It was a small raft, of a size that might be used to send a cubling down the river.
It was a small raft, but all that was needed as there were no bodies to be carried on this final journey.
It was a small raft, too small to Nightstorm to hold the weight of her sorrow. Her memories, her regrets, all the small moments that she had shared with her parents and all the moments that they would now never get could have filled a raft the size of the Dentrees, and still not fill the void within her.
They each had something to place in the raft, the small group of elves most closely touched by the fire. Thornbow and Rainpace were both stoic as they placed their fathers’ belongings in the raft, although Rainpace’s demeanor softened as he returned to and was comforted by his friends. Thornbow remained stiff as he stepped back to his weeping niece. He accepted Greenweave’s touch with a nod, the uniting power of grief briefly overcoming the tension of his sister’s absence. Only at his chief-friend’s hand on his shoulder did his expression falter and the pain show through.
Watching this exchange, Nightstorm felt a moment of thankfulness through her sorrow. Even though she had lost her parents, she was still surrounded by love. On her left Moss stood supported by Longshot, injuries from the fire still fresh, but both were alive and still with her. On her right were her sisters. Snowfall, ever the watchful older sister, had an arm around each of them, their comfort and anchor. Behind them, Windburn and True Edge were a wall of protection, solid and formidable as anything Cloudfern could shape.
She had spent much of the night with Moss and Goldspice in his parent’s den, doing what she could to help tend to his burns while looking for the objects that would tell the stories of these vibrant, complex lives. When the time had come, Longshot had joined them as they made their way to the river, the group of them bolstering each other, their combined will giving their legs strength to make it to this final goodbye.
Moss still had her hand, but dropped it now as Longshot helped him step forward to place his offerings with Thornbow and Rainpace’s. Her newly freed arm entwined with the other, pulling her own bundle tighter to her chest, the well-worn material feeling strangely out-of-place, still alive with Dreamberry’s scent. A memento to honor her mother. Nightstorm’s choice had been easy.
“Puckernuts and prickly paws!”
Dreamberry was not at all surprised by her youngest daughter’s outburst, or by the frustration in her voice behind it. She was surprised when she pulled aside the door-curtain to find Brook hastily shoving something under the furs of her bed-bowl, turning to her mother with a too-bright smile.
“Mother! I didn’t expect you back so soon.”
“Yes, the upper passes were still more snow-covered than we expected. There were several spills, and Fumble sliced her paw on a particularly rough patch-” Dreamberry looked up from discarding her winter gear to notice that although Brook was listening intently, there were tears growing in her eyes. “Dear heart, whatever is wrong?”
Brook tried to wave the tears off, but when she opened her mouth to speak, what came out was a sob and the tears began to flow in earnest.
“Oh, mother! It’s terrible!” Dreamberry joined her daughter on the bed-bowl as Brook reached down to pull out whatever she had hidden so quickly before. All Dreamberry could make out was a balled up lump of fabric. “It’s for New Green Bliss. I was hoping to surprise you, but I just can’t do it!”
Dreamberry took the lump from Brook’s hands and shook it out. From its general shape Dreamberry surmised that it was supposed to be a tunic. The weaving and dying were uneven, looser and darker in some areas, tighter and lighter in others. The stitching was fine in the straighter seams, but more awkward in the trickier areas. Where there were curves or the seams met the fabric had bunched together, raw edges poking out in places, sometimes rectified with an overabundance of stitches in a hard wad. In a few places small trinkets had been attached as decorations, but most of these were either sewn so tightly that the material gathered around them, causing them to stick out at odd angles, or else so lightly attached that Dreamberry feared they’d fall off with anything more than a gentle shaking.
All through her examination the story spilled out.
“I tried so hard! I tried to be like Spidersilk. I sat at the loom and tried to focus like she does, I really did! But I couldn’t! Not for hours like she does. I just kept getting distracted. Next thing I’d know, the thread was all twisted and knotted and I’d dropped the weave.
“Moss helped me with the dye. I tried to do what he said, but I couldn’t believe that the color was right, it looked so different in the pot! When he left, I...I threw some more color in. Then, I guess I got impatient and took it out too soon. It didn’t set right, and now it’s all blotchy. I’m afraid to admit what I did and ask Moss to help me fix it.
“I can’t sew like you or Doeskin. I can’t make everything soft and straight.”
Brook was calming down a little. She drew a breath, fingering one of the oddly shaped decorations.
“I’ve watched Leather carving so often, I was sure I could do it. He makes it look so easy. But it’s not easy. It’s hard holding the blade at the right angle. Your hands get cramped and calloused and nicks and splinters!
“I’ll never be a weaver, or tailor, or carver! I just can’t do it!”
Dreamberry held Brooks hand in hers, caressing the small cuts and still buried slivers. Her heart welled with pride and empathy for her small, head-strong child. “My cub, you are upset that you, at eight turns, cannot do the work five elves who are many times your elder!
“You have no reason to fear admitting your mistakes to Moss. He has taught many a cub, seen things much worse, and weathers it all with a wonderful amount of patience. He would see this as just a step in your learning, and a chance to do better. Leather is likewise a patient and gentle teacher, and I know he would love to share his skills with you once he knows you want to learn.
“And Spidersilk,” Dreamberry paused, considering her middle daughter. “Well, I can’t say whether you’ll ever be the weaver that Spidersilk is. She is one of those elves that seems to have been born with a singular purpose. You may feel that you need to be like your sister, but you probably can’t, and you shouldn’t be. What this tunic shows is that, unlike Spidersilk, you have many interests. But that means you have a lot to learn, and luckily, many elves to guide you.
“Now, you may never be as good at weaving as Spidersilk. Or as good at dyeing as Moss. Or as good at carving as Leather. But you can mix all those skills together and come up with something that is uniquely you.”
She smoothed the fabric out again on her knee. “As first times go, this really isn’t too bad.” She grinned at Brook. “Not near as bad as mine.” She sent an image of an unrecognizable garment: sleeves, or was it legs, of different lengths, an opening at the top too small for either waist or neck.
Brook giggled, but then her face turned somber again. “I’m going to fix this, but I’ve ruined the surprise.”
Dreamberry handed the tunic back to her daughter. “True, I’ll know what you’re doing, but I won’t see it until it’s done, and now I get to look forward to seeing the end result.”
Dreamberry laughed as she twirled in Bearheart’s arms, enjoying the strange sensation of the paint between their skins where they touched. So absorbed in the prospect of the pleasant task of removing even this thin barrier between them, she didn’t notice her youngest daughter trying to get her attention until they almost bumped into her.
Brook beamed with pride as she handed a large bundle to her mother. Dreamberry shook it out to behold her brand new tunic. It was leather this time, well stitched to be closely fitted. The unevenly colored and textured silk had been used to good effect to add strips of color highlighting the simple design. Ingeniously carved clasps ran asymmetrically down the front. At first Dreamberry took the designs to be simple circles, but at a closer look she could see the delicate leaves surrounding them. “Dreamberries!”
Brook’s smile widened, pleased that her mother would notice the detail. “Do you like it?”
The stitching was not as fine as she or Doeskin would have done, the carving not quite as elegant as Leather’s, but their guidance was apparent in Brook’s inexperienced hand. Somehow she had fit it together in a way that was all her own. Dreamberry wrapped her daughter in a tight hug. “ I love it!”
Dreamberry had only occasionally worn the tunic, but any talk of re-purposing the material would always lead to protests that it was her favorite, and she always kept it with the items most dear to her. Nightstorm placed it gently in the raft, her fingers caressing the carved dreamberries that shone in the moonlight, polished by years of her mother’s touches. Whispersilk laid Bearheart’s bow and arrows on top. Filled now with treasured possessions, it gently bobbed in the current, as if the objects themselves were anxious to be reunited with their missing owners. One small push and the tiny raft began its journey, sent off by the swelling howls of loved ones left behind.