(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Newt emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
The song of the crickets attended Cloudfern as he walked along the riverbank. Spirit walked at his side like a white shadow, guardian and friend at the same time. The herbalist’s basket was half filled with wormgrass. He was running low on it and now more than ever before he was not willing to make the way free for the tribe’s new healer. Not after what she’d done. Willow had proven herself that they couldn’t weight the tribe’s well-being on her shoulders only. The old anger rose again, but determined he pushed it away.
Checking the number of herbs in his basket, he picked one of the blades of wormgrass and held it against the moonlight. Pale shades of purple and pink against the bright white of the moon. Not unlike his sister’s coloring. If not anything else he should be glad that she was back and grew stronger and stronger every day that passed.
His dear sister was with him and Farscout again and all he should feel was joy. Still there always was this bite of anger, fear and helplessness he had felt down in the chamber of the cocoons when Willow had opened his sister’s cocoon. He couldn’t forgive Willow that his joy always would be tainted with these negative feelings.
With a sigh he forced himself to push those thoughts away once more. Looking at the wormgrass again he remembered a second fellow Willow had released from the wrapstuff.
It had almost been two moons now since Willow had brought the tribe’s “oldest” cub back to life. Almost two moons that he had a foster cub now. Almost two moons of watching the lad struggling and fighting with his surroundings. Willow’s reckless action had not only affected Farscout and him but also the little one. He could sense it. The atmosphere in the home den was … awkward since Brightwood had come back under these unlucky terms.
They had tried to explain to him what had happened but it seemed something in Newt had snapped closed again. He had made such a great progress over the last time, had befriended the other cubs and with determination had met the challenge to learn more about his new world. He had stopped being Farscout’s shadow and had started to show interest in learning new things and catching up on what he had missed. However, Brightwood’s healing had somehow… blocked that process, and Cloudfern couldn’t tell why.
Greenweave did his best to keep on bonding with him and he somehow succeeded. A smile touched Cloudfern’s lips. He hadn’t expected anything less from his gentle, patient Arn. Newt and Greenweave both grasped for the loose ends that tied them together: the love for an elf that had been important for both of them. Cloudfern watched in awe and love at how his lifemate managed to weave a bond between him and the lost cub with this thread.
Though, Cloudfern still felt that this bond was something he missed out on. Usually Cloudfern had no problems bonding with his tribemates. His open-minded nature welcomed everyone who was willing to be his friend, but with this thing Honey had been right: Newt was special.
Whenever Cloudfern looked at Newt, he saw what bonded them. A big loss. A sudden loss. Farscout as the anchor in troubled and confusing times. A sleeping Brightwood they both had known almost the same number of years, just at different times.
Cloudfern could see it every time he looked into Newt's pink-blue eyes: the pain and loneliness, the grief and hurt that hopefully would fade with time, yet would always be there. He also knew he always would find it somewhere in his eyes.
A pang of guilt and excessive demand came over him and weighted heavy on his chest. His sister and Newt. He couldn’t be there for both like they would need it now. He, of course searched out his sister and Farscout a lot at those times. He wanted to catch up the time they had lost; he needed it as much as Brighwood did.
The herbalist felt that the grief and pain had returned to his own eyes and was grateful to feel a wet nose nudging him gently in the side. Determined, Cloudfern whipped the dark thoughts away and ruffled Spirit’s neck.
“Right you are,” he said. “The wormgrass doesn’t pick itself.”
The basket was good and filled now. Cloudfern was on his way back, glad for the fresh supplies for his stock. Spirit trotted at his side, attentive but not in alarmed, since they both knew this part of the Holt was safe.
When Spirit’s head rose and her ears pricked up, Cloudfern followed the wolf’s gaze. Cracking noises in the underbrush, the slender form of Fadestar passing them by. Spirit huffed and shook her head as if she wanted to say False alarm, and went back to sniffing the ground.
Cloudfern was about to focus on his own way again when something forced itself to his awareness. Fadestar had carried a sewing set. What would she want with a sewing set out here?
His curiosity wide awake, Cloudfern changed his mind and turned to follow the girl-cub. He followed her with some distance, not wanting to startle her. He was about to open his mind and reach out gently to warn her that he was close by when another elf appeared.
Newt was hard to miss in his hide-out. The bright white hair and skin stood out like the first star in the midnight sky.
Something about Newt’s posture was amiss. The lad knelt on the ground, his hand holding on his side, his head turning in all directions as if he wanted to make sure he was safe. Cloudfern's curiosity changed into worry. Had he been hurt? But why would he call Fadestar then?
Cloudfern felt like an intruder. Like all elves, cubs deserved privacy. However, his concern kept him standing here and his curiosity over what was going on kept him from joining them.
Newt gave a sigh of relief when Fadestar dropped to her knees in front of him.
“Newt,” she said with a tone in her voice that was close to disappointment. “Not again.”
“Just this one more time,” Newt begged her. “I think it just wasn’t tight enough the last time. Please… just once more.”
Cloudfern couldn’t make out all the details in Fadestar’s expression from the distance, but he thought that she gave him a pout.
“I did my best last time,” she declared and placed the sewing set on the ground and unfolded it. “And as I told you last time, I don’t think I can fix it. Not with only a needle.”
“Please…” Newt’s pleading voice didn’t fail Fadestar. Her shoulders dropped and she gave a sigh.
“All right. Give it to me and I'll see what I can do,” she agreed finally and held her hands out to him. Newt smiled and pulled his tunic off. Cloudfern gave a sigh of relief himself. So he wasn’t hurt. Just a tattered tunic.
The herbalist was ready to leave the cubs alone when Fadestar spoke again and drew his attention back to the pair.
“You know you really should let them make you a new one,” she said. “This one is way too small for you. Look… the cloth is thinned out. It will tear apart again.”
“I don’t care,” Newt answered, close to scowling. “It’s still a good tunic.”
Fadestar made a face. “Hmpf…” she said when she let the needle dance over the rent. “But it’s old and patched already.”
Newt gave her a stern look. “No it isn’t. It’s just fine.”
“Nightstorm could make you a whole new set of leathers. She did wonderful work with mine.” Fadestar’s voice remained even, but she lifted her chin a bit so Newt could see the fine work and the details on her outfit better.
“No,” Newt said again. “I want to keep this one. My mother made it for me. I want to keep it.”
Cloudfern hissed a little. Greenweave had mentioned this to him. Newt had refused to get a new set of leathers because he wanted to keep his old ones to treasure the memory of his mother. They both had agreed to it since they still seemed to be in good shape.
However, Greenweave had made it clear to the boy that as soon as his old tunic started to tear and wouldn’t keep him warm anymore they would go and let the weavers and tanners either adjust these ones or make him a whole new set. It bothered Cloudfern that Newt was trying to sneak his way out of their agreement. And it bothered him all the more that it seemed so unnecessary.
“But it’s getting colder and you’ll need new leathers anyway sooner or later,” Fadestar tried to argue.
“Then it will be later.”
Cloudfern narrowed his eyes at the stubborn tone in Newt’s voice. For a moment, he wanted to go over and catch the young boy red-handed and explain to him that he wouldn’t tolerate such behavior toward Greenweave and him. But then… He could understand why he wanted to keep his old leathers as long as possible and usually he was an upright and good lad. He’d give Newt the chance to tell them what was going on himself.
Turning to leave the cubs on their own, he patted on his leg. “Come Spirit. Let’s go back.” Cloudfern hoped while he walked off that Newt would indeed tell them what was going on and wondered how often the cub had let Fadestar fix his tunic already.
Three days had passed since Cloudfern had overheard the conversation between Newt and Fadestar. Three days Cloudfern waited for Newt to come out with the truth. Cloudfern hadn’t told Greenwave yet. He didn't want to cause the cub more trouble and wanted to give him the chance to correct his mistake himself.
Until now, Newt had kept his secret very well. Cloudfern even had tried to nudge him to a confession by dropping a hint here and there, but nothing.
The herbalist was growing inpatient with Newt. With all what had happened the last time around him his nerves were too thin to deal with such things. Newt still was a good boy, open-minded and willing to adjust and make his peace — as long as Greenweave told him. That was what Cloudfern clung to at the moment in order not to lose his temper with the stubborn cub.
Sometimes Cloudfern wondered why a simple piece of leather made them both so stubborn. Both Newt and he had made a big deal out of it in their own way. But then again. It wasn’t the set of leathers itself. It was a question of trust and respect toward Greenweave and him.
“I'm going out,” Newt called over to him.
Cloudfern snapped back from his thoughts and looked over to his pale foster cub. He didn’t miss that Newt pressed his arm close to his side like he had done when he had waited for Fadestar and her needle. Three days ago, Cloudfern probably would have missed that but now he was very aware why Newt did it.
“Where are you going?” he asked, casually keeping a close eye on the lad.
“Meeting Fadestar,” Newt answered and stopped a moment in the entry. “That’s all right, isn’t it?”
Now Cloudfern was absolutely sure that the tunic was torn again. He smiled at the lad, covering up his irritation towards him. If Newt wasn’t willing to confess his failure himself he’d make him. “Sure. But Newt. Before you go, could you please pass me the pot over there?”
The pot stood only a few inches away from Newt. All he had to do was reach for it, but then he would have to expose the tear. Cloudfern could see it in Newt's face that he felt caught. For a moment the cub looked at Cloudfern as if he had asked him to move Badger's Hill into the den.
Then Newt stepped back from the entry, took the few steps over to the shelf, and took the pot with his left arm – not the right. Holding it close, he walked back to Cloudfern and handed it to him.
The herbalist raised his eyebrow. He wouldn’t let a cub of two hands and one fool him. He had to admit that taking the safer path was not stupid and showed all the more that Newt was pretty aware of his misbehavior.
Cloudfern was getting tired of this game. Three days were more than enough and he really had no patience left. He gave a sigh and simply took Newt’s right arm and raised it up. The cub gasped in surprise and tried to struggle free before it was too late, but all in vain. The tear was exposed.
“Newt…” Cloudfern said with a weary sigh and nodded to the white skin shining through the green leathers. “What’s that?”
Newt pressed his pale lips together and went stiff. “A tear,” he said in all honesty.
“I can see that.” Couldfern let the cub's arm go. “Do you remember what Greenweave, you, and I agreed about? What we said would happen when your old leathers are ragged and not fitting anymore?” he asked.
Stubbornly Newt refused to answer. At least he didn’t lie. He just stood there, scowling and stiff, and pinching the torn leather together almost protectively.
Cloudfern wanted to hold his stare but found himself unable to look in Newt's eyes a moment longer. The hurt and fear shining in them reflected his own painful memories of letting things go he had treasured as reminders. And there was more in Newt’s look. A hint of unintentional reproach, a hint of unintentional anger toward him.
“Fine. But I do,” the herbalist finally told him. “We will do as we agreed together. We will search out either Nightstorm or Moss to get you some warmer leathers for the coming autumn. It’s getting too cold now anyway. And we give them those ones to fix them and make the fitting for next spring.” His voice was harsher than he had intended.
Newt’s little fists balled and he raised his chin in a challenge. For a moment Cloudfern thought Newt would burst into tears but he didn’t. Instead, he stared at him as though Cloudfern had slapped his face. And again there was this reproachful glint in his eyes.
“Fadestar can fix that!” he said determinedly, his voice thick with suppressed tears.
“She would be able to fix them, probably, which is what we agreed to do, but that’s not the point,” Cloudfern pointed out and rose to his feet. “We had an agreement and you tried to sneak out of it. I will not tolerate that.”
The cub stomped his foot on the ground. “Fadestar can fix that!” he repeated. “You said when the leathers don’t fit anymore or are ragged we will replace them, but Fadestar can fix them.”
Cloudfern started to grow angry. He grasped the lad’s chin and looked at him trying to fight down the effect those sad, hurt and angry eyes had on him. “I won’t argue with you. We go and let Moss lay last hand on your autumn-leathers and give him these to prepare for the next spring. Understood?”
Tears welled up in Newt's translucent eyes and Newt neither agreed nor disagreed. He didn’t say a single word as Cloudfern reached out for Moss to ask if he had some time to finish Newt’s autumn-outfit.
Newt didn’t say a single word when Moss took his measurements to make sure he had the right measurements, nor did he say anything when Cloudfern went to borrow a shirt from Otter that Newt could wear until the tanner had finished his work. In fact, he didn’t talk to Cloudfern anymore over the next days.
Cloudfern sat outside the den. He wasn’t very welcome inside at the moment. Greenweave was sitting at Newt’s side and tried to calm him by sending soothing words and rubbing his back. After they had come back from Moss' den, the lad had thrown himself into the niche that had been Farscout’s before he had settled with Brightwood in the den over theirs and had not said a single word to the herbalist. He even refused to look at him.
Greenweave had tried for half an eternity to get him to snap back from his pouting with little success. Sendings were exchanged and finally Greenweave stood up and joined Cloudfern outside. The sad look on his lifemate’s face made Cloudfern’s heart heavy but he refused to feel any guilt.
Expecting a comment about the situation the pale-haired elf looked at Greenweave.
“He’s mad at you,” Greenweave told him. “Very, very mad. He doesn’t want to see you or talk to you.”
Cloudfern gave a half smile and nodded. “I was aware that I would have to go through this.”
Greenweave didn’t smile back. He seemed deeply despaired. Torn between his love for Newt and his love for Cloudfern. It never was easy to stand between the fronts.
Offering comfort, Cloudfern draped his arm around Greenweave's shoulders. “He’ll get over it,” he assured him. “It’s only for the colder times. As soon as the snow melts again and the weather allows it he’ll have his mother’s leathers back.”
“Maybe we should have given him some more time…” Greenweave whispered.
Cloudfern closed his eyes and gently raised his chin to meet Greenweave’s eyes. He could see sincere worry and fear. Cloudfern didn’t need to know his soul-name to figure what was going on behind those brown eyes: worry for Newt’s sake and fear he had to choose between the elves he loved, again. As touching as it was, it also was unnecessary.
“Every cub is mad at their parents now and then,” Cloudfern said. “That doesn’t mean he’ll run away and search for new ones. We had an agreement and he tried to weasel around it.”
“I can understand that,” Greenweave said miserably. “But…”
“There’s no but,” Cloudfern cut Greenweave's words off gently. “We have to stand our ground. Both of us want him to grow into an upright, honest elf. We will spoil him rotten if we shy away from being firm with him. It won’t do him or us any good to always consider his sad fate.”
“It’s not only the leathers,” Greenweave said with a heavy sigh.
“It’s not?” Cloudfern asked back. He couldn’t say he was really surprised, but now it seemed to grow from inkling to a fact it felt as if it hit him unprepared.
Greenweave pressed his lips together and shook his head. “I have been watching it for a while. Since Brightwood is back. He’s happy that she’s with us again. Another face he knows, but…” he cut himself off and Cloudfern saw that he was torn between guilt and criticism.
He felt it. He was about to say something to that matter when Greenweave went on: “He understands how much Brightwood needs you and Farscout. I think if anyone fully understands it then it’s him.”
Cloudfern felt a heavy, cold lump dropping to his stomach. He couldn’t believe how blind he had been toward the happenings in his own den while he had tried to catch up the time with his sister. Now the little things all started to link together to a whole picture right in front of his eyes. The way the lad had started to lock him out again after they had just come to a friendly, almost familiar feeling toward each other. The way he refused to look at him directly until he had challenged him to give away his leathers. He had thought, hoped it all was because of his misbehavior and his try to sneak out of an agreement. His lifemate was right. It was not only the leathers that made Newt angry. There was much more about it. He felt left out, probably even jealous.
Uncomfortably Greenweave rubbed his arm, still sitting next to him. He seemed to think hard on a solution but couldn’t find any. “I don’t know what to do, Cloudfern.” he confessed in all misery.
Couldfern didn’t know either. He held his lifemate close and pressed his lips to his forehead. Brightwood’s waking should have drawn his family together, not have caused a riff.
“The easiest will be to talk to him,” he muttered against his skin. “And then we can find a way through this together.”
Cloudfern neatly folded the new set of leathers in his arms and thanked Moss for the fast service. Probably now the autumn-cloth were finished he could try again to talk to Newt. We talk to him had sounded very good but it seemed Newt had had other plans. The pale boy barely had spent enough time around him to talk about anything and downright refused to follow his call. He rather spent time with Fadestar, Otter or with Beetle the last days. Greenweave and he had decided to give him a little time to cool down a little before they tried it again.
Even if Cloudfern wouldn’t admit it openly, Newt's anger toward him tugged at him. Newt was much closer to Greenweave and until his lifemate had asked him to take care of the lad together with him, Newt always had been a story to him. A beloved and missing tribemate in wrapstuff, but no one close to his own life.
It was strange how fast such things could change.
When Cloudfern entered the den, Greenweave greeted him with a smile, but Newt turned his back to him like he always did since Cloudfern had taken his tunic away. Ignoring the herbalist, Newt went on to untangle the knots in the small fishing net. Cloudfern only could suspect that it probably was a welcome excuse to the boy to act like this around him and show him without any troubled feelings toward Brightwood’s coming back that he was angry.
Cloudfern gave a sigh, walked up to Newt, and placed the new autumn-leathers next to him. “Moss finished them,” he said. The only answer he got was that Newt purposely turned again so Cloudfern was talking to the back of his head. “They should fit well and the design is close to your mother’s by my request. Your old ones are in good care as well.” he added.
No answer. No reaction. Newt kept ignoring him.
Greenweave scooted over to them and picked up the leathers. “Now… at least look at them,” he encouraged the boy. “And try them on. Maybe Moss has to adjust some things.”
No answer. No reaction.
The fisher gave Cloudfern an unhappy look. For a moment, Cloudfern thought he’d just let the lad go, but then he tried it again. He surrounded Newt and sat down in front of him showing, him the new clothing.
“See, it’s almost like your last outfit. Cloudfern asked Moss to keep it simple and like the one your mother had made for you,” he said and unfolded the new tunic to show him. “Look, it even has the same colors. They are soft and will keep you warm over the colder time.”
“Hmpf,” Newt grumbled and Cloudfern realized that he was glad for at last some sort of reaction. With a critical look, Newt eyed the leathers that Greenweave presented to him. His final decision was shattering. He turned his gaze away and declared in a stubborn and firm voice, “I don’t like them!”
Crestfallen, Greenweave let the leathers sink and folded them again. With a deep sigh he put them aside. Cloudfern shook his head. It hurt him as much as Greenweave to be turned down like this and maybe now was the best time to get to the real problem. They couldn’t go on like this. Cloudfern couldn’t go on like this.
He pushed himself to sit down next to Greenweave and in front of the stubborn lad. To give and receive support he grasped his lifemate’s hand and held it firmly. That Greenweave squeezed his hand back showed him he would support him in this.
“Newt,” the herbalist started in a firm but soft voice. “There is one thing you should know. We can’t help you or fix anything if you don’t tell us… me what’s really bothering you so much.”
Cloudfern knew that whatever would come now most likely would be an ugly and probably hurtful talk, but as a healer he knew some healings had to start with pain.
Newt bit his lip hard and his pale hands cramped into the net he was holding. He refused to look at him still, but Cloudfern felt that he couldn’t ignore him anymore now his presence filled the den.
Greenweave tried the softer path here and reached out to touch the young boy’s shoulder. “Feel free to speak up,” he encouraged him.
There was a fight going on in the lad’s heart. It was written all over his face. Different emotions flashed through his eyes within heartbeats, replaced each other, shifted, mixed and fought to come out all at once.
“You gave my mother’s leathers away!” he finally spat out, looking up with all the anger and frustration a boy in his age could muster.
“Newt, I know it’s not that alone,” Cloudfern tried softly. He reached out but Newt pulled back as if he feared his touch would burn him.
“It is!” Newt insisted. “You had no right to take them away!”
“But it’s only till spring comes…” Greenweave chimed in. Cloudfern noticed that they were about to lose control over the situation.
Drawing a deep breath he reached for the lad’s chin and looked deep into his eyes. Again he felt confronted with loss, pain and anger. Again he managed to only hold the glance with a lot of willpower.
“Is it all about some leathers?” he asked once more, hoping to break through the wall the lad had started to build around him.
Heavy silence hung over the three of them. Greenweave’s hand squeezed his firmer. Cloudfern had to squeeze back equally strong so it wouldn’t hurt. Newt didn’t answer. He just stared at him with those sad, hurt eyes until the herbalist couldn’t take it anymore.
With another heavy sigh he let Newt go and looked away, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Fine,” he whispered more to himself. “Then I’m certain you’ll get over it. The latest next spring.”
He nodded to Greenweave, who looked even more miserable now. Cloudfern gave him a short apologetic smile before he went on. “I for my part will go now and meet up with my sister.” He kissed Greenweave’s crown softly as he stood up and patted Newt’s shoulder briefly before he left the den.
Cloudfern caught that Greenweave started to talk to Newt again but didn’t listen closely. Slowly he made his way down. Cloudfern didn’t know what he was waiting for or why he took so much time. Brightwood would spend the last warm evenings outside. He could call for her but at the moment he just wanted to search and find her. He felt he needed the time to push away the dark thoughts and meet his returned sister with the joy she deserved.
Calling for Spirit, he leaned against the tree waiting for the she-wolf to turn up when soft steps made him look up.
Dressed in the new leathers, Newt made his way down and finally landed next to Cloudfern. He leaned back as well, but refused to look at the herbalist. He preferred to stare at his boots.
“I still like my mother’s better,” he said, obstinate.
Cloudfern eyed him up and down. At least he was talking to him. Waiting for the lad to go on and see if he had more to say he raised a pale eyebrow.
The lad’s foot drew circles in the loose ground between the roots. Once more there was a visible fight taking place on his features. There was something the little one wanted to say but something seemed to block it. It was a tough fight and probably a fight too big for a cub alone.
“Would you like to search with me for Brightwood?” Cloudfern asked into the troubled silence of the boy. Of course Newt knew as well as he did that he could just send for his sister, but the lad got the point.
“Maybe…” he said in a low voice, his foot digging up some loose earth and pushing it around.
When Spirit broke through the underbrush and joined them, Cloudfern pushed himself off the tree.
“Maybe?” he asked the lad with a smile. “No, no... Either yes or no?”
“Maybe yes,” Newt answered, and greeted Spirit by scratching the white she-wolf behind the ear. “But just because I want to see Brightwood,” he added stubbornly and finally looked up at his foster father.
Cloudfern chuckled to himself and ruffled the white whips of hair. He noticed with delight that he wasn’t pushed away. “I can live with that. But Newt ...”
“I asked you because I want you both around me.”
Newt held his gaze, then a smile tugged at his lips.
It took a moment but all the feelings that haunted Cloudfern when he looked into the lad’s pink-blue eyes faded in the background. It was a start, he knew. A start to begin and tie his own bonds with Newt like Greenweave did so skillfully.