(This story is part of the "Learning the Humans' Language" storyline -- see the listing for more related stories.)
**Chief, we’re almost ready.**
Windburn wordlessly acknowledged One-Leg’s send as he finished packing. He would be going with the word-hunters this time. It wasn’t something he did regularly, but he did go often enough to have a feel for the hunt, and for the hunters. He liked to see what was happening, and to know just how much risk was being taken.
This time, though, he was joining them with another purpose in mind. Brightwood had been a good addition to the pack of word-hunters. Fresh ears, fresh perspective — both seemed invaluable right now. And Windburn had decided it was time to try another at the hunt.
He heard his daughter hurrying down the steps.
He’d finally made his decision a hand of days ago when he had found her, again, working in the storage area, shuffling and sorting. It was a task he knew she hated, and yet she seemed to have accepted it. It wasn’t just the work she did there. It was, he hoped, the budding of responsibility that he had seen developing in her since his lifemate had died. Not that she wasn’t still Foxtail. His cub was, and likely always would be, fiery and temperamental. But she was not as reckless, not as troublesome.
“Father, are you ready?” She stood in the entrance to his den, eyes shining with excitement, bag slung over her shoulder.
He picked up his own bag, nodding. “Are you?” he asked.
She grinned at him. “I’ve been ready,” she said, then turned to head to the gathering point, Windburn walking beside her.
He was proud of the changes in her — proud, but still wary. This was to be a trial for her — to see how she contributed to the pack of word-hunters; to see if she truly understood the responsibility, and to determine how she might best fit in amongst them. Not that he doubted her. When she was away from Notch, she was a different elf.
Notch was there, though, at the gathering point, talking with his father. Windburn watched Notch’s reaction as the prankster assessed Foxtail and realized that she was joining the pack. “You’re going with them?” he asked, surprised.
"Father asked me to join him." She grinned, so delighted with the opportunity before her that she seemed to miss the carefully impassive expression on Notch's face. "Don't worry," she added airily. "I'll teach you all the things I learn when I'm out."
Windburn looked at One-Leg, Beetle, and Evervale — he had only recently told them that Foxtail would be coming. Beetle and Evervale had been accepting of the idea. One-Leg, too, had accepted it, but had been quiet as well. Windburn wondered if his uncle was thinking that Notch should be given a chance, too, but had held his tongue.
It was better that way. The chief didn’t want to add more than one new member at a time. And he was not yet convinced that Notch was ready. His daughter, however — the next few days would show him whether she was.