The Gift

Written by Wordgazer

**Well done, son of wood and desert, moon and sun! Well done, Sunstream!**

The chief’s son had used his inexplicable powers to rid their ancient home of the slayer of Joyleaf and Bearclaw. Strongbow and Moonshade sent their praise as one. Then, under the outstretched arms of the new Father Tree, he and Moonshade leaned against each other and watched the others dance.

But Sunstream was leading another into the circle. Hand in hand with the human girl, he stepped into the middle of the celebration. The bold warrior Strongbow had fought beside seemed strangely timid, now, but as Sunstream held her hands, stepping in place and smiling warmly up into her face, she began hesitantly, then more and more easily, to dance.

Moonshade shook her head a little– but it was at herself, not Shuna. “All I could do for her was stitch pieces of hide together to make a garment large enough.” She laid her head on Strongbow’s shoulder. **Wyl, we have to bring down a kill large enough to clothe her all in one piece.**

Strongbow simply nodded. Long ago there had been a human in the tribe, but his memory of that was faint. Fainter still, now, was his older wish to kill all the creatures who had once killed his Crescent.

He couldn’t describe, even to himself, the gradual change from who he had been to who he was now. But still vivid in his mind was the quest for the Shards– the stark fall through space into Two-Edge’s pit, his last, desperate attempt to save himself with his rope arrow– and Shuna’s cry, “Arrow Spirit! Trust me!” as she thrust out her hand. . .

There had been no other target. Somehow, even falling, his aim had been true– and her scream had echoed in his ears as the arrow pierced her palm, wrenching his gut even as the rope wrenched at his arms and pulled him up.

Once, long, long ago, humans had killed his daughter. Now, a daughter of humans had saved his life.

So the next night, Strongbow and Dart went hunting. And towards morning they brought him in– a buck of eight-and-three points, old one of the forest, majestic even in death.

“Oh, well done!” Moonshade cried, clasping her hands together as the Wolfriders gathered and began to howl. She dipped two fingers in the wound at the buck’s throat and turned to trace two paths down Shuna’s cheek. The human girl’s eyes went wide, but she did not flinch.

“Honor your provider,” Moonshade said softly. “He is going to give you a new garment to wear.”

Shuna smiled, a bit shakily. “Let me help you make it,” she said. “Show me how.”

And Strongbow found himself smiling at her.

When the dress was done, several moons later, Shuna came to their den to show them. “It’s lovely,” she said, smiling her thanks to Moonshade, and Strongbow had to admit the soft, brown folds looked very well on her. She had tied it at the waist with a darker sash, and he thought, all at once, how wrong it seemed that she had no weapon.

He sent an image into Moonshade’s mind, and his lifemate gave a little gasp. Then, after a pause, she nodded to him, the warmth of her approval like honey on his tongue. She crawled into the back of the den– Shuna’s crouching largeness was filling the whole front– and turned back towards them, holding an object in her hand.

“We traded for this once, with the trolls who used to live here,” Moonshade said. “It was–” she stopped a moment, then went on– “It was to have been Crescent’s, but . . .” She cleared her throat. “Then we meant it for Dart, but he preferred the arrow whip. And so–”

She held out a long knife, too short to be called a sword, but lovely in its straight lines, in the shining diamond pattern on its hilt.

Strongbow found his voice. “Wear it for us,” he whispered hoarsely. “For Crescent.”

Shuna had stopped breathing. Now she let the air out in one gasping sob, her eyes filling with tears as she reached for the gleaming hilt.

“I will wear it,” she choked out. “I will wear it– always.”