Ice stretched a fine piece of silk over the circular stone ring, and then gently placed the slightly larger ring over it, pressing downward to lock the cloth in place. Smiling at the results, she stepped into Laughing Creek and looked down at the mud spreading over her feet. She smiled as she guessed what treasures she might find there, but she chose to wade in further, hoping to find larger pieces in the deeper pools.
“Mother! Mother!” Ice winced at the sound of Sparkle’s voice. She had thought Riskrunner was watching their daughter, and she had been looking forward to getting work done.
“Mother!” the child’s voice called out again, and Ice knew that her evening solitude had ended.
“Over here, Sparkle,” she called, remaining fixed in the river, still undecided about whether to acknowledge and spend time with her daughter or continue working.
She watched as the child appeared, then sniffed the wind. Farscout, her son, was nearby. ‘So he’s the one who brought her.’
“Mama, I asked Farscout if he’d teach me to pan for gold, and he said that you were better at that, and that I should ask you. So he brought me to see you. He’s leaving, though….”
Ice sent a wordless acknowledgement to her son, who responded in kind. Realizing he was leaving the Holt and its territories to go scouting, she almost felt a pang at his departure, a hint of motherly instinct that would have her wish him well or ask that he take care. But though he was her child, that instinct had never reared beyond a pang, and so she returned her attention to the small one in front of her.
Sparkle held two stone circles in her hand.
“Where did you get those?” she asked.
“Starskimmer. She heard that I wanted to learn from you, and she said that I’d need some of these. She said I’d need silk cloth, too, but I can’t weave, and I didn’t have time to find someone to give me some. Do you have some?”
Ice’s mouth twitched a little. Her daughter’s interest in panning for gold was a pleasant surprise. It was something she could teach her, and yet still get work done. “I do have some, Sparkle.”
Exiting the creek, she motioned toward a small pile she had set up on the bank. The girl ran over to her, holding the circles carefully. “What do I do with these?”
Ice held out the pan, showing it to her daughter, then instructed her in how to put one together. When she was done, Sparkle held it up next to her mother’s. Hers was not as taut as Ice’s, but Ice was satisfied with her daughter’s work, and she knew that it would accomplish its purpose.
Standing, she motioned to the creek. Sparkle followed her mother into the creek, smiling and chatting about everything she was seeing. Ice tolerated her chatter, but she didn’t really attend to it. She was considering where to pan… Her daughter couldn’t go into the deeper waters yet, but Ice wanted to. ‘Still… if we pan from two places, we’ll find twice as much.’
She explained to Sparkle what they were going to do, and then directed her to a spot where she was only as deep as her knees. After they had gathered mud from where they stood, they placed it into their pans, then headed to the edge of the creek and sat down. Ice instructed her daughter, “The ores are heavier… the goal is to wash away the sand and dirt, but keep the ores. Like this.”
Ice demonstrated, reaching forward and allowing water to pour over the pan. As it did, Ice carefully sifted the mud so that it was spread out, then worked the pan so that water was pouring over one edge and washing away sand over the other. In moments, she was done, and there were tiny particles of gold and a few rocks in the bottom of her pan. She showed it to Sparkle.
Sparkle smiled broadly, reaching out to touch the tiny rocks. Her mother nodded. “We should gather them out of the pan before getting more. We don’t want to lose these, right?”
When her daughter shook her head, Ice asked, “Do you have any pouches?”
“I’ll keep them this time, then,” she said, depositing the rocks into a pouch of her smock. “Next time you come panning with me, we’ll have you bring pouches, too.”
“Next time?” Sparkle asked happily, her eyes shining with enthusiasm.
Ice nodded. Her mouth twitched a little as they worked, and she found that she was glad for her daughter’s company and looking forward to the next time.