(This story is related to the "Honey being unwrapped, and Aftermath" storyline, and is also a prelude to "Brightwood being unwrapped" -- see listings for related stories.)
Nightstorm was bent over her worktable, attention focused on the raven feather she was painting. She had already completed the mottled whites and gray of a lone, winter-bare tree, and then waited restlessly for two whole nights for the paint to fully dry. Now, a needle in hand to serve as her paintbrush, she was carefully laying down a delicate outline of snow-white against the iridescent black of the feather, of where a wolf’s head would be, peering out from behind the partial cover of the tree. Nightstorm could see the creature in her head – it was her she-wolf Silverbite’s steady golden stare and distinctive markings she would paint in miniature on this imperfect canvas, and then, when Silverbite was set and dried, she would add the dappling of moonlight to complete the—
She jumped, and very nearly laid down an unwelcome stripe of white across the delicate blades of the feather. Nightstorm had been so focused on her art, she hadn’t heard her visitor’s steps approach her den’s door, or even been aware of his scent. Frustrated, she stabbed the needle into its cottontail cushion, and twisted around in her seat with sharp words on her lips for the interruption. When the artist saw her visitor however, her temper evaporated.
“Farscout?” Nightstorm blinked in surprise. What could the elder ever want with her?
The tall scout had to duck through the arched doorway into the room. His expression was apologetic and uncertain, giving further tinder to Nightstorm’s flashfire curiosity. Moss usually furnished the scout with new leathers, when his old had worn out. Her sister, Whispersilk, had once said disparagingly that Farscout never retired a piece of buckskin until it was either worn to holes or growing a crop of mold, and it had been years before young Nightstorm had realized Whispersilk had only been speaking figuratively.
“Are you busy?” Farscout asked, looking past her toward the busy scatter of items on Nightstorm’s work table. There were pieces of an easy dozen different projects spread across the scarred and paint-spattered table top – not even her Recognzied Moss could make sense of Nightstorm’s habits of organization, although she swore there was a method to her madness.
Nightstorm eyed the dusty wrapstuff bundle Farscout carried in both arms like a sleeping child. “No, not at all,” she lied with a smile. “What brings you through my door?”
For a moment, there was only the sound of the patter of rain against the summer leaves outside. Farscout was looking down at the bundle he carried, his expression troubled; for a moment, the shift of his weight suggested he was going to step back out through the doorway he had entered by. But then he took a breath and looked at her again, his expression settling with decision.
“I need you to make me something,” he said. “Some new clothes.”
“I’ve waited to hear you say those words since I was knee-high to my father Bearheart,” Nightstorm grinned. She had long thought about exactly the perfect outfit for him, black like the raven’s wing and accented with moonlight grey to match the pale shade of his eyes. “First thing I want to do is—“
“No. Not for me.” Farscout took another step into the room, and cautiously held out the bundle he carried. “For Brightwood.”
“Oh.” Nightstorm blinked again, then nodded to herself. “Oh! Certainly!” Honey had been unwrapped from her cocoon almost eight days ago, and there was already some discussion among the elders over which of the sleepers Willow should attempt next. Fadestar, the secondhand word went. Fadestar, then maybe Fletcher, once Willow felt herself capable of the challenge. And Nightstorm knew Willow’s headstrong way. Willow had a taste now for what she could do, and Nightstorm would be happy to wager that Brightwood would the last of the tribe’s wrapstuffed kin unwrapped and hale again before the first of the leaves began to turn in autumn color. “I’d love to do that! It’d be a pleasure.”
Farscout took another step, his body language still as wary as if he were in a bear’s den. Then he shifted the bundle he held to one arm, shrugged out of half of his patched green longcoat, shifted the bundle to the crook of the other arm, and slide off the coat entirely. With the only free hand, he spread the coat out on the floor of her den, then knelt and put down the bundle he carried on that makeshift blanket with tender care, as though it were made of eggshell.
“Here,” Nightstorm said as she saw him reach after his belt knife. She offered him the tiny obsidian blade she used for fine cutting. Farscout took it with a nod of thanks – in his larger hands, the delicate blade looked hardly larger than an arrowhead. Nightstorm leaned forward on the edge of her seat to see what was uncovered as the quiet hunter began to deftly slice his way through the layers of websilk.
The first item was a sleeveless jerkin, dyed a dusty, fading purple a few shades darker than lavender. Farscout lifted it reverently, as though it were something fragile and irreplaceable. He carried it to his face and sat in silence for a long moment, eyes shut as he drank in the scent of it.
Nightstorm found herself sitting silent, uncharacteristically patient, when normally she would be fidgeting at the delay. She found herself almost holding her breath, out of fear of interrupting what had suddenly become a profoundly personal moment for her elder. Farscout knelt with his lifemate’s garment held to his face, and she saw the tremor in his hands. Only at length did he seem to collect himself. He opened his eyes and silently held the jerkin out to Nightstorm. She took it from him with equal reverence, uncertain of quite what to do with it.
“I saved everything of hers,” Farscout said, his quiet voice momentarily rough. “Everything. Brightwood will have enough, but she’ll not want the old things. Not at first. She’ll want them later, but only after she’s learned everything there is to know about how her world has changed. Until then, she’ll want new things. And the baby… it was just beginning to show. These things will not fit Brightwood now, if our child still lives.”
What was there she could say to that? Having no words of comfort, Nightstorm took refuge in action. She sniffed Brightwood’s jerkin as she held the smooth leather in her hands. It smelled marvelously strange – a little like Cloudfern, but richly different. It was almost like smelling a newborn’s scent – that first moment of taking in a stranger, knowing they were a member of the family-pack but still deliciously an unknown quantity. There were precious few new tribemates to be met in an elf’s long life, and Nightstorm treasured such moments of discovery.
“Brightwood has always been so much like her father,” Farscout murmured, his gaze distant. “If there is a challenge, she’ll embrace it until she has it mastered. She’ll throw herself headlong into learning everything that’s changed, and through that is how she’ll find her own place and time to grieve. My lifemate will want these things only then, I think. Afterwards.”
Nightstorm nodded, half to herself, thinking that made visceral sense to her. If it were her, waking up centuries after she’d gone to sleep, and finding herself in a world that was different and a tribe full of new faces, Nightstorm was ready to wager what she herself would do. She wouldn’t mire herself in grieving what she had lost, or in ruing how the world had changed around her. No – she had been watching Honey do just that over the past two-hands of days, and as much as she sympathized with poor Honey, Nightstorm knew in her own heart that she wouldn’t waste her time with such regrets. Life was too precious. There were too many possibilities in each passing moment, so why waste them? Change was chaos, and with chaos came opportunity and inspiration. Without change, life was simple and safe, but in safety there was only stagnation. Change and challenge was like high water – you stepped into it knowing you risked your neck, but life was bland and tasteless without the delicious rush of risk.
“I can understand that,” Nightstorm said, holding out the jerkin before her and looking at it with an artist’s eye as she felt the sudden tickle of excitement that came with a new project.
“I had hoped you might,” Farscout said, watching her with the ghost of a smile. “Brightwood will like you. She’s an artist too, in her own way. She’ll understand you, I think.”
Nightstorm laughed at that, delighted with what she considered to be the highest of compliments from the enigmatic elder. “What all do you want me to make for Brightwood?”
Farscout let go of a deep breath, his eyes distant again and thoughtful. “She likes pretty things. She likes spring colors, but what she wears needs to be hardy. Nothing confining. Brightwood needs her freedom.” He faltered for a moment, then shrugged. “I’ll bring you hides. For a long time now, I’ve been saving the best for my lifemate. And I’ve furs, too. You can take what you like in exchange, but she’ll want a new coat, that’s for certain. She was wearing her favorite, when she went into wrapstuff. She’ll wake it in, and it’s torn and bloody—“
Farscout went abruptly silent, leaving Nightstorm both dreading to know what, exactly, he was thinking back on, and equally wondering if she had ever listened to him say so many words together in succession. His garrulous streak apparently ended, Farscout took out a second garment from the bundle and unwrapped it carefully. It was a pair of dusky blue short-pants. Nightstorm watched him as he held them, knowing the hunter was unwrapping memories as surely as he was his lifemate’s clothing. The tanner cocked her head to one side thoughtfully, as realizations sparked and took shape in her mind.
“This’s got to be hard to do,” Nightstorm said in sympathy. The elder’s eyes slid toward her, wary as a snowcat. “I saw how you almost turned and walked out again, when you first came in,” Nightstorm smiled. “You didn’t want to open this wrapstuff, did you? Because opening this cocoon is just steps away from opening another, isn’t it? And there’s no walking away from that, once it’s been started.”
Farscout regarded her in silence for a long while, then nodded. Nightstorm smiled brilliantly, proud to have for once having figured out her enigmatic elder. “It’s like an insect caught in amber,” she continued. “You know Brightwood is safe for now, where she is, even if she’s out of reach. But there’s risk if Willow sets your lifemate free again, isn’t there?”
Farscout’s expression was heartstricken as he looked down at the garment in his hands. Nightstorm knew she’d put an arrow in the center of Farscout’s fears. She reached out and rested a hand on Farscout’s leg in consolation. “Well, Willow’ll do it right. No doubt about that. Willow’ll make sure you won’t lose Brightwood. After all of your waiting, there’s no way Willow will lose her. So don’t waste your time worrying. Instead, show me what else you’ve got in that bundle, and let’s prepare for letting that lifemate of yours loose on the world.”