Cold Winter’s Night   2514.12.17*  
Written By: Lyn Cavalier
(2015 Secret Santa) On a cold winter’s night, sometimes it’s best to have some fun.
Posted: 12/28/15      [4 Comments]
 

On cold winter evenings, usually one of the best places in the Holt to be was in the Gathering Den. It was warm, cozy, and filled with the comfort of friends and family. Elves snuggled under blankets and furs, played toss-stones in the space between circles of crossed legs, told stories to children, laughed, betted, sang, ate, drank, and even slept in the company of one another. But it wasn’t always easy to be there.

Sometimes Dreamflight didn’t want to be cooped up. Sometimes she wanted to have fun. And sometimes, the stars shone so brightly in the crisp night sky, that it begged to be played under. This was one of those nights. The cold was bitter and biting, and even the layers of hide stretched over the door didn’t keep it out. Still, Dreamflight wanted to play, and she said so.

“What?” Honey asked. “Tonight? It’s FREEZING out there. Even the inside of my nostrils had a small layer of ice when I went out earlier.”

Dreamflight looked at her mother, feeling exasperated that Honey was nay-saying the idea already. Then again, she hadn’t really expected Honey to go with her. She wasn’t going to give up on the idea, and instead of waiting for others to agree to join her, she undid only a few of the laces on the door, and stepped outside, sending openly to her tribe, **I’m going to Great Meadow. Anyone else who wants to join me out there for some fun is welcome. The rest of you can stay here, warm and bored.**

Before heading toward the meadow, Dreamflight knew she needed to add another layer to her clothes, and she wanted mittens and a head covering that would protect most of her face from the bite of the wind. She ran up to her den, added the layers, then turned and headed back down. When she arrived at the base of the Dentrees, Firecat, Notch, Otter, and Crackle were already there, waiting. Dreamflight marveled, not for the first time, at Firecat’s towering appearance and at how small it made the others look, but she smiled at her, and at the others.

“Let’s go,” Dreamflight said, ready to head to the meadow, though without any real plan.

“Wait,” Notch answered. “I have an idea.” Dreamflight felt a flutter of concern, which grew with what Notch said as he continued, “Let’s get some flint and dry wood. We’ll bring it to the Meadow and make a small fire. That way the night won’t send us shivering back to the Gathering Den.”

Firecat nodded her agreement. “My whole life, we’ve always had fires, every winter on the coldest of nights…” her voice trailed off, and the tall elf stopped talking altogether. It hadn’t been that long since Firecat and the others had been unwrapped, and sometimes the pureblood would speak about things from the ancient past as if they were present.

Dreamflight knew that, for Firecat, those things were recent. She also knew that Firecat understood the depth of time that had passed. And the young fisher could only guess at what it must feel like, those times when the gap between past and present were so close, and so wide. Otter tried putting a hand out to offer comfort to Firecat, and though she smiled at him, she declined the touch. Dreamflight watched hurt flash across Otter’s face, but then she saw him smile again, and try something different. “We do sometimes have fires, but not every winter like it sounds like you did.” Dreamflight could feel the cold nipping at her feet, and she grew impatient. “We could stand here talking all night, or we could head to the meadow. Which do you all prefer?”

Notch grabbed Firecat’s hand, pulling at her. “I know where the best pile of brush and deadwood is. Let’s go get it.”

Otter followed after, “I’ll come, too.”

Crackle looked at Dreamflight and rolled her eyes. “Boys,” she said.

Dreamflight laughed, but secretly thought of Windburn and wished he was coming to the meadow, too. “Let’s go get some fire-tools from the forge,” she offered, not wanting to talk about her crush. They headed toward the forge, looking forward to the night that was to come.

Moss and Goldspice had been in the forge when Dreamflight and Crackle arrived looking for a torch. Upon hearing what the younger elves were doing, the pair had donned winter clothing and followed them out. Dreamflight was eager to see how much wood the other three would bring back, and was happily surprised when Beetle and Willow arrived, bearing their own share of brush.

Then, Firecat, Otter, and Notch arrived. They added their burdens to the pile while Goldspice and Moss dug a hole in the snow. Every elf knew the danger of fire, and though the ground was laden with snow, no one was going to take any chances.

Crackle spoke up, “We should make a wall, of sorts. To block any possible view of the fire from the other side of the river. We wouldn’t want humans seeing it.”

Moss chuckled. “The soft amber hunters, and the more wood-wise humans know better than to be out in cold this bitter. I’ve watched them — on a night like tonight, they’re huddled close as they can around fires in their {bite-skee-ruh’s}. I doubt one would survive the night out in this cold.”

Beetle spoke up, “You’re right about the peaceful humans, but what about the Fierce Ones? They were out in the cold a few winters ago. They didn’t seem bothered by it as much as the ones whose words we hunt.”

Dreamflight felt a chill go up her spine, one that was not from the cold. The mention of the Fierce Ones was a sobering reminder of the threat the tribe had faced. She moved beyond the brush pile and began working on a snow wall. Silently, Willow and Otter joined in. Soon, they were all working on it until they felt confident it would block the low flames that would come from the fire.

Wall built and hole dug, a fair amount of kindling and starting wood was added to the hole. Then, Goldspice, the most comfortable with fire, knelt and struck the pieces of flint together. Sparks flew toward the kindling, which hissed and popped as the smallest pieces caught fire. The tiny light spread, and a fair amount of steam began to rise as the snow surrounding the base of the fire began to melt. Each of the elves had squatted in the snow to get nearer to the flames, though none were so close that anyone was left out. Dreamflight took her own hands out of her mittens for a moment, holding them over the fire. She thought about what to do, then noticed Firecat push herself to standing.

With everyone huddled around the fire, squatting, Firecat looked even taller than normal. “We used to play snow tag,” she said quietly.

That hasn’t changed,” Crackle said happily. “Let’s play now.”

Dreamflight called out, “I’m it,” and those around the fire scattered across the meadow. No one was worried about it spreading now. The pile of brush was upwind, and the fire was small and surrounded by snow.

Dreamflight looked around her, laughing. She knew that Notch would be tricky to catch, and that Crackle was fast and a lot of endurance. Goldspice was strong, Moss was —

THUMP! a snowball hit Dreamflight in the back and she cried out, “What?!?!”

She heard Firecat’s laughter behind her, and turned to face the younger elf. “I’ll bet you can’t catch me!

Dreamflight laughed. The other might be right, but Dreamflgiht wasn’t going to back down from the challenge. Then she noticed another snowball in the golden-eyed elf’s hands. She shook her head, even as she started running toward Firecat. “Oh, yes I can, and you’d better not —”

WHACK!

Dreamflight spluttered at the snowball that hit her on the forehead, dropping snow into her face. **Is this how you used to play this game?** she sent openly.

**Of course,** Firecat responded. With those two words came images of strange elves, all playing in the Great Meadow, a great game with snowballs flying, and at the one in the middle trying to dodge and catch someone. The send was so crisp and clear, Dreamflight forgot herself for a moment.

She’d forgotten that Firecat’s sending was like that. After shaking the images away, Dreamflight looked around. Firecat was nowhere in sight, and neither were the others. She felt she was all alone, but she could sense them, out there on the meadow, waiting for her.

Grinning now, Dreamflight knelt and made a snowball of her own. She would be ready, when she found the next one to be “it,” to get them with a snowball.

They stayed out all night, playing their winter games in between long visits to the fire to warm up. When the last of the kindling was used, the fire slowly died, and before they left, they buried it with snow while Crackle and Otter had fun knocking the snow-wall over.

As the group wearily walked back toward the Dentrees, Dreamflight reflected on the long game of snowball tag. She had managed to catch Beetle, who had caught Willow. Willow caught Notch and Notch caught Crackle, who caught Otter. Otter had caught Dreamflight again, and finally, after the night had all but passed, she’d almost caught Firecat. Almost.

“How did you do it?” Dreamflight asked the tall one as they neared their destination.

“Do what?” Firecat asked with genuine surprise.

“Avoid getting caught,” Crackle answered, obviously wondering the same thing.

“I watched,” Firecat answered. “And I hid, or ran. But mostly, I watched. You know what I mean, Dreamflight — you watch birds, right?”

Dreamflight nodded, wondering where she was going.

“And each of us has experience watching prey,” Firecat added. Then, she explained, “When I was too little to join in winter games, I watched, and I learned about watching others. Dreamflight, when you’re going to chase someone your whole body twitches toward them. So I knew when you were going to chase me, and when you weren’t. It was easy to stay a step ahead of you.”

“What about me?” Otter asked.

Firecat laughed. “You always go for whoever’s closest to you, so I just made sure it wasn’t me.”

Dreamflight observed, “But there were several times you were almost caught. Now you make it sound like avoiding getting caught is a super strong skill of yours or something.”

She heard Willow snort at that, and watched as Notch started laughing, too. Firecat let out a chuckle. “Really, tonight was the best I’ve ever done. I did notice those things about you and Otter, but I can’t say that you all have things that give you away. I was just lucky tonight. Really. Just lucky.”

Dreamflight smiled. She was glad to know that it was luck — maybe she’d be the lucky one next time. Arriving at the Dentrees, they warned those in the Gathering Den that they were coming in. She heard One-Leg yell, “Just be quick about it, the lot of you. We don’t need our nuts or nooks turning blue because you can’t move quickly enough.”

Dreamflight felt herself giggling at the thought. She called out a response, “Maybe in that case we’ll just take the hide off. If you all got up and moved, you wouldn’t be so cold.”

Notch, Willow, Beetle, Firecat, Otter, Moss, Goldspice all filed into the Gathering Den, followed by Dreamflight. They removed their outer clothes and then found spaces underneath nearby blankets. Dreamflight found her mother adding beads to a shawl while sitting with Nightstorm, who was sewing leathers. She slid between them, deliberately putting her icy hands around each of them to offer them a cold hug — and to warm up.

“You should have come with us, it was so fun!” she said.

“It’s cold,” Nightstorm answered simply, not looking up from the seam she was finishing.

“You’re cold,” Honey said plainly. Then, as Dreamflight had expected, Honey wrapped her arms around her.

Dreamflight snuggled into her mother’s warmth, then lay down with her head in her lap. Nightstorm tolerated Dreamflight’s cold feet, and even pulled another blanket up around her. Dreamflight smiled. It had been a perfect night.

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