The cold was brisk but Fadestar enjoyed the short walk to the Craft Trees in the dusk. She had returned from a scouting trip just one night before, and her sleep rhythm usually was a bit addled for the first day or two back at the Dentrees, so she was up early. When she had left her den, the rest of the tribe just seemed to be waking up slowly.
Entering the craft den she usually used, she took off her coat and shook off the snow settled on it. She pulled out a frame and started to stretch a rabbit hide across it she had brought back from the trip — together with another one, it would make a pair of mittens she had planned to give to Crackle. For a while, she worked in silence until a sound from the neighbouring den made her look up and smile. It sounded as if Nightstorm had arrived and her teacher had started the night with one of her creative frenzies which involved lots of rummaging around, accompanied with muttering and the occasional curse if whatever she was looking for proved to be elusive. Fadestar shook her head and returned her attention to her own work. Actually, she loved this about working at the Craft Trees — the sounds and smells of the others working nearby made her feel like she was connected to the tribe again after being on her own for so long, there was always the option to go over to one of the others for a quick chat, but she could also work quietly without being bothered if she didn’t want to.
After a while, someone knocked at the entrance to her den, and she looked up. With surprise she saw that it was Kestrel, True Edge and Snowfall. "Come in!“ she called as she set aside the almost-finished hide.
The three of them entered, and Fadestar quickly cleaned off a place for Kestrel and Snowfall to sit, motioning to them to take a seat. Both of them looked grateful at that — the walk to the Craft Trees was not long but with their pregnant bellies weighing heavily on them, they had felt it nevertheless. For a moment, Snowfall listened to the sounds of Nightstorm still working in the den next to them, a fond expression on her face, before she sat down next to Kestrel.
Fadestar looked from them to True Edge who was leaning against the den wall behind them. “What brings you here?” she asked curiously.
“We wanted to ask you something,” Kestrel answered, “a favour, actually. We were talking about our cubs’ birth while you were away — it won’t be long, now.”
Snowfall continued: “We want you to play a big part in their lives — if you want to, that is.” She gave her a slight smile as she placed a hand on her swollen belly. “I know my cub won’t actually be related to you directly, not like Kestrel’s cub is, but I hope you’ll consider him as much your nephew as Kestrel’s cub is.”
Fadestar impulsively stepped closer to her, sinking down in a crouch to place her hand on Snowfall’s, lying on her belly. “He’ll be part of my family, no matter how exactly we’re related or not,” she said seriously.
Snowfall’s smile widened at those words, and Kestrel gave her sister a thankful look. True Edge cleared his throat and cut to the chase: “We wanted to ask if you’d like to move in again for some time and give us a hand after the births.”
That surprised her, and Fadestar took a moment to consider it. Of course she was willing to help, but she loved having her own den. On the other hand, it was winter, which often meant that she ended up staying in the gathering den or with one of her friends for the added warmth — sharing a den was very welcome during this time of the year.
So she nodded and said with a smile: “Of course!"
The three of them had been watching her expectantly and now returned her smile with gratitude and joy. Snowfall gave her hand a squeeze, and Kestrel leaned over to give her sister a hug. “That’s wonderful,” she said warmly. “Thank you!”
Fadestar waved her off. “I love to help — and with two babies, things won’t be boring, that’s sure,” she returned.
Snowfall nodded. “I think True Edge will appreciate the help in particular,” she said, giving her lifemate a wink. “After all, he has to shoulder the fatherly duties all on his own while Kestrel and I can share.”
“Well, I can’t promise I’ll be a good father,” Fadestar joked, throwing a glance over to True Edge — she remembered how she had resented him for trying to fill the empty spot her father’s death had left. In hindsight, it seemed so unnecessary…
“That’s good, because that’s still my job,” True Edge said gruffly.
Fadestar raised an eyebrow at that, but decided not to take umbrage. She was used to his moods, after all. Instead, she asked: “Then I guess I’ll gather what I need in the morning and come over to your den?”
“If you want to,” Kestrel said. “The two of them should not arrive for another moon and a half or so but it’s certainly good to get us all settled into a routine before they do.”
Fadestar nodded. “That’s settled, then,” she decided.
Changing the topic, the four talked for another while before the threesome left Fadestar to her work and her own thoughts again.
"I just lost track of the time! And I was with Newt and Crackle, it's not like I was out alone!" Fadestar shouted, crossing her arms over her chest impatiently.
"That doesn't matter! You could have sent to us that you were going to be late before you were on your way back home!" True Edge responded, a bit of a snarl punctuating the end of the sentence.
It was a silly argument, and everyone present knew it. Fadestar was nearly an adult and had been living on her own for quite some time now. But the closer it got to the end of Snowfall and Kestrel's pregnancies, the harder it was to be around True Edge. Though he would be hard-pressed to admit it, anxiety over the well-being of his cubs and mates seemed to be amplifying his naturally protective nature and attitude of "my way is the only way." His three denmates had noticed it many times now. One day he would snap at a tribemate for being a little slow at bringing something to ease a pregnancy-related malady, another day he would stubbornly insist that one or the other of his mates needed more sleep despite the mate in question feeling perfectly fine — usually always something small that set him off and put him in a terrible mood.
This particular argument ended as quickly as it had started, and True Edge moved off by himself angrily to continue fixing his spear, something he had been working at on and off for the past few hours, while Fadestar joined her sister and Snowfall, removing her winter gear.
"He's more nervous than he cares to let on," Snowfall observed to the other two with a frown. "I can't say that I blame him, but…there has to be some way to get him to relax. There's still a little while before the cubs will be here and who knows how much worse he'll be by then."
"It's already impossible to talk to him," Fadestar grumbled.
"Perhaps if he went out on a hunt for a while…cleared his head. I think something to focus on other than us will help him relax," Kestrel said thoughtfully as she watched him work on his spear, his movements restless.
Snowfall frowned again at the suggestion. "That would probably help, but I'm not sure he would agree to leave us for such a period of time."
"It's worth a try," Fadestar said quickly. "Anything is worth a try if it means he'll relax a little."
Kestrel and Snowfall nodded at her, realizing that something had to change. The already tenuous relationship between Fadestar and True Edge would be in danger if things continued on this way. The two of them decided to wait until they were all in bed together to bring up the discussion, once True Edge had worked out a little of his current frustration.
Kestrel was the one who brought up the idea first. She had been lying with her back to True Edge and her head resting on his arm; with her belly as big as it had gotten, there were very few ways that the three of them could lie together comfortably. Now, though, she turned so that she was facing him, propping her head up on her elbow.
**Beloved… we were wondering if perhaps you should take a couple of days to go on a small hunt. It's been a while since you've been on one,** she sent slowly, not yet sure what his reaction would be. She could feel True Edge's arm tense at the send, but he didn't immediately object to the idea.
**It's just that… you've been so testy lately, and we're worried about you. The smallest things seem to set you off these days,** Snowfall continued from his other side. When again no answer came, Kestrel began to think that this had been a bad idea after all. Evidently, though, he was only thinking, as minutes later he sent back to them.
**I can't do that. The thought of leaving you two, even for a day…if something were to happen…** His send came along with a tumult of feelings: guilt, anxiety, anger, and even some fear.
**We have Fadestar here to help us, and you know Willow checks in with us nearly every day now. The rest of the tribe is close by if we need anything. I think we'll be fine,** Kestrel sent back soothingly.
True Edge's arms tightened a little more around each of his mates. He seemed to be turning over the idea in his head. Both of his mates knew that the idea was certainly appealing to him, but the question was whether or not it would win out over his need to be there to protect them.
**What if you took the opportunity to spend some time with our daughter? Goodness knows you'll be busy once the babes are here, and I know she's been restless herself with the intermittent snow we've been getting.** Snowfall suggested.
True Edge frowned a bit at the suggestion but didn’t dismiss it out of hand. For a long moment he thought upon it and finally nodded.
“That is true. She probably could do with a good hunt before the weather gets much worse. I’ll suggest it to her after we’ve slept.”
Snowfall smiled, happy that her idea had appealed to him. He reached out to stroke her cheek, his own eyes searching hers.
**Will you promise me that someone will send for me the instant anything happens?**
**Of course, my love,** Snowfall sent back earnestly.
True Edge lay back down, letting out a long breath.
**Then I will go… but just for a couple of days.**
**That sounds perfect. I don’t think we could stand to be without you any longer than that,** Kestrel sent, a grin on her face.
With the decision being made, the three snuggled as close as they could, taking advantage of their togetherness as they always had done before one of them was due to leave.
It had been a good clean kill. The stag had led them on a merry chase, but in the end was no match for the two hunters and their wolves. True Edge knelt beside the body and wiped the blade of his stone knife on the fur of the deer. Then he stood back to let the two wolves eat their fill of the beast’s entrails he had exposed. That was when he became aware of his daughter’s questioning gaze.
“Were you this nervous when I was born?”
For a moment he stared at her and frowned. Had it been anyone else questioning his state of mind, he might well have gone off into one of his rages. Quick Fang, though, meant it as stated without trying to imply anything. She was always straight to the point and wasn’t one to insinuate that he was a grumpy old son of a she-bear as some had. With that thought in mind he merely sighed and leaned back against a tree.
“No, not really. That was different though. I was overjoyed, of course, that you were coming into our lives, but there wasn’t so much mystery about how you were coming to us. A birth from Recognition… or even a surprise birth that wasn’t from Recognition… I could understand that. Cubs born from magic... I’m not so sure how that can work. It just worries me.”
She listened as he explained with a somewhat confused expression. After a moment or two to digest it all she finally replied.
“Willow says they are fine.”
Her expression indicated that, as far as she was concerned, Willow’s opinion on magical things should settle the matter. True Edge wished he could feel the same, but it was hard to keep out the nagging worries. He wouldn’t feel secure about the whole matter till there was a living, breathing cub he could hold in his hands. He had to admit, though, that coming on this hunt, and focusing solely on something familiar to him, had helped improve his mood.
Turning his attention to things a bit more within his ability to understand, True Edge looked towards the sky and studied the clouds. Sniffing the air, his frown deepened a bit. Snow was coming, he could tell, and most likely quite a bit of it.
“We’ll need to find somewhere to weather the storm,” he said thoughtfully. “Is that old stinkbear den by the river still empty?”
“No. A she-bear bedded down in it for the winter. How about the hollow tree upriver from here?”
He thought about that. It would be a bit cramped, but was a better option than arguing with a sleeping bear.
“All right. Let’s cut off some of the meat for ourselves and head off once the wolves are done. We should be able to beat the storm there.”
Branch and Growler seemed to understand their elves’ intents and gobbled down their fill of meat a bit more quickly than they would have liked. True Edge then set to work and cut off several long strips of meat for himself and his daughter. Neither of the elves really liked leaving so much meat behind, but the snowstorm was coming in fast. Some scavenger would take care of the remainder, no doubt.
That done, they climbed on wolfback for speed and headed upriver. By the time they arrived, the snow was really coming down and the wind was howling around them. The biggest danger in weather like this was getting lost and then suffering exposure to the elements while you tried to get back on course. Fortunately, they both knew this area so well that they found the tree they wanted without any difficulty.
Quick Fang jumped from Growler’s back and peered into the darkness of the hollowed out tree trunk. She sniffed a few times and seemed to find nothing out of the ordinary. A quick nod told her father all of this far more eloquently than words ever could.
He and his daughter pushed deeper into the hollowed area and the wolves squeezed in after. It was very cramped but better than traveling in the storm. Once they were settled, he handed her a generous share of the meat.
“Nothing to do now but wait,” he said, leaning back against the warmth of Branch’s fur.
Snowfall pushed back the den curtain a bit, shivering as a gust of wind immediately used that new opening to invade the warm den. Nevertheless, she kept it open for a few more moments, as she strained to hear anything in the howl of the wind. Finally, she let the curtain fall back with a sigh and quickly secured the tie again so no further gusts and the snowflakes riding on them could find their way into the den.
She returned to the bed bowl where Kestrel was already curled up in the furs and sat down at the edge. “It’s been increasing steadily all night — I guess if it keeps going like that, the real storm will hit us by tomorrow night, at the latest,” she remarked while she opened the tie of the braid wrapping around her head and started unraveling it.
Kestrel propped up her chin on her hand and, for a moment, just looked at her lovemate before she reached out the other hand to rest it on Snowfall’s knee. “You know he would send if something was the matter,” she said gently, revealing that she saw through the casual tone she had employed.
“I know.” Snowfall tried to smile but it lacked conviction. “They will be holing up somewhere until it’s over.” It was nothing unusual for any of the hunters to be caught outside in a storm, and it had happened to herself often enough, but she couldn’t help but worry for her lifemate and daughter.
Kestrel’s look was sympathetic, and she did not try and placate her with logic, knowing fully well that Snowfall was repeating all those reasonable thoughts to herself anyway. Instead, she just reached out and stroked her cheek before she sank back into the furs and held up an edge of the fur covering in an inviting gesture. “Let’s just go to sleep — with that weather, it’s probably the best thing to do,” she suggested.
Snowfall nodded and quickly discarded her leathers after shaking out her unbraided hair, slipping into the warm furs thankfully. “Fadestar is with her friends?” she asked as she made herself comfortable as well as it was possible.
“Yes, they wanted to pile up in Otter’s den, she had said earlier,” Kestrel explained.
“Good, she’ll be snug and warm then.” Just in that moment, Kestrel breathed in sharply, and Snowfall turned around to her, puzzled. “Are you alright?” she asked.
Kestrel shrugged her shoulders. “Just a bit of a cramp,” she said. Snowfall gave her a searching look but nodded.
However, a few minutes later Kestrel inhaled again sharply and sat up. “All right, it’s really that kind of cramp,” she said, her voice a bit forcefully calm. “It seems our cub wants out — now.”
“Now?” Snowfall sat up as well, her eyes widening. “But we figured it would be almost another moon!”
“I know, but our little one doesn’t seem to care,” Kestrel replied with a laugh. “It’s not strong yet but I don’t think I’ve forgotten what it feels like...”
Snowfall got up, shrugging her leathers back on. “I’ll call Willow, Fadestar and Starskimmer,” she told her, already reaching out her mind to them. Her sending was met with answers echoing her own bewilderment, and by the third time she heard the reply ‘But you said it would be a moon or so’, she had to suppress a chuckle and the answer of ‘That’s what I said, too’. “They’re coming,” she then said aloud to her lovemate. She knelt down beside her and observed her with a mixture of puzzlement and worry. Try as she might, though their pregnancies had progressed without any unusual trouble, she could not quite forget that day when a sudden pang of pain had meant the end of their dreams the first time...
Kestrel nodded thankfully as she settled herself against the rim of the bed bowl, drawing the furs around her belly. She met Snowfall’s eyes, and it was clear she hadn’t forgotten about it, either. Still, she shook her head. “Don’t worry, love — I feel fine.” For a moment she knit her brows as a contraction passed over her. When it was over, she made a breathless sound. “Well, as fine as can be when you’re about to give birth. Our cub really could have waited and not chosen such a stormy night.”
“I don’t think he's doing it on purpose,” Snowfall replied with a chuckle. With relief she heard the sounds of someone working on the ties of the den flap from the outside and quickly got up to help them.
As soon as it was half undone, it was pushed aside, and Willow all but tumbled into the den. “High Ones, did that have to be in the middle of a snowstorm?” she complained, pulling off her gloves. Without further ado she went over to Kestrel, crouching down beside her and giving her a searching look before she placed a hand on her belly and for a moment the glow of her magic enveloped it. Then she sat back, her expression still a bit grumpy but mixed with relief and a hint of excitement. “Well, you’re having an impatient one, aren’t you?” she remarked. “But the cub seems to be absolutely fine. Just eager to get out.”
Snowfall and Kestrel both breathed a sigh of relief at that reassurance. Moments later, Fadestar and Starskimmer, the latter bringing Cloudfern with her, arrived as well, and the den was filled with voices and activity as they set about setting everything up for the birth. Snowfall had closed the den flap again and was now standing silently, a look of concentration on her face. Finally she turned back to the others. “They’re pretty far out — I just barely reached him. They’ll be heading home, or at least True Edge is, but it will take a good while.”
Kestrel’s face clearly showed her concern, and Fadestar who was sitting next to her gave her hand a comforting squeeze. “But the birth will take some time, won’t it?” She gave Starskimmer a questioning look — what she remembered from the births of her younger tribesmates, there always had been at least a few hours between the time Starskimmer was called and the announcement of the successful birth to the tribe.
Starskimmer smiled. “Yes, and it’s barely started, so I don’t think your cub will be born before the day is over.” Willow nodded to her words – her magic had told her the same as Starskimmer’s many years of experience in bringing the tribe’s cubs into the world had.
Kestrel and Snowfall shared a look, and both of them knew what the other one was thinking. They had started this all together, seen it through together — that True Edge wouldn’t be there to see his cub born was almost unbearable, and even more so considering they had suggested him leaving in the first place. They worried for him, being out there in the weather, but Kestrel did not ask Snowfall if she had tried convincing him to stay put. Nothing could keep their mate from rushing back, she knew. So they had to trust in his ability to get home safe — there was nothing they could do about that. All they could do was prepare the birth and then settle in to wait for the new arrival and his father.
There was little to do but worry, doze and think. True Edge had his fill of worrying and thinking for awhile and tried to sleep instead. Quick Fang snored softly at his side and both wolves were asleep as well. They were all huddled together in a warm, if somewhat tightly packed, group.
However, when Snowfall’s sending touched his mind, the elder jerked awake with a start. The connection was faint but it only took a moment’s touch to understand what she was saying. Kestrel’s cub was about to be born — and he at least half a day’s ride from the Holt! True Edge cursed loud and heartily, then sent back to Snowfall that he would be coming home. He didn’t leave her any chance to argue — there was no way he would stay here while his cub was being born! He shook Quick Fang’s shoulder roughly. **Daughter! Wake up!** he sent, fighting back his feelings of distress. **I have to get back to the Holt!**
Quick Fang, looking somewhat put out to have been woken so suddenly, blinked up sleepily at him. “What’s the matter?” she asked. True Edge quickly explained as he was already grabbing for his things. The space inside the dead tree wasn’t sufficient for him to stand, and the wolves protested the sudden activity in the cramped space but he paid them no mind.
“You’re not going alone,” his daughter said with a determined shake of her head when he had ended. “It’s too dangerous to travel in weather like this alone.”
What she said made sense but he was not terribly inclined to put his daughter in danger as well in the treacherous going the weather would provide to them. However, the expression on her face said there would be no arguing with her if he tried to leave on his own.
“All right, then. Stay close and let's make haste.”
The wolves seemed no happier to be awake than the elves did, but only fussed a little as the two elves hopped on their backs and urged them home. It wasn’t really fit weather for elf or beast to be out in, but they knew this land well and were very able to survive on it. It would be tricky-going, but they should be able to make it back to the Holt before the day was done.
The snow was falling quite heavily by the time the Dentrees came into view, making it hard to judge just how far away they still were. Branch seemed to sense the anxiety of her rider and had pushed herself to the limit trying to get them back home, despite the worsening weather conditions.
After what seemed like a lifetime, though in reality was probably just a few minutes, they reached the destination that they had risked so much to make it back to. **Thank you,** True Edge sent to the wolf, who nudged the elf as if to say, go ahead. She seemed to understand exactly the feelings that True Edge broadcasted through his send. This was all the encouragement the elder needed, leaping off into the snow and rushing to the den he shared with his mates. Quick Fang would be heading back to her own den, knowing full well that she was not one to be of much use at the birth. She would meet her new sibling when it was all over with.
Impatiently, True Edge worked at the hide that was sealed against the snow. He had been locksending with Kestrel and Snowfall as soon as they were close enough to keep the contact easily, but with the difficult going Quick Fang and he had had, he hadn’t been able to give them all the attention he wanted to — and he was burning to see and touch them and be really there for them and the cub about to be born.
**Oh, thank the High Ones you're here, True Edge,** Snowfall sent along with her overwhelming relief, and still just a hint of regret that she and Kestrel had told him to ride out, despite the fact that True Edge had insisted through send that the time for guilt about that was long past. How could any of them have known this would happen? **It's not long before we'll meet our cub.**
True Edge's fumbling fingers, clumsy in his thick gloves, finally succeeded in roughly pushing aside the hide, which seemed to have been loosened already in anticipation for his arrival. He stumbled into the den, not bothering to remove his wet garments. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room, but he could make out the others — Starskimmer and Cloudfern worked busily off to the side preparing the materials they would need for the baby; Kestrel was sitting up in the bed bowl, with Snowfall on one side and Fadestar on the other; Willow kneeled beside Fadestar, and though he had been given the impression that everything had gone well so far, the mostly relaxed and expectant look on her face was a welcome confirmation for an anxious father.
In a few strides, he was at Snowfall's side, and as he lowered himself to the ground, both Snowfall and Kestrel pulled him into an embrace, the three of them sending their joy and relief to one another; they were all together now, no longer uncertain that True Edge would be there to see his child's first breath.
"You're just in time," Fadestar said with a grin.
"There's a little while yet," Willow corrected, her hands on Kestrel's stomach. "But it's true…this cub doesn't want to wait too much longer."
As if to prove Willow's words, at that moment Kestrel's grip on Snowfall and Fadestar's hands tightened, and her eyebrows knitted together. Sensing that the labor would soon be nearing its end, Starskimmer took her place in front of Kestrel, preparing to help welcome the baby into the world as she had done with so many others.
All three parents were now locked in sending with each other and with their cub; it was a welcome mental focus for Kestrel, who had begun to tire a while ago. It had been nearly half a lifetime ago since her first child's birth, and while her memory of the day itself was still with her, the sensations and emotions of that day had faded somewhat. Had it taken this long the first time? Had she felt as exhausted? Kestrel wasn't sure — all she knew was that the support of her loved ones and the mind-touch of the cub she would soon be able to meet gave her the strength for the final push.
At last, a cry filled the air, tiny at first, but then growing more lustful. Harsh though it was, it was almost like music to the ears of the elves gathered there.
"He's a beautiful boy," Starskimmer said with a wide smile, expertly cleaning the baby off enough so he could be handed to Kestrel. As all three parents gazed at the new baby, with his soft auburn hair and warm, brown eyes, they had to agree.
It was a moment that had seemed like it would never come. It was so hard to believe, after all those long months of wishing and waiting, of experiencing the worst kind of heartbreak and nearly losing hope, that the whimpering cub in Kestrel's arms could possibly be real.
**Welcome, little one," she sent, tears filling her eyes as she leaned down to kiss the little head full of fine hair. **We've been waiting to meet you.** The newborn gurgled a bit in response, having settled down some from the shock of emerging into the cold air from the warm home he had known for the past two years.
"He looks so much like you… and like Father," Fadestar said to Kestrel in awe. Kestrel had to agree. It was such a familiar and nostalgic feeling, to hold a son in her arms, and yet at the same time it was so new. She could remember being surprised to see how much Bowflight had looked like his father, and the new babe…there wasn't much of True Edge in his looks yet at all. True Edge, though, didn't seem to mind this, his face full of fatherly pride has he reached out to stroke the little boy's palm, tiny fingers closing over his. Smiling, Kestrel then handed the baby over to him and Snowfall, their elated faces compounding her own joy.
After minutes of this, Starskimmer again received the baby, Cloudfern beside her, fully cleaning and swaddling him to protect against the cold while Willow placed her hands on him and closed her eyes, checking one last time to make sure everything was fine. The parents looked at her expectantly, and the satisfied expression on her face told them everything they needed to know before she even spoke.
"He's just a little small, given how early he decided he wanted out, but he'll be just fine," she confirmed in words, and there was a hint of pride in her voice. As well there should be, Kestrel thought to herself, feeling her own pride in her granddaughter's miraculous accomplishment and how far she had come as a healer.
The small group in the den took a few more minutes to bask in the moment before Starskimmer and Snowfall began to send the good news to others in the tribe. Most were holed away in their own dens, the weather being too harsh to allow any outside activity, but all sent their congratulations, some with the intent to come visit the new babe as soon as weather allowed.
Finally, when all the sendings had quieted down, the three parents and their new baby settled down for some much-needed rest in the bed bowl, while Willow, Fadestar, Starskimmer, and Cloudfern set up their owns furs beside it, still smiling from the happy event.
The first day with the new baby had been full of activity. Nightstorm and Windsong were among the first to come meet him.
“He looks so much like you!!” Windsong had said, echoing the observation that Kestrel and Fadestar had made before.
“He’s such a pretty little boy,” Nightstorm cooed to her sister, patiently awaiting her turn to hold him.
Quick Fang soon joined the little group, Rill and Cinder tagging along with her. Snowfall and True Edge’s wolfish daughter couldn’t seem to hide the amazement she was feeling at how magic, rather than Recognition, could have produced a cub like this. There were some in the tribe who, even after the two years of preparing for this, had a hard time believing that things would turn out as well as they did.
But nevertheless, this was her new brother, and she accepted him as such.
“Grandmother, what should I call the new baby?” Rill asked Snowfall, a perplexed expression on his face. “Father said that the baby is my uncle, but...it seems weird because he’s so much smaller than I am.”
Snowfall had to chuckle a little bit. “Why don’t you just call him by his tribe name, once it’s chosen? I’m sure he will be much more your friend than your uncle.”
Rill’s face brightened at the prospect of a new friend.
“Grow up fast, little one,” Cinder urged the newborn. “We have all kinds of games to teach you!” Both boys were fascinated by the cub, having been too little when their younger tribemates were born to really remember it.
Pathmark had come eagerly along with Evervale and Longshot, and had spent a longer time with the little boy than his lovemates, his expression delighted.
“I’ve never seen you so happy about a cub,” Kestrel said to her grandson with a smile. Throughout her pregnancy, her grandson had been very vocal about his well-wishes for the babe, and had brought toys and small items that he had made.
“It’s strange to me, too. It seems that lately I’ve been thinking more and more about what it would be like to be a father,” Pathmark replied. Kestrel smiled at her sweet grandson and couldn’t help but think what a wonderful parent he would be.
“You’re welcome to come practice any time you like...and maybe it will happen for you sooner rather than later.”
Pathmark looked a bit unsure about this, but he only nodded. “I might take you up on that.”
Rainpace and Chicory came for a visit along with a very excited Glow. The girl jumped around her father when Kestrel gingerly put the small, living bundle into his eager arms. “I want to see, I want to see!!” Glow insisted and pulled on Rainpace’s tunic until he finally knelt down so she could have a look.
While her father seemed completely enraptured by his new tribemate, a furrow was slowly building up between Glow’s brows while she examined the baby. “What is it?” Chicory asked her daughter in surprise.
“He… he is red and... and wrinkly like a gnarly tree,” Glow finally exclaimed. Everyone in the cramped den started laughing at the girl's sceptical tone. She obviously had expected something different.
“You looked the same shortly after your birth,” Rainpace told his daughter, who made a face at that.
“And still we loved you from the start," Chicory added in a teasing tone and wrapped her arms around her girl.
“Then it will go away?” Glow asked.
“Of course,” Rainpace answered, and gingerly pinched her cheeks with his free hand. “Shortly he will be as white and smooth and glowing as you, little bug.”
“Add some more turning of the seasons and he will even be able to run and jump and play with you,” Kestrel added while she took her boy from Rainpace’s arm. She sat down onto the bed bowl and patted the space next to her. “Come here,” she motioned to Glow. “I will show you how to hold him until then.” Eagerly the girl jumped onto the free seat and carefully put her arms around the bundle that Kestrel laid into her lap.
Rainpace and Chicory, completely forgotten, watched how their daughter tenderly handled the baby.
“Hm, makes you wish to have another one, doesn’t it?” Rainpace said quietly to Chicory.
“Really?” was the incredulous response, which made Rainpace look down at his lovemate. For a few seconds, they just stared at each other before they both erupted in laughter. While the others in the den were grinning, too, Glow was completely occupied with her task and did not seem to hear her parents or anything else.
“We wouldn’t have time to sleep,” Rainpace said, while catching his breath.
“Let alone eat!” Chicory added.
Rainpace wrapped an arm around his lovemate and both watched their daughter again with loving eyes. “One is enough to handle.”
“Indeed,” Chicory agreed.
“For now, at least,” Rainpace added and laughed, until Chicory pinched him in the side.
Among the last to make an appearance was Chief Windburn, who didn’t reveal much in his expression about how he was feeling on the matter, but did say his congratulations and his joy at having a new member of the tribe.
Eventually, Kestrel and Snowfall were tired out, Kestrel because of the previous day's events, and Snowfall because her belly was still weighing heavily on her. Fadestar then took her little nephew while True Edge continued to converse with his tribemates, unable to keep his boasting in check. At Fadestar's urging, once the number of elves had thinned out somewhat, Newt and Crackle came for a visit together. The two of them and Fadestar sat with the baby in a secluded corner of the threemates' den, as he had started to get a bit fussy from all the activity.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" Fadestar said with a sigh, rocking the baby in an attempt to soothe him. "He's here now, and somehow I still find it hard to believe."
Newt smiled, as he was placing a charm on a strip of leather in the baby’s palm for him to grasp. “I know. It’s been all worth it, hasn’t it?”
"I had heard the stories of healer-sparked babies but I never thought I'd see it happen for myself," Crackle said excitedly, and the other two could almost see the embellishments she was adding to the story in her head for future use.
"At any rate, you all are going to have your hands full once Snowfall's cub is here," Newt said. "If he's anything like his brother has been today, he's going to be crying at the smallest noise."
"Then I guess we're going to need some help. Are you up for the job?" Fadestar asked, half-jokingly. Newt picked up on her joking tone, but decided to answer the question seriously.
"I'd like to help, if I can," he replied, looking fondly at the little boy.
"I'll look after them when they're older," Crackle added helpfully. "That's when they start to get fun."
Fadestar smiled warmly at her two friends. “Good, then we won’t run out of cubsitters,” she remarked lightly.
Just at that moment, the cub scrunched up his face and started wailing in earnest. Alarmed, Fadestar picked him up and tried to get him to calm down by bouncing him a bit but he was having none of it. So she was relieved when Kestrel stirred over in the bed-bowl and said sleepily: “He sounds as if he’s hungry, Fadestar — give him to me.”
She delivered her nephew, who was red-faced by now, into the waiting arms of his mother. As soon as Kestrel had placed him against her breast, he stopped crying and latched onto it.
“How did you know?” Fadestar asked with some wonder. “I wouldn’t have a clue what his crying meant …”
Kestrel smiled at her sister while she stroked her son’s fine hair with one finger. “A lot of it is instinct but don’t forget he isn’t my first,” she replied, “not to mention helping Mother and Father raise you and Moon and helping out with the other cubs of the tribe. You’ll learn, too.”
Fadestar laughed. “Well, I hope so!” she said. “Else they will just have to hurry up and learn to speak very soon.”
Kestrel laughed at that and looked down to the small head resting against her bosom. “You hear that, little one?” The cub looked up at her with big, round eyes, and she shook her head ruefully. “I don’t think he agrees.” She patted his back until he gave a burp and then settled back into the bed bowl.
Suddenly, Snowfall sat up beside her with a start and bent forward. The others looked around to her, puzzled. “Are you all right, Snowfall?”, Newt asked.
“Yes...it was just a contraction, I think,” Snowfall said.
“What — you mean, your cub is coming, too?” Fadestar asked, her eyes wide.
Snowfall nodded. “I think so,” she replied. Kestrel had sat up, too, and noticed that though she tried to sound calm, the huntress had gone slightly pale and was cradling her belly anxiously. Kestrel put an arm around her shoulders and stroked her soothingly. “Should I call Willow?” she asked, and at only the tiniest nod from her lovemate, she immediately reached out to her granddaughter and to True Edge as well.
“Do you think something’s wrong?” Crackle asked but bit her tongue when the next moment, she had two elbows in her ribs from her two friends.
“I’m sure your cub just is eager to get out, just like Kestrel’s,” Newt offered. He was racking his brain for something to do to help ease Snowfall’s anxiety, but though he had been taught a bit about midwifery by Starskimmer, he hadn’t had the opportunity to witness a birth before, so he was at a loss.
Snowfall gave her a weak smile — for her lovemate it was clear to see that she was struggling to keep a cool head. So another few tight moments passed until first, True Edge came rushing in and hot on his heels, Willow clambered into the den and rushed over to them. She knelt down next to Snowfall and swiftly placed her hand on her belly, her magic enveloping it with its glow for a moment. Then she sat back with a smile, shaking her head. “Everything’s fine,” she told the threemates. “The cub just wants out.”
Everyone present breathed a sigh of relief. Snowfall relaxed in Kestrel's embrace, faint pink spots of colour appearing in her cheeks. “Thank you, Willow,” she said and gave the others an apologetic look, too.
But the healer only waved her off. “Well, I better call Starskimmer to complete our merry round again,” she said cheerfully. “At least we’re still in practice!”
The atmosphere in the den loosened, in particular when Starskimmer arrived, cheerfully announcing: “You two are keeping us on our toes, aren't you?” She noticed Newt and gave him a grin. “Do you want to assist this time?” she asked.
Newt smiled. “Of course!”
Crackle looked uncomfortable. “Uhm, I think I won’t be any help,” she said. “So, I’d better scram.”
“Well, I can set you to work if you want,” Starskimmer smirked but then shrugged. “But I think we’ve got a lot of hands here, so it’s alright.”
Soon the den was filled with activity as they prepared everything. Snowfall leaned back into the furs and her lifemate’s arm around her shoulders, looking to Kestrel soothing her son who was agitated by all that noise and hustle around him, and smiled, her previous fear dispelled. As long as all those elves were by her side, she was ready to brace the labour, and at long last she would hold her cub in her arms.
Several hours later, Starskimmer cleaned off the cub and handed it to the exhausted but happy mother. “Another son!” she announced with a wide smile.
Snowfall received her cub eagerly, and together the threemates bent over their new cub. In admiration, they drank in the sight of their son — he had a head full of curly-wavy black hair not unlike his father’s, and when he opened his eyes and blinked up at them owlishly, Kestrel could not suppress a cry of wonder. “They have the same eyes!” And indeed, Snowfall’s cub had the same warm brown eye colour Kestrel’s cub had.
True Edge grinned widely. “They’re true brothers,” he said proudly, and his two mates had to agree.
Fadestar who had taken care of her nephew during the last bit of the birth so that Kestrel could concentrate on supporting her lovemate now came over to them to admire the babe. She handed the cub back to Kestrel who took him and held him up to Snowfall’s cub so he could see him. “My darling, meet your brother,” she said softly, her voice wavering slightly with emotion. And though the parents knew that the cubs were too young for that, they could not help but feel that the two cubs gazed at each other as if they understood what that meant.
It was a strange feeling to be alone with each other after how exciting and hectic the past few days had been. The storm appeared to have mostly settled down by this point, and the calm outside reflected the atmosphere inside the den. With Fadestar taking some much-needed rest time in her own small bed-bowl, Kestrel, Snowfall, and True Edge lay together in theirs, gazing down at the now-sleeping faces of their newborn sons.
**We've spent so much time wondering what they were going to look like, what their personalities were going to be. It seemed like forever before our questions would be answered,** Snowfall mused through send, fingers stroking the little black-haired boy's fine wavy-curly hair.
**We're going to have to choose tribe names for them soon. Everyone's going to wonder what to call them, as will we,** True Edge said, always one to cut right to the practical over the sentimental.
Kestrel nodded. The three had discussed possible names before, but looking at the two precious faces now, the decision seemed much easier.
**We know that we owe all of this to Willow, and her magic. Without her, we likely would have never gotten to this moment.**
Snowfall and True Edge nodded their agreement. Rather than choose names based on the looks of the two cubs, they would opt instead to choose names that paid homage to their magical beginnings and to the healer who had challenged the limits of her abilities to make this all possible.
**I think Spark fits this little one very well,** Snowfall sent, looking affectionately at the black-haired boy. The threemates hadn’t had much time, yet, to get to know him, but already he had shown a great deal of energy and vivacity for one so small.
“And this one is more of a… Flicker,” Kestrel said softly, her gaze on the auburn-haired boy. When he wasn’t crying, he was much more subdued than his slightly younger brother.
**So it’s to be Flicker and Spark, then…** True Edge confirmed, trying out both the names to get a feel for how they sounded together. **When should we announce the names to the tribe?** he wondered.
**Preferably after we get a little rest!** Kestrel answered with a small chuckle. With both cubs arriving within a day of each other, the opportunities for sleep had been few and far between.
Scarcely had the three of them begun to drift into slumber, however, when a high-pitched cry filled the air. In the past couple of days, little Flicker had hardly slept for very long at a time, and the slightest noise seemed to stir him. It was unclear what could have caused the little cub to wake this time, but after a minute or two, it was plain to see he wasn't about to soothe himself to sleep.
"I'll walk him for a while," came a voice from beside the bedbowl, and the threemates looked over to see Fadestar standing at the ready. She seemed to have been prepared for just such a thing, obviously taking her role as auntie very seriously.
"Thank you, Fadestar," Kestrel sighed gratefully, handing the still-crying Flicker over to her. No sooner had she done so, however, than another, more sleepy cry, came from the bedbowl. His brother's wails had jerked Spark out of his own slumber.
"Come here, little lad," True Edge said softly, taking the black-haired boy into his own arms. "You two get some sleep. We'll handle this," he then said sternly to his mates. And for once, they were inclined to listen to his order without argument.
Snowfall and Kestrel watched the two with the babies for a little while and couldn't help but smile.
**I get the feeling this is going to be the norm from now on,** Kestrel sent to her mate, her amusement apparent through her exhaustion.
**Yes,** Snowfall agreed, a contented smile on her face. **And I wouldn’t have it any other way.**