(This story is part of the "2013 Family Time Contest"; click to see more fiction and art entries!)
The healthy cry of a newborn wolfrider cub met the joyful ears of all who were gathered within and just outside of the chieftess' den. Sunlight held up the little girl for her parents to see as Starskimmer wrapped the baby, who seemed to object to being removed from the home she'd known for the past two turns, in a soft, rabbit-fur hide.
**Calmly now, daughter,** Easysinger sent with weary joy, reaching out to take her cub in her arms. **See? You're warm again already.** With the ease of experience, she nestled the young one against a breast for her first feeding, and the baby quieted almost immediately. From behind her, Blacksnake reached out to lovingly stroke their daughter's dark, still-damp hair.
"Windburn," Easysinger said softly, smiling up at her son and beckoning him closer. "Meet your new sister."
At that encouragement, Windburn moved to his mother's side and regarded his baby sister quietly with large, blue eyes. As she continued to nurse, the baby glanced briefly up with her own earthy-brown eyes, instinctively fixing on the nearby face before locking eyes again with their mother.
"Welcome to the tribe, little sister," Windburn whispered to her, a smile crossing his face.
His greeting to his new sister seemed a signal to the others in the den as they, too, moved closer to see the new cub.
Easysinger looked around the den at all the smiling, welcoming faces, but as her eyes lit on Farscout, she saw the hint of something lonely and wistful mixed into his expression. She had seen the same in him at every birth they had attended for longer, now, than the life of a birch tree.
'Your turn will come, wanderer,' the chieftess thought. 'Just stay patient and strong for now.'
The cubling, now finished with her first meal, looked up again at the elves surrounding her and her parents, and let out a cooing yawn.
"She's adorable!" Sparkle squeaked, particularly enamored as young elves usually were at the first birth they witnessed. "Oooh, oooh, can I hold her? Pleeaaassse?"
"Of course," Easysinger told the young goldsmith. She gently handed over the wriggling cub. Her practiced hands guided Sparkle's awkward ones until the babe was settled comfortably in her arms. Then, the tired chieftess leaned back to relax into the embrace of her lifemate, who had supported her by rubbing her back throughout her labor, and then by holding her in his warm, strong arms when it came time for the final pushes.
**Grahn,** she locksent, feeling his heartbeat against her bare shoulderblades. **Our daughter is beautiful, just like our sons.** The was the bittersweet pang of loss in that send, as well.
Their oldest 'cub', Riskrunner — long since grown — had died only two eights of turns earlier.
**Tyrlee,** Blacksnake returned the locksend, gently nuzzling her ear. No other words were needed — his send was filled with the sharing of her own feelings.
Elves moved like excited honeybees in and out of the den, as tribemembers moved away to make room for the eager press of others who had yet to greet their newest member. Leather, the chieftess' younger brother, reached a finger to gently tickle under the baby's chin.
"You cute, wee bitty thing," he cooed.
"She looks a lot like you," Snowfall observed, looking from the cub to Leather.
"She does have your hair and eyes, beloved," Stormdancer agreed, peering over her beaming lifemate's shoulder at the baby.
"Yes, she's very pretty, isn't she!" Leather agreed with a warm laugh.
Easysinger joined her younger brother's merry laughter with her own, her eyes seeming to look backwards over long years.
"I remember when you were born. You were an adorable, squirming whelp yourself! And they're right, your niece looks a lot like you. Just as cute and brown as a little nut — right, 'Acorn'?" Easysinger said fondly, teasingly adding her brother's long-unused cubname.
"Your cubname was Acorn?" Blacksnake asked, eyeing the tanner. After a moment, he nodded thoughtfully in approval. "It's a good name. Full of promise and optimism."
The baby started to fret again, so Easysinger reached out and collected her back from Sparkle, who handed her over willingly enough, if a bit reluctantly.
"It is a good name," the chieftess agreed, smiling down at her daughter as she rooted for her mother's milk again. Once the baby was latched on and suckling once more, Easysinger turned and looked over her shoulder at her lifemate. "What do you think?" she asked, then glanced back to her brother. "That is, if you don't mind?"
"Not at all," Leather replied with a generous wave of his hand towards his infant niece and a broad grin on his face. "I have no need of the name myself anymore. I'd be thrilled."
"Acorn, then," Blacksnake agreed, kissing his lifemate's ear. "It fits her well."
"If all you drooling trolls are done goggling at the cub," One-Leg burst in heartily (though he was equally guilty of trollish goggling himself), "then I think these three could use a little more space and a few less bodies in their den."
The last of the elves and a wolf or two trickled reluctantly outside, finally leaving the trio to the privacy of their family den. Windburn was the last to go, shooed out by Sunlight's gentle hands.
Blacksnake eased himself out from behind Easysinger's back, and stood to close the leather den flap. Then he returned to the bedbowl and lovingly arranged the furs over and around his lifemate and daughter. It was a soft, nurturing side of the rough-edged hunt leader that few in the tribe besides Easysinger often saw. She reached up a hand and gently caressed his cheek in wordless thanks for the care he was taking of them. Tired himself from the excitement of the birth which had lasted late into morning, he laid down with the still-nursing cub between them and was soon asleep.
"Oh, my little Acorn nut," Easysinger murmured, as the eyes of both mother and child started to drift closed as well, and Acorn's eager suckling slowed and relaxed to a sleepy rhythm. "It will be a joy to watch you grow..."