(This story is a part of the ”Return of the Fierce Ones” storyline – see listing for related stories.)
Try as he might, Otter just couldn't get comfortable. Nearby, he could hear soft snores coming from Crackle's direction and even softer sounds of breathing coming from Newt. His friend's sleep seemed fitful but at least he could sleep. Lucky him, Otter thought, able to get some rest here at Bluestone Cave. That wasn't fair, of course; the three of them had been working hard since their arrival just in case the tribe had to relocate. Poor Newt was probably exhausted and had certainly earned his rest.
Still feeling discontented and fidgety, the young elf rolled over in his sleeping furs and tried to get comfortable. He scratched a bit at his healing scars from the run-in with the stinkbear and sighed. At his movement Splash shifted a bit as well and stuck a cold nose into his ribs. Otter's hand went by reflex to caress the soft coat of his wolf-friend and try to soothe her back to sleep. Just because he was feeling out of sorts didn't mean everyone should do without sleep, he supposed.
His ears perked up when he heard the soft sounds of conversation out in the main entrance of the cave. True Edge's was the only voice that came to him clearly and he couldn't tell who the elder hunter was speaking to. Laying as still as a he could and concentrating, Otter still couldn't make anything out. True, he was a bit out of sorts here in a strange place but he still hoped that he could get some training in hunting while they were here. Learning to hunt had been in the forefront of his mind of late and even the scare of humans so near the Holt hadn't been enough drive it out yet.
With luck, True Edge would train the younger elves some today. That was why he was sent after all; to keep the other older elves safe and keep the younger ones busy. What better way to do that than to hunt? At least it made good sense to Otter. He knew True Edge was considering sending Newt next with Fadestar when she left again to make the trip to Windy Ridge. Otter would have liked to go with her, but perhaps True Edge was keeping him at the cave for Otter's help hunting really big game? As he hoped and pondered on the idea, the sound of footsteps drew close. True Edge was now in the opening of the little side branch they were using as a sleeping den.
“Time to get up, you three,” he said in a gruff voice. “We have things to do.”
Otter was up quickly since he was technically awake anyway. While Newt and Crackle muttered and fussed among themselves, he had his clothes on and had gathered up his bow and hunting things. Within moments he was out at the mouth of the cave where the rest of his tribemates who were there sat watching the sunset and having a light meal to start the night. Settling in beside the others, he accepted a strip of meat and began to eat.
He was excited to be sure, but one look at the odd expression True Edge gave him tempered his mood a bit. Otter had caught the older elf glancing at the bow with something of a frown which he found rather worrisome. Still, True Edge was often grouchy, not that Otter would say such a thing out loud. Maybe he just hadn't slept well either. Whatever the case, their breakfast was soon done and while the adult elves went on to their labors True Edge kept the younger ones there with him.
“You two have seen the ridge over that way?” he said to Newt and Crackle, pointing to indicate a rise in the land with some scrubby old trees poking out of the snow. It was just at the edge of what could be seen with the naked eye from the cave mouth. Both of Otter's young friends nodded in the affirmative.
“I want you to scout up there. See if you can find some small game to bring back or see any signs of larger game. Don't try to take anything larger than a rabbit without sending to me first, got it? If anything happens... and I mean anything... you send for me and get to safety.”
True Edge's expression was enough to convince the other two youngsters that he meant business. As he continued to stare after them, Newt and Crackle gathered their things, looked once back towards Otter, and then went out into the chilly winter night. As they left, Otter looked up at his elder with a questioning expression.
“Are we going to hunt one of the other ridges?” he asked hopefully.
“No. Put your bow away and go get your fishing spear and whatever you need for ice fishing. I'll wait for you here.”
Otter's heart sank at the words but he didn't question them. True Edge's expression still seemed too fierce to tolerate that. For now, he would just have to hide his disappointment. Doing as he was bidden, the young elf gathered all of his fishing gear and returned to True Edge's side. The older elf looked it all over and grunted once in what seemed to be approval. Without another word the elder turned and marched out into the night. For a moment Otter hesitated, but not long enough to seem disrespectful, before he followed.
Not too far from the cave, there was a deep point in one of the streams that dotted the area. It was here that True Edge stopped and turned to look back at Otter. As he did so he took a small stone cutting tool from his belt.
“Ice feels sturdy here. This would be a good place to fish?”
Otter was surprised by the tone of question in True Edge's voice but after a moment to look it all over he agreed that it was indeed a good place to fish from. Without another word, the blonde hunter kneeled on the ice and began to cut a hole through to the water below. He worked slowly so as not to crack the ice but this also gave Otter some time to think. Why couldn't he have joined the others, he wondered. And why would True Edge care about fishing? Before he could, or dared, to give voice to these questions, though, the hole had been cut in the ice.
“There. That should do for now. Go ahead and get started. I want to see how you do this. I've not been ice fishing in a long while.”
With a sigh, Otter tied one of the bone fish-hooks he had to the Preserver-silk line they had brought. This he baited with a bit of leftover meat from breakfast and tossed it into the water. The line was then secured to his fishing spear. Through all this preparation True Edge had watched with an odd expression. It seemed to Otter as though he was being tested.
“So now you just wait?” the elder asked. Otter looked up at him, slightly exasperated. Instead of a spoken reply he used his sending instead.
**Mostly. But we have to do it quietly. Fish are sensitive to sounds. The less noise we make the better.”
True Edge actually smiled a bit as Otter said that, though he didn't know what he had said that might have pleased the older elf.
**Good to know. I'll stay silent then while you fish. You really have a talent for it you know.**
Otter shrugged at the words. Sure, he knew a lot about fishing. What he really wanted to do, though, was hunt. If he had to fish, he would have at least wanted to do it in warmer weather where he could use his net or spear more easily. High Ones, it would be even better to dive in and gather the fish by hand if it was warm enough.
**Fishing is all right, but I want to hunt, like Crackle. Why didn't you let me go with her and Newt?**
Once again True Edge gave him an odd little smile, or a sad one depending on how you looked at it. Otter remembered then how much grief the humans had caused the elder in the past and even now could see the memories of those old scars in the face before him. It made him feel a bit petty to be asking such things considering the situation the tribe was in, but he really wanted to know. After a few moments of silence True Edge finally replied.
**If that is what you want to do I'll be glad to teach you when we have time, Otter,** he said in a sending tinged with fatigue and anxiety. **But now is not the time for that. Do you know why we are here?**
The younger elf looked at him curiously. Why were they here? Was there a hidden reason somewhere he hadn't been told about? What would it have to do with hunting?
**To get the cave ready I guess...**
His own sending was now full of uncertainty. If he knew True Edge, though, then the elder would surely explain things now... though probably at great length.
**That's part of it. Another part is to make sure we can still survive off the land here. High Ones only know what is going to happen and how close the Fierce Ones will get to our home. It's very important that we make sure this bit of land can support us for awhile.**
Otter knew he looked as confused as he felt. The elves had hunted here for ages. The elders surely knew what could be taken from the land by now. True Edge glanced back at him and continued.
**Hunting is a good way to help support the tribe. Fishing is another and it's the one you're better at right now. I know you want to hunt and I'll be glad to teach you when we can afford the time. Tonight, though, right at this moment, we need to get as much food as we can as quickly as we can. If the tribe has to move we will have a lot less territory to hunt in. That means you fish and I learn how to do it better in case I have to fish for a meal for the tribe.**
He still didn't like it much, but True Edge's explanation made sense. As if by reflex, Otter felt a pull on the line then and jerked hard on the spear. A fair-sized fish was pulled from the icy waters and fell to the ice at their feet. With a satisfied little smirk, True Edge gathered it up and handed the hook back to Otter.
**See... that's what we need for you to do. It's what's best for the tribe and that's the important thing. If we are lucky, the other two will get a rabbit, maybe two. Hunting will be hard here given the season... as long as we have water and your know-how, though, we can have food.**
As he re-baited the hook and dropped it into the water, Otter pondered what the other elf had said. He was only one of the fishers for the tribe but he was skilled enough to catch several more fish like the one he already had before the night was over. That would surely feed them longer than a rabbit or two could. It wasn't what he wanted exactly, but he supposed True Edge had a point.
**All right... I'll catch the fish then. And you promise to take me on a hunt when the chance arises. I really do want to learn.**
**It's natural you would want to learn,** True Edge agreed. **The wolf-blood in us all calls us to hunt. The elf-blood, though, calls us to think these things through.**
With that, they settled in for a long night of fishing. Before the sun rose, True Edge had a line of his own into the water but only caught one scrawny little fish for his efforts. Otter, on the other hand, had several. He rather suspected that the gruff old hunter knew more about fishing than he let on, but the younger was at least grateful for the consideration. It wasn't like True Edge to be so diplomatic he thought, which must be a testament to his mates’ influence on him.
In the end there was enough to feed everyone here for a couple of nights, at least. Even more satisfying than that, though, was having something to teach an elder that was worth knowing...even if said elder was just humoring him a little. He would have to think about all that and what had been said tonight but that alone would stand out in his memory for a long time to come.