(Ed. note: “Laughter” is Beetle’s cub-name, "Brook" is Nightstorm's cub-name, and "Coyote" was an older name of Notch.)
A change of plans had never disturbed Starskimmer. With Cloudfern out to gather herbs in a nearby meadow, she had planned for herself and three-turns-old Laughter to play some games. The young cub was bright, Starskimmer thought with pride, and Starskimmer loved teaching her new things.
However, Brook, Snowfall’s youngest sister, and Coyote had planned on spending some time together, and they had invited young Laughter to go with them. The cub had been overjoyed to go with her brother, and Brook had been happy to be able to spend more time with the child.
With her daughter gone, Starskimmer had seen her initial plans vanish, but it hadn’t stopped her from making new ones. There were dreamberries left that needed to be crushed, furs to clean, and all sorts of chores she could do.
Plans changed again when Whitestag had sent to her to ask if she could help him fix a broken jar. The sendings had soon turned into a little more than teasing and before the brewer knew it, she had invited the hunter over. In an instant, Starskimmer had forgotten all the things she had planned on doing today.
And thus, the brewer had cleaned her furs so that they all looked splendid; had sought out her finest dreamberries and added some wine, too, because why leave out one of those when you could have both? This evening was for her. For her, and for Whitestag, whom she had just invited to come over.
Starskimmer smiled. With Laughter in the capable hands of Brook and all the tribe to watch over her, she'd have the night to herself. And tonight, that meant spending the evening between the furs with the archer, and it would be a promising one. Humming, she bent over to light some candles, when she heard someone approaching. Shaking her hair loose, she waited for Whitestag to enter the den.
Except it wasn’t Whitestag, but Brook and Laughter. Quickly hiding her frown -– she would never want to give her cub the feeling she wasn’t welcome -– she shifted her eyes to the oldest of the two.
Brook smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry, Starskimmer,” she apologized, “but Laughter here wanted to get her toy.” The she-cub had already climbed into the den to look.
“Which one are you looking for, cubling?” Starskimmer asked Laughter, tenderly ruffling the cub’s hair. The she-cub pulled away some of the carefully laid down furs before she looked up with a frown.
“The rockwolf. I can’t find it, mama!” she pouted.
Motioning Brook to get in, Starskimmer lowered to her knees and lifted some of the other furs, too. “Do you remember when you had it, the last time?” she asked her daughter, but Laughter shook her head decisively.
“No,” she said.
Within moments, nothing was left of Starskimmer’s neatly ordered den. Furs had been tossed over, Starskimmer had rescued the berries and the flask with wine from toppling over several times, clothes were moved -– it was a mess! And while the three females sought intensely, they didn’t hear Whitestag arrive.
“Starskimmer?” he asked with a hint of amusement, and all three looked up.
Starskimmer sent a quick apology, before saying: “Laughter lost her toy, we’re looking for it.”
“Ah.” Whitestag looked at Laughter. “When did you have it last?”
“I don’t know,” the cub said before turning back to look under the furs.
Whitestag opened his mouth to ask more, but at that moment, Brook exclaimed: “Found it!” She was sitting next to a basket with Starskimmer’s rock collection, and had dug up the rock wolf which had been hidden at the bottom.
Laughter immediately grabbed it, and Brook got up. “Let’s go, cubling, we’ll go out and play.” She smiled at Whitestag and Starskimmer, before gently pushing Laughter out of the den. Not long after, Whitestag and Starskimmer were alone.
Starskimmer sighed, looking at the ravaged den. “Not quite how I pictured it,” she muttered, but Whitestag grinned, bending over and grabbing one of the furs.
“Come on, Starskimmer. Nothing is so relaxing than laying down on the furs after some hard work!”
The brewer sighed, but agreed.
Snuggling up to Whitestag’s warm body, Starskimmer reached out for the dreamberry supply, and brought one to the archer’s mouth.
“You think of everything,” he breathed, as he took both the berry and her fingers into his mouth. “Berries and wine. A more talented seductress has never existed,” he playfully added.
Starskimmer laughed and wrapped a leg around him. “I know,” she purred while lifting her hand slowly, drawing a line over his bare chest with her nails, smiling when his breath shook.
“Candlelight suits you,” Whitestag muttered, brushing the hair off her forehead, before gently pushing her over until she laid on her back, “but like this, I can see it better.” His hands followed the contours of her body.
Starskimmer lazily stretched out her hands and entangled her fingers in Whitestag’s blond hair. “Stop talking,” she whispered before pulling him closer.
Green eyes flashed open when Brook’s panicked call reached her. At the same time, she felt Coyote's urgent sending, too.
**Laughter slipped and fell from a branch!** A heartbeat later, Starskimmer sat straight up. Whitestag, who was thrown backwards and landed in the furs, looked startled, not knowing what had just had happened.
Starskimmer channelled the sending to her companion while replying: **I’m on my way!** Meanwhile, she sent out to Cloudfern who immediately let her know he was on his way.
While she threw some furs out of the way to get to her herbs, the trio came rushing inside. “She slipped over some moss and fell into the nettles below,” Coyote breathed, carrying his little sister who was crying and, Starskimmer immediately saw, was covered in mud, “I can’t see anything broken, and there isn’t any blood, either.”
“The nettles must’ve stung really hard,” Brook whispered with a shaky voice, “She won’t stop crying... We tried to help her with mud to ease the itch.” She showed her muddy hands and arms.
The panic caused little Laughter to cry even louder, and she held out her hands towards her mother, who took her over instantly. Wailing softly, Laughter buried her face in her mother’s shoulder.
“She panicked in the nettles,” Coyote told his mother. “It took us a while to get her out. We started with the mud, but I don’t know if it really helped.”
“You did well,” Starskimmer assured the two. She reached for the dreamberry wine. It would help the pain and itches of the nettles to go away sooner, but she was sure that the mud had already helped somewhat. Surely the nettles would sting and itch, especially after scratching, but it was probably also the shock and the attention that fueled Laughter’s crying.
Then, Cloudfern rushed inside, and immediately, Coyote and Brook made room for him. While Coyote and Brook send-told him what had happened, Cloudfern immediately checked Laughter’s limbs. After a tense silence, he confirmed what Coyote had just told Starskimmer. “She’ll probably be fine, but she’ll feel the nettles for a while. Her skin is slightly flared. I’ll give her some tea that’ll ease her discomfort and will reduce some of the hurt and itch.”
When Cloudfern leaned back to get some of the herbs he needed to make the tea, Whitestag stroked the young cub’s cheek. He clearly sympathised with the cub – all cubs had to deal with nettles at some point and most adults couldn’t escape them forever, either. At that same moment, the cub’s body stirred. She looked up from her mother’s shoulder and threw up – over Whitestag’s arm, legs and the sleeping furs.
Starskimmer’s eyes went wide with surprise. Brook hiccuped in shock, but Coyote didn’t even bother to hide his face and burst out in laughter. Cloudfern, despite the situation, smiled. Whitestag looked dumbfounded, looking from the cub to the gooey remains of Laughter’s earlier breakfast, and to all the people who had entered the den in the last few moments.
The brewer couldn’t help but smile because of the look on Whitestag’s face and shot him an apologetic look. **I’m sorry, Whitestag,** Starskimmer privately sent with a promise and a hint of humor. She felt how her cub tightened her grip around her neck and started to sniff.
Whitestag shrugged, gathered his leathers, and sighed. “I better go clean up.”
**Another time?** Whitestag sent to the wine maker.
Starskimmer’s send was absent with worry, but it also held a promise, while she rocked and hushed her cub. **Another time.**