(Ed. note: “Laughter” is Beetle’s cub-name.)
She hadn’t been asleep for long, the child knew. In fact, she probably hadn’t gotten all the way to sleep before another voice could be heard in her mama’s den. Laughter remained still, straining to hear who was there. If she had just rolled over to look, she knew that whoever was talking would just stop. Strange how that always happened. Instead she had learned to just lie still and listen carefully. Her tribemates seemed to speak far more freely if they didn’t think she was listening.
It only took a moment for the still-sleepy child to recognize One-Leg as the other voice in her den. He was one of Mama’s special friends and the elf-cub was rather fond of the gruff old storyteller. His stories were usually funny and made her laugh. Tonight, though, he sounded sad… like everyone else had since Flash died. Of course, he had extra reason to be sad. Flash had been his daughter and Laughter knew how much her mama would miss her if something happened.
For a while she only half-listened to the adults as her mind drifted back to when Chicory had finished the story for her by the lake. It was a lot to think about for one so young, but Laughter couldn’t help herself. A mystery was just something she couldn’t leave alone, and this business of death was turning into the biggest mystery of her young life. There were so few members of her little tribe and the thought of any more dying sent a cold chill down her little spine.
It was just then that her ears perked to something One-Leg had said. Something about so many deaths in a short time? A great water came and carried many of them away? She was both frightened by this and perplexed. The river was something she had seen often and it wasn’t carrying people anywhere. Flash had left on a raft though. Maybe that was what he meant. The older elf had also used names she didn’t recognize, like Tallow and Beesting, plus one, Sunlight, she had heard from her papa’s stories.
Those were always sad stories, she knew, and Sunlight had been her papa’s aunt. Who else was in those stories? Ah yes, now she remembered! One old elf from before her time named Lynx! No one ever told her much about him, though. It seemed to make them all sad and Laughter couldn’t understand why. Despite her efforts to remain quiet, the cub gave a great yawn just then and rustled in her sleeping skins.
“What’s wrong, sweetling? Did we wake you?”
Looking over, she saw both elves looking at her. They both wore such expressions of loving concern that Laughter couldn’t stay sad. She just felt too safe with the both of them there. She tried to say something but it came out as another yawn and she couldn’t help but giggle at herself. As her mother held her, One-Leg sat near and began a lullaby that she had heard many a time before. Soon she was asleep again, for real this time, and drifted into a pleasant dream of playing by the riverside.
Later, much later judging by how high the sun was in the sky, she woke up again. This time it was the call of her bladder which urged her to wakefulness. Laughter was a big girl now, all of four turns old, and didn’t need to sleep with her baby wrappings anymore. She was quite proud of that fact and that she knew what to do if she needed to relieve herself during the day. The only thing she didn’t want to do was wake anyone else. She could take care of this herself, after all!
Sneaking out of the furs, she peeked over to where her mama lay cuddled up beside One-Leg. It was fitting that he had stayed the day, since he had been sad. Mama always cheered sad people up, she knew, and if she was upset about anything Mama made it better. She was glad that it worked for the old storyteller too. Leaving the sound of his snores behind, the child crept from the den and on out of the Father Tree. It was a good thing he snored so loud, she thought with a giggle. It masked any tiny sound she might have made.
It was easy enough to leave the tree and find the right spot to relieve herself. Now, though, she felt more fully awake. If she went back to the tree, her fidgeting would just wake up the adults. What to do then? As she pondered that, an odd sound came to her from nearby. It sounded like two rocks striking each other over and over again. She had heard its like before, though the meaning behind it confused her.
No longer bothering to sneak, Laughter made for the sound. It was within the safe confines of the Holt, so couldn’t be anything dangerous, she knew. Besides, that sounded a lot like the noise True Edge and some of the others made when they made stone tools and arrowheads. Sure enough, the scent of the older elf came to her on the breeze as she made her way into the clearing that he was sitting in. All around him were the different stones he used in this craft and in front of him sat a piece of hide with arrowheads resting on it.
True Edge was one of the elves she wasn’t terribly close to. At times he was distant and moody, which confused the child. Sometimes he was even a little mean, kind of like the Grumpy Old Bear, though not quite as bad. Despite all of this, though, the cub found herself drawn forward. What he was doing was just so fascinating to her. It was so fascinating in fact that she almost didn’t notice when he spoke to her.
“Did I wake you, cub?” he had asked, and she almost jumped out of her skin. His expression seemed amused and not mean, though, so she took that much as a good sign.
“No, I got up to go to the bushes,” she said, feeling rather mature to have done this on her own. “Then I heard your rocks banging together. How do you get those little things out of the big rock?”
Her curiosity, as always, had gotten the better of her. Laughter knew True Edge sometimes had a short temper, but he would also sometimes take the time to explain things to her. Now would seem to be one of those times. The blonde elf regarded her with an amused expression as he held the larger rock, the one he was chipping things out of, up for her to see.
“What do you see, Laughter?”
“Just a rock,” Laughter said as she regarded the rock from several angles. “Is it a special rock?”
“Sort of,” True Edge replied. “It’s a special kind of rock that I can see different shapes in. For example, I saw a lot of arrowheads hiding in this one, and what I do is kind of like letting them out. That other rock beside you came from the same place as this one, but I think it has a spear-head instead.”
Her little face showed both amazement and confusion at this. She knew her mother could use magic to shape rocks. Maybe this was something like that?
“Is it magic?”
“No,” True Edge replied with a smile. “It’s more of a craft. Something I was taught to do.”
“Who taught you to do it?” she persisted.
“My brother Lynx.”
The name brought back a memory of the night before. She remembered that Lynx was her papa’s father and True Edge was his uncle. That must mean that all three of them, Lynx, True Edge and Sunlight had been litter-mates.
“And Sunlight was your sister then?” she asked in an innocent tone, still trying to construct the relationships between all the elves in her head. “All three of you were born from the same parents?”
His expression darkened a bit and even at her young age, Laughter noticed the sudden change in his mood. For a moment, she was scared she had said something wrong and that True Edge wouldn’t answer her questions or teach her more about the tools that hid inside of rocks. Just as quickly as his grumpy face had appeared, though, it was replaced with a sad one.
“That’s right,” he said simply, sounding as sad as One-Leg had the night before. “They are all gone now, cub. Long before your time.”
She watched him carefully and the expression on his face. He seemed so very sad and lonely to her for just a moment there. Knowing it had been her mention of Sunlight and Lynx which had brought the sadness upon him, she reacted the only way she knew how. The cub walked closer, and before True Edge could react she wrapped her tiny arms around him in a fierce hug.
“I didn’t mean to make you sad,” she whispered in a tiny voice. “Papa gets sad when anyone mentions Lynx. I just wanted to know about him… and the others.”
Laughter wasn’t entirely sure who all the ‘others’ might be. She knew Sunlight was one and Lynx’s parents as well. Now that her mind was on the subject, she felt a powerful need to know. It confused her, though, how others could become so sad when asked about their family. She loved to talk about her family. Her big brother, both her parents… Laughter loved to think about them. Why did it make others so sad?
True Edge was still for a moment and then returned the cub's hug. His expression was a mix she couldn’t quite puzzle out. It showed both sadness and still a certain amusement that confused her.
“It’s all right, little one,” he finally said. “I get sad thinking about them because of how they died. You couldn’t have known.”
“They died like Flash did?”
“Worse than Flash did,” he said with an odd bit of anger to his tone. Laughter was beginning to think she would never understand these adults. As soon as the angry flash had shown in his voice, though, it had passed, and True Edge was motioning for her to sit beside him.
“Here, I’ll show you a bit of Lynx,” he said, opening his mind and sending to her. It was a lot like when her mother would send, full of feelings more than words. In True Edge’s case, though, he was also sending scents and images, so in a way it felt like she was right there.
In this primal memory-sharing she saw a tall, bold elf who looked a little like her father, though he was more heavily built. This was Lynx, she knew; Lynx who was strong, capable, wise… and more than a bit infuriating on occasion. In this memory she saw a much younger True Edge and a beautiful golden-haired female she had never seen before. Lynx and True Edge wrestled like wolf-cubs as the female looked on and laughed at their antics. Eventually they stopped their pretend fight and the three of them just sat quietly and talked together. It felt like a very happy scene, though she still felt the sadness from the older elf.
“That was Lynx and Sunlight. It was the last time the three of us were ever together,” he said wiping away a single tear at the memory. “It was a long, long time before you were ever born. It’s not my place to tell you the full story, though. Maybe one day, but not now.”
She looked up at True Edge with wonder. Laughter had never stopped to think of all the elves who must have been here before she was. Those others in his memory, Lynx and Sunlight, were her own uncle and aunt, just like True Edge was. It was a lot for the cub to take in. As she pondered it, though, he had begun to speak again.
“Now, we can leave off the sad old stories till you’re a bit older. For today I’ll show you a bit more about what’s hidden in these stones. Then I’ll take you back to your mother's den before she skins the both of us.”
Laughter grinned and nodded to show she approved of the plan. Truth be told, she was getting a bit tired again. How True Edge managed to be awake all the time she would never understand, but it would be time for her to go back to sleep soon. First, she hoped to know more about these rocks and how he got shapes out of them without magic. So many things to learn, she realized… and so many questions to ask. Sometimes it made her little head spin with the wonder of it all.