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TIMBER VALLEY BEGINNINGS

— by Ted R. Blasingame

(DF-83 Spring)

The springtime weather had finally grown warmer with the retreat of the winter snows from the valley and the elfin Timber Folk found themselves outdoors more frequently. A child of fifteen summers who thought the greening time of the year was special just for her found it an easy task to wander quietly away from her parents while they mended worn clothing.

Freshwind was a patient girl with silver-blonde hair who loved learning new things about her tribe’s history. She could often be found listening to the elders of the tribe talking of past events and always seemed to be around whenever someone gave instructions to someone else on some new practice. It was common to see her in the company of the tribe’s storyteller, a silver-haired elder elf named Two Star who possessed a perfect memory for tales and metal sending pictures.

Freshwind saw him near the Minnowbrook that flowed through the middle of their holt of living tree homes and made her way quietly toward him.  She sat down near the elder and watched as he patiently sharpened the metal edge of his fine troll-made sword with capable four-fingered hands. The older elf gave her a pleasant smile, but continued his task.

“Two Star,” she asked in a soft voice after watching him for a time, “have we always lived in Timber Valley?”

The elder pulled the whetstone slowly down along the blade and he lifted a thin eyebrow at her. “No, lass, not always,” he replied, “but we have been here a very long time – since the time when chief Silverstone first led his people here.”

“When was that?” the girl asked. “When you were a cub?”

Two Star laughed aloud. “Old I may be, Freshwind, but not that old.”  He examined the edge of the blade, and satisfied it was as sharp as he was able to make it, picked up its sheath beside him and then slid it inside. He set it aside and then he lay back in the soft grasses that were once again growing following the long winter. The night air felt good on his face and he put his hands behind his head. Freshwind settled down next to him on her stomach and smiled up at him.

“Our friend Nightstep is the ninth chief we have had,” he said a moment later. “Silverstone was the first chief of the Timber Folk, but he was only just a hunter for the tribe when they all followed him across the sea of grass and discovered this valley.”

“Why’d they come here?” Freshwind asked. “Didn’t they like it where they used to live?”

“Two Star looked over at her and sighed. “Yes, they did,” he answered, “but they didn’t have a choice about it. Humans made them leave their homes.”

“What happened?”

The elder elf smiled and brushed a few errant strands of the girl’s silver-blonde hair from her eyes. “I will tell it to you in the same manner it was told to me long ago, cub. Close your eyes now and I’ll send you the pictures in my memory as I tell you about the discovery of our valley…”

 

(DF-4070 Fall)

It was getting harder to hear above the roar of the rushing water.  The silver-haired chief hunter of the Timber Folk squinted in the deepening darkness, but he saw nothing more than the silhouettes of his tribemates and the trees along both sides of the river. It was a moonless evening and although the stars were brilliant, the ambient light was not bright enough even for a race with sensitive night vision to see by. Silverstone knew the sound of a waterfall and silently hoped it was a sign their journey was near its end.

Eight days earlier, the tranquil life of the small tribe of elves was shattered when creatures of legend moved into their region of the Great Wood. The Timber folk had not seen humans for many centuries and the sudden appearance of such men was met with more curiosity than fear. Only the ruling council of four elders had any remaining memories of those they’d called the Tall Ones, and although the rough language had been long out of use, there were those among them who remembered the words.

These humans, it seemed, had never hunted the small woodland folk as the last of their kind in this area had. This group had legends of the little people or wood sprites that inhabited the densest part of forests, but they were believed to be helpers who worked to make the land grow. The Tall Ones had been eager to befriend the elves, in hopes their presence would bless their hunting.  Although wary, the elfin council agreed to allow the newcomers to share their wood unhindered, for there was plenty to feed and clothe both tribes.

After three nights, the humans had come to discover how prime that section of the Great Wood was for hunting. Their respected hunters argued with their leaders that they should drive away the little people so they might have the entire region to themselves without having to share.  The strongest among them won out and the killing would begin, even amidst the protests of many in their own tribe.

Silverstone closed his eyes momentarily at the recent memory. Two of the largest human hunters had come into their holt, a dense area of trees magically shaped into homes. The Timber Folk suspected nothing as the pair announced they had come to trade, but when they suddenly drew out their clubs and violently crushed the heads of two elves that had gathered near, sudden panic spread through the frightened tribe. There were no real fighters among the elves who had lived in relative peace for near countless years and more died before someone mentally sent an open message for all to flee.

Some elves grabbed what they could as they all fled into the forest. Human warriors jumped out at them and forced them ever farther away from their homes, herding them to the edge of the wood that bordered seemingly endless rolling hills of grass, but remained just inside the shadows to keep any of the little people from returning. Of those who had perished in the slaughter, three had been tribal leaders.

The surviving elder of the council was in shock and was unable to lead. She could do nothing but stare back toward the forest with terrified eyes, as if expecting the Tall Ones to come out onto the plains to finish her off.

Desperate for someone to lead them, the elves looked to their chief-hunter for guidance. Silverstone had never ventured far out onto the sea of grass in his travels, but he knew they could not go back. A breeze blowing from the west carried with it the smell of trees. He could see none in the distance, but he chose that direction to lead the survivors of the Timber Folk until such time as their elder came back to her senses. Their supplies and provisions were few, so they must quickly find some safe haven. Herds of treehorn frequently moved across the plains, so hope was high for food along their journey.

A line of trees came into view on the third day and the elves eventually arrived and discovered the ribbon of a river flowing through the grass plains. Trees bordered the banks on both shores and these gave some comfort to the homeless wood elves.  Silverstone led them across a shallow, sandy place in the river, hoping that if they continued on they would find another forest, but once on the other side he realized that whatever sanctuary might be out there for them would be along the life-giving water’s course.  He led them south and hoped for the best.

The chief hunter shook himself from his memories and looked ahead in the darkness. A pale-haired youth in garments of red and white trotted back to him with an excited smile.

“Silverstone!” the young male exclaimed. “The river’s falling into a deep valley!”

The chief hunter nodded and followed the youth at a trot, with most of the tribe behind them as they arrived. Silverstone walked to the edge of a fast precipice and peered out into the gloom.  All he could see was a large area of shadow darker than the rest of the night. He turned and looked back around at his gathering tribefolk.

**Ash has found us a valley,** he mentally sent his thoughts openly to them; the falling water made it near impossible to be heard aloud.  **But, it is too dark to try to find a way down safely tonight.  We will set up camp back upriver a ways and scout the area in the morning light.**

He received a few responding acknowledgements, but most of the weary group silently moved to their tasks. Silverstone turned toward the dark-haired, green-clad rockshaper at his side.

**Blackthorn, will you check on Redder?** he sent.  **She has been spending her time with the wolves that followed with us from the Great Wood.**  To the tribe of elves, it was no great wonder that wild wolves would tag along with them. The two species had long formed a loose alliance with beneficial hunting skills on both sides. Although the wolves were not pets, there had been some bonding connections between them and certain members of the elfin tribe, and the council elder had been closest to them.

Silverstone put a hand on his friend’s thick arm.  **She is the only surviving elder. She will have to name a new council before long.**

The tribe’s only shaper of stone frowned, even though he knew his companion could scarcely see his face in the darkness. **I think the human attack did something to her, Silver. She’s changed. I do not know if she will be able to name a council for some time.**

The hunter sighed as he led his best friend away from the river.  **Maybe I should try to talk to her.**  He looked away to the approach of running feet. A youth of seventeen summers stopped beside he and the rockshaper.

“Silverstone, let me scout out the area tonight!” he said loudly to be heard over the roar of falling water.

**Send, Rush,** the hunter told him, **and save your voice.**

**Let me go out tonight,** the youth repeated.

Silverstone pursed his lips. **I do not think that would be a good idea. There’s not much light out tonight and none of us knows the area.**

**I can find my way back!  Besides, there may be more humans out there and it would be better if we knew where they were.**

**Maybe so, Rush, but why ask me anyway?  I’m not on the council.**

Rush fingered his longbow and glanced away at a fire someone had just started.  **I asked Redder, but she said you were chief and it was your decision.**

Blackthorn looked at Silverstone in surprise. **Chief hunter, you mean.**

**Nope, chief of the tribe.**

Silverstone rubbed his ear, running a finger up its length to the tapered end.  **This is news to me.**  He put a hand on the youth’s shoulder and added, **I still don’t think you should go off alone, but you may stand watch tonight if you wish. The humans won’t get near us with you on guard.**

Rush snorted.  **I would rather scout the area,** he sent.

Blackthorn smiled and ran the fingers of a hand through his black curly hair.  **Why don’t you go help Holly gather wood for a fire?  We will need more tonight, and it looks like someone built one far enough away from the edge of the valley that if anyone lives down there, we will not have just announced ourselves.**

**No, I have a different task for you,** Silverstone countered. **I want you to go out with Windstalker and Sandstaff to see if the three of you can bring in some fresh meat for the tribe. The treehorn we killed on our first night is almost gone.**

**Sandstaff!** Rush complained.  **He can’t see game in the dark with a double full moon!**

**Then take your brother, Ash, instead.**

**Ash!  He’s no hunter at all!  I would take Sandstaff before I’d take that dirt-digger. Well, at least hunting will give me a chance to scout around.**  Without further argument, the young archer disappeared into the darkness.

Blackthorn snickered.  **That was mean and manipulative, Silver.**

**Pairing him up with Sandstaff or mentioning Ash?**

**Neither’s a good prospect to send with Rush. He’s too head strong.**  The pair began walking toward the fire. 

**Sandstaff needs the hunting experience, and Rush and Windstalker are good hunters to gain it with,** Silverstone replied. **Besides, I think Sandstaff has a crush on Windstalker.**

**It must be her long legs,** Blackthorn sent with a mental chuckle.

They fell silent as they looked around at the various members of the tribe milling around the area. They were sufficiently far enough away from the sound of the waterfall where folk were talking in normal voices again. Silverstone knelt down next to Windstalker’s sister, who was on her back staring up into the overhead stars, lost in thought.

“Firelight,” he asked, “have you seen Redder?”

The blue-eyed mender looked up at him and then gestured to her left with a yawn. “She’s over there with my father.”

“Thank you.”  He stood up and turned to Blackthorn. “Find Highwind and Dreamer. We all need to talk to Redder; they’re the likeliest candidates for a new council and Hawkleaf’s already with her.”

“Right.”  Blackthorn walked away, sending ahead as he moved.

“Silverstone?” Firelight asked, sitting up and wrapping her arms around her knees. “Are we going to try to go back home to the Great Wood?”

The chief hunter mused on this a moment, but then shook his head. “I don’t know. There are those who want to try, but most are too frightened to face the humans there in our own holt and I don’t think we have the necessary strength to drive them off.”

“What about you?  What do you want to do?”

Silverstone looked back over his shoulder toward the river. “If it was my decision, I would find a new home and forget about our old life, but I would make sure no one ever chased us out again.”

**Silverstone, everyone you wanted to see is over here with Redder,** Blackthorn sent to him. **While you’re all discussing matters, I’m going to help Fawn gather provisions.**

The hunter left the healer’s daughter to her thoughts and found Redder moments later just a short distance from the campfire.  Everyone looked up at him, but remained silent as they all waited to find out why they had been called together.  He wanted the meeting private, so he locked his sending with only them.

**Redder, you should name these to the new council,** he sent without preamble.  His words didn’t seem to be unexpected among those gathered.  Highwind, Dreamer and Hawkleaf the Healer were the eldest surviving elves of the tribe.

However, the only surviving member of the original council surprised them all.  Redder looked at him through eyes that were weary and half-glazed, but her words were strong and the truth of her mental sending left no doubt to the belief she held to them. 

**There will be no more council.  The Timber Folk need one central figure to lead them now.**

**What?** Dreamer exclaimed. **We have always had a council of elders to guide the tribe!**

Redder’s brown eyes were dark and penetrating as she gazed at the huntress, staring deeply into her.  **When the humans came to us with words of praise and wishes to trade, the council was divided on what to do.  We could not make a solid decision.  Only our chief hunter really opposed the humans having access to our part of the forest, but the council finally decided to accept our new neighbors only because we could not agree on anything else. You know the result.**

Redder crossed her legs beneath her and ran a hand through her flaming red hair. **Our lives have changed in the past few days, and if we are to survive, there must be other changes. I say Silverstone should be more than chief-hunter, but chief of the tribe.**

**Silverstone!** Highwind exclaimed. The feelings that accompanied his sending denoted unpleasant surprise.

The healer beside him rubbed his chin in thought. *I would not be opposed to Silverstone. He has done well leading us to this place, and he’s had the presence of mind to make quick decisions when needed.  Besides Redder and Blackthorn, he’s also the only other one in the tribe who knows the human’s tongue, should we ever encounter them again.*

Highwind snorted aloud.  **Hawkleaf, you’re forgetting that Silverstone is not even an elder!**

**No, but I am!** Redder sent strongly.  **I am the only one left of the council and I decide who can be an elder, Highwind.  I have not named you to the council.  As of this moment, Silverstone is your chief. He is now a council of one, and not even I can override his decisions.  He can take counsel from anyone he wishes, but final judgements are his alone.**

Highwind stood up and faced Silverstone with a hard glare, and then without another word, he turned on his heel and stormed off into the darkness. He would have never done so with the tribe’s respected council members, but if Redder had abdicated her authority, he had no qualms against turning his back on her or any others.

Dreamer heaved a sigh and got to her feet, putting a hand on the hunter’s shoulder.  **I do not know if everyone will accept you as their chief, Silverstone, but I have always lived by council rule and Redder has spoken.  You are now my chief.**  She gifted him with a nod of her head and then left the gathering.

Silverstone turned to the healer.  **As Highwind so strongly reminded us, I am not an elder.  However, until I get used to my new role in the tribe, I would appreciate any advice or counsel you might give me.**

Hawkleaf smiled and nodded, responding aloud, “Of course.”

Redder looked up at the chief with clear eyes. “Making decisions for the tribe has never been easy, Silverstone, but now it is your task to do so.”

The new chief knelt down next to her and raised his eyebrows over an amuse smile. “I don’t know if I should thank you for this honor or not.”

***

Word of Redder’s decree spread quickly through the tribe, and while there were mixed reactions concerning Silverstone being set above them as chief of the Timber Folk, most believed he was a good choice.  There were also those who felt that having a single leader would simplify things someone.  The only one openly opposed to it was Highwind, and he was apt to grumble to anyone who would listen to him.

Of Silverstone himself, he showed no outward sign of change. Only his life mate, Loxii knew just how seriously he took his new position.

Rush’s hunting party had been successful in downing a prairie treehorn that had come to the river to drink, as well as a few rabbit for the tribe. There was plenty of meat for the elves and their wolf friends, and the gardeners had located edible plants to add to the meal.  Silverstone saw his people fed and cared for before he allowed himself to settle down for the night.

He located Loxii near the river and sat down beside her on a soft hide spread out on the ground beneath them. The humid weather of the summer had begun to fade as the seasons changed day by day, but it was still warm enough at night that a covering was not needed.

Silverstone removed his boots and rubbed his sore feet. They had done more travelling in the past few days than he had ever done all at once. Loxii smiled at him and rubbed his shoulders. He leaned into her, his feet momentarily forgotten.  He loved it when she tended to him like this and her soft words of love in his ears made it a special time. After she had worked the kinks out of his muscles, he turned and took her in his arms.

**Well, my chief,** her mental words chuckled, **what would you command of me?**

Silverstone growled playfully at her and looked deep into her large blue eyes. He ran his fingers through the soft curls of her blonde hair and she giggled when he lightly scratched behind the ears like a wolf cub.  She helped him out of his clothing and set them aside before they snuggled up together for the night.

***

The new chief of the Timber Folk was already up when the sun rose over the land. He stood at the sharp edge of the valley with the waterfall on his left, peering down into the sheer depths. Loxii stood with her hand in his beside him, and the breezes coming up from the chasm sent the blue feather clipped to the back of her hair fluttering wildly behind her.

Silverstone stood breathless at all he saw. Spread out below was a forest nestled throughout a valley surrounded on all sides by high sheer cliff walls, as if some catastrophe long ago had allowed the region to sink straight down into the grass plains. The waterfall beside them was split at the top around a large section of hard stone and fell into the valley as two separate falls of water.  A deep blue lake pooled directly below and the river continued on from its far end to disappear into the forest.

From sheer wall to sheer wall, timber filled the larger canyon. Plant life had flourished here, and where there was a forest, the chief hunter knew there would be game.  His breath was shallow as he surveyed the vista below.  His mind had already set up a new home in this valley and he smiled at the comfort it gave him.  The beauty didn’t fool him, however.  As a skilled hunter, he knew dangers would always be present. It was yet unknown what lived beneath that canopy and they were likely to discover new creatures years after settling in.

His eyes returned to the shimmering lake. Once they found a way down into the valley, they would make their way to that large body of life-giving water and set up their new homes nearby. From this distance, Silverstone couldn’t tell what kind of trees grew below or if any would be large enough to shape into homes, but if so, Willowbend would have her hands full making places within them to live.

**Is that our home?** Loxii asked hopefully.

Silverstone smiled at her. **Take a deep breath, beloved,** he sent back in reply. **Smell the scent of the trees within the moisture of the falls.**

Loxii closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Silverstone chuckled inwardly at the silly grin on her face. She was older than he, but she seemed so childlike at times.

**It smells nice,** she sent, opening her large blue eyes.  **It smells like home.**

**Then home it shall be,** the chief replied. He picked up fringes of other open-sendings as the rest of the tribe came alive with the morning sun. With a good night’s sleep and a filling breakfast, it would soon be time to move.

Silverstone sent directions to a few of the tribe’s scouts to pack up provisions and go out ahead of the rest of the Timber Folk. Even if it took several days, they needed to find a route down into their new home.  He frowned when he did not get a response from Rush. He led Loxii away from the valley’s edge and began looking for the youth.  Blackthorn found his chief presently and seemed concerned.

“Have you seen my daughter?” he asked.  The scar across his neck seemed more prominent than usual and his voice seemed a bit gruffer. It was the result of an accident years earlier, but it never daunted the easygoing elf.  His concern, however, made it seem more gravely.

“I saw Holly last night just before we settled in for sleep,” Loxii told him. “She was snuggled up to Ash by the campfire.”

“I saw them together too,” the rockshaper replied. “I’ve already spoken with Ash this morning, but he said she was gone when he awoke.”

“Rush is also missing.  Do you think they slipped away into the bushes to enjoy one another?” Silverstone suggested with a smile.  Holly flirted openly with both of the half-brothers and was often quite a tease.

“It would explain why neither answers,” Blackthorn laughed, unconcerned. His youthful daughter was well and old enough to make up her own mind in her relationships.

“Well, I’m sending out scouts today and Rush wanted to be a part of that.”

***

It was mid-morning when the tribe headed out away from what they had come to name the Two Falls. Neither Rush nor Holly had been located and Silverstone strongly suspected the two of them had gone out scouting the area during the night against his wishes. Everyone was eager to get down into the valley, so he did not want to delay the search for long. With the two still missing, Silverstone could only hope they were somewhere safe, but he gave the word for the Timber Folk to move on.

The trees along the river that had given them comfort on their flight across the sea of grass were now left behind. Away from the water, there were few trees near the valley’s edge that dropped off sharply into the depths below. Nearly the entire tribe took part in the search along the crumbling rim for some way to descend, but they found nothing more than cliff walls that were too sheer for any to climb down. There were some who became frightened of the distance they saw below them and had to retreat away from the expanse.

The elves had travelled half the length of the valley when the sun began to set behind him and Silverstone called a stop for the night.  Blackthorn’s usual easy manner was strained in concern for his missing daughter and the chief’s irritation over Rush’s disobedience was only slightly diminished by thoughts toward his safety.  The youth was often stubborn about having his way, but he usually lived within the authority over him. No one appeared to know why, but Rush always seemed to be out to prove something and it was often felt that the young archer was too aggressive for his age.

**Silverstone, we’ve found Rush and Holly,** Otter’s sending reported suddenly, interrupting his thoughts on the matter.  **They are out of your range at the moment, but we can communicate with them here to relay to you.**

**Send them to me,** the chief commanded.

**They are down inside the valley,** Softpetal’s thoughts added.  Ash’s mother sounded excited in her sending.  **They left a marker at the top of an animal trail that leads down along the cliff wall!**

**Where are they now?”**

**They have just started on their way back up,** Otter replied.

**Okay, wait for us there,** Silverstone replied. **We were just setting up camp for the evening, but with news like this, I doubt anyone will want to wait. We will be along shortly.**

The chief gave an account of the news in an open-sending with the recommendation to continue on as far as the animal pass, and there was an overwhelming agreement in the responses directed back to him. Within moments, some were already on their way.

By the time the elves reached the trail down into the valley, many were exhausted from the full day of travelling. Excitement was still high, but no one objected when Silverstone announced that they would not venture down the pass to the forest floor below until morning to give them all a chance to rest.  He didn’t relish the thought of trying to navigate an animal trail down the side of such steep cliff walls in the dark anyway, much less while everyone was in need of rest.

The chief yawned widely as he approached Softpetal. “Where is Otter?” he asked, kneeling beside her.

The elf reacted to his yawn with one of her own and gave him a weary smile. She pointed to a nearby mound of stone and at the shadow curled up on top of it.  “He’s asleep,” she answered, “and I’m fighting to stay awake, myself.”

“Any sign of our wayward youths?”

Softpetal chuckled lightly. “You almost stepped on them a few paces back.”  He looked back the way he came and saw the sleeping bodies. “They’ve been out scouting longer than anyone,” she added quietly, “and are exhausted.”

Silverstone rubbed his temples with both hands and nodded. “So am I,” he said wearily. “I will wait until I’ve had some rest before scolding those two for going off when I said not to.”  He stood up and looked back down at the scout. “Let’s all rest. The wolves can watch for us tonight.”

Softpetal nodded quietly and made her bed in the thick grass a short distance away from the valley’s rim. Silverstone had to concentrate on his steps back to Loxii, and when he arrived, he collapsed beside her without even removing his boots. He was asleep within moments.

***

The sun of their second morning near the valley rose from behind the opposite rim, large and bright, and it was in the chief’s face.  He shielded his eyes with an arm as he awoke to the smell of someone’s breakfast fire. He groaned with an effort as he sat up, as a shadow suddenly blocked the brightness. He looked up through drowsy eyes at the broad, stocky silhouette of Blackthorn.

“How did you sleep?” the green-clad figure asked in his familiar gravelly voice. Silverstone rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

“Like a rock,” he muttered. He reached back to where he had reclined and picked up a stone. He handed it to his best friend and added, “This rock, actually. I think there’s a permanent impression of it in my back.”

Blackthorn laughed. “Half the tribe is still asleep, but a couple of hunting teams have gone out since our store of meat is nearly gone.”

“Where’s Rush and Holly?”

“Still sleeping. They must have been really worn out.”

“I think we’ve all done more than what any of us are used to on this trip.”  Loxii still slept beside him, her face peaceful in her slumber.  The chief looked at her lovingly and said, “Look at her, Blackthorn. We’ve lost our home, lost friends and family, and have wandered the sea of grass until we’re exhausted, but yet she still dreams at ease.”

He looked at his friend and frowned. “Every night, I see the human’s club as he struck down Pinewood. I’ve seen death before, Blackthorn, but never like that, never so violent. I wonder if I will ever be rid of that dream.”

“Perhaps the beauty of the valley below will help calm your dreams,” said Hawkleaf as he knelt beside the chief.

Silverstone gave a courteous nod to the healer. “Perhaps,” he agreed. “I’m looking forward to being amongst the trees of a forest again.”  He worked at the kinks in his back for a moment and then asked, “So, how many went against my command last night and slipped down into the valley?”

Hawkleaf laughed. “Actually, none. Everyone’s accounted for.”

The chief looked at Blackthorn in mild surprise. “They’re more tired than I thought,” he quipped. He got to his feet and the trio walked to the edge of the valley rim. They had to shield their eyes against the rising sun, but most of the valley was still in shadow from the sheer cliff walls. Silverstone leveled an arm toward the north end of the enormous canyon and pointed to the lake now in the distance.

“That is where I want to go, my friends,” he said. “I’m hoping we can find a place near the lake to make our new home.”

“We’re likely to ruin the water supply when we get there,” Blackthorn said beneath his breath.

Hawkleaf glanced askance at him. “How so?”

The rockshaper pinched his nose and replied in a funny voice, “When we all bathe in it after days of travel!”

Silverstone laughed, but was suddenly aware of his own odor. He stuck his tongue out and added, “I’m surprised anyone’s let me upwind of them. I smell terrible.”

“Yes, you do,” Hawkleaf said with a mock croaking noise.  “So do I… so does Blackthorn… and all the others.”

“Well, I think I smell sweet,” Holly said as she stepped up to the pungent trio. Blackthorn gave her a big hung and then buried his face in her dark hair.

“Good morning, daughter,” he said warmly. “I’m glad to see your smiling face again. I was worried.”  He sniffed her hair and then pulled back to look at her. “Hmm, you do smell sweet,” he said.

She grinned at him. “There is a fresh spring at the bottom of the pass. Rush and I cleaned up a bit before we came back up.”

Where is he?” Silverstone interrupted with a stern expression. “I need to talk to you two.”

Holly’s grin faded slightly. “He’s trying to impress Ash with yesterday’s exploits.”

“Get him. I want to speak to both of you alone at the top of the trail you found.”

“Okay, I will get him,” she answered and walked away.

Hawkleaf put a hand on his chief’s shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on them. They just wanted to help out and they did find what we were all looking for.”

“Rush specifically disobeyed me,” Silverstone said darkly. “It’s not like him to do that.”  He sighed and looked down into the valley once more before leaving the two magic users.  He saw Willowbend on his way and stopped beside her. She was on her stomach in the grass, looking over the rim to the forest below.

He squatted beside her and said in a quiet voice, “We’ll need your talents soon, I should think.”

She smiled, but kept her gaze on the valley. “For hometrees?” she asked.

“Yes, that is my hope. We’re almost home.”

“I’m looking forward to trying it,” the treeshaper said, “but I’ve never worked on anything as large as a hometree before, and I’ll have to make enough for everyone.”

“You will do fine,” he said in encouragement. He saw Rush and Holly nearby as they headed toward the animal trail pass, so he excused himself from her and went to meet them.

Rush looked up at him as he approached and sighed audibly when he saw the chief’s expression. Holly sat down on a nearby rock as Silverstone stopped in front of them.

“Okay, Rush, why did you disobey me?” the chief asked with a growl in his voice, though he’d kept the volume of his tone low so not to attract the attention of any others.

The slender youth leaned on his longbow and replied, “You never said I couldn’t go out.” Silverstone started to speak, but the archer continued without hesitation. “You only said not to go out alone. I didn’t go alone. Holly was with me.”

Silverstone raised an eyebrow at Rush’s logic and remembered his own words. He cleared his throat and said, “I suppose I should have been more specific, but I thought I had been clear enough. I didn’t want anyone going out that night.”

“But it worked out okay,” Holly added.

“Yes, it did, but you went out of sending range. If something had happened to either of you, we might have never known about it and you may have been beyond help.”  He moved to the edge of the trail and looked down along the sloping pass. “Because I wasn’t clear on my wishes, and because you two did find what we wanted,” Silverstone said, “we’ll try to ignore the concern you gave everyone by leaving unannounced.  As you said, it worked out, but next time I want you to do as I tell you, is that clear?”

Rush nodded. “Understood, my chief.”

“Me too,” agreed Holly.

Silverstone’s expression softened and then looked interested. “Now, while we’re waiting for everyone to wake up and get ready to travel, tell me what you found down there.”

***

Ash stumbled on a washout in the rock and gravel trail, but Firelight caught his arm and pulled him back upright on his feet.

“Thanks,” he said to the mender. He ran the fingers of his right hand through his shoulder-length white hair and smiled at her. Hawkleaf chuckled at the youth’s embarrassed grin and shook his head. He was fond of the boy of seventeen summers. Ash had come to him a year earlier, entreating the healer to teach him the skills of a mender, and he had been happy to have someone else learn the art of non-magical healing.

Hawkleaf had come from a long line of healers, but neither of his daughters had manifested the talent. He had not known of a time when the Timber Folk had ever been without a healer, so he had devised a plan to teach mending techniques that could be done without the use of magic. Firelight had agreed to learn what her father would teach her. Hawkleaf intended to be around a long time, but he wanted his knowledge passed on should fate decide otherwise – such as the recent attack on their tribe.  He had been pleased to accept Ash as another pupil.

They had been walking down Rush’s animal trail most of the morning and were nearing the bottom. The pass was travelable, but it was steep and it would have been easy to stumble off the side as Ash had nearly done.  No one seemed to have much difficulty with it, although the wolves did not appear too happy.

“Will there be healing herbs here, Hawkleaf?” Ash asked.

“Probably,” the healer replied. “We may not find the same plants we know in this place, but we’ll find them if they’re here.”

“I hope we have rich soil for the gardens,” Ash replied.  “The humans trampled those in the hold and I couldn’t save any of my plants!”  He shuddered at the memory of the human’s club swooshing through the air only a hand’s width from his pointed ear, and it was a chance leap sideways that had saved the young gardener from death.

He opened the leather bag that hung from his side from a long strap across his chest, and studied the contents:  a wooden trowel, a few seeds and leaves, and a small pouch of nuts. It was not much to start a new garden with.

He heard a shout followed by laughter and he looked down the trail to see Fawn sitting in the middle of a rather large pool of water at the base of the sheercliff wall. From the look of things, someone had pushed the loner into the pool and Fawn looked indignant.

A spring gurgled out of the rock into a rather large natural basin in the valley floor, which fed a small stream that led away into the forest. Elves gathered at Holly’s pool and began to strip and bathe in it. Days of travelling had left them all gritty and grimy, and they welcomed the opportunity to clean up.

Silverstone had no objection to the stop, as he was one of the first in after Holly had unceremoniously shoved in his son. Time and again, Blackthorn’s daughter reminded everyone that she had found the pool at the bottom of Rush’s trail, making it obvious she wanted the place named for her.

The healer and two menders were the last of the Timber Folk off the trail, having finally arrived at the valley floor.  The sheercliff walls were so high that it had taken the greater part of the morning to descend from the prairie above.

Ash wasted no time shedding his clothing and jumped in within moments. There was laughter and joy in all their voices and Silverstone was encouraged by the sound.  Even Redder had slipped into the edge of the pool and was smiling contentedly. Death and loss had been heavy on everyone. This joy was good to see.

A cool breeze reached the depths of the valley and the large fronds of a massive fern growing beside the pool dipped and gently slapped Loxii on the back. She laughed and held the plant to her nose, deciding she liked its minty scent.

Blackthorn had not joined everyone by immersing himself in the pool, but he had removed his brown vest and green tunic. He cleaned up sparingly and kept watch while most everyone else was vulnerable. He studied the woods and recognized most of the trees and bushes around them. The lush grass covering the valley floor was different from what he’d known, however. It was dark green, soft to the touch, and seemed to do well under the forest canopy where there was little direct sunlight.  The underbrush did not seem very thick and game trails leading to the water source came in from multiple directions. He liked the place and felt welcome.

Silverstone stopped beside him, dripping water into puddles at his feet. He held his clothing in his hands and they were wet from washing.  He wrung them out as best as he can and then began donning the damp clothing. Once dressed, he also wrung out water from his silver hair and smoothed it down.

**You look thoughtful,** the chief sent merrily. **What are you thinking?**

**The place smells right,** Blackthorn answered, squatting to pick up a few fallen leaves. He studied them carefully. **The trees will be hibernating soon. We will need to be settled in before the snows come, if it comes to this place.**

The chief nodded silently and gazed back at the tribe. **We have nothing, Blackthorn.  Once we have established a place to live, everyone will be needed to help build up our supplies again. We need furs and skins for clothing and bedding… bowls and cups for meals… stores for our food and a garden for edibles and medicines. We must have shelter, weapons, snares and more just for basic survival. Everyone’s skills will be needed all at once.**

Blackthorn thumped his friend on the forehead with a finger. **I know this, Silver. The humans did not give us time to gather anything for our journey. We have to start new, and we are vulnerable.**

**Why did they attack us?  We welcomed them to the area and we did nothing against them.**

**We will probably never know,** replied the rockshaper.

Silverstone wrung more water from his hair and smoothed it down again. He looked over at his companion with a dark expression.  **Whatever the reason, Blackthorn, it will not happen again. We will have to be more than hunters and gardeners if we are to keep our next home. We must become warriors too.**

**I don’t like the sound of that, but you may be right.**

Silverstone knew they still had a long hike ahead of them, so he sent an open message to the entire tribe.  **It is time we got moving again.  Get dressed and gather up anything you have.  I want to make for the lake we saw from above, but it is not certain how to get there.  Because the cliff can be seen from anywhere in the valley, it is my intention to travel along this wall to the north until it brings us around back to the Two Falls. Once there, we’ll scout the area for the best place to set up our new holt.**

He paused and watched his people dressing and preparing to leave. He had everyone’s attention, so he continued.  **It took us a day to travel from the Two Falls to the pass, so it is likely to take us just as long to reach the lake.  I do not want anyone to leave the group without telling me, whether it is for hunting or to relieve yourself. No one goes off alone and no one leaves unannounced.**  He looked right at Rush when he sent it and the archer merely nodded in response.

**We do not know if we have enemies in this forest, so I recommend everyone communicate solely by sending, at least until such time as we think it safe to speak aloud again.  Be on the lookout for anything along the way we can use to start our lives anew in this place.  The season of falling leaves is coming soon and we will need to prepare for it as we’ve never had to do before. Fill your water skins from the spring that fills Holly’s Pool – don’t get it from the pool itself that we’ve dirtied, and then let’s be on our way.  Fawn, you and Softpetal scout out ahead of the group in the areas we will pass through along the wall. Do not go beyond sending range and check in with me from time to time.**

**Leaving now,** Softpetal responded.  He could hear the pleasure in her thoughts. She loved exploring. Fawn only gave a mental acknowledgement, but Silverstone saw the pair of scouts leave together. Fawn was a loner and preferred to travel by himself, but the chief knew that Softpetal got along with him better than anyone did. Fawn could be pleasant to be around when he wanted to be, and he always seemed amiable to Softpetal’s presence.

Loxii moved to her mate’s side and looked up at him with concern. **We will have rain soon, beloved.  Can you feel it?**

He sniffed the air and frowned.  **No, I cannot, but you are usually more sensitive to the weather than I am and are usually right about it.**  He led the way along the rock wall when he saw his people were ready.  There was a natural trail along that route where few trees or brush grew right up to the cliff. It was rocky, but passible for them.  The wolves had long since disappeared into the forest, but the chief knew they would return.

***

Silverstone paced from wall to wall in the small cave he shared with Loxii, Redder, Blackthorn and Holly. Thunder boomed noisily outside with the downpour of rain and a cold wind blew through the grotto. They had found a series of small caves just before the storm hit and had divided up into small groups to each shelter.

The Timber Folk had travelled all day and into the evening, and had made it to the north end of the valley, but the storm had stopped them short of reaching the lake. The downpour made it impossible to see or hear the Two Falls, so it was anyone’s guess how far they might be from it.

**Silverstone?**

**Yes, Firelight, what is it?**

**The cave we’re in has a tunnel in the back.**

**A tunnel?  How far back does it go?**

**Willowbend took a burning stick from our fire to explore it, but the flame died before she got far. She said it looks as if it goes on.**

Silverstone stopped pacing and stared out into the wet night.  **Is it a natural or a magic-shaped tunnel?**

**Neither.  It looks as if someone dug it out with tools.**

**Tools!**  Silverstone began pacing again. **Do not go back in there too far.  Humans might have made it.**

**Okay, but may I come back later to check it out?**

**Once we’ve settled into a new holt, sure – though not alone.**

**Of course!**

***

The elfin chief awoke the next morning, his back aching and his throat dry. Blackthorn shook him gently and smiled when Silverstone cracked open his eyes.

**We have mostly clear skies and a cool breeze blowing through the trees.**

Silverstone sat up with a groan and picked up the stone he’d slept on, silently swearing it was the same rock that had made its way to the middle of his back every night lately.  **Send scouts to find out how close we are to the lake,** he instructed.

**No need for that, Silver. You can see the Two Falls from here.**

**Jen is watching over us,* Silverstone remarked, intoning his grandsire’s name.  **Okay, wake everyone and give them the news.**

Blackthorn gave a mental chuckle.  **You’re the last one who was still sleeping. Everyone but you and I have already gone down to the lake.**

The chief stared at his friend. **Some help you are. Why didn’t anyone wake me?**

**We tried, but you wouldn’t wake up until now.  Hawkleaf even suggested carrying you down to the lake to toss you in, but your mate wouldn’t let him.**

**I am glad to have her on my side,** the chief responded with a verbal sigh.  He wiped the sleep from his eyes and dressed slowly, but soon followed his best friend out of the cave. He inhaled deeply and smiled at the clean scent of wet trees. It took a moment for the sound to register, but Silverstone soon looked up at the constant roar of the twin waterfalls over the lake. He followed the rockshaper along the sheercliff trail and presently arrived at the shore of the large blue lake.

The Timber Folk were scattered about, but the chief instantly noticed that no one was directly out in the open with the exception of Fawn and Loxii.  The two of them were in a stand of reeds taller than themselves, knee deep in water and both poised to spear fish that swam in the shallow water. Fawn struck suddenly, and with a strong flip, tossed a speckled fish upon the bank.  Holly darted out of the cover of a large bush, retrieved the food and then disappeared again.

Blackthorn saw the chief’s eyes dart around to locate everyone and correctly guessed what was on his mind.  **Highwind recommended we stay out of sight in case someone might be watching from across the lake,** he explained.

Silverstone nodded his approval.  **Good thinking. Have you seen anyone out there?**

**No, but we have been watching.  Fawn and Loxii wouldn’t wait, however, and started fishing right off.**

**Where’s Hawkleaf and Ash?  I don’t see either of them.**

Blackthorn shook his head.  **I don’t know. I don’t see them either.**

**Hawkleaf?**  Silverstone sent openly.  There was an uncomfortable pause before he received a response.

**It’s about time you woke up!** the healer teased.  **You have just missed a big discovery!**

Nearly all the Timber Folk stopped what they were doing at the healer’s open-sending announcement.  **Ash and I wandered down the shore of the lake looking for certain plants,** Hawkleaf sent. **We found a minnow-filled brook that led away in the woods, so we followed it a short distance looking for the growth of a certain herb that grows near flowing water.  We haven’t found the herb, but we did find a copse of trees that look perfect for a holt site!**

**How big are the trees?** Willowbend’s sending interrupted.

**Most are large in diameter, though not large enough for living in – at least not without a treeshaper’s helping hand.** Everyone could feel the delight in the healer’s thoughts.  **There’s little underbrush here and the grass in this clearing is lush.  The minnow-brook flows right through the middle of it.  Ash has already picked out a place he wants for a garden.**

Silverstone smiled widely at Blackthorn.  **We’ll all join you shortly, Hawkleaf. I’m sure everyone will want to see this place you’ve found us.**  There were many responding thoughts echoing that sentiment from others in the tribe and he knew there was no need to order the tribe to go; many were already on the move.

Rush and Holly carried a bundle of fish wrapped up together in the young archer’s winter cloak, and Loxii joined them to help.  The others moved through the brush, eager to see their new home, but they were all mindful to remain out of direct sight from the lake.

**Did we leave anything in the caves?** the chief asked.

**No, we have what we have with us.**

As they walked, Silverstone sighed and felt relieved.  He looked up at the partly cloudy sky and saw a few hawks riding the winds above the valley.  He listened and the place was alive with the sounds of insects, birds and other animal cries in the forest. He understood what Blackthorn and Loxii had felt earlier. The place smelled of home.  It felt right.

***

Silverstone stood in the middle of a large grassy clearing next to the minnow-brook that coursed its way through the area of their new holt.  It was all they had hoped for.  These trees were larger around than three elves could reach together and Willowbend was optimistic of using her magical treeshaping talents to coax internal rooms to form within them. Until there were enough hometrees with rooms shaped into them all, the Timber Folk could either stay in makeshift shelters or return to the caves in the nearby sheercliff wall.

Using his own talent focused on the rock material within the ground itself, Blackthorn had shaped a stone pedestal in the center of the clearing so their chief could see everyone as he addressed them in council. The largest of the trees bordered this area near the Minnowbrook, and was designated the Father Tree of the Holt. Silverstone faced his assembled tribe and spoke aloud to them.

“We have come home,” he said with a pleasant smile. “I don’t know if the High Ones led us here, but after the invasion of our holt in the Great Wood, we could hardly have done better to find a new place to start our lives over.”  He searched for words to say; he was a hunter and was not used to making speeches, even though he seemed to be making a lot of them lately.

“The humans left us with nothing, so everyone’s skills are needed to put us back on our feet. If there is anything you can do, do it. Use your skills, talents and experience to create. We need the basics to survive and we must get busy now.  The season of falling leaves is coming so we have little time to get ready for whatever winter this place has. Prepare for the worst. We need to store up foods we can stock, on furs, pelts and leathers too.  I need our scouts  and hunters to get familiar with the immediate areas surrounding our new home.”

He stopped for a moment to think on their survival.  “No one is to travel alone outside of this Holt, and communication is to be by sending only while away. We still don’t know who or what lives in this forest, especially since we found signs of someone back in the caves.  Regardless of this, the Timber Folk have become residents of this valley of trees.”

He stepped down from the council rock of red granite and then said, “That’s all I have for now. Since we’ve been travelling for many days, rest up if you want to for today. Everyone must figure out what they can do and get started tomorrow.”

He smiled and turned toward the Father Tree and raised his hands towards it.  In a quiet voice, almost to himself, he said, “Welcome to the timber valley…”

 

(DF-83 Spring)

“Welcome to the timber valley…” Two Star said as he ended his tale.  He looked over at the girl with green eyes and smiled. She looked as if she was perplexed with the story.

“If that’s what really happened,” she said after a moment, “then that boy Ash is really the one who found the valley, right?”

“Well, yes,” the elder replied, “but Silverstone led them here. It was he who gave the Timber Folk the leadership they needed to survive.”

“Is that what Ash really looked like?” Freshwind asked, referring to the sending pictures he had given her during this tale.

Two Star chuckled at her interest in Ash, an elf now long dead.  “Those were the same memory pictures that old Blackrock gave to me when I was but a cub listening to the storyteller, just as I’m doing for you now.”

“I like Ash,” Freshwind said with a smile. “He was cute.”

Two Star shook his head in wonder. All the girl was concerned with was a boy near her age in the story. She got to her feet and brushed grass from her knees. “Thank you, Two Star,” she said. “I liked hearing about Ash when he found our valley.”

The elder decided not to press the real story and just nodded to her as he sat up.  “You’re welcome, Freshwind. You know I always like to share my tales.”

The elfin girl gave him a quick kiss on the top of his head and then wandered away, smiling contentedly.

*** 

Author’s note — this story was the opener to stories written for the Timber Valley Holt, a recognized fandom chapter of the fantasy graphic novel, ElfQuest by Wendy and Richard Pini. The members of this fandom chapter produced a quarterly digest newsletter that profiled tales of our own group of elves in the 'World of Two Moons' without any interaction with the canon characters of the comic.  The group operated from 1984-1995 with over sixty members at its height. Many other tales were written by the members and myself. This was just the introduction to the series.

Timber Valley Beginnings © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.