They sat side by side in the Palace of the High Ones, their eyes closed. Crescent had spoken to them yesterday, telling them of joy above and danger below. They didn't know what she had meant by either one, but it didn't matter. She had spoken to them. Perhaps-- perhaps that was all she was going to say. But in hope, in a kind of compulsion, Strongbow and Moonshade were here once more, waiting.
*Crescent. Cubling.* Moonshade sent the soft call again. *Crescent. Will you be with us, speak to us again?*
*Crescent?* Strongbow sent his thoughts like arrows out into the air.
*She's gone,* Strongbow sent at last. *Out into the forest where a Wolfrider belongs. Let's go hunting. We may feel a trace of her out there.*
"No!" There was a hint of desperation in Moonshade's voice. "The Palace is where we can hear her best. If we stay here, she will come back!"
Their loss, so long ago, had never truly left them. In the Now of this moment, it was as if it had just happened all over again. Crescent was not where eyes could see or hands could touch. Not ever again. The bitterness of it tasted raw on their tongues, obscuring the joy they had just known.
*I tell you, she's not going to speak again,* Strongbow sent heavily. *We should hunt, before the snow starts flying too thick again to see.*
Moonshade only looked at him, saying nothing.
When Crescent had been so cruelly killed, long ago, they had sat huddled unspeaking for days, locked in grief. Strongbow's thoughts, then, had been filled with visions of his arrows dripping red with human blood. Bearclaw had not let him act on those dreams, so instead he had thrown himself savagely into hunting, driving himself to exhaustion, refusing to eat of the kills he carried back to the Holt in a silence like stone.
But Moonshade had sat unmoving in their den, fingering over and over the leathers her cub had left on the riverbank-- her eyes holes of darkness in her empty face.
Moonshade's eyes looked like that again now, but her face held a desperate light. "You go, beloved," she whispered. "I'll wait here."
So Strongbow went. And he hunted alone, his wolf taking him padding between high, white drifts and under snow-muffled branches. And he caught nothing, for it was not really game he sought, but the touch of that unexpected presence that had first sent to them out here in the forest, from beyond death . . .
Towards dawn he rode back towards the Palace. No sendings had come. Strongbow told himself the hunt had made him feel better, but it was as if the scabbed-over hole left by Crescent's death had been torn wide open again. He couldnt bear to have found her again only for a few words, one loving touch, and then nothing. But there was nothing he could do about it.
*Eyrn,* he lock-sent to her as he dismounted and walked into the room they were using in the Palace. *Come and sleep awhile.*
She looked up. *Please, Wyl, let me stay here.*
They were both near exhaustion. He could see it in her eyes, feel it in his own body. *Come,* he repeated. *Let's sleep.*
There was a pause. Then her face hardened into determination. "No."
So seldom had she ever opposed him that his eyes widened in shock.
*You need sleep. We both do.* He reached out with mind and heart to wrap them both in the knowledge of this-- but she pushed him away.
"No!" She was breathing as if she were running. "Just leave me alone! I need to hear Crescent again!"
He stared at her for a long moment. Then he turned without a word and strode back into the forest.
Moonshade stared after him, her chest heaving. So seldom had she opposed him-- when hearts beat as one, there was no need-- that she hardly knew what to think of herself. "Crescent," she whispered. Why did she need so badly to hear her sending again?
"If only I had been there for you." Her voice broke. "If only I hadn't let you go fishing alone . . ."
It was not the Way to wallow in "ifs," and Moonshade felt a twinge of self-disgust. She had not permitted herself to do this when it had happened. But now the tears began to run unbidden down her face. And then, all against her will, she found herself racked by wild, inconsolable sobbing.
Strongbow went to his den without a word to anyone and curled himself up against the den wall. He did not undress.
He felt as he had in the War for the Shards, during that terrible separation from his lifemate. Before then he could not remember a time when she was not with him, understanding him, steadying him with her wisdom and patience. But he had had to do without her then, and now-- now she had pushed him away. The hole inside him gaped open, ragged and empty.
Slow tears slid down his cheeks and silently soaked the furs he lay on. The day was growing brighter, for the snowstorm had passed. The sounds of his tribemates faded in the dens around him as sleep claimed them.
When he could bear it no longer, Strongbow rose, wiped savagely at his face, and slipped back out of the den.
Moonshade's storm of tears passed. She felt a touch on her mind-- Timmain, who brushed softly, inquiringly across her thoughts, then left her again. Moonshade was grateful. Timmain would see that she was not disturbed.
She ached for Wyl, ached at the thought of the look on his face when he had left her. When they had been apart, when she had followed Ember to Howling Rock, it had been so hard without him, without his strength and decisiveness putting into action whatever they both felt. . .
Now she wiped her eyes and sat up. He had been right-- she should have gone with him to their den. She couldn't make Crescent send again just by sitting here so insistently. And the past. . . The past, however horrible, was past, now. A quiet acceptance of that, which she had never been able to feel before, washed over her tear-cleansed soul. She slipped out of the Palace and headed back towards the den.
Moonshade and Strongbow, on their way to one another, met in a sun-warmed spot between the winter trees. They stood and looked at one another, each seeing that the other had been weeping.
Then they were in one another's arms.
They stood and held each other for a long time, not moving, not speaking, just being. Strongbow, his face in Moonshade's hair, became aware that she was singing softly.
"Owoo, owoo, the wolfsong fills the night,
Friendly darkness, winking stars,
The white moons full and bright. . ."
His favorite song-- the song they had used to sing Crescent to sleep, long, long ago. And then Dart. . .
He joined in, holding Moonshade tight, their voices mingling, merging, through the story-song. Hunt and kill and feast-- as it had always been, so it was Now.
Almost in whispers they sang the last verse:
"Ayooh, ayooh, the pack has feasted well,
Little cublings snuggle down
To hear the tales we tell.
Ayooh, of all things pleasant,
Your love and warmth are best.
The High Ones smile upon us,
Owoo, owoo, owooooh. . ."
Tears were running down both their faces again. Moonshade lifted her face to his, smiling, and he looked down into hers.
Her eyes . . .
He was pouring out of himself into her, she into him, until there was no longer any place where Wyl left off and Eyrn began. The bond that had clasped them together since Crescent was conceived reasserted itself with overwhelming force, taking their breaths, nearly causing them to stagger. They clung to one another, gasping, enmeshed in one another's eyes.
Wyl's voice breathed out of him, compelled to speak her name. "Eyrn." He no longer felt tired at all.
"Wyl." Her eyes were impossibly bright, as if all the glory of the Palace had come to rest there. "Oh, Wyl! 'Joy above,' she said--"
And after that, there was no need of words.
Moonshade opened her eyes slowly, serenely, and gazed up at the roof of the den. Well-being and peace flooded her. Her back was curled into the curve of Strongbow's sleeping body, his bare arm flung over the furs across her waist. She stirred sleepily, stretching a little, and felt him wake. A low chuckle slipped from him, and his arms tightened about her.
*Did you feel our cub?*
Her hand went to her belly. "I feel our cub."
He laughed. *That's not what I meant. Did you feel her-- Crescent-- after we were finished? She spoke to me, then.*
Moonshade had felt a touch like a Preserver's wing across her heart, and that was all. Crescent was still with them, and she was happy for them. It was enough, now. Moonshade had found her peace and needed no further words.
*I felt her, yes, but she didn't speak. What did she tell you, beloved?*
He turned her over to look into his eyes.
*She sent, 'A little one is coming, Father, who will make you whole again.'* He paused.
*I never really got over her death,* he sent at last.
Moonshade nodded, knowing.
Then, like the sun coming out, he smiled. *But now. . . Now, everything's going to be all right.*
She smiled back.
*Yes, Wyl. Everything's going to be all right.*