“Why are you still bothering me? I am not going to give up my den!!” Chicory angrily glanced at Rainpace, who leaned in her doorway.
“But...” he began before Chicory interrupted him.
“But, but... I know all your but's. I also know that Brightwood and Farscout, for example, live even higher up in the trees and they are not afraid of Copper falling out of their den. You are paranoid, Rainpace!”
While she continued grumbling about his suggestion of moving into a new den at ground level, she paced up and down. Her massive belly stood out of her usually slim form and made her look adorably disproportionate. While watching her restless anger with a small, affectionate grin, Rainpace tried to concentrate on his worries again. It would not be long until the birth and they still had not found common ground concerning their denning situation. They had talked about it often, but Chicory stubbornly refused to give up her den. He knew it had been formed especially for her needs and interests, with many shelves and little secret spaces, but Cloudfern stood ready to form a new den at the base of the Mother Tree according to all her special wishes. So Rainpace did not understand her refusal at all.
“... you are just too worried to see that,” Chicory still grumbled. “And you are not listening at all!” From one blink to another, faster than one expected of a heavily pregnant woman, she stood right in front of him and pointed a finger accusingly in his face. Although she was considerably smaller than him, the fierce look in her eyes made him unconsciously take a step backwards.
Recovering quickly, he took her accusing hand in both of his and sent, **Yes, of course I am worried, my little tadpole. I just want to give you and her a safe home.**
Chicory sighed, and Rainpace could tell she was making a conscious effort to calm down. **I know you are worried, Twig,** she sent back, getting back at him a little for the pet name by referring to him by his cub-name. Her send was tender, though, and the feeling in it showed that she was not actually upset by it. **I just wish you wouldn’t worry so much. Cubs have lived in tree-dens in our Holt for longer than either of us have been alive.** Suddenly Chicory smiled, seeming to realize that Rainpace was still hovering in the mouth of her den. “You can come in, you know,” she invited.
Rainpace found himself smiling back as he followed her inside, finally letting go of her hand. He was still worried, though. “What if she falls, though?” he pressed.
“By the time she can crawl out onto a tree branch, she’ll be swarming all over the Dentrees top to bottom, anyway!” Chicory replied.
“—but she won’t fall from higher than she can crawl to!” Rainpace pointed out. The two lovemates paused in their arguing for a moment, glaring at each other, then Chicory looked away.
“A stare-down over which den to choose, really?” she asked herself as much as Rainpace. “This is getting ridiculous.”
Rainpace cupped her chin and turned her head to make her look up again. “You are right, that would go too far,” he said calmly. With a lopsided grin he continued: “Besides, as a cub I was told stare-downs could end in Recognition, and you would not want that again, would you?”
“Getting not only a whelp in return but also a friend who transformed into a nervous, overanxious heap?” Chicory retorted and smiled mischievously. “No, I definitely would not want that.”
They grinned at each other. “By the way, it was me who told you that nonsense back then,” she stated.
Sighing exaggeratedly, Rainpace answered: “Yes, I know. You'd always given me a hard time.” With that he kissed her forehead and rested his head on her brow. Chicory snuggled into his embrace, which was not as easy as months ago anymore. Her belly was in the way no matter how much she wriggled to find a more comfortable position.
The amicable silence did not last long, however. “You know, “ Rainpace began, “Cloudfern is waiting for us down there right now. Maybe we could let him —” But the moment he mentioned the plantshaper’s name his lovemate stiffened in his arms. He knew he was getting on her nerves, but they had to settle this issue once and for all. He let her go. While preparing for another argument he looked down at her.
Chicory stared back at him, but not in frustration as expected. Her eyes were wide in surprise and anxious shock. Puzzled, he asked, “What?” But then alarm rose in his guts. He grabbed her shoulders and stared in her face: “What's wrong? Chicory, talk to me!”
She recovered and looked down her body. Rainpace followed her gaze and saw some fluid trickling down her bare leg. Chicory raised her head again and a smile that mirrored anticipation and joy but also a bit of fear crept onto her face. “I guess, it starts now.”
Excitement and joy filled Rainpace’s mind, but if anything, he was even more anxious now. “Here, you should sit down,” he said, letting go of her shoulders to lead her to her furs by the arm. “I’ll send for Starskimmer!” he added, trying to help her sit down. “Let's call for Willow, too.” He started babbling, “Just in case anything goes wrong. I guess she would be happy to get an opportunity to practice her powers, and —”
“Rainpace,” Chicory finally interrupted him in exasperation. “I’m fine! It could still be hours or tomorrow before our cub comes. Will you just — oh —” **!!!** Chicory broke off as a contraction hit.
“Chicory!” Rainpace cried, reaching out to steady her.
Panting slightly, Chicory waved him away. “I told you, I’m fine. It was just a big contraction, and I was just a little surprised. That’s all.” She smiled at him reassuringly. “Stop worrying so much, Rainpace, all right?”
“I can’t help it,” he replied miserably. Turning to her sleeping furs again, Rainpace fluffed them out into an inviting-looking nest, then turned and held out a hand to Chicory again. “Come on, now, let me take care of you and our cub.”
“Oh, all right,” Chicory relented, with an expression halfway between a frown and a giggle. Taking his outstretched hand, she allowed him to help her lower her heavy frame onto the furs. “But don’t bother Starskimmer yet! I’m sure she has things to do other than sit here and watch me be pregnant for a few more hours! And Willow just told us yesterday that she would be off on a hunting trip for a couple of days now. Have you already forgotten that, scatter-brain?” With this she teasingly tapped him on the forehead.
Rainpace nodded, a bit ashamed of his fuzzing behaviour. He started walking back and forth through Chicory’s den, looking around now for anything more helpful to do.
“Please come over here and and sit down,” Chicory said to her pacing lovemate with outstretched arms. “You would help me more if you calm down and stop making me nervous.”
Smiling sheepishly he made himself comfortable on the furs next to her and wrapped her in his arms. They sat like this for a while, when suddenly an open, dry-humored sending from Cloudfern reached them: **Well, are you still arguing? Or already making up?** With the sending, an image of Cloudfern raising an eyebrow in amusement popped into the heads of the young couple. **Either way, I am fed up with waiting. Tell me if you need me when you are finished... with whatever you are doing.**
Both Rainpace and Chicory felt guilty and sent apologies instantly. Somehow in all their mixed sendings Cloudfern could make out that the birth was imminent. He happily congratulated them and was already on his way to tell everyone the happy news.
Rainpace and Chicory grinned at each other. Soon the whole tribe would be in an anticipating tumult. Chicory quickly sent the news to Blacksnake and Windburn, whose excited replies touched both expectant parents’ minds. Of course, Rainpace realized that despite the growing buzz of anticipation in the Holt, he would still have to endure for a while longer before finally meeting his precious cub face to face. Waiting was not his strength and he hoped it wasn’t his cub's either.
Some hours later:
Rainpace nervously kneaded his hat. For him it was awful to just sit and watch while Chicory, bathed in sweat, was giving birth to their child. The contractions were very regular and came in only short intervals now.
“Well, then, it's time. Let's see what the two of you produced during your long days — and nights — in the furs.” Starskimmer winked at Rainpace and settled herself between Chicory’s legs. The trapper had sent for the midwife when the contractions had made Chicory flinch. It had been too early, of course. But Starskimmer had not minded at all. She chatted and joked the time away and calmly made preparations for the birth. It was a shame, though, she had mentioned, that Willow couldn’t be there. Rainpace had nodded, mentally agreeing with that: If she had been at the Holt, to be present for any birth would have been a welcome learning experience for her. Unfortunately, the tribe’s new magical healer would be gone for at least another day or two.
Once they had heard the news, of course, the tribe members who were currently at the Holt had all turned up to see the happy event. Chicory, however, had turned them straight back out of her den, wanting more privacy. She had even sent her father and brother back outside, allowing only her Recognized lovemate, Rainpace, and Starskimmer to remain. Rainpace managed to prevent an all-out riot by promising to present their cub to the tribe as soon as possible.
As far as they could tell, the families and friends of both had gathered around the Dentrees by now to await the birth of their new tribe member. Sometimes advice or a comment had been sent or shouted up to them, which had made Rainpace smile or more worried, depending on the content or the sense of humor of the sender.
Chicory moaned again and Rainpace took her hand. Starskimmer was really concentrating now as well. A tension lay in the air that made them forget about all the others waiting outside. Only the three of them mattered at this moment.
Chicory pressed her lovemate's hand forcefully when the next wave rushed over her — and suddenly Starskimmer was holding their daughter in her hands. After all the nervous waiting for the past few hours, Rainpace could hardly believe it. The little girl seemed to be surprised by the sudden change in her surroundings as well, because it took her some moments before she expressed her discomfort in a loud and forceful cry.
Chicory laughed at the sound and released her tension. Starskimmer handed the cub to her mother and said: “With those lungs she could compete with One-Leg at his worst,” Starskimmer commented. “Let's hope she won't learn his range of swear-words, as well,” she giggled.
Obviously the little girl was heard at the base of the trees as well, because a loud, many-voiced cheer broke out. Some chaotic sendings reached the new parents as well, but they had only eyes and ears for their daughter.
Rainpace just stared in wonder and amazement, while Chicory joyfully held their daughter in her arms and positioned the furs around her. The girl, eyes squeezed shut, still cried loudly and her head had already turned red from the effort. He just watched when his lovemate started to nurse her. Abruptly, the crying stopped and the little face relaxed.
While nursing Chicory locked eyes with Rainpace. **Vru —** was all he could manage, but all his feelings were packed in this single word.
Chicory understood. **We are a family now, Sudi,** she replied with a radiating smile. In agreement he laid down very close to her, finally touching his daughter. Tenderly he caressed her head with the soft, dark, fluffy hair. The three lay there for a while in silence, totally unaware of Starskimmer now.
“How shall we name her?” Chicory whispered finally.
“Beautiful? Precious? My Treasure?” Rainpace answered in an attempt to joke. But Chicory was not sure how much joking it really was, seeing her lovemate mesmerized by their little girl. She chuckled and poked him softly. Just this moment the cub finished her meal and opened her eyes for the first time. The girl looked at her parents with bright, amber-golden eyes. Surprised by the unusual color, Chicory pronounced the first word that popped into her head: “Glow.”
“Yes,” Rainpace agreed, equally surprised. “Yes, Glow.” Rolling this word in his mouth it seemed just perfect.
“That’s a fine cub-name,” Starskimmer said approvingly, startling both parents who grinned sheepishly back at her. She had already tidied up the birthing area considerably while Rainpace and Chicory had been admiring their new daughter, and was just finishing that task as she spoke.
**Thank you,** Chicory told Starskimmer, not just for her approval of Glow’s name, but also for her help as midwife. Rainpace nodded and sent his gratitude as well.
Starskimmer smiled warmly and winked. “Had to find some way to be one of the first to greet our new tribe member, hadn't I?” she joked.
“Bwwwah,” Glow gurgled, as if in agreement, looking towards the source of the hearty voice with wide, curious eyes.
“Hello to you, too,” Starskimmer turned to Glow, eliciting a giggle from Chicory.
“It looks like she likes you,” Chicory told Starskimmer, beaming happily down at her daughter, “but then, that’s not really surprising.” Looking up at her lovemate now, Chicory’s eyes lit with a slightly mischievous sparkle. “Rainpace...?” she said softly.
“What is it, my brave tuftcat?” he replied tenderly, tearing his gaze away from his daughter’s face to look into Chicory’s eyes.
She leaned in close to him, resting her forehead against his, and whispered: “It looks like it’s going to be my den, after all!”
“What makes you think so?” He was a bit confused by her resuming their argument from hours ago.
“Well, as you witnessed, it was my den our daughter chose to be born in,” she wolfishly grinned. Rainpace just raised an eyebrow in response. “Look at her,” Chicory continued. “You can't deny that your daughter already looks very smart and clever. That makes me believe that she chose with care.”
Rainpace could not help but laugh. He rolled his eyes and finally gave in: “All right, all right, you won, you little vixen.”
Still shaking his head in amusement he took Glow from Chicory’s arms and settled her on his chest. Conspiratorially he said to her: “I just hope you will give me less of a hard time than your mother always does.” But looking into his daughter’s golden, alert eyes he somehow doubted that.