“Your cub,” Suddendusk said irritably, placing the tip of his knife against the thin, supple branch.
Moss reared up at once, hackles rising. This was an old song of theirs and he knew his verses in it. He tugged on the soft doe hide lace, making it give a menacing twang as he twisted it and pulled for strength. “What about my cub?” He demanded.
“Your cub,” Suddendusk began sliding the knife-point along the surface with a methodical, rhythmic scraping sound, cutting away bark “is looking at my cub again.”
Moss gave another tug, causing the skin he was fastening to place give a twang all its own. He caught the lace full in his fist and forced it round and round the wooden frame, along and between other laces. “My cub,” he said, chin high, “behaves the perfectly right way for an elf of his age and pack-place. Only the other night, he strung a full eight of birds after only four shots and brought them back.”
“Back to my cub,” the older crafter grunted, drawing back the knife in a sharp gesture.
“Your cub appreciates an able provider,” the tanner said with a puff of his chest and a twist of his hand.
Suddendusk’s eyebrows shot up. “I provide well enough for my cub without your cub’s help.”
Moss tossed his beaded hair back and grinned, fingers dancing between laces. “In some things. In others…”
Hissing, Suddendusk caught a loose shred of bark with his hand and pulled. “You cub is the older, he should know to show restraint.”
“But with your cub pulling him by the nose…”
“My cub knows to be careful!”
“Careful!” Moss sniffed, fastening a knot and fastening again and again. “My cub is the sweetest soul in the holt!”
“So I’ve heard!” Suddendusk twisted the knife-point across the rod. “From Rainpace, and Dreamflight, and Willow, even Foxtail…”
“My cub’s talents are famous,” Moss said smugly. “Your cub is very lucky.”
“Lucky! My cub could have any elf in the holt that she chose!”
“And she chose my cub!”
“She’ll grow out of it!”
“Or he would!”
Suddendusk shifted where he sat, raised a foot, aimed it square –
“Father! Moss! Good moonrise to you!”
The sweet melody of Evervale’s voice made both elders drop their crafts and one of them drop his half-done kick. Flustered, he half-toppled over. Moss dragged himself back a little. Evervale wrapped her arm around Longshot’s waist, and both of them blinked a little at their fathers. “Is something wrong?” The young plantshaper asked innocently.
Moss and Suddendusk exchanged glanced. “No,” they chorused.
Evervale smiled. “Longshot and I are going to the riverside. He found the largest batch of half-ripe dreamberries, and we’re going to see if I can convince some of them to fill up ahead of season.” She nuzzled her lovemate’s neck. “Your arrows hit a mark even when they miss!”
Longshot leaned in to smell her hair, laughing. “It wouldn’t be a mark without you, lovemate!”
“Oh, that’s only luck…”
They stared at each other dreamily for a while. Moss and Suddendusk stared as well, if in a somewhat different fashion.
“Anyway,” Longshot said at last, “by the river, if you need us. You could come too, there are enough berries for all of us – “
“Oh no,” Suddendusk said.
“We wouldn’t interrupt,” Moss said.
Longshot and Evervale exchanged glances, and a secret smile passed there. They left with their heads leaning on each other, red hair and black hair all a-tangle.
In an awkward silence, the two elders picked up tools and crafts again.
Leaning closer, Suddendusk began rubbing handful of sand along the length of the newly carved drumstick, smoothing its fresh surface.
“My cub,” he said, “makes your cub’s eyes light up like a moon-dazzled calf.”
Moss ran his hand along the taut skin of the newly made drum until it buzzed.
“My cub,” he countered, “makes your cub grin so wide her ears might fall off.”
They looked at each other. They looked at each other good.
At which point, rather sheepishly, they decided to drop the argument.