A growl of frustration broke the line of high-pitched notes. It was a rare sound to hear from Newt, but in its passion all the more notable.
Greenweave looked up from the net he was tending and tilted his head to the side. “What's wrong, Star-top?” he asked, startled by this unusual outburst by his cub-of-heart.
“I’m not getting it right,” Newt huffed and stared at the instrument in his hands with a deep angry frown as if the little flute was deliberately refusing him the music he wished it to play.
The fisher smiled his gentle, reassuring smile. Some were gifted, like his friend Moss, and some had to work for their talents. Newt knew this. He usually liked to work for his talents. Some things fell to him easily, like swimming, bird-calling and weaving knots for the nets, but others — like finding the herbs with Cloudfern or using the bow to keep up with his agemates — were more difficult for him.
“You have been trying forever now.” Greenweave pointed out. “Maybe you need a break. Sometimes we need to get some distance to let go of frustration, and recover good spirits.”
Admittedly, it was tempting to tell Newt to drop the flute and turn to something else, but both Cloudfern and Greenweave had agreed to encourage the lad's creative interest, as painful as it might be at times.
“Even if you don’t hear it yet, Newt, you are making progress”, he added.
Newt looked up at him, pouting. “Too little, not enough,” he sighed.
“There’s no such thing as too little or not enough in making progress,” Greenweave reminded him. “Every step forward is a good step.”
The pale boy heaved a sigh and nodded. The truth in this was undeniable, yet it was clear to see the boy was frustrated and disheartened. Scowling deeply, he stared at the source of his misery in his hands.
“How about you help me with this net?” his father asked him, offering a distraction.
Newt nodded and put the flute aside next to some rocks. It was a good way to flex his fingers and get his mind off his difficulties with the flute for a while. Scooting closer to Greenweave, he grabbed an end of the net and started to untie unwanted knots and clean out leftovers from the catch and river weed.
The only music which accompanied the two while working now was the rushing of the river and the song of the nightbirds, the misplaced sounds of the flute soon forgotten, and so the instrument was forgotten itself when Newt helped his father to roll up the net to bring it back to the Holt.
A bright flush tinted Newt's pale cheeks pink. Aghast, he roamed the riverbank where he had sat with Greenweave earlier this night to tend to the net, turning each stone. But all he found were bugs and worms.
“No, no, no....” he muttered to himself. “It has to be here!”
Tearing on his white hair in misery, he looked around and checked the spot again. Had it really been here? Or had they been more upstream along the river's flow? No. Newt was sure. There was the willow leaning over the Holt’s River and caressing the surface with its long branches and leaves.
“Hey.” The booming voice of One-Leg made Newt almost jump before he sat up and looked around. With wide eyes he stared at the elder who gave him a wide grin. “Lost something?”
Newt nodded. “I know I left my flute here, but it's nowhere to be found.” He gestured helplessly as he felt around and parted the same patch of grass he had parted five times by now.
Raising his eyebrows, One-Leg leaned heavily on his staff, watching the lad crawling and stretching and investigating every hole and crack, without any intention of lending him a hand.
“You sure you left it here?” he asked after a while.
“Yes,” Newt answered, still looking around.
“But you can't find it?”
“No. No sign.”
With a pleased sigh, the red-head sat down, stretched his leg and folded his hand behind his head. “Shards, the High Ones finally seem to have mercy with my old ears then.”
At the boy’s half-hearted protest, One-Leg reached out to ruffle Newt's white top with a good-natured grin. Newt dropped back, giving up on his fruitless search.
“Maybe it is a sign of the High Ones,” he huffed.
With drawn-up knees Newt sat on his furs, sulking. The short talk with One-Leg wouldn't leave his mind. He knew he was stubborn and he knew he had taxed the patience of his tribemates, especially his fathers’, with his despairing tries to learn the flute. The progress he had made was small and almost not worth mentioning despite Greenweave's encouraging words.
Maybe it really was just for the best that he had lost the flute. He could of course ask Moss or anyone else to make him a new one, but in the end, he still would try and try and wear his fellow kin’s and his own nerves thin. He was not one to give up easily, but this proved to be utterly frustrating.
From the entrance to his family den, the noises of normal holt life streamed in: Screams and laughter of playing cubs, some hunters talking and preparing for the next hunt; someone nearby was playing a melody on a flute.
Wrapped in his dark mood, Newt just blankly stared into space. The ugly face of envy showed at the smooth play. Notes that didn't sound forced and splintered, cut short or awkward. They flowed and played the melody as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
On any other day he might have been able to just enjoy the play but today he was far from his high-spirited self and simply decided he should be allowed to mope over it.
Still, he couldn't help but listen. A moment later he stopped and frowned. This melody. It was one of the two melodies he had tried to master since Moss had showed it to him.
Coming to his feet, he walked the short distance to the entrance, pushed the leathers that covered it aside and peeked out. He found the source of the play two branches below him.
Rainpace leaned on the Father Tree with dangling legs and a flute on his lips. Looking closer, Newt realized it was not any flute, but his own instrument. A short wave of relief ran through him. So it hadn't been lost. Rainpace had found it.
Nevertheless, the relief washed away quickly. To Newt’s dismay, the trapper played it with easy skill and talent. He did not seem to have any trouble with it. His faint hope that maybe the instrument was to blame melted away and with it his courage to try it again.
Rainpace must have sensed his presence, since Newt made no secret out of it, although he did not look up, but smoothly changed the tune to another melody. To Newt’s frustration it was the other song he had so desperately tried to manage all the time. The older elf did not have any problems with this one either.
Had Rainpace come to rub his incompetence in his face? If so, Newt would be rightfully angry at him. It was not nice, and he endured enough teasing from others because of his fruitless tries. A part of him told him Rainpace was not the elf to do such a thing, but then again, Newt was too frustrated to listen to his own reasoning.
Breathing out through his nose, Newt tried to decide if he should confront Rainpace or rather go back sulking. However, before he could, the music stopped, and he heard Rainpace asking: “Isn’t this your flute?”
Uncharacteristically suspicious, Newt glanced down at the musician, the den flap still in his hand. Reluctantly he admitted, “It is. Did you find it by the river?”
Rainpace nodded and smiled. “Aye. Close to some rocks.”
Before Newt could move, Rainpace stood and with three steps he covered the distance to the lad. Standing in front of him, the trapper hesitated in surprise when seeing Newt’s annoyed face.
“Maybe you should keep it,” the pale boy said with a pout. “You seem to do better with it.”
The trapper looked at the small instrument and dropped to Newt's eye level, holding the flute out to him.
“But I came all this way to bring it back.” Rainpace smiled fondly. “And believe me, that wasn't an easy thing to do. Some of our tribe tried to bribe me in keeping it. I expected as much from Notch and One-Leg, but you?”
“Moss says an instrument has its own soul. I think it chose you, because the music I make with it can't be what its soul is singing,” he told Rainpace, who laughed kind-heartedly.
“Maybe it's not the flute that's not suited for you. Maybe you and the flute are just misunderstanding each other. You have to learn its language first, I think.” He winked and put the instrument on his lips to blow a scale, up and down, down and up.
Newt raised a sceptical eyebrow in response. That was even duller than the song Moss had given him.
Rainpace laughed at his expression. “Sounds boring? Well, it is boring. But besides that, it will make your fathers and any elf nearby go crazy.” Seeing the amused sparkle in Rainpace’s eyes and the conspiratory grin on his face made Newt smile, too.
Encouraging the rising mood of the youngster, Rainpace added with a wink, “Believe me, I know what I am talking about. Just go ask some of the elders what they remember best of me as a cub.”
That made Newt's ears prick up like Browncoat's when he sensed a challenge he could win. “You mean you started with that as well?” There was hope in his young voice. If Rainpace had started like this, he maybe had a chance to become as good as him.
Rainpace nodded and sat down, comfortably playing the scale up and down again, each note slowly but sure. When he stopped, he smiled as if he was lost in thoughts.
“I hadn't Moss' talent either,” he said. “I had to start little, like playing the scale. Moss sometimes forgets that music doesn’t flow like blood in all elves. Some of us have to learn the notes before we learn the melody.” He paused and grinned. “Like we have to learn the words of the humans before we speak a sentence.”
The lad flushed a little. So Rainpace knew, or at least sensed, that this was one of the roots for his interest? Before he could go on, Rainpace nodded to himself, eyeing the flute in his hands.
“You already bring the right endurance and stubbornness. Well... mostly.” Saying the words, the trapper wrung Newt’s flute in both his hands for the last time and handed it back to the youngster with some pretended flourish. “Now you only have to slow down, and take small steps on the path of learning.”
Newt smiled when he took the instrument back and brushed his fingers over it. The brown-haired elf might be right. Maybe he had started too big.
Encouraged, he raised the flute to his lips to try the scale the other had demonstrated himself, but Rainpace stopped him.
“Before you start, remember to start slowly. I only can give you so much advice: Start and try to get the notes steady. If that works, you can try to do it faster. But first, get it down slow,” he said and nodded, taking his hand back.
Just when Newt lifted the flute again, Rainpace pushed it down again, smirking like a canny wolf. “Train your breathing technique by practicing to breathe out as long as possible. And make a slightly pointed mouth when blowing in.” Rainpace demonstrated the move, which made Newt laugh a little. Rainpace happily joined in. “Yeah, you sure look like a fish doing it,” he admitted with a sheepish smile.
Pressing the giggles back, Newt nodded. “And not a particularly clever one.” Then he tilted his head and looked down at his hands holding his little flute. “I will try that.” Newt nodded, then looked up at Rainpace again, smiling widely. “And in the next lesson I’ll show you how much I have improved.”
“Next lesson?” Rainpace raised his eyebrows.
Newt nodded. “Next lesson.”
Rainpace obviously pretended to ponder and roll the role Newt had given to him over in his head, then finally nodded, earning a wide smile from Newt.
“I guess you have a teacher then. Who would have thought so?” An amused smile accompanied the words, but something else in the trapper’s eyes told Newt that he and his tries in making music would be taken seriously by the older elf. Every time.
Tapping his nose, Rainpace smiled when giving him a fair warning. “But don't you think I will be easy on you,” he said, his eyes shining with pleasure when Newt grinned back, accepting the challenge.
“Then show what you learned today,” Rainpace said in a mock-stern teacher's voice that probably resembled Blacksnake's tone as he’d heard it many times before. He motioned the younger elf to try his new acquired knowledge.
Newt nodded and put his flute to his lips and blew... but no sound escaped the instrument except for a quiet “pfffff”.
Surprised and puzzled, Newt stopped and stared at the flute before he tried again, harder this time, but still nothing happened. An eyebrow rose, and he turned the instrument over in his hands until he finally saw the clump of beeswax that was plugged into the other end.
Next to him Rainpace laughed. “Lesson number three: Never leave your instrument unattended.”
With that, the trapper tousled Newt’s hair and left him, still chuckling.