Beetle shivered as she pulled up the bulbous root. Sunlight glistened on the ice-crusted snow around her, and she couldn’t help but smile despite the bite in the air. This winter was beautiful, but it was cold. Using part of an old moose antler, she dug down through the snow once more. She knew that the fresh sweetroots would be a welcome treat for the new mothers, and it was worth the work to get at the last of them. The delicious red roots were relatively new to the tribe. Some bulbs had been pulled from a human garden one night during a word-hunt, and cultivated by the plantshapers. When the elves realized how good they were, the shapers had continued to help them grow.
But the growing season had ended, and the deep snow had covered what was left, leaving them buried. Beetle hadn’t forgotten them, though, and was just glad they were still there. Asking herself why she felt it was so important to go out on such a cold and icy day, her thoughts were interrupted by tandem squalls filling the air. When they were silenced almost as soon as they’d started, Beetle smiled. Flicker and Spark, the newest members of the tribe, had probably just woken up. Their loving mothers were most likely feeding them now.
Beetle recalled when she had nursed Cinder — not a pleasant experience in her memory. She had not continued with the experiment. There had been plenty who had been willing and happy to nurse him after Whispersilk’s death. Still, even that tiny moment of holding the small one in her arms to feed him had given her a new perspective on the tiniest members of the tribe, especially once she had gotten the hang of it and it didn’t hurt. She hadn’t admitted it then, but Cinder had changed her attitude about cubs.
Her cousin had been born not long after that, and though she had neither nursed Copper nor played cubsitter very often, the cub held a special place in the herbalist’s heart. Copper wasn’t as rambunctious as her playmate, Glow, who had been born a few seasons after, but she was observant, and she often said things that didn’t seem to make sense. Beetle was curious about the cub, and what made her say such things, but she had never asked. Still, she liked to be around Copper, and hoped to get to know her better.
The new cubs, the tiny babes, were precious. There was no want of arms to hold either of them, nor was there a lack of those willing to help out. Beetle helped as she was able, but mostly by allowing the new mothers and their father some space, and by making sure that teas and herbs were available as needed. She’d also tried to make sure that her tribemates had fresh foods in addition to that which had been stored up for winter. Which was why she was out in the cold.
While she hadn’t voiced her changing thoughts to anyone, and her tendency to show her care for the wee ones in a less direct manner probably made it seem that she had little interest, it was no longer true. She valued them, all of the cubs, more, and was intrigued by each of them. She looked forward to seeing who they would become, and she wanted to enjoy them while they were small.
Thinking of Crackle, Newt, Fadestar and Otter, Beetle acknowledged to herself that enjoying the cubs when they were small and so curious was important. They wouldn’t stay that way for very long, especially in light of the life of an elf.
**Lovemate, you do realize it’s freezing cold out, right?** Willow’s teasing interrupted Beetle’s thoughts.
She smiled her acknowledgement in sending, sharing an image of what she had dug up. **For Kestrel and Snowfall!**
**Get inside, beloved,** Willow ordered. **I’ll bet you’re frozen!**
**Then you can help me warm up when I get back! But first I need to make some soup.**
**Come warm up, then go make them soup. I’m sure they’ll appreciate having a warm-bodied member of the tribe serve it to them as opposed to an icicle.**
Beetle giggled to herself at the image of herself frozen solid. Then, she acknowledged Willow’s point and, gathering the sweetroots she had dug up, headed in to be warmed up.