For one glorious moment, it was as it was supposed to be. She was flying. Goldfinch spread her arms in exaltation, wishing to embrace the two full moons which she rose toward. The wind swept back her golden hair and the sky itself seemed to reach out for her and return her embrace, and she could hear the stars whispering to her secret name in welcome. Anil, Anil, Anil...
Then it all began to go bad. She had leaped from the very top of the snag tree at the crest of Crow's Ridge, with all of the wide river valley below. Goldfinch reached the apogee of her vaulting leap into the sky, and instead of gliding higher, the young elf instead began to fall.
No! No! Goldfinch willed herself to fly. The ability would come to her in her moment of direst need — she knew that it was so, just as it always did in the stories that Howlkeeper Bearheart and his daughter Snowfall both told. Goldfinch knew she could fly. She had always wanted to so very, very badly! No one had ever, ever wanted anything more than she wanted to be a glider. She knew that she was only a heartbeat away from the magic springing forth, she knew it, she wanted so badly it had to be true, and now she needed, needed it as she fell in a clean diver's arch toward the ground.
The wind which had embraced her only moments ago now seemed to rake at her with claws, and despite herself, Goldfinch twisted in the air like a cat, as if she could possibly land on her feet and walk away. The tops of the trees were racing toward her (or was she was racing toward them?), and her exultation had turned to starkest terror. Now! she demanded of herself, flinging her arms wide again as if she could will them into wings. Now! she tried to command herself, willing the seed of power she knew was inside of her. Now! Now! Ancestors-oh-please-now-now-now-now!
The treetops were just about to get her when a hard, invisible fist seized her, yanking her to a stop so hard the air was crushed from her lungs. Then she hung motionless in the air, hovering above the trees, so close that the leaves of the nearest branch swayed against her feet. For a second, glorious moment, Goldfinch knew she had succeeded. Her heart leapt with joy. She had done it! She was a glider, just like she had always known she would be!
That joy crashed in the next instant, as the fierce grasp around her jerked her sideways, then spun her about. Through the swirl of golden hair in her eyes, she saw the tribe's elder glider skimming fast over the trees, from the direction of the Holt and the river.
**What in Wolfsister's eyeteeth?!** Kestrel shouted the words as well as sent them, but it was the sending that was the worst, blasting Goldfinch's mind with a white-hot blast of fear. The raw adrenaline in the elder's mindtouch hurt, searing her like a flash of skyfire.
"You're hurting me!" Goldfinch protested, as Kestrel's invisible grip pulled her across the treetops and toward the river.
"You foolish cub!" Kestrel retorted. She reached out and grabbed Goldfinch by the collar of her tunic, and yanked Goldfinch to her with a wrench both physical and magical. Moments later, Kestrel guided them both down through the trees and over the river. Goldfinch was dropped on her hands and knees onto the rocky shore, just in sight of the Dentrees. Ringtail and Bearheart were spear-fishing from the stone weir and had watched the unusual descent with gap-jawed disbelief. Dimly, Goldfinch could see them beyond Kestrel, scrambling across the stones of the weir and running toward them up the riverbank.
"What in Wolfsister's eyeteeth do you think you were doing up there?" Kestrel shouted again, dropping to the riverbank to stand on her own feet, while Goldfinch pulled herself up onto her knees. Her rough landling had left Goldfinch with skinned kneecaps and skinned elbows, and she'd bitten her lower lip painfully. Goldfinch touched her lip and looked in shock at the blood that came away on her fingers. "Why in the names of all of our Ancestors were you climbing that dead old tree on the ridgetop?" her elder demanded.
"I was going to fly," Goldfinch answered, wiping away moisture from her chin and finding, to her horror, that she'd skinned that as well when Kestrel had flung her down on the stony river rocks. "And it almost worked, I know it, I felt it almost work..."
Kestrel's eyes were already strangely-bloodshot and wide with adrenline. Now they widened even further, in an expression of starkest horror. "You foolish cubl!" her elder cried. Kestrel was shaking visibly, and as Goldfinch watched, the glider wilted to her knees on the riverbank. "You stupid, spoiled little child!"
"What's going on?" Bearheart asked as he and Ringtail arrived.
"She jumped," Kestrel rasped. "The stupid little fool jumped from the tall snag tree on Crow's Ridge! It was only chance that I saw her and managed to catch her."
"You what?" Ringtail was aghast as he turned on Goldfinch. The look Bearheart gave her was equally horrified.
"I wasn't," Goldfinch stammered in her own defense. "I wasn't trying to kill myself. I was just trying to fly." Her three elders continued to stare at her, their expressions disbelieving and horrified. "That's how it works in all of the good stories," Goldfinch continued, trying to make them understand. "Remember Blue Jay? He couldn't fly until he fell off of the cliff at Seal Caves. And Vine only learned she could shape plants when she had to save herself from strangleweed."
Kestrel was shaking her head in disbelief. "You stupid, stupid cub," she murmured. "You would be dead if I hadn't seen the red of your skirt against the grey rocks. You would have died!"
"You can't daydream up a magic talent," Bearheart said, his voice gentler. "Little cloudwatcher, you can't wish yourself into having a magic. You're either born with it, or you are not. And most of us are not."
"I almost didn't get there in time," Kestrel was still murmuring. Her voice had gone weak, and she continued to shake as though with a bad chill. Goldfinch recoiled from her elder as she saw that the whites of Kestrel's eyes had gone red, as if filled with blood. Blood had begun to trickle from Kestrel’s nose, and the glider’s hand struggled to find her face to wipe the moisture away.
Ringtail had seen it, too. He moved quickly, scooping Kestrel up into his arms, even as the elder collapsed. "She's pushed herself too hard," he said urgently to Bearheart.
"Get her to Cloudfern," Bearheart said, as he pulled off his own tunic and bundled the dark-dyed buckskin around Kestrel's shoulders as a blanket. Ringtail nodded and hurried for the Holt, whistling for his wolf as he ran. Bearheart then turned back to Goldfinch, and reached for her hand. She took his, welcoming his aid in getting to her feet. But her gratitude turned to dismay when he refused to release his firm grip.
"And you, girl-cub — the chief will want to have words with you," the Howlkeeper said sternly. "And so will your parents."
Chief Windburn had words aplenty — hot words, angry words, words that scorched her and left her ragged with tears. He left a weeping Goldfinch behind to her parents...
Greenweave's sad eyes and Honey's tears were almost as terrible to endure as Windburn's fury.
"My pretty little cub," Greenweave said, shaking his head sadly. "You've had feather-light notions before, but this... "
Honey knelt beside Goldfinch on the floor of the Chief's Den. "Darling, you could have died!" she cried, cupping Goldfinch's cheek. "What in the stars above were you THINKING?"
"She wasn't, that's the problem!" Greenweave said ruefully, before Goldfinch could even begin to defend herself.
"I keep explaining myself, and no one is listening to me!" Goldfinch said, throwing a wounded look at her father so he would be sure to know how badly his lack of faith in her stung. "I wasn't trying to hurt myself, I'm smarter than that! But I know I can fly. I do it all of the time in my dreams! And in all of the Howlkeeper's stories, your magic will rise up for you when you really, really need it. Even True Edge said that’s so, and True Edge wouldn’t say that if he didn’t know he was right! So--"
"So you jumped. Off of the snag tree at the top of Crow's Ridge." Greenweave shook his head sadly. "Dearheart—"
Honey seized her daughter's chin, forcing Goldfinch to meet her eyes. Goldfinch winced as her mother's fingertips pressed against a patch of raw skin; her mother's expression had shifted from anxious fear to anger in an instant.
"Don't you ever — EVER — do something like this again!" Honey exclaimed. "You would have died if Kestrel hadn't by chance been in range to reach you!"
"— not all of the ancestor stories are exactly true as told," Greenweave finished. "Stories tend to get better with the telling, and that's true of the Howlkeeper and the hallowed ancestor as much as it is the fisher and his one that got away."
"You! Could! Have! DIED!" Honey had not released her daughter's chin yet, and gave Goldfinch's a shake with each fierce word. "You will NEVER do anything like this again! Do you hear me? It would kill me if anything were to happen to you! Don't you ever frighten us like this again!"
Goldfinch pulled herself free of her mother's fierce grip. "I didn't mean to frighten you — I only meant to make you proud!"
"I'm already proud of you, dearest," Greenweave said. "And I'll be even prouder if you don't become the subject of future Howlkeeper's stories warning cubs away from jumping off of mountain tops in futile pursuit of a daydream. Precious kitling — you're not a glider."
"But I am!" she retorted earnestly. "I know I am!"
Honey and Greenweave shared a knowing look. "Sweetness, you're not a glider. You will never be one. It's not your birthright," Honey said.
"It's not in your blood," Greenweave replied. "Only Crow's children —"
"Grandsire Birdcatcher is grandson of Butterfly... that makes Crow my great-great-great-great-grandsire!" Goldfinch said feverishly.
Greenweave gamely continued despite his daughter’s interruption. "— only the children directly of Crow's line have been able to develop the magic to fly. Butterfly was Feather's daughter and Crow's granddaughter, certainly — but her son Strand didn't inherit the talent, and so your grandsire Birdcatcher did not either."
"Plantshaping magic skips generations sometimes — so could gliding as well!" Goldfinch argued. "I know I could! I just know it!"
"Dearheart," Honey said, shaking her head sadly. "I know you wish you could, but it won't happen. It has never happened before. I've never felt the stirring in my blood, so how could I pass it on to you? Only Kestrel’s children might find the ability in them to fly, and she’s had only the one."
"Bowflight certainly wants it, and just as badly as you might. But though he was Kestrel's son, it has never developed for him," Greenweave said. “And I know he’s been in several dangerous hunts were if the talent to fly had been able to manifest for him, it would have saved his hide from a battering.”
“Willow or Pathmark are Kestrel’s grandcubs. They’d sprout gliding powers before you ever did, kitling,” Honey added, her voice more tender than her blunt words.
Goldfinch hugged herself, shielding herself as fiercely as she could from her parents words. "But I am going to be a glider! Someday I will! I want to be so very badly, and I dream about it! Every time I sleep, I dream of flying! I know I will. I just know it!"
"Oh, kitling..." Greenweave shook his head sadly as he touched her cheek gently. "My sweetheart, it doesn't matter how hungry you may be for something — you can't fill your nets with wishes, not if there's no water to fish from."
"You can't wish something into being," Honey agreed with an earnest vehemence. "Wishing can't make it so. No matter how hard you might dream of flight, it won't give you wings."
"You took a terrible risk today, my precious cub. Please. You must swear to your mother and I both that you'll never do anything like this again," Greenweave said firmly.
Goldfinch nodded mutely, and hugged herself even tighter. Her father embraced her warmly, while her mother sat back on her heels as if a battle had been won.
“Good, that’s settled. Now you’re going to go straightaways to Kestrel and tell her how sorry you are. As the chief said — you’re going to tend to tend to Kestrel’s every need for as long as it takes for our eldest-elder to get better,” Honey said firmly. “Cloudfern said it could be days before her crippling headache fades away from over-using her magic like she did. You owe her your life. The least you can do is fetch and carry her pisspots. And you’ll do it all with a smile on your face — none of your pretty little pouts or any of your poor-me sighs, understand me?” Honey demanded, with what Goldfinch thought was a pretty pouting-frown of her own.
“Your mother is right — you owe Kestrel your life,” Greenweave said as he released Goldfinch, with a final tousle of her golden hair. “Kestrel will still be suffering from her effort to save you, while you’re enjoying your next dreams of flight. So show your gratitude, and please don’t get into one of your sulks about it. Your mother and I won’t tolerate it, and neither will the chief.”
Goldfinch raised her chin bravely, determined to endure her coming days of punishment with good grace. But no matter how many smiles and promises otherwise her parents and kin might demand, she was determined to hold fast to her dreams. She would fly someday. She knew it. Because there was nothing else in the world she wanted so very badly. And she knew — knew it, heart, gut and soul — that if you only wanted something badly enough, you would get it eventually. So she presented a brave smile for her parents now, and gathered herself to her feet to go to Kestrel’s bedside.
Goldfinch knew the truth inside her. She would never stop dreaming of flight. And if she was steadfast and patient, she would get what she wanted. She just knew it would be so.