Grooming   0645.07.17*  
Written By: Chris T.
(2008 Blood of Chiefs Contest) Wolfsister and Feverease discuss the tribe’s future.
Posted: 08/22/08      [18 Comments]
 

0145.07.17

Wolfsister lay nude across the den furs on her belly, her sandy coat cast into light and shadow by many flickering candles. Feverease looked over her worn leather pack, picking from its collection of combs and brushes the large hard comb most suited for dealing with Wolfsister’s wavy mane of headfur. They had been performing this ritual together since uncountable turns before they came to the River Twine. Every act of it was practiced and polished. Though the pale-blonde healer had been as gentle and thorough with the back-half as ever, Wolfsister could tell when her lifemate’s heart wasn’t in it.

“What’s wrong, love?”

Feverease pursed her lips. “Surely I do not know what you mean.” She set to work on a tight mat of hair.

Illustration by Joanne P.
Wolfsister bared her fangs and snarled a good-natured warning.

“Very well, beloved, if we must… Badger and Burn have been fighting again.”

Wolfsister tilted her head back, a mixture of regret and anticipation on her face. “What about?”

Feverease nudged her lifemate’s head back into place with a firm hand. “Hunt team ranks. Division of a kill. Blackberry’s favor. Does it matter anymore?” Feverease picked the hair out from her comb with a brightmetal awl, also from the leather toolkit. She diligently put the awl back in its place before finishing the other half of the curls. The loose hair was collected in a small bowl. “Ever since you declared you wouldn’t get in the way of their increasingly trivial challenges…” Feverease let the sentence drop. She was sorry she brought this up.

Wolfsister rolled over as Feverease quietly refreshed the comb again to let her work on the bangs. She reached a hairy arm out to grasp the open-ended Chief’s Torc. She turned it over in her hand, seeing in the brightmetal wolfshead hazy memories of her father Halfwolf. It had become the unofficial symbol of chiefly authority, what the wolf-blooded elves focused on when they lowered their eyes from her dominant gaze.

Images were easier than words for the quarter-wolf chieftess. She sent a loose visualization of Badger against a hazy grey background. His form was obscure and washed-out, but that shaggy black mane flourished unmistakably in the wind. Standing tall and proud among the loosely-drawn members of tribe. His tribe. The shadow-Badger reached down to a fading corpse and claimed the torc, unchallenged, unproven. The body dissolved away into the wind. A single word expressed Wolfsister’s opinion of her son’s presumption; “Wrong.”

Feverease cleaned and housed the comb. “He is your eldest.”

“Seven turns over Burn. So what?” Wolfsister lay motionless through a vigorous rub-down of her shoulders and arms, breasts and stomach, hips and legs, to check for fleas and other parasites. The touch was clinical, not amorous. A blast of wolfish images leaped out at the pureblooded healer, one atop the next. A history in chalky outlines, figures all vague but distinct in their own ways. Of Wolfsister locking eyes and melding souls with several males. Her pregnancies, her cubs, nursing them, helping them take their first steps, sharing their lives with her she-mate, their first hunts, and finally watching tall and proud as each left her den in turn to claim ones of their own. “All strong. All worthy.”

“And some that fight over nothing. You could stop this if you wanted to. You should, before it goes too far.”

“Won’t.” She sent an image of herself standing back from a clouded mass of combat, an image which ended when a curvy sketch of Deertracker stepped far back from it, head low. Then a separate vision, that of Wolfsister howling in respect, honoring the loss of another combatant from the fray over her legacy.

“After the trouncing Burn gave her last cycle? I’m not surprised she backed down at all.” There were no parasites on this side, so Feverease moved to the next part in their daily rite. She found a bristly round brush to deal with the abundant body-fur. She moved in the same order as the rub-down. “You didn’t see the marks he left on her arm. Perhaps I should have left her some scars as a reminder to all where this foolish behavior will lead us.”

“To the next Chief.”

Feverease stopped short at the second wrist. “Oh really?”

Wolfsister chuckled. “Missed a spot.”

Feverease gave her mate a sour look, and then started brushing again. **This is serious, Trem. One of them could die from this.**

**I am serious, Qual.** Wolfsister looked deeply into her lifemate’s silver eyes. Belief in the rightness of her choice was scrawled out across her own in emerald fire. For all the things they held in common and cherished about each other, there were differences between the pair that were more tangled than the coat of fur that was being tended to. Wolfsister struggled to express herself in the way that was more familiar to her mate. **There are… things you don’t know. Can’t know… I try to share them, but… in the blood… The wolfsong… it…** She sent a sharp and clear image of herself howling arms wide at the radiant moons above, the sound and scene growing wider as more and more heads rose and howled, the whole tribe calling out in a single joyous voice. “I know what they need.”

Feverease freed a clump of fur and continued brushing. “The wolfsong is a river. It keeps you and your mixed-blood kin, my own offspring among them, afloat. But if you aren’t careful you can drown in it too.”

Wolfsister sighed, and granted another peek into the workings of her mind. A glowing pure-elf to one side, a dark wolf to the other, and herself in between the two, chasing a bird in the fog.

“You just want them to behave like wolves, and fight it out for who will be Alpha.” Wolfsister gazed at her with a confused expression of That’s a bad thing?. The brush strokes sped up as Feverease worked to control her emotions. “But that’s not necessarily right, it’s just easier. They are elves too. Look beyond the Now. Among the wolves, rivals for lead are driven out. If they survive the fight! Or they up and leave to form packs of their own.” Feverease’s eyes bored into her mate with a sincerity that made them water. “Their enmity could divide the tribe.”

Wolfsister snorted her dismissal of the idea. “No. Not right. Both have loyal friends, but too few to split off.” The image of all howling under the Moons repeated. Wolfsister’s form separated into hazy lines and drifted away. The rest, Feverease included, stood soundless. Unsure. Leaderless. Badger and red-topped Burn both stepped forth, though neither had the eyes of all upon them. “Deertracker could have made her own pack, easy. But now she has shown throat.” Deertracker’s muddied form sulked small and alone in the background. “All will know when challenge is won. All will follow.”

“Oh, my beloved. You have such a competitive nature. You see everything through it like a prism, it distorts as much as it illuminates.” The large brush was finished, and so cleaned and put away. The smallest brush was for the places where thinning fur met bare skin. Wrists, neck, nipples, ankles. As soon as the chief’s neck was finished, on went the Torc. “And what of the other purebloods? They don’t see the situation that way. They won’t like it. I don’t like it.”

Part of Wolfsister didn’t like it either, she sent as much in the form of her shadow-self sitting in a sorrowful posture while her sons and daughters battled in the mists beyond. They cast bright red lines across each other, lines which seared themselves onto Wolfsister as well. “But is… nessa-saray.” Wolfsister had to think through ‘big words’ before she could approach sounding them out loud correctly. The fact that she tried at all was evidence that she had given the whole idea a great deal of thought.

“You are not merely a witness to this, beloved.” Feverease found her softest brush for the tender region below her mate’s belly. “Can you not see that you are setting them against each other.”

“Am not. Is part of the Way”

“Clever reasoning, wrapping everything you approve of in the Way like that.” Feverease’s tone was only half jest. “You want to see clever? Wait until they get it into their heads to use the tribe as a weapon in their squabbles. Making allies behind your back. Setting those allies against each other. Striking bargains to set the desires of their partners above the good of the tribe. And on and on and on.”

Pol-ee-tics!” Wolfsister spat out the word in disgust. The image of Wolfsister as a Chieftess-to-be flashed across her mind, heading out with her followers on their way to make a new life for themselves. Free of the judgments and demands of the High Ones. Free from slippery words and practices like ‘politics’. Elves that began the quest but did not make it all the way were barely recognizable. “Not here!”

“Keep still.” Feverease had the nail file now, and wasn’t keen on buffing any claws that were in motion. “Oh ho, we have politics. I’ll never be anywhere near as close with the wolf-pack as you, but I know it when I see it.” Her shoulders sagged. “Alright, forget the wolf-song, forget the high-and-mighty elf ways. Those are your sons at each other’s throats! Your blood at war with at itself! What does your heart tell you?”

Wolfsister looked away briefly. The comforting veil of The Now lifted from her eyes for but a moment. **It says I must plan for the future. Because I will die someday. If I’m not killed in a hunt or ak-see-dent I will wither away like an old wolf.** A metallic twang called out as the file hit the other metal tools. Wolfsister looked back and took her beloved healer’s trembling hand. “Don’t be sad for telling me. Good to know now, so plans can be made. In this one thing there is something beyond The Now.”

Feverease held the hand tight. “And what will those days bring, my Chief? What good will your gift of fertility, or Cubmaker’s, or my own power to impart that blessing upon others, do if all our offspring end up scattered throughout these woods as rival packs? Snarling at each other from across territorial lines? Thinking of each other as enemies and strangers instead of as friends and lovers and families? How many children will there be when the potential pairings are whittled down to…to…” Feverease grabbed a clump of hair from the bowl and tossed it into the air in frustration, “shadows in the wind?”

Wolfsister smirked. “Big words, pretty voice.” It was an old joke shared between them since their youth. From the days when they would meet in secret, so that Feverease could teach how to speak correctly and Wolfsister could teach other, more mature, lessons. It was a genial admission that the conversation was starting to go over her head.

“Soft fur, hard head!” The expected reply, given with less wonder and more force than usual. Feverease was standing now. She had to take a deep calming breath before continuing. “I love you. But this foolish plan of yours-“

Feverease stopped herself cold. Lifemate or not, no elf got away with insulting one of Wolfsister’s decisions so once it was set in motion. One of the wolf-bloods would be on the floor in the time it took for Feverease to realize she’d stepped out of bounds. The chief stiffened and rose but, as there were no witnesses to this slight, she maintained a dark calm. Embarrassed, Feverease found herself staring at the torc for a moment. Needing something to do, she gave in to the urge to pluck up as much of the floating debris as possible. She chose to rephrase her last statement. “I don’t like this scheme, and I most certainly do not agree with it. There is too much of the wolf in this design of yours, and too little balance. It’s not healthy. Not for Burn or Badger. Not for the tribe.” She quickly retrieved the leather pack, rolled it up, and set it back onto its place among the plantshaped shelves. “If I outlive you, I will advise the chief, whomever that may be, to establish an orderly line of succession.” She handed over Wolfsister’s undergarments with a weak smile. “Strongly advise.”

Satisfied the act of submission, Wolfsister stroked her lover’s cheek gently. “Your right as Elder. Won’t be around to stop you anyway.” She put a hand out for the rest of her clothes. “Won’t silence you in Council either. In my tribe, all voices will be heard. But in this, I have made my de-see-shun.”

Dressed and ready for the day’s hunt, Wolfsister sent the signal to gather the hunters. Drawing the door-flap open, the chieftess saw that many hunters were already waiting, including her two eldest sons. Burn and Badger were already glaring at each other. Their friends, wolf and elf alike, were standing back in two separate camps. She’d never noticed that before. Lines were indeed being drawn.

Stepping out of the den, Wolfsister looked back at her teary-eyed mate. She loved Feverease all the more for the love she had for all the tribe. Even two bitter rivals who had none left for each other.

**For you, Qual, I hope there are no wounds to heal today.**

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