It had been roughly seven days since Newt had found and rescued the orphaned owlet at the Broad Meadow. Since then, his life had changed significantly; especially his sleeping rhythms. Moonwing — the name Newt had given his new friend and charge — was noisy and demanding when something upset him. And most often it was hunger upsetting him.
The first few days after Moonwing had settled down it hadn’t been so bad, but now, a week later, it seemed the little fluff ball of feathers had not only grown in size but also in his appetite. Two mice a day weren’t enough anymore. Moonwing was screeching for more to fill his greedy little belly.
That wouldn’t pose much of a problem right now. The Preservers, especially Muckabout, were willing to give Newt the mice they caught in the storage dens, and Newt could catch some of his own now and then. Still, Newt was aware that Moonwing would continue to grow and that the mice population in the storage dens was not as reliable as the other items that were stocked there.
If Newt wanted to keep up with Moonwing’s hunger without driving everyone in and around the den he shared with his own foster parents crazy, he had to come up with a more efficient way of catching mice and rodents. He already had an idea. Putting up a stock wasn’t a bad idea.
With that in mind, the young adult took the owlet from the nest-hole Cloudfern had shaped for him, wrapped Moonwing into some warm furs, and tucked him in a little basket Greenweave had woven for him. Then, he left his den to look for the two elves he knew could help him out.
**Willow? Rainpace?** he sent while looking around the usual places they could be spotted.
Willow was the first to respond. She wasn’t far. Her wordless response contained images of the Broad Meadow and that she was hunting for small game with her sling.
**What’s the matter, Featherhead?** came Rainpace’s fond sending right after Willow’s image faded. He sent an image along of him working on a fish trap down by Silverrun Creek with Chicory and Honey.
**I would like to ask something of the both of you. Could we meet up later on?** Newt sent to both of his friends. **I need your help with that noisy pain in the neck that keeps you awake with his screeching,** he added as an extra lure, his grin almost tangible in his sending.
Somehow this must have been convincing, because Rainpace’s immediate reply was: **I’ll be done in a few moments anyways. I’ll leave it to Chicory and Honey to watch the fish being stupid enough to swim into this trap,** Rainpace sent openly on purpose, his amusement not contained. Newt could almost hear the clout his friend received from the two females for that.
**Where would you like to meet?** Willow replied. She indicated that she, too, was nearly finished with what she was doing, and that she had a nice string of rabbits ready to be brought home and skinned.
**How about Great Rock? Moonwing and I’ll wait there for you,** Newt suggested. Within moments, he felt a pulse of acknowledgement from both of the trappers. They would meet him there.
“You want us to bring you more mice for Moonwing?” Newt could hear a hint of amusement in Rainpace’s voice.
“No, I want you to teach me how to do that”, Newt replied.
Willow thought for a moment. “Well, there certainly are a few ways you could get them. It’s too bad you don’t know how to use a sling. That usually rounds them up fast once you find a nest and chase them out.”
Newt gave the tribe’s healer a amused smile. “Given my talent with a bow and hitting big, standing things, I don’t want to imagine how I’d fare with tiny moving targets,” he joked.
“Snare traps are too big for what you want to do…” Willow continued.
Newt nodded and sighed. “I thought the same.”
Moonwing, still snug in his basket on Newt’s lap, raised his still-somewhat reptilian-looking head as if he knew this conversation was on his behalf. The bird gave a lazy screech, but calmed quickly when Newt rubbed his feathery head.
“But given how quickly Moonwing grows, I need a better solution than I have at the moment or I won’t be able to keep up with him,” Newt continued.
“He is growing rapidly, that’s for sure,” Rainpace commented and leaned over the little basket to check on the owlet. Moonwing gave a wide yawn in greeting and snapped his beak closed before shaking out his downy plumage. The trapper chuckled in amusement. “Bet half of it is feathers only.”
“According to Snowfall, even that takes a lot of energy out of him. Growing the feathers, I mean,” Newt said and smiled proudly at the young bird in his lap. “He’s doing fine so far.”
“And since he won’t stop doing that, you need more mice. And that’s why we’re discussing how to get them,” Willow shifted the conversation back to topic.
“Right,” Newt said, straightening his back. “I was hoping one of you, or both, might have experience with catching mice or something else that small.”
“Like I said,” Willow continued, “usually I’d go to the sling. We’d have to come up with an alternative I guess, even though you know Rainpace and I are always willing to hunt for you in trade.”
Newt lifted his hands. “I know. And I’m very grateful, but I try to keep my debt with you low.” He smiled sweetly. “Especially with you I never know what a bunch of mice might cost me in the end.”
“Oh, you don’t know what I’ll charge you to find out how to do it yourself, if I find a way,” Willow grinned back.
“You act as if you already have a solution,” Rainpace barged in, fighting his own wicked smile. “Do you?”
“Well, no, not yet. But I’m pretty sure I’ll have one pretty soon. Sooner than you for sure.”
“You want to bet on that?” Rainpace’s eyebrow rose challengingly.
“You know it,” Willow replied with a quirk of her lip. The challenge was accepted. She turned to Newt. “You’ll have plenty of mice for Moonwing in no time.”
“Thanks, that’s great, but that’s not what I—” Newt’s attempt to speak up was cut short when Willow jumped to her feet, grinning widely at Rainpace.
“I’ll come up with a trap that’ll give Moonwing a year’s supply of mice in just a few weeks!” the healer boasted.
“Ha!” Rainpace interjected. He stood up as well, going nose to nose with Willow. “I’ll not only ensure the steady flow of mice for the rest of the year but I’ll do it faster than you! The Preservers will run out of spit trying to wrap all my catches.” He shot the healer the same challenging grin she was giving him.
“You won’t even come close! What do you want to bet?” she asked in return.
“Those rock beads Starskimmer just shaped for you.”
Willow set her jaw. “That’s a hefty prize. I had to pick berries for two weeks to trade for those.”
“Too afraid you’ll lose them?”
“No, not at all,” Willow shot back. “And when I win, I want that white pelt with black spots I saw in your den.”
Though Newt tried repeatedly, the two trappers’ conversation went way too quickly for Newt to cut in. Before he knew it, Rainpace and Willow were gone, all eager to throw themselves in building their miracle traps. The young adult sighed, leaning back against the rock on which he was sitting.
“That could have gone better,” he lamented to his foster-owl.
Moonwing seemed unconcerned. He screeched, uninterested, and stretched his long neck and feathers in an impressive yawn.
Newt smiled at the gesture and gently rubbed the little one’s beak. “I know. No matter what, you’re the true winner of this bet. Lots and lots of mice for you. No matter what.”
Rainpace plopped a bundle of wrapstuffed mice in front of Newt. “I caught two hands of them this evening,” he declared proudly.
Newt thanked Rainpace and took the bundle with a somewhat helpless smile.
“My traps caught two hands plus two this time,” Willow smugly interjected and dropped her bundle on top of Rainpace’s.
“Thanks to you, too, Willow,” Newt said, setting both bundles aside. He would ask Mushroom to wrap the mice. “Listen...”
“Well, fine,” Rainpace interrupted Newt. He reminded Willow, “You got more this time, but the last two times I beat you by a pinch.”
The smug expression on Willow’s face faded.
“Hey,” Newt spoke up, but the two trappers were so caught up in their contest, they ignored him.
“Yes — but now your spot is running dry, isn’t it?” Willow teased back to Rainpace.
**Hey, you two!** This time Newt had their attention. Both Willow and Rainpace were looking at him, now. The young elf regarded both his friends with a somewhat impatient and stern look. “Would you please listen to me?” he asked. “I’m very, very grateful for all the mice you brought me and so is Moonwing. You’ve brought more than enough. But this has to stop!”
“What do you mean?” Willow asked, confused.
Rainpace looked at Newt questioningly.
Newt’s answer was clear and steady. “I didn’t ask you to bring me mice, though. Remember?” he looked from one trapper to the other. He could see realization dawning on them. They had forgotten. “Yes, exactly. I asked you to show me how to do it myself.”
“Uhm…” Both Willow and Rainpace seemed a tad uncomfortable now.
“Don’t worry about it. While the two of you were busy one-upping each other, I went to Suddendusk and asked him about it.” He ducked into his den and returned with a simple but effective trap the elder had designed for him. “He showed me how to make these by myself and promised to teach me how to place them along with some good spots to do so,” he explained. “I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
For a moment, both Rainpace and Willow stood silently, shocked, with their mouths agape. Then, they turned to look at each other and started to laugh.
Willow snickered, “Serves us right for not listening.”
“Yes. We’re sorry, Newt,” Rainpace added, turning to the white-haired elf. “We got too caught up in the game.”
Newt chuckled, too. “I noticed, but like I said, I got the help I needed. And I, and especially Moonwing, do appreciate the mice you managed to bring.”
“Of which I got more than you, Rainpace,” Willow said, elbowing the other trapper in the side. “I think you have a certain pelt that belongs to me.”
Rainpace countered, “Oof — I don’t think so! I know I’m ahead! So you’ll be giving me those beads.”
“Not a chance,” Willow argued back.
Newt could only shake his head. He laughed to himself as he ducked into his den and grabbed a tool kit Suddendusk had loaned him in order to familiarize himself with the tools. “You two, excuse me. I'm going to meet up with Suddendusk for the next lesson,” he told the arguing trappers, patting his self-made trap. “I should be able to catch enough mice by myself as soon as your stock runs out. At the end of the day, Moonwing doesn’t care where his mice come from as long as it’s plenty.”
The youngster waved his goodbye to the two, leaving it to them to sort out who won.