The scent of rain hung thick in the air, but the sun was shining once again. Mid-summer storms were becoming more of a daily occurrence, and the rain was welcome, but storms also brought delays. Newt slung his pack over his back and headed toward the clearing in front of the Dentrees to meet up with the others.
Honey was already there, astride Mooncrier. He could sense her impatience, and he grinned at her. As he had hoped, she smiled back at him.
Suddendusk arrived next, flanked by his ageing wolf, Icemane, and Newt’s Browncoat. Newt noticed that Highpoint and Murkfur were also present.
“You’re not riding Icemane, I take it,” Newt said.
“No. Murkfur’s rather insistent, but I know Highpoint is a good lookout. I’m thinking maybe both could come. Icemane may stay here at the Holt this time,” he added quietly.
Newt nodded. Suddendusk’s wolf was one of the oldest in the pack. The trip to Eagle Bay was an unnecessary one for the inventor’s bond, and it was a wise decision not to bring her.
Rill rode up with Softjoy, calling to his father, who greeted him with a frown and stated, “I’ve already told you you’re not coming with me. Your mother has plans to take you hunting.”
Rill crossed his arms, pouting. Tears filled his eyes, and he pleaded, “I’ve been on small hunts with her before, and we’ll go again. I’ve never been to Eagle Bay before. Please, father? I’d also like time with you — you’ve been away a lot.”
Suddendusk looked like he was struggling with the decision. Then Newt could sense the cub’s father sending, most likely to Quick Fang. After a few moments, he smiled. “All right Rill, go pack your bag, but make haste. It’s time to leave.”
The cub let out a shout of joy and raced toward his den. Softjoy whined softly, then curled up at the base of the Dentrees to wait.
Windburn arrived, oblivious to what had just happened, with Fireweed beside him. Windburn looked around, then asked Newt, “Where are your fathers?”
Before Newt could answer, Cloudfern and Greenweave approached from the area of the Craft Dens, walking hand in hand. Crowsong and Pounce, their wolf-friends, followed them.
Windburn addressed the small gathering. “If we wait until we’re certain of the weather for hands of days, we’ll never make it to Eagle Bay and back. There’s fish to be caught, though, and now is the time.” He smiled at Newt and the others. “Are you all ready?”
Two shrill voices, and flutters of yellow and blue brought Foamspray and Gurgleflap to the gathering. Newt nodded, thinking that the pair of Preservers made sense. Foamspray loved the water, and Gurgleflap was fearless. And having the pair along meant that, should something unforeseen happen, there would be wrapstuff aplenty. And… it meant bringing back fresh fish to the tribe.
“I’m coming!” Rill called as he raced back toward the group. “I’m packed.” He ran toward his father, holding out the bag he had prepared. “See?”
While Suddendusk examined his son’s travel pack, Windburn asked, “Rill’s coming? I thought he was staying with his mother.”
Newt sent to his chief what had occurred before his arrival, and Windburn nodded, smiling. Once Suddendusk looked up, smiling because Rill had packed well, Windburn gave the signal that it was time to leave.
Newt mounted Browncoat, choosing to ride in the beginning. Rill and Softjoy walked on his left, while Honey and Mooncrier moved to walk on his right side. Cloudfern, Greenweave, Windburn, and Suddendusk chose to walk at first, and the small group set out.
The day before, the occasional storms had given way to violent thunderstorms and unending rain. The winds had picked up, giving the fishers warning, and they had managed to find a small, unoccupied cave to hole up in while waiting it out. Newt had watched with some concern as the mini-pack of wolves had headed out, following Mooncrier’s lead.
Newt was certain the wolves were all right, but still felt some concern for them. Rain like this could cause flash floods, mudslides, or any number of other dangers for the wolves. It was dangerous for the elves, too, which was why they remained in the cave.
Cloudfern had risked the storm to shape the trees just outside the cave, making the area inside seem bigger — though in reality he had simply made a larger roof. The six elves were then able to stretch out a little, and Newt felt he could breathe just a little better.
“Thank you, Cloudfern,” he heard Honey say to his father. She continued, “It’s a good thing you came with us!”
Newt watched as the plantshaper gave a small smile in return, stating, “It never hurts to have a plantshaper around. Brightwood’s out on patrol, and Evervale didn’t really want to leave her lovemates behind. My family was coming on the trip, so I’m glad I could be with them, and glad I could be a help.”
In the past, Newt knew, there was no way Honey would have come on this trip. But she had changed, and he was glad for it. Both Honey and Greenweave were descendents of his brothers, and it was nice to have them getting along.
Thoughts of his brothers made him speak up. “You know, there’s only so much sleep one needs. We slept most of the day, and I’m ready for some stories. Everyone here knew my family longer than I did. Even if I’ve already heard most of the tales about them, could any of you tell me tales you haven’t shared with me before?”
He looked around. The others were nodding, their eyes thoughtful and reflective. Newt guessed they were having a hard time coming up with untold tales.
After a bit, Windburn spoke up. “I was pretty close to Strand when I was a child.”
Newt scooted closer to where Windburn sat cross-legged on the ground. He noticed that Honey’s attention had turned toward the chief as well, and she moved to sit next to Newt; Strand was her grandfather, though Newt remembered from conversation that she had never met him. He leaned on his niece, putting his head on her shoulder.
Windburn continued, “One of my first memories of him involve paint. I must have been about four turns of the season old when I toddled down to the wrapstuff dens and found him working on the murals. My mother wasn’t far behind, but Strand didn’t seem to see me as an intruder, and when Easysinger offered an apology, Strand shook his head. ‘Let him see,’ he told her.
“So I moved closer and looked at the images, not understanding at that point what everything meant. And then I noticed the bowls of paint. He told me to pick a color, and after I pointed to yellow, he told me to put my hand in it. Mother knew a mess would result, but she said nothing, watching in silence as Strand guided my hand into the paint, and then onto the wall. I was fascinated at the print I had made and wanted to make more.
“Strand told me that he would let me paint something else another time, but that he had to finish working right then, so Mother scooped me up and took me up and out of the den. I howled and howled, wanting to go back to Strand and the paint.”
Suddendusk chuckled, and Newt turned to look at Windburn’s uncle. Rill shifted in his father’s lap to turn and look up at him. Suddendusk smiled at his son, then said, “I remember that day. And I recall seeing Strand hurry up out of the den, bowls of paint with him. He hurried to find a place where you could paint, and sent to your mother and father that you were welcome to come back. Blacksnake wouldn’t let you go until you’d calmed down, though.”
Windburn nodded. “He told me that howling for something lost wouldn’t bring it back, but that if I could accept loss with grace, it would make finding or getting that much better. It didn’t make sense to me at that age, but the sound of his voice was soothing, so I calmed down, and probably even took a nap.”
Suddendusk laughed. “Strand waited until sunset before you came out of your parents’ den, ready to paint, and he spent the night helping you with mixing colors and painting both rocks and trees. The Holt looked like the morning after New Green Bliss for days.”
Windburn gave a quiet smile. “Strand was patient, and kind. After that, I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. As I grew, he taught me not only about painting, but about making and mixing paints, and making brushes.”
Newt found himself grinning. He wondered whether he would have grown into painting if he’d grown up with Strand. He thought… maybe. He had developed as an herbalist because of Cloudfern’s love of the craft, and he was pretty good with knots and nets. Perhaps he would have been more like Windburn and Strand, had his father not died.
Suddendusk interrupted Newt’s thoughts, speaking to Windburn, “You took it really hard when he died, I remember.”
“I felt I’d lost a father,” Windburn confessed quietly. “I think Strand and I were closer than my own father and I were; I felt he understood me better. When he died, I felt alone again, and realized just how far apart Father and I were. Strand always seemed to see the best in me; to see the best in others. I was lucky to have him care for me in me that way.”
Newt smiled, then added, “Just like you all have invested in me, and in the cubs of the tribe.”
Greenweave laughed. “Every cub is loved and cherished by all — it’s just that everyone shows it differently. Strand had a way with Windburn, and it helped make him the chief he is today.”
Windburn brushed the compliment aside, then asked, “Who’s telling the next story?
With a hard ride, they had reached Eagle Bay earlier in the day. Newt had stayed covered up and under shade most of the time, taking his turn for sleep earlier than the others. When he’d wakened, Cloudfern gave him a skein of ointment to keep the sun from harming his skin, and sent him fishing. Suddendusk and Rill were just lying down to take a turn at sleeping, and Honey was already by the oceanside — she would move into a lookout position, watching for humans, who were known for using their boats and fishing in the bay.
Windburn and Greenweave were there, nets ready. Greenweave had stripped off all of his clothing, and waded in until he was almost waist deep before casting his net. Cloudfern was looking appreciatively toward his lifemate. As she passed him, Honey noticed the direction of Cloudfern’s gaze and had stopped to take a look as well. Newt almost laughed at the sight of the unusual pair, then stepped closer to Windburn and took the other end of the net he was holding.
During the time in the cave, Windburn had shared about his relationship with Strand, and Suddendusk had shared about both Newt’s fathers. Honey and Greenweave had listened intently to both storytellers, and they had shared their own stories about Tossfur and Birdcatcher. Windburn’s openness was surprising — Newt wondered if it was because of Honey and Greenweave — some of his oldest friends. Whatever it was, Newt was appreciative. The small group seemed to grow closer during those stormy days, and Newt could see evidence of it all around him.
He noticed Honey hurry away to her watch post, and noticed that Cloudfern had headed back to the camp, likely to get herbs ready for the fish.
“You seem to be enjoying this trip, Newt,” Windburn observed.
Newt smiled. “It’s peaceful. For as much tension as there has been between my fathers and Honey, they’ve gotten along. For as much tension as the tribe has been under since the Fierce Ones were seen, we’re here, fishing. Sometimes it seems as if the bad times are just dreams.”
“If only that were true, Newt,” Windburn said quietly. “Then your blood-fathers would be here, too.”
Newt shook his head. “They are here.”
“You know what I mean,” his chief replied.
“I do. But do you know what I mean?” Newt countered.
“Maybe not,” Windburn admitted. “Enlighten me.”
“Strand and Turtle might have died, but their spirits are still here. And their immediate descendents, Birdcatcher and Tossfur are gone, too. But Greenweave and Honey are still here, and they remind me of my fathers. You and Suddendusk are able to share memories of them, and it’s like they are alive, even if only while you’re speaking of them. We can’t bring them back to life — no one returns from the dead. But they live on anyway.”
Windburn’s face clouded over for a moment, but then he nodded slightly. In a low voice, he shared, “I understand. It’s like that with my lifemate. When I look at Cinder, or even Foxtail, I’m reminded of her. That’s what you mean?”
Newt felt shock that Windburn was sharing something so personal. Hesitantly, he nodded and said, “Yes. Like that, and like when you talk with Snowfall or Nightstorm. Or when you look at Flutterby and remember its attachment to her. She’s alive everywhere you look, when you want to see her.”
Greenweave called over his shoulder, “There are plenty of fish here, you two, if you care to put your net in the water.”
Windburn chuckled quietly. “He’s right, you know. Let’s enjoy the moment.”
Newt complied, stepping into the water up to his knees and lowering the net. For some reason, he didn’t want to give his chief the last word this time. “I have been.”
There had been plenty of fish, and the elves carefully pulled travois full of the wrapped seafood. On the walk back, there had been only a few storms, and the weather was warmer. Newt could smell blueberries, and as they neared the Holt, he broke away from the small group to gather some. He wanted a few moments to reflect on the journey to Eagle Bay and back before returning to the Holt and his friends. He expected to have to share every detail, and even looked forward to doing so.
Windburn had told him that on the morrow, a group would be heading back to Bluestone Cave. He’d asked Newt if he was all right with leaving so soon. Newt had told him he didn’t mind, that he was as happy there as at the Holt, so long as he wasn’t there alone.
Newt knew there would be more chances for blueberry picking, as the season had just started and the berries had just ripened, but his thoughts went back to his parents, and he wanted some time to think of them by himself.
While on the journey, he’d learned much about his fathers, about Lacewing, and about his brothers. Each had lived life to its fullest, in their own way. It saddened him that his fathers had fought and had become estranged. It saddened him that Turtle had died so soon after Lacewing. He felt joy at the thought of Strand’s joy in finding a young elf to invest in. He was even more happy to think that Widnburn might some day teach Newt, or Newt’s children, should he ever have them, to paint, and to carry on that tradition.
He was happy about how the small group had gotten along, and happy at Suddendusk’s enthusiasm for life and for family. He thought of how Suddendusk had managed Recognition to Quick Fang, and how he had almost lost Windsong in the process. Newt was happy that Crackle’s parents were still together so many turns of the seasons later, even after some hard times.
He was also happy that the tribe was still together, though everyone had been scattered for days and moons on end. No one had died, though the Fierce Ones had returned two turns of the seasons before. Everyone was working together, and he was part of it. He didn’t know how long the tribe would continue with their rotating assignments, but he was grateful for those moments when they were all together. He loved his tribe, both its memories, and it’s Now.