(This story is part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers - Background" series of stories -- see listing for related stories.)
It had been a handful of days since Axehand had been brought back to the Holt, suffering injuries from a mountain sheep hunt gone wrong. The worst of his injuries, in his leg, had festered and the poison of the wound was quickly spreading through his body. Cloudfern was getting increasingly despondent as his remedies failed to have any effect, and his mood was catching. The tribe was subdued as they awaited the fate of the normally vital, boisterous hunter.
Axehand's Recognized Tallow's workden had been cold and quiet since they first brought the wounded hunter home, and each day she grew paler and more drawn as she joined those at his bedside, trying to provide what comfort she could.
Thornbow was anxious for his mother, and the child she carried. But he was old enough to know that new love formed didn't mean old love's death. Even though her life with Axehand had been brief, and she had lifemated with Birdcatcher, Tallow needed to be there with Axehand, and with Thornbow's half-sister, Flash.
Thornbow sat with his father, knapping and shaping hunting blades as Axehand's groans echoed through the hometrees. Flash had been sitting outside, away from the main gathering area, seeking a moment's respite from her worry, but at the sound she rose and made her way to Axehand's new shelter at the base of the Child Tree. Thornbow followed her progress as she collected herself and entered the den. As she disappeared, Thornbow's eyes drifted to another archway at the base of dentrees where other tribemates lay, its opening dark like a wide-open, waiting mouth.
Thornbow turned his hands back to his task, but his mind was full of questions. “Do you think Axehand will go into wrapstuff?”
Birdcatcher exhaled a low, dry laugh. “Axehand? Not likely. There's hardly an elf who goes at life with more gusto. I don't think lying down to wait for a solution would be his way.”
Thornbow thought of the bundles down in the storage dens. He had often accompanied his father on his visits to Birdcatcher's brother Newt. It had always been slightly unsettling, thinking of Brightwood and his uncle resting quiet under their wrappings. The den held nothing of their scent, no sign of life, as they waited in death-not death, suspended in time.
“I don't blame him. I wouldn't choose it either.”
Birdcatcher shook his head slowly. “Well, it's not always for you to decide.” He sighed. “That job, unfortunately, is sometimes up to the ones you leave behind.”
Thornbow regarded his father curiously. Newt's wrapping was a time he never spoke of much. “Was it hard when you put Newt in wrapstuff?”
For several long moments, the only sound was the slow grating of stone against stone as Birdcatcher continued to shape a spearpoint. Birdcatcher could feel his son's eyes on him, earnest in their curiosity, new green like fresh spring sprouts. Thornbow, still just cutting his teeth on adulthood, was still unaware of the length of life and the sorrows that could come to it.
He thought, also, of the new child he was awaiting and of the love he already felt for it. A wolfrider's life was harsh at times, and it did no good to try to protect cubs from all that was out there that might do them harm. Still, he would spare them what pain he could. There was no reason for his cubs to know the pain wrapping Newt had caused, or how it had destroyed his family. High Ones willing, it was a choice they would never have to face.
“Aye, it was hard. But someday the tribe will have a healer again, and Newt will be back with us, so it will have all been for the best.”
Birdcatcher attempted what he hoped was a lighthearted smile, and clapped his son on the back. “Now what-say we go see if there are any ripe brownfruit yet. They're your mother's favorite. Maybe we can get her to eat something before she gets any paler.”
Happy to be distracted from such weighty subjects, Thornbow quickly bundled up the knapping supplies and followed his father into the forest.
“If something is going to be done, it needs to be now.” Cloudfern's words hung in the close, fetid air with a finality that could no longer be ignored. Greenweave's eyes met Thornbow's, his indecision apparent. Honey moaned weakly and reached one hand out in a jerky, fevered motion. Dreamflight caught it and, stroking it gently, rested it back at Honey's side.
She dabbed gently at Honey's forehead with a wet rag, her vision suddenly clouded with tears. “We can't let her go! I can't... I can't say goodbye now. Not while there's still a chance.”
Birdcatcher's eyes were fixed on his granddaughter. He had tried so hard, all these years, to make things right for his family, to spare them the heartache he had experienced, but sorrow, it seemed, shadowed their every footstep.
He alone in his family knew what it was like, to wait the long years for a loved one who was still there, and yet not, always waiting for the promise of 'one day.' It was a fate he never would have wished for his young granddaughter. But now that it was here, could he be the one to take that hope away? If he fought to let Honey go, would Dreamflight understand that by giving her some pain now, he would save her from years of pain ahead? He looked at her grieving face and concluded she wouldn't.
And who was he to take a mother from her daughter? Honey's wrapping might not work out for his family the way Newt's had. Pushing aside his misgivings, Birdcatcher caught Greenweave's and Thornbow's eyes, giving a short nod.
Relieved to be given some guidance in the matter, Thornbow numbly added his consent to Birdcatcher's.
Greenweave's gaze lingered on his daughter, and after several long moments of hesitation, also bowed his head towards Cloudfern, and the plantshaper disappeared, returning shortly in a fluttering of wings. Dreamflight hugged her mother, and kissed her gently, then backed away to be immediately ensconced by her father and uncle. They held each other as the Preservers went quickly to their work, watching as Honey disappeared as if in a glowing cloud. A sob escaped Dreamflight and she buried her face in her father's shoulder.
Then it was done, and in Honey's place was a quiet stillness. The echo of her presence still hung heavy in the air. Dreamflight caressed the silken cocoon, brushing the tears out of her eyes. Birdcatcher, in turn, ran his hand over his granddaughter's hair, so like Honey's in her quiet sleep.
“Shh, now. It's all right. It's all for the best.” He fervently hoped that it was.