Dreamflight opened her eyes to see a gathering of elves around her. A larger congregation was clustered anxiously outside the den. At the entrance she saw Chief Windburn’s gleaming russet hair and striking blue eyes.
“Father?” she asked deliriously. Instead, another elf raced to her side.
“I came as soon as I heard about the accident!” Greenweave exclaimed breathlessly. “Dreamflight! Are you all right!?”
“Dreamflight?” his daughter inquired. “My name’s Goldfinch.”
Greenweave looked shocked and her tribe mates gave a collective gasp. Willow the Healer’s face had looked relieved just a moment before but now was creased with renewed concern.
“I need to make water!” Dreamflight-now-Goldfinch shouted like a cubling.
“I got you, uh, Goldfinch.” Beetle helped support her as she unexpectedly sprang up.
“Oh, Beetle, am I glad to see you!”
Everyone’s hearts leapt at the first name-face recognition. The oversized Goldfinch stumbled as elves parted to make way.
“High Ones, you’re clumsier than your wolf Fumble!” Beetle joked. When the best friends returned, Thornbow saw that his niece was getting sleepy. Like a cub, she yawned loudly and without covering her mouth.
“All right, you all can see the cub’s tired! It’s past sun-high! I think it’s time we all left.” He cast a last eye to Beetle. “Even you, little love.”
Slowly everyone crept back to their own dens. Only Greenweave, Goldfinch and the healer remained.
“She seems to have gone back to cubhood,” Willow observed. “I’ve got to be honest with you. That hit on her head when she was hunting really knocked her out. We’ll see if her memories return. I hope they do, I’ve never seen this type of brain fog before. Send to me immediately if there is any change, all right?”
The new “cubling” nestled down. Greenweave stayed in the den, all his thoughts focused on his daughter and that Honey, his Recognized, would come back from her hunting trip soon, back in sending range. He gazed at Goldfinch long after she fell asleep, as if he could will her back to normal with his eyes.
When she woke up Greenweave braided her hair, setting it in gorgeous ways. He cooed and crooned to her, gently encouraging her to babble. Perhaps by releasing her word-hoard her memories would surface. Then, he sent to her while they broke their fast. He sent shared family memories. He sent memories of her happy childhood, of the time she almost killed herself trying to fly, of bird watching with her grandfather. Goldfinch sat wide eyed with wonder, experiencing the sent stories as if for the first time. But her father wanted more. He wanted her to remember things on her own.
After their meal and a visit from the healer, Greenweave took his daughter to the river. Willow had suggested also prompting her memories visually by showing her as many familiar objects and sights as possible. That, she hoped, might help her personal memories surface, rising up as fish from a net. Goldfinch called out animal names as she saw them on the trail. With each name she claimed on their walk, the more her own memories were shaken loose.
“Look! A goldfinch! That’s me!”
“Look, look! A tuftcat! Didn’t someone try to adopt one of their kittens once?”
“Father! A quillrat! Remember when I helped you make those beads from the pelt?”
Once they reached the weir all manner of wonders revealed themselves to Goldfinch. When Greenweave showed her how to weave, mend and throw nets, to her surprise, she already knew how.
“Lures! The lures!” she exclaimed, immediately producing marvels.
“Sailbacks! Quillbacks! Panfish!”
Goldfinch rattled off the half dozen names of fish they caught and dozens more she remembered. Her father tried to prepare the night's catch right then and there but his daughter had no patience for that.
Goldfinch bolted joyfully back up the trail, brimming with energy, to play with the other cubs. That evening she played rousing games of Tail Tag, Smack Ball and High-and-Low. Goldfinch was only dimly aware that she seemed to be the oldest and the tallest cub there. But that didn’t matter much, especially as she settled down to Fingertwine, Follow-Me and Word Games.
Later, full to bursting with fish, capnuts, brownfruit and tartfruit, Goldfinch sat down with some of the tribe gathered around a fire. She listened to their stories while looking wonderingly at the stars. At dawn in her den she listened to her father tell her cubling-rhymes and sing old songs. It was close to a perfect night.
And then Honey came back, racing ahead of the rest of the hunting party.
**Anil!** her mother sent.
The next evening Beetle greeted her joyfully.
“Hello, erm, Goldfinch!” Too late she noticed her friend’s red-rimmed eyes.
“It’s all right, Beetle, you can give up the charade. I remember everything! Mother sent and sent to me all day, insistent that I remember! Suddenly, she didn’t need to send, something clicked, and all the memories, my private ones, the good and the bad, a birch's age worth, came rushing back. All the emotions, my own emotions, about Mother’s sickness! Wrapstuff! Father and Cloudfern! Newt! I shouldn’t be still upset about all that, but I am, I’m sorry!”
Dreamflight’s eyes brimmed over.
“Oh, kitling!” Beetle cried, holding her just in time for the first sobs to wail. Thornbow emerged a moment later from the woods. Dreamflight looked at her uncle.
“There was a boar,” she sniffed.
The hunter knelt down beside her and put a gentle hand on her shoulders. “Yes. I asked you to go hunting with me because I noticed you were drifting into one of your dark moods again. I thought the tracking, the chase, and the wind in your hair would bring you back to The Now,” he explained.
“Things were going well! You were smiling! And it was Fumble, not Thief, who picked up the trail of a deer, but not of the boar downwind. You were notching your arrow at a ten-pointer when the boar charged us. Fumble bolted with you on her, only of course she bolted sideways. And that’s when your head hit that tree.” Thornbow hung his head. “I’m so sorry, niece. If it weren’t for me this wouldn’t have happened.”
Dreamflight looked up at him with a small smile. “You did nothing wrong, Uncle. And the mind fog wasn’t toobad!”
Beetle looked illuminated. “But Dreamflight! Don’t you see!? The mind fog was the best thing that’s ever happened to you!”
“What are you talking about?”
“For the first time in turns upon turns you were like a cub again, lost in the Now of Wolfthought!”
“And that’s wonderful because why?”
“In the Now you’re not mad at your father. In the Now you’re not fighting with your mother. In the Now my father Cloudfern is not your nemesis. In the Now you fish, you play, you feast, you howl! Both times exist, Dreamflight, the Past-Present and the Now! Now that you’ve been in both worlds, which one do you want to live in?”
This time it was Dreamflight who looked illuminated. “Uncle!” she exclaimed, turning to him.
“Yes, Dreamflight!” Thornbow replied, clasping her shoulder.
“I have a very important question to ask you!”
“Yes! Anything! What is it?”
A gleam appeared in her yellow-green eyes and her tongue ran across an eyetooth.
“Did you ever get that boar?”
“Did I get that boar?” Her uncle laughed and cocked a thumb behind him towards the cook fires. “I got him early this morning and saved the fattest, choicest cuts just for you!”
(Ed. Note: A birch's age corresponds to roughly a century.)