Lionheart waited, relaxed and sprawled backwards on the warm rocks of the plateau. Tonight the riddled caves and warm rocks of the wolves' dens were keeping Boldscout occupied. At the moment the cubling was toddling quite steadily from cave entrance to cave entrance, peering inside with unending curiosity. Little towers of flat rocks were piled at edges of some of the caves, a testimony to the creative urges that sparked the youngster's imagination and led Boldscout to build these piles.
Even Lionheart's patience was wearing thin, and the sandy haired youth had to take time out of the intensive cubsitting to simply collapse and try to regain some of his energy before once again chasing after his half-brother.
He kept his blue-green eyes on the forest's shadows below the low cliffs and boulders at the plateau's edge. It was common to see Mooncrier pacing back and forth from her birthing den to the woods, sometimes returning with food, sometimes empty mouthed. Her pups were larger now, and could sometimes be seen venturing from the cave. But it wasn't the wolves he was interested in watching tonight. Now his eyes were searching the depths of the dark shadows for a certain stealthy huntress, with jet back hair and coldly flashing eyes. His father's lifemate, Dirk.
For once it wasn't just the desire to pass off responsibility of Boldscout that made Lionheart anxious to find the cub's mother. No, he'd decided that cubsitting should earn him something in return. He had always been in admiration of Dirk, but that was tempered by both fear and intimidation. Lionheart had seen her in action and she had deadly accuracy with her namesakes, which was part of why he wanted to talk with her.
His skill in weaponry was pretty limited, but he was trying to master the sword. He'd even begun to work with long- range weapons like arrow whips and short bows, both being taught to him by his father.
Surefire was so quiet and reserved that it was sometimes hard to get inside his head. As much as Lionheart loved his father, Surefire had disappeared too many times, being aloof and abrupt and Lionheart was starting to feel like they had lost the closeness that had once tied them together.
It was a strange hope, but in some part of his mind, Lionheart desperately wanted that back. And he hoped that if he could get closer to Dirk, maybe he'd have something closer to the close-knit family he once knew. And with his newfound apprenticeship as troll lore keeper, he needed to become stealthier with an easy-to-hide weapon, unlike his sword, if he ever wanted to get close to the troll caverns.
His eyes still on the forest below, Lionheart jumped as he felt a shadow fall across the warmth on his back. He turned, seeing Dirk standing behind him. She'd managed to find him without making a sound, proving once again how much of a huntress she truly was. In that moment, Lionheart was struck by another pang of intimidation - like her wolf, Dirk was high in rank and deeply respected. And he…well, he was pretty darn low. He opened his mouth slightly, trying to gather up the courage to speak.
"Um, Dirk? Will you help teach me stealth?" Lionheart braced himself for an angry refusal, hardly daring to hope she'd say yes.
"Don't tell me you have to sneak up on Boldscout now," she teased and Lionheart had to laugh at that.
"Naw, it's not him I'm worried about. It's just that the Chieftess says that I have to get more practice with stealth and stuff before I'm allowed to actually go to the troll caverns."
Dirk's customary smirk thinned and eyebrows rose at hearing 'troll caverns'. "I agree. You need to be quiet, swift and a lot more dangerous before getting near those wart-diggers." She briefly headed to find Boldscout, leaving Lionheart alone for a moment. He moved to follow her; the look she had given him was almost enough to make him break off his line of questioning. But his curiosity - and pride - got the better of him.
"More dangerous?" he parroted back at her. "You don't think I'm dangerous enough?" His own eyebrows rose. He considered himself quite deadly with the sword. Dirk remained quiet save to coo hello to the youngest cub and bouncing the boy as she watched Lionheart.
"Can you kill someone who jokes with you?" The question had narrowed eyes that focused solely on him. Lionheart was taken aback.
"Why would I want to?" He tipped his head to the side, honestly confused. There was a sigh from the huntress, the kind where one thought of answering or not. Then Dirk huffed through her nose and started back to the forest, with her free hand gently guiding Lionheart with her.
"Have you ever asked some of the older tribe mates, like Nettle?"
Lionheart shrugged a bit. "Not really specifically." He shaded his eyes with one hand as he looked back at Dirk. "They just keep telling me to keep practicing for 'someday' when I can go. I never get any reasons."
"And they wonder why I let him play with a knife," she muttered to herself with exasperation while bouncing Boldscout in her arm before continuing.
"I wasn't born, Lionheart, but some of the others are old enough to recall things. Mad One's howl, even Halfkin could remember how his parents died because of them." She led them past others as they made their way toward the Elder Tree.
"So why don't you think they're dangerous?"
Lionheart grinned slightly. It sounded like despite Dirk's surface exasperation she was happy to have a captive audience for one of her stories.
"Well, even I know that they are but..." He threw up his hands towards the skies in a dramatic gesture. "Listen to yourself. You're not even old enough to have first hand experience with their 'danger'. And Honeyhue wasn't killed - and she's told me so many other stories about them - they seem more fun then scary." He gave a mock glare. "And don't just tell me 'Never trust a grinning troll.' - I've heard that way too many times."
For the first time he saw Dirk go completely white as she stopped and stared at him. The teasing seemed to have gone right past her. Horror plainly on her face before her eyes flashed in true anger. Lionheart's teasing expression dropped as soon as he saw the change in Dirk. He stepped back, clearly afraid to do anything else.
"Dirk?" His voice was barely above a whisper, and his entire body was tense, wishing he could take back everything and just go back to watching Boldscout.
"Fun? Trolls stories are fun? And your father isn't helping either by not talking!" She was truly angry. Apparently at many that included her lifemate. "Your father has scars from fights with trolls, and could have died before your mother did! High One's!" As her voice turned to a growl she stepped forward and swiftly grabbed hold of Lionheart's wrist to drag him with her toward the dens. Thankfully they were close. Dirk stood at the bottom of the den-tree and gave a strong open send for Surefire, with an angry tone.
'Definately the wrong word to use.' Lionheart jerked back awkwardly for a minute, but Dirk's strength easily overpowered the youth, and he soon gave up resisting - hoping that by going along with Dirk her anger would recede. Apparently not so. He could only frantically try to avoid trees and a broken wrist as he was pulled roughly toward the den tree. He glanced over at Dirk again. Her angry expression hadn't withered at all, and the force of her anger-stricken sending made him wince. Why did he have such a knack for getting into trouble?
A few tribe mates paused to stare at them, which Dirk neither acknowledged nor cared about. **Surefire, get your scar-skinned hide over here NOW!**
Not a dozen heartbeats passed before she got impatient and looked about with the look of finding prey. Apparently it wasn't fast enough for her, for she started dragging them back to the wolves' den area. Lionheart thought it would probably be even stupider to shout 'Make up your mind already!' at the fiery huntress so he put up with the dragging, gritting his teeth slightly. He wouldn't give Dirk the pleasure of seeing that her grip was hurting him. When she paused again, he breathed a sigh of relief, lifting his free hand to pull a wayward twig from his bangs. He glared at Dirk, not seeing the point to all this and getting fed up with the rough treatment. He forced his face to relax and wait for her next attack.
By then she was more stiff then death-on-legs as she set the brisk pace. Finding Survivor and Halfkin - who watched in alarm at their approach - she almost shoved Boldscout to Survivor. The good thing was she had to let go of Lionheart to do that. Then turned to Halfkin.
"I need your help," she told him almost neutrally except for the look in her eyes. Lionheart snatched his wrist back and looked guilty for making light of the trolls. He knew some had had bad experiences with them and his words were meant to be taken in the lighthearted manner that he had spoken them in.
Halfkin gave a curious, questioning look at Lionheart before giving Dirk a wary, "how?" Lionheart pleaded with his eyes at Halfkin, not daring to say a word, but begging to be let off of Dirk's hook.
Dirk gave Survivor a polite "thanks" and then calmly started herding the two a short distance away. "I need you to remember something, Halfkin, about the war with the trolls."
Halfkin, acknowledged Lionheart's plea with concerned but slightly amused, amber eyes. He did shrug a little unhappily at the huntress' inquiry. "Don't think I know too much more," he told Dirk, who gave a grin.
"I have dreamberries to help. And Lionheart should know it too this time if he's going to apprentice with Nettle." Halfkin invited them to a more comfortable ring of rocks to sit down, Dirk tucking in her seat.
Lionheart dutifully walked over to the rocks, keeping Halfkin between him and Dirk. He perched on the edge of one rock, getting ready to remember everything that was told, but never taking his wary eyes off Dirk, even though his ears were trained on Halfkin.
"What happened back then?" he asked, very interested and half glad that Dirk had asked for this story. He'd never have thought Halfkin would be telling about it. Dirk handed Halfkin her small pouch of dreamberries, who took them and then gave Dirk an unreadable expression. Dirk seemed to calm down and eyes went to the ground as Halfkin gave Lionheart his attention. So only he saw the flash of a grin the wolf-talker gave him.
"I truly don't remember much, cub," he admitted as he reluctantly took a mouthful of dreamberries. "Only bits. I'm no howl keeper. So why did you get dragged to me?" he asked Lionheart in concern.
Lionheart looked warily at Dirk. "Joked about the wrong thing. No one really speaks about the troll war or anything. It's more just about dreamberry wine, trading and toss stone when the trolls are mentioned."
Dirk seemed to get a "did not!" look on her face to Halfkin before pausing. Then she threw her hands in the air and went back to Survivor, while Halfkin watched her. "And she's not helping?" he asked Lionheart with a parting glance after Dirk. Halfkin sighed and scratched his hair.
"She kind of got really angry and dragged me around half the holt. She tried to find Surefire first, then went to you." Lionheart gave a half-helpless look. "Were you in the troll war?" he asked.
Halfkin nodded with eyes slightly glazed. He looked at Lionheart and sighed. "And your mother knows my few thoughts aren't pleasant. But I'm no howl keeper." He half turned to watch the two further back playing with Boldscout before returning back to Lionheart. "Your mother's just scared for you, I think." Minutes passed before his amber eyes turned upward again.
"Would you like to see my parents in Sending?"
At first a little taken aback to hear Dirk referred to as his mother, Lionheart leaned forward to catch all of Halfkin's words. **I would,** he answered honestly.
Halfkin settled on the ground, offering his hands to him. Getting comfortable as he lock sent to the cub.
The slight restlessness of anticipation among the tribe could be smelled as he once more went to wish his parents good luck. Both of them were going to take part in this raid, while he remained behind to continue with the hunters. Right now his keen nose followed to where his parents were talking with two friends.
Of the two lifemated pairs, only his own father appeared less then laid back. Striding up in greeting as the four older adults moved to let him join their standing group.
"How's your Howlcry?" asked Gildedvale.
He appreciated the bladesmith's concern over his wolf-bond, who'd gotten kicked by a branchhorn earlier yester-night. So he reassured them before they turned back to the usual talk.
His mother was calmly telling how she would pin any trolls she saw, and jerked her javelin to match. Her grey-blue eyes dancing with excitement and earned Father's slightly worried hazel gaze. Being their son, he just chuckled and joked with the other two. He himself preferred to chase four-legged prey then the more dangerous trolls that could use weapons.
Another, Darksnow, joined the group to signal it was time to go. The two moons were halfway to the height of the sky as Chief Soulseeker and most of the tribe wished luck to those leaving. The memory was hazier then the other. He knew the Chief had gathered other tribe mates, and many other times for such recent raids, but this one he recalled. It was the one Father and his two friends never returned from. All killed in an ambush by the trolls.
Like the troll he saw killed from where he waited to help the older tribe mates. Keeping watch for trouble as they sent the plant shaper to spoil their food, only to have one of the ugliest, green-warted creatures bellow behind their return. Too stunned to really help, he watched as the cursing creature was impaled by the huntress' spear. They rode back to the holt as he shivered in stunned shock.
Lionheart had been sitting quietly through the tossed and jumbled sendings, grasping at elves he recognized and those he had only heard of at howls. Surprisingly patient, the youth shivered as the shock of Halfkin's first experience with the creatures was passed on to him.
"Was that the only time you saw a troll?" Lionheart asked softly, wondering if Halfkin would go on. Halfkin shrugged. Whether that meant 'yes' or he didn't recall didn't seem to matter. At least to the hunter it didn't. Halfkin paused to look where Dirk and Survivor talked. He grinned and slightly tilted his head for Lionheart to see how much calmer Dirk was.
"I think you just scared her," he offered.
Lionheart choked on the air, doubling over in a coughing fit brought on by surprise and disbelief.
"Dirk?" he gasped out when he thought he could. Lionheart's eyes narrowed on Halfkin, wondering if he was finally out of his senses. "Afraid of me?"
A wide smile and chuckle that shone brightly in his amber eyes, Halfkin clapped a hand on Lionheart's shoulder. One finger pressed to his own lips to signal a secret, even as the other two adults briefly glanced over with interest. Dirk looked confused, but turned back to conversation. Halfkin's grin only grew.
"Not too many things can scare her," he agreed, "So what did you do?"
Lionheart shook his head. "You don't want to know," he said seriously.
"Hm," Halfkin replied with a slightly disappointed, concerned look. He looked at Lionheart studiously before uncurling to stand up. Inviting him to join with an offered hand. Lionheart took the hand, slightly suspicious. He didn't entirely trust the look that Halfkin was giving him.
"Are you going to grab me and drag me to someone else?" he asked warily. Lionheart hoped not. He'd enjoyed sitting with Halfkin, even if the sending tales he'd received weren't the most pleasant. He still felt closer to the wolf-runner.
"I only grab cubs and hurt friends," Halfkin assured him in tones that spoke of wolves and elves. Instead of dragging him he released Lionheart once he got his legs and only beckoned as he headed back to Dirk. Lionheart shook his head again and sighed. Reluctantly, he followed Halfkin back to Dirk, staring at Halfkin's heels to keep him in a straight line. He didn't want to see Dirk's more peaceful look morph back into her torrent of anger. He couldn't even tell himself why he was following Halfkin - all that he truly wanted to do was melt back into the forest and stay unnoticed for a while, but some sense of duty prevailed.
Of course, it got interesting when Halfkin literally growled at Dirk, who gave a confused glare back. It was obvious they were sending privately to each other as the moment dragged on. And the traded glares made it obvious of some sort of challenge, which continued for two hands of rapid heartbeats before Dirk dropped her eyes and leaned a half-step back wordlessly.
Lionheart looked up. One could nearly hear his jaw drop slightly and he didn't dare to breathe. Was this all a dreamberry dream? He rubbed his eyes but the scene stayed the same. He looked back at Halfkin wordlessly.
**How-what...? How? Why?** he sent, trying to get any words out. The wolf-talker had relaxed and turned to blink questionably at Lionheart at the sending. Dirk withdrew with only a trace of resentment and left Boldscout with Survivor.
**What did you just do?** Lionheart asked finally, seeing as Halfkin wasn't prepared to give up answers too easily. Halfkin only glanced curiously at a retreating Dirk with a shrug to Lionheart. He gave a smile that cheerfully dropped the entire matter. It was about then that a few wolves drifted over from where they'd watched. Nervous Flashfur brushing behind Lionheart as Preystinger...well, the he-wolf could almost be laughing.
"Try not to scare Dirk anymore tonight. And please take after your father," Halfkin said with a good-natured chuckle. Still confused, Lionheart nodded agreement. Feeling utterly left out of the joke, he could only slowly shake his head.
"You sure you won't tell me?" he asked again. Now the wolf-talker had a full teeth-bared grin as he faced him.
"I'll trade you. The answer for what alarmed your mother." Lionheart's expression was caught between a glare and a laughing smirk.
"You're slyer then you let on, wolf-talker." As an afterthought he added, "You might be disappointed in my end of this barter though. It's not so mind-shattering or dramatic, more of a slip of my tongue."
Lionheart stared at Halfkin again. "You promise to tell me what you said to her?" Halfkin nodded. Hands on his hips as he focused on Lionheart, he stood patiently and then glanced at Survivor. His den-mate must have taken the hint for he vanished after the youngest cub in the wolves' den.
Lionheart sighed, not finding any other way to delay the disappointing climax. "I-kind-of-told-Dirk-that-trolls-were-fun." he mumbled softly, hoping that Halfkin could hear him.
There was a sigh as Halfkin brushed a hand through his hair. He seemed to think of something before dismissing it.
"Dirk just thinks too much about the then. I think all howl keepers do that," he explained aloud. Lionheart let out the breath he had been holding.
"It was also a slip of my tongue. I was thinking of playing toss stone with Honeyhue and her stories, not really the ones about the war." Lionheart tried to explain.
Halfkin grunted. "They tend to stay far from our territory, so I don't see the harm." He stretched his arms and back, with his eyes hidden a moment by unruly bangs. With that done he grinned unworried as he said, "While your mother goes untwine her tail. She does need to learn patience with younglings." His grin at his word choice let Lionheart know it wasn't just for the little cubs.
Lionheart grinned, wanting to add 'Does she ever have patience?' but deciding against it. No need to ruffle any more fur tonight. He leaned back against the tree, feeling drained. "Now it's your turn," he pointed out. "What did you say to her?"
A shrug. "That and you're too big to pick up by the ruff of your neck anymore."
"That's it?" Lionheart didn't have any reason to doubt Halfkin, but it seemed so unlike Dirk. "And she just backed down like that?" He waved his hand back towards where the challenge had taken place.
Halfkin wrinkled his nose with a trace of humour without added comment. Lionheart shook his head in disbelief.
"All right," he tried to be patient. "That answer might be helpful to Preystinger, but I don't understand wolf-talk so well."
"I out rank Dirk in the Hunt, Lionheart. Unless she wants to challenge me I can tell her to leave," Halfkin explained. "Besides, she knows I wouldn't hurt her cubs."