(Ed. note: "Sweetvine" is the cubname of Evervale.)
It was a quiet night. Starskimmer was enjoying the peace for the time being, while breastfeeding her newborn son. The boy was drinking quietly, and Starskimmer leaned comfortably in her furs.
The past nights had been a coming and going of elves who had wanted to meet the newest addition to the tribe, and the speculations of who his father might be had roamed freely. But now, everyone was gone and Starskimmer found herself alone with her cub for the first time in what seemed like ages.
She gently caressed the soft, dark brown hair of her baby boy and smiled. Otter was a quiet baby and gave her no trouble at all. He did have a strong set of lungs, which he used when he was hungry, but right now, he was enjoying his meal. Starskimmer remembered feeding Beetle and Notch, too, and loved the feeling of having to raise another cub.
Something pulled her out of her thoughts. She thought she had heard movement. Raising her head, she inhaled the scents around her, and found one in particular that was stronger than the others. A soft rustle of leaves confirmed her suspicion that the person in question was close.
“I know you’re there. You can come in.”
Silence. Then, a soft sound indicated someone moving, and a head peeked around the corner of the den entrance. Two leaf-green eyes widened as she saw a mother feeding her newborn child. Still, she hardly made a sound while she came in and Starskimmer made a hand-gesture, indicating she could come closer.
“You want to meet Otter?” Starskimmer gently asked Sweetvine, but the youngster seemed to need a moment. Starskimmer wondered what kept her from approaching. In fact, now she thought of it, Sweetvine hadn’t come to see Otter at all, yet. Even now, it took a while before Sweetvine nodded and shortened the distance. The rockshaper found this odd, because Sweetvine had showed much interest in the cub in her belly when the word of her being with child had gotten out. It was only in the final stages of the pregnancy that Sweetvine's visits had gotten shorter, and in the end, she hadn’t showed up at all anymore. However, because of all the commotion Starskimmer hadn’t given it much thought, up till now.
Starskimmer raised her eyebrows when Sweetvine first studied the cub, and then breathed in relief. The brewer asked, “What’s wrong, cubling? Does he have a third eye I haven’t noticed yet?”
Sweetvine giggled nervously and her eyes shifted through the room, before she turned her gaze back to little Otter. “I wondered if he looked like other elves,” she softly said. “But he looks normal.”
That wasn’t what the elder had expected, and she sat up straight, frowning. Otter lost the nipple and restlessly tried to search for it, making dissatisfied noises. While Starskimmer readjusted her pose and guided Otter back to his source of food, she tried to catch Sweetvine’s eyes. “Why wouldn’t he be?” she asked the cub, mildly annoyed and wildly curious at the same time.
“Well,” Sweetvine said, before pausing again. She opened her mouth, closed it again, and then blurted out, “Because he doesn’t have a father.”
Starskimmer’s mouth fell open in surprise and she gaped at the elf girl for a moment. She had thought that since Sweetvine had never seen a newborn baby before, she was a little hesitant. She hadn’t expected this! Recuperating, she said, “Who told you that?!”
“Nobody!” Sweetvine wrapped her arms around herself in self-defense. “I just... everybody says you didn’t Recognize. Cubs are born through Recognition. Except Otter.”
Hm. Starskimmer’s green eyes turned thoughtful. “Not all of them,” she answered. “Have you talked to anyone about Otter?”
“Yes,” the girl said. “Notch told me that nobody’d know how he would look until he was born. He told me it was possible that Otter would have his head backwards on his shoulders, and that he could never walk properly because he’d bump into trees and bushes every time. Or that he might have fins. Like fish do.” Sweetvine moved a little closer and studied the little boy intensely and relaxed when she couldn’t find a fault. “He said that nobody knows who his father is. So I thought he didn’t have one.”
Starskimmer looked at the girl while she moved Otter to the other breast, trying to get her mind to work and to answer the question she hadn’t been prepared for. One thing was sure, she thought, immensely annoyed by her older cub –- she would have a talk with Notch about planting ideas into a cub's mind. And it would be a messy one, if it was up to her.
“There’s a difference between knowing who his father is, and not having a father,” Starskimmer then gently said. Her eyes followed Sweetvine’s fingers, as the girl raised her hand to softly caress the boy's cheek.
“How can you not know?” Sweetvine asked, while moving her finger to Otter’s tiny hand. The baby curled his little fingers around Sweetvine's index finger, which made the girl smile.
Starskimmer studied the youngster for a moment. “Sometimes, but it is very rare, a cub is born without Recognition,” she then started to explain, and shrugged. “I was pregnant after sharing the furs but since I had more than one furmate in the time Otter was conceived, I don’t know for sure who Otter's father is. Someone is, though.”
The little gurgling sounds Otter was making now softened Sweetvine’s eyes. Starskimmer continued. “Remember little Newt, who’s wrapped in wrapstuff? He was born outside of Recognition, too.”
The cub tilted her head as if she was thinking, and then nodded. “They told me his hair is white, and his skin is almost white and he has really light eyes. Is Otter’s hair going to be white, too?”
Starskimmer grinned. “I don’t think so. His hair is already the color that his brother has, too. And his eyes are brown.” She looked down at her baby, who apparently had eaten enough and seemed to have his gaze fixed on the young maiden next to her.
“Don’t think of him as not having a father,” Starskimmer then continued with a smile around her lips. “Think of him as having a lot of fathers in the tribe, who are all willing to do anything for him. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know who his father is, because everyone will look after him.”
The girl nodded and huddled closer, satisfied with the explanation. “I guess that’s true. Everyone looks out for me, too.”
Starskimmer nodded at the cub's words, but didn’t answer that. It was a fact that the entire tribe looked out for their cubs.
“He’s all wrinkly,” Sweetvine concluded. Apparently, the topic was off the table.
Starskimmer grinned. “That he is, but not for very long. You want to hold him?”
Sweetvine’s eyes sparkled before she stretched her arms. Starskimmer showed her how to hold him and Sweetvine giggled when Otter started to look for food.
“Take your little finger and put it into his mouth,” Starskimmer suggested.
The girl did so, and looked up in surprise when Otter started to suck on it. “He is so strong!” she said.
“Definitely. And he will grow much stronger,” the mother proudly answered.
Sweetvine studied the boy for a moment. “He looks like Notch. Do you think he’ll be like Notch?”
Starskimmer laughed, and ruffled Sweetvine’s hair. When she answered, the emotion of love for her older son was in contrast with her sent words:
**I hope not!**
|Illustration by Megan M.|
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