It had always been a truth that some elves followed the Now a good deal better than others, treading the pathways of their wolf bonds easily, while some elves wandered closer to the footsteps of the Ancestors. Foxtail herself had been told this any number of times — usually as a half-honest explanation of why she and her sire could only butt heads like stubborn branch-horns instead of understanding each other. She had always rolled her eyes and nodded and moved on, no wiser than before about Windburn's unfathomable thought processes.
Now, though... Foxtail stretched out along her chosen branch high in the Father Tree and looked down at the movements of her tribemates in the empty gathering space. Her chin rested on one arm, bent at the elbow and draped across the sturdy limb, and the rest of her lean body lay out behind and along in unthinking balance. Her free hand tapped fingers absently against the side of the branch for another few moments as she watched the activity below her. Then she lifted the hand up to eye-level without shifting her head and studied the lingering stains of color on her fingertips. The night had been spent deep in the dye vats, working to get the color Fadestar spotted while gliding high one night. It proved a bit harder than she thought to capture something she had not seen directly, Foxtail reflected. It took more trial and error to match the shared image somehow. Perhaps it had something to do with perception like when she and Notch laid on their backs to cloud-watch and he saw a tree and she saw a branch-horn. The thought gave her further pause and she picked up the trail of ideas that had first come to her as she relaxed.
Could an elf's way change? she wondered. It wasn't that she liked thinking ahead or planning and, Ancestors knew, she still dreaded endless time spent tallying in the storage dens when she could be outside riding with the hunt instead. She still thought her father worried endlessly over things that always ended for the best with or without his help. But... She worried her bottom lip between sharp white teeth.
Sometimes Windburn was right to copy the Ancestors. The entire recent threat of the humans had made that all too clear. As much as it galled her to hide away and keep to watching, Foxtail could easily see the point of it all. Despite what the Word-Hunters knew, it would not have proven nearly enough to convince the round-ears to leave. With numbers firmly on the other side, the redhead knew Windburn had made the best decision he could under the circumstances.
Especially since he was just as stubborn as she and had as little inclination to find a new home.
As always when she found herself agreeing with her father, Foxtail frowned in a combination of confusion, annoyance, and amusement. She was not, after all, so very much like him that it was comfortable to think like him. She was herself. She knew how to have fun yet!
On the other hand...
Inching forward, Foxtail carefully hung further over the branch and let her eyes sweep the ground below. The moons were just a hair or two over the horizon; dawn was on its way and most of the tribe wandered off to comfortable dens and well-earned sleep. She watched as Windburn emerged from the storage dens, stretching and rubbing his eyes. He yawned wide and then turned his steps towards his own sleeping den, still shared with her little brother. A sudden burst of noise halted him and drew both his and Foxtail's attention to the edge of the clearing.
Rill and Glow exploded from the low bushes with raucous shouts. It was hard to tell which was chasing the other but that was beside the point, Foxtail soon realized, as the two youngsters hollered and stumbled their way through the open ground. The important thing was to make as much noise as was possible. She bit back a smile of anticipation. Here was something that was sure to twist her father's tail into a knot since everyone in the Holt was anticipating a good sleep and peace.
**Cubs!** Windburn's send carried clear and sharp; if he had avoided speaking aloud out of courtesy to the others, Foxtail thought with amusement, the send's volume made that point moot. It worked like a charm, though. Both youngsters froze immediately in their tracks and turned wary eyes towards their chief. Windburn stood, feet planted shoulder-width apart, and crossed his arms over his chest. His scowl radiated disapproval just as clearly as the send had done.
Foxtail inched further along her branch but halted within moments. Instead, she slipped backwards and began the swift climb back to the ground. Even as she went, she kept an ear cocked and one eye on the drama unfolding below her. She was not quite sure what she would do when she reached the bottom but, despite their bad behavior, part of her sympathized with the cubs. After all, she well knew how fearsome her father could be when riled.
“... The rest of the tribe are all heading to their dens to sleep and here you two are, running about and making more noise than a herd of branch-horns starting a rock slide. Is that any way to behave when everyone is tired after a long night?”
Glow lowered her head as Foxtail approached from behind the little scene. “No, Uncle,” she murmured.
Rill kept his chin raised for a moment longer in an attempt at defiance but one more swift look from his chief had him following Glow’s example. “We didn’t think. I mean, we didn’t realize…”
“I think they just lost track of time and I’m sure they’re very sorry if they bothered anyone.” Both cubs squeaked a bit and twisted as Foxtail dropped a hand onto each one’s shoulder. They had the sense to stay still, though, as she smiled past them at her father. “At least I would think so.” She looked down at the squirming youngsters.
“Oh, yes!” Realizing that shouting completely negated the apology that Foxtail offered for them, Glow flushed and bit her lower lip. “I’m really sorry, Uncle,” she continued in a far more muted voice. “We were just having so much fun and we found a bee-sweets tree and then the wolves and…”
Foxtail’s fingers squeezed her thin shoulder and she trailed off, glancing towards her partner in crime. Rill nodded hard. “The bee-sweets tree is huuuuge. Enormous. It’s got so much inside that… That…” He frowned, trying to come up with a suitable description. Then his face lit with a wide smile. “It’s got enough to give baths to all the pack.”
“Which would be pretty messy but definitely interesting.” Foxtail watched Windburn carefully and hoped that her intrusion would not backfire in her face. As stern as the chief was, he also prided himself in practicality.
Windburn studied the hopeful cubs for a few moments and then looked up to meet his daughter’s green eyes. He lifted an eyebrow and Foxtail thought she noticed a spark of amusement in his blue eyes. His mouth remained a stern, straight line, however. The silence lingered until Rill swallowed hard and added, “We’re really, really sorry, though. Really.”
“Yes, I think you are, Rill. Both of you.” Windburn finally relented and his posture eased just enough that Foxtail exhaled beneath her breath. He considered the two, his head tilted a bit to one side. “Neither of you are ready to sleep either, though, are you?”
Rill shook his head fiercely and Glow answered, “Oh, I don’t think I could sleep at all for ages now.”
**Should I take them on a run and have them show me the bee-tree?** Foxtail underlined her lock-sent question with an impression of her own energy levels. She was slightly tired but believed she would be up to the challenge of the two for a bit longer. If nothing else, long enough to lift some of the chief’s disapproval and let her tribemates get to sleep. She smiled winningly. “Maybe one more run but well away from the dens?”
Glow bounced on the balls of her feet and nodded. “Yes, please. We’ll come back ever so quiet and go to bed afterwards.”
A slow, faint smile twitched the corners of Windburn’s mouth. Rill and Glow waited in restless impatience but showed enough sense to hold still beneath Foxtail’s steadying hands. Finally, after what felt like an endless time, the chief nodded. “You may go but don’t stay out all day and come back quietly.”
Lock-sent to his Foxtail, he added, **And don’t let them do anything foolish — nor you, daughter.**
**Not even a chance, Father.** Grinning widely, Foxtail released the two youngsters and took a step back. “Well, then, you two. Lead me to this tree as fast as you can. I bet I can keep up easily.”
Rill and Glow exchanged a look. Then an enormous smile lit the boy’s face and he took off at a dead sprint. Glow was right on his heels. Foxtail paused only to laugh, turn to wink at Windburn, and then she, too, raced into the forest on the deft silent feet of a born huntress.
Windburn watched for a moment. Finally, his smile grew full and he shook his head with amusement. A yawn split his expression, though, and he turned his footsteps back to the dens, once again strangely grateful for his daughter’s unending energy. It was well past time for sleep.