Some winter nights are so cold, all an elf wants to do is snuggle under the furs, but on rare occasions, there is an unseasonable warmth that causes them to throw off the furs and waken early. Moonmoth woke earlier than usual due to the warmth, but he discovered that he was the last one up. His parents, Frost and Lynx, had left the den — he remembered they had told him they were leaving around sunset to depart on a hunt. He could imagine Frost leaning over to nuzzle him as he slept, and thought of his father placing a hand on his head to rumple his hair.
Moonmoth smiled at the thought, then sat up, leaned over the bedbowl, and grabbed his boots. Though the air was warmer than normal, there was snow on the ground. The top layer was likely beginning to freeze over as the night slowly grew cooler, but until it did, Moonmoth knew from seven turns of cold experience that his feet would sink, and he’d be up to his knees in it. Standing and pulling on his coat, the young elf headed out of his family’s den.
He thought of where to go, but his stomach’s rumble directed him toward the Gathering Den. The scent of fresh salmon, most likely recently unwrapped, made Moonmoth’s mouth water. Salmon wasn’t his favorite food, but it was a treat. The salmon run in the spring always gave opportunity for the tribe to have their fill, but it also provided for the storage dens, so that the tribe didn’t run out of food.
Stepping into the Gathering Den, he saw his aunt Easysinger and his uncle Leather sharing the food between them. Easysinger looked at him. “Your parents and my lifemate are out hunting, but we were hungry now. Would you like some?” she asked, beckoning him to join them.
Moonmoth nodded and hurried to sit between them. Easysinger bit her filet in half and gave one to him. He bit into it, enjoying the flavor of the orange meat. After the first bite, he glanced at her and said, “Thank you.”
She smiled at him, then glanced at Leather. “I think your Uncle has some plans for you two tonight.”
The cub grinned at that. He enjoyed spending time with Leather. “What are we going to do?” Moonmoth asked.
“Well, Moonmoth,” his uncle started, “first we’re going to the Craft Dens to get gathering bags. Then we’re going to find your grandsire — he’s been working with Sunlight and your sister on his special winter dreamberry bushes, and since the twin moons are going to be full tomorrow night, we want to have lots of berries ready for the howl.”
The cub clapped happily. He loved the happy howls, the ones where the tribe told stories and sang songs, and ate and drank. He knew there were sad howls, such as when elves died, but he had not experienced that in his lifetime. Some of his tribemates’ wolf-friends had died, and the tribe and pack had howled, but those were fleeting moments, and nothing like the big howls. “Can we make some presents to give to others?”
“You mean, aside from the dreamberries, nephew?” Leather asked.
He nodded. Moonmoth loved giving gifts to family and friends, and since he was related to most and enjoyed all the others, that usually meant anyone. His favorite gifts usually included herbs he picked while out gathering with his aunt Sunlight or with his sister, Brightwood. They were especially patient with him, and he loved learning about the plants. He hoped every day that the power to shape plants would awaken in him as it had in them. Cedarwing was a shaper, too, and he seemed to have the strongest powers. The intensity on his grandsire’s face sometimes made Moonmoth nervous, but he knew that he was patient, kind, and generous with his time. More than anything, the cub wanted to develop shaping powers so that he could learn from Cedarwing.
“What kind of gift?” Easysinger asked, bringing Moonmoth’s thoughts back to the moment.
“What if… hmmm. I don’t know. What do you suggest?” he asked them.
“If you’re going to make presents for everyone, why not make one big thing?” Leather asked.
“I don’t have enough time for that, Uncle.” Moonmoth knew he was right. Something so big was an impossible task. He wasn’t even certain he could make small things for everyone. He frowned, feeling slightly discouraged.
Easysinger put a hand on his shoulder, and said, “Why don’t you and my brother head to the craft dens. You may find some help there, if you want to make something.”
Moonmoth’s spirits lifted. Maybe he could get the crafters to help, or even to do it for him so he could still go and see his grandsire. He stood up in a hurry. “Let’s go, Uncle,” he said to Leather. He started to head out the den door, then turned back to hug his aunt. “Thank you,” he whispered, adding, “You’re going to love what I come up with.”
“I’m sure I will, dear one,” she responded.
Moonmoth reached up and took his uncle’s hand, dragging him out of the den and toward the Craft Dens. Moonmoth pulled at his Uncle Leather until they were in sight of their destination, and the cub let go and ran forward, calling, “Grandmother! Grandmother!”
He slowed down as he entered, remembering to be respectful to the crafters working inside. He liked the Craft Dens, and found there was always something interesting being created. From the jewelry that Strand liked to make to the herbal teas and poultices Shyheart prepared and brews that Cider would work on — there was always something happening. He felt just as at home here as he did snuggled between his parents in their den.
His father’s mother called a greeting, “Cub! What brings you here on such a fine night?”
He grinned at her, wrapping arms around her waist and giving her a squeeze. “I want to make something!” he announced.
“Yes, Shyheart, my nephew wants to give something to each member of the tribe at tomorrow’s howl.” Leather had entered the den moments behind Moonmoth. The cub turned and smiled at his uncle.
Then he realized they weren’t alone. Tallow peeked around Shyheart and said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea, cub. Do you know what you want to make? There are plenty of scrap pieces over in that basket,” she pointed behind her to a large nook, where a basket for unused craft pieces sat, filled to the brim. “It would be wonderful if you could use all of it! Then nothing would go to waste.” Moonmoth knew that Tallow tried to use everything and that she rarely discarded something.
Strand, who Moonmoth hadn’t realized was present, either, was sitting in another nook, painting a wooden bowl. He had covered it in white, and was now painting images of dreamberries on it. “That looks like dreamberries in the snow,” Moonmoth said, ignoring Tallow’s offer of the scraps.
Strand looked up, smiling at him. “I know what your grandfather has planned, small one. I’m painting this bowl for tomorrow night’s celebration.”
“What do you think I should make?” he asked the older elves that surrounded him.
They all spoke at once. “A pouch,” “Painted cups,” “Tea,” and finally, “Whatever you want, Moonmoth.”
He grinned. They had all given such good ideas — if he had time, he would love to make more than one thing for each tribe member, but he wanted to be realistic as well. “I like the idea of the pouch… do you think there’s enough scrap leather?” he asked Tallow.
She nodded, and he felt hopeful. “Strand, do you think you could paint something on each pouch? Maybe just one dreamberry, even?”
Strand looked thoughtful. “I think you should paint them, Moonmoth.”
He felt uncertain, but then Leather put his hand on his shoulder — “He’s right, nephew. We will all help you when you need it, but I think this project could be done mostly on your own.”
“All right,” Moonmoth agreed. “But what if I can’t get them all done in time?”
Shyheart smiled at him. “Are you ready to get started?”
“Uhm… I’m supposed to go gathering with Grandfather. I don’t want to let him down.” He didn’t admit that he also didn’t want to miss seeing Cedarwing, or his aunt Sunlight, or his sister, using their magic.
Shyheart nodded in understanding. “You have a difficult decision to make. Either you go and help your grandsire, which will take most of the night, or you stay here and work on the gifts you wish to prepare.”
He bit his lower lip, wishing he could do both. He thought of lugging the scrap basket out to where the dreamberry bushes were being shaped. That would never do — and he would freeze in the snow. He could make the pouches another time and give them to tribemates then, but he really wanted them for the howl. He knew he could always watch Cedarwing and Sunlight, and Brightwood, work anytime, but special howls for double twin moons were special.
“I’ll stay here, Uncle Leather, if that’s all right?” He still felt uncertain.
He could sense a private send passing between his Grandmother and another, then felt his Grandsire’s mind-touch. **Moonmoth, your grandmother tells me you’re going to make pouches for each member of the tribe. Work quickly and well, cub, and be certain to make each pouch large enough for a couple handfulls of dreamberries. I’ll have you stuff those pouches with the bounty we harvest — and you can lay the gifts on Strand’s bowl. We’ll all have a part to play.**
Moonmoth smiled at his Grandfather’s words. He was grateful for his understanding.
The next night, the whole tribe gathered for the howl. Moonmoth had been so excited about his gift, he’d had a hard time falling asleep, but the warmth of his mother and father lulled him to comfort and finally to a dreamless sleep. When he’d woken, they’d still slept. He’d sent to his mother that he was going to the Craft Dens to help get things ready, and she’d given her assent. He had met Strand and Tallow, who had helped him finish stuffing the pouches and lay them in the bowl. Strand carried the bowl, and Tallow and Moonmoth hurried ahead.
When he arrived at the place on the Great Meadow where they would have the Howl, he saw his sister flirting with Farscout. He grinned. He loved seeing them together. Then he looked for his aunt. She was standing near Raven, and talking animatedly with Raven’s mother, Beesting. They seemed to be enjoying their discussion and Raven seemed amused. Moonmoth ran toward them, and Raven turned and caught him as he rushed forward, then lifted him high, throwing him up, and causing Moonmoth to squeal with glee.
Sunlight looked at him, amused. “Do you plan to do that with our cub?”
“Every day,” he replied.
“Good,” she teased.
Moonmoth laughed, reaching out to touch his aunt’s stomach. “Hello, cousin,” he whispered toward the unborn babe. Then sent, **I’m your cousin.**
“One day, the babe is going to answer you,” Raven warned him.
“Really?” he asked. “When?”
Sunlight laughed. “Not for a long time yet,” she replied.
“Oh. Well, all right. Did you two see what I made?” he asked, distracted by the sight of Strand arriving with the bowl.
Beesting piped in, “We heard about it, but we haven’t seen it. Show us.”
Strand stopped, setting the bowl down, but then a purple light began glowing around it. Moonmoth looked for the source of the light. He then saw Strand’s sister, Stormdancer, and her daughter, Kestrel, working together to move the bowl. It flew toward the center of the gathering circle, and landed gently on the ground. The elves who had watched the dancing bowl cheered and clapped.
Easysinger stepped up, looking around the circle. When she saw him, she beckoned him to join her. He ran forward the few steps to where she stood. He wasn’t shy, though, and stood close to her, looking up with confidence in her acceptance of him. “Well, done, cubling,” she said quietly.
Then, she said in her Chieftess voice, “Welcome, all. Tonight we will howl at the twin moons. We will share tales of great joy and success. We will remember gifts given and received. And we will start with the first. My nephew has a gift for each of you — it was his idea, though it was born out of many hearts working together. Our plantshapers have toiled to make dreamberries ready out of season. Strand worked to paint a bowl to hold those berries, and then Moonmoth voiced a hope to give something to each of you. He made those pouches and painted and stuffed them with the berries. Each of you may take one, and remember how much love went into the gifts.”
It was a rather long speech for his aunt, Moonmoth thought. Usually she was warm and friendly. Only when fully Chieftess did she speak like that. He thought it was helpful. She was warm, loving and friendly to all, except for when she needed not to be. It was always clear, never muddy — Moonmoth could tell when she was just his aunt, and when she was his Chief. It was helpful to see the difference. She never took advantage of her authority. He loved her.
He ran to the bowl and grabbed the biggest of the bags, then ran back to his aunt. “This one’s for you and Blacksnake,” he said, knowing he was doing what was right. She deserved to have the first bag.
She grinned at him and thanked him, then shooed him toward his parents. Lynx patted the ground between himself and Frost, and Moonmoth sat down happily to watch as the others gathered their gifts. Then, to his surprise, each one stopped in front of him, laying a gift at his feet. Most gifts were something small in nature, a pouch of dried fruit, a shiny rock, a piece of flint, but others gave a little more.
Moss and his parents lay a new winter coat before him. Moonmoth shrugged out of his old coat and into the new one, which was lined with ermine, and sent his warmth and thanks.
Starskimmer placed a stone knife before him, then kissed the top of his head and thanked him for the pouch of dreamberries. The cub blushed. Ringtail placed a round fur hat in front of him. Moonmoth smiled, took it and put it on his head. He was so happy.
The gifts piled in front of him made Moonmoth feel so warm inside. He hadn’t expected anything to be given to him when he had decided to make something for others. But then his mother leaned over and whispered in his ear. “It is so much better to give than to receive — but you’ll find it is often true that when you give, you will receive so much more in return. Don’t forget that, son.”
He didn’t think he ever could.