The Learning Part

By Nevaratoiel

**She will NOT join our gathering!**

With his arms crossed, Strongbow stood straight, facing a shocked Treestump. The eldest Wolfrider had started the topic, because he thought it was time for Leetah to get to know the Wolfriders. It had been two seasons since the healer and Cutter had recognized and there had been many changes since then. Cutter had spent most of the time with Leetah and had eventually moved in with her. He wasn’t needed as much as back in the forest and the only times he spent with his with his tribe were during the hunt and the gatherings (and even those appearances grew rarer). And then Leetah didn’t accompany him. Treestump kind of replaced him as a chief the rest of the time, knowing his sister’s son had enough other things to worry about. And he wasn’t really needed, because there were no threats or similar things.

Now the bearded elf had to face a furious Strongbow, always stubborn and never willing to divide from the way to bend his thoughts to satisfy others. This time was no exception and Treestump knew he had to do a lot of convincing. And even then there was little chance that the archer would give in.

“Now Strongbow,” he began, keeping his voice calm and reserved, not to infuriate him further. “Now that Leetah is Cutter’s mate, has the right of a Wolfrider to join us at the gathering.” Each word was spoken with persistence, but kept as plain and casual as Treestump could.

Strongbow’s eyes seemed to light up in the darkness, anger obvious. **She’s not a Wolfrider,** he spat at the elder. **And she has no right at all!**

It was obvious Treestump couldn’t convince him alone, and so Clearbrook came to his aid. “That’s not a fair thing to say Strongbow,” she started as she stood beside Treestump. “You know as well as I do that the chief’s mate is as much our chieftess. That’s part of the Way.” Here eyes were almost pleading to make him change his mind. “And,” she added, “I do not remember you to deviate from the Way.”

But Strongbow was inexorable. **This has nothing to do with the Way.** He now leaned against the stone that matched the coldness of his sending, which made Clearbrook shiver. **We follow the Way because we are Wolfriders. And Leetah is no Wolfrider.**

The way he articluted the healer’s name hurt Treestump more than he would admit. Sometimes Strongbow could be so cruel and he wondered if the archer even realized it. But he didn’t give the thought much attention as anger crept into his heart.

“You can’t be serious,” Treestump said, now with an edge or irritation to his voice. He had tried to talk it over normally, but it only made Strongbow angrier. “Have you forgotten what Savah said when we arrived here in Sorrow’s End? We are all elves, Strongbow. And it shouldn’t matter whether or not she’s a Wolfrider. She’s an elf, an elf, just like you and me and everyone around.” He raised his arm and turned to the rest of the tribe. They looked at Strongbow and silently nodded, one by one.

Moonshade stepped forward, slowly and hesitant. She hadn’t said anything, as if afraid to admit she didn’t agree with her life mate, which she normally did. Pleading eyes locked with his angry eyes, she grabbed his left hand.

“Please, beloved,” she said as she squeezed his hand softly. “Though it’s hard for me too, to think of Leetah as a Wolfrider,” Strongbow twisted his hand out of her grip and looked away. But Moonshade turned his face back to her. “Look at me!” she spat and was met by his unreadable stare. Treestump noticed that it bothered him and tried not to look at him.

“You WILL listen to me!” Moonshade continued and behind her most the tribe began to shift uncomfortably. Treestump glanced at Clearbrook, who hurried forward to peel the life mates apart. She had noticed the tension between them before, as she was living in the same grotto, together with her life mate and their son.

“Please,” she said as she laid a hand on their shoulders. “Please, why are you doing this?” Though she was looking at both, her words were meant mostly for Strongbow. “Can’t you, for once, be willing to accept something that doesn’t completely comply with the Way?”

**So, you agree it’s not the Way,**Strongbow icily stated, his stare evenly cold. Clearbrook closed her eyes for just a moment, wondering what to say. Not long ago, she probably would’ve agreed with him, but she had got to know Leetah and she had to admit she liked the healer. But that wouldn’t be a valid argument. She sighed as she opened her eyes again. “I just wished you would put aside your single-mindedness and understand that things are changing.” Her eyes were sad as she looked down.

Then she looked up again. “Because changes are part of life,” she now said with more fierceness in her voice. “And if you can’t accept those changes, then–” she trailed off, but her eyes didn’t break the gaze with the archer’s. She sighed again. A long silence followed, as now one dared to say anything.

Suddenly Strongbow straightened and walked away, quietly, well aware of the tribe’s eyes following him as he did so. Treestump figured this would be a long and hard fight to get Strongbow to his senses, as he made his way to Moonshade, whose shoulders had slumped down and unshed tears burning in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she only said, her voice barely more than a whisper. Treestump laid a hand on the tanner’s shoulder and wondered how Strongbow could do such a thing. It just wasn’t right.

The sun was rising as Leetah was cleaning her hut. She had just woken up, while Cutter was still asleep. Knowing he wouldn’t get up until the sun had reached its highest point, she picked up a bucket, which was standing in a dark corner, and walked away to get some water from the water put in the centre of the village. It was getting hotter and she wanted to get it done quickly, not really interested in another bath.

Greeting everyone she passed, Leetah made her way to the put. It was indeed a lovely day, but she wondered when rain would be coming. The plants in the gardens of the villagers were getting thirsty and the put didn’t hold enough to water all the plants. Besides, it would be too much work to water all of them.

As she put down her bucket on the edge of the put, she noticed someone sitting in the shadows. Taking a good look, Leetah saw Moonshade sitting on a rock, looking down to the ground. She didn’t look too happy. Leetah frowned and moved towards the tanner.

“Good morning,” she tried. Moonshade looked up to her and smiled, though it was more of a forced smile. “Good morning Leetah,” she answered. The healer looked at her, puzzlement obvious. “Why the long face, dear?” she asked curiously.

“Oh, nothing much. Just some problems.”

“Do you want to tell me?”

Moonshade sighed. “No, really, it’s ok. There’s nothing for you to worry about.” Leetah was inclined to ask more, but kept her from doing so. “Well, if you say so. But, remember that you can come and talk to me whenever you want, ok?” Moonshade nodded slightly and stood up to return to the Wolfriders’ grottos up in the mountains. “Well, I’ll be seeing you,” she added before walking away.

“Yes, I will see you later.” Leetah smiled, but still confused about the look in Moonshade’s eyes. Shrugging it off, she went back to her bucket, filling it with water, and returning to her hut. Arriving there, Cutter had just woken up, something that surprised her. “Up already, beloved?” she asked with a playful note to her voice, but genuine surprise obvious. Cutter yawned and stretched himself. “Yeah, I couldn’t sleep. You have a bad influence on me, you know that?” he answered with a sly grin. Leetah giggled like a little girl as she sat down next to him, leaning into his touch. “Too late to change it back,” she answered teasingly. “Because now you are mine!” She laughed, as she pushed him down to the ground.

Back in the grottos, Moonshade sat down to do some tanning. She hadn’t slept much after the events of last night, her thoughts keeping her up. She looked back into the grotto at Strongbow’s sleeping form. He hadn’t been there when she arrived to get some sleep earlier, but he had come in just before dawn. She had pretended she was sleeping and had felt him creep under the covers, careful not to get too close to her. Normally she would snuggle up against him, but after their ‘fight’ she didn’t dare. didn’t want to either.

Strongbow could be so stubborn and if he made up his mind about something, one could jump high and low, Strongbow stayed inflexible. How she wanted to talk about it with him and find some compromise. But she knew that even she wouldn’t be able to accomplish that if he really stuck to his opinion. She had been his life mate for such a long time, the others were thinking she was what Joyleaf was to Bearclaw, his advisor and the one to calm him down when he was riled up. Yes, sometimes she was able to do that, but at times like this nothing could get to him. And sometimes she even made it worse.

Suddenly she was drawn out of her reverie by Dart storming inside. “Mother, mother, look what I caught!” he exclaimed, proudly showing a lizard that was dangling from his fingers. Quickly she put her hand against his mouth, silencing him.

**Be quiet,** she sent, **or you’ll wake up the others!** Dart’s eyes widened and he nodded. “Sorry mother, I wasn’t thinking.”

“Well, that’s alright. Just keep your voice down.” The tanner put her hand away and smiled favourable. “Now, let’s see what you’ve got.” She eyed the lizard and examined it in her hand. “How did you catch it?”

“Oh!” He almost went talking loudly again, but remembered why he couldn’t. “I waited a very long time behind a rock and suddenly I saw this little fellow scooping around and I threw my dagger at it, and I hit!” While telling the story, he was smiling and so was Moonshade, all caught up in the story and watching her son expressing his words with his body.

“But hey, hey,” he ended his story, “I’m going to catch more ok, mother? I saw a very big one, right behind that rock there.” The tanner nodded and Dart ran out of the grotto as fast as he had arrived. And Moonshade proceeded with her tanning, satisfied at her son’s success. Rolling up the lizard in a wet rag of leather, she put it away.

She looked backwards when she heard a sound coming from inside and found Strongbow stirring, waking up. He stretched and sat up, quickly getting dressed, getting his bow and walking past Moonshade, ignoring her completely.

“Go ignore me all you want,” she suddenly spat. “You can’t do that to me!” He didn’t react and walked on, calmly, without turning to her. “Do you know how much I hate you right now?!” she yelled at him in the distance. She didn’t really hate him, just the way he was acting, like a jerk. Sometimes he could be as cold as ice and still not feel a twinge of guilt. But then again, that was just Strongbow. Moonshade sighed and continued her tanning.


It had been really hot all day, even for the villagers, because everyone had stayed in their huts as much a possible. Most of the Wolfriders had slept all day and began to wake up at the upcoming moons. Clearbrook was busy combing her hair, while One Eye cleaned up his knife with a piece of leather. Scouter had yet to awake, but if he could predict the future, he knew it wasn’t going to be long.

Where Strongbow had situated himself, was a total mystery. He hadn’t come back since he left and, though Moonshade had had a nap herself in the afternoon, she knew he hadn’t been around while she was sleeping either. She had been with him for such a long time, and yet he occasionally was still a mystery to her. She couldn’t penetrate to his way of thinking. She wished she could sometimes. She even regretted yelling at him, earlier. She didn’t want to be angry with him, nor did she want him to be angry about anything. But Strongbow had a fierce temper and sometimes he frightened her. So he did this time.

“Shade and Sweet Water!” Shenshen stood in the opening of the grotto, a pile of blankets in her small hands. “I thought you might want to have these, because it gets colder every night.”

Moonshade smiled and nodded. “Well, thank you. That’s very nice of you,” she said in a voice almost as cheerful as Shenshen, and the small female blushed at the compliment.

The smile faded as she heard a groan coming from Scouter back in the grotto, “Can’t you be quieter,” he said a little grumpy. Shenshen rushed to him, leaving the blankets on the ground.

“Oh Scouter, Scouter, forgive me. It’s just that it’s such a beautiful day and I thought to cheer you up!” The way her voice echoed through the grotto made Scouter laugh and he tapped the maiden on the head.

“You’re forgiven, but only because you are such a good laugh.” Shenshen pouted, which made Scouter laugh even harder, not able to contain it this time.

Moonshade watched them, still smiling. Scouter was so young and full of innocence. He’d play with all maidens in the village, but still spending enough time with Dewshine, who was about the same age. And though Shenshen was much older (from what the tanner had heard), she was as playful as every youngster around, even playing with Newstar and Dart, and occasionally even with little Wing, who really seemed to like her very much.

Now One Eye had interfered with the two and tickled Shenshen, who was laughing uncontrollably, unable to remain standing. Scouter jumped in and the three of them rolled on the ground like wolf cubs fighting for a scrap of meat.

Moonshade’s thoughts went back to her life mate. He had never been really playful, not even towards Dart. Of course he was affectionate, especially when Dart was just born. He’d made sure that nothing could happen to him. But as Dart grew older, Strongbow started treating his son like an adult, not a child. Strongbow loved his son, and was of course very proud, but sometimes he didn’t act as a father, but as a teacher. And a very strict one, and sometimes even a little harsh. But the fact was he only wanted Dart to be the best archer, better than he was. Though that was practically impossible, because Strongbow had never missed in his entire life, from what the tanner could remember. But he didn’t have a bond with the youngster, not like he used to have with their deceased daughter, Crescent.

Suddenly a shadow fell over Moonshade and she looked up, seeing Strongbow standing just a few feet away from her, his features drawn into a scowl, but face still mostly expressionless. He didn’t say anything, just glared at Scouter and Shenshen, who were oblivious to the change of atmosphere.

Suddenly Shenshen looked up, noticing the dark figure in the cave opening. Normally she wouldn’t be able to see who it was, but the bow around the body gave him away.

“Hiya, Strongbow,” she cheered, not able to see his expression on his face. But Scouter did, his vision adapted to the dark surroundings.

“Um, Shenshen,” he started. “I think we’d better go now.” The auburn haired maiden looked at him, puzzled. “I’ll explain later,” he told her as he pulled her upwards and with him.

Only when they were outside Shenshen noticed Strongbow’s face like a thundercloud and understood why Scouter’s sudden ‘retreat’. Strongbow’s scowl was one she’d never seen before, one she couldn’t make herself, not even when she was really angry. It was obvious he was not happy.

She snorted; “What’s the matter with him?”

“Like I said.” Scouter replied, “I’ll tell you later.”

As the two elves drifted off, Strongbow didn’t even bother to watch them go. He just went inside without a word, getting eyed by One Eye and Clearbrook. He settled against the wall somewhere inside and picked up an unfinished arrow, clearly not wanting to finish it.

“And where were you?!”

Angrily Moonshade stood up and moved towards the archer. She had enough of this situation and him being so stubborn and so ill mannered.

**Why do you care,** was his cold reply. He didn’t even look up to face her as she stood in front of him. He just kept on standing against the wall, fiddling with the arrow without any real interest.

“I just want to know where you are and I don’t want you to run off like a stubborn cub!” The tanner was furious. But so seemed Strongbow and glanced briefly at her before his outburst.

**I won’t let you tell me what I can and what I can’t do! I’m NOT a cub anymore!**

“Then stop acting like one!” The bomb had burst. “You’re acting like a baby, that doesn’t get what he wants!” He almost lunged at her, but somewhere in the back of his mind something said he shouldn’t. So he didn’t.

Without a warning Clearbrook stood, once again, between the two life mates, hands against Strongbow’s chest, and this time One Eye was standing right behind her. They had seen the fire in both elves’ eyes. Clearbrook shook her head.

“Ok, you big babies. I think this is enough for now. Or do you want to draw the attention of the entire village?”

“Who is a baby?”

All four Wolfriders looked up at the sound of the healer’s voice, Moonshade and Clearbrook, genuinely surprised, One Eye a little suspicious and Strongbow utterly outraged.

“Oh, Leetah,” the silver haired elf elder said, but was interrupted by Strongbow’s snarl.

**And what are you doing here?!** His mental voice burned like hot liquid in her mind. It almost hurt and she winced at the power of it. She didn’t like what she saw on his face. But confidently, as she always wanted others to see but what was really not her at all, she walked in further with head up and shoulders straight.

**This is none of your business. Go away.** The mental tone was threatening, but she wouldn’t let him scare her away.

“Well, if it’s about babies, I think I would be qualified to know what you are talking about,” she said, her voice more steady than her heart said she was.

Clearbrook let go of Strongbow, hoping he would behave himself around Leetah. She had learned to like the healer, though she had to admit, she didn’t comply with many of her visions. Though Leetah had lived a fairly long life, it was barely half of the life Clearbrook had lived, and it had been a safe life, here in the Sun Village . And sometimes it seemed like she always came at the most terribly wrong times. And this was one of them.

**I said, go away.**

Well, at least Strongbow wasn’t happy with her presence. And he was getting more annoyed with each second. Leetah seemed to sense that and turned to leave. But Moonshade didn’t agree with that and called out to her.

“Don’t go, Leetah.” Leetah turned back again and saw the apology in the tanner’s eyes even before she actually apologized. “I’m sorry. There are just some issues that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Really? Then, won’t you tell me about it?” She tried not to let her curiosity get the upper hand, but wanting to know what was going on. Moonshade hesitated for a moment, looking from Leetah to Strongbow, not knowing what to say.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, Strongbow interrupted. **I’ll tell you.** he started and Leetah didn’t like the tone in his mentalvoice. ** .to get out of here, now.**He seemed deathly calm, but Leetah decided not to be intimidated by it.

“I will not allow you, a youth, tell me what I must.” She turned to face Strongbow. “When you are old enough to have your say, I will listen. But for now, please grow up.”

And with that she left, not waiting for the archer’s response. One point for me, she thought, satisfaction apparent on her face as she left the cave for what it was.

What a baby indeed, Leetah thought as she walked down to the village. She knew Strongbow was not very fond of her, but this, this she hadn’t expected. But it hardly seemed to matter. He was only a youngster after all, a stubborn cub. And he couldn’t help it. With a smile she reached the village as she met Redlance sitting on the ground, busy with shaping a plant.

“Good day, Leetah,” he greeted warmly. She greeted him in her usual way stopped next to him. “How are you today?” she asked in a polite manner. Redlance smiled and told her everything was ok. And he started to explain what he was doing.

The moment she bended over, she spotted some movement in the corner of her eye and looked upwards to the caverns. There she saw Strongbow walk out of the den, obviously angry. She wondered what was going on, because she hadn’t seen him that angry since she knew him. She wasn’t listening to Redlance anymore as thoughts crept into her mind.

Strongbow always seemed too different from the rest of the forest elves. Their first meeting went not really well. Unlike the other Wolfriders, he had not been open to her. He just stood with his arms folded and not acknowledging her presence. Moonshade had welcomed her a little bit cautious, but she had never been unfriendly.

At first Leetah had thought he just had to adjust, but in those 2 seasons he never had a conversation with him. They had barely been on good foot with each other. He just seemed to tolerate her, but every time she’d come to the grotto’s he had looked at her with disgust. And…

“Are you listening?” Redlance asked kindly, stirring her out of her stream of thoughts. Leetah grinned shyly.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I was just thinking of something I have to do.” She straightened herself and dusted off her clothing. Redlance didn’t seem too sad about it, because he just wished her a good day as she turned to leave. But before she left, she turned around to look at the caverns again. Strongbow was gone.

“Redlance,” she started, “Do you think I’m annoying?”

“What?” He looked surprised. “Of course not! Where did you get that thought?” Leetah sighed.

“I don’t know. I think Strongbow thinks that.” That made Redlance smile. “Don’t let Strongbow intimidate you. He’s just stoic.”

“Stoic? More than that you mean.” She raised an eyebrow. Redlance only shrugged.

“Much more,” he grinned. “Just don’t let him get the better of you.”

“I won’t. Thank you”

“Hey, no problem. I’ll see you around.”

Ah well, Leetah thought, as she watched Redlance leave his spot. I’ll find out about him… some day.

With a sigh Moonshade let her fall down on her sleeping furs. Though the night had just begun, she felt like she had been up for days. All this trouble was getting on her nerves and set her on edge. Even Dart’s happiness seemed to be subdued by the tension between Strongbow and her.

He had not always been this way. Sure, he used to have a quick temper, but ever since his daughter Crescent had been killed by humans, he had changed. He had become more protective than ever when Dart had born and after Bearclaw had been killed by Madcoil, he had become impossible and ever so silent. Every opportunity he got to thwart Cutter he took, no matter what the consequences were.

And after their holt had burnt down, and now they were ‘stuck’ in Sorrows End, it didn’t make it any easier to live with him. The only thing that had been between them was tension. He hated Leetah, while she could get along pretty well with the healer. Just thinking of the complexion of the situation got her tired.

Strongbow had mysteriously left again. She knew he was sitting somewhere around the village, in a deserted cave or on a pile of stones. Though she thought she knew him like the back of her hand, he still had some ‘tricks on his sleeve’. Like the outburst of the past day. He normally wasn’t that vulnerable to her comments, but that had definitely changed. She didn’t want to be in the village either, she preferred a beautiful green forest over this dry, wasted landscape. If only she could penetrate through his wall.

She had closed her eyes and it looked like she was sleeping, which she wasn’t. She could hear Clearbrook and One Eye whisper to each other, not wanting to wake her and their footsteps were careful not to betray much of their presence.

“You can talk aloud if you like,” Moonshade suddenly said, as she opened her eyes and looked over to the two life mates. They smiled sheepishly and continued their conversations as Moonshade closed her eyes again. Their lives had become such a mess and there was nothing she could do about it other than talk, talk a lot. But she hadn’t been able to have a decent conversation with her life mate at all. If he wouldn’t get angry she would and then he would again, and in the end he was the one to leave. But recently she tried to avoid saying anything to him, afraid to piss him off again. The recent argument was a perfect example of what would happen.

She sighed and wondered when he would come back. She really missed the ‘real’ Strongbow. He had seemed so unhappy in the fire, when he helped little Dart down from the tree into her arms. He’d had looked like he was at the verge of tears. She had to cry herself too, but she had been strong for Dart, who was very confused. After that she had lost him for some time, while she and Dart hurried after Cutter to the Troll caverns. She had sent for him, but all she felt back sadness. She had no idea where he went.

The next time she saw him was deep down in the caverns, in Greymung’s ‘throne room’. She’d asked how he was and he replied he was fine. She didn’t believe him then. He had just stared in front of him all the time they were waiting there, Dart sitting on his lap, leaning against him. She had sat next to him and held him, wondering if he felt the way she did. It had been their home and now it was gone. But they were lucky. They were alive.

But why was it then that she wasn’t happy at all? Maybe because she couldn’t share it with the one she so deeply loved.

Suddenly she felt a shaking experience. “Mother, wake up!” It was Dart tugging at her. She opened her eyes an sat up to look at her little cubling.

“What is it sweetie?” she asked. Dart nearly bounced.

“Mother, I have something big- it’s great- wow- have to show father- where is he?” Thoughts were running faster than his mouth could keep up with. And he was so proud, she could see it in his eyes. Normally she would have smiled but right now she was feeling too sad.

“Dart dear. Why don’t you go play outside and as soon as your father’s here I will call you, ok?” Dart noticed his mother’s change of mood and he hugged her.

“Everything will be ok, mother,” he said before he bounced right back outside, not sparing Scouter, who just walked in, his excitement and Moonshade wondered why it was so that children could be so carefree. She wished she could be.

He had been sitting there for ages, deep in one of the caves that were only accessible from the outside of the mountains. All frustrated and angry. More than a thousand thoughts crossed his mind. Why did it have to be Leetah interrupting? Why did she come anyway. He didn’t want to be here. His heart belonged in the woods, dark and mysterious, hunting at night, all the guards he had been on, the freshness of the newly grown leaves in springtime, the beautiful white blanket in the winter. All gone because of the humans and their fires. He hated them even more.

And Moonshade standing up against him, treating him like a child. He was no child anymore, by long. Well, Dart seemed to enjoy his new habitat. They just didn’t understand his motivations, his feelings, and his pain. They were defending Leetah, even his life mate. he couldn’t take it. It was too much.

He ran a hand through Briersting’s fleece. The wolf was resting here from the heat outside, and enjoyed his rider’s company. Little did he know about the worries of the archer.

Strongbow felt a headache coming up. This thinking was not good for him. It just made him tired and even more angrier. With a large sigh he stood up and climbed out of the grotto, glad the sun had reached the other side of the mountain. Still, the air was all lit up blue, much too bright for his night eyes and he squinted a bit. Silently, he climbed to the top, not being able to put his mind off the problems.

He didn’t want to argue with Moonshade, not at all. And not with the other Wolfriders, but they left him no choice. Leetah as a Wolfrider? Ridiculous, he thought. Not in my lifetime. She was just not cut out to be one. And even though she was Cutter’s life mate, she had no right, had she? A shadow passed over him, but he didn’t notice it, so deep in thoughts he was.

“Well, hello to you, too,” a voice suddenly said, which startled Strongbow and he almost lost his balance (while trying not to let it show). With a scowl he looked upwards, right in the cheer blue eyes of Cutter. The young chieftain smiled at him.

**What do you want, son of Bearclaw?**the elder demanded. Cutter sighed. “Ever the nice guy, aren’t you?” He was just teasing, even Strongbow knew. Would he normally just ignore it or shrug it off as a bug, now it only infuriated him.

**Cutter, you don’t want to go any further.** The blond chieftain knew that when the archer used his name like this, he should pry a bit more.

“Alright,” he sighed again. “You’re no fun, y’know.”

**I know. Let’s leave it at that, then.**Strongbow brushed past him and walked on without even acknowledging that the two just spoke, even if it had been for just a second.

Cutter raised an eyebrow. That was weird, he thought. This wasn’t the Strongbow he knew. Of course, he was the one who scolded him as a cub and taught him hunting skills. Although. the archer always did it against his will, or so it seemed. He never seemed to have any fun in it. And when Cutter tried to be very obstinate, he never gave in. There was lots of fun in the thought.

But Cutter had never seen him so troubled. And he certainly wanted to know more about it. Silently, and a lot of paces behind, Cutter began to follow him, hoping the elder would not notice him doing so.

Strongbow, slowly walked back to the Wolfriders’ caves, having the feeling he was being followed, but didn’t pay much attention to it, his mind being preoccupied again with thoughts flooding his mind. He didn’t want to confront Moonshade. He hoped she, and the others, would just leave him to himself.

But no such luck it seemed. As soon as he entered the cave, the tanner rose from where she was seated and approached him. “Beloved?” she started in soft voice, but he shrugged her off. **I don’t want to talk.**

She let him pass, but didn’t take her eyes off of him. He didn’t even let her finish, which angered her a little. “Strongbow,” she started anew, her voice less softly than before. He didn’t react, even if she used his name instead of beloved or his soul name. He knew what it meant when she did. “Your son wants to see you,” Moonshade finally said after a pause. With that she left.

Strongbow sighed. This wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Maybe he was wrong. No, he said to himself. Leetah is no Wolfrider, she has no right. And she hadn’t, had she? He looked outside and could just see Cutter duck away behind a rock. Strongbow almost smiled. Though Cutter was the chief, he was still only a cub. And he had been right when he had felt followed.

**Are you going to stay there behind that rock, cub?** he asked, his mental voice much gentler than the moment earlier when he met the chieftain on his way out of the outside grotto. Instantly, Cutter’s head popped up from behind the rock and smiled wryly. “Oops, guess I’m loosing my touch.”

**What touch?**

“Well…” Cutter hesitated for a second.

**You never were able to sneak up on me.** True, very true, Cutter thought (though he made the mental note he had almost succeeded moments earlier). He always tried, when he was young, but the archer always scooped him from the bushes, scolding him, that he shouldn’t sneak up on others, that it was only meant for the hunt and that he was terrible at it, and so on. The young chief smiled.

**What are you still doing here? I thought I had made myself clear enough.** The tone in his mental voice had changed to that of a parent scolding his child.

“Well, yeah, you did, but I haven’t seen you like this before. I just wanted to see if you were ok.”

**I’m fine. You can leave now.** There was no threatening tone in the archer’s voice, but something told Cutter that it was better if he left. “Alright, but I will find out what’s going.”

Strongbow didn’t reply as he walked past Cutter to go see his son. The chieftain sighed. He only now noticed how much he had missed in those two seasons he had moved in with Leetah. He wasn’t aware of the well being of his tribe and the problems. It was obvious something was very wrong and that it had something to do with Strongbow…

As Cutter walked down the mountain path, thinking over the confrontation between the two elders only a few moments before. He was more curious than ever. It wouldn’t surprise her if this had something to do with the tension of living in the Sun Village . And knowing Strongbow to be very opposed to the villagers and their ways, he suspected, something had transpired between the archer and one or some of them. What Cutter couldn’t explain was why. Strongbow always kept himself away from the village as much as possible, only appearing when his presence was required. And even then he seemed reluctant to interact with anyone, even with his own tribes mates. That was something that surprised Cutter more than anything.

Strongbow always had been a quiet, secluded elf, but he seemed to be shutting himself off even more, ever since they stumbled upon the Sun Village . He never left any opportunity unused to insult or belittle the villagers, to Leetah’s secret grief. She had once spoken about it with Cutter, hoping that as chief he could do anything about it. And he had spoken with the archer about and though the elder at first sputtered, he finally got him to promise it keeps the insults to a minimum. He wisely had kept it for himself that Leetah was the one that had asked, but he suspected he knew, because he noticed Strongbow glaring at her.

After that there had been little incidences that involved Strongbow and the villagers. But he had also tried to keep them away from the stubborn archer.

Cutter sighed and stopped his pace. He had to talk with Moonshade, he decided and turned around to walk back up to the mountain caves when he was almost run over by Dart.

“Whoa! Oh sorry, Cutter, but I’m in a hurry. See you later, ok?”

Cutter smiled and resumed his pace back up, this time taking up his speed. What would he say to her. Moonshade was probably as close mouthed about the whole ordeal as her mate was. He couldn’t just barge in and confront her with it. No, he had to use some tactic. Hmm, that will be hard, he thought as he almost reached the grotto. He stopped walking when he heard soft voices inside.

“But I cannot understand why he won’t talk to me. It’s not like I have given him any reason to, or have I?” It was undoubtly Moonshade, her voice sounded sad and at the point of bursting in tears.

“Don’t talk like that, my friend. There’s nothing you could’ve done about it. Strongbow probably doesn’t even realise what he is doing to you,” he heard Clearbrook, and Cutter almost snorted. Moonshade made the sound for him, as if having the same thoughts.

“Sure he doesn’t. He’s too busy with wallowing in his anger.”

Cutter stepped a little closer to peek inside and saw Clearbrook smiling at the comment.

“Maybe you should give him some more time. I’m sure he will see that he’s unreasonable.”

Moonshade shook his head. “I don’t believe he will. He’s so focused on not letting Leetah into the tribe and you know how much he detests her.”

“Maybe I can help.”

It was out of Cutter’s mouth before he noticed it and both Moonshade and Clearbrook’s heads shot up in his direction. With a wry and apologising smile the young chieftain stepped out of the shadows.

“I’m sorry, I overheard your conversation.”

Moonshade looked to the ground, as she had done previously, and sighed. “I’m afraid you can do little about it, especially because you’re Leetah’s mate.”

Cutter frowned with eyes questioning. Moonshade started to explain what had transpired at the most recent gathering. The words tumbled from her mouth in a way very unlike Moonshade, but Cutter didn’t say anything as he listened with open ears.

“I understand,” he said in great length of the story. “I understand his motives. He probably feels as if he made too many sacrifices already, and in such a short time. I dared not bringing up this subject, in fear of the reactions, and especially his reaction. But I see my uncle gathered his nerves before I did.”

Moonshade had started crying silently by now. It had to affect her a great deal to be able to release her emotions like that. From what Cutter knew of her, the tanner was not an overly emotional elf. Though much softer and friendlier than Strongbow, she could be as hard as flint. But when it came to the ones closest to her, her devotion was unconditional and her loyalty strong as rock.

“But what can we do? Strongbow is obviously beyond reasoning.”

Clearbrook’s voice cut through his thoughts. He sighed. That was a problem indeed, and one he did not have a simple solution to.

“Where is he now?” he asked. Clearbrook shrugged and sighed.

“I don’t know, but in some way he always manages to disappear to somewhere no one can possibly find him.”

“I did find him earlier today. Maybe if I go looking for him, I might be able to find him again.” Now Moonshade shook his head.

“I don’t think that will work. Even if you manage to find him, I doubt he will talk to you. You, as being merely a cub to him, telling him what to do, even if you’re our chief, won’t please him.”

All three were silent for a while, lost in thought; Moonshade still with tears in her eyes and sniffing softly, Clearbrook with an arm around her and Cutter standing straight with hands loosely folded.

“If you keep thinking on that line of thought you will never find the answer.”

All three heads snapped up at that familiar voice, shocked face apparent. Clearbrook recovered first and put her hands at her hips and cracked a silver eye brow.

“Were you eavesdropping, beloved?” she said, a faint smile touching her lips.

One-Eye stepped out the shadows of the deeper part of the cave, shaking his head slowly as if in amusement.

“No, my dear. You forget that I live here too and that sometimes even I am in need of sleep.” Now the smile on his face was apparent and walked towards the trio. But his face grew serious as he approached Moonshade and he kneeled in front of her, pushing up her face with his hand so that he locked eyes with her.

“There’s no use in trying to find Strongbow if he doesn’t want to be found,” he started as he looked up at Cutter and Clearbrook and back to the tanner. “Therefore we must make sure he comes willingly.”

“That will never work,” Cutter interrupted.

“Maybe not,” One-Eye continued. “Normally I would agree with you, but I have an idea that might work.” He looked around, as waiting for a reaction of some sort, but when none said anything, he continued; “Well, it’s not to hard to figure out. He never misses the gatherings. So why would he stop coming now. We all know how much the tribe means to him. He can’t desert them, certainly not at the gatherings.”

Unconsciously, a smile made its way on to Moonshade’s face. But now they had to figure out what to do when Strongbow appeared.

-Unfinished, on hiatus for the time being-