(Ed. Note: The events of Crackle’s story take place on 597.08.25. The events of Otter’s story take place on 1397.04.10. The events of Honey’s story take place on 1403.05.16. The events of Windsong’s story take place in 1688+
Acorns. The preferred food of whitetail this time of year. Windsong knew it, and she wanted a whitetail, both for the meat it would give, as well as for the thrill and the Now of the hunt. Not one bit of the buck would go to waste, if the hunting party could catch one.
They had happened upon the oak tree as they passed through dense growth into a small clearing. Honey had pointed upward. **Look,** she sent. **This one hasn’t dropped the acorns yet.**
Blacksnake had smiled at her observation, then added, **This would be a good place, then, to wait out our prey.**
Windsong had agreed. Hunting in the usual places had been scarce, but knowing the ways of whitetail, this seemed like a good place for them to visit, and soon. A brush of wind through the trees knocked a few of the capped nuts to the ground. One hit Crackle on the head. Otter laughed at that.
**We’ll have to send the wolves away,** Honey said, almost to herself.
The hunt leader agreed, **No whitetail will come near this place with the wolves around.**
Frostback, Muddypaws, Mooncrier, Splash, and Thumper were sent away, directed toward the Great Meadow for their own hunting.
One by one, the hunters climbed the trees that circled the clearing, each trying to find a good vantage point for the bait tree. **This might be a long wait,** Windsong pointed out. **Shall we share stories?**
With the hunters agreeing, Crackle chose to go first. Windsong’s daughter loved telling stories. **I’ll tell one about Wolfsister.**
Windsong heard Blacksnake’s snort and warned her daughter to make it a good story, or she’d not hear the end of it.
Crackle started out, **You won’t know if it’s true or not, and I’m not telling. Either way, it’s gonna be good.**
**I don’t know if we ever know if your stories are true, Crackle!** Otter sent, mentally laughing.
**All right,** she began, ignoring her friend’s taunt. **I heard this story or something like it, from Snowfall, who heard it from another storyteller. Wolfsister was having a bad day. She’d gone out hunting, but suddenly a summer thunderstorm came out of nowhere, and she was drenched. On the way back to the Holt, she got startled by a crack of lightning that hit a tree near her, and she fell into a puddle of mud. With the thunder and lightning all around her, she didn’t want to go and wash off, and instead hurried back to the Holt.**
Otter’s doubt and mental question of why Wolfsister wouldn’t just go to ground somewhere slowed the flow of the story as Crackle explained, **She wasn’t that far from the Holt and just wanted to get home.** Then she shared her mental image of Wolfsister, **wet wolf-like Chieftess, fur dripping, lightning loud and all around, flashes of it arching overhead. Wolfsister shivering, wanting home.
**She went back to the Dentrees sopping wet, covered in mud, and headed straight to her den. Hornet, Darkcurl and Raft, who were just cubs at the time, saw her arrive. Eagle-Eye was entertaining them, but he stepped away, probably to make water, or maybe just to take a quick break. I suppose he figured Raft could watch the two younger ones for just a moment, but when Hornet saw his mother, there was no stopping him, and the other two cubs followed along. Raft was trying to be responsible because Eagle-Eye had left him in charge, and Darkcurl was just tagging along with the littlest member of the cub group.
**Wolfsister was not happy when the cubs followed her into her den. She didn’t feel up to parenting at that moment, even though she loved her son. She needed time to dry off and relax after being caught out in the storm. She didn’t see Eagle-Eye, so she sent for him. He arrived a heartbeat later and scooped Hornet up into his arms. The cub then howled for his mother, reaching his arms toward her and arching his back away from his father.
**Wolfsister’s spirits sank, because she knew little Hornet needed her. So, even though she didn’t feel like it, she reached out to take him from her Recognized, and smothered the little one with nuzzles and kisses and then held him tightly to her wet and muddy furry body. He did not like getting muddy that much, and pulled away. She laughed, her spirits lifted by the interaction, and handed him back to his father.
**When the cubs left, Wolfsister started trying to clean up, but she only got so far. She really needed a good bath, but the thunder and lightning still surrounded the Holt, and she would not go outside unless she had to. So she grabbed an old fur and wrapped it around her to wait out the storm.
**Feverease found the Chieftess a little later, curled up in a muddy ball, sound asleep . She laughed and nudged her lifemate awake. Wolfsister growled at her, but Feverease growled back — even though she wasn’t wolfblooded, she growled sometimes because she had to — and insisted the muddy one get cleaned up.
**When Wolfsister got up, she realized the mud was dry and caked, and that the old fur blanket was matted and stuck to her body. It must have been quite the sight! wolf with two furs, one right side out, the other, skin side out, with furs all tangled together. Chieftess covered in dirt caked dirt, pieces falling off as she moved! She had to leave the den with it still attached. Feverease followed her out of the den and toward the river and helped her get clean.
**Once they managed to get the old ruined fur off of Wolfsister’s furry body, it still took Feverease the rest of the night to comb the snarled tangles out. By that point, though, Wolfsister was in a much better mood than she’d been through the stormy night, and she even laughed about it all. Then, because she was clean and the sun shining, she left to go hunting again.**
Crackle stopped sending then, her day-in-the life of story ended. No one knew whether it was true or not, but it was plausible at least. And in Windsong’s mind, her daughter’s sending had a ring of veracity to it, and she believed it had happened.
**My turn,** Otter sent.
**You told a tale about the ancestors. Now I will, too. Mother told me this one once, when she, Beetle, and One-Leg first took me to the sea.
**Diver was about two hands full turns of the seasons the first time his parents took him to the sea. Carver and Harmony told him about it when he was a small cub, and he’d wanted to go ever since. Why they didn’t take him sooner, I don’t know, but they didn’t, so by the time that they did, he had a wolf-friend he could ride.
**The threesome left the Holt after they told their Chief what they were doing, and headed to the ocean. It was a long trip for the cub, and his parents were hard-pressed to keep him happy. They tried making games of identifying plants, or looking for tracks, but he just kept asking them if they were close yet, and how much longer.**
Windsong smiled at memories of similar times, especially with Crackle. Most cubs could be impatient when they were excited about something.
Otter was still sending, and Windsong redirected her attention to the tale. **They didn’t hunt whitetail on the way, even though they could have because they were abundant, because Carver and Harmony didn’t want to disappoint their son. Diver told them he was willing to go hungry if it would get them to the sea sooner.
**His parents refused to let him go hungry, so even though he pouted about it, his parents caught some rabbits. Harmony also shot a few ducks out of the sky. When his belly filled up, Diver stopped pouting — his parents knew he would — and not long after, they told him they were finally close.
**When they reached the sea, Diver became silent. He let his feet dig into the sand and his toes test the water. He was a good swimmer, and he wanted to see what it felt like to swim in the waves and salt water, but Harmony insisted that it was too cold and cloudy for swimming that day, so they made camp and his parent told him stories of Seafisher, who had loved the sea more than anything else. Sitting there under the stars and next to the sea, with the sound of waves crashing on the shore, he understood why. He told them that he wanted to become a seafisher one day, too. They told him that he would have to get good at fishing at the river first and he agreed. They stayed overnight near the beach, and the next day, when the sun was shining, Diver tried swimming in the sea. The waves knocked him over a couple of times, and Carver helped him to stand back up — Harmony watched from the shore, because she still insisted the water was too cold.
**When Diver’s lips turned blue, and his and his father’s nutsacks had shrivelled up, Carver finally agreed with his Recognized and made Diver come out of the water. The cub was so excited, he didn’t care that he was covered in goose bumps and shivering like a leaf in the wind. Once they got him dried off and warmed up, Harmony took him for a walk along part of the coastline. The most excitement happened when they found the sun-whitened carcass of a sea-wolf! They sent for Carver, who joined them, and the three of them climbed in and around the bones. Diver’s father found a small, loose, bone, which he pulled away from the bone frame and gave to the cub. He promised to carve it into something for him when they got back to the Holt.
**All the way home, Diver held his prize and begged them to tell him more stories about elves who had loved the sea, and of those who had even flown over the sea, and of the near island that the gliders sometimes visited.**
At that, Otter broke off. **I want to go to the sea again soon.**
Crackle shared her mirth. **Not during the winter! Too cold. But I’ll go with you in the spring or summer.**
Windsong could hear the others shifting slightly from their vantage points. The night was growing long. The wind had gotten stronger, and more acorns were falling. Soon, the ground would be littered with them. Hopefully, it meant their prey would arrive soon. She was wondering what story to tell, when Honey chimed in.
**I’ll share one. An ancestor, though? Hm….**
Windsong wondered which Honey would pick. She expected to hear the fellow huntress share something about a parent or grandparent, but Honey surprised her by sending, **I’ll tell you about Cloudchase’s hunt with her brother.**
Windsong felt her memory searching for the tale as it had been shared with her by her father, then felt herself swept away by Honey’s telling. **Actually, she was a metalworker for the most part, but she still loved to hunt. She and her brother, Stoneback, were out on a hunt together one day, and for a while, they’d been laughing and having fun because they hadn’t sighted anything.
**Then they caught sight of tracks, the largest they’d ever seen. Both knew it was a bear, and by the size, they guessed it was a grizzly. As close as it was to Holt territory, Cloudchase wanted to keep tracking it. The tracks were massive pawprints the size of an elf’s head, maybe bigger. They knew it wasn’t good to have one so large so close to home, and Cloudchase figured the pelt would add another warm fur to the Gathering Den for winter. She also had plans, she told Stoneback, for the claws — something about making jewelry out of them.
**Neither was foolish enough to think they should take on a bear that size by themselves — Spearpoint was living proof to them of what a bear could do — so they sent for others to join them. Chieftess Foxsly and Crest arrived first, followed by Minx and Wolfmane. They were confident that six of them could take the beast down.
**They tracked it to the river. They found it fishing, massive paw swiping, splashing, and grabbing at its prey. None of them wanted to attack at that point so they planned to wait until they could surround it, but the wind shifted. Suddenly the bear became aware of their presence. It charged out of the water and headed toward the hunters. Though they didn’t have the element of surprise, they knew they could best it if they worked together. Openly sending so that they could best coordinate, the six elves and their wolves scrambled into position.
**The large, old grizzly must have realized what was happening somehow, because it suddenly veered on its course, and Cloudchase was in its path. She tried to move out of the way, but it ran her down. Stoneback cried out and rushed the bear, no longer worried about the plans the group had made, and hoping to save his sister. The grizzly reared up, standing on its back legs, and the rockshaper was thrown back. He fell and was knocked unconcious when his head hit the ground. Then, Foxsly and Crest, who were in the best position to attack it, did. Minx and Wolfmane joined in. It took all four of the remaining elves to bring down the beast.
**Owl was summoned to heal the wounded — Stoneback regained consciousness and Owl took care of the head wound. He healed the laceration on Minx’s arm. Finally, he healed Crest, who had slipped and fallen after it was all over; he had a sprained ankle. There was nothing he could do for Cloudchase.**
Honey paused in sad silence before she continued, **When they sent her down the river, she wore a necklace of bear claws that Ice made for her friend.**
Windsong felt herself breathing more heavily after Honey’s tale. She recalled the time when she had been berry-gathering and had been mauled by a bear. For a moment, she could almost feel its claws across her back, and the searing heat that followed. The huntress thanked the High Ones the bear had not been as large as the one Honey had described and that her own injuries had been pale in comparison.
The sun was starting to peak through the trees and the sky was lighting up. Dawn was upon them. Surely their prey would arrive soon. Windsong stifled a yawn, then started her own story.
**Dove’s little sister, Melody, was born only two turns of the seasons before Dove had her own babe to hold. Melody was a sweet baby, calm and easily contented. When Dove and Wolfmane Recognized not long after, Dove ended up spending a lot of time with her mother, Wren, and with the new baby, in hopes to be better prepared for her own cub.**
At that, Blacksnake interrupted, **As if anyone could be prepared for my brother.**
A shared send of laughter passed across the group, and Windsong sent, **Shh! This is my story!**
**Well, when little Giggle was born, he was a joy to behold, and so different from his toddling aunt. His red hair was an interesting contrast to Melody’s white. But the pair of them were like littermates, and Wren was hard-pressed to get her younger daughter out of Dove’s den. Melody wanted to help her big sister in any way that she could. She would get fresh moss for the babe, and she often tried singing him to sleep in her own sweet cub-voice.
**Giggle would light up when she was in the room, and he would cry when she left. When he was finally old enough to toddle after his young aunt, the pair could hardly be found separately. Dove often told others that she’d gotten two cubs, and Wren frequently said the same, for neither would sleep without the other after a while.
**Kind of like Spark and Flicker,** Windsong added, **Only they weren’t siblings. Even as they grew older, they often went their way together. It was a sad day, indeed, when he had to watch her take the last journey, down the river, alone.**
**These are such happy and uplifting stories you all are sharing,** Blacksnake pointed out.
**Mine was happy!** Otter countered.
**Mine was funny!** Crackle insisted.
Windsong laughed to herself. He was right. Somehow, the tales were growing sadder. There was only one storyteller left to share. **Well, then, hunt-leader, tell us a happier one.**
She imagined she could see him smiling from where he was perched, and she could hear him shifting on his branch. **Well, I hope this one has a happy ending,** he started, adding, ** buck walking through undergrowth, following a familiar path**
Windsong could feel herself moving in response to the story he had started, which was taking place NOW. She would have a clear view of where the buck should emerge, if it continued on the path Blacksnake was sharing.
He continued, **Otter and Honey moving to the ground. Crackle moving over to the next tree.** She watched as Otter and Honey followed his directions, sliding to the ground and staying hidden and quiet behind their trees. She saw her daughter jump to the tree next to her for a better vantage point, and watched as Crackle began readying her bow.
**buck stopping, sniffing, munching at acorns. moving closer.**
Otter alerted them to the arrival of another, from another direction. **older buck, more points, making his way into the clearing.**
Windsong could almost hear Blacksnake thinking about the situation. It was a good opportunity for the little group to bring back more meat for the tribe, but the hunters would have to split. She hoped he would turn to her.
He did not disappoint. **Windsong, Otter, Honey, you three get the big one. Crackle, your bow is ready. You take the shot on this one when it’s clear. Let’s live this story, and we’ll have a good story to tell the others when we return to the holt.**
With that, the small group of hunters went into action, their movements fluid and sure. Crackle shot the buck, and Blacksnake verified the kill. Windsong allowed Otter to have the first shot at the larger buck, and Honey took the second. Between them, the older whitetail also fell.
The five hunters howled their victory, and Windsong grinned, knowing that the end of this story was happy indeed.