(This story is part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers - Background" series of stories -- see listing for related stories.)
**Don’ worry, Chieftess… I’ll wake up again soon… Then I’ll be all better.**
Easysinger unfolded her hands and set the worn beaded hair tie down atop the cocoon. A few strands of pale gold hair were still caught in it, shining vibrantly against the black beads. Gurgleflap made quick work of adding it to the small collection of treasures that had been bestowed upon the cocoon’s tiny occupant. Newt, the poor young boy who’d made the fatal mistake of stepping on a snowmouth. It was eight-eights plus two-eights-and-five turns since that awful day, and Lacewing had been one of the few who were still counting.
“When you were a wee little cub, you used to pull on your mother’s hair while you were suckling.” Easysinger chuckled with the memory. She called the Preserver up to her with the flick of a finger. Gurgleflap admired its work from the perch. “She never gave up hope of seeing your beautiful smile again.”
Easysinger believed that some part of her words broke through the mist of the cub’s endless dreaming. As she continued, she sent images of the scene at the river as the thin raft bearing his mother’s body began its slow journey to the sea. “The Howl for her was beautiful. You father…er…”
A cub of uncertain parentage, Newt had been raised to think of both of Lacewing’s lifemates -- Strand and Turtle -- as a father. Accordingly, he’d called them both Father, sending with that one name distinct emotional cues to indicate which elf he was talking about, mostly without realizing he was doing it. Easysinger never worked her head around copying the effect.
“I’m sorry, I meant to say Strand, spoke well and long and magnificently about her. Turtle was… very quiet. Your fathers did not stand together, but at least they were civil. They still blame each other, I think.” She didn’t have the heart to mention aloud that Strand was already sniffing around for a new den.
“We found his body today,” the Chieftess whispered as another artifact was woven into the mix. A softened snappershell that Turtle had used as a bracer. Maybe the boy could use it for a water flask. The other one had been lost. “Not far from Badger’s Bane. I’d never seen so many beestings. Sometimes, that’s just the way it happens. The pain of losing one’s Recognized, that piece of oneself you give to another. They go off, half broken, half furious, seeking their own end… And sometimes they become a shadow, like Turtle did. There but not there, not interested in others, not caring about themselves. And you can see what will come of it, but you can’t see a way to stop it…” She paused, her line of thought broken. Even though he could not hear, she had prepared this explanation for Newt. But now that the words were flowing they were muddied by a growing anger.
She jumped to her feet and lashed out at the nearest collection of storage pots. “No, that’s not good enough!” The noise of breaking clay and sudden rage sent the Preservers skittering away. “There has to be a reason! The wolfsong keeps us alive and one with the world around us, but we are not animals! We don’t just lay ourselves down, or run ourselves into the ground, we carry on! Shattered Recognition is just a sad excuse for unthinkable actions! Oh it sounds all tragically romantic, but the words are empty winds! Strand was her Recognized for turns upon turns longer, he loved her just as deeply, but he endured where Turtle crumpled under the weight of… the weight of… what?” She buried her face in her hands, trying to calm her rushing heart. “What could make someone turn away from the precious gift of life?”
Easysinger regained her composure, deeply breathing out the last of her bitterness. Dusting herself off she quipped, ”If Oakhand were ever to behave so foolishly should I fall before him, Blacksnake and Axehand have my full permission to beat the sap out of him ‘til he wises up. I think I’ll go make that an order.”
“The last of your parents has fallen, little secret-keeper.” An amulet made from three polished seashells became part of Newt’s slowly growing hoard. “Your father made this for you, to have when you wake up. He carried it with him every time he came to see you. I’d listen to him tell you tales about the tribe’s past, or watch him pace and mutter down here while he was planning out his next bit of jewelry or some other artistic conquest. And when he finally had his design right, absolutely right, he’d shout out in victory and run out of here fast as he could to reach his supplies!” Easysinger found herself laughing in spite of the tragedy. That was Strand’s effect on others.
She looked over a side wall, admiring a growing mural that scrawled across the den. A visual history of the tribe, its trials and triumphs. All of it laid out for Newt and his companion to see when they opened their eyes for the first time. For almost a century now Brightwood had been sleeping beside him. Both cocoons lay below the collection of loving handprints which had started long before Strand began his great work.
The chieftess’ next comment was directed to both of them. “Strand painted much of what is over there. My paint-happy Windburn is grieving the loss of a mentor and fellow artist. My son doesn’t like others to see what he creates, but I hope he will continue on across these walls in Strand’s name.”
Easysinger turned from the newly-placed cocoon to regard Newt’s. Unlike Brightwood, whose cocoon rested beside Newt, the cub had never ‘met’ the young man now sleeping at his other side. “Fletcher was born about the same time as your nephew Greenweave was taking his Very Long Walk. Will you meet each other now, I wonder? Are you all sharing the same dreams?”
She sighed. “Fletcher was wounded badly in a hunt. He never knew you, except through stories and shared memories. Now it is certain that you will meet… Someday…” She swallowed, already feeling the sting of the tears building up behind her eyes.
“How many more? How many more will be laid down here beside you? How many must be set aside to await a true healer? Until one of Owl’s line finally shows a spark of his gift?”
Easysinger didn’t like the direction this one-sided conversation was taking. She changed the subject, kneeling beside Newt’s cocoon while working up a comforting smile. “You know, Fletcher has a lot in common with your parents. He’s part of a three-mating too. And now there are three of you here. Resting, waiting… I expect you’ll be hearing more from Whitestag, I know he will look in on him. But I don’t know about Flash. I don’t think I’ve seen her come down here in a long time.”
“And now Tossfur.” Easysinger’s eyes were red with grief. Not only for the loss of another beloved member of her tribe, but for all the pain and loss Newt would face when he finally, finally, was set free of his ageless bonds. Tossfur had been Newt’s most frequent and talkative visitor, filling the cub in on the day-to-day goings on in the tribe as diligently as Strand had detailed its history. But no more.
“Only Birdcatcher left now, and the nephews and niece you’ve yet to say hello to.”
With a hand over her trembling lips, Easysinger hurriedly placed down a sturdy leather sling. Somewhere in that mass of webbing and charms was the braided ponytail Tossfur had cut off as a rope to save his lifemate Nettle. The act had earned Newt’s brother his adult name -- Newt had known him as Glint -- and it had been placed within the cocoon by Tossfur himself.
The weight of all the history embedded with the tiny form threatened to come crashing down on Easysinger. She briefly looked back as she reached the wooden stair. “I am so sorry. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
She was out of the den before Muckabout had finished sealing the treasure in.
A shattered arrow lay across the center of Newt’s cocoon, slowly fading away under a silken veil. Its stone head had been crafted by a skilled and loving hand, its tail was fletched in snow-goose feathers. Any wolfrider would know at once whom it belonged to. If by some miracle a wandering elf found their way to the River Twine Holt, could they guess that a tiny cub barely nine years old was nestled into that full-sized mound of webbing and mementos of ages and elves gone by?
Birdcatcher knelt beside his brother’s cocoon, his cheeks red and wet.
“Chieftess Easysinger won’t be visiting you anymore. She’s gone now.”
The sleeper did not stir, though his hopeful last words echoed through Birdcatcher’s grieving heart.
**Don’ worry, Chieftess… I’ll wake up again soon… Then I’ll be all better.**