It had been a long period of unsettled spring weather, but finally the clouds had cleared and the damp earth smelled of the first flush of new growth. Nightstorm had woken early to the sun still high in the sky, the light pouring through her den door stirring the restless energy that had festered, pent-up during the winter months. Opening the door-covering wide, she leaned against her doorway, feeling the clear sunlight's faint kiss of warmth.
She had planned to work in her den by candlelight, but deciding she couldn't be inside a moment longer, she gathered her work supplies in a basket and headed out. Closing her eyes to breathe in the crisp fresh air, she didn't bother to look where she was going, and was suddenly tumbling forward, her work-basket tipped and spilling its contents on the muddy ground. Sturdy hands quickly steadied her, and as she regained her bearings, she found that Thornbow was the cause of her mis-step.
“Sorry, Nightstorm. I didn't see you there.” He released her, an anxious look on his face, as if he was expecting a scolding. She couldn't exactly blame him, as hackle-raising confrontations weren't unusual between the two of them, but she was in too good of a mood this day to let a little spill upset her.
“That's all right,” she reassured him. “It happens to everyone.”
She bent down to pick up the scattered supplies, and almost laughed to see the change in the archer's body language as the tension ran out of him when he realized a reproach would not be coming.
“Let me help you with that.” He set aside his bow and quiver and joined her in the gathering. There had been quite a few small scraps in the basket, as well as needles, beads and small pieces of bone that Nightstorm had hoped to use as decoration. Reclaiming them was taking quite a bit of scrabbling in the grass, and after a few minutes, Nightstorm found the silence grating on her. She also knew that Thornbow, reserved and quiet, would be feeling no such discomfort.
“So--” she ventured, “what do you have planned for the night?”
Thornbow glanced at her, then shrugged his shoulders. “I want to go to Goose Lake to do some hunting. I was just looking for someone to go with me.”
“I could go.”
The rustling sound of searching from Thornbow's direction stopped, and Nightstorm raised her head to find Thornbow frozen, looking quite like a rabbit that just realized there's a wolf in the meadow.
Nightstorm glared at him. “I can hunt, you know.”
A flash of surprise crossed Thornbow's face. “I know —” He had often been on group hunts with Nightstorm, and knew her to be a capable huntress. He hadn't meant to suggest otherwise. But somehow, with Nightstorm, his meaning always seemed to get muddled. Ducking his head, he began sifting through the dirt again. “I just didn't think you'd want to.”
“Normally, I wouldn't,” she conceded. “But it such a nice day, I wouldn't mind getting out.” She scanned the ground between them, but couldn't see anymore craft pieces. She pushed the basket's contents firmly down, and rose to her feet. “And I could use some more nice feathers. Just let me put this away and grab my bow.”
Lacking any reason to object, Thornbow waited for her return.
The trip to the lake passed quietly. After a few abortive attempts to engage Thornbow in conversation, Nightstorm conceded defeat and turned her attention to thinking on who was most in need of new summer clothes and mentally allocating stores of her leather supplies to possible designs. She was so preoccupied by her thoughts that Thornbow's sudden hand upon her arm startled her. He pulled her down into a thicket and lead her through the close-growing branches until the ground sloped down to end at the edge of the lake.
The view opened up in front of her. The afternoon sun was just hanging over the horizon, and the clouds were touched with oranges and pinks at the edges. The colors were reflected in the waves of the water, and dark against them were the silhouettes of ducks and geese, leaving dark ripples behind as they paddled toward the shore.
**I heard the call of the big geese this morning, and knew they had returned from their winter flight.** Nightstorm could feel the excitement in Thornbow's send. **It was a good thing, too. My fletching supplies were running low.**
Catching Thornbow's enthusiasm, Nightstorm nocked an arrow and aimed out over the water at a particularly fine-feathered target, but her draw back was stopped by a firm hand on her elbow.
**In the mood for a swim?** Nightstorm was surprised to find the hint of a smile playing on the archer's normally stony face. **Seems a bit cold yet, this time of year.**
Avoiding her suspicious glare, Thornbow reached behind her. Parting the long grass, Nightstorm was able to see a long stretch of a grassy ground spreading out from the lakeside. Geese and ducks browsed through the clearing, long necks twisting and bobbing as they pulled up blades of the new spring growth.
**I find they're much easier to hit when they come up to eat this time of day.** His smile spread as he saw understanding dawn on her. **Saves getting cold retrieving them, too.**
Grinning, Nightstorm again pulled up her bow as Thornbow moved to take a place alongside her, choosing his prey.
Between the two of them, they had several fine, plump birds to take home, and the remains of one that had made a nice meal. Nightstorm picked through the pile of discarded bones and feathers, adding the ones she had the most use for to her leather pouch.
Dark clouds were approaching from the horizon, blotting out an area of the stars that were just becoming visible in the still fading evening night. Where the elves were was still quiet, however, the lake a glassy, silvery expanse falling away into the darkness. The warbling cry of a loon came from off in the distance, carried over the water. Nightstorm was startled to hear an answering cry coming from just behind where she sat.
She turned to see Thornbow leaning against a tree, his hands cupped near his face. Noting her astonished look with a glint in his eye, he cocked an eyebrow at her and, bringing his cupped hands again to his mouth, blew through them, wiggling his fingers to produce a reproduction of the water bird's trilling call.
“I didn't know you could do that!”
“You don't have to sound so surprised,” he replied, dropping his hands and spreading them out in a gesture of exasperation. “I can do more than hunt, you know.”
Nightstorm's jaw dropped while her mind worked on a response, but instead of apology or insult, all that came to mind was an evening not too long ago when a quarrel between them had lead to a fine time in the furs. Her mouth snapped shut. She bent back to her sorting, then regarded him through the corner of her eye. Despite her coy look, her words dripped with meaning. “I know.”
If he was made uncomfortable by the reminder of their rare, dreamberry-fueled joining, he didn't show it, meeting her gaze with an intensity that made the heat rise up in her, pushing away the growing chill.
A sudden wind came up, swirling the tops of the trees and making ripples dance across the water. Thornbow's eyes remained locked on her as he spoke. “The clouds are closing in. We should go if we want to get home before the rain starts.”
Nightstorm crept closer, slinking on her hands and knees like a she-wolf, a fire in her eyes and a wicked grin playing the corner of her lips. “Not scared of a little storm, are you?”
“No,” he answered, gently pulling her under the leafy shelter of some nearby branches. “Not scared at all.”