He could hear her coming, her footsteps soft but set securely against the tree. Though a Wolfrider, not a hunter and certainly not tough, but highly annoying, according to him. He pulled the fur over his head, trying to remain the state between sleep and waking, but somewhere deep in his consciousness he knew it wouldn’t be long before she would waking him rudely with her exaggerating happy mood in the early night. He heard her coming closer, almost reaching the opening of his den. Didn’t she have any notion that he had had the dayshift? He kept his eyes tightly shut and almost prayed that this was a dream and yet hoping it was not a nightmare, in which she starred.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. Time to get up.” Moonshade stood in the den opening, an empty basket under her right arm, her left hand holding aside the hide that separated the den from the world outside. Her hair shone in the bright moonlight, which made it seem like silk. With her big bright gray eyes, she examined the den. She had never been in his den before and was surprised to see it like it was, clean, despite the various bloodstains on the ground, and neat. She had never known that Strongbow was such a neat freak. She kind of liked it, though it was not her idea of a cozy interior. It was mainly functional and empty. Somewhere she had expected it to be like this.
**Go away!** A sleepy sending reached her mind. **Don’t you know?** Moonshade frowned, searching in her memory what was to know. She didn’t forget to take something with her, did she? What was it that separated this night from other nights? Suddenly realization hit her and she slapped her hands to her mouth, dropping the basket. “Oh, Strongbow, I’m sorry. I forgot. I’m so sorry.”
**Yeah, well, Sorry doesn’t help.** He pulled down the fur, only to show his face as her looked at her angrily. **You better leave, before I’ll show you out.** Disappointment clear on her face, Moonshade left, leaving the basket lying on the ground, suddenly not in the mood to pick berries.
Strongbow grunted and turned, hoping to get some well-deserved sleep. However, sleep didn’t come. His mind was so full of thoughts, he couldn’t set it to relax and give in. He hadn’t meant to sound so angry, but he wanted Moonshade know how he felt having his privacy being invaded and certainly when he hadn’t slept for one night, because of a dayshift. He didn’t mind to be on guard during the day. He could think about things, though many didn’t see him as a thinker. But he was always glad when it ended, and so he could get some sleep. Annoyed he rose to get dressed. It took some time before he was finished, but finally he was ready and he grabbed his bow and quiver and climbed down the tree. His tree was on the far end of the Holt, because he hadn’t wanted to make a home in the Father Tree. He walked through the Holt, passing the creek, where children were playing and after that, he walked past Woodhue, who was sitting against a tree, sharpening his knife, while watching Clearbrook and Rillfisher doing something that looked like some kind of game with stones.
“What are you doing up so early?” he asked when he noticed the archer passing by. Strongbow turned to look at his friend and tribes mate, deep dark circles under his eyes. He sat down next to him and sighed. **Do you need to ask?**
“Ahh, I see,” Woodhue grinned. “Let me think — Does it have to do with some certain lady, brown, curly hair and big, bright eyes?”
**And a big mouth,** Strongbow remarked dryly. Now Woodhue leaned forward to look into the archer’s eyes. “What did you say to her to upset her?”
**I just told her to leave.**
“Sure you did. What else?”
Suddenly Strongbow stood up and spun angrily. **What else?! Go and ask her!** His teeth gritted and eyes blazing with fire, the archer looked at his friend and Woodhue knew he had struck a nerve. “Strongbow,” he said deadly seriously, “You should apologize.”
**The hell I won’t! What do you know about these things? You don’t have someone who wakes you without thinking and following you ’til you going crazy!** He turned and walked away, furious.
“But you can at least talk to her!” He called, but the archer gave no indication he had heard him.
The next night, the wolves called for the hunt. It was always right after sundown. Bearclaw joined them, and one by one, the hunters would appear, from the trees or the bushes, together with their wolf friends. Then, after everyone had arrived, they went into the woods, hoping to find some deer or other big animals. Hunting was a dangerous thing, because humans could lie on wait. And they had grown strong. But the elves needed food and the only way to get enough was to go hunting. And most of the hunters liked to hunt. It was a time where they could both enjoy and work. But it still was dangerous. Fortunately, no one was often hurt.
Clearbrook and Moonshade watched the hunters go in front of Moonshade’s den. The tanner was busy making clothes for the winter and Clearbrook thought she could use some help and found it a surprisingly pleasant experience. She rather joined the hunt, but Bearclaw had it forbidden for women to hunt. She sighed. “I wish I could hunt.”
“But Bearclaw doesn’t let us hunt, because there are so little women in the tribe.” Moonshade said, not looking up from her work.
“I think it is unfair,” The silver-haired elf complained. “I should stick this — thing in his ass.” She gestured her words with the stick she held in her hands. “And then I should nail him to the ground with it and let him stay there for a while.” Moonshade attempted a smile, but it wasn’t very convincing.
“What’s the matter with you lately? You seem to be a little, you know, absent the last few days.” Clearbrook proceeded with her work. “Do you mind telling me what it is?” Now the tanner closed her eyes and a sigh escaped her lips. “I don’t know. Well, actually, I do know, but I don’t understand. Did I do something wrong?”
“Oh, that. You shouldn’t worry about it. Strongbow has always been pigheaded.”
“But why does he say mean things to me? He has never been nice to me.” Clearbrook grinned and laid a hand on Moonshade’s shoulder. “You just always happen to be in the wrong place and the wrong time. Believe me.”
“I’d really want that, but–”
“No but, you hear me? It’s not your fault. Sometimes Strongbow can be so rough and heartless. But it doesn’t mean he really is. You’ve got to take that from me. He’s been my friend for many seasons.”
“But why–” Moonshade started, but was interrupted by the wolves’ howl. The howl sounded different from usual and Moonshade looked at Clearbrook, who shrugged. Moonshade stood up and started walking to the opening of her den to look outside. Clearbrook came to stand next to her, but soon started to climb down. “Come on, let’s take a look.” Moonshade nodded and followed her.
More Wolfriders had come out of their dens to look what it meant. Faces full of curiosity thy looked at each other, shook their heads, and shrugged.
Not long after the two women had arrived, Bearclaw’s sending reached their minds. It was an open sending. **Healer,** he sent, **Where are you? We need you.** Immediately Rain responded to the call. **What is it my chief?**
**Strongbow’s injured — very injured.**
The words came to Moonshade with a shock. Strongbow — hurt? How could he be hurt? How bad was it? What happened? Those questions ran back and forth in her mind. No, it couldn’t. Strongbow was careful, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?
Just a few moments later, Bearclaw came into view, carrying the archer on his wolf. Clearbrook hurried closer. “How — how could this happen?” She asked, while observing Strongbow. She cared a lot for Strongbow and it was clear on her face. “What happened?!” she now demanded. But Bearclaw didn’t answer. He was searching for Rain, who came running as fast as his legs could carry him. Quickly he examined him, concluding they had to bring him to his den. He, Bearclaw and Clearbrook carried him and laid him on his furs. Silently they watched the healer doing the best he could to mend the wounds.
Outside Moonshade was still shocked about what happened and was nailed to the ground. He wasn’t going to die, was he? He couldn’t. Bearclaw would never let him. She bit her lip and prayed. All she could do was pray.
“Damn it, you worthless–!” Bearclaw’s shout came from the den. “You have to heal him! Can’t you see he needs you help?!” His voice calmed down a bit as he tried to hold down the tears that burned behind his eyes. “And I need him.”
“I’m so sorry, my chief,” Rain stated softly. “There is nothing I can do for him. He has to do it himself.” He had to lean backwards, because Bearclaw almost threw himself forward, were he not held by Clearbrook. “I Strongbow dies, it’s because of you, Rain! It will be because you couldn’t save him!” His glare was full of fire as he lifted his hand to ‘guide’ Rain out. “You best be going now. You are not worth to call yourself a healer.” He said as Rain, and Clearbrook too, left the den. He was alone again. Alone with his judgments, alone in his grief.
It had been 8 days since the ‘accident’. What really happened? No one knew for sure. Perhaps only Bearclaw, but he never spoke about it. Strongbow’s wounds were slowly healing and everything went better. But he was still in pain, which made it all more difficult. He slept most of the night and refused to eat. And worst of all, he refused all help.
Moonshade had been thinking about Strongbow every night. And even in her sleep, if she slept at all, she dreamt about him. She couldn’t set her mind to something else. Until she decided to go and visit him. Slowly, but confident, she walked towards his den and climbed up to it. Carefully she looked inside and saw him sleeping. Quietly she crept in and got a good look at the archer. He had become thin since the last time she saw him. No wonder without any food. The bandages around his waist were red from the blood he had lost and his pale face showed he had lost much. She was surprised how he could be so stubborn while he so weak and fragile.
She carefully removed a hair lock from his face and seized his hand into hers, very carefully, afraid to wake him, as her mind brought her mind back to the time they were all young. Strongbow had always been a silent elf. He hardly ever spoke, but nor did he send. His parents left him when he was very young, killed by the humans. She always tried to understand why he hated the humans so much, but he never showed any feelings about. After all, he had never seen humans. The tribe had raised him. A fierce hunter, and not always a pleasant personality to be with. And when the seasons grew, his attitude to her grew worse. She never understood why and he was the only one who could give the answer.
A movement of his hand in hers woke her from her thoughts. Immediately she looked at him. He slowly stirred and opened his eyes.
“Strongbow?” Moonshade whispered. “How are you feeling?” A silence followed as he tried to pull himself somewhat upright, but failed. **Before or after you blocked my view?** The tanner couldn’t help it, but the remark made her smile. Again, he tried to get himself in an upright position, but this time it didn’t go well. He moved a little too fast and the pain in his body made him writhe.
Instantly Moonshade reacted to it. “Are you okay?” He didn’t answer. “Strongbow? Are you alright?” she asked again and now he turned his head to her and looked right into her eyes.
The time seemed to freeze. The cold air around them suddenly became warm, until it was too hot to bear. The outside sounds faded and the world seemed to be limited by the den. What she saw in his eyes fulfilled her every dream. In her head, she heard the name she had always longed to know, the name that revealed everything an elf was, and the secrets it held. “Wyl?” she whispered. She felt like she was in a trance.
**No!** His mental voice exploded in her mind, containing aversion and refusal. His mind resisted everything that happened. The cold reaction slammed into Moonshade’s mind like a winter storm.
**Go away –** he sent after a long silence, closing his eyes. **Just — go away.**
Sadly, Moonshade nodded. She felt the refusal and it hurt her more than anything else he had ever said or done. She walked away, crying silently.
It took many moons before Strongbow’s wounds were fully healed. He never talked about the accident, like it never happened, neither did he about the thing that happened between him and Moonshade. And so did Moonshade. They didn’t speak to each other since that moment. Although they acted both like there was nothing going on, Longbranch had the feeling there was something. He couldn’t figure it out and tried to spend as much time with Strongbow as the archer would let him, trying to figure it out.
“So, um,” Longbranch started. He sat next to Strongbow who was busy making some arrows. “Are you going to hunt later on?” Strongbow shrugged, but didn’t reply. That was probably a ‘no’, the old Wolfrider figured. He noticed the archer would never tell him anything if he wouldn’t ask it directly to him. And now he found it was time to know the truth. “Come on, Strongbow, I know there is something between you and Moonshade. If you don’t tell it to me I’ll keep asking until it drives you crazy.” Now Strongbow looked up to him. His face unreadable, but in his eyes Longbranch saw something that looked very much like fear. “Does it have something to do with recognition?” Longbranch just guessed, but as Strongbow looked away, he knew he was right. “It is recognition, isn’t it?” The storyteller shook his head. “You should know better than to ignore it, lad.”
**What do you know about it?** He still didn’t look at Longbranch who laid a hand on the young archer’s shoulder. “More than you know,” He paused to see Strongbow’s reaction, but there was none. “I know you’re having a hard time. But don’t you think it’s worth the try?”
**No way, not with Moonshade.**
“Why don’t you get to know her?”
**I don’t want to.**
“You can at least talk to her. What harm can it do?”
**You sound like Woodhue.** Longbranch smiled. **You all think too much.**
“Sooner or later you’ll have to accept it.” The archer sighed. **Thank you so much for reminding me.** He crossed his arms in anger. “Strongbow, I’m serious. You must accept it. Nothing good can come from it if you don’t.” He gently turned Strongbow, so that he faced him. **I never asked for it to happen.**
Now Longbranch smiled. “No one does. But when it happens, it’s better to accept it.”
Strongbow stood up and glanced at the storyteller just one time and walked away, without saying anything. Longbranch decided not to follow him. He knew what the youngster felt, the same way he had felt when he recognized for the first time. Well, not the same, because no one could tell what was going on in Strongbow’s mind. The archer kept his thoughts private for others as much as he could. But now someone had invaded his soul. One person knew his soul name and with it everything he desperately tried to hide. And that one was Moonshade.
It was a rainy night. Bearclaw had gone off with the hunters and the rest of the Wolfriders were hiding in their dens. It was not just a little rain; it was pouring down and flowing over the ground in small creeks.
Moonshade sat in the opening of her den, staring outside, to the rain. She wasn’t really looking, for she was tangled up in her thoughts, thoughts about Strongbow, their recognition. It had been half a season since he had said a word to her and she really felt miserable about it. And the thought he would never admit to the recognition made it even worse. She had heard that Strongbow wasn’t at his best at the hunt. It had been a long time since she had joined the hunt, but it was just because Bearclaw never let women hunt. There were times she really wanted to go with them, to show Bearclaw she was well able to take care of herself.
Suddenly she got up and seized her knife, dusty from disuse. Before going outside she called up her wolf and led it into the forest. “Come on girl, find them,” she whispered, knowing that the wolf could find the hunters easily enough. But it was a far run and she wasn’t prepared for something to happen. She had a strange feeling something was going to happen.
Instantly a bristle boar came running out of the bushes not looking where to go and it ran into Moonshade’s wolf. The tanner fell to the ground and the boar came to a stop. Now it looked at Moonshade with a mad look, before it shook its head wildly. She knew bristle boars weren’t really nice animals, but she could never imagine what they could do, until now.
She felt a pain in her upper leg and when she looked at it she saw a quite big cut in it. Desperately she tried to get up, but it didn’t work. Now she really got frightened. She grabbed her knife to defend herself, and threw it to the beast. It ended up in the front leg, which made the boar even madder than it already was. And it was shoving its hoof in the sand.
Suddenly she thought of Strongbow again, how it would be for him if she died. No, she couldn’t lay down there and die. There was no way she could do so much pain to him. She crawled on all fours away from the boar, but she noticed it coming after her. Maybe she could hide in the bushes. Quietly, but afraid, she watched the boar looking around.
**Strongbow, help!** It was the only thing she could think of right now. **Strongbow, I need you!** But she never expected him to actually come and save her. Just for a moment she was save.
But the boar had smelled her and ran straight to the bushes Moonshade was sitting in. It seemed like the time slowed down and the only thing she could do was watching the boar closing in. The pain in her leg made it impossible to stand up and run away. Oh, high ones, was the last thought before the bristle boar jumped onto her.
Her scream was heard in half the forest, and Moonshade thought she was going to die at the moment. But she heard something making its way though the air and the boar fell down next to her in the sand. For a moment Moonshade was in a shock. Her whole body trembled and she couldn’t speak. After a moment she mumbled; “It- it- I couldn’t–” Tears formed in her eyes and she buried face in her hands. How she wished everything would be all right, she didn’t dare to think. She felt two arms around her shaking body and carefully she looked up, looking right into the face she had hoped to look into. “Strongbow?” she sobbed and buried her head in his chest. **It’s okay,** the archer sent, gathering her in his arms. **Everything’s okay.**
They sat this way until Bearclaw and the other hunters arrived. Strongbow looked up to his chief and nodded. **She’s fine.**
Behind Bearclaw, One Eye and Longbranch glanced at each other, both smiling.
“What got into you to go hunting alone? Wasn’t I clear enough when I made the rule?! You deliberately disobeyed my orders! Look what happened, and it could’ve been worse!” Bearclaw was furious and Moonshade knew she had done something wrong. She knew it all along, but she hadn’t paid attention to it. And now she felt a twinge of regret. “I will never disobey you again, my chief. But I just wanted to-”
“I don’t care what you wanted, I just hope you’ve learnt your lesson and that you will never do it again.” Moonshade looked to the ground and nodded. “Good.” Bearclaw said and walked out of the den.
Now Moonshade sat alone on her sleeping hides. Her wound was fixed, but it still hurt, a thing that wasn’t uncommon after a healing. Though she was so disappointed and sad, she felt a twinge of hope. Strongbow had saved her, when she sent for him. He had to feel the urge too. But the way he had acted to her was unacceptable and she found out it really pissed her off. She picked up her knife and threw it into the wall of her den.
**That looks better.**
Instantly, she turned. A shy smile crossed her face and her cheeks flushed bright pink. “I, eh, I–” she stammered. But the archer shook his head. **You don’t owe me an explanation.** His features were straight and he looked at her dead serious. **I think I owe you one.**
Moonshade looked up in surprise. “Why? It’s me who has been acting so impossible. You don’t have to–.”
**Yes, I do.** He hesitated before proceeding and sat down next to her **I — Since we — recognized and I’ve been feeling terrible. I hardly sleep and I — I just can’t go on like this.** He didn’t look at her now, staring to the ground. Unconsciously she seized his hand in hers and was surprised it was clammy.
“Why did you?” The tanner asked suddenly, self-shocked by what she had said. Strongbow stood up and walked to the den opening, his back to her. Moonshade feared he would run away and never come back. But he just stood there in silence, hands crossed over his chest. Not even his breath was audible. What was going through his mind? Where was he thinking of? Was he ever going to give her an answer? And what would it be? She sighed and fidgeted with the fur.
The silence would’ve lasted much longer, hadn’t the wolves started howling. Strongbow turned his head a little, so Moonshade could see both eyes sparkling in the moonlight. High Ones, he’s beautiful. went through her mind. But instead she said; “How was the hunt?” The archer’s mouth curled into almost a smile, but he didn’t answer. He pointed outside to the two moons. **Do you see that?** he asked, now completely turned to her. **Sometimes I look at those moons and wonder what the meaning is.** Slowly, Moonshade rose, discarding the pain in her leg, and limped to him. He reached out a hand to her, that she gladly accepted.
**Perhaps they are mother and child. Or are they lovers?**
“I’d like to see them as lovers,” Moonshade whispered. Now Strongbow looked right into her eyes. Amused? “So-” Moonshade started. “Now what?” She had no idea if he thought the same thing as she did. The archer shrugged. **I guess there’s just one thing left to do-** He sent as he gently led her to her furs and pulled her down on her back. Then his face appeared above hers. **Hunt went fine, if it weren’t for you claiming my attention.**
“Do you mind?”
**You don’t want to know.** The archer playfully pushed her arms on the ground above her head, so she couldn’t go anywhere.
“Ah, come on, please tell me.”
**Well, my dear Eyrn, if you insist- let’s see if you can satisfy me enough to make me forgive you…** Moonshade giggled girlishly as he started to tickle her.