Honey was in an unusually good mood as the daystar set and as night fell, though if she'd let on why, others might have questioned the manner of her happiness. Granted, she knew that Flash's send for help early on in the afternoon wasn't really anything to be jovial about. More than likely, Flash had got herself hurt at the very least she'd got herself lost, and things were serious enough to send out a party to retrieve her. But Flash would end up being all right. She always did. And this little incident was something Honey could end up using to her advantage once Flash was home and well again, and she liked that. She liked that a lot.
It was no secret there was no love between Honey and her half-sister. Whatever had started their feud happened so long ago that Honey couldn't even remember what it was. All she knew now were the arguments that happened on a near-daily basis arguments over furmates, over Honey being too bossy, over someone seeming to choose sides over a spat long in the past. And, at least to Honey, it seemed most of those arguments were ones Flash had started. It didn't matter, as long as Honey was able to get in the last word.
And Flash's sending today that she'd managed to get herself turned around up at Hidden Lake and had gotten soaked would be ammunition that would help her do just that. Woods-wise Flash losing her way was a big mistake that could use some pointing out, and Honey was going to do just that.
And, to show her half-sister she was ready to use that particular bit of information, Honey wanted to be there to cast a particularly knowing look when the search party returned.
However, the mournful howls that echoed through the forest brought those thoughts to a halt. The party had found Flash, and they were bringing her home.
There would be no chance to gloat over her half-sister's misfortune. Flash was dead.
Honey was full of disbelief as she rushed to the Holt's center to wait for the search party to arrive. When they came into view as Mother Moon began to rise, One-Leg, on wolfback, cradled the fur-wrapped body of his daughter and only handed her to Suddendusk so he could dismount. Doeskin rushed to One-Leg's side to give comfort.
Honey caught the first real glimpse of Flash of deathly pale blue skin and lips and ice-encrusted hair as they wordlessly carried her half-sister into the gathering den.
Honey's disbelief turned to shock as Flash was taken out of sight. Flash was dead. Flash who sought out danger, who would try anything, and who could get out of anything was dead. The constant thorn in her side, who caused her days and nights of misery, would no longer be able to do so.
She returned to her den, too shocked to know how to feel or what to think.
It was late enough in the season, and had been a mild enough Winter that the middle of the Holt's River flowed freely. As dusk approached, a hand of elves Honey didn't know who, because she hadn't bothered to watch went to the river's edge with sturdy poles to break a path into the ice large enough for the flimsy raft that had been built to carry Flash's body away.
Over the past two nights, Honey had kept mostly to her den. Unlike many of the others, she hadn't gone to help prepare Flash for her last ride down the river. Given the relationship she'd had with her half-sister, she couldn't imagine she'd be very welcome there.
When the initial howls signaled it was time to gather at the riverbank, Honey left her den, half-wondering what stares she might get from the others when she joined them and asked what she would ask. But she would go, and she would ask. She felt it was her right.
She'd thought a lot about Flash since she'd died. She didn't miss the arguing although it did seem that there were many empty places in her waking hours now that the bickering wasn't there. She didn't miss being pranked, yelled at, or lured into the next little trap that would humiliate her. Guiltily, she almost felt a sense of inner-peace now that she didn't have that to contend with.
But what she had decided was that she was sorry. Not sorry that she hadn't defended herself against every single slight Flash had thrown her way. Not sorry that she'd hurled quite a few insults back, but sorry that this feud had to end like this, and not the way Honey would have preferred. She would have preferred that Flash be put in her place.
However, as much as they argued, Honey could see good things in Flash: determination, fearlessness, and imagination. They were things Honey also saw in herself. Deep down, despite all the fighting, there were things she and her half-sister had in common.
Deep down, Honey decided that if she and Flash had tried to set their differences aside, they might have become friends. But now, who could really know?
As the tribe gathered by the riverside, four elves One-Leg, Finch, Whitestag, and Suddendusk took the poles that would gently push the raft that held Flash's body into the icy river. Now was the time to ask. Honey took a deep breath, walked to Suddendusk, and gently tapped him on the shoulder.
May I? she asked.
Honey heard the murmurs behind her as Suddendusk turned to One-Leg for his opinion. Flash's father arched an eyebrow. He needed an explanation.
There was no love between us, no, Honey quietly, yet confidently, began. But I'm sorry we never got the chance to set our differences aside so there could have been.
One-Leg thought for a moment, then nodded. Suddendusk handed his pole to Honey and took a step back.
On One-Leg's cue, the four pole-bearers pushed Flash's raft to the current to guide her on her last journey.
Tears for Flash fell. Howls for Flash ascended.
Honey lifted her head and added her voice to the others'. She howled for what she wished could have been.