Cedar Island Dreams by TJ Radcliffe and illustrated by Hilary Farmer is the first volume of the Inner Islands Trilogy. It tells the story of Anforth the racoon and his friends as they find themselves under attack by pirate wolves in a world of the far future where humans did something that made all kinds of animals intelligent before going away… somewhere.
If you loved “Wind in the Willows” or Terry Pratchett’s young readers books we think you’ll delight in this light, fun adventure set in the waters off what is today the West Coast of Canada.
It’s available through Amazon and IngramSpark.
Here’s a preview!
Prologue: The Sea Wolf
The pirate captain was big, and red of eye and sharp of fang. The prisoner, considerably less so.
“Where is the map?” growled the captain.
“I dunno,” said the prisoner, whose name was Rufus. “Somewhere in the Inner Islands, I heard.”
Rufus was a reddish-brown wolf with large flat paws. The captain was larger and dark grey in colour. His name was Grey. Wolves don’t have a lot of imagination.
“Not good enough!” said Grey. He had practised his snarl for many years. He was good at it. Rufus gave a shiver despite himself.
The ship rocked as the pirate crew gathered around more closely. They all wanted to hear where the map was. Those on guard duty started to get distracted, until they noticed one of the raccoon deckhands drifting toward the rail. They were far out from land, but who knew what cleverness a raccoon might get up to?
Wolves couldn’t manage a ship. They had brains of a kind but lacked hands. So they got the raccoons to do the job for them. The arrangement was simple and mutually beneficial, from the wolves’ point of view. They got a crew, and the raccoons didn’t get eaten.
From the raccoon’s point of view it looked… less good.
The captain was the largest and toughest of the grey wolves. He was standing near the rail. A long narrow plank stuck out over the water.
“You know what happens to those who disobey me?” Grey asked.
“You kill them and eat them?” said Rufus.
“No! We don’t eat our own kind. What do you think we are?” said Grey.
“Despicable,” said Rufus promptly. “Shameful. And your breath smells of mice.”
“Who is the prisoner here?” said Grey. “And who is free?”
“You,” said Rufus, “and me.”
That was true. The big wolf smiled. So did Rufus.
“You still haven’t told me what happens to the disobedient,” Rufus reminded him.
“See how far from shore we are?” Grey asked. The ship was hove to in the middle of the Outside Channel. It wasn’t quite the open ocean, but it was a wide, deep strait. The day was dim and drizzly, and the water looked cold. The tidal current was bearing the ship south. The wind was light and from the north, pushing it along.
“Yes,” said Rufus. “I can see.”
“Anyone who disobeys me walks the plank!” said Grey.
“Oh,” said Rufus.
“That’s all? Just `Oh’?” said Grey. “Not going to tell us where the map is now?”
“I don’t know where the map is now,” said Rufus.
“Then you walk the plank!” roared Grey.
The other wolves howled. The raccoons cringed and made themselves small. No one wanted to be eaten. It happened sometimes, even when they were being good. The wolves weren’t supplied with a great surplus of self-control.
Matilda, the oldest and wisest of the raccoons, moved to shelter her three grown children, each of whom tried in turn to shelter their mother, which ended with all of them backed up against the far rail. They froze when a nearby wolf growled hungrily.
The raccoons watched Rufus walk out along the plank. He stepped carefully. It was narrow and wobbly. He balanced on the end and twisted his neck to look back at the captain.
“So I’m free to go, then?” Rufus said.
“Free to drown!” said Grey. He brought his front paws down hard on the plank while keeping his back paws firmly on the deck.
The plank swobbled up and down, and Rufus used the motion to assist his jump into the water. It carried him a little way closer to the distant land. He figured he might as well get every bit of advantage he could. The swim home was going to be a long one, but he was confident he was going to make it. He was a sea wolf, born to swim.
Rufus landed with a splash and pawed his way back up to the surface. The water was as cold as it looked.
Behind him he heard the captain growling out orders, and he knew the raccoon crew would be scrambling to obey. They would be sailing south.
Maybe, Rufus thought, I’ll go south myself after I get to shore, just to be sure the pirates don’t get what they’re after. It will be quite a nuisance if they do.
So he was extremely annoyed when the pirates picked him out of the water again a short time later.
Chapter 1: Sunk!
Far to the south, Anforth the raccoon rowed his uncle’s slowly sinking boat across the still water of the Inside Channel.
He was dressed in an oilskin coat over his shirt and trousers, which should have kept him dry. The work of rowing should have kept him warm. Instead he was cold and damp. The misty air crept inside his clothes and gave him a chill.
The day was grey. It was almost noon, but there was no sign of the sun. A thin drizzle of rain fell from the low clouds. Every few minutes Anforth had to stop and shake the rain out of the fur around his eyes. Then he would bail out some of the cold water that sloshed around his feet.
He could see water trickling in between the dry planks. Eventually they would absorb some of it and swell up. That would squeeze them together and seal the leaks. He should have let the boat soak overnight, but he had wanted to get home today.
His uncle Nery was old and frail, and Anforth rowed over now and then to check on him.
He had rowed over in his fine, light skiff, but he left it behind because his uncle had offered to put a new coat of paint on it. His skiff was much easier to handle than this old scow, which had been laid up in Uncle Nery’s boathouse for the past year.
He was halfway across the Inside Channel when he realized he wasn’t going to make it.
The boat was too heavy, and the water was coming in faster as she settled more deeply. The more water was inside, the deeper the boat rode, and the deeper the boat rode, the more water came in. Bailing it out was harder and harder as Anforth got more and more tired.
He was irritated, not afraid. He was as experienced as only an animal who has lived around the water all his life can be. He had been rowing and paddling and messing about in boats since he was a pup, and he hadn’t sunk yet. He didn’t intend to start now!
It’s Uncle Nery’s fault, he thought. If Nery hadn’t had the bad judgment to grow old and frail, Anforth would be sitting warm beside his own fire, his feet up on the hob, drinking a glass of last year’s dandelion wine or a hot mug of dandelion tea and dreaming of nothing much. He liked a quiet life and tended to get a little irritated when things disturbed it.
Then he smiled to himself ruefully and said to no one in particular, “It’s your own fault, Anf. You could have stayed and soaked the boat properly. But Uncle Nery was doing just fine, and however much you like him, you’d had enough of his company and he’d had enough of yours, and you wanted to get home. So here you are.”
He stood up carefully and looked around, keeping the oars together in one hand. The only nearby island was a little thing with a small cedar forest growing out of its crown. No one lived there. Anforth had landed on it once when he was a pup and wanted to set foot on every bit of dry ground in the Inside Channel. He hadn’t touched it since.
His friend Flutesam the otter said it was haunted, but Flute was likely to say almost any lonely spot was haunted. Flute liked the idea of a world full of ghosts, which Anforth thought was silly.
A narrow bay sat at the far end of the island. Sheltering reefs ran out on either side of it like the tines of a toasting fork. The tide was low, so he’d have to row past the island and then come back between the reefs to get into the bay. He bailed vigorously for a few minutes, then took to the oars again and turned his course toward Cedar Island.
If he had judged the tide better he almost surely would have made it.
The full story of what happens next is available at Amazon in Canada and around the world!