“Mama, why aren’t you and Papa lifemates?”
Beetle’s question came from nowhere, catching her mother off guard. Starskimmer’s wolf-friend, Frostnip, sensed his bond’s startled reaction and paused, looking around for what he had not sensed. Finding nothing, he tentatively took a step forward, then continued when feeling an encouraging squeeze from his friend.
“Well,” Starskimmer began, then paused. She had time for the conversation – they were on their way back from Goose Pond, where mother and daughter had spent the evening stargazing and gathering. How to explain this? Laughter -- Beetle now, Starskimmer reminded herself -- was still so young. Would she understand? “Before I answer,” Starskimmer began again, then paused as she slid off Frostnip’s back so she could walk. She wanted a clear view of her daughter, who had been holding onto her back. “Let me first ask you what you think it means to be lifemates?”
Her cub chewed on her lip a moment, thinking hard. “Well... it means you want to be together, and that you love each other, and you den together. You and Papa love each other, and you like being together... but you don't den together all the time, so you aren't lifemates, are you? Unless maybe I *don't* know what it means."
Starskimmer smiled warmly at her cub. Beetle was proving to be uncommonly logical for her age. “Well, yes, that is true, but the same can be said for lovemates. There is a distinct difference between the two. To be lifemates means a much deeper commitment. You don’t just like being together. You want to be together forever.” Starskimmer eyed her daughter closely, looking for the tell-tale signs of comprehension, but she saw only more questions brimming to the surface.
“Aren’t we all together forever?” Beetle asked pointedly.
Starskimmer suppressed a giggle. “That is true. As a tribe, we are together forever, the High Ones willing. But every elf chooses to spend more time with some elves over others. Lovemates often choose to den together, at least while they are lovemated. But lovemates sometimes change. Lifemates choose to den together permanently.”
“You and Papa Recognized, right?” Beetle asked, still puzzled. “Doesn’t that mean we’re a permanent family?”
“Yes and no, sweetling. Recognition is the sharing of souls in order to create a new soul. It is a bond that can only be broken by death, but it doesn’t mean you have to be lifemates. I Recognized One-Leg before I Recognized your father and we didn’t lifemate, either. Your father and I denned together for a while after you were born, just like One-Leg and I did after Coyote was born, but neither arrangement was permanent.”
Beetle seemed to mull that answer over for a second before opening her mouth for yet another question. “Can you have more than one lifemate?”
“Of course! Three-matings are not that uncommon, and sometimes, if someone loses a lifemate, there’s nothing to stop them from choosing another.”
“Why do some elves lifemate if they could just be lovemates?”
“Ah, well, take it from me, kitten, love changes over time. Sometimes it swells like a river after winter’s melt, and sometimes it dries up like a puddle in the summer sun. Lovematings are full of new life like spring, but come winter things may grow cold and the pair choose to end their union. But lifemates,” Starskimmer paused for emphasis, “the love between lifemates is strong and resilient, lasting throughout all the seasons. Their joys and sorrows are enmeshed in a net of mutual understanding. To be lifemates is to be the most important elves to each other in the whole tribe.”
“Isn’t Papa important to you?”
The almost plaintive tone in Beetle’s voice caused Starskimmer to stop. She grabbed Beetle’s hand and sent **Cloudfern is very important to me. You are important to me, as are Coyote and One-Leg. We are family.** “Even Frostnip is important to me,” smirking, Starskimmer dropped her daughter’s hand after a quick squeeze and then patted the top of the wolf’s head. The wolf glanced over his shoulder at the pair of elves, giving the wolfish equivalent of an eye-roll.
“Don’t you want to be with Papa?”
Starskimmer’s lips widened into a sultry smile, “Oh, I enjoy being with your father very much, and we do love each other, but it isn’t in my nature to love one elf more than another. I prefer to love all my tribemates in their own way.” With that, Starskimmer ruffled the top of Beetle’s head while sending her feelings at that moment **motherly love affection playfulness.**
Beetle laughed, returning the sentiment. Then she pulled away, looked at her mother seriously, and asked, “Are you going to Recognize all the boys in the tribe?”
Starskimmer chuckled at that notion. “With the exception of Coyote, it is possible, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen.”
“Recognition only strikes when it’s time for someone special to be born to the tribe. We elves are long-lived, and Recognition happens rarely. Some never get a chance to Recognize at all, and some Recognize several times, but usually over the course of hundreds of turns of the seasons. I would have to live a long, long, long time, even for an elf, for me to Recognize all the eligible males in the Holt.”
Beetle frowned in thought. She couldn’t begin to imagine how old her mother would have to be to accomplish that. “Are you ever too old to Recognize?” she asked at length.
Her mother shrugged, “I can’t say. That is a question we would have to ask the other elders.” Starskimmer’s response seemed to appease little Beetle.
For a time, mother, daughter and wolf walked in silence under the night sky. Starskimmer took to humming idly as she walked alongside her wolf-friend as Beetle continued to ride. Though her eyes darted to and fro, taking in the sights around her, Beetle’s mind spun and spun as thoughts slowly resolved themselves into yet more questions.
“Do you have to Recognize to be someone’s lifemate?” Beetle asked, breaking the companionable lull in their conversation.
Starskimmer sighed. She had hoped Beetle’s curiosity had dried up for the evening. “No, you don’t. True love can form between elves with or without Recognition. Recognition is really about cubs - it takes a male and a female to create life, and Recognition helps make strong cubs.” Starskimmer winced inwardly. She rather hoped Beetle was informed enough on how animals and elves reproduce not to require more explanation.
“Cubs can come without Recognition, though, can’t they? I remember. Newt, one of the ones in wrapstuff – they say his parents had him without Recognition. So elves don’t have to Recognize to have cubs together.”
Beetle seemed content with her own conclusion, so Starskimmer chose to say nothing. They were getting closer to home, and the stars were dimming as dawn’s light grew brighter. The brew-mistress had enjoyed her evening with her daughter, but she was looking forward to more adult conversations, and activities.
Beetle’s voice broke through with another question. “If you had to choose someone to lifemate, who would you pick, Mama?”
Starskimmer couldn’t help but laugh aloud at that question, “Oh, moons above, Beetle! There’s not an elf alive who could claim my heart forever! I like variety in my love life.”
Starskimmer eyed her daughter playfully, “Why? Who would you pick?”
“I’d pick… Blacksnake.”
Beetle’s mother nearly stopped dead in her tracks, choking back the laughter. "Blacksnake? Why would you pick that surly old wolf? Wouldn’t you rather choose someone nicer?”
“Well, he was so sad for so long and he’s not a grump anymore. Maybe he’d be happier if he had another lifemate. But he probably wouldn’t want a cub for a lifemate.” Beetle frowned. "Oh well. I guess he'll have to wait."
“That’s my girl,” Starskimmer smiled, recovering her composure. She was actually quite touched by Beetle’s logic. Such a sweet cub she had! Motherly pride swelled within her bosom.
“Mama, you’re not going to tell him, are you?” Beetle’s voice was laced with concern.
“Not if you don’t want me to, no. I can keep a secret,” Starskimmer winked slyly at her daughter.
“You won’t tell Papa or anyone else either, right?” Beetle’s eyes shone brightly in the night, large as they were out of fear of embarrassment.
“Tell me what?” Cloudfern’s voice preceded his presence, which was revealed as he stepped through some bushes and onto the path where Starskimmer, Beetle, and Frostnip were walking. They were nearing the Dentrees, so his presence was not a surprise to Starskimmer.
But Beetle’s face looked almost scared. She looked at her mother with pleading eyes, and Starskimmer knew, much as it was something that neither Cloudfern, nor Blacksnake, nor any others would really laugh at, it was important to Beetle that confidence be kept.
“Oh, nothing. Just girl talk,” Starskimmer said coyly. “Come on, handsome. I think it’s time for the three of us to sit down and have a nice family dinner.”