Summer's Passing   1870.02.10*  
Written By: Whitney Ware
(2012 Treasure Hunt) (2011 Summer Comments Challenge) As the first responder on the scene after a deadly avalanche, Kestrel struggles to do the right thing, when she cannot know what the right thing really is...
Posted: 09/10/12      [11 Comments]
 

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2012 TREASURE HUNT CLUE #10: I had black hair, and my eyes were ocean green. I died at age 474. Who am I? (Answer: Summer.)



The hunters had seen the avalanche rumbling down on them. They had run for it across the side of the valley, heading for the possible safety of the treeline. Most of the party had made it — but the last two, lifemates Diver and Summer, were overwhelmed by the deadly tide of snow, and swept away down the side of Blackfang Mountain.

**Oakhand!** Kestrel sang out as she spotted something small and dark in the avalanche's wide wake down the slope. She arrowed down to reach the spot, her heart stuck in her throat.

Summer lay half-buried in the powdery snow. Flutterby was already there, patting anxiously at her favorite elf's freckled cheek. With one arm outstretched, the other bent at her side, and her face turned up to the weak sunlight, Summer looked as though she were a swimmer catching her breath mid-stroke. The weaver's thick fur coat had been lost to the roiling, icy undertow, and it took Kestrel a moment to realize how very badly the arm tucked against her side was bent.

"Good good high-thing," Flutterby chanted, in a voice so shrill it alone could trigger another snow-slide. "Wake up, wake up, good highthing must wake!"

Summer's eyes were closed, but they flickered open as Kestrel landed. The vivid sea-green of Summer's eyes were always striking, but now they were sluggish and slow to focus.

Kestrel reached for her elder's good hand and squeezed it. “I’m here, you will be all right,” she said, as she felt Summer's fingers curl around her own. “The others are coming, we’ll dig you out and get you home,” she said, while the weaver's eyes focused more clearly on Kestrel's face.

Summer gave her a distant, strange smile, and to Kestrel's horror, the weaver's teeth were red from blood. "You found me," the weaver murmured. "I wasn't sure the snow would ever spit me out again."

"Good good high-thing!" Flutterby cried. It crawled across the crust of snow, batting its pastel wings for momentum, and began to push the snow away from Summer's body as if it could dig her free. Kestrel tried to release Summer's hand to do the same, but Summer held her firm.

"Leave it," the weaver whispered, still smiling that strange, too-distant. "I'm warm enough where I am. I hurt bad enough already — it'll only hurt worse if I have to try and move."

Kestrel saw that the high-necked pale blue of Summer's woven shirt was speckled with fine drops of blood, making Kestrel think of a redbreast-bird's egg. The glider cast a frantic glance upslope, toward the distant treeline, where she knew Oakhand and the rest of his hunting party were. She could not see them yet, and she willed them to come racing into sight, so that Oakhand would be here. Oakhand would know what to do. The Hunt Leader always knew what to do. But no matter how hard she wished it, Kestrel could not yet see them.

Illustration by Melanie D.
"Are you badly hurt?" she asked, knowing that the weaver's one arm, at least, was broken. The dusting of blood drops on her shirt would have come from an exhalation — but the blood in Summer's mouth could be from a badly bitten cheek or tongue, it did not necessarily mean internal injuries —

"Have you found my lifemate?" Summer said then, not answering Kestrel's question. The weaver squeezed Kestrel's hand again, with less strength than before.

Kestrel shook her head. "Not yet, but Oakhand and the others are all looking. Don't you worry — we'll find him and then we'll all go home, safe and sound."

Summer smiled that terrible smile again. "No. No. Not this time. My Recognized is dead. I felt him leave me. He and I now are both meat for crows."

"No!" Kestrel winced at the sharpness of her own voice, and cast a worried look back up the mountainside. "No," she repeated more gently.

"If you've sent for him, you know it's true," Summer said. "Oakhand's sending to me now. He's telling me to stay calm and that he'll be here as soon as he can. But I don't intend to wait for him. I'm just glad that you're here, and Flutterby too. Brave little Flutterby, we've always been the best of friends, haven't we?"

"Flutterby love sweet Sea-Eyes-Highthing!" Flutterby cried. "Always love, always. Always. Wee-thing must move aside horrible snow. Must make wrapstuff so sweet Sea-Eyes Highting can sleep safe."

"No!" It was Summer's turn for a fierce, sharp objection. "No wrapstuff! No cocoon for me. My mate has gone away. I'm going to join him. I don't want the long sleep, Flutterby. I don't want it."

Flutterby made an angry noise and began to dig even harder. Kestrel again moved to help, and again, her injured tribemate found the strength to grip her hand in restraint. "I don't want it," Summer repeated, her vivid sea-green eyes growing fierce.

"I won't just let you die!" Kestrel retorted. "There's still your children to think of. Ringtail and Dreamberry both need you yet, now more than ever!"

Summer coughed fresh blood. She released Kestrel's hand to wipe drunkenly at her mouth, and stared in numb curiosity at the redness on her hand. "They have each other, and the rest of the tribe," she said. "Seafoam was here. When the avalanche released me and I tasted air again, I saw her. She sat right here — right where you are kneeling now — and she smiled at me. She was so beautiful. She kissed me, and then she was gone again. But I know in my heart she was here. And that my baby has been waiting for her mother. It's time for me to go to her."

Kestrel stared at the weaver in horror. Summer's youngest child had been no more than five years old when she had died during the winter plague. She pulled her hand free and began to dig.

“No,” Summer moaned, her voice dropping to a weak rasp. “No. Kestrel, please — just no.”

Kestrel refused to look at the weaver. She felt tears escape from her eyes and freeze against her cheeks in the winter cold. “You want me to let you die?” she cried. “I can’t do that!”

“I’m warm enough where I am. All I have to do is sleep, and I’ll be with my mate and my little girl. If you force this on me — what have I got? My arm is shattered, my legs feel like they are as well. I won’t heal right without a healer, and the tribe has none now! Just let me go!”

Kestrel wanted to keen out her agony. “You’re asking me to make an impossible decision! How am I to go home and face your children if I just give up and let you die?”

Summer smiled that strange, terrible smile again. “If you put me in wrapstuff, how long will I have to sleep? Forever?” she asked. “If I wake again, can you promise my son and oldest daughter will still be alive to greet me?”

For a time, the only sound was of Flutterby’s frantic digging in the snow. Then Kestrel swallowed heavily, and reached again for the weaver’s bloodied hand. She stroked one of Summer’s fat black curls from those haunting, sea-green eyes, then moved to slide her knees under the weaver’s head as a cushion.

“As you choose.” Kestrel managed to choke the words out. “I’ll wait with you. But I won’t argue with Oakhand when he gets here, if he decides otherwise for you.”

The bloodied hand in hers squeezed hers once, weakly, in thanks, and then those smiling sea-green eyes drifted shut. Kestrel held on to her tribemate and waited in the snow, watching over Summer as the weaver passed over into her final sleep.

Collections that include this story:
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Treewee Wants Beesweets
2012 Treasure Hunt
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A Quiet Place to Think

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