“Come on, Dash, say ‘Ma-ma.’” Starskimmer looked at her son, who was happily ignoring her as he played with Whistle’s hair. When his mother tried to get his attention by turning his head and saying, “Say ‘Ma-ma’” again, Dash squirmed out of Whistle’s arms and toddled his way to Snuff, Starskimmer’s wolf-friend.
The youngster threw himself onto Snuff’s exposed belly. Snuff must have been accustomed to such abuse — he didn’t even move.
“I just don’t understand it, Whistle. He won’t talk!” Starskimmer complained to her young friend.
Whistle pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, smiling as she watched Dash climbing over the mellow wolf. “He’s just a turn of the seasons now, Starskimmer. Maybe just a little longer.”
“Twig is talking already — started talking moons ago — and he’s two hands of days younger than Dash. Twig says ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ and ‘olf’ and a lot of other words. Dash should be talking!”
The sound of a limping walk nearing was followed by, “I’ll wager Dash won’t talk until he’s got something important to say.”
Whistle watched as Starskimmer rose to greet her Recognized. They had chosen not to lifemate, but they still treed together for now. Whistle wasn’t sure she understood that — she hoped that when her turn came, she and her Recognized would be lifemates forever. She grinned as she considered the possibility of being a mother herself one day, then returned her attention to Starskimmer and One-Leg.
“He should be talking now, though. Don’t you ever worry about it? I mean… he crawled, and walked so quickly! Surely he should be talking by now!” Starskimmer motioned to Dash, who had roused Snuff and was now pulling on his fur. It looked like the child wanted a ride. Whistle went to help him, keeping an ear on the conversation.
“Shards, ‘Skimmer, he’s just a turn of the seasons old. He’s done other things ahead of time, let him talk in his own time. Don’t rush him — if he’s as stubborn as either of us, he’ll end up waiting another turn or more!”
They must have gone to sending after that — Whistle didn’t hear them speaking, though she sensed that they were watching her. Dash had indeed been trying to get onto Snuff’s back. She looked to Starskimmer, who nodded, then picked up the eager toddler and placed him on his mother’s wolf-friend. Snuff looked back at him and snorted, then slowly walked in a circle. Dash squealed with laughter and kicked Snuff’s sides. The wolf barked once and began walking away from the Dentrees. Whistle followed, making sure that Dash didn’t fall off.
“Ma-ma. Say it, Ma-ma.” Starskimmer was squatting, eye to eye with her young son, trying to coax him into speaking.
One-Leg was fishing nearby, a smirk on his face.
“What’s so funny?” Whistle asked as she approached, ready to take Dash with her so that the couple could enjoy some of their evening together.
“She is. Every moonturn I earn another skin of her honeywine. This turn looks like it will be the same.”
“Still not talking, is he?”
One-Leg grinned. “Nope.”
“I don’t see what’s so funny!” Starskimmer chimed in, her voice a combination of exasperation and worry that could only come from a mother.
“You are,” her Recognized replied. “You’re so worried about him talking — I’ll wager you that when he does speak, he’ll be using full sentences just to spite you. He can talk. He just doesn’t want to yet. And you’re fussing over it isn’t going to push him along, either.”
“You think so?”
“Fine,” Starskimmer replied, her lower lip dangerously close to a pout. “I quit. You won’t catch me trying to get him to speak any longer.”
“Mmmm,” One-Leg responded, then lock-sent something to her. Whistle could only wonder what it might be, but her guess might have been close. Starskimmer moved closer to One-Leg and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Whistle,” One-Leg started to ask, but she cut him off.
“I’ll take Dash with me. You two have a good night! We’ll be in my den in the morning.”
“Pa-pa. Say ‘Pa-pa,’” One-Leg coaxed Dash. A faceful of dirt was the response he got from his dirt-digging toddler. “Shards!” One-Leg said as he spat dirt from his mouth.
Dash laughed, pointing to the mess he’d made of his father. He sent as well, showing One-Leg what he’d done.
“You’ve made a mess, Dash,” One-Leg responded. “You’ve made a mess of your Papa. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Another face full of dirt was the only response he got.
A bright peal of laughter caused him to groan. He should have realized Starskimmer was there, but he had been so caught up in trying to get Dash to speak — and to say "Papa" first — that he had missed her arrival at the riverside. He groaned.
"So, you've finally become the concerned father," she said happily.
"Not to burst your bubble, love, but I haven't. I was simply trying to encourage our son to say 'Papa' before he says 'Mama.'"
Starskimmer shook her head. "Don't lie to me. I saw your face — before it was covered in mud. You're as worried as I am."
A sudden splash got their attention immediately as they rushed to scoop Dash out of the water. "Dash, you scared Momma!" Starskimmer said as she pulled the soaking toddler close.
"And Papa!" said One-Leg as he wrapped his arms around both of them.
"Shards, Mama, Papa, let go!" Dash cried, surprising them both. One-Leg's arms fell to his side and his mouth dropped a little. Starskimmer's expression matched his as she held Dash away from herself.
"What did you just say, little cub?" she asked, not believing.
"Shards, Mama, Papa, let go. Dash fine. Play in water."
Starskimmer set her son on the ground, looking at him in disbelief. After a moment, she shook her head, laughed a little, then said, "You can play in the water, son, but not here. We can go upriver to where Twig is playing with his mother."
Dash squealed with delight and stood to go. He held his hand up to his mother, "C'mon Mama! Hurry!"
Starskimmer laughed, then took his hand and allowed herself to be led upriver. She glanced back to One-Leg, who had a grin on his face. Laughing, he replied, "Shards, yes, I'm coming! I want to know what else he's going to say!"