(This story is a sequel to ”Making Milk” and is a part of the "The death of Whispersilk, and Aftermath" storyline - see listing for related stories.)
The night was warm, but Quick Fang and a few others had gathered together to see if someone besides Quick Fang could nurse Cinder. It had been a couple of nights since Windburn had told her of Willow’s plan. She had been elated — if it worked, Quick Fang knew she would not be tied to the Holt any longer. In that hope, the huntress had allowed Willow to use her magic on her to figure out how to help others make milk. Then, she had waited for Willow to make it happen on someone else.
The healer’s lovemate, Beetle, was the first volunteer — as an experiment, she had said. Beetle had made it clear that she did not plan to be a permanent wet-nurse. She was too busy with the word-hunters to be tethered to an infant; still, she was curious and had wanted to know what nursing was like. Quick Fang didn’t understand the herbalist. She never had, really. Still, the huntress wasn’t complaining about the chance at taking a break from nursing Cinder. If Willow could make her lovemate’s milk come in, she could do it for others as well. Beetle’s milk would dry up if she didn’t continue nursing.
The only trouble was that it had taken time for Beetle’s milk to come in — a couple of nights had passed since Willow had announced it was “done.” Tonight, Beetle had appeared, wide-eyed and asking if “it always hurt like this.” Quick Fang had been annoyed by the question and had let a low growl escape. Of course it didn’t always hurt. Starskimmer, who had arrived not long after Beetle, had told her daughter as much. Beetle would realize that after a day or two – the herbalist would, she had said, continue nursing Cinder until Willow made another’s milk come in.
Now, the herbalist sat there next to Quick Fang in the den adjacent to the chief’s den. She had Cinder in her arms. The babe was not happy — and was in fact howling to be fed. Quick Fang watched, her irritation rising, as Beetle tried to get herself comfortable for nursing Cinder. Though it would have been easier for Quick Fang to simply take Cinder and nurse him herself, she was genuinely looking forward to having others around who would nurse the chief’s son. So she bit her tongue, watching and waiting.
Still, Quick Fang couldn’t understand why Beetle, of all people, was sitting there as the first to try her breast at nursing Cinder. It had felt like Beetle had talked about nursing way too long prior to baring her breast. And once she had, her uncertainty in it had raised Quick Fang’s hackles. It didn’t help that Cinder’s squalls were growing louder, and Quick Fang’s own milk had painfully dropped and was leaking out. She sent to Suddendusk and asked him to bring Rill. Hopefully her own son was hungry enough to reduce some of the pressure in her overly full breasts.
“OUCH!” Beetle exclaimed as Cinder hungrily attached himself to her breast.
Quick Fang let out a low growl. The protective, motherly side of her was coming out, and she was tempted just to take the baby back in her own arms and to her own breast.
Snowfall, who had come because of Cinder’s shrill cries, put a gentle hand on her daughter’s shoulder, which Quick Fang shrugged off, watching intently. She felt herself tensing up to take the baby back from Beetle.
Then Starskimmer knelt beside her daughter, watching, then said quietly, “He’s not on your nipple, daughter. He’s too high.”
Beetle quietly said, “Oh!” and looked to her mother for some guidance.
Starskimmer deftly placed a finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth and broke the latch. Then she advised Beetle to use her free hand to cup the breast, helping angle the nipple for Cinder to latch to. When he latched this time, there was no cry of pain from Beetle, and Cinder began gulping his way to a full belly.
About that time, Suddendusk entered, bringing Rill to his mother. Relieved, Quick Fang bared her own breast, and Rill happily, though distractedly, began to nurse. Quick Fang felt herself relax, happy that there had finally been success for Cinder and Beetle. And while she didn’t expect the herbalist to be a wet nurse for long, she could guess that at least a few others would be willing to do it for as long as they were needed. Which meant that Quick Fang wouldn’t have to — and that was fine with her.