It was a short while before the sun would set and most of the Holt slept peacefully in their dens. Honey, however, was roused from her sleep by the sounds of motion outside and an odd tickling on the edge of her awareness. She could almost swear she smelled the blood of a stag and felt the exhilaration of running with the pack. Only she had never done that herself, she had only experienced it in the tales and sendings of others. That was when she realized what this was - someone was sending to her, but not in words. It was in sensations and though it was possibly the simplest sort of sending, much like the wolves used, it carried for her a profound impact.
Only two nights earlier, she had managed to persuade Mooncrier to accept her. Honey wanted to ride with the Hunt and to feel the thrill of her wolf-blood. It was one of the most primal of urges for a wolfrider, and for her it might well be a way to redemption. She didn’t necessarily have words to describe how she felt since awakening from her long slumber, but she didn’t need those words to know that it was not how she wanted to be forever.
Crawling from her furs, she made her way to the hide flap which led outside. Pulling it back she peered into the pale evening light which remained. It was still hot outside and a light summer rain was falling. Outside, below her den and on ground level, stood True Edge. He was flanked by Charm, Duskgreeter and her own Mooncrier. All four of them seemed oblivious to both the rain and the early hour. It was from him that the sensations of riding with the Hunt were coming.
**Get your spear,** he sent, seeing now that she was awake.
For a moment she merely stared at him as if he had lost his mind. **Why?** she asked. She didn’t expect him, of all elves, to take her desire to hunt seriously.
**You’ll need your spear to hunt of course… if you’re still up for it.**
**It’s early, though… and raining…** True, she wanted to hunt, but old habits died hard. She was not used to rising at such odd hours to go running about the forest in the rain.
**The tribe does not hunger only in fair weather, Honey, or only when you have slept a full day. Catch up or not, we leave now.**
With that, he and the three wolves turned to go. Mooncrier looked once up at Honey, as if reminding her of the reason she had come to the she-wolf in the first place, and then turned to walk after the elder elf and the other two wolves. Seeing them go, Honey cursed softly under her breath before quickly grabbing her leathers and spear. She dressed herself for the most part as she scrambled to catch up with True Edge’s long strides. Though she wasn’t certain, she rather thought he might be walking more slowly then normal, at least until she caught up.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked, genuinely confused. Honey had expected that Windburn would give her a chance, though she suspected it would take a lot of convincing. Some other elves she knew would support her in the choice also. But True Edge did not strike her as one to hold her in any esteem. If she was expecting an answer from him, though, she was disappointed. He merely continued to walk, an odd, intense expression on his face, as if he was concentrating on something she couldn’t see.
They walked on like this in silence for a very long time. The sky above them darkened as the sun set and he led her in the direction of Badger’s Lake. Honey tried to emulate his silence and observe what he was doing, but for the life of her, she wasn’t entirely sure what that was. His silence began to vex her and as they walked quietly around the edge of the lake she began to grow more irritated with every step.
“Are we going to walk all night in silence?” she growled.
**Your voice will scare our prey. Send instead.**
She stopped in mid-stride, not quite believing him. When she replied, she did remember the admonishment and sent it instead of speaking.
**You’re really going to help me? Why? I didn’t think you would care if I succeeded or not.**
At that, he turned towards her, his expression clearly displeased, but for the moment he held his own counsel. Instead of any reply to her, he stopped and inspected a spot on the ground. After a few moments, he gestured for her to come join him and pointed to the track he had been looking at.
**What do you see, Honey?**
The obvious answer was a deer track in the soft mud. That seemed too easy, though, and she now understood that she was being tested.
**It’s… a deer track,** she offered uncertainly, and then added, **It looks like a large one. Do you think it is still close?**
She couldn’t keep the sound of her hope from her sent reply. For the first time this night, a hint of a smile crossed True Edge’s face.
**Yes, he is close. Look at the tracks farther back,** he sent, pointing along the deer’s path as it had approached the lake. **The farther away they are, the less distinct they are. The rain washes them away. Follow them now with your eyes as they go forward. The newer ones are easier to make out.**
Honey felt a bit of a tingle go down her spine. She had never gone on a real, full-fledged hunt before and it seemed to awaken something from deep inside of her. Looking around she saw the wolves test the air with their noses. As True Edge watched she did the same.
**I smell him. It’s faint, but he was here not too long ago. We can still catch him!**
With that, she almost bolted in the direction her nose said the scent was coming from. She would have run headlong into the woods were it not for the elder's restraining hand on her arm.
**Not so fast. If you’re over-anxious and don’t think it through, you’ll spook the prey before you’re ready. Learn as much as you can before you jump in. Watch the wolves.**
Looking towards them as he said this, Honey could see that they also seemed a bit uncertain. Not so much about the proximity of the prey, but as if they were waiting on a signal of some sort. Then it hit her; of all of them here, these wolves saw True Edge as their chief-wolf. Their instinct was to wait for him to initiate the hunt. As she watched he took a moment to test the air himself, and then, satisfied with what he was smelling, he crept into the woods near the edge of the lake. Giving in to the same instinct that the wolves followed, Honey likewise followed on his heels.
As they snuck along, she now paid more attention to what True Edge was doing. Before, when he looked distracted, she now realized he had been paying far more attention to his surroundings than she had thought. He was listening for the crack of branches, watching for the flick of movement, and had his keen nose ready for any scent of prey. That is what it meant to be a hunter and it was what he was trying to show her now.
Soon, he held up a hand and she stopped in her tracks. Honey was acutely aware now of everything that was happening around her. Though she couldn’t read as much into the tracks as the elder before her could, she had been watching them. The scent of the deer was now almost over-powering. Tracking a live animal like this, with the coming promise of blood and fresh meat, was causing her heart to beat faster. The thought of the chase to come thrilled her in a way she could never have imagined before.
**There he is,** True Edge sent to them all, indicating a point several wolf-lengths ahead of them. Looking in that direction, Honey could just make out the twitch of a white tail and the rustle of hooves. It was, indeed, the stag they had tracked and he was a good-sized one.
**The wolves will spread out and form a half-circle around him. From here he will most likely run towards that dried out creek-bed to your left.**
**What will I be doing?** Honey quivered. She wanted to be there, where the stag would go, and be part of the kill directly, but she knew that she would be more of a hindrance than a help. That she was here at all was incredible… most cubs were tested in small prey long before they took on full-sized deer. She wasn’t a cub, but she might as well be, to the rest of the hunters.
**Waiting here in case he doubles back and jumps over the wolves. Doesn’t happen often but I’ve seen it. Watch and see how it’s done, and afterwards I’ll show you how to clean a kill in the field. It‘s a bit different than gutting fish or cutting up meat that’s carried back to the Holt for you.**
She could see a hint of humor in his expression and read that to mean he would show her how he thought was the best way to do it. Whatever his intent though, True Edge then melted away into the brush, and even knowing where he was and where he was going, Honey had trouble following his motion to the dry creek-bed he had indicated.
Then, everything seemed to happen at once. Honey wasn’t exactly sure if it was a signal that True Edge gave the wolves or if the prey had finally taken notice of them. All she knew was that the stag was suddenly running and that she could hear the wolves charging through the woods in pursuit – and it wasn’t heading towards True Edge, it was heading for a gap in the trees closer to Honey! Without thinking, she began to run as well. The urge to cut the animal off from its escape was the only real thought on her mind.
The instants that followed flowed by like a dream for her. She was aware of the wolves worrying the prey, cutting off its escape and wounding it. The stag ran as hard as it could, taking the time to kick at an over-eager wolf but knowing better than to stand and fight. The smell of blood and fear were thick on the air and Honey, as well as the wolves, were drunk on it.
She reached the gap in the trees a heartbeat before the stag did. When he turned towards her she was surprised to hear herself growl as she charged forward, spear leveled for the strike. Now, with Mooncrier’s jaws clamped onto the stag’s hind leg, Honey got her opening and launched the spear with all her strength. The throw went wild, but hit the beast in the neck as it turned its attention briefly towards her wolf-friend. Surprised by her own ferocity, Honey watched in wonder as the stag reared up, as if to kick her with its forelegs, then fell over, another spear protruding from between its ribs where True Edge struck it from behind.
All was silent for a moment as the beast breathed its last and a final rattle shook its body. A feeling of completion and victory overtook Honey as the deer died. She threw her head back and howled to celebrate her victory. It felt so right, unlike many things of late in her life.
A while later, the wolves feasted on the entrails of the kill as True Edge instructed Honey in the finer points of field-dressing a deer carcass. They had first gutted it, to give the wolves something to eat so that they could skin the body without them damaging the hide. With that done, they quartered the meat and laid it out on the hide. Then the two elves picked a meal from the choice tenderloins that rang along the spine of the animal. Honey was still awash in her victory but curiosity was getting the better of her.
“I still don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, True Edge. I’m grateful, but why did you do all this?”
Swallowing the bit of meat he had been chewing, True Edge wiped the juices from his chin and turned his attention back to Honey.
“It needed doing. Besides, I didn’t think you had it in you to keep coming back to Mooncrier over and over till you won her confidence. You managed to do it, though.”
They both looked over towards the she-wolf, who seemed already to regard Honey in a somewhat different light. It would take a while to fully win her respect, but this had been a step in the right direction.
“Besides,” True Edge continued, “I wanted to see if you had what it takes.”
“You believe I can learn this, then? That I can be a good hunter?.”
“I believe you have a chance. Bear in mind though, the wolves are less forgiving than we elves are. Whining and crying mark you as the lowest in the pack to them. You have a lot of ground to make up.”
The statement stung a bit, mostly because she knew it was true and that was in fact how he saw her. Still, it offered some promise. Honey thought that it indicated that he, and the others, might start to see her in a different light if she tried to be seen in such a way.
Without another word, True Edge stood and gathered up his end of the hide. He had helped her wrap the meat in the skin, teaching her some of the finer points of doing so along the way. She was in too good a mood now though to complain about his acting as if she was wholly ignorant of such things, though in truth she still had much to learn.
From this evening's work, she would have meat to share with the tribe, and that in some part eased the aggravation of him making her feel like an ignorant cub. More importantly, she had earned some respect from her new wolf-bond, and maybe from the tribe as well. With a little luck, that might equate to a little bit more self–respect, too. Taking her cue, Honey stood, gathered up her end of the bundle, and they made their way back home.