(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Newt emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
… the boy drifted asleep to the clinging, sticky touches of websilk against his face, knowing wouldn’t be long until…
… everything was darkness, a darkness like deep, still water… Newt floated in that deep dark, only marginally aware of himself. There were vague impressions of fluttering touches, like being brushed by echoes, but they were fragmentary, outside the here-and-now...
…wouldn’t be long until he woke… Newt’s mind was still framing those words as he woke again. His body was aching, but it was a residual ache, not the dreadful agony he’d known before the Preservers had begun their work wrapping him up. Newt could hear the sound of crickets chirping outside, and the lone, low bharrrup of a bullfrog. He could hear the sounds of someone moving, a shifting of weight against furs and a down-filled bedbag. And somewhere farther off was the contented sigh and shuffle of a wolf as it scratched itself. Lazy sounds, and sweet summer night scents – they were welcoming, after the tension and fear of his last few hours, before the Chieftess decided about the wrapstuff.
Newt let his weary eyes flutter open, marveling at how it had been only a few moments that he’d slept and thinking to himself how simple it had been, and how silly it had been of his mother to be so angry and upset at the idea of going to sleep in wrapstuff like he had—
Newt’s eyes opened, but he didn’t see what he expected. He expected to find himself still in Chieftess Easysinger’s den, lying on her own sleeping furs, with his head in his mother’s lap and his fathers and brothers around him. Instead, he was in a strange den, lying in a bed that smelled of strangers. His cousin Farscout sat beside the bed, in a new coat that looked long-worn, his hair and face different than when Newt had seen Farscout last, only a few hands of days ago. And Kestrel was there too, at the other side of the bed, her hair longer and braided differently, wearing a sleeveless tunic that was brown, not green. There were two elves he didn’t recognize there, too: a red-haired, solemn one standing near the doorway, and a tired-looking elf with her hair coming out of a braid sitting just past Kestrel’s shoulder. Newt stared at the two strangers, his heart feeling like it had just jumped sideways in his chest. Who were they? The new faces were both marvelous and terrifying. He had never not *known* someone – he was the tribe’s youngest. He had never known a stranger.
"Little cousin," Farscout murmured. He smiled down at Newt, but his smile was strange: it was a happy one, but there was sadness there too, and worry was set in the lines around Farscout's grey eyes.
Newt blinked in confusion. Something was amiss, not right. He focused on his cousin's face with huge eyes. Was that facefur on Farscout's cheeks? With trembling hands, Newt reached out to touch his cousin’s face, but his limbs still felt heavy, as if he had not moved them for ages. The sideways-feeling was being replaced by the heavy weight of dread gathering in the pit of his belly. He couldn't smell his family, when moments ago they had surrounded him.
"Farscout?" he whispered, his tongue tired and heavy as well. "Where are Mother and my fathers? Where are my brothers? Will they be back soon?"
Farscout's smile had vanished, and the glance he traded with Kestrel was wretched. Farscout moved to sit closer on the bed bedside Newt, and tenderly gathered the boy up in his arms. "Little cousin," he said gently, "They're gone. They've been gone for a long, long time."
"How's it going in there?" whispered Notch, surreptitiously perched outside of Beetle’s window.
Cloudfern watched as Greenweave spared the curious hunter a miserable glance. “Newt's still crying,” the weaver whispered from where the lifemates sat, in the small central space where the three second-floor dens of the Child Tree all opened into a single, tiny common space. Newt's cocoon had been carried into Cloudfern and Greenweave’s den to be unwrapped. From where the lifemates sat, Cloudfern and Greenweave could see Newt still weeping in Farscout’s arms, while Kestrel sat at the boy’s other side, stroking the child’s back and murmuring words of comfort. The elders had consulted, before the cocoon was breeched – Farscout as the boy’s remaining kin and Kestrel as the one least changed by the passage of time, would be there to wake the child and break the terrible news to him, and only slowly introduce others as they weighed Newt able to face it. Greenweave had agreed to that plan – but Cloudfern doubted his lifemate had realized how dreadful the waiting could prove to be.
**Still crying?** Notch squinted up into the midnight sky. **It's been hours. For someone who's been sleeping for so long, that little sprout sure has a lot of water in him.**
"Just piss off," Cloudfern hissed. Sitting beside Greenweave in Beetle’s den and waiting with his lifemate, the plantshaper gave Notch a warning stare. **You'd be weeping too, if you were in the boy’s situation.**
Notch shrugged and slid down off the branch outside the window. **No reason to be so snappy,** Notch retorted on the retreat.
Cloudfern hugged his lifemate, and felt the tension and misery contained in Greenweave's body. 'No reason, indeed,' he thought to himself. 'No reason at all, except Arn's heart is breaking in his chest with wanting to comfort the boy, and not able yet to do so.' Cloudfern rested his cheek against Greenweave's shoulder blades, knowing his beloved already thought of the orphaned Newt as their child. It made it all the harder, knowing that the sobbing boy in their den had no idea who they were, and didn't, at this moment, want to even know them, strangers as they were, who had designs to replace the only fathers Newt had ever known.
**What will we do? What can we do?** Greenweave asked Cloudfern then. There was a nervous anxiety in his lifemate's voice; Greenweave was both afraid to sit still and afraid to move. **What is there to say when nothing you or I will say is going to help? There’s no way we’re able to replace who he’s lost.**
Cloudfern hugged his lifemate. **I know,** he sent , with his own orphaned grief shadowing the send. ** No one could replace my parents for me, after the Fierce Ones killed them. We can’t expect to replace. We can only just be there for him, and let him know we love him. And he may always choose another den, eventually, instead of ours. We can offer to love him as our son, but it’s the boy himself who’ll choose who to make his new family.**
Greenweave nodded miserably. He looked down at the half-finished carving he clutched, rubbing the rough stone between his fingers. **I know that in my head, love. But in my heart?**
Cloudfern just tightened his embrace, unable to offer any other comfort.
At length, the boy’s sobbing eased, and everything within the room grew still. Occasionally they felt the moth’s-wing brush of private sends between Newt, Farscout and Kestrel, but there was no sound from the room, besides Newt’s sniffles and uneven breath.
Finally, Farscout glanced to Kestrel, and Kestrel nodded. She half-turned in her seat and looked expectantly toward Greenweave and Cloudfern.
**He’s ready to meet you now, I think,** she locksent. Greenweave was on his feet before the send had finished. Cloudfern followed a step behind his lifemate as they gingerly entered their own denroom. Greenweave settled cautiously on the edge of the bowl-bed just within reach of the boy, and Cloudfern stood at his lifemate’s back, giving Greenweave the silent comfort of his touch.
Newt was burrowed into a knot in Farscout’s arm, and his face was pressed into Farscout’s tear-damp tunic. “This is Cloudfern, my soul-brother,” Farscout said, as Newt resolutely refused to look up. “Cloudfern is Frost and Lynx’s son, and Brightwood’s brother. And he is lifemate to Greenweave, who is your brother Glint’s son.”
That earned a cautious stirring from the heartbroken child. He looked at Greenweave with eyes red and swollen from weeping, then flickered a glance toward Cloudfern.
"I'm sorry," Greenweave said, as soothingly as he could. “Newt, I know this is hard, and that everything is different. But you're not alone. We don't want you to ever think that you’re alone.”
Newt sniffed and raked a sleeve across his nose. He looked dubiously at Greenweave again, eyeing the weaver’s long brown hair. Then he flinched and turned to hide his face again against Farscout’s chest.
“You look like Glint,” the boy wept. “Your voice is like his and your hair too, but you’re not him!”
Greenweave rocked back against Cloudfern body as though struck. “I know, and I’m so sorry—“ Greenweave began to say.
“You’re not Glint!” Newt cried. “I want my brother. Please, I just want my brother.”
The boy began to weep raggedly again. Farscout tightened his embrace and murmured some quiet words of comfort against the crown of the boy’s white, wispy hair. Kestrel met Greenweave’s miserable eyes, and nodded toward the door.
**The boy’s not ready for this after all,** she locksent.
**Will he be all right?** Greenweave asked.
Kestrel nodded, but her expression was grave. **We just need to give him time.**
Greenweave stared at his elder, feeling as though his heart would break apart within in his chest, until Cloudfern finally took him gently by the arm and pulled him from their den.
Over the next few days, Newt was slowly introduced to the rest of the tribe. Blacksnake, One-Leg and Suddendusk he had already known, but time had changed the three males more radically than Kestrel or Farscout, and he remained only partially less shy of them than he did of the tribemembers who were complete strangers to him. The child remained silent with grief, and when he did finally emerge from the den, Newt shadowed Farscout closely, as though the last member of the family he had known might vanish as well, if allowed out of his sight. The boy shared Farscout’s narrow bed-shelf during the day, but responded little to Greenweave and Cloudfern’s efforts to befriend him.
Late afternoon found Greenweave sitting on his favorite shaped bench, among the roots near the central door of the gathering den of the Mother Tree, near the ground-level archway in the Child Tree that led to steps down into the warren of storage dens below. The Child and Mother Trees had grown so close at this spot that their bark nearly touched, and the crescent-shaped flow of the bench which Cloudfern had shaped here did bridge that fingers-wide gap. Greenweave sat spinning nettle fibers into cord, letting his hands go about their familiar work while his mind wandered elsewhere.
Footsteps padded close, and Greenweave looked up to see Pathmark joining him. The young scout had his traveling gear slung over one shoulder, and his yellow hair was braided into two braids and wrapped in leather, beneath the striped buckskin cap that he regularly wore.
“You look ready to go out on a long patrol,” Greenweave remarked.
Pathmark nodded and leaned against his spear. He glanced up at the Father Tree, his hazel eyes concerned.
“The chief told us to go,” Pathmark said. “He wanted us gone by noon.”
Greenweave nodded. Farscout had taken on the younger tracker as an apprentice, and for the past Turn, Pathmark had often joined Farscout for the very long patrols of the Holt’s distant borders.
“Farscout is expecting to leave, but poor Newt doesn’t much like it,” Greenweave commiserated.
Moments later, a shrill, young voice rang out from the Child Tree above them.
“No!” Newt cried, in response to half of a conversation which Greenweave and Pathmark could not overhear. “No!!”
There was a pause, into which Greenweave could well imagine Farscout’s quiet words. “No!” rang out Newt’s angry voice again. “I need you more than they do! What will happen to me if you go out there and get eaten by a bear? Where will I be then?” Another pause followed, and then there was a crash of something heavy flung against a denroom wall, followed by angry sobbing. Pathmark winced; Greenweave did as well. It was certainly crockery that had just been broken – from the weight of it, it could only have been the lidded chamber pot. Greenweave hoped the pot had been empty.
Farscout came striding down the Child Tree stairs to join them, his spear in one hand and his heavy shoulderbag in the other. He nodded to Pathmark, then paused for a step beside Greenweave. Greenweave felt Farscout’s brief, sympathetic touch at his shoulder.
“The boy knows I’ll be gone on patrol for at least two eights-of-days,” Farscout said. “I’m leaving Flea behind to cub-sit. He likes her. She adores him.”
Greenweave nodded and didn’t comment – it was a bitter sensation to be jealous of a half-witted she-wolf, but it was true that Farscout’s wolf had taken to Newt’s company like a burr to fur.
“I also told Newt that if he didn’t leave the den by moonhigh, that I’d have Cloudfern haul him out, then shape it shut behind them,” Farscout added. That did surprise Greenweave, and he looked up in shock, trying to gauge from Farscout’s expression if it were a false threat. The scout’s frown didn’t settle the question. Instead, Farscout slung his shoulderbag over his shoulder, and nodded again to Pathmark. Without another word, the two set off.
“Safe travels,” Greenweave called after them, still hearing the sound of Newt’s sobs from the den above.
The stubborn sobs continued until Farscout and Pathmark were long gone. Greenweave tried to harden his heart against the sound, but couldn’t fully do so. Instead, he tried to concentrate on the nettle fibers he was spinning into cord. After having been carefully gathered late last fall, the nettles had been dried and beaten to soften them. The fibers could be rolled into a cord with the simple pressure of a hand, but he worked more quickly with a carved spindle, which he rotated against his thigh with one hand, while holding the cord up and out in the other. One-Leg had carved him a small bone flywheel in the shape of a round wolf, and Greenweave had always enjoyed watching the small whorl spin, making wolf endlessly chase its tail. He found little comfort in that simple pleasure today, however.
Finally, there was a silence up above. Greenweave wondered how much longer Newt would choose to hide away. He couldn’t blame his young uncle for not wanting to accept how much had changed in the world around him. Denying it and holding it at bay was maybe the only control the poor boy had in this situation. Certainly waking up had not been any easier for Honey, or for Fadestar. Fadestar, at least, was showing her resiliency and beginning to blossom under the loving care of her new family of Kestrel, Snowfall & True Edge. And Honey was… well, Greenweave’s Recognized was coping in her own way with her changed world, as best she could.
A wolf whined somewhere overhead. Moments later came the approaching clicking sound of nails against wood. Flea, Farscout’s black she-wolf, came trotting down the Child Tree stairs. She came over to Greenweave long enough to thrust an inquisitive nose into Greenweave’s handiwork, no doubt in hope that a stray crumb of food might somehow be found there. Then, with a gusty sign of disappointment, she set off purposefully around the broad curve of the adjoining Child Tree.
The three-strand cord in his hands advanced another finger-length before Greenweave stopped. He turned his head and looked after the direction Flea had disappeared in. Farscout and Pathmark had gone the other way, across the meadow and toward the river. So where was Flea off to? Greenweave set aside his spindle and basket of nettle fibers and rose to look for himself.
Greenweave slipped around the grand old curves of the Child Tree, and saw Flea reunite with Newt as the boy stood in the sheltered hollow near Blacksnake’s den-door. The boy had his pale hair draped by a concealing sleeping fur, and a second fur was rolled up and slung across his back as if he intended to travel. He was also carrying one of Greenweave’s favorite fishing spears, which had been stored in a basket near the denroom doorway. Greenweave smiled to himself, undismayed by the theft and thinking that the boy had to have had his hands full in his climb out of the window in Beetle’s den – he must have exited from Beetle’s window, which was a smart move, because if Newt had tried to scale down the Child Tree from the window of Cloudfern and Greenweave’s den, Greenweave would have spotted him immediately.
For a moment, Newt still thought himself in the clear as he furtively eased onto Flea’s back. Greenweave took a deliberate step into the scruff of old leaves in the windward curve of one of the Child Tree’s exposed roots, and Newt’s pale face flashed up at the sound, his blue-pink eyes wide with dismay.
“I’m going down to the river to fish,” Greenweave said with a gentle smile. “Do you want to come with me?” he offered, for all as though this were an innocent meeting, and he had not just caught the child intending to sneak after his cousin Farscout. Flea would have no doubt spoiled the boy’s hopes of any effective sneaking; Greenweave had little doubt that Farscout and Pathmark would have immediately marched Newt right back home before an hour or two had passed, but he didn’t need to rub the boy’s nose in that. Greenweave considered any first steps out of the dentree a positive thing for the child, even if Newt’s intentions had been clandestine.
Newt scowled, looking down while simultaneously pushing his hair back behind his left ear. It was a gesture that Greenweave recognized with an instant, heartfelt pang – it was a gesture his father had shared. For a moment, Greenweave expected his offer to be turned down outright, but then the boy gave a sullen, half-hearted shrug. Greenweave smiled and gestured to Newt to lead the way.
Flea trotted forward, looking chuffed with pride at carrying the boy on her back. Greenweave figured that for one of the lowest ranked of the pack, even attention from one of the elf cubs was something to be proud of. Newt thumped her in the ribs with his heels, nudging her to stick close to the edges of the clearing. Greenweave strode along at Flea’s shoulder. He could tell from Newt’s sideways glance that the boy was waiting to be chastised for trying to sneak away. Greenweave deliberately ignored that fiddly detail, glad instead for the opportunity it gave him to spend time with his young uncle. Besides – the set of those silent, waiting shoulders, and the wary sideways-then-downwards glances were so, so very familiar. The coloration and size were different, but the gestures were so exactly the same even to the timing as Tossfur’s once had been, that it made Greenweave’s heart ache with recognition.
“We should visit Moss or Nightstorm, and see if either of them can make you a hood,” Greenweave said, instead of the questioning or remonstration Newt clearly was expecting to hear. “It’s too warm this season for a fur wrap.”
Newt’s expression remained sullen. “I don’t want new clothes,” the boy said shortly. “My mother made me this tunic. I don’t want anything else.”
The tunic was clearly well-worn and lovingly patched, yet Newt had clearly grown several inches since it his mother had first fit it for him. The sleeves exposed more wrist and arm than Newt’s tender white skin would want exposed to sunlight. Greenweave didn’t argue the point. He simply nodded. “My father often spoke of how good Lacewing was, both as a weaver and with making clothes. He took up weaving after she was gone; he was never as skilled at it as she was, but he liked to use her laploom. He often said she had been teaching you the craft, and that your fingers were far more nimble than his could ever be.”
There was a flush to Newt’s milky cheeks, and the set of those taut shoulders loosened somewhat. “Mother always sang to me as she worked,” Newt said, with another sidelong glance in Greenweave’s direction.
Greenweave nodded and smiled. “My father did as well. Maybe they were her songs.” He cleared his throat and began to sing a remembered lullaby. “Spin little spider, spin little spider, spin your threads so white. Spin them strong, spin them bright—“
Newt gave a soft, snorting giggle. “You sing like a goose!”
Greenweave grinned and nodded. “So did my father.”
Newt fizzed with laughter at that, then abruptly fell silent. They had been skirting around the edges of the broad clearing, and had reached the point where the slope rolled down toward the river. Otter, Crackle and Fadestar were already down in the swimming hole of the deep spot of the river near the stone weir, with Chicory in close attendance. Newt looked that way with a sudden, keen interest – but as Greenweave watched, the boy’s spark of curiosity melted back into a quiet anxiety. There had been no other children during Newt’s lifetime, Greenweave realized with a pang.
“We can go to somewhere quieter,” Greenweave offered, seeing the boy’s uneasy expression.
Newt nodded faintly, so Greenweave laid a hand on Flea’s shoulder and led the way, through the trees and downriver toward the Den’s Creek and the craft-trees. They moved in silence through the woods, then down the riverbank and across the rocky shore, until Greenweave reached one of his favorite spots, in the shelter of a huge deadwood tree that had been deposited on this bank by a flood several winters ago, just within reach of where Den Creek spilled its waters into the river.
“The humpbacks are running strong this season,” Greenweave said, as he pulled a fishing line and feathered lure from the pouch at his belt. “But this spot right here is almost always good for cutthroat, especially if they think you’re a juicy deerfly.”
Newt nodded listlessly and slid from Flea’s back. He sat down on a water-smoothed deadwood branch and watched as Greenweave turned his fishing spear into an improvised pole. The carved bone spearhead had been fashioned for that secondary purpose, and it was a modification Greenweave knew Suddendusk had been particularly proud of. Newt paid close attention to that and seemed intrigued by the clever crafting, but to Greenweave’s disappointment, the boy said nothing about it when Greenweave handed over the spear.
“They’re aggressive this season, as they’re swimming upriver from the sea,” Greenweave said. “You won’t have to bait a hook, just cast and see what bites.”
The boy nodded and took over the makeshift fishing pole. He handled it with confidence, and his first cast was not without skill. “That’s good,” Greenweave said with a smile.
Flea settled with a happy sigh, leaning companionably against the both of them. The she-wolf panted cheerfully, gaze locked on where the fishing line dropped into the water, no doubt hoping that there would be fish guts to sample in her near future. Greenweave settled back against the wolf comfortably, letting his eyes half-close as he basked in the last rays of the afternoon sun.
The line jerked once; Newt pulled up on the line, but the hungry cutthroat hadn’t been hooked. The boy shrugged that disappointment off and cast again. Greenweave nodded approval and enjoyed the quiet moment.
“The fish are the same,” Newt said at length. “The river looks different, though. It’s wider here than it was. There’s more rocks on the shore.”
“Mmmmm,” Greenweave said. “What about the trees?”
“The trees?” Newt looked at him curiously, then glanced at the trees that fringed the river’s far shore. “What about them?” The boy gave his fishing pole a testing pull, and cast again to sink his hook in a more likely spot. “There’s more of them across the river. So they’re different, but really, they’re the same.”
Greenweave stole a glance out of the corner of his eye at Newt, and saw the boy was watching the river and the woods around them alertly. The sullen temper was gone, replaced by an avid, gentle curiosity. For a moment, Greenweave again saw a glimpse of his father in the inquisitive angle of the boy’s head as Newt watched the course of his line, letting out more as it drifted downstream in the current.
Newt turned his head suddenly, catching Greenweave’s furtive glance. The boy frowned at him and locked eyes, his scowl turning into a challenge.
“What?” Newt growled, bristling.
Greenweave met that adolescent challenge with a smile, then eased back against Flea’s ribcage more contentedly. “Just thinking how much like your brother you are.”
Newt snorted at that. “I don’t look like Glint at all. You do. I don’t.”
“Your hair and eyes are different, sure, but that look on your face when you’re not happy?” Greenweave chuckled and glanced aside at the boy again. “So much like my father, it makes my heart hurt.”
The angry challenge in Newt’s eyes melted into something shy and hesitant. The boy gave a another quick cast of the pole, then slid a vulnerable glance back to Greenweave in question.
“Do I?” the boy asked. “Do I really?”
Greenweave nodded. “You do. You really do—“
There was a violent tug on the line, nearly pulling the fishing pole from Newt’s hands. The boy gasped as he was yanked forward, toward the river. Greenweave sprang to grab the boy, holding on to Newt as the child hauled back on his line. The taut line flashed, and then there was a glitter of spray as a big fish -- one of the red-sided humpback salmon, as long and thick as Greenweave’s thigh -- broke the surface of the water. It plunged back under, but the line and the hook both held.
“You’ve got him, you’ve got him!” Greenweave cried.
“I’ve got it!” Newt exclaimed with delight, forgetting everything in the joy and excitement of the moment. “I’ve got it! Help me pull it in!!”
The fight was on then, the two of them against the hungry humpback, but hearing the boy’s excited laughter as they fought the big fish to exhaustion, Greenweave knew that whether or not they wrestled the big fish to shore, that Newt was going to be all right, indeed.