(This story is related to the "Willow Healer Storyline" - see listing for more related stories.)
Willow was about an elm's age. She knew her soul-name, and she'd thought she'd known herself rather well. She'd been secure in her place in the tribe and her role as gatherer and trapper. The tribe had been waiting centuries for a healer to be born. Why hadn't she known? Why hadn't her mother known? Why had nobody told her? Warned her? Why had it lain dormant and hidden for so many years, when there had been injuries and deaths that could have been prevented? Leather. Easysinger. Her own mother. And more besides. Willow did not blame herself for the lives lost between the time she'd been born and the time she'd discovered the power she wielded, but she did feel... betrayed. By her own body, her own power. Why had it waited so long to show itself?
The Holt was quiet, mostly asleep. Although the New Green was still stirring, this day felt like the height of summer. The tree canopy kept the worst of the daystar's heavy heat at bay, but it made the air feel close and stuffy, rather than shaded and cool. Not a breath of wind relieved the stillness.
She remembered the smell of the dye, and being disappointed that she hadn't been given the choice of what colour she wanted her handprints to be. Her father had brought blue. Blue was a nice colour, but she would have preferred green. They sat together, the three of them, and they told her stories of the wrapped elves, and how the handprints came to be. She was still young, but old enough to understand and accept the pledge she was being told about. She was not being asked to make it. They would never have forced her to. But she was a member of the tribe, through and through, and she wanted to support it, to take up the mantle of responsibility they bore and help them to carry it. She wanted to belong, and she wanted to prove herself.
She dipped her hands in the dye and placed her own handprints on the living pedestals that supported the tribesmates she'd never met. She made her promises to them, to help keep them safe, to guard them. They were in the tribe's hands, and she was a member of that tribe. Beside each one she placed her prints, and whispered her promises to them.
Willow now moved to Newt's cocoon and placed her living hand on the print she'd made so many years ago. Her hand was larger now, but she knew which one had been hers. She pressed down on her own mark to keep her hand from shaking. She hadn't been here for moons. What if she made a mistake? What if she couldn't save them?
Sometimes she thought she could feel the handprints on her own skin, pushing down, pressuring. The weight of them, of the tribe's hopes and expectations, was enormous.
"You're in good hands," she whispered to the impenetrable pile of silk that was Newt, trying hard to make herself believe the words she spoke. "You're in my hands now."
The phrase felt both hollow and heavy, heavier than any she'd given voice to before.
The collective hands of the tribe had delivered them safely to her; they had kept their colourful promises. But the next step, all of the rest of it, was hers alone.
A deep store of anger and resentment welled up inside her. These cocoons haunted and hounded her, and she'd never know a moment's peace until they were dealt with, and even then it wouldn't be over. Even then they'd always protect her, always watch her, always keep her close in case she was needed... It was at its worst right now, because she was needed for the sleeping elves, but it would never truly go away.
The anticipation was getting to be too much, for her and for everyone else. Part of her felt the strong urge to open the cocoons and heal them all now, if only to get it all finally over with, but she restrained herself. She felt more and more confident every day, and was sure she could do it now. But not yet, not like this. Not in the middle of the day with nobody else around to help her if something went wrong. Not without what was left of their families around to be there when they woke. She knew that much, at least.
Willow stood up and surveyed the soft white mounds of silk that lay patiently for her touch, and she made them one more promise: "Soon."