A tale of Forest Valley Holt
All mentioned characters created by Jessi Levine, ElfQuest © Wendy and Richard Pini
When he came back from leaving her body to the wolves, the den was dreadfully empty, a gaping hole in the Father Tree's surface black inside and cold and dark. Though he hadn't many tears left, the sight of it made them fill his eyes anew. He climbed inside and, lighting no candle, stood at the entrance for a long time, breathing in her scent.
Then he went inside and fell, face-first, on the sleeping furs, his hands over his eyes, body racked by silent, dry sobs.
Hadn't they both known it was bound to happen, sooner or later? A Wolfrider's life is short and quick. They even joked about it more than once, the inevitability; death always lurked in the shadows, and there was no way to enjoy life other than not thinking about it. Hawk always lived in the Now – always taught her brother to make the most of it. The moment was her world, every short moment. And moments could be so short sometimes… in one moment, knocked off her wolf-bond, impaled on the jagged rocks…
They used to talk about it openly, seeing no use in making that big a business out of death. In the lives of hunters like them, it was everywhere.
"I tell you, Coldsong, if you go first, I won't tolerate finding a mess when I arrive!" Hawk laughed, somehow keeping her delicate balance on the branch as she sharpened the arrow expertly. Coldsong reclined against the bark, his head on his arms, and grinned at her with sunny ease.
"When we go, there'll be much older spirits to keep me down," he made a haughty face, crossing his arms, while Hawk hollered. "I am a High One, Hawk! I command you to stop poking fun at your brother!"
She stuck her tongue out at him and pulled back the string of her bow, carefully placing the arrow against it. Blue eyes narrowed, she took careful aim even through the leaves – and then just as she let loose, he jumped towards her with a playful growl, making her miss her mark and almost tumble to the ground.
"Oh – puckernuts! Curse you, Coldsong, I could've had it!" She snapped, catching him and ruffling his silver hair. He laughed, struggling against her much greater strength to wrest free.
"I commanded you to stop, I comma – !"
The memory brought a smile through the sobs, somehow. He turned on his back and gazed at the stars outside. Hawk… she hadn't lived in this den for a while, since her Recognition and Bubbles' birth, but she still came often. Her smell had soaked into the very living wood, into the furs, into everything in the den. There were so many memories that it was almost her presence come alive once more, as if she was still there with him.
Here, this small niche in the wood, the remnants of a candle remained, a patch of molten wax. The same candle that burned here just the night before, when Hawk was still alive and laughing. How many times had candles burned here before?
The storm was so great, so dark, and Coldsong was so frozen and frightened. Every stroke of lightning and thunder sent shivers through his small body, making him sob and clutch at the furs desperately. He knew he shouldn't be so afraid – not an Elf of fifteen turns, no longer a cub anymore, but he couldn't help it. There were howls in the wind… and it was so dark.
Hawk… Hawk…! I'm scared…
But Hawk wasn't there, she was far, hunting, she wouldn't come.
The faint light of a candle from the entrance to the den made him gasp and jump up, turning. And Hawk was there, a candle in her hand and the rain in her silver hair.
She put the candle in a niche in the wood. The scarce flame of it seemed to warm up the den and chase away all the shadows in her presence. She took him in her arms and stroked his hair.
I'm here, brother. Don't cry.
I thought you went hunting… his eyes were wide and full of the question. She shook her head.
With you so afraid of the thunder? Never. She hugged him closer and gently wiped away the tears. Sleep now, Coldsong-cub. I'm watching over you.
Watching over you, she said.
The memories brought a terrible need for more. He had to remember her – not the cold, white body he left for the wolves, with the blood in her hair. Hawk, his sister. Everything in the den bore her mark. The bow leaning against one of the walls – a bow of her own making, his first weapon. He took it in his hands, playing aimlessly with the long-unused string. It was too small for him now, but he knew he would keep it long after this night. Hawk's talented hands had carved the smooth arc, polished the wood, even lay the gentle leaf designs along it. Hawk's hands tied the string, Hawk's hands slipped over his teaching him to draw it. Everywhere, Hawk's hands.
"Ooow! Careful, brat!"
"Sorry, Hawk," Coldsong giggled, letting go of the string slowly this time. Hawk rubbed her wrist, stung when the string snapped back, and pouted, but it wasn't a very convincing pout – there was a smile constantly trying to burst out of it.
"I don't know why I bother," she drawled, placing her hands on his again and helping him draw the string, keeping his fingers pressed on the edge of the arrow. "What does a cub of six turns know of shooting to the mark? Keep it steady, dung-brain! Eye level, arm straight, don't let go until I tell you, and try not to kill Gentlesting!" The chieftess, watching with a grin, gave a thankful nod for such consideration.
Coldsong's eyes narrowed in outmost concentration, his little tongue sticking out of his mouth. Shooting a bow was hard work! It never seemed so hard when his sister did it. His scrawny arms were starting to shake. Hawk snorted.
"Some great hunter you'll make. Steady!"
Now the cub was biting down on his lower lip. Steady! He'll show her what a great hunter he'll make. The pressure on his fingers eased bit by bit – soon – the bulge in the tree he was aiming for became, somehow, more focused than everything else in the world –
The arrow went flying as Hawk and Coldsong both let it go in perfect synch, flying – well, not so true and straight –
"Argh!" Gentlesting ducked out of the way just in time as the arrow lodged itself in the ground before her. Wide-eyed, she looked up from it to see the siblings both staring, dumbfounded. "I thought you were guiding his aim, Hawk!"
"Next lesson," Hawk whispered in Coldsong's ear then, "how to run away very fast."
The memory was fresh and clear as the two full moons, as if it happened only the night before, only an hour before. Speeding on Hawk's heels through the holt away from the outraged chieftess, laughing, laughing…
He let the bow drop from his hands.
Hawk was guiding his aim then, yes – Hawk was always there to guide.
The laughter than almost rose in him ebbed, fading into a small, bitter smile. Always so reckless… he would never have gotten into trouble once in his life if it wasn't for her. Some of the tribe frowned at the wild, sometimes irresponsible hunt leader raising her young brother, saying Hawk wasn't nearly mature enough herself to care for a cub. But without her, how quiet and withdrawn he would've become, already too steady and serious by nature. And who would he have been, had she not taught him the ways of the hunt, the lifeblood of them both?
No one else could've given him as much as she had.
The bow, and now he noticed, even the furs he had settled in. A source of endless pride, this one, the only bear Hawk had ever killed. The wolf-blood that rushed in her veins and his made her beautiful in her rage; she loved it so…
Coldsong was bored. The night seemed more silent than ever, especially with Hawk so completely quiet and still. He'd never seen her so still, and all of the tribe agreed she had never been so silent. He fiddled with grass and sprouts and such, pouting as she hushed him with a wave of her hand. She was watching something beyond the cover of the bushes, something he couldn't see.
Maybe she was just playing pretend.
Hush already, brat! It'll run away! She snapped, turning her angry blue gaze his way. He knew better than to talk, but crossed his arms to make his displeasure clear.
There's nothing ther! He complained.
Hawk looked like she thought better of snorting in disbelief.. There's the fattest, fairest buck I've ever seen. If you took a second to listen and watch instead of complaining, you'll see it! Here - she grabbed his collar and yanked him forward to kneel besides her. Watch!
Now full of resentment for the yank as well as the stillness, Coldsong frowned trying to see past the night shadows, but could only make out a vague dark form. It didn't seem very fat and fair, definitely not as tasty as a buck.
I want to play.
A swift hand slapped the back of his head. And I want to hunt. I should never have taken a pup of ten turns along, so be quiet and be thankful!
Coldsong sulked. He certainly didn't think of himself as a pup, and to show his anger turned his back to Hawk and rummaged instead through the bushes, coming across a cluster of pink blossoms with an interesting smell –
Hawk's eyes widened as she noticed him. Coldsong, no! Those make you snee -
The sudden sound make the deer perk, look around, and turn to flee all in less than a second. Hawk yelped out a curse and sprang after it, spear in hand. Busy for the moment with an unending fit of sneezing, when Coldsong finally turned to look after her, it was already almost over. He gasped at the sight of the blood, the wild look on his sister's face, her spear buried in the buck's side. It collapsed with a groan, and she chortled and laughed.
Then she howled, and it was the most beautiful sound he ever heard.
The memory brought with it pain; who would be the hunt leader now? There were none like Hawk, none who shared her spirit or her skill. True enough, she taught all cubs as best she could, and him more so…
But they were not Hawk, and he was not Hawk. Hawk was gone.
He let out a sound like a wounded animal's, full of agony and grief, his hands convulsing about the fur. How could she be gone?! It couldn't be. She was there since his birth, always there, like the skies and the forest and the Father Tree. True, he had known losses in his life, mother and father, tribemates, even his chieftess, but death was the Way, change was the Way. Hawk was – more!
Under the furs, he found some beads, forsaken. Hawk used to wear these in her hair – he remembered, before Silentwind made her a much fairer ornament for it. He fingered their rough, wooden surfaces, and the memories swarmed in to overwhelm him.
"Recognized? Oh, Hawk!"
Hawk was beaming tonight, a joy in her eyes brighter than the moonlight. Silentwind stood at her side, flushed, yet proud. Coldsong looked at them both unbelieving. It was so sudden – he never thought his sister would Recognize, have cubs of her own! Yet here she was, and she seemed so happy, too.
"I wanted you to know first," she said with a grin. "It's amazing, little brother! I've never felt anything like it. I wish it'll be your turn soon!"
"Not so fast," he laughed, and embraced her. She all but sobbed with joy on his shoulder. He was taller than her, full-grown, but looked up to her still. "The tribe couldn't handle two brats if one is yours!"
He winked at Silentwind, who grinned faintly in reply. The poor Elf didn't know what he was in for yet, Recognizing Hawk, and Coldsong smiled smugly to himself. He'll soon find out.
"We'll be gone a few days, you know," Hawk said as they parted, swiping at her moist eyes, still with a huge smile. "And – ah – " a glance back at Silentwind, who nodded. "I'll be denning with Silentwind from now on, Coldsong – it's better for the cub – "
Then she took his hands, and drew closer, and sent to him alone: But you're always my family first. Don't forget it, brother. You're always my family.
"Hawk!" The name burst from him, he was helpless to stop it. Tears came with it. She was his family, and now she was lost. And he had no one else, no one else…!
Hawk… he had to get out of the den. The memories were simply too much, and everywhere. Everywhere, Hawk's scent, Hawk's hands, everywhere the memory of her voice and gentle touch, everywhere her spirit. It was around him, all around him, in the wood, in the furs, in his own flesh and bones and heart.
It was there
She was there.
You're always my family, little brother…
Had he imagined it in this madness, her voice? He leaned out of the den, breathing in the night air. A gentle wind blew past him, drying the tears on his face. It seemed she was also in the wind.
She was there, with him, in the memories.
He threw back and his head and howled for her, long into the night.