“So be it! The Trial has ended,” declared Savah.
“Rayek!” Leetah cried, and started to follow the retreating elf.
“Let him go, Leetah. Fears born of outside sources are far easier to overcome than fears born within the soul.”
Treestump slapped his chief on the back as the younger members of the Tribe stared after the irritated healer. “Ah, don’t worry about it, lad, she’ll come around. You just have to pursue her like you would a fleet footed hare.” One Eye coughed loudly. Treestump turned his head to stare at him. “Something helpful you’d like to add, perhaps?”
“Nothing that would interest Cutter, I’m sure,” Clearbrook cut in. She smiled cheerfully. “Cutter, why don’t you and Skywise find something fresh we can eat to celebrate?”
Pike yelped, “Berries,” and Cutter laughed, allowing Skywise and Pike to drag him back toward the village. The crowd slowly dispersed as the remaining Wolfriders headed towards the caves. It was finally cool enough to bring the wolves out and gather for a howl.
One Eye draped his arm around Treestump’s brawny shoulders. Strongbow fell into step beside them. Fleet footed hare, eh, he sent, sounding amused.
Lad needed hope, Treestump snapped back.
Strongbow, doesn’t this situation seem familiar to you? Asked One Eye.
As familiar as the holt I first treed in with Moonshade.
Cutter is not that much like Bearclaw. Perhaps you should let him live in the now. Moonshade chided the men.
No, actually, I was comparing them to the courtship of Rillfisher and Treestump.
The healer is not a very good hare, Moonshade replied, she does not know that the wolf will catch her.
No respect, Strongbow growled.
Well, if she’s not good prey, then Treestump here was an albino hare with three legs.
The other elves started laughing when Treestump tackled One Eye to the ground. A few of the villagers turned to stare at the two elves rolling around in the sand, one red faced with annoyance, and the other shaking with silent amusement.
“Treestump!” Savah called.
Afraid they’d offended the Mother, Treestump pushed One Eye away and stood, dragging his smiling friend with him. “Yes?”
“If you see Rayek, tell him he needs to stay close to Sun Village, as I wish to have an audience with him soon,” Savah said.
“Ah, seems unlikely I’ll see him.” Treestump had a feeling that Rayek would avoid all of the Wolfriders now.
“He will pass on your message,” Moonshade said. Savah thanked her and continued towards her hut.
“Can’t do that if we don’t see him,” Treestump said.
“Oh, you will see him. You are going to find him, convince him to not leave the village.” Even Strongbow did not argue with his mate when she used that particular tone.
“ Fine, I’ll go, but why do we care if the coward leaves?” Treestrump asked.
“Because Cutter will not give up on Leetah, and Leetah will be our Chieftess. Rayek is her friend, and if Rayek leaves now, not one of those three will ever quite feel that Cutter won her fairly,” Moonshade crossed
her arms over her chest and stared at Treestump. “What are you waiting for? Go find him before you have to track him and one of those plant eating beasts through the desert.”
Treestump threw his head back. “AWOOOOOOOOAH!”
Hunting I go! A moment later his daughter’s enthusiastic yowl reached his ears. Unfortunately, she’ll be disappointed, he thought as he turned north towards the beast corral. If my hunt is successful, Rayek just doesn’t seem tasty.
Rayek told himself that he was only still in the village because of this meeting. He stood in front of Savah, and tried to look as if he didn’t care that the barbarians had ripped his pride to shreds like wolves playing with a rabbit.
I’m certainly not here because that blond bearded oaf told me that I’d look like I was afraid of his child chief if I left, he insisted silently. Then Savah began to speak.
“Rayek, I need you to complete a great and arduous task for Sun Village.”
“Anything that is within my power, Lady, anything I can do to make my humble self of use to you.” Anything, he continued silently, that will take me far, far away from here, from guarding these ingrates and from Leetah’s revolting joy over her new life with that nasty--
“So much of our history is lost, and more knowledge of the High Ones slips through our fingers like sweet water every day. With your powers, Rayek, you are aware of this even more keenly than most youth here.”
“Yes, Savah, but-- ”
The Mother of Memory motioned him to silence, and gestured gracefully towards the intricate carving decorating her walls. “The only way to prevent such loss is to record it. I will not be the eldest of Sun Villagers forever, and I am the only one here not of Wolf blood who remembers dwelling in the green growing place.”
“Surely you are not expecting those curs to carve their short, brutish lives into your walls,” Rayek sneered.
“No,” Savah smiled, “they are storytellers, not scribes, so the obvious solution would be to ask one of our own folk to accompany the Wolfriders beyond the waste, to be an eyewitness to the creation of a new holt, a new future born from the hardships and dreams of the past.”
“And you want me to choose someone to go? Impossible, the villagers are soft, they cannot even venture as far as the canyon where the beasts dwell.”
“You are quite right. That is why I want you to go.”
The Wolfriders left the village when Suntop and Ember were old enough to ride on the back of their father’s four legged menace alone. Skywise , with the help of the lodestone, led the group to the forest that Savah had seen in a vision.
And perhaps, if Rayek had not believed that the trees could not be much different from rocks, Clearbrook would not have had to cut his hair loose from the branches of the tree that he’d climbed to retrieve the writing sticks that Ember kept stealing and hiding high in bird nests.
And if that bird hadn’t pecked him, and he hadn’t slipped, resulting in the loss of his hair, then Skywise would never have introduced him to dreamberries. Unlike Pike and Cutter, Skywise understood vanity, and they bonded over the loss of beauty, the gloriousness of the night sky, and (much, much later) hilarity focused on Cutter’s attempts to serenade Leetah.
And if that hadn’t awoke Moonshade, she probably would never have become angry enough to manipulate her lifemate into instructing Rayek, “that poor foundling who had only plant growers to teach him hunting” , about the Way.
And Rayek wouldn’t have been present when Skywise’s wolf whelped a litter of cubs—the runt of which immediately began to stalk him.
And if none of this had happened, Rayek would have returned to the Sun Village and etched pictures of the Holt and its dwellers an the walls of the memory room. Instead, One Eye and Strongbow stood next to him as he tried to explain to a serene Savah that you can’t translate a howl properly into writing.
Such a sound could mean “You’re back!” as well as “about time” and “home” and “your wolf ate the dream berry bush” and “Strongbow, thank you for returning with both of our sons.”
When Rayek returned to the Holt, he had to hunt down Treestump by the river. Instead of following his first instinct, the albino hare did not flee—he let Rayek run his fingers through his face fur and push him down onto the cool riverbank. After all, he was older and wiser now. He knew when he’d been caught.