(This story is part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers - Background" series of stories -- see listing for related stories.)
The story I'm telling you now is true. I know that because I know those things. Someone told it to me when I was small, a long time ago. He probably thinks I've forgotten about it but I haven't, I remember every bit and I need to tell it to someone else now. I need to tell it quick before it's too late, because it's a true story, as true as the woods are green and blood is red, and everyone needs to hear it.
There was an elf and he was hurt and they had to put him in wrapstuff. This was a very, very long time ago, before Owl, before Ambergold. His name was Suresinger. They called him that because he could hold a tune through everything. Fishing and working and weaving, gutting and riding, swimming and dancing, he could sing and he would always be singing. In the howl his voice wasn't always first to go up but it was always the last to fade away. But he got hurt when a marsh beast trampled him in the hunt, and his back was broken so they had to put him in wrapstuff. He didn't want them to, he was scared, but dying scared him more. He had a lifemate and their cub was just as small as me. When the Presevers wove over him he was still singing because that's what he did when he was scared. He hummed a simple tune to calm his lifemate down and send his cub to sleep and he hummed himself to sleep too, he sang himself into a sleep that lasted seasons and seasons and seasons.
They put him in wrapstuff and tucked him in the den down beneath the roots. He was alone there, but of course he was sleeping so he didn't know that. They brought in flowers and made handprints for him and painted the walls and everything and they waited. They waited more seasons than all the hairs a wolf has on its ears. Suresinger's lifemate died and his cub was older now and she had a cub of her own. And she'd almost forgotten him when one day one of the tribe discovered healing powers.
The tribe was happy, they were as happy as we are now. They had a great feast and a great howl, and they all talked to the healer and encouraged her and finally she was ready, so the chief cut Suresinger's cocoon and let her touch him and heal him.
Except as soon as he opened it up all the tribe stepped back, and all the tribe opened their mouths and their eyes wide, and the healer was frozen and she wouldn't move, because Suresinger was still singing.
His voice wasn't very good by now because he'd been singing all those seasons, and his throat was like an old knife that lost all its edge. He was still asleep. But he was singing that one-tune song of his all quietly-like, filling up the whole den till the tribe could feel their insides tremble like strings on a harp. That's a good sign, the healer said after a while; it means he wants to live. I'll heal him and he can sing for us again. She put her hands on his broken back and it glowed and glowed and then was whole again, and the singing never stopped.
Father, Suresinger's cub sent to him. Grandfather, her own cub sent, but he didn't wake up and his tune didn't change.
They sent to him, they talked to him, they shook him. They spilled cold water over his head and put fresh meat under his nose, but he didn't move. The healer had fixed him, but he was still broken. He was asleep and he was singing. It'd been seasons and seasons and seasons and he'd forgotten how to do anything else.
They put him in the den that he used to share with his lifemate and they made him drink honey-water and he stayed alive, but he never woke up. His cub sat with him for a while, but in the end she left – she couldn't stand the singing. They had to close up his den with stretched leathers and silk-weave, then move him to a different den deep among the roots. Otherwise the whole Holt could hear him humming, all night and all day.
Then one night Suresinger's daughter came into the den and her cub was there, and he was humming too, just like his grandfather. She grabbed his shoulders and she talked to him but he wouldn't stop. You told me so many stories about him, Mother, he sent, but all he does is hum. Maybe if I hum back at him he'll stop and answer me!
But he didn't stop. Neither of them ever did –
"Crackling-cub, stop it, please," Chicory said hoarsely.
Crackle glanced up from the lap of her favorite adult, up into Chicory's wide, dark-rimmed eyes. The fisher's hands were cold and clammy and her breath was coming a little fast. She shifted, as though uneasy with the cub's weight, and reached out to touch one of the white cocoons.
"It's not like that at all," she stressed.
Crackle's face was solemn. Her eyes followed the older elf's to the wrapped bundle. "How do you know?" she whispered. "They're all wrapped up. How does anyone know what's going on in there with them?"
"Animals come out from the cocoon the same as they came in," was Chicory's hushed reply. "Why shouldn't elves?"
"Animals don't talk," Crackle said resolutely. "They don't sing or send. Their spirits aren't like ours."
She skidded off Chicory's lap and threw herself about the neck of her wolf-bond, hugging Muddypaws tight. "You're the same inside and out," she told him. "I love your spirit, but it's different from mine. All you ever dream about is the things you do when you're awake. No matter how long you run in dreams you're never going to get lost."
She raised huge bright green eyes to Chicory.
"But if an elf runs too long…"
"Stop it," the chief's sister snapped back, a little more sharply now. "You know it isn't true, cubling. There was never a Suresinger. We always had a healer before Owl. No one told you a story like this, you're just making things up."
There was a long, silent pause. Moonlight and candlelight flickered together between roots and stones, on many-colored handprints that seemed to shift and move.
"I am," Crackle said at last, sadly. "But I have no choice. I'm a cub so no one ever listens to me. Even you're not listening to me. But I warned you, so don't say I didn't. I don't like these cocoons, they're half and half things, not dead and not alive, and I don't trust them at all."
She eased herself onto Muddypaws' back, and the young wolf rose with a sigh and padded out of the den with her lying on his back, arms danging to both sides, walking off to Crackle's next odd adventure. Chicory didn't move to stop her, for some reason she was loathe to admit.
She stood up, snapped her lips so not to curse the cub who'd gone and told this story to her and not to someone sensible like Moss or Evervale. The wrapped bundles loomed large around her. She'd touched one of them before, but shied away, now.
Half-and-half things, not dead and not alive…
Stupid. It was just a story.
She scooped up her candle and edged out of the den awkwardly, walking backwards, keeping her eyes on the cocoons.