(This story was an entry for Clue #8 in the 2013 Treasure Hunt -- see the collection for related stories and images! )
Usually, the passage of time didn't weigh too heavily on Thornbow's mind. Usually, he was lost in the bloodsong of the hunt or the heartsong of his craft and he was content to be. But sometimes events would happen that would stir up thoughts of what had been like leaves in a windstorm. His wolf-friend Pacer's death last fall, followed by Bowflight's death that spring, had awakened memories of the not-so-long ago events of Honey's wrapping, Birdcatcher's death and Windsong's Recognition.
Thornbow found himself in an unaccustomed bout of loneliness. Seeking comfort, he found himself by the weir, where his niece Dreamflight was standing in the water, watching intently, net at the ready. She broke her attention long enough to give him a small nod of acknowledgment, then went back to her work, moving slowly through the pond.
Nearby, some of Moonmist and Cubsitter's last litter played in the tall grass. Gangly half-grown cubs, they growled and tussled, practicing shows of dominance. It was hard to watch and not think of Pacer. Thornbow closed his eyes, trying to push aside feelings of loss and emptiness. The soft gurgling of the water punctuated occasionally by the swish of the net and Dreamflight's warm, sun-baked scent mingling with musky wolf-fur brought back feelings of family. Thornbow felt himself relaxing as the earlier loneliness began to dissipate. In fact, he was so relaxed he must have fallen into a wolf-nap, because the next thing he knew, cold droplets were falling on him.
“Hungry, Uncle?” Dreamflight teased, shaking the net over him, releasing a fresh torrent of cold droplets.
“I had four trout in my basket. Now there are only three. Are you saying you didn't take one?”
Thornbow was bewildered. “No.” A thought struck him. “The wolves...” But the grass where they'd been playing was empty. The moist, hard-packed ground wasn't good for holding prints and scents didn't linger in the stream-fed breeze, but he would have certainly noticed a hungry cub so close by.
Dreamflight regarded him suspiciously. Her uncle wasn't usually one for playing pranks, but he wasn't above an act of mischief.
Thornbow saw her skepticism and defended himself. “If I'd taken one, wouldn't there be bones?”
He had her there, and she relented. “Well, I need ten in trade to Whispersilk for my new coat. If you did take one, please don't take any more!”
Thornbow's shoulders lifted and eyes widened in a gesture indicating that he had no idea what had happened, and with a “humph” that let him know that she was not convinced of his innocence, she returned to her fishing, and he to his nap. But it was not long before he was awoken again.
“Thornbow!” He turned at Dreamflight's sharp call to find his normally easy-going niece clearly agitated. “Another fish is missing! If you are playing some kind of trick...”
“Now, Dreamflight,” he soothed, hands pressing softly on her shoulders to calm her. “You know I wouldn't do that.” Suddenly concerned about who else might be listening, Thornbow slipped into sending. **But there are others who might. Let's see if we can't draw them out and get to the bottom of this.**
Dreamflight gave a barely perceptible nod, then turned back to the river with a shrug. “You're right, I probably miscounted. Luckily there's still time to fish yet. I really want to get these fish to Whispersilk tonight.”
As she waded back into the weir, Thornbow lay back, closing his eyes, but keeping his other senses open for scent or sound of an intruder. He was soon rewarded with a faint rustling though the grass. Thornbow rose quickly and lunged, hand wrapping around... a wriggling mass of fluff. Instead of the elven prankster he expected, there was one of the cubs, looking confused.
Dreamflight hurried over. “Who is it?”
Thornbow released the cub, who dropped his head, tail thumping submissively. “No one. I must have been—” He'd been about to admit that he'd been mistaken about being the target of someone's mischief when the sparkle of scales on the wolf's muzzle hit his eyes. “You thief!”
The wolf's posture changed immediately, as cowering submission was replaced with a laughing grin. The confused look sharpened into wily intelligence, and as gold eyes met green, Thornbow felt a warm sense of homecoming, as one of the empty spaces in his heart was filled.