The rustling had such a familiar tone to it, the wolves didn't even
wake. But it woke Blacksnake, beneath the thick bearskin, wedged
between the warm, furry bodies. He didn't open his eyes, but could
tell through his eyelids that it was still daylight out, if not very
bright. He could hear the steady drip of rain beyond the den's
The rustling stopped. Even without her scent filling the den, he
would have known who it was.
**Put it down, cub,** he sent, and felt her guilty jump back along the link.
"You are awake," said Crackle, accusingly. He felt a weight
settle beside his legs. "How did you know I'd touched anything?"
"Because you never come into my den without touching
everything," he told her, knowing he was good and awake now but
still refusing to open his eyes or poke his head out from beneath the
"I don't touch everything," the cub muttered, contrarily.
"Just everything 'interesting'," he said wryly, and it went without
saying that that was practically everything in the inquisitive cub's
eyes. "You know, One-Leg's den is full of equally interesting things,
and he wasn't out hunting in the rain until dawnslight, either --"
"Oh, I was there already, but he wouldn't wake up," was Crackle's
candid admission. "He and Starskimmer were all curled up in a big
ball, snoring. I think it was One-Leg who was snoring, but maybe
not," she added.
"He was faking," One-Leg's younger brother growled, well able to
imagine the canny older elf playing possum and willing the bored cub
to try her luck in the next den over.
"Really? You think so?" Crackle sounded so surprised -- probably not
that someone had tried to fool her so much as by the idea that she had
been fooled -- that Blacksnake hoped for a moment it might send her
back over there to test the theory. No luck. "Well, anyway, all the
wolves are over here with you, because they think One-Leg and
Starskimmer are boring too."
'All' the wolves really only meant Moss's Weasel and True Edge's
Charm, along with Starskimmer's Tenor. Crackle's own new wolf-friend
Muddypaws was frequently there as well, though not today. It was the
lower-ranking wolves who had a tendency to slip into these
ground-level dens, and on a raw, damp day like this one, Blacksnake
was more than willing to welcome them.
"If Starskimmer is denning with One-Leg today, I bet that means that
Otter is lonely," Blacksnake tried.
"Otter isn't my friend anymore," Crackle announced forcefully.
Resigned, Blacksnake pulled down the heavy fur blanket far enough to
see her with one slitted eye, and yes – yes, that was a pout of major
proportions. The cub slumped against his knees, legs up over Weasel's
rump, and glared at the piece of antler she was turning over and over
in her hands, that she must have picked up after she'd dropped
whatever else she'd had when he told her to. "Oh?" he said, because
he knew he had to. "What's he done?"
"Maybe. So, what's he done, cub?" he repeated, a little impatiently.
Crackle's sullen silence lasted a few more moments, and then she burst
out, "He says he found a flat-tail den and he says he saw four flat-tail babies but he said he wouldn't show it to me 'cause he said
I'm too little and I might scare them and I wouldn't!" Her voice
rose with indignation until even the sleeping wolves' ears twitched. "He called me baby, too. And I'm NOT."
"No, you're not a baby anymore," he agreed. "You're growing up so
fast we don't believe our eyes sometimes. You know better than to
scare any parents who have young – even if they're flat-tails and they
couldn't hurt you." He didn't make it a question, even if he thought
her grasp of the concept was questionable. He said it firmly, for
"I know! I know it'd be bad to scare them. I only said I wished I could hold a baby flat-tail and bring it back to den with us," she
continued. "I said I wouldn't do it."
"Well, good. Because flat-tails don't live in trees, do they?"
Crackle looked thoughtful. "They sort of do, don't they? I mean,
they chew down trees to make their own dens."
"In the water," he said pointedly, and she nodded.
"I said I wouldn't do it," she mumbled again.
"Very wise. You know, there can't be anything about the river that
Otter knows that Chicory doesn't." Blacksnake said this with some
justifiable pride in his own daughter.
"That's true," the cub said slowly.
"So I expect she knows where this flat-tail den is -- don't you?" Actually, all of the adults knew about it, but it didn't suit his
purpose to tell Crackle that.
"Yeah… hey! I bet she'd show me if I asked her, wouldn't she?" The
cub's sullen expression had turned into something crafty.
"I bet she would," he agreed. It was a fair bet. Chicory liked
sharing her knowledge of the creeks and rivers and swamps and their
denizens with anyone who showed interest. "And then you could ask
Otter to come along, and show him you can stalk just as quietly as
"That's right! I can stalk quieter!"
"And then he'd have to admit he was wrong, and you're not such a baby
after all," Blacksnake concluded. While he wasn't sure the girl-cub
was fully up to completely silent stalking, he thought she'd probably
get pretty close if she was motivated enough to try. Close enough to match Otter's skills, at any rate.
"Yeah! I'll show him, and rub his nose in it!" That idea clearly appealed to her most of all. "Then maybe he can be my friend again – if he admits he was wrong."
"That's the spirit, cub. Make him show you a little throat." Blacksnake yawned. Otter might. He wasn't a bad cub at heart, at all. It was just cubs tussling around in practice, learning when to assert and when to back down.
"I wonder if Chicory is awake?" Crackle went on thoughtfully.
It seemed unlikely. "Why don't you go find out?" he said, all innocence.
"I think I will! We could go tonight when the moons rise!" The girl-cub stood up, looking purposeful.
"You do that. Leave that antler when you go, I have plans for that," he told her, watching her leave.
Weasel sighed in his sleep, and resettled. "You know it," Blacksnake told the wolf, pulling the thick bearskin back over his head. He didn't feel guilty at all.