Eyes slightly narrowed, Notch watched the scene below with complete absorption. Not even a stray motion shifted the leaves shielding him from the sight of his tribemates below in the clearing. Not even his scent would alert the two conversing elves; as an experienced hunter, Notch had made sure the faint summer breeze which stirred the lingering heat of the day also pushed his scent far away from his prey. In absolute perfect stillness, the usually restless elf held firm and focused, something that surely would worry anyone witnessing both his quiet and his expression. His mouth thinned in an unhappy line as the conversation continued but he remained quiet and simply listened and watched.
“Can you believe all of the funny little things they do?” Foxtail laughed, shaking her head. One bright red curl brushed her cheek and she reached up thoughtlessly to brush it aside once more. "Why would they spend so much time working with those stupid hoofbeasts? I can see why they have to fuss about their plants. Poor things don't seem to have a single plant-shaper amongst them but, really, hoofbeasts? They're only good for one thing."
Rainpace shrugged. "I don't know either," he admitted. The crooked smile that Notch could just barely make out from his perch revealed a sense of sheepish bemusement; his friend had always been ready to admit not knowing something and never seemed to see the opening that gave others. "I suppose they think if the hoofbeasts don't fear them, it will be easier when it comes time to hunt them." He paused. "Though it isn't really hunting if you just walk up to the prey and stick your spear into it, is it?"
"No." Foxtail had no hesitation in her answer and Notch almost smiled. She played her part in their scheme to the top of her not inconsiderable ability but she was still his little fox kit. No matter how she fooled the rest of the tribe, he knew her for what she remained — impatient and headstrong and full of her own worth. "It's boring, is what it is. So is what they have the females doing. Why should they stay at the holt all day and take care of the round-ear cubs? I would go howling mad if you tried doing that to me."
Notch allowed her words to penetrate his sour mood and he smirked. She would, too, he thought. The idea of Foxtail with a cub, being all soft and cooing and passing up hunts to change soiled moss and nurse crying babes... He tipped his head to one side, caught by the idea in some strange way. Then he snorted, just barely a huff of breath that stirred only the closest leaves. His little redhead would sooner...
"Maybe they like it." Rainpace's response cut into his train of thought and Notch craned his neck a bit to better see the other elf. "The round-ear females are different than their males and definitely different than our females," he added, drawing from his turns of experience as a word-hunter. "I think they do most of the teaching in the tribe, actually. Being with the cubs all the time, they talk a lot more than the males and it looks like they help the cubs figure out words, too. Like we do with ours but with less..." He frowned a bit as he searched for his own words. "With less going out and experiencing things? I don't know. If only we could get closer to their holt, we could hear more and learn faster. The males don't talk nearly enough when we see them on their hunts."
Pleased by this bit of logic and observation, Notch nodded to himself. Rainpace always had sense, he thought. He paid attention to things. Even if he never acted on them enough in Notch's opinion. It had come in handy more than once in plotting pranks and adventures. A flicker of something almost like sadness touched the treed elf but he pushed it aside and focused once more on his old friend who continued to speak.
“Which means they have at least some sense.” Rainpace’s bemusement came through in his tone. “A word-filled hunter has an empty belly. It makes our stalking harder, of course. They pay attention to things and stay silent.”
“But they move their hands an awful lot,” Foxtail pointed out. Reasonably and smartly, Notch thought. “I guess that is how they talk without really talking since it doesn't seem they can send. Poor things.”
The honest pity in her voice snapped Notch’s head upwards and he frowned. That was unexpected, he thought. Foxtail caring about something so completely unrelated to her? For Rainpace to think of such things and feel some sort of sadness for the round-ears only made sense. Even after he became a father and a new streak of protectiveness became evident, Rainpace still wanted to know how an elf felt… Or at least how others in the tribe felt. He had been a little less interested in Notch the past number of turns, something the prankster hated to dwell on too much.
It made him feel… Lonely.
Stamping down on the sudden wave of longing, Notch drew back on his perch until he could no longer see his friends on the ground below. The leaves rustled in protest. Silently, he cursed to himself but it was already too late; he heard Rainpace ask, “Who is that?”
A send brushed his mind — Foxtail. He grimaced and hesitated for a moment. Then, with a eye-roll at his own behavior, he scooted further back along the branch until he felt the trunk press against his spine. He waited another instant until he heard Rainpace approaching the tree. Biting back another strange twinge of nostalgia, Notch twisted neatly and slid downwards with all of the speed and grace of a bushy-tailed tree-rat. He landed with a thump and beamed ear to pointy ear at his two startled friends.