Fadestar knew the den had disappeared over time, for she had seen this place many times since her unwrapping. Standing at the first level of dens, she had a clear view of the place above her, where she and her father used to live, and for a moment the grip she had on the tree intensified.
Grey eyes narrowed to get an even sharper image before the youngster made her way further up the tree, finding her way to where the den’s entrance had been long ago. She caressed the trunk and for a faint moment, she pressed her young body against it. It was time. She was ready, in so many ways.
When Kestrel, Snowfall and True Edge had announced that they had wanted to try to get a cub together with Willow’s help, Fadestar had been delighted for her sister and the lifemates. During her Very Long Walk, the bond between herself and her sister had changed. At that point, she had already told Kestrel that she would be such a lovely mother, and it made Fadestar happy to know the elder might actually get to be one again.
It had also made Fadestar realize once again that she did not feel like a cub anymore. Her unwrapping and healing had been a step toward growth. Whispersilk’s death, and especially the Very Long walk had helped her find her place in the tribe, and she had dealt with the raging emotions and pain of her father’s death. She had solved so many of her problems with the help of her friends, especially Newt, Crackle and Nightstorm.
Kestrel, True Edge, and Snowfall had done so much for her, and she was truly grateful. Now that they were trying for a cub, her moving would give Kestrel, Snowfall, and True Edge the space and privacy needed for that effort. But even before they had told her about their plans, Fadestar had felt that she wanted a place for herself. She knew she was young, but she felt ready. It was time. She had found peace with her past. Almost. The tree before her was the final step.
Her sister and Snowfall had known of her ideas, but Fadestar had told them she wanted to visit this place on her own first. She wanted to know how it would feel to stand here when she actually thought about having their old den reshaped. And being honest with herself, she had mixed feelings. She felt thrilled that she could live where she had lived so many turns of seasons ago, but she was also a little anxious about what she would see or feel when the den was shaped again.
Fadestar wondered if someone else had had their den at this same spot after she had been wrapped. After her father’s death. She had never bothered to ask, because she had fully accepted her place in the den with her sister, Snowfall and True Edge. Her heart raced and she felt butterflies in her stomach. Maybe, she thought while chewing on her lip, she shouldn’t do this alone after all. Even though it would hardly be possible, she wondered if she would still be able to smell something of their old den.
“What are you up to?” Dreamflight’s voice interrupted, startling Fadestar and causing her to look around.
“Oh! Dreamflight! I…” her voice trailed off, thinking about how best to explain it.
“That’s Leather’s old den, isn’t it? I remember Mother and the others talking about it when I was a cub.”
Fadestar slowly nodded. Had she not been wrapped, Dreamflight would have been one of her near-agemates. She’d known this, but had not given much thought to it since the howl after she’d awoken. “Yes, it was. Has it been sealed all this time?” she asked.
“As far as I know,” Dreamflight responded. “Why? Are you thinking of going in there?”
Fadestar shrugged noncommittally, then answered. “I’m moving out, and I need a new den to live in.”
“Really?” Dreamflight asked, her face brightening. “You could move into mine…. There’s room. Mother and I shared it for a little while after she was unwrapped, but…” her voice trailed off.
Fadestar moved closer, putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder. She didn’t say anything, because she knew Dreamflight had more to say.
“But I told her then, that she wasn’t welcome in my den any more.” The fisher wiped tears from her face and took a deep breath. “It’s been more than a hand’s turn of seasons, but sometimes I miss having someone to den with. After Mother was wrapped, and Father moved in with Cloudfern, my grandfather denned with me for a while. It was a while before Mother was unwrapped and moved in with me, but during that time, all I wanted was for Mother to wake up. Waiting for her made it easier to live on my own then.”
Dreamflight’s face brightened. “I’d love it if you moved in,” she shared. “Then, you wouldn’t have to ask anyone to open this old one for you. I can only imagine what it’d be like to go back in there.”
Fadestar had some mixed feelings about living with Dreamflight instead of moving into her own den, and she was both relieved and disappointed at not going into her old den. But the sight of Dreamflight’s tears and her apparent loneliness added weight to her decision. “Sure, I’ll go get my things.”
Dreamflight clapped her hands and smiled, then offered a quick hug. “I’m so excited!” she exclaimed. Then, instead of offering to help, she said, “I need to go to the Craft Trees for a little while. I’ll be up soon as I’m done, and can help you get settled.” With that, the fisher headed down the steps and away. An edge of doubt about what she had just committed to niggled at Fadestar’s mind.
Before moving her belongings, Fadestar sought out Newt’s company for a while, talking with him about her mixed feelings. “It’s not that I don’t like living with Kestrel, Snowfall, and True Edge,” she said earnestly, continuing, “It’s that I want… a den of my own. And I think they deserve some time with just the three of them, too. Especially once Willow helps them.”
Newt was understanding and supportive, reaching out to hold her hand as they meandered through the woods near the Dentrees. “I think I'm not ready to leave Greenweave’s and Cloudfern’s den yet. But I can tell that its really important to you, Fadestar. It sounds like it would be good for you. What I don’t understand is, if you want a den of your own, why did you agree to move in with Dreamflight?”
Fadestar stopped walking and looked up toward the tops of the trees and beyond to the night sky. His question gave voice to the added dilemma she was facing. Initially, it had been to move out on her own, or not. And she’d gotten to the point where she wanted to move out, but now, she felt torn because she wanted to be there for a friend as well. She looked back toward him. “Maybe this will be a step toward being on my own. I’ll be denning with a friend, and not family. And if it doesn’t work, I can move out. Am I sure this is what I want to do, though? Not completely. But what’s the harm in trying? Besides, it gives me time to be absolutely sure I want to move into my old den.”
Newt was about to say something, but Greenweave interrupted, “Hi, Newt, Fadestar.”
Fadestar smiled at the fisher, “Hi, Greenweave!”
Newt smiled and offered his hello, as well, then asked, “Were you looking for me?”
His adoptive father nodded, “I’ve got a tangled mess riverside, if you’ve got some time. If not, you could help later.”
Newt and Fadestar exchanged a glance, then he nodded at Greenweave. “I’ll be there in just a moment.”
Fadestar added, “I’d help, too, but I’ve got some things to do at the Dentrees.”
“Thank you both,” Greenweave said, and then turned to head back to the river.
Newt looked back at Fadestar. “I’d have helped you move.”
She smiled at him, then hugged him. “I know,” she said quietly, “but I think this is something I need to do on my own anyway. Thanks, Newt, for listening to me.”
“Anytime,” Newt said cheerfully, and then bid her happy moving. She watched as he headed in the direction Greenweave had went, and once she could see him no longer, turned back toward the Dentrees.
Fadestar carried the last of her bundles into Dreamflight’s den, sighing as she dropped it onto the floor, then plopped down beside them. It had not taken long. There wasn’t much that the young elf claimed as her own — the blanket she’d been given after she woke up, a few furs, some clothes, and her spear, a few pieces of jewelry and leather. Looking around her, she took in the small den, noticing that Dreamflight didn’t seem to store many belongings, either. Their den would be cozy, but not cluttered.
“Ah, there you are!” Dreamflight said cheerily as she stepped into the den behind Fadestar. “I was wondering if you’d have moved in by the time I got back.”
Fadestar noticed the fisher’s hands were blue, likely from dyeing silk; she also caught wind of something else, a hint of anxiety from her friend.
“Are you all right?” Fadestar asked.
“No,” Dreamflight said absently and unconvincingly. “But I’m sure it’ll all be all right.”
“Oh,” Fadestar said, choosing not to push. She knew that Dreamflight could be sulky from time to time, and she didn’t have the patience to try and sort it out for her. Besides, she had enough on her mind, and didn’t want to dwell on the move out of her sister’s den. She had volunteered to move out, but it was still bittersweet to be on her own, sort of.
“Where do you want me to put my things?” she asked her new denmate. Space was limited, so she wasn’t sure Dreamflight would have an answer, but she’d had to ask. If the fisher hadn’t thought about asking Cloudfern or Evervale to shape any new shelves, or to widen the bedbowl, maybe she’d realize she should have. Fadestar hoped she hadn’t asked Brightwood. She still felt intimidated by the fierce huntress.
“Oh?” Dreamflight looked around, seeming confused. “I hadn’t thought of that!”
Of course you didn’t, Fadestar thought. “You’ve had a lot going on,” she offered out loud.
“I have! Haven’t I? What with constantly being busy at the river, or in the weaving dens, I haven’t had time to think. And to add to that, things with Father…”
Fadestar cut her off, not wanting to hear it at the moment. She was tired, a little emotional, and starting to feel irritable. “You didn’t ask any of the plantshapers to widen the bedbowl. I’ll have to go do that.”
Dreamflight looked shocked at Fadestar’s abruptness, and her mouth opened as if she was going to say something as Fadestar stood and headed out the door.
“I’ll be back,” Fadestar said simply, sending to Evervale and Cloudfern to see if one of them were available.
**Don’t ask Cloudfern! resentment, sadness, loneliness that’s his fault** Dreamflight sent to her.
This denning together is not off to a great start, Fadestar thought to herself, hoping that it would be Evervale who responded first. Thankfully, it was.
Fadestar sat with Newt and Crackle on the floor of her new den. Otter would have been there, too, but had made some excuse about helping Greenweave. She and her friends were laughing at stories Crackle was making up to pass the suddenly rainy night away. The redhead was about to say something else when Dreamflight, soaked from the river and rain, entered the den, not smiling.
Fadestar greeted her denmate, “Dreamflight! You’re all wet! Come in and warm up. Crackle was just telling us some fantastic tales.”
Dreamflight managed a weak smile, then made her way past the group of friends to the side of her bedbowl, starting to strip. The den was tight for so many, and droplets of water flung toward them as the fisher shook out the wet clothes. The group laughed and tried to stay away from the shivers of water. Finished with her undressing, Dreamflight addressed the younger elves, “Excuse me, do you mind? I’m really sorry, I’m exhausted.” Then she climbed into the bedbowl, pulling the furs over her head.
The friends looked at one another, then, one by one, left the den. Fadestar paused to say goodbye to Dreamflight, who didn’t respond, and seemed to be already asleep. The young elf wondered to herself if Dreamflight would have preferred coming back to her own den — one she didn’t share. She thought about asking the fisher, but reconsidered, and followed her friends down to the Gathering Den.
Later that night, Fadestar was making her way back to her den, when she heard Dreamflight talking with her mother in Honey’s nearby den. “Mother, they were all there in the den, laughing and carrying on. I’d been out at the river, fishing before the rain, and then got drenched. I just wanted to lay down and sleep. Is that too much to ask?” Dreamflight asked Honey.
Fadestar did not stop her eavesdropping. She knew her denmate was referring to what had happened earlier in the day, and she felt badly that Dreamflight had been upset. But it was her den, too, and there was nothing wrong with having her friends in there. And they had invited Dreamflight to join them.
Honey’s response was not soothing to Dreamflight’s distress. “Daughter, it’s Fadestar’s den, too. And you said they left when you told them you were exhausted.”
“You’re on their side?” Dreamflight whined.
“This is not about sides. Dreamflight,” Honey said patiently, “When you share a den, it’s simply that way. Both of you have the right to use it. If you don’t like sharing, you could ask Fadestar to move out. Or you could move out.”
Fadestar heard a hiccup. “I don’t want her to have to move out. I like her company. It’s just… I was exhausted.”
Honey murmured something Fadestar couldn’t hear, and then said, “And when you told Fadestar and her friends that, they left. I can’t see how it could have gone better unless…”
Dreamflight interrupted, “No, mother, I know what you’re going to say. And I said it already. I don’t want her to move out.”
Fadestar felt relief having heard that Dreamflight wanted her company. But she wondered again if it might be better having her own den. She didn’t like the conflict Dreamflight seemed to be stuck in, nor did she like that she had contributed to a tribemate’s feelings of upset.
Fadestar had had a bad day. First, the leather she had been working on to make as supple as it could be… It hadn’t worked out. She had worked it too hard, and it had ripped. To her, it was a beginner’s mistake, and something Fadestar felt should have never happened in the first place. She had been in an endless discussion with Gurgleflap which she had lost in all possible ways.
Next, frustrated with her leather, she moved on to weaving a warm baby suit for Kestrel and Snowfall. But because of her frustration she couldn’t muster up her usual patience. The web-wire snapped two times before she gave up.
Now, with the feeling that she hadn’t accomplished anything, she had returned to her den to cool off. She sunk down at the edge of her bedbowl and sighed deeply. This day would soon be over, she thought, and she would just turn in early.
Dreamflight announced herself by her soft singing voice, and Fadestar sighed again. She just wanted to be alone right now. Sleep. And, she figured, just feel sorry for herself.
“Oh, Fadestar, you’re home!” Dreamflight chirped. “Tonight is such a clear night, I was thinking of going out to the nearby flower field and see if I can get some bright colors to make new hues for the leathers. You want to come?”
“No.” Fadestar realized that she had sounded cranky and she felt sorry for it right away.
Dreamflight frowned. “No need to be snappy about it. It was just a question.”
“If you just don’t want to hang out with me, you can just tell me.”
“I don’t want to hang out with you,” Fadestar suddenly snapped, “I just want to get to bed and I don’t want to look for colors and I just want to be left alone!”
Dreamflight’s eyes grew wide. Fadestar had never been angry with her, in fact, Fadestar thought, she couldn’t remember when she had ever snapped like this.
Dreamflight lifted her chin. “Very well, then.” Just before she turned, Fadestar thought she saw a glimpse of a tear and the darkhaired youngster felt guilty immediately. Dreamflight left their den, leaving Fadestar alone as she had wished.
**Dreamflight, I am sorry,** Fadestar sent after her, but she didn’t receive a reply back. She had hurt her friend.
The denmates had plans to work together in the Craft Trees. After some rest, Fadestar felt better and had apologized to her friend, who had forgiven her and shared some of the rabbit meat from her surprise catch in the field. They were making their way down to the forest floor when Fadestar glanced toward what had been her childhood den. She wondered again whether it would be better to have her own den, and what that would be like.
“Thinking about your old den?” Dreamflight asked as they walked toward the Craft Trees.
Fadestar nodded slowly, not sure she should voice her thoughts. How could she tell her friend that she would prefer her own den without making her feel rejected?
“I must not be very easy to live with,” Dreamflight ventured. “I mean, soon as Mother was wrapped, Father had moved on and out. Then, not long after Mother was unwrapped…” her voice trailed off.
“You told her to get out,” Fadestar finished quietly.
“Yes,” Dreamflight agreed. “I did. And to be honest, I think it was better for both of us, really. Mother’s changed over the seasons, and for the better, I think. She’s a lot happier without me.”
Fadestar stopped, putting an arm out to still her friend. It irritated her the way that Dreamflight seemed to be fishing for pity. “She’s not happier because she’s away from you, and you know it. She’s a lot happier because she’s made some peace with herself and others. It’s something you might want to do, Dreamflight. Stop taking everything so personally. Decisions others make are not always about you.”
The fisher looked stricken, and Fadestar wondered if she’d gone too far. She thought about apologizing, but wasn’t sure what she would be sorry for. The truth? No apologies for that. Still, she wasn’t trying to fight. “Dreamflight,” she ventured, “Do you know why I chose to den with you?”
Dreamflight shook her head, saying, “Actually, I have wondered that a few times.”
“Stop it!” Fadestar exclaimed. “It’s not about that. It was about the fact that you seemed lonely, and that you were excited about having a denmate. I wanted you to be happy! And.. well, I wasn’t sure I was ready for my own den.”
Dreamflight thought about it for a moment, then nodded slowly. “I thought that having a denmate would make everything better.”
“Did it?” Fadestar asked.
“Actually,” the fisher said quietly, then more confidently answered, “No! It didn’t. In fact, it’s made our friendship a bit more tense.”
“Is that what you want?” Fadestar asked, realizing this might be one way to help Dreamflight understand.
“Of course not. But… does that mean you’re going to move out?” Dreamflight’s eyes started to tear up.
“What do you think I should do?” the younger elf asked.
“If I were you, I’d get as far away from me as I could,” Dreamflight stated.
Fadestar moved closer, laughing. “That’s not going to happen,” she said with a smile. “You’re my friend, and we work pretty well together in the Craft Trees.”
Dreamflight’s voice joined the laughter. “We do, don’t we?”
“What’s so funny?” Beetle asked, coming out of the Craft Trees and approaching the pair.
“Well, Beetle,” Dreamflight explained, “I was just trying to figure out a way to tell Fadestar that I think she’d be happier in her own den.”
Fadestar felt her heartbeat quicken in anticipation and nervousness. Was she really ready?
Beetle put an arm around the fisher’s waist and rested her head on her shoulder. “She keeping you up too late talking your ear off?” she teased.
“No,” Dreamflight responded. “I just… think that I do better with my own space to think. And I wonder if Fadestar’s a little like me that way. Maybe she’d enjoy having a den all to herself for a change. She’s not a cub anymore.”
“True,” Beetle agreed, then asked bluntly, “But doesn’t this mean that you’re going to have another reason to say that you’re lonely and rejected?”
Dreamflight pulled away, batting at her friend playfully. “Not this time. It was my idea!”
Fadestar silently thanked the High Ones, then said out loud, “And you have some great ones! Are you sure I should do this?”
Dreamflight nodded. “On the one hand, I’ll miss you. On the other hand, though, I’ll be glad to have the bedbowl back to myself again."
“Okay, Dreamflight. I’ll move out later tonight.”
Beetle headed off, and Dreamflight headed toward the Craft Trees, leaving Fadestar standing there. Dreamflight turned, then asked, “Are you going to help me with this weaving now, or not?”
“I’ll help you,” Fadestar answered, following her friend inside.
Fadestar hadn’t noticed the movement that came from the den above her. Little Copper had come closer, slightly curious about what Fadestar was up to. When the black-haired female finally looked up, she blinked a few times before she smiled at the cub, who was silently looking at her from up the stairs that surrounded the tree.
Fadestar liked the quiet Copper, who often came to watch her when she was working with leathers or weaving. If anything, Copper was somewhat of an outsider, but Fadestar could sympathize with that. She had been an outsider, too, for a very long time. Sometimes, but fortunately those occasions became rarer, she still felt like one.
Fadestar motioned Copper to come closer. The redhaired cub took a few steps closer, not taking her eyes off the older female. Fadestar sat down next to her; her grey eyes shifted back to the den she had just visited, but she could feel Copper’s stare still on her face. Fadestar noticed that the cub hugged her stuffed animal closely.
“What’s there?” Copper’s soft voice asked.
Fadestar’s smile widened. “This is the place where I used to live with my father, Leather. It is a long time ago. And I want to live there again... or at least, I think I do. I was just thinking that I’d need a plantshaper to re-shape it. I was hoping Cloudfern could do it. Maybe Newt could come with.”
Silence followed, as they both stared at the tree. When Copper spoke, her voice was a near-whisper. “Mother can help.”
Fadestar looked confused. “With what?”
“Oh… I don’t know.” Fadestar shrugged. Brightwood hadn’t exactly been on the top of her list to ask for this task, because it was such a delicate situation, emotionally-wise. To her, the gentle Cloudfern was the most logical choice, but he was out gathering herbs with Newt. Then Evervale, but she had left the day before with some of the word-hunters. And Fadestar had wanted to get used to the idea of moving first and she had visited the sealed den to see how it would feel to be here, in the first place.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like Brightwood, but the huntress made her feel uncomfortable. Since their unwrapping, she had felt a little intimidated by the huntress who seemed so different than Fadestar. And not only were they different, they also had different groups of friends, even within the tightly-knit tribe. Fadestar realized she really didn’t know Brightwood. And because of the emotions involved, she liked to stick with someone she knew better.
“What don’t you know?”
Fadestar yelped and jumped up, but Copper’s face was beaming with joy when her mother appeared from between the bushes. “I’ve been looking for you, cubling,” Brightwood grinned, “and now I find you here with Fadestar.”
“Mother, can you help Fadestar?”
”With what?” Brightwood’s sharp eyes shot to Fadestar, who shifted uncomfortably.
“‘Cause she can’t shape a tree.” Copper simply said, with all the logic of a cub. Brightwood looked from Fadestar to Copper, and then picked up her cub.
“I know that,” Brightwood responded to her daughter.
Fadestar had too much pride to let a cub ask the hard questions for her. “I want to move out of Dreamflight’s den, and I came up here to see if this spot would still do,” she quickly said, taking a step closer to mother and daughter. “I wanted to see… you know… if I could live there. How it would feel.”
Brightwood’s eyes didn’t leave Fadestar’s now and observed the young elf while she asked the next question. “You can handle living at the place where your sire’s den was? Won’t it bring back memories?”
”I am counting on it that it does,” Fadestar said softly, “But they’re happy memories. Most of them, anyway.”
Brightwood’s eyes narrowed for a heartbeat, and then her eyes moved to the sealed den. “You sure?” She asked a final time. “I am not shaping a den if you decide you don’t want to live in it. It is a lot of work.”
Fadestar hesitated for only a heartbeat, before she firmly nodded. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Does Kestrel know what you want?”
Fadestar straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. “No,” she firmly said, “I mean, yes, we talked about this. But she doesn't know I am here right now. Because I didn’t know for sure if I wanted this. But now I’m here, I know I want to. And I want to do it on my own.”
Brightwood didn’t look away from Fadestar’s face and it made Fadestar feel a little anxious. Her proud stance staggered; she shifted her weight uncomfortably under the piercing gaze. She felt a blush creep from her neck to her cheek but smiled, nevertheless. “Well, not completely on my own. You are here, and Copper is here.”
Brightwood grinned, and broke the tension. ”Well then, let’s get to it,” she said, handing over Copper to Fadestar.
“I know it is impossible, and I think my mind is tricking me. But it’s like I can still smell him,” Fadestar whispered when she looked around. Brightwood leaned against the wall next to the entrance, panting slightly, while Copper’s curious eyes darted through the newly shaped den. “I can… I can still smell myself.” But they were happy scents, she decided, whether they were real or not. She was nowhere near that sick anymore, and even after all this time, her father seemed closer here. It felt comfortable, and good -– it didn’t make her feel sad anymore. She breathed out, not realizing up till that point that she had been holding her breath. Then, she turned around to Brightwood, with a small smile on her lips. “But it feels good.”
“It seems like it’s settled, then. Do you need anything in the den? It’s just an empty space with a bedbowl now,” Brightwood asked. Again, Fadestar’s eyes scanned the den. She and her father had had a working area for cutting and sewing, and a place to sleep, and also, a place to put away her father’s weapons. It was nowhere near the same den as it used to be and that was fine for Fadestar, but she could see where she would want those spots in this new area. “Some hooks,” Fadestar said pensively, “and some niches for extra candles.” She walked around, pointing out some things she wanted changed. Sometimes she argued with Brightwood about possibilities until, finally, the den was to her — and Brightwood’s — liking. By that point, it was early in the morning.
The plantshaper lifted her dead-tired cub, and two pairs of pale eyes were now watching Fadestar, who seemed really taken with her new den. The youngster looked at Brightwood, who wolfily grinned back at her.
“That wasn’t hard, was it?” Brightwood said. Fadestar knew that the plantshaper was implying more than just the new arrangement of the den. The plantshaper wasn’t stupid, and she must have known about Fadestar’s mixed feelings towards her. After all, the young tanner had been trying to avoid her as much as she could. Fadestar could see Brightwood’s eyes shimmer, and realized the plantshaper planned to tackle that problem, as well.
Fadestar blushed. “I…” She started, but closed her mouth, not really knowing what to say.
Brightwood laughed. "Don't worry about it," she said, dropping a hand onto the youngster's shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Fadestar said, not really sure if the plantshaper's hand felt comfortable or intimidating. “You did a wonderful job with the den. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome, Fadestar,” Brightwood replied, shifting Copper’s weight. The cub started to hum softly. “And if you want anything altered, just let me know. I don’t bite.” She turned towards the den’s entrance and made her way towards it, but just before stepping out she looked over her shoulders and winked. “Not hard, anyway,” she chuckled, before she disappeared.
Fadestar bit her lip in order not to laugh, and when the pair was out of sight, she sat down on the improved bedbowl. Her hands stroked the fine details that Brightwood had added. Looking around, she inhaled deeply and again, the memories washed over her. This time, she wasn’t anxious, or scared. It felt good.
She had finally come home.