Bramble eyed the deep snow below the den entrance she'd edged out onto. Behind the den was the sheltered area created from the entwined branches of the Child, Mother and Father trees. Two wolflengths below her furry boots though, the drifts had caught and piled up along the outside of the Dentrees. The snow was so deep this year, deeper than she remembered seeing it in any of her six turns. It was slowly eating the stairs at the base of the Dentrees, and when walking down the steps there was a wonderful sense of glittering walls rising around oneself. Today though, Bramble didn’t want to walk.
She grinned and launched herself from the branch.
Bramble landed, buried up to her waist in the heavy, wet snow, and laughed with the pure joy of it. She wriggled until she was free from the snow and out of the hole. She scrambled down the outside of the drift until she reached what was the most level ground. It stretched off into the forest. Aside from a few wolf tracks, so far it looked untouched. Bramble’s eyes gleamed with the promise of the blank canvas in front of her.
The snow crust was heavy enough to hold her if she walked slowly, but that wasn’t fun. She jumped forward, keeping her feet together, breaking the surface with satisfying crunches as she hopped from one landing to another, trying to see how long she could keep going. She could easily imagine her merged bootprints as the toe-track of a massive beast, pressed a hand-span into the clear surface of the snow in a wavering line behind her.
Bramble jerked up as if someone had caught her collar and pulled. Guiltily, she looked behind her. **Yes?** she sent back with as innocent a mental smile as she could manage.
**Where are you?** She could pick out frustration in her father Dagger's mental voice.
She tried to judge the distance between the smudgy grey hints of Home Ridge and Badger Hill through the bare winter branches and pines. The cub couldn’t really tell though. Bramble made a face. **Not even half way to the Den’s Creek.** she sent back with some disappointment at her lack of progress and attempted an image of the location.
**What are you doing there?**
Bramble paused. **Making tracks...**
There was the sense of a long mental sigh. **What are you supposed to be doing?**
Bramble looked down at the bag of large polished gemstone beads still slung around her hip. Her mother Agate had shaped them for her. She did love the colours of them, bright turquoises and brown-yellow stones, and they would make a lovely beaded belt. However, the idea of actually weaving them together into something functional for a spring colorful seemed to appeal far more to the adults in her life than to her. Bramble liked the idea of a whole new outfit to wear after the New Green Bliss — it gave her something to look forward despite knowing she'd be sent to bed before anyone else. Bramble was less enthralled with the comments that seemed to come along with the projects. The adults seemed to think that just because she was supposed to help make the whole outfit she’d be super careful and not do anything fun for fear of a rip or tear.
Bramble scuffed at the snow, destroying her neat little landing hole. **Crafting with Lacewing....** she mentally muttered.
All too soon, she heard the crunchy, snowy footsteps as her father followed her jumpy single track through the forest. Dagger looked like he disapproved. He folded his arms across his chest and everything.
Bramble gave a sigh of her own.
Her father’s look was stormy. "You said you'd go right to her den."
"I said I'd go there.... I didn't say I wouldn't go anywhere else first.... I'm on my way. Sort of," Bramble stared furiously down at the snow, feeling her cheeks flame to life with her words.
She knew without looking that Dagger was frowning at her. His touch to her shoulder was gentle though, and it turned her back to the Holt. Bramble complied as much as she had to, dragging her feet through the snow crust to slow herself down. More elves were approaching with a swarm of furry wolves all playful in the cold weather, and all the elves seemed more subdued and bundled against the chill. The excitement of the hunt was in the crisp air already. The yearling wolves threw snow back into the still air as they jumped around the older wolves and elves, walking single file breaking the trail and conserving energy.
Bramble scanned the group, wondering if any of them would save her from Dagger’s disappointment and being sent home — she passed over Raven, he was never any help, and tried to plead puppy eyes with Lynx and Ringtail as they skirted around her and Dagger. Nettle, the closest to Bramble in age but still an adult herself, and Bearheart both offered sympathetic smiles, but none of them stopped to save her from weaving — not that she really expected them to.
One of the trailing elves wasn’t dressed so much for the hunt, though. The cold winter air hid the scent, but she knew that long blonde hair and dark winter coat, barely fastened over a heavily pregnant figure. Bramble broke into a grin despite her current feelings. "Lacewing!" She did like her teacher, just not the fussiness of the beading loom. She ran across the snow to hug her favourite elder. "I was on my way, I promise!" Bramble spoke into Lacewing's hip.
Not getting a reply, Bramble looked up, all furs and wild auburn hair framing her blue-green eyes. Lacewing and her father were staring intently at each other, sending words she couldn’t hear.
Lacewing’s hand absently stroked Bramble’s hair as she nodded to Dagger. Bramble pouted but held her tongue, knowing she’d get nowhere if she interrupted now. Finally something seemed to happen. Dagger’s dark eyes dropped down to her, and she tried to melt into Lacewing’s side. He shook his head, closed his eyes, and sent a feeling of affectionate-frustration. **Be good.**
Bramble nodded mutely, hearing threats behind the words. With a final sigh Dagger turned and ran to catch up with the hunters, travelling fast in their trail.
The girl watched her father leave before turning to head back to the Holt with Lacewing.
"Do you think your cub will like the snow?" Bramble was gaining enthusiasm again as she eyed Lacewing's stomach. She liked the snow. She especially liked the way it sat heavy on the bare branches and pine needles until she could help it get to the ground.
Lacewing laughed and touched her stomach. She shared an image **Elf cub bundled into layers and layers of fur. Little ball of blankets. Even after he's born, he won't be much fun as a playmate for at least a few turns.**
Bramble considered that, wrinkling her nose. And then she picked up on something else. "He?" she repeated. "It'll be a boy?"
Lacewing nodded and started up the Dentree steps. "A little boy-cub."
Bramble looked disappointed. "Huh." She chewed over this new information. "Are you sure?"
"Mmm-hmm." Lacewing smiled as they turned into the shelter of the Mother Tree. A cold wind had picked up on their walk back. To Bramble, it seemed like the large opening of the gathering den in the Mother Tree loomed dead in front of them, the icicles giving it fangs and a muzzle of snow built up at the top and sides.
Lacewing entered, but Bramble turned and took one last, wistful look at the outside world, holding the corner of the heavy leather door-cover above her head. "I guess I’ll still play with him," Bramble decided.
Lacewing laughed, dropping her outer layers of clothing by the door and sitting on the edge of the shelf to help Bramble out of her mittens and coat and boots. The tribe had slowly been moving into the gathering den to sleep as the nights grew colder and shared warmth grew precious. It was mild chaos with the various bed-furs and crafting tools filling the available space, and there’d likely be more to come.
"Are you sure?" There was kindness and laughter in Lacewing’s eyes as she teased Bramble gently. "Another three or four turns and you'll be following the hunters out or learning to trap or fish or craft. You'll practically be all grown up. You'll forget about this conversation and hate the thought of having to play cubgames."
Bramble looked shocked. "Me? Never." She reached out to touch Lacewing's rounding stomach. **Hear that, boy-cub? I promise I'll play with you all the time. We can make snow elves and snow dens and play false-trail and tag.**
Bramble paused and looked up at Lacewing with all the seriousness of her six turns. "It's all right. I want another cub to play with, even if it is a boy. I don't want to grow up just yet."