Long grass flowed steadily with the wind, while crickets chirped within it. The holt was quiet – the hunting parties had ridden out, and her father had gone with them. Snowflake and Mouse had gone off on an adventure, Snowflake had told her, and the elder cub had also told Fadestar she could not come because the sickly cub would only slow them down.
The young girl stared over the river and felt hurt. She didn’t want to be the one that slowed everyone down. She wanted to be just as healthy as any other, and go on adventure, instead of being stuck inside the holt’s boundaries for most of the time. She pouted her lips, before she coughed, which made her feel even more frustrated. She didn’t want to cough! She didn’t want to be sick all the time! Resenting her weakness, she balled her hands into fists and planted her hands into the soft soil on which she sat, before she sighed and frowned.
Thankfully, the evening was warm. She hadn’t been feeling very well lately, and if it had been chilly, her father would have asked her to stay inside. She might have some company, then, but she just wanted to be a normal cub so badly. She wanted to go on adventure, and run around without running out of breath and without having to cough all the time.
Coughing again, she didn’t hear soft footsteps approaching. “Hey there, Fadestar,” she then heard behind her, and slightly startled, she looked up. Nightstorm, one of her mentors, stood behind her, hands placed on her hips. “What are you doing out here, all by yourself?”
”Father said I could go outside,” the girl defended herself hastily, which only made Nightstorm frown first, but then she smiled encouragingly.
“No cub, what I meant, was… why are you here all alone?”
Fadestar’s shoulders lowered, and she turned her head back again to stare over the water. “Snowflake and Mouse are gone,” she softly said. “Snowflake told me I couldn’t go.”
Nightstorm rolled with her eyes. Her sister’s younger cub desperately needed to learn some elfin manners, but instead, she turned more wolf-like every day. “That’s no reason to sit here all by yourself, there’s more people to spend time with. Listen, I’m going to go and see how Whispersilk is doing. She’s preparing her silk… as always. You want to come along? Maybe we can work together.”
Fadestar bit her lip. She didn’t want to be rude; Nightstorm always was nice to her and she always was willing to tutor her in her tanning. Whispersilk, however, was a little strange, but she usually valued the help Leather and Fadestar could offer. But the cub acknowledged tanning as working, and she wanted to play!
Nevertheless, she nodded after a short thought, because playing was clearly out of the question with the other cubs gone. She reached for the hand that Nightstorm offered, and the older tanner wrapped her arm around Fadestar’s shoulders. “Who knows,” she winked, “Maybe Whispersilk even lets us touch the silk today!”
Whispersilk’s working den was lit with more than two hands of candles, and it seemed as if she hadn’t even heard them coming in. Fadestar wrinkled her nose when she saw what the weaver was doing – wrapping sticky wrapstuff around some kind of spool. However, she had to admire with the care with which Whispersilk did the job; the concentration was hard to miss.
The cub could sense Nightstorm’s sending to Whispersilk, and the weaver looked up. Whispersilk cast a glance over the both of them, frowned, and went back to work. Moments passed in silence, as Nightstorm and Whispersilk were having a private conversation. It made Fadestar nervous, and her anxiety resulted in an irritation in her throat. She tried to suppress it, but had to cough heavily nevertheless.
Immediately, both crafters watched her. “Are you all right, cubling?” Whispersilk asked, while Nightstorm reached for some water. Fadestar nodded, unable to speak, while the irritation only faded by drinking some of the cool liquid. She didn’t miss the following glance between Whispersilk and Nightstorm, and also caught the light sigh of Whispersilk.
“So, Fadestar,” Whispersilk started with her typically hoarse, soft voice, “I hear from Nightstorm and your father that your tanning skills have been improving greatly.” Fadestar’s tanning skill was something that Whispersilk could admire. Nearly all Whispersilk’s and Fadestar’s talks revolved around tanning, the cub thought with some exasperation.
Fadestar forced a smile. “I guess,” the cub muttered. Silence followed, and Fadestar had the feeling that Whispersilk felt as uneasy as she did – the weaver fell back into sending to her sister.
Fadestar turned her eyes away from Whispersilk’s face, and let her eyes wander through the den. She hadn’t been in Whispersilk’s working den often, because it usually was off-limits for cubs. She could agree with that, because the material the weaver worked with was so fragile. The cub saw spools in different shapes and sizes, and in different states of preparation. She stared at the different spools at the other side of the room. Those had already been prepared. Fadestar wondered if those were still sticky or soft already. Despite her wariness considering Whispersilk, Fadestar couldn’t help but admit that she was very much interested in how these soft fabrics were created.
She felt Whispersilk’s eyes on her, and instantly knew she was disturbing Whispersilk in her work. Part of her wanted to turn around and go away. Instead, she said barely audible: “Can I… can I watch you work?”
Fadestar sensed how Nightstorm’s weight shifted in surprise, and Whispersilk too, looked different. It was as if she was judging Fadestar; if the cub would be a distraction to her very precise work. Cubs usually didn’t go well with the very fragile material, Whispersilk knew from experience. No doubt Fadestar was more careful, but still – she was sick. Surely it was not Fadestar’s fault, but the coughing would break her concentration from time to time.
Nightstorm was lock-sending again, Fadestar could tell, and Whispersilk raised her chin. The cub knew they were sending about her, and she felt awkwardly left out. Pouting for a second, she added, breaking the sisters’ send: “Can you teach me to weave, Whispersilk?”
Fadestar could swear that she saw Whispersilk’s eye widen and her jaw drop, but she wasn’t sure as the weaver quickly corrected herself.
“This work is very time consuming and demanding great precision,” Whispersilk slowly said.
“I know,” Fadestar replied with more confidence than she actually felt.
“If you make one error, your entire work can be wasted,” the weaver warned.
“I will be careful,” Fadestar retorted, growing stubborn. It hadn’t really been her intention to become Whispersilk’s apprentice, she just didn’t want to feel left out. However, silk weaving had always been an interest – she had just never dared to ask Whispersilk, afraid she would be turned away for some reason or another. However, now she had come this far, she didn’t want to give up either.
Fadestar had always been curious how wrapstuff worked. The sticky material was a mystery. She had been in the den where Newt and Brightwood and Fletcher had been laid to rest, packed in a thick layer of the Preservers’ spit and waiting for a healer to be born. Time didn’t count inside those cocoons, Fadestar was told, and it was like they were sleeping. On the other hand, Whispersilk made the most pretty pieces of cloth with the same Preserver threads, only it didn’t feel sticky afterwards anymore, but amazingly soft. Suddenly, Fadestar was convinced that she had to learn how to make silk and that Whispersilk was the one to teach her.
“Maybe you are a little too young to start learning this craft already.” The weaver sounded doubtful.
“My tanning has improved a lot,” Fadestar retorted, her eyebrows drawn together and her lips pouting. “Father tells me that I’m better than any other cub at this point. I know I can do this, I promise, Whispersilk.”
”Whispersilk,” Nightstorm jumped in, calmly overseeing the situation, “I can vouch for Fadestar’s progression in tanning. Both Leather and I have been working with her, and she’s a natural.”
“Please, Whispersilk?” Fadestar added with pleading eyes, refusing to look away. Whispersilk looked into those dark grey eyes for a moment, and then sighed in submission.
“Very well, then.”
Fadestar breathed in relief, beaming and grabbing Nightstorm’s hand in excitement. “I won’t let you down, I promise.”
Nightstorm smiled, and silently thanked her sister. Whispersilk didn’t look entirely convinced yet, but she was sure that Fadestar would show what she was worth pretty soon.