(Ed. Note: Snowdrop was the cubname of Snowfall; Shimmer was the cubname of Starskimmer; Axehand was the former name of One-Leg.)
The young girl held her breath as she moved carefully, hidden between leaves. Despite her distinctive colouring, Snowdrop was good at hiding — she was silent and inconspicuous, though if someone was paying attention, they might discover white hair and pale skin shining through the foliage.
As it was, though, the elves that just had entered the clearing didn’t pay any attention to the surroundings at all, and she was grateful for it. Maybe she could get away without them noticing — she had no desire to disturb them since there was not much doubt about their intentions.
Shimmer was laughing her low, throaty laugh as she leaned into Axehand’s touch. Five hands older than Snowdrop, the lass had quite some time ago discovered the joys of flirting and it had turned out to be one of her favourite pastimes. And she was good at it — Axehand would gladly vouch for that.
“Ah, Snowdrop is still a cub, you know?” she was saying. “She doesn’t know what she wants.” Trailing one finger up Axehand’s broad chest, she added: “Unlike me.”
Axehand grinned and caught her hand. “And what is it that you want?” he asked.
Snowdrop swallowed and turned away from the scene, hurrying her steps. She wished she had been quicker to leave, before she could catch that remark. Shimmer was the only one close to her in age, the other young elves like Blackberry and Farscout long having left cubhood behind. The girls were very different, the one outgoing and self-assured, the other quiet and better at listening than speaking, but Snowdrop still considered Shimmer a friend. To hear that even she considered her to be only a cub… that hurt.
Her words echoed in Snowdrop’s head as she hurried back to the Dentrees. Still a cub… Doesn’t know what she wants… The words had been spoken carelessly but they had found a target they had not been aimed at, and now they stuck.
The words stayed with her the following days and nights, no matter what she did. Snowdrop might be only a cub of almost four hands of turns and might not know what she wanted, But she was not stupid. And so she knew that things hurt the most when there was a kernel of truth in it.
It did not go unnoticed that she was preoccupied. While always a silent elf who listened more than she spoke, she now was almost withdrawn. The first to notice were her parents.
“What’s wrong, cub?” Dreamberry’s voice was gentle as she sat and brushed her daughter’s hair with a soft brush, a daily ritual between mother and daughter. Snowdrop’s father sat nearby, quietly cleaning his weapons and setting them aside before going to sleep.
“Nothing.” Snowdrop’s answer came a bit too fast not to sound defensive. “I just… have some things on my mind.”
Bearheart grunted and shook his head. “Seems like it’s an awful lot, y’know?” he said gruffly.
“Do you want to speak about it?” Dreamberry asked with more patience than her lifemate, but clearly not appeased as well.
She shook her head and winced as the movement pulled at the strands of hair her mother was brushing. “I don’t think so,” she replied. If she didn’t know what to think yet herself, how could she tell her parents?
“That might be where the problem’s at,” Bearheart snorted. “Too much thinking.”
His lifemate shot him a warning glance. She appreciated his no-nonsense, blunt approach, but experience showed that it hardly was the best way to get their quiet daughter to open up. “It might help you to hear what we are thinking about it,” she suggested calmly. “We’re a bit worried because it seems whatever there is on your mind isn’t a very happy topic.”
Snowdrop turned her head, disregarding another pull on her hair, and gave her mother a shy smile. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want to make you worry.”
Dreamberry returned the smile but Snowdrop didn’t continue. After some silence, Dreamberry resumed brushing Snowdrop’s long white hair and Bearheart returned to his task as well. Though it wasn’t easy on worried parents, they knew that their daughter had her own pace in such things. She would open up in time, and if she didn’t there was not much point in pushing her.
It wasn’t until Dreamberry had almost finished Snowdrop’s hair that the girl spoke again. “I’m trying to figure out what I want,” she told them seriously.
“Huh?” Bearheart raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Who I want to be,” Snowdrop explained, meeting his eyes with a level gaze. “Because right now… I’m only Snowdrop. There has to be more than that.”
Dreamberry had stopped and now let the strands she held drop, moving to face her daughter. She felt this would be a talk where she needed to see her face.
“What do you mean, more than that?” she asked, scooting over so she sat next to her lifemate. “I think Snowdrop is a lot already.”
Snowdrop shook her head. “Nothing special,” she protested. While turning Shimmer’s words over in her mind, she had found one answer at least, even if it brought forth a multitude of new questions: She wanted to have a place in the tribe. A place that belonged only to her. A place that felt as if it was where she wanted to be. The other young elves all had it — Blacksnake had his cunning and ambition. Farscout had the restlessness coursing through his veins. Brightwood had her sharp mind and wit. Blackberry had his wild ideas and his love for pranking. And Shimmer not only had her love for the furs but also had found her magic, even if it was not as strong as her mother Agate was. And so on. But she, she was just Snowdrop. Sure, she knew that she had a good head on her shoulders and she was a promising huntress as her father never became tired of boasting. But something was missing.
Bearheart frowned and asked: “Special in which way?” He reached over and messed up her hair again. “You are special. There is only one Snowdrop.” His voice was warm with fatherly pride, but it also gave away that he did not really understand his daughter’s worries — the hunter was not one to think too much and second-guess things, living very much in the Now.
Snowdrop raised her shoulders in a helpless gesture, frustrated that her parents did not understand what was bothering her. “I only know something is missing. And I’ll find out what it is.” Light blue eyes were alight with determination as she met their gaze.
Dreamberry sighed and reached out to take her hand, giving it a squeeze. It seemed pointless to tell her not to bother with those thoughts. “Tell us when you do?” she asked with a smile.
“Of course I will,” Snowdrop promised.
The problem was, Snowdrop admitted to herself, if not to her parents, after a while that thinking didn’t seem to yield a solution to her problem. Her thoughts began to go in circles, and the young girl began to feel frustrated. Maybe her father was right and she was thinking too much, but she didn’t know any other way to find a solution, either.
She leaned back against the tree behind her, letting her long legs dangle off the branch, and gave a deep sigh. When she heard someone chuckle below her, though, she looked down and met the amused glance of Leather looking up at her.
“That sigh sounded as if the weight of the whole world is resting on your shoulders,” he remarked, his deep voice gently teasing.
Snowdrop smiled, slightly abashed. “It’s not that bad,” she replied. “I’m just… thinking, and a bit frustrated.”
He raised his eyebrows and looked at her more seriously now, waited for her to continue if she wanted. As she didn’t, he gave a small shake of his head and hitched the leathers in his arms up again. “Anything I could do to help you with that?” he asked.
Snowfall shook her head. “Thanks but no — I don’t think there is.”
“Well then,” he gave her a warm smile, “good luck with your thinking!”
He turned away and continued on his way towards the craft dens. However, he had hardly made a few steps when Snowdrop quickly, nimbly climbed down from her perch and ran after him.
“I think there is something you could do,” she said quickly. Her eyes were shining with some satisfaction that she had thought of something — if not the solution, it might at least bring her closer to it.
Leather turned around and looked at her quizzically. “What is it?” he asked.
“Tell me a story,” she said. She always had liked listening to Leather’s stories, but right now she was thinking of a special story and she was sure that he would have one that fit.
“Tell me a story about someone finding their place.”
He told her a story — and then another and still another. Then she asked the other storytellers – the Howlkeepers, Snaptwig and Breeze, of course, but also her father, Easysinger, Cedarwing. She even asked Axehand, though, while a good storyteller, he was not partial to quiet tales of introspection. Axehand preferred bawdy tales but those had something to tell about finding one’s place, too.
Snowdrop was fascinated. The tales did not provide her with the answer she had sought for but still she felt as if something had changed. She had listened to stories before, of course, had learned about her tribe’s history, had let herself be scared by stories about monsters like any other cub, had listened to moving tales about love and loss. But now these stories spoke to her, and she had the feeling she hadn’t been listening properly before.
Sitting in the den as the family did every morning, today Snowdrop was brushing her hair herself, her mother having ridden out with Blacksnake’s hunting party the night before. Lost in her thoughts, it took her father two loud, pointed coughs to get her attention.
“So,” Bearheart finally said when he was sure she was hearing him, “at the rate you’re going, how long d’you reckon it’ll take until you’ve heard them all?”
Snowdrop gave him a puzzled look for a moment, then laughed and shook her head. “I think that won’t happen too soon. You alone have enough stories to keep me busy for many moons to come, I’m sure.”
Bearheart chuckled. “That may be true, cub, but at least on the topic you’re most interested in I think I’m almost bled dry.” Though his words were light, his blue eyes were sharp and inquisitive as he watched her. “And?” he asked.
“And what?” Snowdrop gave back somewhat indistinctly, holding an end of a few strands of her hair between her lips while she worked on an especially annoying knot.
“Did it help?”
The girl did not answer immediately but untangled the knot with some more concentration than was probably necessary. Finally, she let her hair fall down on her chest and leaned back, giving her father a long, serious look. “Yes and no,” she said slowly. “When you break it down, the stories all say different things on how to find your place. Be patient and wait for it to come to you -– be forward and try lots of things — ask others for help — don’t talk to others, you have to find it yourself...” She gave a little helpless shrug. “But I’ve learned a lot from them, in any case. And it certainly made me look at them differently!”
Bearheart smiled proudly. “Well then, it was worth your while, at least.” He reached out and patted her hair affectionately. “So, how about one more before bed, then?”
Snowdrop nodded eagerly. “Of course!” She scrambled into the bed bowl and slipped beneath the furs.
Bearheart gave her another thoughtful look. “You know what?” he suddenly asked. “I’ve changed my mind. How about you tell me a story this time?”
“Huh?” Snowdrop made a confused face. “Me? Why?”
“I’d just like to hear a story you’d liked.” Bearheart smiled and shrugged.
“But you probably know all the stories I know,” Snowdrop protested, still confused. After all, her father had heard stories from others and told stories himself for many years before she was even born — what stories could she know that he hadn’t heard before?
“That doesn’t matter.” Bearheart shook his head. “If, say, Easysinger starts telling you a story you already heard from me, do you stop her and tell her to tell you another one because you already know that one? Every storyteller brings something to a story, and I want to know what a story told by you is like, no matter if I know it or not.”
Snowdrop looked at him quizzically for some more moments, but since he only smiled at her and returned her look with earnest expectation, she settled back into her furs and thought. She remembered enough stories she could tell, of course, but which one should she choose? Finally, she decided on one — it was a story Leather had told her, not the first nor the last, but for some reason it had resonated with her particularly.
Taking a deep breath, she looked back at her father and then began: “When Burn was chief, life in our tribe was harsh. Strength was something Chief Burn valued above everything else, and where better to show your strength than in the hunt? Softlock knew all this, and she knew that as Badger’s daughter, it all went twice for her. But try as she might, she did not find it in her to love the hunt...”
As the words flowed from her lips, Snowdrop found with surprise that she was not feeling nervous or unsure in any way, that she wasn’t thinking about how to do it best, she just spoke as if the story told itself through her. All thoughts about her problems or other things of the tribe’s daily lives were forgotten — there was only her father, watching her with alert, attentive eyes, herself and her voice, wrapping them in a bubble held together by the thread of the story she told.
“... and so, Softlock knew that no matter what her chief and her tribesmates regarded as strength, there were other forms of strength, and one she had found in herself,” she finally ended, speaking the last words almost reluctantly, as if she did not want to leave the story.
Bearheart gave her a big smile. “That was great!” he said. “You sure no one gave you lessons in storytelling while I wasn’t looking?”
Snowdrop’s cheeks turned slightly pink at the praise. “Yes, I’m sure,” she gave back and gave him a quiet smile.
Bearheart chuckled and leaned over to give her a kiss on the forehead. “Well then, it obviously runs in the family,” he said. “Sleep well, my little storyteller!” He turned to blow out the tallow candle near the bed bowl. However, Snowdrop’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“Wait,” the girl requested.
“Huh?” He raised an eyebrow at her but did as she said, nevertheless.
“Can I tell you another one?” Snowdrop asked.
The hunter looked at her with some confusion but finally shrugged. He would be the last to discourage his daughter from anything, least of all one of his favourite activities. “Sure,” he said.
Snowdrop beamed and settled back into her furs, searching her memory for another story. “I’ll tell you the story about Hornet and his hunting knife hand, all right?” she announced and began. And as she spoke, she realised that she might not know exactly what her place in the tribe would be. But she now knew that she wanted to tell stories. And maybe that was all that she needed — knowing what she wanted.