Ed. Note: this story refers to events that take place in "The Gathering Storm, Pt. 8" and "Pt. 9".
Windsong was silently humming a song to herself as her nimble fingers attached new fletching to an arrow damaged in today’s hunt. Next to her, Beetle was sorting through some herbs in her pouch, looking for High Ones knew what, while Snowfall was cleaning the bones left over from their meal. The wolves lay nearby, idly watching her, even though the geese they had brought down had more than enough filled their bellies. Windsong smiled. Though none of the three elves could entirely forget why they were here in the first place, the tension of it always present, today wasn’t such a bad day.
Snowfall suddenly raised her head, lowering her hands and her expression far away. Almost reflexively, Windsong expanded her senses, trying to hear what the elder did, though she knew it was hopeless. Even if her sending had greatly improved after Willow’s healing, she could never hope to catch a sending from the other lookouts and scouts, and neither did Beetle. A sidelong glance told her that the herbalist had noticed Snowfall’s movement, too, looking over to her. They traded a glance, and Windsong crooked a smile and gave a short shrug before she let her eyes drop down to her work again. Snowfall would tell them what was going on in good time.
However, though she tried, she just could not return her attention to her work. Inevitably, it was drawn to Snowfall again. The storyteller had stood up and turned her whole body in the direction the sending had to come from – Windburn, judging from it. But even though that was nothing unusual for her, a stance Beetle and Windsong had observed often enough the last days, something was off about it. Windsong frowned and sent a short mental touch to Beetle, causing her to look up at their companion again.
Snowfall, when sending over such a great distance, was perfectly still. Everything, from her expression to her posture, spoke of pure and intense concentration and attention. But this time … Though she neither spoke nor moved, it was different. Windsong could not hear her sending but Snowfall’s whole body was tensing up, tightly coiled like that of a mountain lion ready to attack. Over between her Thumper and Beetle’s Rooter, Slychase raised his head, then came loping over to them and went to his elf bond’s side. Snowfall stretched out a hand reflexively and buried it in the ruff around his neck.
Windsong and Beetle exchanged another look, curiosity giving way to alarm. They had no idea what was going on, but judging from Snowfall’s reaction, it was nothing good. Windsong felt herself holding her breath, as if that could keep at bay all the thoughts already clamouring for attention in her head.
It must have been only moments, even if it felt much longer, when Beetle broke the silence, “What’s the matter, Snowfall?” she asked, concern evident in her voice.
The huntress didn’t even seem to hear her at first. From the way she stood, her hand in Slychase’s fur, Windsong was convinced she would throw herself onto his back the next instance and take off. But after a moment or two, a shiver went through her, and her shoulders sagged. No, Windsong corrected herself, you shivered when you were cold. Snowfall was trembling, which was much worse.
“Snowfall?” Beetle stepped forward, extending a hand to her friend. But Snowfall still did not seem to hear her. Instead, she suddenly bent to grab something from the ground, and then flung a handful of stones into the bushes with all her might. Slychase gave a startled jump, and the huntress turned towards her companions. “That boy!” she burst forth. “Wait until I get my hands on him! All the wildness of his parents and no sense at all!”
Beetle and Windsong hurried forward, each of them going to one side of the storyteller. Windsong grabbed Snowfall’s arm and held it, catching her glance and trying to hold that, too. “Snowfall, calm down!” she demanded, putting all authority she could command into her voice. On Snowfall’s other side, Beetle took her hand more gently. “Please, talk to us!” she asked. “What’s going on?”
That at least served to make her acknowledge them, but she pulled away from their grip and started pacing around their small camp, her hands flying up as she exclaimed: “Stupid, stupid cub! Sneaking out of the Holt with his wolf-friend — and what for? To see the humans, Windburn says. Hah! To get himself killed, more like it!”
Beetle’s hand flew to her mouth, her eyes big and round. “Wha— who?” she stammered.
“Rill, who else? Skyfire strike that boy, thinking he’s so clever! If he was thinking at all!”
“Rill?” Windsong’s thoughts immediately went to Suddendusk. She could scarcely believe that her Recognized, overprotective father that he was, could have allowed the boy to slip from the Holt while he was there. But then she remembered that he hadn't been — he and Nightstorm had been sent out with Greenweave to join One-Leg's group.
“And I have no idea what got into Goldspice, either! Sending Willow after him, all on her own!”
“What, Willow and no one else?” Beetle asked, worried. “But I thought—“ She broke off with a helpless shrug. After all, it had been impressed on them time and again that no one went alone right now.
“That’s what everyone thought but Goldspice, it seems! I know there's almost no one at the Holt right now but she could have sent Chicory with Willow, at least! And now it’ll end up getting not only Rill killed, but also our healer!” Snowfall broke off her agitated pacing and sat down suddenly, as if she had spent all of her energy in her ranting and had none left to keep herself upright. “Oh Rill, Rill ... What are we going to do if something happens to you?” she choked, burying her face in her hands. Her voice was thick with tears, and it seemed to take all she had not to let them fall.
Beetle knelt down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “He will be alright,” she assured her, and Windsong found herself hoping fervently fate would not prove her a liar. “Willow is crafty — surely she’ll have him back at the Holt safe and sound soon.”
Over Snowfall’s bowed head, the two younger elves exchanged looks. Windsong worried for the foolhardy boy, of course, but right now she was more concerned with his grandmother’s reaction. She could not recall Snowfall ever losing her composure like this...
**Do you think it’s because of the pregnancy?** a hesitant sending reached her from Beetle, showing that the younger elf was asking herself the same questions.
Windsong considered that for a moment. **Maybe,** she replied but knew she didn’t sound entirely convinced.
The next hours passed in tense silence. Beetle first tried to distract them by making nervous conversation but soon abandoned her attempts when they fell on deaf ears on her companions’ part. Windsong had picked up her work, checking her other arrows for loose fletching, but found herself checking the same arrow three times in a row because she had forgotten if she had already done it before. Snowfall had regained some of her composure but did not even bother to pretend to do anything — she just sat, her gaze going into the distance and her mind obviously far away. Windsong knew that the elder often kept her feelings closed off from others but she had never before felt it the way she did now. Snowfall had drawn up a wall around herself that was almost palpable — she was right next to them but Windsong had the feeling she could just as well be miles away. But there was little they could offer for comfort, not even being able to reach any of the others to ask for news — though there would not be any, she assumed, until Willow had reached the boy and was well on her way back with him. All they could do for now was keeping Snowfall’s company.
Finally, Snowfall raised her head again, listening intently. After a few moments, the tension went out of her body and she turned to the two of them. “Willow’s got him,” she told them. “They’re on their way back.”
Beetle smiled brightly, both with relief and pride in her lovemate. “I’m so glad to know everything’s alright!”
Windsong smiled, too, but as she looked at Snowfall, she saw the strain in the elder’s returned smile, her eyes looking worn and tired, and she could not help but think that maybe some things were not alright.