At first Newt had to admit, if only to himself, that a tiny spark of jealousy had set his actions in motion. Now there was only curiosity left, the kind that nine-year-old children everywhere suffer on a regular basis.
Cloudfern had been gone from sundown to sunup for a hand of nights. He always came back in time to crawl into the sleeping furs beside Greenweave before the sun had moved above the horizon, at a time when Newt himself hadn't completely fallen asleep yet. But Cloudfern also always took a detour into his work den first, followed by a long pause at his work-table in their den.
Newt hadn't been following Cloudfern. There would have been no point, and it would have been a rude thing to do. Cloudfern wouldn't have wanted to be followed if he was going somewhere secret all night, and would hear Newt coming from a dozen wolf-lengths away. All following would get the young elf was being sent back to the Dentrees, he was sure of it, so he hadn't done it.
But he was oh so curious.
"Time for bed yet, cub?"
Newt looked up to see Greenweave standing right behind him. He looked to be stifling a yawn, which had Newt clamping his jaws shut to not let loose a yawn of his own.
"Not yet," Newt said, his eyes pleading. "I want to wait until Cloudfern gets home."
Greenweave smiled. "Then you'll have to wait a while yet. He was out by the thornwall the last time he sent to me. Said he'd be late home."
"Again," Newt couldn't help but add.
"Again," Greenweave said, still smiling.
Newt had been expecting some sort of explanation, possibly a gentle chiding for being too nosy or for not wanting to go to sleep when asked. Greenweave agreeing was just…odd. "Oh."
"If you want something to do while you wait, we could practice braiding leather. I think you're ready to try the more complicated knots I know." Greenweave gestured at the small pile of leather strings in a bowl on a nearby shelf.
Newt nodded. Something to do was always good when waiting. The stars were still shining above the trees, even if their brightness had faded somewhat, heralding the approaching sunrise. He'd have time to make at least a bracelet.
Three bracelets later, Cloudfern still wasn't home.
"You could send to him and ask where he is," Greenweave said with an amused smile on his lips.
Newt fidgeted with the leather strings in his hands. "I don't want to bother him."
The smile on Greenweave's face faltered and softened. "A sending from you will never be a bother to Cloudfern," he said. "You needn't worry about reaching out to him."
Newt hesitated. Greenweave wouldn't lie to him, but Greenweave wasn't Cloudfern, so how could he know completely what Cloudfern always would think? Never was a very, very long time.
But Greenweave looked so convinced, Newt couldn't help but do as told. **Cloudfern?**
**Are you still up, cub?** came the reply from Cloudfern. It was close by, no farther than the edge of the den area. **Greenweave making you practice braiding this late?**
There was no annoyance, only amusement in Cloudfern's mind-voice, and it was clear what he said about Greenweave was a joke.
**No, I wanted to stay up a bit longer,** Newt sent back, unsure of how to put into either word or thought why he was still awake. **Are you going to be gone much longer?**
**Not long,** Cloudfern sent. **I'm just stopping by Starskimmer's to get some things first.**
Newt sent back acknowledgment, then said: "He's visiting Starskimmer."
"See," Greenweave said, "you weren't a bother at all." Then he yawned. "Time for sleep now?"
A yawn forced Newt's mouth wide as well. He blinked a few times. The leather strings in his hands were getting harder and harder to distinguish from one another. He nodded.
Preparing for sleep took no time at all. Newt took off his clothes, folded them and crept in under his furs.
Still no Cloudfern.
Despite the heavy touch of sleep, Newt made himself keep his eyes open, his sleeping fur over his head to hide his wakefulness from Greenweave.
Just as Newt was about to drift off, a ray of faint sunlight drifted into the den, visible through the small gap he'd left between his sleeping fur and his bedding.
Forcing his eyes wider, he watched as Cloudfern stepped inside and tied the door-hide shut against the light. As Newt had predicted, he headed for his work-table right away.
The curiosity gnawed at Newt. He couldn't stay in bed now. Not a fourth time.
Ever so carefully, Newt pulled aside his sleeping fur and made his way across the den, toward Cloudfern. He even held his breath, hoping to not make any noise — or that Cloudfern would be too tired to notice any noises he made.
No such luck.
"Ah, it seems you've found me out," Cloudfern said, looking up from his work place. There were pots and mortars all over the work space, in an unusual clutter.
"What?" was the only word that made its way past Newt's lips.
"I was working on something for you," Cloudfern said and stretched, like he had a sore back from standing at the work-table all night instead of having been gone who knows where. "But there's no reason for keeping it secret now."
Guilt poked at Newt and he had trouble meeting Cloudfern's eyes. "I'm sorry."
Cloudfern chuckled. "No need to be. I was planning on telling you when you woke up, so you finding out right now is no trouble."
"Finding out what?" Newt took a step toward the work-table, one hand touching its side.
Cloudfern gestured at the bowls in front of him, as well as the herbs and roots spread out everywhere. "I'm making sun-oil for you."
"Sun-oil?" The word wasn't new for Newt, but still brought him up short. "But we have some left and it's getting colder. There's only a few moons until the snow comes."
"True," Cloudfern said. "Yet the ingredients I need to make sun-oil grow best now. Isn't that strange?"
Newt nodded, even though his sleepy mind couldn't wrap itself completely around what Cloudfern had said. "You're making a lot of sun-oil?"
"Yes," Cloudfern said. "You'll need a lot of it for next year. Especially as we'll need a lot of it for Beetle's experiments."
Experiments? "And you've been out all night for four nights getting the roots a-and the flowers for it?"
Newt had been gathering more than a few times. A night's work of picking berries or digging up roots usually meant baskets full of things to carry back to the Holt. Four nights of gathering from sunset to sunrise he couldn't even imagine. How much had Cloudfern been carrying back and forth from the Holt?
"To make sure I get enough," Cloudfern said. "And now I have. It was good to get a big gathering of ingredients this time around — I didn't get enough gathered before your unwrapping, so I had to make do with what stores I had. Thus I stocked up as much as I could this time around." He leaned closer to Newt and gave a wink. "We wouldn't want to run out between snow-melt and the next snow, would we? Especially if you're looking to go birdwatching with Dreamflight."
Newt shook his head, his eyes forced wide to keep sleep at bay a while longer. The implications of Cloudfern having been out all night, for four nights now, just to get enough sun-oil saved up until next year, were beginning to dawn on him. Not to mention that they'd thought to make sun-oil especially for him before they'd even met him.
"You're going to make all that into sun-oil?" he asked.
Cloudfern nodded. "Yes. I also hoped to make some that won't wash off so easily in water, but I'm afraid that is easier said than done." He sighed. "Starskimmer, Beetle and I've been working on it these past four nights, but no luck yet. Hopefully we'll figure out how to get it to stick without losing its protective use before the snow melts."
Newt nodded his head again. The thought of swimming with the others in the river during daytime was a dear dream of his, but he didn't want to get his hopes up. Besides, sun-oil only helped up to a point. Water not washing it off only helped so much. But it was still a wonderful, hopeful step in the direction of his wish.
"You look like you're going to fall asleep on your feet, cub," Cloudfern said, not without affection. "Go to sleep — I promise I'll do the same very soon."
Without protest Newt did as told. He sneaked back across the den, pulled his sleeping fur over himself, his eyes heavy with sleep and his heart a little lighter.