(This story is a sequel to "Move, Counter-Move", and is a "Response to the Human's killing of Beetle's wolf-friend"; it is also part of the ”Conflict between Windburn and Foxtail; and Foxtail & Notch’s Cunning Plan” sequence of stories -- see the listings for more related stories.)
RTH 2502.07.17 - Day One
"You – all three of you – acted as though you weren't part of the tribe."
"So this is my decree: for three hands of days now, you are not. These three are air and winds, wolfriders – none may speak or send to them, meet or hold their eyes. Three hands of days of shunning, a hand for every fool head that played this game. And after that – " his gaze flickered across the tribe.
"Moss, Greenweave, Suddendusk," he said, "take these three in hand. They're confined to the Dentrees for six moons, once the shunning is over – work them raw."
Beetle stood in silence as her tribemates dispersed from the gathering area. She kept her head down, looking at her feet and at the moss and dirt beneath them, and wondered if she weren’t lower than the dirt itself. She focused on the dirt, staring at it, wishing she were closer, in it, part of it. That was how she felt. No matter how right she thought she was in wanting to know more about the humans, she’d had no right to defy the chief and risk the lives of her tribe.
“You... acted as though you weren’t part of the tribe.” Windburn’s words echoed in her ears. “This is my decree: for three hands of days now, you are not.” Beetle could still hear how she, her brother, and Foxtail had been described as nothing more than the air or the wind. No one would look at her for the next three hands of days. Twelve days of being no one, of being nothing. And then the work.
The promise of work didn’t bother her. She would do it – willingly even. She had earned the punishment. But this... shunning. Though she knew she, her brother, and Foxtail were not the first to have ever been shunned, it had not happened in her lifetime. She didn’t know what to expect. What would it be like to be here, but to not be acknowledged? To be like the wind and the air?
She forced herself to take a deep breath, purposefully working to slow her heart rate. ‘I am being shunned. It’s... like being out of the Holt for a long time... by myself. I’m all right with solitude. I am. I know myself,’ she told herself in an attempt to silence thoughts of panic. ‘Twelve days. In twelve days, things will be back to normal.’
She wasn’t certain she believed herself, but she kept talking to herself, taking deep breaths as she did. ‘Beetle... Rasha... you can survive this. You are being shunned. It’s just twelve days. That’s all. Think of it as... an experiment.’
That did it. Suddenly, thoughts of panic subsided as they were replaced by a seedling of curiosity. No one had been shunned during her lifetime. Now, there were three being shunned. What would it be like? How would others react? What would she, herself, go through, and how would she occupy her time? She could learn from this time... she could use it to find out more about others, and about herself.
Curiosity caused Beetle to look up, to look around her. As she did so, she caught a glimpse of Willow, who quickly turned away as though she had been watching. Suddenly, the healer jumped down from her perch on a nearby branch and headed off without so much as a “Goodbye.” Surprisingly, it hurt a little. ‘But what did I expect? I’m the wind and the air, right?’
Beetle looked around some more. Her father was leaning on a tree, his back to her as he talked with her mother. Starskimmer almost glanced at her, but then averted her eyes at the last minute. Beetle watched with some dismay as her mother led her father up the tree and into a den. She reminded herself that this was what shunning was - that loved ones and friends would not respond to her in any way. As much as she thought she was comfortable with solitude, Beetle wasn’t so sure. And this was just the beginning.
Windburn made one more statement to her, in a locksend that included Foxtail and her brother, **You three are the wind and the air to the rest of the tribe. Not to one another.** He cut his send at that point.
Beetle was stunned. After what they had done, the three of them could be together? It wasn’t a complete shunning after all! She felt almost excited, knowing she would be able to have company during this time – to have others to share her thoughts and feelings with.
Beetle sent to Foxtail, who had already stormed off. The chief’s daughter’s response was one of rage, hurt, and anger. There was an underlying desire for company, but Beetle wasn’t prepared to offer the support she gathered her friend would need. Beetle understood and accepted that what they had done was wrong. She could guess that Foxtail would likely rail against how unfair this punishment was.
She sent to her brother, but he didn’t even respond. It seemed to Beetle that each of them needed some time. For the herbalist, it was enough to know that they were there, and that she could talk with them if she needed to.
RTH 2502.07.18 - Day Two
She hadn’t slept well. Before Willow, Beetle had not really cared whether she slept alone or with another. Recently, though, she had looked forward to seeing her friend at the end of the night, to talking with her as the sun began to warm up the air and peek through the edges of the windows. Beetle hadn’t realized, before now, just how much Willow was coming to mean to her.
When she wasn’t with Willow, Beetle was still accustomed to saying “Goodnight” to her father and Greenweave. But she hadn’t even been able to do that. It felt strange sleeping in her den with others so close by but unable to talk with them. With sleep eluding her in the Dentrees, Beetle had found her way to her crafting area, eventually curling up in a ball in a nook of that den.
Beetle awoke to the scent and sound of her father working nearby. “Good morning, Father!” she’d called out cheerfully. She heard him pause in his work, but then heard him resume working without saying anything to her. She recalled why he wasn’t speaking to her, and bit her lip.
The sounds of his work changed - becoming more forceful and louder. She thought about sending, but she wasn’t certain she was ready to face the feeling of being rejected if he didn’t acknowledge her send. Beetle got up from where she sat and walked to where their two work areas combined, and leaned on the doorway.
Beetle saw tension in her father’s stance, and could feel it in her gut. This was hard on him. Harder, she sensed, than she could have imagined. She wondered what was going through his mind as he worked, too bothered to pay attention. ‘Well, I’m being shunned. He won’t accept my send, but can he not hear me as well?’ she wondered. ‘Is he able to completely shut me out?’
“Father,” she spoke, planning to comment on what he was doing, just to see if he would hear her, but he startled, knocking a clay bowl off the worktable and onto the floor. She went to pick it up, but he growled in frustration, and Beetle knew that she should leave. Her presence wasn’t helping her father right now. She didn’t want to make it harder on him than it already was. Without saying anything, she exited the Craft Dens.
For the remainder of the night, Beetle found herself perched on a tree limb near the Den’s Creek. Otter and Crackle had splashed around for a while before Otter had gone off to do something else. Crackle had remained behind, exploring the muddy riverbanks. Seeing that Crackle was alone, Beetle decided to, again, see what might happen if she talked to someone.
She jumped down from the branch, clearly surprising Crackle, who looked up in surprise. Beetle was about to greet her when Crackle began talking to herself, “I can’t see her. I can’t see her. I can’t see her. I can’t see her.”
“Crackle, you can see me, child,” Beetle pointed out.
Crackle paused for a moment, then changed what she was saying. “Pretend she’s not there, pretend she’s not there, pretend she’s not there.” She started humming to herself, turned her back to Beetle, and went back to looking at the mud. After a few more moments of humming and Beetle’s silence, Crackle looked around again. Beetle was still there, watching, but Crackle turned and continued what she was doing.
Chicory arrived, and Crackle ran up to her, hugging her.
An angry send from her brother stopped her from trying to talk with Chicory. **Stop, Beetle. We’re being shunned. And as much as I know you’re just dying of curiosity and want to know what others will do if you do try talking with them, it’s not worth it. Windburn will tan your hide if he catches you disobeying him like this.**
She turned from where the fisher was talking with Crackle and headed into the forest, looking for her brother. Beetle thought about what he had said, then responded, **But we’re wind and air, brother. Doesn’t the wind make noise in the trees? Aren’t we affected by the wind and the air? Can’t we see what effect we have on the tribe?**
Derisive laughter was in his response as he jumped down from the trees, landing behind her and startling her, **If you really think that you’ll get away with it, go ahead and try.** He was sarcastic now, and biting, **It’d be nice to see you really get it for once.**
Though she knew that he hated the fact that she was in trouble, his words angered her. **We three are in this together. You, at least, could guess what might come of it. You knew Foxtail was oblivious.**
**I did. And you weren’t blind, sister,** Notch pointed out, his angry eyes locking with hers. He seemed to be looking for a fight.
Beetle wasn’t going to give it to him. **I wasn’t blind,** she agreed, her mind voice thoughtful. **But I had different motivations. It was worth it to me to learn more about the humans. And now… I think I have time to learn about myself. And about you and Foxtail. And the tribe. No one in my lifetime has been shunned.**
“True. Neither of you know anything about shunning, though you’ve both heard about it.” He had switched to speaking. Beetle wondered what thoughts he was hiding, but she didn’t ask.
“Aye. And I’m curious. What is it like? How will it affect the tribe? Us?”
Notch sneered, but not at her, not really. “Three hands of days, sister. That is too long. Trust me. Even though Windburn has graced us with each other, twelve days is too much. You need to fight, Beetle. Find it in you to be angry. Find it in you to get upset about it. I’ve heard... you need something to keep you going. And I don’t think even your curiosity can do that.”
“Is that why you’re so angry?” Beetle asked, wondering.
Notch didn’t answer. **Find me when you need me,** he ordered, then headed away from her, through the trees.
Beetle thought about what he said, but dismissed it. It was pointless to be angry -- and who would she be angry with but herself? She wasn’t that, either. The shunning was her punishment, justly given, and she accepted it. But it wasn’t only punishment; it was opportunity -- to learn. Though she wouldn’t dismiss Notch’s warning, either. Windburn had meant for them to be wind and air, but not to try and distract others. From the way her father and Crackle had acted when she did try talking with them, her efforts weren’t helpful to her tribe, either.
RTH 2502.07.19 - Day Three
“It’s not fair!” Foxtail whined to Beetle, and not for the first time since the shunning had started. “Father and Mother won’t have anything to do with me. Of course, I’m used to that, but now Rainpace, and Willow, and Dreamflight.... everyone! It’s like I don’t exist.”
Beetle suppressed a groan. Foxtail, so far, had either been so angry she couldn’t speak, or so despondent that she was inconsolable. Beetle had found that out the night before, when Foxtail’s anger had ebbed toward dawn and turned to grief. She had decided that Foxtail should not be alone during the day, and had stayed to comfort her friend. Beetle had enjoyed being near Foxtail while they slept. It was good to be close to someone and to be able to talk. But when they had awakened, Foxtail’s depression was changing expressions and Beetle wasn’t sure she could stand to be around the chief’s daughter while she grew more and more angry.
Beetle knew that Foxtail wanted sympathy, and she felt some for her -- out of the three of them, Foxtail had been the one caught most off guard when the punishment was dealt. But still, what had the chief’s daughter expected?
Foxtail’s tears were subsiding. Beetle sensed that a wave of rage was coming. She didn’t really want to weather that front, so she patted Foxtail’s hair, then told her that she’d be back later, and to find her if she needed her. Then Beetle left.
On her way down to the base of the Dentrees, Beetle almost ran into Longshot and Evervale. They were laughing and talking, but silenced as soon as they scented her. Beetle made a note to herself -- the wind and the air carried scent and would draw attention to herself... maybe she should mask hers? Deciding that it would make her less noticeable to those around her, Beetle headed to the Craft Trees to begin working - she would use dried, crushed snowberries to create a powder that would mask her scent if she rubbed it on her skin. She thought about inviting Foxtail, or her brother, to help her, but decided against it when she remembered how angry Notch had been the day before, and when she considered how upset Foxtail was. No... better to spend the night by herself.
Beetle found that, with her scent masked, not even her mother and father hesitated when they walked by her. She was glad her scent wasn’t there as a constant reminder to others. It also made it easier to observe what was happening around the tribe. Instead of sitting in the open, where others could see her, Beetle took to the trees, watching the tribe with interest.
But that interest could only last so long. Beetle wanted to talk with her friends, with her family. She wanted to taste the honey that Willow brought back, and she wanted a sip of her mother’s newest brew. Beetle wanted to talk with her father about the herbs he brought back from gathering, and she even wanted to feel the newest batch of silk fabric Whispersilk had made. She realized how much she had taken for granted, how much she, her brother, and Foxtail had risked, and it saddened her.
Beetle thought about staying near the Dentrees or Craft Trees, but realized she didn’t want to be surrounded by loved ones she couldn’t talk with. Her stomach rumbled, and she decided to hunt. She sent to her brother and Foxtail, inviting them to join her.
Their hunt was successful. They took down a yearling buck. Notch’s arrow had struck true, and Foxtail’s spear ensured that the deer was down. They had teased Beetle some for her hesitancy in shooting. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss,” she had protested.
“That’s what you always say, sister,” Notch pointed out, a half-smile on his face. “I know your arrows fly true, when you let them. But I don’t remember the last time you took something down.”
Beetle smiled. He was right. It was one reason she rarely joined the larger hunt-packs on outings. Still, she enjoyed the hunt, even if she was never the one to claim the kill. Beetle pulled out a knife and started working on the deer. Foxtail and Notch joined her, and soon each of them had full bellies. They let Beauty, Briarfoot, Murkfur, and little Rooter have what they wanted, and all were sated before the moon was high overhead.
The wolves howled to their packmates, alerting the other wolves, and the tribe, to the availability of fresh meat. Beetle knew that, although the elves were shunning the three of them, the wolves weren't. She thought for a moment about that - wondering what it would take for the wolf-pack to completely reject an elf. It happened sometimes, to wolves that failed to submit properly to those of higher-rank, but Beetle had never heard of an elf being completely rejected by the pack.
She left her query to think more on later. If tribemates were coming with the wolves, Beetle didn’t want to stick around to see them, so she asked Foxtail and Notch to join her on a walk. Anything so that she wouldn’t have to be alone this night.
The days were running together. Beetle had lost track of when the shunning had started, and when it might end. Though she and Foxtail still snuggled together during the day, they continued to do things separately at night unless they hunted. She hadn’t seen Notch since the day the three of them had taken down the young buck.
He had left her and Foxtail when the pair had decided to return to the Holt. “What’s the point?” he had asked angrily. “We’re not really part of the tribe right now. I’ll come back when the shunning is over.”
Foxtail had pleaded with him to stay, but he had turned his back to them, mounted Beauty, and rode off. Foxtail had cried most of the way back to the Dentrees, where the pair had fallen into a fitful sleep.
Beetle spent the nights gathering, mending, cleaning, and trying to keep herself occupied. Foxtail wasn’t really interested in doing those things, and Beetle wasn’t interested in listening to Foxtail whine and complain. Beetle decided she at least wanted to be useful somehow, helping the tribe in her own way. While she went about her tasks, she was careful to avoid others.
RTH 2502.07.24 - Day Eight
Beetle was tired.
She hadn’t slept, not really, not really well, in the past few days. The days were too hot, too sticky, too filled with conversations about how lonely it was to be shunned. But sleep -- good, restful, dream-filled sleep -- had eluded her. This night was particularly hot and sticky. It was too hot, really, to do anything but play in the river to cool off.
Beetle decided to head downriver, away from where others would likely gather for the same purpose. She was tired of observing. As much as she was curious, Beetle had decided that the shunning was not something to view as an experiment. It affected everyone in one way or another. And it was horrible. She shuddered.
With purposeful concentration, Beetle was able to figure out it had been two hands of days since Windburn’s decree. ‘Only four more,’ she told herself, hoping that it would help lift her dampened spirits, but the information just discouraged her. ‘Another hand of days with no one, except Foxtail – and Notch, wherever he is. I miss Willow. I miss father. I miss mother. I miss... everyone.’
Beetle didn’t feel like walking any further. She just wanted to cry. Beetle stopped, looked up to the branches of the trees, then climbed the one that offered the easiest route. Once she reached a sturdy branch, Beetle stopped climbing, leaned forward and hugged the tree.
“C’mon, Muddypaws,” Crackle’s voice woke Beetle, who found herself still clinging to the branch of the tree. “C’mon, Otter!” she called toward the river.
Beetle’s felt herself catching her breath at the sight of her little brother as he appeared, dripping wet. He looked so happy, so carefree. Beetle, though not one for watching cubs, wished that on this night, she could be there with Crackle and Otter.
“Where are we going?” Otter asked.
“Right here,” Crackle announced, sitting against the very tree that Beetle sat in.
Beetle wondered whether she and Otter knew she was there, but then recalled the scent mask that she had taken to wearing, and guessed that they did not.
“Why are we here,” Otter asked with exasperation, “when we could be at the river swimming?”
Crackle shifted forward, leaning in. “I have a story to tell you!”
“And you couldn’t have told me back at the river?” he asked, dubious.
“No! Chicory, and Moss, and Mother and Father, well, they wouldn’t like this story. Plus, I could smell Foxtail nearby. And since we aren’t supposed to talk to her, I didn’t think I should tell a story she could hear.”
“You know, Crackle, you tell some pretty strange stories sometimes.”
Crackle growled at that. “Fine, then. Go! Go back to the river. I’ll tell Muddypaws the story. I thought you’d want to know because it affects your sister, but now I know better. Go away!” she ordered.
Otter stood a moment, and Beetle could tell he was trying to decide whether Crackle might really know something. “You know, Crackle, I don’t think you know as much as you think you do. I’m going back to the river.”
Beetle silently cheered her brother’s resolve, proud of him for not getting sucked into Crackle’s game. The girl certainly did have a large imagination, and had been known to scare herself sometimes. Beetle thought about leaving, but Crackle had said that the story affected her, somehow, so Beetle wanted to know what new tale Crackle had told herself. She hoped she wouldn’t regret it.
Crackle huffed as Otter walked away, drawing Beetle’s attention to the girl. She leaned into Muddypaws and whispered something. The wolf lifted his nose and nuzzled Crackle, licking her face once. She laughed, and pushed him away jokingly. “All right, Muddypaws, I’ll have to tell you. You’re the only one who will listen, and someone else needs to know.”
Beetle leaned forward again, resting her head on the branch of the tree, and wrapping her arms around it. Tired as she was, she didn’t have the energy to do much else, so she listened as Crackle began her story.
“I’m worried, Muddypaws,” Crackle began. “We can’t smell Beetle or Notch anymore. Notch has disappeared all together, and Beetle’s scent has gone. Foxtail will be next. You see, this happened before the last time someone was shunned. It was before I was born, and I don’t know quite when. Father and Mother won’t speak the elf’s name, and everyone pretends that she didn’t exist. It’s probably better that way, anyway. But I’ll call her Blade.”
“Blade was the kind of elf that was always in trouble. Finally, when the Chieftess had had enough, she decided that shunning was the only punishment that would work. So Blade was shunned. It was supposed to only be for a few hands of days, no one knows for sure. Blade tried to cause a lot of trouble in the beginning. She set up traps to make others stumble; she slept in others’ dens, trying to get someone to talk to her. But everyone in the tribe knew what she was doing, and they just ignored her. Even when she took the food out of the chieftess’s hands, the chieftess just got up and got more food for herself. It was like Blade wasn’t there at all.
“The shunning was hard on them, too. Some said that it would have been easier if she hadn’t been punished at all, because Blade kept doing things and they couldn’t respond. But they also missed her skill with the knife. The things she had done to help the tribe weren’t being done, either. And her mother, father, and her Recognized had a hard time being away from her as well. See, she Recognized someone while she was being shunned, but they couldn’t do anything about it because they weren’t supposed to be together. So they had to wait.
I don’t know who noticed it first, but one day, they couldn’t smell Blade anymore, even though they knew she was right there. And then... they saw her mouth moving as she tried to talk to them, but they couldn’t hear anything coming out of her mouth. They figured she was just playing a game with them, trying to make them worried. But no one was worried. The Chieftess reminded them that in a few more days, the shunning would be over.
But then... Blade disappeared. No one could see her anywhere. They figured she had finally realized how wrong she had been and that she had left the Holt to give everyone a break. They were relieved. So the last few days of the shunning passed, and when the Chieftess announced that it was over, Blade was nowhere to be seen. Her Recognized howled for her, as loud as he could, but she didn’t answer.
A search party went out looking for her, but they couldn’t find any trace of her. It was like she had vanished. The only thing they could find was that her den had been slept in. But there was no trail leading away. Blade’s Recognized got sick and eventually died. The tribe decided that Blade must have died, too, and they howled for her.
But sometimes, when something spilled, or went missing, or if a trap had been set and no one owned up to it, some of the tribe would wonder - had Blade been there?
It wasn’t until a snowy morning, a few turns later, that someone finally found her. She was near the Dentrees, lying face down in the snow. They could see her again. But she had died. Her shunning had lasted so long that she became invisible to them all, until she was dead.”
Crackle shivered and looked hard at her wolf-friend. “Notch disappeared already. And Beetle’s scent is gone, Muddypaws. What happens when they disappear all together? It’s not fair – I still had things to learn from them. Beetle was going to teach me about gathering, and Notch and Foxtail could have taught me some new tricks.” Crackle huffed and sat back, arms crossed in front of her. “Everyone’s going to be sorry they didn’t listen to me!”
Beetle clutched at the branch of the tree, wanting nothing more than to drop down next to Crackle and offer comfort, though the unexpected drop-in would probably terrify her first. ‘No!’ Beetle told herself, then hugged the tree tighter. Crackle’s story was eerie. And it was even eerier that it had been told with her there to listen. No wonder she hadn’t wanted to tell it too close to the creek, where Foxtail apparently was. This was not the kind of story Foxtail needed to hear.
An ant that had crawled onto Beetle’s head made its way down her forehead and to the tip of her nose. She swatted at it, and it fell, landing on Crackle. The child looked up, and saw Beetle watching her. Crackle’s eyes widened and her mouth made an “Oh!” shape, but no sound came out. Crackle stumbled to her feet and onto Muddypaws, who had also stood, and hurried away.
Beetle relaxed some, almost grateful that Crackle had seen her. ‘I’m not invisible yet!’ she thought cheerily. At least someone in the tribe had acknowledged her, even if by accident. Beetle felt herself relax some, and then she mentally reached out to Foxtail and to Notch. Notch acknowledged her but nothing more. Foxtail, however, was upset.
Beetle groaned inwardly, but shimmied down the tree and headed to find Foxtail.
Crackle’s story, however imaginative, and however un-true, wouldn’t be shaken. Beetle was tempted to try talking to others, to try getting in the way, just to make sure she was real. When even Foxtail got worried about Beetle, the herbalist shared what she had heard from Crackle.
Foxtail had laughed warily, then pointed out, “I can see and hear you, and you, me. And we know Notch is there because he gets our sendings.”
Beetle nodded. “I know. In my head it makes sense. In my heart, though, I’m tired of this. I’m ready to work for the next six moon-cycles, but I don’t know how much more of it all I can take. You know, Foxtail, I don’t think I want to be here in the Holt right now. Maybe Notch was right. Maybe it’s easier outside of the Holt.”
Foxtail hadn’t wanted to let Beetle go, but Beetle had been adamant that she wasn’t going to stay in the Dentrees, or even the Craft trees, for the remainder of the shunning. She couldn’t take it anymore. She needed the rest of the tribe, or she had to be away from them all.
Beetle let Foxtail know where she’d be, then headed to the river. At least the sound of the babbling water would keep her company, along with whatever creatures came to drink.
Even the river wasn’t company enough. Beetle wanted, and needed, her tribe. Crackle’s story about Blade resonated too strongly within her, and though she knew it wasn’t true, Beetle couldn’t help but wonder what if… what if she became invisible to the tribe forever?
It was bad enough knowing that they could see her and hear her if she tried – but to truly be air, or wind? Though it was sticky and hot, Beetle shivered, her skin prickling up and the hair on back of her neck rising. The dark, quiet night surrounded her, and she wanted nothing more than to throw her head back and howl – long, loud, and lonely. Beetle stopped herself.
She walked a path along the Thornwall from the Den’s Creek to Cattail Marsh – she had been walking this path since she had left Foxtail at the Dentrees. When she wasn’t walking, she had made a place for sleeping in a tree close to the river. Hard as she tried, Beetle couldn’t stop her thoughts.
lonely. alone. fearful. tired. scared. What if she was never welcomed back into the tribe? Would she want to live without them? What would she do? What had Blade done? Had Blade finally given up? Beetle thought she might have – and she didn’t blame her. What life was there outside of the tribe?
Beetle stopped walking at that thought. There really wasn’t a life without the tribe. At least, not one worth living. The wolves, at least, when driven off, had a chance of forming a pack of their own. But what chance would she, Notch, and Foxtail have? At that moment, Beetle decided that if the shunning never ended, she would end her life. She wouldn’t want time without end, without her family and friends.
For the first time – Beetle broke down and sobbed.
Walking toward her sleeping perch, eyes still blurry with tears, Beetle stumbled on a rock that hadn’t been there before. When she landed, she looked up at the path in front of her, and found a shiny deep-green rock. Beetle reached forward and took it in her hands. It was smooth on its edges, and about the length of her palm. She squeezed her hand around the rock – it fit perfectly in her hands, almost as if it had been left specifically for her.
At that thought, Beetle sat up, rock still in hand. She sniffed at the rock – no trace of scent. She looked around at the ground – there were no footprints or anything else to identify who had left it there for her. Beetle knew this gem – and the rock she had tripped on – had not been there before. Someone had to have left it for her.
Which meant that she was still part of the tribe. Even if it had been Notch or Foxtail – someone was looking out for her and wanted to remind her she wasn’t alone. Beetle decided that it had been left there for her by everyone in the tribe – maybe the High Ones or the ancestors themselves had left it, but it was a reminder to her that she was wanted and welcome.
Beetle didn’t question her line of reasoning. Earlier, she had been beyond reason when she had considered ending her life if the shunning lasted forever. She wouldn’t end her life – she couldn’t. It wasn’t right. Life was a gift – even more than the tribe was. Beetle smiled to herself, dusted herself off, and headed to “her” tree.
The sunrise that morning was particularly breathtaking with its array of colors. Beetle held her rock and watched the changing colors until she fell asleep.
When night fell, Beetle made her way upriver some, took a dip, and rinsed the dirt from herself. She enjoyed the feel of water around her. After swimming, she stood a while, watching and listening as the water flowed over the rocks.
"What were you thinking?"
Beetle heard a voice, but was not really paying attention. Whoever it was couldn’t have been talking to her.
The voice grew more persistent. "Beetle! What were you thinking?"
As her name registered in her mind, Beetle was shocked. Someone was talking to her? But Windburn had said.... Then, as she added up the days in her mind, a smile broke on her face, and she turned to face the person she had missed the most during her three hands of shunning. Willow was there, and she could see and hear her. The silence was over.