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Now and What Comes After

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Swift Wind was restless. She couldn't sleep, and she defiantly was not going to just lay here. She untangled herself from her lovemate/chief, Edgewalker. He grumbled in his sleep, never opening his silver eyes as she slid out of the den and climbed down to the forest floor.


She tucked her red brown hair back in a head band and rubbed her stormy blue eyes. It was irritating. Why did this keep happening to her? Was it her different blood? In her time spent with Edgewalker's tribe she had still to find a wolf friend. Did she even have any wolf blood in her? Was she some different kind of elf? That must be it. Or that there is so little that it matters not. She mused as she began the climb into her secret spot, she mentally prepared herself to break the barrier to her past. This time, this time I will succeed.


After the sun had long reached its high time and had started falling, she came out of her trance-like state.

“PUCKERNUTS!! PUCKERNUTS TWICE!”


Why could she not break it! It was so frustrating not knowing who she was, really know who she was. The only thing that came past the barrier was her soul name. And even then it had a taken almost a full turn of the seasons for that to pop up. Her adoptive mother, Slimarrow once described a soul name as everything that you are and ever will be. An exchange of soul names told the other elf all there was to know about you.


“So why is it when I say my soul name or think it I get nothing!” She cried out to the trees. I know nothing about myself! Not even my age. She grimaced.


Then as her mind was want to do after one of her past finding sessions, she thought back on her thirty years with Edgwalker’s tribe. She remembered the split from ten years ago; she really had no fondness for any of the tribe that left. Most were not sure what to think of her. The trail of thought always brought to mind an overheard conversation between Wild Berry and Birdsong that had taken place a mere days after her appearance.


“Imagine an elf with no memory!” Birdsong had told Wild Berry with mock horror in her voice. “There has not been an elf so plagued in the memory of elves!” She had giggled “Or maybe there has but they had forgotten!”


Wild Berry had given the black haired busybody a long look. “I think it is very interesting. Most especially since it has never happened that we know of.”
Birdsong snorted. “I doubt it. I think she is too ashamed to tell us where she came from.”


They had walked off after that and Swift Wind had not heard the rest of the conversation. It had troubled her greatly for quite some time. She had planned to talk to Wild Berry but had never found the time. Then the tribe had split and now she knew she never would unless she went looking for Rainwalker’s half of the tribe.


This led her to thinking of Edgewalkers half of the tribe. Her chief and lovemate came floating quietly into her mind. He was not a consistent lovemate, she knew were his heart really laid. After all how many lovemates had he had since Joyheart left? Too many to count and all of them vastly different then the last, and none managing to fill the void of the gold haired elf. Swift Wing gave a small laugh. Fireflower had certainly lived up to her name when there illustrious chief had decided to change furs from her to Swift Wind. I thought she might burn the forest down with her anger she mused with a smile. The flamed haired basket weaver was still not happy with the arrangement, but her anger had mellowed somewhat after her recognition to Daggermark. His calming influence had soothed the hurt of rejection. Though it hadn’t been until after Spear was born that they had lifemated. It hadn’t really bothered Swift Wind that the red haired basket weaver still didn’t like her.


This lead to elders of the tribe. They had been kind when she had appeared that night during a howl. Half Moons had almost been her adopted mother, but her son Lioneyes had not been keen on the idea of someone replacing his sister, Joyheart, in his mother’s heart. Not that I would have been able to accomplish such a task. Swift Wind thought. It had been Greenstone’s idea. He had though having another she-cub to care for would help her heart heal a little. Lioneyes had snuck off on many occasions searching for his sister over the past 50 years, much to Edgewalker’s displeasure. Though many figured he secretly encouraged the outings.


Lightshade had always been nice. Slimarrow had unburied some memories but only ones that dealt with hunting. Because of her she had remembered how to use a bow, and how to track, quickly making herself out as the best in the tribe. She had been excited for the memories to surface. But nothing else had crossed the barrier since.


Swift Wind looked out on the forest around her as her thought turned to her age mates (or at least she thought they were all around the same age.) Dreamseeker was the closest to her age, along with Fireflower. The grey haired healer had spent much of his time learning herbs and plants from Half Moons. Toedancer was the first youngster after her. He had enjoyed playing many tricks on her when she had first shown up. At only 18, he had a long history of troublemaking and pranks. It was thanks to him that her first (kind-of) memory had surfaced. He had been antagonizing her while she was sharpening a knife that Greenstone had given her. When the ‘fun’ had went too far, she tried to leave the clearing, but he had followed her and then when he hadn’t stopped and she could take no more; Swift Wind had whirled with such speed and threw her knife into the ground at his feet, shaving a patch off of his boot. He had jumped all over the place in fright. All I could do was look at my hand, wondering where that had come from. He had looked so funny and indignant. The tribe however had mixed reactions to the incident. Some had been horrified that she had thrown the knife at another elf. Others had felt he had gotten his due, and a smaller group had been excited that she had remembered something.


The sun was falling below the tree tops when she heard the wolves howling near the holt. There was to be a hunt tonight. With a sigh Swift Wind climbed out of her secret hallow and took off at a fast lope towards the holt. When she got to the edge of the holt clearing she paused watching as her tribemates busied themselves for the hunt. For better or worse, this is my family now. I just wish I knew my parents and original family. She sighed.


“Swift Wind! Come join the hunt and run with us tonight!” Slimarrow called as she passed her son Pouncer to Rainfall to watch.


Swift Wind smiled as she walked into the clearing to stand by Edgewalker. “Which way are we going my chief?”


Edgwalker pointed toward sun-goes-up, “Come and ride with me Tracker.” He replied with a wry grin. Fireflower glowered at her as he pulled her up behind him on his wolf friend.


The tribe rode out to hunt just as they did other nights. Some stayed behind to watch the young or just because they were not in the mood to hunt tonight. That was just the way it was. That was the way it is done in the now.

Chapter Text

        Edgewalker remained still as his lovemate quietly untangled herself from their shared furs and slipped out of the den.  He glanced out a knothole that served as a window and watched Swiftwind's back as she disappeared into the forest, searching for images of her past she could not find.  Edgewalker sighed deeply and slipped from the furs as well.  After pulling on his breeches and shirt, he stepped out into the sunlight.  Night was the preferred time of the Wolfriders, but, like his lovemate, Edgewalker needed time with his past...alone.


        Memories were important to the Wolfriders, but most memories were recalled with the help of a dreamberry trance.  After that, the past played little part in the Wolfriders' lives. Certainly, when a tribe mate died, or disappeared, the tribe grieved and the family felt loss, but, after a few turns, the lost elf blended into the wolfsong and was called into being only at the howl.  It was the way of their wolf brothers; it was the cycle of the land...to live, to die, and to move on.  Memories belonged in the past, which was the way most Wolfriders lived. Most Wolfriders.


        Edgewalker halted.  He stood at the bottom of a steep, barely detectable trail leading up the side of a stark mountain.  His feet had led him here without his mind  s knowing.  It had been a very long time since he had been here, before even Toedancer was born.  He started up the steep trail, as sure footed as always, letting his memory guide him.


        Memory.  It was the one thing that set Swiftwind and himself apart from the rest of the tribe and drew them to one another.  Edgewalker had been lovemates with many of his female tribe members.  But, while he had loved them all and loved them still, it was Swift Wind who meant the most to him.  Only one other meant more than the foundling she-elf.


        Edgewalker squeezed his eyes shut.  Please, no!  His mind cried out.  While his enigmatic lovemate tirelessly sought her past, he could not escape the images of his.  It was a gift, or perhaps a curse, from his unknown father.  A father who had diluted the wolf blood coursing through his son's veins, allowing Edgewalker to remember.


        He'd come to the end of the trail, and stood upon the precipice of a small grotto.  It was a magical oasis on top of the barren mountain.  Moss covered, tumbled rocks comprised the walls of the grotto.  Small underground brooks sprung to the surface among the rocks, creating hundreds of tinkling waterfalls and streams that spilled into a pool in the center of the grotto. Green was everywhere.  The soft grass seemed to glow emerald in the mid-day sun.  Small bushes were scattered throughout the area, a few even bearing the purplish dreamberries. Stunted trees dominated the grotto, but there were a few larger ones that peeked over the edge of the walls.  In all, it was an elven dream, probably shaped millennia ago by the High Ones.  When they were young, Edgewalker and his age mates, Straightshot, Rainfall, and Joyheart, had made this grotto their secret place.


        Joyheart!  Edgewalker gasped and clutched his head, trying desperately to halt the memory, to push her from his mind.  He failed.  Barely aware he made his way down the rock wall and to the edge of the pool.  There he collapsed, bringing one knee up to rest his chin on, while the other booted foot dangled in the pool.


          “Joyheart,”   it was little more than a whisper, but it floated on the soft wind that swirled around the grotto.

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         “Joyheart!”  Edgewalker laughed, pushing an unruly lock of dark hair out of his eyes. His lovemate turned, her golden hair catching the last rays of light as the sun dipped below the horizon.  Her light green eyes sparkled with delight and her mouth spread into a sweet, teasing smile.  The light breeze kept her luxurious mane dancing around her lithe form.


          “Come on, slow poke! We haven’t got much time.”  She said lightly, her eyes going to the pink and purple stained sky.  She whirled and practically skipped up the treacherous trail, her chieftain lovemate at her heels.


        They reached the top of the mountain and peered into their secret grotto.  A smile lighting both elves' faces.


          "What if Straightshot or Rainfall are here?"   Edgewalker whispered, lightly nipping Joyheart's ear.


        Grinning wickedly, she turned toward him with veiled eyes, “Then their chieftain will just have to tell them to leave.”  Edgewalker laughed, and the two of them blithely made their way to the pool.   Edgewalker took a seat near the edge of the pool, propping himself up on a rock. Joyheart curled next to him.  Her head resting on his shoulder.  The two said nothing, simply watched as evening turned to full dark and the sparkling lights of stars dotted the black sky.  Almost in answer to the light spotted sky, fireflies came out to dance above the pool.  It reflected their light, just as they reflected the lights in the sky.

        Edgewalker smiled, completely content.  He leaned down and breathed in the scent of his lovemate's hair, quickly snaking his arm around her slim waist.  She responded with a languid smile and twined her arms around him.  They remained that way, delighting in their
surroundings and one another as Mother Moon rose high into the sky.


        Quite suddenly Joyheart shifted, breaking Edgewalker’s reverie.    “What is it?”   He whispered, his senses suddenly on alert.


        She nodded her head toward one of the few tall trees in the grotto.  A large nest stood in the upper branches of the tree.  An eagle periodically nested in the grotto, coming and going as she pleased for years at a time.  Edgewalker could barely make out a form in the nest, it’s head safely tucked beneath its wing.


        He smiled. “So, our traveling lady has returned,”  he said, glancing at Joyheart.  There was something different about her.  She was tense and her expression unreadable.


         “I wonder what she finds out there,”   Joyheart murmured.  Edgewalker shrugged, barely hearing the soft-spoken words. “Herself, maybe,” the young elf woman finished.


        Edgewalker blinked. “Why do you think that?”


        “Her wings can take her over these walls, and she is free to search the world for what she needs.” Joyheart said, longing evident in her voice.


          “The fireflies have wings, and they don’t want to leave.” Edgewalker quietly pointed out, a strange feeling stirring in his chest.


          “Yes,” Joyheart conceded, her eyes fixed upon the sleeping eagle.    “But, they have all they need here, or, perhaps their wings are simply too small to carry them over the wall.”   She looked at him then, and she must have understood the unnamable emotion that was swirling within him, for she reached out and caressed his cheek. *She always returns, beloved,* Joyheart sent, leading his eyes to the eagle.


        Without thought, Edgewalker caught Joyheart and held her fiercely to him.


        *Beloved, please...*  He sent, looking into her eyes.


        That’s when it happened.  A warm, joyful presence crystallized in Edgewalker’s mind.  A light as bright as the sun engulfed him and spread throughout his entire being.  A single syllable, a word that meant nothing and everything burst behind his eyes.  He felt it on the tip of his tongue, begging to be spoken aloud.  And then, as suddenly as it had come, it was gone.  The light was extinguished and darkness rushed in to the empty spaces of his mind.


         “ NO!” The harsh growl pulled Edgewalker, gasping, back into the moment.  He looked at Joyheart with confusion wonder, and pain.  Her light eyes were dark, and splayed across her face was anguish, shock, and fury. She pushed him, breaking his grip, and scrambled out of his reach.  She was halfway up the rock wall when he managed to gain his feet.  He took a couple of faltering steps after her.


          “Joyheart,” he gasped.


        She froze.  Her back was to him. “I can’t let you stop me,” she whispered, turning to face him. “No matter how I feel.”


          “Stop you from wha...?”  He began to ask, but before he could finish the light began to seep into his mind again, bringing with it that special word sound.


        *NO!!*  Pure fury and immense power were packed into Joyheart’s sending.  Edgewalker clutched his head and fell to his knees, all thoughts of the word sound driven away by the pain exploding in his head.  He had been unaware that Joyheart could send so strongly, or that sendings could hurt.  Through a red haze, he saw Joyheart’s horrified, pain filled expression, then she turned and dashed the rest of the way up the rock wall and into the night.


        Edgewalker remained where he was on his hands and knees, slowly breathing in and out as he willed the pain away.  He drew his knees to his chin and wrapped his arms about his legs as the pain faded into memory.  He remained that way as dawn tinted the sky.  With the coming light, the eagle stirred.  As the sun crested over the rim of the world, she jumped to the edge of the nest and spread her beautiful wings.  Her muscles bunched as she prepared to launch herself into the air.  At the last moment, she paused.  Her head swivelled toward Edgewalker and her feral golden eyes burned into his silver eyes.  She then gave a piercing scream and leaped, quickly disappearing into the lightening sky.

********************************************************

        Edgewalker shivered, and pulled his soaked foot from the pool.  He quickly clasped his arms around his legs, curling up into a little ball.  His gaze searched the tops of the tallest trees in the grotto, fixing upon one.


        He stared at it as the colors of evening began to paint the sky.  A few gray, brittle twigs in the upper branches were the last, barely recognizable, sign of a proud eagle's nest.  In fact, if Edgewalker had not known where to look, he never would have found the sad remains.  He lowered his forehead to his knees and closed his eyes.


        *Edgewalker.  Where are you?  The hunt.*  The sending was weak, but it roused Edgewalker.  It was Rainfall.  She was the only member of the tribe whose sending could reach him at this distance.


        He stood and moved out of the grotto and down the mountain.  He threw his head back and called for his wolf-friend, Willowsnitch.  It was time to move from the past into the hunt, at least for a little while, and let the eagles fly where they will.

Chapter Text

                Pouncer inwardly laughed.  His father, Dreamseeker, really didn’t know what to make of him. His mother, Slimarrow, on the other hand, really didn’t care what anyone thought.  Words were not his specialty, nor did he care.  Many of the tribe had their opinions on the matter, but even at four winters, he choose not to talk, or send words, they just didn’t seem to express things the way he wanted them to. He was, what was it mother had called it? Oh yes, not well behind, but well ahead.  He covered his mouth as he inwardly laughed again. He remembered his birth very well, his mental holler had raised the entire tribe clean out of their furs.  This sent him silently rolling on the floor of Rainfall’s den.  She was the only one besides his mother that is silence didn’t unnerve.  She smiled over at him when she looked up from the hole she was mending in his shirt.  He liked her; she was always nice and talked to him as though he was giving her worded answers back.  He returned her smile. 

                Pouncer sighed the only thing that would make his life better would be a wolf friend.  A wolf friend would be really fun, Pouncer had been able to hear mothers wolf since his birth.  He liked to ask where she was and what she was doing or to see how things were doing on the hunt.

                He shrugged his little shoulders.  He sent out at send to mother’s wolf friend, Flopear.  Flopear was excited; they had meat, lots of meat, good meat.  Couldn’t wait to get back home to eat the meat.   Pouncer pulled back.  The hunt would be back soon and he was hungry for the fresh meat.  Pouncer grunted to catch Rainfall’s attention.  He licked his lips and smiled at her.

                “From the look in your eyes cub, they must have gotten a good kill.” Rainfall replied with a smile.

                Pouncer grinned back. He stood up and walked over to the door of Rainfall’s den, then pushed the fur back that was covering the entryway. He tied it back and then laid in the entry and looked outside.  As he closed his eyes, he listened. Pouncer like to listen for the things that lived around him. He could hear the crickets in the clearing over by the river, he heard an owl fly overhead on its evening hunt.  He listened really hard, he wanted to see if he could hear the new wolf cubs.

 

                Rainfall held up Pouncer’s shirt. The young cub had torn a hole in it when he had been climbing a tree to put a baby bird back in its nest earlier that day.  It’s almost too small for him already.  He is growing up so fast. She signed.  The hunt would be back soon and she should finish the shirt.  Rainfall bent back to her mending.

                “Pouncer” she called when she was done “Come put your shirt back on.”  Rainfall looked up to see her empty doorway.

                Now where could he have gotten to? She thought with a small smile. *Pouncer, your shirt is done.* She sent out after him. 

                Rainfall waited for a reply from the young cub. *Pouncer* she sent again *Am I going to have to come find you?*

                This time she got a blurb of laughter and then a mental exclamation of joy from the brown haired cub.

                *Pouncer! What are you doing?* Rainfall queried as she stood and walked out of her den. She looked into the quiet night searching for signs of the silent cub in the holt clearing.  He wasn’t there. That was when she heard his laughter echoing from the direction of the wolf dens.  Rainfall sighed and shook her head as she went to go get him.

                She was halfway across the clearing when the hunting party rode into the clearing.  Edgwalker was riding out front on Willowsnitch; Swift Wind was behind him with her arms around his waist smiling as something he had said.  Rainfall smiled at the sight, she didn’t know if anyone had noticed, but their chief and his current lovemate had done wonders for each other.  Rainfall hadn’t seen Swift Wind smile this much since she had come to the tribe, and Edgewalker, well he seemed more at peace with the ghosts of his past then he had been in years.

                Edgewalker called the tribe to feed. Rainfall sighed, she had better go track down her charge.  Pouncer would rather play with the wolf cubs all night than anything else.  As she turned to walk down to the wolf dens, Pouncer came out of the trees at an awkward run clutching something to his chest.  His face was almost glowing, and his grin was splitting his face in two.

                “MOTHER! FATHER! RAINFALL!” He screeched.

                This vocalization of the quietest member of the tribe caused the entire group to stop what they were doing and turn to see what the commotion was all about.  Pouncer stopped by Rainfall.

                “Look!  My first wolf friend!”  The wolf pup he was carrying looked up at Rainfall from the cub’s arms; its eyes were two different colors, just like Pouncers. “I’m calling her Jumper!” he told her breathlessly as he ran to his parents.

                Rainfall turned towards the tribe with a smile.  Many of them were smiling and laughing at the cub’s excitement, and unusual vocalization.  After all, it was the little joys in life that made it so special.

Chapter Text

                Spear sat wrapping a leather strip around the tip of his spear, securing the flint point to the staff of wood.  He had been lovingly working on the weapon for the past two turns. He’d carved small swirls into the wood and affixed bright feathers to its head. He’d even gone so far as to attach a couple shinning pebbles to the wood in strategic places. The balance was perfect, and Spear felt it would bring prey he went up against swiftly and cleanly.

                Now if he could only use it.

                Spear’s bottom lip flared out into a pout and he threw a sulky glare to the side. His mother sat pulling wet reeds from the small brook cutting through the holt.  Fireflower was always weaving her baskets, and Spear was quite sure she wanted him to keep helping her wave those baskets for the rest of his life. 

                Spear fell back against a tree root and stared at his spear.  He couldn’t wait to be riding Razor’s back, the wind in his face and the smell of the chase in his nose. His head thrown back and howling, hearing the echoing answers of his fellow hunters.  But most of all, feeling his spear plunge into a deer’s heart and then bringing the meat back to feed the tribe through a hard winter.  Spear shivered with excitement.

                Of course, Fireflower wouldn’t let him go.  To date, she had refused to allow him to go on his first long hunt. She kept him near the holt, helping her weave baskets and tend natural beds of herbs and tubers in the forest.  Spear hated it.

                He had never gotten far from the holt.  He couldn’t figure out why; there was no danger anywhere near the elves, even bear and big cats left them alone.  Still, Fireflower only reluctantly let Spear help Greenstone check his traps, and rarely allowed him to accompany his father, Daggermark, on his silent patrols around the holt.  She simply wanted to keep him from the world, and if from him. Forever.

                Spear blew a lock of hair out of his eyes.  He didn’t want to be kept from the world; he wanted to be out in it, spear in hand.

                A slight rustle to the side brought the youth out of his trance. Pouncer, the only tribe member younger then Spear, slipped out of Rainfall’s den and trotted into the forest. After a moment, Spear figured out that the strange four-turn-old cub was heading for the wolf dens.  After another moment, he realized no one was going with the cub.

                Rolling his eyes, Spear stood.  Pouncer was far too young to be going to the wolf dens alone.  It was now up to him to watch the cub. A silent guardian, like his father.  Smiling, Spear moved to follow Pouncer into the forest.

                *Spear,* the send froze the youth in mid-step.  He turned to see his mother regarding him, her arms full of wet reeds. *Where are you going?*

                *Pouncer…* Spear began but his mother cut him short.

                *Won’t you come help me?*

                Spears arms quickly folded and he felt his mouth twist into something between a grimace and a pout.

                *It’ll only be a few baskets. Come along, you used to like it.*

                “When I was Pouncer’s age and could play in the mud!” Spear said through gritted teeth.  But he moved next to his mother and grabbed a handful of reeds.

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                Spear smashed his newly crafted spear against a rock with enough force to shatter the flint tip.  As the pieces sprinkled down around his feet, he threw his head back and howled.

                Pouncer runs off into the forest, without anybody knowing, and everyone cheers and laughs!  They practically held a howl for the disobedient little cub and his new wolf friend!  Slimarrow sat and hugged him and twirled him around, telling him he was the best cub ever!

                Spear slammed his fist into a nearby tree.

                “Something wrong cub?” A voice asked from a tree.

                Spear blinked and looked at it.

                “Up cub, Look up.”

                Spear’s head snapped up and his eyes scanned the leaves. He quickly spotted golden eyes shining down at him.

                “Lioneyes,” Spear said. “I knew you were there.”

                A deep chuckle answered him. With a twist and a mid-air somersault, Lioneyes dropped next to the youth.  Spear smiled, he like Lioneyes.  He was a powerful hunter, a good tracker and never treated Spear like too much of a child.  He was fun to be around, and always had an insightful quip for everyone.

                Lioneyes was so sure of himself, and never answered to anybody.  Spear envied him.

                “So what is it?” Lioneyes asked.

                Spear hesitated, but Lioneyes really didn’t talk much to his parents, so he didn’t see why not unburden himself.

                “Why can’t Slimarrow be my mother?” He blurted

                Lioneyes burst into laughter

                Spear stared.

                “I’m sorry cub, “Lioneyes said. “Why do you think Slimarrow would make you a good mother?”

                Spear bit his lip.

                “Because she is fun.” He said.

                Lioneye’s face was serious, but his golden eyes shimmered with suppressed laughter.

                “Undoubtedly,” he said with a sly grin, which held a touch of sadness. “But, trust me cub, Slimarrow’s more fun as a lovemate then a mother.”

                Spear looked away then back.

                “How come Pouncer can disappear for hours and be howled for, but I can’t even leave the holt clearing?!?”

                “Ah,” Lioneyes nodded.  The older elf knew he couldn’t point out that everyone had been so happy because Pouncer had spoken. Something many tribe members were worried he would never do. Spear simply saw the situation as the much younger Pouncer being allowed to do things that he, Spear, couldn’t.

                “I can’t do anything!” Spear cried, confirming Lioneyes’ suspicion. “Mother won’t even let me go on a long hunt!”

                Lioneyes sighed.

                “I can’t make you mother let you go Spear,” he said as he took hold of the crippled weapon that was still in the youth’s hand. “But I can tell you that you can’t hunt until this spear is whole.”

                Lioneyes then handed the weapon back to its owner. Spear looked down at it. When he looked up, Lioneyes was gone.

********************

Spear rolled over and stared out the window.  Sunlight filtered through the leaves, dancing across his vision. From his parent’s soft, slow breathing in the furs next to him, he knew they were in a deep sleep.

                Spear shifted, feeling a crawling sensation in his stomach. Quietly, he pushed the furs away and slipped out.  He pulled on his leathers, grabbed a small dagger of his father’s and snatched up the broken spear from where it was resting against a wall.

                He hesitated at the den’s door, but didn’t look back. With a soft sigh, Spear pushed aside the stretched leather door and moved out of the holt.

                In another den, golden eyes watched as the youth slipped into the forest. A small smile played across Lioneye’s mouth.

*******************

                As the sun moved across the sky, Spear set a fast pace through the forest.  He didn’t call his wolf friend, Razor. Spear knew that he was hunting a different sort of prey and the wolf just wouldn’t understand.

                The young elf moved silently into Blue Vale, only stopping long enough to sip a bit of water. Then he was off, going where he had never been and being guided by something he didn’t understand. But, he wasn’t afraid.  He simply knew he must keep going.  The wolf never questioned his instincts.

                As he walked, and the sun sank low in the sky and eventually disappeared, Spear worked on his damaged weapon.  He found a nice tip made of luminous blackrock as he walked, and some sinew off a recent mountain cat kill to bind it to the shaft.  To make the balance right, he had to pull off some of the stones that he had put on for decoration a few days earlier, but now simply looked gaudy. In fact, the spear was turning into an even better weapon than before.

                Suddenly, the elf stopped.  Before him was a stretch of wood he had only heard about from the hunters.  It was called Far Boughs, and the trees here grew taller than any other area of the forest. The closest branches were far above the forest floor, but rough back and several knotholes would make climbing them easy for an elf.

                Spear remembered some tales Antler had told of ancient elves who could float like puffseed pods living high in the branches. More important to the tribe, it was home of some of the biggest, finest deer in the forest and the domain of wild boar. Still, there was even greater danger here, and hunting parties only came to Far Boughs rarely and in great numbers. For some reason, smaller groups of elves occasionally disappeared in this quiet section of woods. Adding to the danger of the area, Spear knew that the dry, fire-plagued plains began just on the other side of the forest.

                Even knowing all of this, the young elf didn’t turn back. He moved slowly into the woods, searching, looking closely at each tree.  He knew, just knew, what he was looking for was here somewhere.

                At last, he discovered a tree deep in Far Boughs. It looked to be the tallest tree in the forest, and it was covered in strange leather hangings and had designs drawn on it in a red dye.  But Spear didn’t hesitate. He began climbing the rough bark up to the lowest branches. Once there, he continued up, climbing until he found a small niche high in the tree to settle into.        

                Then he waited.

                Stars sprinkled the sky and hoot owls called, but Spear didn’t move. He thought he heard a familiar howl of a wolf, but he didn’t answer it. He just waited.

                Thoughts swirled through his head. His mother and her baskets.  Her unwavering devotion to the words of the chief and the path of the Way.  Her unending love for his father. His father and his always watchful eyes and gently guiding hands. The way his eyes glinted in a special way just for his lifemate and son.

                Spear thought of the other tribe members too. Edgewalker’s love and Swift Wind’s memories. Half Moons’ potions and Greenstone’s leg. Lightshade’s leathers and Lioneyes’ wit. Antler’s stories, Todancer’s jokes, Dreamseeker’s long ear and Pouncer’s wolves.  He thought of Slimarrow’s laugh, Straighshot’s frown, and Rainfall’s gentle smile.  And he thought of himself…and his spear.

                Each had their place. Each had their power. Each knew themselves.

                Then is happened.

                I will live the Way and I will protect my tribe. I am a hunter. I am a warrior. I am a Wolf Rider. I am Ziv.

                Spear opened his eyes and a secretive smile spread across his lips. He then slipped out of his niche and made his way to the ground. Unsteadily, at first, but with growing confidence Spear set off at an easy lope for the holt. He left the strange tree far behind, both physically and within his own mind. He was simply too glad to think about the unusual drawings on the tree, or why they might be there in the first place.

                Spear was whole, it was time to hunt.

Chapter Text

                The snow shifted and blew, swirling up the big pine trees making their branches dance.  The biting wind cut through the small hunting party. The elves shivered in their furs and the wolves whined softly, slitting their eyes against the stinging snow.

                Rainfall sighed. It was rare when she chose to come on hunts. She was far more likely to remain at the holt, watching cubs play in the piled white snow.  But, Rainfall loved the winter. She had always imagined she could feel the earth sleeping just below its cold white blanket. To Rainfall, the harsh winter was a time of anticipation and expectation. To her, it was as alive as the soft green-gold of spring.

                A wry snort touched Rainfall’s mind. She turned to look back at the rider closest behind her. Straightshot sat, grinning at her, his grey eyes twinkling. He shook his head, snow falling from the hood covering his dark hair.

                *What?* Rainfall sent, feigning shock. Straightshot had always found it funny that this most timid of elves reveled in such dangerous winter storms.

                Straightshot’s grin widened.

                *Just you,* he sent caressing her mind.

                Rainfall smiled tenderly as she regarded her lovemate. They had always cared deeply for one another, but it had taken many turns for their love to grow. Now, though, she could imagine nothing more fulfilling then her feelings for Straightshot.

                Well, Rainfall amended silently, maybe a friendship rekindled. Her eyes slipped toward the front of the group, where Edgwalker rode with Swift Wind.

                *Don’t* Straightshot’s send touched her mind. Like every time Rainfall thought of the relationship between her love and the chief, Straightshot knew. And like every time her referred to it, Straightshot’s tone was strained, stiff and most of all, sad. Only Rainfall had seen exactly how sad.

                Abruptly the hunters stopped.

                *The trail splits,* Swift Wind send touched all their minds.

                Lioneyes nodded his agreement.            

                *We’ll split,* Edgewalker sent. *Slimarrow, Swift Wind and I will take this trail.* Edgewalker pointed to the left. *Lioneyes, Straightshot and Rainfall that one.*

                Silent agreement moved about the group. As they moved off, Rainfall caught a last soft send from Edgewalker.

                *Be careful, my friends.*

                Rainfall glanced at Lioneyes and Straightshot, but neither one reacted to the Edgewalker’s last words, if they’d heard them at all.

                As Lioneyes led them along the trail, the night and the storm deepened. Soon Lioneyes was pausing and looking around more and more often.

                *The wind’s blown all traces away.* Lioneyes finally sent.

                *Do we turn back?* Straightshot asked.

                Lioneyes started to nod, but Rainfall shook her head.

                *Look there,* she sent pointing toward a narrow ledge. *It went there.*

                Lioneyes and Straightshot looked at her quizzically.

                *Beloved…* Straightshot began, but Rainfall was already moving When she reached the ledge, she slipped off her wolf and moved out into the open ledge.

                Watching her move out to the precarious perch, Straightshot felt his heart lurch. He glanced over at Lioneyes and saw very real fear in the older hunter’s eyes.

                *I’m going to get her.* Straightshot sent. At that exact moment, a deep, booming rumble reverberated in is chest.

                He and Lioneyes both moved toward the ledge, as Rainfall twisted about and began struggling back toward them.  Cracks raced about her and then the rumbling continued.

                *It’s collapsing!* Rainfall’s send screamed into their minds. She turned and desperately gripped the rough stone wall. Her blue eyes met Straightshot’s full of panic.

                Straightshot leapt forward and caught Rainfall’s ankle at the exact moment the ledge gave way. He thought he heard a cry of elfin voices, but they were drowned out by the scream of shattering ice.

                For several terrible moments Straightshot fell through darkness, always keeping a firm grip on Rainfall. At last, the fall came to a sudden and hard stop.  Straightshot bit his lip, hard, against the pain that suddenly shot from his wrist.

                Silence.

                *Straightshot? Rainfall?* Lioneyes send was shaky

                *Here.* Rainfall answered, shifting to meet Straightshot’s eyes.

                *Are you alright?*

                Rainfall looked at Straightshot, who was panting in pain. She looked up the cliff.

                *I am fine, but Straightshot is hurt.*

                *I’ll go get help.* Lioneyes sent.

                *Hurry.*

                *I will.*

                Rainfall scooted near to where Straightshot was gingerly holding his arm. She gently took it and rotated it, setting his teeth on edge.

                *Broken.* she told him.

                Straightshot nodded.

                *But not badly.* he sent.

                Rainfall looked at him, her eyes full of tears.

                *That was stupid of me.*

                Straightshot shrugged and then shuddered in pain.

                *Don’t think about it.* he soothed. *Let’s bind this and find shelter.*

                Soon, the two had Straightshot’s arm splinted and were settling into an alcove protected from the biting wind and snow.  The two elves wrapped themselves tightly in their cloaks, conserving body heat.

                *Does it hurt as badly?* Rainfall gently asked, laying her fingers lightly on Straightshot’s bandaged forearm.

                He grunted.

                *It aches,* he admitted. *I am not going to be able to use my bow for awhile.*

                Straightshot smiled as he sent the last part of his thought. Rainfall looked up at him, her eyes swimming with tears. He reached up and traced the planes of her face. As he gently ran his fingers over her eyebrows, cheeks, nose, and mouth, her eyes drifted shut. He wiped away a sparkling tear as it fell on her cheek.  She opened her eyes and Straightshot felt himself fall.

                *Chatt.* he gasped with both mind and voice.

                Rainfall felt warmth engulf her when she’d opened her eyes. The cold, the guilt, the fear, all disappeared in that warm embrace. And, as she heard her soul name, Rainfall whispered, *Lew.*

                The two lay quietly, reveling in each other’s embrace. Nose to nose and eye to eye, Straightshot and Rainfall, Lew and Chatt, felt the earth begin to wake up.

Chapter Text

                Edgewalker and Swift Wind slipped around tree after tree closely followed by Willowsnitch, Edgewalker’s aging wolf friend. The trio was tracking a fast moving herd of deer migrating through the wood. The elves had given up riding Willowsnitch several turns ago. The old wolf simply could no longer support the weight of the two elves, but her nose was as good as ever.

                The gray-white wolf suddenly stopped and crouched into the underbrush. Edgewalker, who was a couple of paces in front of Swift Wind, motioned for her to stop. She halted and without a whisper, the two elves slid behind separate trees.

                *The trail?* Edgewalker sent his finest tracker.

                Swift Wind was already peeking around her tree; her eyes following the telltale deer markings out of sight. *Leads toward Bluevale.* She replied.

                Edgewalker nodded. The clearing with its beautiful and deep waters was a favorite water source for many creatures.  The elves themselves enjoyed fishing for the succulent silverslippers that seemed to appear out of nowhere during the late spring every year.  Fisher had once said the tiny fish swam into an isolated pool underground.  Edgewalker shook his thoughts away from the past and back to the present.

                *I’m up* he sent to Swift Wind. *You and Willowsnitch hit from the sides.* without waiting for a replay the Wolfrider chief silently climbed into the trees and moved toward Bluevale.  He soon reached the trees edge and looked into the clearing. He did a quick scope of the deer and settled upon one near the side of the clearing.

                *Yes.* Swift Wind agreed.

                Edgewalker also received a positive spurt from Willowsnitch. He had never been as adept as many Wolfriders at sending to his wolf friends, but he had always been able to understand them.

                Edgewalker waited for a couple moments, giving Swift Wind and Willowsnitch time to move into position. Once he was sure they were ready, he drew his dagger then…..

                *NOW!*

                The entire clearing seemed to explode as the two elves and wolf burst into the clearing. Despite the chaos, the three experienced hunters had drawn a bead on their target. Within moments, it was over. The deer had fled, but Edgewalker, Swift Wind and Willowsnitch had made their kill.  It would beenough meat to feed the tribe for days.

                Edgewalker and Swift Wind skinned and butchered the carcass without a word. They kept only a few choice parts for their meal that evening, wrapping most of the meat for its trip back to the holt, and left the rest for WIllowsnitch. Once done the two elves lay together in a soft patch of grass as Willowsnitch ate.

                Edgewalker looked deep into his lovemate’s stormy blue eyes, seeing his reflected back.  He could feel himself willing recognition to strike, but of course, it didn’t work that way. Swift Wind would make a perfect chietess, Edgwalker knew. She was an excellent tracker, a superb hunter, and a strong fighter.  She could be as fierce as a she-bear, but a gentle as a summer’s night breeze.  And, most importantly, he loved her with all of his heart and soul.  It was a love she returned and there was an enduring respect they held for each other. Reveling in the night’s hunt and each other’s love, Swift Wind and Edgewalker drifted into sleep.

               

                As daylight streamed through the forest, the trio made their way home, each carrying meat on their backs.  Day was not the preferred time for Wolfriders, but Edgewalker wanted to return to the holt and see how the other hunters had done. Still, the group took their time.

                Edgewalker and Swift Wind were chatting. He was telling her about some of the wilder adventures of his youth.  The beautiful elf-woman was relaxed enough around him to laugh and smile openly. Currently, she had paused to pick a few early blooming flowers. She smiled up at him as she slipped the sweet smelling bloom into her hair.

                “What did Straightshot do then?” She asked, a giggle in her voice.

                Edgewalker came up to her, inhaling the scent of the flower. “Promptly tripped over his feet and fell into the thorn bush.” He murmured.

                She looked up into his eyes, hers glittering with suppressed laughter. Edgewalker felt his heart swell and then he knew. Anything for HER, to see her smile and hear her laugh.

                He had waited for recognition to strike, figuring that it would determine his chieftess. But recognition had yet to touch him. It nearly struck him once, with an elf-woman who meant as much to him as Swift Wind did. But, she had ran away from him and the holt and he hadn’t seen her since.

                Now he understood he had to let that go. In front of him stood the perfect chieftess, and his beloved.  He didn’t need recognition, for him and for us he hoped, love was more important.   Soul may meet soul when eyes meet eyes but Edgewalker finally understood that if was when heart meets heart that life begins.

                *Ah….Swift Wind….beloved…* he sent, looking into her eyes and gently caressing her cheek.  She looked at him, her eyes veiled, but her tongue slipping over her lips. A grin pulled at the corners of Edgewalker’s mouth as his eyes roved toward the sky.

                Edgewalker’s silted eyes flew open. Silhouetted against the golden sun was the dark shadow of a huge eagle. The wings of the bird seemed to cover the entire sky, and as Edgewalker’s heart leaped into his throat, the eagle screamed.  The sound seemed to pierce his soul, ripping something out of him that hadn’t been touch in many turns.

                He watched as the magnificent bird wheeled in the sky above him and then moved away. Edgewalker’s breath hitched in his chest.  The eagle was moving with slow purpose toward Bald Mount, and the small valley at its peak.

                Edgewalker was running before he knew what was happening. Willowsnitch and Swift Wind were all but forgotten as he wove, full speed, through the trees.

                The eagle screamed again as Edgewalker reached the base of a familiar trail. He thought he might have heard another cry mingled with that shriek. A cry from a red haired, blue eyed love.  It almost stopped him, almost halted his irrational flight.  But a shriek, that almost seemed to speak a word, a word trapped for turns in his heart, urged him upward.

                Edgewalker didn’t know why he was running, could barely understand what he was doing.  All he knew was that something was going to change. His life was never going to be the same after climbed the mountain.

                The air seemed to crackle around him. The trail seemed to blur and sway. A soft hiss echoing in his ears.

                Edgewalker’s body reacted with out his minds control. As the snake shot out at him, its fangs gleaming with droplets of poison, he flung himself backward. His foot met empty air and off balance Edgewalker plummeted.

                Edgewalker saw nothing but golden light.  He felt searing agony as his shoulder struck the slope and then even more pain as his leg snapped. Edgewalker opened his mouth to scream, but never got the chance. His head struck a rock and he spiraled into the cool darkness of unconsciousness. He didn’t feel any of the fresh pain as his body continued its fall to the valley floor.

************************

                Swift Wind watched Edgewalker suddenly take off. She looked down at Willowsnitch with a puzzled look on her face. What is he doing? She was bewildered. Willowsnitch looked back at her and whined.  Swift Wind watched as her usually graceful chief almost ran into a tree, never taking his eyes off of the eagle flying overhead.

                “What are you doing?” she yelled after him. Edgewalker had either not heard her or choose to ignore her.  Swift Wind began running after her lovemate. If he doesn’t watch where he is going he is going to run right off of a cliff!  She could barely keep him in site up a head of her.  Edgewalker was running like an elf possessed.  “Edgewalker!” Swift Wind broke out into the clearing seeing a little used trail heading up a cliff side, her chief already beginning the long climb toward the summit. The uphill climb slowed him somewhat, so that Swift Wind and Willowsnitch almost caught up with him.  Swift Wind heard the rattle tail, she opened her mouth to warn him but he was already reacting.

                Swift Wind watched in fascinating horror as Edgwalker made a spectacular leap into the air, the snake missing him by mear fingerlenths. For one moment, she felt relief until she watch him disappearing over the edge of the cliff.  A scream ripped from her throat as she lunged forward attempting to grab him, knowing the in the back of her mind, it was a fruitless gesture.  She was not close enough.  She gripped the edge of the trail as she watched him bounce and turn more times then she could count, cracks audible from her perch.  She looked away before he hit the bottom.

                Willowsnitch looked at her, the snake hanging from her jaws. Swift Wind looked back over the edge of the cliff. *Edgewalker?  Edgewalker? Answer me!!* There was no reply. Her feet were running down the strange tail before she realized they were moving.  She was at her lovemates side in moments. Please, Please, don’t be dead! I can’t lose another person I love! A brief memory flashed across her mind and was gone again before she could acknowledge it.

                She sent to him again, no answer.  NO!  Her head fell to his chest as she began to sob.  That was when she heard the quiet, ragged breathing of her lovemate.

                “You’re alive!” the joy in her heart was indescribable. She needed to get him back to the holt and Half Moons, even though she didn’t have the healing gift she was good with potions and medicines.  But how?  She could see bones sticking out in to many places, and blood was starting to pool underneath him.  I can’t move him by myself, I need help.  She took a deep breath readying herself to give the loudest mental shout she could.

                *HELP!*  was the only word she sent along with an image of Edgewalker’s broken and bleeding body laying at the foot of the cliff.

*************

                Dreamseeker was quietly sitting by the creek.  He had just been speaking with is son, Pouncer. Pouncer still didn’t speak much and Dreamseeker was no closer to understanding his son then he was when Pouncer was first born.  While father and son tended to spend time in companionable silence, Dreamseeker couldn’t help but wonder with Pouncer being almost 30 winters old, he would have come up with an adult name for himself or the tribe would have.  Dreamseeker sighed. Maybe Pouncer would just be more wolf then elf and that was good to.  Oh well.

                *HELP!* Dreamseeker’s head cocked to the side. Swift Wind?  He would know her send anywhere! But… she was out with Edgewalker. He tried to answer her but she was too far away for him to send to, not surprising since he could barely hear her.

                Runnign back to the holt, Dreamseeker inwardly cursed as he never understood why he was gifted with a long sending ear, but no sending voice to match it.  There was only one person with a voice loud enough to reach Swift Wind.  *Rainfall! Meet me at my den! It’s urgent!*

                Rainfall was waiting outside of his end when he burst into the holt clearing.  “What is it?  What is wrong?” She asked the concern evident in her voice and face.

                “Swift Wind is out with Edgewalker,” He started as Rainfall nodded. “I just got a very faint cry for help from her, and nothing else. I don’t know if she needs help, Edgewalker or both!” Dreamseeker began pacing back and forth.

                Rainfall stopped his pacing with a hand on his shoulder. “Lock send with me and I will shout and you can listen.  Don’t worry we will reach them together.” She gave him a frim push towards the ground, causing him to sit very abruptly.  She sat across from him and grabbed both of his hands.

                Dreamseeker felt Rainfall’s mental ‘hand’ reach for his, he grasped it firmly.  *Swift Wind?  Edgewalker?* they sent.

****************

                Swift Wind’s mental voice was hoarse from send the shout. I don’t know if I reached them or not!  She bit her lip thinking.  What else can I do? I don’t dare move him. I have done my best to stop the bleeding, but he needs a healer!  She felt fresh tears begin to stream down her already moist cheeks. She didn’t want to leave him to get help.  She looked up a Willowsnitch. The old wolf could run back to the holt, even if her endurance was not what it used to be at least it was something.

                “Willowsnitch, I need, Edgewalker, needs you to go back to the holt and get help.  Find Pouncer.  He will hopefully understand.”  Swift Wind wished, not for the first time, that she could wolf send.  “Willowsnitch go to the holt!”

                The old wolf gave her a long look and whined.  “I know you don’t want to leave him. But you are the best choice to run for help. I can stay and protect him and help him.  You can help him by getting Half Moons.”  Swift Wind tried her best to get her words into the wolves head. Willowsnitch blinked once, whined again and took off toward the holt at a fast trot.

                Edgewalker gave a small groan, causing Swift Wind to turn her attention back to her lovemate.  The blood had stopped, but that could be both good and bad.  Had it stopped because the bleeding had stopped or was it pooling inside of his body instead of out on the forest floor? 

                Swift Wind’s head shot up as Rainfall’s send pierced her mind.  *Rainfall?* Can you hear me?*

                *No, but Dreamseeker can, what happened?*

                *Edgewalker fell off a cliff! He is seriously hurt. I don’t dare move him, there are bones sticking out all over!*

                There was a brief silence, as the two lock sent elves conferred. *Where are you?* Rainfall’s send was a little shaky.

                Swift Wind took a deep breath. She mentally retraced their steps from the hunt in Bluevale, to the chase of Edgewalker through the forest, to where they were now. She sent the image to Dreamseeker.

                *I know right where you are.  We’ll grab Half Moons and be on our way.  Hold on.* Rainfall sent with an embrace. 

                *Hurry, he isn’t looking good.*

                The wait for the rescue party was long and lonely.  Edgewalker was a white as freshly fallen snow, and he was starting to have a difficult time breathing, it was getting ragged.  Swift Wind watched his chest rise and fall, the only part of him that was moving.  She felt so helpless.  There was nothing else she could do for Edgewalker.  What had gotten into his head that he couldn’t hardly see where he had been running?  Just before he had taken off on his headlong dash, she had felt something happening between them.  An understanding of sorts.  What had happened?

                The shadows of the trees had lengthened considerably by the time the rescue party found them.  A staggered sob escaped her throat as Dreamseeker and Half Moons rode into the small clearing at a full lope.  Their wolves skidded to a stop next to their battered chief.  Rainfall, Spear (no he was Quicklance now) and Straightshot were a pace behind them.  Half Moons jumped off of her wolf friend and knelt at Edgewalker’s side, Dreamseeker at step behind her. He squeezed Swift Wind’s shoulder in reassurance as he knelt next to the older healer.  He had begun learning the art of medicines from Half Moons.  They quickly got to work assessing the damage the fall had caused on their still unconscious chief.

                “They’ll take care of him. Everything will be all right now.” Rainfall whispered as she wrapped her arms around the tracker.  Her own tremors of concern felt as Swift Wind returned her embrace.

                Straightshot and Quicklance set about making a travois to take Edgewalker back to the holt.  Half Moons and Dreamseeker worked until dark stabilizing broken bones and rebinding wounds. The two bundled him into a fur and then the group gently moved Edgewalker on to the hide sling secured behind Half Moons wolf, trying to move him as little as possible.  The walk back to the holt was long and slow as they tried to jostle their chief as little as possible.  Each whimper of pain from him sent a stab through Swift Winds heart as she followed behind the travois.  Dreamseeker walked beside her. “You did well taking care of him” he told her. “Half Moons and I will do our best to get him well again.” She gave him a sad smile that did nothing to stop the pain she felt.

They met Willowsnitch, Jumper and a concerned Pouncer halfway back to the holt.  Willowsnitch quickly found her rider and gave his cheek a small lick. She whined when Edgwalker didn’t respond.  Pouncer laid his hand on her back in comfort as the group continued their walk back to the holt.

When the group appeared in the clearing under the holt tree is was almost dawn.  Most of the tribe was anxiously waiting to hear what had their healer and an assortment of elves bolting out of the holt at breakneck speed.  Half Moons stopped her wolf directly in front of her den and with Dreamseekers, Quicklance and Straightshots help maneuvered Edgewalker’s broken body into her den.  The rest of the tribe stood silently as they passed by. They all turned almost in unison to look at Swift Wind who was now standing alone at the edge of the clearing.

                “What happened?” Daggermark’s harsh voice was a demand more than a question.

                Rainfall came to stand beside the red haired elf.  Swift Wind closed her eyes as the images of the previous day came flooding back.  She brushed the tears from her eyes and began talking.  Swift Wind saw the reactions of the various tribe members with a detached part of herself.  When she began speaking about Edgewalker’s dash through the forest and up the cliff side, following the eagle for some unknown reason, she heard Rainfalls gasp next to her and turned to see the blue eyes filling with tears.  Straightshot had come up next to his lifemate during the telling and had grasped her hand.  His jaw was clenched and Swift Wind thought she saw a muscle twitch in his left cheek.  She noticed Fireflower in the back of the group by Half Moons den.  Fireflower she was looking in at her cousin, she jerked away from the opening; one hand covering her mouth and the other clutching her stomach, tears rolling down her cheeks. As Swift Wind continued with the tale, she noticed Daggermark’s reaction as well.  He closed his eyes and gave a brief, but subtle shake of his head.  Swift Wind paused, the rattling echoed in her head along with her agonized cry, as Edgewalker had disappeared over the edge of the cliff.

                “What then?” Daggermark asked.

                As Swift Wind’s mind replayed the image of Edgewalker’s body hitting the face of the cliff over and over and over, she began to shake.  Greenstone limped up to her side and touched her arm and pulled her over to a root. He sat down and pulled her down beside him still holding her arm.  Antler joined them and sat on the other side.

                “Take a deep breath Swift Wind. Take your time.” Antler said. The storyteller gave her an encouraging smile.

                Swift Wind to a long ragged breath and continued with the horrific story. She finished, leaving the tribe with the image of their chief’s battered and broken body at the bottom of the cliff. She watched as Lightshade turned and burred her face in LIoneye’s chest, he wrapped his arms around her buried his own face in her hair.  Slimarrow was crouched down looking at her feet, tracing random patterns in the dirt with an arrow.  Toedancer was unusually quiet.  Quicklance had come out of the Half Moons den at some point looking grim.  Pouncer was still comforting Willowsnitch as only he could.  Ripple, Rainfall and Straightshot’s young daughter was standing wide-eyed.

                “What happens if he dies?” Ripple’s voice shook as she spoke.

                Heads snapped around to look at her, eyes wide, as the whole tribe realized the implications of the question.

                Swift Wind slid off the root and to the ground as the thought took hold in her mind. He might die…. I….I… She started trembling, then shaking uncontrollably.  It is all my fault! I should have tried harder to stop him!

Chapter Text

                The days that Edgewalker was unconscious were agony for Swift Wind. She spent every waking moment at his side, pestering Half Moons and Dreamseeker for things she could do to help her lovemate. When he first awoke for a brief time days later, the relief she felt was indescribable; but she still felt guilty for not being fast enough to save him from the fall.

  The whole tribe was gathered outside of Half Moons’ den when she announced that their chief would recover from his injuries.  They would need to be patient with him as he had a long trail to travel to regain his usual vigor.  There was an audible sigh of relief from the tribe that Swift Wind heard from her post just inside the opening of the den; she listened to the voices of her tribemates discuss what was to come next. One voice rang out loud and clear…

                “Some kind of chief he is, we better watch him after this, one day he might lead us right off a cliff.” Toedancer quipped from the back of the group.

                There was a mixture of nervous and relieved laughter from his tribemates. Swift Wind jerked the fur back from the opening and locked eyes with the trickster.  He quickly looked at his feet.   Antler, sighed at his lovemate and pinched the bridge of his nose as he shook his head. “Too soon, Toedancer, too soon.”  His only reply was snicker from his left.

*********

               Edgewalker’s climb out of darkness was long and difficult.  He heard noises around him, but couldn’t seem to find the strength to open his eyes. Soon, he saw red behind his eyelids and came fully awake.

                Edgewalker’s body exploded in fiery agony. His eyes flew open and a gasp was forced from his lungs.  His fists curled weakly at his sides and pushed with little force into the furs.  A cool hand brushed his forehead and a blurred face swam into his line of vision.  The rim of a cup was placed to his lips, and his head gently forced back to allow the warm tea to trickle down his dry throat.

                “There you are my chief.” A familiar voice said.

                “Half Moons.” Edgewalker gasped as he collapsed back against the furs. The tea was beginning to seep into his bones, lessening the pain.  Yet, it remained, just on the edge of his consciousness, and he could not seem to get enough air into his lungs.

                Half Moons smiled at him and pulled another fur up to his chin.  “You’ll hurt,” she said “but you will live.”

                *Doesn’t feel like it.* Edgewalker sent, knowing he didn’t have enough breath to speak.

                “Well, next time” Half Moons said, laughter lurking in her voice, “Don’t jump off a cliff to avoid a snake bite.  They are much easier to treat.”  The smile she gave him traveled all the way to her tired green eyes.

                Edgewalker tiredly nodded and gave her a weak rueful smile.

                The elder she-elf sighed as her chief drifted off in tea induced sleep.  Edgewalker’s injuries had been very serious and only Dreamseeker had known how close they had come to losing him.  He had broken both legs, his right arm, and dislocated shoulder, had numerous ribs broken and/or cracked, a fractured skull and lots of bruising and some tears to his internal tissues.  Not to mention the blood loss.  Dreamseeker told her it was a testament to her skills as a healer that she was able to piece Edgewalker back together. There was still a chance for infection to set in and Edgewalker was not completely free of the repercussions of the fall.  He could still lose a limb or be maimed if things didn’t heal correctly.  She had done what she could with what she had but since there was no one with a healing gift still in the tribe, she feared that while he would mend, he might be plagued with pain for the rest of his life.  Any of those options would be hard for a chief to live with. Half Moons rubbed her face with her hands and pushed her straying light brown hair out of her face.  While Greenstone got along well enough with one leg shorter then the other due to breaking it in the same avalanche that took her lifemate so many turns ago, Edgewalker would struggle to remain chief if some of her worst fears came to pass.

                This brought her mind around to her missing daughter, Joyheart. She had inherited the healing gift from her grandsire and was starting to show some skill with it when she had disappeared all those years ago, though not many in the tribe knew the gift had been awakening when she left. She would have been able to heal Edgewalker completely, but she wasn’t here. It had broken Half Moons’ heart when she learned that Joyheart had disappeared.  Half Moons closed her eyes at the pain that still stung her heart.  It was the not knowing what had happened and kept her from knowing the bliss of living in the Now.

               

                Edgewalker endured the quiet teasing from his tribe for two days.  A few members of the tribe at a time were allowed to come see him.  They always had a little sparkle in their eyes and Edgewalker had heard Toedancer’s muffled voice outside the den. Swift Wind had come to see him often, many time muttering about something or another about the tribe prankster. He had wanted to talk to her about what had happened but was still trying to sort it out in his own mind.

                Edgewalker tried to laugh about his situation. He had asked Fireflower to take care of the daily matters of the tribe.  She did, but was starting to realize she didn’t like the role.  Privately, he thought she might be doing it for a while.

                Despite Half Moons assurances that the pain would fade or eventually lessen, it hadn’t. In fact it was more intense than ever, burning through the tea she kept in him.  She was now walking around with just the slightest hint of worry in her eyes.  Add to that, Edgewalker also went through moments where he was too weak to send.

                Currently, Edgewalker was feeling better than he had since awakening.  With all the bed rest he had plenty of time to think about what had happened, especially before the accident.  He felt stupid for running off like he had, more so the more he thought about it. He asked Half Moons to get Swift Wind, and his lovemate was due to show up at any time.  He still had no idea what to say or how to explain his reaction to the eagle, but they hadn’t had a chance to speak alone since he awoke.

                He didn’t get the chance to figure it all out.  Swift Wind came into the den and Edgewalker felt his heart flutter.  Even with the worry that danced across her face, she was still beautiful. He smiled up at her and extended in good hand for her to take.  She smiled and gently sat next to him.  She leaned forward and placed her other hand on his cheek.  Her blue eyes widened in shock.

                “You’re hot!” She gasped.

                Edgewalker nodded and gathered his strength to speak. Before he could catch his breath, his body seemed to catch fire and the blood in his veins turned to ice. He couldn’t feel Swift Wind’s arms supporting him or hear her screams for help.  His back arched and his fingers curled causing a fresh wave of pain in his broken body.  Blackness rushed toward him and Edgewalker’s pain finally faded.

********

                The last few days had been good. Swift Wind had visited Edgewalker often, telling him about the little things he was missing in the daily lives of his tribe. But then it all changed.  Edgewalker developed a fever and some of the wounds were starting to fester really badly.  He had drifted into a fevered sleep.  He’d been this way for 2 days.

                Swift Wind looked at her lovemate through the opening of the den.  Her heart ached to see him in such pain.  Half Moons was dozing against the wall, while Dreamseeker was bathing Edgewalker in cool water; doing his best help break the fever while the elder healer took a much need rest.  Swift Wind had never seen anyone so pale before.  Edgewalker was whiter then new snow, he alternated between shivering so hard his teeth rattled to being so hot he soaked the furs with his sweat.  She rubbed her face in frustration as she recalled the conversation she had overheard between the two healers early that morning.  Half Moons had been unsuccessful in breaking the fever and held little hope after 2 days that it would break.   The wounds were also getting worse.  Edgewalker was dying.  The healer thought he might last until the moon changed.  But Half Moons was out of options; she had tried everything she knew and had even tried some half-baked ideas, but there was no getting around the fact that Edgewalker was dying.  She had cried on Dreamseekers shoulder wondering when she should let elves know.  Ever the optimist, he told her that maybe they could try some other ideas but to not give up hope yet.  Swift Wind had felt the tears roll down her cheeks at the news. Edgewalker was one of the most treasured elves she knew, or remembered, she thought.  She had had an idea what the question was that had danced in his eyes before he had chased after the eagle and fell off the cliff.  If she was correct, she would have accepted.

                The thought of losing him, one of the few tribe members who understood and did not judge her. It was difficult; she looked at the ground at her feet. She wanted to tell him how she felt, and that she was sorry; to thank him for the time they spent together. But Edgewalker was not answering to voice or send.  So how do you thank one who doesn’t hear you? It was a question she didn’t know the answer to.

                It was her fault he was like this after all. If she had run after him soon or had run faster or had jumped harder for him when the rattletail struck….her mind wandered down the now well beaten path and replayed the event as she analyzed and tried to figure out how she could have stopped the accident.  It was an endless circle her mind had replayed countless times in vivid detail for her many times.  She thought about all the things he’d done for her.  Deep down, Swift Wind knew she would never replace his first love, Joyheart, in his heart.  She was content to be a close second….

                Joyheart! Oh of course! What better way to say thanks than to let his love be there for him when he died!  Her heart jerked at the thought. It would make her heart feel better to see his healed before he died, something she could clutch to her soul when he was gone.  Only one problem.  She knew virtually nothing about the lost she-elf. She had gone missing turns before Swift Wind had stumbled on the tribe.  But there was one elf who she might persuade to tell her what she needed to know to get into the mind of Joyheart and enable her to find the elf…Rainfall.

************

                Rainfall stared at Swift Wind an unreadable expression on her face. “You want me to share everything I have about Joyheart?”

                “Yes.” It was a statement, a plea and a demand.

                “Why?”

                “I am going to find her.”

                Rainfall raised her eyebrows. She opened and closed her mouth a few times trying to find words, then blurted “The trail is over 50 turns old. How do you expect to follow it?”

                “By knowing her and who she was.  I obviously can’t ask Edgewalker, Half Moons is more than occupied right now, Lioneyes is out on hunt, I don’t think Straighshot will talk about her…”Swift Wind watched Rainfalls head bob in agreement with each statement, “Fisher and Wild Berry are gone. You are the only one who knew her almost as intimately as Edgwalker.  Please, tell me for him!”

                Rainfall turned her back to Swift Wind.  She closed her eyes against the memories that threatened to creep out of the back of her mind. “You ask much.” She whispered. “You ask for a very intimate and painful part of myself and my past.” She wrapped her arms around her middle wishing Straightshot was there to hold her.  Since her recognition Rainfall had thought she had left that part behind her in the past.  But she hadn’t let it go as well as she thought.

                Swift Wind glanced up at the sky, feeling the time moving by and the need to get on the trail and return before that time ran out.  She sigh when Rainfall didn’t move.  “Then at least wish me a good hunt.” She said as she turned to go to her den get her supplies for her hunt.

                *But for HIM, I will* Came the plaintive send from the curly haired elf-maid.

                The memories, emotions, thoughts all hit her at once; Swift Wind staggered and braced herself as she absorbed the swirling torrent in the lock send.  When Rainfall was finished, she looked at the tracker and whispered, “Now you know. The grotto is above where Edgewalker fell. That was the last place she was seen.  Good Hunt.” And with that Rainfall disappeared into the forest.

*****************

                Swift Wind stood above the pool; the memories that were shared were still strong in her mind.  There had been so many happy times here, she hoped there would be again.  She shook her head, and closed her eyes and concentrated on everything that was Joyheart.  Willing herself into the elf-maid’s mind set. Considering what she would do if what Rainfall suspected had almost happened had been the reason for her bolting. Swift Wind opened her eyes, she could almost see the trail that Joyheart left.  She took off at a lope. 

               The nights and days blended together, the areas that she found herself wandering well away from the holt’s hunting grounds and areas that were familiar. But Swift Wind felt a pull, something telling her she was going in the right direction.  She slept only when she had to and then as little as possible.  She hunted and gathered food on the go, and made course corrections as her instincts told her to. 

              She had been out for almost eight eights of days, arching back towards the holt, she had paused to get a drink from her water bag, realizing it was almost empty.  She would need to keep an eye out for water soon.  She sigh as she started walking.  She was starting to wonder if her search was going to be fruitless.  Should she head back to the holt and hopefully make back in time to say her goodbyes to Edgewalker, or should she keep looking and not return until she found Joyheart, even if it meant never seeing Edgewalker again.  She tilted her head as she caught the faint whisper of falling water.  Swift Wind glanced up at the sky, making a decision.  She would fill her water bags and continue for a few more days, then make a beeline back to the holt to say goodbye to her beloved.

             Swift Wind followed the sound of the falling water, as she wove her way through the trees the sound got louder and louder, she could start to feel the mist coming from the unseen falls.  The cool air felt nice on her skin, she took a deep breath of the moist air and stepped part way through the bushes surrounding the falls. She stopped suddenly as she saw a figure dancing in the mist.  They were somewhat obscured by the mist and fog coming from the falls, but Swift Wind could make out the figure as it danced to some unheard song, oblivious to their sudden audience.  She watched, fascinated for a time by the graceful movements and elegant leaps.  It wasn’t until one of the leaps took the elf out of the mist for a moment that Swift Wind was able to get a good look at the mystery elf.  She stared, was it? Could it be? Yes! It was Joyheart!  Swift Wind recognized her from Rainfalls memories.  Her instincts had lead her on the right path!

             Swift Wind rose out of the bushes she had been standing in and began walking towards the Joyheart. When she had gotten within a few feet of the dancing elf, she cleared her throat to get her attention.

             Joyheart whirled and drew her knife when she realized that she wasn’t alone anymore.  “Who are you and what are you doing here?” she hissed starting to back up her golden hair still dancing in the breeze.

             “Joyheart?” Swift Wind inquired, raising her hands to show she was friendly.

              Joyheart’s reaction was surprise and shock.*Tell me how you know me and I don’t know You.* the send was angry and guarded.

             *There is only truth in sending, so know what I tell you is true.  I am Swift Wind of Edgewalker’s tribe…and I have come in search of you.* Swift Wind replied with equal fervor.

             Joyheart closed her eyes and her head dropped almost imperceptibly at the mention of Edgewalker’s name.  *Why?* She asked after a moment.

             It was Swift Wind’s turn to pause.  The two elf women locked eyes as Swift Wind whispered. “He’s dying.”

             Shock and disbelief warred in Joyheart’s eyes. But it was quickly covered, not quickly enough the tracker didn’t see it and realize what it meant.  Joyheart still cared for Edgewalker, deeply cared. Swift Wind began relating what had happened to the quiet elf.  She told her everything, “I ask you to return with me. I know…I know you’ve been gone a long time, but….”Swift Wind found herself finally at a loss for words. What more could she say to this elf woman that would get her to come back to her birth place.  Swift Wind looked directly into Joyheart’s eyes. *Please, come back and say goodbye to him. Don’t do it because I, a stranger, ask it of you.  Even if your feelings for him have changed, please do it for him.* She pleaded.

             I’ll wait until child moon had begun to fall, then I will be heading back to the holt.  If you decide to come, meet me beyond those bushes.” And with that Swift Wind left Joyheart to make her decision.

*************

             Joyheart stared after the red haired elf woman, but really didn’t see her, in fact all Joyheart could feel was deep quaking inside herself.  For him, the elf woman had said.  That meant she knew Edgewalker, knew him and from her sending, Joyheart could tell, loved him.

            She came all this way to get me, Joyheart thought. To get me and to bring back to say good-bye…if he wasn’t dead already.  Joyheart shook her head, he isn’t dead, I would know if he were. She looked at her hands, focusing on the power that pulsed with in her. I know his injuries, I know I can help him.

             Joyheart lifted her head. The elf woman was long gone, but Joyheart knew where she waited.  Yet, for some reason, she didn’t move. –Come on!- she told herself. MOVE! But, she didn’t; even though the memory of his silver eyes begged her to. You’ll give up your freedom, a tiny voice whispered within her.

            It was true. Joyheart knew if she returned with the elf woman to her tribe, her life would change.  That one night, so long ago, she had touched Edgewalker’s soul, had nearly been ensnared by recognition and she had run.  If she did what she was capable of doing, if she healed Edgewalker, recognition would capture her.  For his injuries had been festering for too long, and she would have to reach his soul to encourage him to continue living.

            Joyheart sobbed. She didn’t want this! Why had the elf woman done this to her?  For love, a gentle part of her murmured, the part of her that allowed her to knit bones and mend skin and clean infection. For love of HIM and his love for YOU.

            Joyheart sighed, for love, freedom could be sacrificed. For, if she were truly honest, Joyheart stilled loved Edgewalker.  He still came to her in her memories, even through the wolf song.  Her love for him had never faltered, and her respect of the love of a strange, red-haired elf woman came to life. 

            Joyheart smiled and walked quickly down to where the elf woman waited.  She stood as Joyheart approached.  The gold-haired healer gave her a soft smile.

           “I’ve said goodbye to one life. It is time to bring life to another.” And with that the two elf women turned towards the holt, toward home.

************

           Swift Wind looked up from where she was crouched down on the forest floor as Joyheart walked out of the bushes. She returned the gold-haired elves smile.

           “I’ve said goodbye to one life. It is time to bring life to another.” Joyheart said.

           As the two elves turned towards the holt, Swift Wind sadly smiled. “Yes, the tribe will need new life when we return.”

           Joyheart gave Swift Wind a look she could not decipher. She shrugged it off.  They started out at a fast lope, trying to make up ground while they were fresh.  They ran in silence until the sun came up. They stopped for a drink near a little creek.

           “Ummm…. You are going to think I am a little crazy, but I forgot your name.” Joyheart broke the silence with a smile for her companion.

           Swift Wind’s mouth quirked a smile. “it is Swift Wind. I did drop a lot in your lap at once and I have the advantage of Rainfalls memories.”

           Joyheart sobered. “Did she share everything?” She quietly asked.

           Swift Wind was quiet. “Yes.”

          They walked for a while in silence. Wanting to keep moving but needing to rest from running.

          “How old are you? You look like you could be close to a hundred, but you can’t be or I would have known you before I left.” Joyheart finally broke the awkward silence.

          “I am, or at least that is what feels right.” Swift Wind stated. Joyheart looked startled. “I wandered into the tribe about 20 turns after you left. I have no memories and some spotty recollections before that point. I was named Swift Wind by my adoptive mother, Slimarrow.”

          Joyheart looked startled at Slimarrow, being the adoptive mother. “No memories at all? Why you must have been 50 turns or so. At that age you should remember something.”

          Swift Wind thought back to that day when she had awoken in Half Moons den, with no recollection of who she was or how she had gotten there.  “No, nothing.” She whispered.

          They continued walking in silence.

          “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.” Joyheart said quietly.

           “It’s not you, it is me.” Swift Wind whispered. “Edgewalker is the best thing that happened to me since I awoke that day. He’s then only one who took me for who I am. He never pressured me to be anyone but who I was at that moment, he and Dreamseeker that is.”

           They started running again.

           *He means a lot to you doesn’t he?* Joyheart sent.

           *Yes, I thought the best way to tell him thank you for all he’s done for me and all that he means to me, is to let him be with the person he truly loves before he dies.  That is truly why I sought you out.*

           They didn’t talk for the rest of the run back to the holt.  They got into the holt clearing late in the afternoon, two days after Swift Wind had found Joyheart.  No one was up and about that they could see. Swift Wind turned and looked at Joyheart, who was standing in the shadow of a large tree on the edge of the clearing.

           “He should still be in Half Moons den if he is still here.” Swift Wind said.

           “He is.” Joyheart whispered.

            Swift Wind gave her a weird look. Joyheart walked into the sunlight and both women walked to the den. Swift Wind went inside, Joyheart took a deep breath and followed her inside. Half Moons looked up from where she was sitting by Edgewalker, and gasped at the sight of her daughter. Joyheart stopped at the sight of Edgewalker lying on the furs.  He was barely there.  She steeled herself for what was to come.

Chapter Text

                Edgewalker looked terrible. Swift Wind could see the sickness had spread from the original wounds into the rest of his body. His ragged breathing had turned shallow, and seemed to catch in his throat with every breath.  She felt the tears start rolling down her cheeks as Joyheart moved into the den and to Edgewalker’s side.  Swift Wind quietly moved towards the entrance, wanting to give them some privacy.  She didn’t hear Half Moons gasp of surprise and she didn’t notice the few gathering tribe members in the clearing. Her feet took her from the holt and to the one place she could be alone with her grief.

**********

                Joyheart didn’t hear her mother’s gasp, nor did she hear the nervous shifting of the young elf next to Half Moons.  All she saw, heard, smelled, and felt was the dying elf lying in front of her.  Edgewalker was on the brink of death. Joyheart didn’t need her healer’s instinct to tell her that. Neither, it appeared, did Swift Wind.  The young elf woman went very still behind Joyheart and her breath caught in her throat.

                Joyheart sat next to Edgewalker’s battered form. She leaned forward to caress a bruise on his cheek and when her hand lifted, the mark disappeared. She didn’t need to turn to see the reaction she had just elicited.  She knew her mother had known of her awakening powers, but Swift Wind did not.  Joyheart thought she heard Swift Wind’s retreating footsteps as she sank into a healing trance.

                Edgewalker’s body had been battered beyond belief. It seemed as if every bone had been broken and every part of his body burned in agony.  His blood was like poison in his veins and a raging fever made him shake with icy cold.  Joyheart knew death was coming and that it was in no way certain that she could beat it.

                As the sun sank and purple stained the sky. The Wolfriders continued to gather in the clearing, knowing that tonight their chief would die.  They came out without hope, but as the Mother Moon rose, they discovered Swift Wind had returned and with her, Joyheart and her previously unknown life-giving powers.  Hope and wonder flooded their hearts as the bright Mother Moon reached her zenith.

                Through it all, Joyheart battled.  She knit bone, mended skin, pulled muscle back together; she dissolved poison and cooled fever.  At last she stopped. Edgewalker’s body was whole once more and Joyheart trembled with the exhaustion that followed such an extended healing.

                Without looking, Joyheart accepted a cup of cool water Half Moons gave to her.  Her eyes locked upon Edgewalker. His breath was still too shallow.  He had prepared himself for death, she knew, even if his body was well.

                There was nothing else to do.

                Joyheart shook off her mother’s gentle hand and stretched out next to Edgewalker. She made sure that her skin touched his the length of their bodies.  With that she plunged into Edgewalker, seeking the part of him that could save his life…his soul.

                Joyheart tumbled through darkness.  It closed in upon her, wrapping around her mind and choking her throat. She struggled against it, struggled to keep from falling.  Then a memory came to her, a memory of an agonizing night in a secluded grotto.

                *I can’t let you stop me,* her mind screamed into the darkness *No matter how you feel!*

                Abruptly, Joyheart was thrown into a fiery, red agony.  It engulfed her and tore at her. She dimly felt her body convulse in that outside world, while inside she screamed.  The pain seemed to go on and on, racing up her body in waves.

                *TALN, PLEASE!* her mind screamed.

                The red haze vanished. She floated in golden waves. They softly swirled about her caressing the pain away. A small silver star floated just a ways from her. Softly twinkling.

                *Taln,* she sent. She was suddenly not afraid to reach for and accept the word sound she had run from for so long.

                *Taln, please come back. The Wolfriders need you…I need you.*

                *Daas,* his answer was weak but swept through her and washed every last bit of pain and fear away.

                Joyheart’s eyes flew open and locked upon the silver eyes of her love.  He blinked at her, his expression unreadable.

                *Rest, Taln.* she sent and watched as his eyes slid shut, falling into a restful slumber.

                Joyheart stood. She felt a little wobbly but knew she could walk. She turned and looked into Half Moons’ eyes. She gave her mother a small smile as she reached out and squeezed her hand.  Half Moons returned the smile and quietly watched as her daughter moved out of the den.

                As the hide covering the door fell behind Joyheart, every member of the tribe looked at her.  No one spoke, Joyheart walked to the edge of the small clearing and looked up at the brightening sky.  Recognition would not be easy on Edgewalker and herself. Their lives had continued after her departure.  Edgewalker had found a love as deep as the one she and he had once shared. Now, she had returned and forced the completion of the recognition that had begun so long ago.  She wouldn’t blame him, or Swift Wind, if they resented her.

                But Joyheart did have to admit for the first time since she had left, she felt truly free.  For so many turns she had searched for freedom and never actually found it.  Now she found it where she had begun, she hadn’t realized that something had been pulling her back here, and come what may, Joyheart realized that she was finally, truly, free.

                She looked into the sky and smiled.

***************

                Half Moons ached to hold her daughter, but as she watched her come out of one healing trance, curl up next to Edgewalker, and fall into an even deeper trance; the herbal healer had a responsibility to the tribe.  With a reluctant sigh, she rose and walked out of Edgewalker’s den to face the entirety of the tribe. The Wolfriders were waiting outside, something telling them that there was a change in the air.  She had told them 8 days ago, that Edgewalker was dying.  They had all been on edge ever since, wondering if today would be the day they would lose their chief and choose a new one.  She looked into their faces, saw tears brimming in eyes, as she took a deep breath.  How to tell them that their chief’s body was healed but his soul was still determined to die.

                “Is he gone?” Daggermark asked, breaking the silence.

                Half Moons shook her head, her eyes scanning the gathered elves, looking for one face in particular, Greenstones. He caught her eye and gave her a sad, encouraging smile. They had spent many long nights talking while she was tending Edgewalker, while Dreamseeker rested. She came back to Daggermarks dark eyes. “Soon.” And with that she went back into the den.

                The elder elf woman watched her daughter for some time, at first not noticing the subtle change in the air around the healer and chief. When she did she took a long mental look at the pair…Is that what it feels like? There was no mistaking it, Half Moons’ eyes widened, Joyheart had sought Edgewalker’s soul and in healing it, had found so much more.

                *EDGEWALKER LIVES!*

***********************************

                Swift Wind had cried herself to sleep, it was a deep sleep, that of the physically and emotionally exhausted.  She had slept little during Edgewalker’s illness and even less on her search for Joyheart. The guilt ate at her soul as she dreamed.

 

                She was running up a trail; Edgewalker just in front of her. “Stop! There is a rattletail up ahead!”

                “Don’t be silly Swift Wind, it’s too cold for them to be out.” He laughed.

                “No!  There is! Believe me! Please!” She pleaded after his laughing form.  “Please stop!”  She cried reaching out her fingers brushing the back of his vest. She could hear the rattling up ahead. “Edgewalker, please stop!”

                “Rattler!” he yelled as he jumped, the snake just missing him.  He landed on one foot just behind the snakes head; his knife coming down behind his foot severing the head from the body of the reptile.  “See nothing to be alarmed about.” He said with a laugh pulling her into an embrace, nuzzling her neck.

                She leaned into him relief, causing her to go limp in his arms.  “You’re all right!” She sobbed, tears streaming down her cheeks.

                “It was nothing!” he said releasing her and throwing his arms out wide, taking a step backwards.  His eyes locked with hers as he leaned back, falling spread eagled off the edge of the cliff.

                “EDGEWALKER!” His named was ripped from her throat as she lunged for him as he disappeared from sight.  She slid across the trail to look down the cliff face to see him grabbing a root sticking out of just below her.

                “Swift Wind, help me!” He cried up to her. The forest below him burst into flames as she watched.  The flames danced higher and higher and his feet danced away from them as they licked at his boots.

                She lunged for his hand. “Grab my hand! Hurry! The flames are getting higher!” Edgewalker let go of the root with one hand and reached for her.  They were just out of reach.  He lunged for her hand, their fingertips just brushing each other as they missed.  His silver eyes never left her blue as he fell into the flames.  A scream was torn from her in despair as she found herself at the base of the cliff cradling his broken, bloody body in her arms.

                “You didn’t help me,” he gasped, blood sliding from his mouth.  “You could have saved me!”

                An open send pierced her dream, but she was too lost in the nightmare to hear it. 

 

                When Swift Wind awoke and looked around her little get away; it was well past dawn.  She wondered how long she had been asleep, as she brushed dried tears from her cheeks.  She climbed down from the cave and began to slowly walk back to the holt.  She couldn’t help but wonder what the tribe would be like with him gone.  Edgewalker’s death was not the first the tribe had experience since she had arrived, but it had the biggest impact on her.  What would she do? Was there anything to keep her here? As she walked into the holt clearing, she noticed a small group of elves heading toward the creek laughing;  she closed her eyes momentarily, cursing the wolf thought and the Wolfriders ability to live in the Now. They had forgotten him already!

                She walked towards Edgewalker’s den, intent on collecting her things, and, she wasn’t sure what, but knew she didn’t want to be in her lovemates den without him.  She was brought up short at the entry when she registered who was in the den.  Edgewalker lay sleeping peacefully on their furs, no wounds or bruising to be seen.  His color was much closer to a health pallor then the deathly one he had the last time she saw him.  Swift Wind’s mind tried wrapping itself around what her eyes were seeing. –He’s alive! - She watched the even rise and fall of his chest, counting them, her smile getting wider the higher the numbers went.  Her eyes traveled up and down his sleeping form, finally coming to rest on the lump curled next to her lovemate, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted.  Joyheart’s breathing was that of an elf in a deep slumber. 

                Swift Wind was at a loss. She backed quickly out of the den only to bump into Ripple.

                “Isn’t it wonderful?” Ripple said startling Swift Wind. “Joyheart is a healer! And she saved Edgewalker!”

                Swift Wind was shocked. Joyheart had the healing gift? That means she would have gone into a deep trance to heal Edgewalker, and she knew from Rainfall’s memories that Rainfall and Wild Berry had speculated that the reason for Joyheart’s flight was a near recognition.  Though they had never voiced this to anyone else.  Swift Wind felt like she had jumped into a cold pool.  If they had been so close, what would have happened in the healing trance? 

                “Are you going to go in and see him?” Ripple asked the excitement evident in her brown eyes.

                “No.” Swift Wind turned and climbed up to her little used den.  She stood in the center, doing nothing, thinking nothing, still numb from the idea, no fact, of Edgewalker’s and Joyheart’s recognition.  She was sure of it.  Her mind suddenly made up, she began gathering her things, preparing to leave.  She knew the two would be happy together, and sure there was no room for her. It didn’t take long to pack what little she had accumulated in 50 turns.  She bundled it up in a fur and without looking back left the den.

 

                Just beyond the edge of the holt clearing, Swift Wind ran into the last person she was expecting to see….Fireflower.  The weaver was standing in the middle of the path Swift Wind was walking on, her arms crossed across her chest, her weight on one leg, and her face was a mixture of compassion, understanding, anger and just a hint of gloating.

                “You can’t go.” Fireflower stated as she stopped Swift Wind from going by her by grabbing the trackers arm.

                Swift Wind glanced down to where Fireflower’s hand was gripping her upper arm, looked at the weaver and raised an eyebrow.

                “Joyheart hasn’t challenged your position, for all you know she might not even stay.  Are you going to show throat to her?” Fireflower declared.

                Swift Wind jerked her arm out of Fireflower’s grasp and continued walking, not acknowledging the question.

                “Are you too much of a coward to even say good-bye?” The weaver yelled at her retreating back, the venom in her voice more than evident.  “He deserves that much!”

                Swift Wind froze, back straight. Coward?  Afraid to say good-bye?  How could she say that? Edgewalker meant everything to her!  Swift Wind angrily whirled to reply to Fireflower, but she was already gone. 

                A little corner of her mind agreed with the weaver, she was right. It was cowardly to just disappear.  Swift Wind’s bundle fell limply off her shoulder.  She sank down to a crouch, her buttock resting on her heels, her hands covering her face.  How could Fireflower understand? Really understand?  Edgewalker’s long lost love had returned, healed him, saved him when Swift Wind could not, and then the pair had recognized.  A very different situation then when Edgewalker had left the Fireflower’s furs for Swift Winds.  A situation with no room for her, of that she was certain.

                But could she leave without thanking him for all he had done for her?  Swift Wind closed her eyes as all the memories of him swirled in her mind.  Most of them had him in them somewhere.  She had nothing else. From the stormy night so long ago when Edgewalker had comforted her when she had been frightened by an unknown memory or all the times he had let her be alone, struggling with her missing past, or his support when she asked for his help in looking for those missing memories.  And the comfort offered when she didn’t find what she was looking for.  The tender times spent in each other’s arms, relishing in just feeling skin against skin, and the times spent laughing, and hunting and just being with each other.  She couldn’t just leave, not without telling him, but yet she didn’t want to face him. Would he feel the same? Did it mean the same to him?

                Swift Wind looked out into the darkening forest, away from the holt.  Can I leave the only home I can remember?

Chapter Text

                “Swift Wind, Edgewalker is asking for you.” Half Moons came up behind the tracker as Swift Wind entered the holt clearing.

                “Tell him you couldn’t find me.” Swift Wind whispered quietly as she walked towards her den.  As she climbed up into it, she let her small bundle fall to the floor. She looked around her den realizing that she really didn’t have anything there.  Packing what little she did have into the fur had left it empty and echoing.  She had stayed out in the woods most of the day, after Fireflower had cornered her on the trail leading away from the holt.  She had realized that she could not leave without saying goodbye, but to do that she would have to see him. And she was still unsure about facing him.  So her logic told her to not see him and then she would not have to deal with the emotions, and any of the consequences that came with them. At least for a time.  Hopefully by the time she couldn’t avoid seeing Edgewalker any longer, she would have figured out what she was going to do.

                Almost every tribe member had tried to corner Swift Wind in the next moon as she spent most of her time out hunting, telling her that Edgewalker was asking for her.  She never went to her chief summons.

*****************

                Edgewalker shifted and propped himself up as Half Moons handed him a full cup of broth.  He took a sip and let his head fall back onto the raised furs.  Who would have thought that having all of his injuries healed would still leave him as weak as a newborn cub almost a moon after the healing?

                *Thanks, Half Mons.* he sent as the older elf-woman slipped out of his den.

Edgewalker swallowed some more broth and turned his attention to the elf-woman sitting across from him.

“Where’s Swift Wind?” he whispered.

Rainfall evaded her chief’s eyes.  It was a question Edgewalker asked often.  Out of all the tribe members, only Swift Wind had not come to see her chief since he had awaken from Joyheart’s healing. She was also the only one he asked for.  The answer was always the same.

“Around” Rainfall answered.  Edgewalker looked at her, his eyes heavy.

Rainfall sighed.  Half Moons had told her and Lightshade that Edgewalker’s healing process had stalled over the past couple days.  The herbal healer felt that he wouldn’t completely recover until he answered his recognition with Joyheart.

Rainfall believed her. Edgewalker was listless and weak. He was also irritable.  Joyheart wasn’t doing well either.  The once high-spirited, golden elf-woman was quiet and distant. Her face was now drawn and her eyes were getting hollow.  Even her sun-spun hair hung limp and gray about her shoulders.

They’re getting sick; Rainfall realized. He, who had sacrificed so much for her memory, now refuses to take what his heart has always desired. And she, who ran to find freedom, can’t capture it in the one who had shown it to her.

Rainfall shook her head and leaned forward to grasp her chief’s hand. She gently squeezed it, then moved out of the den.

She held the fur back as Joyheart slipped in. She watched as the healer took her customary spot across from Edgewalker.  He turned his face away, his eyes closing against an unbearable need …. And guilt.  Joyheart’s head dropped into her hands and her shoulder’s bobbed in a silent sob.

Tears filling her eyes, Rainfall let the furs fall. Someone had to stop this.

********************

Swift Wind was heading for her den, having just returned from another hunt.  She would just restock her supplies and head back out again. But she came to an abrupt stop as she spotted Rainfall waiting for her at the entrance to her den.

“Swift Wind can we talk?” Rainfall asked.

“I’m going back out on a hunt.”

“I’ll make it short.” Rainfall said as she followed Swift Wind into her den.  “Edgewalker and Joyheart haven’t answered the call yet.”

Swift Wind begun looking for her stash of feathers for fletching her arrows.  She paused as she turned to look at the brown haired elf. “It is their decision, not mine.”  She turned back to looking for the feathers.

Rainfall grimaced and sighed. “He feels guilty. You haven’t gone and seen him since you returned from your search for Joyheart.” She stated.  Swift Winds back straightened but she didn’t turn. “You need to go and see him.  It is not your fault he fell. The recognition was something meant to happen for a very long time.  It doesn’t mean he loves you any less.” The last was whispered as Rainfall placed her hand on the trackers shoulder.  Swift Wind turned to look at her, tears gathering in her eyes.  Rainfall could see the different emotions warring in the red haired elf’s face. 

They stared at each other for a time. “He’s always asking for you, you and no one else.  Not even Joyheart.” Rainfall’s voice remained at a whisper.

“I know” Swift Wind’s voice was barely audible. 

Rainfall watched as the tracker pulled all those emotions deep into herself, took a deep breath, stood up straighter as she exhaled; reached down and grabbed her gear and left Rainfall standing the in the middle of the den.

 

Swift Wind walked with purpose across the holt clearing and into the woods. She didn't stop until she was in a small patch of sunlight that was falling through the canopy overhead.  The sun felt good on her body, its warmth caressing her skin, seeping into places that had chilled while in her den.  But there were parts that the sunlight were unable to warm.

                Swift Wind wasn’t happy. She didn’t to bother him and his recognized. But she hadn’t known they hadn’t answered the call yet. Why did Rainfall have to put this on her? Because she knows, like you know, that you can change it.  You can help him know. A small voice whispered the answer in her mind.  Swift Wind stood in the sunbeam for some time, thinking. When she had made her decision, she turned and walked back to the holt.

                Swift Wind stopped by her den to leave her gear there, thankful Rainfall had left. She really didn’t want to talk to her about her decision. She carefully put her things in their place, realizing she was putting off what she had to do.  With a deep sigh, she walked out of her den and climbed down towards Edgewalkers.

********************

                Edgewalker lay on is back looking at the designs created by the living tree above him.  His den’s ceiling had been creating it’s masterpiece for centuries. It had grown and swirled through the birth and deaths of so many elves.

                Edgewalker winced and closed his eyes as a sharp pain cut through him. His body and seemed to stop healing.  He’d been healing well, but for some reason the progress had halted. It was now as if he was simply waiting.

                Waiting for Swift Wind.

                Waiting for Joyheart.

                He’d asked for Swift Wind the moment he had awoken.  She hadn’t come. He’d asked Half Moons to get her. Still, she hadn’t come. He had asked others, but they were now avoiding the subject.  Edgewalker closed his eyes as the tears came.  He turned his head to the side and let the tears flow.  He needed her.  He’d do anything for her, anything to make her feel whole. Even if you don’t, a small part of him whispered.

                Edgewalker’s eyes popped open. His heart jolted, and his stomach muscles tightened. Edgewalker felt his throat work to swallow, but he couldn’t.

                His eyes drifted across his den, there lying on a small, fur coved ledge was a curled figure.  Her eyes were closed, but her brow was slightly furrowed. Her head pillowed on her arm and her golden hair tumbled about her.

                Daas, Dass, Daas. The name flitted in his mind.

                He felt his jaw clench. She, too, he would do anything for. He heart cried for her, and his soul ached for her.  Now, she was within his reach and the High Ones had given him what had always been meant for them. Yet, he couldn’t, not yet, not until he spoke with Swift Wind.    

                He loved them both. Mind, body, soul and heart, he lived for them. Recognition could enhance one bond, but could also empower the other. They were a web and Edgewalker didn’t ever want to sever the two strands closest to him, the two strands supporting and nourishing his.

                A soft sound drew his attention away from his slumbering recongnized.  A silhouette stood in front of his fur doorway, a darker figure against the darkness.  Edgewalker’s heart stopped this time. He’d know that figure anywhere.  A soft sigh escaped his lips, as his mouth pulled into a soft smile.

                Swift Wind moved into the den, and Edgewalker felt his soul quiver. His love was achingly beautiful. Her storm-blue eyes seemed to flash with an inner lightening, and her red hair curled around her head in soft tendrils where is escaped the head band she wore. Her face was impassive, but Edgewalker could feel the emotion burning just below the surface.

                Edgewalker brought himself up on his elbows. He met her eyes.

                *Swift Wind…* he sent

                “You haven’t answered it yet.” She stated.

                *I couldn’t. You….* he started.

                “Are leaving. Right after this.” She looked away.

                Edgewalker felt his world shatter. *NO!* He sent so violently that Swift Wind took a step back, looking back at him.

                “Please!” Edgewalker gasped, barely managing the words.  He switched to sending, knowing she would feel the truth in his words.  *Please, don’t do this to me again!  I nearly died when she left. I couldn’t live if you did as well.*

                Swift Wind took another step back.

                *Recognition doesn’t make love vanish. Love is like the flame in a tallow lamp, you light another lamp and it only increases the light and heat. Light another and it happens again.* He locked eyes with her.

                Swift Wind didn’t move. Her eyes shifted and glimmered in the soft light of his tallow lamp.

                *Please* Edgewalker sent again.  He opened his mind and heart to her, letting her see how he felt, how she was such a part of his life, a part that had infiltrated every aspect of it. He let her have it all, holding back only his soul name.

                *Recognition isn’t an ending…* he began.

                *….It’s a beginning.* Swift Wind finished.

                With a quiet sob she flung herself forward and into his arms, tears falling down her cheeks. As her arms encircled Edgewalker, he clung to her, his own arms wrapped around her, feeling his own tears falling down cheeks.   She opened her own mind up to him letting him see all that he meant to her, holding nothing back but her soul name.  There they stayed curled in each other’s arms for an indeterminate amount of time, until they pulled away and stared at each other’s eyes.  Her fingers caressed his chin and a faint smile touched her lips.  But her face sobered, “Joyheart…”

                “Is eager to get to know, the elf who was able to heal my loves heart, when I broke it.” A quiet voice spoke behind them.  They turned to see Joyheart sitting up on her ledge, a quiet smile on her face.  She gingerly stood and walked over to the two and embraced them both.

                They all pulled back after a time, Swift Wind smiled at Joyheart and Edgewalker as she caressed both their cheeks, stood and slipped out of the den.

                *Three tallow lamps have been lit, my sweet Taln.* Joyheart whispered into his mind.

                *Let’s add the warmth of a fourth.* Edgewalker finished *Daas.*

                As the two of them came together, their arms twining around one another, their minds echoed with a shared thought.

                *For her, for him, for us.*

Chapter Text

                Edgewalker bolted upright as the send seared into his mind. His eyes narrowed as he focused in upon the send’s owner.

                *Pouncer?* the chief asked, surprised that the young elf had even tried to contact him. Often, Pouncer spent more time with and understood the wolves better than the elves.  It was vastly different from Edgewalker, who had always had a difficult time understanding wolves. He had a deep bonds with his own wolf friends, but because of his father’s blood, could never communicate with them like the other wolfriders.

                *What is it?* the chief asked, shaking himself from his thoughts.

                He felt a spurt of sadness and then, *Willowsnitch.*

                Edgewalker’s heart dropped. His wolf friend was getting old.

                *Is she…* he began, but Pouncer interrupted him with a negative sensation and a barrage of images, the only one of which Edgewalker could understand was of the wolf dens.

                *Alright. I understand. I’m coming.*

                Edgewalker slipped out of the furs and put on his leathers. He picked up his dagger and moved toward the door, but stopped and looked over his shoulder at the furs.

                Joyheart lay awake, her soft green eyes clouded with concern. She could feel the tension within him through the bond of recognition. Peeking over the top of Joyheart’s domed belly, where Edgewalker’s son grew, Swift Wind’s dark eyes were full of curiosity.  Edgewalker smiled at the two, his life and his loves.

                “Willowsnitch.” He said simply.

                Joyheart’s lips drew into a thin line, and Swift Wind’s eyes filled with tears.  They both knew his wolf friend’s time was limited.             Joyheart nodded and reached down to run a hand across her belly, Her other hand smoothed an unruly lock of Swift Wind’s hair.

                “We’ll be fine.” She said softly.

                Edgewalker nodded and moved to the fur covered doorway. At the last moment, he stopped and looked back.  The two elf-women were quietly looking at each other, the pain in their hearts evident. Deep inside, Edgewalker smiled, and then slipped out the door.

*********

                It was a cool spring dawn and Edgewalker’s breath hung in the air before him.  He slipped silently through the trees, making for the wolf dens. His feet hardly stirred the morning dew, but he knew he had a shadow. High above him, the chief knew, Pouncer shadowed his track.  The young wolfrider grieved for every wolf’s death, even those who were not his or were not bonded to an elf. Edgewalker didn’t begrudge Pounder this, for the chief understood that the wolves were as much Pouncer’s tribe as the wolfriders were, if not more.

                Yet, when Edgewalker entered Willowsnitch’s den and her teeth snapped inches from his face, he found himself envying the young elf.

                “Willowsnitch” he whispered and heard the old wolf whine. “It’s me, girl.”

                Edgewalker wtched as Willowsnitch puller herself to her two front feet and crawled toward him, dragging her hind legs. Edgewalker’s breath caught in his throat, and with tears in his eyes, quickly climbed into the den. He gently took her head in his hands and guided it into his lap.

                He didn’t know how long he sat there, holding her, whispering and sending. Her eyes were closed and her breathing calm, but Edgewalker could get no feelings, no wolf sends from her.  Edgewalker sat caressing her, as the tears fell.

                *She’s not in pain.* a send slipped into his mind.

                Edgewalker looked up into Pouncer’s eyes.

                “What?” he asked.

                *You’re here. She has no pain.*

                Edgewalker stared, and glanced back at Willowsnitch.

                “You can feel her?”

                *Yes.*

                “Can you help me feel her?” Edgewalker barely whispered, as he stared into Willowsnitch’s now open eyes.

                Pouncer cocked his head to the side, an intense expression on his face. *Yes.*

                Pouncer reached out one hand and his fingertips brushed against Edgewalker’s temple. His other fingers rested against Willowsntich’s head.  His eyes drifted shut and Edgewalker and Willowsnitch followed suit.

                Edgewalker was plunged into images of racing through trees, the stars shining overhead. He howled under the moon and he thrilled with the chase.  He felt warm meat in his stomach and soft grass under his paws.  He licked wolf cubs clean and endured their nips as they played with his ears. But, most of all, Edgewalker saw himself and felt whole when he was with himself.  He remembered wrestling matches, and nights lying together under the moons. Edgewalker experienced images of life and love until it faded into darkness, all while looking into his own silver eyes, and at the last, gently whispering “Taln.”

                Edgewalker lifted his face, never opening his eyes, tears streaming down his cheeks. He never even stirred as Pouncer left the small den.  He simply raised his voice in a song of loss.

*******************

                As winter gripped the forest, Edgewalker moved toward the wolf dens for the first time since that spring. A call gripped him, compelling him to come. When he reached the dens, he stopped with a jerk. Sitting on a boulder, in front of a den, was a small wolf cub. His head was tilted back and a small howl came from his throat.  When the cub saw Edgewalker, it bounced off the rock and into his open arms.  As the cub licked his chin, Edgewalker laughed and held it out in front of him, looking into the cubs eyes.

                “Winterhowl”

                The cub squirmed in delight, yipping and then giving a long, high pitched howl.  With that Edgewalker set him down and as he bound away, the wolfrider chief smiled.  He turned and headed back toward the holt, toward his son, his lifemate and his lovemate. Life was full.

Chapter Text

                Toedancer was searching for some fun. It couldn’t be just any kind of fun. No he was feeling the need to prank someone…it couldn’t be just anyone though, he was in a rare mood, and he wanted just the right person for the right kind of fun.  But as he looked around the holt clearing nothing was inspiring his sense of mischief.  With a frustrated sigh he wandered back into the den he shared with Antler.

                “I see that mischievous glint in your eyes.” Antler stated as Toedancer walked in.  “What are you up to?”

                “Oh…about here…” Toedancer replied gesturing with his hand at the top of his head.

                Antler smirked. “You know what I mean. What kind of trouble are you going to get yourself into this time?”

                “I haven’t decided yet. I’m in a really good mood and I need to get the perfect person.” Toedancer groaned as he flopped dramatically onto their shared furs.

                “What do you plan on doing?”  Antler got up from the corner where he had been checking his stash of dreamberries and stretched out next to his lovemate.

                “It depends on the elf.”   Toedancer sighed.

                They both laid in silence for a time.

                “I know!” Toedancer shot upright, nearly causing Antler to yelp in surprise.  “I could go down to the creek and pull ALL of Fireflower’s baskets out and let them dry into really weird shapes!”

                Antler let out the breath he had been holding, “How about moving them instead?  Then she would have to look all up and down the creek to find them. That would be really funny.”

                “No. That will not be enough! I really want to do something good!” Toedancer jumped up and started pacing, his eyes narrowing as he started thinking hard.

                Antler sighed.  He enjoyed a good prank but he didn’t like it when the pranks were destructive or hurt someone.  He watched his pacing lovemate; Toedancer had a tendency to go to extremes when he pranked people, especially when he was ‘in the mood.’ It worried Antler.  His lovemate was really fun, but he had a tendency to get a little mean sometimes.

                Toedancer stopped his pacing and looked at Antler. “Come on!”  He pleaded. “I need a really good idea! Antler help me out here!”

                Antler meet his eyes and sighed, “I did. You could get Fireflowers baskets and move them.  You know she will be madder than a bear in the spring.              

                Toedancer gave his lovemate a half grin. “I guess I could do that.  It will be a start….”

                Antler stood up with a grin and grabbed Toedancer’s hand pulling him out of their den. “Come on. I know just the place we can hide them, she’ll be looking most of the night I promise.”

                They snuck down to the creek and moved Fireflower’s baskets a good click up the creek and stacked them on top of an old beaver den in the middle of a wide pond in the creek.  She would have to swim out to get them.  She hated getting wet.  They managed to wander back to the holt just as the sun was going down, and the tribe was stirring from their rest.  At the edge of the clearing, Toedancer spotted his next victim.  Joyheart.  She was always good to hit with a few verbal jabs.  She hadn’t noticed the storyteller and trickster entering the clearing as she had stopped her son, Sticker, on his way out of their den, she was pointing at his pants that had a rather large hole that had been growing steadily larger over the last few nights.

                “Hey Wanderer!” Toedancer yelled, half noticing Swift Wind entering the clearing from the opposite direction he had, better hurry, he thought. Swift Wind always seemed to put a damper on his fun.  He still hadn’t forgiven her for humiliating him when they had been younger. He cocked a partial smile at Joyheart, “Ya gonna be here tomorrow?”

                His jab was met with a glare and a long suffering sigh. Chuckling to himself, Toedancer turned into Swift Wind’s full on glare of her own, that was quickly morphing into ‘the look’ that meant to back off.  It usually worked, but Toedancer was in a rare, roguish mood tonight. He turned away from her, pretending to be cowed; he caught Antler’s eye with a fiendish glint in his own. 

Antler’s head cocked to the side and his eyes widened as he realized what was going to happen.  There was no way this was going to have a positive outcome. Swift Wind did not look to be in the mood to deal with his lovemate…

“No!” was all Antler got out as Toedancer whirled turning to lock eyes with the red haired tracker, the one person in the tribe who had lashed out at him when he was having fun.  It was time to stop letting her be in control!  No More!  Everyone was fair game for him. EVERYONE.  He was not going to back down this time.  He would not show throat. 

                But as Toedancer locked eyes with Swift Winds narrowing ones, instead of feeling triumphant over his victory; he felt something else.  Something completely unexpected. First it was a wave of…well…he wasn’t really sure what it was. Almost a knowing, but an unknowing. A name came so quietly and softly to the front of his mind he almost missed it. Ryn. Was that what he thought it was?  Recognition with Swift Wind? No. No. No. His eyes widened and he opened and shut his mouth a few times as words tried to come out but his brain was still processing, he barely realized Swift Wind had broken eye contact and ran out of the clearing.

**************************

                Swift Wind had been out looking for game for the hunt Edgewalker was planning on having that night. She entered the clearing at the same time Toedancer and Antler had.  She growled as he called out his taunt to Joyheart, she caught his eye and gave him ‘the look’ to back off. He had turned to face his co-conspirator, Antler, as if to say something, but instead Toedancer had whirled back to challenge her and the unexpected happened.  Her mind was filled with a rush of emotions and memories, but they weren’t hers. Whal. The name formed in her mind. Recognition with Toedancer? NO. This can’t be happening. She could feel the panic setting in.  The need to be anywhere but here caused her to run before she even realized what her feet were doing.  Before she knew it she was up in her secret cave.  She was shaking, and she hadn’t noticed the tears falling down her cheeks until they dripped on to her knees that she had pulled to her chest.  The turmoil of her mind was unsettling.  Why? She didn’t want to be Toedancer’s recognized and she defiantly didn’t want to have a cub with him! How could she have a cub when she couldn’t remember what it had been like to be one herself? She had no idea how to be a mother! The tears continued to fall as she curled tighter into a ball.

************

                Antler watched Toedancer’s face turn from triumphant mischief to one of disbelief and then after a moment of blankness, anger.

                “Toedancer?”  Antler placed his hand on his friend’s arm causing Toedancer to flinch.

                Toedancer turned to look at his lovemate, “It can’t be.” He whispered. “No way will she allow it.”

                Antler’s brow furrowed “What do you mean?” 

                “Swift Wind and I just recognized.”

**********

                Dreamseeker gave Pouncer a poultice for one of the wolves and followed him out of his den. “Rub it on her paws as often as she will let you and it will help heal the toe.” He told his son.  Pouncer patted his father’s shoulder and grunted an acknowledgement. “If the swelling doesn’t go down or the spot where the claw was gets red, then I have something stronger.” Dreamseeker finished.

                Both elves looked up as they heard Toedancer’s taunt float up from the holt clearing.  “What is he up to now?” Dreamseeker muttered under his breath. Pouncer just smiled and squatted down to watch the action.

                As they watched the scene unfold, noticing the change between the trickster and tracker.  Dreamseeker followed Swift Wind’s flight into the forest, trying to puzzle out what had happened. He was so deep in thought he missed the exchange between Antler and Toedancer.

                Pouncer’s grunt of amusement pulled Dreamseeker back to the clearing.

                “What?” Dreamseeker inquired of his son.

                “Recognition” was all Pouncer said as he climbed down to the ground.

                “Recognition? Pouncer, wait! What did you hear?

                But Pouncer was well on his way to the wolf dens by the time Dreamseeker’s feet hit the grass.   Dreamseeker stared after the brown haired elf with some annoyance.  There was no need to chase after him, he wasn’t in the mood to talk.  Dreamseeker noticed Joyheart and approached her.

                “Did they just recognize?” he asked the healer.

                Joyheart was staring in the direction of Swift Wind’s flight. She sighed as she turned towards the herbal healer. “I think so; though neither is very happy.  And I thought my recognition was a mess.”  She turned to watch the grey haired elf sink into a crouch at the news. She knelt beside him, and placed her arm over his shoulder. “We just need to support her through this.” Joyheart whispered as she pulled him into a hug. “Just be there for her, just like you always are.”

***************

                Toedancer watched Antler leave their den.  He had asked his lovemate to leave him alone to sort out what had happened.  He rubbed his hands over his face.  This was the worst thing that could have happened to him.  Or the worst female he could have recognized.  He could feel her off in the distance, alternating between, anger, despair, panic and helplessness.  How was this going to work? There was no way they would be lifemates.  But you didn’t have to lifemate if you recognized. Look at Dreamseeker and Slimarrow.  They did the deed and bam: Pouncer.  This brought a wave of anxiety at the thought that he would be a father. What would he have to teach a cub?  As he thought on it he really wasn’t that excited about the prospect of being a father. Toedancer groaned as he flopped back onto the furs. Puckernuts. What was recognition thinking? He rolled onto his stomach as his mind reached out to the one in turmoil out in the forest somewhere.

                *Ryn?*

                *DO NOT use that name Toedancer!* the venom in her send was enough to make him wince.

                *Swift Wind…* he tried again. *We can’t ignore this as much as we both would like to.*

                She didn’t reply. But Toedancer could feel the turmoil in her mind.

                After a time, a send came quietly to him, *Does my name tell you anything about my past Toedancer? Did it tell you who I am?*

He could feel a small glimmer of hope in the send.  Toedancer examined the name and all that came with it.  There was nothing he didn’t already know. *No.* was all he could tell her.

****************

                The sob that escaped Swift Wind’s throat was raw and ragged. She could feel Toedancer’s sorrow at his reply.  She shut out his sendings.   The debate she had argued with herself earlier came back in force.  The emotions that those thoughts brought to her heart were intense and insistence. Swift Wind had thought she had come to terms with not knowing her past and had stopped her intense searching many turns ago.  She closed her eyes and sank deep into herself as she attempted to once again search for her elusive past.

***************

                Dreamseeker was getting worried. No one had seen Swift Wind in days.  She hadn’t been back to the holt since recognizing Toedancer.  He hadn’t seen much of the tribe trickster either.  He must be holed up in Antler and his den.  Dreamseeker was not the only one getting concerned about the recognition. Edgewalker and Joyheart were both getting concerned as well.  Dreamseeker had kept an ‘ear’ out for Swift Wind and he could hear her mental turmoil quite clearly. 

                Dreamseeker sighed.  He did not want to interfere, it wasn’t his business. But he cared too much for the foundling she-elf to just do nothing.  The thought solidified the decision in his mind, he stood up from the rock he had been perched on and made his way towards Edgewalker and Joyheart’s den.  As he got to the entrance he paused, second guessing his decision, but quickly set his mouth in a determined line as he pushed the fur back that hung over the entryway.

                Dreamseeker paused at the domestic scene that meet his eyes.  Edgewalker was sitting with Sticker next to him, showing him how to sharpen his knife. Joyheart was grimacing at a small shirt that had a large hole in the back.  Three pairs of eyes meet his as the fur fell down behind him.

                Joyheart gave him a sad smile as she turned towards her son. “Sticker, go see if Lightshade has finished your new pants, and see if she can salvage anything from this shirt too.”

                “Mother!  Father’s not finished helping me sharpen my knife!” Sticker cried.

                “Your mother said go, Sticker.” Edgewalker said giving his son a gentle push towards the entrance. “We can sharpen your knife later.”

                “Uuuhhh!” Sticker grunted as he rolled onto his feet. “She’s gonna want me to try them on again! I don’t see why the pants I’m wearing don’t work!” He cried as he threw his head back to look at the top of the den.

                Dreamseeker couldn’t help but smile at the cub, bringing back memories of his own son at that age, though he hadn’t been this vocal. “You’ve more patches then original leather on those pants cub. Besides the seat is almost see-through.”

                “Arh!” Sticker rolled his eyes, as he grabbed the shirt from his mother, and stomped out the door. As the fur fell behind his retreating form another “Arh” could be heard from the cub, obviously upset with the grownups in his life.

                Edgewalker and Joyheart exchanged wry smiles and a chuckle at their offspring that quickly sobered as they turned to meet Dreamseeker’s concerned face.  Joyheart patted the ground between her and Edgewalker, the grey haired elf quickly crossed the den and sat between the two elves.  “I’m getting worried about Swift Wind.”  He stated.

                Edgewalker and Joyheart exchanged a quick glance with each other, before turning their attention back to the herbal healer.  “We are concerned too.” Edgewalker admitted as he placed a hand on Dreamseeker’s arm.

Dreamseeker looked up at his chief, “What can we do? I think she is out in her secret spot, she isn’t answered any sends.”  It all tumbled out in a jumble.

                Joyheart touched his other arm as Edgewalker spoke. “We have been thinking about what to do.  I think I know where she is.  Let’s go talk to her.”

                Dreamseeker nodded.

************

                Swift Wind was so involved in her deepest search for her missing past, she didn’t notice she had visitors until they called out her name.

                “Swift Wind?”

                She snapped out of her trance and whirled with her knife drawn.  Joyheart, Dreamseeker and Edgewalker were crouched at the small entrance to the cave in the tree roots.  She stared at them with her mouth open.  How had they found her? 

                Edgewalker gave her startled look a partial smile as he answered her unspoken question. *Did you think I didn’t know about your place?  I know everything about you but your soul name beloved.*

                The trio climbed into the small space as Swift Wind gave him a sad smile.  Joyheart settled on her right, Edgewalker on her left and Dreamseeker directly across from her.  Joyheart pulled her into an embrace as she asked, “What is bothering you so much that you won’t answer the call of recognition?” Swift Wind sank into her friends embrace with a sob. “Is it that you recognized Toedancer?”

                “No…. Yes….. No” Swift Wind sobbed.  Edgewalker slid closer to his lovemate and lifemate until he could hold them both.  Swift Wind clung to him like she was drowning.

                “We want to help.  Please tell us what you has so worried.” Dreamseeker asked softly as he gently placed his hands on her knees.

                Swift Wind’s sobs quieted after a time, she finally whispered “How can I be a mother when I don’t even remember my own?  Or how she raised me?”  Her eyes opened enough to catch Dreamseekers pained look, she felt Edgewalker’s jaw clench near her ear and Joyheart just hugged her harder.  “I don’t know how to raise as cub” the trio barely heard the final confession.

                Joyheart pulled back so she could meet her friend’s eyes.  Since she had returned to the tribe she and Swift Wind had grown close in their shared love of Edgewalker and had bonded closely with each other.  Joyheart caressed the red haired elf’s cheek as she pulled her face around to where they could look eye to eye.  “But you do.” She quietly said. “You helped me so much with Sticker and still do!”

                “He loves you like a second mother.” Edgewalker’s send was like a caress in her mind. *You will be a great mother, Swift Wind*

                Dreamseeker slid his hands up her legs until he could grasp her hands.  “You won’t have to do this alone.” He looked earnestly into her eyes.  “Believe me, when a couple recognize but choose not to be lifemates, the tribe helps raise the child.  Everyone becomes their parent.”

                Joyheart smiled at him, then turned back to Swift Wind. “Every elf who is faced with their first cub is unsure of whether they will make a good parent.” She told her. “But all that changes when you feel the new life inside of you.  And….” Joyheart paused smiling to herself *…and when you hold that newborn cub in your arms for the first time, you know, you just know…* the send trailed off as Joyheart shared her feelings from the birth of her own cub.

                Swift Wind locked eyes with Joyheart.  The send had been for her and her alone.

                *We’ll be here for you. Deep down you know that.*

*****************

                Toedancer could feel her getting closer to the holt.  He had spent much of the last few days in a surly mood, that had even long suffering Antler not willing to spend much time in his presence.  Toedancer knew the unanswered recognition was playing havoc on his emotions, but had been unable to do anything about it.  She had refused to even speak to him when he sent to Swift Wind.  He really didn’t want to be a father, he had no affiliation for cubs. And found them tiresome until they reached a more mature age.  Antler had been excited for him and told him he was looking forward to being a surrogate father.  Toedancer had dumped a bowl of dreamberries on his head.  That had been yesterday and he hadn’t seen his lovemate since.   High Ones what was he going to do.    Toedancer groaned as he rubbed his face with his hands.  He had been doing that a lot the last few days.  At this rate he was going to rub his face off.  

                He could feel her getting closer and closer.  She was returning to the holt!  Toedancer felt himself drawn to the entry to his and Antler’s den, he pulled the fur back in time to spot her walk into the clearing. Toedancer was down from the den and on the forest floor before he realized what was happening.  He barely noticed the three elves with her, they gave her a hug and stepped back as he approached.   The need was almost unbearable when he was this close to her.  He clenched his hands into fists as she looked at him.  He watched her jaw work as if she wanted to say something but didn’t have the words.

                He finally broke the tense silence between them.  “I know you don’t want this. I am not that happy with it either. But we don’t have much of a choice.” He paused a sudden decision forming in his mind. “When it is done, I will stay as far or as close as you want me.”

                Swift Wind’s head twitched slightly to one side and her eyes narrowed, as if she was evaluating him.  She turned suddenly and walked into the forest.  Toedancer growled low in his throat and grimaced at her retreating back.  He snarled and took a deep breath to shout something nasty at her retreating back when she turned to look over her shoulder at him. *Coming?*

*******************************************

                Swift Wind attempted to get comfortable again.  Her bulging stomach sure made sleeping an interesting escapade.  The majority of the tribe was out on a hunt, and she was stuck at the holt.  As her pregnancy had progressed into the last few moons, it had become more and more difficult to accompany the tribe on hunts, as two (almost three) made for a very, very crowded wolf ride.  She hated being left behind but she just didn’t fit on the back of a wolf behind someone else right now.  Not that she hadn’t been offered other elves wolves to ride in the hunt by herself, but she couldn’t talk to the wolves or communicate with them.  Her musing was interrupted by a swift kick in her belly.

                *Easy, little one* She sent to her cub.  She could feel his soul name flittering at the edge of her thoughts and his. *You will be in my arms soon Kas.*

                Swift Wind rolled to her other side, and finally gave up the idea of a nap for good and climbed out of her den.  The stars were shining brightly above her head.  She stopped and spent an indeterminate time just watching them.  The holt clearing was quiet.  She could hear Rainfall, Fireflower, Canyonmist and Sticker down by the creek, everyone else was out on the hunt.  Swift Wind sighed as she rubbed her hand absentmindedly over her swollen abdomen.  Joyheart had been right when she told her that her confidence as a mother would increase the more she was with her unborn cub.  There were still doubts, she figured there always would be, but they weren’t as bad or a daunting as they had been two turns of the seasons ago.

                Toedancer had kept his word, and had stayed away, but she knew that her cub was eager to meet his father and Toedancer had been pleasantly surprised to interact with his son, just no teaching him pranks. She chuckled to herself.  Her son would not take after his father in that aspect.   She had let Toedancer’s active imagination fill in what she would do to him if he taught him how to prank.

                Swift Wind was happy.  She looked around the clearing and sighed.  She felt a need to be alone.  She picked a direction at random and began walking.  It was a beautiful summer night, and she could smell the night blooming flowers around her.  The scent was intoxicating.

***********

                 The hunting party returned as the sky began to lighten.  They were all exhilarated, it had been a very successful hunt. They had gotten two buglers, plenty to feed everyone until their bellies were stuffed.  Edgewalker called for those that stayed at the holt to come feed when the party entered the clearing.  Everyone dug in.

                Dreamseeker looked around, “Where is Swift Wind?” he asked turning to Fireflower and Rainfall, who were sitting next to him.

                “She was sleeping in her den when we went down to the creek.” Rainfall replied. “Maybe she didn’t hear the send when everyone returned.”  She turned to Fireflower. “I always slept like a rock in the last moons of my pregnancy.  Straightshot had a hard time waking me sometimes.”

                Dreamseeker rose form where he sat, leaving the conversation behind, and climbed up to Swift Wind’s den.  “Swift Wind?”  He called as he poked his head into the den.  Dreamseeker’s feelings for the she-elf had intensified over the last two years. He had been spending more and more time with her. Seeing the glow of impending motherhood around her made her even more radiant.  He sighed as he saw that she wasn’t in her den. Had he missed her?  Dreamseeker turned and looked over the tribe gathered in the clearing, searching for one face. No, she wasn’t there. Where was she?  This far into her pregnancy, she never missed a meal.

                Toedancer was watching him off to the side of the clearing.  *Dreamseeker?* Toedancer sent. *Is Swift Wind in her den?* He too had noticed her absence.

                *No* Dreamseeker answered. *I am not sure where she is.*

                *Really?* Toedancers send was laced with concern.

                *What’s wrong?* he demanded.

                *I…I can’t ‘feel’ her.* Toedancer replied, he sounded panicky as he stiffened where he sat.  *I don’t know where she is!* Antler turned towards his lovemate as he noticed his stiff posture, concern on his face.

                *WHAT!* Dreamseeker barked. * What do you mean you can’t feel her?  Don’t you still have her soul name?* 

                There was a pause, *No, It’s gone.* Toedancer’s eyes were wide with alarm.

                Dreamseeker groaned this was terrible time to lose an elf’s soul name.  It happened when you didn’t lifemate after recognition.  But he hadn’t lost Slimarrows until well after Pouncer had been born.  He felt is gut drop to his toes.  Where was Swift Wind?

***************

                Joyheart was enjoying the meat.  The hunt had been invigorating.  She snorted at Quicklance’s explanation to a rapt Sticker about tracking and hunting buglers, trying not to laugh.  She caught her lifemate’s eyes; they were dancing with humor as well. She had to turn away before she started laughing; she really didn’t want to end up spitting the meat out so she wouldn’t choke on it.  As she did, her gaze traveled around the faces of her tribe.  It stopped suddenly on Toedancer’s stunned face.  She sobered instantly, all humor gone.  Something was wrong.  She quickly glanced around at all the happy faces, trying to figure out what was wrong.  As she glanced towards the dens, she spotted Dreamseeker climbing down from Swift Wind’s den; he was pale and had the same look as Toedancer.  Her mind quickly jumped to the only reason the two male elves would have for that look.  Swift Wind. 

                *Swift Wind?* She sent to her friend. There was no answer.  Not an I am ignoring you no answer, a void no answer like she wasn’t anywhere within sending distance, like she wasn’t there at all.

                Edgewalker caught the send and was looking at her with concern in his eyes. *What is it? Is something wrong?*

                *I don’t know.* She sent back to him *Toedancer? Dreamseeker?* She pulled them into the discussion *What is wrong?*

                *Swift Wind is gone. I can’t feel her!* Toedancer cried. The distress evident in his send. *I don’t have her soul name anymore.*

                Dreamseeker was silent for a moment, *I can’t hear her.* he sent at a whisper. *I can always hear her.* Joyheart felt their pain and worry.

                Edgewalker growled and locked eyes with the two males. *What do you mean you can’t find her?* There was a moment of silence as their chief attempted to contact his lovemate, getting the same nothingness the other had.  He abruptly stood, getting instant silence from the tribe.  “Swift Wind is missing.  When was the last time she was seen?” he turned toward the elf women who had stayed at the holt.

                “Rainfall and I saw her go into her den after Mother Moon was at the top of the sky.” Fireflower spoke.

                “She can’t have gotten far. Spread out and find her trail.” Edgewalker said as the tribe scattered to look for evidence of Swift Wind’s passage.

************

                By nightfall, Lioneyes had been able to find where Swift Wind had left the clearing and walked through the nearby clearing of night blooming flowers, but the trail had disappeared in the middle of the clearing.

                “I think she covered her trail after that.” Lioneyes said. His rubbed his tired eyes. “I’m sorry, I can’t find her trail again.” He met his chief’s eyes.  Lioneyes turned and patted Toedancer and Dreamseeker’s shoulders as he walked past them.

                Edgewalker sighed. Lioneyes had done his best, but Swift Wind was there best tracker. If she covered her tracks then there was no way they would be able to find her. 

                “So we’re stopping?” Toedancer cried.

                “No,” Antler wrapped his arms around his lovemate trying to calm the anxious elf. “We’re going to keep looking but it is going to be difficult, and we will have to be smart about how we search.”

                Toedancer slumped and Antler caught him and helped him to sit on a nearby log.  “Where is she?” The trickster whispered to himself.

                Dreamseeker’s thoughts echoed Toedancers.  He had always been able to hear her. The only time was when she had gone searching for Joyheart, but there was no way she had gotten that far away in such a short time. He jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He turned to see Fireflower looking at him.

                “How are you doing?”  She softly asked. Fireflower knew how he felt about Swift Wind.

                “I’m still standing.” He attempted to give her a lopsided grin, but it fell flat.

                “Oh Dreamseeker.” She sighed as she wrapped her arms around him. “Why haven’t you ever told her how you feel?”

                Dreamseeker embraced his longtime friend back as he looked up at the sky; the first stars were blinking.  He closed his eyes as he pulled away from Fireflower and opened his mouth to speak, but as he did his eyes focused on a figure across the clearing.  It was a familiar figure, Swift Wind? He gasped as she suddenly appeared with in his ‘hearing’ range.

                Fireflower turned at his gasp and followed his gaze.  Edgewalker’s head also snapped up, the rest of the tribe noticed the changes and turned to see what was drawing their attention. Toedancer shot up from where he was sitting and whirled to see Swift Wind standing a few steps into the holt clearing.  The tribe swarmed around her and the bundle she held in her arms.  Questions were fired at her from all sides, Swift Wind quietly ignored them with a small smile on her face, her eyes never leaving the small bundle.  Once the tribe quieted, she spoke.

                “He has the soul name of a Wolfrider, but the tribe will know him as Cloud.”

Chapter Text

                Cloud stood with Briarknife, Slimarrow and Fireflower as they watched Edgewalker and Joyheart accompany Swift Wind and Dreamseeker into the woods. Fireflower shook her head, “I hope they know what they are doing.” She sighed.

                “They’ll be fine. We’ll most likely see them with in a season or so. They won’t be gone that long.  Besides, Swift Wind’s cub’s inherited her tracking skills haven’t you cub?” Slimarrow replied with a cocky grin.

                Cloud chuckled as he rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. “As far as anyone can tell.”

                This got smiles from both elf-women as the elves turned and walked back to the holt.  It also got a snigger from Briarknife, who threw his arm over Clouds shoulders “You sound like a cub who has gone on his first overnight hunt but his mother is back at the holt.” Briarknife tighten his hold and turned it into a headlock as he tried to flip his younger friend to the ground.  The elf-women continued walking, ignoring the lads behind them.

                “Hey!” Cloud grunted as he twisted in Briarknife’s grasp and managed to turn the flip on his friend.  He gave the chief’s son a hard kick in the stomach as he landed on his back that sent Briarknife flying behind him and into a pile of nearby leaves. Cloud rolled to his feet and into a crouch as he watched his friend roll to his own feet moments behind him. “I probably do” Cloud stated as the two young elves started circling each other. “She’s always been there.  It is strange…a wolfrider knows that he will eventually lose their parents to death,” Briarknife feinted to the right. Cloud twitched to the left. “I just… I guess I never figured that one would wander off on journey to find her past.”

Briarknife gave him a wry grin as Cloud’s focus slipped.  He dropped to his hands and spun out his leg and knocked Cloud off of his feet. Cloud hit the ground on his back with a hard grunt. Briarknife pounced and pinned his friend, his grin turning to laughter.  “You worry too much.  She will be back; father would never have let her go if he didn’t think that she could take care of herself.”

Cloud tried to push him off with a grunt, but Briarknife held firm, after a few attempts Cloud flopped back on the grass with a sigh. “She could still die out there and I don’t think we would ever know.” He finally said.

                Briarknife gave the red haired lad a long look before he said “She’ll be fine.  Besides it’s not like you don’t have anyone.  Toedancer is still here, and there is the tribe.  We are all here for each other.”  Briarknife stood up and offered Cloud his hand and pulled him to his feet.

                “One of these days, I will pin you Briarknife” Cloud said with a laugh. 

                “When that day comes, you can be chief instead of me.” Briarknife laughed in return, throwing his arm over Cloud’s shoulders once again. Cloud tried to dodge, anticipating another wrestling match, but his friend pulled him in closer.  “Want to go swimming in Bluevale?  The silver slippers should be back by now.”

                Cloud grinned back at him. “Sounds fun.”

*************    94 years after ‘now’

                The summer was so hot that doing anything during the night was ridiculous, and the day was impossible. Cloud lay in his den looking at the roof.  He wished his den was near the bottom of the tree like Edgewalker and Joyheart’s; his den was the furthest up the tree and thus the hottest.  It was a sacrifice for the view but when it got hot like this he always seemed to question his choice.  It was the middle of the night and he was already sweating like he had been running for days.  There had been no rain for almost a whole turning of the moons.  The tribe had not been hunting for almost 5 days.  It was too hot to do anything.

                He crawled over to the entry to his den and looked out into the still night.  The sky was so clear that the stars looked like they numbered the blades of grass in a meadow. He glanced down when he heard a rustling at the base of the tree. –Who in the name of the High Ones has the energy to move around in this heat?- he wondered, only to see Joyheart and Half Moons come out of her mother’s den. His curiosity was defiantly aroused.  Half Moons watched as her daughter slipped into her own den.  In moments, Joyheart returned with Edgewalker.

                *Everyone listen up!* the chief sent.

                Head slowly poked out of dens at the send, many with questions on their faces.  “If you think we’re going on a hunt you’ve got dreamberries for brains!”  Cloud bit back a laugh at his father’s voice as it floated out of Toedancer and Antler’s den.

                General laughter drifted up to Cloud’s ears from the dens.  Edgewalker was smirking and shaking his head. “No, Toedancer.  We are not hunting for four legged game.  This will be a less vigorous hunt.”  A groan went up from some of the tribe members. “Get your nets.  We’re going fishing in Bluevale and we will be staying there for a while.”

*******

The tribe had been camping at Bluevale for almost a moon. It was cooler near the water and if it did get too hot, then they could always go for a swim.  The wolves even join in the fun when everyone was splashing about.  This was the cause of much amusement for young Dash.  She thought the funniest thing in the world was a sopping wet wolf.  She often coaxed a wolf or two over to where her parent’s had set up their lean-to. There, much to the aggravation of her mother, the wolves would shake the loose water from their fur. This caused much more amusement to the seven turn old, as her mother would chase the offending wolf out of the lean-to with her tanning frame.  The wolves seemed to find it as fun as Dash did.

All of this was cause for much amusement for the rest of the tribe. There was always a rush to entrances of their own lean-tos when Lightshades screech echoed across the small clearing.  Her lifemate, Lioneyes never seemed to be that concerned about the incidents, though she complained mightily to him.  That was until one afternoon when he was napping in the shelter, and Dash brought a very wet wolf in.  Lioneyes’ yell brought many tribe members out of their own shelters to see what the commotion was.

Cloud, Briarknife and Canyonmist poked their heads out of their lean-to they were sharing to catch the action.  They were just in time to see Lioneyes physically throw the offending wolf out of the shelter with a mighty heave.  The wolf looked a little concerned as she flew almost two elf lengths, when she hit the ground she was sprinting with her tail straight out behind her.  The trio snickered as the look on golden eyed elf as he rounded on his offending offspring.

                “I don’t think I have ever seen him so mad!” Canyonmist whispered to the two male elves.  This set off another chorus of snickering on the part of the two males.  She turned to look at their faces; her eyes dancing with laughter, Brairknife had his head buried in his hands trying to keep his laughter somewhat quiet, Cloud was hanging on Briarknife’s shoulder holding his stomach as his snickers turned to laughter.  Her mouth quirked into a laugh, and then into full out laughter as the two males lost control of their own laughter.  She might have lost her breath with laughing so hard if she hadn’t caught movement out the corner of her eye. She froze as she sent out an alert to the tribe. *Something is coming!*

                Everyone went instantly quiet, even Dash who was starting to sniffle at the lecture her father had started giving her.

                The trio turned to look at Edgewalker as he crouched down near their lean-to. *Where?*

                Canyonmist pointed towards the direction of the holt.  Edgewalker’s forehead wrinkled as he attempted to puzzle out who was walking towards their small camp.

                *Wolfriders?* the send was not familiar to some, but it was to others.

                Half Moons ran over to the small group sending *Rockwalker?*

                *Half Moons!*

                Rockwalker picked up his pace and jogged the rest of the way to the tribe.  The rest of the tribe stared; half had never seen this elf before, and at least a third of the rest had known him only when they were cubs.  Half Moons meet him partway and embraced the long lost elf. Lightshade was not far behind her.  The questions started flying.

                “Where have you been?”

                “What did you see?”

                “What made you come back?”

                “Did you see many strange things?”

                “Did you see other elves?”

                Silence fell on the group as Cloud’s question was voiced. 

                Rockwalker turned to look at the young elf. He turned his head as if trying to place where he had seen the face before.  “Who are your parent’s cub?”

                “Swift Wind and Toedancer.” Cloud replied his arms crossed over his chest.

                “I don’t know either, but you look familiar.” The old elf murmured.

                Toedancer stepped forward. “My parents are Evenhand and Treestar.”

                Rockwalker slowly shook his head, “No, it is not them he looks like.” He rubbed the face fur on his chin.  “Who are his mother’s parents?”

                There was a moment of silence as the tribe shifted on their feet.  Antler came forward from where he had been standing next to Edgwalker.  “Come, we can howl for your return and I will tell you the stories of what had happened in your absence, and you can tell us of your travels.

                “And who are you.” Rockwalker asked as he let Antler pull him towards the center of the clearing.

                “Antler, son of Songsinger and Lightshade.”

                “Ahh, I see you have the look of your sire.”

                Cloud watched as the new elf continued talking with the storyteller. The rest of the tribe followed talking excitedly amongst themselves.  Briarknife stopped and looked back at his friend when he realized that Cloud was not walking with them. “Are you coming?”

                “He knows something, Briarknife.” Cloud replied.

                Briarknife walked back to the young tracker.  “About what?”

                “Mother.”

                Briarknife looked startled at the thought. “About Swift Wind? Now how would he know about her?”     

                Cloud had never taken his eyes off the old elf.  He continued staring for long enough that Briarknife had to look his self to see if something big was going on, when he looked back, Cloud sighed and met his gaze. “I don’t know what it is, but I just have a feeling that he has one of the pieces of her past.  I can’t explain it.”

                Briarknife’s eyebrows shot up at the statement, he turned to look at Rockwalker again, then back at Cloud.  The young tracker had gone back to staring, and was making no move to join the tribe in the howl.

*******

                When he thought Cloud wasn’t looking, Rockwalker found himself studying the young elf’s face over the next few days.  The hair that was reddish and the clear blue eyes.  Where had he seen it before?  He was having such a difficult time remembering things.  He had been gone from the tribe for almost 200 years, and he had been an old elf then, over 600 turns! But he didn’t recall much from his time away from the tribe.  He had felt the urge one morning to start walking. And he had never turned back until this past winter.  He had left children and a long time lovemate, Goldpool, behind. What had happened to her? He wondered. Oh yes, that is right. His son, Rainwalker had recognized and had a female cub….what was her name….Firefling? No, Farflower? Fireflower, that was it.  His other son, Grassrunner had left with Goldpool, and Rainwalker when the tribe had split.  No one knew where they were.  Faces and names blurred in his mind as he tried to put the new information together.  He gave up with a sigh, his eyes coming back to rest on a certain red haired male elf, who was talking to another young elf with light brown hair and silver eyes.  Rockwalker’s eyes narrowed as he tried to remember his name. Daystar’s cub’s cub. The chief’s son. He shook his head as the name would not come.   The younger elves were so hard to remember.  His eyes drifted back to the red haired one.  Cloud. Where had he seen the lad before?

                He was so deep into digging at that particular thought that he didn’t notice said elf coming up to him.

                “Rockwalker?”

                He jumped in startlement as he looked up at Cloud who was standing over him as he leaned on a tree.  “Yes?”

                “I would like to talk to you.  You never did answer my question about other elves.  Did you see any out there?” Cloud asked watching the elder elf for any reaction.

                Rockwalker looked at the ground, he hadn’t told anyone that Clouds familiarity was bothering him to such distraction, all because of an elf he had met that he couldn’t remember.  What would they all think? They would think he had been in Songsinger’s dreamberry stash.   

                “I can’t tell you about other elves lad, but I can show you some great sites near the holt, I can guarantee you don’t know about.”  Rockwalker attempted distracting the lad.

                Cloud stared at him for a long moment and then grunted.  Cloud really didn’t want to go but after a moment of thought, he reasoned that maybe if he could get him talking Rockwalker might share his secrets.  “Oh really?” Cloud replied “Let’s go see.”

******* 102 years after now

                Cloud was lazily watching the tribe go about their nightly activities from is den.  It had been a quiet 8 years since Rockwalker had shown up in Bluevale. He had spent quite a bit of time with the old elf growing to like him, though, Rockwalker had never answered the other elf question. Cloud sighed.  He still felt like there was something more going on, but he might never figure it out. He wished Briarknife was here but he and Edgewalker had gone on a father son hunt for a few days.  They did this every so often.  Brairknife had told Cloud that it was so Edgewalker could talk to his son about chief stuff.  Cloud smiled.  Edgewalker was determined to have his son ready to be chief after him. Cloud and Briarknife talked about everything together. Cloud knew that Edgewalker felt like he was a second son to the chief, and had seen how happy it made his chief to see the two elves as such great friends.  Cloud wondered if part of it was that his mother and Dreamseeker has still not returned, and Edgewalker missed his lovemate and friend. 

                Cloud’s attention was drawn back down to the clearing as he caught Rockwalker’s loud guffaw. Toedancer was scowling at the elder from across the clearing.  Cloud smirked. His father had not taken to the elder elf.  Mostly because he never seemed to remember his name, or Antler’s (Rockwalker kept calling him by his sire’ name but he did that with quite a few of the elves).  But Cloud wondered if another part was because of how close he had become with the elder elf.  He knew that Toedancer had hoped to get closer with his son while Swift Wind was away, but Cloud had been spending time with Rockwalker instead. Cloud shook his head.  His sire could be very temperamental, and had been even more so since Antler and Canyonmist had recognized 2 turns ago.  The two had lifemated and Toedancer has not been pleased to lose his longtime lovemate and friend. Thankfully, Cloud had been able to distract and redirect his father’s mischievous urges, much like Antler had before his cub had been born a moon ago.         

                Cloud began climbing down from his den, anticipating that he might be needed to do one of those redirects to his sire.  But when he got to the base of the holt tree, Toedancer had frumped into his den.  Cloud shook his head and walked over to the elder elf, who had unknowingly drawn Toedancer’s ire. 

                Rockwalker turned to the young elf and smiled.  He never had been able to remember, whatever it was he had been trying to remember. But the elder elf found he enjoyed Cloud’s company.  They had gone on excursions around the holt territory frequently in the past turns, and the elder was feeling itchy feet and the need to wander tonight.  “Want to come out with me?  I have the need for a long walk tonight.”

                Cloud chuckled and nodded his head.  He followed the elder elf into the woods.  They had not gone too far when they heard the tell-tale sounds of their shadow, Dash.  The young elf had been fascinated by Rockwalker from the very start.  She had never seen an elf with the amount of face fur that he had and it fascinated her to no end.  She was always tagging along out of site, but not out of hearing on many of the excursions the two elves went on.  Neither had the heart to tell her that she could be heard a long ways off even though she was out of sight.

                “She’s back there again.” Cloud casually whispered to Rockwalker as they strolled thought the woods.

                Rockwalker chuckled “Let’s lead her on a merry chase tonight, shall we?”

                Cloud gave him a grin his sire had worn many times and nodded.

                The two elves lead Dash on a merry chase, they climbed cliffs, wove in and out of thick pine stands, they crept across meadows and may have even scaled a small mountain.  It was nearing dawn when they stood at the edge of a large ravine. “Do you think she is still back there?” Rockwalker asked, as he sat on rock to catch his breath.

                “Yea, I heard her knocking over that pile of rocks we left on the trail back in the woods.  You didn’t hear her yell puckernuts?”  Cloud answered with a laugh.

                “Well, I have to give her credit, she kept up all night.” Rockwalker shook his head.

                “We should head back to the holt.  Edgewalker and Briarknife will be back tonight and we are supposed to go on a hunt.” Cloud stated as he turned to look back down their back trail.  He could hear Dash’s progress in the woods as she got closer.

                “We can take a short cut across this ravine and be back in half the time.” Rockwalker stood and started walking along the rim, looking for a way down.

                “All right, but I think we should wait for Dash.  I don’t think her parents would be too happy if she got hurt.”

                “You wait for her here and I will find the crossing and come back for both of you.” Rockwalker wandered further down the rim.

                Cloud turned as there was a loud crash in the woods and a “PUCKERNUTS” floated out. He started chuckling and then full on laughing as the noise maker broke out of the woods on into the clear spot next to the rim of the ravine.  She scowled when she saw Cloud laughing at her.

                “What are you doing here?”  She asked testily, crossing her arms in front of herself.

                Still chuckling, Cloud replied “I think I should be the one asking you what you are doing following us.”

                She glared at him. “It’s none of your business.  I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.”

                “Oh” Cloud replied non-chalontly. “In that case, I’ll let you be on your way.”

                Cloud sat on the rock that Rockwalker had recently vacated and watched the young elf maid.   Her short gold/brown hair was gently blowing in her face.   She was watching him expectantly. “Well are you going to go where ever you were headed?” she finally asked.  Cloud started laughing again.  “What are you laughing at??” She cried, finally uncrossing her arms.

                “You!” Cloud got out in-between laughs.

                Dash’s golden eyes grew big and she got an indignant look on her face, as she scrunched it up.  She inhaled sharply and screamed “ME! WHY ME!”

                This just made Cloud laugh harder.  He grabbed his stomach as his abs started hurting from laughing so hard, he doubled over and wiped tears from his eyes, finally getting his mirth under control, only to look back up at her face and lose it all over again.  Dash’s face dropped into a scowl that would have wilted a tree.  She slowly shook her head and muttered something about males, dreamberries and tree-wees under her breath.

                “What’s so funny?” Asked Rockwalker. Cloud and Dash had noticed him approaching.

                “He’s laughing at ME!” Dash flung an accusing finger at him.

                Cloud had slipped off the rock during his laughing fit and was now sitting on the ground. He looked up at the two as he rubbed his face, trying to dry the tears off.  Rockwalker extended a hand to the red haird tracker and pulled him to his feet, still chuckling. “Sorry, Dash but you are like a stampede of buglers when you are out and about.  We can hear your every time you follow us.” Cloud finally got out.

                Dash’s mouth opened and closed several times but nothing came out.  The scowl turned into surprise and then she flushed red with embarrassment.  Cloud threw his arm over her shoulders and turned to Rockwalker “Did you find it?”  With his nod, Cloud turned to the elf maid, “I’ll help you work on it when we get back to the holt.” He said with a grin.

                “Follow me” Rockwalker turned and headed along the rim of the ravine.

                A few lengths down the ravine, Rockwalker showed them the decent to the floor.  Cloud looked dubiously at it.  It wasn’t the trail that bothered him; it was the water marks halfway up the sides of the walls of the ravine.  The ravine its self was bone dry, there was an old creek bad, with no water in it that could be seen at the bottom that wasn’t even muddy.  Cloud glanced up at the sky, no clouds in site, that’s a good sign. But he still felt a little apprehensive about going down.

                “Come on Cloud, I want to get home!” Dash called from where she had followed Rockwalker partway down the side of the ravine.

                “Do you ever remember there being water here, Rockwalker?” Cloud yelled down as he started his decent.

                “From the looks of the walls, it’s been many, many turns” Was the only reply he got.

                “I can see that. Did it ever flood while you were here?”

                “Not that I can remember.” Rockwalker replied.

                “Great, just great. I’m in a ravine that could get water in it with you two.  This is just great.” Dash mumbled to herself.

                Cloud smiled down at her as he jumped down to the next ledge.  They were over halfway down.  “So does this lead directly to the holt?” He asked after climbing down some more.

                “No, not exactly.  I think it eventually leads to the creek.” Rockwalker paused to ponder the question.

                “Where does it join the creek?” Dash asked.

                “I think in an underground river.  Halfway between here and the creek it goes underground and then joins with it on the other side of the holt.” Rockwalker replied.

                Cloud and Dash stopped their climbing to look at him dubiously.  “Why does it go underground?” Dash finally blurted.

                “I don’t know it just does.” Rockwalker replied with irritation.

                “Oh,” Dash said “That’s just crazy.”

                Cloud snorted and they started climbing again.  They had gotten three quarters of the way down, when they felt the rock face shake.  “What was that???” Dash’s voice shook as she asked.

                Cloud and Rockwalker exchanged a quick glance of understanding with each other.  They both looked up the ravine; the ravine that had previously had a bone dry streambed on the floor.  The streambed was now a muddy stream that jumped the banks as they watched, spilling out across the ravine floor and picking up speed. “UP! EVERYONE UP!” Rockwalker cried. He grabbed Dash’s arm and started pulling her up to the ledge he was on.

                “What is it?” Dash’s eyes had gotten wide and were filled with fear.

                “It’s a flash flood, we have to get as high as we can.” Cloud replied as he pulled her up to his ledge, he reached down for Rockwalker and pulled him up with a heave.  “NOW CLIMB!”

                “But, there’s nothing…” Dash began as a wall of water came hurtling down the ravine.  Her mouth fell open in a silent scream as Cloud joined them on the ledge.

                “GRAB ON TO SOMETHING! AND HOLD ON!” Rockwalker yelled as the wall hit.

                The three elves clung to the rock face of the ravine for all they were worth.  The pressure of the water was so strong the wind was knocked out of them.  Cloud could feel the water tugging at his body, trying to peal him off the wall. He gripped harder.

                *I can’t hold on!* Dash’s send was panicky. *I’m slipping!*

                *Hold on Dash!! You can do it. Press closer to the rock face!* Cloud sent, feeling entirely hopeless in the situation.  He could see her to his left the water buffeting her face was terrified. He barely noticed Rockwalker slowly pulling himself above the water’s reach.  He must have been higher than the two younger elves.  Cloud watched in horror as Dash slid more and more into the water. 

*I’M SLIPPING!* Dash’s sent had turned into a scream *HELP ME!*

The two younger elves locked eyes, Dash’s golden ones filled with fear, and Cloud’s blue with helplessness.  He tried to reach out and grab her, but she slid into the water.  Her terror filled send pierced both males’ minds.

                *GRAB ON TO SOMETHING! ANYTHING!* Cloud sent, grabbing back onto the wall as he almost lost his own purchase.

                An eternity, but only moments later he got a shaky send. *I have a branch that is growing out of the wall.  It’s holding. Cloud, I’m scared!*

                *Hold on, we’ll get you in a moment.* He sent back reassuringly.  Cloud glanced up in time to see Rockwalker reach the top of the ravine.  *Find Dash along the top, I am going to try to get to her in the water.* He sent only to the elder elf.

                *Lad…* Rockwalker started sending.

                *GO! We don’t have much time, that branch could go at any moment!* Cloud cut him off *I am a strong swimmer, I’ll be fine!*

                Rockwalker hesitated a moment before running down river.  Cloud took a deep, shaky breath and worked up the courage to let go and let the water take him down torrent.  Just as he let go of the wall a send pierced his mind. *CLOUD, BE CAREFUL!* Mother? He was so startled he tried grabbing back on but the water had other ideas.  He pushed it aside, as he had other worries to deal with, like keeping his head above the muddy water.  Cloud’s arms flailed around trying to grab anything he could.  He was drinking more of the muddy water then he would admit to himself and some of it was getting into his lungs.  He was desperately pushing the panic down when he glimpsed Dash and her branch. With a desperate attempt he pushed his body through the water and managed to grasp the branch before he was swept by.  He pulled himself up the branch to where she was clinging to it near where it was growing out of the wall. She looked terrified but grateful to see him.

                *Hold on. Rockwalker is going to help us from above.* Cloud sent trying to catch his breath, and coughing.

                *Ok.* Her send was shaky.

                *How are you? Are you hurt anywhere?* Cloud asked.

                *I…I don’t think so…* She answered.

                *Good.*

                *Cloud, Dash* Rockwalker’s send interrupted them *I found some vines. I’ll throw them down to you grab hold and climb up!*

                Cloud glanced up and watched as the vines came flying over the edge of the ravine.  They barely reached the two elves.  *Dash, grab hold and climb up!* Cloud commanded, Dash just clung to the branch and shook her head.

                *I don’t know if I can!* She cried. *What if I let go and get swept away!*

                *You have to let go to grab the vine* Cloud told her.

                *I can’t!*

                Cloud scooted closer to the frightened elf maid.  He managed to get her sandwiched between his body and the branch, steadying her.  *You won’t get swept away now. GRAB THE VINE!*

                Dash looked up at the end of the hanging vine, and made a grab for it, she missed. She tried again and this time managed to grasp it. *Now Climb Lass!* Rockwalker encouraged her.

                *Climb, Dash, Climb!* Cloud and Rockwalker continued to encourage her as she slowly pulled herself up the vine.  She was halfway up when the vine, when part of it broke, dropping her down a wolf’s length.  She let out a screech and froze.

                *I can’t! I can’t!* She sent.

                *Climb! If you stay there you WILL fall back into the water!* Rockwalker sent.

                *I can’t* her send was a whisper. *I just can’t*

                *Dash, * Cloud’s send pierced her mind.  It was quiet and strong. *Dash, you can do this.  You have to climb. I can’t help you and Rockwalker can’t do it for you.  You have to climb. Only you can do this.* Dash hung on to the vine a moment longer. *I know you can do this.* Dash started moving. Slowly but steadily, she climbed the vine until she disappeared over the top of the ravine. 

                *Come on up, Cloud* Rockwalker sent still gripping the end of the vine and braced to accept the weight of the other elf. *I would hurry if I was you, though, I think the water level is still riseing.*

                *It is.* Cloud sent. *It is.*

                As a matter of fact, Cloud had noticed the water level rising. It was now flowing over the entire branch, and it was tugging on his body more insistently. –Puckernuts- he thought he was only going to get one chance to grab the vine.  Thankfully it was hanging lower than it had been.  Hoping it would hold out long enough to get him to the top, Cloud gave a big kick with his legs and lunged for the vine.  His hand wrapped around the thin plant. He exhaled in relief and swung his hand up to grab on and start pulling himself out of the water. But just as he grasped it, he felt the slack as the weak spot snapped the rest of the way.  Cloud fell into the water with a splash.

                *KAS!*

                *Mother?* Cloud sent just before his head hit a bolder in the water, and didn’t send again.

*****

                “He saved me! Then he just disappeared in the water!” Dash was telling the tribe. “He didn’t answer any of our sends.”

                The tribe stood in stunned silence as the darkness fell. It had taken the rest of the day for the two to return to the holt.  They had done their best to find Cloud, but were unsuccessful.  Briarknife and Edgewalker had returned moment before Dash and Rockwalker had. Briarknife had retreated to his den after standing very still for some time. Edgewalker was holding his lifemate as he quietly started asking Rockwalker questions about what had happened.

                “YOU PILE OF DUNG!” Toedancer interrupted with a shout and a lunge at Rockealker “HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN! HE’S DEAD NOW BECAUSE OF YOU!”  Antler managed to grab him before his hands could grab ahold of the elder elf.  Canyonmist was standing a few steps behind Antler with their newborn son in her arms.  Toedancer yanked himself out of his former lovemates grasp, and turned his rage on him. “Let me be Antler! You go be with Water-in-a-hole and LET ME BE!”  He turned to the gathered tribe “JUST LET ME BE!”

                “I ….” Rockwalker started

                “And YOU!” Toedancer refocused his rage, “YOU I Don’t want to SEE YOUR FACE!” with that he turned and raced into the woods.

                The tribe stood quietly, not really knowing what to do next. Antler stood in stunned silence as he watched Toedancer disappear.  Canyonmist stepped up to his side and nuzzled his shoulder.  He slid his arm around her and Littlebud. *I don’t even want to think about what it would be like to lose a child Nih.*

                Canyonmist leaned into his side.  *No one does Finn, but you can sympathize with him.  You have an idea what he is going through, and I know you still love him.  He needs you more than I do.  Go to him.  He shouldn’t be alone, bring him back to den with us.* 

                Antler embraced her and kissed the tears off of her cheeks, she too was grieving the red haired tracker; and followed Toedancer into the woods.

                Dash was standing in the embrace of her parents, they looked like they had no intention of letting her go anytime soon. Rockwalker stood not far from them.  He noticed no one was looking at him, so he slowly backed up until he had gotten into the cover of the trees.  They never saw him again.

 

                The next night, the tribe gathered to mourn the loss of the young elf.  As they finished, Toedancer couldn’t help but wonder how Swift Wind was doing.  Did she even know Cloud was dead?  Of course she did, she had felt it just like he did.  Toedancer climbed into his den to be by himself in his grief.