(This story takes place during ”The Gathering Storm (Part 1)", and is a part of the ”Return of the Fierce Ones” storyline – see listing for related stories.)
The snow-laden wind blew in great, sporadic gusts, pushing cold fingers past the tautly lashed window-hides, and making the heavy limbs of the dentree sway. In the far distance came a rumble of thunder. Rainpace lay beneath the sleeping furs, cradling his lovemate and child close as he listened to the wind and the thunder.
Chicory was likewise awake in the late wintery afternoon. He felt her wakefulness in the tension of her body, and in her equal silence, in the adrenaline-shifts of her scent as she reacted to the late afternoon thundersnow outside. Only Glow slept -- and even her sleep was restless. The girl tossed and turned in the warm hollow between them.
The sick dread in Rainpace’s belly would not let him rest. He was achingly conscious of the slow leak of passing time. By morning, he would have to leave for Crow’s Ridge, and he didn’t know how long he would be parted from his family.
He heard in the distant thunder the promise of mayhem and destruction, and Rainpace felt helpless to shelter his family from it. He would certainly try. He would do anything he found in his power to keep Chicory and Glow safe. But Rainpace knew from close observation that humans were bigger and stronger than the elves, and that their minds were capable of working in unexpectedly clever ways. And he knew as well that the Fierce Ones were much bigger, much stronger, and much much more deadly than the relatively benign local humans he had, until now, so enjoyed studying these past many seasons. By comparison, Rainpace could not help but feel small and powerless himself. Without question, he was ready to spend his life to protect his family. But what good was just one life against an invading tide?
"Can I have a drink of water?" she asked, sensing with a child's instinct that both of her parents were awake.
Rainpace sat up and reached after the waterskin, which hung on a peg from the wall near the bed-shelf. He uncapped the skin and helped hold it for Glow as she drank. The girl smacked her lips appreciatively as her father capped the waterskin and put it away. She looked at her parents solemnly in the gloom of their den, and then gave them both a sweet, gentle smile.
"Don't worry," she announced. "Grandsire Lynx will keep us safe."
Rainpace looked at his daughter, and then looked at his lovemate in question. Chicory's expression mirrored his bewilderment.
"My darling tadpole -- what did you say?" Chicory asked.
Glow patted her mother's arm. "Don't worry. Grandsire Lynx will keep us safe from the bad humans."
Rainpace met his lovemate's eyes; Chicory made a face and mouthed "Don't ask me!" "Dearheart," he said, asking the offspring instead. "What do you mean by that?"
This time, Glow stroked his arm, just as though comforting Sleuth in her thunder-fear. "You don't have to be scared of the bad humans. Because Grandsire Lynx is their chief. He keeps them far away from the Holt. Crackle said so."
"Crackle said so." Chicory repeated that statement, giving it the weight it deserved. "Well, that answers everything for me," she said. "Someone better tell my brother about that development. It'll save him from pacing off his boots."
Rainpace regarded his offspring with a wry mix of amusement and concern. He was grateful that his child wasn't infected by the same fear that haunted her elders, but it seemed unfair, somehow, to leave her believing in one of Crackle's wild tall-tales. He hesitated, unsure of what to say, and thought of his father. Summoning the memory of Ringtail's patient, gentle voice, Rainpace gathered Glow into his lap and hugged her warmly.
"Although your grandsire Blacksnake loved him as a brother, Lynx was not your grandsire," he corrected gently but firmly, sending image-sends as he did. "My father was Ringtail. Lynx was Copper's grandsire, and Beetle's as well. And dearheart, Lynx is not alive today. No matter what story Crackle has told you, Lynx is no longer with us."
Glow nodded wisely. "Yes. Because the bad humans made him their chief. So he lives with them and knows all of their words and keeps the bad humans far, far away from us."
Rainpace sighed. He caught Chicory's eye, and interpreted her look. 'We could only wish that were so...'
"Dearheart," Rainpace said quietly, stroking his child's riot of brindled hair. "Do you remember what I told you about Crackle and her stories, about sometimes she says things that sound really good but which aren't true?" He waited until Glow had nodded solemnly in response to his question before continued. "I'm afraid that story she told you about Lynx was not true. The bad humans killed Lynx."
Glow frowned, not much liking that answer. Rainpace looked to Chicory for help, unsure of how much to say to their child, unsure of how much a cub of such tender age could even comprehend.
"The bad humans will not hurt you," Chicory supplied at once. "If the bad humans start to come here, we're going to leave. We'll go to a new Holt where the bad humans will not be able to find us."
"We may leave very quickly. That's why your mother and I have filled those packs next to the door. And that's why you must not wander outside of view of the Dentrees. Do you understand me?" he asked.
Glow was still frowning. She stared back at him, and finally nodded slowly.
Thunder rumbled heavily, much, much closer. It rolled across the sky like a galloping herd. Sleuth moaned at the sound and huddled down among the sleeping furs, her head flat against her paws. Glow looked up at the sound then, still frowning, squirmed out of her father's embrace to nestle down against her mother.
"Crackle's story is better," she said, with a huge yawn.
"Close your eyes, my tadpole," Chicory said, hugged the girl close and nuzzling her brow.
Glow obliged, and within several heartbeats, her breathing grew slow and heavy with sleep. Rainpace sighed heavily and laid back down in his space in the bed. He carefully fit an arm across his lovemate's hips and drew both her and their child close again.
**I liked Crackle's story better, too,** Chicory locksent.
There was another fierce rumble of storm-hooves across the sky overhead. Rainpace breathed out a slow, controlled breath, and listened gravely to the thunder.