Starskimmer looked up with surprise at the interruption but, as was her nature, warm welcome quickly replaced all other concerns and she smiled wide and true at her unexpected guest. “Well, hello, there! Come on in and get comfortable. I’d help but I can’t leave this right now or we might have a problem.” Somehow she managed to indicate the complicated arrangement of bowls and baskets spread over the shaped table in front of her with a vague motion of her chin.
“Oh, I wasn’t going to stay long. I just wanted to ask you a question. I have other things to do but…” Foxtail trailed off as she stepped over the threshold and her green eyes took in the organized mess with avid curiosity. One more step brought her to the edge of the table, and she reached out to poke a finger at the nearest bowl. “What are you trying now?” she asked, diverted from whatever her original purpose had been.
Starskimmer darted a glance at what Foxtail had found, dismissed it as non-vital in an instant, and refocused her attention on the bowl before her and the way her hands wielded the heavy stone she had fashioned into a neat, smooth pestle. The leaves she had put in the bottom of the bowl were reducing nicely, smearing green all along the bottom and filling the air of her den with the rich smell of mint. She lifted up the pestle and inspected the bottom. Then she nodded to herself and lowered it again for more work before sharing her smile once more with the redhead. “I’m trying an infusion. I got the idea while watching Cloudfern at work. He’s been teaching Newt some of his poultices, and they made this wonderful one that smells just like New Green Bliss. Absolutely perfect. Just fresh and happy and tickling your nose.”
Foxtail grinned, snatched a berry from the basket, and then scooted back until she felt another shaped line of living tree hit her backside. Without looking, she hitched herself up onto it and settled into an effortless sprawl. She lifted the berry between two fingers, winking before popping it into her mouth. Starskimmer merely laughed and shook her head. Finished chewing, Foxtail finally responded, “Then it must be something Cloudfern has never used on me because I swear he always pickest the nastiest, most dung-scented things to put down my throat when I’m sick.”
“Maybe if he didn’t think you were at fault for being sick, he wouldn’t,” Starskimmer returned with another soft laugh.
The words were not at all mean; the rockshaper did not have a mean bone in her body. They were, however, true to a point and Foxtail acknowledged this with a shrug and an unrepentant smile. “Maybe but I haven’t been sick in ages. I’m all grown-up now, don’t you think?”
“Almost.” Starskimmer paused in her motions and suddenly set aside the mortar and pestle. Then she turned to look at the younger elf. She studied her for a long moment, and Foxtail cocked her head, held absolutely still for the inspection, and waited. Finally, Starskimmer nodded. She rocked back on her heels until the table behind her caught her motion, a solid prop at the small of her back, and she brought a hand up to form a fist and rest against a generously curved hip. “You’re certainly calmer than you were,” she added. “And I see you’ve been in the storage dens more and more. Not to mention the work you’ve put into crafting. We nearly had a tussle over that piece of Preserver silk you dyed two hands of days ago. Fadestar and Nightstorm both wanted it in the worst way. It was a lucky thing there was enough to split between them, or we would have had to call in Windburn to settle things.”
Foxtail could not resist the smirk of pride, and Starskimmer watched her with sparkling eyes. She had not been kidding; the two designers had been at loggerheads over the bit of purple-dyed stuff. “And that was just something I was trying. You know. To see if it would work.” The redhead adjusted her seat, one leg dropping a bit to swing loosely. Then she waved an airy hand towards Starskimmer’s work. “Isn’t that what you’re doing now?”
“I suppose so.” Starskimmer twisted in place to look over her shoulder. “I think it’s always a good idea to try new things. Sometimes you get the best surprises.”
“But one of Cloudfern’s concoctions?”
“Why not?” She shrugged. “Haven’t you ever heard that inspiration can come out of anywhere at all? Some of my best ideas happen when I’m doing something completely unrelated to brewing.” She lifted a hand to indicate the den as a whole but then tightened the gesture to end on the table and her tools and the creation in progress. One corner of her mouth quirked upwards, and her eyes danced with mischief. “Haven’t you ever been inspired by an especially fine night?”
Foxtail looked thoughtful at the suggestion. “I suppose,” she replied slowly. “A good hunt gets my blood howling pretty well, and I can’t sleep forever afterwards. Sometimes.” Then her gaze connected with Starskimmer’s, and she burst into laughter. “So I have to find something else to keep me occupied and, since I’ve turned over such a new leaf and all… I can’t very well go around pranking, can I?”
“I’m sure my overgrown cub finds ways to keep you occupied.” Starskimmer joined in the laughter. “Just as well, too. The way I figure, if he is in your den, then we all know where he is and it’s your duty to keep him so tail-drooping tired and worn-out that he can’t cause any problems.”
“You’ve put some thought into this, ‘Skimmer!”
“Oh, just here and there.” She smiled, bright and full of sunshine and starlight, and it was an expression distressingly like one her son would offer in just such an instance. “I prefer the tribe to be at peace, you know, Foxtail. I would be an awful unknowing mother if I didn’t realize that sometimes meant keeping Notch under someone’s paw. Better a sweet one like yours than a more gruff one like your father’s. Now…” She turned abruptly and picked up her bowl and pestle again. “You came in here to ask a question, didn’t you?”
Foxtail blinked at the sudden change of topic but shrugged it off as just Starskimmer’s quick mind. “Oh. Yes, I did but I think I’ve changed my mind,” she answered. Slipping down from her perch, she again moved to stand just behind the rockshaper’s shoulder and peer down into the bowl. “I think I would rather stay if you don’t mind and watch you work. You have me curious now about how your inspiration will turn out. Can I stay?”
“As long as you aren’t using me to avoid something you should be doing, I never mind.” Starskimmer flashed another warm smile over her shoulder before really putting her muscle into crushing the tender green leaves at the bottom of the bowl. “Maybe I will even put you to work, cub, and then we’ll both learn something.”
“Fair enough.” Foxtail held out her hands and mirrored the older elf’s smile. “What do you want me doing first, teacher?”
Sometimes, Starskimmer thought as she handed over the bowl and pestle, the unexpected proved the best. For inspiration, for laughter, for company. It was a good life motto, she decided. Luckily, it had been hers for many, many seasons.