The three young elves lay back in a pile of fallen leaves, which they'd pushed together from what had blown from the surrounding woods into the Broad Meadow. It was a crisp, cold winter night, and the layer of leaves provided them with some insulation from the cold ground. They were each bundled up in their winter coats and they gazed up at the clear night sky. Their elders said that it might be the last clear night for a long while. A storm was coming -- any elf could smell it, that rain-thick scent of change. The winter days and nights had grown so cold that any rain would certainly fall as snow. And if it was a really wicked storm, as some of the elders were saying it smelled like it might be, then the cubs wanted to soak up what might be their last night outside of the Dentrees, just in case the storm lasted and lasted and lasted. The first snow of the season was always fun, but being trapped in the Dentrees for days on end never was.
Newt was enjoying the way his breath was creating clouds of fog, which melted away as they drifted off; Fadestar was counting stars, while Crackle squinted up at the Child Moon, which was nearing full, as Mother Moon waned.
"There's a rabbit living up there, you know," she said. "You can see its holes. It knows when we're watching, though. It only comes out in daylight, when we can't see it. It may be a moon rabbit, but it's still scared of owls."
Fadestar smiled to herself. If she had learned anything about her new friend Crackle, it was that the red-headed chatterjug had an exceptional imagination, and any attempt made to correct Crackle's stories was apt to lead to even wilder leaps of fiction. "Only one rabbit?" she asked, feeding kindling to the flame. "How's that possible?"
"He's a very lovesick rabbit," Crackle amended. "So he spends a lot of time digging his holes, thinking it might impress the she-rabbits into joining his warren. But girl rabbits just don't look up at the moon -- they're all snug in their own holes at night, so the moon rabbit just stays lonely. Once, the moon rabbit tried singing down to the girl rabbits, hoping they'd hear his song and look up out of their warrens at him, and admire all of his digging. And one girl rabbit did hear him. She crept out of her hole and looked up to marvel at the beautiful boy moon rabbit who sang down to her. But an owl heard them too. The owl swept down and caught her, and gobbled her up."
"Poor moon rabbit," sighed Newt, who was always sympathetic to anything exhibiting a hint of loneliness, even if it were only a figment of Crackle's imagination.
"Those owls are not what they seem," Crackle said wisely. "Hey -- Fadestar! Why do you always do that?"
Startled, Fadestar froze with her arm extending, waving up at the cold sky. She self-consciously retracted it, and hugged herself tightly. "Do what?" she replied, feigning innocence.
Crackle gave her a friendly poke in the shoulder with her mittened fingers. "It's like you have a spasm or something -- every once in a while, you just shoot a hand out and wave at the sky."
"Maybe she's saying hello to the moon rabbit?" Newt teased gently.
Crackle snorted. "I don't think so! Why'd’ya do that?" she prodded.
Fadestar shrugged. It was a silly personal ritual, she knew -- but knowing it was silly didn't stop her from the need to continue doing it. "It's something me and my father used to do. Whenever we were out together and we saw a falling star, Father would have me wave to it. He said the falling star was my mother's spirit, showing us she loved us."
Crackle looked at her as if she’d sprouted a second nose. "But stars are only stars,” Crackle said, as if talking to little Rill. “Stars aren't spirits."
"And there aren't any rabbits on the moon," Fadestar retorted. "I didn't say is WAS my mother's spirit. I just said that it was something my father used to tell me. When I was a really little girl, it felt good to hear him say that."
Newt had rolled over to look at her, his head propped up on one hand. "Your mother died when you were just a baby, didn't she?" Fadestar nodded, and Newt looked sad. "I knew your mother. She was really pretty."
Fadestar swallowed with difficulty. "Tell me about what you remember about her."
Newt thought for a moment before speaking again. "Stormdancer could have a sharp tongue, but she was always really nice to me. She would pick me up and fly up over the trees sometimes. She used to frighten the chieftess something bad, with how she would fly out in the middle of big summer storms and dance up there among the skyfire. I know that scared your father Leather, too. But that was Stormdancer -- she didn't mind that she scared anyone, she was just going to do what she was going to do."
Fadestar had heard about her mother's love of dancing during thunderstorms; her father had often shared send-images of it. But she smiled now to hear Newt's story, and tried not to feel too jealous of her friend. As she had many times before, Fadestar closed her eyes and simply imagined flying up into a stormcloud, safe in her mother's arms.
"So you just wave at the falling stars, thinking they're your mother's spirit?" Crackle asked, her tone dubious.
"I know they're not my mother's spirit," Fadestar replied, jarred out of that private fantasy. She opened her eyes and looked up at the stars again. "Maybe I did once, when I was a really young cub, but I don't think that now. But you never know when the spirits might be watching. Father seemed to think that sometimes mother did come back to check on us. So I keep waving, just in case."
Crackle's green eyes had narrowed in thought, and she had a look on her face like she was chewing a tough piece of meat. But Newt was smiling dreamily as he laid back on his back again to look up at the stars.
"Tell me if you see another falling star," he said. "I want to wave at it, too, so that maybe my mother and my fathers will see me."
"Then you'll have to wave both of your hands and one of your feet," Crackle said. "And Fadestar, you need to wave both hands now, don't you? So your father knows you are thinking of him, too?"
Fadestar hadn't thought of that. "I think they'll just know," she whispered. "When I see a falling star, I'm thinking of how I love them both."
At that moment, a star streaked across part of the sky, a brief and bright ribbon of fading light. Fadestar and Newt both waved at it. Crackle sat up between them and frowned.
"That's not fair," she said. "You both have someone to wave to. I don't know anyone who's dead."
"You can wave to the poor she-rabbit," Fadestar teased. "The one who died because of the moon rabbit's lovesong."
"Or the moon rabbit himself, since he's all alone and lonely."
"I could," Crackle agreed, settling back again in their nest of leaves. "But somehow, it isn't the same, is it?"
Fadestar looked over at Newt, and shared a sad, sympathetic smile with him. Crackle might have been a year older than either of them in lived-years, but she still had something Fadestar felt she and Newt had both lost that made Crackle sometimes seem like the younger cub. "No," Fadestar agreed. "It's not. But you're lucky you haven't anyone to wave for."
"You didn't finish your story," Newt said, from Crackle's far side. "What was it about the owls?"
That was distraction enough to change Crackle's course back to storytelling. Fadestar shifted into a more comfortable position, glad to listen to her friend's next tall tale. She pillowed her head on one arm, and kept the other one free for waving, should she see another falling star.