Her mother’s words again echoed in her head, “When Recognition happens, it is as if your eyes are opened for the first time.” “When Recognition happens, you will fly.” When Recognition happened...
She felt hot and cold and could not sleep. She was starving, and yet had no appetite for food.
Since the Wolfriders had left in the palace she had slept with her family, which Wing had thought weird, because she hadn’t done that in over a year. Her parents had taken one look and not commented.
They knew what was going on. There was no way they couldn’t know just by looking at her. They had plenty of knowledge of this.
They slept together on the other side of the pit, Mender curled against his mother’s arm. If she woke them now, what would they say to her? No, she knew what they would say. Recognition was Recognition, and since she was now sure that it was happening, all she had to do was go over to the lad in question and get on with it, and hopefully he would know better than to resist. She didn’t know why her mother hadn’t taken her aside and said this to her already, or asked her what she was waiting for.
The hut felt airless and too small. Newstar threw a cloak around herself and escaped out into the night.
He was not in his usual hut; she knew just by getting close to the wall. Although she didn’t want to know. She’d only vaguely known his name until those minutes after the palace had gone, when she’d let go of Wing and turned around, and he’d happened to be standing behind her. What if she’d waited another moment, or hugged her brother first, or he had been standing somewhere else? Would it have happened at some other time instead? She had no idea.
If this had to have happened to her now, when she was nowhere near ready for it, why couldn’t it have happened with someone she’d known better? One of the Jack-Wolfriders; that would have been fun. Or better yet, Dart.
She’d wanted it to be Dart. Since she was a little girl she’d dreamed about it being Dart, planned it all out for when and where and how it would happen, though really she would have been ready for that any time at all. It was supposed to be her and Dart; they were the two Wolfrider cubs raised in the desert. The two of them had already been lovemates, on and off, though not as much in the past year or so, as Dart had grown closer to his fellow riders, and had once confessed to her he found that while he enjoyed his time with her, he preferred the kind of joining he could engage in with someone like Shushen. Which had hurt, but she could have accepted it. She’d even entertained the notion of being involved in a three-mating; she’d never minded sharing.
But now none of that would ever be. Now she looked at a future with someone else, someone she still knew little about, especially as she had still not yet spoken to him or even been long in his presence.
She was not so much a fool as to refuse the call of Recognition; she knew it had to be done. But she had not yet brought herself to do it.
As she trudged through the sand, her bare feet catching on little pebbles and cracks in the ground that normally she was sturdy enough to walk untroubled by, for the first time, and it surprised her that she had not thought of it before, she wondered how he was doing, if he was suffering as badly as she was, and why he had not approached her either. Had he thought her a child still? No, that was impossible when she had made no secret of her activities around the village, and accompanied the Jack-Wolfriders on a difficult journey into the woods and into danger. She was no child. She was aware that he was many, many years older than her, but that was true for all of the villagers.
She had wandered beyond the circle of huts and close to the caves where she had lived as a girl for nearly a year, before her family had been the first of the Wolfriders to accept the Sunfolk’s repeated invitations into their huts. She in fact remembered the caves better as the place she was always visiting to see her kin and carry messages back and forth, the pride she had felt at doing the latter, at being such a useful link between the two groups of elves that she had soon started to feel were both her “tribes.” But now it had been years and years since she had set foot in them. Only now did she turn her feet in their direction. If she was indeed to leave her childhood behind, it might be well to visit one last time.
She even tried to remember the old Holt as she walked, the Father Tree. But her parents had sent her so many images of it she was no long sure what was her memory and what was theirs. They had once sent her a memory of bathing her in the stream when she had lived a little less than three turns of the seasons, and now she believed she could remember the cold water, the rocky stream bottom, the wet moss on the bank. It was the most vivid perhaps-memory she had of a forest that no longer existed, almost shut out by the sparkle and dark and cold of the troll caverns-her mother had told her she had laughed just before they reached Greymung’s throne but she couldn’t remember that, the heat and hunger and just absolute confusion of the desert with her father’s wolf-friend dead underneath them and her mother unable to wake up, and then...home. She didn’t remember thinking of Sorrow’s End as anything other than home.
But as she stepped into the darker shadows, suddenly another memory sprung up, one that could be none but hers, for she did not think it had crossed her mind since the day when she had first made it. Watching Cutter, sitting quietly at the edge of the cave when everyone else was burrowing down in the furs to sleep, head pressed to his knees as if he was in pain, having noticed for the first time he hadn’t eaten that night or the night before, and asking her mother what was wrong with him. She couldn’t remember what her mother had said anymore, only that she hadn’t been able to understand it and had said so, and her mother had replied, “You will when you are older, I promise.”
And so she had, at last.
Deeper into the caves, and more memories. The happiness of having her belly full again as she rested against her mother’s breast, staring into the already sleeping face of her baby brother. Her and Dart playing games with pebbles where they made up the rules right beforehand and the adults could never follow them but they always knew they perfectly. Pike coming running into the cave yelling, “I’m a troll! I’m a troll!” which had seemed so funny, then staring avidly at the sparkling thing he’d used a hammer on as if he’d really been a troll. Thinking it was funny again when her father had placed his own jeweled creation around her neck because it wouldn’t fit around her mother’s, during his brief experimentation with metalworking. She’d worn it until her neck too had grown too big for it.
It was probably still in one of the chests in the hut her family lived in. If I have a daughter, she thought, then she will wear it.
That was another frightening thought. Two years more and she would have a cub. She knew how hard it was to be a mother; she loved her own all the more for how she had done everything in her life as the mother of her and her two brothers. She knew she wasn’t ready to do that, and she didn’t think she would be in only two years.
By the time she wandered out of the cave, her exhaustion was getting worse, weighing down her limbs and making her want to crumple to the desert sands, even though she knew sleep was hopeless. She ought to go home, go in, go anywhere, though she didn’t want to wake anyone up.
She wouldn’t wake Savah up, she knew. Savah never slept, Savah was always there. Savah was hard to speak to; she didn’t know if she ever had. Savah was too much, too great, too high for Newstar to bear right now. She needed someone else, someone wiser than her, of course, but someone whom she could look in the eye, either figuratively or literally.
She was so possessed by her wild thoughts that it took her a few minutes to notice the sky had grown lighter. Had she at least slept longer than she had thought, or had she lost track of time in the caves? Either could have easily happened. Her mind was never steady enough these past few days to keep track of time.
But then she saw another figure up and awake and out of his hut. She knew immediately it was the Sun-Toucher, making the journey he made to greet the Daystar.
And then she felt joy, for the first time since the Wolfriders had left, for she knew then he was exactly whom she wished to talk with.
But as she grew closer, and his step slowed as he sensed her there, she who normally feared nothing found herself grow timid, not knowing if it was right for her, a silly girl, to trouble him with a dilemma where it was not even a question of what she would eventually do, just how to come to accept that she would be doing it.
But he turned towards her, and said softly, so softly one of the villagers standing her distance from him might not have heard, “Come, child.”
Usually nowadays when someone called Newstar a child she grew angry; she refused to be one now. But in his eyes, what else could she be? And it comforted her to hear it now, to be once again a frightened cub allowed to hide behind her mother’s flank.
The two of them walked in silence. Watching him hobble on his cane, she felt the urge to take hold of his hand and offer to guide him, but he knew this path too well to ever need guiding. So many years he had walked it-more, in fact, than she might even live.
And that was something she had not had time to think about, something she had learned only when Recognition had seized her mind too much for her to worry about anything else, what she had heard Dewshine telling her parents they had learned about in the palace, the mortality their wolf blood brought them. Blood and mortality she would pass on. They had never even told the Sun Folk about that, she thought, but surely he who had Recognized her knew of that beast in her, or would when he looked at her again, and if he did not know of the mortality, well, he would see her and their cub grow old and die.
They were at the foot of the pillars he spoke again. “You are in great pain, child. Pain, and fear. What is it you fear so much?”
She took several more steps forward, away from him, for he had stopped. She then stopped herself, for it provided her with no clarity.
“I know who is in your thoughts,” he said. “I know much about him.”
“I don’t need to go to an effort to know who he is,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I could go right over to his hut this moment, and he would wake, and I would look at him...but I am afraid of what I would see. And what he would see.”
“It is not the case, however," he said, "that you have not looked already. Did you not see then, the greatness of his heart? His avid and searching mind? You know, I hope, that he is our best clay-worker, especially with Zhantee now gone, and were you to look at his creations, gathered together, I do not think you would need Recognition to see his soul. You fear this one because you did not choose him, and you do not know the life that yours is about to entwine with, but I do believe he will bring you far more joy than pain, and that he will love you, rejoice in how much you love life and cherish your open heart, and the secrets you fear him seeing will not frighten him, in fact, almost the opposite. Your child will be raised to be strong and brave.”
She carried with her that impression of him, though it had been weak, and now she believed the Sun-Toucher’s words, and they soothed her, but she was still too overwhelmed to speak much. Perhaps he knew it, for he took her hand-as if she was the one who needed guiding up the perilous rock-and they began to walk up.
When they were halfway up, Newstar could not help saying, “What if he refuses? I do not know how he feels about this at all. You say he will love me, and maybe you are right that he would if he comes to know me, because I know you are very wise, but he must be willing to know me too. And I know the Sun Folk aren’t used to this, that this doesn’t happen very often to them anymore.”
That was all she said; she couldn’t bring herself to speak badly about the behavior of his daughter to him. But he might very well have sensed that was in her thoughts, or maybe just guessed at it, for he said, his voice as warm as it always was, “He is not like Leetah was. You will see that very shortly. Yes, very shortly indeed.” He sounded almost amused as he said this last part.
They did not speak further on the way up, if only because the climb began to tire them both when it grew steep, even though it would not have tired Newstar usually. Or so she assumed, though in fact she had not been up there since she had been eight and three years of age, when Dart had challenged her to see if she could make the climb and she had proven she could, if not as easily as he could.
She remembered crouching there with him by the bridge, behind the pillar where they had mostly been out of the wind, and looking down at the landscape below. The desert and the mountains had at the time both seemed huge and endless; she’d stared down the World’s Spine to where it faded into the distance, and asking Dart if he ever wondered what was at the other end. To her very great surprise he had said no, and later said to her that a wise elf, be he or she Wolfrider or Sun Folk, did not seek out adventure without need, but knew when they had a safe place to live with a full belly it was best to stay there and be happy.
Newstar had never been a wise elf. She had daydreamed about adventure, so much that when Dart had announced he and the Jackwolfriders were going to the Wolfriders’ aid she had begged to go with them until he had given in, though he had scolded her for her silliness about what, he said, was a serious situation. Maybe he had been right, but she wasn’t sorry she had gone, and seen the Valley of Endless Sleep, and the Forbidden Grove, and even Blue Mountain before it had fallen, even if she hadn’t been able to do much. She had been happy to have the time she had with Skywise too; strange how he had been nothing like the way she had remembered him.
She thought of all of that when they stood at foot of the Bridge of Destiny, him gazing into the Daystar as was his way, though Newstar kept her eyes down; she had no wish to lose her eyesight. She looked instead at the sun symbol at the far end of the bridge. She could probably go over and touch it, the way Cutter had all those years ago. She didn’t really want to risk it when she was dazed from the effects of Recognition, but he’d done it when in the same state, maybe worse, because it had been going on longer.
“Will this be the rest of my life?” she asked softly. “Here in Sorrow’s End?”
“I think even the High Ones couldn’t tell you that,” he replied, startling her a little, because she hadn’t exactly asked him as much as herself. “I know I cannot. But would you be happy if it was?”
Newstar thought about it. She liked her life here. It was the only life she could really remember living anymore. She liked the village, the people she lived with and saw every day. She liked seeing her brothers grow up strong and safe and happy.
She thought of that life continuing with a new face to fill her time, with a cub running around at her feet, one who would grow up as her brothers had. She thought about presenting her parents with their first grandcub. Remembering what the Sun-Toucher had just told her, she thought of clay pots and bowls; she might learn to help him make them. She thought about all these things, continuing on until her years were up, and, as Ember had said back in the Forbidden Grove, she would leave the village then for the Palace, presumably with lifemate and aging cub to whisper goodbye.
Of course it might not go that way. She had heard her mother say that she believed Timmorn Yellow-Eyes had lived hundreds of years before falling, so even if she didn’t live forever, here in the safety of Sorrow’s End she would live long enough that any number of things might happen.
But if it does happen this way, she thought, I will be happy with it. And with that conclusion, her fear and regret faded away. In their place rose a new giddiness, the likes of which she didn’t often feel, and a ferocious hunger, one that made her want to run down the pillar and find her new lifemate immediately; they had both waited long enough.
No doubt the Sun-Toucher sensed it, for he said softly, “I will stand here a while, but I won’t be hurt if you run away.”
“Thank you, Sun-Toucher,” she said to him, trying to pour all the gratitude in her, wishing he had the ability to Send so she could have truly conveyed it. She would have to teach her lifemate how to Send, the way Cutter had taught Leetah.
If only he could have Received already. She could have called him over and not had to worry about finding him. But as she scrambled down the pillar, she came to the happy awareness that it didn’t matter too much, that now that she so actively sought him, she could almost feel exactly where he was, and that he might even come to her, now, without even being called.
It was still early, and everyone seemed to still be catching up on sleep after the celebration of the Palace having come. Except for the Sun-Toucher still up by the bridge, they were the only two people awake in the village, because he was too. He was probably having trouble sleeping, same as her. Well, he would sleep soon enough, in her arms, both their bodies wrung out from that particularly joyous consumption that came only with a good joining.
She did feel a last, lingering worry just before he came into her sight, that the Sun-Toucher was wrong, that he would object to having her for a lifemate. Even if there was nothing wrong with she herself, what if he was in love with someone else?
But all such fears fled for good when they both turned around a hut, and were standing looking at each other, a bit of distance away from each other, but with a straight path to closing it.
The distance was closed in what felt like only a moment; for the first time she was in his embrace. She brought her ear close to his lips, so when he spoke her soul name, he needed only to use the softest of whispers. She accepted it easily, felt places in her that had been empty begin to fill, tense, wound up places relax, and deepset misery give way to bliss.
She would’ve liked to have such a name to whisper back to him, but she had to settle for his only name, the one that everyone knew and used. But he she could feel his pleasure at hearing it anyway.
She drew in what he was. He was as the Sun-Toucher had described, but there was more to him she thought none but her knew: how when he was young he had feared the dark so much he had never allowed his parents to turn all their lamps off, that the thing in life he was proudest of was of having taught claymaking to various students, including her mother and Wing, and how he had often felt lonely and dreamed of a Recognized liftemate, though when it had happened a few days past, he had been terrified nonetheless, maybe even more so at the overwhelming thought of getting what he’d wanted and never thought he would get.
And it was maybe this last thing, the hope and fear and the bravery he therefore really was showing coming out here without even needing the Sun-Toucher’s encouragement, that made love rise in Newstar for the first time, and she pressed herself deeper into his arms, made whole and impossibly happy.
She thought one last time of her childhood fantasies about Recognition and lifemating, which she could let go of now, because she finally knew she’d found something even better than they would’ve been. Well, all except one that could still come about. “Come with me,” she whispered, and knew he would, and happily.
It wasn’t absolutely perfect; she would’ve rather it happened under the stars. But she didn’t want to wait another hour to lay claim to this lifemate, not now that she had finally discovered him.
So she led him to a field beyond the village, one where the grass grew thick, and from her first year in Sorrow’s End she had often come to play or just lie in the sun. By the time they got there the Daystar was well above the horizon; the day was starting to warm, and it would only get hotter and hotter and hotter, yet she was shivering in anticipation.
“You like the grass, don’t you?” he asked, a little timid in his words, but that was okay. “I’ve heard people say, when someone asks them for you, ‘she’s gone out to watch the clouds with so and so,’ and I suppose you must come here.”
“I do,” she said, and had another thought, and more a moment later, a recent memory, of another knoll, a woodland one, and the stars, and another lover, a memory she would treasure always. But this morning, she knew, would be better still than that. Skywise had taught her a few things, though, things she was now especially happy to know; today was what she had learned them for the most.
And so she said, “But do you know...you can see clouds best,” and she turned to him, reached to his shoulders, and pressed him downward, “if you lean back?”