The Holt was still asleep, the sun barely beginning to set behind thin grey clouds, remnants of the rain that had fallen most of the day, leaving the new green of the woods fresh and damp.
But someone was awake. The cub creeping down the Father Tree’s steps was moving with the stealth of a born hunter – or as much of it as a cub of three-and-a-half turns could muster. Light blond mop of hair was lit by one of the sun's rays, showing exactly where his cub name was coming from. The rest of him was in a bit more disarray. Though he was a talented cub as his parents, most of all True Edge, liked to claim, dressing himself before sneaking out was not among those talents. So the blue jacket with the troublesome laces had been left behind, and he had only thrown on some breeches which were threatening to fall down and a shirt that was much too thin for this early in the New Green.
When he had reached the floor, the little boy looked around to make sure no one, especially not his mother, had awoken and noticed him. Sure that he had gone undiscovered, his movements turned into the fast pitter-patter of small feet as he raced off, heedless of where he was going to. He always ended up somewhere interesting, in Sunray’s own opinion.
It was only a while later when the sun had set that his disappearance was discovered.
“Sunray!” Snowfall’s voice filled the Holt just as her mental voice called for her son openly. **Has anyone seen him?** she asked her tribesmates while she dropped into the opening of her parents’ den.
Dreamberry turned around to her daughter, and for a moment she was astonished. It had been a while that she last had seen Snowfall so dishevelled. The long hair was wrapped negligently at her neck to keep it out of her face, and it was plain to see that she had dressed in a hurry.
Of course her mother had noticed that she had been looking tired of late, especially since True Edge had left for the hunt, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary for a mother with an energetic cub. “Have you seen him, mother?” she asked anxiously.
The wine-maker shook her head and quickly put a soothing hand on Snowfall’s arm. “No, I haven’t,” she replied while the answers from other tribesmates arrived. No one had seen Sunray, and she felt Snowfall’s muscles tense beneath her hand.
“Where can he have gone off to?” Snowfall asked, her tone agitated. “And that while True Edge is away on the hunt. He’s much too small to be out in the woods on his own!” She took a deep breath and her anxiety broke free in the cry: “Next time I’ll tie him to a leash before going to sleep!”
At that, Dreamberry could not resist bursting out laughing despite the situation. She caught herself quickly, though, and took Snowfall’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “Calm down, sweetling,” she demanded. “Whatever you do, you won't get anywhere in the agitated state you're in. I don't know that I've ever seen you lose your composure so easily.”
Snowfall closed her eyes, breathing deeply, and forced herself to remain calm. “He’s been trying to run away every night for a while now, and since True Edge left it got even worse,” she told her. “Whenever I wake up he’s gone or just climbing out of the den. I always caught him before he left the Holt but today… I was so tired, I must have slept too long.” She blinked up at her mother, and Dreamberry remembered with a sudden, almost painful pang how young her daughter still was. Despite the fact that she had helped raise Bowflight and had cubsat most of the cubs born after her, Sunray was her first cub, the fulfillment of one of Snowfall's wishes, and experience counted little in the face of that.
“Schhh, cubling,” she made soothingly, stroking Snowfall’s fine white hair. “He can’t be far. Did you get a reply from him?”
“No.” Snowfall shook her head. “He got it, I think, but …” She buried her face in her hands, rubbing at her eyes.
“That means he can’t be far.” Dreamberry relaxed a bit. “You’d have felt if he had been in danger. We’ll just go and get him.” She watched her for a moment and then added, "You know, if you'd have said something sooner, I'd have gladly watched him for you so you could get some rest, before you'd gotten so tired that you couldn't think straight."
A light blush coloured Snowfall’s fair skin. “I know,” she admitted. Dreamberry waited for her to continue but she didn’t, and finally the mother gave a sigh.
“Just ask for help the next time earlier, right?” She got up and pulled Snowfall to her feet with her. Her daughter was a clever girl, Dreamberry reflected, but in some things she was a bit too proud and too ambitious – like raising cubs. Admitting she was not dealing well with her son’s newly discovered taste for freedom obviously was not easy on her.
Snowfall looked sheepish, but nodded. “All right,” she agreed, taking another deep breath and finally feeling her stoic nature, shaken by worry and lack of sleep, fall back into place. For a moment she squeezed Dreamberry’s hand. “Thank you, mother.”
Dreamberry smiled and shook her head. “Always, daughter.”
Soon enough Dreamberry and Snowfall had called their wolves and were on their way. With the wolves’ help it was easy to track the little cub’s scent and to follow it but they still hurried. There were dangers outside of the Holt Sunray knew little about.
When they found him, it was obvious that he was completely oblivious to anything – he was busy playing in a muddy ditch, building something out of sticks and stones and he was covered in mud from head to toe. At the sound of wolves and elves arriving he looked up and his face split into a sunny smile as he raised a hand to wave.
Snowfall forced herself to stay on her wolf-friend’s back until they had reached him, then she quickly dismounted and hurried over to her cub. With endless relief she scooped him up and held him, not bothering that she got mud all over her clothes. Leaning her forehead against his, she whispered, “Never do that to me again, you hear me?”
Sunray looked at her quizzically, then at his grandmother. With a shrug he gave Snowfall another bright smile and patted her white hair with his muddy hands. “It’s all good,” he told her comfortingly.
Snowfall gave a short half-smile, barely more than a twitch of the corners of her mouth, and turned to Dreamberry who was waiting expectantly. She gave her a short nod to show that everything was all right and went back to her bond, putting Sunray on his back. At that Sunray began to complain, "No, don’t wanna go back!”
She gave him a stern look. “You have had your time away from the Holt and me. Now we’re going back,” she told him.
“No!” Sunray whined and squirmed but with Tuftear’s back beneath him and his mother’s arms around his waist there was little he could do. Though he pouted miserably he finally settled down and surrendered to the cruel fate that he had to go back to the Holt and leave the outer world that was so much more exciting.
Back in the Holt, Snowfall thanked her mother and picked her sulky cub from wolfback. With a sigh she took Sunray’s small hand. “All right. Bath time,” she decided.
Sunray scowled at the mention of a bath and only followed Snowfall’s lead reluctantly. It took a while of silent suffering, his mother scrubbing him from head to toe, until his sulk gave way to his normal sunny mood again, and Snowfall was glad to see it return.
Once he was clean again, she sat down at the river with him on her knees and looked at him earnestly. “Sunray, you can’t run away all the time,” she explained. “You’re too small to be out all on your own, and I was so worried for you.”
Sunray looked back defiantly. “It was fun!” he stated.
“Not for me.” Snowfall shook her head. “Someone should be with you when you leave the Holt. Me, your father, your grandmother or grandfather or at least one of our wolves. Understood?”
The boy gave that some thought and finally nodded. “Can I go now?” he asked.
Snowfall sighed – she was not convinced yet that he would remember that rule the next night. Still, she messed up his hair lightly and nodded. “Alright.”
With a smile Sunray gave her a wet smooch on the cheek and climbed from her lap. Snowfall returned the smile though it took on a desperate note when she watched him toddle off with an uncanny aim towards the next muddy ditch to restore the mud coat just removed.