Most puppies squirmed and licked and gnawed on his fingers, testing their milk teeth and sniffing him all over. Although it did not always come to fruition, he enjoyed the ritual all the same. The pups, only a few moonturns old, investigated and clambered over the laps of those who were looking, those who stared into each pup's eyes hoping to find a kindred spirit. Blackberry was at first confused and then delighted when one solid grey cub with wild fur and golden eyes promptly and neatly curled in his lap, heedless of her siblings who crawled all over them both. What struck him most was how she so quickly fell into an easy sleep, just as though she already knew the world and everything in it, and the knowledge contented her. Whereas other pups and elves quested, hunting for each other, fumbling in the darkness to find the one pinprick of light that was a destined partner, she simply knew where he was and came to him.
He stroked her fur and chose her name: Wisdom. "You seem wise beyond your youth, little cub," he whispered.
She answered him with a contented sigh and a gentle snore.
The she-wolf grew into her name. She was calm and watchful, quiet and graceful. The most unusual thing about her was that she did not bark or whine or even howl like other wolves, and thought more like elves than most. She could say more with a nudge of her nose than most could with their voices, and she preferred to keep her silence.
When the pack shouldered her away yet again from first feed on a fresh kill, untrusting of her quiescence, Easysinger shook her head sadly and commented, “You should have called her 'Silence,' my young friend. I'm afraid there's not much wisdom in holding your tounge like that. See how she's shunned? A wolf that doesn't howl is a wolf that doesn't contribute to the community, and in a wolfpack, as in a tribe, community is life.” Blackberry, however, held his tongue from disagreeing with his Chieftess, perhaps wisely. He didn't care that Wisdom didn't howl, and thus didn't rise as high in rank as she might have otherwise. She wasn't entirely driven out, at least, likely solely due to being bonded with him. Plus, not running with the other wolves as much meant they spent more time together.
They were, in fact, inseparable. She was the rock under Blackberry's rapids, the solid roots to his wildly waving reeds. He would run and play and explore and laugh and invent, and she would watch and wait and bring him in from the cold and lick his inevitable wounds. She taught him patience. She stalked while he harried. She scented the air while he charged. She slept soundly while he lay awake and dreamed.
He learned to listen to her. When a fierce windstorm swept through the Holt and Blackberry wanted to go watch the storm from the top of the tallest oak at the height of the ridge, Wisdom sat in the door of his den, immoveable as stone. She filled the opening and would not let him through, finally making him give up by soundlessly baring her teeth at him, and then staying alert and watchful as he gave up and sulked and slept. She lay down across the den opening and watched him breathe, and did not move until the wind grew still and the only rainwater that fell was from the trees and not the sky. They rose together and walked out into the storm-damaged Holt. Blackberry slipped away from the tribe as they cleared the fallen branches and other detritus away. He scampered to the ridge and wanted to climb the giant tree to see the world scrubbed fresh by the storm. Instead of the tree, however, he found a gaping hole in the soil, and far below at the bottom of the ridge, the tree: tangled and broken and torn from its moorings by the wind and rain and thunder, and blackened and split from where the skyfire had struck.
Blackberry returned to the Holt and helped clean up, unusually silent, lost in his thoughts. He brought Wisdom the choice sweetbreads from his next kill, and she ate them and wagged her tail, forgiving him his folly. He had expected her to be smug about it, but she only curled up next to him and fell into that easy, confident sleep.
"You really do know the world and everything in it, don't you?" he whispered, stroking her smoky fur.
She answered him with a contented sigh and a gentle snore.
Blackberry was lost in both thought and action. He would occasionally get siezed by inspiration and channel all of his time and energy into creating something new. Sometimes they were even useful ideas, although not all of those worked out the way he envisioned they might. He had no clue whether the idea he was working through would be a good one or not, but either way, he could not ignore its call. He was out in the woods at the top of a tall and steep bluff, at the hubward edge of their territory, days and days from home, and he was turning an odd-shaped branch over and over in his hands, wondering which knot would be best for the task he had in mind. Wisdom relaxed nearby, her belly recently filled with lizard meat. The quick brown things that liked this area were small, but plentiful and tasty. Blackberry muttered to himself and measured out lengths of twine, oblivious to the world around him. Wisdom, although in repose, was alert and watchful. This was her job.
A heavy, strong hammer, shaped ages ago by the joint efforts of a rockshaper and a plantshaper, was Blackberry's favourite tool and it went almost everywhere with him, unless someone else had a bigger need of it. It balanced the strength of wood and the power of stone perfectly. He reached for it now, intending to drive a small wooden stake into the bark of a tree, but it was gone.
Roused out of his intellectual fervor, he looked around, and saw Wisdom with the hammer in her mouth, tail up and wagging, ears forward and playful. She crouched, wiggled like a pup, and took off. "Hey!" Blackberry called, irritated at the intrusion. He ran after her.
Wisdom led him a merry chase through the woods, dodging trees and jumping through underbrush. If he didn't know better, Blackberry would swear she was leading him somewhere. She always remained just out of reach but still within sight. He caught flashes of her tail or her eyes when he fell behind.
After a while, Blackberry dug in his heels. "That's enough," he called to her, both speaking the words and sending their meanings, as he often did with her. "I'm done. Keep the hammer if you like it so much. I'm going back to finish my work." He turned and started marching. **Back,** he sent to her strongly.
She stepped out of the underbrush in front of him, quiet and sedate. She laid the hammer down gently on the path, almost as though in submission.
"That's better," he said, and bent to pick it up.
Wisdom snatched it from him again and laughing -- he could swear she was laughing at him, although she never made a sound -- she tore off again.
He used some very unkind words to describe her and gave chase.
After a long time, Wisdom deemed the game finished, and gave up the hammer to him. She allowed him to ride her as she wound her slow way back to the site of his creation, almost as though apologizing for leading him such a long way off. Now that his mind wasn't fully engaged with either his inventing or the chase, he found himself noticing things he simply hadn't before: the unmistakable track of something large, breaking branches and scoring trees as it went, criss-crossing their own path recklessly, punctuated by large dollops of drying froth. What had gone on here? What had Wisdom led him away from? On one hand, he wondered how he could miss such obvious signs, but on the other, he really wasn't all that surprised. He knew how obsessed he could get about his work and other things.
He was exhausted by the time they got there, and when they did, his jaw dropped open. His hide bag with nuts and dried fruits, the cloak he used for sleeping under, the rest of his tools and his half-finished invention -- all asunder, splintered, torn, savaged by something with great paws and brutal strength. Wisdom padded to the edge of the bluff and looked down. Blackberry, curious, followed her gaze. At the bottom of the cliff was the still and stinking body of a bear. Bears usually weren't so violent nor so clumsy as to fall, but the stench of foamsickness was thick in the air now, and unmistakable. In the grip of his obsession with ideas, Blackberry doubted he would have noticed its approach. And now all his tools were ruined, every single one of them. Except the hammer.
Wisdom sat and blinked at him patiently, as though waiting for him to figure it out.
Although the danger was now past, he felt the need to be back home, to leave this foul place behind him. Blackberry hurriedly started packing up what few things were left, the remnants of his bag, his cloak. He abandoned his creation for lost and headed towards home with Wisdom at his side.
When he finally felt safe enough to stop and rest, Blackberry stretched out on a grassy slope and lay there for a long time, turning the hammer over and over in his hands, and thinking about Wisdom. She was lying at his side, tired out from the day's events. "How did you know?" he asked, holding up the hammer.
She answered him with a contented sigh, and a gentle snore.
Wisdom was a good cubsitter. She was smart and careful and observant, and was able to shepherd elven and lupine young alike. She took special care of cubs and parents often trusted her to tend their young while they took a break. She stepped into the role of caretaker as easily as any hunter steps into shadow. She liked it.
It was the middle of the new-green season. The leaves were fresh and tender on the trees, and the river swelled over its banks with the cold runoff of melted snow. With the elevated water levels came fascinating treasures washed down from far upriver, and the tribe's only cub, Shimmer, was cautioned against swimming, or even getting too near. It was a hard rule to obey. The young elf played in the puddles, watching the river but not getting too close. Wisdom lay on a dry patch of soft grass and watched her watching the frigid torrent. They could both see the power in it, the churning waters, the swift current. They kept their distance, but moved downriver, where a small eddy had pooled, trapped by a fallen tree, and gathered lots of treasure for the cub to delight in. Wisdom padded after her, watchful as ever.
And then, temptation: a ravvit carcass, full and fine, its pelt unmarred by weaponstrike, stuck on the end of a branch of the fallen tree. A brave young Shimmer, crawling out to fetch it. Wisdom, alert now, tail up and quivering. She paced, and tossed her head to encourage Shimmer to come back. Wisdom was too big to climb out onto the log after her, and she also knew that neither of them were strong swimmers. She watched the foolish young cub as she stretched, reached, caught the fur of her prize, was surprised by the weight of it, and overbalanced.
Meanwhile, Blackberry and a handful of others were back at the Holt, out of sight of the river. He was twining some rope and chatting with Rhythm, who was cutting reeds for a new flute, and intermittently giving the slender tubes a quick puff of air to test their pitch. Axehand dozed on a nearby branch, enjoying the warm breeze that carried the fragrances of a reawakening forest at night: early flowers, loam, and earthworms.
They were all startled by an unfamiliar howl, long and high and urgent: it was the very soul of alarm and it chilled their blood and stilled their hearts in fear.
Not quite knowing how he recognized a sound he'd never heard before, Blackberry nonetheless knew: "That's Wisdom."
Instantly, all the elves at the Holt were on their feet and running as fast as their legs would carry them towards the sound. Wisdom often watched the cub, and the same fear thrummed through all their hearts as though they were all connected by an invisible, vibrating string. Her howls never ceased, and led them unerringly to the river, where she kept pace with the figure of a struggling young elf as she thrashed in the water. Wisdom fell silent as soon as she saw that help had come.
Blackberry thought quickly, and tied the rope he'd been too alarmed to discard around Axehand's waist. He was the strongest swimmer. Axehand plunged into the water and swam with strong, purposeful strokes to the cub. It was a job and a half holding onto the panicked youngster and not going under himself, and he was glad of the others hauling him back with the rope.
Shimmer's mother Agate fairly dragged them both out of the shallows herself, and while Axehand gasped for breath and had his shoulders clasped in pride and thankfulness, Agate held her cub close and warmed Shimmer's body with her own. She collapsed beside Wisdom, and threw one arm around the wolf's neck while holding Shimmer tight and wept into her wild grey ruff with relief and gratitude.
That day, the nearly-drowned cub insisted on sleeping curled up next to Wisdom, who did not complain. Blackberry sat nearby, watching his amazing wolf-friend as she licked the cub's forehead and settled down to sleep, shielded from the daystar by the thick shade of the den trees.
"You're a hero, you know that?" he whispered to her.
She answered him with a contented sigh, and a gentle snore.
Blackberry spent a long time with the nets, sticking close to home. He bent over the tangles and the knots and untied and retied them, his fingers working desperately to keep him from noting how low the moons sank and how light the east was getting. Wisdom, over thirty now, lay beside him, her breathing steady but not as easy as it once was. Blackberry studiously ignored it. If he did not acknowledge it, it would not be real. Although he was already over a century old, he could not imagine his life without Wisdom and did not wish to. He pushed those thoughts roughly aside, and focused on other things, like mending nets and knapping knives and arrowheads. The only concessions he made to Wisdom's declining health were to fetch her water, and share with her his meat. The rest he pretended not to notice.
As the sun rose, so did Wisdom. She got to her feet with difficulty, her limbs stiff with age. Her golden eyes had milked and faded to hazel, and the fur around her muzzle was more white than grey, although her coat was as thick and wild as ever.
She stood, and nudged Blackberry's elbow with her nose. "Are you thirsty?" he asked. She pushed her face under his arm and he looked into her eyes. The look in them drained the blood from him and set a pressure on his throat that would not let up no matter how he swallowed.
Wisdom turned and walked slowly away. She did not look to see if he would follow. She knew he would. She always knew.
Although he didn't want to, he followed her out of the Holt and up the ridge to the grassy hollow where the mighty oak had once stood, years before. She stopped and looked out over the forest, and waited. He sat down, and she curled up next to him and quickly fell into an easy sleep, just as though she knew the world and everything in it, and the knowledge contented her.
He rested his hand on her ruff, and tried to speak, but found he couldn't. He was losing the rock beneath his rapids, and he was drowning in the flood. Thank you, he wanted to say. Please stay, just a little longer, also. And, Was I as good to you as you were to me?
She answered him with a contented sigh... and nothing more.