The child hovered at the edge of the den, not wanting to intrude, but curiosity encouraging her to enter. Sitting inside near his new lifemate, Tossfur sensed her presence and called out, “Trip, it’s all right. You can come in.”
The blond-haired girl hesitantly stepped inside, looking at Tossfur and his new lifemate. She knew she was welcome, but she still worried that she was intruding.
Nettle put the child at ease, “Come sit by me, Trip.”
The girl smiled, moving rapidly to Nettle’s side. She continued looking back and forth between the pair, and the couple waited patiently for Trip’s questions. Finally, the child could no longer contain herself, “What’s it like, Recognizing? And when will the baby be here? Do you know if it will be a boy or a girl?”
Tossfur laughed, enjoying Trip’s innocence in asking the questions. Theirs was the first Recognition Trip had been alive for, and the child to be born would take over the role of youngest. Of course she had questions.
Tossfur reached over and plucked the child up, pulling her to sit in his lap as he started talking. “Recognition is the most wonderful experience. It can happen any time, any where. And you never know who it could be with. But for now, you don’t need to even think about that. Recognition doesn’t happen until you’re ready, and right now, you’ve got bigger things to think about!”
Trip’s eyes widened. “Like what?”
“Like being a friend to our cub when he or she is born.”
“I’ll be a good friend!” She put her hand out, tentatively reaching toward Nettle’s stomach. She looked at Nettle, asking permission, and Nettle nodded.
“Hello,” Trip whispered. “I’m going to be your friend. I hope you come out soon, and then I won’t be the littlest one any more!”
Taking her hand off Nettle’s belly, Trip asked, “When will you know if it’s a boy or a girl? How long does it take for the cub to be born?”
Tossfur answered, “An elf cub takes two full turns of the seasons to be ready to come out, but we’ll know as soon as he or she can send to us whether there’s a boy or girl.”
Trip groaned. “Two full turns? That’s forever!”
Nettle and Tossfur both laughed. “It seems like it,” Tossfur stated, “But our little one will be here before you know it, and not too long after that, he’ll be following you around.”
“But Nettle said it’s too early to know if the baby is a boy or a girl.”
Tossfur looked at her with a serious expression on his face. “My guess is that it’s a boy.”
Nettle smiled at him. “That’s my guess, too.”
Trip clapped happily. “We’ll have so much fun together, and I can teach him how to do things, and we can have fun and play together! I hope we’ll be best friends!”
Before either parent could respond, the child had jumped up and skipped out of the den. Nettle and Tossfur looked at one another, smiling. Tossfur pulled on the skin hanging over the door, and then moved to his lifemate’s side for a long embrace.
“It’s taking forever!” Trip complained. “Why does it take so long?”
Tallow and Birdcatcher watched their daughter as she paced in the rain. Her feet were covered in mud, but they knew that nothing would keep her inside as long as she was waiting for news of the child being born. Neither responded, knowing that Trip’s outburst would be followed by more questions. The child was impatient, and they could understand. A new playmate was about to be born, and Trip had never seen an elfin infant.
At the sound of a cry coming from the dens above them, Trip began climbing. Her father hurried into the rain and plucked her from the side of the tree. She struggled against him, not wanting to be stopped. “I need to go and meet him!” she cried.
“But when?” she asked.
Her mother interjected, offering a calm voice, “Your father and I wanted some time alone with you when you were born. We think they should have a few minutes alone with their little one, too. You can wait just a little longer.”
Trip’s eyes filled up with tears. She didn’t like being told “No” by anyone.
Later that night
“His tribe name is Mud.”
Trip’s nose wrinkled. “Mud?” she asked innocently.
The others laughed. Tossfur smiled, then pointed at Trip’s feet, “It’s been raining for days, and there’s nothing but mud all around. What do you suggest we name him?”
Suddenly, she understood, and she smiled. “Mud works for now. He can always choose a different name later, I guess.”
After all the tribe had greeted the infant, Trip was still hanging around the happy parents. Finally, she approached Nettle and asked, “Can I hold him?”
Nettle smiled and directed Trip to sit down nearby. Trip hurried to the seat, anxious to be allowed to hold the baby. Nettle held Mud out to Tossfur, who took him and carried him to where the child sat. Bending down, he held the infant out to the girl, and directed her to support the baby’s head with her arm. She nodded obediently, and suddenly, she was holding the baby in her arms.
She looked at his sleeping face. She traced it with her free hand and bent to kiss the infant’s forehead. “You’re so tiny!” she said to him. He stirred a little, and Trip looked anxiously to the babe’s parents.
Nettle nodded her encouragement. “It’s all right, Trip.”
Trip’s attention moved back to the infant’s face. He was waking up. “Hello, Mud,” she said. “I hope you grow up fast. I can’t wait to be friends with you!”
The infant blinked, then stared at the child’s face. She looked again at Nettle and Tossfur. “I think he likes me!” she said.
“What’s not to like, Trip?” Tossfur asked.
“When will he be big enough to play with me?” she asked.
The pair laughed. Tossfur answered, “Before you know it, Trip, Mud will be following you everywhere you go.”
A moment later Mud started to fuss. Trip tried making soothing sounds to calm him, but it wasn’t working. She felt a little frustrated, until Nettle said, “He’s hungry.”
“Can I feed him?” Trip asked, not wanting to let go of the infant.
“No,” Nettle responded. “That’s something only his mother can do.”
Nettle took the infant from Trip’s arms and sat back down. She exposed a breast and moved the babe to it. He rooted for a moment; then, finding the nipple, he began suckling.
“That’s what they’re for!” Trip exclaimed, looking down at her own undeveloped chest.
Nettle and Tossfur laughed. “That’s what they’re for,” Nettle affirmed.
Trip jumped up from her seat. She felt tired of sitting and talking, and she wanted to go play. The other adults were still gathered around the new parents and little Mud. Thinking about Mud, and wishing he could run off and play with her, she went back and touched his hand, **I hope you grow up fast!** >