(This story is part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers - Background" series of stories -- see listing for related stories.)
Starskimmer was generally a very steady soul, so when she went to pieces, Greenweave was at a loss for what to do.
"Get her out!" the rockshaper screamed, tearing at the wrapstuff cocoon with both hands. "Bloody dung!! Don't just stand there like a lump! Help me!!!"
Greenweave edged forward a step, willing to help, but reluctant to get in the way. He had never seen a cocooned elf being unwrapped, and he didn't have the least idea how or where to start, and in her frenzy, Starskimmer's arms and elbows seemed to be everywhere in the small space. He wasn't entirely sure he shouldn't be restraining her, instead of helping.
Gurgleflap spiraled around their heads, wailing and shrieking at the rockshaper to stop. "No good, you bad highthing, no good! Is good wrapstuff, is good job, no good rip and tear, Fur-Tumble Highthing ruin it all!"
"What's going on here?"
Greenweave looked up in relief as Cloudfern came pushing through the door of the den. He realized that Starskimmer must have locksent for her Recognized the moment she and Greenweave had made their discovery of Beetle, here in her brother Coyote’s lair.
"We've got to get Beetle out!" Starskimmer cried, still ripping at the wrapstuff with both hands.
Instead, Cloudfern lunged for the rockshaper's shoulders and dragged her away from the cocoon. "What are you doing!" he cried to Starskimmer, yet Cloudfern looked at Greenweave as he said it. The fisher moved forward to help his furmate restrain the distraught Starskimmer. Whatever summons Starskimmer had sent to Cloudfern had scared the plantshaper badly, something Greenweave had seldom seen. Gurgleflap saw its opportunity and swooped past them to immediately begin to spray more websilk, grumbling around its spray of spit about highthings gone moon-mad.
"We didn’t do anything," Greenweave answered soothingly, with a touch to Cloudfern’s shoulder. "We were just going past and saw Coyote lounging outside of his denhole. He immediately got that look on his face, you know the one, and slunk off like a killdeer dragging its wing. We didn’t take the bait and popped in here instead to take a look, and found Beetle already like this --" he waved at the cocoon laid out across the furs spread on the den floor.
Starskimmer burst into tears and sagged in Cloudfern's arms. “Our daughter -- help her!"
"Has Beetle been hurt?" Cloudfern demanded of Greenweave again, as if Greenweave reasonably had any answers.
"There's no blood," Greenweave offered, trying himself to make sense of this madness. "There's just this," he waved at the cocoon again, "and Beetle's healthy scent all over."
"I sent to her! I can hardly reach her by sending, she’s all muffled and wrong!" Starskimmer wept, her chest heaving. "My baby girl, oh, my baby girl..."
Cloudfern growled in exasperation and gave his Recognized a shake. “You silly goose! You scared the piss out of me!” he cried. “You sent that Beetle was dying, but she’s only websilked instead!” Cloudfern managed a strangled laugh and turned his attention toward the busy Gurgleflap, who was finishing up on the last torn bit of wrapping. “Beetle isn’t hurt, is she?” he demanded.
"Many-Mix Highthing good, is all good. All is good, all is fine.” The Preserver had landed at the head (or was it the feet? Greenweave couldn’t tell one end from the other of the oval-shaped silken mass) of the cocoon and was patting its handiwork proudly. “Many-Mix Highthing say make wrapstuff, she want to try it, she want to sleep just like little Sad-Eye Highthing sleeps."
"Beetle's just fine," added Coyote, who turned up outside the den's window; he peered in warily, eyeing his mother as if ready to bolt if Starskimmer made a move toward the window. "You don't need to throw a fit. Beetle just got curious about what it's like to be in wrapstuff. She's been wondering about that ever since Fadestar got wrapped. You know how Beetle gets when she's got a wild idea in her head. It's an itch she's got to scratch. She can't let go it of it until she's satisfied her curiosity."
"And you let her?" Starskimmer's words practically dripped venom. Her green eyes were narrowed and fixed on her eldest child, and her stare was as spiteful as a wet treecat. “You let your sister get wrapped up like a venison haunch?”
Coyote snorted. "Sure. Better to have Beetle experiment where she's safe and has her big brother to watch out for her, than to let her wander off and do it in the woods somewhere."
Greenweave met Cloudfern's eyes, and saw his furmate's wry smirk -- only Coyote would consider himself a brave guardian of anything.
“Beetle wants to just spend the night and a day wrapped; I promised to cut her out come the following moonshigh,” Coyote continued, and if his sister’s morbid experimentation was normal behavior. “I don’t know what you’re so in a lather about.”
Starskimmer lunged, but Cloudfern held her back from whatever violence she intended. "I can't believe you let her do -- do that! Beetle's not a piece of meat to be cached--"
"Calm down!!" Cloudfern snapped, in the no-nonsense tone he usually reserved for dealing with stubborn patients. "Beetle's fine."
"You can't know that!"
"I can, and I do." Cloudfern gave Starskimmer a shake, until she had shifted her glare from the window to his face. "You know better than this, dearheart. You know Beetle isn’t the first elf in this tribe to act on this crazy idea. You remember Sunlight and Farscout cutting me out of it when I tried, don’t you? You’ll remember that if you’d stop panicking."
Starskimmer blinked and sniffed, then hung her head and nodded. Greenweave was aware of Coyote's keen interest, and he himself was looking at Cloudfern with some surprise. "You've done that too?" Coyote asked. "You've gone into a wrapstuff cocoon?"
Greenweave shuddered at the idea; he could understand Beetle's curiosity over the process, but the act of cocooning a elf in websilk was done only if their tribesmate was critically injured or gravely ill. It was a measure of gruesome last resort, and some of their kin had already chosen a natural death over the prospect of suspended half-life, waiting for the healer who might never be born to the tribe.
But clearly, others felt differently from the fisher. Cloudfern snorted wryly at Coyote’s question. "Are there stars in the sky? Of course I gave it a try. Years before you were born. Beetle will be just fine whenever we wake her. She’ll have spent her time dreaming away, and she’ll not have heard even the strongest of sendings." Cloudfern smiled and gave Starskimmer a gentle push toward the door. "Leave our girl be. Let her satisfy her curiosity. After all, she's not the first to scratch that itch. And I very much doubt she'll be the last."
A wild yell woke him. Greenweave had begun to sit up in his bed when something hit him hard across the head. He yelped and flung up his arms to protect himself, and his elbow hit painfully against flesh and bone. Greenweave rolled up against the curve of the bowl-bed where it met the hometree wall, aware of the equal rustle of movement and the drag of furs in the opposite direction. He blinked the sleep from his eyes and sat up, rubbing the sting from the side of his head. "You hit me!"
In the shaft of daylight that leaked through the room's window-curtain, Cloudfern's pale hair and skin glowed with stripes of gold. Greenweave looked at his furmate, and his anger over the rude awakening evaporated. Cloudfern's blue-violet eyes were enormous, and his expression was sleep-muddied and confused. He looked like a bewildered child who'd woken from a nightmare. Greenweave thought again of Beetle wrapped in her gossamer cocoon, and shivered. He reached for his friend's arm, then kicked the tangles of his fur wrap into order, gathered Cloudfern's unresisting body into his arms, and pulled his friend back down into bed.
**Bad dreams?** he sent as he stroked Cloudfern's pale hair.
Cloudfern was trembling and he was damp with fear-sweat, yet he gave a listless shrug of his shoulders -- it was as much of a denial of the obvious as the herbalist could manage, Greenweave figured. Greenweave smirked to himself, halfway amused by that denial, and continued to stroke Cloudfern's pale gold head. When his fingers found knots bunched in the scalp beneath that silken glory, he massaged them gently. The questions he wanted to ask he kept to himself, knowing from experience what that would earn him. Cloudfern was as supple as a rainbow trout -- when you were most certain that you had him, he twisted off the hook and left you empty-handed.
It was maybe that which most enticed Greenweave about the plantshaper. Cloudfern's luminous beauty was deceptively boyish, and it was easy to forget that the plantshaper was many decades his elder. His sunny smile and witty humor masked deep waters beneath, and those deep waters were well protected and seldom shared.
“Did I send?” Cloudfern asked at length. His whisper was clipped and ragged. “Did I – did I wake you?”
Greenweave chuckled gently. “You did wake me. A little more bluntly than with a sending, though.”
Cloudfern let go a deep breath, and Greenweave felt some of the tension drain from his bedmate’s body. He began to braid strands of Cloudfern’s hair, his fingers deft and nimble in that task. **Sleep if you wish. Or if you want to talk, I’ll not repeat what’s been said between us.**
Cloudfern sighed at that, and he reached back to brush his fingertips against Greenweave’s cheek. When the confession came, it came hesitantly, a brush of a mindtouch as moth-like as that brief caress. **I haven’t dreamed like that… not in years.**
**Beetle’s experimenting with the wrapstuff.** Greenweave offered that image as both touchstone and invitation. **Did it bring up bad memories?**
Cloudfern remained silent for so long that Greenweave thought his furmate had determined to ignore the question. But then the plantshaper released another deep sigh, and a shiver coursed down his taut spine.
**I used to send my nightmares. Long after what happened to my parents and grandparents, long after Farscout brought me home, I would wake the entire tribe with my nightmares, so often sometimes that I would fight going to sleep. The tribe was sympathetic at first, but…** The sending trailed off with an impression of lingering shame and frustration. **Sunlight used to try different teas to help me sleep. The poppy-tears worked best, but she wisely wouldn’t let me have it, not as often as I wished for it.**
Greenweave nuzzled the nape of Cloudfern’s neck sympathetically. He thought of his furmate’s confession, and of the sending-dreams the tribe’s three most recent children, Snowflake, Fadestar and Mouse, had broadcast to their elders at various times over the past several years. Sending was like any of the body’s other muscles. It took time and exercise to strength and develop. It wasn’t unusual for young children to share their dreams in open sends – especially children who didn’t yet know their own soul names. Just the same as children learned to control their bowels and bladders and not to mess in their sleepfurs, young children exercised and learned control of their mind-muscles. Greenweave tried to remember the last time he had been woken by the chaotic jumble of a near-by child’s broadcast dream-thoughts. The last he could recall was last winter, when Mouse had woken many of the tribe with a nightmare only after young Fadestar had gone into wrapstuff. But Mouse was eight years old now, and hadn’t done it again since that miserable night.
Greenweave thought about that some more, and remembered that Cloudfern had been an old enough child to take his first Long Walk, old enough to have accompanied his parents on their fatal hunting trip. He thought of the terrors Cloudfern must had witnessed in the hands of the humans who had slaughtered the boy’s family and put Brightwood into wrapstuff, and shuddered to think of what Cloudfern’s broadcast dreams must have been.
**It must have been horrible,** he sent, no longer with sympathy but instead with heartfelt compassion. **No wonder you tried the cocoon.**
Cloudfern was still and silent in Greenweave’s arms, the rise and fall of his chest almost imperceptible. Only the faint warmth of his skin where they touched, and of the beat of his pulse when Greenweave kissed his neck, proved Cloudfern still very much alive.
**It was the worst when Farscout began to leave again. He didn’t leave the Holt for seasons after we came home, not at first, but when he did begin to go out again, it was like I couldn’t control myself. When I slept, it would all just happen again, and I couldn’t help living through it over and over again. When I thought to join Brightwood in the wrapstuff, I thought I wouldn’t want to come out again. Not ever.**
Cloudfern’s send was dark and shadowy with the pain of that memory. **You tried to hide from what you’d seen and from your dreams by going into the websilk,** Greenweave said gently, trying not to shiver at the thought. **But that didn’t help, did it?**
“It was horrible,” Cloudfern whispered instead, no longer willing to share even the edges of those memories in the intimacy of sending. “When you’re in wrapstuff, all you do is dream. Vividly. And my dreams were already full of blood and death.”
Greenweave hugged his furmate tightly, grieving for the frightened child Cloudfern had once been. At length, Cloudfern stirred against him, turning in Greenweave’s arms so that they faced one another.
“But that’s past,” Cloudfern said, with a dose of his usual brisk confidence. “I couldn’t hide anywhere where Sunlight or Farscout couldn’t have tracked me down, and they opened my cocoon before even a full day and night had passed. And I learned that all things pass, all seasons change. Eventually I found better ways of distracting myself from morbid dreams and bad memories,” he added, nibbling down the curve of Greenweave’s neck. “Much better ways.”
Greenweave chuckled at that, and let his furmate help teach him a lesson in distraction.
At moonshigh that night, Greenweave hung back in the doorway of Coyote’s den to watch over Cloudfern’s shoulder as Coyote cut Beetle out of her cocoon.
“Careful,” Cloudfern said, while at the plantshaper’s side, Starskimmer hugged herself tightly in a clear struggle not to rip the narrow skinning knife from her son’s hands.
Coyote snorted and rolled Cloudfern a look of amusement. “I’ve opened enough meat caches, I can do this without you both hovering.” The hunter was true to his word. He cut his way carefully through the layers of wrapsilk with deft skill, although the knife was doing its work with a confident speed that made Greenweave’s own pulse leap and skitter. Gurgleflap, Foamspray, Berryflop and Dewdrop all perched on the nearest windowsill in a shuddering, disapproving line.
“Many-Mix Highthing safe and quiet, why disturb happy sleepings?” Gurgleflap muttered, a question the elves in the room chose to ignore.
“Here we go…” Coyote murmured. Moments later, Beetle stirred suddenly and began to move, her sleepy reach helping break the last of the websilk strands.
“Mmmmm…” Her hazel eyes fluttered opened, and she looked around her in a childlike expression of confusion before her eyes cleared. She smiled and yawned.
“What are you all doing here?” she asked of the room. “Coyote, how long was it?” she asked.
“A day and a night, just as you asked for,” Coyote answered.
Beetle frowned with disappointment. “But I only just went to sleep! Did you send to me like you promised?”
“All night long,” Coyote grinned, sheathing the knife in his boot. “Have any dreams?”
Beetle yawned again, and began to roll up spidery strands of the severed cocoon. “There was this field of wildflowers and I was trying to pick them all, because I’d never seen or smelled any of them before. And then, it was night, and there were stars bursting in colors all over the sky,” she said. “It was the most vivid dream – I can still almost taste those impossible perfumes in my nose, and see the starbursts. I should try this again, and this time, try it for a week.”
Starskimmer made a hissing noise of disapproval at that, while Cloudfern simply laughed, and drew both Starskimmer and Greenweave out of the den with him.
“Let our girl be,” Cloudfern said to his Recognized, hugging her to him -- but when he smiled, the smile was for Greenweave. “Our daughter can experiment all she wants, but Beetle’ll eventually learn the best lesson of all. Pretty dreamtime in websilk is no substitute for life in the world.”