edclaw paced the walkway, stopped, stared out over the ice, then began to pace again. Where were they?! The purple shadow of the Tower stretched more than halfway to the shore, and still no sign of them. Curse his friend for a fool! He knew the humans couldn't be trusted! No matter what they said, it was lies, all lies, to take the elves off guard, then to slaughter them, blood-red staining the grass, the Lake; rock and metal edges raised in desperate defense! How could there be any question of letting the humans stay, of keeping a truce with them?! They should all have been killed!
A flicker of motion caught the corner of his vision, and he whirled to face the shore. Three elves appeared, two short and one tall, momentarily caught in the rays of the dying sun, before slipping into shadow. They were all right! Redclaw clenched the railing with his one good hand, feeling relief wash through him. The humans hadn't dared break the truce yet. His friend, his soul-brother, was safe. Safe...
The red-haired elf continued to pace as the twilight deepened, ignoring the bitter cold nipping through his fringed leathers. He wanted desperately to send, to feel the reassuring warmth of his best and dearest friend. But this was not the time. For Arrowrock was blind -- the work of the humans who had once held him captive. He would be seeing through the others' eyes, locked in sending with their minds. It was not that he could not send to others while 'seeing', but a sudden sending, while he was on the ice and skating, might startle him and cause him to fall.
So it was Arrowrock who made the first touch, recognizing him through his daughter's eyes. At that first, tremulous whisper, Redclaw leaped over the railing, returning the call, gliding down towards the ice four elf-lengths below, then soaring out to land before his friend. **You're safe!**
He was enclosed in a bear-hug. Arrowrock's thoughts reached for his with desperate need, begging for love and strength. **Sharek, oh Sharek, it was so terrible! I have never been so afraid! Every moment with them, every breath -- I almost wish I had never gone!**
Redclaw returned the hug with all of his strength, feeling the trembling inside the furs. He poured his love and admiration through the ancient link they shared. **You're safe now, you're back. Let's go inside where it's warm. There we can talk about it.**
**Yes...** Redclaw sensed his friend striving to regain his composure. When the frenetic grip eased, he pulled back and glanced at Moth.
**You two can go on in,** he told her. **I can take care of him now.**
She nodded. "Okay." With quick strokes, she dashed over the ice, then twisted around to face backwards. "Come on, Nightdancer -- race you back!"
"No fair -- you've got a lead!"
"Oh, good, that means I'll win!" With a giggle, she turned and took off. Behind her, Nightdancer pursued, his long, powerful strokes giving him visibly more speed than the shorter elf. Redclaw turned to watch them go, lending his sight to his friend with absent-minded ease. Not slowing down as they approached the massive pile of shaped rock, the young elves shot through the air up to the walkway, twisting with practiced grace to land on their feet. Arrowrock shuddered.
**Why do they always go in like that? One slip, and she could be hurt, even killed!**
Redclaw chuckled. **We were like that once, remember? Remember our race down that first long spiral stair, when we were children? When Vrayl caught us? I thought our ears were going to blister, he was so angry.**
Arrowrock smiled faintly. **I suppose you're right.** He shivered. **You're freezing -- let's go inside.**
o you think your father will decide to let the humans stay, or ask them to go?"
"I don't know." Moth pushed her hood back with both hands. Pulling out her hair, she shook her head to loosen the bright cascade of golden-brown curls. Watching her snub-nosed profile, Nightdancer momentarily lost track of his thoughts, wishing for not the first time that she thought of him in the same way he did her. For years, he'd wanted her, but she acted as if he were no more than a brother, skittering away at the slightest suggestion of intimacy. Her reaction made him hope, since she blankly ignored anyone else's suggestion -- but by the High Ones, how long must he wait?
"Of course, Redclaw wants the humans out of the valley," she added, apparently unaware of his silent gaze. "And he and father almost always agree."
Nightdancer sighed, dropping his gaze. "I know," he said softly, examining a skate blade. "To have lost all of his family to humans ... it must be very hard for him."
"Father says, if he hadn't been there, sharing the grief, Redclaw would have gone mad when Darter was killed." Looking up, Nightdancer saw a troubled awareness that lent maturity to the large eyes and round face. Then it disappeared as she scowled. "I just wish they'd never come -- you've spent all your time arguing this winter, Redclaw spends half his time making weapons or shadow-fighting, and everybody's been bringing up all their bad memories and fears and being miserable!"
He frowned a little, a line forming between his brows under the careless fall of black curls. "It's an important decision, Moth. We need to find out if truce can exist between elves and humans -- there's too many of them to always fight. And the Healer's saving of them last summer, and their ignorance of us -- it gives us the best chance we've ever had."
"Well, I don't care!" Moth flounced away, heading towards the spiral stairwell. "I just wish they'd go away and leave us alone, forever!" With reckless abandon, she dived down the shaft head-first. "And I don't want to talk about it, either!"
Sighing, Nightdancer looked down at the smooth stone floor, rubbing his thumb along the shaped blade. Of all the younger elves, only Moth refused to agree that the humans should be given a chance. He couldn't seem to make her understand. Only Moth refused to even think seriously about the issue. As if she were only a child. Yet Moth was Arrowrock's daughter. So how could she -- the daughter of an elf who had spent years in captivity, crippled and blind -- how could she not think about it?
he hot water, engulfing him up to his shoulders, made Arrowrock feel safe. Feeling the tension flowing out of his muscles, he finished the hot tea Dawnflower had made for him, then placed the glazed cup on the edge of the pool. There was a soft whisper of long skirts, as his lifemate walked over and picked it up. Her thoughts gently curled around his for a moment, filled with love and concern and pride. Then she left, mentally and physically, knowing of his need and desire to be alone with the elf who shared more of his heart than she did, the elf who had known his soul-name before she had even been born.
The swirling motion of the heated water told Arrowrock that Redclaw was moving towards him. Arrowrock smiled at him, visualizing the elf -- fire-red hair cut shoulder-length and curling slightly, held in place by an intricately-beaded headband; amber eyes fixed in a triangular, sharp-edged face; the lean body, hardened with countless years of hunting and fighting. And the right arm, ending halfway between elbow and wrist, the hand replaced with a length of malleable rock.
"You're better." Wet fingers touched his cheeks, then slid down to grasp his hand. "That's good. You were very brave to fight your fears and go -- especially when there was no need."
Sighing, the blond elf realized that Redclaw did not -- or possibly, did not want to -- understand. Squirming over on the underwater ledge, he made room for Redclaw to sit. Seated together, arms draped about each other, they communed silently. Not really thinking in words, but simply being, each mind in contact with the other, effortlessly. The life of the Isle flowed around them without touching: voices from the large bathing area, the odors of woodsmoke and cooking food, and beneath and throughout all else, the ambient magic of the rock-bound island, shifting minutely with every use of that energy that welled more strongly here, than it did most places in the world with no name. Without words, they shared each other's day: Arrowrock's terrifying trip to visit the humans who claimed to want peace, and Redclaw's angry anxiety. Within both, familiar pain stirred: the pain of loss, of mutilation, of emotional and physical scars. Born on the same day, they had been close from their earliest years. The bond torn apart when Arrowrock was captured, and supposedly killed, had rewoven itself when a rescue had been made. Without that bond, neither could have survived the years -- not Arrowrock, as he had attempted to become part of the Isle again, half-mad with pain, fear, and confusion -- nor Redclaw, once Firefox, as siblings, parents, offspring and finally lifemate fell to violence wielded by the five-fingered ones.
A sending touched Arrowrock, distracting him. Moth wanted to know if he and Redclaw were coming up to watch her and Nightdancer practice. Indicating that he didn't know, he returned his attention to Redclaw. But the other elf shifted restlessly, shying away from the passive sharing. **Why did you visit the humans?** he asked. **I understand why Silvertree goes, sort of; and the younglings are just curious, and don't know any better. But why you?**
**I had to go ...** Arrowrock sent slowly, reluctant within his innermost self to set words to his feelings. **I had ... I felt that I must try to face my fears, before making up my mind about these humans. This decision we face .. it may be so important to the future of the Isle .. I felt that I should not make up my own mind, unless I could be sure it was based on clear thinking, and not on my mindless terror.**
He felt Redclaw withdrawing just the tiniest amount. **What difference does it make, if you decide based on fear, or not?** The thought was puzzled. **Surely, you know that there is no choice. No humans can be allowed to live in this valley, or they will one day kill us all.**
Arrowrock did not answer immediately, dreading, now, what he must say. **Sharek ... I wish ... I wish that I could agree with you.** Beneath his arm, muscles tensed. **My fear agrees with you -- I would gladly live forever without once having to scent their odor again. But ... this is their world. Someday, they may be smart enough, strong enough, to destroy us all. But if ... if they could learn, that we are no threat to them, that there is no reason to hate us, that we are not demons, or unnatural, but simply different ... then maybe they would leave off trying to kill us. The old woman who leads this group ... there was no fear in her voice, or hatred, or sense of lying. If anything, there was awe. I listened to them -- even with my fear, I was able to listen. They were ... they were not totally unlike us. There was laughter, and songs ... and affection between man and woman, between adult and child. The old woman believes that her 'goddess' led her people here, in order to make a new beginning between elf and human. I don't understand what a 'goddess' is ... and yet ... I can't help wondering if there isn't something to what she believes. I know that it will be terribly difficult. I know that there will be risks. And yet ... I ... I have decided that we should give the humans a chance. We should let them stay.**
**No!** Horror and disbelieving range exploded across the mind-link as Redclaw flung himself away. **You can't believe that, you can't! They're humans! Ugly, stinking, treacherous, hating humans!! They killed your mother and brother, just as they did all of my family! How can you say that, when you live daily with what you are -- blind! -- when once you were the best hunter and archer the Isle had! We can never live in peace with the humans -- we shouldn't even try!**
**How can we know we never can, when we've never tried?** Arrowrock moved forward, reaching with his hands, desperately wanting to make his friend understand. **These aren't the humans that killed our families -- they're not even from the same area. They never knew about us before they came here. I know too well what humans can do to us. That's why I want to try peace -- I don't want my daughter to become like me -- or like you.**
**Then you're a fool, just like Nightdancer! Only worse, because you know! This is our valley -- we've made it ours! No human has any right to set foot here! We should kill them, do to them what they've done to us so many times!**
Arrowrock flinched from the raw hatred. **Why? What harm have these humans done?**
The mental laugh was anguished. **What harm? Look at us, Arrowrock -- soul-brothers, arguing: the entire Isle, split, quarrelling, because they came! Let's send them back to where they belong, brother.** Redclaw's thoughts became pleading. **Send them to the dying all humans deserve, or at least make them leave. Agree with me, Rilharyn. You know I'm right. If you say they should go, how many will agree with you, knowing what you did today, how you've been silent all winter, worrying over the problem? Say you'll stand at my side, when the Isle decides! Say it!**
His throat aching with tears he could not shed, the blind elf shook his head. **Brother ... soul-mate ... in so many things, we have been together. But ... I ... I can't. I can't agree with you. I want to -- I cannot.**
**Cannot?!** The word was screamed with a flaring tide of fury, and Arrowrock heard the other's explosive leap out of the water even as he sought to barricade himself against the fiery pain. **Will not!! Blind! Idiot! Fool!! You've got to change your mind!! The humans must leave!!**
Hands clenched against his forehead, choking back a moan, Arrowrock felt the ancient link between him and Redclaw twisting and tearing under the rage fueled by an unthinking hatred of anything human. Desperately, he reached out, trying to plead. **Please, Sharek, brother, don't be angry! We've disagreed before -- don't let this come between us! I beg you!**
**No! They killed my family! The humans will never stay in this valley -- I'll make them kill me before I let them stay!**
**Don't think like that!** Arrowrock shoved himself out of the water, staggering as he came to his feet, his balance uncertain. Circling the spot where he knew a bench to be, he walked towards his friend. **Sharek, please, listen to me! Don't leave me -- let me help! Don't let your hate --**
**I don't need your help!** There was pain in the mental scream, but it was overwhelmed by the rage. **Stay away from me, stay away from my name! You're wrong, may you not have to feel your mate die to know you're wrong!!**
**No ...** Sensing himself close to Redclaw, Arrowrock reached forward. **Sharek, my brother --**
**I said don't touch me!** From nowhere, a knife-edge slashed across Arrowrock's face. With a cry of pain, he jerked backwards, lost his balance and fell. Cracking his head against the unyielding floor, the blind elf tried and failed to get up, his thoughts shattering, senses reeling, filled with a heart-rending anguish that was not eased by the awareness that it was not unmatched by the other moving away as fast as legs could run ...
leeing down the dimly lit corridor, Redclaw was blind to his direction, tears streaming down his face, untied robe flapping about his legs. Why had he done that, why had he acted that way?! High Ones forgive him! He hadn't mean to, hadn't thought, fools, they were all fools, Darter, why did she have to be apart from him, she could have healed this twisting pain, what had he done, to the only one he loved that lived, why hadn't he been able to go before he had done such a thing, to hurt his brother, because he was a fool, High Ones, how could he not see, feel, how could he be so wrong?!
Without warning, the elf ran into what seemed to be a solid wall. Staggering backwards, he started to fall, but the same force he had run into slowed his descent, placing him gently on the steps. The next moment, he was folded into an embrace, and soothing thoughts touched his mind. But from those he flinched, in shame and embarrassment. For it was the Eldests who held him, the ancient, life-mated elves whom he had nearly run down. As if he had not done enough already, to endanger the most revered elves in the entire Isle --!
**We were in no danger, Redclaw,** sent Aerva dryly. He felt her fingers running through his hair. **Now tell us, what has happened between you and Arrowrock, that would create such a flare of pain and anger as to be felt by all the Isle?**
Redclaw twisted fruitlessly in Tinar's strong grasp, not wanting to admit what he had done to the sole living holder of his soul-name. How could they understand, lifemate for all of the eight-eights of years from before the Isle's founding, to be so close as to send ofttimes in one voice -- he couldn't tell them! But their touch and minds were inexorable. **We will not judge you, our son,** they told him, caressing his awareness with a compassion and comprehension that could not be resisted. **Can we not guess what has happened? When, for all of this season, Arrowrock has sat in troubled silence, while you repeatedly insisted that the humans be made to depart? Did he not visit the humans today, overcoming his worst fears? You learned that he does not agree with you, is that not so? What else, but that, would send you flying so?**
He resisted them a moment longer, then gave in, shuddering. **I -- I hurt him!** Sobbing, he clutched at them with his single hand. **My soul-brother, High Ones forgive me, I - I hurt him, he made me so angry, I told him not to touch me, I cut him, I felt his pain, and I was the one who hurt him, I was the one! Because he couldn't agree to make the humans go! He - he's a fool, I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't listen! He wouldn't listen!**
There was a long silence before the Eldests replied. **We had feared that he might err that way,** they sent, in a voice colored more strongly by Tinar. **So conscious of his fears, that he must go too far the other way, to satisfy his sense of fairness. That is unfortunate -- his decision will sway many to their side.**
Redclaw pulled back and stared into Tinar's face. **You believe, as I do? But ... then why haven't you said so?! The decision could have already been made, and I wouldn't have ... wouldn't have ...**
The square-jawed face hardened. **Because the other Elders, and the Healer, made us promise not to speak. Because, they argued, it was a decision for all of the elves to make, and if we spoke too soon, many elves would follow our thoughts without questioning. And that it is upon those elves that the consequences will most heavily fall. We ... we were unable to argue.**
**But, but you're the Eldests! The wisest, we should listen to you, how could they say otherwise?**
Tinar looked away, his emotions clearly in stormy rage. **Not all agree that we are the wisest, merely because we have lived longest. We two may be able to stand against any other set of elves in the Isle. But not those five, when they stand united.**
**But, what can we do? We can't let the humans stay!**
The dark eyes snapped back to stare at his face. **No,** sent the Elders, after a long pause. **You are quite right in that. But the decision will go against us. We feel that. Arrowrock and the Healer are too much respected, and the Healer's sister as well. By the time we are allowed to speak, it will be too late ... yet there must be something we can do!**
Redclaw met Tinar's gaze. **I'd do anything to get the humans out of our valley. Anything -- just tell me.**
Their focus on him sharpened, and for a moment, Redclaw felt that he would sink to the floor under the weight of their awareness. Tinar touched his cheek, then spoke in a very low voice. "It might not be something to be done openly. Could you keep a secret from Arrowrock?"
He stiffened, the pain he had momentarily forgotten twisting upwards again. Arrowrock! There were no secrets between them. Even the thought, to attempt such a thing, to betray that total trust, made the pain in his mind deepen. Even for the sake of the Isle -- he, he couldn't! And yet, to get rid of the humans, the Isle, the safety of the Isle, what was the cost, his pain, Arrowrock's, their love? It was nothing; the Isle came first, the Isle must come first! And he had already said he would -- High Ones make Arrowrock forgive him! He must do what they said -- he must!
oth huddled in a corner, out of the way. Even asleep, she noticed, her father felt and looked to be in pain, a mental keening of grief just below the normal level of sendings. What had Redclaw done to him? And how could he? They were closer than almost any other two elves she knew, closer than most lifemates! But Redclaw had hurt her father, slashed his face open, then had run away. And that hadn't even been the worst of it. Shuddering, the young elf wrapped her arms around her legs and lowered her head, trying not to think of what she had felt while in the middle of an intricate move, near the ceiling in the Great Hall. As if she had not completely broken the locked sending she'd earlier had with her father, she had suddenly been aware of him, aware of his feelings, and through him, Redclaw's. Not that she'd 'heard' actual words, but their emotions, and that black, swirling rage --! Redclaw was mad! Like Var! And when he had attacked, she had felt it, too, and it was only Nightdancer's screamed warning that had made her realize that she was falling, that she had forgotten to use her gliding power ...
The Healer sat back, brushing a silver strand of hair back from her face. "He refuses to let me touch the inner hurt," she said, looking at Dawnflower, who was seated on the bed. "I could override his will ... but I do not think it would be wise."
Moth watched her mother nod. "What should we do?"
Silvertree sighed. "Stay with him, reassure him. Try not to be angry about Redclaw -- it would only upset him. He should sleep until morning -- you'll probably want to stay with him, help him through his nightmares."
"I understand." Dawnflower glanced at Moth as the Healer rose to leave the room. **Daughter, I'd rather you did not stay.**
Moth started, sitting up. **Mother --!** She felt outrage. **Why?!**
Her mother's eyes, darker and larger than her own, narrowed slightly. **You cannot help me help Arrowrock -- I want to be alone with him.**
**Not help? Mother --!**
**And I think Silvertree wants to have words with you. Now go away.**
Astonished and hurt, yet knowing that tone too well to argue, Moth jumped up and stalked out of the room. Couldn't help!? What did she mean by that -- wasn't she Arrowrock's favorite -- and only -- child? If they were going to join; that was one thing, but how could that be the reason, when her father was sound asleep!? Mother wasn't being fair!
**Moth.** She jerked as a hand touched her shoulder. As the grip tightened, she turned to see Silvertree staring down at her. **Moth, why were you aware of your father's mind when Redclaw attacked him?**
Blushing crimson, horribly embarrassed, Moth looked away, tears stinging. **I - I didn't mean to be, Healer -- honest! I didn't realize, I mean, I - I had sent to him earlier, I - I must have left myself open, you - you know I lock-see for him all the time, I didn't mean to, I swear, I didn't mean to!**
With a sigh, Silvertree released her grip, and passed her hand over Moth's head as she tried to choke back her sobs. **I accept your explanation, child -- just make sure it doesn't happen again. You weren't close enough to pick up their soul-names, I sincerely hope?**
Moth shook her head violently, shivering at the thought. To be gifted with another's soul-name, that was one thing. But to have stumbled on her father's -- or far worse, Redclaw's! Remembering the sense of his maddened rage, she shivered again, trying not to think of his reaction. **Do you, do you think they know?**
Silvertree did not answer immediately. **Not yet. Arrowrock probably will know, when he thinks about it. Redclaw ... for all your sakes, I hope he didn't detect you. And Moth ...** Reluctantly, the young elf looked back around. **... You don't let anyone else know what happened.** Moth nodded, utterly in agreement. She couldn't bear the thought of letting someone else know how careless she'd been! To invade another's privacy, and at such a moment --
Slender fingers touched her chin and forced her to look up again. **Moth, I want you to go to Farseeker, and ask for his training. He has been far too indulgent with you, and tonight we see the result of your undisciplined talents. You are no longer a child, Moth, and it is time you learned to properly use the talents you possess.**
Moth wrenched away. **I'm not going to be a farwalker!** Whirling, she took off in a fast glide. **You can't make me!**
The young elf closed her mind to whatever the Healer was going to say. Recklessly, she darted upwards, shot away from the stairs into a secondary shaft, moving towards the Tower, not wanting to meet anyone. Ever since those five-fingers had shown up, everything had been going wrong! Her "second-father" and teacher, Redclaw had always been patient and at ease with her, until the presence of the humans had turned him snappish and critical of his only student. She'd understood and accepted that, but how could he turn on her father, his agemate, his brother!? And she'd made things worse, she'd invaded her father's privacy! Then, she'd been kept from even trying to help him by her mother, and now yet another elf must give advice on what she should do! Why didn't they just leave her to be what she wanted! Why hadn't the humans stayed where they belonged -- it was their fault everything was going wrong!
She reached the small niche that was her favorite. Pulling the fur around her shoulders, she wriggled into a comfortable position, then glowered at the dark wall. There had to be something she could do to help make things right again. Surely, in the morning, Redclaw would return to Arrowrock's side -- how could they let a single disagreement keep them apart? And Father wasn't like Silvertree, to hold a grudge for years and years. But even when they made up, it wouldn't return Redclaw to what he'd been before the last spring. Not that he'd ever been really happy, with that sadness behind his eyes. But she had never sensed anything like the tense rage and hate that was now his nearly constant companion. She didn't want the humans in the valley -- they were ugly and smelly, and they made everyone upset. But what if too many elves thought like her father? Couldn't he understand what their presence was doing to Redclaw?! How could he want to speak for the humans, against his soul-brother's pain?!
The young elf jerked her head around. "Go away, Nightdancer!" she snapped, glaring at the silhouette next to the entrance. "I don't want to talk with you!"
He didn't leave, drawing himself up into the stony niche. A bit of clear-crystal embedded in the rock blazed, making her blink. She met his blue eyes, trying to ignore their concern. "Go away!"
"Is your father all right?" he asked softly, not stirring. "You cried out to him when you fell, and I think most of us felt something happening. I would have followed you, but Farseeker said no." The Elder had been in the Great Hall, telling stories to a small group of elves. Nightdancer hesitated, then continued. "I want to help you, Moth -- if you need me, just ask."
Moth twisted away from him, tears starting, and she pulled the fur up about her face, wanting to hide them. But she couldn't hide her feelings as easily, and she did not resist when he moved in and held her, his thoughts gentle, compassionate, loving -- brotherly. Crying, she told him what had happened, leaving out her own transgression. He was shocked. "Redclaw turned on Arrowrock?!" he whispered. "I don't believe it!"
She sniffed, leaning against him. "Redclaw's not been himself since the humans appeared," she said. "I've always enjoyed being outside with him; he was never short-tempered with me, until last summer. Then it was like he was a different elf -- nothing I did was right! And sometimes, I could feel a kind of screaming rage within him, as if it was all he could do, to keep himself from running to the human camp and killing them all --!"
Nightdancer stiffened, and drew away from her. "I know he hates humans -- and with cause -- but ... wanting to slaughter the M'ka'arru and her people, for no reason? I know some elves want the humans to leave -- though they're wrong -- but kill them?"
Moth looked down. "He isn't the only elf who dreams of killing, I know he isn't. I ... I'm afraid, Nightdancer. I wish the humans had never come! There's so much anger, so much hatred! The Year's Turning was awful -- and it's gotten worse -- I wish the humans would go!"
"But if they go, we may never learn how to live in peace with their kind!" exclaimed Nightdancer. "Don't you understand?! They want to be friends! And we owe them -- we tried to destroy them, out of fear! We've got to make friends with them! And we can!"
She didn't look up. "But elves like Redclaw, they've lost so much to humans," she whispered, tears flowing. "How do you take away their pain? Maybe ... maybe it wouldn't be so bad, if the humans weren't so close. If they weren't in the Valley itself. It wouldn't ... wouldn't seem so much a threat. Maybe ... like if they lived below the Pass ..."
"It wouldn't work!" retorted Nightdancer. "They have to be near, so the elves have to face their fear! Like your father! And if he can, anyone can!"
But Moth shook her head. "I don't think so. Redclaw isn't afraid of humans -- he hates them. And all he has left is Father ... I - I don't know what he'll do, if they don't make up ... " She looked up at him suddenly, and grabbed his arm. "Nightdancer, isn't there someway we can keep the humans friendly, and not have them living so close!? Isn't there somewhere they could live, far enough away to satisfy Redclaw and the others, but close enough you could visit them? Wouldn't that be a solution to the problem?"
"How could it be?" demanded Nightdancer. "Curse it all, Can't you understand? They've got to change their minds! They'll never do that, if the humans are below the Pass! The humans have to be here, visible, so that they'll be made to think, to accept! It won't work anywhere else!"
"But what if someone goes crazy and attacks them?" asked Moth. "What if someone breaks the truce?"
He gave her a puzzled look. "Why should they? The M'ka'arru and her folk haven't done anything. And anyway, they'd be stopped. The Elders wouldn't let them off the Isle."
Moth looked away, pulling the furs more closely around her, not wanting to argue against her friend's certainty. If old One-Foot and Squirrel couldn't out-argue him, she couldn't. If only his insistence on having the humans stay in the Valley didn't make her afraid.
If only she could stop dreaming of red blood streaming from shaped-edged spears ...
rrowrock wandered the hallways, desperate in his loneliness, longing to touch the one who had forbidden his name. If only Redclaw would listen just for a moment! What mattered the fate of the humans, what mattered peace or war, if it meant this wall between him and his brother! He could not stand this! Sharek had brought him back from nothingness, had been constantly at his side through long years of healing and re-learning. Through pain and death they had clung to each other, each the other's strength -- it could not end like this! **Sharek!** he sent, groping, unable to withstand his need to try. **Sharek, please!**
But there was only the solid wall of refusal, as always, since the night Redclaw had turned on him. With a moan, Arrowrock sank down on the stairs, hands pressing against the inner wall. Why would Sharek not answer! Couldn't he sense what his refusal was doing to his brother! Almost, he would rather die, than live with this agony! Not even Silvertree's efforts had helped; she had persuaded him to let her try, but the pain had been too strong! Too strong; he had felt her flinch under its impact, its raw source too like the injury she had suffered from her sister, that injury but recently healed. She had failed! If only --
Moth's cry startled Arrowrock, pulling his thoughts away from the fractured bond. He sensed her presence behind her, but before he could respond, she was in front of him, touching his knees, her concern a clear beacon in her presence. "Father, please -- what's wrong? Why are you sitting here? You're in pain -- what is it? Is it Redclaw? He hasn't hurt you again, has he?"
Her concern and worry grated against his pain. "It's -- it's nothing you can do," he said, standing up, half-twisting away from her. "I- I'm fine."
"Father!" She moved to face him again, touching his hand, until he jerked it way. "Father -- please --!-- don't you think I can't feel your pain! I know Silvertree couldn't help you, and that Redclaw won't answer you! Isn't there something I can do to help? Redclaw -- I - I tell him I don't want the humans to stay, and so he, he agreed to keep teaching me to fight ... if I ... couldn't I, maybe, tell him that you've changed your mind?"
About to tear himself physically away from his daughter, Arrowrock paused in mid-turn as her words sank in. "You ... still ... speak with him?"
"Yes!" She grabbed his hand again. "I didn't mean to keep it from you -- I thought you knew! Do you want me to try and tell him something?"
Arrowrock trembled, feeling the first ray of hope since the claw had opened his face. "Yes --!-- tell him, t-tell him -- I-I don't care what happens to the humans, not as long as we're together. Tell him that -- tell him I need him -- I ... I need ... him ..." The last was a fading whisper.
She squeezed his hand. "I'll tell him," she said, her own voice barely above a whisper. "Go to your room and wait -- he'll not come to the hall as long as he senses you searching for him. As soon as I find him, I'll tell him. I promise."
He nodded, feeling relief wash over him. Moth and Redclaw had their own bond, a bond of friendship, of teacher and student, from the time Redclaw had offered to take over her tutorage of hunting and fighting, after all the other hunters had refused. If anyone could turn Sharek back to him, it would be the small, quick elf who had in love, two fathers ...
But Redclaw did not come.
isciplining her mind to not think on Arrowrock's hope, Moth glided down to the large, even-floored room everyone used for practice during the cold seasons. Redclaw was absent. Expecting that, Moth began a series of movements intended to warm her muscles. Redclaw had enforced those exercises with iron insistence, and Silvertree did not heal minor injuries due to practice. She had about finished, when Redclaw appeared from the shadows, carrying two double-ended, dull-bladed spears. He tossed her one; she caught it easily. Moving forward with a supple ease that she still couldn't match, the one-handed warrior crossed his spear with hers. But, he did not fall back to a guard position, but instead, met her eyes.
"Your father is feeling hope," he said bluntly. "Why?"
Moth hesitated a moment, trying to read the older elf. Then she launched the fastest and tightest sending she could. **Father's changed his mind. You're more important to him than the humans.**
She expected his reaction to be one of relief, or pleasure. Instead, he blanched, eyes widening with something almost akin to fear. For a moment, she thought she felt dismay from him, and a cry of denial and anguish, before his mind fought off her touch. Without warning, he attacked --
Moth barely caught his blade against her spear, driven backwards onto one knee. Twisting desperately, and with all her strength, she managed to disengage and leaped to one side. But he followed her, wolf-quick, and her palms stung as she deflected his blow. Twisting and dodging, she defended herself. She was quick: now, after all the years he'd spent on her, as quick as he, or, possibly, even quicker. But she could not begin to match his cunning. He tricked her with a feint, then thrust hard. Moth cried out and crumpled, barely keeping hold of her spear. But the next blow tore that out of her hands, and she felt, more than saw, the spear swinging back, and the dark raging that obscured her 'other father', a rage that didn't know her, which would strike without thinking, strike her, strike to kill --
A split moment of utter tension, as before a close sky-fire strike. And then --
She was Redclaw, screaming in agony from the sheer power of the denial blasting through his mind. She/he staggered and fell to the floor, arms flung up protectively. Memories scatter-shot through the pain-filled link, confusing her efforts to break free. She could not think, could not remember who she was, to recall herself --
Apart! Something like mental hands seemed to grasp the link and break it apart, sending her spinning back into herself with a cry of pain and a wave a blackness that lasted for many moments. Gasping for breath, Moth struggled to sit up, fighting dizziness. Struggling to focus through tearing eyes, she made out several figures gathered around a limp form. Was Redclaw all right? Two of the elves appeared to look at each other, then moved to pick the unconscious elf. High ones, she thought, oh, please, let him be all right! She hadn't meant to hurt him, she hadn't known she could, she'd been so frightened, she hadn't even thought --
A heavy presence abruptly disappeared. Moth gasped, made aware that others had been present in spirit, only by the -- to her -- sharp shift in atmosphere. The Eldests, she realized, recognizing the touch that had broken her link with Redclaw. But why hadn't they sent, asking what was going on? Why hadn't they sent to her? They were surely going to be upset with her. She had panicked, lost control and hurt Redclaw. If she'd had the training with Farseeker like everyone wanted her to have, she might not have done that. Of course, if she'd been doing what all the Elders wanted, she'd have been staying in the Isle during the summers, docile and soft-limbed, and Redclaw would never have had to be the only elf willing to defy the Elders and teach her the lore and craft of the outside ... and now she had hurt him, without thinking, without knowing ...
"Moth -- are you all right?!"
She looked up, groggily aware that her thoughts had blanked again. Nightdancer peered at her with concern in his blue eyes, then gently touched her shoulder. "I've sent for Silvertree and Farseeker, they'll be here soon. Just try to relax."
Fear flared at the two names. Memories not her own coalesced. She looked through tearing eyes at the Eldests, making a promise that threatened to tear her soul apart. She saw the Eldests again, this time with others in the room, others like Squirrel and One-Foot and Amber, all linked together in a locked-sending, smoldering, blood-tinged hatred obscuring heart-deep pain. There was a promise, a secret that must be kept, from many, but especially from the two most influential elves in the Isle. They must not know, they must not know --!
"Oh, no!" Moth jumped to her feet, staggered, tripped over her discarded spear, and fell to her knees. "They mustn't!"
"Moth!" Strong hands gripped her shoulders, and gently turned her to face Nightdancer. "What's wrong -- who mustn't what?"
She stared at him, trembling, eyes refusing to focus. For a moment, she seemed to see him through a web of darkness, face white and lifeless, and it was her fault, her failure ...
And then the fear returned, as her eyes cleared. "Oh -- no, let me go!" He mustn't learn. She pulled away and scrambled to her feet, this time managing to stay up. "I - I'm all right -- just leave me alone!"
"All right --?-- Moth, you've got a set of bruised ribs at the very least, you can barely stand!" He stepped towards her; she backed away, trying to keep her legs from folding. "What's wrong -- I've never seen you like this."
"Nothing's wrong!" Moth cried, twisting away. "Just, just leave me alone!"
ightdancer watched Moth glide away, totally bewildered. What was she afraid of? He'd never seen her this way; so upset, so afraid. And who had hurt her, then left her alone? She was used to practicing with Redclaw, but surely he would never hurt his almost-daughter. He knocked her down many times during training, but he always pulled his blows. Somebody must have lost control of his or her temper to hit so hard, but why? And who -- it couldn't have been Redclaw, he wouldn't have left her like that. Maybe some of the older elves, some of the few who had lived through the years of sorrow, who sometimes seemed to take no joy in life, to judge from the rarity with which they smiled at even his best dancing.
The elf sighed, running his fingers through his midnight-black hair. Humans were an easier audience than some of the elves, even if only Branag and the M'ka'arru sometimes seemed to understand what he was trying to express. They were such wonderful people. He didn't understand why --
"Nightdancer, where is Moth? I thought you said she was hurt."
Startled, he whirled to face Silvertree and Farseeker, who were standing in the entrance. "She was -- is," he said slowly.
"She's not here," said Silvertree irritably. "You said she needed a healer."
"I ... she ... I think she was hit in the ribs during a sparring match," he said, uncertain what to say about Moth's reaction to learning of their coming. "But she was alone, still sitting on the floor, when I came looking for her. She was ... upset ... wanted to be alone."
Farseeker's eyes narrowed. "More than upset, I would think, Nightdancer?" he asked. "There was a disturbance here a little while ago -- the Eldests chose to seek it out, but then closed their minds to me. And I thought I had sensed Moth's presence here ... what did she tell you, lad?"
Nightdancer shifted his stance. "Nothing about what happened. Just that she wanted to be left alone."
"Why?" Not waiting for an answer, Farseeker lifted his head slightly, eyes slipping out of focus. "She's closed her mind ... refuses to answer," he muttered finally. "Eldests ... " Another long silence, and then his eyes shifted focus back to Nightdancer. "They say she was sparring with Redclaw, was hit hard, panicked, and knocked him out."
Nightdancer blinked, trying to imagine any elf - let alone Moth, knock out one of the wiliest fighters in the Isle. But before he could phrase a question, Silvertree jumped to a conclusion. "Did they say how?" she demanded icily. "With her spear, or with her mind? You know what happened earlier this season, Farseeker, and she never has yet asked for training, has she? When are you going to make her sit down and learn to control her potential? When someone's killed?"
Farseeker winced, but shook his head. "I made her a promise, Silvertree, and I keep my word." Clearly meaning to have that subject at an end, he turned back to the young elf. "You might give her a while to calm down, then go to her, and try to get her to talk out what happened. These past few moons may have been harder for her than we realized ... and she hasn't confided in me for years," he added wistfully.
"I'll talk to her," Nightdancer promised.
"Good." Farseeker began to smile, then frowned. "And, Nightdancer ... let me know what she says. Something's going on ... and it is being hidden from me. And I sense ... feel ... Moth is a keystone. She may not even know it, but ..."
Nightdancer looked down. "I'll try to get her to talk with me," he promised. "But she might not want me to tell anyone else."
He heard Farseeker sigh. "Do your best, 'Dancer. Don't hesitate to talk to me."
Nightdancer nodded, not looking up, even as they left. He rubbed his arms, feeling cold. He hadn't told them about Moth's fear, about her words. That she apparently knew something they "mustn't" know. He probably should have told Farseeker everything.
But Moth trusted him, like a brother, and he didn't want to anything to break that trust. He wanted her for a mate, no matter how long he had to wait for her. Her affection for him -- even if only "sisterly", was too precious to risk. If she was afraid, there must be a reason. He would not tell on her.
Even though a chill in the air made him wonder if he was wrong.
lease! You've got to let me tell him! You've got to let me go to him! He's changed his mind, he'll agree with us! Let me go!**
Redclaw stared up at the Eldests, his mind still whirling with confusion and pain despite their soothing touch. But their faces were cold -- cold with displeasure.
**Why did you attack Moth?** they demanded, lock-sending. **You injured her; Squirrel says if she hadn't struck out with her mind, you might have killed her. What happened?**
Redclaw sobbed. **I- I don't know! She sent to me that Arrowrock had changed her mind, but all I could think was, I didn't dare go to him, because if I touched him, he'd learn everything! And I couldn't tell her that, she sent, she was in my mind, I had to get her out, I had to make sure she didn't get back in! The - the next thing I knew, I was here! I - I didn't mean to hurt her, I didn't mean to!!**
**Gently, Redclaw, gently.** Stepping forward, Aerva touched her fingers to his temples. With a sob, Redclaw let her in. She was no true healer, as Silvertree and Snowleaf. But the daughter of Firstcomers was not without gifts, and her touch again was cooling, and filled with compassion and understanding. And this time, more successful. He shuddered, muscles going limp. But the calmness she gave him could not lessen the enduring pain of separation.
**Please,** he begged again. **Let me speak to Arrowrock. Let me tell him our plans.**
**We sorrow for your pain, but no.** Their refusal was regretful, but adamant. **You have said yourself that you would be able to keep nothing from him. And Arrowrock would not agree to this. He would go to the others, and then all would be ruined. It will not be much longer -- have patience, Redclaw.**
Redclaw bowed his head, and did not reply, feeling the slow return of despair. The safety of the Isle came before his own needs, he reminded himself dully. Arrowrock would understand, one day. So must Moth. But that day seemed so far away. So long, while he must carry the pain next to his heart. And greater pain, now. That he had hurt his brother's daughter, a youngling almost as precious to him as his own. Joy. His own had been called Joy. A loving presence that had given a soul-brother the will to see. Gone, now. Like the others. Slain by humans. Gone...
oth sat with her arms wrapped around her legs in the smallest cubby-hole in the Isle. The short tunnel that led to it was almost too narrow for her, but at least, she could be fairly sure that no elder was going to corner her here. As they would be able to, if she stayed in her room.
Tightening her grip, she leaned forward until her head was on her knees, ignoring the twinges from her partly-healed ribs. The Lake outside the double walls was mostly silent, the ragged remnants of ice jammed against the Holder. She didn't want to remember how many days it had been since that horrible scene with Redclaw. She didn't want to remember what she had learned. She didn't dare tell anyone what she had learned. Not even Nightdancer. As long as she didn't say anything, as long as she kept her mind closed, she was safe. That first night, as all the fragments of memory from Redclaw's mind had come together, she'd been terrified that the Eldests would seek her out and force a lock-sending, to learn what she'd found. Not that it was clear what they were planning, but the goal had been unmistakable. Chase the humans away. And wasn't that what she wanted. If the humans were gone, then Redclaw and Arrowrock could be friends again. But if Nightdancer or Farseeker learned, the humans would not be made to go away. And the Eldests would be furious, and all the others, angry at her, the dark hatred and fury that linked them together would have no place to go but at her --
**Moth? What is wrong -- what are you afraid of?**
She started as Farseeker's thoughts reached her, realizing that she had relaxed the tight hold on her self. She strengthened her barriers, feeling Farseeker trying to persuade her to listen to him. Refusing admittance, she waited for him to give up, as he had before.
But his sending faltered suddenly, and wavered in a way she had never sensed. Startled, she reacted without thinking, dropping her guard and reaching for him. **Farseeker?** She sensed his awareness wavering, as if he was struggling to stay conscious. But that made no sense at all --
A quick flash of thought slammed painfully into her mind, even as she sensed Farseeker's mind reel and collapse into darkness. The flash was composed of sensations and urgent, half-formed thoughts; of the taste and scent of wine, a subtle difference noticed too late, must warn the others, must warn them! Staggered by the sending, Moth reacted to the urgency, not stopping to think, reaching instinctively for those closest to her, yet sending openly. **Father, mother, Nightdancer -- don't drink!! The wine -- don't drink -- anyone -- something's wrong! Don't drink --**
The power that blazed into her mind then was like nothing she had ever experienced in her short life; a rage careless of her defenses that crumpled before the assault, throwing her into darkness with a scream of agony. **You fool! We trusted your silence -- fool!**
Events can happen quickly ....
Arrowrock bolted to his feet, knocking over the wine he had not tasted, as he heard and felt his daughter's scream. **Arreen! Arreen!!**
**Be silent, blind one.** The Eldests' cold thoughts made themselves known. **Do not try to fight us -- stay where you are, this night.**
With growing horror, Arrowrock understood what Moth's warning meant, and why his soul-brother had refused to mend the breach between them. **Sharek,** he sent, desperately seeking the other's mind, ** no! You can't go against these humans -- it is wrong! They offer us no harm -- we must not harm them first! Listen to me, Sharek! Listen to me!!**
But the other refused to listen, mind fixed on one goal. And the Eldests reached for Arrowrock's mind, and though he resisted, he could not withstand them.
ightdancer straightened in the nook that Moth would have to pass, if she ever left her hideaway. Her scream chilled him, as he sensed the cause. All about the Isle, he sensed minds flaring in fuzzy alarm as her warning cry came too late, minds that faded into nothingness. He wanted to fling his sending out and demand to know what was going on, but a sudden caution stopped him. And he realized, with a growing horror, that he had been wrong, about how far some elves would go. They were going after the humans -- now, tonight. They would force the humans away; they might even try to kill. The M'ka'arru, Branag -- they had to be warned. He slipped out of his nook, gliding towards the nearest exit. He had to warn the humans, give them a chance to defend themselves. He had to warn them.
Before he could reach his goal, two shadowy figures jumped him from above. He sensed them before they could touch him, and twisted away, the most agile glider in the Isle. But they anticipated his move, one elf managing to grab a leg and distract him, while the other sent a green tendrils to wrap around his neck, sending him choking into oblivion...
edclaw gripped his upper arm tightly, fighting nausea as the bond reverberated with his soul-brother's futile resistance. It was almost over, he reminded himself. Soon, soon, the humans would be gone. Soon, he would not have to hold back, would not have to try and keep a secret from his brother. They would be together again, the bond would be healed. Arrowrock would understand and forgive. And the humans would be gone -- fled, or, maybe, dead. Maybe they would fight back. Of course, they would fight back. Humans hated elves -- all humans hated elves. They would fight. He would make them scream with agony. Like Darter. Like Joy. As Arrowrock had when they had burned out his eyes, and shattered his limbs and his mind, so long ago. He would make them scream. He would make them die.
oices that had no words called to her: whimpering, she tried to dive deeper into unknowing darkness, but visions dragged her back. She saw slender, fragile craft knifing through the icy Lake, surrounded by a darkness deeper than the moonless sky; saw elves and humans fighting, staining the land red. Trees burst into flame from human torches, and humans fell to their deaths as the ground below their feet gave way. And for each dying on one side was a dying on the other, hatred and agony yielding more hatred and agony in an endless spiral, growing and growing until she could not tell who wounded who, but only those who fell...
She woke screaming, thrashing about, nearly panicking from the tight quarters until physical pain roused her enough to remember where she was. Trembling, she recalled what had happened. **Father?** she sent, wondering if anyone had heard her warning. **Father!**
**I'm here, Moth.** She felt his slight flinching, as if he was hurting. **Come down here -- we need to decide what to do.**
Moth acknowledged his order, but as she wriggled through the short tunnel, she wondered what Arrowrock thought they could possibly do now. Redclaw and his group would be nearly to shore by now, and the Eldests had surely stayed behind, to make sure no one attempted to stop them. And how could anyone have really thought it possible to change the way humans and elves reacted, she wondered, as she shot down a main spiral at a speed that would have received a reprimand, had any elder seen. Humans killed elves and elves killed humans, and that was the way it would always be.
Gliding into her parents' quarters, Moth was nonplussed to discover a double handful of elves standing or sitting in the main room. "Why are you -- what's everyone doing here? I thought --"
Nightdancer interrupted, stepping forward, one hand rubbing the bruises on his neck. "We have to stop this insanity before someone gets killed."
She stared at her would-be lovemate, startled by the harshness in his voice and the rage in his face. Never had she seen him like this. "Wh-what do you mean?"
"I mean we have to stop the Eldests and their followers before they destroy the best chance we've ever had to make peace with humans!" he said, eyes glittering. "Think, Moth! They want to be friends, they don't hate us, they agreed to a truce! And we're breaking it! We're breaking our word -- if they attack M'ka'arru's people now, then we're worse than humans! Worse! We can't let them do it! We can't!"
"But, we can't stop them!" Moth protested, fear beginning to chill her. "They're almost to the shore already! They took all the boats! There's nothing we can do!"
"Nothing?!" Nightdancer grabbed her upper arms. "What do you mean, nothing! We're gliders, everyone of us --!-- strong gliders! The air is calm; we can glide to the human camp, drop in among the humans, and then what can they do, without risking the chance of hurting us, with both Healers unconscious?"
"But it won't work!" cried Moth. "They won't let you stop them! They'll see you before you get there, the Eldests will knock you out, like they did me!"
"Not if we link with you!" His grip tightened until it hurt. "Curse it Moth, stop being a frightened child! Everyone knows what you are, one of the strongest powers ever born in the Isle! Everyone knows the Eldests didn't ever want to let you on shore, to learn to be a hunter -- they won't dare to anything to risk you!"
But Moth shrank away, shaking. Her mind still hurt from the Eldests' touch, her stomach still churned from the visions. And her terror was a mindless, growing thing. She didn't know this Nightdancer, this face of enraged pride and fury. And the thought of linking with not just him, but with the others, like Deer and Rockstriker, Cedar and Fetchsong, of letting them in to her mind, her thoughts, her fears -- "I-I c-can't," she whispered, tears leaking down her face. "Don't go, Nightdancer, please don't go!"
"There's no choice." With an expression of bitter reproach, he pushed her away. Moth collapsed to the floor, crying silently. She did not hear what Nightdancer had to say to the others, enveloped in her fear and her pain. She did not hear them leave, looking up only at a touch on her shoulder. Dawnflower peered down at her, concern in her huge eyes.
**I have to go with Arrowrock, to be his eyes,** she sent. **He's the only elf who has a chance of stopping Redclaw. Daughter, you do understand why we have to go, don't you? I don't like humans, either, but to have the Eldests attacking the other Elders, you; to break our word, even with human kind ... we can't let happen.**
**I - I know that!** replied Moth, trying to swallow around the lump in her throat. **It's just, just -- I don't know! Something's wrong, and I can't -- I can't ...**
**The wrongness is why we have to go, daughter.** Dawnflower sighed, and ran her fingers through Moth's tangled curls. **Try to get some rest, Moth -- we'll come back as soon as we can.**
But as Dawnflower left, Moth lowered her head, fresh tears welling. She didn't understand herself, how could she hope anyone else to understand? Everything was so wrong! Elves attacking elves, tricking them, the hatred, the fears, turned into madness, and she was so afraid ...
How long she was caught in her cycle of fear, she never knew.
Until terrible pain wracked her, shattering her thoughts.
Until she screamed...
edclaw glared at the sleepy, bewildered and frightened humans, as they huddled together in front of their caves, surrounded by the torch- and weapon- holding elves. Standing before the other humans, an old, white-haired woman was speaking. Redclaw closed his ears to her words, though it added to his fury. To think that humans dared attempt elvin speech! He breathed in their heavy scent, and gripped his spear-thrower more tightly, longing for the word to be given. He let his gaze settle on a tall man at the front of the crowd. The man looked almost familiar. Redclaw drew back his lips in a snarl. There had been another man once. A man of the same height, same build. Almost the same features, the same color hair. He didn't remember where he had seen the man like him. But it didn't matter. There had been so many humans like him, ready to hurt. Ready to kill. Like the one that had stood above him, the one that had swung the axe, the one that had caused the pain, the blinding pain of his right arm sheared off halfway between wrist and elbow --
He shuddered, memories rising like a tide. Joy, daughter of his body, his heart, the song in his life, frozen in terror, unable to move as the club swung down on her head. Darter, lifemate, the only one of her hunting group not killed quickly, pinned to a tree, dying slowly as he ran -- too slow, too slow! -- to rescue her. And worst of all, Rilharyn. Captured, because of carelessness. A rescue attempt that failed at the very last moment, a rescue attempt that failed even to give a quick death. The shattering agony, the pain he had felt through their soul-bond, the width of the Pass and the Valley away! The nightmares, for moons upon moons, his broken brother calling for help, pleading, and all others believed him dead! And when all the countless years later, when the bond had faded, when even he had come to believe in his brother's death, the realization that the rescued, blind, crippled, insane elf was his soul-brother! That for countless years, Rilharyn had been tortured, destroying his mind and his will, until nothing remained but a name! Tortured by humans! Humans who hated. Humans who killed, who tortured. Humans who deserved to be killed.
A voice cried within his mind, begging him to listen. With a shake of his head, Redclaw blocked the cry -- no! He would not listen! He raised his spear-thrower a fraction higher, a wave of rage and hatred and pain rising, a wave he did not want to resist. His heart was pounding, his breathing ragged; human odor, human fear, and smoke, the smoke that had burned the Valley raw, the fire that had eaten of elvin flesh, the flame that had burned out a brother's eyes --
A crackle of rage from outside him. And movement, the tall human male, moving forward --
Redclaw saw the other man who had advanced with a flaming stick, on his helpless, terrified brother --
He screamed --
ightdancer drew ahead of the others, his thoughts churning with emotions he had never really felt before. How could he have been so stupid, not to see that some elves hated humans so much they'd do anything?! And Moth -- she must have known about the plan, at least part of it, why hadn't she told anybody? Why had she hidden herself ever since that night? And, curse it all, why had she refused to come?! Why did she refuse to accept what she was? She had knocked out an elf with only her mind! There were so many things she could do, if only she willed to learn, the Elders said! But she refused, and he could never understand why! He had thought it was because she was young, still growing up, just as he had accepted that she was too young, yet, to be interested in mating. But, curse it, she was years older than Deer, who'd been lovemated with Cedar for three years now! And her fear, tonight, by the Ten, how could she not go, even afraid?! That was her almost-father leading the fighters! And her father, who was one of the ones attacked by the Elders! How could she not come -- how could she stay behind?!
The pinpoints of light became torches. Nightdancer swore to himself as he made out the humans, surrounded by elves. He pushed himself to increase his speed. He had to get there, before anything went wrong. He had to show the M'ka'arru, and the others -- especially Branag -- that not all elves were liars, and word-breakers. He had to prove that not all the elves wanted them to leave, that the ones the Eldests led were acting against all the elves believed in. He had to break the impasse, he had to find a way to stop them.
He was overhead when a murmur of anger ran around the ring of elves. He saw Branag stiffen, then move forward, towards the M'ka'arru. He saw Redclaw move, bringing his spear-thrower back, in the first motions of a throw --
Horror slowed time to a crawl. Unable to breathe, Nightdancer knew nothing, except that he had to prevent that throw. With all of his skill, with all of his speed, he flipped himself backwards, coming out of the quarter-spin with his feet pointed downwards. With a speed that only seemed slow, he fell and pushed himself downwards, aiming for not where the spear was, but for where it would be.
The spear-thrower came forward, raising up, giving an extra boost to the slender, fletched shaft. In all the universe, at that moment, was the spear. Coming upward, and forward. As he fell downward. The end of the spear left the thrower, the gap widening. It disappeared from view. One foot rapped hard against the butt. Without seeing it, Nightdancer knew that the spear was flipping high into the air, that it would fall without harm --
Time returned with a rush. He slammed feet-first into the ground, pain lancing up his legs as both ankles broke from the force of his landing. He reeled, going down to one knee, then threw himself back up, instinctively calling on the last of his dwindling power to glide --
He never saw the knife that ran him through.
edclaw snarled with rage as he sensed his throw go awry. Blindly, he charged the object that had caused his failure, the rock claw that had replaced his hand and forearm straightening and sharpening. As the thing reeled before him, he struck, feeling the rock blade burying itself in warm flesh, feeling the hot blood spurting with something approaching savage joy --
Screaming voices broke through his mind. Crying out, he went to his hand and knees. The voices resolved into words, screaming, in horror, **Redclaw/Sharek/what have you done/what have you done/High Ones, what have you done?!** Wincing, Redclaw shook his head, opening his eyes. Blue eyes gazed up at him sightlessly. He blinked, then looked again. The eyes, the face, belonged to Nightdancer.
Redclaw flung himself to his feet in shock. He stared at the body, at his knife-hand, then at the body again. The voices faded from awareness, as his mind coalesced onto a single thought.
He. Had. Killed. An. Elf.
There was no room for anything else, except that thought.
He did not hear the guttural cry of grief and rage, or the shouts. He did not hear the pounding feet.
The spear that took him in the belly and flung him back, was a dim thing that meant nothing. He had killed his own kind. He had killed Nightdancer...
hrough Dawnflower's eyes, Arrowrock saw the tragedy. As Nightdancer fell towards the moving spear, the blind elf redoubled his efforts to penetrate his brother's madness, and failed. He saw Nightdancer land, going to one knee, before lurching back up, a helpless target for the maddened elf. Dawnflower's scream of horror joined his. Under the impact of all the elves' horror, he saw Redclaw go down. He felt the madness of his brother shatter, to be replaced moments later by shock. His own mind wavered in horror and disbelief -- his brother, his brother had killed an elf!
It was Dawnflower's mental gasp that brought his awareness back to the shared vision, in time to see the human named Branag charging Redclaw with a spear he had wrested from one of the stunned elves. Arrowrock screamed as the spear threw Redclaw to the ground, the pain that the one-armed elf was too shocked to feel ricocheting through the bond to his brother. He screamed again as the spear blade was pulled out and slammed down again. The pain --
**Beloved, no! It is not you -- Rilharyn, come to me -- it is not you!** The sending of his lifemate penetrated the agony. Arrowrock reached for it in desperate need. With her help, he distanced himself from the pain, and reached again for her vision. But he cried out, as he saw the human standing over Redclaw, stabbing with the blood-stained spear again and again. His brother --!
**Off!** Ignoring Dawnflower's protest, Arrowrock shoved her away and broke the sending, diving towards the human. Vision disappeared, but he did not need it. Colliding with the man, he wrapped his arms and legs about the larger body, reaching with his mind for the rock-shaped spear point. He blunted it, flowing the rock up the shaft, meaning to pull the rock to his hand, to make a knife --
But the man did not stand still. Arrowrock tried to cling to him, as he shouted and moved, but blind, and inexpert, he failed. He started to lose his grip, and then, the blunt-ended spear slammed into his ribs, shattering bones, and throwing him to the ground. He blacked out for a few moments ...
Then came to, with voices calling his soul-name. One was louder -- closer -- but the other ... **Sharek?** he called out, scarcely daring to hope. **Sharek?**
A sob answered him. **Rilharyn! Oh, High Ones, High Ones, forgive me, I didn't know what I was doing, I swear, I didn't know! Nightdancer, I killed him, I killed Nightdancer!**
**It wasn't you.** Arrowrock felt the two flows of memory, coming together. **All the pain, all the hate ... it was madness that killed him.**
**But I gave into that madness. I turned on you, turned on Moth, and I hated myself for it, but I didn't do anything to change! I killed him, I killed Nightdancer, and I didn't know!**
**We all failed, Sharek. I failed. I could have asked the Elders for help, to make you stop avoiding me. Forgive me, Sharek -- I forgive you -- you're still my brother.**
Some of the shivering agony faded into grief. **Oh, Rilharyn, brother, my brother, there's nothing to forgive. I -- ahh**
Pain returned then, pain they both felt. Sharek fought it for a moment, then gave into it, with a long sigh. **My body dies,** he sent, with a note of relief. **It is good ...**
**No,** sent Arrowrock, despairing. **Brother, don't go -- don't leave me.**
Sharek's thoughts almost smiled. **Rilharyn ... you don't need me like you used to. You have a mate, a child ... let me go to mine.**
**No!** The thought of a future without Sharek at his side drove Arrowrock to his hands and knees, then to his feet. He managed a single step before he stumbled, and went to his knees. The fall jolted his broken ribs, and sent him into an agonized fit of coughing. **Sharek!** he thought through the dizzying pain. **Sharek, I need you!** He struggled to breathe, coughing again and again. **Sharek, please!!**
**Rilharyn.** Sharek's love flowed through the bond. Arrowrock surrendered to it, unaware of the hands touching him. Dimly, he "heard" Redclaw sending to someone, telling them to move Arrowrock next to him. The next thing he knew, someone was gripping his hand, and it was Sharek.
**Don't go,** he pleaded.
A sigh wisped between them, and the voice that answered was weaker. **I have no choice, brother of my soul. And ... how could I live, with what I have done? I have killed an innocent youngling, who had nothing but brightness ahead of him. But for your love, I would have followed Darter into death years ago. Accept my going, Rilharyn. It is what I want...**
His grief was worse than his pain. How could he live without Sharek by his side? Sharek was his age-mate, his brother, without Sharek he would never have regained his sanity, never found a full life in the Isle. He couldn't go on! **If you go, then I would go with you!** he sent. **Don't go without me!**
**If you refuse healing, you will follow me.** The thought was remote, and Arrowrock could feel Redclaw's spirit slipping away. **We will be with you, in spirit ... Kaynalla, Ishennek, and I ... and ... Nightdancer? You ... forgive ... me?**
A very faint laugh, filled with gentle love, relief and joy, echoed down fading pathways.
And then, there was silence.
oth did not remember screaming, or running from her parents' rooms. She did not remember gliding across the Lake. She stared down at a scene worse than any vision, a scene she would have done anything not to see. Branag was holding Nightdancer's limp body, sobbing, surrounded by humans and elves, all of them grief-stricken, weapons, hatred, and fear, all forgotten in the shocking horror of Nightdancer's death. Beyond the large gathering was a small group, of only five. Dawnflower's head and shoulders obscured Arrowrock's face, but he still grasped Redclaw's hand. On the other side, Tinar and Aerva knelt, their minds a roil of grief -- and shame.
She whimpered to herself, not wanting to believe what she had felt, and what she saw. She had felt the abrupt death, even in the Isle, and it had brought her to her feet, screaming. Then Redclaw had been hurt, and then her father --!-- and now her almost-father had died, the elf who had taught her to hunt and to fight, the elf who had defied the Elders themselves to get her to the shore, to be free. The elf who had loved her almost as much as her own parents.
But her true-father still lived.
Moth dropped, to land next to her parents. **Mother, how is he?** she asked, kneeling. **Please, tell me he'll be all right!**
Dawnflower raised her head, her face streaked with tears. **He is dying.**
**No! He can't die! He can't! We have to do something!**
**And what can we do, child?** Moth jerked her head around, to look at the Eldests. Aerva's own tears were flowing, and there was deep guilt in her sending. **The Healers both sleep, and will not waken for hours. If he was willing to fight to live, then his body might live long enough, for Silvertree to wake, cross the Lake, and heal him. But his bond with his soul-brother is stronger than his lifemate bond, and he wills his dying.**
**No!** Arrowrock wanted to die?! **No -- I need him!** He couldn't die! Nightdancer was dead, Redclaw was dead, she couldn't lose her father, too! **Make him live!**
**We cannot. Arrowrock must want to live.** And Aerva looked away.
Moth felt she was in a nightmare, that nothing was real. Her father couldn't be dying. Her almost-father, and her friend, couldn't be dead. But they were. Her father was preferring death, to life. Didn't he realize how much she needed him? Maybe if she told him --
Without thinking about it, Moth sent herself into Arrowrock, searching for him. She ignored the protests, sending with all of her strength and her will. He must not leave her! When he did not respond, she moved deeper, calling, over and over. Finally, there was a weak response. **Arreen? Why?**
**Father! Please -- I don't want you to die! I need you!!** She sent herself onwards, striving to get closer. **Please try to live! Please!**
He resisted her. **I am dying ... they're waiting for me ... my brothers ... my mother ... I would go to them ...**
**No!** Moth denied that with all of her will. **I need you! Please, live! Just live, and I'll do anything you want -- I'll go learn from Farseeker, I'll stay in the Isle and be a far-walker -- anything! Please -- I can't have you die, too! It's my fault they're dead -- Nightdancer, Redclaw -- I knew about the plan, I was in Redclaw's mind, I saw it, and I didn't tell anyone! It's my fault they're dead! Please, you can't die, you can't!!**
**It's ... not your fault, Arreen,** he sent faintly. **You couldn't have known it would end like this. Don't blame yourself.**
**But they were my friend and my almost-father! You're my father! Please, oh, please, try to live! I want you to live!**
Her father's spirit didn't answer. But before she could try another plea, another voice spoke. **Beloved. I do not wish to hold you back against your will. I understand. I have always known, how it was. And yet, I will grieve. You are my beloved.**
**We would grieve, as well, though we will not dispute your choice either,** sent the Eldests. **Because of our blindness, our madness, two elves lie dead, and one of them dead by another elf's hand. Our fault for that: our failure. And our fault, that no healer is at hand. But, if you can, if you will ... we would ... be pleased ... if you lived.**
Silence. Moth tried to send another plea, but the Eldests kept her silent. Finally, Arrowrock's spirit sent. **I would rather follow my brother. I do not want to live without him at my side.**
**We understand,** returned the Eldests. Moth kept back a cry of grief, only because they kept it from her.
**But ... I have a daughter ... who needs me ... ** There was another long pause. **I will try ... to live.**
he M'ka'arru stood in the middle of the stunned crowd, her mind numbed from the night's events, her heart filled with fear and doubt, empty of answers. Why had the fair ones--strangers all--roused her and hers from their beds, and demanded their departure? Why had they watched her people with hatred and loathing, when they had done nothing to harm any, had kept the truce? Where were all the rest of the fair ones who had visited the caves during the winter? Why had they let mad-eyed one kill the Dancer, and then make no move to stop Branag?
The crowd before her eddied, parting to reveal the sapling-slender female who had led the fair ones this night. Behind her, his arms filled with a a limp figure she recognized as the eyeless fair one, came her shorter, white-haired mate. The M'ka'arru told her old body to stand still and not be afraid. Her stomach didn't listen. Taller than most humans, the fair one came to a stop less than a length before her. Torchlight spangled tears as the female looked away, then down, then finally up to meet the human's eyes.
"We ... were ... wrong." The silver voice trembled as it stumbled over the syllables of the human language. "Always ... think we ... good ... better ... than humans are. Humans kill only ... for hate. Humans only ... hate ... no try ... know stranger. Humans only ... hurt, kill own kind. Our kind ... better."
Her head moved once, fresh tears sparkling. "Wrong. Mate ... I -- we hate. We not try ... know you. We ... we hurt own kind. Redclaw..." the edge of her hand lightly hit her right fore-arm, then traced a long, hooked curve. The M'ka'arru, guessing the reference to the one-armed killer, nodded. "Redclaw sick ... in mind. We not try ... heal sick ... only use sick. We ... most want ... keep truce. Let stay you. Mate, I, others, not agree. We hurt our own, so they not stop us. We ... wrong." The fair one looked away for a moment. "We ... ask ... you ... forgive."
The M'ka'arru blinked. Anger flickered through her--these fair ones had threatened the lives of all her people. They had not stopped the one-armed killer, leaving the Dancer to sacrifice his life to save Branag's. Why should she forgive people who broke their word?
But as she looked around, the flicker died. The fair ones were not so different that she could not make out the expressions of shock and grief on their faces. "You are not going to make us leave?" she asked.
The fair one's eyes closed for a moment. "We ... will not ... let spear, knife ... against you. We would ... be ... as before. Truce ... and all decide ... next to do."
They wanted her people to give them a second chance. The M'ka'arru looked down, wondering what the Mother wanted--and what she wanted. Leave her people in peril of attack from fair ones who outnumbered them? Let her youngest grandson live in the shadow of those who had, only a little bit before, looked at her with such hatred?
And yet ... She looked towards where Branag knelt, still weeping. The fair ones were capable of treachery and hatred ... and of love and sacrifice. For all their slender, haunting beauty and sometimes terrifying eyes, they seemed to have the same range of emotions as did humans.
"I am not sure how to answer you," she said slowly. "I ... need time..." an image suddenly returned to her, and a thought. "The ... one-armed." She echoed the fair one's earlier gesture. "Why did he kill the Dancer?"
The uneven light could not hide the other's expression of pain. "He knew not ... who ... stopped spear. When he knew ..." The fair one shook her head, once. "He ... like all ... Nightdancer loved. He wanted ... dying. He not know ... not know..."
The anguish was clear even through the stumbling words. The M'ka'arru took a deep breath, feeling some of her fear fade. "We, also, must think about what happened this night, and decide if it is still the Mother's will that we still try friendship with your kind. But we will not," she shook her head, "we will not turn blades against you. For the Dancer's sacrifice." Hesitating a moment, she extended her hands, palms up. "We do not break truce."
Slender hands, trembling, touched hers. "Truce."