(Ed. Note: Mouse is the cubname of Pathmark.)
“Hmm mmm mmm mmmm. Hmm mmm mmm mmmm. Hmm mmm mmm mmmm,” Mouse hummed the four notes over and over, rocking back and forth with his arms around his knees. He sat on the bank staring at a point downriver.
“Hmm mmm mmm mmmm. Hmm mmm mmm mmmm. Hmm mmm mmm mmmm.” The notes were part of a song his mother, Finch, had played with her flute — a song just for him. He was waiting, as he had so many times, for her to return — as if he could make her appear by waiting faithfully. At ten turns, his head knew it was pointless. His heart, however, clung to a desperate hope.
A hand on his shoulder startled him. He looked up to see Cider’s bright brown eyes full of concern. She said nothing, but sat down next to him. He knew she had overheard his humming, and he knew that she understood – she had been friends with Finch. He leaned into her.
The fisher wrapped her arms around him, offering him the comfort that his father could not. Mouse's sister was out there with him, as was his grandmother. They were trying to keep his father safe. He knew that for certain. He had overheard the whispered conversations of worried elders — all were worried that Bowflight would follow his Recognized into death.
Mouse didn’t want to think about it. He wasn’t sure he believed them anyway — true, he had watched as his mother’s mangled body had been placed on a raft and sent downriver the night before — but she couldn’t be dead; it didn’t feel like she was. Still, he asked the question he hadn’t asked yet, “She’s not coming back, is she?”
His voice had been almost a whisper. Still, Cider had heard him, and she squeezed him a little tighter. “No. She’s not.”
“I’m going to forget,” he said a little louder, his voice worried.
“We will all help you to remember,” she promised. Then she sent to him, sharing her memories of his mother.
He smiled at the memories, squeezing his eyes shut and holding more tightly onto Cider, as if that would keep the memories more fresh. “Thank you,” he whispered when she was done.
A day more had passed before his father had returned. Willow and their grandmother were there as well. All three looked haggard. Mouse had run up to his father, only to be pushed past. His eyes had watered, but had not spilt over, and he had turned to his sister for comfort.
Tired as she was, Willow had not pushed him away as she would have before their mother’s death. Instead, his sister had enveloped him in a tight hug, then had actually picked him up and carried him with her to his and their father’s den. Bowflight wasn’t there yet.
Mouse didn’t say much. He just held tightly to his sister. She tried to set him down, but he clung to her, and finally, she flopped into the furs with him.
**Missed you,** he sent, his mind-voice full of the fear he had felt - concern that she, their father and grandmother might not return, just as their mother hadn’t.
He watched as Willow’s eyes closed and her lips pressed together. He wondered what had happened out there in the forest – what she and Kestrel had seen and done with Bowflight. He wondered with a pang why his father had only brushed past him — but he didn’t ask.
**Missed you, too, runt,** Willow returned with genuine affection and relief at being back at the Dentrees and with him.
**Sleep?** he asked her, both offering and requesting that she snuggle with him.
Willow wrapped her arms around him and held him close.
Mouse watched as Beetle sat staring at a bush full of dreamberries and moths. He didn’t understand how she could just sit there so quietly and patiently. Every once in a while, she would reach out and try to touch one, but the moth she reached for would fly away. After a while, she sent, **I know you’re there, Mouse.** She was impatient and slightly annoyed at him being there, but she hadn’t told him to go away like Quick Fang would have. Quietly, he stepped around the tree he’d been hiding behind and moved to where Beetle sat and squatted beside her, then plopped down.
**Why are you here, Mouse?** she asked, her tolerance for him — a cub — only just enough to not send him away. There was also some sympathy in her send, as if she understood that he was having a hard time.
It dawned on him. **I’m lonely/miss Mama.** Then he added, “Willow spent most of the night with me, but then Notch and Rainpace came, and they dragged her off somewhere, saying she needed some looking after, too.” He thought about what he had witnessed and a giggle escaped, “She went biting and kicking because she said she wanted to stay with me.”
Beetle nodded absently, reaching toward another moth. **Your father?** she asked after the insect had flown.
The herbalist hadn’t responded to his tale about Willow’s abduction, but Mouse understood the question. It seemed everyone was worried about his father. Bowflight had not spoken since Finch’s death six nights ago. He hadn’t stopped worrying about his father, but what could he do, really? Willow and Kestrel had stretched themselves thin trying to take care of both Bowflight and him. It was his father, though, that was most concerning. Kestrel had encouraged Mouse to talk to tribemates, and he had. Some. Mostly he had snuggled with his sister, who was surprisingly tolerant and even welcoming of the time spent close together.
Still, Mouse wanted Bowflight’s attention, too. He needed his father to tell him it would all be all right. But his father hadn’t even talked with him — his own son. Mouse was hurt, and angry. “He won’t talk to me,” he said quietly.
Beetle stopped what she was doing and turned toward him. She reached out and cupped his face in her hands, and lifted it up toward her. Her eyes were full of concern. “I’ve never been through what you’re going through. But know this, your mother loved you — she showed it every day. And your father does, too. Think of everything good he’s done with you and for you. Remember what’s good. The good will come again. You still have your father, Mouse. And you have your sister, and grandmother.”
Mouse smiled at what she had said. Then he thought of something. “I have you, too!” he grinned, reaching to give her a hug.
Beetle hugged him back, and added, “You have the whole tribe.” Then, she started tickling him. He squealed and enjoyed the moment.
Mouse hadn’t heard his father return, but had woken sometime during the day to find him, leathers on, fast asleep. Mouse suppressed a groan, and tightened his eyes against the storm of tears that threatened to break through. He had been waiting a full turn of the moons to talk with his father, but Bowflight seemed to be doing everything he could to avoid spending time with his son.
Mouse remembered their family, before Finch’s death. They’d been so happy together. His mother had almost always been singing, and he could hardly remember a time when his father hadn’t smiled. And he and Willow had been so free of cares and worries. Now, Willow worried about their father, and Mouse worried, too. Finch wasn’t coming back, and things would never, ever, be the same.
The dam burst. Mouse didn’t mean to let it - it had finally built up enough pressure that he couldn’t stop it. The tears streamed down, and his small body began to wrack with sobs. He tried to stay quiet, so as not to wake his father, who had enough to worry about.
But Bowflight did wake up. Mouse could sense the movement in the bedbowl, could feel his father sitting up behind him. He wondered why Bowflight didn’t say anything. ‘Maybe he doesn’t want me here,’ he thought to himself, and cried even harder.
Bowflight’s hand reached out toward him. Mouse could feel the warmth of it nearing his skin. He tensed a moment, waiting for his father’s touch — an invitation to seek comfort from him. But it never came. After a few moments, the hand dropped, and he felt his father shifting in the bedbowl and returning to sleep.
Mouse couldn’t take it anymore, and left the den.
"F-aa-thhh-er doesn't (hic) wa-ant me-ee a-a (hic) nymore,” Mouse tearfully explained to his grandmother. With Willow dragged off who-knows-where, Kestrel had been the first elf he thought to go to. As she held him in her arms, he began to feel slightly better, but it would take more than just his grandmother’s hugs to chase away the feelings of loss.
“Of course he does, cubling,” his grandmother began, her voice soothing. “Your father misses your mother very, very much. We just have to give him some time.”
“I miss her too, grandmother,” Mouse responded with a sniffle. “And now I miss father. It’s almost like they’re both gone now. I don’t know what to do.”
“There isn’t anything for you to do, sweetling. Your sister and I are trying to help him through this. You have to be patient with him.” The elder’s tone got a bit more serious then. “In the meantime, cub, you need to try and get some sleep.”
Mouse nodded hesitantly, his mind wanting to stay awake but his body feeling weary. He felt safe with his grandmother’s arms wrapped around him, and he let her pull him close, feeling sleep creeping up on him. He peered at the edge of the bedbowl through half-closed eyelids and voiced the concern that had been haunting him. “What if I forget my mother?”
“Never,” Kestrel said with a smile, placing a finger lightly on Mouse’s forehead. “She’ll always be right here. And if that isn’t enough, any one of us in the tribe would be glad to share a story or a send with you whenever you want.”
It was exactly what Cider had told him before, but Mouse felt that the more he heard it, the more it must be true. “Can... can I have a story now?” he asked quietly, not sure he’d be able to stay awake for a whole story, but wanting one just the same. He knew his grandmother had been around a long, long time, and must have tons of stories about his mother that he had never heard.
“Of course,” Kestrel answered, and then began.
(This story has a sequel: "Lost Son".)