**Are you sure I shouldn’t take Glow with me? She enjoyed it the last time I took her to dig clay.**
Rainpace grimaced and sent an image of their daughter in reply, her voluminous hair matted with several pounds of thick, red mud.
**I’ll take that as a no.** Chicory was still nearby and Rainpace clearly ‘heard’ the overtones of amusement in her sending.
**You’d be right, Dearheart. Don’t worry, I’m fresh enough. I got to pass out for a few hours before our little early bird started singing. I’ll see you back at the Holt in a few hours.**
**See you then. Enjoy your nature walk.** Chicory withdrew her sending but Rainpace picked up the lingering sense of amusement as the mental contact faded. He trudged on gamely, ignoring the heat and the stillness of the day. It was unnatural for a wolfrider to be about during the heat of the day. Why oh why did it take cublings so long to learn this?
“Phew,” he puffed as his daughter skipped ahead of him, the oversized stocking cap she wore flopping jauntily with her walk. “I thought a hike might tire you out but I’m the one who could use a wolf-nap.” He sank down gratefully onto a rock and wiped his brow.
“Can’t stop, too busy!” Glow never took her eyes from the ground as she marched steadily onward. Rainpace stifled a moan. The active young father was usually more than up to keeping up with his four-year-old daughter, but a long word-hunt the night before left him more than a little drained.
“Why don’t you come and have a honeycake, Tadpole? And you should have a drink, it’s hot out here.”
Glow stopped, her delicately pointed ears perked at the mention of the sweet cakes. “Well...” she turned and ran back to her father, clambering up onto the rock beside him. “I guess I do have time for that. But no nap. You can sleep if you want, though, Father. I can do it myself.”
“Do what yourself, kitling?” Rainpace peeled back the waxy leaf wrapping and handed the cake to his daughter.
“Find a present for Mother.” She took a big bite, her mouth and a good portion of both cheeks instantly sticky.
“Oh, I see. Anything in particular in mind?”
“Yes! Mother showed me and I liked ‘em. They were so pretty so I’m gonna find more.” She took another bite and Rainpace had to wait until she had taken a long gulp from the water skin before she elaborated. “I’m going to find Mother’s name flower and pick her a whole bunch. Bunches of bunches!”
Rainpace raised an eyebrow. “Her name flower…? Oh! Your mother showed you some chicory?”
“Yes. Did you know you can eat it? The leaves, not the flower. I don’t like it, it’s bitter, but the flowers are pretty and I want some for Mother. She told me how to find them but it’s hard to find a flower when you’re specially looking for it but when you’re not looking it’s everywhere. Have you ever noticed that, Father?"
Rainpace grinned and ruffled his child’s hair. “I have indeed, little Tadpole. I would have helped you if I had known what you were about. After you eat I will help you find some chicory.”
“No! I want to do it myself!” She managed to cram the last of the honeycake into her mouth and slipped off the rock. “You stay here and take a nap. I’ll find them.” At his uncertain look she added, “I’ll be careful and I’ll send to you when I find it.”
“No, stay where I can hear you with ears, not with sending.” Rainpace was all too aware that her budding sending abilities were not yet to be relied upon, certainly for no great distance.
“Yes, Father,” her tone was crestfallen but she popped back onto his rock to give him a sticky kiss. As an afterthought, she plucked the oversized hat from her head and placed it over his eyes. “Have a good nap, Father, I’ll be back soon.”
“Thanks, Littlest Beloved.” He grinned as his old hat flopped onto his face and he allowed his muscles to relax on the sun warmed rock. “Remember… earshot!”
“I’ll remember!” Glow skipped away in a randomly chosen direction, reflecting how fortunate it was that she had such very good hearing...
“I have been walking FOREVER,” Glow complained to a passing beetle when at last her energy began to flag. “I wish I had taken Father’s waterskin. I’m so thirsty I could… hey, I smell water!” Her tired footsteps regained their bounce and she soon came to a small but fast moving brook. She bent to drink and her sticky face and hands got an impromptu wash. As the grime swept downstream Glow gazed across the water and planned her next move.
“Mother said they like lots of sun.” She stood to her full height in an attempt to see over the high bank at the other side of the creek. “Looks like there are so many trees over there. Maybe I should cross.” She looked back over her shoulder and briefly considered calling out to her father. But… if he could not hear her call she knew she would be honor-bound by his promise to turn back. “I mustn’t wake him. Father’s tired.”
With that handy excuse, Glow waded into the swift water. It was shallow even for a cubling to cross safely, but her feet stirred the bottom and the water soon muddied. She didn’t see the slick, mossy rock. With a shriek she fell squarely onto her bottom, soaking herself and acquiring no small amount of mud as she flailed. She scrambled out and up the steep opposite bank where she stood shaking herself much like a wolf cub.
“Ugh it’s cold and slimy,” she muttered as she tried to get some of the mud and water out of her shirt. She froze as a breeze wafted and something rustled behind her. Turning slowly, she was greeted by a small clearing full of tiny powder-blue blossoms, dancing and rustling in the sudden breeze.
“I found them!” Her soaking forgotten, she wriggled in place for a moment. Glow skipped to a likely looking bunch, put out her small hand to the plant nearest her and gave the thick stem a tug.
And then another. And another.
With a huff she grasped the knobby stem with both hands and heaved with all her might. The woody stem bent but did not break. She sucked in a breath as one of her sweaty hands slipped and scraped along the length of the stem. “Ow! You stupid plant… I just wanted a few flowers!”
She dropped the handful of stripped leaves and petals and growled. No mere flower was going to get the best of her. She had walked all this way to get them for her mother, and by the light of the Little Moon, she was going to have them!
Rainpace stirred. He would never enter a true sleep while on watch for his young cub but he had come near it. He stretched once and listened for the tell-tale signs of his busy daughter nearby. When his keen ears picked up nothing other than the usual hushed noises of the forest he startled into full awareness.
“Glow!” he called, standing up and thrusting the old hat into his belt. “Where are you, Tadpole?”
He listened, and the first cold tendrils of panic walked up the back of his neck. “Shards…” he murmured under his breath. He scanned the ground and breathed a sigh of relief as he found the obvious trail of a four-year-old on a mission. **Kitling, where are you?** He knew she heard him, but whatever his daughter was up to was so absorbing that she would not spare the attention needed to answer. Would not... or could not. His pace quickened. Whatever scrape his daughter had gotten herself into, he’d soon get her out of it again.
Rainpace was winded by the time he arrived at the little brook and saw the muddy track where Glow had scaled the opposite bank. He cleared the small stream in one leap and peeked over the top of the bank. There was his daughter, her hands and arms scratched and her face reddened with exertion. She had found a rock with something of an edge to it and was using it to bludgeon the stems of the chicory near the base. After several strong blows she stopped to tug and bend the stems. As he watched, she repeated the process a few times before finally managing to break the woody stem. She lay it on a bedraggled pile beside her and got to work on the next.
**Lovemate?** He lock-sent, taking care not to alert his daughter to his presence. **Are you finished?**
**I was just packing it in. How goes the hike?**
**Interestingly. Are you still at the pond?**
**I think you might want to make a detour on your way back to the Holt. You know the stream that feeds into the pond on the northern side? Follow it up a bit. Unless I’m much mistaken we should be quite near you.**
Chicory didn’t answer but he felt her assent and sensed her presence growing nearer before he broke his sending. It took only a few minutes for her to arrive, and as she grew close he helped her to approach without Glow spying them.
After a few amusing and enlightening moments watching their child, they strode over the bank and Chicory called out, “Hello, Dearest! What did those flowers ever do to you?”
Shocked, Glow dropped her stone ‘dagger’ and blinked at her mother. She swept up the bedraggled flowers and clutched them into a rough bouquet before throwing herself at Chicory.
“She wouldn’t rest until she got them for you,” Rainpace explained as she wriggled like an excited puppy in Chicory’s arms.
“I found them myself! And I picked them and you know WHAT?” Glow said excitedly, looking from one parent to the other. “Now I know why Mother’s named Chicory. It’s cause she’s pretty and little but also so TOUGH. I had to make myself a dagger just to cut them!”
Chicory was torn between a chuckle and sentimental sniff but Rainpace just threw his head back and laughed. “Your mother is the wildest of wildflowers, that’s true,” Rainpace said as he draped his arms around his lovemate. “How did you get so wise, my Little One?”
“I know one little bud who is likely to turn out to be tougher than this old flower,” Chicory said, taking Glow’s small hands in her own and surveying the small cuts and bruises with sympathy and approval for the cub’s grit. “Thank you, cubling. It is a gift well given.”
Glow allowed her father to pick her up and carry her as the three of them headed back for the Holt. “You know what would have made this easier?” she said after a pause. “A real dagger. I think I’m big enough for one, don’t you?”