(This story is part of the "Learning the Humans' Language" storyline -- see the listing for more related stories.)
**What are they doing?** Brightwood asked from her hiding place. Brightwood couldn't see what was happening because she was furthest from the pair of humans, deeper in the woods bordering on the huge patch of land that the humans had cleared and seeded with their strange plants. It was a stroke of luck for the elves that the forest was allowed to grow unimpeded nearly up to the wooden fence that closed in the clearing, and they could dart into various hiding places just before the humans arrived.
**I’m not sure,** came One-Leg's response. His hiding place was closest to the humans - the elves could not risk creating actual dens or hiding-holes, not so close to the village, but Brightwood had strengthened the roots of the trees to make the natural holes more comfortable and subtly encouraged the growth of flowers and mosses around them to hide whichever elf was inside. Where One-Leg hid, he could have reached through the fence.
Beetle couldn’t see very well from her vantage point high in the trees. She decided to move down some. **I want a closer look! Moving to a lower branch.**
**Careful!** One-Leg reminded her.
Beetle nodded to herself. Of course she was going to be careful! They’d been hunting words for more than a hand of turns, and were always careful. There had been very few close calls, but Beetle felt certain that even if they were discovered, these humans would not attack as the Fierce Ones once had. Even so, Beetle was not in any hurry to test her certainty.
Beetle scooted forward on the branch she had chosen as an observation point. The pair of Amber Hunters was just inside the wooden fence, where tree stumps offered comfortable seating. The human woman was not doing anything from what Beetle could tell. She did have a small scrap of what looked like a white leaf in her hand, and there were markings on it. It reminded Beetle of what she’d found so many years ago – the thing that she’d been looking at when Notch and Foxtail lured her into pranking the humans. Beetle wished she knew what those markings were – she hoped she would know one day. To hear better, and in hopes of seeing more of the scrap, Beetle scooted forward.
**Be careful!** Brightwood sent, sharing that she had noticed the rustling of the branches and she was worried that Beetle might be too far out on the branch.
Beetle acknowledged the sending, but moved ahead anyway. She considered moving onto the part of the branch that extended over the fence, but decided against it.
Beetle’s heart jumped. She startled, and was suddenly hanging precariously from the branch she had just been leaning over. It was breaking!
**Beetle!** Brightwood and One-Leg sent together.
Brightwood was too far to do anything with her magic, and there wasn’t anything One-Leg could do, either. Beetle knew any movement to regain her position on the branch would only result in a more precarious fall. She had to let go. But the humans! They were so close! **Have they noticed?** Beetle asked, looking toward the humans, trying to decide whether she would have time to land and run. They were so close!
Brightwood sent an image of the pair of humans jumping at the sound and moving away from it. Surely they knew that a falling branch could be dangerous.
Beetle knew she had to let go, or the branch would fall with her.
**Now!** One-Leg sent, telling her to let go. The humans were in an embrace and looking away for a moment.
Beetle didn’t question him and let go of the branch, praying to the High Ones that she wouldn’t be noticed. She dropped and landed, eyes on the humans, who so far, had not noticed – at least, not to her knowledge. At the same time, the wolves started howling, drawing the attention of the pair away from her. She wasted no time, and ran further into the woods, taking to the trees as soon as she could.
**Burn's blood, that was close!** One-Leg sent from where he had been watching. **They heard the branch break, but showed the brains to move away from the noise. They’re not fools – a falling branch could kill them same as us! But if it had fallen with you, they would have come sniffing around, sure as snot shoots out a troll's ass!**
**They didn’t see me then? The branch didn’t break the fence?** she asked, relieved.
**No. Not for the lack of your trying to get noticed,** Brightwood chimed in, annoyed. **We told you to be careful!**
**I was being careful. How was I to know the branch wasn’t solid?**
**Beetle, you are old enough to know sturdy from solid, and dead, dry wood from the kind that is full of life. You were too curious for your own good and you know it. You almost exposed us!**
**Thankfully, I didn’t.**
Brightwood voiced something that she and others had wondered the few times there had been near misses, **Would we have been ready if you had?**
Beetle didn’t know.