(This story is a sequel to "Hard Choices", and is a "Response to the Human's killing of Beetle's wolf-friend" -- see the listing for more related stories.)
“True Edge really said that?”
Blacksnake thought that surely he must have heard Windburn incorrectly. It had after all been a difficult few nights out on the hunt. Between that and all the stress over that winter surrounding Willow perhaps he was imagining things. Could True Edge really have suggested revealing themselves to the humans?
“He said we should consider marking our territory to stop them from coming any closer to the Holt,” Windburn interjected. “If what you found is any sign then he might be on to something.”
Again he tried to make sense of all of this. Blacksnake had sought out his son immediately upon his return from the hunt. During their trip Blacksnake had come upon what could only be a camp that the humans had used on one of their own forays into the forest. It had been close to the trails normally used by the elves and it was plain that they had used this spot a few times. He was worried that they might have to change their own paths if the humans started to favor the place.
“Such a thing would be folly, Windburn. Once they know we are here there’s no telling what might happen.”
“True, but we might not have the choice. I’m still thinking about it, though, and if need be I’ll bring it up in council.”
Windburn had only mentioned True Edge’s idea on an impulse since his father had mentioned finding traces of humans in the woods. He quickly regretted that decision though upon seeing Blacksnake’s reaction. The elder wolfrider was often cantankerous by anyone’s definition. With the added weight of worry and fatigue he was in one of his moods and that seldom boded well. Now the only thing Windburn could do was to cut the argument off at the pass and give him some time to rest before they discussed it again.
“Get some rest, father. The sun is already high in the sky. We can discuss this later.”
With that, Windburn turned and walked away, which only heightened Blacksnake’s aggravation. His son was always avoiding the hard questions or facing him when he had concerns. At least that was the way it seemed to Blacksnake. Deep down he was afraid that the humans would be the greatest challenge the tribe had ever faced. It did not give him much faith in Windburn’s leadership if he wouldn’t even hear out his concerns or let him discuss the issue. Go get some rest indeed!
Now, left alone in the clearing, Blacksnake had only his own worries for company. Windburn seldom listened to him but he had hoped that his son’s friendship with True Edge might give him a stable influence to build upon. It had worked that way between himself and Lynx. Thinking back on his long-dead friend still brought a smile to his face. The two of them had complemented and challenged one another. Their friendship had driven Blacksnake to be better than he could have been on his own. Why didn’t Windburn and True Edge do the same?
The answer was simple enough, at least in his opinion. Where Lynx and Blacksnake had been different the younger two were more alike. They didn’t drive each other in the same ways. Furthermore, they were too close to the same age. He had worked hard to be the older Lynx’s equal. His son didn’t have the same dilemma. His friend was of an age with him and too much alike in temperament. They only reinforced each other’s bad habits!
True Edge wasn’t half the elf his older brother had been though - at least, not if this suggestion of his was any indication, Blacksnake thought. While he tried to think problems through more logically it sounded to him as if True Edge was thinking like the wolves; mark your territory and drive off anyone who trespasses. That might work for simple animals, but the humans seemed to be so much more. If the elves didn’t use their brains as well as their instincts then they were doomed for sure.
Blacksnake turned and began to walk back towards the Dentrees. He was still grumbling to himself, trying to decide what to do, when he caught a familiar scent on the breeze. Sure enough it was True Edge’s scent that he noticed. Of course, he thought, up during the day when most sensible elves were sleeping. True Edge had always been a little ‘upriver’ like that, following his own path, up at all hours, fighting against the good advice of his elders and trying to do things on his own. Here he was, an elder now, and still little better than a lone wolf by Blacksnake’s estimation. A lone wolf who not only acted mostly on instinct, it would seem, but also had the chief’s confidence! Now there was a recipe for certain disaster.
It was a simple matter to follow the scent trail to another clearing, where he saw True Edge sitting under a tree and attaching flints to arrow shafts in preparation for a future hunt. When he entered the clearing the younger elf glanced up at him and nodded briefly in greeting. Even this simple gesture though seemed to irritate Blacksnake. Deep down he realized that he was tired and distraught from other things in addition to what Windburn had reported True Edge to have said. He also realized that his temper was dangerously close to the surface. Just this moment though he really didn’t care.
“What kind of nonsense have you been filling my son’s head with?” Blacksnake asked in a voice more of a growl than normal.
Again True Edge glanced at him. Many times in the past he had been on the receiving end of Blacksnake’s bad temper. Most of those times he merely let it go and refused to rise to the bait. He was after all secure enough in his own position in the tribe to not worry much about what the irascible elder had to say. Sometimes they growled or snarled a bit at one another but usually he just tried to ignore it. That helped to avoid a useless fight and also served to drive Blacksnake just a bit crazy, which amused True Edge to no end when he was tired of the bad attitude.
“What are you talking about, Blacksnake?”
“I’m talking about this craziness you suggested about the humans. Don’t you realize what could happen if they knew we were here?”
True Edge stood and took a few steps closer. It was obvious by the tone and the posture that this was not going to be one of those times that he could just ignore Blacksnake. He also felt the hackles on the back of his neck rise a bit. There was something of a real challenge in the other elder’s voice and he didn’t care for it one bit.
“Craziness, Blacksnake? It would be craziness to do nothing and wait for them to wander into the Holt on their own. I don’t like the idea either, but what else can we do?”
“What else?” Blacksnake’s voice was raised as he repeated the question. “For a start we could use our heads and not just think like the wolves. I expected better from you, True Edge. I trusted you to give my son better advice.”
True Edge didn’t flinch in the face of the accusation. In fact he took another step closer and met his accuser’s gaze steadily.
“I always give him the best advice I can and he listens to me because he knows that. Perhaps he would heed your advice sometimes if you supported him instead of expecting him to fail!”
That struck Blacksnake like a slap to the face.
“If he were wise he would listen to me! I could help him!” Blacksnake hissed back in reply. “Instead he’s too busy listening to you. I know what would be best for the tribe if he would only listen!”
“You know what’s best for us? You were not even here when Windburn became chief. Where were you then, Blacksnake? Off avenging your mate’s death….or seeking your own? We followed him because the tribe was his first priority….unlike you.” True Edge’s voice was little more then a low growl. “You should challenge him or support him. Instead all you’re doing is hurting him and the tribe.”
Blacksnake’s eyes narrowed at the tone but he held himself in check. There was no way he intended to let True Edge goad him in this. He would have to go back on the offensive and show this whelp the error of his ways!
“Challenge? Is that all you can think about, True Edge? Is the wolfsong all you can hear? That will not keep the tribe safe. Lynx at least knew when to run like a wolf and when to walk like an elf. He would be ashamed to see how little you’ve learned.”
In the blink of an eye Blacksnake saw True Edge’s expression change from one of mild aggravation to one of deepest rage. He never even saw him move before the younger elf was upon him and had grabbed him by the tunic. They pushed and shoved one another as True Edge tried to wrestle Blacksnake down. Despite his protests in regard to the wolfsong, Blacksnake found himself as lost in the moment as True Edge was.
Their voices were little more than low growls as they grappled with one another. Blacksnake tried to push him off but True Edge was not to be denied. In seconds he had both hands locked onto the older elf’s tunic and was trying to overbear him. Blacksnake, unable for the moment to push him off, instead decided to give as good as he got. He grabbed True Edge by the hair and held tight as he locked eyes in a challenge of his own. If he wanted a fight, it was a fight he would get. Only it would be one of Blacksnake’s choosing!
Now, eyes locked in challenge, all awareness was lost to them except for the mental duel that was taking place. Their bodies went rigid as they waged a battle of wills. They continued to send, but no longer in words. What passed between them was more primal and consisted mostly of feelings and images. Blacksnake was impressed by just how strong True Edge was in the face of his anger. They had never crossed this line before. Indeed, most elves never risked Blacksnake’s temper in this way. If nothing else he was impressed by True Edge’s resolve.
He also felt the same worries and anguish that the younger elf had gone through in coming to the conclusion that the tribe should reveal itself to the humans. It wasn’t the knee-jerk, instinct-driven urge Blacksnake had imagined. In exchange True Edge felt the full measure of Blacksnake’s force of will, but also the fears he had for the tribe and how much he really did want to help his son. It wasn’t until they had let their guard down enough to come to blows that either of them had been able to see things from the other’s point of view.
Their emotions were so raw and they were both so strong that each was able to see the other’s point clearly through the truth of sending. Each of them was trying to batter the other into submission by force of their views. Locked as they were in the struggle they could not help but see the matter from the other’s perspective even as they tried to enforce their own. As much as Blacksnake had belittled the wolf song, it was proving an excellent way to settle their differences. The harder they fought the more they realized that they really did both want the same thing; safety for the tribe.
After what seemed like an eternity they each looked away and broke the stare-down. Neither so much won as they both realized that there was no more point in fighting. True Edge released the hold he had on Blacksnake and took a step away. After a deep breath to clear his head he finally spoke.
“Windburn is a good chief. We can argue over how to solve the problem, but he decides.”
Blacksnake finally nodded. He now understood the soul searching that True Edge had to go through to give voice to the suggestion regarding the humans. He hated them so much, but after long thought had put that aside and offered the advice he thought best. It wasn’t based solely on a wolf’s instinct, but also on calculated reasoning. True Edge wanted more then anything to avoid having to flee the holt or to die defending it. He wanted his family and tribe to live.
True Edge, much to his surprise, had seen a different side of Blacksnake as well. To him, the older elf had always seemed power-hungry and domineering. He had always thought Blacksnake was prone to manipulating the rest of the tribe and seeing himself as superior to them. That wasn’t entirely true, he now knew.
It was a sobering moment for both wolfriders. There was more to each of them then the other had realized. It would take awhile for them each to make sense of it all, but they certainly had some things to think about now.
“I was wrong about your brother, True Edge. He wouldn’t be ashamed.” Then, after a long, thoughtful moment spent studying him: “The face fur suits you now.”
True Edge accepted the compliment in silence as he studied Blacksnake in return. He had always respected him as a hunter and an elder, though that was tempered somewhat by what he perceived as Blacksnake’s sly manner. The two of them might never be close but he also had learned much about the other elder’s motivations. Though they were different in many ways, they were also similar in more ways then he had imagined.
“Thank you Blacksnake. I understand now what Lynx saw in you.”
It was as much of an apology as either of them could give. Still, no apologies were needed now. Both knew where the other stood, and even if they disagreed, they knew that they wanted the same things and would fight to achieve them. Blacksnake turned and made his way back to the Dentrees as True Edge returned to his work. Ultimately their course would be chosen by Windburn. In his choice, though, he would have the both of them to advise him.