(This story is a sequel to "Grumpy & Grumpier".)
**Don't you think this might be a little, well ... restrained?**
Chicory paused from the meticulous placement of spiders and looked at Willow . **What do you mean?**
**I just mean, this seems a little ... well, beneath you.**
Chicory sucked on her canine tooth for a moment. **Sometimes the simplest things work out best.**
**I know. But spiders? Blacksnake?**
Chicory snorted. **You think this is a bad idea?**
**I'm just saying this isn't Quick Fang.**
**No. No, it's not. Then again, I can't get you to help with Quick Fang.**
**No, no, you can't.** Willow frowned slightly.
The laughter was of a type that caused a quirk in Willow 's smile. **YOU won't get mauled,** she grumbled. **It's those of us near you in danger.**
**Oh, yes, I could very well get mauled! But it's worth it.**
**To who? To you?**
Chicory sent the equivalent of a mental shrug. She knew it was worth it to her already. Ever since Blacksnake had sent Crackle to her den to look for baby slap-tails, she'd been following her father's every move. She made sure he knew it, too. Somewhere behind that somber, proud, unruffle-able exterior he had in place, she liked the idea of him worrying. Just a little bit. So when something was sprung, there would be no doubt whatsoever who was behind it. And why.
Which meant it should involve Crackle. Ideally it would involve Crackle sometime during daylight. Granted, Chicory wasn't dead-set on sleeping soundly from sunup to sundown herself, but THAT particular morning, she had been quite willing to sleep until after dark. Well-after-dark. It had not been very long at all since Notch and Nightstorm had left her den that night when Crackle had entered pronouncing Blacksnake's decree.
Yes. She owed him.
He and the hunting party were supposed to be back some time tonight.
**You won't mention my name,** grumbled Willow.
**I promise,** Chicory smirked.
She finished up in silence and leaned back on her haunches. **What do you think?**
Willow cocked her head. **It's still a little ... well, clumsy. Don't you think?**
**Cubbish?** Chicory asked. **Good.** She attached the Preserver webbing blanket -- on which were placed the spiders, quite stuck and irritable -- to the ceiling over Blacksnake's furs.
Willow sat on her knees near the entrance of the den. **He'll scent you've been in here.**
Chicory merely nodded. After a few moments of silence, Willow sighed. **What about the bog mud?**
**Saving it. Now, let's see if Crackle is up for some exploration tonight.**
Which was a silly question and both knew it. Somewhere along the way, Willow (no one's fool) wandered away. Chicory explained to Snowfall that she and Crackle were going to see how much the beavers had grown and changed. They couldn't very well do that at night, and so were going to see about them during the day.
Crackle could barely contain her excitement, so Chicory (being a proficient cub sitter) agreed to take her to the river early and they could eat some grubs and swim until the babies emerged with their parents. They weren't so much babies now. They had nearly doubled in size in the few days since they'd been visited. Chicory lounged in the water, with Sleuth and Muddypaws nearby. In fact, she tried to entice as many of the unbonded pack to the river as she could, with promise of water-play and easy fish innards. A few came, some stayed only until the morning sun became warm enough to lull them to sleep in dens, burrows, and brush. In the end there remained four.
**Mother is back!** Crackle announced without any prompting.
Chicory smiled. Blacksnake's hunting party had returned, a little earlier than expected. All the better. Wolves kept wandering in and then wandering away again. "Did they bring back a lot of meat?"
Crackle shook her head. "Mother isn't saying much. I guess it didn't go too good."
Chicory tsked. "Well, next time, then. Meanwhile, that means we can gather up roots, berries, and fish to boost the fare. Hm?"
Crackle nodded, her red hair bouncing. In the next heartbeat, she was preoccupied with following a water strider; the only thing above the surface of the water was her nose, eyes, and half her ears.
"And snap bugs."
"Snap bugs?" Chicory cocked her head.
"Moss has a drum you know, and he won't show it to me, but I go look sometimes anyway, not that he knows so don't tell him and I made a littler drum and when you put snap bugs in there and shake it, it makes a great shaking noise, but," Crackle paused for breath, "even when you set it down because your mother tells you to be quiet for a little while, the snap bugs still SNAP and it sounds like a littler drum again!"
"Really?" Chicory raised her eyebrows and filed that piece of commendable information away for later study.
They divided their time between gazing at slaptails, gathering nuts, and grabbing fish. Seizing a brownside with the hands as it swam by was a lot more fun than using a hook or spear any way.
Eventually, Blacksnake lobbed a sizzling send at Chicory. **You call that a snare?** It was followed by mental, teasing laughter. She grinned, and judiciously did not return the send.
What ever, if anything, her father had been waiting for had been sprung. As far as he knew. Now she could carry on with the matter at hand.
Chicory finally faked a yawn. "Crackle, dear, it's about time we got back. We'll need to get some sleep before cleaning and helping out with the kill tonight."
Crackle made a face, but suppressed a yawn of her own. "All right," she huffed, faking her degree displeasure.
Chicory gave her a genuine grin and ruffled her wet curls. "At least we can play all the way back to the dentrees, right?"
Crackle crawled from the water and sloshed over to Muddypaws. She looked up at Chicory expectantly. "Like how?"
"Like fish chase," she suggested.
Crackle wrinkled her nose. "We've already caught the fish."
Chicory snorted. "You're starting to sound like your dam. Did you miss the part about 'playing?'"
"But fish don't run on land," Crackle giggled.
"No," Chicory agreed. She picked up a dead fish and put it underneath Muddypaws nose. "But wolves do." She threw the fish into a calm hole in the river and the wolf went after it with ears held high. The other wolves, with the exception of Sleuth (who seemed to roll her eyes), stood with interest. Chicory had whacked the fishes' heads on a round stone when they pulled them out and then tossed them in a mostly-flat basket, so the rest of the fish were already dead, too. She held out two and tossed them into the river. Chicory scooped up the basket and as soon as Muddypaws clambered out with the trout in his mouth and yelled, "Now!" and she and Crackle started the chase.
Muddypaws easily picked up on the game. All he had to do was run with a fish and not let the elves catch him. Simple really and right up Muddypaws' Way. The other wolves were slightly less interested in the chase as they were in chomping through fish meat, but since the others were apparently in a hurry to return, they ran along with them. Sleuth brought up the rear.
Chicory laughed at Crackle's efforts to head off Muddypaws and her giggling at the sport. "Crackle," she called from where she hopped, loped, and danced behind Crackle to keep the cub in the lead, "let's take the fish to Blacksnake," she laughed. "He'd love the visit and I bet he's hungry for something besides trailcake!"
There was no response from Crackle, but Muddypaws changed direction and headed for the lower level of the dentree. Something he would never do without Crackle's urging. The other wolves followed suit. Chicory was close behind, making sure the wolves went all the way inside. Then she stood as a transient barrier to the exit.
"What the --!" Blacksnake sat up from his furs. "Crackle!"
"We brought you some f-i-i-i-i-i-ish!" Crackle laughed and tugged the fish free from Muddypaws' jaws. He immediately shook the water from his fur.
Crackle squealed in delight as cold river water sprayed the inhabitants of the den. One wolf laid down and began tearing at his fish, the other dropped his fish and proceeded to shake himself dry.
** ~C~H~I~C~O~R~Y~!~ **
Chicory gave a little yelp and nabbed Crackle by the elbow. **Time to go, cub,** Chicory laughed. **We'll dry off while we gut this bunch and then it's down for a good nap before nightfall!**
When Chicory jumped from the entrance, the wolves bounded out, two with their prizes and one without. They all went around the other side of the dentree and sat down on level ground. She chuckled again. "Thank you, Crackle. That was fun!"
"It was!" she agreed.
"Now we get to gut them," Chicory said with a gleam in her eye. She looked over at Muddypaws who eyed the basket of fish. She tossed him one that hadn't been gnawed through already. "Here you go. You did well, too!"
When the wolf pranced away and realized he wasn't going to be chased, he gave a grumble from his chest, but sat down with the fish between his front paws and began chewing.
Willow's send drifted to Chicory. **I felt the blaze off that send all the way up here,** she said, sleepily, but amused. **All that from a bunch of spiders?**
**Ah, there's so much Blacksnake wouldn't want anyone to know,** Chicory returned playfully.
**I'm certain. So was it worth it?**
Chicory bit her lip as she sliced the thin knife up the fish's belly. **Yes. Yes it was.**
**You know you're going to have to watch your back now. Again.**
**Oh, I know.**
She winked encouragingly at Crackle who pulled out guts while she hummed.
**It wouldn't mean nearly so much if I didn't!**