(This story is related to "Undecided".)
“You made him Chief.” The bitter numbness of the freezing rain and the loss of his lifemate was beginning to thaw under the heat of outrage. Blacksnake scowled at the dentrees from his rocky perch atop Home Ridge. He didn’t want to see what was happening, but he couldn’t help imagining it. Windburn would be at the center of the clearing, gathering the night’s hunters and pointing directions to those who would stay behind. Blacksnake sneered derisively at the wineskin One-Leg was trying to pass to him.
“The tribe did that, all together. After the Elders put forth his name.” One-Leg sat down beside his brother and took another swig. “He was the one who stepped up and acted like a chief, after all.”
“You made him Chief.”
“If you’re going to chew that cud again, say something new. When I want to hear the same old nutmash getting thrown back and forth I’ll just wait until Flash and Honey come within spitting distance.”
Blacksnake’s eyes narrowed. “You know my thoughts about the boy’s worth.”
“Too bad you weren’t around to voice them,” One-Leg replied after another healthy chug. “Fear not, brother. Your worries were voiced. I spoke up for Chicory on your behalf.”
Blacksnake looked at One-Leg as though he could not believe what his bushy-headed brother had just said.
“I think there’s potential there, don’t you?” One-Leg asked earnestly. “Of course, now that the deed’s done, if she were to challenge Windburn for the lead, she’d need a good reason. A very good reason. The tribe won’t just stand back and watch if it looks like a family squabble.”
What was really being said was clear enough. Again Blacksnake was offered the skin, and again he refused. “So he’s Chief now and that’s that, eh? Is it such a simple thing for you to move from one to the next? To throw your weight behind one who hasn’t earned it?”
“The tribe needed a chief. Windburn is the one who stepped forward. It’s that simple.”
Blacksnake’s voice became acid. “You take so much for granted.” He imagined Tallow would be on her way to the Craft Trees by now. He scanned the area for One-Leg’s other Recognized, unable to really see anything past the trees. “You have no idea what it is to lose half your soul.”
One-Leg drowned a retort in two swallows. “I don’t know your loss, no. But I do know how it feels to lose friends and family to a severed Recognition. We both know that pain, we’ve felt it too many times. To watch a good elf destroy themselves one way or another for no reason at all. You used to look down on that! Remember?”
Blacksnake cast another resentful look at the trees before him. “What I look down on is the whole tribe making fool choices about their future.”
“There was a chance for you to make a claim, but you weren’t around to make it! You were off doing something more important! Your quest! Your revenge! Your kill-hunger! You put your wants ahead of the tribe! And that’s the last thing a chief should, can ever, do! So I hope you enjoy your pretty new bear pelt because it’s all you got out of that rump-brained madness!”
One-Leg’s voice was full of the force and fury he’d throw at any wayward cub who dared to let down the tribe or slur the Chief, whomever that might be. Loyalty was that plain and obvious a thing for him. But his watery eyes were blazing with the captured grief he never had to howl out for a brother who thankfully came home. He grabbed Blacksnake in a rib-crushing hug.
One-Leg cleared his throat. He stood, tossing the wineskin into Blacksnake’s lap on the way up. “I’ve said my piece. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bury my face in Starskimmer’s crotch.”
Blacksnake smiled in spite of himself. He followed One-Leg down the hill with his eyes. He took a small sip of wine.