(This story is a sequel to ”Gone”. It is also part of the ”Trying to have a child outside of Recognition” storyline - see list for related stories..)
Everyone was sad. Rill was, too. He had been looking forward to the new baby that would have come in two turns of the seasons — a new uncle, or aunt, but young enough for him to play with. A baby would have been a lot of fun! But now... Rill’s shoulders slumped. Something had happened and now there wouldn’t be one. He threw a rock into the river, paying little attention to what was happening around him.
**Son?** his father called from a little ways upriver. Rill looked toward where Suddendusk was fishing. **What’s troubling you, Rill?** the fisher asked.
Rill stood and picked his way up the shoreline until he was close enough to speak. “The baby - grandmother’s baby... it’s gone.”
Suddendusk made his way to the shore from the rock where he had been fishing from, and squatted next to his son. “I don’t understand it, either, son,” Suddendusk said.
“But... Father, what do we usually do when an elf dies?” Rill asked.
Only one other elf had died during Rill’s short life — Whispersilk — and he was too young to remember what they had done then. Suddendusk nodded, as if to himself, then said, "Usually, when someone dies, we make a raft, and lay their body on it, and send it down the river. And we have a Howl to tell stories about their life, to remind us of all the things they said and did — because the marks they made stay with us even after we've said goodbye."
That got Rill thinking. “Is there going to be a raft for the baby?” he asked.
His father looked puzzled a moment, then said, “No, son, I don’t think so.”
Suddendusk thought a moment. “Well, I don’t think anyone even thought of it, really. This doesn’t seem quite the same. And your grandmother had not been with cub for very long — there’s nothing to put on a raft.”
Rill wasn’t happy with his father’s explanation. He thought there should be a raft — even if there was no baby to put on it. There had been a baby — Willow had said so! And that baby needed a raft. And, Rill decided, with everyone so sad, there should be a Howl. If he built a raft, maybe the tribe would send it downriver and howl for the baby that they never got to meet.
“Grandfather?” Rill called quietly.
True Edge rolled over, peering toward the entrance of his den. He sensed Snowfall starting to wake and felt Kestrel rouse a little. None of them had slept very well this past hand of days — he didn’t want Rill to wake them now. **Hush, cub. I’ll be out there in a moment,** he sent. He tried to temper the sending with affection, but was also a bit grumpy at having been woken.
Dressing, True Edge kept any grumblings about the early hour to himself. Instead, he thought about the young, bright-eyed cub who was waiting for him. That brought a smile to his face. He hadn’t had a chance to talk much with the cub over the past few days, and he supposed now was as good a time as any for it. Rill had a knack for lifting his mood.
He exited the den and smiled at Rill, then tousled his hair.
“I need your help, Grandfather!” Rill stated, then took True Edge’s hand in his and led him down the steps of the Dentrees.
**Where are we going?** he asked his grandson.
“To the river,” Rill said simply. “C’mon!”
They had reached the forest floor, and Rill had let go and started running. He stopped after a few moments and turned to see his grandfather standing there. “Come with me!” he said.
True Edge could see the cub’s eagerness. He had no idea what was at the river, and why Rill would need help — now! — but who was he to argue with the enthusiasm of a cub only seven full turns of the seasons old? He picked up his pace and followed after Rill who, once he saw True Edge running, turned and sprinted toward the river.
Once they were there, Rill stopped running, so True Edge did, too. The cub said, “Wait here!” and then walked toward a tree, climbed to the lowest branch and then jumped down, holding something to his chest. He walked back to his grandfather, then held the object out to him.
“I don’t know if it’s right. Could you help me?”
It was a small, flat bundle of sticks — all were about the same length, and they were knotted together with long grasses. It took a few moments for him to recognize what it was, and True Edge felt uneasy as he reached for it.
“It’s a raft, Grandfather. For the baby,” Rill said. “For the Howl,” he added.
A Howl? True Edge felt tears pricking his eyes. Of course — a Howl for the lost one. A chance for the tribe to grieve together. It was The Way, no matter what the circumstances of the loss. True Edge took the small object and held it close to his heart a moment, then held it away and looked at it again. “Thank you, Rill.”
Rill’s face lit up. “You like it? I think it still needs some work, though. Can you help me finish it? Then we can give it to Grandmother and Kestrel.”
True Edge nodded.
Rill watched as his grandparents set the small raft in the river. On it was a wreath — Evervale's contribution — and one, lit candle. He felt a small sense of pride that he had helped make it. He remembered his grandmother’s and Kestrel’s tears and gratitude when he had given it to them. He remembered Suddendusk’s fierce hug when he’d told him what he’d done. He remembered Quick Fang’s smile, and Cinder’s question, “Why didn’t you let me help you?” There was so much to remember — not about the baby not born, but about this moment. This event that had brought everyone together.
Voices lifting, at first in unison, and then in harmony, compelled Rill out of his thoughts. Though he had never howled for a lost member of the tribe before, his voice knew what to do — so he howled for the little one they never got to meet. And the raft disappeared down the river.