(This story is a "Response to the Human's killing of Beetle's wolf-friend" -- see the listing for more related stories.)
The only sounds in the small clearing were the running water of the Laughing Creek and the gentle scraping as knife met wood. True Edge frowned as he studied the length of carved wood he held. It was now a nearly perfect spear, like the three others stacked neatly beside him. Soon he would attach a sharpened stone spearhead to each and they would be ready. Despite the quality of his handiwork he didn’t take any pleasure in it.
Suddenly he tensed as the smell of another elf made its way to him on the breeze. Concentrating for a moment he finally identified it and then with a sad sigh returned to his work. He had wondered when Windburn would come. Moments later, the chieftain entered the clearing and looked first at True Edge, who gave him a respectful nod in greeting, and then to the stack of spears that he was working on. All was silent for several uncomfortable minutes before Windburn finally spoke.
“You’ve been avoiding me.”
True Edge stopped in mid-stroke with the knife and looked at his friend but didn’t yet reply.
“And you’ve been keeping to yourself a lot lately I hear.”
“Even for me?”
“Yes, True Edge. Even for you. I know something is troubling you and it’s not hard to figure out what.”
Again the silence settled between them. They had been friends for a long, long time and Windburn knew how moody True Edge could be. He also knew that when he was like that it was usually because he was lost in thought. Though odd for a wolfrider in that way he often saw things that others didn’t. For that alone he would make a most valuable elder and advisor for the chief. Sometimes you just had to coax it out of him to see what insights his wandering mind had given him.
It became apparent that this was going to be one of those times. Since he had heard of what happened to Beetle’s bond wolf True Edge had been keeping to himself and brooding over what had happened. Windburn was troubled over it as well. This was yet another threat to the tribe that he didn’t appreciate. He would have to decide, and decide soon, what was to be done about it. That was why he was here. He hoped that his old friend would have some insight that might be helpful. If nothing else, talking to True Edge always gave him time to think.
“That’s a lot of spears for someone who has never favored them.”
By making small talk he hoped to steer the conversation towards what he really wanted to discuss. A vague sense of unease began to come across him. True Edge was unusually tense. Whatever he was thinking was unlikely to be good news.
“They are better for fishing and I’ve developed a taste for fish. Also… also when it comes time kill a human I want weapons with more power. I’m not sure how many arrows it might take to bring down one of them.”
To say that Windburn was stunned by this pronouncement would be an understatement.
“What kind of talk is this?”
True Edge laid the unfinished spear aside and looked away for a moment. The chieftain could see the pain in his face and the concentration. When True Edge faced him again he could also see the dark circles under the eyes and the signs of not having slept. This was something that he had been struggling with on and off since Beetle’s wolf had been killed. Something that apparently had been troubling him even more than Windburn had suspected.
“No, my chief, I’m not going to do anything rash. But I really don’t envy you what must be done now.”
“And what must be done, True Edge? You know I value your counsel. That’s why I’m here. When you hide yourself away from us all though, I know that it means you’re thinking. Let me hear your thoughts and maybe we can see what is to be done.”
True Edge stood suddenly. Taken by a fit of nervous energy he began to pace the small clearing as he spoke.
“That’s just it. I can’t see a good path to take. My heart says one thing and my head another.”
With that he stopped and then turned to face Windburn again.
“They breed like the weeds in the field. If the old ones we dealt with weren’t numerous enough, a whole new tribe of them comes to stay. How long before the pale-skinned ones teach their wood-lore to their new tribemates? How long before their numbers force them to hunt further and further? Till they stumble upon the Holt itself?”
Windburn was sure now that he didn’t like the direction this was going. True Edge was mirroring his own thoughts, and putting the threat into a clear image of such frightening detail that made it even more disturbing.
“They will lose all fear of the deep forest. They will lose all fear of the wolves or us, I’m sure. Their numbers will force them to hunt deeper and deeper into the woods till we have no choice but to deal with them. What is there for us to do? Make friends with them? That didn’t work last time. Try to scare them away from the Holt? Eventually one of their leaders will grow bold enough to challenge that.
“If we fight them, eventually we will lose. If we leave, where are we to go? We might accidentally wander into another nest of them, or something even worse. They don’t think like we do. We live in the Now and it looks like they think beyond that. If we lose ourselves in the Now and don’t plan like they do, I’m afraid we are all going to die.”
Windburn kept his silence, eager to listen as he watched True Edge return to his pacing. It was fascinating sometimes, how his friend could have his wolf's instincts and his mind in the Now one moment and the next be that much closer to his elfin side, to think about what might happen many turns of the seasons in the future - more like Windburn's father than like the chief himself. In this case though, it was clear that the situation was more personal. It was eating at True Edge and driving him to think in ways he wouldn’t ordinarily do.
"Don't be foolish, nothing's hopeless. Planning might not be what you or I prefer to do, but we have others in the tribe to rely on".
He moved until he was face to face with the pacing True Edge and put his hands upon his shoulders.
**There’s more isn’t there? You’re normally one of my most steady advisors. Tell me what you’re thinking.**
They stood there for a long moment while True Edge again gathered his thoughts. Sending seemed to be the clearest way to convey what he had trouble putting into words so he replied to his chief’s mind speech with his own.
**Quick Fang’s cub will be born in a few more seasons. And then there are the ones in the wrapstuff needing healing. I don’t want to have to leave or for any of us to be killed fighting for the Holt. We have it good here. One day I hope Snowfall and I might bear more cubs. I know she wants to. What kind of future can we have once the humans lose all their fear and need to expand? I’ve already lost my parents and brother to the humans. I don’t want to lose anyone else.**
So, that was it. Worry was not the Way, but it was a necessary evil. True Edge was torn between what he knew would need doing and what he hoped for in the future. He was worried about Snowfall, Quick Fang and everyone he loved here. When he couldn’t find what he thought was a reasonable solution he let worry and rage eat at him till he couldn’t sleep or think straight. Windburn knew that he had to get his friend’s mind back on track.
**Then I will have to find the right thing to do. You said your heart counseled one thing and your head another? Tell me more.**
As he had hoped Windburn saw True Edge’s expression change. He was now thinking more than worrying. Windburn let go of his shoulders to let him pace a bit more while he thought. Finally True Edge spoke again.
“My heart says to be like the wolf. Stake out our territory and drive off any who trespass. It says to kill them like they killed my family. No one should have to die like my father did.”
“And what does your head say?” Windburn prompted him.
True Edge gave a heavy sigh as he considered the chief’s question. This was something he had thought about for a long time and it was the reason behind his worry. In this case head and heart were in conflict. He did want to kill them but the consequences just seemed to be too great.
“My head says that if we start the violence it will be the end of us. It says that we should give them fair warning of what will happen if they trespass against us, and then try to co-exist. Maybe we can give them enough reason not to trouble us.”
Windburn saw the obvious effort it took his friend to say this. The thought of living so close to the humans obviously pained him. To even suggest talking to them took an amazing effort on True Edge’s part.
“To reveal ourselves to them? That would be a big step. One we could never go back from.”
“No, we could never go back. But we could let them know where they aren’t welcome without revealing where the Holt is exactly. We could let them know that this part of the forest is ours and set warnings out. Mind you, I believe we will have to fight them or flee one day. Maybe, though, we can move that day a lot further into the future.”
It was something to consider. As they both knew, humans couldn’t be fully trusted. Still, any other choice might be even less likely to succeed. If they didn’t reveal themselves in some way the humans would keep exploring, heedless of the elves’ presence. Sooner or later they would run into each other again. They might even wander much closer to the Holt. Such a meeting was unlikely to end well.
“I’ll think about it, True Edge. But I don’t want to rush something like that. It’s too dangerous.”
True Edge nodded and Windburn thought he saw an expression of relief on his face. Part of him wanted the chief to say no, he realized. Head and heart were conflicted but True Edge had felt he owed his chief-friend the option he had thought of.
“Think about it then. I’m just glad it’s your decision and not mine. Still though, I’ll be keeping the spears. We’ll need them eventually.”
“Let’s hope you only need them to fish. If not, then I’ll be glad to have you fighting by my side. Now come, I’m sure the others are wondering what we’ve been up to. And I’m sure Snowfall is worried about you. You shouldn’t pull away from her like this. She needs you to be steady for her and Quick Fang.”
The two of them walked back to the Holt as they discussed the situation and what plans they might make. True Edge’s manner made him difficult at times but he was still wise in his own way. With the right steadying influences, like an understanding Chief and a loving lifemate, he was going to be one grand elder for the tribe. Now they just had to figure out a way to keep the tribe safe in light of this new threat.