Softly of Healer's Holt
By Sharon Go (c) 2002
The morning star rose warm and bright. It looked like a wonderful day.
A hunting party was getting ready to go out. Speaks-softly Stonehand,
Icewind and Coolhands had their spears and bows ready. They mounted their
bonds and rode out to track the large heard of branch horns migrating through
They easily found their game and moved downwind of the herd. They spread out and Stonehand sent, **NOW!** They moved quickly up on the herd's flank.
The branch horns stopped and scattered, rocked on their hooves. Then the shockwave spread, knocking the wolves from their feet. The herd panicked and stampeded. Wolves and their elven riders were trampled as the ground shook violently.
Back at the Holt, people were gathering outside to enjoy the day or work on projects. Straightspear and his recognized mate, Lightwind stood outside their den. Boastsloud was telling three cubs a story. Nightdew and Strongarm were bent over a fur nearby. The rest of the tribe seemed to be sleeping in.
There was a loud crack and the rumble of falling rock accompanied by the violent movement of the ground. Lightleaper, cowered against Nightdew, he bond, whining in fear. Softfoot and Highback knocked the cubs down and huddled next to them. Strongarm was holding the screaming Nightdew. Straightspear knelt protectively over his mate and unborn cub. Boastsloud was trying to hang on to all the cubs, Softfurs, Firefoot, and Taleweaver. The tremor slowly stopped, leaving the elves in shock.
Straightspear, the Chief looked at the den area and gasped. The face of the cliff had cracked then collapsed. He could not make out where any den entrances had been. He raised his head in the unnatural silence and howled. There were no answering howls from the dens.
Suddenly Nightdew burst into tears and raised her head and gave a grief stricken howl. **Laughingwolf is gone.** She then sank into shock as she accepted the loss of her lifemate and remembers the cub she now carried.
The cubs, Softfurs, Firefoot, and Taleweaver started to run toward the rock heap. The chief's bond and Boastsloud stopped them, **NO, it might not be safe to go up on the rocks. Wait for Stonehand to return.**
The shaking had stopped, and there were a few young branch horns down. The bruised and shaken hunters quickly put them out of their misery. Speaks-softly's healing skills could save only Coolhands' bond. The others had been trampled to death. They took the four best young and field dressed them. The rest they left for other predators.
Though they traveled as fast as they could, it took several hours to get back. Twice during that time, the ground quaked and threw them from their feet. When they got back all the could see was three cubs, three bond wolves, the Chief and his mate and three other adults. They looked up at the cliff face and saw the devastation.
Straightspear greeted Stonehand **Do you think you can make it safe to search for survivors?**
Stonehand nodded but sent, **I can't stop the ground's shaking.** Straightspear and Boastsloud worked with Stonehand, knocking, and howling as they looked for survivors trapped in their dens.
Speaks-softly, Lightwind, Firefoot, and Taleweaver started cutting the meat into strips to be dried. Nightdew, Icewind, Coolhands, Strongarm, and Softfurs worked on branch horn hides.
Stonehand had been able to locate several dens, but none inside had lived through the disaster. Grimly, the Chief and Boastsloud salvaged furs, weapons, tools and clothing. Coolhands' den was found and her herbs, gathering baskets and drying racks were retrieved. Sheer exhaustion forced Stonehand to stop shaping the stones for the night. Boastsloud and Straightspear spoke quietly. Then the Chief made his way over to the few surviving members of the Branch Horn Tribe, "Tonight we howl for our lost packmates. In a hand of days, we will leave to find a new home."
During those days Stonehand searched for more dens and the Chief and Boastsloud recovered any useful items they could find. When Stonehand discovered the dens of the cubs' families, the three cubs were allowed to go in for a last howl and take what they wanted.
Softfurs took her mother's necklace and tied it around her own neck, tears rolling down her face. Firefoot gravely tucked the branch horn carving his mother had made for him into a belt pouch. Taleweaver found her parents in each other's arms. There wasn't much left of the den. With Straightspear's help, she removed her mother's finely worked belt and her father's sheath knife. These she buckled around her own waist, then she raised her head and howled in grief. She then got up and climbed out of the den without looking back.
When the tribe was ready to move out, each member was heavily loaded and the surviving wolf bonds were pulling large loads. As they traveled away from the rising daystar, Straightspear didn't know where they would den. All he knew was that his mate and Nightdew were pregnant, so they had to find a new home soon.