisdom.  His sire, Nanuq senior taught him well, taught him how to be a gentle bear, a loving bear, and true to himself.  A gentler adoptive sire you could never wish for Georgia.”

       “I hope someone adopted you after your mama threw you out,” Georgia said.

      “Honeyfur never told you the truth then,” Sita said.  Georgia looked down at her forepaws.

      “What was the truth mama?”  She asked faintly.

       “My mama, my true mama,” Sita replied, then she stopped, and Georgia looked up to see Sita’s eyes full of tears.

      “If you don’t want to tell me, then that’s fine,” Georgia said, reaching up with her paw to dry Sita’s eyes.

      “I can tell you the tale little Georgia, for I feel you will believe, you will understand,” Sita choked.

     “I can try to understand,” Georgia said.

      “Tell on mama, please,” Toby begged.  Sita laid cautionary paws on both their heads.

        “It is such an amazing tale that no adult would believe it unless they knew those who were concerned with it,” she replied, “neither of you know enough about the bear that saved me to understand why I call him my true mama.”

     “Him?”  Georgia asked, “But male bears can’t have cub’s mama Sita, that’s impossible!”

       “It isn’t,” Sita replied, “when you meet this bear, you will know who I speak of while crying tears of gratitude.  Koda adopted me for the purposes of looking after me day to day, but this bear, this gentle creature to whom I owe my life and a whole lot more, is my true mama.  Do you know the difference between mother and mama?”  Sita asked.  Toby said he did, but Georgia was less certain.

      “They are both mothers,” she said, “mama is a term of respect for a female who’s had a cub.”

      “Yes mama can be a mother, but she can also be a protector, sometimes a barren bear or tigress, or lioness that’s had no cubs of her own, but loves other’s cubs like her own.  A female can become a mother, that’s easy, but a true mama is a great honour to have.”

      “I think I know what you mean,” Georgia said, “my mother gave birth to me and weaned me, but then she would have no further contact with me.  You though Sita, you will have years of contact with Toby when he is older, and be therefore him as long as he needs you.  You will care for him regardless of his prospective worth to you as a genetic carrier of your bloodline.”  Sita nodded.

       “Exactly,” she replied.  Georgia looked at Sita.

       “My mama didn’t want me,” she said.

      “I know Georgia,” Sita replied, “no cub cries like you were unless that was what had happened.”

       “I tried to tell myself she was shot,” Georgia sniffed, “but that was not the case,” she hated me because, because, because I’m like this, stunted, the size of a cub forever!  I never grew well, and now, now, I’m abandoned by my blood family.  Sita rubbed Georgia’s back, the cub choking back tears.

       “Hug me Sita!”  Georgia begged.  Sita hugged her tightly, Georgia crying into her long thick fur.

      “I think Georgia would love it mama if you would adopt her as your cub,” Toby said, “I’ve always wanted a sister, a fluffy furry playful sister cub.”  Sita grinned.

      “Now,” she said, “how would that be?”  Georgia felt the toes of all four paws curling involuntarily and she had to bite her tongue to stop herself crying out.

      “Now could I adopt this cub?”  Sita asked aloud, lifting Georgia onto her lap and stroking her from her nose to her toes.

     “Please say yes, please say yes, I want to be your cub!”  Georgia begged silently.  Sita kissed Georgia’s nose and the pads of all four paws.

       “I wish my mama had delivered me like you did Toby,” Georgia said softly.  Sita smiled.

      “I wish I’d delivered you in the same labour in which I delivered Toby,” Sita replied.

       “Cant’ you pretend you did? Please?”  Georgia asked, her face reddening at the sound of her voice requesting such madness and impossibility.

      “I’m sorry,” she said quickly, “I didn’t mean that, not really, well kind of.”  Sita hugged her tenderly.

       “I could imagine it,” Sita said, “I could imagine giving birth to you.  The pain of my initial labour, then pushing hard down into my tail, roaring and squealing, sobbing and pedalling the air with my paws.  I can imagine how it would feel to press down hard into my tail while reclining, bearing down hard to deliver you.  It would hurt me a lot, but I’d love every minute of my labour.”  Georgia kissed her adoptive mama’s hind paw, getting a good look at her bunched pads and curled toes, Sita laughing merrily.

     “Can you make my toes uncurl?”  Sita asked.  Georgia rubbed Sita’s bunched sole pad, giggling as her toes relaxed.

      “Now we’re one family?”  Toby asked.  Sita smiled and replied this was so, Georgia hugging Toby, then both cubs snuggling up to Sita.

      “How are you my dear daughter cub?”  Sire Patch asked, padding into the room.  Georgia looked at the grey bear, and saw in his expression the deep love a mama should hold for her cub, then she knew what question Patch had asked.

      “You asked how it was to give birth to a cub didn’t you.”  She asked.  Sire Patch sat down, Georgia loving every inch of him instantly, wanting to be hugged by him as much as she had by Sita.

       “He is a good spirit, a good bear from his nose to his toes,” Georgia thought.

     “Go to him,” Sita said, pushing Georgia towards the big cross bred grizzly polar bear.  Georgia crawled head down, towards Patch, feeling his paws reaching for her, gathering her to him, then hugging her tightly, Georgia crawling, then clambering, then scrambling into his hug, her paws finding their place on his warm fur, then her toes digging in naturally, pressing her pads against his warm fur.  Georgia wanted to bury her face in his fur, and this she did, burying her face deep in patch’s fur, holding on tightly to him with fore and hind paws, using the whole of her paws to grip, to touch, to explore, to love this big soft bear.

       “How can this be so wonderful?”  Georgia asked, “There must be a catch, this had to end, nothing can be so good and have no strings, can it?”  Patch kissed her nose and paws, Georgia clinging onto his left forepaw, pressing her hind into his luxurious thick fur, feeling her paws sink into his fur, feeling her toes curling into the thick hair, loving the sensation of fur held in her curled toes.

     “I love this, I love this!”  She said, bouncing on the balls of her hind paws so she still kept hold of Patch’s fur, but could feel her heels leaving contact with his leg fur slightly.  Patch encouraged her to bounce more, and Georgia did, bouncing on her toes while trying not to let go of his fur with those same toes.  Toby whispered to his mama, telling her what Georgia was doing, indeed imitating her as best he could, Sita giggling and loving her cub’s love of Patch, only wishing she was small enough to do what Georgia was doing right now.

      “I wish I could do that again Toby,” Sita said, “but I can’t, I’m too big now, I can’t do it ever again.”

       “I know you miss it mama,” Toby replied, “I heard your tale, and I am sorry for it, more sorry than I can put into words.  I am sorry for you, not because you are blind, but because you had no mama who loved you, or no mama who you thought loved you, though there was one who did and does.”

      “I want to bounce on my toes like Georgia’s doing,” Sita pleaded.  Patch crawled over to his Daugherty cub and took her right hind foot in his paws.

      “Flex these toes Sita, curl and stretch them, go on, try it,” Patch said.  Sita, sniffing, tried what patch suggested, and smiled at the result.

        “I can find you some nice thick carpet that you can curl your toes into and bounce like Georgia was doing,” patch said.  Sita smiled and followed him to the soft play room and through that to another part of the same room with different textured floorings and padded walls.  Sita and Patch sat down and Patch explained where they were.

      “This is a padded room,”  Patch said, “you can run and throw yourself up the wall, and bounce off, and land and roll about, and play with your paws, and crawl through tunnels, and enjoy yourself in safety.  Here is all soft and safe.  The soft playroom is like this, but here is smaller and easier for you and your cubs to play in, as it’s a smaller area.  Explore, touch, climb, roll, play together all three of you.

     “My cubs are here too?”  Sita asked.  George and Toby appeared with bells which they tied round Sita’s right hind leg, they themselves wearing small bells around their right hind legs also.

    “Now we can hear where each of us is,” Toby said.  Indeed, all the bells were different sizes, making each wearer bells sound different.  This way, Sita could track both her cubs, indeed, when they crawled and padded around her, they could not stop the bells from tinkling and jingling.

     “This is fun!”  Georgia laughed.  Toby giggled and tickled his sister’s toes, Georgia squealing and crawling away into a tunnel, where she sat inside, rocking back and fourth, pushing with her feet and her back until the tunnel, a tube, rolled her over backwards, Georgia laughing merrily, and Toby joining her, the two cubs rocking in unison, making the tube roll over and over until it collided with Sita and Patch, who braced their hind feet against it to stop the cubs.

      “That was such fun!”  Georgia said.  Toby tickled Georgia’s hind feet, Georgia crawling from the tube laughing and excited.  Sita, in a fit of exuberance, cart wheeled a little, surprised she could do this in safety.

     “You are totally safe Sita, so run, play, roll, crawl, climb, and dive, go on,” Patch said.  Sita padded round the room, then, reaching the other side, her paw slipped, and she was suddenly tumbling head over paws into a foam pit.  Squealing, Sita landed on her back with all four feet in the air, laughing and kicking wildly.  Sita felt her cubs joining her in the foam pit, and then she was dragged out by Patch, Georgia and Toby burying their mama in foam.  Sita let her cubs bury her, then she exploded from the foam pile scattering foam everywhere.

      “This is such fun!”  Sita laughed.  Patch kissed his daughter cub’s nose and they roughhoused for a while, Sita eventually dumping Patch in the foam pit while her cubs pelted them with the foam left from burying their mama.

     “They’re throwing foam at us!”  Sita laughed, listening for the tinkling bells worn by her two cubs and lobbing foam back in their direction.  Patch brought an end to proceedings and they all gathered up the foam, putting it back in the pit.

       “This is a fun place,” Georgia said to Patch, who smiled and replied:

      “This can be yours and your mama’s place if you like.  A place where you can play in safety with your mama, where you can really let your fur down and roll about like a mama and cubs do in play without the fear of getting hurt due to mama not being able to see the dangers.”

       “I agree entirely,” Koda said, padding in, “I love this place myself.  Sita hugged Koda and, picking him up, dumped him in the foam pit, the black bear laughing and dragging her in.  Sita laughed as Koda tickled the pads and toes of her right hind foot, Sita wriggling madly, the bell fastened to her right hind leg tinkling merrily.

      “Leave my feet alone!”  Sita wailed, while giving Koda her right hind paw again, Koda rubbing her tickled pads until Sita was almost purring with pleasure.

       “I love that,” she said, curling her toes slightly.  Georgia watched her adoptive mama laughing and playing with Koda, loving his attentions.  Sita scrambled away, making a lot of fuss about crawling, rolling and scrambling, Koda following her, both ending up in a larger version of the hollowed out cylinder Georgia and Toby had played in.  Sitting beside each other, they began to rock back and fourth, pushing alternately with their backs and hind feet until the cylinder rocked past the point of no return, and they rolled over once, then twice.  Sita and Koda then left the cylinder, Koda tickling Sita’s right hind foot as he followed her, Sita laughing and wiggling her toes.

     “You little tyke!” she laughed.  Koda tweaking her tail, Sita squealing and rounding on him, clasping Koda with her forepaws and hugging him tightly.

     “Is that the way you talk to your community leader?”  Koda asked, Sita shrinking back in confusion, Koda kissing her nose and returning her hug.

       “Your pads are warm and soft,” Koda said.  Sita laughed:

       “I’m a house lover,” she said, “I rarely leave the house, and so my pads remain soft.”  Koda embraced Sita tightly, Sita purring with pleasure and cuddling close to the black bear.

 

Meanwhile, Patch was playing with Georgia and Toby in the foam pit, the two cubs burying the larger bear up to his neck in foam.

 

In the main soft playroom, Nanuq watched Morag riding the zip wire.  When she came to a stop, he watched her trying to reach the floor with her hind feet, pointing, curling and then stretching her toes towards the floor with all her determination.  Nanuq, touched by this display, padded up to Morag and cupped his paws beneath her curling, stretching, and scrabbling toes, the tiny cub smiling at him as her hind feet were embraced in warm fur.

       “You didn’t have to do that,” she said, “but thank you anyway.”

      “You were stretching your toes so desperately,” Nanuq replied.  Morag, smiling, nodded:

      “I’m determined to reach the floor with my hind feet,” she said.

       “You’re only a few inches off,” Nanuq replied.  Morag wiggled her toes and shifted her hind feet in Nanuq’s embrace.

       “I much prefer warm paws holding my hind feet to them being on the cold matting,” she replied.

      “Seeing you curl and stretch your toes like that while swinging your hind legs was so cute,” Nanuq admitted, Morag giggling playfully.

       “I kind of enjoy the struggle,” she replied, “but yes, I have seen video of me curling and stretching my toes while sitting here, and, if I do say so I, it’s kind of cute,” she admitted.  Nanuq helped Morag down from the seat and set her down on the floor on all four of her tiny paws.  Morag crawled after Nanuq as he walked away, the large male bear watching her progress.

       “Can’t you walk yet little one?”  He asked, turning to her.

       “Weakling’s boring,” Morag replied, “Crawling’s much more fun.  I can walk though, on all four paws,” she demonstrated, “and on my hind too!”  she added, fitting actions to words, Nanuq laughing merrily as she danced towards him on her hind feet, collapsing in a laughing, paw waving  heap at his feet..

       “You are so funny!”  Nanuq said, helping Morag to her paws and then lying down so she could clamber onto his back, which she did.

      “Where are we going?”  She asked, holding on tightly with toes of all four of her tiny paws.

      “Let’s go and see what’s going on in the other soft playroom shall we,” he replied.  With that Nanuq padded to where Koda and Sita were coming out of the smaller room, Georgia riding on Koda’s back, Toby on Sita’s.

      “Is the fun all over for today?”  Morag asked.

      “You can go in there if you like,” Toby replied, “it’s a fun place that, cubs are all safe and can play without worry.”

       “I thought that was the case in the larger room too,” Morag said.

      “What Toby means is there are no high wire antics in that room,” Sita replied, “and before you say it Morag, I know you like the zip wire, but for some of us it’s not really safe to play on without supervision.”

       “I know that,”  Morag replied, “and I suppose zip wires are all good in their way, but you can’t really better a good rough and tumble game, chasing paws and tickling those paws when caught too.”  Sita smiled.

      “No you can’t,” she said.

      “Koda pulled mama’s tail!”  Georgia said.

       “He didn’t pull my tail Georgia,” Sita corrected her firmly, “he tweaked it, he didn’t pull it.  That would be cruel, and Koda’s not cruel.

       “But you rounded on him to stop him pulling your tail, you were snarling and angry,” Georgia wailed.

      “I was playing, I wanted to hug Koda more than fight him, the same as when he was tickling my toes earlier and I told him, “leave my feet alone,”  I didn’t mean it, and he knew it, as I didn’t withdraw my foot.”  Georgia fell into silence, Morag sliding off Nanuq’s back to take a better look at Sita, whom she found most interesting.  Morag walked all round Sita, and even crawled under her belly, rolling onto her back to look up at Sita’s belly fur.  Sita, realising this, put her head down between her forelegs and stuck her tongue out at Morag, the cub laughing helplessly at her antics.

       “What are you doing down there?”  Sita asked.

       “I’m checking you over, just like I saw Goldie doing to rosier,” Morag replied.  Sita looked mystified.

       “I know that bear’s a bit vain, but what on earth are he and a horse doing together?”  She asked.

      “Rosie helped Goldie to learn how to trim his own fur now he was in his rightful form,” Morag replied, obviously finding the idea of a horse teaching a bear, who used to be a lion, how to groom himself, a completely natural and unremarkable subject, “Rosie was teaching him how to groom himself by getting him to be methodical when grooming her, not missing an inch, and for this he had to get under her belly with a brush.”  Sita snorted:

      “I’m no horse,” she said.

     “No,” Morag replied, “but you could do with a good brush.”

       “Cheeky little cub you are!”  Sita snapped, while Georgia and Toby laughed uproariously at Morag’s words.

      “And you two can stop laughing right now!”  Sita snapped.

       “Bravo Morag,” Toby said, “you tell ‘em how it is won’t you!”  Sita growled deep in her throat, very unhappy.

      I know my furs in a hell of a state, but I can’t do a dam thing about it!”  She snarled.  Morag scrambled out of range of Sita’s massive hind feet, though she was not to know that Sita would never have laid a paw on her.

      “I saw what a brush could do for Goldie’s fur, and thought yours might do well for it too,” Morag said.  Koda took her aside and spoke gently to her, Morag approaching Sita a few minutes later and apologising.

       “I’m truly sorry for what I said Sita,” she said.  Sita knew she was, indeed, the remark had been that of an uncomprehending cub, with no malicious intent.  Sita kissed Morag’s nose and all was forgotten.  Morag walked to Sita’s right forepaw and gripped her ankle in her tiny forepaws.

      “Pick it up!”  Morag said firmly, Sita instinctively lifting her paw before she realised what she was doing, slightly overbalancing as she did so.

     Oooah,” Morag said gently.  Sita laughing at her situation.

      “I’m not Rosie,” she said, “I’m no horse!”  Koda bit his paw to stop himself laughing, but Nanuq was less forgiving, guffawing loudly.

      “That looks so funny!”  He laughed.

     “Thanks,” Sita mumbled.  Morag dropped Sita’s right forepaw after exploring the sole of her foot with infinite care, taking a good look and physically pressing on Sita’s pads and flexing her toes.

      “Thank you Morag,” Sita said, “now, would you check my other three paws?”  Morag smiled and nodded.

      “I will,” she said, “if you wish me to, but wouldn’t it be easier to roll onto your back or sit down?”  Sita smiled and rested her right forepaw on the floor, picking up her right hind foot, Morag cradling it in one tiny paw while exploring Sita’s pads and toes with the other, pressing Sita’s pads and flexing her toes.

     Can you curl and stretch your toes for me Sita?”  Morag asked, Sita obeying her instructions, while giggling delightedly.

      “That’s good, curl those toes, slowly now, and hold it, now stretch them as far as you can,” Morag said softly, Sita smiling to herself.

      “I like this,” she said, “I like this very much.”  Morag, sensing Sita’s enjoyment of being handled, carefully went round all four of her paws, asking her to lift each one, before carefully examining her pads and toes for injuries, finishing off by flexing Sita’s toes, then asking her to wiggle, then curl and stretch her toes, Sita complying with evident pleasure.  Once Morag had completed her examination of Sita’s paws, Morag looked at Sita.

       “Your paws are in good condition,” she said.

       “I almost want to pick up a thorn in a pad or get a stone between my toes so I can get my paws examined again,” Sita said.  Morag smiled.

       “I could examine your paws before you go out every day and when you come back in,” she offered.  Sita bounced on her toes, savouring the memory of Morag’s touch on her pads, smiling broadly at the memory.

      “I could get used to having my paws handled like that,” she said.  Toby, who’d been sitting on Sita’s back throughout Morag’s check on his mama’s paws, slid off her back and down to the floor, approaching Morag.

       “Would you check my papaws too?”  He asked.

      “I’ll show you how to check your mama’s paws, I’ll also check yours too, and show you how to check mine.  Toby smiled and sat down, Morag taking his right forepaw in hers, and checking his pads by stretching them, then asking him to flex the toes of his forepaw slowly.  Toby complied, and then gave Morag his left forepaw, then his left hind, then right hind, Morag repeating her examination on all four of his paws.

     “So you stretch the pads, and ask the owner of the paw to stretch and curl their toes so you can check for hidden injuries>?”  Toby asked.

      “Yes, that’s how it’s done,” Morag said, “You can wash the paw also, if you need to.”  Toby giggled as Morag finished her examination.

       “You have good healthy paws,” she said.  Toby said he would teach Georgia.

      “Now would you check my paws Toby?”  Morag asked.  Toby followed her instructions to the letter; Morag giggling as he handled her paws, loving his touch and gentility.  Curling and stretching her toes felt good while Toby held her paws, Morag bouncing around a little as she felt his touch on her pads while she wiggled, stretched and curled her toes when he asked it of her.

      “There’s something almost too good about having my paws handled by another bear,”  she said.  Toby laughed merrily and kissed Morag’s nose and the pads of all four of her paws, which sent Morag into gales of laughter.

      “can I hug you toby?”  Morag asked.  Toby smiled and Morag embraced him tightly.  Sita listened to their play, her face showing her enjoyment of her cub’s interaciotn with Morag.

      “can I check your paws for thorns Morag?”  Sita asked.  Morag smiled and cralwed over to Sita, sita exploring Morag’s fore and hind paws, morag laughing merrily throughout.

        “I heard that humans put socks on their hind paws to keep them warm,”  Sita said, drawing circles on the sole of Morag’s right hind foot with the toes of her own left forepaw.  Morag, giggling, curled her toes.

      “I have worn socks once,”  she said, “in the place where we used to live, there were some socks left in our cage.  I wore socks on my hind feet for a bit, but I hated it.  The best thing was peeling those socks from my hind paws and feeling the cool air against my pads.  Yeah mama! I love the freedom of being bare pawed!”  Sita laughed merrily.

      “Bare pawed is the way to be,”  she agreed.

       “cubs would have been born wearing socks if they were maent to go through life like that,”  Georgia said, padding over from where Nanuq had been diligently examining her paws, and she’d returned his favour.

      “Amen,”  Koda said, “bare pawed is the way to be.”

       “Paws are there to be enjoyed,”  Koda said, “to be played with, soothed, touched, stroked and are not just for walking on or catching food.  They are expressive keys to character and to emotion.”

     “Agreed with all that,”  Sita said, her own paws feeding her mind with the memory of the touch of Morag’s tiny paws, the memory serging and flowing, and surging again.

       “I agree with all this from my nose to my toes,”  Goldie bear said, padding in and sitting down.  Morag looked at him, her eyes telling of her need for his hug.  Then she was scrambling, crawling, stumbling to him, clambering untidily into his lap and allowing him to hug her, while she buried her face in his thick golden fur.

      “Have you adopted Morag Goldie?”  Georgia asked.  Goldie stroked Morag’s head and back with one huge forepaw.

       “I have yes,”  he said, “she is my cub as much as she can be.”

      “how about your relationship with Pakshalika?”  patch asked.  Goldie looked at him.

      “Pakshalika doesn’t want any more cubs, so we are still good friends,”  Goldie said, “but mates?  Sadly no more.  How could she be mates with a bear.  She mated with a lion, not a bear.  She liked my spirit, but soon her need to have another cub will rear its head again, and she might forget her resolve.  We are friends only now.  She could find another mate, a tiger maybe, and I could find another mate, a bear this time maybe.”

       “you’ve found a cub,”  Patch said.

     “But I won’t forget fleur or little Sammy,”  goldie replied.  Morag snuggled into Goldie’s hug, the large golden brown bear’s fur warm and safe to her.

      “Push with those little paws,”  Goldie encouraged, Morag digging in her hind paws and pushing back against Goldie’s right hind leg, Goldie briefly embracing her with his forepaws, before letting her rock forward.  Morag repeatedly pushed hard with her hind feet, Goldie letting her rock back and fourth, making her push with her hind feet and catching her in his forepaws, releasing her to push hard again with her hind paws, Morag getting into the game, grunting and growling with effort.

      “I’m gonna push so hard with my hind feet that I’ll finally stay in your embrace!”  she squealed, pushing hard with her hind paws while squealing lustily.  Curling her toes with frustration, Morag roared with her efforts, pushing harder than ever with her hind feet, Goldie catching and holding onto her at last.  Sensing victory Morag excitedly kicked the air with her hind feet, goldie holding her tenderly.

      “no need to push any more with those tiny paws little one,”  goldie said, kissing Morag’s nose, Morag snuggling up to him.

       “You took on a lovely cub there,”  Pakshalika said, padding into the lie up.  Goldie, smiling, rested his huge right forepaw on Morag’s head.

       “I love her very much,”  he said, “we’ve been, um, learning to groom our fur and keep our paws in good condition.”

      “I’ll bet you have you big pretty boy,”  Pakshalika replied smiling.  Goldie smiled broadly.

       “now can I check your paws goldie?”  Morag asked.  Goldie grinned, he obviously liked his paws handled.

      “My paws are yours,”  he said.

     “They can’t be mine, they’re enormous!”  Morag said laughing, “my paws are tiny Goldie.”  Goldie tickled Morag’s toes, the little cub squealing with laughter.

      “I’ll try to sort out my fur,”  sita mumbled, still very upset.

      “No need sita dear,”  Goldie replied, “your fur’s okay.”  Sita padded up to goldie and tried to kiss him on his nose, but missed and kissed his ear instead.

      “you are beautiful sita,”  goldie said.  Sita smiled, lifting her left forepaw to place it in goldie’s right, Goldie making sure she didn’t miss her target this time.

 

Meanwhile, in Sarafina’s lie up, Nicolai and Androclies were comforting a very emotional polar bear who had just wandered in from the woods, desperate to find his brother.  Hearing of the community and its reputation for reuniting families, The polar bear, who’s name was Kenny, padded in asking if anyone had seen a large polar bear named Patrick, whith whom he’d lost touch years ago.  Nicolai told Kenny the good news, and now the polar bear, who wore a scarf much like Nicolai’s, was crying with releif and exhaustion.  Patrick, having been alerted by Androclies, ran in soon after, embracing Kenny in a wirlwind of white fur.

       “I’m so glad to see you again,”  Patrick said, nuzzling Kenny’s ear.  Kenny sat down, exhausted and spent in spirit.

        “I don’t want to run any more!”  he sniffed.  Patrick hugged him tightly and told him there would be no need to run from anyone ever again.  Kenny snuggled up to Patrick, Nicolai smiling at the two brothers.

      “Why are you wearing a scarf Kenny?”  Nicolai asked.  Kenny self conciously touched the scarf around his neck with his paw:

      “I liked the look of it,”  he admitted ashamedly.

      “You have no need to be ashamed of your choice,”  Nicolai said, “for I too found a scarf and like how it looks on me.”  Kenny looked at Nicolai, his eyes begging him for something he could not put into words.

      “Do you want a hug?”  Nicolai asked.  Kenny, shame faced, looked at Patrick to see his reaction.

      “Follow your paws,”  Patrick said softly.  Kenny, almost sobbing, ran to Nicolai and threw himself into the large bear’s embrace, Nicolai stroking Kenny’s back and ears with one huge forepaw, while holding Kenny close with the other.

       “don’t, don’t touch my hind paws,”  Kenny begged, “I’ve been watching this community for some days, and know paw play is a great thing here, but I don’t like it.”

      “I think you have been told you don’t like it,”  Nicolai said gently, “Kenny, let me touch the pads of your right hind foot, I’ll do it just the once, and you tell me honestly what you feel.”  Kenny gulped hard, his body shaking uncontrollably.

      “I can’t tell you what I think, for it’s too cubbish, too silly, you know what I really think Nicolai.  You know it, you know it!”  Nicolai touched the heel and then the toes of Kenny’s right hind foot, gently tracing a line from heel to toes, Kenny curling his toes with instant pleasure and clenching his teeth.

      “What’s wrong?”  Nicolai asked.

       “I want more of that,”  Kenny panted, “and I’m close to losing control, your touch makes me want to kick my hind feet in the air and let you hold each of them in turn, to stroke my pads and play with my toes!  My mama told me it was not healthy to play with my paws, but I’ve secretly wanted to all my life!”  patrick nodded in confirmation.

      “I played with my hind paws anyway,”  he said, “but Kenny couldn’t break our mama’s control.”

    “I’m trying not to cry out,”  Kenny whimpered, “this is so intense, so wonderful!”

      “Your breaking one of the biggest taboos in his life,”  patrick said, “here, to play with another’s paws is accepted, and very much encouraged, but out on the ice, it wasn’t so.”

      “It’s very much encouraged here,”  Koda said, padding into the lie up and sitting down to observe events.

      “Go to the black bear and give him your paw Kenny,”  Patrick said.  Kenny, uncomprehending, padded to Koda and gave him his left forepaw.

      “Hello Kenny,”  Koda said softly.

       “Why did Patrick ask me to come to you,”  he asked.  Koda embraced Kenny tightly, the polar bear relaxing completely.

       “don’t worry about who I am,”  Koda replied, “just take it from me, you’re safe here.”

      “Only the leader of this community can give that assurance,”  Kenny said.  Koda kissed his nose.

       “You have found faviour with the leaders of the community,”  he replied.

      “As long as I am safe,”  Kenny said.  Koda rubbed his back and ruffled his ears, something which Kenny found pleasureable.

       “Will you touch my hind paws too?”  Kenny asked.  Koda thought for a minute:

       “Only if you wish me to,”  he replied.

       “Nicolai did, and it was amazing,”  kenny replied.

     “Sit opposite me, and give me one of your hind feet,”  Koda said.  Kenny sat down, giving Koda his left hind paw.  Koda explored Kenny’s paw, from furry top to thick pads and very mobile toes.  Kenny giggled as Koda touched his toes, then his heel, then drew a line with the toes of his forepaw between the two points on the sole of his foot.  Kenny curled his toes tightly, his pads bunching up, Koda massaging his curled toes and bunched pads.

      “This is everything my mama told me not to do with my paws,”  Kenny said, “it’s amazing!”

       “So we’re giving a home to another bear?”  Sarafina asked.  Kenny looked at her:

       “You are a lioness?”  he asked.  Sarafina smiled and nodded.

       “I know you might not have seen the like of me in your life before,”  she said, “my name is Sarafina, and here too, is my cub Kosey.”  Kenny stared at the two lions.

       “You are beautiful,”  he said.  Koda tickled Kenny’s pads, the polar bear roaring with laughter and tightly curling his toes.

      “Stop that!”  he laughed.  Koda smiled, rubbing Kenny’s tickled pads with his paw, the polar bear cuddling close.

       “I like you,”  Kenny said impulsivly, Koda smiling broadly.

      “I like you too,”  Koda replied.  Koda carefully examined the pads of Kenny’s right hind foot.

      “your pads are as smooth as a cub’s,”  he observed.  Kenny nodded:

       “I never got on well on the ice,”  he replied, “I slipped and slid all over the place, and never got used to walking on the ice with my smooth pads.”  Koda giggled and tickled Kenny’s pads, the polar bear grabbing his tickled hind foot in both forepaws and rubbing his pads, Koda smiling as he explored kenny’s frantically massaging forepaws as he rubbed the pads of his tickled hind foot.

      “Hey you!”  Kenny exclaimed.

       “mister soft paws you are,”  Koda said playfully, pushing Kenny onto his back and tickling the toes of the polar bear’s left hind foot, Kenny squealing with laughter.

       “I love that!”  he yelled.  Koda gathered Kenny into a huge hug, the polar bear enjoying being handled by the black bear.

       “My paws are yours, handle my paws, stroke my fur, treat me like a cub if you want,”  Kenny said.  Koda smiled and played with kenny’s right hind foot, the polar bear wriggling and laughing with pleasure, stretching and curling his toes while Koda stroked his pads.

      “I love your touch,”  Kenny said, crawling away, Koda following him, catching his left hind foot and stroking his pads, Kenny giggling cubbishly.

       “paws are meant to be played with,”  kenny said, spinning round and giving Koda his left hind foot.

       “Do you know how to play with your hind paws Kenny?”  Koda asked.  Kenny smiled:

      “Would you teach me?”  he asked.  Koda nodded and told him:

     “Take hold of your right hind foot in your right forepaw, make sure you’re comfortable holding that foot, then use your left forpeaw to play with the toes of your right hind.  Try massaging your pads also.”  Kenny did as Koda suggested, and smiled broadly at the sensation.

       “would you get paws on so I can be sure I’m doing it right?”  he asked.  Koda did, feeling Kenny’s forepaws playing with his right hind foot, Kenny enjoying Koda’s touch as much as playing with his own hind paw.

      “You’ve got big wide paws with smooth pads and mobile toes Kenny,”  Koda said.  Kenny laughed:

      “My feet are no good for walking on ice, I couldn’t hunt well, hense why I stayed on land all my life until running south.  I hated it on the ice Koda, my mama was a polar bear, but my sire was a grizzly.  I came out with thick fur and smooth pads!  No grip on the ice, apart from that which I could get by using my toes, and I tried desperately to use my toes Koda, I really tried, but I couldn’t do that for long.  I slipped and slid all over the place, and became very miserable.  My mama’s bann on playing with my paws meant I couldn’t explore my hind feet to see why they were slipping, but now I know why they were.  I was tempted to play with my hind feet, rub my pads and play with my toes, sorely tempted soemtimes too, but I resisted, until today.  Now it is great, and I want more, and for others to play with my paws too.”

       “So you dared not touch your pads to check them for thorns and things?”  Koda asked.  Kenny wiggled his toes as Koda massaged them:

     “No,”  he replied, “but here, it is the rule that you do check your feet for thorns?”  Koda smiled:

      “it’s advisable,”  he said.

      “I will check my paws over and over and over,”  Kenny promised.  Koda smiled and gave Kenny his own right hind foot.

      “now you check my paw,”  he said, “are there any thorns or sore patches?”  Kenny handled Koda’s right hind foot with gentle care, exploring the black bear’s pads and toes with intrest, like his, Koda’s pads were smooth, which appealed strongly to kenny.

     “Your pads bunch as you curl your toes!”  Kenny laughed when Koda curled his toes.

       “You have fun paws Koda,”  Kenny said.  Koda smiled and grabbed Kenny’s left hind foot.

      “Yours are fun too,”  he said, Kenny pressing his paw hard into Koda’s grip.

       “Curl those toes Kenny,”  Koda encouraged, Kenny tightly curling his toes.

      “ooah,  oooooah!”  Kenny gasped, as he curled his toes experimentaly, then curled them tightly, Koda massaging Kenny’s tightly curled toes.

       “you’ll learn how to chase paws, how to massage pads and play with toes, all that and more,”  Koda said, “you might, even, in time, if you get a mate, massage her pads and toes while she gives birth to your cub kenny.”

      “Do mama bears like their paws stroked while they give birth?”  Kenny asked.

      “Sometimes they almost demand it,”  kamchatka said, padding into the lie up.  Kenny smiled at the huge mama grizzly.  Kenny crawled away, Koda following him, stroking the polar bear’s pads and toes as kenny crawled away.

       “I could get used to this,”  kenny said softly, “I want to curl my toes with pleasure, to curl and stretch them as much as I can.”

       “Go on then,”  Koda replied, “curl your toes, stretch them, then curl them again.”  Kenny did, breathing in as he curled his toes, and out as he stretched them.

       “oooooah, aaah,”  he said as he curled and stretched the toes of his right hind foot, then his left.

        “massage the heels of Kenny’s hind paws Koda,”  Kamchatka suggested, “then trace down his pads to his toes.”  Koda did, kenny whimpering with bearly supresed excitement and rolling onto his side to let Koda have access to both his hind feet.

       “Draw up those hind feet, grab them with your forepaws and see what happens,”  Koda said.  Kenny rolled onto his back, then drew up his hind feet and grabbed them with his forepaws, feeling his hind feet settling into the grip of his forepaws.

      “it feels so right, this feels so right!”  kenny gasped.

       “Good,”  Koda said, stroking Kenny’s grasping forepaws, kenny giggling and holding on tightly to his own hind feet.

      “now wriggle free,”  Kamchatka said to Kenny, the polar bear wriggling to free his hind feet, and when, with a yell,  he’d managed it, he gave Koda his left hind foot to explore.

        “I won’t ever become bored of paw play,”  he said.  Koda smiled and massaged Kenny’s pads, finding them smooth and firm when kenny’s toes were relaxed, then soft and wrinkled as the polar bear slightly curled his toes.

       “You’re a playful bear Kenny,”  kamchatka said.  Kenny laughed, Koda gathering him into a huge hug.

        “I wish I was a cub again,”  kenny whipsered to Koda, who held him tightly against his body, Kenny bracing his hind feet against the rugs and pushing back hard.

      “Push back against me if you wish Kenny,”  Koda said.  Kenny wished, and pushed back hard, Koda rocking with him as he braced his hind feet against the rugs.

     “Kenny’s got smooth pink pads on his hind feet Koda,”  kamchatka said.  Koda smiled:

       “a real problem when walking over ice,”  Koda said.  Kenny snuggled up to Koda, burying his face and forepaws into the black bear’s thick fur.  Turning to face Koda, Kenny pushed hard with the toes of his hind feet, pressing his body into Koda’s hug.  Kamchatka smiled as she watched kenny’s hind legs pushing hard to press his body into Koda’s hug, the polar bear’s leg muscles bulging as he pushed hard with both hind feet, while Koda hugged Kenny tightly.

      “I like your face and paws,”  Koda said, as he ran his paws over kenny’s face, fore and hind paws.  Kenny crawled past Koda, the black bear exploring his body as he crawled, from his head to his forelegs and forepaws, to his body, hind legs and hind feet, Kenny loving every minute of Koda’s exploration.  Koda finished his exploration by catching Kenny’s hind paws in his forepaws and feeling them slide through his grip as the polar bear crawled away from him.

       “I love that,”  Kenny said.  Koda smiled and kissed the heel of kenny’s right hind foot.

      “Thank you for letting me touch your body and paws,”  Koda said.  Kenny turned and hugged Koda tightly:

       “I enjoyed it hugely,”  he said, “do you want to explore my hind feet some more?”  Koda smiled:

        “I will if you wish it,”  he said.  Kenny giggled:

        “I would like it,”  he replied.  Koda sat kenny down and took his right hind foot in his forepaws, stroking his pads and playing with his toes.

       “I love your touch,”  kenny said.  Koda stroked Kenny’s smooth pads, then got to his feet andpadded with Kamchatka to their lie up.  Hayden, watching their play, padded in and sat down opposite kenny, tickling the young polar bear’s toes, kenny laughing helplessly.

       “What an introduciton to a new playmate,”  Kenny said, “I don’t even know your name!”  hayden smiled and gave kenny his left hind foot.

      “My name’s hayden,”  hayden said.  Kenny tickled hayden’s pads, the large bear curling his toes and making his pads bunch.

       “is this how bears meet each other here?”  kenny asked.  Hayden smiled and embraced kenny tenderly.

      “Touch is better than sight,”  hayden replied, “that’s what I’ve been taught anyway.”

       “I like your touch,”  kenny said, curling the toes of his right hind foot around those of hayden’s smaller left hind paw.

        “let go of my toes!”  hayden laughed.

     “No,”  Kenny replied smiling.  Hayuden tugged at his trapped left hind foot, kenny massaging the furry top of hayden’s paw, pressing the bear’s pads against his own, hayden laughing and pushing gently back against kenny’s right hind foot.

       “playing with hind feet is lovely,”  hayden said, Kenny smiling broadly:

      “I agree,”  he said.  Hayden tickled the toes of Kenny’s right hind paw, the polar bear wiggling his toes with pleasure.

      “You two look very happy,”  Nicolai said.  Hayden laughed:

      “We are,”  kenny said.  Kenny crawled away from hayden, the brown bear chasing the polar bear’s large hind feet, tickling his pads and toes, kenny squealing with laughter.

       “Get off my paws!”  he yelled.

      “no,”  hayden said, chasing Kenny’s large hind feet and mercilessly tickling his toes.

        “playing like cubs is wonderful!”  hayden said.  Kenny crawled out of the lie up, hayden following him.

      “Where do we go from here?”  kenny asked.  Hayden directed him to the soft play room, where they met Georgia and Toby, who ambushed kenny and Hayden, tickling their toes and bellies, the larger bears submitting happily to the smaller cub’s attentions.

       “kenny’s pads are soft and warm!”  Gerogia said, “and you call yourself a polar bear Kenny?”

       “I’m not, really, I don’t know what I am,”  kenny replied.

      “he’s a big fluffy huggable cub that’s what he is,”  toby said, “Kenny, you have the most gorgious and playful paws I’ve found here this day.”  Kenny smiled and gave Toby his right hind foot.

       “your foot is large and wide and has fun toes!”  Toby said.  Kenny grabbed Toby’s left hind paw and examined it.

      “your foot has a small sole pad and very tiny toes,”  he said, “it’s kind of cute, much like its owner.”  Toby laughed delightedly.

      “I think your hind paws are cute too,”  he said.  Toby tickled Kenny’s toes, the polar bear curling his toes and laughing merrily.  Toby tickled the heels of Kenny’s hind feet, the polar bear crawling away roaring with laughter.  Sire Patch watched kenny from the door to the lie up, the polar bear catching his eye.

       “You are a striking bear big fellow,”  kenny said.  Patch, on all four paws, leant down and kissed Kenny’s left forepaw, the polar bear looking into his face.

       “Come with me,”  Patch said, padding away from the lie up, kenny following him.  Kenny saw Patch’s grey fur and his white padded paws.

       “You have intresting paws,”  kenny said.  Patch turned and smiled at Kenny.

       “I will tell you why your paws are intresting too,”  patch said, “and why you and I are more closely related than you know.”  Kenny’s eyes widened, he was very intrested.  Patch led kenny to his lie up, sitting him down and giving him a cup of tea.

      “Look at me, then look in the mirror at yourself,”  patch said.  Kenny did, and noticed patch’s and his faces and paws were similar.

        “What does this mean?”  he asked.

       “it means you are not all polar bear,”  patch said.  Kenny smiled:

      “I know that,”  he replied, “I realised you were like me, a cross bred bear.”  Patch smiled and hugged Kenny tightly.

       “I’m glad you’re here,”  he said.  Kenny smiled broadly, holding Patch tightly with both forepaws, Patch smiling as he saw kenny’s toes curling with emotion as he snuggled close.  Patch reached over and traced the pads of Kenny’s left hind foot, the young bear giggling with pleasure.

        “Please don’t forget how to play with your paws,”  Patch said.  Kenny smiled and replied that he wouldn’t.  Kenny then looked patch up and down, his eyes falling on the large bear’s white paw pads.

        “you have white pads!”  kenny exclaimed.  Patch smiled:

      “They are almost white,”  he said, “pink really, but yes white in most lights.”

       “I also get the feeling you know how it is to have a cub too,”  kenny said.  Patch nodded.

       “I know the pain of giving birth to a cub yes,”  he said.  Kenny looked seriously at Patch.

       “I believe you do,”  he said.  Patch got to his feet and then, thinking crawling would be more in keeping, he crawled from the lie up, kenny following him with eager speed.  Patch led kenny to the pool complex and asked him to leave his scarf on the side of the pool.  Patch led Kenny into the spar pool, where they sat for a while, with the spar waters rippling around their paws, Kenny laughing at the sensation of bubbles bursting against his pads.

       “I love this!”  he said.  Georgia and Flocke padded near, joining patch and Kenny in the pool.  Flock, sitting next to Kenny, grabbed his left hind foot in her paws and tickled his pads, Kenny laughing helplessly.

       “My hind paws are everyone’s property it seems,”  he said.  Flocke kissed kenny’s nose.

      “I won’t touch your hind paws if you wish me not to,”  she said.  Kenny smiled:

      “I like your touch,”  he replied, “indeed, I’ve not come across a touch I didn’t like here.  You are so friendly.”

      “We try to be friendly,”  Flocke said, “but I have heard that if you are not friendly here, you are cast out and sometimes killed also.”

        “I have heard tales of that too,”  patch replied, “indeed, my own mate was victim of a nasty bear who tried to kill her because she didn’t like her.”

        “Your mate is Ekaterina isn’t she?”  Flocke asked.  Patch nodded:

       “but she’s lovely, the tenderest bear I’ve met,”  Flocke replied.

       “She is, but young Brunetta didn’t like her at all, and tried to kill her,”  Patch replied.

       “I’ve just seen titania’s birth, it was amazing!”  Georgia said.  Patch smiled:

      “it was,”  he said, “I’ve seen the video also.  Targon did really well.”  Georgia giggled:

       “She coped fantastically,”  she said.

       “Do you think I coped well?”  Targon asked, padding into the pool complex.

       “You did,”  patch replied, “you did wonderfully.”  Targon smiled broadly.

       “I’ll never forget Titania’s birth,”  she said, “I treasure every minute of it.”  Patch got out of the water and hugged Targon tightly, the black bear mama smiling and returning his hug.

        “You did very well mama,”  Patch said softly to Targon.

       “I didn’t though, I lost one cub,”  she whipsered, “I’ve been trying to merge my two labours into one, resulting in Titania’s birth, but I’m telling myself a faulse tale.  I lost one cub.”

       “merge the labour if you wish,”  patch replied, “but don’t forget your dead cub.”  Targon bowed her head in shame.

        “I failed my duty,”  she said.

        “You didn’t,”  patch replied, “you have Titania, she is your focus now.”  Targon smiled:

       “yes she is,”  she agreed.

       “Please merge your labours if it would help,”  Patch said, kissing Targon’s nose.  Targon padded away, returning with Titania, both bears sitting down in the spar pool, titania cradled in her mama’s forepaws.  Titania, her eyes now open, kicked the water with her hind feet, splashing kenny, who grabbed her tiny right hind foot and tickled her toes, to titania’s great amusement.

       “You have lovely paws,”  Kenny said.  Titania giggled:]

       “I would like to see and touch your paws too,”  she said.  Kenny dropped her hind foot and gave her his left hind foot.  Titania found herself cradling a massive hind foot in her forepaws.

      “Your foot has big pads and toes!”  she said.  Kenny curled his toes, titania tracing his bunching pads with the toes of her right forepaw, kenny giggling with pleasure.

      “That is so cute,”  Targon said.

       “I’m glad playing with paws is allowed here,”  Kenny said.

        “Playing with paws is also known to help mamas in labour,”  Targon said, “indeed, I know it works.  Kenny and the others left the pool complex, and entered the great room where Honeyfur was preparing to tell another tale of the community.  All the cubs were sitting in front of her.

      “now the tale we’re going to hear today,”  Honeyfur said, “is the tale of how petra found the first Simba, her first adopted cub.

 

“Netting a cub.

 

Samson looked at Aslan.

     “Let’s get you a coat too,” he mewed.  Aslan smiled at Samson.  Samson dragged another rug from the store and buckled it around Aslan, the smaller lion playing up to Theo by doing his best impersonation of a horse, to Petra and Theo’s delight.

      “You look so funny!”  Petra laughed.  Aslan kissed her on her nose.

      “Now we go fruit picking,” he mewed.  Samson grinned at the two younger lions.

       “Good luck,” Theo mewed.  Fleur padded up to Samson, hugged him, and decided she’d join the party.  Smiling at his sweetheart, Samson led the group out to the garden, the darkness well in now.  Their eyes adjusting to the darkness, the cats padded through the garden and into the wood.  Samson showed them bushes where they could pick blackberries.

      “Now gently take the berries off the bush with the toes of one paw, nip the berry off at the root, don’t crush it now,” he advised.  Even with this good counsil, all the cats had stained forepaws before five minutes passed.  Samson stood back and watched Petra, Aslan and Fleur as they raided the bushes, smiling to himself.  Taking a deep breath, he focused his senses on his surroundings, tuning into the wild.

       “Any news today?”  He asked himself, breathing steadily, his eyes and ears browsing through information like a human would the local newspaper.  Though what Samson was picking up was more akin to the internet, this being the home page of the website of the wild.

       “No news,” Samson thought, tuning out, but keeping alert.  Suddenly he heard something, a tiny sound, a cry, from somewhere off to his right.  Twitching his ears, he focused, opening his mouth and holding his breath so he didn’t confuse his senses.  Yes, there it was again, a tiny cry, desperate, pleading, as confused as he was clear headed.  Samson breathed softly, feeling a paw touch his.

      “Something the matter?”  Petra asked.

      “Something’s out there, frightened and alone,” Samson mewed, “come with me Petra.”  Samson padded through the wood, the white lioness in her warm rug following.  Indeed, Petra was thankful for the rug, for her paws were freezing, and she knew she’d be feeling a lot worse if the rug wasn’t there.  They found a bush, under which was a string bag with something inside it.  Petra could smell the scent of man on the bag, and she noticed Samson bristling with fear and anxiety.

      “They’re not too far off,” Samson mewed, referring to the men, “I think, think something disturbed them and they dumped the bag.  What are they doing with a string bag anyway?”  Petra looked round her, pricked her ears for danger, found none, then approached the bag, sniffing and testing the ground at every step.  Reaching the bag, she dragged it from beneath the bush, the tiny creature inside whimpering and struggling feebly, pressing its fat paws against the net, gripping with its toes and biting with tiny teeth at the net which was too thick for it to break free of.  Petra could only see a white form; she didn’t know what it was.  Samson, looking over her shoulder, gasped with astonishment.

       “’tis a white cub, a white lion cub Petra,” he mewed.  Petra sniffed at the bundle of fur, the cub mewing pitifully.

      “What is a white cub doing here in the middle of the night?”  Petra asked.

       “I can answer that one,” Hop along snarled, his anger and grief clear to hear.

     “What?”  Samson asked.

      “The men were carrying the bag through the wood,” the tiger replied, “It’s an illegal trade in lion cubs.  They get money for the cub; a white one is very expensive.”  Samson sniffed at the white cub in the net bag, his mood changing suddenly.

       “Petra, he said, “we’ve got more here than meets the eye I think.  Could you try and get hold of one of the cub’s forepaws for me?”  Petra coaxed the cub to give Samson its paw, and the huge lion held the toes of the cub’s fat little paw in his huge one, closing his eyes and thinking hard.

       “The scent is familiar,” he mewed, “I know this cub’s parents, one of them at least.  History repeating itself, a lost white cub.”  Petra stared at Samson in the moonlight.

        “No, oh Sammy, please, tell me you’re not serious!”  She mewed.

      “I scared the men away,” Hop along mewed, “you thought they were nearby because they left their belongings in the bushes.  A rucksack and a water bottle, I’ve investigated the lot.  A mobile telephone in there, plus syringes of something.  Possibly sedative for their captive.  The cub is drugged, despite appearances.”  The tiny cub looked up into Samson’s face with glazed but terrified eyes.

       “I want my mum,” it cried.  Samson gulped hard, the truth of what he was feeling plain in his own eyes.

      “Elsa, the same Elsa!”  He snarled, “She was banished from here some time ago, and she had another white cub!  You have one lion here, a lion with wandering eyes, one that wants lioness’s but can’t stand cubs!  He made this cub!”  Petra turned her head away, recognising her own story.

       “Tommy!”  Hop along mewed, “so Elsa had the cub, weaned him, and threw him out, the humans caught him and then lost him when I intervened?”  The tiger asked Samson.

       “Yes, I think so, but we can’t be sure.  This cub’s only two months old, ripe for the pet trade. Only just weaned too, look at his teeth!”  Petra examined the cub, without touching him, the cub bearing his tiny teeth in an infantile snarl of fear and anger.

       “You poor thing,” Petra whispered, trying not to cry, “you poor, poor little cub.”  Samson let the cub’s paw drop, the tiny creature pressing his pads hard against the net in an attempt to break it.

      “You can’t escape little one,” Petra mewed, “save your strength.”  Bending low, she touched the cub’s nose with her own, the cub staring at her in wide eyed fear.

       “Simba, friend, no fight,” the cub whispered.

      “Not another Simba!”  Aslan yelled, arriving and catching the cub’s whispered words.”

      “He can’t help his name,” Petra mewed, “His mother named him Simba because she has no imagination, I should know!”

        “What?”  Aslan asked, “How should you know anything?”

      “This cub and I are related, I am his sister!”  Petra snapped.

      “Elsa,” Aslan breathed, “the bitch!  I knew she’d not be away for long!”

       “Who’s to say she’s anywhere near here,” Samson mewed, “her cub’s here, but she could be continents away now.  Where is Tommy?”

 

Tommy trip left the house soon after Leo’s death, not wanting to be present if the secret of his night time wanderings should come to roost.  Eohippus had told him that she would bring any white cubs to Petra for her to nurture, as some kind of reparation for what Eohippus had done to her feline assistant.

 

“I have a funny feeling about all this,” Petra mewed, “I have a feeling Eohippus has something to do with this.  The tiny cub stared at Petra, his eyes full of terror.

       “How are we going to free him?”  Aslan asked.

      “Let me have a go,”  Samson mewed, taking a portion of the net in his teeth and between his forepaws, the cub whimpering and cowering as far away as he could.  Samson tore and bit at the net, but couldn’t free the cub, the net being made of plastic mixed with wire.  Samson gave up after a while, cursing and spitting blood, for he’d cut his mouth and paw pads on the netting.

      “We’ll need some human help with this,” he panted, “that stuff’s too strong!”

       “Let me have a go,” Petra mewed.

      “You’ve got soft paws!”  Samson mewed, “you’ll be cut to ribbons Petra!  Use your paws, but don’t use your teeth!”  Petra laid her paws on the netting, accidentally touching the pads of one of the cub’s paws as she did so.  She felt his paw clamp round her toes, holding them tightly.

       “I know little one,” Petra mewed, bending down and kissing him through the netting, “Dear little cub,” Petra purred, the sound soothing the tiny white form.

       “You won’t be able to break the net,” the cub mewed, “that lion couldn’t, and he’s stronger than you.”

       “We’ll see,” Petra replied, sensing eohippus was helping her.  Samson, Simba the white cub and everyone else watched as Petra gripped the net between her forepaws and effortlessly tore it apart.  She gently freed the white cub, the tiny creature too far gone to fight her strong paws.

       “Come,” Petra mewed, “let’s get him inside.”  Fleur looked over at the white cub in Petra’s paws.

       “Tommy’s gone because he knew what would happen when Elsa had another white cub,” she mewed, “eohippus brought the cub to you Petra.”

      “I was beginning to think the same thing,” Petra purred, “for white cubs don’t turn up every day.  I hope Tommy was castrated after this!  He knows what his problem is!”

      “He’s a male lion, they do that kind of thing,” Aslan mewed.

       “Aslan,” Petra replied, “you know what problems a white lion can have!  This tiny cub might have my problems, and I don’t just mean the white fur!  We won’t have long until we find out.”  Petra carried the tiny cub in her mouth, Simba hanging limply.  Petra raced back to the house, Theo staring at her as she streaked past him, a white blur before his eyes.  Petra leapt up the stairs four at a time, her paws never missing a step, her stride never faltering.  Once she’d reached the cubbing den, she gently placed the tiny cub on the rug and curled up to keep him warm.  Kissing the cub’s nose, Petra took him in her paws, the cub snuggling tight against her.

       “I’m hungry,” the cub mewed.

      “I wonder if I still have the ability to produce milk for lost cubs.”  Petra asked herself, “please eohippus, don’t take that away from me now, this cub needs help!”  Petra looked down at her teats, and saw with relief that she’d got milk for the tiny cub.  The cub drank his fill, and when he was done, did something so alien to cubs that Petra knew he was one very special cub.  Having finished his drink, he wiped his mouth with his paw, something she’d done from very young.  Whether it was from a hatred of the feel of the milk clogging his whiskers, she didn’t know, but the action made her take a second look at the cub.  He, like her, was Leucistic, white fur, with black pads on his paws and a black nose.  His claws, when he extended them were black.  Petra embraced the cub tenderly.

      “Tell me little one,” she asked, “can you eat meat?”  The cub nodded.

     “Thank eohippus for that,” Petra thought.  Curling up to sleep, the cub buried his paws between Petra’s outdoor rug and her fur.  Petra forgetting until then she still wore the rug.  Now she remembered it, she realised she felt hot in it.

      “Before you go to sleep Simba, could you please help me get this rug off?”  Petra asked.  The cub found the clips and, under Petra’s guidance, undid them.  Petra rolled out of the rug, the cub touching the warm inner lining with his paw, then his nose.

     “This is warm,” he mewed.  Petra suddenly had an idea.  Remembering how cold she’d been as a cub, she lay on one end of the outdoor rug, now flat on the floor.  She then looked at Simba.

      “Take the other end of the rug in your teeth, and drag it over here,” she mewed.  Petra smiled as she watched the tiny white cub walking backwards, the rug falling in folds in front of his forepaws.  When the pads of his left hind paw touched those of her right fore, Petra told the cub to stop pulling the rug and lie down.  The cub curled up in his customary place between her forepaws.  Petra then grabbed hold of the portion of the rug the cub had been dragging, his scent filling her nostrils making her want to cry.  With a powerful jerk, Petra threw the rug over herself, encasing her fore and hind paws in the rug, white cub and all.  Petra then tucked the free end of the rug beneath her body, making the rug into a cocoon.  The under rug, with which the den was carpeted, would insulated them from the cold.  Petra found Simba had worked himself up so his nose touched hers.

       “Are you looking after me now?”  He asked.  Petra lifted one of his tiny forepaws in her huge left one and kissed his pads, the cub smiling.

       “I am,” she mewed with certainty, “I am.”  Simba snuggled into Petra’s hug, the lioness and her cub falling asleep soon after.

 

Meanwhile, Theo, having heard from Hop along and the rest of Samson’s group of the goings on in the wood, paced about, angry at Elsa, but overjoyed Petra had taken the newcomer into her care.

       “Tommy should be shot!”  He mewed, “he knows what his problems are.  Why does he do it time after time!  Before we know what’s hit us, we’ll have loads of white cubs turning up, we can’t have this, and neither can they!  It’s not fair!”

        “Petra’s very happy by the way,” Fleur mewed, “I went up the slope and checked on her and the new cub Simba.  You can’t see either of them!  Petra’s encased her and the cub in a kind of cocoon made of her outdoor rug and the indoor rugs.  It’s probably nice and warm in there, and she’s keeping the cub warm, though what she’s doing to feed him I don’t know.”

      “Probably milk for the first night,” Theo purred, “then, if she finds he can eat meat, she’ll try him on that, though this could cause issues for her.”

      “She won’t be able to help him hunt for meat, let alone show him how to eat it,” Fleur mewed, very concerned.

       “Yes,” Theo replied, “well, there’s one good thing, Little Simba will be getting five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, that’s for sure.”  Samson laughed helplessly at this.

       “It wasn’t that good,” Theo protested.

 

Simba woke in the late evening feeling much better.  He remembered his capture by the humans, and a stinging pain in his shoulder, then nothing until he was woken by being dropped into a net sack.  Simba could still feel the netting against his paw pads, and the memory frightened him.  What he remembered most of all though was the white lioness that broke the net and took him in her paws.  His mother had said something to him in anger about a white cub she’d had once, a cub that she’d hated and wanted dead, just like she now hated him and wanted him dead.  This was before she’d shovelled him out of the den and run off with his sandy coloured brother.  Simba looked into the face of his rescuer, she looked like a cub to him, but she clearly wasn’t a cub, not with the strength she had, her face was cub like however.  But, when he looked down at her paws, they weren’t cub’s paws; they were large, fat, as well as very very warm and comforting.  This lioness knew how to give comfort.  For Simba knew that without a word, she’d soothed him.  He reached up and lovingly touched the lioness’s whiskers with his paw.  She shifted slightly, rubbing back against his paw pads, her paws round him tightening their hug.  Simba sighed contentedly.

       “I love you,” he whispered to the lioness.  Petra woke shortly after, feeling Simba’s contemplation of his situation.

       “You are safe here now,” she said to the cub.  Simba looked into her eyes.

     “What’s your name?”  He asked.

      “Petra,” Petra replied.

      “Petra,” Simba mewed half to himself looking thoughtful, “Petra, Petra…”

      “That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” Petra mewed.

       “I, I think, think I know that name,”  Simba replied, “for it was that name my mother used when describing a cub she’d had who looked like me.  She didn’t like that cub, nor did she like me.  She said I was as bad as that cub, but, but you aren’t bad!”  Petra hugged Simba close.  The cub, now even more distressed, began to wail, you are lovely, and warm, and comforting, and I love you!”  Simba buried his face in Petra’s fur and burst into tears.

      “Hey Simba dear, hush sweet cub, hush my dear.”

       “I can’t be your cub!  I want to be, but I can’t be!”  Simba sobbed, “You’re my sister, and I so wanted to be someone’s cub!”  Petra hugged the white male lion cub with all her might and conviction, trying to impart to him what she felt.

        “You are my cub, you are my cub Simba.  If you want to be my cub, you can be.  I don’t mind if you want to call me mum, for I’ll love you all the same whatever you call me.  I know what it’s like Simba; I know how it is for you my dear.”

        You can’t know!”  Simba cried.

     “Simba, I know!  Trust me little cub, I know!”  Petra said, raising her voice to the cub, something he obviously hated.  Almost crying herself now, Petra regretted raising her voice when she saw the look on Simba’s face.

       “I didn’t mean to upset you,” the cub mewed, touching her nose with his, “I’m sorry!”

      “One day you’ll learn my tale Simba,” Petra sniffed, “I don’t mean to inflict it on you, but you must listen to me!  I know what you are going through!”

        “Okay,” the cub mewed, feeling stupid now.

        “Let me hug you mum,” Simba said naturally, as if to his own mother.  Petra let the cub embrace her, feeling his love for her in the touch of his pads on her fur.

       “I’m sorry for raising my voice to you Simba,” Petra mewed.  The cub buried his face in her shoulder, breathing in her scent.  It was sweet like coconut oil.

      “Now isn’t that sweet,” someone said.  Simba screamed with terror!

      “Go away Orsa!”  Petra snarled.

        “We’ve met, haven’t we Simba,” Orsa snarled, “the little cub was in his net and I found him before any of you.  We had a little game didn’t we Simba?”

       “What game?”  Petra growled, “Simba was out of it pretty much when we saw him, so if you got to him before we did, he must have been almost unconscious!  Another thing, why didn’t you tell anyone!”

       “I ran away when the men came back, before Hop along sent them packing and Samson found Simba.  You two were so engrossed in Simba you didn’t see me, or hear Hop along roaring at the men.  As for the game, well, me and a few mates came across this white scrap in his bag…”

     A few mates?”  Petra asked, “Whom do you mean by “a few mates?”

       “Capybara,” Orsa replied, “great fun they are.  Well, me and the two capybara had some fun with Simba.”  Simba began to cry.

      “Fun?”  He sobbed, “That wasn’t fun!  You, you, you kicked me, slapped me, beat me up with your paws!  I couldn’t do anything to stop them!”  Petra heard the pain in Simba’s voice and looked into his tear filled eyes.  The cub was telling the truth, and why should he lie?

       “You disgust me!”  |Petra roared at Orsa, the female polar bear cringing at the lioness’s tone, “You will pay for this!”  Petra leapt upon Orsa, pinning her to the floor.

       “You touch a hair on my cub’s head ever again, I’ll murder you!”  Petra snarled.

      “What’s this?”  Allie asked, coming fast into the room, “What’s going on!”  Simba gave her a hurried but accurate description of everything in about five seconds flat.  Allie listened, caught his drift, and rounded on her cub.

       “How dare you beat up a defenceless cub!”  The female polar bear yelled.

      “It was fun, real fun!”  Orsa replied, “You should have heard him squeal.  He knew we were beating him up, but he could do nothing, that bag was a real help to us.  We rolled him about a bit, picked him up, threw him about, and then booted him back under the bush when the men came.  They didn’t see us, but they saw their plaything.  They stuck another of the pointed things into the cub and he went quiet once more, then they left, just before you turned up.  The stuff they put into the cub only subdued him, it didn’t knock him out, everything better for us.”

       You blood thirsty little bag of fur!”  Allie yelled, “How could you kick and throw around a defenceless cub!”

     “Lions can take it; he’s a tough little scrap!”  Orsa yelled.  Simba meanwhile, cried into Petra’s fur, the lioness cradling her weeping cub, her eyes murderous.

      “It was probably a blessing Simba was so out of it, or he might have been killed!”  She roared.

       “I will take Orsa away,” Allie replied, “you will hear no more from her!”

 

Theo padded in then.  He looked shocked.

       “Samson, he, he, he killed both Capybara!”  Theo gasped, “Petra, I saw him, I saw him do it!  He strode up to them in the garden, knocked them down and broke their necks!  He, he then ate one of them!  What kind of lion is he?  Apart from wild that is.  Was there something he had against these two?  You know him best of all, so I’m coming to you for help!”  Petra smiled, for she was hiding Simba’s body with her own and part of the thick blanket.

      “Samson’s definitely got a problem with those Capybara,” she mewed, “for them, along with Orsa, beat up a cub, a defenceless white lion cub.”

       “A white lion cub?”  Theo asked, “I know you’re looking a bit younger than you were, but you don’t look in the least beaten up,” Theo replied, “anyway, you could have kicked their backsides!”

      “Not me, not me,” Petra mewed, “that is, they weren’t attacking me.  Yes I could kick their backsides, but it wasn’t me they were attacking.  It was a tiny white male lion cub.”

      “Noone tells me anything these days,” Theo mewed, “what white lion cub?”

     “The same one Hop along and his team told you of,” Petra mewed, “the capybara and Orsa got to him before we did, kicking him about like a football!”  Petra drew back and Theo looked down at Simba, the first time he’d seen the tiny white lion cub.

       “You n’alf moved last night,” he remarked to Petra, you can really run!”  Petra smiled.

       “I wanted to get him to somewhere safe, out there wasn’t safe,” she mewed.  Theo touched noses with Simba.

      “You’ll be fine here Simba my friend,” he purred.

 

Meanwhile, in the garden, Samson cleared up the mess from his and Fleur’s meal of capybara.  Theo had run off before Fleur had begun eating her fill.  Now both were satisfied, Fleur not in the least phased she and her mate had just eaten the community’s capybara population.  Samson looked at his mate.

      “That tasted so good!”  Samson mewed.  Fleur smiled:

     “They did,” Fleur mewed.  Theo listened at the back door, unable to believe his ears.

       “You, you ate the capybara too Fleur?”  He asked.

      “I did,” Fleur mewed, “and I liked it too.”  Theo covered his face with his paw.

       “I thought you couldn’t stand killing!”  Theo mewed.

      “I kill for food,” Fleur mewed.

      “You don’t care for the capybara then?”  Theo asked.

      “Caring for Capybara?  No!”  Fleur mewed, “if they don’t care for us, why should I care for them?  They are good eating,” she turned to Samson, “aren’t they my dear,” she said, Samson smiling at her.

       “Petra’s got the cub in the den,” Theo mewed, “she’s crazy about him.”  Fleur smiled.

      “Nice,” she purred.  Samson looked at Theo.

      “Did you get hold of that bloody polar bear cub?”  He asked.  Theo grimaced.

      “Orsa did things to Simba, things that, that, I can hardly put into words.  Kicking him about like a football.  He was drugged Samson!  Worse than when you saw him!”  Theo began to cry, despite trying not to.

       “Orsa called it a game,” Theo sobbed, “she said it was fun to kick the cub around!  I want her to suffer!  I don’t care Samson, I want her to suffer!  I know I shouldn’t advocate violence, but do what you have to, make Orsa see sense, for we’ve become too soft here!  So soft that the cubs think they can do anything and get away with it!”  Samson had a vision of a polar bear cub kicking at and teasing Simba in his net prison, and it made him angry!

       “I will do the necessary,” he mewed.  Stamping away, he jerked his head at Fleur.

      “Come with me,” he said, “I might need someone to comfort little Simba while me and his foster mum rip Orsa to shreds!”  Fleur padded after her mate, Theo lowering his head in despair.

 

Meanwhile, up in Snowy’s control room, snowy and Tigger listened to the goings on, having seen most of it from their technological powerhouse.  Snowy had even installed infrared cameras in the wood, and managed to catch everything on camera.  She wasn’t looking forward to showing the footage to Samson.  The lion, wild though he was, was also tender hearted, and she knew her film would have him weeping bitterly.

        “Poor Simba,” Tigger mewed, “that poor cub has gone through so much.”  Snowy took his paw and squeezed it.

        “Petra will look after him,” she purred.  Tigger wiped his eyes, he’d been crying after listening to the video with snowy describing each scene to him.  Snowy’s description coupled with the sound, made Tigger angry.  Now he was waiting for Samson to lose it totally.

 

Back in Allie and Sam’s den, Orsa lay trembling as Samson looked down at her.

       “You deserve to die!”  Samson roared, “I know you will grow to be larger than me, but now, now you are a cub!  I am not willing to allow you to grow up if you are going to grow up a spiteful cub!  You might have come into the world being massaged from nose to tail, but you will go out in shreds!  I do not want to do this, but Simba is my cub, is my brother, and is my responsibility!  I will not turn from that Orsa!  Because of this, I want retribution for what you did.  You will give me my due!  I will have my pound of flesh!  You do not know the wild, blood for blood, honour among animals is paramount.  If one of our number is injured by someone else, we stand together and fight!  Fight!  Fight!  I will not allow you to kick a defenceless cub like a football and get away with it!  Do you realise how much trouble you are in?”  Orsa, dry mouthed, shook her head.

        “Petra wants you dead!”  Samson mewed, “she wants to kill you!”  Orsa began to sniffle.

      “What happened to the capybara,” she asked.

      “Their energy was transferred to Samson and Fleur in the most economical way possible.”  Kalahari replied, passing through to grab another book from the boss’s library.

      “Um, what was he saying?”  Allie asked.

       “Fleur and I ate the capybara,” Samson mewed.  Allie looked shocked!

       “You didn’t!”  She exclaimed, “what, what did Theo have to say about this?”

       “He could do nothing,” Fleur mewed “though he did ask that we made sure Orsa got punished.  I was sent to look after Simba while Samson and Petra did the necessary.”  Allie looked at Orsa.

      “Good luck to you my cub,” she whispered, knowing what was about to happen was out of her paws.  Orsa had trodden on pride ground with her clumsy paws, and would be made to pay for it.

 

Samson shepherded Orsa from the room, her paws damp with sweat.  Allie closed her eyes to stop herself from collapsing.

      “This is it!”  She thought, “My cub is going to die!”

 

Petra lay with Simba cradled in her paws, the cub trembling with fear.  Petra knew he could feel her tension, and when she looked into his eyes, she saw naked terror.

      “Dear sweet Simba cub,” Petra purred, “please don’t worry.”  Simba clung to Petra with desperate paws.

       “Those polar bears are big!”  He mewed, “the cub that kicked me about was big, so what’s her mother like?”  Petra kissed Simba’s nose, just as Samson came in with Fleur and Orsa.  Samson drove Orsa in front of him right past Simba, who watched the polar bear cub thrown to the floor.

       “You kicked this cub for no other reason than you thought it would be fun,” Samson said to Orsa, “you and your buddies, who are now dead, found Simba tied up and drugged by humans.  You kicked him and threw him around like a plaything!  Is this right Simba?”  Simba, peeping out at the scene from between the toes of Petra’s huge left forepaw which covered his face, his own paws holding hers there with desperate strength, mewed that Samson was right.

       “Petra felt her paw pads becoming wet as Simba, who’d dragged her paws over his face to shield the view, cried inconsolably.

      “I think Simba isn’t ready to see this,” Petra mewed, sounding calmer than she felt.

      “But it is pride custom that cubs see justice done to perpetrators of crimes against them,” Samson mewed, “Simba needs to see justice done to Orsa!  You can’t deny him that!”

      “I’m not denying him justice,” Petra mewed, “I’m just asking that he is allowed to leave, so he doesn’t have to see it done.”

       “Who will carry out my sentence?”  Orsa asked, “Petra, Samson or Fleur?”

      “Who is it to be?”  Samson asked Petra.  The lioness looked into Samson’s face.

      “Okay, so be it, it is set.”  Samson mewed.  Simba’s paws tightened on Petra’s.

       “You’ll be killed mum!”  He sobbed, choking on his tears.  Coughing, he fought for breath, his paws still clamping Petra’s paws over his face, so he could hardly breathe.  Petra forcibly removed her paws until Simba had recovered, but then, the cub buried his face in her fur, turning away from the group.

      “Polar bear mothers are dangerous!”  He sobbed, his breath catching in his throat, “you’ll be killed mum!”  Petra knew her cub had guessed everything.  He knew it was Petra who was to carry out the sentence.

     “Don’t do it mum, don’t touch that cub!”  Simba pleaded, “Her mother will come and kill you!  I don’t want to lose you!”  Petra lowered her head so her mouth was next to her cub’s left ear.

       “I’ll be careful,” she whispered, “I promise.  When we talked this over earlier, you wanted to see everything; don’t you want to see what happens now?”  Simba, now the crunch was about to happen, didn’t want to see anything.  His paws soaked with sweat, he clung to Petra with desperate, heart felt urgency.

       “I beg you to leave it for now!”  Simba pleaded.

      “I cannot,” Petra replied, “Simba, dear, cub; tell me, do you trust me?”  Simba gulped hard, and then coughed as saliva went down his windpipe. His Eyes watering, Petra patted him on his back, soothing him until his breathing became easier.

     “I trust you mum,”  Simba said hoarsely, “and if it was any other animal apart from a polar bear I wouldn’t ask you to stop, but it’s a polar bear, they’re huge, and don’t understand the pride like we do.  What’s the point in punishing a cub who doesn’t understand why she’s being punished?  A polar bear isn’t going to understand our ways, as we don’t understand theirs.”

       “Keep talking Simba, you’re getting me off the hook!”  Orsa thought.

       “We must do what’s right for the lions,” Petra mewed, “Orsa had time to study the lion way of life.  There are enough of us around.  Now she has violated our laws, both of the community and of the pride.  For this she must be punished.”  Simba suddenly ran from Petra’s side, screaming and crying.  Fleur caught the galloping cub, rolling over with him and then hustling him out the door!

      “Poor Simba,” Petra mewed.  She looked up at Samson, and realised she couldn’t punish Orsa.  Petra looked down at her paws, realising her cub was right.

     “We can’t punish her Samson,” Petra mewed, “for Simba’s right, Orsa doesn’t understand our way of life.  Maybe education would be the best policy to adopt.”

      “But, but, she needs punishment!”  Samson yelled.  Petra looked into Orsa’s face, and saw something else, the face of a white mare.

      “Orsa doesn’t care for your ways Petra,” eohippus said, “Simba was right, and his method would have worked, if Orsa was misguided.  She is not, she doesn’t care for your cub, and she showed that when she found him, for she knew what he was.  She’s not stupid, she’s deliberately ignorant.”

       “I must do something!”  Petra thought.

      “You must do something yes, threaten her, claw her, but don’t kill her.  Get your lioness anger out; imagine your cub being kicked about by a polar bear cub.  I know you want desperately to take Simba’s course, and it would be the right thing to do, that is if Orsa wanted to learn, which she doesn’t.  Warn her off Petra, warn her off!  Do you want me to show you what Simba felt during Orsa’s attack on him?  I can do so.”  Petra nodded.  In the next few minutes Petra saw and felt everything Simba had.  The images were blurry from drugs, but the pain was real, kicks from hard polar bear paws rained in upon Simba, and by extension Petra.  Kicks to his and her shoulders, belly and paw pads.  Petra felt the net constricting her own paws as if they were Simba’s.  When Simba and she no longer reacted with sobbing and pleading lying still in their own net prisons, the capybara, which’d stayed on the sidelines giving Orsa vocal encouragement, came forward and began poking at, kicking and spitting on Petra and the exhausted male lion cub. Petra wept as she felt Simba’s incomprehension and fear.  It was this, more than anything else which upset her.

     “That’s enough Eohippus!”  Petra whimpered, “I know what I must do now!”  Petra’s vision cleared, and Orsa’s face reappeared.  Petra hated that face, that leering laughing face, that face which taunted and mocked while the capybara taunted from the side lines, too scared to join in, until the cub was exhausted.  Then they kicked him.  Orsa had even kicked the weakened and half conscious cub.  Petra felt Simba’s pain become her own pain, his fear hers.  Petra’s eyes burned into Orsa’s.

       “Simba might have spoken wise words,” but I have been shown another way, the way of the wild!”  Petra roared, her fur standing on end!  “You will pay for hurting my cub!”  Samson felt his toes curl with anxiety as he watched Petra.

 

A white blur suddenly shot through the door and stuck its claws into Orsa’s nose!

       “You hurt my mum!”  Simba yelled, “I will kill you for what you have done!”  Orsa tried to fight the angry cub off, but he was angrier than she had ever seen anyone before!  Simba’s claws raked down her face, Orsa’s blood streaming onto the carpet!

      “If you had kept your paws to yourself, Eohippus wouldn’t have had to show mum what you did to me!  Now you’ve done it to her as well!  I’m not letting you hurt us both!”  Samson stared in incomprehension!

      “What the hell is he doing!”  He asked Petra, who dug her claws into the rug on which she sat.

      “I don’t know!”  She mewed, maybe he saw something!”

       “You will die Orsa!”  Simba yelled.  Simba’s fire suddenly died, and he left off clawing at Orsa, crawling away like a cub.  Orsa wanted to finish the cub off, but even though her injuries were slight, she found she couldn’t bring herself to do it.  Crying, Orsa covered her bleeding face with her paws, her tears stinging the deep scratches inflicted by the claws of a tiny lion cub.

      “I think Orsa’s punishment is at an end,” Samson concluded.  Simba had by this time crawled back to Petra and tugged at her paw until she lay down, then he’d snuggled up to her.

       “I saw you going through the same thing I went through,”  the tiny white cub said, “and I couldn’t bear the thought Orsa had done it to you as well as me.”

      “I asked to be shown it,” Petra mewed, “so I could stoke up my anger to punish Orsa.  But in the end, you did it little Simba.  You punished her.”

      “For me, and for you,” the cub replied, “I saw you twisting, rolling and struggling, mewing for mercy, pleading for your life!  I suppose I did that too.  I know I did, for I know who brought me to you.  The white mare still loves you Petra, if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have brought me to you.  I suppose eohippus wanted me to prove my loyalty to you too.  She knew your loyalty to me was absolute, but she had to make sure of mine to you.  Once I saw from a bystander’s viewpoint what Orsa had done to me, and then to you, I resolved to get revenge for me and for you, but mostly for you.”  You looked terrified mum!  Like you were a little cub, just like me!”  Simba sobbed.

      “I felt, saw, heard, and experienced everything you did, from the drugged feelings, to the feel of the net bag around, beneath my paws and between my toes.  I can still feel it now!  Simba, I am a cub, not little, but in other ways just like you are.”  Not understanding Petra’s last statement but wanting to comfort her all the same, Simba took Petra’s left forepaw in his and began to massage it.  He felt and caught the scent of the sweat of fear on her pads, and it reminded him of lying in the net, smelling his own fear on damp paw pads.

     “We are one, you and I,” he mewed.  Petra hugged him with her free forepaw, crying into his fur.

 

Orsa scrambled to her paws, padding from the room.  Samson watched her go, growling deep in his throat.

 

Simba patted his mum’s paw, then gently extricated himself from her huge embrace, turned to her and took her paw.

      “We fixed Orsa!”  The cub mewed, jumping up and down while still holding Petra’s paw in his.  Smiling tearfully, the white lioness looked down at her paw, the white cubs paw gripping her toes with tremendous strength.

       “Please stop leaping about Simba,” Petra pleaded, “you’re making me feel sick!”  Simba sat down suddenly, pressing his paws into the carpet.

       “Look, my paws are stuck to the carpet!  I can’t leap now!”  The cub whimpered.  he pretended to struggle to free his hind paws, wriggling and rocking,, Petra laughing and gently trying to pick up one of the cub’s forepaws, Simba putting his weight on the paw as if it was glued to the carpet.  Petra made a face of huge concentration and effort as if she was struggling to lift Simba’s paw.  Simba screwed up his face in concentration, mewing and gasping with supposed effort.  Petra gently held the cub’s paw, now slightly raised from the carpet.

       “My paw’s free from the carpet, but now we’re stuck!”  Simba whimpered theatrically.

      “I think we’re bonded in more ways than one.  My paws stuck to yours!”  Petra mewed.  Simba tugged harder, Petra gently holding the toes of his paw in hers, knowing he would be able to free himself at any time and that the fight to free his paw was all a huge game.  Petra, totally entering into the spirit of the thing, encouraged Simba to try harder to free his paw. 

     “Go on ~Simba, you can do it, just a bit more, pull harder dear cub, you can free that paw!”  Petra yelled. Now he had encouragement from his mum, Simba really went to town!  Digging and curling his toes hard into the pile of the carpet, Simba closed his eyes, set his teeth and, snarling with anger, tugged violently at his trapped forepaw in a desperate attempt to free himself!  Samson looked concerned:

      “If his paw is trapped in yours, then we need help!”  He exclaimed.  Petra, as caught up in the game as her cub, yelled to him to make one last effort!

      “Go on Simba, you can do it!”  His mum’s words made Simba redouble his efforts. Squirming and wriggling in an effort to free his hind paws which had also mysteriously become trapped, spitting and snarling with anger, as well as worrying at his trapped forepaw, Simba amerced himself in his fight for freedom.  Now really worried, Samson saw the cub’s whole being was focused on freeing his paws!  This was too real for the huge lion!  Samson wanted to run for help, but was glued to the goings on as firmly as Simba’s hind paws were seemingly stuck to the carpet, or his forepaw was stuck to his mum’s paw.  Petra waited until she thought Simba was imagining making his greatest effort to free his paws, then let go of his forepaw.  Simba tumbled backwards ending up on his back with all four paws in the air!  The cub, slightly confused, looked up at Petra and Samson in bewilderment.

      “What happened there?”  He asked.

      “Your game was becoming rather real to you I think,” Petra mewed.

      “But I wasn’t trapped!  I knew I could free my paw mum.  You had no real hold on my paw at all!  Well not really, maybe just a little.  But not enough to trap my paw.  How did I end up on my back?”

      “When I encouraged you to pull harder, you went to town with acting trapped,” Petra mewed, “you ended up trying really hard to free yourself, leaning back hard, pushing hard with your hind paws to give yourself leverage.  When I let go of your forepaw, you fell over backwards!”  Simba got to his paws, shook himself and hugged Petra.

      “That was wonderful!”  He mewed, “a really great game!  Can we play again?  Maybe you try freeing your paw this time?”  Petra grinned at her cub and kissed his nose.

       “I like those games,” she mewed, “they’re really fun!”  Simba giggled cubbishly and took his mum’s paw, stroking it tenderly.

 

“I don’t understand this,” Samson said, “why pretend your paw is trapped?”

       “My paw wasn’t really trapped,” Simba mewed, “I was pretending, we both were, mum holding my paw, and me trying to free it.  Well, my part got a bit serious at the end I suppose, but that’s good in a way.”

       “Why do this?”  Samson asked, “Its strange behaviour.”

      “Sammy dear,” Petra asked, “Are you serious?  You look it.”

      “My question is deadly serious yes,” Samson replied, “why pretend to have a trapped paw when you don’t have a trapped paw at all?”

       “It’s called play,” Simba said, “We do it for fun, because we like playing those games.”

       “Okay,” Samson replied.  Petra got up, padded over to Samson and sat down in front of him.

      “Sit down Sammy, don’t lie there,” she mewed.  Samson sat down, the toes of his and Petra’s forepaws touching.

      “Now,” Petra mewed, gently take my left forepaw in yours and hold it lightly.”  Samson took her left forepaw in his right and did as she asked, looking very confused.

      “Now I will do what Simba did, try to free my paw,” the lioness said, Samson staring dumbly down at the lioness’s white paw held in his.  Petra worried at her paw, Samson dropping it instantly.

      “No no no!”  Simba protested, jumping up and down, “you don’t play like that Sammy, hold mum’s paw firmly.  She’ll let you know if she’s fed up.”  Samson picked up Petra’s paw and held it tighter.  It was obvious to Petra Samson didn’t have any imagination, or if he did, he didn’t know how to use it. For whenever Petra tugged at her paw, or even looked as if she was going to try and free herself, Samson let go.

      “I can’t,” he mewed, “I can’t do it; I’ve never played like this before, well, ever actually.  This is so strange to me!  So let me get this straight, I hold your paw, lightly, of course, and then you imagine you have a trapped paw and struggle to free it.  While I sit, still holding your paw?”

      “Yes,” Petra mewed.

      “What do I do in all this?”  He asked, “apart from holding your paw in mine that is.”

      “You encourage mum to try and free herself,” Simba mewed, “like she did for me!  Of course, you have to look at the other player, to see what they are doing, but then you react in whichever way you feel, be it encouraging them to pull harder to free their paw, or you tugging at yours, then you’re both in the game.  Of course, you have to let go at some time, but the trick is to know when to let go, so each player has a really good game.  Petra watched me, and knew when I was trying my hardest to free my paw, when I was caught up in my game, and she released my paw!  It’s all imagination; it’s all so much fun!”

      “It’s all right for you two,” Samson growled, totally out of his depth, “you can imagine those things!  For all I know, you can turn a bit of rubber tube into a raft, well I can’t!  I don’t know how!”

       “Hey Sammy, it’s all right,” Petra mewed, seeing the huge lion was getting upset.

     “No it’s not, it’s not at all!”  Samson whimpered, shuffling his forepaws in misery, “I saw real love between you and Simba during that game.  You two loved each other’s company, each playing with the other.  You knew what he was thinking by watching him!”

     “It was more what his paw was telling me,” Petra mewed, “but yes, I do know what you mean.  You don’t need to see the player to know, when you’re a pro at this kind of thing.”

       “I never knew how to play,” Samson mewed miserably, “my life was all training, all survival, and no hint of taking time out to pretend play.  I don’t think I will ever be truly a part of things here Petra, I don’t know paw massage, I can’t pretend play, I don’t even like anyone touching my paws if the truth be told.  I put up with it in the bathroom, because that’s what they do, but I don’t like it.  It’s not that I don’t want to like it; it’s that I don’t know how!  I’ve never been able to take time to think about pretend play, or explore the potential uses for my paws or anything like that!  I want to know, I want to play, but I’m unable to, and it frustrates me beyond words!”  Petra embraced the huge lion, who was almost crying.

      “If you want to know about play, we’ll teach you Sammy,” Petra mewed.  Simba crawled up alongside his mother and, with her supporting his forepaws, stood on his hind paws and touched the lion’s nose with his.

       “We will teach you Sammy,” Simba mewed.  Samson looked into Simba’s eyes, seeing in them the same light he saw in Petra’s.  They were too cubs together, one with years of experience behind her to teach the other.

       “I want that, I want to have that light in my eyes!”  Samson whispered.

       “What’s Samson on about mum?”  Simba asked.

       “I think he wants to be a cub again,” she mewed, “well, we’ll show him how, how about that Simba?”  Simba grinned.  He patted Samson’s paw, and the lion lay down, Petra releasing her cub onto all fours.  Simba crawled to Samson’s side, and clambered onto the lion’s back like he was climbing a ladder, Samson’s eyes filling with tears as he felt the tiny cub’s toes gripping his fur as he climbed.  Reaching safety on Samson’s back, Simba crawled forward to where the lion’s long mane lay across his neck and back.  Taking a large chunk in his forepaws, Simba sat down comfortably on Samson’s back, remembering to sheathe his claws.  Petra laughed as she watched her cub, for he looked like he was about to ride Samson in the Grand National!

      “Walk on dobbin!”  Simba commanded.  Samson’s reply was to grab Petra, bury his face in her fur, and burst into tears.  Simba let Samson cry, then, when he’d recovered, the huge lion got to his feet, Simba still on his back, and padded from the cubbing den.  Padding down the slope up which he’d come as an uninvited guest all that time ago, Samson realised Simba and Petra loved him with everything they had.

       “If only we had more cubs,” Petra mewed, “we could have races between the cubs, us adult lions, larger bears and tigers carrying them on our backs.”  Samson attempted to snort and whinny likes a horse, to Simba’s huge delight.

      “That’s really good!”  Simba mewed.  Petra kissed Samson on his nose.

      “Who said they couldn’t play?”  She asked.  Samson smiled at his friend.

        “That was easier than I thought,” he mewed, Simba still giggling to himself over Samson’s attempt at whinnying like a horse.

      “Simba loved it when you pretended to be a horse,” Petra mewed.

     “Let’s hope I don’t fall at the first fence,” Samson replied smiling.  Petra laughed merrily.  As they reached the living room, Petra took Samson’s paw in hers and squeezed it tenderly.

       “We’re going to make a good team you, Simba and I,” she mewed.  Simba smiled and patted Samson’s back with his paws.

      “We’ll make a great team!”  The cub mewed, Samson fighting back his urge to weep for joy.

      “Yeah we will,” Samson sniffed, wiping his eyes with his paw.  Simba grinned, got carefully to his paws, trotted to Samson’s tail and slid down it to the carpet!  Snorting with surprise, Samson flicked his tail, the black tasselled tip whacking Simba round the head as the cub leapt for safety from Samson’s hind paws in case he got kicked.  Simba sprawled on the carpet, doing a great act of being knocked senseless by Samson’s tail, while Samson looked at the cub in horror!

“Oh no!  ” he mewed, “I knocked Simba out with my tail!”  Simba watched Samson through half closed eyes, still apparently injured, and when he saw the lion’s left forepaw come within his range, the cub grabbed it with one forepaw, tickling his pads and toes with the other!  Samson roared with laughter, and before he knew it, Petra was tickling his hind paws while he laughed helplessly.

     “We’ve got you right where we want you,” Simba said smiling.  Samson, panting for breath after five minutes of the fiercest double tickling session his paws had ever known, smiled at the cub.

      “I’d rather be nowhere else in the world than right here,” he mewed.”

     “That’s a great tale,” Kenny said.

     “Samson, now Goldie, was a lion then.”  Honeyfur said, “Now Samson’s a bear, as his spiritual form is that of a bear.”  Kenny smiled, then realised a young female polar bear was playing with the toes of his right hind foot.  He glanced at her face, and saw a young female.

      “What’s your name?”  He asked, though he thought he’d seen her before.

      “My name’s Flocke,” the young polar female replied.  Kenny smiled, remembering her touch on his paws in the spar pool.

       “You have a lovely touch,” Kenny said to Flocke, who smiled broadly and hugged his right hind foot with her forepaws, which made Kenny wriggle and bounce about with pleasure.

        “Will you two stop it?”  Honeyfur laughed.

       “It’s kind of cute,” Nanuq said.  Flocke looked at him:

        “I love this bear,” she said.  Kenny giggled delightedly.

        “Your touch is lovely to me,” he said.  Kenny crawled away, Flocke grabbing his right hind foot and tickling it while he crawled, dragging her behind him while he crawled away with energetic tugs from forepaws and thrusts from one free hind foot.  Kenny dragged Flocke into the lie up he’d been altercated and shook his hind foot free of her grip before curling up to allow her to come up and embrace him, which she did, Kenny’s toes curling as he felt her embrace.

      “The way your toes curl as I play with your hind paws is so cute Kenny!”  Flocke laughed, Kenny giggling with pleasure.

       “I can’t help what my toes do when you embrace me,” he said, “they want to curl; they want you to play with them.  My pads want you to stroke them too!”  Flocke laughed helplessly at this.

       “I could get used to playing with your paws,” she said, “I’d like to get used to that.”  Kenny grabbed her right hind foot and played with her toes, stroking her pads and causing Flocke to curl her toes with pleasure.

       “Your touch makes me curl my toes Kenny!”  Flocke laughed.

       “Do you mind that?”  He asked.  Flocke thrust her left hind foot, with relaxed toes into his paws, Kenny stroking her pads, Flocke helpless to stop her toes curling.

      “What do you think?”  She asked.  Kenny laughed and kissed Flocke’s curled toes, the female polar bear laughing helplessly and wriggling with pleasure.

      “What would your mama think if she saw you now?”  Flocke asked.  Kenny grinned:

      “She’d be appalled at me playing with your paws,” he replied.

     “Good,” Flocke said, Kenny almost choking with laughter.

       “How about your mama?”  He asked.  Flocke looked sadly down at her forepaws.

       “She wouldn’t care,” she replied, “My mama didn’t want me.”  Kenny hugged Flocke tenderly.

        “I’m sorry,” he said.  Flocke shook herself and sighed heavily, smiling at Kenny.

       “I can play with you now, and that’s lovely,” she said.  Kenny kissed her nose and the toes of her fore and hind paws.

       “I love you Flocke,” Kenny said.  Flocke grinned:

      “I love you too,” she replied.  Kenny rolled Flocke onto her back and kissed the bunched pads of her hind paws, Flocke keeping her toes curled throughout, until he’d kissed all four of her paws, and then she relaxed her toes.

      “I love your furry soled paws Flocke,” Kenny said.  Flocke laughed and wiggled her toes at Kenny, before rolling over and looking at Kenny’s naked pads.

       “I happen to find your furless pads cute Kenny,” she said, kissing the toes of his right hind paw.

       “If you two have cubs you’ll be breeding some strange mix,” Yi Jie remarked, padding in and sitting down to watch Flocke and Kenny.

       “Our cubs will be very well looked after and loved from their noses to their paws,” Flocke replied.  Flocke led Kenny to the water coaster, where she picked up a telephone and got through to Nanuq in the control room.

       “Would you keep an eye on us while we ride?”  She asked.  Nanuq said he would, and gave Flocke a one time code to punch into the control box to operate the ride.  Flocke placed her paw on the scanner and punched in the six digit code Nanuq read over to her.  The belts started up, and a door opened, letting out one raft for Flocke and Kenny to ride.  Getting into the raft, the two bears waited for the ride to begin, a huge wave pushed them towards the zip coaster and up the hill to the first pool.  Climbing towards the top of the ride, the two bears sat back and enjoyed their ride.  Screaming all the way down the slides, the bear’s five minute ride ended where it had begun, Flocke and Kenny getting out of the raft, their fur and paws soaked.

     “That was fun,” Flocke said.  Kenny, laughing, hugged her tightly.

      “Now we have wet fur and paws,” he said.

       “I want my paws dried though,” Flocke replied.  Kenny bounced on his toes:

      “So do I,” he replied, “how if we dry each other’s paws?”  Flocke thought for a minute, and then nodded.

      “Sounds wonderful,” she said.  So they did.  Flocke found Kenny’s pads to be smoother than her own, tickling her friend’s pads and toes until Kenny was kicking and laughing helplessly.

       “I love your paws,” Flocke said.  Kenny laughed and drew up his hind feet, grabbing them with his forepaws; Flocke smiling and kissing Kenny’s gripping forepaws.

        “I wonder how many mamas grab their hind feet with their forepaws while having their cubs.”  Flocke asked.

      “Try grabbing your hind feet with your forepaws and see how comfortable it is,” Kamchatka said, as she padded in and sat down to watch the two bears playing.  Flocke tried the mama grizzly’s suggestion and found the posture very comfortable indeed.

       “It helps then,” Flocke said.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded.

      “Gives a stable base to push you sees,” she said, “as does squatting on your haunches, or resting back on your heels during earlier labour, though lying on your side will help also while you push and pant.”  Flocke looked at Kamchatka:

       “Are you and Koda going to have a cub?”  She asked.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “We might,” she replied, “someday.”

        “Kamchatka,” Anook said, tapping the mama Grizzly on her shoulder, “come quick, just you, noone else.”  Kamchatka got to her feet and padded away, leaving Flocke and Kenny mystified.

     “What on earth’s going on?”  Flocke asked.  Kenny shook his head:

      “I don’t know,” he replied.

 

Kamchatka followed Anook to the wood and padded down the track after her.  Anook showed Kamchatka something very strange, that should not be in a wood, a roll of tape.  Kamchatka sniffed at the tape, and then looked up at Anook.

      “Bears!”  She snapped, “Bears have been here, but why would they bring tape into a wood?”  She found the end of the tape and ripped it back; placing her paw on the sticky side, finding the tape was very sticky indeed.  Kamchatka ripped the tape off the pads of her right forepaw with her teeth and felt the tug of the adhesive.

       “That was difficult wasn’t it?”  Anook asked.  Kamchatka looked grimly down at her right forepaw.

       “If any poor creature was tied up with this, they’d never get free,” she mused, “we need to get this away from here.”  Anook nodded:

      “Let’s go,” she said, “I don’t like it here.”  Kamchatka picked up the tape and turned to leave.  Suddenly she stopped at the sound of a strangled cry.  It was a faint sound.

        “Who’s that?”  Kamchatka asked.  The sound came again.

       “That’s a bear in trouble,” Anook said, her wild hearing more acute than Kamchatka’s, though Kamchatka found the distressed bear before Anook did, and the sight of it shocked her.

      “We have a crime here,” she growled, furious and upset.  Knut lay under a tree, his legs tied and paws bound with tape.  His mouth was tied with tape, and it was the same tape Kamchatka held in her paw.

      “How long have you been here?”  Anook asked.  Kamchatka snorted:

      “He can’t talk.”  Knut stared at the two bears through red rimmed terrified eyes.

         “Let’s free his mouth at least,” Anook said.  Kamchatka looked at her:

       “It will hurt him,” she said, “this stuff, it stuck to my hairless pads, and “I can’t put him through tearing off the strips from his face.”

        “How are we going to free him then?”  Anook asked.

       “We need someone with the dexterity of a bear, who has tiny paws and is very gentle,” Kamchatka replied.

        “A cub is the only one with small enough paws,” Anook replied, “but we can’t terrorise a cub with this.”

       “It’s not a case of terrorising a cub,” Kamchatka replied, “It’s a need to free Knut.”

        “We need to use double sided knives,” Anook said, “a double sided knife like what jess used to cut the paper for the picture of Koda she painted.”

        Jess!  Of course!”  Kamchatka said, “I forgot she was here.  I think she’s dealing with the admin for the website, whatever that is, but can you get her here Anook?”

      “No, I’ll stay with Knut, you go find jess, it’s you she knows best of all Mama,” Anook replied.  Kamchatka lumbered away to find jess, who, when she heard of the things done to Knut, got the double sided knives, or scissors as she knew them, and rushed barefoot to Knut, the sight of his bound body upsetting her greatly.

        “I will cut the tape so he can open his mouth and move his legs,”  she said, “but removing the tape is gonna hurt him a lot.”  With that she cut carefully through the tape binding his mouth and his legs, using the scissors as a lever to make sure she didn’t cut his flesh.  Knut lay in her lap, trying not to tremble too violently, as he could feel the cold steel against his face.

        “Easy, easy little one,” jess said gently as she freed the terrified polar bear cub.

        “Who did this?”  Anook asked.

         “I don’t know at the moment,” jess replied.

       “I do,” Kamchatka snarled, “and I’m gonna kill him!”  Jess looked up into her mama’s face.

        “I can’t believe any bear would do that,” she said.

       “I know who did it,” she replied, “and the question is why, not who.  I could smell his scent on the tape.”

      “How powerful is that tape?”  Jess asked.  Kamchatka sighed:

      “When this bear’s convicted and killed for his action, I’ll show you,” she snarled.

        “We can’t kill for this,” jess said.

       “I will kill him if you don’t,” Kamchatka spat.

       “Seth tied me up for asking him a question about why he hated cubbings,”  Knut gasped, “he had found some tape in a store shed mad kept it.  When I asked him questions about why he hated cubbings, he threatened to tie me up with the tape and dump me in the woods.  I challenged him to do so, and he knocked me out with his paw.  The next thing I knew I was tied up here.”

       “How can anyone do that without anyone seeing?”  Anook asked, “Lithe whole place is covered by cctv cameras.”

       “We were in the other part of the wood,” Knut replied, “Seth had found the tape, and I met him by chance in the wood, and asked him a question, he hit me, and bound me, and so there is no evidence of him doing this!”

       “We can get his saliva and DNA off the tape,” jess said, “I’ll take this to Charles Fullbeans.”  Knut looked up at her:

       “It’s gonna hurt when you pull the tape off my nose and paws isn’t it,” he said.

       “It will,” jess replied, “and I am sorry for it.”

         “So we can’t prove a thing,” Kamchatka said.

       “Let me prove this,” Jess replied, “I will prove this, “noone should touch Knut now though.”

       “I notice you are wearing coverings on your hands,” Kamchatka said.  Jess nodded:

        “I don’t want to put my prints on Knut’s tape,” She said.  Now though, we have to take photos for Charles Fullbeans and then take the tape off Knut with care to secure a conviction.”

        “Now let’s go home,” jess said, making a phone call on her mobile to Charles Fullbeans and to Koda, who by the sound of his voice was furious at the news.  Charles Fullbeans arrived with a video camera, and he took film and photos of Knut from all angles, of his nose, of his legs, and of the soles of his paws.  Knut could hardly curl his toes, though it was obvious he’d tried very hard, and he tried several times while Charles was filming him.

       “Now let’s get this poor cub away from here,” jess said.  Charles walked away, leaving Kamchatka and the others to deal with Knut.

       “Can you walk?”  Jess asked the cub.

      “I’ll try,” Knut replied, but Kamchatka held up her paw.

        “Don’t let him walk,” she said, I’ll carry him.”  Turning her head, she shouted back to Charles Fullbeans:

     “Come back and film me.  I don’t want Seth disputing a thing here.”  Charles filmed Kamchatka as she carried Knut back to the house in her forepaws while walking on her hind feet.  Reaching the house, Kamchatka laid Knut in the bathtub and ran warm water onto his bonds.  Jess got into the tub with Knut and hugged him before pulling the tape off his body, the cub screaming with pain as she tore the tape off as quickly as she could to lessen his stress.  Knut tried not to wriggle, but he screamed and screamed.

       “Scream loudly Knut,” Jess encouraged as she ripped the tape off the pads of his hind feet, Knut roaring, screaming and squealing lustily.

       “Last bit of tape,” jess said softly, tearing the tape from Knut’s jaw, the cub shrieking with pain and fear.

         It’s all done,” jess said softly, getting into the bathtub hugging a wet and sobbing polar bear cub.

       “It stings!”  He roared.

      “I know, “but I could not do it any other way.”  Knut snuggled up to Jess, the human hugging the sobbing cub.

         “This tape is very strong,” jess said.

         “It is,” Knut replied, “it is very strong.”

        “I want to put some on the sole of my bare foot,” jess said, “just to see how strong it is.”

       “I’ll tell you, it’s strong!”  Knut replied.  Jess put the tape in a bag and gave it to Charles Fullbeans, who took the tape.  Jess dried Knut and then dried herself.

        “Let’s go to my lie up,” she said, “I can find tape like the one Seth used.  Knut followed Jess to her lie up, where she found some of the tape, which she used to seal boxes of plaster of Paris paw prints before shipment.  Cutting off a strip of tape, she sat down and stuck the tape to the heel of her right foot, smoothing it down.  Then she walked on it for a while and sat down.  Jess then picked at a corner with her fingers, lifting away a corner from her skin.  Then Knut gripped the tape and tugged at it, the tape now warm from Jess’s body heat.  Knut felt the tape resisting his tugging, and jess took over, Knut seeing the effort she had to put in to remove the tape.  Curling her toes slightly, jess tore the tape from the heel of her right foot, the sound of the tape harsh to Knut.  Curling her toes tightly for a few seconds, Jess squealed as the tape came free.Knut saw reddened skin on the sole of Jess’s foot where the tape had been.  Feeling he should do something, he padded up and licked the reddened patch on the sole of jess’s foot, jess smiling broadly.

      “Thank you,” she said Kissing Knut’s nose and the sore soles of his paws.

        “My pads hurt like your foot does,” Knut said.  Jess nodded.

         “I need to bathe my foot, and you need to bathe your paws to soothe them,” she said.

      “But you didn’t need to put the tape on your foot,” Knut replied.

        “Yes I did,” Jess replied, “I felt I needed to.”  Knut scrambled into jess’s lap, hugging her with his sore forepaws.

         “I think you did need to feel my pain, though I don’t know why,” he said.

         “I will fight for your sore paws,”jess Replied, Hugging Knut..

 

Meanwhile Seth was lying on the floor, Charles Fullbeans holding a huge can of pepper spray in his hand.  Whenever Seth looked like he was recovering, Charles would spray him in the face, Seth roaring and pawing at his eyes and nose with desperate scrabbling paws.

        “I hate you!”  Charles screamed.  Seth, having confessed to the crime when Fullbeans had brought the video to him, and shown him the roll of parcel tape, and the bag of tape ripped from Knut’s body and paws, now felt even more dreadful.

       “I can’t kill you,” Charles yelled, “but I won’t stand in the way of any creature here that does!”

         “That cub went too far!”  Seth choked, “I hate cubs asking questions, and I told him what I’d do to him, and he dared me to do it, so I did!”

       “You bound a cub so tightly he was close to death,” Charles replied.

       “I shoed him the power of my tape!”  Seth yelled.

        “You showed him the vindictive nature you have,” Charles snapped, “now you will walk on your paws, and live in fear of everyone!  Now leave here!”  Seth got to his feet and tried to walk away, finding he could not move his right hind foot.  Grunting, he tore his foot free, shrieking as the skin was ripped from his pads.

        “Now you know!”  Charles yelled, throwing the empty can of pepper spray at Seth.  Seth stumbled from the room, swearing loudly every time he put his right hind foot to the floor.

        “I’m gonna murder Charles!”  He yelled.

       “You won’t,” Koda said.  Seth looked with loathing at the black bear.

        “I wish I could though!”  He yelled.  Koda turned away, furious and upset.  Padding back to his lie up, he found jess and Knut bathing each other’s feet.

        “We’re bathing each other’s feet Koda,” Jess said, before telling him what she’d done to empathise with Knut.

        “I know why you put yourself through that,” Koda said, “but you need not do so any more jess.”  Jess shook her head:

       “I wanted to,” she replied.  Koda kissed jess’s hand, jess smiling broadly.

      “Do I get my paw kissed too?”  Knut asked.  Koda smiled and kissed Knut’s paw.

 

Meanwhile, Kamchatka comforted Zane, Keeping him away from Knut until the cub’s treatment was complete.

        “Your cub is fine now,” Kamchatka said, Zane crying into her coat.

        “You won’t let me see him though,” he choked, “why not?”

       “Leave him to Jess and Koda, you’ll see him soon,” Kamchatka said softly.  While she was saying this, Koda padded in with a limping cub.

       “Knut!”  Zane screamed, rushing to his cub and lifting him off his feet.

        “I’m okay Zane,” Knut said, “but it is thanks as much to Kamchatka as to jess and Anook.”  Zane flipped Knut onto his back, examining his paws.

        “My feet hurt quite a bit,” Knut said, “but they’ll heal, as will my fur grow back.”  Zane found Knut had chunks of fur missing from his nose and legs, and his paw pads were sore too.

       “My poor cub,” Zane said softly.

      “I was stupid enough to ask a question of that Seth,” Knut replied, “and he knocked me out, and bound me, and threw me away.”

        “I know, I know,” Zane replied crying.

        “I’m okay now, but that’s thanks to Anook as she found the tape, I heard her come, I heard her snort with fear, then heard her run away, I willed her to come back, I wanted so much for her to come back, from my nose to my toes I wanted her to come back and find me,” Knut said, “I tried curling my toes, but that hurt, and I couldn’t much do it even though I wanted to.  I couldn’t move my legs or open my mouth.  I tried to cry out, but could only make a slight sound.  When Kamchatka came, and she looked down at me, I knew I was safe.”

        “I will make sure he never gets his paws on you ever again!”  Zane promised.

       “I’m happy to be free of the tape,” Knut said, “but now, now, for the time being, I can’t let anyone play with my paws.  They hurt me too much!”  Zane touched the pads of Knut’s right hind foot, the cub withdrawing his foot quickly.

       “It hurts, don’t touch it,” Knut said sadly.  Zane hugged Knut tenderly, the cub trying to hold onto his fur with his sore forepaws.

       “I will walk, I will let others touch my pads,” Knut said.

       “But you can’t, it’s gonna hurt you too much,” Zane replied.  Knut thought for a minute:

       “I’ll bathe my feet every day and walk on them,” he said, “that way they get strong and tough enough to be played with and tickled again.  I miss that already Zane!”  Zane thought of his own love of paw play and agreed with Knut with his whole heart and every pad of his paws.

        “I hope you get back to paw play very soon,” Zane said.  Knut, angry about his lack of paw play, seemed to have forgotten the fact his life had been in danger too.

       “I’ll smash Seth into the earth!”  He roared.  

Meanwhile Seth, padding angrily through the wood,found himself on the banks of the lagoon.  Thinking the water would wash the pepper spray out of his eyes and soothe his sore hind foot, he climbed a recently erected fence and leapt into the lagoon and began to swim across it.  The water soothed his pads, but his ears were not soothed by a loud voice telling him:

      “Get out of the lagoon Seth, get out now!”  Seth looked to his right, seeing the entrance to a black cave.  Then hearing a rumbling sound.

      “Get out; get out of the lagoon, quick!”  The voice yelled.  Seth, looking round, was slow in realising the voice was coming from a loud speaker in the wood.

      “They can see me!”  Seth thought, but then something smashed into him!  Seth, knocked unconscious and injured, floated away as the boat carrying Lunar and Astra pushed his body out of the way as they entered the lagoon.  Lunar, seeing what had happened screamed loudly.

      “We hit him, we hit a bear!”  Seth floated on the surface, his body broken.  Lunar leapt into the lagoon and pushed Seth’s unconscious body to the bank, hauling him out onto the grass.

        “We couldn’t help it mama,” Astra said, “there are signs and there is a fence around the lagoon to stop this.”  Seth came round and roared with pain, his left hind leg broken and ribs cracked.

         “He’s in pain,” Astra said.  Lunar, unable to cope, vomited onto the grass at the sight of Seth sobbing and trying to drag himself away.  Charles Fullbeans had already called the vet, and soon the vet was on scene to fix Seth up.  Koda and jess gave Seth the sedative, and the vet hauled the disgraced bear away into his truck to fix him up.  A pin in his leg and a bandage on his paw fixed Seth, then the vet pumped him full of anti biotic.  Seth woke up stiff and sore three hours later.

       “What hit me?”  He wailed.

      “You climbed a fence, and then swam in the lagoon where the log flumes end their ride,” Ellie snapped, walloping Seth with her tiny paw.

         “Hitting a bear when he’s down is awful!”  Seth roared.

      “Binding a cub when he’s done no wrong and leaving him to die is worse,” Ellie growled, “I hate you Seth!”  Seth moaned deeply.  Seth limped back to the house, in great pain and with great effort.  Seth made it back to the house, flopping down on his bed in the lie up.

        “You recover here, and then you go,” Kuruk grunted, “no more stay here Seth, you bad bear.  You tie cub up with sticky rope and then leave him to die in wood?  You big bastard bear!  Kuruk hate you from nose to paws!  Kuruk want tie you up with sticky ropes and make you scream and cry and beg like poor Knut do thing!”

      “Don’t make me laugh!”  Seth choked, “it hurts!”  Kuruk raised his paw and belted Seth across his face.

       “You think Kuruk laughing?”  Kuruk screamed, “You think Kuruk think sticky ropes thing funny?  You think Kuruk like hearing story of poor cub tied up with rope that he no can break, that make him cry and scream and give him sore paws and torn out fur when he free?  You think that Funny?  You want Kuruk tie Seth up like Knut is tied?  You want Kuruk do thing to you?  Kuruk do thing!  He makes life of Seth hell place!”  Kuruk was almost dancing with rage by this time.

       “Kuruk, please,” Anook said, resting her paw on her mate’s, “let it go, let him stew in his own muck.”  Kuruk, almost crying, turned to his mate:

       “Kuruk know that rope,” he sobbed, “he know how it feel to be tied with that rope.  Kuruk been tied up like that once, when he raid camp, and humans find him and bind him with sticky rope, though this no like the rope Knut know, it weaker, so Kuruk know Knut go through shit, and shit and shit again!”

       “I know Kuruk, I know,” Anook said softly, kissing her mate’s nose, “Knut’s fine now.”

     “But he cry, he weep while jess remove tape with gentle but swift hands.  Kuruk see jess with red sole of foot after five minutes of having tape on naked sole of her foot.  Knut has tape on paws for far longer!  They stuck for long time, and Knut unable to curl toes even.”  Knut touched Kuruk on the toes of his right hind foot, making the bear turn his head:

        “Here I am, look at my fur, look at my paws, touch my paws also,” Knut said.  Kuruk choked back tears:

      “But if Kuruk touch paws, he hurt Knut, and Knut wants Kuruk to do thing?  To hurt him?”

        “Zane told me to follow my paws,” Knut said, “and they’d lead me to one who could soothe my painful paws.”

       “Kuruk no be like sire Patch, he no healer,” Kuruk protested.

       “I want you to touch my paws, please?”  Knut begged.  Kuruk sat down, his face telling Knut of his own pain,

       “Touch my paws,” Knut said, scrambling into Kuruk’s lap and presenting him with his sore paws.  Kuruk picked up each paw and kissed the cub’s sore pads and toes.

       “How can anyone tie a cub with sticky rope?”  Kuruk asked aloud, his grief almost as great as if he’d witnessed the death of a cub that day.

        “Touch my paws, please?”  Knut begged.  Kuruk kissed the soles of Knut’s paws, the cub smiling as the grizzly bear kissed his pads.

       “Is he hurting you?”  Seth asked, his voice telling everyone he hoped Kuruk was hurting Knut.

       “No,” Knut replied, “his kiss on my pads is comforting, soothing my pain.”

         “Knut doesn’t mean physical pain Seth,” Anook said, “his physical pain is nothing to what you did to his emotions.  He’s a cub, and you are an adult bear.  You might have destroyed his trust in adults forever.”

      “But he goaded me into hurting him!”  Seth whimpered.

      “He asked a question, and you threatened him, and then he dared you to hurt him.  You need not have done it; you acted out of spite, out of hate, out of a wish to destroy a cub!”  Anook replied.

        “I wanted power!”  Seth screamed.

       “You set out to hurt and damage a cub!”  Kamchatka screamed, “This was a Situation where a cuff from a paw would have done the job of telling him you were fed up, but no, you tied him up with the sticky rope, and worse still, left him in the woods to die!  You deserve nothing Seth!  You deserve to be left in pain and frightened, and unable to move like poor Knut!  We should not have called the vet to fix you up after your stupidity in the lagoon, but we did, because we are kind and gentle, we called for him, but you deserved nothing of that care!  You showed nothing of that care to Knut did you!  You are horrible!”  Kenny watched from the lie up’s door, shocked at what he’d learnt.

      “I want to kill Seth now!”  He growled.

       “It is not for you to take revenge like that,” Kamchatka warned him.  Kenny shifted his paws uncomfortably.

        “How can anyone tie a cub up with sticky ropes?”  He asked, “let alone a fellow bear!  This is awful, it makes me want to cry and wring my paws!”  Flocke hugged her friend.

       “No wonder Anook didn’t want us to see it,” she said, “We’re still cubs really, you and I.  I’m three years old, and you are little older.  We’re mere cubs!”  Kenny kissed Flocke’s nose.

       “I love you from your nose to your toes,” he whispered to her.

      “I can show you my toes if you’d like,” Flocke said.  Kenny smiled and lifted her left forepaw.

       “No, my hind foot, lift that, lift my hind foot,” Flocke begged.  Kenny did, Flocke letting him lift her hind paw and kiss her pads, Flocke wiggling her toes with pleasure.

         “Now I can see your pads Flocke, your black wrinkled and pitted pads, one large sole pad and five toe pads, with long claws on each toe,” Kenny said, tracing Flock’s pads with his left forepaw while holding her foot in his right, Flocke giggling helplessly:

       “You’re tickling my toes!”  She laughed, Kenny kissing the pads of her paw, Flocke gasping with emotion.  Kenny found a stone wedged between the toes of Flocke’s paw and removed it, flicking it away, Flocke sighing with relief.

         “I can see and feel why these paws are so good for arctic travel,” Kenny said, “they aren’t like mine, mine are smoother!”

        “I know they are,” Flocke said, “and for that I am sorry for you.  For your ice life must have been dreadful.”  Kenny dropped Flocke’s right hind foot and picked up her left hind, Flocke whimpering with pleasure, despite her attempts to keep her feelings to herself.

         “She likes you Kenny,” Knut said laughing.

       “I know,” Kenny replied.

      “Kuruk very glad of Flocke liking Kenny so much to let him kiss her hind paws,” Kuruk said.  Flocke smiled broadly, putting her head down between her forepaws so Kenny could see her smile.  Kenny stroked Flocke’s toes, the she bear flicking her right hind foot into Kenny’s right forepaw, the two bears leaving, Flocke walking on her forepaws with Kenny holding her hind feet like she was an ursine wheel barrow, much to Kamchatka’s Amusement.

       “That’s so funny!”  She said.

        “They clearly love each other so much,” Knut observed, “and I am so glad of it.

 

Flocke led Kenny back to their lie up, then he let go of her hind feet and she crawled to the snow room Kenny following her.

       “I’m gonna slip and slide all over the place here,” he said.  Flocke looked at him.

        “I’ll catch you,” she said.  Sure enough, Kenny’s feet slipped and slid from under him as he walked on the snow and ice, Kenny falling over after five minutes of shuffling and trying to curl his toes enough to get purchase on the ice.  Flocke watched, and when Kenny lay in a laughing heap on the floor, she approached, sure footed and almost dancing.  Then she got down and kissed Kenny’s fore and hind paws, stroking his smoother pads and playing with his toes, Kenny wriggling and laughing with pleasure.

       “You are in need of my help now,” Flocke said, “Just like I needed your help earlier.”

      “But you only had stone between the toes of your hind foot,” Kenny said.

       “Ah,” Flocke said, holding up her left forepaw, “but I couldn’t remove it myself, it hurt too much.”

       “But I gave you no pain relief,” Kenny replied.

      “You did,” Flocke replied, “you kissed my hind paw, played with my good toes and stroked my pads that were enough.”  Kenny laughed merrily.

       “You big softy,” he said, kissing Flocke’s nose.

      “I wish you’d kiss my paws,” Flocke said.

      “Let’s make a deal,” Kenny replied, “you kiss mine, and I’ll kiss yours?”  Flocke giggled and pushed Kenny onto his back, kissing the cool snow dampened pads and toes of his right hind foot, Kenny laughing and waving his forepaws in the air.

       “Your pads are cold,” Flocke said.  Kenny smiled:

       “The snow here draws the heat from them,” he said, “it hurts to have my feet on the snow.

        “I know,” Flocke said, feeling her friend’s slightly faster pulse through the contact between her lips and the pads of his left hind foot, “I can’t imagine the pain you went through while on the ice.”  Kenny grimaced:

       “It was awful,” he said, “so I got away.”

        “How did you do that?”  Flocke asked.  Kenny shivered and got to his feet, slipped and nearly fell again.

      “Let’s slide out of here,” Flocke said, “then you can tell me in warmer surroundings.”  Kenny and Flocke left the room, Flocke crawling, with Kenny holding onto her hind feet, Flocke dragging him along. They made their way back to Kenny’s lie up, where they sat down with steaming cups of tea.

       “I was born on land, on the edge of the ice,” Kenny said softly to Flocke, “My mama never let me play with my paws, so I didn’t know why I couldn’t walk on the ice.  I slipped and skidded, having to scavenge for food in dustbins and other stuff lying about, I couldn’t hunt seals.”  Flocke, emotional at Kenny’s tale, was crying already, Kenny holding her tightly.

        “I got away as soon as I could,” Kenny said softly, “I was under my mama’s care for two years of my life, and then got away as soon as she abandoned me to fend for myself.  I found my way to solid ground and then ran through Norway to Finland, then hitched a lift on a boat, then through France, then through a tunnel on a long electric snake, and then I ran here, and found Patrick and later, my mate.”  Flocke smiled through her tears as Kenny kissed her nose and paws.

        “I will love you forever,” she said.

       “I give you all four of my smoother ill prepared paws,” Kenny said.  Flocke laughed and kissed Kenny’s nose.

        “I want to play a silly cubbish game,” Kenny said.  Flocke thought for a minute:

       “Does it need to involve paws?”  She asked.

      “Yes, and I want it to involve both of us if possible,” Kenny replied.

        “We could wrestle each other, and try to tickle each other’s hind paws?”  Flocke suggested.

      “Yeah, but I think I want a game where someone else calls the shots, where we both don’t know what’s gonna happen next.”

       “There is no such game I know of,” Flocke replied.  Jess padded in with a cardboard box and a huge grin.

      “There is such a game,” she announced.

       “Is there?”  Flocke asked, looking up into the human’s face.

   “Patch and I used to play it when we were young,” jess said, “its called twister.”  She spread the mat on the floor and explained the rules.

      “Flocke, stand on the mat opposite Kenny,” she said, “Now, I spin this pointer on the card, and tell you where to move your forepaws or hind to, either a red, yellow or blue square.  Each take turns.”

      “But there are many blue, red and yellow squares, green ones too,” Kenny replied.

      “You move your forepaw or hind foot to the closest coloured square to where it is now.  And if Flocke has to put her paw on a spot next to yours where you have to cross paws with her, you have to lift your paw and let her put hers down, then place your paw on your square again.”

       “We’ll get tangled and fall over,” Flocke said.

     “That’s the idea,” jess replied.

      “Is tickling exposed pads and toes allowed?”  Kenny asked.

      “No, but I’m sure it will go on,” jess replied.

 

Flocke and Kenny faced each other across the twister mat, flock’s forepaw on a blue circle, her right on a red, her left hind on a yellow and right on a green.  Kenny’s right hind foot was on a yellow circle, his left hind on a green, his right fore on a red and left on a blue.

       “Okay, Flocke, let’s spin for your turn,” Jess said. jess spun the spinner, and told Flocke to move her left hind foot to a green circle nearest to where it currently touched the mat.  Flocke moved her paw forward one circle.  Kenny was asked to move his forepaw onto another red circle, and like this, the two bears moved around the mat, each crossing fore and hind paws to try and obey the rules and keep their balance.  Jess watched with interest as after fifteen minutes of speedy play, Flock’s head was beside Kenny’s right flank, Kenny on tiptoe trying to remain balanced in a contorted attitude.  Flocke, seeing the heel pad of his left hind foot taught and the male bear struggling to remain balanced, his pads stretching and relaxing slightly as he rocked gently on the toes of his crossed hind and forepaws, kissed the pads of his left hind foot, Kenny squealing and collapsing in a giggling heap.

        “You Rogue!”  He laughed, untangling his paws and hugging his mate.

       “That’s Flock’s win,” Jess said, “though strictly speaking, she cheated, so Kenny won, though her ingenuity needs applauding, well done Flocke!”  Flocke laughed, hugging her mate.

       “I couldn’t resist kissing that hind foot,” she said, “those pads were just too cute!”  Kenny laughed merrily and kissed Flocks nose.

      “I resisted the urge to kiss your pads when you were in a similar situation,” he said, “but you just couldn’t resist the sight of mine.”  Flocke smiled and kissed both Kenny’s hind paws, the male bear laughing helplessly.

        “I like that game,” Kenny said, “and if we play again, I will kiss your pads and make you laugh and fall over!”  Flocke stood on the mat and crossed her fore and hind paws, until she was balancing on the toes of all four paws, and then Kenny crawled up and blew gently on the pads of her right hind paw, Flocke shrieking with shock, then laughing and rolling onto her back to pedal the air with her fore and hind paws.

       “I love this game!”  Flocke laughed.  Jess giggled and joined the bears on the mat, crossing her arms and legs so that first Flocke, then Kenny could blow on, then tickle the soles of her feet, which jess loved.

         “You’re as playful as a bear Jess!”  Flocke laughed.  Jess smiled, lying on her back and drawing up her feet, before grabbing her feet with her hands, making Kenny laugh.

       “You silly thing,” he said.  Jess and Flocke played next, Kenny manning the spinner, jess unable to resist tickling the large sole pad of Flocke’s right hind foot when she saw it within range of her right hand, as the she bear tried to stand on tiptoe.  Jess tickling her sole pad resulted in Flocke somersaulting, landing on her back, kicking the air with her hind feet and laughing helplessly.  Jess crawled over to Flocke and rubbed her belly, Kenny tickling Jess’s toes as she crawled.

      “Hey you!”  Jess yelled laughing, “paws off my toes!”  Jess curled her toes to trap Kenny’s.  Kenny laughed and stroked the heel pads of Jess’s feet, the young girl smiling broadly while feeling her toes curl tightly with emotion and pleasure.

       “Your hind feet are like mine!”  Kenny said, “All hairless and not good for the ice.”  Jess smiled, sitting down and giving Kenny her left foot, the bear taking it in his paws with gentle care.  She took his left hind foot in her hands, tracing his pads and playing with his toes while Kenny played with her toes and traced the naked sole of her foot with the toes of his paw, making jess smile broadly and slightly curl her toes.

      “Now I know how jess and I must have looked while playing,” Sire Patch said as he padded in and caught sight of Jess and Kenny playing.

        “It’s so cute,” Flocke agreed, “jess has cute paws, and so does Kenny.”

       “What’s going on?”  Sita asked, padding in after patch.

      “Get paws on with me and Kenny and find out for yourself,” jess invited.  Sita did, touching jess’s and Kenny’s feet and then Jess’s hands and Kenny’s forepaws while they played with each other’s toes and stroked each other’s pads.

      “This is such sweet play,” Sita said laughing.  Jess, smiling, kissed Sita’s nose.

         “You are so cute,” she said to the cross bred bear cat.

       “Thanks,” Sita replied returning her kiss to Jess’s nose.

       “Jess has cute hind paws,” Kenny said. Jess smiled and turned to Sita.

       “I’m open to you exploring my feet if you want to,” she said.  Sita smiled and thanked her.

       “I will do as you ask,” she replied.  Kenny moved away, and Sita sat opposite jess, taking Jess’s right foot in her forepaws, jess catching her breath as she felt the cross bred bear cat’s touch.

     “This feels wonderful!”  Jess exclaimed, unable to stop the toes of her right foot from curling with pleasure.

        “Sita’s got a magical touch,” Patch said.

      “I know that now,” Jess gasped, pressing her toes into Sita’s embrace.

        “I heard how you gave birth to a bear,” Sita said to jess, “though that bear is unnamed so far I think.”

       “I know he is,” Jess replied, “but he’s not my cub, I don’t deserve him.”

        “Your going through with the birth of your cub was a brave thing,” Sita replied, “though I know it was necessary also.”

       “I don’t regret a drop of sweat or straining pushing effort,” Jess replied.

       “I know that,” Sita replied.

       “I’ve met the cub,” Toby said, padding in to the lie up, “and Lunar has named him Peter, as he’s a tough little chap.”  Jess smiled, though she felt strangely sad that she could not name her cub, though she knew she had no right to name him at all.

       “Your feet are becoming tougher since the day you arrived here Jess,” patch said.  Jess smiled.

     “They are,” she replied, “but they’re sensitive too.”

       “I have tough paws too!”  Toby said, rolling onto his back and kicking his hind feet in the air.  Sita tickled Jess’s right foot, the young girl laughing and kicking the air with both feet, Sita catching Jess’s left foot and kissing her toes, jess giggling with pleasure.

      “Can I kiss your hind foot too?”  Jess asked.  Sita rolled onto her back, drew up her hind feet and jess grabbed her right hind foot and kissed her toes, Sita giggling cubbishly.  Jess examined Sita’s hind foot, from her muddy brown fur, to the spots between her pads and wrinkled pads themselves.  Jess smiled and blew on Sita’s pads, making her curl her toes and wriggle, laughing helplessly.

       “Now for everything you do to my paw, I can get you back!”  Sita said.  Jess smiled:

       “I know,” she said, and my hind paws are yours.  That is, when you can free your hind paw from my hands!”  Jess held on tightly to Sita’s paw, Sita tugging and worrying at her paw.  Then she turned onto her stomach and pulled hard with her three free feet, jess holding onto Sita’s right hind foot with all her strength, though she could feel Sita’s foot slipping out of her grasp.  Grunting, Sita yanked her foot free and turned a cartwheel as she came to rest.  Sita turned round and grabbed jess’s left foot, tracing her pads and toes, jess laughing helplessly.

        “Give me your foot!”  She snarled, jess pressing her foot into Sita’s grip.  Sita tickled Jess’s heel pad and toes, jess bouncing about, and screaming with laughter.

         “I love this,” she said.

       “I can imagine these toes curling hard while you had your cub,” Sita said.  Jess paused and reached for Sita.

        “I curled my toes tightly,” Jess said softly, giving Sita her right foot and tightly curling her toes.

        “But we both know there is tightly curling toes, and tightly curling toes,” Sita said.  Jess smiled:

       “You curl them that extra bit when in real pain Sita,” jess replied.  Sita smiled and gave Jess her left hind foot.

       “Let’s curl our toes like we did when in labour,” Sita said, Stroking jess’s toes.

      “Let’s, just once,” Jess said.  Eohippus gave Sita and Jess the memory of their pain, and both mothers curled their toes as tightly as they could, though neither made a sound.

        “Thank you,” Jess said to Sita, who smiled and kissed her nose.

      “I needed to feel your toes curling,” Sita said.

      “And I yours,” jess replied.

       “Targon let me touch her paws while she described her labour to me,” Sita said, “Targon curled her toes as she recounted her daughter Titania’s birth.”

       “I’ve spoken to Koda about how it felt during little Peter’s birth,” jess said, “and during that I also curled my toes.”

       “Describing the birth of a cub is emotional stuff,” Targon said softly, padding into the lie up.

        “You have tough little hind paws jess,” Sita said.  Jess laughed:

       “You have tough big hind paws Sita,” she replied.

        “That game looked interesting,” Toby said to jess, “what was it?”  Jess explained about twister.

        “Can’t we just skip the bit about the spinner and get to the bit where the winner of the game gets to tickle the loser’s paws?”  Toby asked.  Kenny roared with laughter at this.

       “it’s not the object of that game to cross both fore and hind legs and stand on tiptoe,”  he said, “but I kind of wish it was.”

      “The game ends when only one player is left on their paws,” jess said.

       “No, the one who has their paws played with wins,” Kenny said dreamily.

       “I don’t think humans go in for playing with each other’s paws much, and the game was their invention,”  Flocke said, “though I wish they played with their paws more.”  Jess laughed and grabbed her right foot in her hands, playing with her toes and stroking the sole of her foot with her fingers, Toby laughing at her and imitating her.

      “Toby looks so cute when playing with his toes,” Targon remarked to Sita as she padded into the lie up, “I wish you could see him.”

       “I often touch his paws while he plays with his toes,”  Sita replied, “but yes I wish I could see him too sometimes, those times when he thinks I’m not there and I can, as I’ve heard you say Targon, look round and see my cub playing with his paws where he’s just enjoying himself without my interference.”

       “You don’t interfere with me playing with my toes mama,”  Toby said, “I know you can’t see me playing with my toes, so sometimes I’ll do it while we’re cuddling together, just so you can feel it.  I want you to see me playing with my toes, but you can’t, so I have to remind myself to play, though cuddling up with you reminds me, so I play naturally then.”

       “It’s cute when you do,” Sita said.  Toby padded up to her and then crawled past her, Sita touching him from his head to the toes of his hind feet.  Then Toby scrambled into her lap and grabbed his right hind foot in his forepaws, Sita getting paws on with him, Toby smiling broadly.

       “I will only play with my paws when I want to,” Toby said, “and most of the time I want to, so it’s okay.”

        “Cubs are taught here that paw play is okay,” Sita said, “and that’s lovely.”

       “We are taught not to fear or be revolted by our paws, which is great,” Flocke said.

        “You tickled my heel pad when I was on tiptoe Flocke!”  Kenny said laughing.  Flocke smiled:

        “I couldn’t resist it,” she said, “your pads were just there, stretching and relaxing as you tried to keep your balance.  I just had to touch them.  They looked so cute!”  Kenny hugged her tightly.

       “And I managed to make you fall over by blowing on the sole of your hind paw,” Kenny said.  Flocke smiled:

      “My hairy soled paws tickle me whenever you blow on them,” she said.  Kenny pushed Flocke onto her back and Flocke drew up her hind feet so Kenny could blow on her paw pads, Kenny blowing gently, Flocke laughing helplessly.

       “Now that’s cute,” jess said.  Toby explained to Sita what Flocke and Kenny were doing, Sita smiling.

      “Flocke drew her hind feet up like this,” Toby said, drawing up his hind feet while lying in Sita’s lap, sita getting paws on with him.

         “I love you Toby,” Sita said, lifting her cub off her lap and kissing his nose.  She let him sit in her forepaws, his hind feet dangling in the air.  Toby kicked his hind feet, Kenny getting a good look at the soles of Toby’s hind paws, Toby stretching and curling his toes, Kenny finding the display very moving.

       “He’s so sweet,” Kenny said.  Flocke smiled:

       “What do you want to do when you see Toby flexing his toes and see his pads bunching and stretching?”  She asked.

        “I want to put my paws beneath his hind feet to cradle them,” Kenny replied.  Sita smiled, and Toby giggled at Kenny’s words.

       “Now that’s so sweet too,” Toby said, “come on, cradle my hind feet.  I want it, now, now!”  Toby kicked and wriggled, Sita holding onto him, Toby groping for purchase with his hind paws.

     “I can’t find anything to hold onto with my toes!”  Toby whimpered, lifting his hind feet and pushing against Sita’s belly fur with his paws, curling his toes into her long coat.

      “There,” he said, “I’m safe now.  Sita blew on Toby’s paws, ruffling the soft fur on the tops of his paws, Toby squealing as his toes lost grip.

     “Now I’m in trouble!”  Toby wailed, kicking hard at the air with his hind feet.  Kenny lay in fort of Sita’s hind paws, reaching up with his forepaws to Toby’s frantically pedalling hind feet, catching them and gently holding them with the cub’s legs slightly bent so he could push down into Kenny’s pads.

      “Push Toby, Push down hard with those feet!”  Sita encouraged.  Toby pushed down hard, whimpering with effort.

       “Hold onto my fur if you want,” Sita said, “now Toby, push!”  Toby braced himself and pushed down hard, Sita hardly feeling the cub’s most strenuous efforts, as he was still so small.

      “I can’t believe you’re only six months old,” Sita said to Toby, “you seem to have been in my life for only two minutes.  I still remember your birth as if it was yesterday.  My pain, my effort, and the sensation of your delivery into this world.”

        “Sometimes I’ve wanted to return to that nice warm place when I’ve seen what is done in this world mama,” Toby said honestly.

       “What do you mean little cub?”  Sita asked.

       “What Seth did to Knut was awful!”  Toby said, almost crying, Kenny feeling his pads getting hot with emotion and then feeling his toes curl as he fought not to cry.

       “Hold his hind feet Kenny,” Jess said, “Toby needs to be supported now.”

       “He might want his mama more than me,” Kenny replied.

        “What did Seth do to Knut?”  Sita asked.  Toby told her through his tears.

       “But that’s awful!”  Sita said, “How could Seth do that?”

      “Easily,” Toby choked, coughing violently.

      “Easy now Toby,” Sita said, lowering him to her lap and removing her paws, Kenny letting go of his hind paws.

        “Hold me mama, and you Kenny,” Toby said, turning his back on Sita so she could put her paws around him and hold him, allowing Toby to push his hind feet into Kenny’s forepaws.

      “I could sit opposite you Sita and let Toby press his hind feet against mine,” Kenny said.

       “If that’s easier,” Sita said.  In the end, Kenny gave Toby his right hind foot, Toby holding it in his forepaws.

      “Squeeze my foot if you want to,” Kenny said.  Toby held onto Kenny’s foot with his small forepaws and sniffed hard.

       “I overheard Anook telling Koda what Seth had done to Knut,” Toby replied, “I know I was listening in to something I shouldn’t have been, but it was too dreadful to let go.  It’s been eating me ever since!  I know Knut, I know his fur, his paws, his playfulness, his trust, his gentility, and to have his body tied up with tape for such a small thing, with his feet tangled up in tape, with his toes unable to move, and his mouth taped shut, must have been awful for him!  Mama, I’m sorry for listening in, but as soon as I knew what Seth had done, I went to Knut and hugged him, and touched his paws, and we wept together, and I promised him I’d keep him safe if I could.  I know he’s a polar bear and will get bigger than me when he’s older, but I said it all the same, and I mean it mama!”  Kenny felt Toby’s grip on his hind foot become fierce.  Kenny, overcome with the cub’s retelling of Knut’s tale, wiped his eyes with his forepaws and wiggled the toes of the paw Toby held, Toby sniffing:

       “Remember you have Kenny’s foot in your paws Toby,” jess said, “Kenny’s paw might be hurt if you squeeze too hard.”

      “No,” Kenny said, “he can’t hurt me.  Tell you what Toby, you squeeze my foot as hard as you like, and I’ll curl my toes as hard as I can.  Ready?”  Toby, sniffing, kissed Kenny’s toes.

      “I’m ready,” he said sadly.

     “Now, squeeze!”  Kenny encouraged.  Toby began to squeeze Kenny’s right hind foot in his forepaws, embracing Kenny’s right hind foot in both his forepaws with as much force as he could.  Kenny smiled and curled the toes of his right hind paw as tightly as he could, watching for the toes of Toby’s hind feet to curl also.  Toby, releasing his anger into Kenny’s hind foot, squeezed Kenny’s foot with all his strength, roaring with emotion and curling the toes of both his hind feet tighter than he’d ever done before.

        “Squeeze with your forepaws and curl those toes,”  Kenny said gently, the pressure of Toby’s tiny forepaws on his hind foot being no greater than that of a tight shoe on a human foot, Kenny could bear it for quite a long time.  Kenny knew his discomfort was more bearable for him than Toby’s was for him, and let the little cub roar and squeaze his foot as hard as he could.

       “Pour it all out Toby.”  Kenny said gently.  Toby wriggled, and then took a good hold of Kenny’s right hind foot; Kenny relaxing his toes while the cub got a good hold, then, as Toby squeezed down hard on his paw, Kenny curled his toes, Toby’s tears wetting the furry top of Kenny’s toes.  Toby recovered a little after two hard squeezes of Kenny’s hind foot, lifting Kenny’s large right hind foot to kiss Kenny’s pads to thank him for his understanding.  Kenny smiled and reached forward with his left forepaw touching Toby’s cheek with his paw.  Toby, his strength spent, settled back into his mama’s hug.

        “My face and paws are all hot and uncomfortable,” Toby observed, “my hind feet are hot too, and my toes ache!”

       “You were having quite a work out there,” jess said.  Toby looked at her.

        “I know,” he said, “I’m tired now.”  He crawled over to jess and examined her from head to foot.  He then looked in a mirror and examined himself.

       “Your hind feet are like mine!”  He exclaimed, “Jess, your feet are like mine!”  Jess explored her own left foot with her right hand, and then examined Toby’s right hind foot with both her hands, smiling as she did so.

      “Yes they are similar,” she said.  Toby pressed his hind feet against jesses, the human smiling at the warm touch of the cub’s hind paws.

      “Now will our feet stick together?”  Jess asked.

        “You play the trapped paw game too?”  Toby asked, “How wonderful!”  Jess curled her toes slightly.

       “I so wish our feet would stick together,” she said.

       “They might,” Toby replied.  Jess smiled and tugged at her left foot, feeling Toby pressing his right foot in to hers.

      “Yes my foot’s stuck to yours,” Jess said.  Toby tried to move his left foot, pressed against Jess’s right.

      “My feet are stuck to yours!”  Toby laughed.  Then he tugged at the toes of his left hind foot, jess curling her toes to try and help him, Toby dragging at his toes with increasingly desperate forepaws.

      “Pull!”  Jess encouraged, Toby growling with effort.

       “I am pulling, but my foot is stuck fast!”  He whimpered.  Jess grabbed her right foot in both hands and tore it free of Toby’s right hind paw, Toby rubbing the now seemingly sore pads and toes of his right hind foot.

      “That hurt!”  He wailed.  Then he looked at Jess, who was rubbing the sole and massaging the toes of her left foot.

   “It hurt all right,” jess whimpered.

      “Now I pull my left hind foot free of your right,” Toby said.  Jess closed her eyes and relaxed, Toby then slowly pulled his foot free, Jess curling her toes as she felt his foot coming free.  Groaning deeply as Toby’s foot came free, jess curled the toes of both her feet, pretending pain and discomfort.

       “Pull a little harder!”  She encouraged.  Toby roaring and prizing his foot free with his forepaws, Jess whimpering as she felt his foot come free.

      “I’m free now,” Toby gasped.  Jess and Toby massaged each other’s hind feet, checking each other’s pads and toes for damage, or at least that’s how it looked.  They were really playing with each other’s hind feet, and both knew this.

       “Your hind feet have brown pads Toby,” jess said, “you’ve got five toes on each foot too.”  Toby explored jess’s right foot with his paws:

      “Your foot is pink all over,”  he said, “you jess, have five toes and a large pad on the heel of your foot, but the sole of your foot, around here,”  he said, touching the arch of her right foot, making jess giggle, “is soft.  He then gently stroked the soft skin on the sole of jess’s foot just above her heel, making her wriggle and squeal with laughter.

      “That tickles!”  She yelled.  Toby laughed and stroked jesses foot a little, soothing her.

         “Now let’s play that twister game!”  Toby said, much recovered from his anger.  Jess set up the board, which Toby and she had been sitting on while playing with each other’s hind feet.

     “Where’s the spinner?”  She asked, looking round for it.  Sita, having found the spinner, was holding it in her right forepaw and spinning the pointer with the toes of her left, apparently entranced by the “whizz! Wiz!”  Sound the spinner made.  Jess, giggling, gently relieved Sita of the spinner.

      “We need that for our game Sita dear,” she said, “Can we have the spinner?”  Sita, shaking herself, gave jess the spinner, smiling slightly.  Kenny spun the spinner, and soon Toby was tangled, jess set up to tickle the pads of his hind feet, which she did, the little cub turning summersault as he reacted to her tickling the sole pad of his right hind foot.

     “Yeah, oh yeah!”  Toby yelled as he kicked the air with all four paws.  Jess laughed as Toby kicked the air.

       “Your cub is cute from nose to toes Sita,” jess said.  Sita smiled broadly:

       “Thank you,” she said.  Jess gathered Toby into her lap and hugged him tightly, the cub smiling and snuggling close.  Targon, having watched all, padded away and returned with Titania, who saw Toby and crawled to him, tickling his hind paws until the cub was crying with laughter.

       “Now that’s a better sound than the pained cub’s cry I heard earlier,” Targon said softly.

        “Why were you crying dear Toby?”  Titania asked.  Toby told her what he’d heard.

       “But that’s dreadful!”  Titania exclaimed.

       “I want Seth to pay dearly!”  Toby yelled.

       “That’s enough!”  Sita snapped, “Toby, you will leave the sorting of Seth to adult bears.”  Toby clenched his forepaws and whimpered in misery.

        “Let’s go play in the soft play room Toby,” Titania said suddenly, dragging him away with her.

        “Thank Eohippus for a swift thinking cub,” Sita said when Toby was out of ear shot.

        “Twister is such a great game!”  Kenny said bouncing on his toes with excitement.

     “What is this twister game?”  Sita asked.  Jess explained the game.

      “Mama Sita couldn’t play it though,” Targon said, ever aware of Sita’s disability.

      “No I couldn’t,” Sita said, “unless the other players understood of me touching them, and we had a tactile mat.”

      “I can show you the posture I was in when Jess tickled my toes Sita,” Flocke said.  Sita smiled and stood on the mat, Flocke telling her to:

     “Cross your forepaws and hind legs, then stand on tiptoe Sita.”  Sita did, swaying alarmingly.  Toby, padding back with Titania and seeing the play, smiled and crawled up, then tickled the pads of his mama’s left hind foot, Sita squealing and collapsing, laughing helplessly.

       “Now I know!”  She said, laughing, “I know how Kenny and jess fell over!”

        “Now do you want to feel our fore and hind paws while they are crossed?”  Jess asked.  Sita hesitated.

       “But that’s imposing a lot on you,” she said.

     “Not at all, “let’s all cross our paws,” Kenny replied, “let’s all get paws on with each other.  Why not?  It’s all good fun.”  Flocke smiled and hugged Sita tightly:

         “That sounds wonderful,” she said, “and you did look so cute when you crossed your hind legs like you did.  Your hind paws looked so sweet, kind of innocent and cubbish.”

        “Sita is that really,” Patch said, everyone looking round at him.

        “We forgot you were here,” Toby said honestly, Sita blushing and shushing her cub.

       “I don’t mind,” Patch replied, “it was lovely just to watch you play and talk together.”

        “You mean it don’t you,” jess said, looking into the face of the bear she loved more than any other.

        “I do mean it,” he replied.

       “Are you going to play with us too Patch?”  Toby asked.  Patch looked down at his forepaws, then sat down and carefully explored his hind feet with his forepaws.

       “I don’t know if my paws are playful today,” he said.

       “Let me touch them,” Toby said, crawling over to Patch, only to be stopped by Sita.

        “Ask first,” she cautioned.

       “Sorry mama,” Toby said, his face reddening.

       “Patch,” Toby said, “can I touch your hind paws please?”  Patch smiled and nodded.

      “My hind feet are yours to touch,” he said.  Toby crawled forward, Kissed Patch’s nose, then touched his right hind foot with his forepaws, patch curling his toes with pleasure.

 

While Patch was curling his toes with pleasure in the house, Seth was waking up in the concrete cell from a blow to his head delivered by Kamchatka, who’d hit him with her paw when he’d sworn at her one time too many.  Furious, she tied Seth up with tape, making sure she wrapped his paws in tape, and tied his legs.  She then looped tape around his nose and made sure the tape was tight.  She paid careful attention to Seth’s paws, binding his toes tightly, so he couldn’t curl them.  Then, making sure he could breathe out of his nose by squirting decongestant up his nose, she left him.  Seth woke up an hour later, wondering why on earth he couldn’t move.  Waking fully, he realised where he was and what had happened to him.

         “This is awful!”  He thought, trying to move his legs and flex his toes with no success.

       “I can’t move!”  Seth thought desperately.  Then he felt real fear as his paws warmed up and he felt the full affect of the tape on his paws.

        “I hate this!”  Seth thought, wriggling madly.

        “I’m not glad you are here,” Knut said, looking down at Seth, “but this is the only way you would know my fear first paw.  Now you know how I feel.  But I won’t let you go for a long time yet.  You know you will not be left to starve, but I did not know I would ever be found.  You are secure here, warm even, I should insist Kamchatka throw you out in the wood, but I can’t bring myself to do that.  Even now you are benefiting from a cub’s gentility, a gentility you took advantage of.  Now I will leave you with your sticky paws and fears.”  Knut turned and left the concrete cell. 

 

Padding along to Kenny’s lie up, Knut found himself watching Toby playing with Patch’s right hind paw.  Seeing him, Toby scrambled to Knut and hugged him tightly, Knut snuggling close.

      “I love you Knut,” Toby said impulsively, Knut smiling and kissing Toby’s nose.

         “I love you too Toby,” Knut said, and meant it with everything he had.  Zane padded up behind his adopted cub and watched him and Toby embracing.  Smiling, he padded away.

 

Meanwhile, rocky was embracing another bear.  Walking through the wood, he’d found a bear cowering under a bush, hiding his face with his forepaws and crying with fear.

       “What’s your name?”  Rocky asked.  The bear sniffled and looked at the grizzly bear cub.

       “Shang Hi,” the bear choked.

      “Why Shang HI?”  Rocky asked.

       “I don’t want to tell you yet!”  The bear replied angrily.

       “I’m sorry,” rocky replied, kneeling in front of the terrified bear.

        “Why don’t you attack me?”  Shang Hi asked.

      “Why would I want to do that?”  Rocky enquired.

       “I’m in your territory, I’m an intruder, and I’m taking your space.”  Shang Hi replied.

       “Look at me Shang Hi, please,” rocky said.  Shang Hi, who’d been crying, looked at rocky.

       “You’re kneeling in front of me,” he said.

       “I have a cure for your tears,” Rocky said.  Shang Hi shivered:

       “What’s that?”  He asked.

     “This,” Rocky said gently, embracing Shang Hi with his forepaws.  Shang HI felt Rocky’s warm fur against his face as the large cub embraced him.

        “Oh, oooah, oh!”  Shang Hi choked as he was enveloped in warm fur.

         “I don’t want to hurt you Shang HI,” Rocky said.

      “But you seem very self assured, very comfortable in your life,” Shang Hi said, “as if you have friends here to help you through life.”

      “Ah but I do,” rocky replied, “and so do you if you only knew it.  You are safe now I’ve touched your fur.”

       “I can’t ask that,” Shang HI replied, “I’ve been taken from my home against my will, hence my name Shang HI.  That’s what it means.  Now I’m here against my will, I want to go home, but I can’t go home, as I can’t get there, I stay here, and I get approached by a grizzly bear cub, a moody, angry grizzly bear cub, or so I think, and I find, I find, that this grizzly bear is not angry, he’s not moody, and he wants to hug me and touch my paws.”

      “I won’t touch your paws unless you want me to,” Rocky replied.

       “I want you to,” Shang HI said, “I want you to touch my paws, embrace my feet and guide me to your home, I’m lost!”  Rocky sat opposite Shang HI and pressed his hind paws against Shang Hi’s.

       “That feels wonderful!”  Shang Hi choked, “now, now take my hind feet in your forepaws one by one.”  Rocky did, and Shang HI curled his toes impulsively.

       “Rub my toes, please!”  Shang Hi Begged.  Rocky did so.

       “Now what do you want of me?”  Rocky asked.

       “I would just like to know of a place I can sleep tonight, please!”  Shang Hi begged, kissing Rocky’s nose.

        “How about in my home?  Rocky suggested.

       “You will take me to your home?”  Shang Hi asked.

      “I will,” Rocky said softly, getting to his feet and indicating Shang Hi should do the same.

        “Come,” Rocky invited with a wave of his paw.

       “Now, come,” rocky said, touching his new found friend’s paw with his.  Shang Hi looked at Rocky padding beside him and stopped suddenly.

       “Let me carry you, please,” he said.  Rocky clambered onto the bear’s back and Shang hi padded carefully to the house under Rocky’s direction.  On the way they met Kuruk, who snorted with surprise when he saw Rocky riding Shang Hi.

      “What you riding that bear for?”  Kuruk grunted, “You can walk can’t you Rocky?”  Shang Hi looked round at the toes of Rocky’s left hind foot which he could see quite easily.

        “I asked him to ride on my back,” Shang HI said, turning his head to kiss the pads of Rocky’s left hind foot, the grizzly cub giggling with pleasure.

       “You come,” Kuruk said gruffly padding back to the house.  Shang HI smiled and trotted after Kuruk.  Rocky rode on Shang Hi’s back, lifting a forepaw to Ekaterina as he entered the house and she left, the mama cross bred bear staring after him.

        “Now off my back Rocky,” Shang Hi said.  Rocky slid off Shang Hi’s back and warmly hugged the large bear.

       “You are so sweet,” Shang Hi said.  Rocky smiled and hugged Shang Hi once more, then padded away.

        “Where you come from then?”  Kuruk asked.  Shang Hi looked at him.

        “I was taken from a private collection,” Shang Hi replied, I banged and kicked at the van doors until the thieves threw me out for making too much noise.  I fled for the woods and hid.  Now I don’t know where I am.  Just imagine this, I’m in a wood, and I can’t find my way home.  Cowering under a bush, I am approached by a grizzly bear cub.  I can see he’s a cub, but I’ve been told that grizzly bears are born moody and bad tempered, hating everyone from the minute their mamas give their last heaving push to deliver the cub into the world.  Maybe it’s the rough births that make the cubs so angry, maybe the mamas don’t push hard enough to begin with and the cubs med to fight their way out paw over paw, pushing and wriggling towards the outside world until mama is forced to push down with a roar of anger and a wriggle caused by sheer pain of claws digging in to her inside.  I don’t know.  Anyway, I’m approached by rocky, who I know now is Rocky, and he is not moody, or even aggressive, he’s sweet, and concerned, and while I’m weeping with fear and anguish, he’s trying to hug me and give me his paw, and I’m being all dreadful to him, and all he wants to do is, is,”  Shang Hi sniffed and wiped his eyes, “he wants to be gentle to me and hug me, and play with my paws!  I eventually listen to him, and he led me here.  I now am so grateful, so very grateful.”  Kuruk looked at the bear, examining him from his nose to his toes.

        “You fat fellow aren’t you,” he grunted.

      “I was well fed where I last lived,” Shang Hi replied.  Kuruk pushed Shang Hi around with his muzzle and forepaws, just like he would a cub when examining it, Shang Hi rolling with the grizzly’s explorations, and finding he enjoyed Kuruk’s touch and also enjoyed being rolled about and almost played with by this huge male bear.  Kuruk was checking Shang Hi over from nose to tail, checking him for injuries.  Shang Hi couldn’t help laughing with delight as Kuruk’s paws explored him sensitively but thoroughly.  Shang Hi even found himself drawing up his hind feet and grabbing them with his forepaws to allow Kuruk to examine the backs of his hind legs and the soles of his hind feet.

        “Treat me like a cub, go on, and explore me as if I was your newborn cub!”  Shang Hi said.  Kuruk laughed.

       “You want Kuruk does that?”  He asked.  Shang Hi looked into the large grizzly’s face.

         “I would love it,” he said, “I’m sure I would love it.”  Kuruk smiled and pushed Shang Hi around with his forepaws, checking him from nose to tail, then, smiling, Kuruk groomed Shang Hi from nose to tail, the blue grey bear suddenly tearful.

       “This feels lovely!”  He said as Kuruk groomed his hind paws with gentle care and infinite tenderness.

       “Kuruk know Shang Hi bear want be treated like cub, he feels it from moment he gets paws on with him, but Shang HI says nothing until little time ago.  Now Kuruk treat him like big cub, exploring hind feet, forepaws, head, and body.  Kuruk flipped Shang Hi onto his belly and ran his paws through the bear’s fur on his back, Shang Hi wriggling and laughing with pleasure.

       “I love that!”  He yelled.  Kuruk stroked the soles of Shang hi’s hind feet, Shang hi curling his toes with pleasure and laughing with delight.

       “How if you become cub of Kuruk like Rocky be?”  Kuruk asked.  Shang Hi got to his feet, which now tingled nicely, and looked into Kuruk’s face.

       “Could I?”  He asked, wanting to belong to a family.

      “Kuruk no problem with that, see if mama Anook mind or not,” Kuruk grunted.

      “Mama Anook?”  Shang Hi asked.

       “Mama Anook is mate of Kuruk you see,” Anook said, padding into the lie up.  Shang Hi stared at her.

        “You’re beautiful,” he said.  Anook laughed:

       “I’m just an old mama bear,” she said.

       “You’re still beautiful,” Shang Hi replied.  Anook kissed his nose and explored him as Kuruk had.

        “Now I must see for myself that you are fit and well,” Anook said, pushing Shang Hi off his feet and onto his backside, then off that onto his back.

       “Explore me mama!”  Shang Hi said laughing.  Anook did, pushing the wriggling, laughing adult bear round with her nose and paws, Shang Hi wriggling with pleasure and laughing with delight throughout the whole exploration which took about ten minutes, Anook missing nothing.

        “You called Anook mama,” Buck said padding in.  Shang Hi looked at him,

       “I did, I’m sorry,” he said, now he’d calmed down.  Anook looked at buck.

      “This bear, Shang Hi, is my cub now, and he is as much my cub as you or Rocky is, okay?”  She asked.  Buck nodded.

       “I’m happy with that,” he said.  Anook lay down and rested her head on her paws.  Shang Hi, feeling he needed to do something, walked round Anook, looking at her face, her ears and her hind feet, the only bits of her he could see without disturbing her.

       “Why not ask Anook to roll onto her back and kick the air with her paws?”  Buck asked, “she will you know, mum likes kicking the air with her feet.”  Anook smiled broadly behind her paws.

       “My hind feet want to kick that air!”  She said, the toes of both her hind paws curling and relaxing with increasing urgency.

       “Your hind paws look so cute when your toes are flexing,” Shang hi said, Anook giggling happily.

       “Mama likes others tracing her pads, try it,” buck said.  Shang hi did, tracing the hairy pads of Anook’s right hind foot, the mama bear sighing with pleasure, the sound deep and contented.

       “Mama had a strenuous labour giving birth to me Shang Hi,”” Buck said.  Shang Hi looked at buck.

       “I can see she did,” he said, “you’re a big fellow now, so you must have been a big cub.”

      “Kuruk get paws on with little Buck and pull him as mama Push,” Kuruk said.

      “Buck wasn’t that little when he was born,” Anook said dreamily, “I remember every minute of his birth, it was, was, um, strangely enjoyable.”  Buck grimaced:

       “You wailed and roared and rocked,” he said, “that’s not an easy labour mama.”

       “It might not have looked that easy,” Anook replied, “but at least I knew I was in a safe place.  Little Kuruk and Olga were nearly born in a wood.  I just about got into a den before they made their dramatic arrival.”  Anook sat up and looked at buck.

       “Kuruk pulled you out as I pushed,” Anook said, “though you’re head and forepaws, and half your body was pushed out by my effort.  That was a real straining effort buck, and I remember all of it.”

      “I heard your wailing and grunting, and saw your efforts,” Buck said, “you were in real pain mama.”  Anook smiled and nodded:

      “I was able to express it too,” she replied, and that helped me a lot.”

        “How do you think it would be giving birth to Shang HI mama?”  Buck asked.  Anook looked at the blue grey bear.

         “Probably as painful and hard as yours,” she replied, unconsciously playing with the toes of her right hind foot, which flexed as she played with them, a signal of imagined pain and discomfort in Anook.

 

Meanwhile, in Sita’s lie up, Sita and Toby slept after their playtime with jess, Flocke and Kenny.  Sleeping deeply in her outdoor den, the same den in which Ekaterina had Rowena and Anook had her first two cubs, Little Kuruk and Houdini, Sita and Toby felt safe.  Jet, sleeping near the door, slept as deeply as his mate.  The door to their den opened silently, but Sita’s ears, sensitive to atmospheric pressure, sent alarm signals to her brain, waking her soundlessly but quite definitely.  Knowing silence was needed, Sita lay awake and alert, her ears twitching.  Jet too had woken, but he did it with a snort and grunt, Sita’s strange parentage giving her the upper paw in this situation.  The thing which had opened the door padded in on four feet, despite jet’s snort of alarm.  The thing shook itself, showering jet with water from the snow it had collected on its coat.

      “Hey stop that!”  Jet yawned.  The newcomer stepped backwards, mewing with fright and turning to run.

        “Come,” Sita said softly, sensing no threat.  The thing padded in, settling down beside Sita, Sita feeling the newcomer shivering and hearing her sniffle and sneeze.

        “Who is that mum?”  Toby asked, now fully awake.

       “Shh,” Sita whispered, even though the newcomer was pressed hard against her body, shivering with cold and clasping its forepaws together, curling its toes as it whimpered with cold.

       “Who are you?”  Sita asked gently.

      “My name’s Freckles, I’m, I’m lost, and alone.  Someone told me I would find my sister here.

        “What are you?  A cat?  A bear?  A mustid?”  Jet asked.  The newcomer, now known as Freckles, sneezed violently.

        “I am a cat bear, a genetic experiment.  Humans made me in a lab, and my mama was a brown bear.  She had me with great roaring, rocking, pushing and kicking.  Lying on her back, with eyes tightly shut, mouth open in a scream of unimaginable pain and effort, her hind feet held in the desperate grip of both her forepaws, toes curled tightly, my mama gave hellish birth to me.  I remember her screams and roars, then her crying as she tried to help me into the world with her forepaws while sitting up.  I inched from her with pushing’s and grunting from her after her enormous last hind foot holding effort.  Squealing, she wriggled and shrieked as my body emerged, then, grunting, she pushed for the last time, and I was born.  Mama told me my head and hind feet hurt her the most.  My hind feet are huge you see.”

       “After your birth, then what?”  Sita asked, her own toes curling with anger.

        “I was nurtured by my mama, who was in great pain for weeks after my birth.  Passing the afterbirth two hours after my birth almost sent her over the edge.  I’ve never heard such cries, such pain before.  Scrabbling feet, desperate panting, and then screaming, screaming with pain and effort as she was force to push down hard twice.  I heard the afterbirth arrive, it was a large sloppy sound.

        “You have never spoken of how things look,” Toby said.  You have never described your mama.”

      “My mama had the softest paws and most gentle kiss,” Freckles replied, “she was devoted to me, despite me hurting her during my birth.  Mama was so gentle with me.  She groomed me from nose to tail, tracing my body with her paws and tongue, telling me of my birth, and of what parts of me hurt her most, and which parts were easy to deliver.  She held no grudge against me.  She told me that she’d heard a story of another bear cat, another cat whose parentage was cat, and bear.  This cat bear was said to have conceived and given birth to a cub, who himself grew up to be as gentle as his mama.  It was said this cat bear, this creature that I seem to have a relationship to, had a violent birth and traumatic upbringing.  This mama was given of the name Harvest, though as she was born of tiger, they named her Sita.  This mystical creature was born of cat and of bear, but only the bears loved her from her nose to her cute spotted toes.  Or that’s how I heard the tale.”  Sita choked back tears.

         “So someone else knows my tale, has lived my tale, though thank Eohippus has decreed that you had a loving mother.  I have a loving mama too, though he’s a male bear.”

        “I know,” Freckles said, “I know this bear.  I met him in the woods, sitting in his clearing thinking deeply.  He communicated with me in a dream I had, and I had to come to him, to learn where my sister was.  So, one day, I Kissed my mama’s nose, then crying with grief for hers and my loss, for I knew we’d never see each other again, I left her to seek the information from the grey bear and then find my lost sister.”

        “You found her I think,” sire Patch said, padding into the lie up.  Freckles hugged Sita tightly, Sita crying into her coat.

        “How did you come if you can’t see the roads?”  Sita asked.

       “I don’t know, I followed my paws I suppose,” Freckles said, returning Sita’s kiss to her nose.

       “I know now my thought was right,” Toby said softly, “my mama, and Freckles are both without visual sight.  Freckles let go of Sita, and, sitting down, gathered Toby to her, exploring him with her paws, Sita unconcerned.

      “Your face and paws are just the cutest I’ve ever had the fortune to touch paws on,” Freckles said softly.  Toby, laughing and wriggling, pressed his hind feet hard into Freckles forepaws, and then he clung to her with all four paws, curling the toes of his hind feet into her lower belly fur, and holding onto her chest fur with his forepaws.  Sita got paws on with Freckles hind feet, finding her pads soft and warm, her toes mobile and easily made to curl with pleasure, her pads pleasantly bunching.  Sita recognised similarities in the bunch of Freckles pads in her own paws, and giggled as Freckles curled her toes.

       “Who is this Sita?”  Jet asked.

      “This is another bear cat, another creature of unfortunate parentage, but whose mother really loved her.”

      “Now we have to find her mother,” jet said.

       “No,” Freckles replied, “my mama is so far from here, we can’t find her.”

       “I can,” sire Patch said, padding into the lie up with an exhausted and very emotional female brown bear.

      “But that’s Aga!”  Jet yelped.

        “Yes,” Aga replied heavily, “I tried, tried to forget my time in that place, but, but I couldn’t.

       “How old are you then Freckles?”  Patch asked.

      “I’m five,” Freckles replied, “my mama, your mama, our mama, parted company when I was four and a half.

      “So Aga had Freckles before she escaped to find Patch?”  Jet asked.  Aga nodded:

     “When I was captured and impregnated, then Freckles came along, I thought of my other cub, my natural cub.  I knew my labour with Freckles was harder than a natural labour should be, but I put my back and paws into it,” Aga replied, “and I had Freckles with screams and roars and lots of grabbing of hind paws.”

       “How did you get the truth from Aga?”  Jet asked Patch.

       “I was talking my meeting with Freckles over with her, and she became very quiet as I described Freckles.  She then threw her paws around me and told me what had happened.  I don’t blame mama Aga for suppressing her experience at the hands of those humans, though it would have been nice to know I had a half sister, even if Aga was a surrogate mama for her.”

        “Freckles are not biologically mine,” Aga said, “but I gave birth to her, yes, I gave screaming roaring birth to her five years ago.”

       “Aga left you didn’t her Freckles,” Sita asked gently.  Freckles nodded, her eyes welling with tears.

          “She did,” she sniffed, “but who can blame her for that?  She weaned me, and tried to, to love me, but, but when the time came, she got out and ran for her freedom.  I padded about the surrounding area for days, then, then I had the dream which brought me here, but it was a long time getting here, a long time finding the grey bear.  But how would or could I know a grey bear when I got paws on with one?  The dream just said, “Follow your paws,” and I did.

       “I’m sorry for running away,” Aga said to Freckles, kneeling before her and kissing the toes of her right hind foot.  Freckles touched her mama’s head with her paw.

       “I cursed you violently and fluently at first,” Freckles said, “but now, now I know, I don’t hold your flight against you.  You weaned me, then, under huge stress, you left me.  I followed my paws, and you followed yours mama, and now we’re both here.”

         “I hate myself so much,” Aga choked, “how could I have thought it would be good to run away like that?”

       “Then was a time of stress and uncertainty,” patch replied, “you did what you thought was best.  Now though, when things are different, you regret those actions, but you regret them now from a position of security, not from that same position of insecurity.”

        “You are very beautiful Freckles,” Aga said, “and I have never changed my view on that.”

        “No, you haven’t,”  Freckles replied, “and I forgive you for running off, I know now why you did what you did, and as for me, I will say now that all is under the bridge now, many miles have passed beneath our paw pads, and we’re here.  Sita, brought into the world by spirits, and me, brought into the world by humans, have found each other’s paws now.  For that I am thankful from my nose to the tips of my toes, and if it hadn’t been for you mama leaving me, and of the spirits telling me of Sita, maybe we’d never have met.”

         “I don’t know what to say,” Aga choked, covering her face with her paws and breaking down completely.

        “You found your half brother,” patch said, “and are I glad to see you and have held you in my paws little Sister.”  Freckles crawled over to Patch and knelt before him, hugging him tightly.

        “Can I get paws on with you?”  Patch asked.  Freckles wriggled into his huge warm hug.

      “Please,” she said, Patch starting with her head and carrying on to her hind feet, Freckles wriggling and twisting to allow Patch’s forepaws to work their way over her entire body.  Freckles finished in Patch’s lap, snuggled up to Patch.

      “I wish you could touch my hind paws while I sit on your lap,” Freckles said to Patch.  Patch smiled sat Freckles opposite him, the large cat bear enjoying being handled by patch.  Freckles then pressed her hind feet into his paws, mewing and sighing with pleasure and excitement as Patch explored her pads.

        “This is so lovely!”  Freckles mewed, curling and stretching her toes, while trying not to bounce about on her backside with enthusiasm.

      “Go on, bounce about, kick with your hind feet, grab them with your forepaws, play with your toes, do what you want,” Patch encouraged.  Freckles kicked the air with her hind feet, Patch lifting his Forepaws and catching one of freckles hind feet in each.  Freckles, feeling her paws caught, pressed hard against Patch’s grip, Patch pressing back, Freckles curling her toes and pushing back hard against her half brother’s forepaws.

     “This feels great!”  Freckles gasped as she pressed back hard against Patch’s forepaws.  Patch released Freckles hind feet and she settled back, flexing her toes and evidently wanting more.

        “is there anything else that you can do with your hind feet here?”  she asked, “that was amazing!”

        “Tickle your own toes, play with your toes, tickle your pads, or have another do this for you,” Toby said.

     “Would you like to tickle my toes?”  Freckles asked him.  Toby giggled:

       “I’d love to,”  he said.

      “would you tickle my pads too?”  Freckles asked.

      “I don’t’ see why I couldn’t,” Toby replied.  Freckles gave the young cub her left hind foot, Toby exploring her pads and toes, Freckles mewing and crying with emotion.

        “I have wanted to have my paws played with for so long!”  she gasped.  Toby smiled and firmly ran the toes of his right forepaw down the sole of Freckle’s hind foot, from her toes to her heel, Freckles whimpering with pleasure.

         “I think you’re a hit with her,”  Aga said.  Toby looked at the brown bear.

        “I am only doing what I feel she would want,”  he said.  Freckles wriggled and stuffed the toes of her right forepaw into her mouth to stop herself crying out again.

       “That was just too expressive,” she mumbled.

      “no it wasn’t,”  Toby said, “take that paw from your mouth and let me get hold of your other hind foot.”  Freckles giggled:

       “if I do that, I’ll go off the scale,”  she said, “that’s my more sensitive hind foot!”

       “That’s okay here,” Toby replied, gently taking hold of Freckles right hind paw.  Freckles gasped as Toby took hold of her right hind foot in his paws, then she closed her eyes as he began playing with her toes.  Sighing, she curled her toes tightly, Toby running the toes of his left forepaw down the wrinkled pads of Freckles right hind foot, the cat bear roaring with emotion and ecstasy.

       “Oh, oooah!”  She whimpered, “I’m sorry, so sorry!  I can’t control my whimpering, this is just too good!”  Aga laughed for the first time since she’d been reunited with her lost cub.

       “I know how it is to have my paws handled by an expert, and it’s fantastic,” she said.

      “Do the cubs learn this from their mothers, or are they born with the ability to send grown adults into raptures from birth?”  Freckles asked.

        “Toby learnt it quickly,” Sita said.

     “He had a good teacher,” patch laughed.  Sita smiled broadly.

       “Toby gets regular refresher courses too,” she replied.

     “As do you mama,” Toby replied, “you have good massaging skills too, you treat my paws like playthings, and I love it!”

         “That’s just so cute,” Jet said smiling.

       “How can I atone for my wrong?”  Aga asked, sniffing hard, as her cub’s joy had made her tearful.

      “Mama, please, listens to me,” Freckles said.  Aga rested her head on Freckle’s shoulder:

      “What?”  She asked.

     “Mama, please, Freckles said, hold me in your paws, can you?”  Patch motioned to Aga, and she moved away.  Aga moved to the other side of the lie up, her padded feet making no sound on the soft flooring.

       “Call Freckles to you mama,” patch said, “She doesn’t know where you are.  Aga swallowed hard, feeling lost and alone.

       “Freckles, please,” she choked, then more strongly, “Freckles, please, come to me, please?  I can’t, can’t ask again, I can’t do it, I’m losing control!”  Freckles crawled to her mama, making sure she saw her coming.

       “Come to me,” Aga choked, watching Freckles with pleading eyes.  Freckles crawled towards her mother, Toby seeing her large hind feet clearly as she crawled away from him.

      “Her paws are cute,” he thought, “as is all of her, she’s sort of like mum, all cuddly from head to paws!”

       “I think you’re cuddly from head to paw pads Freckles!”  Toby said impulsively.  Freckles laughed merrily, Aga smiling despite her own emotions.  Reaching her mama, Freckles touched Aga’s right hind foot with her left forepaw, Aga feeling her toes curl tightly at her daughter cub’s touch.

       “I’m here Mama,” Freckles said.  Aga, sobbing inconsolably, gathered Freckles to her in a huge hug, embracing her, and then checking her over with attentive teeth, tongue and paws, Freckles wriggling like a cub, and how she wriggled and laughed.  Freckles let herself go, giving herself up to her most base desires, laughing, wriggling and kicking like a cub, curling the toes of all four paws, swiping at her mama’s paws, and kicking hard at the air with all four paws as the whim took her, Aga laughing along with her grown cub.

      “That is so very cute!”  Toby said.  Jet smiled:

      “You look like that when playing with Sita Toby,” he said.

      “Do I?”  Toby asked, “That’s really cute too.”  Patch smiled and left the lie up, his job done.

      “Don’t leave big brother!”  Freckles and Sita yelled in unison, Toby running to grab Patch’s right hind foot as he raised his heel, Toby slipping his right forepaw between the pads of the large bear’s right hind foot and the floor, Patch realising what the small cub was doing and letting his huge paw rest easy in the cub’s grip.  Toby flexed the ankle of Patch’s hind leg, turning the sole of his foot towards him and gently kissing patch’s pads.  Patch giggled, watching Toby from the corner of one eye.

       “You’ve got me!”  He whimpered in mock surrender.  Toby let go of Patch’s foot, the grey bear sighing regretfully and placing his foot on the floor.

        “Are you sorry I let go of your foot?”  Toby asked.  Patch smiled:

       “Yes,” he replied.  Toby lay down and touched the back of Patch’s left hind leg, the huge bear slightly lifting the heel of his left hind foot, Toby slipping his paw beneath the bear’s pads.

      “Don’t step on his paw Patch,” jet said, “Toby’s forepaw is beneath your left hind foot now.”  Toby turned his paw pads upwards, so his pads touched Patch’s.

       “Put a little pressure on my paw, go on,” Toby said, Patch gently putting pressure on Toby’s left forepaw with his left hind.

       “He’ll crush Toby’s paw!”  Jet whimpered.

        “No he won’t,” Sita replied, “I know what Toby’s doing, he and I have done it too.  I’ve put my paw beneath his hind foot, and he’s put his beneath mine.  It’s as risky as life gets sometimes, and it’s a real thrill.”  Patch felt the pads of his left hind foot against Toby’s padded forepaw, and the contact with the cub’s paw made him smile with pleasure.

        “That feels good,” Toby said.

      “What can you feel?”  Sita asked.

      “I feel the heat of Patch’s pads, and the pressure of his foot on my paw,”  Toby replied, “I don’t know why I’m enjoying letting him step on my paw, but it’s kind of exile rating.  I’m exploring his foot from a totally different angle.  I know how his paw works now.  Patch lifted his paw up a little and Toby explored the pads and toes of his foot, patch smiling and curling his toes slightly.  Toby explored patch’s foot, which was raised a little from the quilted flooring.  Toby explored Patch’s foot from toes to heel, and then Jet asked:

      “Toby, hadn’t you better come away now, patch might want his foot back don’t you think?”

       “But this is fun!”  Toby whimpered.

       “If Patch made one wrong move, he’ll crush your paw!”  Jet snarled.

      “If you shout like that you might make me jump and inadvertently crush his paw,” patch replied calmly.  Jet spluttered into silence, but made no further comment.

       “What do you want to do now Toby?”  Patch asked.  Toby looked into patch’s face.

       “I want to feel how your paw works when you put weight on it,” he said.  Patch thought for a minute.

     “if I lean mostly on my right side, and then slide the toes of my left hind foot over your pads and put a little pressure on them with the tips of my toes, then I put my toes on the floor and rest the sole pad of my foot on your paw with a little more pressure, then I’ll walk away, and you can feel how my paw is when I’m walking, okay?”  Toby smiled and looked beneath patch’s foot as best he could.

        “This might be dangerous play, but it’s kind of thrilling,” Toby said.

       “I agree,” Sita said, “and Toby knows how to play with paws in all kinds of ways.  He and I play in ways that to some must seem the most extreme play, but it’s safe, as long as we keep our heads.”  Patch smiled broadly and slipped his left hind foot over Toby’s forepaw, letting him feel his toes and the whole of his foot slightly suspended in the air, before he placed his toes on the upturned toes of Toby’s paw, Toby feeling the slight pressure from Patch’s toes.  Patch moved his paw slightly, putting pressure on the small sole pad of Toby’s forepaw with his toes.  Toby smiled, and Patch removed the pressure from his friend’s paw, then moved his toes to the floor, before he gently placed a little weight on Toby’s pads with the sole pad of his foot, Patch carefully exerting pressure on Toby’s forepaw with his hind foot, then he curled the toes of that paw, Toby smiling broadly.  Patch removed his foot from Toby’s paw, and, dropping into a crawling posture, invited Toby to follow him with a wiggle of the toes of both hind feet.  Toby stroking Patch’s pads and toes before following him to the back of the lie up, where Patch rolled onto his side and embraced Toby in a huge warm furry bear hug.

       “I don’t see what pleasure you got out of stepping on Toby’s paw!”  Jet whined.

       “He wanted to know what my paw felt like from a different angle, that’s all,” Patch replied, “and experimentation is the stuff of life isn’t it?  Yes that was a little risky to stand on his paw with a little pressure, but why can’t Toby ask to experience a little risk in a safe setting?  You have let Toby stand on your forepaws when he was younger.  Now though, you can’t do that, but you could let him press his hind feet against your forepaws, or press your hind feet against his forepaws.  Sometimes though, the thrill of slight danger of getting one’s paw crushed by a friendly creature is needed by some cubs.”

       How did my paw feel to you?”  Patch asked.  Toby thought for a minute.

      “When your paw was pressing down against mine, I felt your pads warm against mine.  Your pads were slightly rough, and feeling the pressure of your foot on my forepaw was kind of exciting.  And your pads felt lovely when you curled your toes, kind of cubbish, if you know what I mean?”  Patch smiled:

        “I know how you feel,” he said, “mama Aga and I used to play the same games in the wild.  I remember that one, so that was how I managed to play it with ease and safety.”  Toby kissed Patch’s nose and the toes and pads of his left forepaw...

        “I love you Patch,” he said.  Patch looked at Toby, exploring him from nose to toes.

      “I love you very much Toby,” Patch replied, “and your face and paws are cute too.”  Toby giggled.

       “I’m glad you think so,” he replied.  Jet padded over to patch and looked down at him sprawled on the rugs like a large plush bear.  Patch, lying on his side with his paws relaxed, looked as cute as he ever had.

       “No wonder the stories of him playing with Tornassuk are true,” jet thought, “his paws are so big, his body’s enormous, he looks like the most amazing, most huggable big cuddly plush bear.”  Patch watched jet watching him.

        “Want a hug?”  Patch asked, Jet staring at him.

       “What?”  Jet gabbled, “I don’t know,  a hug?  Whatever made you ask that?”

      “You were thinking of me as a plush bear weren’t you,” Patch said.  Jet, having seen plush bears in the place he hosed to live, shook him.

       “I wasn’t, I didn’t!”  he whimpered, “I am so sorry!”   Patch smiled and rolled onto his back, kicking the air with all four feet, to everyone’s huge amusement.

       “I can act like a cuddly bear if you want,” patch said, crawling round and impulsively giving jet a huge hug, which startled the bear so much he collapsed into Patch’s embrace.

       “Now you are huggable,” Patch said, taking advantage of jet’s confusion to gather him into the huge hug Toby had been enjoying a few minutes before.  Embraced, and unable to move from shock, jet buried his paws in patch’s fur.

      “Who made you?”  Jet asked, “You have long soft fur, soft paws, and a playful outlook.”  Patch grinned:

       “I took care of a little cub once,” he said, “when I was little older than you, I was given a cub to look after.  That fostered in me playfulness and a love of touch and paw play.”

     “So you do know how to play with paws, even with Toby in that rather dangerous manner?”  Jet asked.  Patch smiled:

       “That wasn’t dangerous,” he said, “I’ll show you how I did it if you like.”  Jet was interested.

       “I would like to know how you did it,” he said.  So Patch got to his feet and said:

      “Take my right hind foot in your forepaws Jet.”  Jet did, and explored patch’s foot while he held it up off the floor.

       “You have cute pads,” jet said suddenly.  Patch smiled slightly curling his toes, jet tracing the bunching pads of patch’s hind foot.

       “I wish I had paws like yours,” he said.  Patch smiled:

      “You have cute paws, if only you knew it,” Patch said.  Jet looked beneath patch’s body and laughed helplessly, as the grey bear had leant his weight on his forepaws and put his head between his forelegs, sticking out his tongue at jet.

       “You big cub!”  Jet laughed.  Patch wiggled his toes with pleasure.

      “Now lie down and put your forepaws beneath my right hind foot,” Patch said.  Jet did, and felt Patch’s toes against his pads, Patch putting weight on his paw, jet feeling the pressure, and then patch slid his toes off jet’s pads, putting considerable weight on the floor, but resting the sole pad of his foot on Jet’s pads.

      “Tell me when you want me to stop,” Patch said, gently putting weight on his right hind foot.

      “Stop now,” jet said.

         “That’s about a third of the normal weight I’d be putting on my foot,”  Patch replied, “I didn’t put anything like that on Toby’s paw.  Now feel my foot lifting, then toes lifting, feel that?”  Jet nodded.

      “I like your paws,” he said.

     “That’s how I showed Toby how my paw works,” Patch said.  Jet smiled broadly.

      “But my hind feet are no good for that,” he said, sitting down, patch joining him, “look, or should I say, touch them patch.  Feel each one of my hind feet!  They’re big and clumsy and no good for playing with!”

      “But you are a possible playmate for Toby,”  Patch replied, “play with him, play with his paws, let him play with yours, love him by touch, for he recognises that well.”  Jet looked concerned:

        “I don’t know how,” he said.

        “Think of everything you wanted to do with your paws when you were a cub, and then ask Toby if he’ll play with your paws.  Jet could feel his toes curling with emotion.

        “I could do it, if it was allowed,” he said.

      “Enjoy you jet,” patch said.  Jet looked at Patch, imagining him as a big soft plush bear.

       “I can go all cuddly and cubbish,”” Patch said suddenly.

      “Patch,” jet replied shame faced, “I forgot you could read dreams, and I am sorry for wishing you were a big cuddly plush bear I could hug forever.”

       “How about a hug for dream times,” Patch said, Jet’s eyes filling with tears.

       “Go on,” Aga said, “Hug him jet.”  Jet embraced Patch as tightly as he could, the grey bear letting jet manipulate his paws and lie him down on his side with his forepaws under his chin, hind legs stretched out and hind paws relaxed.

       “Patch is so sweet,” Toby said.  Jet, crying, kissed Patch’s nose.

       “I saw plush bears in the gift shop of the place where I used to live,” jet sobbed, “and they always got taken home, to places I could only imagine, I wished I was one of them, being taken home by someone.  But I was a real bear, with real concerns for my welfare and my safety.  Now I’m here, and I meet a living bear, a bear that has soft fur, a gentle hug and a way with cubs, just like those stuffed plush bears seemed to have.”

        “I’m no Plush bear,” Patch replied, “but I seem to have a way with cubs, yes, don’t ask me why it works though.”  Jet held Patch’s right forepaw in a fierce grip.

       “Show me the way,” jet pleaded.  Patch looked into jet’s eyes.

       “I’m no saviour,” he said.

        “But you did more for anyone than I ever have Pihoqahiak,” Tornassuk said softly, padding into the lie up.  Smiling at the sound of his pet name, Patch looked round at Tornassuk.

        “What do you mean?”  He asked.

        “I mean you are more worthy of the name Tornassuk than I am,” he said.

      “What do you mean?”  Patch

      “What I mean is that I’m leaving the role of spiritual leader,” Tornassuk replied, “I’m no spiritual elder patch.  You, and you alone have helped human, and non human creatures with all you have to give.  With your blood, with your sweat, and your effort.  We know your tale, every cub knows of jess and her tale; everyone knows what you did for Sita, and what you would have done for your mama if only you had known she was in great pain in the cage when giving birth to Freckles.”

       “I would have helped her,” patch said firmly.

       “I know dear Patch,” Aga said, padding over to Patch with Freckles following, “you cried and held tightly to my paw when I told you the tale of Freckles birth.”  Patch kissed his mama on her nose, then kissed Freckles on hers...

       “Who gives the authority for me to have such a name as Tornassuk,” patch said.

        “I can give the name to anyone if I step down,” Tornassuk said.

       “So now you’re Blackberry?  Sita asked.  Tornassuk smiled and nodded.

        “A white bear with an unusual name, I like it,” he said.  Patch looked at the door, and jess walked in, padding to him and kneeling before him.

       “You are the true Tornassuk, the true master of helping spirits, and the true Pihoqahiak.”  Jess said softly.

       “it is true I have bridged the gap between humans and non human creatures, between bear and bear, and lion and tiger,” Patch said softly, “so now I am Tornassuk, which is my title, as Blackberry did not lose his real name when he was made Tornassuk, may I keep my real name of Patch, and pass on the title of Tornassuk to my successor in this role?”

       “That sounds wonderful,”  lioness Rowena said, padding into the lie up and lying down to kiss the pads of Patch’s right hind foot, the grey bear looking down at the lioness’s spirit.

        “So I have been chosen then,” patch said, “though I’m not ready for my new role.”

        “Yes you are,” Freckles said, “you are more than ready, you’ve been doing wonderful things your entire life patch.  Now is your reward for that service.”

        “Your title will be Tornassuk from here until the day you leave this earth and cross the bridge,” lioness Rowena said.  “Your name is still patch though, so carry on with your life Patch, live, love, and most of all, play with paws, okay?”  Patch smiled broadly:

      “I will,” he replied softly.  Tornassuk, now Blackberry, hugged his adopted sire with tender paws.

        “I am glad you are here,” Blackberry said softly.

        “We all are,” Ekaterina said, padding into the lie up, going over to Patch and kissing his nose.

       “You’re gentle from your nose to your toes,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled and hugged his mate tightly.

        “So I meet my half sister, and get a new job in one day,” Patch said softly, “this is a day I’ll remember forever.”

        “Your new job is one that joins your paws with many cubs and many adults, and also joins your paws with humans and non humans,” Theo said padding into the lie up to give his support to patch.

        “You are a gentle grey bear with white paws and a good heart,” Aga said softly, “Patch, my cub, dear Pihoqahiak; you are well suited to your role.”

        “Sita and I found our sister today, and I now have a new member in my family.  Tornassuk is my title, but my soul is that of Patch, of Pihoqahiak, for I’m a wandering bear who now has stopped his wonderings, and I have my family here now.  My family is not just Blackberry, Ekaterina, Little patch and little Allie, my family extends to the lions, tigers, otters and badgers, and I love the woods, the trees, and the flowers.  I’m their guide, but they are my guides too, from the smallest cub to the oldest adult.”

        I’m jobless now,” Blackberry said.  Patch smiled:

       “You’re not jobless,”  Patch said smiling, “how if you take on the medic’s role I have, you have the white coat, the small paws, and a wonderful bedside manner, and you have delivered a few cubs in your time too Blackberry.”  Blackberry smiled:

        “I have done that,” he replied laughing.

        “Dear Patch,” jet said hugging Patch tightly.  Patch held him in his paws, embracing him tenderly.

      “I am looking forward to my first cubbing,” Blackberry said.  Patch laughed merrily, kissing his son’s nose.

       “I know what cubbing is,” he said, “and I don’t regret a thing.”  Blackberry smiled and touched Patch’s paw:

      “I want to ask you about giving birth to Sita,” blackberry said.  Patch grinned:

       “I’ll tell you with pride and honesty,” he said, “for I remember everything, and regret nothing.”

       “You are the only mama I ever really had Patch,” Sita said.

       “I am grateful and proud to have given birth to you Sita,” Patch replied.  Sita smiled broadly and padded to Patch, kneeling down to embrace him where he sat.

        “I love you,” she said.  Patch smiled and held Sita tightly in his paws, Sita snuggling close.  

     You’re so welcome to my fur, my paws and my hug Sita,” Patch said.  Sita got to her feet and padded into the wood to think hard, Freckles following her.

        “Sita?”  Freckles asked, padding up behind her sister.  Sita turned her head, Freckles whiskers brushing her nose as she did so.

        “I want to be alone!”  Sita snapped.

        “Do you really?”  Freckles asked, placing her paw on Sita’s.

       “No,” Sita admitted.

        “What do we do now?”  Freckles asked, “this is all very strange, all very confusing!”

        “We’ve been badly served by our parentage,” Sita said, “me by mine, and you by yours, though in different ways.  Now we have stability, but now we have a community that is worth fighting for with all eight of our paws Freckles.”

       “Patch saved my life Freckles,” Sita said.

       “I know he did,” Freckles said gently.  Chandrika, padding through the snow after showing her cubs the wood, spotted Sita and spat at her:

        “What’s the matter with that spitting thing?”  Freckles asked.

       “I hate Sita with all my being!”  Chandrika yelled, “And Sita’s had a cub too, yuck! How horrid, what a disgusting cub!”  Sita ignored the ranting red panda, but Freckles felt Sita’s toes curl beneath her restraining paw.

       “I think you aught to leave here now Chandrika,” Sita growled.

      “I hate Sita so much!”  Chandrika roared.

       “She’s all right,” Freckles said.  Chandrika stamped her paws, flicking snow at Sita, Sita spitting snow and lobbing snow at the growling sound in front of her, Chandrika’s growling turning to squealing and complaining, which turned to swearing when Freckles balled up snow in her paw and hurled it at her.

      “Ow, ow, ow! You bitch! Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!”  She howled.  Sita laughed merrily, despite her attempts not to.

         “You disgusting thing!”  Chandrika screamed.

      “No, you are the disgusting thing,” Patch said, padding from the lie up.  Chandrika looked at the huge grey bear and bolted!

        “Thanks,” Sita said, “she’s dreadful!”  Patch hugged Sita.

        “I want to get my paws on those bottle tops again!”  Blackberry snarled, padding from the lie up.

       “You can now,” Sita said, “and Chandrika won’t get out as easily as Swarupa did.”  Blackberry smiled.

        “I won’t use the bottle tops unless I really need to,” he said.  Jet looked at Patch standing on the woodland floor.  He examined him from nose to tail.

         “You still look like the most huggable plush bear,” he said.  Patch smiled, rolled onto his back, and waved all four feet in the air.  Jet curled his toes into the quilts, trying not to run to him and hug him.

        “You look so sweet!”  Jet said.  patch rolled about a bit more in the snow, then, getting to his feet, rubbed Snow between jet’s ears, the black bear screaming with shock!

       “You Rogue!”  he whimpered.  Patch hugged jet tenderly and led him back to the house, Freckles and Sita following, with Toby running behind.

      “Wait for me!”  He yelled, his tiny paws pattering through the snow.  Patch, smiling, hung back and lay down in the snow to allow Toby to clamber onto his back and, once the cub was safe, patch padded back to the house.

       “Blackberry’s gonna be a good medical bear,” Toby said, “He’s so gentle.”

      “He has the white coat human doctors wear,” patch mused, Toby not knowing what he was talking about.

        “Off my back here Toby,” Patch said, crouching so Toby could slide off backwards.  Freed from his Burdon, Patch padded through the house.  Nuru met him in the corridor, bowing his head to Patch and kissing his paw.

         “The committee told us of the change of spiritual leadership,” He said, “you will make a good spiritual leader Patch.”

       “I can only do my best, and that I will,” Patch said.  Kamchatka padded up to her son cub, and embraced him in her huge warm worn paws.

       “You’re not only good with mamas and their cubs,” she said, “you’re a hit with most here.  They love you patch.”  Patch smiled slightly:

        “I will do my best to hold paws with the whole community mama,” he said.  Targon padded up to Patch, took his paw in hers, and kissed it gently.

        “You were so gentle with little Targon, and for that I am very grateful,” she said softly.

       “Your little Targon’s always in my thoughts,” patch said.  Targon hugged him.

        “Your fur is all wet from the snow,” she said softly.

       “I was playing for little Targon,” Patch said, Targon catching her breath.

       “Did you?”  She asked.

      “It is the job of all cubs to play extra hard for those who cannot do so because their lives were cut short,” patch said.  Targon swallowed hard, trying not to cry, but she knew one touch from patch’s paw would make her break down completely.

       “I played for my sister today,” Titania said, “me and Kenny played in the snow!”  Targon buried her face in Patch’s shoulder to hide her tears, her body shaking as she sobbed.

       “Did I say something wrong?”  Titania asked.  Patch looked at her:

      “No little one, you didn’t’,” he said, “You didn’t upset your mama.  Mama’s crying for little Targon.”

        “I cry for her too sometimes,”  Titania said, “sometimes, when I think about her tiny face and paws, my tummy gets all tight and I feel my paws getting hot, and then I cry for my sister.”

     “Targon’s stomach hurts her, and her face and paws are hot like yours were, and she’s crying for her cub,” Patch said softly, stroking Targon’s paw.

       “Mama and I sometimes cry for little Targon,” Titania said miserably, “its horrible when we do that, for we feel pain in our bellies and our paws are all hot, and we are all sad and it’s awful!”

       “I wish I could have done something for her,” Patch said, “but sometimes cubs don’t make it.”

        “”I did though, at least this far,” a husky voice said behind them. Titania spun round, took one look, screamed and bolted!  Patch turned his head, seeing a black bear cub wet from dragging herself through the snow.  She looked exhausted.

       “I roared and twisted and strained in my hole to breathe and then to claw my way out into the white world, then I squatted in the snow and began to fight for a long time,, I strained hard, trying to push into my tail to rid myself of something, to push, push so very hard into my tail to rid myself of my load.  Eventually I rid myself, crying and gripping the frozen ground with my toes I felt the load lift from me.  Then I crawled, I crawled here,” Little Targon said.  Targon knelt and embraced her daughter cub.

       “You are thin,” she said, “but you are here.”

      “I will try to be alive,” little Targon replied.

      “Can you eat?”  Targon asked.  The emaciated cub nodded:

       “I’ve eaten,” she said, “but I’m dreading the next bit.  It’s gonna hurt mama.”  Targon held her cub tightly:

       “I will hold your paw while you relieve yourself,” she said, “so you know someone’s with you.”

      “I roared and sobbed as I got rid of my load,” little Targon replied.  Targon kissed her cub’s nose and groomed her from nose to tail.  Grooming her cub, Targon saw little Targon’s eyes were open.  Once she was groomed from nose to tail, little Targon crawled to patch, who smiled down at the little cub.

       “Thank you for the food you gave me Patch Tornassuk,” Little Targon said, raising herself on her forepaws a little to kiss patch’s nose, the bear bowing his head to kiss the cub’s nose.

      “You knew?”  Targon asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

       “Why would I be called Tornassuk if I did not know,”  he said, “I saw your cub in a dream, she was straining and rolling in the wood, grabbing her hind feet with her forepaws and crying, trying to rid herself of her load.  I went to her and gave her encouragement, and she pushed harder than she ever had before, then, crying, she finally got rid of her Burdon.  I then gave her some food, and she slept for a while.”  I pointed her in the direction of the lie up, and told her to make her way at sundown.  This would make it the time we came here to the house from the lie up, just about.”  Targon kissed Patch’s nose and knelt before him, hugging him with both forepaws.

       “Thank you Patch,” she said.

        “I thank Eohippus for giving me the ability to see distressed animals in my dreams,” he said.

      “You didn’t just give her encouragement did you,” Blackberry choked, “Patch, you felt her pain, you strained with little Targon in the wood, you helped her like you helped Haimati.”

        “I did Blackberry,” Patch replied.  Sita, overhearing this, buried her face in Freckle’s shoulder, trying not to cry.        “”Thank you patch,” Titania said.  Patch smiled and hugged the older cub.

      “No problem,” he replied.

       “One day, one day you will fight for a mama in labour and die helping her, and I cant’ stand the thought of that!”  Targon choked.  Patch held Targon in a fierce embrace.

      “Do I feel dead yet?”  He asked.  Targon wriggled uncomfortably in Patch’s embrace.

     “No, NO!”  She gasped, “Patch, let go!  Please!”  Patch let go of Targon and gently hugged her a second time, the mama black bear sighing with relief.

        “You are big and strong, and a joy to me and my cubs,” Targon said.

        “I am glad of that,” patch replied, kissing Targon’s nose.  Targon turned as Nuru and Honeyfur padded near, and when patch looked into the eyes of first the lion, then the badger, both bowed their heads and then kissed Patch’s right forepaw.

       “You are the true Tornassuk,” Nuru said, sitting and looking into patch’s face.  Patch kissed the lion’s nose, Nuru rolling onto his back and presenting Patch with a clear view of his belly and the soles of all four huge paws.

      “I am not worthy of this,” patch said, “This is almost as if Nuru is submitting to me, and it’s not fair, I’m not leader of his family.”

      “But you are,” Sarafina said, “you hold family as dear as a lion Patch, and Nuru knows this.  He’s asking for your help to keep his family together.”  Patch looked into Nuru’s face, the lion’s eyes pleading with him.

       “I’ll do my best to guide everyone’s paws,” Patch said, “but I am not Eohippus.”

      “But you are the one we can follow, the one we can try to follow to better our ways,”  Freckles said, “I know, I touched your fur, your paws and your face, and have felt your kiss.”  Patch kissed Nuru’s nose and the lion got to his feet, tears streaming down his face.

       “Why are you crying?”  Patch asked.  Nuru, wiping his eyes with his paw, tried to speak, but he couldn’t form the words.

        “I know the pride system Nuru,” patch replied, “I will try to keep your family together.”  Honeyfur, Kamchatka and Petra padded into the lie up.

       “Patch,” Petra said, “lead us, hold us in your paws, please?”  Patch looked down at his paws.

       “So I’m not just Spiritual leader now?”  He asked.

       “If we have no guidance as to right and wrong, how can we have a community?”  Petra asked, “Patch, you have seen the worst of wrong and the best of right, so you can guide the paws of adults and cubs.  You have protected humans from their own kind, the worst kind of abusers.  Now, please, protect us.”  Patch looked into Petra’s face.

        “You lions know more about family than bears ever will,” he said.

       “You know as much as we do,” Petra said, “patch, give your best shot at this.”

      “Take it day by day,” Freckles said.  Patch smiled:

       “I will,” he replied.  Little Targon padded away with her mama towards the relieving place, and the door closed.

       “Relieving herself is gonna hurt little Targon isn’t it,” Freckles said.

      “She will need extra help yes,” Patch replied.

       “I won’t ask how you helped her.”  Sita said.

         “Warm water Sita love,” Patch replied, Sita wriggling uncomfortably at the thought.

        “Did it work though?”  She asked.

      “it did,” he replied, but it was little Targon who did most of the work to lighten her Burdon.”  Sita sat down suddenly, for she knew what constipation was like.

       “Ouch,” she said.

       “Patch,” Targon said, as she emerged from the shower room, “can you help little Targon?”  Patch padded into the shower room, Blackberry following him.

       “Are you having problems my dear?”  Patch asked the miserable little cub crouched over the relieving place.  Little Targon shifted her paws uncomfortably, catching her breath and grunting as she strained to release her Burdon.

      “Yes, yes!”  She whimpered.  Patch stroked little Targon’s back, the cub wriggling and sobbing.

       “I can’t go through this every time,” she choked.

       “You won’t,” Patch replied, “maybe twice more, then things should return to normal.”  Little Targon looked at Blackberry.

         “I’m glad you’re here,” she said.  Blackberry, seeing his cub in pain, was struggling to hold him together.

       “What do we do to help her?”  He asked.

       “Warm water,” patch said, “we have to give her an enema to help her.”

         “But that’s undignified!”  Blackberry complained.

      “So is straining to relieve yourself, and I can’t leave her like this,” Patch said.  Blackberry watched as Patch asked the cub to lie on her side, then he administered the treatment with a five hundred cc syringe of warm water, little Targon curling and stretching her toes to distract herself from the things happening to her.

       “You are so brave,” Patch said softly, stroking the cub’s flank between applications of the special medicine.

      “I’d be tensing up every muscle,” Blackberry said.

       “that’s even worse,”  little Targon gasped, “curling, curling my toes, focusing on my paws, it, it stops me from tensing, patch did this in the wood, I couldn’t get the load out without his help, it hurt, it hurt!”

       I’m sorry!”  Blackberry sniffed.

        “I’ll be okay,” little Targon gasped.

      “Last lot,” Patch said.  Targon breathed deeply, her toes curling tightly.

      “Curl those toes Targon,” Blackberry encouraged.  Little Targon roared with misery as Patch finished his work and washed his paws.

     “Now to crawl,” little Targon panted, crawling to the relieving place.  Getting to her paws, she waited for developments.  Wriggling convulsively, little Targon braced her hind feet and bore down into her tail, relieving herself of her painful Burdon with three strong expulsive efforts two minutes apart.

      “Done, finished!”  The cub panted, Blackberry unable to watch.

       “That’s awful,” he said, “How can we stop her from having to go through all that?”

        “I’m giving her some fruit and other things to stop her from having those problems,” Patch replied, “Then she will be cured.”

        “I couldn’t watch that,” Blackberry said, “but I suppose if I’m to be a medic, I will need to see a cubbing, and see all that you have done today.”

        “If I need more help,” little Targon said, “You could help me then.”  Blackberry said he would.

        “You did that with such tenderness and gentility,” Kamchatka said padding into the shower room.  Patch smiled:

        “I did it as if she were my own cub,” he replied, “and little Targon knows I won’t hurt her.”

       “I don’t know what to say about my treatment,” little Targon said, her face full of confusion, “I like Patch’s touch, and I feel warm from my nose to my toes because of him, but the treatment is not nice.”

         “You are very brave,” patch said.  Little Targon smiled:

        “Thanks,” she replied.  Patch helped little Targon to wash, then exhausted, the cub clambered onto his back and Patch carried her from the shower room.  Settling her in her mama’s lie up, Patch kissed little Targon’s nose and then wrapped her thin body in a space blanket Koda had found from his emergency kit.  Patch hugged mama Targon, who wept into his coat.

       “Thank you; thank you so much patch,” she whispered, “I don’t know how I can thank you enough.”

      “It was little Targon who fought her way free of the earth,” patch replied.

      “How did she breathe?”  Targon asked.

     “The badgers leave a breathing hole in every grave they dig now, just in case,” Magnus said, padding into the lie up.

       “So little Targon went into shock from the colic,” Patch said, and only came out of it some hours later.”

      “Seems that way,” Magnus grunted.

       “Has anyone told you you have cute paws Magnus?”  Alaska said.  Magnus, looking embarrassed, shushed her.

       “You no say things like that in public,”  he snarled, though Patch saw something in Magnus’s eyes, telling him the badger and polar bear had played with each other’s paws, and that Magnus liked Alaska’s touch.

      “Show me your paws,” Patch said.  Magnus rolled onto his back and showed Patch his pads, Patch tickling the badger’s toes and pads, making Magnus squeal with laughter and wave his paws in the air.

      “Got to love those curled toes and bunched pads,” Titania said, leaping on the badger and tickling his hind feet, Magnus roaring with laughter and clearly enjoying the bear’s attentions.

        “Now we go on from here,” Patch said.  Patch padded from Targon’s lie up, and into his own, where Ekaterina waited with a cup of tea for him.

       “So you’re Tornassuk now,” she said.  Patch smiled:

        “I think I’m more than that to some,” he replied.

       “He saved my life,”  little Targon said, crawling into the lie up behind Patch and grabbing the grey bear’s right hind leg in her paws, Patch smiling broadly as she tried to lift his hind foot off the floor.

       “I want to stroke your pads!”  Little Targon grunted, “But I can’t lift your foot!”  Patch helped Targon and the tiny cub was soon stroking his large sole pad and playing with his toes, Patch giggling with pleasure and relief.

      “Can you crawl like a cub?”  Little Targon asked.  Patch got down and crawled like a cub, then rolled onto his back and drew up his hind feet, grabbing them with his forepaws, little Targon laughing helplessly.

      “You look so cute!”  She laughed.  Patch smiled and let go of his hind feet, little Targon catching his left hind foot in her tiny paws.

        “I saw you grab your hind feet with your forepaws,” Patch said, “and you were cute too little Targon.”

      “I wished then I was not in so much pain,” she said, “now, now I’ll grab my hind feet for a different reason than it was a comfortable position for pushing against my Burdon.”

        “Okay,”  Patch said, looking between his hind legs at little Targon, who waved a forepaw at him and then let go of his hind foot, rolling onto her back and grabbing her hind feet with her forepaws.  Patch sat up and smiled at the tiny cub.

     “Now hold those hind feet as tightly as you can,” he said, little Targon taking a good hold on both her hind feet with her forepaws.

      “Right, I have them,” she said, “now what?”  Patch slipped his left forepaw beneath Targon’s head and his right beneath her backside, lifting her, still holding her hind feet with her forepaws, onto his lap.  Little Targon lay in Patch’s lap, the young cub looking up into her saviour’s face.

       “Can I rub your belly?”  Patch asked.  Little Targon thought for a minute.

      “It might set off something nasty,” she said, “but I won’t know until you try.  Go on.”  Patch said:

      “Let’s try it in the shower room, just in case shall we?”  Little Targon nodded and crawled to the shower room, patch following.  Once there, Patch sat down, and Targon clambered into his lap.  Then, gently, patch rubbed little Targon’s belly, the cub wriggling uncomfortably.

     “Oooah, ow!”  She moaned.

       “Do you want me to stop?”  Patch asked.

      “No, its got’a be better than that water stuff,” the cub said, kicking slightly with her hind feet, “rub away, and, and if something happens, that will be the first natural relief.  Patch rubbed the cub’s belly, while little Targon kicked with her hind feet and moaned pitifully, but didn’t crawl away.

      “It is uncomfortable, but it’s working!”  The cub whimpered, “Rub away Patch, keep going, oooah, ow, keep going!”  Patch did, varying his technique, the cub wriggling and rocking back and fourth a little as she suffered abdominal cramps and pain.

       “Now, now stop, quickly!”  The cub squealed, grabbing her hind feet with her forepaws and roaring loudly.

      “Now, I’m gonna do this on my own!”  She panted, “I want to!  I must!”  Little Targon crawled to the relieving place, patch seeing her struggle to hold things in check, as she’d have to do when older.

     “Got there, now stand up, then, squat, and, push a little, oooah, relief!”  Little Targon gasped, fitting actions to words, Patch pleased his drug free treatment had worked for the first time.

      “Take it slowly little one,” patch said, little Targon bearing down into her tail with gentle pressure.

      “Nearly done, it’s working, it’s working!”  Little Targon said excitedly, stamping her paws more for affect than necessity.

      “That’s good,” patch said.

      “I agree,” mama Targon said smiling, “I am so glad my cub’s doing well.”

      “Now I’ll show you how to rub her belly to help her mama Targon,” patch said.

     “How?”  Targon asked.

       “Why not show her like you did me,” little Targon asked, padding to the paw bath and washing her paws.

      “You mean he rub my belly like he did yours?”  Targon asked.  Little Targon laughed:

     “Why not mama?”  She asked.

       “Well, I’m not, um, bound up like you were,” Targon replied, though the idea of having her belly rubbed by Patch appealed greatly.

        “You don’t have to be,” Patch said, “it’ll work regardless of that.”

      I’ll give it a go,” Targon said, settling back in patch’s lap.  Patch rubbed mama Targon’s belly, the she black bear kicking slightly with her hind feet, unable to resist the urge to kick with her hind paws.

       “It’s working for me too!”  She gasped, wriggling convulsively then, groaning, she ran  for the relieving place.

       “So belly massage is good for that kind of thing,” Blackberry said.

     “It is,” mama Targon replied, “and I’m not embarrassed either.  I’m glad the new medic has seen the affects of belly massage to clear mild constipation.”

     “But couldn’t you have given her something to drink?”  Blackberry asked, referring to little Targon.

       “If I gave you a horrid tasting thing to drink and you were as small as little Targon, would you like it?”  Patch asked, “Or would you [prefer to have your belly massaged in a way you understand until things ease off?”  Blackberry knew what his sire meant.

      “Yes, I understand that, but for adults and older cubs, are there any things you can give them?”  Patch nodded.

       “I’ll show you them,” he replied, “I’ll also show you the potions you can give a mother to be to increase her contractions when she’s giving birth.  There are drugs she can take, or we can give her via another method.”

      “You don’t inject them with needles do you?”  Jess asked padding in.

     “No, we deliver drugs through suppository,” Patch replied..

        “That’s gentler,” jess admitted, and less stressful for mamas and their cubs.”   Targon looked at Blackberry: 

      “So if my cub gets stuck while I’m birthing it, you can help me with drugs?”  She asked.  Blackberry nodded.

     “Think so,” he replied.  Jess hugged Patch tenderly, then left the room.

       “So little Targon will be able to relieve herself without pain soon?”  mama Targon asked patch, her eyes anxious.

       “yes mama Targon, she will,”  Patch said gently.  Little Targon tapped Patch on his right hind foot and pointed behind him to something as she stared at someone who’s head she could see at the door.

       “Who’s that?”  She asked, waving her paw at the newcomer.

       “that’s Freckles,”  Patch replied, “she’s gentle.

     “She’s beautiful,”  little Targon said honestly.

       “I heard someone yelling and sobbing,”  Freckles said awkwardly.

       “That would be me,”  little Targon said, crawling to freckles and trying to struggle to her hind feet to reach up and embrace freckles with her forepaws.

       “I heard you emerging from the ground,” Freckles said, “you were buried little Blackie.”  Little Targon kissed Freckles forepaw, which was within her range.

       “So you kept her warm until she came here?”  mama Targon said.  Freckles smiled and nodded:

       “I kept your cub warm until the grey bear arrived and helped her and me,”  Freckles said, “I met the bear in my dream, and little Targon, as you call her, met her saviour.  He helped her by injecting hot water into her rear to help her pass her load.”

       “I know how warm your fur is,”  little Targon replied, “Freckles, I love you for your tenderness to me in the hours before Patch came to me.”  Patch smiled at her.

       “Your paws are gentle and manner as tender as a mama bear’s,”  Freckles said, “Patch you are a wonderful, gentle, courageous, handsome bear with cute paws, and a cute face, and a gentle manner, and everything about you is sweet from your nose to your toes!”

     “I think she likes you Patch!”  little Targon laughed.  Patch stuffed the toes of his right forepaw into his mouth to stop himself from laughing merrily, as Freckles was serious.

      “So my ministrations are liked all round then,”  Patch said.

     “Yes,”  mama Targon and her cub said in unison.  Patch kissed Targon’s nose, then knelt and hugged little Targon with tender paws.

       “I need to learn how to rub a belly to relieve constipation,”  Blackberry mumbled.

      “You will learn everything,”  Ekaterina said padding in, “and I will show you everything too, from a mock cubbing, to pretending I’m constipated and you helping me by rubbing my belly.”

        “I’m gonna have to learn a lot then,”  Blackberry said.  Patch nodded.

     “I could cuddle up to you very easily Freckles,”  little Targon said.  Freckles led the little cub to Sita’s lie up, where she met jet, Toby and Sita.  Freckles then settled down on the rugs, little Targon settling down beside her.  Mama Targon, following her cub, brought food to her.  Little Targon ate her fill, then settled to sleep between Sita and Freckles.  Smiling at them, Toby grabbed Freckles right hind foot, the cross bred cat bear curling her toes with pleasure.

      “Your pads are all bunched up!”  Toby giggled,  Freckles smiling slightly.

      “If you rub my paws too much I might end up whimpering and going mad like I did earlier,” Freckles said dreamily, “and that, well, that would be embarrassing.”

       “You should hear mum when I massage her paws, she goes crazy,”  Toby said,.

      “Now we don’t talk about that!”  Sita said laughing.

      “But the pleasure fills me from the paw pads and toes of my hind paws right up to my ears!”  Freckles blurted.

       “yes, and that is why I go wild,”  Sita replied, “It’s intense, and lovely, and our paw pads let pleasure only go one way, into our bodies, so we need to release our pleasure somehow, and rolling about, squealing and yelling is the only way, curling and stretching toes only goes so far.”

        “I thought I would explode when Toby started playing with my paws in that lie up den,” Freckles replied, “it was so intense!”

        “You have lovely paws,” Toby replied, “lovely paws leading to a gentle cat bear.  Mama is gentle also, and I hope I turn out to be like her.”

      “You will Toby; you’ll turn into a horrid creature, into a misfit!”  Chandrika snapped, spitting into the lie up as she padded past.

     “Right that does it!”  Jet screamed, pounding out of the lie up and grabbing Chandrika by her tail, swinging her round by it and letting go at the top of his swing.  The red panda, shrieking with pain and fear, flew upwards, then smashed into the ceiling and collapsed onto the floor, stone dead.

       “You killed her!”  Amal yelled, pounding out of his lie up and examining his mate’s broken body.

        “I am sorry,” Jet snarled, “but if she will persist in harassing Sita for something that cannot be helped, someone will lose their temper and do her irreparable damage.  Her cubs are weaned, so there’s no harm done to them by my actions.  Now, now Sita can be rid of blight on her life.”  Jet stamped back into the lie up, slamming the door in Amal’s face...

      “You’ll be tried, and convicted, and dumped into that horrid concrete cell!”  Sita wept as she hugged Jet tightly.

       “I don’t think he will,” Kamchatka replied, padding in from another entrance, “jet and others have given Chandrika fair warning, she knew from early on she could not say what she did and get away with it for long.  Jet’s a wild bear, not used to community sensibilities, and this will be taken into consideration by anyone trying him for killing Chandrika.”

       “I hope I’m not imprisoned,” Jet whimpered.

       “I think you’ll have to wait a long time if you are to be so,” Charles Fullbeans replied, “I think Seth is due a long spell in there for taping up poor Knut.  Now that was a heinous crime.”

      “Who tried him?”  Sita asked.

       “The committee,”  Kamchatka replied, “there was no contesting the evidence, it was all there, so we reviewed it, and Seth offered no defence, other than to spit at our feet.  So we convicted him.  He’s incarcerated for a year from now.”

        “But I killed another creature,” jet wailed, “I’ll get a thousand years!”

        “Chandrika provoked you jet, and if Sita had been able to see her, I’m sure she’d have done what you did.  It’s not the first time Sita’s been abused by Chandrika for no reason other than she exists, and Chandrika hates her for it.”

       “So would she have started hating Freckles too?”  Toby asked.

       “No doubt of that,” Charles replied, “it’s no secret Freckles is of the same experiment as Sita.  Now love your cub Jet, and don’t worry about Chandrika’s death any more.  She knows the laws of this community, and she violated them at her peril.”

       “So you will not be punished jet?”  Freckles asked.

      “I don’t know!”  Jet moaned.

       “You were not malicious, you did not plot her death, she provoked you beyond reasonable thinking,” Kamchatka said.  Jet, whimpering, padded from the lie up and settled down in another lie up to think, then to weep and wring his paws with fear and terror.

 

Meanwhile, Seth, convicted and sentenced to a year incarcerated and then to be thrown out of the community, now untied from his tape, which process had been awful and painful, sat in his cell, furious and embittered.  Sulking, he was surprised when Jet padded in, miserable and dejected.

       “What are you in for?”  Seth growled.

        “I killed Chandrika in a fit of peak,” jet replied gruffly.

     “But you’ve not been tried, you’ve not been convicted?”  Seth asked.  Jet shook his head:

       “I know I’ve done wrong,” he whimpered, “so I’m here, I’m isolating myself because I caused the death of a community member.”

         “I got put in here because I wrapped a nosey cub up in tape and he nearly died,” Seth grunted, “so your crime is worse than mine.”

       “No it’s not,” a voice said.  Seth looked round, and then screamed:

       “Go away spirit!”  He yelled.

      “What?”  Jet asked.  Seth began to sweat and shake:

        “I’m haunted by this white lioness!”  He roared.

      “Only because you talk rubbish,” Rowena said equably, “you meant to harm Knut; jet was provoked into dealing with a threat to his cub.  Dealing with the threat ended in Chandrika’s death, but your actions were disgraceful in the extreme.  You go back to your cub and mate Jet,” jet shuffled his paws.

      “But I killed a red panda,” jet whimpered, “I committed crime.”

       “You were driven to that,” Rowena replied, “now go to your family, go to your cub, kiss his paws, hug him, and hug your mate.  Jet, if you do not do this, I will be very angry!”  Jet fled back to his lie up.  Seth looked at the lioness.

       “So I do not get to go home?”  He asked.

        “You violated a cub’s right to freedom and to a gentle life, jet did not,” Rowena mewed, “Chandrika knew what her taunting of Sita and her cub would lead to, she had been warned, plus she is an adult.  You warned Knut, but he is a cub and does not know the evil of some adult creatures.”

        “So I’m not getting out>?”  Seth asked.

      “No,” Kamchatka said, padding up to the concrete cell, “you will serve your time, and then leave the community, for you violated the right of a cub to a peaceful life.”

       “Cubs this, cubs that, cubs the bloody other!”  Seth grumbled, his comment earning a slap across his face from Kamchatka’s unyielding right forepaw, the blow making Seth scream and cover his face with his paws.

       “Horrid bitch!”  Seth howled.

       “You disgust me!”  Kamchatka shrieked.

      “mama,” Jess said, padding up behind Kamchatka, who, angered beyond words, turned to face her.

       “Get out!”  Kamchatka snarled, “This is my battle.”  Jess knew she could not fight mama Kamchatka as she had been able to when she was ursine, so she left it.

       “Okay mama,” she said, backing off without taking her eyes off the mama grizzly bear.  Once she was round the corner of the passage, she turned and walked away.  Kamchatka reared onto her hind feet, her forepaws clenched in anger.

      “I want to punch you on the nose Seth!”  She screamed.

       “I’m not stopping you,” Seth grunted.  Kamchatka collapsed onto all four paws, storming back to the house, her innate good nature winning over her momentarily violent thoughts.

       “You were saved by mama’s good temper,” Rowena said.  Seth realised this, feeling sick as he thought of what mama Kamchatka could have done to him.  Kamchatka padded through the house, her paws hot and eyes angry.

       “Mama,” patch said, padding up to Kamchatka and touching her paw, “please, comes here.”  Kamchatka looked at Patch and dragged herself to his lie up.  Patch sat his mama down and then embraced her tightly.

      “How did you know I needed this?”  She asked, burying her face in patch’s thick grey fur.

       “Let it go mama,” patch said, Kamchatka crying into her son cub’s coat.

        “I wanted to kill Seth!”  Kamchatka sobbed, “I wanted to tie him up again and leave him to suffer so much!  But, but that’s not my way, I’ve done it once when he first entered the concrete cell, but I can’t do it again, even though I want to superficially.”  Patch kissed his mama’s nose.

       “Come,” Patch said, “let me wash your face and paws mama.”  Ekaterina, watching her mate and mama talking together, padded forward with a bowl of water, Kamchatka smelling lavender and menthol oils in it.  Patch lifted a flannel from the warm water and bathed his mama’s face and paws, Kamchatka choking back tears.

        “I’m sorry,” she sniffed, “I don’t want you to see me like this.”  Ekaterina smiled, kissed her mama’s nose, and finished washing her mama’s hind paws.

        “Wash your paws thoroughly mama,” she said, “Wash your face too, for you have a special visitor.”

         “Who?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “Close your eyes mama,” patch said softly.  Kamchatka did, and patch crept out of the room with Ekaterina, Nuru and tigress Tess padding in with their six week old cub.  Tigress Tess placed little Ellie in Kamchatka’s lap, the she bear opening her eyes when tigress Tess kissed her on her nose.

      “Oh, oooah!  How, how beautiful!”  Kamchatka gasped, the sight of little Ellie’s upturned face turned towards her taking her breath away.

        “We thought you might want to see our newest arrival,” Nuru said, trying not to look too proud of his mate and cub.

        “Sing your pride from the rafters sire Nuru,” Kamchatka said.  Little Ellie rolled onto her back, showing mama Kamchatka all four of her broad well padded paws.  Kamchatka smiled and kissed little Ellie’s pads, the liger laughing and dabbing at the mama bear’s nose.

        “Will you be my aunt?”  She asked.  Kamchatka laughed, looking at Tess and Nuru.

       “Yes, Kamchatka is your aunt little one,” Tess replied.

       “Aunt Kamchatka, lovely aunt Kamchatka,” little Ellie mewed.

        “I’m gonna cry, I know it,” Kamchatka laughed, wiping her eyes with her paws.

       “I love your touch mama bear,” little Ellie said, “Your touch is like my mama’s, all warm and soft and safe.  I know you are a bear, but your paws would give comfort to all creatures.”  Kamchatka smiled and kissed the liger cub’s nose and paws.

       “I watched you giving birth to little Ellie,” Kamchatka said to tigress Tees.

       “I remember every minute,” the tigress said smiling, “I don’t regret a thing.”

        “Show her how she was born mama,” Kamchatka said.  Tess smiled:

       “I will,” she replied.

         “Hey, mama Kamchatka!”  Toby yelled, crawling into the lie up, “who have you got there?”  Toby went to little Ellie, looked at her, and kissed her nose, the liger cub laughing and rolling over to dab at Toby’s nose with her forepaws.

        “She’s so cute!”  Toby said.

       “My name’s Ellie,” the liger cub said.

      “I’m Toby,” Toby replied, Ellie grabbing his larger right forepaw in her tiny ones.

       “Hi Toby,” she said, squeezing his paw hard.  Toby laughed and kissed the female liger’s nose.

      “Your mama is very sweet Ellie,” Toby said gently.  Ellie purred contentedly as Toby stroked her paws.

        “Leave Seth in the jail,” Patch said to his mama, “it’s not worth worrying about him.”

       “I want to rip his head off for what he did to Knut!”  Kamchatka screamed.  Liger Ellie stared at the mama grizzly.

       “Knut?”  She asked, “That lovely polar bear cub who jess helped by washing his paws after he’d had sticky rope put on them by that horrid bear?”  Kamchatka nodded:

      “Even the youngest in our community know of Seth’s crimes,” Kamchatka snarled, “Seth’s actions are wrong!  I want to rip his paws off!”

       “I want to kill him!”  Toby screamed, his fur bristling.

       “You are a cub,” Nuru said, “Toby; you can’t raise your paw to Seth without causing yourself harm.”

       “I know, and that’s the worst of it,” Toby snapped, “now if my mama was able to see, she’d beat Seth into the ground, or at least hold him down while I did the job!”

        “I think we should stop this talk, not that I’m denying Seth’s crimes,” Patch said, “but talks like this gives us all headaches and hot paws to be talking like this.”  The sound of heavy paws entering the lie up made patch look round to see Sita padding in looking very happy indeed.

       “Why are you looking so happy mama?”  Toby asked.  Sita sat down and crossed her forepaws over her belly.

      “Well,” she said, “I have been feeling a little off colour recently.”

       “You’ve been throwing up for no reason mama,” Toby said, “it was dreadful.”

      “Well,” Sita said, “Blackberry has explored that, and I’m pregnant again.”  Toby stared at his mama.

       “I’m gonna get a brother or a sister?”  He asked.  Sita laughed:

      “Maybe one of each, or maybe two of each, or maybe just one of either,” she replied, “I don’t know what I have growing inside me.”

      “Are they jet’s?”  Nuru asked.  Sita was about to get to her feet to strike the lion when she remembered his family traditions.

       “Yes I remain true to my master,” she said.  Nuru smiled.

       “Are you accusing Sita of being unfaithful?”  Jet yelled, pounding into the lie up.

       “I wasn’t accusing her of anything,”  Nuru replied, “I just know that bears fight for females, and I wondered if some other bear stronger than you had wrestled the mating rights from you, that is all.”  Jet was clearly upset.

       “I don’t fight for mates,” he said, “I approach them gently.  Then they stay with me.  Sita is my mate now.”

       “I wonder who Goldie bear has found for a mate?”  Kamchatka asked, trying to break the tension between jet and Nuru.”

       “I hope he’s found a lovely brown or polar bear,” Sita replied, “He deserves a good mate.”

       “Maybe he has found a mate with big paws and a lovely hug,” Kamchatka mused, “now Goldie would love her, and she loves him.”

        “I heard Goldie used to be a lion,” Targon said, “though that might have been another funny expression of his spirit, maybe he was a bear all along, but had the spirit of a lion, or was it the other way round?”

 

Goldie padded through the snow covered wood, thinking deeply.  Until now, the idea of finding an ursine mate hadn’t occurred to him, so preoccupied was he with learning all about his new body and role in the community.  Now he was used to his body, and the delights of being able to do all that he’d wished to do since he was a frustrated bear in a lion’s body, Goldie now gave more thought to mates and how he was to approach finding one.  His long golden fur needed tending all the time, but gold was not phased by this, for he loved bathing almost as much as he loved food.  Goldie wondered if he would find a mate who loved bathing and play as much as he did.  Arki, mama Allie’s second youngest cub, but now fully grown, brought Goldie out of his reverie by quite literally walking into him.

      “Hey!”  Goldie yelled, picking himself up off the floor where they’d both fallen in a tangled heap on the snow covered track.  Arki looked strangely at Goldie, as if awaking from a dream.

        “I am so sorry,” she said, “I didn’t know, didn’t see you.”

       “You didn’t see me?”  Goldie asked, “Are you as Sita is?”

       “No,” the female polar bear replied, “but, well, I wasn’t looking where I was placing my paws, I was thinking, in another world, and I didn’t see you.”

        “Obviously,” Goldie replied, “but what were you thinking of which took your mind off your walk?”

       “I was thinking of mating,” Arki replied, “I was thinking of how good it would be to have a cub.  I’ve seen the joy Sita and Toby have together, and I want that too.”

         “You are ready to have cubs?”  Goldie asked.  Arki smiled and nodded:

       “I’m old enough by a few years now,” she said, “and many a time have I pretended to have a cub, just like my mama had me.  But it’s not the same.  I know how I was three weeks late, but hope my cubbing will not be the seven hour marathon my mama had when I was born.”

         “I could help there,” Goldie said, his mouth saying things he didn’t want said.

       “Are you the new medic then?”  Arki asked.

      “No,” Goldie said, furiously back pedalling, “I meant if I saw you in labour I could help you by rubbing your pads until the medical bear, Blackberry, came to help properly.”

         “Now that would be nice, I think it would be nice,” Arki said, “I was going to satisfy my need to re-enact cubbing now.  I get like that sometimes, the pressure becomes too much and I just have to lie in my den, then start rolling about while screaming, roaring and grabbing my hind feet with my forepaws.”

        “You are desperate for a cub,” Goldie said.  Arki looked at Goldie, and the golden brown bear touched her paw with his.

         “I know you are no promiscuous bear,” Arki said, “for I know your tale, and you hold family as dear as any lion.  Mama Allie held her family dear too, and I think I could follow in her paw prints.”

       “I won’t leave you or your cubs,” Goldie said, “it isn’t in my nature.”  Arki smiled, sitting down on the snow covered track.

       “Well here is my body,” she said, “take a look; touch me from nose to paws.”

        “I want to know what’s under that fur more than how your paw pads and fur look,” Goldie said.  Arki smiled, rolled onto her back and flicked snow at Goldie with her hind paws, the golden bear retaliating by getting a pawful of snow from a nearby drift and crumbling it over Arki’s head, the she bear sneezing and wiping snow from her eyes.

        “You rogue!”  She laughed, Goldie embracing her in a huge bear hug before she could recover her poise.  Arki found herself embraced by the massive golden furred bear and found it agreeable too.

        “So that was your plan,” she said, “disorientate me with snow, then hug me, get my guard down so my reservations would not inhibit my inner self?”  Goldie smiled and kissed her nose:

        “I think I like the uninhibited private Arki more than the public Arki,” Goldie said.  Arki suddenly felt emotions welling in her.  She knew how Goldie, when he was Samson the lion, had loved his mates.  First fleur, then Pakshalika.  He had loved them entirely, with his whole body and mind, and she could feel that need in him now, a need to know her completely, and if she couldn’t give him that, their relationship would never work.

        “Did you truly love Pakshalika?”  Arki asked the golden brown bear.

        “You mean love her as I did fleur?”  He asked.

      “Yes,” Arki replied.

       “No,” Goldie admitted, “Pakshalika knows that too.  It wasn’t that I used her to satisfy my needs, though I suppose we satisfied each other, her need to have cubs, and mine to have a family like I’d had with fleur, but though I tried so hard, the bond wasn’t the same with Pakshalika as it had been with Fleur.”

       “So it was a mating of convenience for both of you,” Arki said.

       “It was,” Goldie replied, “but I love my cubs, little Sammy and Fleur as much now as I did when I was a lion.  That will never change, and my friendship with Pakshalika will remain also, I hope.”

      “Pakshalika wanted cubs, and you could provide those, and you wanted a family, and she was family orientated, so both got their needs satisfied, so all was well,” Arki concluded.

       “Yes,” Pakshalika said, padding into view, “I knew Samson could never love me as he did his fleur, and I didn’t want that, I wanted cubs and security for those cubs.  He provided this, and I provided a family setting for a lonely lion.  That was why I gave him an out when he became Goldie, for he is no longer a lonely lion.”

       “His need for companionship is still the same Pakshalika,” Arki said, “but now, I suppose things are slightly different too.”

       “I will always love our cubs Pakshalika,” Goldie said.  Pakshalika padded to the golden bear and took his paw in hers.

       “I know,” she said, “and I am very glad of that.  Fleur watches you all the time, but understands why you needed to leave us. Sammy though, he’s not so concerned.  He’s a lion from nose to toes, and has his own concerns, but fleur, due to her difficult birth and interaction with her name sake, is more thoughtful and gentler than her brother.”  Pakshalika padded away from Goldie and Arki.

     “now what?”  Arki asked Goldie.

       “if you will be my mate, I will do my best to protect and serve you,”  Goldie said.

       “You are so funny!”  Arki laughed, hugging Goldie with gentle paws.

       “Now let’s go into the house and settle down together,” Goldie said.  Arki, smiling, followed her new mate to the house, where he settled down with her.

        “Hi Goldie,” Patch said, padding in.  Goldie looked at him:

        “So you are the new Tornassuk,” Goldie said.  Patch nodded, sat down and hugged Goldie tightly.

       “Don’t I get a hug?”  Arki asked.  Patch smiled, let go of Goldie, and embraced Arki.

      “Ow oooah!”  Arki squealed as the huge male bear engulfed her in a huge embrace.

        “You didn’t have to squash me!”  Arki gasped.  Patch kissed her nose and forepaws, Arki laughing merrily.

        “Now you look after each other,” Patch said.  Goldie knelt in front of Patch and promised he would, while Arki, able to clearly see the pads on the sole of the brown bear’s right hind foot, reached over and tickled his toes, Goldie roaring with laughter and tightly curling his toes.

       “Hey Arki, that’s not fair!”  He whimpered.  Arki smiled and crawled to kiss the pads she’d just tickled, Goldie smiling happily.

      “You silly thing,” he laughed.  Arki smiled and ran the toes of her left forepaw down the pads of Goldie’s right hind, the bear gasping and then whimpering as his brain was filled by sensations he’d never felt before as a bear.

       “Don’t do that!”  He gasped, “I’m close to, to losing it Arki!”  Arki smiled and did the same to his left hind foot, Goldie breathing hard and curling his toes even harder.

        “Don’t do that Arki!”  He pleaded, “I’m gonna end up kicking and rolling about in the most embarrassing manner if you don’t stop this right now!”

      “You have the most handsome pads and toes,”  Arki said, drawing circles on the pads of Goldie’s right hind foot, the brown bear closing his eyes and trying to keep his composure.

        “Let it go Goldie,” Patch said softly, “go on, and let it go.”  Goldie lay on the floor, Arki drawing on his pads with the toes of her forepaws, the golden furred male bear clearly helpless at her touch.

        “I’m held captive by a female bear just touching my paw pads!”  Goldie laughed, “This is crazy, but it’s lovely too!”

       “I love stroking your rough wrinkled pads,” Arki said softly.  With a huge effort Goldie rolled onto his back, then sat up, pushing Arki onto her side, then as she sat up, he grabbed her right hind foot, Arki laughing and curling her toes as Goldie stroked her pads.

        “Now I like that,” she said.

       “But my touch does not render you helpless on the floor?”  Goldie asked.  Arki grinned:

       “I’m a big mama bear,” she replied, “We are restrained when we have company.”  Patch got to his feet and left the lie up.

       “You can become unrestrained now,” he said.  Arki smiled and began bouncing about on her backside, then drawing up her hind feet and grabbing them with her forepaws, Goldie’s kiss to her large sole pads and grasping forepaws making her whimper and wriggle madly.

       “You could send me over the edge into whimpering and waving my paws in the air!” Arki laughed.

       “I wonder what our cubs will look like.”  Goldie mused, stroking the pads of Arki’s right hind foot.

 

Meanwhile, Sita was also considering this question, but from a tactile angle.  Being unable to see her cubs, she wondered what their fur would feel like, whether she’d feel the passage of their bodies into the world, or whether her body would dull her to the labour and passage of her cubs into the world.  Though she could see nothing, Sita closed her eyes and bowed her head, thinking deeply about her impending confinement.

      “I hope I feel everything,” Sita pleaded silently.

       “I am sure you will,” Patch said padding in.  Sita’s head jerked up from staring down at her forepaws while she was deep in thought.

      “Ay? What?”  She asked, “Um, Patch, how did you know I was hoping for my labour to be as tactile as possible?”

        “I can read the dreams of others,” Patch replied, “your private thoughts are safe though.”

       “I want my labour to be as sensitive as possible,” Sita mewed, “I want to feel everything.”

       “Would you like Toby to be present at the birth of your next cub?”  Blackberry asked, padding in after his adopted sire.  Sita nodded:

       “Yes, of course I would,” Sita replied, “it’s no secret that I’m pregnant, and birth is no secret either.  Toby needs to know what happens first paw, so to speak.”

         “I watched mama in labour,” Toby said, “you roared and cried mama,” but everything was okay,” Sita smiled and hugged Toby tenderly.

       “Labour pain is okay,” she said, “I don’t mind it, its normal.”

      “How can you enjoy labour pain?”  Aga asked, “Its dreadful Sita.”

        “It’s necessary, and therefore I don’t mind it,” she replied, “Aga, you know what right pain is and what wrong pain is.  You know what real progressive labour is and what useless pain is.”  Freckles hugged her mama.

       “I hope my birth did not hurt you too much mama,” Freckles said to Aga, Aga burying her face in her cub’s coat.

       “Your passage into the world hurt me, but my fear hurt worse,” Aga replied.  Freckles kissed her mama’s nose.

       “I know I was a big cub,” Freckles said softly, “I mean, look at my paws! My hind feet especially, they’re enormous!”

         “I know Freckles dear; I had to push specially to get those hind feet out.”  Freckles embraced her mama tightly.

        “I love my paws,” she said, “I hope you play with your paws too mama.”

      “I play with my paws, and have taught my third cub to play with his paws too,” Aga said.

      “I have a half brother?”  Freckles asked.

      “Indeed, you do,” Bruin said, padding up and kissing Freckles on her ear.

       “Hey!”  Freckles said, turning, Bruin embracing her in his three quarter grown bear hug.

        “I’ve wanted to do this for so long!”  Bruin said, embracing Freckles as tightly as he dared.

        “Can I stroke your paws Freckles?”  Bruin asked.

        “Yes, please,” Freckles said, sitting down and allowing her half brother to take her hind paws in his forepaws and play with her toes, as well as stroke her pads.  Freckles wriggled with pleasure and wiggled her toes, Bruin lifting each of her hind paws and kissing her toes, Freckles giggling with pleasure and excitement.

        “You lot are so expressive, so uninhibited,” Freckles laughed, “its lovely this!”

       “It might seem there are very few rules here,” Bruin replied, “but this is not the case.  The rules are set out in how we should live together, all for one and one for all, do as you would be done by.  That is all.”

       “And protect the cubs at all costs,” Sita said.

        “That above all yes,” Patch said, “for the cubs are our future, we teach them well, give them love, and show them how to love so they might continue where we will someday, have to leave off.”

        “I could never imagine you dead patch,” Sita mewed, “that will be a dreadful day, and I will be sad forever.”

       “You need not worry about that just yet,” Patch replied, kneeling in front of Sita, “but let me hug you now.”  With that Patch embraced Sita tightly,

      “Good luck with the birth of your cub,” he said.

       “You say cub?”  Sita enquired, “There’s just one?”

      “yes, and she’s as stunning in looks as you are Sita love, but her personality and temperament is for you to mould when she is brought into this world, just as you moulded Toby’s.”

      “I’ll do my best,” Sita promised.

       “So how long is it until your cub is due Sita?”  Nanuq asked, padding in after his patrol in the wood and shaking snow from his paws.

        “How long Blackberry?”  Sita asked.

      “A few weeks yet Sita dear,” he replied, “but they will soon fly by, and then you will have a new cub to feed and look after.”

        “I can’t wait!”  Toby yelled.

       “You’re sounding as impatient as I was before you were born Toby,” Sita laughed, “and it’s not you having the cub!”  Toby smiled and hugged his mama.

        “If I can do anything for you, let me know,” he said.

       “What could you do for your mama when she’s in huge labour?”  Aga asked.

        “He could just be there for me,” Sita mewed, “that am all I ask of anyone.”

       “You looked cute when shaking snow off your paws,” Blackberry said to Nanuq, the male polar bear laughing merrily:

      “I am glad you find the sight of me shaking snow from my paws cute,” the polar bear said.

       “I didn’t mean it quite like that,” Blackberry said, now embarrassed.

        “That’s fine,” Nanuq replied, padding over and placing a cold wet paw on Blackberry’s nose, the spirit bear shrieking with shock and batting Nanuq’s paw away.

       “Your paws are cold!  Oi! That wasn’t fair!”  Blackberry whined.

        “Big cub,” Nanuq teased.  Blackberry, obviously torn between wrestling Nanuq to save face, and laughing the whole thing off, sat immobile for a second too long.

         “Blackberry enjoyed your playful side Nanuq,” Toby said.  Blackberry, torn between the cubs he once was, and the medic’s job he’d just got, grumbled to himself, unable to bring himself to roll onto his back and accept Nanuq had caught him off guard.

       “All right, you looked kind of cubbish, it was cute,” Blackberry said gruffly.  Toby shoved his right forepaw into his mouth to stop himself from laughing with merriment.

        “Admit it Blackberry, you think Nanuq is cute,” Aga said.  Blackberry buried his face in his paws.

       “Yeah all right,” he mumbled.  Nanuq smiled and padded to Blackberry, kissing his nose and forepaws, the spirit bear letting the cross bred polar grizzly bear embrace him tightly.

        “I love you very much Blackberry,” Nanuq said gently, blackberry smiling shyly.

        “Now what?”  Sita asked, “After all the excitement of my announcement of my pregnancy, everything’s gone flat.”

       “Seth is tied up and no longer a danger to you or your cubs Sita,” Nanuq said gently.  Sita sighed with relief.

        “Seth didn’t like the community,” she said sadly.

        “You will have your cub in peace and comfort,” Patch said.

 

On a rainy and windy morning a month or so later, on the road leading through the wood, a male bear and his cub padded slowly through the trees.  Hubert, and his cub Bertie, had fled the spot where Tosca, Hubert’s mate, and Bertie’s mother had been run over by a car after their escape from a zoo.  Hubert, now solely taking care of his cub, had adapted to playing with Bertie like Tosca would have done, while also carrying out the duties of a sire bear.  Bertie was a gentle cub, who loved playing with his own and his sire’s paws, as Tosca had taught him how to play with paws from an early age.  The problem with Bertie was that he never knew when paw play was acceptable and when it wasn’t.  He would attempt to play with the paws of any bear, and this had led him into some confrontational situations.  Though, now, the road not being full of bears, Hubert had no need to worry about his son playing with other bear’s paws.  Hubert’s worries were more fundamental though, where would they get food?

 

Meanwhile, in Sita’s lie up, Sita was in heavy labour.  It had come on suddenly, when she was alone, paralyzing pains, which kept her lying on her side, pawing at the air and screaming lustily.

       “Toby and Jet are out on Patrol!”  She thought, and then her thoughts were shattered by another massive contraction, Sita forced to lie on her back, draw up her hind feet and grab them with her forepaws.  Immobilised, she screamed loudly, bearing down into her tail.

        “I can’t cope with this, this is too fast!”  She thought miserably, “but the cub’s coming now, and the camera’s bust in here, and noone’s here to help me!”

      

 

Hubert and Bertie padded into the wood.  Bertie was hungry, and Hubert was trying to find him berries, something to eat.  Screaming coming from a packing crate made the two bears stop and listen.  Bertie, curious, tore open the door and ran in, his sire following.

         “What the hell’s going on?”  He demanded of the strange screaming creature he found lying on her back holding her hind feet in her forepaws.

       “I’m in labour!”  Sita roared, “Go find Kamchatka, Blackberry, anybody!”  Hubert stared into Sita’s pain and panic stricken face.

       “I