2012 TREASURE HUNT CLUE #8: We three died in a raging spring flood. Who are we? (Answer: Sunlight, Tallow & Beesting (poem “Red Skies At Night”, by Heidi); alternative answer: Carver, Harmony & Riversong in RTH 514)
The two elves stood on bank of the Braided River's southernmost fork, where the soil finally shifted into sand. A gust of wind caught at their clothing and hair, and bent over the beach grass around them. Above them, a handful of gulls who had not yet fled inland in the face of the oncoming storm did battle with the wind, eyeing the pair with speculation. They seldom saw elves here without scavenging opportunities of one sort or another coming to fruition. But these two elves stood silent and motionless, facing the water of Eagle Bay, and the wind was too fierce to fight for long.
Cloudfern stood half a pace behind his lover, knowing that they had done their best. He watched the waves, and the way the gusting wind animated swirls of his companion's dark hair. At length, as the first cold spatters of rain began to hit them, he reached out and rested a hand on Raven's shoulder.
"We need to find shelter," he said.
Raven shook off his lover's hand and stood solidly motionless, except for the wind in his black hair. Raven had always been a quiet, reserved elf — but since the death of Raven's mother, Beesting, and twice-Recognized, Sunlight, he had become practically mute. Raven had promised his two grieving daughters, Finch and Windsong, that he would find their mother's and grandmother's bodies and bring Sunlight and Beesting home to them. In the more than a full cycle of the moons since, he and Cloudfern had doggedly searched each curve and stretch of the Braided River's multiple channels, south and west of the fatal crossing where Sunlight, Beesting, Tallow and their wolves had been swept away. In all that time, the only words Cloudfern had heard his lover speak had been a wordless shout when they'd found the body of a drowned wolf. And that sad beast had proved not to be one of the missing packmates they'd been searching for, but rather a lone female stranger-wolf. It had been their only moment of hope, and even that had been bitter and brief.
Another gust of wind cut at their faces, leaving the taste of salt on Cloudfern's lips. He touched his lovemate's arm again, unwilling to say what he knew needed to be said. Their hunt was over. They had failed. Sunlight, Beesting and Tallow and the others were simply gone, as though the angry spring flood had simply swallowed its victims down whole, or washed them out into the deep sea.
**We need to find shelter,** Cloudfern sent instead, repeating that plea. The sky was low and heavy with dark clouds, and he could see bands of rain approaching rapidly across the bay, obscuring the distant islands that lay between the mainland and the deep, endless expanse of the Great Water.
**I can't go home.** Raven's mindtouch was as dark and bitterly cold as the approaching stormfront. **Not without finding them."
Cloudfern wrapped his arms around his lovemate's shoulders; he had to stand on the toes of his feet to nuzzle Raven's ear. He held onto his lover hard, his heart breaking for his beloved's unending grief. Cloudfern grieved as well for his lost tribemates — in particular, Sunlight had been his aunt and practically a second mother to him since the death of his own parents. But Raven's grief had become an all-consuming thing, a stormfront of its own, as driving and uncontrollable as the force of nature which had spawned it.
**They're gone,** Cloudfern sent, as compassionately as he was able. **We've looked everywhere we could look. There's nothing more that we can do.**
**I can't go home,** Raven repeated, his sending wretched with despair. **Not without their bodies. I can't.**
Cloudfern moved to place himself between his lover and the sea. He wrapped both arms tightly around Raven's body and hugged the hunter hard. **Your mother would not want this,** he sent. **My aunt would not want this. If they could, they would both tell you you've done enough. They would tell you to let them go. They would tell you to go home, that your daughters are waiting for you there.**
**I can't,** Raven repeated, his sending numb of everything but his soul-consuming grief.
Cloudfern perservered. **Beesting would give you that look out of the corner of her eye and tell you — 'Be practical, there'd be nothing left by now but bones anyway, and who wants to be remembered as bones?'** It was cruel, maybe — but Cloudfern could well imagine exactly the look and tone of voice that his acerbic elder would deliver that advice in. **And Sunlight would tease you for being so stubborn about it. 'Done is done,' she'd say. 'Get out of the rain before it soaks you,' she'd say.**
A shuddering sigh rippled through Raven's hard muscles, and then Cloudfern felt the hunter's arms go about him in return. The embrace turned fierce, and Cloudfern felt the press of his mate's face against his hair.
"I love you," Raven said then, his voice harsh from emotion and lack of use.
They found shelter among a thicket of storm-stunted trees, and made love as the rain fell against the ceiling of leaves above them. Cloudfern woke once to find Raven sleeping tucked up chest-to-back against him, their hair a tangled pillow of black and white-gold. Much later, Cloudfern woke a second time, only to find Raven gone, his tunic and boots still piled along with Cloudfern's own beside their sleeping furs.
In the rain, Cloudfern followed Raven's tracks down to the shore. They continued straight out into the surf of Eagle Bay, where they were swallowed by the tide. Frantic, Cloudfern searched up and down the wide crescent moon of the beach, but he never found tracks of a swimmer returning to shore.