(This story is part of the "Early Romance of Farscout & Brightwood" set of stories -- see listing for related stories.)
Frost and Lynx’s child was born just before dusk, and the little girl-cub was beautiful, born with her mother’s blue-violet eyes and her father’s golden hair. The entire tribe celebrated; honeycakes were made, there was fish fresh from the river, and jugs of berry wine had been produced from the cache-dens. Yet in his euphoria, it had taken hours for Lynx to recognize that something was missing.
Or rather, someone.
Chieftess Easysinger was close by her sister Frost’s side, making sure the new mother and cubling were treated to the best of everything this night. Lynx passed his cup to Dreamberry to have it refilled with the weaver’s wine. “Where's little Briar?” he asked.
“Underfoot somewhere, I’m sure,” came her wry response. As the tribe’s only child prior to Frost and Lynx’s Recognition, the boy had grown up basking in an entire tribe’s attention. His father, Hawkcall, had been killed only months after Recognizing Ice, and while Ice loved her son, she was an indifferent mother who far preferred her forge and her tools over the patient job of raising a cubling. She had been happy to leave the task to others, and there were others enough in the tribe more than happy to take it on.
Lynx sipped at his wine as he strolled through the Holt proper. The music and the dancing would continue all night; the birth of a precious infant to the Holt was something they all had reason to rejoice in, and Lynx didn’t need the sweet dreamberry glow to warm him. His daughter had finally joined the world, and she was as glorious as the dawn. There had never been an elf child born as beautiful as his little girl, and there never would be another. Lynx knew that with a father’s certainty. His little girl, his little Aya, was perfect in every way, and he would never be so proud again in his life as he was this evening, with his tribe around him celebrating little Aya’s arrival.
And the only thing missing from that joy was young Briar.
Lynx found the boy on the far side of the holt proper, as far from sights and sounds of the celebration as the boy could safely get, with no wolf-friend yet to carry him.
“Briar, you’re missing Agate’s fresh honeycakes,” he said. “Won’t you come and join the rest of the tribe?”
The child avoided meeting his eyes, choosing instead to fiddle with the slingshot he carried. Briar’s sable curls fell around his scowling face, but Lynx had seen the sheen of tears in the boy’s eyes. “I don’t like honeycakes,” the child muttered fiercely. “And I don’t like all of the noise. If the tribe makes so much noise, they’ll wake up all of the bears, and the bears will come and eat them and all the honeycakes too.”
“That would be a shame.” Lynx struggled not to smile. Instead, he sat down on twisted root-shelf, sitting just far enough down from Briar so that his own head was roughly at a level with the boy’s. “But I think we’re safe from bears,” he said soberly. “The wolves will chase them off.”
The boy’s stern expression didn’t alter. “Not if all of the bears come. The pack could chase off one bear, or two at a time, but not if all of them came.”
“So you’re watching for bears, then? That’s brave of you, to be out here all alone while there’s bears around. Are you sure you don’t want to come and have a honeycake, before the sweets are all gone?”
Lynx didn’t need to look at the boy to see the struggle between the child’s sweet tooth and his sulk. The sulk won out. “No,” Briar muttered. “Someone needs to be watching in case of bears.”
Lynx nodded agreement. “Then I’ll explain that to your mother, and to Frost as well. You know they are looking forward to seeing you have a playmate.”
A fierce, angry silence met his words. Lynx kept his expression even and unconcerned, although inwardly, he was scrambling to figure the boy out. Young Briar was a child of deep waters. While his mother Ice was always affectionate with her child, she was largely indifferent to the demands of motherhood, preferring the mysteries of her metalworking craft over the raising of her own cub. And even as a newborn, young Briar had seemed equally indifferent to his mother. He fed from her breast eagerly enough, but once done, had always seemed as happy when carried by anyone other than his dam. The boy was never without affection – after all, there were no orphans in a wolfrider tribe; and Briar had always seemed happy enough passed from den to den. But he was a stoic child, who seldom cried and just as seldom laughed. That he had inherited his mother’s intensity was of no question to anyone who taught the cub, as the child had a startling focus for learning the arts of woodcraft and of hunting. But there was always a distance to the boy. He didn’t like to snuggle down in anyone’s den for long, and seemed happiest roaming on his own.
On his own, or with Lynx. The one shine the boy had seemed to take to anyone had been to the tawny-haired scout, and the cubling often struggled to follow closely in the hunter’s footsteps. It was clear that above all others, Briar adored Lynx, so much so that the boy had been caught a number of times trying to follow after the scout when he left the Holt to hunt or patrol the tribe’s borders. Lynx had rarely seen the child angry before, and never had he seen that full-cheeked glower directed toward him—-
Ah. Suddenly it made sense. Before today, young Briar, with no other child to play with, had had no other competition for the tribe’s affection. And before today, Lynx had never had a child of his own. The birth of Lynx’s daughter meant joy for the rest of the tribe, but for young Briar, clearly it meant a threat to a child’s sense of place in the world.
The boy was jealous. Lynx watched Briar out of the corner of one eye, and kept his own smile hidden. He figured he knew how to win the boy out of his jealous sulk.
“Well,” Lynx drawled, settling back comfortably on the root and stretching his long legs out before him. “I’m glad to have found you, at least. I’ve a favor to ask of you, if you’d consider it.”
That had Briar’s full, unqualified attention. The boy grew still and gazed at him, pale grey eyes somber and somewhat suspicious. Lynx gave him an innocent glance, and shaped his face into a concerned expression.
“I’d not ask this of you, except I know what a smart, sensible wolf’s son you are. Briar, I’d be proud to say you were my son. You know I feel that way, and that Frost does as well. And we’re going to need you, you know. Now more than ever.”
The suspicion had vanished from the boy’s eyes, and Briar nodded, urging Lynx to continue. The tawny-haired scout crossed his legs at the ankles and let his expression stretch into a satisfied smile. “This is a serious promise, so don’t agree to it unless you’re going to agree to it with your full heart. What I need is going to be your help in taking care of this new girl-child of mine. If she grows up anything like me or her mother, well, I’m going to need all the help I can get. She’ll need to be kept safe and sound, because she’s going to have a brave heart that’ll lead her into trouble. Those bright eyes of hers are so full of curiosity, she’ll follow that curiosity into all sorts of things. And naturally, she’s going to look up to you, Briar. She’s going to follow you around like a wolf-pup, because she’ll want to play with you, not with us old elders. And she’ll look up to you to learn things, because she’ll see you’re a smart son of a wolf who’s going to be a strong hunter someday. So I need you to promise me that you’ll always take close care of my girl-cub, that you’ll always protect her and keep her safe. Can you promise me that?”
Briar watched him closely, and then a small, shy smile spread across his face. He nodded fiercely. “Yes. I promise.”
Lynx grinned, and patted the boy’s leg roughly, as he might an old hunter’s. “That’s a big relief. And I know my mate would be relieved to hear you promise her the same. Think we might be safe from the bears long enough for you to come back to where Frost is waiting for us, so you can tell her yourself?”
The boy all but bounced upright. Lynx collected himself to his feet, and offered a hand to the child. “Lead the way then, son,” he said. “And you know Frost and I’ll take you on your word. We need someone who’ll adore our little girl, and always be there to keep her safe.”
Briar nodded eagerly. “I know,” he said, taking Lynx by the hand. “And I promise. I’ll make sure she’s safe, for always.”