(This story is a part of the ”Consequences of Willow’s Rogue Healing” storyline, and is related to the events in ”The Lesson of the Last Healer” -- see list for related stories.)
The hunt had been successful by most measures. The hunters carried the branch-horn meat triumphantly.
But Evervale hunched over her wolf's back feeling pain and embarrassment. Longshot's arrows had hit their marks and the branch-horn fell heavily to the ground, its head and shoulders driving into the soil and blood dripping down its flank and neck. When Evervale had dashed forward to finish the kill, her foot had caught on a tree root hidden by fallen leaves. It happened so quickly, Evervale had barely been able to keep her face from driving into the ground like the branch-horn’s. She'd flung her left hand clumsily in front of her chest while she kept her right hand, which held her knife, off to the side. She felt her cheek, arm, stomach and knees hit the ground soundly, the wind in her lungs whooshed out her mouth as she took the impact. Her knife bounced away as she lost her grip.
Notch hadn’t been far behind and he ran past Evervale to finish the kill for her. He sliced the branch-horn’s throat in one quick motion, and then he looked back to his fellow hunter. Beetle was already kneeling by Evervale’s side.
“Are you all right?” she asked, setting a hand on the young hunter’s back. Evervale groaned and turned to the side. Just about everything hurt, but especially the wrist she had hastily thrown in front of herself to break the fall.
Beetle noticed Evervale’s foot was tangled under a tree root and focused her attention on that when she didn’t answer. Once Beetle had helped her move her foot out from under the root, Evervale sat up and moved the ankle experimentally.
Evervale felt her face burn from embarrassment as the entire hunting party started to gather around. She brushed off her shirt and pants, smoothed her hair back, and then carefully pushed herself up to stand, taking care to use her right hand and not the injured one. Longshot retrieved Evervale’s knife and handed it back to her. Evervale sheathed it while she stood with most of her weight on her unharmed foot.
“Are you all right?” Longshot echoed.
Evervale nodded and forced a smile. “It’s mostly my pride that’s been hurt,” she answered. The other elves smiled and laughed, relieved that the injury had been minor. At least, that’s how Evervale made it seem.
As always, when the hunters returned to the Holt, they were greeted with enthusiasm. Meat was shared as readily as stories of the hunt. True Edge gestured towards Evervale during his recount of the final attack that brought down the branch-horn. “Evervale took a tumble and twisted her ankle.”
"It’s fine," Evervale insisted, brushing away his comment with a sweep of her hand. Never-the-less, those gathered who were listening couldn’t help but notice she dismounted Halfmoon rather carefully, putting weight on the ankle in question slowly and with a small wince.
Cloudfern appeared at Evervale’s side before she could protest any further. Evervale smiled with some air of resignation and allowed the herbalist to examine her ankle. “Looks all right,” he said after a moment. “Anything else busted up?”
With only another moment of hesitation, Evervale held out her wrist. “It took my weight when I fell. It’s pretty sore.”
“Hmm. It looks red. I can wrap it or put a splint around it. If you see any swelling, I’d recommend seeing Willow.”
"That's all right," Evervale answered, perhaps a little too quickly. “It's good for a hunter to deal with a little pain."
“Sure, but… if it swells, something could be broken. A splint will help, but if the bone heals wrong by itself, you could have trouble with it for turns.”
“I’ll… I’ll keep it in mind,” Evervale answered slowly. She followed Cloudfern to his den to get a splint and hoped it would be enough.
The following day, Evervale, Longshot and Pathmark lay in their furs, resting after the eventful night. In his sleep, Longshot rolled over and put an arm around Evervale and was shocked awake when she cried out. All three elves sat up, Longshot and Pathmark looking at Evervale with bleary and worried eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Longshot asked. Evervale, feeling just as surprised as anyone, carefully pulled her arm out from under the covers. When her lovemate had pulled her closer, sharp pain had blasted through wrist and hand. Even now, her fingers ached from the contact.
“Pain just shot through my hand!” Evervale admitted.
Pathmark leaned over to take a look, his eyes well-adjusted to the darkness of the den. “Can you move it all right?” he asked.
She moved her wrist experimentally. “More or less,” Evervale answered, wincing. She slowly laid back down, careful to keep pressure off that side. “It will be fine. I just need to rest it.”
Both Longshot and Pathmark lingered in their sitting positions for a moment, then finally they laid down as well.
Longshot raised his eyebrows in thought. “I heard what Cloudfern said. You should have Willow look at it in case it’s broken.”
Evervale felt renewed embarrassment at her fall. She would rather have sustained an injury by the prey attacking her than to have earned it through her own clumsiness. “Maybe…” she answered evasively.
“I’m sure Willow would be happy to look at it,” Pathmark offered easily. He was perplexed when Evervale said absolutely nothing. He pushed himself up to one elbow to look over Longshot at her. “You know that, right?”
A pause. Then, “Of course.” Evervale closed her eyes and said nothing more. She could feel Pathmark's eyes on her. Moments passed before he lay back down. Evervale felt tense for several moments. She listened carefully to her lovemates and only when their breathing settled into a slow rhythm did she slightly relax.
Evervale laid on her back and looked up at the ceiling. It was dark in the den and she knew many of the elves would be rising for the night by now. She wondered if Willow was awake. Evervale chewed on her lower lip. Her wrist continued to twinge. Her ankle was also still sore from getting caught on the root, but that didn’t seem as bad.
She clenched her teeth and stared more intently at the curve in the ceiling above. She didn’t want to admit it, but going to Willow for a healing wasn’t an easy option for her. The first and last time she had felt Willow’s powers, it had been a pain-touch. She had forgiven Willow for the incident and hadn’t told anyone about it. But after participating in the sending about Owl, that incident had bothered her more than before.
Pain-touch. That was how Owl started on his terrible path. Willow had caused pain with her powers. It had been unintentional, Evervale knew. Willow seemed as shocked as she had been. Since then, Willow had been on a difficult journey to understand and control her powers. She had made a very bad decision to open Brightwood’s cocoon without permission and without Farscout nearby. Evervale was a trusting and forgiving elf, but she found this particular incident difficult to get past. She wearily closed her eyes and tried to think of a way to avoid asking Willow for healing.
When Evervale next opened her eyes, she found those of her fair-haired lovemate staring back at her.
Pathmark smiled. “How is your wrist this evening?” he asked.
Evervale sat up slowly, her head still muzzy from sleep. Evervale moved her wrist and gritted her teeth to keep from crying out. Pathmark was watching her closely. Evervale looked back into her lovemate’s eyes and knew she couldn’t lie to him. “It’s quite painful,” she admitted.
“It could be broken.” Evervale sat up to protest, but Pathmark put a hand up. “I thought about it last night and I think I know what’s going through your mind.”
Evervale sat in stunned silence and waited to hear what he would say. “Willow,” he finally said. Evervale felt her cheeks redden. Parthmark just smiled softly, his kind eyes looking at her knowingly. “She’s my sister… it’s easier for me to forgive her.”
“It’s not that…” Evervale answered, her eyes darting away from Pathmark’s face.
“No?” Pathmark said, his eyebrows rising.
“Not exactly. I… I don’t know.” Evervale slumped on the bed and dropped all pretenses. If she couldn’t talk to Pathmark, who could she talk to? “It’s not a matter of forgiveness. It’s trust. I want to trust her, but… is she truly in control of her powers, now?”
“She’s learned a lot, Evervale. She’s focusing on controlling her powers and using them in ways that will help the tribe. She’s come a long way. Remember when she couldn’t even bear to touch another elf?”
Evervale remembered all too well. It was only a simple touch, a gesture of friendship, that had triggered the pain-touch.
“You can trust her,” Pathmark said with utter confidence. “She learned a great deal from her mistake with Brightwood’s cocoon. You can be sure she won’t risk losing anyone’s trust again. She wants to do what’s right.”
“Here.” Pathmark stood and held out a hand. “I’ll go with you.”
Evervale looked at his hand, then into Pathmark’s trusting face. Willow had saved his life. She had healed all of those cocooned, save one. If the tribe was going to get past this, and not follow the path that had led to Owl’s death, everyone had to work together to rebuild trust.
Evervale took a breath, then took his hand.