(This story is a sequel to "Revelations", and is related to the "Willow Healer Storyline" - see listing for more related stories.)
The chief hesitated before asking to enter Willow's den, uncertain of who he would disturb.
**Windburn? Come in,** Kestrel answered him. He wasn't sure if she, Windsong, or Suddendusk might be in there, sitting at Willow's bedside.
The eldest elder sounded tired. More tired than Windburn felt. How much sleep had she got over the past couple of days? Surely less than he had. And now that both Pathmark and Willow were in separate dens, that meant even more traveling for the elder who had obviously had so little sleep.
Windburn pushed the tattered den flap aside and ducked in. It looked as though nothing had changed at all since he had last been here.
Kestrel sat quietly next to her granddaughter, waiting, hoping that, soon, Willow would wake from the state she was in. The elder had hurried home as fast as she could when Windburn had sent word of the she-bear's attack. She wouldn't rest, she said, until she knew both of her grandcubs would be all right.
Willow lay asleep beneath a warm layer of bedfurs. To look at her, one would never have believed anything had happened to her just three days ago. Her usually unkemptly braided hair had been unbound and neatly combed, and was draped over the top of the bedfurs so as not to become tangled. The blood that had covered her had long since been scrubbed away. No, if he hadn't been there at that bloody scene himself, he might have guessed that Willow had just been peacefully sleeping the past three nights and days.
If he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he might be doubting what had happened still – that Willow had healed her brother, saved him from a certain death. And since that fateful event, it was still uncertain to what extent Pathmark would recover. Willow, was still unconscious and unable to speak.
“There's been no change,” Kestrel said quietly. She smoothed a strand of hair away from Willow's face, then stiffly rose from her seat next to the bed. “She's still out. She sends sometimes when I send to her, but I can't make out anything other than a jumble. It's like trying to talk to the fog.” It was clear from Kestrel's tone that this brought little comfort. “We'd hoped that moving her into her own den where it was more comfortable and familiar would help bring her back, but it doesn't seem to have helped at all.”
Windburn frowned and nodded, taking in the news. He'd tried to send to the new healer, too, in the hopes she'd answer coherently. No such luck, which was worrisome. Why couldn't she send back? Had she injured her mind somehow when she had pushed herself to the limit trying to save her brother's life? “I was hoping that since Pathmark awoke earlier that Willow would wake up sometime soon, too. But she's only been in her den for a day now. Maybe she needs more time. ”
Kestrel shook her head. “Who knows how long it will take? Cloudfern said there's no way to tell. We have to wait and be patient, no matter how much we wish she would hurry and awaken.”
'And hope she awakens,' Windburn thought to himself. What he had seen Willow do in that clearing had been spectacular, and had clearly taken quite a bit of effort. Could it be possible for an elf to burn herself out permanently by overusing her magic? 'Best not to concern Kestrel with that,' the chief decided. There was enough to worry about without gnawing at a problem that might not even exist. He changed the subject.
“Have you had a chance to go see Pathmark? I was told he was awake again, but he was sleeping when I went to visit. He looks better, at least.”
“I went earlier, but didn't stay long. He was still tired and fell asleep when I tried to talk with him.” Her forehead crinkled with concern. “He's very weak, and Cloudfern says the danger of infection has not yet passed. Since there was no way to tell how clean the wounds were when they were closed, rot might still set in. And we can't find out more about what else might be hurt until Pathmark is more coherent and can tell us.” She chuckled wanly. “Cloudfern's with him now. He told me to go get some rest and would probably skin me alive if he knew I had come here instead of resting in my own den.”
“You should listen to him.” Windburn's answer was gentle. “You're tired. Have you even slept since you've been back? They're both in good hands, and if something happens, we won't wait to let you know.”
Kestrel merely shook her head. “If worse comes to worse, I can nap in here or in the other den with Pathmark.”
Windburn didn't press. He understood Kestrel's worry. He knew she wanted her grandcubs to awaken and be all right. Windburn did, too, although admittedly the chief had more than just the health of the two elves on his mind. He looked back at the sleeping healer as he ran over the events in the forest again.
**You knew about this secret and you didn't tell me,** he'd told his father. It still bothered him that Blacksnake and others had known about this for days, but had kept that knowledge to themselves.
**This wasn't my secret to tell.**
He still couldn't believe Blacksnake had sent those words! And even though there had been a truth to those words, though ultimately he had decided to do nothing about the indiscretion, what Blacksnake told him still stung him to his very core.
When Pathmark and Willow had been brought home, Cloudfern had the siblings placed in his work den so he could watch and care for them both, at least before the decision was made to move Willow to her own den to see if that would hasten her awakening. The tribe watched and waited, too, hoping for signs of improvement for both elves.
As days passed, more and more questions surfaced in the chief's mind about the tribe's newest healer. How long had she had these powers? How long had she been hiding this secret?
How much control did she have over her gift?
There had been signs, Windburn realized, long, long before the incident in the woods. It was only, now, via hindsight, that he'd been able to pick them out.
And those realizations made Windburn forgo asking his father, or Farscout, or Cloudfern, anything else about what they might have known or suspected about Willow's powers.
He'd get the answers straight from the source: from Willow herself. At least, he would when she woke.
Kestrel's sending brought the chief's mind back to the Now.
**Are you all right?**
Windburn heaved an uncharacteristic sigh. **I'm fine. It's just that I hate the waiting and the worrying.** He could have added that he was frustrated for other reasons, too, but this answer would suffice.
Kestrel placed a comforting hand on Windburn's shoulder, which made the chief feel slightly guilty. Her grandcubs were lying in dens, and their future health was uncertain. He should be comforting her. **It's hard to be patient, I know.** Her sending was full of that knowing, too – knowing that Windburn wanted Willow and Pathmark to wake up. Knowing that there had been too many worries and close calls when it came to tribemates of late. **I know I'd just be happy if I knew for sure my grandcubs were all right. It's something, at least, that Pathmark's finally awakened, but I won't feel any relief until they're both awake and talking and they can tell me, themselves, that they're going to be fine.**
Sudden movement and sound from the bed behind them quickly drew their attention. They raced over to Willow's side as she moaned and thrashed. Kestrel climbed up on the bed beside her granddaughter and placed a cool hand on Willow's forehead.
**Willow! Willow! You're safe, cub. I'm right here.**
Willow's eyes were closed. She groaned and grimaced, almost as if she were in pain.
“...Pathmark!” Willow cried. Droplets of sweat formed on her brow.
**Pathmark is safe and well,** Kestrel sent. **He's tucked away, asleep, in Cloudfern's workden.** She did her best to push now sweat-soaked strands of hair away from Willow's face and placed her other hand on Willow's arm. **He's safe, and you're safe, too.**
Willow moaned again, and Kestrel turned to vocal sounds to try and soothe her granddaughter. “Shhh.”
Suddenly, Willow took a sharp, deep breath. She grimaced. “Don't--”
Kestrel brushed a couple more strands of hair back from Willow's face and leaned closer. Willow groaned again. “Shh. It's all right, cub. You're safe. I'm right here, and Pathmark is safe and sound.”
The growl started as a low rumble of warning in Willow's chest, then grew in intensity as it traveled up her throat and out of her mouth. Willow's eyes popped open. She bared her teeth and snapped at Kestrel.
“Don't touch me!” Willow snarled, eyes wild.
Kestrel cried out and moved at the last possible moment. She drew back, taken completely by surprise.
No sooner had the actions been done, the words been said, than shock replaced the wild look on Willow's face.
“G-grandmother?” Willow's voice shook.
It was Windburn who answered, in hopes his words would serve to soothe and re-orient the confused elf. **You are home. Safe.**
Willow shivered and pulled more blankets around herself. She sank back down on her bed without another word, but still looked disoriented and confused.
Windburn moved to Kestrel's side and Willow drew further back.
“Please...don't touch me,” Willow begged, her voice weak.
“I'm going to send for Cloudfern to look you over,” Windburn countered.
Willow moaned, “Leave me alone.”
Kestrel, who still looked shaken, nodded. “Yes, let her rest for now. Let her be.”
Windburn's brows lowered in thought. He looked from Kestrel to Willow and then back again.
“All right. For now. But Willow--” Windburn shifted his gaze to her. She peered at him meekly over the top of her bedfurs. “You and I will talk. Soon.”
Willow nodded, and the chief turned and ducked outside.
Kestrel's nervous lock-send followed him. **She just woke up and was confused. For now, let's just assume this will pass with time.**
Windburn didn't like it, but he agreed. Waiting was the only thing they could do, for now. He tried not to worry over what he'd seen. There was enough to worry about her brother as it was. Surely Willow had just been confused upon waking. He'd let her rest, and he'd go back to see her again. He'd bring Cloudfern or Starskimmer with him to make sure everything was all right.
Hopefully, then, he'd finally get some answers to his growing mountain of questions.