Whispersilk sighed. Foxtail was a handful. Everyone knew it… but though they knew it in their minds, Whispersilk knew it from experience. She set aside the winter blanket she was finishing, which was already behind schedule for this exact reason. Foxtail always seemed to need something. She had not responded quickly enough, and Foxtail entered the den.
“Mother!” Foxtail started. “I was calling you,” her cub’s voice trailed off as she looked at the silken cloth strewn around the small room. “But you’re working.” Her face fell.
Whispersilk knew that Foxtail wanted her attention, but there was work to be done. Though the leaves had begun changing a moon ago, the weather had remained unseasonably warm. Grateful for the extension of warm weather, she knew it would not last much longer. She, along with many others, had work to do before the white-cold arrived. “Yes, I am working.”
She felt no guilt in it. She had a place in the tribe, and her duties, as much as the hunters and fishers and trappers worked to provide food, she — along with a few others — worked to help keep the tribe clothed and, in this case, warm. Foxtail’s incessant need for attention did not change Whispersilk’s duties. Still, she didn’t want her daughter to feel neglected. “What did you need?”
“It’s all right, Mother. I didn’t need you after all. You’re busy.”
Though it was said in a tone that meant she was only saying what her mother wanted to hear, Whispersilk accepted it out of necessity. She would seek out her daughter after she’d finished the requested blankets. She thanked her daughter for her understanding and sent her back outside. “Enjoy these last nights of good weather. The white-cold will be here before we know it!”
Notch’s send was full of concern. Since it was open, anyone within sending range heard it. Whispersilk dropped her work and ran out of the den. Noting the direction that Starskimmer, One Leg, Beetle, Snowfall, and several others were heading, she followed, then began running and pushing past the others.
When she arrived at the source of Notch’s call, Foxtail was stepping out of the river. The weight of the water caused her hair to hang even lower, and she was dripping wet.
An evening swim, however, was not an appropriate cause for alarm on a warm night, and Whispersilk wanted some answers. Others had arrived behind her, and everyone stood looking at Foxtail and Notch with questioning looks on their faces.
She almost wished she had remained behind to continue working, or that her lifemate had arrived before her. A send from him let her know he had left Badger’s Lake and was almost there.
Whispersilk asked, “What happened?”
Foxtail began to answer, but Notch waved her off. He wanted to tell the story. “Well, you see… we were playing here by the river, and I bet Foxtail that she couldn’t stay underwater as long as I could. So she jumped in. Head first.”
Whispersilk bit back a gasp. This was not the section of the river for diving in. The water here was too shallow. Even cubs knew that. She felt a bit of anger rising up toward her daughter.
Notch continued with his story. “And she didn’t come back up! I couldn’t see her, and I tried to find her… I even waded in—a little,” he said sheepishly, pointing out his conspicuously dry clothing. “I had already sent to her, and I guess that’s what caused you all to come running. Anyway, a few moments later, she stuck her head out of the water and said, ‘Ow!’”
Whispersilk had heard enough. She walked to her daughter and began speaking, “You could have been hurt. Badly. I’m glad you’re all right, but it doesn’t justify being reckless. You knew better! You’re to remain in the Dentrees with me for the next hand of nights. You can… help me with my work.”
She didn’t even turn to Notch—she was focused on her daughter. She hoped that someone else would speak to him—maybe One Leg and Starskimmer. Or Windburn. She felt him before she saw him. A look passed between them. She locksent to him, and he nodded in agreement. He did not look happy.
Foxtail saw her father's affirming nod and looked down. In the dim light of the forest, no one could really see the small hint of a smile.
Whispersilk reached down to grab Foxtail’s hand. Taking it, she turned to face the rest of her tribemates. “I’ll keep her with me for a few nights. She won’t cause any more trouble for a while.”
As Whispersilk and Foxtail walked back toward the Dentrees, they could hear her saying, “Foxtail, you know better… work that needs to… help me….”