Winoa stretched her hands out from the warm blankets only to feel how cold the ground around her was. With the chill climbing up her arm towards her spine where it branched out across her body, the taureness shivered. Her body retreated closer to the small body beside her. She felt his deep, repetitive breathing as she set her head upon his small chest. His heartbeat was steady, just as it should be for his age. For the moment, she was at peace.
Then she remembered.
It was Winter's Veil today! Oh, how Maliko had been excited for today! She had been planning out today for months now. First, they were going to be opening presents and sing lovely melodies of both old and new traditions. Then they would hike down the hill to Sun Rock's main hut to gather with the rest of the tribe. There they would continue their merrymaking tunes, where the children would dance and sing along. Meanwhile the Elders offering blessings and guidance for the Dance of the Earthmother. Festivities would continue for the rest of the day, such as fortune telling and a story circle. Finally, the whole of the Stonestriders would gather together for a bountiful feast, giving thanks to the Earthmother before laughing and eating like a big family. It was going to be a wonderful day, she thought with a smile.
Memory struck again, this time with an angry force. It was such that her sleepy smile turned into an aware frown.
There would a few spots around that feast that were empty. There always was, what with many of the tribesmen unable (or unwilling) to return home for the holiday. But this year would be the first without Jafern's hearty laugh.
As the realization hit her, she began to rise from her spot. Winoa was careful to make sure Maliko would still be covered, as he was somehow still sleeping and she was determined to keep it that way. With her warm body gone, the boy furrowed his brow and turned to his other side. He wrapped his arms around the figure opposite to Winoa, furrowing into her for heat. The other taureness laid there silent and calm, though the critters by her hooves were less than amused by the sound of a growl and whining noise.
As she lifted the flap of the tent, she was greeted by the rushing chill of the wind. Looking up, the Skyfather was rather dark and gloomy with clouds covering the celestial bodies. The ground was covered in a fluffy layer of fresh snow, not a print to be found but her own.
She walked towards the ledge of the hill, peering upon Sun Rock to see no one else out either. It was hard to tell from her distance, but she couldn't make out any other prints in the snow below.
No wonder Maliko still slept. It couldn't be any earlier than dusk for no one to be outside yet. That or it was a heavy storm last night. Really, Winoa found it hard to tell so early in the morning, especially since she was rarely up before the others. She sighed and stood on the ledge, simply watching the sky.
Jafern used to love watching the heavens with her. She would point to constellations and speak of their lives and deaths. Usually, he's just lay back and listen, making a quick quip when he found something to laugh about. She would chuckle around the fourth time he told her how Mu'sha must have had a mushy heart to fall for the Great Stag before continuing the story.
There was one night where he was unusually silent throughout the night. They would have been in Storm Peaks, camping in an old titan complex before returning to their base. It was a calm, clear night, so they sat under the stars like normal. She began explaining the second star to the left of Mu'sha, who had been a noble maiden dedicated to the moon in life and a loyal companion to her in death.
Despite the many opportunities to say something, Jafern sat still and seal-lipped. She had begun worrying about his well being when he asked her about the general layout of the stars, why they were even there. Taken back by his curiosity, she answered it was to preserve their legacies and for their descendants to remember them by.
"How do they like to be remembered by?" He had asked.
"It depends on the ancestor…"
"How about the maiden?"
"She loved Mu'sha with all her being." Winoa blushed with answer, stuttering out the answer. "How she loved her depends on who you asked. Some said it was like sisters, close friends, mother and daughter…."
Winoa's blush only spread. "That's how Epana always-"
She was interrupted by a pair of lips against her own. It was a gentle kiss, long and oddly sweet. It seemed to last for many minutes, but was only for moment. Just as quickly as the kiss started, it ended with Jafern pulling back.
"Would the maiden have that be a part of her legacy?" He asked.
She simply nodded as she laid back. No words were needed for the rest of night, simply each other's company.
The taureness sighed as she recalled that first kiss. She had always thought she would know when she would get her last smooch, though she knew better now. Wiping a few stray tears from her face, she glanced back at the night sky. The clouds were still heavy, but she could see a few birds chirping for winter berries and nuts. Seeing how the time had passed with the numbness of her hands, she rushed back into the tent.
The freezing breeze entered before her, twisting around the now lively figures. Her son sat on top of the blanket with two small boxes in his lap. They were crudely wrapped with scraped hides, with the bare skins of which showing. Maliko wore a large grin on his face, complete with utter joy at the occasion as he bounced his leg and down. Meanwhile, Kennocha seemed just as cheery. Winoa could have sworn that the warmth of her Sister's smile had heated the tent to be nice and toasty. Her animals still slept near the bottom of her hooves, which allowed the water walker to gleam a peek at two distinct presents. One of which was a long rectangle while the other was an even box. Both of them were wrapped in simple wrapping paper from Orgrimmar.
Maliko pointed to where his mother had been sleeping earlier that morning. "Presents, Mama, presents!" The boy shouted as began making wild pointing gestures to where she had been storing her presents.
She quickly grabbed her gifts for her family and sat down alongside Kennocha and Maliko. By now, the two were eagerly debating who was going to give the first gift to who.
"I'll begin. Maliko," Winoa stated, making the other quit arguing as she extended one of two presents to her son. "This is for you."
The gift wasn't wrapped. Instead, it was placed inside a small blue bag with a red bow placed near the opening. Maliko jumped to take it, reaching inside it to grab the gift. His smile widened further when he felt the soft texture of the present and lifted it for the taurenesses to see. They all examined the present, seeing a plushed eagle come from the bundle of the bag. It was made of some sort of cloth and hide combination to create the effect of small feathers around the exterior. It had large button eyes, glittering a dark midnight blue.
"It's an eagle!" Maliko screamed with glee at the sight. "For me!"
"Yes it is." Winoa observed.
Kennocha giggled at her nephew's joy. "What a nice bird you have there!"
Maliko nodded. "Yeppers! But he needs a name…." He turned to his dragonhawk and shifted his head to one side. "What do you think Eagle?"
The dragonhawk gave only a squawk in response.
"Yea, we can't call him Eagle. That oughta get weird…." Maliko responded, trailing off as he continued to think.
"A-ha!" Suddenly, he snapped his finger. "Mama, Auntie Kenn, this is Dragon. He is the coolest bird who ever did fly!"
Winoa felt her chest fill with pride at her son's happiness. "Well, it's nice to meet you Dragon." She extended her hand out to the bird's claw.
Maliko motioned for the plushed toy to slap his mother's hand, trying to make it look like a handshake. "You as well." He said in a deep voice, obviously trying to speak for Dragon.
"Oh!" Maliko shouted as he ran back to his spot and picked up one of the small boxes. "I got something for you too!"
He shoved the box into Winoa's hands. She yanked at the hide, seeing it to be rather tough and hard to tear through. "Kenn, do you have anything to cut these with?"
The druidess shook her head. "Not usually, no."
Winoa sighed, pulling out a small knife from her pocket. She began to cut through the stubborn hide, though she found it be a slow process to do right.
"Would you mind giving Maliko your gift then?" The water walker asked.
"Of course." Kennocha nodded, grabbing the square gift before giving it to the child. "Happy Winter's Veil."
The boy grabbed the present and tore through the wrappings. He uncovered the top of the box and threw it across the tent before grabbing...a hide? From Kennocha?
As Maliko lifted the gift out from the box, the water walker could see a seam distincting two separated hides together. The first was a dark brown color, short but groomed while the other was gray and longer.
"What's this?" Maliko asked, flipping it over as he tried to figure out what it was.
"It's a cloak to stay warm." Kennocha furrowed her brow, upset to see he didn't know what it was. "A friend of mine gave it to me during a Cohort event. He said it had the power to deter bears or wolves away depending on which side is turned upright."
Suddenly, Maliko perked up. "Which side is against beers?"
"The brown fur." Kennocha answered.
"Maliko…." Winoa asked cautiously as she finally managed to break the hide on her gift. She reached for Kennocha's in order to save time. "What are you thinking?"
"I just wanna do see something, Mama." The boy defended. "Just curious."
"Uh huh," The water walker said in a convincing voice.
"But I am!"
Kennocha put her hand on Maliko's shoulder. "Please, I do not know true it is. Keep safe, alright?"
The boy grumbled. "Alright.."
"Got it!" Winoa declared, hoping to get things going on a different track. She ripped at the hides until the box was uncovered enough so she could open the lid. Once done, she brushed her fingers upon her present.
"What's this?" She asked as she grabbed her gift's contents. "Something….cool."
"Yes." He answered.
She rubbed it between her fingers. "It can't be any bigger than a pebble. What is this?"
Maliko grinned widely. "Open it and see!"
Winoa listened and navigated her hand through the small opening to the open air of the tent. She gazed upon the small object, seeing a small striped rock. It was layered with many shades of brown sediment, with flecks of whites and blacks. "What's this?"
"A rock!" Maliko stated, gleaming with pride. "Daddy sent to me from when he was on the beach. He said it was like you."
The water walker tilted her head to the side. "Really?"
"Yea!" He shouted. "Like the sea!"
"How sweet!" She smiled, leaning in to kiss Maliko's cheek. "Thank you."
"It was no problem." The boy assured.
Then he reached out to the gift his mother had just finished unwrapped for her Sister. "It's for Auntie Kenn, Mama!"
Before she had time to react, he had hopped to Kennocha's spot and handed her the gift. "For you!"
"Thank you, Little Wave!" Kennocha chuckled as she finished unwrapping the box. She uncovered the lid and looked inside. Her eyes widened as she reached to grab its contents. She gently lifted a small budding seed. There was only a small green plant breaking free from the seed's constraints, somehow surviving this far without the necessary sunlight, dirt, or water. Both she and Winoa glanced over the seed, confused as to why Maliko wrapped it.
"Where did you get this?" Kennocha asked, taking in the sight of the seed in her hands. "I have yet to see this species."
"It's a Northrend seed," Winoa stated. "Though I don't see how he could have gotten it."
"It's from the Dance of the Earthmother, with all the other tribes." Maliko reminded his mother. "When we were in Northrend for the festival and you got our fortune read."
Winoa looked to her son with a mix of surprise and amazement. "And you kept the flower?"
"Yep!" Maliko said. "It's a Rose! The druid said it means love and I thought of Auntie Kenn, who likes hearts and care and stuff."
"Ah," Kennocha sighed lovingly. "Thanks Maliko."
The boy nodded and looked to the flap of the tent. "Can I go outside and play before we go?"
Kennocha nodded. "Of cour-"
"Only after Aunt Kennocha and I are outside with you." Winoa interrupted.
"But Mama!" He whined.
"No buts!" Winoa declared. "And you need to wear the cloak. It was snowing last night."
With that the boy renewed his smile and wrapped himself in his new bear/wolf cloak. He whisked away Dragon and Eagle, sprinting to the exit as he left the taurenesses without heed.
The two briskly ran after him, only to be met by a snowball aimed between the two. Kennocha gasped as she tried to make sense of the situation, but was stopped by Winoa as she set her hand on her shoulder.
"He does this every year." She stated.
Kennocha turned to her Sister, confusion plain on her face. "You yelled at him last time he did it."
Winoa glanced down at the snow-covered ground as she sighed. Her Sister watched her breath rise above her head as she waited for an answer. However, Winoa remained silent as she walked over to the same ledge she had stood on that morning.
Kennocha watched her Sister in concern, trying to discern what Winoa was thinking. She followed Winoa's eyes to see where her Sister was staring. To her surprise, it was the sunlit sky. True, An'she now rose above the mountains, but you could still make out a few of the stars as Mu'sha declined for another night. Among them was one that held Winoa's gaze. Kennocha recognized it, though was terribly confused as to why her Sister would be watching the Maiden of Mu'sha until…
"Oh," The druidess whispered as the puzzle pieces connected. "Are you alright?"
The water walker was silent.
"I know you miss him, Winoa. I do too." Kennocha stammered. "But today's Winter's Veil. Maliko was miserable the other night at story time, thinking about him. He barely moved throughout the event."
Winoa looked back over at Maliko with concern as she listened to her Sister.
"He has been so lively today though. I know we both want to make his first Winter's Veil without Jafern a wonderful time, but we have to be having one as well." Kennocha continued, her face dropping with a small smile. "Jafern would have wanted us to happy."
Winoa sighed, lowering her head before nodding. "Alright."
There was silence between the two as they fought over their loss. Only the sound of Maliko's laughter filled the air, but they were contented with that for a while. However, the bliss couldn't last forever.
Kennocha bit her lips as she put her gift into Winoa's hand. "For you." She simply stated.
Winoa's sad eyes looked over the narrow package. Her hands crossed over its wrappings as she slowly unwrapped it. She opened the box, her fingers following a simple motion as she picked the gift up with her hand. It was a wooden shaft, with one end sharpened to a dull point while the other had been ripped off. The item looked like it had seen better days, as the whole thing was coated in a layer of dirt and grim. Near the dull end, she could see the barest hint of a dark red color. The only distinguishable mark was a small inscription of a fern waving in the breeze by a large pond. Her eyes wandered over and over the object repeatedly, trying to figure out what the gift was.
"What on Azeroth is with your gifts this year, Kenn?" The water walker asked weakly.
"I thought you might want it." The druidess bowed her head towards the broken shaft. "It was, well, Jafern's."
Winoa turned back to her friend, gazing into her eyes for confirmation. "Was this….?"
"Unfortunately, it was." Kennocha nodded. "The Elder and I were able to find it when it washed up onshore. I have never seen it this bad, but it is his. She thinks that-"
The druidess was interrupted by a sudden hug on behalf of her sister. She could feel Winoa sobbing into her shoulder while she gripped onto the weapon her mate had died fighting with. Kennocha let herself cry as well, letting her tears soak into the water walker's robe.
After a few minutes of this, the water walker finally let go of her Sister. She wiped away the long overdue streaks from her face, trying to compose herself as she handed the final gift of the night to Kennocha. The druidess accepted the gift, fumbling the package in her hands for a couple of moments before deciding to look a good look at the last present of the night.
It was a medium sized box, well wrapped in seasonal paper from Thunderbluff. She bit her bottom lip as she removed the top from the box, feeling the present to be rather heavy. Her fingers moved across the interior until it reached something flat. It felt like tanned hides if she ever knew them. Lifting the hide covered item from the box, she saw it was a book. The hides were simple and a bit worn out from use. The bindings holding the vast array of parchments was fraying away, but could have been worse. Flipping through the pages, she tried to sniff them only to find her nose clogged. It was rather unfortunate for her, as she would have been greeted by the comforting scent of aging papers and thick ink. She thought nothing much of the gift, until she stopped on the last page. It read as follows.
I don't have too much time to write, so I'll make it quick.
I miss you.
There is no other way to express my longing to see your lovely face again. I know I don't tell you this often, but I love you and your love of everything. While it often got annoying while growing up, it has left a hole in my life that none can fill.
I don't write this letter just to walk down memory lane though. Times have changed since I last saw you three years ago. Something's going on on the Broken Isles. Something foul, or should I say fel? You know, because it's another demon invasion?
Well, I'm not sure. They keep saying we might not be coming back from this trip, so I wanted to say that I loved you. Ancestors watch over us, little sis.
The final letter was dated about two weeks before the Broken Shore. It may have been short, but it was enough to make the druidess to start crying hysterically. She lowered herself to the ground, holding onto the base of a pine tree as she cried. Winoa sank to her level and hushed what was supposed to be comforting words into her ears.
"These were all the letters Jafern kept between the two of you." She explained. "He always made himself a copy of the ones he sent out and attached the originals from you."
The water walker stopper herself there, realizing that Maliko had been watching the whole scene.
"Maliko?" She asked before he jumped onto the two huddled taurenesses.
The three taurens sat in the snow for what seemed like a simple moment, comforting one another on their shared loss. It wasn't until Maliko saw the other children running to the main hut that he began to call out.
"Wait for us!" He yelled before leaping off.
The remaining taurenesses looked at one another, gifts in each hand as they smiled.
"To the feast?" Kennocha asked.
Winoa nodded. "To the feast."
Author's Note: Well, that was more bittersweet than I was going for, but oh well. Have a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!