**All right! I have to land!**
Kestrel received her sister’s sending with amusement, able to hear through it a sense of Fadestar’s laughter, and a faint feeling of the younger elf being out of breath. Quickly glancing below, she eased herself to a landing on an outcropping of rocks atop Seaview Hill, and waited for Fadestar to join her.
Soon the young glider did, landing and quickly sitting down on the stone. She was breathing hard, and despite the coolness of the air Kestrel could see beads of sweat on her forehead, but her wide grin was visible in the bright moons-light. “It caught up to me so suddenly! I felt fine, but then you put on that burst of speed and when I tried to keep up, it started to feel…” She paused, and frowned, searching for the words. “I don’t know, the way my legs feel if I’ve been running for too long, only it’s not a physical feeling, but something inside.”
Kestrel nodded. “It can happen like that when you’ve been pushing yourself for a long time without resting. It catches up with you all at once.”
She had met her sister flying back towards the Holt from checking in with Farscout and Pathmark, themselves on their way home at long last after a long scouting mission. It was Kestrel who had suggested a flying race, as a way to help her sister practice her magic. Fadestar’s gliding powers had emerged over two turns of the seasons ago, but she was still relatively new to her magic, still learning the ways of it and how far she could push herself. Both of their duties to the tribe often took them far away from each other, but Kestrel tried to find ways to help her sister learn whenever they could get together.
Kestrel had led the way, flying as fast as she could from one hill-top to the next around the Holt, urging Fadestar to keep up with her for as long as possible without taking a rest. As the young glider was discovering, it was one thing to fly for long distances, or at great speed, when you knew you could alight somewhere and catch your breath. It was another to try to keep to the air even when you felt yourself tire, and to push yourself harder.
“Will I become better at it? Like you?” Fadestar asked, leaning back on her hands and looking up at her sister.
“You will, if you are as strong a glider as I am,” Kestrel answered with a smile. “And there’s no reason to think you won’t be. But it does take time. You know that to become stronger physically, you must condition your body, and over time you’re able to do more and more. Your magic is similar, although I don’t know that it’s exactly the same thing.”
“I’m already fast, for short distances. It’s just, trying to fly so fast, for so long…”
“Yes. As time goes on, you’ll be able to push yourself farther, or be able to do it for longer. But there will always be a limit,” the older glider warned. “I have my limits, too. You must also learn to listen to your body and to your magic as well, and know when you’re reaching your limits —”
“Before I actually reach them,” Fadestar finished, with a wry smile. This was a lesson that they had been over many times before.
Kestrel nodded. “I don’t have to tell you that flying is dangerous, you know that already. You have to stay in control. You always want to be able to pick when to land, and where, and how gently. Think about how weak you just felt — now imagine you were so desperate that you had to keep flying, or thought you had to. If you don’t recognize when you’re about to hit your limit, you could fall out of the sky, without enough strength left to slow yourself.”
Seeing that her sister’s breathing had evened out, Kestrel held out a hand to help her stand up. “Now, no more sprinting,” she promised. “But I’d like to try something else.”
“What now?” The glint in Fadestar’s eyes showed she was ready for the challenge.
“I’d like to see if you can fly the entire way back to the Holt,” Kestrel said, “even after how hard you’ve been flying for the past few hours.”
Fadestar turned and looked northeast, in the direction of the Dentrees. “How far is it?”
“Far,” the older glider warned. “As far as it would take to ride a wolf in a day — though from here, we can fly straight, while a wolf would have to trot a longer path.”
“I’ve flown that far before, though.” Fadestar sounded puzzled.
“Of course you have — but have you flown that far before, without touching down once?” Kestrel raised her eyebrows, and then nodded at the realization on her sister’s face. “You’re used to being able to land for a quick rest if you need to — and that’s fine, there’s no reason you shouldn’t, most of the time. But there might be times when you want to keep flying that far, or even further. And the only way to become strong enough to do it —”
“Is to do it,” Fadestar finished again, having heard that a great deal from her sister as well.
“Most of the time, you won’t need to do it,” Kestrel admitted. “But sometimes, you’ll want to be able to. Perhaps you’ll need to fly farther to find good shelter for landing. Perhaps you won’t want to waste even a little time by stopping.”
Fadestar’s head turned, and she looked to the west. “And when I’m strong enough to do that, maybe I can fly to the islands.”
Kestrel’s eyebrows went up again. “To the islands?”
“We could fly there, couldn’t we?”
The older glider laughed. “Yes, of course we could — once you’re strong enough. It’s nearly as far from the coast to Twin Peaks island, as it is from here to the Holt. And you absolutely must be able to fly the entire way — there’s no place to rest.”
“That’s what I was thinking.” Fadestar cocked her head. “Have you been there?”
Kestrel had already been thinking about that, trying to find the memories. “Long ago. Very long ago, yes. When I was a great deal younger — with our mother.” She saw the flash of sorrow and disappointment across her sister’s face, and reached out to place her hand on the other’s shoulder in sympathy. “I’m sure when we fly there together, Stormdancer’s spirit will be right there along with us,” she offered.
The young glider still looked sad, but her mouth quirked in a small smile. “Tell the truth — it was Mother’s idea, wasn’t it?”
Kestrel nodding, smiling. “Yes, of course.” It wasn’t something she had thought about in many, many years — she couldn’t remember the last time it had come up. But the memories were coming back to her now. “She said she first flew there when she was young — too young, and she nearly fell in the sea herself getting there. Had to spend the night on the island, resting. Her mother, Butterfly, flew out to find her, since the islands are out of sending range and nobody knew what had become of her.”
“Then she took you there?”
“Yes, when I was old enough — and I wasn’t foolish enough to try it until I knew I could do it! Because Father warned me of what had almost happened to Mother!” she recalled fondly. “But we did go, and touched the top of the northern peak before coming back.”
“Is that the only time you went?” Surprise was clear in Fadestar’s voice.
“Yes, that was the only time,” Kestrel replied, with a shrug. “Even our Mother never went back, that I can remember. She used to say it was boring — a long flight for nothing, because there’s no game to hunt over there, only some seabirds and things like that. And if you want to touch the tops of mountains, we have plenty here on the mainland.”
“I’d still like to go,” said the younger elf, though she sounded a little disappointed.
“And you should! We should. I remember that too — Mother saying that every glider should go at least once.” Kestrel smiled at the memory. “To say you’ve done it. To prove you can.”
“I do want to prove I can,” Fadestar said. “And I just want to see what’s there — even if it’s the same as what we have here. I just — Crackle told a story about it, a little while ago. You know, a Crackle kind of story.” Kestrel shared a grin with her. Since apprenticing as a howlkeeper with Snowfall, Crackle had become better at telling ‘true stories’, but she still couldn’t resist spinning flights of fancy now and then, sometimes based on real events, impossibly embroidered.
“I fear it won’t be nearly as interesting as it must have sounded in a Crackle kind of story,” Kestrel told her, with sympathy. “But of course — work hard at increasing your strength, and your range, and soon enough we’ll be able to go there.”
“All right,” said her sister. “Right now, let’s see if we can make it back to the Dentrees before dawn.”
Windburn found Kestrel as she was sitting with Spark in her lap, enjoying the pleasant buzz of her tribemates gathered around a fresh deer carcass from the chief’s hunt. Fadestar and Pathmark were nearby, entertaining Flicker with a new carved toy, close enough for Kestrel to keep an eye on the other boy.
The chief seated himself next to her. “I heard some story of you and Fadestar racing,” he said, in a voice pitched low enough that it kept the conversation between the two of them.
Kestrel eyed him, but he didn’t sound disapproving. He did, however, sound like there was more on his mind than that. “Yes,” she told him, with a small smile. “I won.”
Windburn gave a small snort. “I don’t doubt it. But,” he went on, “how is she coming along?”
Kestrel glanced over towards her sister, hearing many unspoken questions beneath that one, the same questions everyone always had when a young elf’s magic appeared. How strong would she become? How would her role in the tribe change? Fadestar’s role had already changed greatly, and she was already taking on heavy responsibilities. It was up to Kestrel to make sure that no one asked more of the young glider than she could give. Especially when youthful enthusiasm might drive her to try to do more than she could.
“She’s progressing very well. Even after all our racing, she was able to fly back to the Holt from Seaview Hill with only one stop along the way,” Kestrel reported. And that stop had been brief. “Seeing how far she can fly without stopping is something I know she’ll be practicing through the winter.”
“As long as she practices it safely,” said the chief.
“She will. She has a goal now, and she doesn’t want to set herself back.” Kestrel considered for a moment, then went on. “She wants to fly to the islands.”
Windburn was silent for a while, and then he grunted. “To Twin Peaks, eh? That’s far.”
“Yes,” the elder agreed. She studied his profile. “You’ve never been there?” she asked, although she knew the answer.
He shrugged. “No. It never…” He trailed off, looking into the distance. “It never seemed practical,” he finally admitted, and Kestrel thought she heard regret in his voice.
The elder faintly remembered an incident in which the chief’s older brother, irrepressible Riskrunner, had taken one of the small boats used for candlefish harvests, and had rowed to Twin Peaks island in a race with his uncle Suddendusk. That had been in the reckless days before the black-haired elf had lost his eye. They hadn’t needed rescuing, but had made it to the island and back under their own power -- though they might have wanted someone to rescue them from Blacksnake’s blistering disapproval when they finally made it home.
Windburn had been very small at the time, if her memory wasn’t failing her. He could not remember it himself, but would have grown up on Riskrunner’s boastful stories of the feat — it didn’t matter whether he had won the race or not, and Kestrel couldn’t remember which it was. The sober, practical elf Windburn had grown into would never go on such an adventure just to boast that he could do it. But that did not mean that somewhere, deep down, he might not have wanted to, nonetheless. Not even for the boast, but for the touch of of curiosity, of fancy, that had always struggled in Easysinger’s younger son with his strong sense of duty.
“It isn’t very practical,” Kestrel agreed, out loud. “But it will make a good test for Fadestar. No matter how much she practices over land, she will always know that she can set herself down to rest if she really feels she has to. Flying to the island will stretch her a bit, even while I’m still there to keep her safe if need be.”
“Yes,” said Windburn slowly, though he still seemed distant. Then he shook himself, and looked at Kestrel. “I don’t think the winter is the time to try it, though.”
“No,” the glider said firmly. “But she still has some practicing to do before I’ll be ready to give my approval. It won’t be before next summer, at least.”
“Let me know, when the time comes,” the chief said. Then, with a small smile for her, and a quick ruffle of Spark’s hair, he got to his feet and went over to sit by Goldspice and Chicory and Starskimmer. The brewer laughed and held up one of her stone flasks of some new brew that she was opening to pass around.
Glad to have gotten Windburn’s approval, Kestrel shifted Spark on her lap and watched contentedly as her sister played with Flicker and Pathmark. Fadestar would get her wish for adventure, but they had a lot of hard work to do in the coming turn of the seasons, to make it happen.