Stretched along a branch as they waited for full twilight before they started the journey along the Thornwall, Pathmark tried to focus his mind on the niggling discomfort of a knot pressing into the area between his shoulder blades. He put a little squirm into the effort but frowned as too much of his mind continued to circle around the current problem that had presented itself. He risked a glance sideways and down at his companion and again wondered at the other elf's ability to sit in quiet, simple stillness. It was something that, in this strange hurried apprenticeship, he would have to learn from his elder. Farscout barely seemed to breathe; he sat so motionless and perfectly balanced. It was almost as if the tree had sprouted an elf-shaped knot along the branch. That thought turned Pathmark's eyes away, though, and he frowned slightly to himself. An elf-shaped knot, twice meaning words – shaped like, shaped by an elf.
Evervale. The tangled thoughts rose up again with the natural flow of association and no physical discomfort could distract him now. He felt pride at her bravery, her quiet daring. To think – sweet, gentle Evervale going forth to study the five-fingers and learn their ways in utter secrecy! She would sneak amongst the shadows and hide her tribe with the way she called to the trees. Not only had she volunteered but she had been chosen, hand-picked by the chief and given this important task. The straightening of his backbone at the knowledge that now everyone would know the worth of his lovemate bowed almost immediately to the shivers of apprehension. No one knew much about the Amber Hunters but they all knew the stories of the Fierce Ones. Evervale was brave and clever, yes, but those she watched were so much larger. What if..?
Gritting his teeth, Pathmark closed his eyes and dropped his hands to press palms against the reassuring roughness of the branch beneath him. She would be safe. Windburn had chosen the team carefully and surely he had given thought to safety. Not only could she trust in her tribe but her wolf-friend was with her, never wavering. Evervale would be safe and it was disloyal of him to doubt that.
But what if the Fierce Ones were still..?
He started at the sudden touch, yelping and scrambling to hold to his perch. When he achieved balance once more, he looked to meet somber eyes and felt his cheeks flush. He said nothing, though, waiting.
**You were daydreaming.** Farscout paused, tilted his head slightly, and corrected himself. **You were worrying.**
“I…” Pathmark pushed himself upright and swung his legs down on either side of the branch. Bracing his hands before him, he first looked down at the contrast of skin and bark. Then he looked up again to meet Farscout’s watchful eyes. Suddenly, he remembered the connection the ranger had with the five-fingers, something more definite and terrifying than any of his half-formed fears. He swallowed down his words and wrinkled his nose, the scar pulling a bit at the motion. He shrugged vaguely before lifting his chin to stare off across the trees once more.
Farscout did nothing for a very long while. Then, quietly, he moved further along the branch and swung himself up to sit beside the younger elf. He traced the direction of Pathmark's gaze and remained silent.
Instead of relaxing him, though, Pathmark felt the hairs rise at the back of his neck and he chewed at his bottom lip as he tried to fixate on the way the leaves twisted in the wind, the slow change of color, the few holes from the early releases. He followed first one branch and then another. Then he dropped his eyes to the ground beneath. Nothing moved but he hoped something would. An impromptu hunt would do wonders in breaking the heavy mood.
**Worrying about her won't keep her any safer.**
Starting, Pathmark nearly overbalanced and fell from his perch at the sudden, all-too-observant send that filtered into his tangled mind. Turning to look at the distant expression on his tribesman's face, he wished he had been less nimble. A hard landing on the ground below would have been preferable to the other elf witnessing that intensely private moment of emotional exposure. It was subtle but left him feeling shaken and overwarm. He dropped his eyes and worried at a loose tie at the edge of his sleeve. "... I know," he finally whispered, feeling that he should at least offer that much in response to the words.
**What will happen... will happen. You just have to hope and wait. They'll be careful. Now. We're careful.**
The deep sense of certainty that colored the words gave Pathmark pause and he felt the muscles in his back relax minutely. He nodded. If anyone had the means to understand him and these little thought-worms, it would be Farscout. He looked out the corner of his eye at the other elf, considering him with more effort than ever before. How did he do it? How did he go out, so many days away, not knowing if those he loved most would be safe while he was gone?
Farscout briefly looked over, meeting him eye for eye for a moment before dropping his chin slightly in acknowledgement and turning his attention ahead once more. A faint twitch at the corner of his mouth caught Pathmark's notice and he turned as well, leaning forward to better see. A pair of brightwings exploded out of the branches of the next tree and scaled skywards, circling and teasing each other as they went. Pathmark felt the corners of his own mouth turn upwards, understanding settling into his bones.
Hope. It was hope and faith and not fearing your own work, knowing that you had to do your part so that, when the long night was over, you could hold them in your arms again.
With a free and open smile now on his face, Pathmark reached for the bag he had slung over a nearby bit of branch. "All right, Farscout," he announced. "Now where was this rockfall that I should know about?"
He had a job to do, just as Evervale did, and then, at the end of things, they would find Longshot and the den would be warm and full again.