by Wordgazer

This was created as part of the forum July 2008 Grab-Bag", to combine these elements:

A healing
Breaking some kind of rule
Something to eat
A secret place

Two gibbous moons poured their light on the flowing waters of a small brook, which glinted like countless stars in the silvery night. Young Crescent stood up to her hips in the water, her spear poised. Not far away, Rillfisher waded through shallower water, a basket on her hip. Moonshade watched from the bank, stitching as she sat at the tunic in her hands, while Pike, just above her, kept his eyes on the water. Strongbow, Treestump and Bearclaw sat in a tree above, talking in soft voices.

"There!" Pike called, pointing. "The shadows have changed-- and see! Ripples! They're coming towards you, Crescent!"

Crescent hefted her spear and watched the water as the shoal of fish approached. Suddenly she tensed; the spear flew-- and with a cry of triumph the girl was after it, snatching it up again to run her hand along the shining scales. "Got one!"

"And I'll get more!" Rillfisher laughed, her feet weaving through the water as if they were fish themselves. "Not as big, but just as juicy!" Her hand moved as she spoke, down into the water quick as a thought, and a small fish flew into the basket as her hand plunged again.

"That's my beloved!" Treestump chuckled as Rillfisher waded to shore with her basket, to kill the three fish in it against a rock. "We'll eat well tonight!"

*Good throw, daughter,* Crescent's father sent approvingly, and Crescent grinned up at him, then at her mother's smiling face. It felt good to be fishing with her elders-- to be treated, for a change, like an adult tribe member. She had seen eight-and-six new-greens, but ever since the humans had come, the whole tribe had started watching over her in a way she'd thought she would have outgrown long ago. It was true that the humans had captured and almost killed Windchaser, her wolf-friend, when he was a cubling-- but now he was grown, and so was she. Nearly, anyway.

If only her parents could see it. And her chief. If only they would let her walk alone, as she had loved to do since first she was allowed out of her mother's sight. She wouldn't go far; she just liked the silence, the independence, the feel of her own thoughts in her head. . .

Well, if she couldn't be alone, if she must be watched over, at least she could feel like an adult when she fished with Rillfisher and Pike. She hefted the fish on the spear in her hand, looking down at it appraisingly. Then she frowned. "What's this?" She brought her face close to the fish's mouth, then waded to shore. Removing the spear, she grasped the fish firmly and pulled something thin and bright from its lower jaw. "Something metal! In its mouth!" she said.

Bearclaw dropped from the tree to examine the tiny bit of metal that Crescent held out to him. It looped at one end, then bent back on itself; the other end was barbed. "Looks like bright-metal," he said. "A troll invention."

Crescent looked at her chief, confused. "The trolls fish in our stream?"

Bearclaw laughed. "This stream comes from underground, deeper in the forest. The trolls fish it down below. Looks like they tried a new way to do it-- but it didn't work, obviously." He shook his head at the tiny object. "This little thing couldn't kill a fish."

Crescent wrinkled her forehead. "Maybe if they tied something-- a long piece of bowstring or something-- to this little loop? Then if the fish took the metal in its mouth, they could pull it to the bank?"

"Huh!" Bearclaw shook his head. "Seems like a stupid way to fish. What would make the fish bite on this thing?"

"I don't know," Crescent said.

"And everyone knows bowstring will rot if you let it get wet too often," Moonshade added.

Crescent rolled her eyes. "I know, Mother. I wasn't thinking of bowstring, really-- just something like bowstring."

Strongbow was looking down on her from the tree. *Even if the fish did bite on the metal, anything like bowstring would cut or burn your hands when the fish pulls away.*

Crescent sighed. "Oh, all right. It was probably just a stupid troll idea that didn't work."

"Reckon so, cub," Treestump said. "Or else it's some other troll invention-- nothing to do with fish, and it just fell in the water somehow. The fish could have gotten hold of it by accident."

"Hmm." Crescent said. She shrugged. "It doesn't matter, anyway." She put her fish with the others on the bank, and picked up her spear again. But she tucked the bit of bright-metal into her pouch.

Lying in her den after the tribe's meal, she found herself pulling the thing out again. She held it up to the candlelight, turning it over and over.

"Are you still caught up in that useless troll thing?" Moonshade said.

"Maybe it's not useless, Mother," said Crescent. She turned to where her mother sat combing her hair. "Could you hold things together with it, maybe? Like-- torn leathers?"

Moonshade took the thing and wrinkled her forehead at it. "It would tear leathers, and scratch skin, too. Leave it be, cubling, and lie down. Sleep."

Crescent took the bright-metal thing back from her. She thought hard. "What if-- what if you put this sharp bit through a little piece of meat? This barb would hold it on. And then if something tried to eat the meat, it'd get the bright-metal caught in its mouth. Maybe that's what the fish did!"

"But this little bit of metal couldn't kill a fish," Moonshade said. "Weren't you listening to Bearclaw?"

Crescent's temper flared. "Yes, I listened to Bearclaw! Why won't you listen to me? There's some way the trolls made this catch fish. I just know it!"

Her parents stared at her. The flash of anger left her as quickly at it had come. "If only I could figure out how," she said lamely.

Strongbow laid a hand on her shoulder. *You may be right, cub,* he sent. *But sleep now. We don't need troll ways to get what we need anyway. We're Wolfriders!*

Crescent sighed. "I know, Father." She lay down, but a kind of restless discontent had filled her. She lay awake and thought, as Strongbow and Moonshade's quiet breathing began to fill the den.

There was a pond, not far away, where in one spot the hanging branches of trees came down all around a little inlet among high rocks.. When she was younger, it had been her secret place. Crescent had pretended she was alone there, and her parents, understanding, had kept a short distance away, out of sight yet well within hearing. She had thought, then, that when she was as old as she was now, it would truly be her alone place, and she would be able to go there by herself as often as she liked. But then the humans had come.

Crescent sighed. There was nothing to be done about it. Neither Bearclaw nor her parents was likely to stop treating her like a cubling, in need of constant watching.

Outside the den, it began to rain. Wet drops patted the leaves at the den mouth and slid down the bark surrounding the opening. Fish liked to feed in weather like this. Crescent lay and thought about fish, wondering about the little bright-metal troll thing, until her eyes closed.

And when she woke up, she found she knew how the trolls must do it.


Woodhue and Clearbrook were organizing a hunting party as Crescent slid down the wet trunk of Father Tree. The rain had ceased, but water still squelched in the soft grasses underfoot and pooled in hollows in rocks. Bearclaw shook his head with a grimace when Woodhue asked him to lead the hunt. "I've been up half the day listening to those foul humans' foul tongue," he grumbled. "Going to sleep a while now."

"I'll go," Joyleaf said cheerily. "But you two lead tonight," she told Clearbrook and Woodhue. "I'm just along for the fun."

"I'll go too," Treestump said. "How about you, Moonshade? Strongbow?"

*Someone has to guard the Holt,* Crescent's father sent tersely.

"I've got hides to tan," Moonshade said. "Crescent? Are you staying here, or going with the hunters?"

"I-- I haven't decided," Crescent stammered. A plan had come to her that frightened her with its daring. But she wanted desperately to be alone, to test her idea about how the trolls fished, without anyone to criticize or laugh. As the hunters called their wolf-friends, she headed back up to the den. Moonshade followed her, rummaging among her tanning supplies at the back of the den while Crescent surreptitiously checked on the roll of bowstring that lay among Strongbow's things. "I think I'll go with the hunters, Mother," Crescent said casually.

Moonshade smiled. "Very well. Just stay--"

"--In sight of the others. I know."

Crescent slipped back down the Father Tree. Woodhue and Treestump were mounting their wolves, while Clearbrook, Joyleaf, Longreach and Pike, already mounted, checked their weapons. Other Wolfriders were scattering to their chosen activities. "Coming with us, cub?" Woodhue smiled.

Crescent slowly shook her head. "I'm going to stay here, Woodhue. Maybe do some fishing." At least that part wasn't a lie, she thought guiltily. But as the hunters rode away, she quietly paced into the woods in the opposite direction, softly calling Windchaser as she went.

A short way from the Holt the young wolf bounded up to her, ears pricked forward, tongue eagerly flapping at the side of his mouth. Crescent laughed at him as she mounted, patting his rain-damp shoulders. *To the water!* she told him, concentrating on the image in her mind, pushing it outward to him-- the image of her secret place, the stony inlet at the edge of the pond, obscured by hanging branches, surrounded by steep rocks.

Windchaser knew the place. He carried her unerringly right to the edge of the water, then sat down on the bank as Crescent slid from his back. He grinned at her, panting happily, and began pawing and snuffling at a wet log. Crescent took a deep, shaky breath. Alone at last, in her own special place. Just as she'd always wanted. Happiness bubbled up from her stomach, almost making her laugh out loud. She looked around herself slowly, drinking in the moment.

But her idea was waiting. Crescent looked around her for a thick stick, and finding one, pulled from her carry-pouch the things she had hidden there-- Strongbow's roll of extra bowstring, a soft leather rag, the little bright-metal sharp thing, and a tallow candle in an earthen bowl.

She poked the end of the string through the loop on the troll-made thing and tied it securely, then tied the other end to the stick. Then, carefully, she scooped the tallow from the candle-bowl, rubbing it over the bowstring. That ought to protect it from the water well enough. She wrapped the soft piece of leather around the stick to protect her hands, and holding the stick, looked around for something a fish would want to bite.

Windchaser, whining eagerly, had managed to roll the wet log over. Perfect. Crescent snagged a squirming grub and poked the metal barb through it. Then she climbed to the top of a tall rock, shiny with moisture, and threw the bit of metal, grub and all, as far as she could out into the water.

She almost lost her balance on the slippery rock, but recovered herself and sat down, holding the stick, to wait. Windchaser, after eating some of the grubs he'd uncovered, settled down below the rock where she sat and went to sleep. Mother Moon rose, followed shortly by Child Moon. Crescent frowned to herself. Maybe this wasn't really how trolls caught fish. But she'd been so sure--

The stick in her hand jerked, and she nearly lost hold of it. With a little cry of excitement Crescent grasped the stick more tightly and pulled back. A fish must have bitten the bright-metal!

She slid backwards down the rock, pulling as the fish pulled. She wished she'd thought of a way to shorten the string, pulling the fish in-- but then she thought of something that would work. She laid the point of the stick against the ground and stepped on the string, stooping to wrap the slack she'd created around the stick itself. Then she pulled again, and wrapped again. Soon a small silvery shape was visible in the water. Crescent backed up, dragging it out, killed the fish and pulled the bit of metal out of its jaw. Then she found another grub and started over.

But it was boring work. With a spear you could find and chase the fish. With the stick and string you just had to wait for them. Crescent waited, standing again on a rain-soaked rock under the concealing trees. Windchaser snuffled around, splashing into the water now and then only to have his elf-friend snap at him not to scare the fish. He wasn't having much fun, either. Crescent's mind began to wander, and she stared up into the trees, wondering where the hunting party was now, and if it had caught anything. . .

The stick in her hands gave a huge jerk, and her hands tightened around it instinctively. But whatever had bitten this time must be enormous! Crescent found herself being dragged forward on the slippery rock. Then her feet slid out from under her and she fell backwards, the back of her head slamming against stone. Dizzily she heard Windchaser's worried yelping as the water rose up to meet her. *Father! Mother!* she had time to send, just before darkness overwhelmed her.


Someone was singing. Rain-- it was Rain, the healer. Crescent floated through thick night, drawn towards the sound. Suddenly she was coughing violently. Then light filled her vision as her eyes flew open, and she sat up, retching.

"Oh, thank the High Ones!" her mother's voice whispered. Her father's relief engulfed Crescent's senses, and she blinked at the force of it. But then Strongbow shoved Rain unceremoniously aside and landed on his knees before her, grabbing her shoulders in both hands and giving her a sharp shake. *You could have been killed! How dare you go off alone? How dare you lie to us?!*

How had she dared? Crescent tried to draw breath to apologize, to explain-- but another fit of coughing took her. Her father's anger was like fire beating at her-- she shuddered and gasped in it, and yet was warmed by it, by the love for her that had ignited it. *Sorry Father,* she managed to send. *Sorry, Mother. Thank you, Rain--*

She looked around her. She was lying beside the pond in the slanting light of the two setting moons. Her clothes were wet, as were her parents'. They must have dived in after her. Her fishing stick and string were gone.

"Windchaser came to find us," Moonshade said briefly. "Right after we heard your sending. He saved your life." Her normally controlled voice was thick with emotion. Crescent held out her arms to her. "I'm so sorry, Mother. I didn't mean to--"

Moonshade lifted her daughter, embraced her, and guided her to her wolf-friend's back. "You meant to deceive us, daughter. We will discuss this back at the Holt."

The hunting party had just returned with a large bristle-boar when Strongbow, Moonshade, Crescent and Rain rode up. Bearclaw was awake. The cheerful banter and joking of the elves stopped abruptly. Bearclaw wheeled on Crescent and her parents.

"Is she hurt? Why didn't you send for me?" His dark eyes were blazing.

Crescent shivered a little. She'd known there were going to be consequences-- but facing Bearclaw was scarier than she had let herself think about at the time. . .

*She's fine-- thanks to Rain,* Strongbow sent. *And-- this is between the cub and her parents.*

Crescent gave her father a grateful glance. Bearclaw glowered. "This is between the cub and her chief!" he snapped. "What happened? Rain-- tell me!"

Rain sighed ."Apparently the cub told Moonshade she was going with the hunters, but told Woodhue she was staying at the Holt. Then she slipped off alone. Strongbow and Moonshade heard a sending from her just before she hit her head and slipped into the pond out there." He waved a hand in the general direction. "Windchaser ran back here and led us to her. She wasn't in the water very long. It was an easy healing."

While he was speaking, Strongbow and Moonshade dismounted and sent their wolf-friends back to their dens. Crescent wanted to keep Windchaser with her for comfort, but at a gesture from Strongbow, sent him away too. Bearclaw came close, glared down at Crescent. There was a moment of intense silence.

Then Strongbow spoke in a low voice. "Let her mother and me handle this."

Crescent swallowed hard as Bearclaw's outraged eyebrows rode up his forehead. Her father, she'd been told, was Bearclaw's most loyal tribesman. But that didn't stop them from arguing-- and it was usually over her. That Strongbow had switched from sending to words so early in the altercation meant this was going to be a bad one. . .

"We'll deal with her," Strongbow's voice grated on. "She is--"

Bearclaw advanced on Strongbow, who held his ground. His eyes dropped slightly before the chief's challenging stare, but his mouth and shoulders were as stubbornly set as Crescent had ever seen them. "Your love for the cub blinds you," Bearclaw said in a voice so soft it made her shudder. "She deliberately lied. She ran off on her own and nearly got killed. Now she needs to learn."

"From me and her mother!" Strongbow insisted. His voice was a little louder now. The rest of the tribe, looking uncomfortable, began to sidle away as Strongbow and Bearclaw glared at one another. Moonshade stepped over to Crescent and put an arm around her. Crescent knew she had to stay and listen.

Strongbow's fists were clenched. "We can handle our own cub!"

"Obviously you can't!" Bearclaw roared. "Or you wouldn't be dragging her back here half-drowned!--"

"--Which is not. . .your. . . problem!" Strongbow spat each word at his chief.

"Not my problem?!" Bearclaw thundered. He lunged forward, grabbing his archer by the tunic. "Not my problem? Maybe you want to be chief? Is that it? Go ahead, Strongbow-- challenge me!"

Strongbow's eyes met Bearclaw's. Crescent's heart froze. He wasn't really going to challenge, was he?

"Stop!" She shouted suddenly. "Stop it! Let me speak for myself!"

Behind her, Moonshade gasped. Shocked at herself, but not letting herself show it, Crescent shook off her mother's restraining hand and pushed her way between her father and her chief. "Will you both stop treating me like I'm five turns old?! Yes, I lied! Yes, I ran off alone! So punish me if you want to-- but stop fighting about me! This is my fault-- let me speak for myself!"

Bearclaw and Strongbow, both breathing hard, stared at her. Crescent went on recklessly-- she was in it up to her hackles now, and there was no way out but onward-- "I did it because I'm old enough to be alone sometimes! I'm eight-and-six, haven't you noticed? I know I should have told someone where I was going, in case something happened-- like anyone else in the tribe would. But if I had, no one would have let me go! When are you going to start trusting me? You'd think I was still on mother's-milk, the way you treat me! And I'm sick of it!"

She paused, gasping. Bearclaw, Strongbow and Moonshade looked at one another. Then Bearclaw said, much more quietly-- "But the humans--"

"Do you really think I don't know to stay away from humans?" Crescent asked bitterly. "I know what they did to Windchaser's mother-- and what they almost did to Windchaser! The pond isn't anywhere near the human camp, you know that! It's inside the Holt boundary!"

Bearclaw rubbed at his beard. "What were you doing there, cub-- uh, Crescent?"

Crescent lifted her chin. "I figured out how to catch fish with that little troll-metal thing. I used a stick, and some bowstring that I waterproofed with tallow. And a grub to make the fish bite. I caught one, too!" She rummaged in her carry-pouch and pulled out the small fish. Moonshade took it, turned it over in her hands, and handed it to Strongbow. Crescent went on, sadly, "But the second fish was too big. It pulled me in the water, and I hit my head-- and lost the fish and the stick and-- and everything."

Slowly, Bearclaw nodded. "Was it fun?"

"What?" Crescent asked, startled.

"Was it fun, catching fish that way?" Bearclaw eyed her sardonically. "That little fish isn't a lot to show for a whole night's work. I hope at least it was fun."

"Well-- no," Crescent admitted. "I had to wait a long time for a fish to bite. I like a spear better."

"Huh. Just as well you lost it, then," Bearclaw said. He grinned a little. "What do you think, Strongbow-- Moonshade? Maybe we should treat the girl more her age."

Stiffly, Strongbow nodded.

"But she still deliberately broke the rules, and lied about it," Moonshade said.

"Uh-huh," Bearclaw said. "But since she's nearly grown. . . " He looked at Crescent, and the corner of his stern mouth turned up a little. "What do you think would be fitting consequences, Crescent?"

Startled again, Crescent thought about it. "I guess-- I guess I can't go back to the pond for a while?"

"A start, but not enough," Bearclaw said. "What else?"

Crescent's heart sank a little. "I-- I have to stay near Father Tree?"

"For a moon," Bearclaw said. "Seems good to me. Then, maybe, when you've shown we can trust you not to run off without permission, we'll let you be alone within the Holt boundary-- as long as you always tell someone where you're going!"

Crescent smiled. "Thank you, my chief!"

"Thank you," Bearclaw rumbled, "for stopping my archer before he challenged me!" His eyes were twinkling.

Strongbow lowered his eyes, looking embarrassed. Moonshade snorted. "You know he'd never do that!"

"Yes," Bearclaw said, "I know." His eyes, as he gazed at Strongbow, were fond.

Strongbow betrayed no emotion. *Come on, Crescent,* he sent. *Back to the den.*

"Back to the den," her mother echoed. "You need rest."

Crescent realized she was right. Meekly she followed her parents up the Father Tree. "Father?" she said as they entered the den.

*Yes, daughter?*

"I guess I lost a whole roll of your bowstring.*

Strongbow put an arm around her shoulders. *Part of the consequences, then, will be to make more.*

"Yes, Father." She looked at him. "I hope the big fish isn't still caught on my string and stick."

Strongbow gave a rare chuckle. "If you coat a bowstring with tallow, daughter, fish are going to go after that, too. I think your fish has probably been bitten free by now.*

Crescent laughed. "I guess so." After a moment she said, "Mother? Father?"

They both looked at her. "I guess you were right about the troll fishing," she said. "Wolfrider fishing ways are better. For Wolfriders, anyway."

"But you thought it out until you knew how the trolls fish, daughter, when none of us took the time," Moonshade said. "You are, indeed, older than we were treating you."

"That's all right," Crescent said. "I-- I understand why."

She snuggled down under the furs, her parents beside her. As she drifted off to sleep, Crescent knew that she'd never be treated like a cubling again.

It was a nice feeling.