(Ed. Note: This is a conclusion to the storyline in "I am Not a Hunter".)
The cool autumn wind blew across the Broad Meadow, gently folding over the tall grass. Newt looked up from where he was digging in the ground near a willow tree in the furthest east corner of the meadow, close to the Holt’s River. He smiled to himself. It looked as if the tall grass was rippling like a big green lake that had been disturbed by a gust of wind, or like the grass was bowing to his fellow gatherers. It was a peaceful image nevertheless.
The young herbalist-in-training took a deep breath and inhaled the crisp, cold scent of the air. Cloudfern had offered him a chance to tag along on the gathering trip to the meadows to salvage what they could before the next frost came, making the ground more stubborn and unwilling to give away the roots and grasses they needed. Right now there was a basket half-filled with willow roots next to him and a small pouch with a few mushrooms he had stumbled into.
Cloudfern and Starskimmer had proven to be much more efficient when it came to picking out which of the late blooming fireweed and feverease still would be useful, so the youngster had volunteered to dig for roots. His hands and nose in the cool dirt and the scent of freshly cut herbs was relaxing and satisfying. In the late evening they would come back to the Holt with some well-filled baskets to restock the herbs that had been used over the past moons.
The thought just had crossed his mind when he sensed a mental touch.
**Newt?** Fadestar’s sending was equally filled with concern and slight annoyance. Newt tensed right away, suddenly realizing why Fadestar was looking for him. **Where are you? We’re waiting for you.**
The young elf groaned at his forgetfulness. He gave a deep sigh and responded to his friend.
**I’m at the Broad Meadow, Fadestar. I fear I can’t make it back to you in time,** he admitted, the embarrassment clear in his mental voice.
**All right. I will let the others know,** Fadestar responded. **I’ll see you later.**
**See you later,** Newt answered back, coming to his feet and rubbing the dirt from his hands.
**Is everything alright?** Cloudfern asked when he saw Newt looking a bit at a loss.
**Yes and no,** Newt answered. **Just forgot that I said I’d meet Longshot for an archery lesson today while Fadestar, Crackle, and Otter practice.** It had just slipped his mind.
He heard Starskimmer’s amused laugh and felt it in her sending when she responded. **That’s different. Most elves like to forget the gathering in favour of playing with the bow.**
That was true, Newt figured. Most of his peers, especially Otter and Crackle, would gladly skip a gathering trip for some archery practice. Yet Newt found that he would rather go gathering than straining his eyes trying to focus on the target that he’d most likely miss anyway.
**There’s no use in rushing back now,** Cloudfern sent with a touch of disapproval. **Stay here and help us gather the rest and apologize to Longshot when we get back.**
Newt nodded physically and mentally with his head hanging and went back to digging up roots. The idea of letting down his friends and his teacher, Longshot, would pester his conscience during the rest of his task.
The arrow streaked through the air and struck the water with a splash. The trailing line went taut immediately as the skewered fish tried to escape the arrow piercing it.
“Got him!” Otter crowed as he began to haul the struggling fish in with long, smooth pulls on the line, hand over hand just as he had been taught through the years by the tribe’s skilled fishers. Gradually the fish’s thrashing slowed and then ceased altogether.
Longshot grinned and slapped the younger elf on the back in appreciation. “Beautiful shot! Last time I saw a shot like that was from my grandmother, Cider. You have a real talent for fish archery, Otter.”
Otter turned his head to smile at the black-haired archer before crouching down at the river's edge to claim his prize. After yanking out his arrow, he curled two fingers into the fish's mouth and lifted it to show off the catch. The large-mouth panfish was longer than his forearm.
"Mother and I will eat well tonight," Otter said. "There's enough here to share, if you want to join us later. I know your mates are both out of the Holt right now."
"Thanks, Otter. I may. I'd like to trim some feathers for fletching tonight though," Longshot said as he moved to gather his bow. He counted the arrows in his quiver quickly before sliding the strap over his shoulder.
A shout from behind them drew Longshot's attention to where Fadestar, being careful to stay out of arrow's reach, was gamely dragging a long rope that was attached to a stuffed leather bag while Crackle, astride Muddypaws, gave chase. All four of them had taken turns that evening as both the dragger and the hunter. But Crackle had wanted just one more turn while Otter took a few shots at fish in the river. The young huntress sent arrow after arrow toward the target in quick succession, hitting it several times. When her arrow struck the bag on one of the marked “vital” spots, delivering a "killing blow," the two friends gave a loud cheer.
Longshot laughed in response to their excitement and said, "Great work! But, now that the hunt is over, I’m ready head back to the Holt when you are."
He joined Crackle, Fadestar, and Otter as they collected their missing arrows, listening while they boasted about their skill and congratulated each other on a good shot. He grinned. These three were young adults now and had all been on a few hunts, so they didn't really need archery lessons anymore. They just needed experience and time. The more they practiced, together and with others, the more their skills became almost instinctual. Longshot had a lot of fun thinking up challenges and encouraged frequent practice with all of the tribe’s hunters. Working with these three regularly built trust and gave him an idea of how they would react when it really mattered. He remembered doing similar things with the older hunters when he was first starting out: a few real hunts interspersed with lots of practice with Thornbow and Bowflight in particular.
The only one out of the older group of cubs that still needed actual tutelage with a bow was Newt. But he hadn't shown up with the others tonight. According to Fadestar, Newt had forgotten and was gathering with Cloudfern and Starskimmer. Honestly, that was where the younger elf's skills truly lay, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he had gone with them to the Broad Meadow as reported by Fadestar.
Longshot strode over to some bushes searching for the last of Crackle's arrows that had gone astray. While he looked, he let his mind turn over the difficulties Newt had with the bow. The pale elf’s poor distance vision was the real challenge and made working with a bow much harder. He and Thornbow had come up with several ideas to try to work around the lad's problem, and some of those had limited success, but many didn't. As long as Newt wanted to keep trying though, Longshot would help.
But it's a sure thing he won't improve by missing lessons, he thought to himself peevishly.
As he picked up the last arrow, Longshot realized with a start that he was actually annoyed with Newt for forgetting. Frowning as he thought about what was bothering him, he jogged over to the others. "I think that's it," he said, passing over the arrows he had collected. "We should head back to the Dentrees."
The whole ride back to the Dentrees Newt had had the time to think. Starskimmer had been right earlier. Usually elves tended to forget things that they were trying to avoid. While he wasn’t trying to avoid the company of his agemates or Longshot, he wasn’t keen on training with the bow. There was only one reason why he continued the lessons, and he had to be honest about it to himself and his teacher.
Aside from the apology about the forgotten lesson, he felt he owed Longshot an explanation. Newt had tried to find the right words for it but things hadn’t sounded good in his head and now that he stood right before the opening to Longshot’s den, all that he had laid out in his mind sounded even sillier. Really, it shouldn’t be that hard to just admit these things openly. But for now, it couldn’t be helped. He’d have to work with what he had.
With a deep breath, he stepped toward the entry to the den Longshot shared with his lovemates, Evervale and Pathmark. A tentative sending reached for Longshot’s mind. Newt felt a pulse of acknowledgment answering him. With the still lingering doubt that he was ready for this, he slowly reached toward the door flap but yanked his hand back quickly when the curtain was swept open from inside. Newt looked up at his teacher standing in the doorway and met his gaze nervously. Longshot was not smiling a welcome.
With his mouth suddenly dry, Newt swallowed to work up some moisture and then said, “Can I talk to you?” He was glad his voice sounded mostly normal.
Longshot stepped back, still holding the door flap open, and gestured for Newt to come in. The lad glanced around as he entered and stopped just inside. There was a nook on the far side of the bed-bowl cluttered with scattered bits and pieces of wood, shavings, a bundle of quill-rat quills, pieces of carved bone, and a bag of beads that had spilled on the floor and been swept back into the pile. The bed-bowl itself was large and sturdy looking and filled with a heaping jumble of furs, some dangling haphazardly and some placed just so. Shaped shelves lined the walls and were filled with carved boxes, bowls, pots with living ferns or carefully maintained drooping ivy, and other interesting and frequently shiny objects that had caught one of the three mates’ eyes. Extra clothes and winter leathers were neatly folded and put away on some deep shelves. Several hooks were to the right near the door and Longshot’s bow and quiver hung from a couple. But the rest were empty, indicating his mates were not in the Holt currently. To the left of the door a few burls had been magically pulled from the tree to form seats and behind them a raised motif was shaped into the wall. The curling design of vines full of leaves and flowers was carefully painted in vivid colors. A small window separated the art from Pathmark’s messy niche.
Longshot moved past Newt to sit on one of those seats and pulled out a feather from a pouch on the floor. With a small obsidian knife, he started to trim the feather down for fletching. Newt stood where the archer left him, still wrestling with what to say. After a few long moments of silence, the archer glanced up at Newt again.
“I thought you wanted to talk,” Longshot said.
“Yes! Yes, I did!” Newt said stiffly. He felt his heart sink. Never before he had felt so insecure around Longshot. Usually the archer was all smiles and easygoing but now he barely gave him a second glance. The youngster felt strangely exposed standing there and unable to form his feelings into words. He made a step towards Longshot, who met his gaze unblinkingly, waiting for what his young student had to say. There was still a hint of the friendly archer behind his dark blue eyes but mainly raw disappointment which was even worse than the trace of anger.
Newt had to lower his eyes on the ground, speechless for a long moment once more. He always had hated to disappoint the elves he liked — anyone, really.
“I’m sorry,” he finally pressed out followed by a sending pulse of youthful, honest regret.
Longshot put the knife aside, and now Newt had his full attention. The head of the older elf was tilted to the side like that of a curious wolf listening for a possible prey in the distance, but he didn’t say a word.
“I didn’t mean to forget the lesson!” he finally added. “It just slipped my mind and I feel terrible for letting it slip. That’s not fair and I know it. The last thing I wanted was to disappoint you. Really!”
Longshot closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I know you didn’t mean to,” he said, his voice a little softer than before. “I know you didn’t mean any harm or have any ill will.”
Newt stood silently again, unsure how to go on from here on. There was more he had to say but he still struggled to find a way to bring it up without it sounding awkward or silly. In his head he went through all the phrases he had laid out on his way back to the Holt but none seemed good enough.
The silence settled over the den again like a rain-soaked cloak — heavy and unpleasant. Newt’s heart was hammering so hard in his chest he was afraid it would burst through his ribcage and fall in front of Longshot’s feet.
“Listen,” Longshot finally said and got to his feet, walking over to Newt. It took the younger elf a lot to look up and meet his eyes but he did it. “I’m not upset about a forgotten lesson. Those things happen, I can forgive that easily. What annoys me is that I had to hear it from a third person and not from you, Newt. If you could send to Fadestar, you could have reached me. Instead, I was left feeling like you couldn’t be bothered to tell me,” he explained and Newt became a tad paler.
His eyes flew wide and his mouth opened but the words died on their way from his heart to his mouth. For a moment all he could do was stare at Longshot in shock.
“F-Fadestar told me she’d take care of it. I didn’t know you were around her at that time,” he admitted sheepishly. “And… and I wanted to.. I wanted to apologize in person,” he said, now cursing himself for his lack of sensitivity. In fact till this moment he hadn’t really thought that much about it.
“A sent apology in the heat of the moment would have been enough. I don’t need formal explanations. You know that. The High Ones know, I’ve missed my share of arranged meetings.” Longshot’s lips curved into a smile. Then he got serious again. “Or is there something else going on? Some reason you couldn’t talk to me in sending? That you needed to be face to face to discuss?”
The corner of Newt’s mouth also tugged into a smile when he felt the tension ease from his friend and archery mentor, but then the seriousness came back and Newt’s smile faded as well.
“Yes,” he admitted, wringing his hands. A better moment wouldn’t come so he had to make use of it and finally get his act together. “I was thinking about the reasons why I forgot a lesson with you,” he said, feeling the blush take over his face. “Or more so, I thought about why I’m still attending lessons in archery when it is so clear that I’m not joining the hunt and I am not really enjoying using a bow and arrow,” he corrected himself.
Longshot’s eyebrows rose in keen interest about what was to follow that opening and invited the younger elf to sit down with him on the edge of his bed bowl. “And to which conclusion did you finally come?” he asked and Newt thought he heard a hint of annoyance tugging on the edge of his voice but it didn’t show enough to be sure about it.
“I started because I wanted to spend time with my friends, and I still do want to. But, in all honesty, my heart isn’t really into the art itself.” Realizing that this wasn’t an answer, he tried to untangle his thoughts. “What I mean is, I stay for the wrong reason and I feel I’m wasting your and Thornbow’s time. I won’t get any better than I currently am and I know I can become good at herbal healing and fishing and I just stay because of Otter and Crackle and Fadestar and…” He paused, reconsidering if he really felt ready to open up that much, but he pulled himself together and added: “Well, I stayed because I wanted to spend time with you too.“
The awkward smile that followed made him look a lot younger than he actually was, and the blush on his pale cheeks spoke of the obvious truth behind his innocent words.
Chuckling quietly, Longshot closed his eyes for a moment and then smiled. “Ah. So that’s it. I should have seen it. I mean, I knew you had a…” He paused, shooting Newt a glance. “You don’t want to learn the bow anymore but you want to spend time with them. And me.”
He waited for a nod from Newt.
“Well, I’ll let you in on a secret,” Longshot said. “I enjoy spending time with you too. If you don’t want to shoot arrows, we can find other things to do. It seems like we’ve spent time together doing lots of things. There’s no reason it has to involve bows anymore. Just tell me what you want.”
Newt flushed again and looked down.
Longshot turned to face him more fully and tried again. “I enjoy gathering, you know. Fishing, not so much. It requires too much patience and waiting. I mean, how long do you have to dangle your hook and wait for a fish to take the bait?” He tilted his head and looked at Newt with slightly raised eyebrows as if waiting for something before continuing. “We could try an outing for painting clay again. It’s been a while since I went out there.”
Newt frowned deeply, thinking about what Longshot just had told him. His mind kept bugging him that there was more to the words than it first seemed, then his pinkish-blue eyes lit up in sudden understanding and he started to laugh.
“I’m not that good hiding these kinds of things, am I?” he asked with a sheepish grin. Considering the moment between them a year ago he shouldn’t be surprised. Back then he hadn’t been ready... but now.
“No, you’re pretty easy to read,” Longshot laughed. “But I didn’t want to embarrass you by letting you know that I knew about your fondness. I was your age once not terribly long ago. I remember how that feels.”
“So it’s alright if I give up the bow?” Newt asked, though. “I know you and Thornbow tried really hard to help me overcome the problems attached to my poor eyesight regarding archery.”
Longshot waved him off. “We tried to help you for your sake,” he explained. “If you think it’s best to focus on things you are better at, Thornbow and I won’t hold that against you. We just wanted you to succeed and be happy in what you said you wanted to do. But if archery doesn’t make you happy, then it’s time to let it go.” He shrugged and smiled.
Newt gave a sigh of relief and threw his arms around the other elf. The feeling of relief was joined by a nice warm sensation tickling over his skin. It felt good to finally put this part of his daily life right.
The archer slid his hands up his younger friend’s back to return the hug as well as he could with his arms mostly pinned by the other’s enthusiasm. He turned his head to speak quietly in Newt’s ear. “And I meant what I said earlier. We can spend time together any time or any way you like. All you have to do is ask.”
Newt felt his friend’s lips spread in a toothy smile against his ear as he added, “And after that, I’ll ask you.”