“What's wrong with you?” Chicory asked in a mildly annoyed tone. She sat in the entrance of their den in the Mother Tree, sorting a collection of her colorful beads by sliding them on different ropes.
Rainpace just grumbled something inaudible in response. He was lying on his stomach on a nearby branch and had been moody all night.
Chicory could not imagine any reason for her lifemate’s brooding. It was a wonderful, warm night full of the heavy scents of forest, river water and life. A night she could imagine more interesting occupations for if her furmate would show any interest at all. But Chicory knew Rainpace well enough to better not try seducing him when he was in such a mood, because she would not have any success. Therefore she tried to muster patience and continued sorting her beads.
Chicory looked up from her work from time to time to watch Rainpace who kept his eyes on the events below him. At the base of the huge Dentrees, the normal tribe life was going on. Quick Fang and Nightstorm were skinning a deer; Thornbow and Blacksnake were fletching some arrows; and Newt was adding some chaos to the peaceful scene by chasing around the cublings.
Rainpace watched morosely when Rill, Cinder and Glow spontaneously decided to play a new game. Loudly howling, they tried to involve some of the adult wolves in their chase.
“If I didn't know better I'd say you are bored,” Chicory teased, and hoped to elicit a reaction from him this time. Any kind of reaction. Everything was better than brooding silence that hung heavily in the air.
But again, she got no response from her Recognized except a low grumbling.
Scowling, Chicory finally lost her patience with him. One way or another she would make him speak with her. She took a bone bead — one of the less beautiful, of course — and threw it at him. The little ball hit Rainpace directly on the head.
“Ouch!” he complained and turned to her. “What was that for?”
“For ignoring me!” Chicory simply said, and threw a second one. “And this one is for not answering me properly.” Her third bead went with, “That’s for being grumpy all day without reason, ruining my day as well.”
Rainpace recovered quickly. The second bead he had not caught, but he could grab the third before it hit him directly in the face. Angrily, he threw it back without aiming and hit her on the breast bone.
“Ouuuch!” Chicory cried out. “They do hurt!” she added, a bit astonished.
“Oh, really?!” Sarcasm ran through Rainpace's voice and he raised a mocking eyebrow.
As a reply, Chicory did the only thing she always did when in lack of a proper response: she stuck out her tongue at him. But, knowing her, Rainpace did the same just that instant to steal her thunder.
Realizing how ridiculous they must look with both their tongues pointing at each other, the two of them could not help but laugh.
When they finally stopped laughing, silence settled between them. They looked at each other, Rainpace expectant, Chicory a bit uneasy. **Sorry,** she sent at last.
“As well you should be!” Rainpace answered, but he was already mollified.
“Next time, I will use the wooden ones only,” she giggled, and earned a sharp look from him. But the scowling was only half-hearted and she could see amusement twinkling in his eyes. “Are you going to tell me what's bugging you, now?” she gave it a third try.
Rainpace slumped on his branch again. “I dunno.”
Chicory raised an eyebrow.
“Really!” he assured her. “I just do not know. I feel as if something is missing... I can’t explain it.” He made a helpless gesture and gave her an apologetic smile.
Chicory’s look lingered on her lifemate’s back when he turned and continued watching the going-ons below him. She had seldom seen him as unbalanced as he was right now, although she knew quite well how restless Rainpace could be sometimes.
But even in the rare cases when he was not on the word-hunt, or setting and examining traps; when he did not have his hands full with Glow or was practicing with Newt, he usually found something else to occupy himself.
But not today.
Chicory sensed that Rainpace did not want to go any further into this matter, not now at least. Realizing there was no point in pushing him, she turned to her actual task again. She trusted that he would come to her when he finally managed to point a finger at the reason for his imbalance.
So she settled in the den’s entrance more comfortably and began to sort through her precious beads again. Below her the cubs were still shouting and screaming with joy. Being Glow's mother, Chicory was used to more or less constant strain of her ears. She had learned to shut out the noise when concentrating on something else.
A low growling and a shouted warning from Blacksnake made her look down. Obviously the cubs had played too rough with the wolves and Wasp had finally snapped at Rill in annoyance. It was just a warning, but the boy had stepped back in surprise.
In the corner of her eye she saw Rainpace relax again after seeing none of the cubs were hurt. The others at the base of the tree resumed their work as well and the children looked for something else to play. Obviously they had learned their lesson.
Except Rill. He again started to howl and chase the wolves, but this time he only did so with Softjoy and Longhowl. The young wolves seemed to enjoy the chase after their tails and by this the boy found a safer way of continuing his game.
Chicory watched the cub for a while. Obviously Rill was really persistent when he had fun doing something. Relentlessly he ran around the Dentrees, again and again. He nearly fell over the hide Quick Fang and Nightstorm worked on, but the howling did not stop once.
Chicory stole a look at Rainpace and saw that he was intensively watching Quick Fang. She followed his gaze and started wondering why the huntress had not lost her patience with her son long ago.
Rainpace was most likely wondering the same. Who would have thought that a cub would have such a calming influence on wild Quick Fang?
But was that a tiny, annoyed wrinkle Chicory made out between the huntress’s eyebrows? Were Quick Fang’s lips not smaller than usual, pressed together tightly?
Suddenly Rainpace sprang to his feet in a single motion. His former listless expression was replaced by a wide grin... and something else. Something quite familiar to Chicory; something she had not seen often during the last couple of years.
She gave him a curious look but he just grinned even wider, came to her and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
**You'll see. Soon,** he answered her unspoken question, and left.
Chicory watched him making his way from branch to branch into the woods. “Even more capricious than Nightstorm,” she mumbled under her breath. Smiling fondly she returned to her work at hand, finally able to fully concentrate on her task.
Quite a while after Rainpace had left, Quick Fang finally grabbed her son and made him stop howling.
Rill was on his way to the Dentrees. But despite the bored expression on his face his steps became slower the closer he got to his mother’s den.
Glow had been called to bed by her mother a while ago, and Cinder had spent the whole night with Blacksnake. Now the stars were slowly fading and he knew it was time for him to crawl under his own furs. Something he always delayed as long as possible.
He followed the path that had been built by many elven feet between Craft-Trees and Dentrees over the decades. He even bought time by walking in serpentine lines.
Then Rill saw something lying on the path several feet ahead. At the first look it was neither stick nor stone.
|Illustration by Granny C.|
When he came closer Rill realized that it was a very small flute made of wood. He picked it up, sniffed at it and caught Rainpace’s scent. Of course, who else was so obsessed with flutes and other wind instruments than Glow’s father?! Looking around, there was no one to be seen. The trapper must have lost it, obviously.
Rill looked around again to make sure no one was watching and put his lips to the flute. A surprisingly loud and disharmonious sound escaped it when he blew into it.
Rill was delighted.
Thinking that Rainpace would probably not mind lending him the pipe for one or two days, he blew into it again. The noise made some birds take flight from several trees and bushes.
With much lighter feet the boy resumed his way to his and Quick Fang's den while he relentlessly elicited more and more twisted sounds from the flute.
When the boy had finally climbed up the Father Tree — the flute still in his mouth — Rainpace jumped down from the tree he had been sitting on and from where he had watched the whole scene. His plan had worked better than he had thought. By Wolfsister's fangs, the cub really was into everything that was loud.
Rainpace just wished he could see Quick Fang’s face when her son returned to her den. Knowing the boy, Rainpace was quite sure Rill would not stop playing the unnerving thing till midday.
And no one could blame the trapper. It was not his fault that he lost the flute, was it? And it wasn't his doing either that it sounded so distorted. He just had not finished carving the mouthpiece before he “lost” it.
He stood on the path for a while, hands on his hips and a grin from ear to ear on his face just relishing the moment and imagining what was going on in Quick Fang’s den.
“Feeling better now?” a familiar voice asked laconically behind him. When he turned around he saw Chicory leaning against a tree, shaking her head in sheer amusement.
Rainpace flashed her a mischievous grin.
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