(This story is related to the "Three-Mating of Kestrel, Snowfall, and True Edge" storyline -- see listing for related stories.)
The river made a calming sound as the water struggled to find its way to the lower areas downstream. Icy blue eyes stared at the rushing water but didn’t see anything. A soft, cold breeze played with snow-white hair, but went unnoticed. Snowfall was deeply in thought.
Ever since Willow’s healing abilities had surfaced, Snowfall had thought about the troubled youngster who had lost her way. Snowfall was worried, but Willow needed to find her path by herself, for the most part. The white-haired elder had not wanted to interfere.
It had taken some time for Willow to come around, and get used to her powers. Understandably, Snowfall thought. For Willow, it probably wouldn’t have been just the shock of discovering the healing magic, but she had also needed to come to terms with the responsibility of such a gift. But now, it seemed the female had overcome her fear, adjusted to what was given to her and she made great progress because of it. There was no denying it, the magic was a part of Willow, and it seemed she had accepted it.
Willow’s acceptance of her magic had allowed Snowfall to look further ahead. Whenever Willow was ready, she would be able to give the tribe a precious gift: the currently wrapstuffed elves.
Snowfall would be happy to see them conscious again instead of leaving them in their eternal sleep. She sighed, and watched the clouds of her breath dissolve. She heard the chatter of a Preserver not far away, and for a moment she lifted her head to stare in the direction from which the sound was coming.
As one who tried to keep true to their wolfrider way of life, she had long accepted that death was a part of it. Still, there had been wrapstuffed elves as long as she had lived. The Holt’s Preservers had given them that option. Some had made the choice to be in wrapstuff, others had been so injured or sick that the choice had been made for them. And some had died instantly without being able to consider the option.
When Snowfall had been younger, she had long pondered about what she would want, but she had stopped doing so. She couldn’t decide what she would do, since to Snowfall, it depended on time and occasion. And perhaps, the choice would be out of the question if something grave happened to her, when she would be beyond saving.
Snowfall felt a familiar pain in her heart aching up, and she breathed in sharply. Whitestag had never had that choice. But, perhaps, he wouldn\'t have wanted to be wrapped up for High-Ones know how long.
Still, Snowfall would have given anything to be able to see her son as one of the elves soon to be awoken. The elder swallowed thickly, before lightly shaking her head. Her pragmatic side told her that lingering on this subject wouldn’t lead to anything.
Her thoughts drifted to the wrapstuffed elves. How would their lives be influenced when they awoke? How would their reappearance influence the tribe? How would Honey respond when she saw Cloudfern and Greenweave back together? What would Fletcher do when he realized that both his lovemates had died? Brightwood, who had been injured by the humans that had killed True Edge’s family, how would she stand in life, the memories still so fresh to her? And how would the cubs Newt and Fadestar respond to all this time being wrapped up?
Snowfall knew from the stories that Newt had agreed to the choice of being wrapstuffed, as young as he was at the time, but he could never have imagined that he would have a whole new tribe when he woke up. There would be only a few of the elders he would still know, but those had lived a lifetime. She couldn’t possibly imagine what that would do to a cub. Fadestar, on the other hand, had been too sick with fever and grief to choose. The image of Fadestar’s wrapping was so clear for a heartbeat that Snowfall almost had the feeling that she was reliving it. And the tribe would soon relive it, again. Fadestar’s world had stopped at the moment the Preservers had done their job, and it would continue when the cocoon was slit open. The cub wouldn’t know anything besides that she had just lost her father.
Snowfall knew that Greenweave and Cloudfern were planning on offering Newt a home with the two of them, and she smiled at the thought. Snowfall was sure Kestrel would do the same for Fadestar, since Kestrel had been taking care of her sister well before she had been wrapstuffed. And Snowfall wanted to help Kestrel.
To help raise Fadestar wouldn't ease the pain of losing Whitestag.
Snowfall pulled her leathers closer and suppressed a shiver when a nagging voice in the back of her head intervened – a voice that remarkably resembled True Edge’s. Fadestar could never replace Whitestag and she couldn’t replace Bowflight, either, but this wasn’t about replacing. She had helped raise cubs well before Whitestag had died; her sister Nightstorm and her niece Foxtail amongst others.
This situation, however, was different. Before, Snowfall had stepped in when asked – or unasked, when she felt it was needed. But those cubs hadn’t slept in wrapstuff for a lifetime.
Fadestar would be free of illness again, and if Willow could manage, perhaps she would have a strong heart. But despite her health, Quick Fang’s agemate would still be a cub, of Crackle’s age, and the world had moved on while she had been asleep. Time stopped in wrapstuff, which meant that when Fadestar woke up, she would still grieve for her father who had died shortly before the cub was wrapped.
The longer hunts had kept Snowfall away from the tribe, lately, so she hadn’t had the time to see the glider. The storyteller had wanted to talk to her long-time friend about the awakening of her young sister, and offer her help to the eldest elder. Kestrel and Fadestar would probably need all the help they could get, especially because both Snowfall and Kestrel were hunters and would not be around all of the time. Maybe the three of them, including True Edge, could work out an agreement that one of them would be in the Holt at all times.
The three of them…. Snowfall straightened her back. What if…. She lifted a corner of her mouth when she remembered the time when she and Kestrel had been lovemates.
Snowdrop drew lines across Kestrel’s back, and the youngster smiled when she felt the glider breathe in deeply. Their lovemating was still new and still holding surprises for the both of them, and in the private space of Kestrel’s den, Snowdrop loved to find out more about her lovemate.
Still, Kestrel seemed distracted, and she had avoided sending for the first time since they had gotten close. Snowdrop felt slightly uneasy because of it, but instinctively felt that it was nothing that she had done. She had tried to ask what was on the glider’s mind, but Kestrel had refused to tell her. **Lovemate,** Snowdrop started once more, but Kestrel cut off her send.
“I need to talk to you,” Kestrel said, rolling over and pushing herself up. Snowdrop’s icy blue eyes focused on Kestrel’s face, silently waiting for what her lovemate had to tell her. Kestrel looked at her for a few heartbeats, and then turned away her eyes. “I Recognized… Boar.”
Snowdrop’s eyes lit up and she grabbed Kestrel’s hands. Together with her father, Boar had taught Snowdrop to wield a spear, and ever since they had gotten along fairly well. “But that’s great!” she told Kestrel, her eyes moving to the glider’s belly. “Are you…”
“Yes. But Snowdrop…”
Snowdrop didn’t like the sound of that, and she pulled her hands back in a moment of self-protection. She folded her hands in her lap. “This means… I move out?” she told Kestrel. It wasn’t really a question.
“Yes... No! No, I don’t want you to leave. But having him, him being a part of my soul… it’s different, beloved. I don’t want to lose you, but I can’t deny what I know now, either. I have to give it a chance.”
Snowdrop stared at her lovemate, chewing her lip. The information she had gotten needed some time to sink in before she could reply. Kestrel was going to have a cub! With Boar! Who could ever have thought so. She loved Kestrel, and she liked Boar – but they were so different from each other. The High Ones loved to play games, she figured.
“Then don’t deny the both of us.” Snowdrop looked up, calmly. “You Recognized Boar, he taught me when I was still a cub. I like him, and I’m pretty sure he’s all right with me. And he shares the bond of your souls.” She smiled after a short hesitation. “If you want to, that is. And if he wants to. I’d understand if –“
“No, I’d love that,” Kestrel’s voice quietly interrupted. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted to. I’m not even sure if Boar agrees, but if you do… I’d love that,” she repeated with a smile. Snowdrop answered with a grin. “Then let’s ask him.”
It had worked out fine. With fondness, she remembered the bond they had had, back in those days. Kestrel and Boar had their distance from each other and occasionally, Snowfall had acted as a mediator. She remembered that she thought the same would happen between her and True Edge because they, too, had been opposites like Kestrel and Boar. This time, however, it had worked out in the best possible way. Snowfall couldn’t imagine her life without True Edge, but there had certainly been times when things were different.
A tear rolled down Snowdrop’s cheek as she felt the pain deep in her soul. Cedarwing, Shyheart, Lynx, Frost… all dead. And why? She couldn’t figure it out. She didn’t understand. Why would anyone do such things?
She clung to her baby boy, Sunray, as if he was part of her rescue. Gentle hands stroked her back to soothe her pain, but it wasn’t pain that could be healed by Kestrel’s calming gesture. “I don’t know what to do,” Snowdrop whispered. “I can feel his pain. High Ones, his parents, his brother.”
Kestrel’s hands hesitated only briefly. “We all share his pain. As well as Farscout’s, and Moonmoth’s. They lost their families. We lost part of our tribe.” She paused only shortly, gently smoothing Snowdrop’s long hair out of her face. With a finger, Kestrel lifted Snowdrop’s chin. “He needs you.”
Icy-blue eyes filled with tears locked at warm, hazel eyes for a moment until Snowdrop shook her head. “No, he doesn’t,” she hiccupped, “All we do is argue. We even Recognized during an argument. He doesn’t need that from me, and especially not now.”
“Then don’t argue, this time. He needs his soulmate,” Kestrel countered gently. “He needs your strength, lovemate.”
”I’m not strong,” Snowdrop muttered, laying her cheek to rest on the yellowish puff of hair of her young son. “Not now.”
“But you have to be.” Kestrel sat up straight. “You were strong in our threemating with Boar. Now you have to be strong for your own soulmate, instead of mine. Snowdrop,” she continued, repositioning herself so that she could see Snowdrop’s face, “he needs your support, and even if he doesn’t want to talk, your presence will be enough.”
”Give him a chance, Snowdrop. Isn’t that what you told me when Boar and I had trouble? It’s time to take your own advice. Go to your soulmate, and give the both of you a chance to get to know each other. He needs you, now more than ever. And you need him. You’ll see.”
Snowdrop blinked fiercely to suppress even more tears but succeeded only partially. Kestrel’s smile was true and reassuring, and Snowdrop chewed her lip.
“I’ll go to him,” she then quietly said, “to see if he wants me there.”
Kestrel nodded. “Take Sunray with you. It’ll do him good.”
After she had gone to True Edge, she had never left again. For a while, she had spent some nights with Kestrel, but though they had remained close friends, their lovemating had ended. In the centuries after, Kestrel had sometimes joined True Edge’s and Snowfall’s furs, but only occasionally. After Bowflight’s death, and Kestrel’s depression, it had barely happened anymore. The eldest elder still sometimes seemed to fall back into sadness, but perhaps the closeness of her sister would pull her out of it.
There was a fair chance that the sickly cub wouldn\'t want to have them around, just wanting her father, which was, unfortunately, impossible. It would take a lot of patience and time for Fadestar to emotionally heal, but Snowfall knew everyone was willing to give the cub the needed time and space, and the stability that the three of them could give her. Fadestar would need it, especially in the beginning. It would be hard for Kestrel, too, since she would have to relive the death of her father as well.
The white-haired elder had to discuss it with both her lifemate and her friend. Snowfall was sure it wouldn’t come as a complete surprise to True Edge, because he knew her through and through. Kestrel knew her, too, though of course, in a different way. They had been lovemates and friends for a long time already, even though their hunting and scouting duties took them away from each other, sometimes even for moons.
First things first. Willow had been working very hard to control her newfound ability, but Snowfall knew that Windburn would not let her near the cocoons before he knew that the healer was absolutely capable of healing the elves inside. It could take moons or even turnings of the seasons before Willow had the ability to do so.
She had to return to the Holt, and talk to True Edge about this. Consulting her lifemate always offered her a fresh view on the things she pondered about, and she wanted to know what he thought of it. She also needed to see Kestrel and present her the offer.
Snowfall sighed and straightened her shoulders. Lifting her head, she finally saw the flowing creek in front of her, and she inhaled deeply. Time to ask her lifemate, and then, it would be time to talk with Kestrel…