Farscout had a look of intense concentration as he worked the small bone needle through the leather of his longcoat. An occupational hazard of being a scout was the occasional damage to one’s clothes. Normally he didn’t care much but with the wind turning colder it was best to secure a loose seam now rather then wait. A few more stitches and it should be good as new… or at least good enough to hold together till he returned to the Holt.
Glancing to his side he saw Flea, his wolf bond, happily digging up some burrowing animal from its den near the river bank. Satisfied that this would keep her out of his hair for at least a little longer he returned to the task at hand. At the moment he was about a night's ride from the human encampment and perhaps two from the Holt itself. He had followed the Holt's river southwards and was keeping a wary eye out for any human encroachment into the forest.
With the large ones becoming more bold and skilled in their woodcraft, he had become more aggressive in his scouting. The closer they would come the harder he would work to study their ways. If he could learn more about their habits then maybe the tribe could better avoid them. Thus far he had seen no signs of them on this trip, but he was still technically within the bounds of the Holt’s territory. If he went much further it was almost certain that he would catch some sign of them.
His coat now reasonably mended, Farscout stood, put it back on and turned to see if Flea was done with her snack. As he did so the wolf was also turning to join him. She had found a prize that she wanted to share with her bondmate. With what little dignity she could muster Flea trotted over and presented him with a large bone that she had dug up.
This was nothing new to Farscout. His wolf was not the sharpest arrow in the quiver and liked her comforts and her games. Normally he would reward her with a scratch behind the ears or a tummy rub for bringing him some piece of rubbish she had thought of as treasure. Expecting this to be pretty much the same he accepted the bone from her with one hand while absentmindedly patting her head with the other. As he did so though, something struck him as odd about the bone.
Upon closer inspection it proved to be a long leg bone but not like those he usually saw. Something about it was very unsettling, so he studied it more closely. Finally he walked over to where Flea had been digging. There were several recently dug holes in the underbrush.
**Show me where you found this.**
The wolf happily obliged, overjoyed that her elf-friend was taking this much interest in her game. As he watched she returned to one of the larger holes and began digging for all she was worth. To Farscout, it was apparent that this was an area of silt, dirt and rocks left behind from a time of high waters. Probably after a large rain or flash flood when the river escaped its banks for a time.
There were many such places all along the river so that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. This one had been here for some time because the undergrowth had set down roots deeply into the rich earth churned up by the waters. He didn’t have time to ponder this much, though. Flea was whining for his attention. Apparently she had found more treasures in her digging.
In only a few moments of digging she had accumulated a small pile of bones. Had some creature died in the flood only to wash up here? He was even more curious as he examined the bones that Flea had found. There were several ribs, another leg and even a partial skull. The more she dug up the more sense the skeleton started to make. These were elf remains!
With a new sense of urgency Farscout joined in the digging. Soon they had unearthed what amounted to perhaps half of an elfin skeleton. The bones were obviously old. Most were cracked and several had been broken and only fragments remained. Most notable was the skull, which was missing some teeth and part of its back, but was still obviously elfin. Growing bored now with digging, Flea stretched out to take a rest as Farscout sat against a tree to ponder the situation.
There was no obvious answer about who this might have been, though he desperately wished for one. None of the personal effects had survived and there wasn’t any clue as to how long they had lain here. His mind drifted back to the tribemates he had known and lost. Friends, family, furmates… this could be any of them that had been returned to the river. He pondered the most recent deaths in the Holt, trying to imagine how long it would take bones to deteriorate to this point.
Glancing at the river, he understood immediately how the bones happened to be here. Ever since the beginning of River Twine Holt they had returned their dead to nature by placing the body on a raft and setting it adrift on the river. Presumably they drifted till the raft capsized or ran aground. Either way the body would return to nature and nourish the plants or animals of the area.
He had never stopped to consider it before, but those remains all had to wind up somewhere. It would seem that this one was dredged up from the river during some long forgotten flood and found itself on the shore mixed in with the mud and debris. Time and the undergrowth had then hid the remains from sight until Flea had stumbled upon them. How many more like this one must litter the shoreline or lie under the flowing water?
Looking downriver, he thought again of the humans. The river flowed right past where they lived. Though it hadn’t been their intention, the elves had been sending the remains of their dead towards them for more turns of the seasons than he could comprehend! Surely nature had destroyed most of them before they could be discovered… hadn’t it?
Hefting the skull again he looked into the empty eye sockets. If the humans found elf bones they might mistake them for ordinary animals, or perhaps children. Not so with an intact skull, though. There would be no mistaking that this was something for which they would have no explanation. Had they already stumbled upon such a thing? If so, what did they think it came from? Farscout shuddered a bit, thinking of what kind of complications that could cause for the tribe. Maybe the humans already knew that something odd lived in the woods. Perhaps they were even looking for the creatures from which the bones came.
Having no answers, he stood and gathered the bones. With calm deliberation he waded out into the water from which they had come. Once he was out about waist deep he began releasing the bones one by one back into the river. Finally, all that remained was the skull. He looked again into the blank face. Was this a friend? Or maybe even a family member? Finally, once he was sure that he couldn’t glean any more answers from the bone, he merely whispered, “Sleep again, kinsman,” as he released it into the river’s care.
For a few moments more he regarded the spot where it had gone down, and then turned away. There was nothing more he could do here. He would return home and let Windburn know what he had found. Never had he imagined that humans might find the dead that they returned to the river. Now that he knew it was possible, he had no idea what to think. He couldn’t be sure what it meant, but it was certain that he would ponder little else for a long, long time.
**Come on, Flea. Let’s go home.**