2012 TREASURE HUNT CLUE #2: We are two fathers, whose dying thoughts are requests for forgiveness. Who are we? (Answer: Poem “Dying Thoughts” by Adrienne)
(Ed. Note: Briar is the cubname of Farscout, and Fawn is the cubname of Brightwood.)
Briar sat in the middle of the old snag-top cedar tree, which had fallen across the Braided River last winter. The river flowed by lazily beneath him — the water was low and far from reaching the fallen tree, and slow enough in this season that in the deepest spots, the surface was still enough to reflect back the stars from the night sky overhead. If wolves could walk on water, the tallest of the pack would be able to walk beneath the tree-bridge without needing to duck. Briar had a gathering bag slung across his back, and dangled a length of knotted twine from his perch into the water, to which he had tied three salmon heads. The youth sat patiently, occasionally swinging his feet. Every once in a while, he slowly gathered in his fishing line and plucked stubborn crawfish off from their feast of carrion, dropping the crustaceans into his shoulder bag one by one before lowering his bait back into the torpid river.
Bare feet pattered out onto the fallen log, paused for a moment at his side, and then Fawn dropped down to sit beside him. “Mother’s gone with Aunt Easysinger,” she said. “I’m to sleep with my grandparents in their den until she’s back.”
“I heard,” Briar said. He reached a hand into his gathering bag and pulled out a big crawfish. “At least they shouldn’t be gone for long. They’re only riding as far as Fork Spring; that’s just a three night hunt at most,” he said as he offered her the crustacean.
The girl took the offering happily, avoiding its angrily waving claws. She swung her feet so that her heels rapped against the rusty-red bulk of the cedar tree, and deftly pinched the crawfish’s head in one hand and its tail in the other. She twisted and wriggled the crustacean apart until the head popped neatly off. “I don’t think they want me there, or something,” the girl complained. “Grandmother and Grandsire just want to giggle and wrestle around in the furs when they think I’m asleep. I hate trying to go to sleep when you know they’re just waiting on me to do so. Besides, my grandmother smells funny.”
“Not funny,” Briar said. “Just different. Shyheart’s with cub now.”
“Well, it’s a funny smell. I don’t like her to smell different.” With one hand, Fawn lifted the crawfish head to her mouth and slurped out the brain-butter, then tossed the empty head-shell into the river below. “I liked it when she smelled like just herself. She smelled better when she was normal.”
Briar nodded, more as a sign that he was listening to the child than out of agreement. He rather thought that Fawn just didn’t like that something else had changed for their tribe, but he wasn’t about to say so. Instead, he said “Well, when Shyheart and Cedarwing have their baby, then you’ll get to help teach him or her everything they need to know. Won’t that be good?”
The girl snorted sourly. “Hardly. It’ll be two springs before the baby is born, and then by the time the baby is my age, I’ll be as grown up as you are. I’ll not want anything to do with a little baby then — I bet I’ll be out hunting every day when I’m that old. You could be, you know. If you wanted.”
“Maybe next summer,” Briar said, with no commitment to his tone. Since the last, terrible winter, he had not been allowed to leave the Holt for more than just day trips with Lynx. None of the adults had ever said he should be kept close to the Holt, at least within range of his sharp hearing. But too many had died during the hungry, brutal winter. The deaths of so many — elders and children alike — was a constant wound shared by everyone, and it was a deep wound that was slow to heal and seemed to mend in different ways for different elves. Briar was conscious of his lowly place in the tribe, and was reluctant to press for the same freedoms he had enjoyed before the winter. He was never sure what would trigger fresh grief among his kin. Of the tribe’s children, only himself, Fawn, and infant Cider had survived the winter, and many of their mourning elders had grown overprotective of the them. It was easier to wait than to press, knowing that some kinsfolk would be waiting in unreasonable anxiety for his safe return. He knew as well that little Fawn was desperately lonely without the playmates she had grown up with. He knew himself to be a poor substitute, but trying to keep her happy pleased her, and their elders as well. And for his own sake... Briar had found his wanderlust lacking since the last winter. He had had nightmares about coming home only to find the Dentrees empty and the craftdens bare. Staying close to the Holt to help care for Fawn had given him a sense of purpose to fill the empty space his absent wanderlust had left behind.
“I wish Father were back,” Fawn continued. She had a firm hold on her decapitated crawfish and was pinching up and down the mottled body, so that the shell popped and crackled. “But he’s always gone for a least a moon during long patrol.” The girl pulled the shell free and tossed it towards a slowly rippling ring on the surface of the river, where a fish had surfaced to snap after a fly. “I could sleep in my own den if Father were back.”
Briar heard the change in tone in his friend’s voice, and knew then what weighed on the girl’s heart. “Lynx will be back,” he said, believing it with every bit of his soul.
Fawn simply nodded, and kicked her heels some more against the solid bulk of the cedar. She held her crawfish by the tail and neatly deveined it, flicking the bitter bits down into the water. Another fish — or maybe the same one — rose up to swallow the tidbit in one gulp. Fawn nibbled away at the sweet tail meat she was left with, and didn’t speak against until she had finished. “It just seems longer, somehow. When he’s away. Longer than it used too.”
Briar thought of the dens left empty, and of the small rafts they had labored to build in the cold. “It does,” he agreed. “I miss him too. But your father always comes back.” It was something Briar needed to believe in, too.
They sat in a companionable silence — an uncharacteristic silence, even, considering Fawn’s effervescent constitution. The girl leaned back on her elbows and gazed up through the gap in the forest canopy carved by the river’s course. She seemed to be studying the sky. Briar waited patiently on her silence, knowing it wouldn’t last. He began to pull up his bait line, taking it slowly so as not to disturb his voracious catch.
“Do you think your father loved you?” she finally asked, when she leaned forward again to help him pick fresh crawfish from the salmon heads on the line suspended in front of them.
The question caught him by surprise, and he had to think for a while before answering. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “Easysinger says so. Snaptwig told me so once, and he was my father’s brother.”
“How do you think he could?” Fawn might have only been a child, but her aim for the jugular of a matter was ruthless. “I mean, you weren’t even born yet when Hawkcall died. He couldn’t know you.”
Briar thought about that for a time. They cleaned the crawfish from the line and put them in his gathering bag, and then he slipped the bait line back into the river. Briar knew that mothers learned the soul names of their babies before the babies were born. He knew as well that mothers often shared that secret with their Recognizeds. He was certain that Shyheart would share such a gift with her lifemate, Cedarwing. But he could not imagine his own mother sharing anything willingly with his father. Ice never spoke of Hawkcall, except with tones of anger. So he doubted that his own father had even known him, before Hawkcall’s lonely death on the hunt.
“My father never knew me,” he finally said. “But he wanted to be my father. So he loved the idea of me, at least.”
That seemed to satisfy the girl’s relentless curiosity, or at least it did for a time. She reached into his gathering bag for another crawfish and snacked on it, bit by bit, this time not forgetting to suck the tender meat from its claws. When she threw the last bit of her meal into the river water, she stared at the ripples in the reflection there, then looked back up at the sky.
“There,” she said, pointing up at the north star. “That’s my father, right there.”
Briar glanced at the girl, not understanding her. “The north star?”
She nodded firmly. “When I was only a little tiny cub, Father took me outside one night and had me choose a star for him. And then he chose a star for me. And now whenever he’s away, all I have to do is look up in the sky and I see him, and know he’s watching over me.”
Briar looked at Fawn again, only this time, with a jolt of jealousy. He knew Lynx loved him like a son, and he loved the scout like a father. But Lynx had never chosen stars with him. Briar wrestled that surge of bitterness down, telling himself firmly that he was too old for such things. Then he glanced up at the north star, and tried to find some comfort in imagining it was Lynx. He found that he did not have the imagination to make that leap. It was still just a star, nothing more.
“That’s me, right there,” Fawn continued, pointing toward the Running Wolf constellation. “That’s me, right at the tip of the nose. And every night that he’s away, I know Father looks up and sees me, too.”
“That’s very nice.” It was, too. Briar could see the poetry and comfort in it, even if he couldn’t feel it.
“You should do it, too,” Fawn announced, with a confident finality that Briar knew meant that she intended to see her notion through. “Pick a star for your father, and then pick a star for yourself.”
Briar smiled to himself, but he went along his friend’s demand. He looked up at the night sky for a time, studying the stars. “The Diving Hawk rises in the east during the summer. The hawk’s eye can be for my father.”
Fawn nodded, satisfied with that. “Now you. Which star is you?”
That took much less consideration. “The reddish one, just off of the High One’s shoulder.” It was as close to the North Star as he could get.
“Good!” Fawn seemed especially pleased with that choice. “So you’ll be in the sky all year around too. You’ll go in circles, but you’ll always be where I can find you, too.”
With that, the girl picked herself up and skipped off, calling for her wolf pup as she vaulted off of the end of the cedar log. Briar watched her go, then turned and looked up at the sky again. The North Star hung there, bright overhead. And the Hawk’s Eye sparkled as it watched down on the Holt, too. Briar gazed at it for a time, and somehow, it strangely began to feel right and good, as though there was something behind a child’s choices and a child’s skyfire imagination.
Maybe there was some comfort to be found in such whimsy, after all.