(This story is related to the storyline in which "Longshot loses his wolf-friend Icestalker" - see listing for more related stories – and is a companion piece to ”Moon Rise”.)
It had been a warm day, one that caused an elf to sweat through her sleep if she didn’t kick off the furs. Evervale was glad to lean through the doorway to her den and feel the cooling evening breeze on her hot skin. She paused to sit in the opening, not bothering with clinging clothing yet, and let the light breeze dry the beaded perspiration. She lifted her long red hair from the back of her neck and let out a long sigh. It was nice to be welcoming in spring weather again.
**Looks like I returned at a good time!** Pathmark's amused sending reached her and Evervale lowered her head to look down. Directly below stood Pathmark holding a rope tied to the furry feet of a dead rabbit, no doubt a reward from his traps. He was peering up at her with a half smile on his face.
Evervale grinned back and shook out her hair so that the long tresses fell over her shoulders. Then she abruptly pulled back inside the den in a teasing gesture. Pathmark was quick to respond and soon, Evervale was feeling sweaty again for new, very pleasant reasons.
After awhile, Evervale lifted her head from Pathmark’s chest to look at him. “I suppose we should do something useful,” she said to him guiltily. He and Longshot had let her sleep in while they tended to other things.
Pathmark raised his eyebrows. “I think you’re doing something useful!” He pulled her closer and Evervale laughed merrily.
“I never knew you were so playful!”” Evervale giggled, tickling Pathmark’s underarms so he would let her loose.
“You bring it out of me. You and Longshot,” he answered, laughing himself. Evervale escaped his grasp and smiled at his response while she pulled on her leathers. Pathmark watched her dress, savoring all the details, until finally he sat up with a lingering sigh and fished around for his own clothing.
“Just one rabbit?” Evervale’s voice carried from the doorway where Pathmark had left his kill. He nodded.
“Just one this time, but it’s all I need for the pouch I want to make. We could make hunting rations from the meat.” He finished lacing his pants and then pulled on his shirt. When he turned, Evervale was standing at the doorway stroking the white fur thoughtfully.
“Rabbits are so soft. Its fur would make a perfect blanket for a baby,” she commented. Pathmark walked up and put his arms around her, his hands reaching to touch the fur, as well.
“Thinking of cubs, are we?” Pathmark whispered into her hair. He would love to Recognize Evervale and have a cub. It went without saying and Evervale knew it.
She smiled shyly. “Thinking of little Rill. We never did give them a gift.”
“We’d need a few more rabbits to make a blanket, even a small one for an infant.”
“You’ll get them.” Evervale turned around in Pathmark’s arms and he circled them around her waist. She held the rabbit between them, its blank face with closed eyes near their faces. The kill was relatively clean using traps. Its neck had been neatly snapped with little blood escaping from its wounds.
“Aye. We can save some until we have enough.” Pathmark grinned when Evervale practically wiggled with excitement. “But this one… I have other plans for.” He tapped a finger over her lips when they turned into an exaggerated pout. “Now, now. Like you said, I’ll get more.”
Pathmark gently released his lovemate. Evervale smiled and relinquished the catch to his awaiting hands. “Let’s get some salt from the stores and prepare the meat,” he said. Wasting no time, Pathmark fondly patted Evervale’s cheek, threw the rabbit’s line over his shoulder, then swiftly moved through the doorway and down the tree.
His lovemate followed, setting her feet lightly on the footholds she’d shaped into the side of the tree. A smile lit up her face as she walked alongside Pathmark. The young plantshaper was all smiles ever since she, Pathmark and Longshot had decided to den together. The moonlight shone through the budding leaves, casting pleasant shadows over everything. She felt the growing grasses and leaves brush against her bare legs. Night birds called from their hidden places among the trees. She took Pathmark’s free hand in her own and they swung their arms between them as they walked the short way towards the Mother Tree.
Evervale was so caught up in her happy thoughts, she didn’t notice the growling before Pathmark did. He stopped abruptly and pulled her back by the arm. She looked at him quizzically, but then picked up the growls and quickly recognized them. Her large green eyes grew larger with fear. **Halfmoon!** she sent to Pathmark.
Fearing what she would see, Evervale stepped into the clearing. Icestalker was laying on a rock that had been warmed by the sun during the day and Halfmoon was standing rigidly next to it. Both wolves were growling, tails were down and ears were flattened.
How many times had these wolves fought for dominance? Both were beta wolves, ranking just below the alphas. Halfmoon had always challenged other wolves until he reached his current position. But the ambitious wolf was never content where he was. He would not give up until Icestalker gave way. Each time Evervale worried the fight would go too far.
Evervale balled her hands into fists and jammed them against her lower jaw. For a moment, she stood in shock, like a deer startled by a hunter. A particularly fierce growl from Icestalker lit a fire under her again. Though she knew she shouldn’t interfere, she tried sending calming thoughts to her wolf-friend.
**Halfmoon, there’s plenty of other warm places to rest. Come with me.** She stepped closer to the wolves, whose eyes were locked in combat even if their bodies were not yet. Pathmark didn’t dare to step as close as Evervale, since neither wolf was his bond. He watched Evervale with mounting worry. It wasn’t normal to interfere with fighting wolves, but he also knew how hard it was for the soft-hearted plantshaper to stand aside and watch, especially when her own wolf friend was involved.
**Don’t touch him!** Pathmark warned when Evervale held out a hand to her wolf. She was standing to his side, so Halfmoon could see she was there. But he ignored her and completely focused on his rival. In desperation, Evervale sent to Longshot. Icestalker was his wolf friend. Maybe he could do something! Her dark-haired lovemate immediately responded and she knew he was on his way.
Evervale turned suddenly towards Pathmark. **Throw me the rabbit!** she sent. Shaking his head slightly, he nevertheless threw the dead animal to his lovemate. He knew in his gut it would do no good. Something much more important than food or even sun-warmed rocks was at stake to these wolves.
Waving the rabbit in the air, she tried vainly to gain Halfmoon’s attention. But Evervale could see it had no effect. As if she didn’t even exist, Halfmoon stepped closer to Icestalker and at that point the older wolf stood on the rock. He warned Halfmoon with a nasty snarl, but he wouldn’t budge.
**Hurry, Longshot!** Evervale sent, her body again immobilized by fear and uncertainty.
**Almost there!** was her lovemate’s fearful answer. She could tell he was running full speed.
The tension mounted between the wolves while Evervale and Pathmark watched in silence. Suddenly, the dark wolf leapt onto Icestalker and the two wolves ripped into each other, making the most horrible sounds Evervale had ever heard. She immediately knew this fight was different from ones they’d had before.
Her hand flew to cover her mouth as she stood transfixed at the horrifying display. Fur flew, shining teeth bit into flesh, and blood escaped from hasty wounds. Pathmark rushed to pull Evervale away and she didn’t fight him, but rather felt limp against his body. She dropped the rabbit and gripped Pathmark’s shirt sleeves, plucking at them in mute helplessness.
A loud yelp filled the air as Halfmoon gave one final bite into Icestalker’s neck. The silver wolf lay still. The silence was painful; it pierced Evervale’s ears.
Evervale had hardly noticed that others of the tribe had come to see what the noise was about. Then she saw poor Longshot standing ashen just inside the clearing. He was too late, but she knew there hadn’t been anything he could have done, either.
Looking stunned, Longshot approached the two wolves. Halfmoon, his usually snow-white muzzle now thickly red, eyed him for a moment, then let out a great sneeze. The wolf stepped away and joined a gathering of wolves nearby. The pack gave way to him as he approached. He licked his chops and held his head high. He was proud. Evervale averted her eyes from the display.
With tears falling down her cheeks she watched Longshot say his goodbyes to his fallen bond. Her heart ached, wishing so deeply that it hadn’t been HER wolf that had killed him. Pathmark held her close, rubbed her back, and pressed his lips to her forehead. She cried even harder when Longshot lifted his voice in a howling tribute. She joined in as best she could, even though her throat felt constricted and raw.
She watched from the safety of Pathmark’s arms while Longshot exchanged words and hugs with his family. Finally he approached and Evervale was filled with an irrational fear that he wouldn’t want to be with her anymore. Pathmark released her when she suddenly pulled away and wrapped her arms around Longshot’s neck.
“I’m so sorry!” The words came out of Evervale in a big sob. “They both wanted to rest on the same sun-warmed rock. Neither would give way and I couldn’t distract Halfmoon or call him away!”
**Not your fault,** he answered as he returned her embrace. She felt reassured by the truth in his lock-send and she sagged against him in relief and weariness. **This night was coming. We both knew it. Icestalker was too old… too stubborn.** Evervale nodded and wiped away the tears on her cheeks.
**I’m sorry for you both.** Pathmark put his arms around them as he sent. Evervale curled into his arm and sought comfort in their combined embrace.
”Don’t do that… “ Longshot said with a shake of his head. “I’ll start crying again too.”
“It’s all right if you do.” Pathmark answered and Evervale could tell he was trying to be strong. “We will be here for you.”
The night had started out so nicely, it amazed Evervale how quickly it had turned into something so different. She replayed the events leading up to the fight and then the fight itself, but she found the facts were now confused in her mind. Though she knew many heartbeats had passed before the two wolves had jumped at each other, it now felt like a terrifying blur.
Still, she felt the solid foundation of her new family gaining strength through this experience. The strong arms of her mates around her waist and shoulders made her want to cry from happiness, even while she felt this well of grief engulfing her. She loved her birth family and nothing would replace them, but this family felt different. It was one she chose. And they would get through this together.