**Longshot! Break left! The marsh-beast is getting away from us!**
Longshot pressed his knees hard against his wolf's ribs, and Icestalker veered left. The big grey wolf bounded through the winter-bare woods, then broke into the expanse of a frost-crusted meadow, nearly in the face of a leggy, full-racked bull moose. The massive creature snorted in alarm, then shied right. Behind the creature, Rainpace, Evervale and Beetle urged their wolves to greater efforts, closing the distance between them and their prey.
**Be careful of its horns!** Rainpace sent needlessly to Longshot.
Evervale's wolf, Halfmoon, gave a fresh burst of speed and leaped at the marsh-beast's flank. The wolf's fangs left a long, red trail against the white patch of the beast's rump, but the marsh-beast kicked out, managing to catch Halfmoon in the ribs. Wolf and rider flew backwards and crashed into the snow.
**Evervale!** Beetle sent openly.
**Go!** Evervale's send flashed at her companions. **Don't stop now!**
From across the meadow, two more wolfriders came charging out of the forest, cutting off the bull's escape. The terrified creature shied around, and Icestalker surged into the fore. With a powerful leap, the young wolf had launched himself and his rider from the ground, and sank his teeth deep into the bull's bulbous nose.
The bull bawled in pain and came to a halt. It shook its great head, lifting both wolf and rider from the ground. Longshot clung to his bondfriend's back and somehow managed to keep from being flung clear. Then Icestalker's feet were on the ground once more, and the wolf stretched his body out before the bull, pulling back on the marsh-beast's nose and using his weight to anchor the beast.
Windsong was there in the moment that followed, and her bowstring sang. An arrow buried itself in the marsh-beast's left eye. The creature made a convulsive leap forward and crashed down toward Icestalker and his rider. Icestalker scrambled to the side, and only luck and the grey wolf's speed managed to save them both from the bull's flailing legs.
"Hai!" yelled Notch as he brought his wolf Beauty to a stop before the still-kicking body of their prey. "What a stand!"
"Two -- three -- four -- and Windsong's last one makes it five!" Beetle pointed out each of the arrows that quivered out of the bull's body. "The poor beast looks like a quillpig!"
“You all right?” Rainpace asked Longshot, riding his Bristlepace alongside Icestalker. “I thought you and your wolf were going to get smashed to paste with that nose-catch.”
“We're fine,” Longshot answered, although in truth his pulse was still pounding in his veins like his father's drums. He frowned, seeing one of their party missing. “Where's Evervale?”
"High Ones!" Windsong cried. Her wolf flashed past the pair, hitting them with a scattering of snow. "Daughter!”
Evervale was still sitting where she had landed, cradling her right arm to her chest. A hoof had clipped her alongside the head, and blood streamed down the side of her face, staining her already-ruddy curls. Halfmoon crouched beside the young huntress, whining miserably and trying to lick the blood from his elf-friend's eyes.
**That old bull knocked me one,** Evervale sent as the others converged around her. Her mindtouch was wry and self-defacing through her pain. **Halfmoon and I need to practice our ducking.**
"Oh child," Windsong murmured, using the end of her fur wrap to wipe the clean the blood from her daughter's face. Halfmoon whimpered and tried to press closer, getting into Windsong's way. She shoved the wolf away and tried to get a better look at Evervale's injuries. “Bet you have a headache.”
“World's spinning,” Evervale admitted, her voice husky with pain. “Just about knocked all sense out of me.”
"This is just a scratch," Windsong said over her shoulder to the anxious knot of hunters, while pressing a handful of cold snow against the side of Evervale's brow. "The head always leaks more than it should. Show me your arm, I can't see it when you're crouched like that."
Evervale was still cradling her right limb close, half bent over it. “I think I landed on it wrong, and something went crack.”
“Show me.” The mother's voice had gone steely. Evervale did as told.
Longshot saw then, as clear as the rest did, that the girl's right forearm was snapped. He immediately offered up two of his arrows. “Here, use these as braces. It's a long ride back to the Holt.”
“It looks like a clean break, but I've got to get you back to Cloudfern and Starskimmer.” Windsong said, still gently inspecting her daughter's arm. Setting the ends of the break wasn't a task Windsong would relinquish. She waved the others back and, working with quick, deft skill, she set her daughter's broken arm straight. Evervale's face was already pale; she whimpered and bit her lips bloody to keep from crying out, and when her mother had finished, Evervale retched quietly into the snow.
“We'll get you home, child,” Windsong murmured, stroking her daughters curls. The huntress swept a critical look at the rest of the hunting party. “You laze-abouts think you can get that carcass dressed and back to the Holt before the crows come steal it all?” she snapped at them.
“Of course,” Rainpace said.
“Speak for yourself,” Notch retorted, but he was already turning back toward the bull's steaming body, his hand on the haft of the knife at his belt. The others turned to the work at hand as well, but Longshot hung back, not wanting to leave Windsong and Evervale. He took off his headband and offered it to Windsong for use as a sling. Then he shrugged out of his heavy bearskin coat. “Let's get her out of the snow,” he said, easing the coat around Evervale's shoulder's.
“I'll bleed all over that—“ Evervale began to protest.
“Shut up,” Windsong snapped. “Icestalker is larger and stronger than my Half-Tail; you think she can carry two?”
Longshot realized what Windsong was really asking of him. He nodded and carefully gathered Evervale into his arms. “Lead the way, and we'll be right on your tail, all the way home,” he promised.
“I can ride my own wolf,” Evervale protested, beginning to squirm in his grip.
“Nonsense,” Windsong said firmly. “With the kick you took to the head, you're not about to risk it. You're lucky to be speaking sense, much less not to be puking your guts out like you'd ate something rotten. Don't give Longshot any trouble about it, or I'll break your tail for you.”
Evervale stopped squirming and closed her eyes, her expression mortified. Longshot chuckled in amusement.
**I'd rather argue with a mother bear than with your mother,** he locksent to Evervale. Her mindtouch was hot with pain, and he sensed that she was struggling to keep up a brave face against the pain of her injuries. He adjusted his burden gently in his arms, then eased carefully onto Icestalker's back. Windsong left them, scrambling to mount her own wolf. Longshot shifted Evervale in his arms again, found a position he sensed was more comfortable for her, and then urged Icestalker for the holt in the grey wolf's easy, tireless lope.
Suddendusk was running on foot, but still managed to outdistance the riders who had come to intercept the returning wounded.
“Kitling!” Suddendusk cried, rushing to reach Icestalker; Longshot brought his wolf up short, much to Icestalker's dislike. The wolf had the scents of home in his nose now and was eager to shed his burdens and return to the marsh-beast's kill.
“I'm all right,” Evervale protested, yet the tremulous tone of her voice belied her brave words. Suddendusk touched his daughter's bloodied face gently, and trailed his fingers over the makeshift sling. Evervale's delicate features were taut with pain, and the coppery scent of blood clung to her. Suddendusk felt his heart wrench; he wanted to tear his child from the other elf's arms and carry her the rest of the way to home and safety himself.
“How bad is it?” he demanded, turning a fierce look up Longshot, as if the young archer were to blame for Evervale's injuries.
By then, Windsong had dismounted and took her Recognized's arm. “Broken arm, a cut on the head. Our daughter will be fine, granted we don't stand here long enough that she's made to freeze.”
Longshot held his burden closer and touched his heels against Icestalker's ribs. The wolf surged forward, carrying both of his riders away. Suddendusk lurched after them, stricken, but was held back by his lifemate's arm.
“Help is needed back at the kill,” Windsong said.
“But our daughter's injured—“ Suddendusk protested, glaring after Longshot's back as if the archer had stolen something precious.
“Our daughter isn't a child any more,” Windsong said softly, her tone wistful. “And neither of us can heal her. Cloudfern and Starskimmer will tend to her and Longshot will see her safely to them. In the meanwhile, let's not let your daughter's efforts go to waste. I trust Rainpace to find his own tail with both hands, but carrying that much meat back to the Holt is heavy work, and you know Notch's allergy to raising a sweat.”
Suddendusk shivered, feeling the winter chill even more now that the fear and adrenaline were fading from his veins. Longshot and his wolf were disappearing from sight among the trees; the anxious father saw just the tips of his daughter's booted feet and the swing of her curls past the archer's arm before they were out of sight. He turned to his lifemate, and found himself held in the gaze of her steady, knowing green eyes.
**As much as we may wish it, we can't carry her always,** Windsong locksent, the grip of her gloved hand reinforcing the strength of her mindtouch. **Our daughter is in good hands.**
Suddendusk caught the shading of his lifemate's send, an acknowledgement of more than just the events of the day. He shot another anxious glance after Icestalker's trail. A breeze shivered the trees above them, and blew flakes of snow across the wolf's departing tracks, filling them. Then he forced himself to turn away.
“So show me the way, then,” he said. “If my kitling brought the beast down, the least I can do is help carry it home.”