Honey bit back tears of frustration. Mooncrier had her ears flat back against her head, and Honey didn't need sending to know that the wolf was in a ferociously bad mood. This was not what the wolf had agreed to when joining with Honey. This was not hunting. This was cub-play, and badly done at that.
**Remember to keep the tip up,** Snowfall reminded her, too far away for spoken words. **These are deer, not fish.**
I can do this, Honey told herself firmly, but without much real hope. They had been practicing for hours, and dawn loomed on the horizon already. It was humiliating and discouraging how bad she had proven to be. She was one of the finest spear-fishers in the Holt, and often won at friendly competitions, but here, on land, she could not get a spear to fly right. The balance was wrong, her grip was wrong, and she could not time Mooncrier's lope with the launch of the tool. She was hopelessly wrong about joining the hunt, and she was clumsy and stupid and trying even Snowfall's endless patience.
Mooncrier took off at the howl from downhill, before Honey was ready, and she had to adjust her grip not to drop the strange-feeling spear. She was holding it wrong when they arrived at the training site. The hanging bag that Thornbow was holding suspended from the treebranch came whistling alongside too fast, and Honey launched the spear without a chance to correct her hold. It went wide, and flew harmlessly into the underbrush without so much as grazing the moving target.
Out of patience, Mooncrier all but shook Honey off, sending her disgust at the elf's incompetence and her impatience with this pointless exercise. She had already left by the time Thornbow had climbed down from his tree and the large stuffed-hide bag — intended to mimick the mass and speed of a galloping deer — had wound down in its swinging oscillations. Snowfall appeared, astride Slychase, from where she had been watching on the ridge.
Honey greeted them with tears. "I'm just not any good at this," she sobbed. "I was stupid to think I could ever do it."
Thornbow wrapped a brotherly arm around her shoulders. "You're just too used to fishing," he said kindly.
Snowfall was frowning, but it was a thoughtful frown, not discouraged. "Your grip was wrong again," she said without accusation.
"M-mooncrier took off faster than I expected," Honey sniveled, scrubbing at her eyes and hating her propensity for tears in the face of exhaustion and adversity. "I thought I was going to drop it."
Neither of the others looked comfortable with her unhappiness, and Honey tried to smother it.
"I think Thornbow is right," Snowfall said simply. "You're too used to fishing with a spear. It's different, and you have learned that method too well."
Even Snowfall had given up on her? Honey felt that as if the swinging hide bag had hit her squarely with all of its weight. She really was hopeless. The tears won her battle for control, and Thornbow squeezed his arm around her.
"Let's try something else," Snowfall said. "Go fetch the spear and meet us at that ridge."
Honey reluctantly left the circle of her brother's arm and trudged into the forest. Abandoned by Mooncrier, she had to find the spear on foot, and it was a good distance away. Her arm didn't lack strength, she thought sourly. She had mostly cried herself out by the time she returned to the ridge Snowfall had indicated.
When she returned to the other two, Thornbow traded her the bow for the spear, but when Honey stepped back, expecting some demonstration, he gestured that she use what she held.
"I... I'm better with the spear?" Where it had once been sure, now Honey didn't feel certain of anything.
"In water," Snowfall agreed. "But that doesn't mean you'll be best at it on land. Try to hit that cedar across the clearing, near the broken branch."
Honey drew a breath to protest, then let it out. She mimicked Thornbow's stance — she had watched her brother doing archery games enough to know the basics — and loosed an arrow without much hope, holding her breath.
It was not a great shot, but it hit the tree at least. Snowfall nodded approvingly. "Again," the huntress said. "And breathe this time."
Honey almost laughed, but made herself breathe instead, drawing back the bowstring with a second arrow nocked. This one was closer, though still no better than a green cub would do.
"Again," Snowfall said. "Point your toe towards your target and keep your elbow down."
A dozen shots, and Honey was keeping the arrows clustered in the space the size of a deer. A dozen more, and the space was shrinking. Her arm screamed in protest — these were new muscles, and her fingers were raw from the bowstring. Snowfall even had her try firing from wolfback, using Slychase because Mooncrier had not returned, first standing still, then at a slow, easy lope. All but once, Honey hit the tree, though a few of the shots would require climbing into the branches to collect the arrows.
"You just had to let go of your expectations," Thornbow told her, taking back his bow and smiling at her fondly when Snowfall finally declared it a night - the sun was well into the sky already. "You did fine."
Honey frowned, looking up at her shot pattern in the dark bark. "I have a long ways to go," she said, but she didn't say it with defeat. Her eyes still felt puffy from her earlier tears.
"You didn't think it would be easy, did you?" Thornbow teased her gently.
Honey blinked. "No," she said reluctantly. "But so much is nothing like I thought it would be."
"Is it all bad?" he asked her.
Honey looked at her sore fingers, flexing them. "No," she said quietly. She thought about all the things that were wrong in her life, all the the things she was terrible at, and the tears that came too easily. Could she leave them aside, with her spear? "No," she repeated more firmly. "Change isn't always bad. Maybe Dreamflight would like this spear."