She Came Upon a Midnight Clearing   2501.12.24*  
Written By: Amy Chandler
(2007 Secret Santa) Foxtail finds something odd late one winter night.
Posted: 02/21/08      [7 Comments]

Foxtail knelt in a snow-covered clearing, one hand going out to touch the strange tracks she discovered. It seemed that a congregation of clickdeer had been in the clearing recently, far too close to the Holt for normal migration. There were tracks and droppings in a strangely orderly pattern as well as dried grass scattered around on top of the snow. There were another set of tracks as well that appeared to be two straight lines that were as wide as her hand and spaced a wolf length apart. The snow muffled the scents but she definitely picked up the smell of clickdeer mixed with a strange dusty or maybe spicy scent from the animal tracks but the flat marks had no odor at all. The signs clearly showed that the clickdeer and the strange thing had been in the clearing but there was no indication of where they came from or where they went. The tracks suddenly started and just as abruptly ended on the other end of the clearing.

**Notch! Come see what I found.** Her hunting partner was only a short distance away. She stood and paced along the length of the tracks while she waited for him to arrive.

Notch arrived in moments, cheeks flushed from the cold. ** Did you find rabbits? Flush a covey of birds?**

She smiled at him and silently waved her hand at the clearing. She watched his face as he took in the sight. His eyes widened a bit and he stared at the strange tracks in confusion. His nostrils flared a little as he took in the scents of the scene. Then, he paced slowly to her side, never taking his gaze from the spectacle before him. He glanced up at her once he drew even with her. That was when she saw the corners of his eyes scrunch a little. She gave his arm a backhanded swat and laughed.

“Ow! What was that for?” Notch said rubbing his shoulder.

Still laughing, Foxtail said, “How did you set this all up?”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t do this.”

“Of course you did. I saw your eyes scrunch up in the corners. You only do that when you are pranking someone and trying not to give it away.”

Notch drew himself up and crossed his arms over his chest. “I do not! I would never have such an obvious tell.”

Foxtail giggled, setting her curls to bouncing. “Yes, you do.”

Their argument was interrupted by a thump on the snow-covered ground behind them. They both turned and saw a fur-wrapped bundle lying in a snow drift. They looked up and saw a dark shape move across the night sky. **Kestrel?** Foxtail sent.

There was no reply.

Notch moved toward the bundle cautiously. He nudged it a couple of times with his foot before bending down to pick it up. Foxtail moved up to his side and peered over his shoulder as he slowly unwound the fur. It was a fine fur with long flowing hairs, probably from a shagback. Inside the fur was a drinking skin. When they pulled the stopper, the spicy sweet scent of dreamberry wine floated up.

“Where did it come from?” Foxtail whispered.

Notch shrugged. “Whoever pranked us gave us a wonderful gift and I don’t plan on wasting it.”

He took a healthy swallow and gasped after it went down. “That’s a good brew!”

Foxtail wrapped the shagback fur around her shoulders and then elbowed Notch lightly in the ribs. “Hey, let me have some.”

The two took turns sipping from the skin as they walked back to the Holt. The closer they got to home the more unsteady their steps became. Finally, they reached home, giggling happily and loudly whispering their amorous plans for the day to each other. They passed Kestrel coming out of the storage dens on the way to their denning tree.

Foxtail grinned at her elder. “That was a great prank, Kestrel! Thanks!”

Kestrel gave the pair a look of confusion as they made their way up the trunk. “What prank?”

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