The silence in front of the Dentrees was tight, only disturbed by one or the other whispered guessing. Chicory had made it clear that she wanted her privacy – even Blacksnake and Windburn had been sent out. Only Starskimmer and the father-to-be shared the experience of the birth of their new tribe member.
It was by far not the first birth Thornbow remembered. He had seen a lot of elf cubs being born into his tribe, and each had filled him with a deep wish to be father some day as well: to have a daughter or a son he could teach his wisdom and tricks.
He had felt this strongest when Windsong, his former lovemate, had given birth to Evervale.
His eyes searched for Windsong. Now that Suddendusk had a new Recognized, he couldn't help but wonder. Would they part or stick together? He searched for the will to get Windsong back but couldn’t find it. She had made her choice and he had made his. He didn't want to be second once again.
A loud wail kept him from drifting off too far in his thoughts.
What a set of lungs this new cub had!
Starskimmer popped her head out of the den and smirked, announcing loud enough for all to hear: “We have a new girl-cub!” she called. “A healthy one if you couldn't hear it. Welcome Glow with a loud howl!”
Smiling, the archer raised the jar of dreamberry wine in honour of the new parents, leaned his head back and joined the howl of joy from the rest of the tribe. He touched the mind of both Chicory and Rainpace to congratulate them but noticed they were all drowned in the bliss of having a cub together now.
He smirked widely and took another deep sip from his jar. The silence was broken, and he heard eager exchanges going all over the place: One-Leg's boasting about the healthy lungs of his niece's daughter; Windburn holding Cinder on his arm, who seemed wide-eyed with wonder and curiosity; Willow and Notch discussing which den the pair would eventually choose now.
Thornbow brought himself to his feet, eager to go over to his chief and friend Windburn to congratulate him on his new niece. His steps felt a little unsteady, he noticed. One of the three jars of wine must have been a little too strong on him. He smirked though, steadying his step fast.
His way through the gathered elves was a tough one with the jar in his hand. He had placed himself further back since the family should have the first look at the new cub. Glow, he reminded himself. His mind reached out to Windburn to say his well-wishes when he bumped into someone.
“Ow!” said a familiar voice, and violet eyes meet his green gaze.
“I'm sorry,” he told Nightstorm. None of them had fallen, no one seemed harmed, so he was about to go on until a gasp and then a howl of frustration stopped him. Thornbow was familiar enough with Nightstorm to know she could be difficult.
“Look at what you have done!” she exclaimed and dared him in an added sending to turn around. The archer did so and was confronted with a stare of her big eyes and a pretty little jumper soaked in wine. “Look at this!” she said again. “Oh, bats tangle in your long hair, Thornbow. This was supposed to be a gift for the babe.”
She took the jumper down and looked at the damage in misery. It didn't look too bad to Thornbow. It was just wine. It would wash out.
“Some water and rubbing salt will solve the problem,” he offered.
Nightstorm gave him a dangerous glare. “I wanted to give it to Chicory this night. This night won't be enough to clean this mess!” she said and held the stained leather under his nose. “Or do you want for the little one to get drunk on wine on her first day of life? Do you want her to smell like One-Leg after a long night in Starskimmer's den?”
There sure were crueller fates, Thornbow thought to himself, but was wise enough not to say so. Instead he rolled his eyes. “You just have to rub hard enough. And so what if you don't give it to her just now? You know yourself they will be all wrapped up for the rest of the night, sniffing and observing the newborn.” His voice was steady and calm but that only seemed to rouse Nightstorm all the more. She had to know he was right, though.
“I have to scrub?” she asked with a dry laugh and changed her posture, now having her hips cocked to the side and her chin up. “I don't think so, archer,” she huffed.
He frowned, getting the bad feeling he knew where this was going. He measured the tanner up and down, seeing the glint in her eyes challenging him. Then, without warning, she pushed the jumper into his hand and snatched the jar of wine from his other.
“Hey!” he protested, but she already had wrapped her fingers around his arm like a she-wolf would clench her teeth around the neck of a challenger.
“You will scrub!” she corrected him and pulled him along mercilessly. He tried to struggle, but for such a fair female she was rather strong when upset.
At the stream, Nightstorm finally released the struggling archer at what was her favourite spot for washing. There were a few flat stones right at the edge of the river that one could kneel on, smaller ones were within reach if you needed one to beat out a particularly stubborn spot, and a broad willow nearby provided thick roots, perfect for company to sit while chatting. It was on one of these roots that Nightstorm dropped down on, making an unmistakable gesture to Thornbow – though she wasn't really in a mood for chatting. “Go on then,” she demanded.
Thornbow shot a short look at her. He was her elder, and she shooed him around like a misbehaving cub that deserved punishment. His green eyes narrowed at the look of the ruined jumper in his hands, then he scoffed: “Some salt would fix the problem better, as long as it is still wet.” He tossed the soft leathers back to her. “Put some on it, and we'll see how it looks the night after this. I have some people to congratulate,” he added, still thinking he would rather hunt her a new hide than scrub this piece while they celebrated the birth of Glow at the Dentrees.
“Oh, that would suit you fine, wouldn't it?!” Nightstorm cried, on her feet again in a flash. “You ruined it, you big, drunken marshbeast, you alone, so you're going to fix it, if it means I'll make you work your fingers to the bone!” She nearly stamped her feet. “And by Owl's madness, I sure won’t do your work while you run off to celebrate!”
He rolled his eyes at her outburst. The memories of her moods while pregnant with Longshot forced themselves into his mind and he shuddered. The tanner always had been full of emotions. He remembered he had told Moss so, back then. Now she proved it again.
“You ran into me,” he huffed but snatched the jumper back from her. “I just offered you an easier way to handle this. We both could enjoy the celebration.”
“You just want to get out of the work, you lazy wolf!” Nightstorm pointed an accusing finger. In all fairness, she knew that Thornbow was one of the least lazy elves in the tribe, but right now she was not up to listening to reason, even her own. “The sooner you get it done, the sooner we can get back to celebrate.”
He huffed, not commenting on her insult. He instead let it roll down his back. Apparently there was no reasoning with her right now. “You know that both Chicory and Glow will be there tomorrow as well and most likely much more in the mood for visitors,” he pointed out while kneeling down. This was just ridiculous. “It's a piece of leather. It will not wilt or waste over the day,” he growled while dipping it unto the water until it was soaked.
If Nightstorm was soothed by his relenting and starting to work, it was blown right away when he insulted her precious gift. A piece of leather! The tanner stood behind him like a personified storm cloud, violet eyes all but burning a hole into his back. Only the fact that he was indeed starting to work kept her from flying into a full rage. “A piece of leather!” she repeated, as if she had to hear the incredulous claim in her own voice to believe he could have said so. “A piece of leather! You oaf, I'd like to see your face if someone called one of your precious bows a piece of wood!”
That stung a nerve but Thornbow tried to hold it back and scrubbed the spot harder. He wanted to be done and go before more of her mood rained down on him. She was right. As a craftsman himself he knew he had hit a sore nerve, but he refused to apologize when she was so unreasonable. “Let's get this done and go separate ways for the night,” he growled.
He was most likely too late to get a place in Starskimmer's furs, but there were others. They both could hear the distant beat of Moss' drum, and he rubbed faster. He didn't want to miss it all by arguing with Nightstorm.
Nightstorm huffed, a sound both of annoyance but also of acceptance. She sure would be glad to see his back once they got back to the holt, and she didn't want to miss out on all the fun, either. But first her creation had to be saved! “All right,” she deigned to answer more calmly now. Walking back the few steps to the willow, she sank back onto her seat as she watched him with sharp eyes. He better not tear the soft leather…
Her foot nudged something, and she looked down to discover in surprise that it was the jar of dreamberry wine that had started all the trouble. She didn't even remember that she hadn't put it away after taking it off Thornbow, but had kept it in her hand on their way down to the river. For a moment she was about to push it away – the dreamberry wine was as much at fault as Thornbow. But well, it was dreamberry wine … And it wasn't its fault that Thornbow couldn't take a drink and keep his feet under control.
In silent grumbling, Thornbow scrubbed the leather, then held it up after a while. The berry red patch had faded but not vanished. Of course not. How should it? He still thought the salt might have been the better idea.
Yet he was tired of this and wrung the soft leathers between his hands, turning to her. His jaw almost dropped seeing her sipping his wine. Narrowing his eyes, he went over to her and dropped the soaked piece into her lap. “Done,” he announced unceremoniously.
Nightstorm looked up at him and was severely tempted to raise the jar at him in mock salutation. With the wine coursing through her body, she was feeling distinctly more relaxed now. She fought down the impulse, though, to concentrate on what counted. Setting down the wine, she picked up the piece and turned it over in her hands, ignoring the cold water soaking her breeches because of it. “It's still visible,” she huffed, displeased.
“Yes, but if you'd listened to me and used the salt it wouldn't be as visible tomorrow,” he snorted. “That's the best I could do.”
Nightstorm growled, her just-soothed hackles rising again at the dismissive tone. “Oh yeah, you know so much about cleaning leather, I know,” she answered but kept her voice calm. “Well, I guess it will have to do – if that is the best you can do.” Her words were underlined by a pointed look.
“Go do it yourself if you are not satisfied with my work,” he growled back, his voice dangerously deep in his throat. This elf ruffled his fur!
Of course that would be entirely reasonable, but Nightstorm definitely was not in the mood to be reasonable – and she was determined not to do as he told her tonight. “Still trying to get me to fix your mistakes?” she harrumphed.
“Trying to make you make you think, tanner,” he snarled back. She ruffled him like no one had in a while.
Nightstorm turned up her chin at him in a haughty gesture, sending black tresses flying. “If I need someone to teach me a lesson, I'll talk to my sister, not to a bumbling oaf like you.”
“We can call her if you like and see who she'd agree with,” he gave back and made a step closer toward her.
“And what if I don't like?” Violet eyes captured and held the green gaze with a challenge, stubbornly determined not to give him even the slightest bit of ground.
He made another step toward her so their noses were almost touching and brought his reply down to the growl of a dominant wolf warning a lower-ranked to back off.
The tanner did not shrink back but held his gaze, her challenge undiminished. A growl of her own rumbled in her chest, and she planted her feet a bit wider apart, leaving no doubt that she'd rather fight tooth and claw than show throat.
The send of the archer was wordless but carried impressions and feelings: **Unreasonable! Cubbish! Thick-headed!** The growl got a bit louder and his position shifted as well.
**Full of yourself! Blundering! Stubborn!** she threw back at him.
**Nerve-wracking itch in the fur!** he returned, his breath brushing over her lips when he growled. Yet the aggression had faded in it. This was another kind of growl.
No one had ruffled his pelt like she did now in a while. And he had missed it.
**Stupid, inconsiderate oaf.** Though she wasted no time in giving as good as she got, Nightstorm's stance shifted subtly, reacting to the change she sensed in her opponent. Though her gaze never wavered, a new, guarded expression slipped into it – almost curiously.
**Stubborn emotional twit.** The growl had turned soft, almost fond. He brushed his lips along hers over her cheek. She smelled like red wine and leather. A good mix in his nostrils. **Nerve wracking itch in my furs.**
Nightstorm brought up her hands to his chest, uncurling still-clenched fists to lay flat against the fabric of his tunic, feeling the warmth of his body through it. She inclined her head, just enough to imply not defeat but ready acceptance. **Scratch that itch,** she sent back playfully. **in MY furs.**
A lupine grin was the answer. More wasn't needed. She grinned back and grabbed him by the collar of his tunic, dragging him along with her back to the Dentrees.
It was still light outside when she woke up. Some late-hour sun rays were filtering through the little windows shaped in the walls of her den above head height, and Nightstorm wondered for a moment why she hadn't closed the curtains covering them before she went to bed.
|Illustration by Yvonne B.|
Stretching lazily, she let herself sink back into the furs, enjoying the last dredges of sleep pulling at her to succumb once more – it was still light, so it was too early to be up anyway. The tribe had celebrated its newest member the last night which meant late rising for about every one of them.
The thought had barely passed through her mind when she became aware of something – she wasn't alone in her den. There was the sound of deep, even breathing, and a presence that was almost tangible. Turning her head, she spotted long golden hair and below the tousled mass of it, an elfin face in undisturbed, blissful sleep. Thornbow.
She sat up abruptly, the furs sliding off her as she stared at him. Their clothes were strewn all over the den but she spotted the little jumper lying next to her breeches. Right … That was how it had started. The tanner made a derisive noise out loud. And now he was lying there as innocent as a new-born whelp.
As if he had felt her gaze, the archer moved and opened his eyes, looking up at her through narrow, sleepy slits. “Hello kitten,” he said in a low voice.
Nightstorm smiled and braced herself on her arms, observing him appreciatively. “Hello,” she gave back easily.
Thornbow yawned, then sat up and looked around the den. If he was remembering their fight, he certainly didn't show it. Instead, he got up and made the few steps required to get to the den flap and pulled it away for a short glance outside. The late sun outside briefly fell into the den, and Nightstorm raised a hand to shield her eyes.
When she let it sink again, she was met with a smug grin. Thornbow bent to pick up his breeches while he off-handedly remarked: “Well, I checked. The world is still standing.”
Nightstorm looked at him confused. “What?” she asked.
“It didn't crumble,” he replied, doing nothing to clear up her confusion, as he slid into the breeches.
“What?” she repeated. “Of course not! Why would it?”
“Because you didn't give Chicory your present last night.”
He came up grinning smugly at her again, and she felt her blood boil. Jumping up, she was at his side in an instant and pushed him, her small strong hands against the bare skin of his back. “Oaf!” she cried. “Stupid, smug, pig-headed fool! Out! Out, I say!”
He struggled a bit but she kept pushing until she had him outside of her den, on the steps shaped into the tree's body, and his tunic followed next, hitting him in the bare chest. One last “Oaf!” was heard for good measure, then the den flap fell closed again.
Inside the den, Nightstorm stood for a moment, breathing heavily, listening. Only when she heard the sound of steps moving away, down the tree, she moved again, too. With a sigh she bent down to pick up her discarded clothes, fold them and put them away. But when she picked up the little jumper, a smug little grin of her own played around the corners of her mouth.
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