(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Brightwood emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
Cloudfern smiled to himself and squeezed Greenweave's arms around him as they sat listening to the stories being shared for his sister's Howl. He watched his soul-brother gaze ardently at Brightwood, the air of torment that had surrounded him for so long almost at rest. Almost. Though Cloudfern knew, more than others in the tribe, how joyful Farscout was, he knew also how deeply angry Farscout was yet at Willow for how she had gone about unwrapping Brightwood's cocoon: with blatant disregard for her Chief's orders and for the wishes of Brightwood's family. Farscout felt the healer had not opened that cocoon out of concern for anything but her own needs and wishes.
Cloudfern felt the same way. Even now, eight days after her unwrapping, Cloudfern still struggled with his own mix of joy and fury whenever he remembered those terrifying moments when he'd found that Willow had forced the gamble and opened Brightwood's cocoon. In fact, he was so angry with her that he had told Beetle that Willow was not welcome in a den so close to his own. He felt badly for his daughter, but right now, he had no tolerance for Willow to be so close. Still, as angry as he was, he could not help but be happy. Willow had given them all what they had been afraid to hope for Brightwood was back. And she was still bearing a cub. Both had lived. So, for now, he decided, he would celebrate. He would follow Farscout's example and enjoy the moment, no matter what resentments might lie beneath the surface. Resentment had no place here. This was Brightwood's Howl, and it was time for celebrating his sister's awakening.
"Brother," Brightwood's voice interrupted his thoughts. "You haven't told the story of your Recognition! Tell me how you and Starskimmer Recognized. How did my niece come into being?"
Cloudfern's eyes drifted to Starskimmer and she grinned. "She asked you," Starskimmer pointed out.
"Well?" Brightwood asked.
Cloudfern smiled. "You know, sister, that there have always been pranksters among our tribe. Before you went into your long sleep, there was, of course, Blackberry," he smiled knowingly at Suddendusk. "And Cider, and Snaptwig... to name a few. Around the time of my Recognition with Starskimmer, there were a few others." Cloudfern paused, nodding at Chicory and Notch. He glanced at Rainpace, but he knew that Rainpace had most often been more of a reluctant participant, not the developer. "And there was one who wanted to be numbered among them."
"Willow," Notch and Cloudfern said together. Starskimmer's head bobbed, as did Beetle's. Cloudfern cast a sidelong glance at where the tribe's fledgling healer sat next to his daughter, holding her hand. She shrank uncomfortably as a number of gazes turned in her direction. He knew he could not tell the story rightly without talking more about Willow.
Starskimmer spared him a moment by interrupting, adding her thoughts to the story. "Willow earned a little respect from them when she was a little more than two hands she surprised them by charming bees! She won a wager at that time, and in doing so, became their tagalong. They still tried to leave her behind on occasion, but most of the time, they let her join them in whatever they were doing. After a while, Notch must have realized he could have Willow 'help' with some pranks. She thought it was great to be included, and several times she ended up bearing the brunt of the wrath for the simple fact that she was the one caught."
Cloudfern laughed, feeling some of his tension ease. He continued where Starskimmer had left off. "There was one time when they even managed to prank our Chieftess. Notch had come up with something that smelled like lavender and got Willow to put it in Easysinger's after-bathing pouch. She used the pouch to scrub the scent into her skin and ended up turning a faint shade of reddish purple for a few days."
He grinned at Notch, who was beaming he had never divulged exactly what had gone into that concoction, though Cloudfern could guess and Easysinger hadn't been the last to be tricked into turning a different color. Notch chimed in, "It was supposed to turn her blue! We didn't get the dye right until we tried it the next time on Quick Fang." Quick Fang snarled at him, and Notch laughed, rubbing the ear Quick Fang had taken a piece out of.
Cloudfern continued without comment, "Anyway, as Willow got older, she wanted to become a prankster in her own right and figured out how she was going to do it. During New Green Bliss, she had as much fun as any of us, though she must have only pretended to have the dreamberries and honey-wine that the rest of us had. During the day after, while the rest of us were sleeping things off, Willow went to work."
Cloudfern paused, and Notch took over. "Willow, Rainpace, Whispersilk and I had spent most of the evening together. We were, at least, I thought we were, all a little tipsy by morning. After enjoying the festivities, we made our way to the river to wash off. Then, as we lay in a heap on the riverbank, looking up toward the stars, I laughed about how much fun we were having. When things got quiet, Willow got up and headed off somewhere to make water or so we thought."
Rainpace chimed in, "Notch said something to her that made her turn red. We laughed as she stormed off."
"We fell asleep after that," Notch said, his eyes wide with mock innocence. From his expression, everyone knew that they had definitely not fallen asleep.
Brightwood laughed. Cloudfern's heart thrilled at the sound of his sister's laugh. It was infectious, and he couldn't help but be happy. He sensed that his soul-brother felt the same.
"Is someone going to finish the story?" Brightwood asked.
Cloudfern laughed, jolted out of his thoughts. "I will, I promise."
"It was... the last New Green I ever spent with Raven," Cloudfern began. The thought struck him it was one he had not thought of for a long time. His longtime lovemate had been with him when he and Starskimmer Recognized. Though they stayed lovemates, Raven understood Cloudfern's desire to nurture Starskimmer during her pregnancy. They both helped her even though she had protested that she didn't need much help during her first turn... and they may have shared another New Green together, but Raven had died before the next one. Cloudfern's eyes misted over. He felt Greenweave give him a gentle squeeze.
At Brightwood's look of understanding she had already heard that night how Sunlight, and then Raven, as well as others, had died. Earlier, that story had evoked feelings long laid to rest. Cloudfern blinked once, twice, and continued. "As I said, I spent that New Green with Raven. But not just with Raven. We managed to convince Starskimmer to join us," he said with a chuckle. "Then again, it didn't take a lot of convincing, and we weren't the only ones trying to get her to come with us. We were just the happy couple who managed to get her attention."
"You just wanted my dreamberries!" Starskimmer teased.
"No... I could grow my own if I needed to," Cloudfern countered. "Nope. We wanted you. And your wine."
"Story!" Brightwood demanded. There was laughter all around.
"So, we managed to get Starskimmer to join us in the celebration. And we celebrated. All night long and into the morning. We were probably the last ones to head to sleep, and we didn't make it back to the dens. No... Raven stumbled at the base of the Mother tree, and when Starskimmer and I reached to help him, he pulled us down to where he was at. We... well, you can imagine. And we fell asleep right there. Bare as newborns, and covered in paints."
Somewhere, Cloudfern heard the younger cubs giggle. He continued, "This is where our prankster enters the scene. She must have seen us lying there and decided that we were just too easy as targets. We were jumbled together, Raven and I both curled up on either side of Starskimmer. Willow didn't have to worry about waking us we had had too much fun, and too much wine, to be disturbed. I think she must have spent most of the day at what she did. She... well, how should I put it? She wove our hair together. All three of ours. Mostly, mine was in Starskimmer's, and so was Raven's. But some of mine was in Raven's as well. Willow did it very well, too. It wasn't a child's weaving, sister, I promise you. And it wasn't something that would come out easily, either."
Notch grinned. Cloudfern knew that he was proud of that particular prank pulled by his friend, even though it had involved Starskimmer. He saw a faint grin on Rainpace's face as well, and he saw Beetle smiling openly. She had always loved this story. Willow still didn't look comfortable, but she also couldn't help but grin a bit, either.
"So... by nightfall, when we were finally woken up by someone," he let his eyes fall briefly on One-Leg, " We couldn't separate ourselves. Our heads were full of fog and our limbs full of clay, and we would have had a hard enough time moving on a good night. With our hair woven together like it was, it was near impossible."
One-Leg chimed in. "When I saw how much trouble they were having, I sent for Suddendusk and Greenweave. The two of them can unknot anything!"
Cloudfern grinned at the praise toward his lifemate, then looked toward Suddendusk with gratitude. "They came. They were still painted, and they were groggy, but they came. And spent most of the night separating our hair."
Nightstorm spoke up, "I remember this. I brought food to you all."
"Yes, you did. You were just a young one then. Not even as old as Otter if I remember correctly," Cloudfern added. "We were grateful for the food, though. The night was getting long."
"It got even longer," Starskimmer added.
Cloudfern groaned, remembering. "We three were heads together as they worked to untangle us. We shared the food brought by young Brook Nightstorm when suddenly-"
"I wasn't hungry for food anymore," Cloudfern and Starskimmer said in unison.
Cloudfern almost whispered, "I wanted her more than I've ever wanted anything in my life."
Starskimmer added, "Aye... but we were still tangled up."
"We needed to satiate our hunger," Cloudfern added.
"But... well, I wanted you all to myself," Starskimmer purred. "We agreed it was best to wait."
Suddendusk spoke up, "You didn't have to wait long. We knew what had happened between them. They dropped their food, they stopped talking with us, and they just stared. You could feel the tension in the air."
Cloudfern felt Greenweave's breath as he exhaled and spoke, "Even their scents changed. We would have just cut their hair, but "
Starskimmer interrupted, "Just then, you two managed to get Raven's hair free."
"With him separated, they let us go, tangled up as we were," Cloudfern added with a broad smile.
Starskimmer nodded. "We didn't want to be separate at that moment, so there was no need."
"She practically carried me to her den," Cloudfern laughed, smiling broadly at his Recognized. "And when we came out"
"The next night," Greenweave interrupted.
" our hair was even more tangled," Cloudfern admitted. "But we were happy."
"Very happy," Starskimmer affirmed. They both looked at their daughter. Starskimmer continued, "And we laughed the whole night as Suddendusk and Greenweave worked out the knots."
"It's why we named her Laughter when she was born," Cloudfern said fondly. His daughter looked at him and smiled.
Brightwood laughed. "I really wish I could have been there to see it!"
Greenweave and Suddendusk obliged her with an open send - am image of Cloudfern, hair tangled together with Starskimmer, who was carrying Cloudfern up the stairs, and those present laughed. Cloudfern laughed along with them. It felt good to laugh. In that moment, though, as upset as he was with Willow, he was glad she was there to laugh with them.