Bowflight and Finch were away — they had left a few days before with Blacksnake, Easysinger, Whitestag, and Flash to hunt outside the Thornwall. They had left their four turns old daughter, Willow, in her aunt Windsong’s capable hands. Normally, Kestrel would have offered to help, but she was out on patrol, and Boar wasn’t the most attentive of grandparents. The cub’s other grandparents, Sunlight and Raven, were out near the Thornwall with Cloudfern, making repairs to areas damaged in a recent storm.
Three nights after the cub’s parents left, an uncharacteristically grumpy Windsong was complaining to Honey, Greenweave, and Rainpace that she’d had no idea how difficult it would be to be the cub’s primary caregiver. Windsong said, “She’s worse than Notch was at this age.”
Rainpace replied, “She must be giving you fits. You’re not usually like this.”
Honey interjected, “She can’t really be that bad, Windsong. If you just…”
Windsong cut her off. “If I just what, oh you who knows everything about caring for cubs.”
Greenweave spoke up in Honey’s defense, “Windsong, she’s just trying to offer some help.”
“I just don’t see how it would be so much easier for her — it’s not as if she’s had a cub of her own, either!” Windsong fired back. Then she sighed and held up her hands. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to snap. I’m just so tired. I’ve hardly slept. Willow kept me up most of the day.”
Honey felt compelled to speak up. “If you wanted to take a nap, or get some sleep, I’d be happy to help.”
Windsong looked at her, eyes wide in disbelief. “You’re not serious. Not after how she’s been…”
Honey grew defensive. Why wouldn’t she offer to help? She was capable of caring for cubs and had taken care of Windsong when she was a cub. “I can care for cubs, or do you not remember?”
Windsong looked down, then sent, **We had fun together when I was a cub, didn’t we? playing tag, picking flowers, making mud dens**
Honey smiled at the memories and nodded. “We did,” she answered.
Windsong grinned. “All right, then. If you’re sure you’re up for it, I will accept your offer of help.”
Honey replied, “Of course I’m sure.” Willow couldn’t possibly be behaving as badly as Windsong was making her out to be.
Windsong didn’t give Honey a chance to change her mind as she turned to leave. “And, again, I’m sorry for getting defensive with you and Greenweave.”
Greenweave spoke up, “All is forgiven.”
Honey added, “Where is Willow?”
The cub wasn’t far. She was near the Gathering Den, staring at something nestled down in between the roots. And when Honey approached, Willow didn’t hesitate to point her new find out.
“Lookit,” the cub said, extending a chubby index finger in the direction of the roots. “It’s a pretty frog.”
“It is pretty,” Honey replied, squatting down so she could have a closer look. “But it’s not a frog. It’s a toad. See?”
Willow’s brow furrowed. “Frog.”
“No, it’s a toad.” It was Honey’s turn to point at the creature. “See how the skin is all like leather and not shiny. That’s one of the ways you can tell it’s a toad.”
“It’s a frog!” Willow exclaimed, then reached down and scooped the creature up in one hand. The frightened amphibian immediately started to urinate all over Willow’s hand. With a squeal that Honey wasn’t sure was one of surprise or delight, Willow tossed the still-peeing creature directly at Honey’s chest. It plopped wetly on her before it fell to the ground and bounded away in fright.
Honey wasn’t thrilled about getting frog pee on her clothing, but figured it wasn’t the worst that could happen either. She was more annoyed at the cub’s insistence that the creature was a frog — it was important for cubs to learn and to discern between different types of animals. Those thoughts crossed her mind, even as a frustrated, “Ughhh, Will-LOW!” escaped her mouth.
The cubs eyes widened and she looked like she was going to cry, but then she scowled, then immediately grew mischievous. “Toad-pee Ho-NEY!” she shrieked, then turned and ran.
Honey’s eyes narrowed as she chased the small cub toward the river. It wasn’t a place for any cub to be unsupervised. Honey picked up her pace and caught up with Willow, scooping the girl up. Willow kicked, squealed, and then twisted in Honey’s arms, finally sinking her teeth into the earnest cubsitter’s arm.
“OWWW!” Honey said, deliberately dropping Willow onto the ground. Then, growling, she gave Willow a cuff on the nose in reprimand. At the same time, she sent, **No biting.**
The blue-eyed cub looked up at Honey in shock, tears pooling.
“You. Bit. Me.” Honey stated plainly. She examined her arm and saw blood pooling where Willow’s teeth had been. Instinctively, she put the wound to her mouth, licking it clean. Later, she would wash it to prevent infection. When she looked back down at the cub, Honey almost felt bad, but she knew she was justified in punishing Willow. While a nip here and there could be tolerated, this was more than just a nip and wasn’t behavior to be encouraged.
For some reason, Willow was reminding her of Flash. She thought of her half-sister for a moment, wondering what the vixen was up to, and remembered that Flash was out hunting. ‘At least one of my problems is grown up and away from the Holt. Now for this one.’ As she thought it, Willow began howling because she had been scolded.
Honey sighed in resignation and held out her arms. “Come here.”
But as she went to pick Willow up, the little female was going to have none of it! She defiantly barked, “No!” at her elder and took off, at a full run, toward the Holt’s River.
“Hey!” Honey cried, and scrambled after the cub. Willow’s cries of frustration quickly turned into giddy giggles as the cub led her caretaker on a merry chase through brush, over rocks, and around the trunks of large trees. Try as she might, Honey couldn’t seem to catch Willow. How was a little cub so fast?
That game finally came to a stop when Honey rounded a bend and saw the last little bit of Willow disappear into a small hollow in a rotting log. Honey carefully approached the opening, then squatted down to see Willow grinning smugly at her from within.
“You can’t get me!” the cub proudly announced as she wedged herself as far back in as she possibly could.
For a moment Honey considered wiggling herself into the hollow and grabbing the cub, but she knew such an action would be pointless. She felt trapped, though she was the one outside. She groaned in frustration, tears pricking her eyes and she said out loud, though she doubted little Willow would care, “This is what I get for being kind and offering to help watch you. I really hope that you grow up to be worth all this trouble.”
Then, Honey sat back, facing the entrance to the rotting log. As long as Willow was in the hollow, she wasn’t getting into any more trouble. Chances were, the cub was tired, and would fall asleep waiting for an opportunity to leave. Either way, Honey was going to sit, watching and waiting.
And wait Honey did. From the safety of her hiding hole, Willow began to sing a chorus of, “You can’t get me!” over and over again. She seemed to take pleasure in seeing how many different ways she could sing the phrase. When she finally grew tired of that, the cub rolled over on her back, put her feet up on the rotten log above her head, and squealed in delight when a shower of wood and dust rained down all over her. Her new game became kicking at the crumbling tree harder and harder to see just how much debris she could bring down each time.
The scent of rotting wood increased as more and more rotted pieces fell as a result of Willow’s kicking. Honey knew the cub didn’t realize the danger she was putting herself in. “Willow, stop.” she stated, hoping that the tension in her voice would bring quick obedience.
It didn’t. Willow kicked again, and a chunk fell, landing on her belly. “Ooomph,” came out of the cub’s mouth, and she stopped for a moment, looked at what was on her stomach, then tossed it toward Honey.
It fell short, and as Honey watched Willow kicking some more, her ears tuned into the shifting of earth and her nose to the smell of dirt. Willow was destroying the rotted tree, and was going to bring it all down on herself. If that happened, Honey would get the blame for not stopping her, and the cub could end up injured — scratched and bruised for certain, but of more concern — the mold growing in the tree as it broke down could get breathed in, and Willow could become very sick.
Honey crawled forward, reaching for one of Willow’s appendages. As she did, she sent, **Coming to get you. You can’t stay in here. It’s not safe. your cave falling in around you, not able to breathe, hurt.** Honey emphasized the images, hoping Willow would listen this time.
But Willow wasn’t going to listen. She gleefully laughed when Honey sent. When Honey reached for her, the cub kicked the log again and again with all of her might… until her feet went straight through the rotten wood. Wood and dirt rained all around. Willow’s giddy laughter turned into a loud, piercing scream that ended in panicked tears when she tried in vain to get her legs free. “STUUUUUUUUCK!”
“Oh, High Ones, Willow, stop screaming!” Honey snapped at the her, while internally wondering what in the world she was going to do. The cub’s hair was full of debris, and the tiny cave was growing smaller. Willow was wiggling and fighting the entrapment still, and Honey could picture what would happen once it collapsed completely.
Honey reached forward and grabbed hold of one of Willow’s arms, pulling on the child, who cried out, “OWWWW. You’re hurting me!”
Honey recalled the stuck foot and wondered how to dislodge it. She let go of Willow and backed out. The cub saw Honey was leaving and yelled, “Don’t go!”
Honey sighed, then sent, **Getting your foot free,** as she looked toward where it had kicked an opening. She saw the tiny terror’s appendage and carefully knelt, so as not to cause a cave-in. She sent, **Taking hold of your foot to let it loose,** as she grabbed it and slowly slid it back in.
Luckily, the second foot was freed just as easily. However, no sooner had Honey pushed it back into the log, than Willow rolled over and started to shimmy her way out of the hollow. Honey was exasperated. This was all one big game to the cub! This time, she wasn’t going to let Willow run away! When the cub slithered through the opening, Honey reached down and scooped her up. Willow kicked and screamed to be let go, but Honey was having none of it!
**Hush! I’m taking you back to the Holt!**
Then Willow let out a blood-curdling, high-pitched scream. Honey’s ears hurt, and she almost dropped the wily terror, but held tighter and sent, **SHUT UP. It’s not safe.**
The scream stopped immediately and Willow looked up at her with wide eyes. Honey knew it wasn’t the first time that Willow had been told about remaining quiet in the forest, and she guessed it wouldn’t be the last.
Sends from others started coming in, and Willow’s wide-eyed expression turned mischievous again. Honey couldn’t help but notice the feeling of apprehension well in her heart at the thought of what the cub was going to try and do next…
When, suddenly, she saw hands reach out to take Willow from her. Honey looked up and met both Windsong’s gaze and knowing smirk. She didn’t think twice about handing the cub over.
Willow tried to squirm from Windsong’s arms, but the other elf was having none of it. She held firm and wouldn’t let her go. Eventually, Willow — whether it was from exhaustion or defeat Honey didn’t know — settled down. Soon, the cub’s eyes began to grow heavy and she fell asleep.
**Still think it’s easy?** Windsong sent. **You both look like something a wolf chewed up and spit out.**
Honey was exhausted and embarrassed, but wasn’t about to show it. “You knew it would be nothing like when you were a cub, didn’t you?”
“Aye,” Windsong agreed. She seemed more like herself, at least. The nap and time away from Willow had done her good. “I told you she was worse than Notch at that age, but you wanted to hear nothing about it earlier.”
Honey couldn’t argue with the younger elf. She had been so certain cubsitting would be easy she hadn’t stopped to consider why Windsong was so tired. Truth be told, she hadn’t really believed what little Windsong had told her. Bowflight and Finch somehow made parenting look easy. “Good luck with her, then. I’ll never again cubsit for that one.”
Windsong gave Honey a sympathetic look. “Really, she’s not always so bad.”
Honey chuckled. She would not be swayed. “Maybe when she’s sleeping, Windsong. Maybe.” ‘Besides, there are plenty of other elves better-suited to that task,’ she added inwardly, and she made her way back to her den to take a nap of her own.