(This story is related to "the birth of Suddendusk & Quick Fang's child" - see listing for more related stories.)
“Are you ill, crackling cub?” Windsong asked with some concern.
Crackle fidgeted as her mother felt her forehead to check for a fever.
“No, Mama, I’m just tired,” she replied. “Maybe I’ll lay down by Rill and take a nap. Or maybe I’ll tell him a story. You said that I used to like for you to tell me stories when I was little.”
At the mention of her cub’s name, Quick Fang’s interest was piqued. She had only recently been convinced to lay the cub down on some furs set out for that purpose while the tribe milled about. Everyone had been caught up in the tributes for the birth now that an eight of days had passed. Eventually though, Snowfall had strongly suggested that everyone should stop passing the child around since he was growing sore and fussy. Sure enough, he was much happier now to just lie quietly as the rest of the tribe milled around him. That didn’t mean, though, that Quick Fang, being new to motherhood, wasn’t hovering protectively nearby.
“He’s too little to understand your stories,” the wolf-like Quick Fang stated simply. Crackle got the impression that she wouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt from Rill’s mother.
“I know he can’t understand me yet. How do you think he will learn to, though, if we don’t get him used to being talked to?”
Quick Fang didn’t have a ready answer to that. With some reluctance she nodded her agreement as Crackle went to sit by Rill on the furs. As she settled in, perhaps a wolf length from Rill, her mother shot her a glance that she interpreted to mean, “Don’t get into trouble.” Crackle wondered what sort of trouble she could get into just sitting and talking with her little brother. Grownups could be so strange sometimes.
Now, finally able to sit with Rill more or less one-on-one, she was struck by how helpless he looked. He was only a few days old and could hardly move or do anything. That made her sad in a way, but she realized it was only a passing phase. In a few turns’ time he would be running and jumping and doing all the things that made a cub’s life worth living. Now that was something to be happy about in her opinion. She would just have to take care now to make sure he got a good education….and not the kind that the adults always seemed to yammer on about.
Looking around, she saw that her mother and Quick Fang were still watching her with some concern, though they tried to look like they weren’t. Her father, Suddendusk, was also glancing her way. Where the other two seemed suspicious though, he gave her a smile and a nod. At least he wanted her to spend time with Rill. Turning her attention back to her brother, she saw he was looking more or less in the direction of the grown-ups standing by the trunk of the dentrees. One-Leg and True Edge were there, as was Windburn, and they were sharing a loud discussion about who Rill looked the most like. Naturally, True Edge was quite pleased that the cub resembled his side of the family.
Crackle watched them for a moment, and then turned her eyes back to Rill. He couldn’t focus very well yet but he was trying to see and hear everything around him. She wondered how best to get and keep his attention when a simple solution occurred to her.
**Rill,** she sent as gently as she could. As she did so, his eyes got big for a moment and he stopped squirming. He didn’t respond, at least not in a way that she was used to, but she did get the feeling that she had his attention….and that he liked it. Maybe her Mama was right; maybe cubs did like it when you talked or sent to them.
**Rill, don’t be afraid. It’s just me, Crackle. I’m your big sister.**
She tried to put all the comforting emotion she could into that simple statement. Rill responded by turning his head somewhat in her direction and staring with unfocused eyes. He didn’t have much control yet but he was trying and with a wave of excitement, Crackle realized that he was happy. Her baby brother really liked her!
**That’s right Rill, over here. I’m your sister and we are going to be great friends as you get older. When you can walk on your own I’m going to teach you all kinds of things that a cub needs to know. The first thing, though, that you're going to need to know is who everyone is.**
Once again Crackle looked around. Quick Fang was still keeping a vigilant but distant guard over Rill.
**That one is your mother,** she sent with a mental image of Quick Fang. **She bites, so be careful. I’m thinking that she won't be the type, though, to make you take baths or pick up your stuff all the time, so that might not be an entirely bad thing.**
Looking up, she caught sight of her father and then included that mental image in her next sending to Rill.
**That one is our father. You’ll like him but for some reason he seems to worry a lot if we are out of sight or quiet for too long or if we climb too high into trees or just about anything. I don’t know why he does that. It’s not like we…like I, cause much trouble.**
Rill’s expression was one of rapt attention. Crackle could almost swear that he was trying to send back to her. Even though he couldn’t yet, at least not in words, she was very pleased that he seemed so happy with her company.
“Never mind that, Rill. I guess he is just going to worry no matter what we do. Daddys are like that I guess. Just remember, I’ll be there to teach you how to stay out of the worst trouble. Now, let’s see, who else do you need to know about?”
Crackle was so caught up in trying to teach her baby brother the important lessons he needed that she had forgotten along the way to confine it to sending. Worse still, her voice had begun as a whisper, but as she got so involved in her descriptions of their tribemates it began to rise by degrees. She was totally unaware that bit-by-bit, the conversations near to them had begun to die down as she spoke. Her attention was now totally focused on Rill and the vital life lessons she felt the need to teach him. On and on she went, telling him about each tribe member in turn.
“…and they’ll tell you that Snowfall is your grandmother, but don’t believe it. It’s all about something the adults call Recognition. Don’t ask because they won’t explain anything that they think is adult stuff because it’s supposed to be some big secret I guess. Oh, they’ll tell you a little, but only enough to confuse you or to get you to stop asking.
Anyways, she is supposed to be Recognized to True Edge. That’s him over by the tree. Now he really is your grandfather. I think because he is so full of wolf blood that he should walk on all fours like I think your mother does sometimes. It really doesn’t make much sense that they Recognized and made Quick Fang.”
Rill seemed to hang on her every word. Crackle, though she had forgot to continue her tale by sending, was still maintaining a low-level mental contact with the cub. That contact felt very comforting to the both of them and Crackle was really beginning to enjoy this notion of being a big sister and taking the poor cub under her wing before the adults ruined him with all their strange notions and insistence on silly things like work and responsibility. Without a care in the world she continued with her explanation of Rill’s family relations.
“You see, your grandfather is really full of himself now because you look so much like him. He lost a lot of good furs betting that you’d have snow-white hair like your mother but the way you turned out seems to please him more. I’m not sure why they make such a big deal of him being Recognized to Snowfall, but I don’t believe it. You want to know what I think?”
From his rapt attention, she assumed that he did.
“I think that Wolfsister must still be alive and hiding in the woods and she Recognized True Edge. Her or one of the other old ones who was more wolf then elf. That’s the only way I can figure that your mother turned out the way she did. Now, everyone knows that Snowfall is very mothering… she is all the time fussing at me to be careful or wiping stuff off of my face and I have a perfectly good mother to do that. She even sometimes takes in sick animals and stuff. What I think happened is that your grandfather was once a lot more wolf-like, kind of like your mother still is. Maybe Snowfall took him in and taught him to talk and walk and send and all that stuff that an elf needs to be able to do. Then when he had cubs she was trying to teach them to do the same things…..”
Suddenly, Crackle was distracted by a bark of laughter from off to her left. She looked in that direction, agitated that her story was being interrupted. One-Leg was leaning against the tree, tears of mirth rolling down his face. Other than that Crackle now realized that the whole Holt had gone quiet. Nearby, she saw Kestrel and Snowfall, both struggling to control a case of the giggles while, not too far away, her mother wore a horrified expression. More distressing, though, was the odd expression of confusion on Quick Fang’s face. It seemed as if she was trying to make sense of it all and then decide whether to be mad or not.
With a start, Crackle realized that a shadow had fallen over herself and Rill. Looking up, she saw True Edge's stern countenance. He stood there, looking down at her with his arms crossed across his chest. The expression on his face was the same one he had whenever he took it upon himself to lecture her about something. For just a moment Crackle was worried, but the longer True Edge stared at her the more irritated she found herself getting. Sparing a glance towards her father she saw that of all of them his expression was one of amusement but it also seemed supportive. If her father wasn’t upset with her she didn’t see why anyone else should be! Impulsively she stood and, putting her hands on her hips, stared back at True Edge with all the defiance she could muster.
“What? You don’t like my story?”
All was silent for a long moment. Then, ever so slowly, the corners of True Edge’s mouth began to curl up. Not into a snarl but into a smile. This surprised Crackle. How often had she ever seen him smile? Now though a huge grin spread across his face and he finally released a chuckle that he had apparently been holding back. Seeing the confused expression on Crackle’s face he finally spoke.
“Aye cub, it was a grand story. You’re a sprout off of old Cedarwing’s tree as sure as the birds fly.”
“I don’t understand,” Crackle said, now genuinely confused. “What does Cedarwing have to do with any of this?”
“You’re a lot like him, Crackle,” he said after a moment’s hesitation. It seemed that speaking of Cedarwing made True Edge a bit sad but he pressed on. “When I was just a young cub, maybe five turns old, he had me convinced young elves were really wolf cubs that the elders shaved and taught to walk upright. It was a while before my mother set me straight and then gave him a few words of her own for filling my head with tall tales.”
There was another moment of silence as True Edge appeared to be lost in thought. Before she could decide what to say, though, he spoke again.
“You’re going to be a good sister to Rill, aren’t you? You two take good care of each other.”
With that he gave he another smile and a wink and then turned to rejoin the others. Crackle was unsure what to make of this as he walked over and stood with Snowfall and Kestrel. The rest of the tribe had begun to return to their conversations after the exchange. Her father also gave her a smile from where he stood and a look that seemed rather proud, though of what she wasn’t exactly sure. Not too far away her mother seemed to be lost in conversation with Quick Fang who, apparently, had given up on being angry for the time being. Shaking her head, Crackle returned her attention to Rill.
“See, I told you. Adults don’t make any sense at all.”