Anguished sobs sounded across the dentrees. Several elves, those that hadn’t abandoned the holt for the time being, tried different tricks and mental games to avoid or ignore the sounds. All in vain. There was no escaping the lung capacity of a heartbroken seven-year-old girl.
Little Flash’s face was buried in Axehand’s lap, her head trembling and shoulders heaving up and down with mighty wails. He was stroking her hair. The bright shock of strawberry blonde locks she’d been born with had deepened into red-orange in most places. Tallow, her own bright green eyes watering with sympathy, gently patted her daughter’s shuddering back. The scant decorations along the walls of their den were vibrating.
Axehand was the first to address the situation. The girl had been playing a dangerous game with her runt of a wolf-friend. Allowing him to demand food and attention from her, and mistaking such displays of ‘boldness’ for growing strength. “You were letting him push you around again weren’t you?”
Flash didn’t respond to the question, but her pain was disrupting her meager mind-voice control. The mix of emotions bubbling up betrayed the truth he’d expected.
“We told you not to,” he continued. “We told you what could happen.”
Flash forced her desperate reply out in small bursts. “Buh buh buh… I was…I was… only try-trying… t-to heeeeeeeelp!”
“You ‘helped’ him get it into his head he could take from his littermates instead of share. That he had higher rank among them than he’d earned. That he could bully them like he did you. You taught him to expect other younglings to defer to him.”
“I did’it mean to!”
“That’s what he thought you meant. What you mean doesn’t matter if you behave otherwise.”
“Buh buh buh they didn’ have to ki-i-i-i-i-ll hi-i-i-i-m!” She threw herself off Axehand and wrapped her arms around Tallow’s waist. Her father wasn’t telling her what she wanted to hear, he was telling her what she needed to understand. Her bawling resumed at full power, now fueled as much by anger at him as by her grief.
“I know, kitling, I know.” Tallow wiped the girl’s streaming tears with a cloth. Her little cheeks and button nose were so red and puffy the freckles that covered them could hardly be seen. “There was probably a challenge, over food or a chew-bone or the best place to sleep, and poor Tumble didn’t know when to back down.”
“It’s not right!” Flash’s words were less slurred, though still punctuated by sharp gulps for air. “Tumble was so!… small and the other yearlings!… were so mean!” She stopped to take a deep inhale through her runny nose.
“Tumble broke the rules,” Axehand interjected. “The wolves have those rules for a reason.”
Flash glared at her father. “We have… t-t-t-to help th-the… weaker ones! Those are the rules!”
Tallow took over again, hoping to keep a lid on two all-too-similar tempers. She reached out to her daughter’s face to make her look at her. “Those are elf-rules, dear heart. Wolves have their own ways. You know that. We are all stronger because we accept each other’s differences.”
Flash looked at the floor. “Tumble’s not stronger. Tumble’s dead!”
“And it’s up to you to learn from his passing so it will not be for nothing,” Axehand said flatly.
Flash’s eyes stayed on the floor, and she didn’t respond. Tallow gently took her daughter’s chin in hand once more and eased her face up to match eyes. **Tseon, Look at me. Do you understand what your father is telling you?** Tallow’s use of her daughter’s soul name was gentle and loving, meant to nudge the girl’s mind to focus past the maelstrom of emotions in order to see the greater truth. Tallow was firm believer in the power of reason.
Flash merely shook her head. Fresh tears were sent rolling over her cheeks.
Axehand rolled his eyes. Tallow didn’t have to be able to sense another’s thoughts to know he was thinking something along the lines of ‘Of course she understands! My daughter is no fool!’. Tallow lock-sent him a harsh feeling, a very definite warning to keep whatever blusterings he was brewing up to himself.
**It is time for a change of subject, I think,** she lock-sent to her brooding mate. **So that later cooler heads will prevail.**
**You mean to distract her from what she must heed in the Now.**
**You can only argue so long with a cub. We both know she’s past the point of really hearing the words.**
Axehand mentally harrumphed, but he conceded. Even he could do with a bit of peace and quiet right then.
Tallow continued aloud, “I think you do understand, kilting. You are quite a clever girl, when you want to be. But you are very sad now, and that is making you see things less than clearly, and we understand that.” She wiped away another round of tears. She knew her daughter loved hearing and making up tales, so making up a story would be the best way to achieve her goal. “The wolves don’t really want to live like us. And we don’t really want to live like them. Could you imagine what that would be like?”
Flash kept weeping, but the shift in her emotions told Tallow she had the girl’s attention. Axehand raised an eyebrow at that, but remained silent. Tallow quickly determined a course of action. She would send images with her words to demonstrate her point, selecting for her story a subject whom she believed would not begrudge the use of her image in this instance. “It wouldn’t be much fun for anybody. I can think of a few ways that would be uncomfortable. Can you?”
“For one, we wouldn’t have anything to eat with other than our hands and teeth…” In the send-pictures, Ice was tapping away with her hammer on a silver cub-spoon, when suddenly the utensil popped right out of her hand into nothingness. The smith scratched her bald head, a comic look of confusion on her face, staring at the hammer in her hand.
“Or tools of any kind for that matter…” The hammer popped away too. Ice scrambled to save her tongs, her chisels, and her other gear as they disappeared one by one. Her forge vanished next, sending what little remained atop it crashing right onto the floor. Ice had both hands to her head, her face a comic mix of puzzlement and fear.
“Or pretty trinkets to decorate ourselves…” The metal jewelry was next to go, blinking out across tables and shelves. Ice’s eyes darted from spot to spot, barely able to process what was going on anymore. A few times she jump in shock as her most precious things left her.
As ridiculous as the images were becoming, Tallow maintained her dry, even tone. And Flash kept up her sour disposition. Tallow moved effortlessly into the final punchline.
“Or things to hold other things in…” The tables, the shelves, the waterflasks, all gone. A few clay pots vanished, emptying fruits and travelcakes and other sundries which cascaded onto the floor, tripping Ice up. She landed ingloriously on her rump.
“Or leathers in our dens or on our backs…” Just as Ice got back to her feet, her clothes – and the fireproof drape across her doorway-- vanished. The sky outside, now visible, darkened ominously. Before Ice could respond, she was blasted with a sheet of snow, large enough to cover the den and bury her up to waist. She was left naked and shivering in the deep white mass, her pale skin frosted over, icicles dangling artfully from both arms and her dark blue nipples.
Flash sent out a ripple of amusement, but bit down on her lip before a smile could break loose upon her face. The torn-up little girl didn’t want to be happy at all right now. Not even for an instant. Axehand, though, looked noticeably less tense, and clearly approved of the ‘lesson’.
“Do you understand now?”
Flash’s mind had quieted down but of course she was still forlorn. “I don’t know.”
“You will,” Tallow assured her. She silently bid Axehand to come hold his daughter again, to give her some of his considerable strength. “Take all the time you need to heal, and to think, and in a few days I believe you will see things more clearly.”