Snowfall’s shoulders drooped as she left Nightstorm’s den, her heart as heavy as her limbs. It was already beginning to get light outside, if you could call the pale, watery dusk drifting through the heavy clouds light. She had sat with Nightstorm all night after she had managed to lead her away from the site of the accident. The youngest sister, always the most emotional of the three of them, was as exuberant in her joy as she was fiery in her anger — and in her grief, she had been inconsolable. There was little Snowfall could do apart from being with her and holding her while she cried until finally no more tears were coming and Nightstorm had drifted off to exhausted sleep.
A short mental touch made her look up, and her eyes fell on Moss sitting close by, wrapped in a thick cloak, his hands toying idly with some ribbons he was braiding, obviously more for the sake of having something to do for his hands than for real work, and she felt a wave of gratitude rush through her. It might be natural for the tribe to be there for each other but that was no reason to take it for granted.
**How is she?** Moss asked, his mind-voice carrying a shadow of the grief weighing down on her.
Snowfall sighed. **She’s sleeping now.** Hesitantly, she asked: **Can you stay close by? She might want some company when she wakes up.**
**Of course,** Moss replied.
She nodded thankfully at her sister’s Recognized and hugged the fur she had taken from Nightstorm’s den to her chest. For a moment her eyes and mind strayed to the path leading to the site of the tragedy. The thought that Whispersilk was still lying there was almost unbearable. Still, she knew One-Leg was there to watch over Windburn, lost in his grief, and over her sister. She had to trust in her fellow elder taking care that nothing would befall their chief until he would allow them to move the tree and reclaim the body. The body... She shuddered at that term describing her little sister. Shaking herself, she turned her back to the path and turned her steps away from the Dentrees. She knew if she went to her den, True Edge would be there, waiting for her alone since Kestrel was out, flying to recall Blacksnake and his hunting party. But she couldn’t go to him, not yet.
She had barely left the Dentrees’ circle, though, when a short sending reached her. **Yuki.** She stopped and looked around. True Edge was coming after her in long strides and stopped only when he had reached her and pulled her into an embrace. Snowfall wondered if he had come looking for her just now or if he had anticipated her leaving Nightstorm’s den and had been looking out for her. He just knew her too well… She closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder for a moment.
**Come to bed, love. You need some sleep,** the hunter sent to her, gently. Unspoken, the sending carried with it the wish: Please let me be there for you, comfort you, help you carry your grief.
Withdrawing slightly, Snowfall shook her head. **Not yet.** Need to be alone, need some space — please give me some time.
True Edge hesitated but finally nodded, releasing her from his arms. She knew that her desire for solitude when dealing with painful feelings was hard for him — Kestrel, who could be just as solitary at times, understood her better in this aspect. Still, he accepted it. **Don’t be too long,** he sent.
**Don’t worry, I won’t,** Snowfall replied, touching his cheek before she continued her way though she didn’t really know where to.
Finally, she stopped walking and sat down in the hollow of a fallen trunk that offered at least some shelter against the still blowing, cutting wind and the wet, snowy drizzle it brought with it. Wrapping herself tightly in the fur, she leaned her head back against the brittle wood and closed her eyes.
She waited for tears to come, but they did not — as if Nightstorm had cried all the tears for both of them in the hours prior. Instead, her head was filled with the echoes of the event, over and over again: Foxtail’s mind-voice, filled with helplessness and terror, calling for help where any help came too late, little Cinder’s wails, Windburn’s snarls when they had tried touching him or moving the tree, the howl of the wind... And over it all, an emptiness where none should be, an emptiness that was all that was left from the presence Whispersilk had been in her mind, heart and soul, louder than all the sounds she remembered.
Desperately, she seized upon something to fill that emptiness: Memories of her sister, of the whole life she had witnessed, some of the memories sharp and clear, carefully preserved, some fuzzy and worn with age. Dreamberry feeding her newborn daughter, Bearheart stroking the fine black hair on her small head that almost vanished in his big hand. Little Spidersilk, a wilful child that early developed her liking for the loom and could often be found following around the weavers until they started showing her how to work it. The fearful night when Spidersilk had caught a fever and they did not know if she would live — she did, though at the cost of her clear, melodious voice. Whispersilk, staring at her pregnant belly with a mixture of anxious wonder and annoyance. Little Foxtail, bringing her mother some pretty flowers she had found, trying so hard to get her attention. Whispersilk and Windburn, sharing the news about another cub from their union with the tribe, their hands linked together. Whispersilk holding her newborn son. And more, snatches and snippets, everyday interactions between sisters, family and friends.
Almost unbidden, she found another image between them, and the pain it came with made her breath catch for a moment. It had been more than eight hands of turns, enough to soften its edges, but short enough in a wolfrider’s long life to still feel a sting. A raft, empty of the bodies it was supposed to bear, bearing only a few choice remnants of the elves supposed to be there, the ones their daughters had managed to part with. Dreamberry’s favourite tunic, once made by Nightstorm, Bearheart’s spare bow and arrows, little things taking their place on the raft so it did not have to travel down the river all empty. In her mind’s eye, Snowfall saw it drift away, and she felt next to her the presence of her sisters, united in their grief, each drawing strength from the others next to her and giving back some of it herself.
Another day, she remembered, another raft. This time there was a body on the raft, shrouded in one of Whispersilk’s soft fabrics, and she stood with True Edge, his arms around her. But behind her, she knew her sisters were standing, both offering her support as she watched her beloved son leave her one last time.
And another — Fletcher’s raft. Again, the three of them stood united as the river bore away another part of their family. She could feel the hesitation in her sisters, the uneasiness of not having known this elf who had gone into wrapstuff before they were born, this young uncle they had never met and whom she had known as the only one of them. Still, they were there to share her grief, not for the past they had not witnessed but for the future they had hoped for and that had been snatched away from them unexpectedly.
Soon, she knew, another raft would be built and sent downriver. And this time, watching it be borne away, there would be only two of them to witness it. Only two where there once had been three.
Snowfall slapped her hand hard against the rough bark behind her, sending a jolt through her arm that tore her out of the haze of memories. “It’s not fair!” Her voice was loud in the silence around her, and she was surprised at it herself but more so at the feelings rushing through her at her own words. There was grief, regret, sadness, but over it all, there was searing, cold anger. It was not fair. So much they had lost in such a short time, and still it did not seem to be enough. How much more did their family have to suffer until it was enough?
Of course it was not fair, her rational side interjected. Life was not fair. You did not live to become an elder without learning that lesson. And of course she would not wish any of this suffering on anyone else. There was good to outweigh it, too — Rill and Cinder’s birth, Fadestar’s unwrapping, welcoming Kestrel into their midst. But right now, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know who or what she was angry at. The only thing that counted was that she wanted to have someone or something she could rage at, someone she could blame for losing her beautiful, spirited, difficult sister, her parents, her son, her uncle.
But there was no one, nothing but the wind and the cold seeping in through her leathers, and Snowfall bit her lip, clenching her fists helplessly. She sat there for a long time, trying to argue against the irrational anger until she finally exhaled deeply, forcing herself to relax a bit. This was no good. She could not solve these feelings right now, so maybe she just had to accept them. Feelings changed, she knew that only too well. Surely it would be easier to deal with it when the pain wasn’t so sharp any more...
She stood up and shook her body, stiff from the tension and the cold. For now, she would return to her lifemate and to the holt. Everything else, time would tell.
She stole carefully into the den, mindful of waking her lifemate if he had already gone to sleep, but though he was already laying in the furs, True Edge heard her enter and turned to face her. She hadn’t really expected otherwise... Swiftly she discarded her leathers, bone-wearied, and slipped into the furs with him, grateful for their warmth after the chill of sitting outside in the wind.
True Edge put his arm around her, pulling her close. However, his forehead creased in a frown at the touch. “You’re as tense as a bowstring about to snap,” he said.
Snowfall sighed. “I know,” she murmured.
“Time alone didn’t help?” he asked gruffly.
She shook her head. “No, it didn’t,” she admitted.
“So?” he prompted. But she only shook her head again.
The hunter’s frown deepened. “Come on, Snowfall,” he insisted. “Why don’t you—“
But before he could continue, Snowfall interrupted him. She had gone rigid in his arms, her hands on his chest as if she wanted to push away from him. “No,” she told him, her voice flat. “I don’t want to talk about it, so don’t push me.”
She could see it hurt him, and she took a deep breath before she continued in a softer tone: “Please, just... just hold me, all right? I just want to rest...”
True Edge hesitated but then nodded, and when she took her hands off his chest and slipped back into his embrace, he pulled her closer again. “Of course,” was all he said, and she murmured a quiet “Thank you”. Putting her head on his chest, she closed her eyes and tried to relax, and after a while sleep claimed her.
But even then, she could not forget about the hole that had been torn into her world.