Fox cringed at the sound of a pile of books landing roughly on the hard floor of the library. Just from the sound, he could envision bent covers, cracked bindings, and worse.
"Oh, dear", he heard someone say in a voice that sounded suspiciously like the teacher, Christopher. He turned. It was. The bearish scholar was now busily engaged in picking up the assorted debris of his attempted passage through an opening that had apparently been narrowed by a protruding book. Fox winced as he saw Christopher's sharp claws leave deep scratches on the bookboards.
"Please, Christopher", he said as he rushed forward, his fox's brush twitching half-irritably behind him, "let me do that. Until you get your monocle chain back from the smith, you'd be putting them back blind anyway".
"I do apologise", said Christopher with a mournful grimace. "I was merely ... ".
"Merely trying to get through", finished Fox with a sigh. "Christopher, my friend, there is no need to explain. I tell you honestly, this is as nothing in comparison to what the wizard Posti did upon his first re-entry to the shelves. I was smoothing hoofprints out of half the codexes for the next month", he said with a smile. "Besides", he went on, "haven't you preparations for tonight that you must see to?"
Fox looked to the heavens, wherever they were and whatever they looked like beyond the castle's stones. "*Tonight*", he said urgently. "The festival, remember?" He threw in a sly wink (simplicity itself with the face of a fox) and chuckled.
"Oh", groaned Christopher. "*That* festival. As though we didn't suffer enough from foolery on all the other days of the year".
"Well", said Fox, now guardedly, "if you wish to see it that way ... personally, I rather enjoy the release of the Festival of Jove. Nothing like the one night you can call Lord Hassan several varieties of horse-faced -- "
"Careful", admonished his companion with a smile. "It is not the time for that yet, you know".
Fox cleared his throat, and would most likely have blushed, had he been able. With an effort of will, he kept his tail from diving between his legs. "Yes", he said hesitantly. "Well, there is that". Recovering slightly, he asked, "Is there aught I can do for you?"
"Nothing", said Christopher, "that I have not already done. Good Festival, Fox".
"And to you, Christopher", said Fox as the ponderous scholar lumbered off.
Christopher grimaced as he ambled slowly toward his quarters. Festival, indeed. Nothing but an excuse to throw to the four winds the few rules and obligations that still obtained in a place where some 'men' wore fur, others gowns, and still others, diapers. He shook his head sadly. As he reached his room, he decided within himself to spend the festival reflecting in his room. A single teacher would hardly be missed at a court function.
It was with relief that he opened the door to his room ... and with surprise that he eyed the blur that appeared in his vision. He could not be certain, of course, but it appeared to be ...
The figure turned. "Ah!", said the shape in a voice that removed all doubt of the court poet's identity. "There you are. I was rather hoping that you might aid me in polishing my poem for this evening's performance".
Christopher sighed. "Truthfully, my friend", he said ponderously, "I was rather planning to spend the evening closeted with my texts".
"Would that I could do that", said the lupine rhymer in a voice that spoke of a smirk. "Unfortunately, a court poet must, by his nature and occupation, appear at court functions. Still, if you would not ... "
"Hold", interrupted the teacher. "You do not enjoy the festival either?"
"Enjoy?", said the wolf. "I would rather be placed in a small room with Pascal for an hour than to recite one poem at the festival tonight. At least at court", he said with a rising voice, "I can generally count on being heard. But after last year ... "
"I thought I heard you to say that last year had gone well".
"It had. Only ten persons were within range".
"The spoon and the knife:, said Wanderer in what sounded like a scowl, "are a most effective catapult".
Wanderer seemed to pass a hand over his face. "My apologies, O ursine instructor", he said at last. "I am rather worn with this business. So, if you would pardon me", he said with a move toward the door, "I shall go in search of a willing audience for my poem".
"Wait", said Chris, having thought while this was going on. "I believe I wish to hear this poem".
"I do not wish to impose ... "
"Very well", said Wanderer. Christopher heard a rustle of paper, and Wanderer began to recite:
"O the season is bright over Metamor Keep,
And the festival roars into life,
Where the price of a mule is indeed often steep,
And it's hard to tell husband from wife.
Yea, our messenger carries her own set of scales,
And our lord's a fine man, in the mane.
(Though the valet that gives him his shoes could tell tails,
He's just now on his back from the strain.)
Yea, here's to the proof of our fine wizards, who
Saved us all on that long-ago day.
(Though at night one of them has been oft seen to stall,
Still he answers our inquiries neigh.)
Oh, our gardener's grand, yea, a fine man 'tis he,
And he rules over plants with a will.
And our alchemist's truly a sight you must see,
Always ready to lend you a quill.
Though called names to our face, we shall never deride,
And we'll help all the folk that we can.
And if they in our care will two weeks abide,
We might just make of them a man.
(However, please note what it sats on the sign,
Though it seems quite unfair to me.
"At this gate you leave all your old life behind.
On the new we have no guarantee.")
Yes, this place suits me rightly, and such is a boon.
It often has set me at ease.
(Of course, not when nightly I howl at the moon,
And seek for some help with my fleas.)
So on with the festival, cast off old ways!
(Though you may be horse for a bit.)
And when you remember this day though the hays,
You'll bridle not through all of it."
"So", said Wanderer as he turned from the page. "What say you, friend?"
The silence was broken by an odd sound. Squinting carefully at his friend, the wlfish rhymer quickly discerned its source. It was simply that he had neverheard a bear hold back laughter before.
"You", gasped Chris at last, "are going ... to ... to read ... *that*?"
"Indeed", said the wolf with a smile and a twinkling eye. "Were I able to see it at that distance, their expressions should be quite memorable."
"Wanderer", panted the teacher, "I believe I shall attend tonight's celebration after all".
"In pursuit of my poetry, sare I hope?"
"In pursuit of a glimpse of what they are sure to do to you at the conclusion".
And the two friends laughed.