It was nearly a full turn of seasons after Fadestar’s unwrapping when an exciting feeling came over the cubs. Whirl’s litter had been spotted near the wolves’ den, and the elfin children were excited to see the cubs and play with them.
Fadestar, however, had been hesitant. She could well remember the last time she had been near the den where the wolves resided, and she hadn’t forgotten what had happened. She had been shunned by the chieftess-wolf, when she had tried to befriend one of the wolf cubs. After that, she had dreamed of the same situation over and over again. One dream had even turned into a nightmare when she had visited the den without her father’s supervision, and Crooktail had attacked her. She had woken up crying, and Leather had to comfort her.
The she-cub had learned her lesson, and had never ventured near the wolves’ residence again. However, that seemed to change. When she had woken up this morning, she had received a send from Otter.
**Fadestar! The wolf cubs are out! We’re going to look at them later tonight, are you coming, too?**
She had sent a quick denial in return. Otter had tried to persuade her, but she would not hear of it. Later, Crackle and Newt had come by, while Fadestar was practicing some stitches Nightstorm had taught her the day before.
“Otter told me you don’t want to come,” said Crackle, “Why won’t you come? You’re the only one of us that hasn’t bonded yet. Apart from Rill and Cinder, of course, because they are too young. Aren’t you curious? I was very excited when I could go out and meet the new litter, and I’m happy that I did because now, I have Muddypaws,” the little spitfire tried to persuade her.
Fadestar had shaken her head. “It’s difficult,” she had said.
“Why is it difficult?” Newt wanted to know, but at the same time, he had a sympathetic look in his eyes.
Fadestar had tried to explain what had happened during the last time she had visited the wolves’ den, but even she thought her words sounded hollow as she recalled what had happened before. She knew she couldn’t explain what she had felt, and still felt, in words. Her words were guided by sends of emotion and what she had felt back then, but still, it seemed like a lame exuse. Her friends listened patiently, but when the story ended, Crackle snorted.
”Crooktail sounded really mean,” she said, “But she’s not there anymore. Whirl is chieftess-wolf now, you know, Windburn’s bond. And she doesn’t even remember you being weak. She only snarled at me once, but that was when I was still young and pulled her tail.” She gave an affirmative nod to strengthen her words. “She didn’t like that much.”
Newt sat down next to her and grabbed her hand. “And you’re not weak anymore,” he told her. “You’re strong and just like any other cub. I’m the most different now, and even I have bonded twice already.”
Fadestar valued her friends’ words, but chewed her lip. She had wanted a wolf bond so badly, a bond of her own like Muddypaws or Browncoat or Splash, but if she was honest, she couldn’t picture it clearly. Not after the shunning. “I’m not going,” she then told her friends.
“You can’t just not go because of what happened,” Crackle protested. “It’s a whole different situation!”
“But it doesn’t feel that way,” Fadestar retorted, wrapping her arms in front of her chest. She was not persuaded.
Newt only looked at her. “Maybe another time, then?”
Fadestar shrugged, and Crackle sighed deeply.
“Where are we going, Kestrel?”
“You will see, cubling.” Kestrel and Snowfall were riding side by side, and Fadestar sat in front of Kestrel. The cub liked the feeling of the wolf’s fur between her fingers. It was shaggy, but when you stroke it in the right direction, so soft at the same time. The cub wasn’t really paying attention to where they were going, and was unaware about the glance of contentment the two elders shared above her head.
Only when they stopped a little while later, did Fadestar realize where they were. She heard the laughter of Newt and Crackle and Otter, and her shoulders tensed. “I don’t want to be here,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“I know,” Kestrel said, sympathetically, placing a hand on your shoulder. “Fadestar, you can’t deny a part of who you are. You are a wolfrider, you share the blood of your wolf kin and I know you can feel it. You seem to see it as a curse, but it is a gift.”
‘The wolves are part of us, and we are part of them. That was the gift that Halfwolf’s sire gave to all of us. All of us.’
The words of her father echoed in her head. She hadn’t believed him then, and she still had not really changed her mind. Surely, when Newt bonded to Browncoat, she had felt a flare of hope that maybe, someday, she would have a bond of her own. She wasn’t ready, just wasn’t ready to overcome the fear that she still felt. Anxious, Fadestar buried her face in Kestrel’s shoulder.
**The only reason they don’t chase me out of the holt is ‘cause I’m an elf.** The words rang through her mind and she hadn’t realized she had sent them until Snowfall tensed up, and Kestrel moved her arm to raise Fadestar’s chin. Huge grey eyes, filled with anxiety and sadness, looked into warm brown ones.
“You know that is not true anymore, cubling. It might be what you believed when you were sick, but since your unwrapping you have been healthy as any other cub. There is no reason at all now to worry.”
“Fadestar, you still seem to see yourself as the cub you once were, but you’re not,” Snowfall’s soft voice took over from her lovemate. “We all experience traumatic happenings, but that cannot stop us from moving on. We are wolfriders, we live in the Now. You can’t have your past deciding your present and future. You have to overcome your fear of what happened.”
The cub hesitated. She knew, rationally, that both her friends and Kestrel and Snowfall were right. Emotionally, it was much harder. “I don’t know how,” she confessed.
“Remember,” Kestrel softly said, wrapping a string of black hair around her finger and pulling it softly, “Remember what father told you about wolves. He told me the same, and shared everything he knew.”
”And I can help you to get to know them all. You’ve only seen some of the bonded wolves near the Dentrees, but most of them, you don’t know. I’m willing to bet that Crackle has lots of stories to tell about them, too.” Snowfall smiled encouragingly.
“Muddypaws, Splash, and Browncoat will be there too. They don’t have any problems with you. Why should the rest, then?” Kestrel added.
Fadestar responded with a long silence. She wanted to be strong and she remembered the last time she had tried to at least appear strong, when Crooktail had called for her cubs and she had straightened her shoulders. Slowly, she turned around, facing forward, and pulled her shoulders back. She breathed in and out, but then tilted her head to face the elders. “Will you stay with me?” she asked the both of them, and was only assured when they both nodded.
“Look, look, that one’s fast!” Newt’s voice was filled with excitement. The three wolf cubs tumbled over each other in order to reach the elf children, while Whirl kept a watchful eye on her litter. She only tilted her head when the two elders and another cub entered the scene, but soon turned her eyes back to the cubs.
“I bet that one’s going to be a great hunter,” Crackle told Otter, who stood at a little distance watching the younger elves dart around and who rolled his eyes, but he grinned, too. “He’s already attacking his brothers! And that one, he will be sly, because he sneaks up on the other two. We should call him Stalker. Or Preystalker. I will make a story for him.”
“You should make up a story about yourself,” Otter snorted with a wink, after which Crackle stuck out her tongue to him.
Muddypaws stayed clear from the scene, but whuffed jealously when his elf's attention diverted from her friends to the wolf cubs. When Crackle turned to hush him, her eyes fell on Fadestar and her two companions.
“You came anyway! Come here, Fadestar! You’ve got to see them!”
Fadestar hesitated, but was encouraged by both Kestrel and Snowfall, who gently gave her a push against her shoulder. Slightly nervous, Fadestar put a few paces forward, keenly watching the alpha female, but Whirl did nothing suspicious. It gained Fadestar some confidence, not being shunned immediately. With some new courage, she took another few paces forward. Now, the wolf tilted her head to see who was approaching. Fadestar stopped in her tracks, straightening her shoulders like she had before. Amber eyes briefly met hers, before Whirl broke the connection, moving her gaze back to her cubs. After another few paces, she had joined Crackle, Newt, and Otter.
“You made it,” Otter smiled, and Newt grinned widely. “I told you you could do it!”
Fadestar answered the smiles, and then, when the cubs came dashing towards them, she remembered her father’s teachings. Slowly descending on one knee, she stretched out her hand for the cubs to smell. ‘Please, please like me,’ echoed in her head. The same words had been in her mind during the last time she sat here – an eternity for everyone, but only two turns of seasons to her – but they felt different. Then, the longing for a bond had been more intense, while right now, she felt as if she had already been victorious by conquering her fear. Still, she held her breath when the cubs approached. Yapping, they wagged their tails and licked her hand, until they decided it wasn't tasty enough, and the three of them bolted off again, chasing each other.
“Aww,” was the only thing Crackle said as Fadestar’s shoulders sunk slightly. The blackhaired cub sighed. Still no bond, the wolfcubs had made it clear very quickly. She felt a mental touch of sympathy from both Kestrel and Snowfall, who were standing not far from her, and Crackle closed the distance between herself and Fadestar quite quickly.
“You know, there’s always the unbonded wolves. I mean, Newt didn’t bond with a pup either. Look, there’s Duskgreeter,” she pointed out, meanwhile wrapping an arm around Fadestar’s shoulder, “who’s a great hunter and very friendly, but he’s older than we are. I’m sure he’ll let you practice your wolfriding.” Fadestar looked into his direction, but Duskgreeter didn’t pay much attention to the cubs. Crackle shrugged. “Maybe not now. Oh, look!” Crackle turned and yanked Fadestar with her, while Newt giggled, “and that’s Patchface. He’s not very smart, though. He always gets into trouble, stupid wolf. That there is Murkfur. You’ll have to watch out for him. He likes carrying people. Once, he even followed me for an entire day because he wanted me to ride him. Watch out for him. You can escape through the trees, though, because he can’t climb and…”
While Crackle continued her story, Fadestar allowed herself to finally take a good look around the wolves’ habitat, listening to all the stories that Crackle told about the wolves present at the scene and she felt her muscles relax. Surely she was slightly disappointed that none of the wolf cubs had sought her out for bonding, but now she knew she would not be chased away anymore, she had more confidence in the future.
‘One day you will know the joy of that harmony. I promise.’ Fadestar sighed lightly when she recalled her father’s words and realized she had come one step closer to that promise today. Leather might have been right after all!
Snowfall and Kestrel exchanged another look and they smiled, as Crackle rambled on. They both sat down in the long grass while both wolf cubs and elf cubs played together.