Weaving was a year-round business. Sometimes, Whispersilk thought that the tribemates who quirked an eyebrow at how much time and effort she put into her singular craft just didn't understand how much there was to do in the process of silk-making and spinning. After coaxing the webbings out of the Preservers – something that could itself be a chore – she had to wind the pale gossamer threads around pebbles and stones, then carefully boil them with a mix of fat and cinders, wash and rinse for snow-pure perfection. Once the cocoon-like bundles were dry again came the hard part, the cautious fluffing and brushing until she located the end of the thread, and began to unwind it onto her spools, combing out stuck threads with endless care. And only then could the real craft begin: setting the finest threads aside for stitching, braiding threads together to make nets, and thicker yet to make ropes and baskets, dyeing threads for clothes and sitting for nights at the lap-loom. The work was without end.
Unlike much other work around the Holt, there was no season to weaving; there was something to weave at all times of the year. So that Whispersilk was up at her craft in that unusually cold night of early spring, watching her cocoons simmer and raise thick, foul-smelling but warm steam into the air, when she felt the first kick.
She didn't start; she'd been expecting it, remembering her previous pregnancy with full clarity. Eight-and-seven moons after conception was the right time for a cub to start kicking. Still, she gave a tiny gasp and glanced down at her belly. The kick had been strong, a good sign, a healthy little maybe-chief was growing in her. She smiled faintly, before a moment's distress washed over her – whoever she told first would likely want to sweep her up, taking her away from the cocoons even though they knew that those needed watching and that she always preferred to watch them herself. Who should she call? Windburn might understand… but she should let her sisters know as well, Snowfall particularly, and it was only fair to call Willow as well, and maybe Starskimmer, or her good friend Dreamflight… she kept on hesitating, staring at the cocoons, small bundles of white drifting lazily in the basin, almost like cubs inside a mother themselves.
**You little nuisance,** she sent to her unborn cub, with a mix of amusement, annoyance and fondness. It – he, she thought to herself, not with knowledge but with hope – could not answer her yet, but she still liked to imagine that small spirit, swimming in her, its future like a thread waiting to be unraveled.
She patted her belly. **I can't send for your father now,** she told it. **I'm busy with my cocoons. If I over-boil them, they'll become useless sticky lumps, and I'm almost out of fresh thread. So you'll just have to do some more kicking later, I'm sure you won't mind.**
It was odd how the lack of response could be soothing. Her cub didn't demand conversation, and she could speak at her own pace without growing frustrated, nor did she have to worry about invading on its privacy with her sending. As she used a stone spoon to fish out a cocoon, examining it critically, she kept on sending without thinking of it. **This is my least favorite part of all, just sitting here and waiting for them to be ready. I wish Flutterby could spit out the wrapstuff right onto my loom, silky and ready. Flutterby has been such a pest since I've started growing a belly! Dewdrop is worse, though, and Mushroom. Sometimes I feel sorry for Farscout. What color do you suppose Quick Fang would prefer for her cubling when he’s born? Depends on what his coloring would be like, I suppose… or perhaps I should just stick to purple. I wonder if Nightstorm is done with the new pin I've asked from her…**
Her mind wandered, but the cub could not interrupt, so she kept sending, dissolving from proper words to just feelings and impressions. She had quickly forgotten that she needed to tell someone about the kick. It was pleasant to sit, stir her cocoons and yet feel like someone was keeping her company…
She didn't know how much time had passed, except that she was fishing the cocoons out when the second kick nudged gently against the inner wall of her belly. Whispersilk blinked.**Yes, yes! We're done. They're ready for washing now, and that I could use help with. Your timing is improving already.** Giggling very softly to herself, she slipped a hand in under her shift and touched the warm, taut skin over the small bump. Then she calmly sent for her lifemate and sisters.
This could be the first kick as far as they knew. That true first one could stay between her and the cub, their secret.
"Oh, not right now," Whispersilk murmured irritably.
She glared down at her swelling belly through the cascade of snowy-white silk threads that coated it, grumbling her displeasure very softly. It was getting to be that time of the pregnancy, when she could not go beyond a wolf's length from a piss-pot. This new cub of hers was smaller at this time than Foxtail had been, less heavy, but her bladder didn't seem to be able to tell the difference. It knew what it needed, when it needed, and it needed now.
The stitching thread she worked on was only a finger's length. At this rate, Rill’s new shirt might as well not be ready until he had cubs of his own.
Whipersilk struggled, huffed a little as she rose to her feet. She didn't waddle yet, though it was just a matter of time, but she felt swollen all over. Her belly and ankles, her fingers, as well. This cub was smaller but carried harder, and it had a singular gift for making itself known when she was at her busiest.
**I might as well sit to weave on the pot the way you go at it,** she sent to her cub, because there was no one else with whom she cared to share this predicament. **There was a reason I never took to tanning... oh, no, don't kick now!** She fancied that she could feel it check itself at the last moment.
As she squatted over her pot, she put a supportive hand on the curve of her belly, and found herself caressing it just slightly. **I know, it isn't your fault,** she mused with a sigh. **You just want to be born. And I can't blame you, not when there is so much to do once you're out of that stifling dark place. Weaving and sewing, fishing, and making nets and playing music, painting and carving and yes, hunting as well… so much to do!** Her next sigh was wistful. How many of the things she longed to do, would she be able to do with a cub on her hip?
She stifled the sting of impatience. They had decided, Windburn and her, and the decision had been a good one, a right one. She would not back out. This cubling was… it was a project.
**I'm weaving you bit by bit,** she whisper-sent, fingers fluttering over her belly as though over a loom. Then she scoffed. **And you'd rather I didn't weave anything else while I was at it, mm? Well, that's not to be! It's about time I'd learned to do two things at once.**
As resolutions go, it was perhaps a bit of an odd one, but she had never been troubled at being the odd one out. And the cub, at any rate, didn't complain, except to kick ever so slightly as she rose, as though reminding her that the respite was only temporary and that it wasn't going anywhere. It was going to hold her to her promise. It had been spun and washed and fluffed and readied, and the pattern of its life…
Another kick. Yes, no time for daydreaming, now. She had thread to knot.
**That's right, little one.** Her thoughts brushed with soft amusement against the almost-there-ness of its mind. **Let's get busy. You just pay close attention to me…**
** … and you mustn't be temped to pull them out and see how they're coming along before it's exactly time, or the dye will dry badly and then you'll never see an even shade. Unless, of course, that's how you mean for the garment to look…**
How had she acquired this habit of explaining every aspect of her craft to a spark of life that didn't even have a soul-name yet? Whispersilk stared at the bowl of dye, watching shades of blue swirl round. The silk would make a new kerchief for Windburn, and so she'd aimed to make it exactly the color of his eyes. Ever since she started on the mix, she'd been wondering if her cub would have eyes like her lifemate's.
It had distracted her, of course, but instead of imagining swaddlings and hammocks as might've been normal, she was imagining a small loom for chubby young hands.
**Because every thread is actually a few threads knotted together, you must make sure that they all take the color. My first batch looked good in the bowl, but once pulled out and dried it was all shot through with white.**
Snowfall would shake her head at her, she thought, and probably warn her that she would only do wrong by this cub as Windburn and she had done by Foxtail. It's not good for a cub to feel expected to follow your path, sister, she would say, let it find its own. And Snowfall knew more about rearing cubs that any other in the tribe, probably.
But Whispersilk knew about weaving.
She gave the bowl a critical look and drummed her fingers gently on her belly as she considered. **What do you think? It seems like it would be the right shade when soaked into the cloth. It takes time to acquire the eye for the difference between what’s in the bowl and what’s on the silk. You’ll see. Your sister has that eye for color, you know, she just doesn’t put it to use…**
She glanced around, but Foxtail was nowhere to be seen in the vicinity of the Dentrees. Her elder cub was being so odd about this second Recognition… a pang of uneasiness hit her. It felt as though in the last few moons she’d spoken to this not-quite-there-yet cub more than she’d spoken to her daughter.
**Be kind to her,** she found herself sending very softly. **When I carried her, I didn’t think…**
It wasn’t like her to linger like this, or to look back. Whispersilk was always on the move, always on to the next idea and project, and she knew how she tended to leave things unfinished in her wake. Her hand twitched a little on her belly, as though seeking to clutch protectively.
She swirled the dye around in the bowl. **When you’re born,** she promised the building spark of life, **it’s she who’ll hold you first. Torn things can be patched, you know. That’s also a weaver’s job.**
“Still at it?”
Nightstorm glanced over her sister’s shoulders at the loom in Whispersilk’s hands. Most of the blue thread had gone into Windburn’s kerchief, but enough remained for a very small piece of cloth – a pair of tiny earmuffs. The weaver was taking exceptional care, and having difficulty at it, since her belly was now almost too big to allow her use of her lap-loom.
“It’s nearly done now,” Whispersilk said serenely. Nightstorm scoffed.
“You can’t be comfortable like this, sister. And besides, as soon as you finish this you’ll probably start something else.”
“You’re one to talk,” the weaver shot back with a raised eyebrow, getting a snicker out of her sister. Nightstorm settled behind her, and began making braids and braids-of-braids out of the flowing black hair.
“Always so busy.” She clicked her tongue. “Weaving all year round, and getting worse for moons now. Trying to make up for all the time you’ll spend with a cub in these arms rather than a loom, eh?” She snickered again when Whispersilk tried to shake her head, but couldn’t quite. “I thought you and Windburn planned to make a change.”
“We did.” Whispersilk swallowed a little grunt at a particularly hard kick within her womb. The loom was jarred. “We are.” She tightened her hands on it.
“It wants you to stop,” Nightstorm muttered into her hair, “and pay some attention to it. Ask Snowfall. When I had Longshot, she kept talking my ears off about taking time to feel my cub inside me, to bond with him…”
At that moment Whispersilk’s back stiffened. A touch alarmed, Nightstorm leaned forward and found her sister’s eyes very round. “Whispersilk?”
But Whispersilk didn’t hear her. All her attention was focused inwards, on the little light, the little voice, the tiny spark of being that flared like a living ember inside her womb and in her mind and was Kei, Kei, Kei…
Tears pricked her eyes. She lock-sent: **Vyc, I hear him. Our Kei. I feel…**
The gale of her lifemate’s love enveloped her, a sweet, warm happiness like nothing else. When Nightstorm put her hand on her shoulder, she was slightly startled, turning to catch her sister’s gaze. The crafter understood at once; her smile was huge and bright. “Is it - ?”
“A boy,” Whispersilk answered, feeling herself echo that smile. Kei, my Kei. A season’s kicks and musings, teaching and dreaming, sending into silence, all crystallized into the name. A precious little touch finally reached back to her. **This is me,** she sent to him, and felt a tiny brush of reply. **It’s my voice that you’ve been hearing as you found your name.**
“I take back what I said,” Nightstorm was whispering in her ear. “I think he’ll be just fine.”
Whispersilk nodded. Yes – the threads will hold.