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Author Topic: Westering Holt: A Call to Council  (Read 334 times)

AnnaS

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Westering Holt: A Call to Council
« on: March 26, 2018, 05:37:25 PM »

OOC: Westering Holt was around for a brief time in 2009/2010.  With the conclusion of Final Quest, we've decided that we want to give it another chance.  The RPs completed are being consolidated and condensed to the main story line and posted a stories to give background for anyone who might want to check us out and join in. :) And if no one ever does, well...we hope you enjoy the stories posted here. :)

To protect and respect our original members, the stories posted will mostly involve our (Anna & Kris') characters, as those are the ones that carried the scenarios forward. To read the full RPs, you're welcome to visit our forum - it's still up. 

On to the story!



A Call to Council

Anna & Kris



Mist leaned against a gnarled root and watched his chief silently. Sureshot had been gnawing on a bone for at least an eight of seasons now, and with each transition from one to the other, the gnawing had grown harder. He knew what worried his friend; they’d discussed it often enough.

The light of the moons caressed the glen where the ancient tree that was the center of the holt grew. The massive tree bore the scars of its long life, and Mist knew that only the tending of twelve generations of plantshapers had allowed the tree to keep going. In the normal course of events, even trees eventually tired and returned to the earth. Mist could not count how many turnings of the seasons had passed since Chief Stalker had led their tribe here, but this tree – a sapling then – had been part of them the entire time. He could feel the spirits of their kin gathered around the sheltering branches.

Mist lifted his eyes and watched the gentle shift of new leaves as the wind whispered through the branches. He drew a deep breath, smelling damp earth, green growing things, the uniquely individual scents of his tribemates and their wolf-friends, and wealth of other scents that all compiled together to breathe ‘home.’ Peace settled in his soul, soothing the knife-sharp edge between healer and wolf. On nights like this, in moments like this, both halves of his soul were in harmony.

“Mist…”

The healer looked down to meet his chief-friend’s gaze and the arched his eyebrows in query. “Sureshot?”

“Have you considered what we discussed?”

Mist stiffened, then sighed. “I have.”

“Your answer?”

Mist grimaced. “The good of the tribe comes first, Sureshot. I’ll do as you’ve asked.”

Sureshot’s shoulders slumped and Mist sensed his chief’s relief. “Not much sense waiting longer,” Sureshot said. “Best be done now.” The chief closed his eyes and sent his voice out to his tribe. *I call council! Tribemates, come to holt-glen!*


Stormfire stopped as Sureshot's sending reached her, moving only to give a sharp tug on the lace of her carry-sack. She looked up at the faces of her mothers, Sureshot's lifemates, and felt a lump swell in her throat.

Waterdance was the first to move, reaching out to touch a hand to Stormfire's cheek.

"It's time, she-cub," she said, a small, wistful smile belying the tears that welled up.

Quickflight got up and headed to the back of the den. Alarmed, Stormfire reached out. "Quick--"

Waterdance shook her head. *I wouldn't, daughter,* she urged. She wiped her eyes and took hold of Stormfire's arm. Stormfire let her blood-mother raise her to her feet, still worried about Quickflight. *She took the news hard. She needs time to accept it, and time to grieve.*

Stormfire swallowed hard, trying to push the lump back down where it belonged. "She won't be happy unless I stay, and I won't be happy unless I go." She met her mother's deep blue eyes, clear as a pool under the moons, and--except for the tears--as tranquil. "I wish I could give her her way…”

Waterdance shook her head. "Giving Quickflight her way in this is not going to help at all," she warned. She slid her hand from Stormfire's arm to her hand. "Come now, Stormfire. We have a council to attend."



Stormfire hesitated then followed her mother out of the den, but not without one last look at Quickflight.  There was nothing she could do to ease her other mother’s unhappiness; she had to focus on what was happening now, in these last moments in her birth holt, before she left it forever.  As she left the father tree’s enormous bulk and settled into a comfortable nook among the lower branches, she let her eyes linger on familiar sights, let her nose sift through familiar smells, and let her ears enjoy familiar sounds. 



One sight that was not familiar was seeing her friend Sunsong being fed spring-tender greens by young cubs, with every indication of enjoyment.  Stormfire snickered. *Is that your favorite treat now?* she sent to her friend. *Whirlwind and I will bring you back baskets-full if so.*

*Oh, hush, Stormfire. It takes so little to make the cublings happy.* Yet Sunsong tipped her head back and ate another leaf as if it were the most succulent root ever found. Stormfire buried her face against her knees, giggling as Whirlwind and Tallspear joined in the mirth.

*Sunsong, you treewee!* Whirlwind half-scolded, laughing. *Eating leaves like a caterpillar! Next you'll be spinning yourself a cocoon and hatching out with moth-wings!*

*We could always wrap her up in a hide and have Evenstar make her wings,* Tallspear slyly suggested, winking up at the plantshaper. Sunsong's delighted laughter brought attention from all sides.

*Now is not the time for play, cub,* Waterdance sent sternly, attempting to console a quietly weeping Quickflight.

*What would you have me do?* Stormfire sent back defiantly. *Behave as if I'm about to be exiled? If I can't laugh when I'm facing nothing worse than this, I'm pretty poor stuff to send out on my own.*

Waterdance's frown deepened, but she settled for shooting her daughter a disapproving glare. Stormfire met it, rankled. She loved her mother dearly, but Waterdance always seemed to want to keep her as tied down as a human's near-wolf. I sometimes wonder, Stormfire told herself, if Waterdance really wanted a girl-cub or just a cubling's stuffed leather poppet.



As the tribe gathered on the ground and on the branches of the great father tree, a silence spread.  Sureshot had called for a council, and those were held only at times when serious choices had to be made.  It had been many seasons since the last council.



In the heavy stillness, Oakroot glanced around at the gathered tribe, and then turned to Sureshot. "You called council, my chief?"

Sureshot stepped forward. A light breeze ruffled his thick brown hair, and he waited until it died. "I've brought you here tonight to tell you that the tribe is about to be parted.”  He paused as shock and curiosity rippled through the tribe.  "We've had good years here," Sureshot continued. "We've made our holt, had our cubs, lived and died and kept the Way . . . but, perhaps, we've done too well." He stopped, his eye falling on a recently Recognized pair, and then at another couple whose cubling stopped sucking his thumb long enough to stare up at the chief. Sureshot smiled but turned grave as he looked again at the tribe. "We've multiplied like ravvits," he said, "and I daresay that if we continued, we'll end like ravvits, caught in any number of snares. The humans still attack us when they can. We've had foaming sickness. And although the game is still good . . . who can remember when it used to be more plentiful than it is now?

"To keep the Wolfriders alive, we will have to send some away." Sureshot spoke now to tribemates who hung on his every word. "This is no exile. The oak grows strong and spreads his branches wider than an eagle his wings. The acorns which drop are his children, yet only by leaving the shelter of the great oak can they grow themselves.

"And so I am going to send a number of you to new lands, so that you can continue to grow strong and live well."

Commotion broke out at once, as Wolfriders fought to show agreement or dissent with their chief. Journey ignored them. He could see Sureshot had only one question he intended to answer . . . and there were four possible answers.  "So who will lead us to these new lands?" he called out, but the question seemed lost in the noise of so many voices. 



Sureshot stood, impassively waiting for the tribe to be silent. At last he held up a hand and the quiet that descended was almost thunderous.  "I've made my decision," he said.

Quickflight buried her head against Waterdance's shoulder. Keenedge took a step forward, his eyes betraying his distress. "Father," he began, reaching out a hand. "Father--you can't mean--"

Sureshot met his son's eyes and smiled sadly. "No, son. Not you." He put a hand on his eldest's shoulder, and Keenedge sagged with palpable relief. "I need you here. And you," he added, placing his other hand on Preyfinder's arm; the young Wolfrider's face mirrored his brother's, relief mingling with rising curiosity.

Longtooth stepped forward. "Is it me, Father?"

Sureshot paused for the smallest moment before shaking his head. "You've good instincts, Longtooth," and he let go of Preyfinder to clasp his youngest son by Quickflight. Longtooth pulled loose, his face downcast. *You'd make a good chief if you'd learn to think of others first,* Sureshot added, not unkindly. *And in time, I think you will. One day. Today is not that day.*

Keenedge and Preyfinder looked at each other, and Preyfinder swallowed hard. Both turned to look at the figure who now slid off her perch on the Father Tree, and advanced towards them, slight as a fawn.

Sureshot's eldest shook their heads in unison.

"Father, you can't," Keenedge blurted, stunned. "She's barely more than a cub! She's a bare stripling--"

"Send one of us with her," urged Preyfinder and Longtooth.

"No," Stormfire said, before Sureshot could speak. She met her brothers' eyes, her head held high. "I'm not having any of you come along," she said softly. "I will lead this new tribe. I'm of the chief's line as much as any of you. And I can do my duty as well as any of you."

Longtooth was the first to snort. "You're barely over three eights and four," he returned. "All you know is how to sit on a wolf and throw a javelin or two. What are you going to do when there's a real threat to the tribe? You can't run to Father then. Or your mother."

The derision in his eyes made the hairs on Stormfire's nape rise. But she remembered what Sureshot had said. You'll be questioned by all of them, and they'll test you in different ways. If she couldn't meet Longtooth's test, she had no business being chief.

*I won't need to run to our father or mothers,* she sent. *And I daresay I know more than you do about dealing with a threat. You see a chief, and you see nothing but a figure about whom songs are sung, and howls are held. I see a chief and see the mother or father of the whole tribe--the one who protects as well as leads, who shoulders the blame for what goes wrong and shares the praise when all goes right. Are you ready for that, brother? Prove it to me, and I'll let you tag along.*

*Let me?* Longtooth's eyes narrowed and he took a step forward. Stormfire held her ground and shared with him the memory of the last time the foaming sickness had stalked their tribe, of the bitter grief they'd shared as elders, adults, and cubs were lost; of all Sureshot had done to try to save them. Her brother winced as she added, as sure as a spear-thrust, *Can you do this? Will you do this?*

I don't know if I can,
a small voice deep within her whispered. But I know I must.

Longtooth shook his head as if to clear her sending out of it. Then he broke their link and staggered back against the Father Tree. Shock was clear on Skystrike's face as he hurried to help Longtooth. Stormfire drew a deep, ragged breath as she realized she'd just won the first challenge of her chieftainship.

Sureshot drew her close, and she fought to stop shaking. She couldn't look at him until he put a hand beneath her chin and raised her face. Blinking, Stormfire looked into eyes as gray as her own, and made herself stand straighter.

**Ready?** Sureshot smiled, and Stormfire felt her spirits lift. She could feel the faith he had in her, and it warmed her better than summer sunshine. She would not fail. For him, she would keep her part of their tribe whole and well.

**Ready,** she returned, and Sureshot turned back to the tribe.

"Silence!" His call brought quiet crashing back down, even as many elves stared at him in disbelief. "Stormfire will lead as many as will go with her to the new lands. This is my decision." He laid both hands on her shoulders, and added, in a softer tone, "Go, daughter. Pick out your hunters and choose well. Just remember . . . no one with cubs, and no maiden in cub."

Stormfire nodded and turned to Sunsong. "Plantshaper?" She heard Keenedge groan in protest, "That's our treeshaper," and Sureshot hush him; but she only had eyes for Sunsong's reaction. "Come with me, my friend?"



Sunsong blinked, stunned that Stormfire even felt the need to ask. "Of course, I'm going with you," she said instantly, sending a frown at Keenedge. Hmph! Chief's son or not, she didn't like that possessive 'our' coming out of him. She was her own being and could go where she wished. Besides, it wasn't like the tribe would be without a plantshaper when she left. She was the younger, weaker, and less experienced of the two.

Even so, the prospect of stretching herself and her abilities as wide and far as she could thrilled her. She grinned at Stormfire, all her eagerness and excitement reflecting in her blue-green eyes. "You lead us to the spot, my chieftess, and I'll shape us a home – eventually!"



"Yes!" Stormfire hugged Sunsong, ignoring Keenedge's groan. "I have my plantshaper!" She turned to Sureshot just as three sendings reached her.

The first was from Silent. **I'll come. I will try not to be a burden.**

Stormfire blinked. A sending from Silent was like swallowing a double-handful of dreamberries--her perceptions went slightly off, and she had to retreat for a moment to ground herself again. She'd known Silent all her life, and knew things were . . . different, where he was concerned. But at that moment, she met his parents' eyes, and found herself nodding. **Come, then,** she told him.

The second sending was from Longdusk, and Stormfire affirmed it the moment she heard. Longdusk would definitely be helpful, and she trusted him.

But the third . . .

Stormfire met the eyes of Flintfire, and beyond him, Icemark and Redthorn. The Recognized pair stood together; if she chose Longdusk, either Lightgaze or Redthorn would want to come--and if she chose either, she would be separating a family. Worse, if she chose Redthorn.

I can use them both. And why not the cubs, when all of us can protect them? Stormfire drew a deep breath and walked over to Sureshot. She touched his arm, and he turned to her from Mist. "Father," she said, and sent to Flintfire, Icemark and Redthorn to join her. "We need to speak."  Stormfire waited until Flintfire, Softling, Redthorn, Silvercub, and Icemark had joined her and Sureshot before she addressed her father.



Sureshot raised an eyebrow at his tribemates' approach, and fixed Stormfire with a look.  "I said, no one with cubs."

"I know." Stormfire swallowed; her father was not Longtooth--she wouldn't turn his will by force.

"Then you know that these four--" Sureshot indicated Softling, Silvercub, Icemark and Redthorn--"can't go."

"I know what you said," Stormfire replied. "But if they want to come, Father, why should I make them choose between kindred and cubs, and a new holt?"

Sureshot sighed, shaking his head. "You don't know how dangerous it is. There are humans everywhere, strange beasts, trolls--"

"And my tribemates and I will keep watch over them! We aren't taking every life-bearer and every cub with us, Father!"  The chief folded his arms over his chest and scowled down at Stormfire. She put her hands on her hips and returned the glare. "Don't try that argument with me, old wolf. I'm as likely to lose full-grown hunters as cubs to humans, and you know it."



Icemark rested his hands on Silvercub's shoulders, keeping the child still and quiet with the gentle pressure of his grip. Although he usually - and happily - allowed Redthorn to take the lead in most of their joint decisions, this time he stood by her side.

"My chief," he said quietly, interrupting the stand-off between father and daughter. "You said that Stormfire could not choose anyone with cubs or expecting them. She did not choose us. We chose her. Redthorn and I are aware of the risks. Whether we follow her, or stay here, those dangers remain the same. They're just a little more familiar here."

He looked at Stormfire, meeting her gaze for a long moment, then smiled gently. He turned back to Sureshot. "I have faith in your cub to see to her tribe's safety, whether the tribe is here, or wandering unknown territory. I have faith in my lifemate to guard and protect our cub. I have faith in my tribemates who choose to come with us."



Sureshot eyed Icemark for a long moment, and Stormfire lowered her head to hide a grin. Trust Icemark to hit the mark, so to speak. Her sire looked like he'd gulped a handful of green dreamberries.

**Thanks, Icemark,** she sent. **And you, Redthorn.**

"You're twisting my words like grass, Icemark," Sureshot warned. "I know all too well the dangers that face your cub here. Every cub," he added, glancing at Flintfire and Softling. "You've no idea what you're risking. A journey's hard enough to take when you're strong, full-grown and able. But when you have a cub to look after? That's a different catch to kill altogether."

He turned back to Stormfire. "I've given you enough to chew on, daughter. Mind you don't take a bite too big to swallow."



Back when she was a cub, Stormfire had heard often enough from Quickflight that she could wind Sureshot around her smallest finger. There were times when she hadn't believed it-especially when she'd made him angry. She was certain this was one of those times, for Sureshot's mouth was held in a thin, taut line, and his eyes narrowed in a scowl as he looked from Flintfire to Softling, from Icemark to Redthorn, to Stormfire.

He sighed, grimaced, and finally gave her a one-sided smile. **I wanted to make this easy on you,** he informed her.

**Easy? Nothing about this is easy!**

**I'll say it isn't! I came into my chief's-lock when I was just a little older than you. I know what you're going to go through.** Sureshot threw up his hands and eyed his tribefolk. "Well, what are the barking lot of you standing here for? Haven't you got some packing for the journey to do?"

Beaming, Stormfire left Sureshot to say his farewells to Icemark, Redthorn, Silvercub, Flintfire, and Softling. Grumble he might like to do, but Sureshot loved his tribemates and was well-loved by them. If she wanted nothing else besides her new tribe's survival, Stormfire wanted them to love and trust her as much as they loved and trusted her father.



As Stormfire moved away from Sureshot, Icemark and Redthorn-and a nearby Evenstar-she heard a sharp, unmistakable voice. It was a voice that had angered her ever since she was old enough to understand what it was saying, and she found her fingers twitched as she strode forward to close the distance between herself, Fernflower, and Sunsong.  Fernflower was one of the tribe’s plantshapers; the best, in fact.  She was also Sunsong’s mother, and her opinion of her daughter’s talents were well-known by the tribe.  Sunsong seldom seemed upset by her mother’s criticism, but the unfairness of Fernflower’s attitude rubbed many of the tribe wrong, especially given Sunsong’s own happy nature. 

Stormfire caught sight of Sunsong moving through the trees and told herself she'd find her friend later. Fernflower half-turned, as if to walk away, and Stormfire sent to her.

*Wait, treeshaper.* There was no gentleness, no fondness, in her tone. There never had been. And the cool look Fernflower threw her indicated the older elf had an equal lack of feeling.

"Your father must hold such confidence in you," she said.

Stormfire gave a short laugh. **Not that you'll send that, but for what it's worth . . .** She paused, and realized she'd unintentionally given Fernflower insult from the way the treeshaper's face crimsoned with offense. **I'm not here to quarrel with you, Fernflower. But if you truly can't bear the sight of Sunsong, why don't you shut up and keep away from her? Or are you really so cruel that you enjoy seeing her hurt?**

"Hurt? She's my daughter, cub. Of course I don't wish to see her hurt." Fernflower flicked her fingers out, in a dismissive, throwing-away gesture. "But better she suffer a small hurt now than a larger hurt later when she realizes how completely inadequate she is for the task you've set her."

**And still you won't send.** Stormfire crossed her arms over her chest to keep from reaching out and ripping handfuls of Fernflower's golden hair loose. **You know as well as anyone that she's capable of being a great treeshaper. At the very least, she's going to be my treeshaper.** She drew a deep breath, frustrated by Fernflower's impassiveness. She wanted the elder to shout, yell, or fight--anything to prove she felt something for Sunsong. "I never thought a mother could be so unfeeling," Stormfire accused Fernflower. "When we go, that's it. You'll never see Sunsong again. High Ones, I find myself wishing that's true, for you're as poisonous to her as a mouthful of snake venom!"

Fernflower sniffed. She had no reason to send to this infant whose head was fluffed up on a doting father's pride. Sending was an intimacy that she gave to few, and certainly not a child. "You are as foolish as she, child. You may speak about a mother's love and care when you are a mother. Until then, you've no grounds for judgement, and no right to pass it."

"I may not be a mother," Stormfire returned, "but I know a mother's love when I see it. And I don't see it in you. I don't think you know what it is, either."

Fernflower crossed her arms and looked at Stormfire coolly. "Such wisdom and insight gained in so few seasons! My, how blind and stupid we must all seem to one as advanced as you, young High One!"

Stormfire gritted her teeth at the mockery. Fernflower was excellent at that, and it galled her that she couldn't wither the treeshaper with a few words. Or knock her across the holt with a well-placed punch… "Be happy, Fernflower," she finally said. "Our paths--mine and Sunsong's--won't cross yours again, and for that I will be happy." She turned on her heel and walked away, wishing she'd felt sure enough of her new rank to hang Fernflower by her heels over one of Evenstar's tanning pits.



"Ayoooooh! Sister! Haven't forgot about me, have you?"  Whirlwind pulled free of Tallspear’s clasp and darted out from behind a tree.

Stormfire jumped, and the anger on her face faded. Tallspear smiled, pleased when she began to chuckle. "I'd as soon forget my shadow," she said, taking Whirlwind's hand and reaching out for Tallspear with her other. "So…" Her gray eyes danced with sudden mischief. "I'm your chief now, and you have to do as I say!"

"Ohhhhh, no!" Whirlwind sank to her knees, pressing her hair to her bosom and pretending to be faint. "Whatever shall we do? Led by little Shrill . . . I mean Trill--ouch! Don't pull my hair," she warned, and Stormfire grinned.

"Do that when we meet up with some trolls. While they're spewing over your performance, we can rob them blind." She turned to Tallspear, who hugged her. "A hug? Just for being named chief of whoever's mad enough to follow me?" Stormfire tilted her head back to look at him. "Are you sure you're coming with me?" she demanded accusingly.

"Sure as anything." He pressed his forehead to hers, grinning back at her. "Besides, you need someone who knows how to use real spears, not those squirrel-stickers of yours."

"I'll remind you of that the next time my 'squirrel-stickers' take a kill out from under your nose," Stormfire retorted. She took Whirlwind's hand again, helping her up. "Well, come on, you two. Someone has to find Sunsong, and I have to make certain Evenstar is coming. And we have Icemark, Redthorn, Silvercub, and Mist… and Father just sent now, there are more…”

Whirlwind winked at Tallspear. **She won't sleep a wink until we're out of here.**

**Good. We'll tie her to the wolf, take over the tribe, and throw Fernflower in a thorn thicket.** Tallspear proudly escorted his new chieftess back among the tribe, where more elves approached Sureshot to say whether they would go with his daughter, or stay behind.



Mist had rejoined Sureshot at the base of the great Father Tree, although nothing was said between the two.  Elves gathered in quiet clusters not far off, their voices soft, if heard at all, as they discussed what choice they would make, to stay or to go.  The tribe had grown large, but they were all family.  No parting would be easy.  There would always be someone left behind.



As Stormfire rejoined her father and the healer, a group of hunters came forward, four experienced and valued in Sureshot’s holt. And one better known for his mischief than his hunting prowess.



"If your followers aren't too many yet," Windsoft began speaking as she tucked a loose strand of curling midnight hair behind an ear.

"We're going with you," Oakstaff interrupted, grinning at Stormfire. "Though old gloomy over there has a good question," he added, nodding at Longdusk. "When do we leave?"

Windsoft rolled her eyes but smiled at Stormfire. "Yes, that's the gist of it, if Thornberry and Longdusk will forgive us for taking the questions out of their mouths and minds."



"Actually, that is a good question," Stormfire mused. She sat down on the grass and began adding up the Wolfriders who were coming with her. At last she looked up at Windsoft, Thornberry, Longdusk and Oakstaff, and said, "I'm not sure how long we'll need. Mostly because I don't know exactly how many are coming along."  She didn’t look at Journey, Windsoft’s son.  She already knew the impatient one was ready to go now. She sent to the others of their tribe who would be seeking a new holt under her leadership, asking them to join the small group around her.  This discussion required everyone’s attention.  Sureshot quietly faded away, leaving Mist with only a strong, brief grip on his shoulder as the healer was absorbed into the nucleus of the borning tribe.

Drumming her fingers against her knee, Stormfire considered the facts as she waited for the rest of her small splinter tribe to assemble. It would be stupid to go off on a journey and not take food and water. They couldn't count on being able to bring down game every day--and they had the wolves to think of. So they'd need at least one more night to gather provisions and water. And they'd have to be prepared for the weather; New Green would pass and Hot Sun would be on them before they knew it.

She looked up at her tribe once they had gathered, three eights of elves, give or take a few, drawing a deep breath to steel herself against any disapproval or challenge. "Thornberry and Longdusk are asking when we’ll leave.  I'm not sure," Stormfire replied. "We'll need food and water to last at least an eight of days. What other supplies do you think we'll need?"

Sunsong had quietly joined the gathering around Stormfire, slipping up next to Oakstaff and pulling the male’s arm comfortably around her shoulders.  "And how will we carry it all?" she asked curiously. "It's warm enough now we don't need more than a single sleeping fur each - less if we den together. Food here is scarce enough, else the tribe wouldn't be splitting. Dare we take any, when it should be easier for us to hunt fresh?"



Stormfire eyed her friend sidelong. "You frighten me when you're practical," she pointed out. Sunsong rewarded her with a teasing wink, and Stormfire sighed. "She's right. We can probably do with one fur apiece--not to mention that it is getting warmer." She leaned against the tree and thought for a moment. "How good do you think the hunting will be for us once we're away from the holt?" she asked Oakstaff.

Oakstaff traded considering looks with Windsoft, then shrugged. "We've been hunting a day or two's ride out from here for the last several seasons, Stormfire. Initially our hunting will be about the same as it is now."

"Further out from that, we can't predict," Windsoft continued thoughtfully. "As long as we're in the forest, we should get by. We won't be uncomfortably full, but we won't be starving, either. After that, it just depends on where you lead us. If we stay with the river, we'll always be able to fish. We're well into the season of new greens, so we have many eights of days before we have to worry about preparing for white-cold."

Again Oakstaff and Windsoft traded looks, then turned back to Stormfire. "We may have days where we go hungry, chieftess, but I don't think hunting will be a problem, especially if, as Windsoft said, we stay close to the river. That'll also give us a ready source of water," he finished.

"And I can bring seeds," Sunsong volunteered. "They're light and don't take up much room. If we run short on meat, I can grow us something to tide us over." She laughed at Oakstaff's shudder. "You don't have to like it, hunter, but plantfood is better than nothing when your belly is empty."



"He is right," Windsoft agreed. "We'll not want to linger too long in this area, nor hunt. But two or three days ride should be enough to clear us from Sureshot's hunting grounds. Perhaps there's enough of the winter stores left to see us that far?" This question was directed at Icemark, who was more gatherer than hunter and therefore more familiar with what remained for the food stores.



Icemark shrugged. "There's a little dried meat left, but not much. However, if we're leaving then I don't see why we can't take it with us. With less mouths to feed here, what hunting there is will be enough to keep Sureshot's tribe well-fed. We could take the dried fruits and vegetables, and the nuts, as well. Fernflower is staying and if they run low she can force-grow them fresh."



“All very well,” Mist interrupted, “but does not answer the question.  When do we leave?  How much or how little we take will not require much time to gather and prepare.  The night is still early.  It is the parting from the tribe that will be the most difficult.  Do we leave quickly, and make the pain swift and sharp, or do we linger and make it a lingering ache?”



Stormfire looked at him, felt the stillness his cool voice imposed on the rising excitement, reminding them that there were two sides to this sundering of the tribe.  She also remembered one of his lessons, when she’d asked why he healed an injured back but would not heal a cut from a over-sharpened knife.  “A cut like this will heal quickly, within days, and soon be forgotten.  An injury deep in the body, however, causes more harm over time, to both the one injured and those who are close to them.  For the tribe’s health and safety, the dull, lingering harms must be healed first.”



Stormfire smiled at the healer, wondering if he would remember that lesson, too.  “For the health and safety of both tribes, we’ll leave at moonrise tomorrow.  We’ll take tonight for our good-byes.”  Mist’s slight smile was her answer; he remembered, too.





End
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