(This story is a part of the "One-Leg adjusts to the loss of his leg" storyline -- see listing for related stories.)
2165.05.06 - Northern foothills of Elder Peak.
One-Leg managed to maintain a relatively even pace across the uneven terrain. His small travel pack wasn’t throwing off his balance as much anymore. He'd been wandering through the valley for a while now, making his way along the northern base of Elder Peak . Traptease was being her usual nosy self, shoving her muzzle into every rabbit-hole, abandoned nest, and exposed tangle of roots that it could fit in. Her shaggy head suddenly shot up, ears wide and nose twitching. She had identified the intruder’s location before One-Leg heard his daughter’s voice on the southern wind.
“…oooo… aaaaooo… Aaaaooooyah Father!”
Flash raced toward him on wolf-back down a low slope, Bounder bouncing forth in that half-run-half-jump manner of his. Her face was flush with anger and worry. With practiced ease she drew one leg up over her wolf and dismounted in mid-pace, running beside her wolf without him breaking stride. Even in the midst of a tantrum she couldn’t help putting on a show.
Her forward momentum was curtailed by her father’s forceful glare. “I said I wanted some time alone with my thoughts! Which one of the very small words I used was too tough for you lot to get yer’ fleabitten heads around?”
“That was three nights ago!” Flash rebuked, “We’ve been looking for you for two! Mother is worried-”
“I haven’t been her problem in a clickdeers’s age! Doeskin knows what I'm about, and that's all that needs knowing!"
“You shouldn’t go out alone like this!”
“Why not? You think I need a bodyguard? Or a cubsitter?”
“You can’t just run off!”
”WHY THE RATDUNG NOT? I’m not hunting shagbacks! Or wrestling bears! Or picking off Fierce Ones! I’M TAKING A SIMPLE WALK!”
“You simply walked through the Braids to hide your trail!”
One-Leg shouted down his own anguish. “BECAUSE SOMEONE WOULD HAVE TRIED TO STOP ME! Coddle me! Treat me like a weaning pup who can’t crawl off on his own! I set out to do something, and by the Moons I’m going to see it through! The only way you’re bringing me back is ears-flat strapped to Traptease with my britches tied around my ankles!” Furious at her high-handed father, Flash gave him a look that would have sent half the tribe running the other direction. One-Leg merely puffed up and thumped his broad chest, “Come on then! Take a swing! Knock some sense into your wobbly old sire if you have what it takes!”
Flash launch herself at him, wailing in frustration. She pounded her fists into his chest, crying. One-Leg stood his ground, wrapped his arms around her trembling form.
“You could get hurt again! Worse than before! Why do you have to take such fool chances?” she pleaded through heaving breaths.
He frowned, more for her than for himself. “Because that’s what the living do.”
Flash was choking on her tears. “Why so soon?”
“It’s been almost a turn. What was I supposed to do?” He gently nudged her off him, smiling at her. “Sit around and wait for it to grow back?”
She wiped the tears away, trying to work up a laugh. “Won’t you at least tell me where you’ve been? Where you’re going?”
The elder elf swung a thumb in the direction of the smaller of the two mountains north of Elder Peak . “I paid a visit to the place where I took my little tumble. And I just kept walking” He furrowed his brow, scanning the horizon. “Figure I’ll do the whole course, now. The whole territory.”
Flash stared at him a moment, trying to pry out the meaning of his words. There was something about the way he said them. “Oh!” She was becoming reminded of her Very Long Walk decades ago. “You should at least tell someone! Easysinger shouldn’t be too far off to Sun-goes-down by now-”
“Is that so?” He whistled Traptease and took to her back. “Already been that way!” Together they headed off in the opposite direction.
Flash was left there fuming. She couldn’t send as far as he could. It was get help or keep close to her sire. She growled and followed after him, mounting Bounder on the move as easily as she’d leapt off.
2165.05.11 - 50 miles due east of the River Twine Dentrees
“Wait up!” Flash cried.
“Keep up!” One-Leg called back, well ahead of her, “I’m not out here to watch you fuss out which tree is which.”
Flash and Bounder were both more than a little hyperactive: good for brief bouts of extreme energy, but low on endurance. In the early evenings they literally ran circles around the elder elf and wolf, displaying their determination not to be shaken loose when they weren’t racing ahead looking for some other elf to report to. But by midnight the younger pair was always struggling to keep up with the relentless pace set by One-Leg along the Holt border. It seemed as if he only stopped to drink water or to make it.
Flash was too winded to keep yelling. **Why are you out here? What is a Long Walk going prove?**
“Nothing! I know what’s what. It’s the rest of you that need to figure it out!”
**And what exactly did we need to figure out, Father?**
“That I can go for long walks and come back from ‘em!” Traptease slowed, but not quite enough to let Bounder catch all the way up. One-Leg didn’t have to shout, not that there was much difference from his normal booming tones. “I had a lot of time to think about things when I was up on that mountain. I’m fed up being helped and cubbed-over every time I turn around! Yes I miss the hunts, and no I’m not going to try to muscle my way back just to slow the pack down. There are other things I can do for the tribe. I was a fair fishcatcher once, before you came along. I know the waters and the ways of what moves through ‘em.” He chuckled deeply enough that Flash could hear. “I can be a better one! But not if every time I step five paces from the dentree there’s someone tagging along scaring the fish with endless nutmashed mouthrot about how I’m going to shatter apart like an worn-out clay pot the next time I trip over a stone!”
Relief flooded into Flash’s mindvoice. **Fishing’s a fine thing… I suppose.**
“Eh? What’s that supposed to mean?” He was asking about the things she didn’t send.
**Well, hunting is the most important task in the tribe. You lost status when you were taken off the hunt teams.** Flash’s mindvoice wavered. It tasted of indecision; projecting the struggle for words. **It’s good to see you’ve accepted that you lost more than your leg. I was worried all this was just to prove you were still-**
Traptease had stopped and turned. Silhouetted against the starry sky, One-Leg’s stared his daughter down as her wolf shambled closer. “Is that what you think? Swamprot! I thought I raised you better!” What began as a light chiding tone grew louder as One-Leg talked himself into a tirade. “When was the last time your dam went out on a hunt? Was she less to you than me? It took more than hunters to bring me back alive and keep me that way! Is Cloudfern less than those he puts back on their wolves? Why don’t you ask Kestrel or Farscout if scouts are less important than healers? Shards, the word ‘scout’ is right there in his name! I suppose by your reasoning that makes him extra useless! Tripple-swampfaced tonguerot with shards on top! While you’re at it, why don’t you give up beesweets and dreamberries and smokeweed and all the other things the lesser elves spend their days on? Like making up silly little stories and songs if they’re no good to the hunt!”
Tail between his legs, Bounder had stopped moving forward under the barrage. One-Leg’s indignation practically seethed off him like sweat. Humiliated, desperate to save face, Flash muttered under her breath, “I bet you weren’t talking like that before you lost rank with the hunters.”
Traptease ran at them. “What? What did you say? You want ranks? I’ll give you ranks!” A pair of piercing fingers punctuated his outrage. “I’m the Elder, you’re the Youngling, and the Elder says keep your food-hole shut unless you have something useful to say!”
At One-Leg’s unspoken urge, Traptease bolted off, leaving the exhausted Flash shamed beyond words.
2165.05.15 - Northwest of Razor Ridge
One-Leg came out from the thick grove of trees to join Traptease in taking a long drink from the cool waters of the Bounty.
Flash was waiting on the other side, her hair still wet from a bath. Her sitting pose wasn’t exactly submissive, nor was it confrontational. Her mindvoice was even and controlled. **I knew I’d find you sooner or later if I stuck to the river.**
One-Leg’s tone was equally so. **Not a bad guess…. It took nerve to show your face again.**
The young storyteller scoffed. **You want to talk nerve? Nerve is sitting all day over a rancid pit of tanning-slop! Now that’s-**
Her father rapped his peg leg with the end of his staff. The wooden sound rang clearly across the water. **This isn’t all I am.**
**I know.** She didn’t apologize. He didn’t ask her to. **I’m coming with you again. And staying with you this time. What you’re up to isn’t done alone. No one else will bother us. Finch’ll make sure of that.** Flash’s heart-sister could be quite stubborn too.
She came to him, crossing the Bounty at as shallow a place as possible. They did not meet eyes for worry that a whole new argument they were both declining to have would surface.
“So,” she said coolly, eyes low, “Where to next?”
One-Leg looked around wistfully, weighing his options of which memory to visit next. He started walking. “We’re not far from the spot where your dam and I Recognized. Ever hear that story? Like all good true tales it all started with a wager…”
2165.05.17 - Where the Holt’s River meets the Bounty
The small fire was quite comforting. Its dancing embers added brief detail the small clearing it was situated in. One-Leg reached for another skewered bit of rabbit.
“Go on. Ask.”
“You know what,” One-Leg grizzled between bites.
Flash frowned, not wanting to give in to morbid curiosity just now. “Do we have to discuss this during dinner?”
“Nutmash. You’ve been circling around the question for nights. Ask.”
Flash put her skewer down. “What happened to it?”
“Eh? ‘It’ what?”
She rolled her eyes. “Your leg! What happened to your leg?”
He spoke very cavalierly, “I made a little raft and I sent it on its way.”
“Yes. Really. My wishes before the cutting started was that it be put in wrapstuff in case we both had to go for the Very Long Swim.”
Flash gaped in confounded silence.
“Finish your dinner,” was One-Leg’s practical advice. “I don’t want to have to give you two tracking lessons in one night.”
2165.05.19 - Hanging Rock
The stark grey cliff face shot up from the ground at an obtuse angle. It would have offered plenty of protection against the elements to any camped beneath. The two elves and their wolf-friends were based a good distance back away from it, however, on the opposite side of the Rushwater. They were enough to see the greenery that covered the short plateau and the slow rise of the Snappershell Mountain beyond.
**Come on, love. We’re done here. I want to be headed towards Knife Peak before dawn. And I want to go to sleep dry.**
**Just one more hour? Please?**
**You’re not going to see something that wasn’t there to begin with.**
“HELLO TO THE GHOST OF HANGING ROCK!” One-Leg bellowed in jest, “SHOW YOURSELF IF YOU HAVE ANY FIRE IN THAT LILLY-WHITE BELLY OF YOURS! COME OUT AND TELL MY MOON-MAD DAUGHTER TO STOP WASTING MY TIME WITH PEBBLEHEADED CUB-TALES!!!”
“Ha. Ha.” Flash reluctantly got to her feet, **It’s just the wrong season to see it is all.**
2165.05.21 - The eastern foothills of Knife Peak
“I wouldn’t want to, either.”
“Go into wrapstuff. Sleep until a healer comes.”
“I wish you’d warn me before you finish a talk from two nights ago.”
**I’m serious.** She sent that part in order to convey the melancholy, and perhaps regret for not coming clean on this matter earlier when it counted, “What does Newt have to wake up to? How many are left that he’d know?”
One-Leg added up the names. “About half of those he knew. Still, too few.”
“He’s been sleeping too long. I cant imagine leaving Whitestag alone like that. Or waking up without him there to see me up.”
**Oh?** One-Leg’s fatherly glee came across in his mind’s voice, **Him again? Are you serious about it this time?**
**As serious as he ever is.**
**Ah, to be wild and merry beneath the furs! Maybe I’ll run that course when we get back.**
Flash giggled, **Just save Finch for me.**
2165.05.25 - Eagle Bay , where it meets the Rushwater River
One-Leg’s pace had slowed significantly since they reached the sandy coastline. He was talking less and thinking to himself more. For her part, Flash was entranced by the far off islands that dotted the great Water, full of queries of whether any elf had ever set foot on them.
The pair nibbled on travelcakes and scouted for a rocky outcropping long enough to try out their new fishing spears. One-Leg made a promise, “I’m going to have words with whoever left these here for me to find.”
Flash came out of her reverie long enough to really savor a travelcake, enjoying some of her favorite flavors, “Whitestag made the cakes, at least. I’m sure of it.”
2165.05.29 - Foot of the Braided River Delta, south-southeast of Elder Peak
The setting sun cast a shrinking veil of red lines over the churning indigo waters. Black sandbars shifted to violet then blue then pale silver as the stars blinked to life to join the moons which were all that remained to illuminate the scene.
One-Leg inhaled deeply, savoring the salted air. “Wasn’t that worth waking up early for?”
Groggily, Flash rubbed her eyes. “No.”
“Come on. Lets find some food. If we get on the paths now we could be back home in threes night.”
“Huh? We could be there by midnight tomorrow.”
One-Leg’s eyes sparkled. “Not the way we’ll be going.” The elder was following the river before his daughter could reply. He wasn’t going to let her get the last word in this time.