Bounding down the steps, Newt pursed his lips and sent a fair imitation of a lark's call ahead of him to echo off the smooth wooden walls of the weavers’ den. He knew the chances of Fadestar recognizing the actual bird were small but could not resist the urge to show off; he had been working especially hard on getting the trill just right and even Dreamflight had been forced to admit it was better than her own interpretation. Whether Fadestar knew it or not, though, he felt sure she would compliment him.
Strangely, no head popped out to greet him as he approached. A faint whistle answered him instead, not nearly so fine as his but passable enough to fool at least half the tribe. He stumbled a bit and drew to a halt as a thoughtful frown grew on his pale face. He could not remember Fadestar ever answering like that. In fact, he wasn’t even sure she knew the proper way to shape her mouth for such a call. He had certainly never heard her do it before.
Curiosity raised, he crept forward on silent feet and, just as he reached the doorway, he repeated the delicate, complicated whistle. Nothing answered him and he peered into the den. A face suddenly appeared from the other side, nose to nose and so close that he couldn’t make out the features until he reeled back in surprise, nearly losing his balance in his shock. Girlish laughter greeted his reaction and, once again steady, Newt looked up to see Foxtail standing in the doorway. He felt the blood rush to his pale cheeks and fidgeted from foot to foot as if checking his balance. Anything was better than nothing to do in defense of the surprise and laughter, he figured.
The giggles faded slowly in the face of his blush and, giving him a strange little smile, Foxtail leaned against the smoothly shaped wood with a lazy grace. “That was pretty good,” she announced. “Have you done it for Dreamflight yet?”
Newt risked another glance up at her before shaking his head briefly. Though they were all part of one tribe and he knew that Foxtail was quite friendly with both of his adopted sisters, he still - even after four turns of the seasons - felt like he was confronting a stranger in her. He had heard that she was wild and irresponsible but he really hadn’t noticed it himself. Not to the extent the stories went, anyway. Maybe she could be too loud and quick at times, he thought. He could understand that; he had watched her ride out with the hunt, howling her joy at the freedom. But was she too loud and quick for the rest of the tribe? It seemed strange when he compared those glimpses to the likes of Crackle and Rill.
Now here she stood in his friend’s weaving den, quiet and watching him curiously, seeming to put further doubt in the stories told. She did not seem so much the chief’s impossible daughter in that instant. She seemed more like what he remembered of her mother, in fact, but with a warmer smile. Then he remembered a few things muttered here and there about her punishment and her resulting behavior and he cocked his head to one side and studied her back with determination.
Foxtail laughed again in response to his new expression. Lifting a hand, she motioned for him to come closer before she abruptly shifted her weight to roll and slip away from the doorway, stepping further into the weaving den. “I’d say she’s the best in the Holt,” she continued. “Better even than Notch and he’s made a study of it for…” She looked over her shoulder with a smile full of mischief. “Well, let’s just say Dreamflight whistles like a bird because she’s as sweet and fluffy as one. He’s not.”
Once she had determined that Newt was inclined to follow even further, Foxtail returned to a little nest of pillows stuffed with sweet-smelling grass. She sank onto them in an easy cross-legged position and drew an abandoned lap loom back towards her. Something pale and silky-looking shone from the pegs, just beginning to form into something usable. She plucked at a loose thread with nimble, calloused fingers and then looked back up at him. “Something steal your tongue away, cub?” she teased.
“I’m not a cub.” Newt felt his cheeks flush again at his instinctive, indignant response. He fidgeted for a moment until he managed to hook his thumbs into the wide leather belt at his waist and his eyes flicked between the fabric growing on the loom and Foxtail's face. Catching a roll of her eyes, his mouth thinned and he muttered, "I just didn't know you were here, is all."
"I know. I'm sorry." She seemed to realize he had caught the unguarded reaction and held out a hand in peace offering. “I don’t know why but that’s always what everyone says when they find me here.” When Newt made no immediate move to take her hand, she gave it a little shake before grinning and dropping it to the loom once more. “I can’t really be as rare as a snow-white branch-horn, right? I’ve been coming to the weaving den for ages. Ever since my mother,” the pause was so slight that he almost missed it, “made it clear this would be the best place to get her attention.”
The ghost of Whispersilk hung between them for a moment and then, with a quick move, Newt crossed and dropped to sit on the pillows beside the redhead. His face shone with concern and sympathy, the momentary prickle of pride gone. Now he reached out to pat her hand of his own free will. “Is that why you’re here?” he asked softly.
She looked at his hand on hers first, then at the loom on her lap, and smiled faintly. "Not really," she admitted as she lifted her glittering eyes back to his face. "Not anymore."
Newt wound his fingers more firmly with hers as he met her gaze evenly. The surprise gone, he felt steady again and curiosity rose in him. "So why do you come here then? Do you want to be a weaver?"
A strange little laugh escaped Foxtail at his question but there was nothing unkind in it and she squeezed his hand to add reassurance. "I'm not my mother," she replied as she dragged the fingers of her free hand across the slowly-growing fabric. "She would've had this done before last moons-rise." She sent him a side-ways smirk. "If no one bothered her, that is. Funny how the experts get the most annoyed at interruptions, isn't it? Does Cloudfern snap if you bother him when he's mucking about with his healing plants?"
"Not really." He paused, considered the question, and then grinned. "But I'm officially learning things from him so I suppose that makes all the difference. Were you ever…?"
"No." Foxtail shook her head. "Not like Fadestar became or not even like Dreamflight or Nightstorm." Her fingers traced a few idle circles over the tight stretch of fibers before slipping down in a straight line, nail catching and plucking at the final thread. She seemed to be considering his question a bit further and Newt waited. He was a good listener and he knew patience always paid off in the end. Watching her toy with the thread again, a strange expression that he could not read growing on her pretty face, he thought this wait could prove incredibly worthwhile. He hardly knew her, could barely keep it in his head to think of her as "chief's daughter" or herself, and that bothered him. Everyone was entitled to be who they were.
He started when he felt the weight of her head come down on his shoulder. Twisting his head, he looked at the tumbled mess of red curls, her expression masked now. "Foxtail?" he asked curiously.
"I'm not like her at all," came the quiet response, and he had to remember the earlier thread of the conversation before it made sense. Her mother. She was not like her mother.
Newt gave her hand another squeeze. "No," he agreed. "Probably not. I don't really remember her but..." He trailed off, realizing that he might say the wrong thing if he continued. "But why do you say that?"
Her head lifted and she pulled her hand away to hold up the loom with both hands for him to see. "Because this has taken me two moon rises," she explained. "It gets so incredibly boring and then I have to get up and move." Despite the annoyance in her tones, Foxtail set the loom aside carefully. Then she dropped both hands behind herself to brace as she leaned into the motion, head tipping back to stare up at the ceiling. "I can't stay still like that. There's too much to do outside of here. Besides, if I don't take Briarfoot out enough, she's going to get old and fat faster than she already is." Newt watched a faint, fond smile curve the redhead's full lips at the thought.
He felt his own smile grow and he settled back on braced arms, duplicating her posture and looking upwards to follow her gaze. Even he knew the excuse was a silly one and he hardly knew her at all. "You do hunt a lot," he agreed encouragingly. "Not just trapping but the chase, too."
"What do you do?"
Newt startled at the question and twisted to look at Foxtail with wide, pale eyes. "What do I do?" he repeated. He thought maybe he should feel anger at her question. After all, it could be taken as an accusation. She hunted and wove and trapped and ran and he... Did what? But Foxtail faced him now and there was just a mild sort of interest on her face and no bitterness rang in her words. For some reason, he remembered Otter's question once - What did you dream? It seemed the same kind of question. So he gave a small shrug and a smile before unlocking his arms and slipping back to lay flat on her cushions. "I learn," he answered honestly. "I'm learning to weave the nets for fishing but I like the spear more. It's more... involved. Like going out to gather herbs instead of just knowing how to use them." He brought his arms up and behind his head, fingers laced. "Being able to recognize the plants and figuring out where to look for them, it sort of makes using them more powerful. I'm learning everything. Not just some of the things.”
“All of the things,” the redhead supplied with a faint laugh. “I know the idea. I’ve heard all about it from my father and Blacksnake.” Foxtail looked at him, sideways and teasing again, the moment of her solemn introspection past. “You are a special sort of elf, Newt,” she announced. “Have you ever balked at anything anyone’s ever asked of you?”
Her choice of words gave him pause – he was his parents’ special cub, the special case, the one with special needs – but Newt soon caught himself and smiled. “Maybe once,” he admitted. Foxtail raised her eyebrow in clear disbelief. Sheepishly, he looked down at his leathers, touched the bottom hem of his shirt lightly, and shrugged. He really didn’t like to think of the fuss he made when Cloudfern tried to replace his clothing. He was still learning a lot of things, he supposed.
Looking up, he found Foxtail’s leaf-green eyes bright with expectation and he shook his head. Her lips parted and she half-sat up but then, strangely, she nodded and sank back into her original position. He tilted his head like a curious bird. Now he was the one with a question that he could not decide how to ask. It was a strange feeling, wanting to ask someone he barely knew deeper questions. Newt had enough intuition and sensitivity to read something behind her instinctive move. Just as he knew there was something that had drawn her back. Again, he thought of her punishment and held his tongue.
As if she felt his questions and thoughts, Foxtail shifted beside him restlessly. Finally, she sat up with a sigh and her hand slipped over to twine her fingers with his. She squeezed and then released him, moving to retrieve the loom once more. She looked at it for a moment, thoughtful consideration clear on her face. Then, quite abruptly, she wound the remaining strands up and stood to return the small loom to a shaped shelf against the wall. Turning back to Newt, she held out her hand and smiled.
Newt hesitated for only a moment, uncertain at the sudden change, but then he slipped his pale hand into hers and a laugh escaped him when she used her weight and leverage to haul him to his feet. “I’m done weaving,” she announced. “I’m about to go howling here.” She met his confused expression with an even more vibrant grin. Her hand closed more firmly once more on his and she gave him a little jerk towards her as she stepped towards the door. “If the moons are still high, cub, how about you show me what you’ve learned about the river?”
Somehow her teasing use of “cub” seemed like affection this time and Newt nodded, accepting the name just this one time in a good spirit. He squeezed her hand in return, taking a few quick steps to balance himself before shifting his weight to pull her after him. “Come on, then,” he laughed. “I’ll show you some of those things you’ve heard about.”
If he was surprised at her ready obedience, Newt decided to let it go without comment. For now, it was enough that he could be the expert and the chief’s wild daughter could be quiet.