(Ed. Note: The four elves in the vision that Copper has are Barkmoss (the one whose memory she flashes to), Firecat, Spearpoint, and Pinecone (the cub).)
The sun was setting, and the earlier rain clouds had passed, leaving a clear night for cubs to wander and play. Copper had made her way toward the Great Meadow, enjoying the sounds of peepers and birds, and the scent and sight of flowers.
“Come on, Copper! Why don’t you race with us?” Glow’s enthusiastic voice called from the middle of the Great Meadow. She had run ahead of the group, always on the move.
“Ha! She’s not going to race with us, she never does,” came Rill’s complaint.
At Rill’s irritated statement, Copper sat up from where she had lain, looking at the stars and stared at her friends blankly. “I do, too,” she said.
“Not most of the time,” Rill argued. “You’re usually more interested in something else than in having fun with us.”
Cinder spoke up on behalf of Copper. “Just because she isn’t always interested in the same wild ideas as you and Glow doesn’t mean she doesn’t have fun.”
While her friend’s defense of her was welcome, Copper wasn’t certain it was necessary. “You want to race?” she asked Rill, who nodded. “I will race you, then. And I’ll win because I’m taller than you, and have longer legs.”
Rill scowled at that. When Copper had reached the same height as him a while back, he had been unhappy. Now that she was taller than him, he never ceased to become irritable when reminded of it. Copper knew it wasn’t fair to bring it up — Rill couldn’t help that he might not be tall any more than she could help growing taller. Still, it set him down a notch, and Copper sometimes thought that he needed that.
Glow whooped and called cheerily, “Let’s start at the big tree toward the center and race to the path in the trees that leads back to the Dentrees! Whoever reaches the Gathering Den first is the winner.”
It sounded good to Copper, so she nodded, and without further words, headed to the starting point. The other cubs followed, and Glow chattered happily on the way.
When they reached the starting point, the cubs lined up. Glow was on one end, with Rill to her left, then Copper, and Cinder on the outside.
Rill spoke up, “I’m oldest, so I’ll call the start.”
Glow tried arguing, “It’s not fair. You always call the start.”
“I’m always the oldest,” he replied with simple logic.
Glow groaned and Copper rolled her eyes. Cinder spoke for them, “Fine. But next time, someone else should have a chance, even though you are oldest.”
Copper smiled at that and got into position to run, waiting for Rill to call the start.
After a few heartbeats, he said, “Ready? GO!!!”
The four cubs took off running. Copper enjoyed stretching her legs, and the feel of the wind in her hair. She could hear Cinder to her right and Rill to her left, and she could tell Glow was not far behind, either.
As she neared the treeline, Copper couldn’t resist turning her head to see Rill. When she did, her vision blurred a little.
Another group of runners, racing toward the Dentrees. The trees around them were wrong, and the Dentrees too slender before they slid out of view. The runner had no one in front of him, and he’d also turned to look behind himself. A tall girl with golden hair and red-gold eyes was catching up, grinning wickedly. Two paces behind her, a blue-eyed male with ruddy brown hair was reaching forward to grab the one in second place and slow her down. More than a wolf’s length beyond that was a cub with brown hair and hazel-brown eyes that were wide, but smiling. He knew he wouldn’t win, but he was enjoying being included.
The cub called out, “Run! Don’t let her pass you this time!” Copper/the runner turned to face the path again, pushing himself to move faster, not wanting to lose.
The ground shifted beneath him, and shooting pain (should this be here?) brought Copper back to herself as she stumbled and hit the ground; ground that wasn’t where she’d seen it a moment ago.
“Copper!” Rill called out, slowing down and kneeling next to her. “Are you all right?”
Cinder and Glow caught up to where she lay on the ground clutching her ankle and biting back tears while Rill stared at her with a helpless expression.
“No,” she answered Rill’s question. “I don’t know what happened, but it hurts… bad.”
“Willow’s away hunting, so we can’t just go and get her,” Cinder said simply.
“You’re right,” Copper agreed, her disorientation fading as she went through the logical next steps. “I just sent to Father, though. He’ll be here soon. He knows how to take care of things like this, I’m sure.”
“We could help you toward the Dentrees,” Cinder suggested.
“No,” Copper shook her head. “I think we should wait for my father. He’ll be here in a moment.” Though she was two hands and two turns of the seasons old, she always found comfort in her father’s presence, and preferred to be with him or her mother when sick or injured. And her gut feeling was also not to try to move the injured foot too much.
At that, the cubs looked toward home and saw the dark-haired scout approaching, a concerned look on his face. “What happened?” he asked the cubs.
Rill, who had been closest to Copper when it happened, spoke up, “We were racing toward the Dentrees, and Copper looked back at us. It was weird, almost like she didn’t see us, but then she stumbled, and the race was over. She’ll be alright, won’t she?”
Farscout had knelt during Rill’s story, and was examining his daughter’s left foot. He held the heel in one hand and pressed on the outer edge of the ankle with another. Copper winced, but did not cry out. When he tried moving it, she tried pulling away.
“I’m fairly certain it’s sprained, Copper. You shouldn’t put any weight on it for a day or so. It’s the kind of injury that heals with time and rest, though when Willow returns, you could ask her to speed it along.”
Copper nodded solemnly, her eyes wide and gazing with love and appreciation at her father. He pushed back into a squat, then pulled her into his arms and stood. “Let’s get you back to the Holt, then,” he said.
Later that night, Copper sat on a branch outside her den, left foot propped up on a folded fur in front of her. She looked up through the branches toward the night sky and thought about the race she had witnessed through another’s eyes. She knew somehow it was a memory, but didn’t know whose, nor did she know how to ask about it without giving away that she experienced this kind of thing. She wasn’t sure why she had them sometimes, or what to do about them, but the one today had distracted her to the point where she’d gotten hurt.
She wondered if the front runner had been injured, too, or if she had really just twisted and sprained her ankle. She figured she may never know.
“Copper!” Crackle’s voice called from beneath her, interrupting her thoughts. “I heard what happened. Want some company?”
Copper smiled. Crackle’s company was always welcome. Maybe the storyteller could help her figure out what had happened so long ago. “Sure,” she responded to her older friend. “Come on up!”
Crackle made her way up the outside of the Dentrees and and found her favored resting spot on a branch near Copper’s. “Rill told me all about what happened. He said you twisted your ankle somehow, and sprained it pretty badly.”
Copper nodded. “Yes. We were racing. I looked back to see where he was at — I didn’t want him to sneak up or around me.”
“It’s always tempting to look behind you when you’re running,” Crackle said with the voice of experience. “You know, you’re not the first one to be injured in a race.”
Copper sat up suddenly, looking at her friend. “Do you have any stories?”
“A few,” Crackle said with a smile. “Let’s see… Honey was injured in a race with Greenweave and Fletcher — they went from the Dentrees to the river. Honey lost, but when she reached her opponents, they stepped away, hoping she’d just run into the river. They hadn’t realized she was going to jump on Fletcher, expecting him to catch her, and when he’d moved, she tumbled in, landing wrong and hurting her ankle.”
Copper chuckled, not at the thought of her elder getting hurt, but at the thought of the splash. “I bet Honey was upset about it.”
Nodding, Crackle added, “She was, but she milked it, blaming Fletcher, and demanding he carry her back to the Dentrees, and then that he wait on her all day. When he got tired of her, Greenweave helped her — they were best friends when they were cubs, did you know that?”
Copper’s eyes widened. “You can’t tell that these days.”
“I know!” Crackle said. “At least Honey’s not at his throat any more. They even seem to get along, or at least tolerate one another.”
“I’m glad,” Copper said quietly. “I like her better when she’s nice.”
“I think everyone does,” Crackle responded.
“Do you have any other stories for me?” Copper asked. “And could you tell it better than the last one?”
“Hmmm…,” Crackle thought out loud. “Let me think… Oooh! I remember. Snowfall told me this one when I was a cub.
"Your grandsire, Lynx, was only two hands and two when he and Milkweed got into a tussle — that was Hooksharp’s name when he was a little cub. As Snowfall told it, they were fighting over a favored stump to sit on by the river. Milkweed had gotten there first, but Lynx was older, by like a hand full of years, and didn’t want to give up his favorite spot. He offered Milkweed a trade, even offering to let him use his fishing hooks, but Milkweed knew that Lynx just wanted the stump, and the young cub was stubborn and didn’t care that he was provoking the slightly older boy.
"Well, Lynx got mad about it and knocked Milkweed off the stump. Then, after Lynx sat down, Milkweed spat on him. That rose Lynx’s ire, and he pushed his friend down. Soon, they were rolling on the ground fighting. When Shyheart and Minx happened upon them, the pair was scuffed and bloody. The mothers separated their sons and got the whole story. Shyheart made Lynx apologize, and he did, but he still didn’t want to give up his favorite spot, and he was sullen for a while. He sat on a rock nearby, waiting for Milkweed to get up and leave.”
Copper could practically see her grandsire sitting on the rock near the river, and she could sense Milkweed’s turn to look at him. She heard him saying what Crackle was telling her.
“‘Let’s have a race then, Lynx,’ Milkweed said to your grandsire,” Crackle continued.
“Lynx asked why, and Milkweed told him they would race for the right to sit on the stump any time they were at the river together. Lynx agreed to it, believing he would win. But then they started racing, and Milkweed, who had determined the course, was able to move under and over branches just a bit quicker than Lynx. Eventually, when they had to go under a patch of briars, Milkweed got through, but Lynx got stuck. They sent for Cedarwing, who came and let your grandsire out.
"Once he had all the briars pulled out of him, Lynx decided he didn’t like the stump anymore anyway, and said Milkweed could have it.”
Copper laughed at the image of her grandsire stuck in the briars, and she could sense Milkweed laughing, too. She didn’t share the impression with her friend, knowing it was better to keep silent about it. She was tempted to ask whether her friend knew of any other races, in hopes of finding out about the one she’d seen, but she didn’t know if Crackle would even know that story, and there wasn’t a really good way to ask her about it.
Crackle stretched, then asked, “So why were you four racing today?”
Copper decided she didn’t mind the change of conversation and answered, “Glow started it, really. She suggested a race, but then your brother said I never want to do anything fun with them.” Her face clouded over a bit, and she looked away from Crackle, obviously still a little annoyed over the statement.
“Sounds like something he’d say,” Crackle answered. “So you decided to run and prove him wrong.”
Copper nodded. “He gets to me a little more than the others do,” she admitted.
Her friend crinkled her nose. “I think he does that with more than just you, Copper.”
“I suppose so,” she answered. “I just think sometimes he acts too puffed up.”
“Maybe he thinks the same thing about you?” Crackle asked carefully.
Copper thought about it. She didn’t think she acted puffed up, but if others perceived that in her, she was a little saddened by it. “I don’t want him to think that about me,” Copper answered. “Do you think I act puffed up?”
Crackle shook her head. “Not really. I think you’re more… aloof sometimes. And I don’t think that Rill, or sometimes Glow, always understand that about you. Cinder seems to accept it more.”
Copper smiled at the mention of her favorite among the cubs. “Cinder does,” she agreed. “He just understands me better, I think.” Copper paused to consider something. “But it’s not wrong to be aloof.” Her pale violet eyes sought confirmation of that from her older friend.
“Of course it isn’t,” Crackle said. “It’s just that sometimes others might think you’re disinterested, or worse, that you’re not caring. It’s just something to be aware of. I don’t think you should try to change. I rather like you just the way you are.”
Copper smiled at that. She was glad to have such a good friend. “Thanks, Crackle. I like you, too.”