Agate sat in front of her daughter, and in each hand she held a small stone, as identical as she could make them. "Now, Shimmer," she said, presenting the stones, "Which one was shaped, and which one was carved?"
Shimmer looked at the stones intently. They were very similar. If her mother had shaped one, then she'd imitated the look of hand-carving very well.
"I don't think you'll be able to tell just by looking," Agate suggested, and gestured that Shimmer should pick them up.
She did so, and held one in each hand. She closed her fingers around them and tried to feel something, anything, the way her mother seemed to expect her to. But she didn't know what she was supposed to feel, or even what she was supposed to feel with, and the stones, if they had any secrets, kept them from her. The talent, running from parent to child, had yet to manifest in young Shimmer. She tried not to look too disappointed.
She kept trying, though.
It had been moons and moons and moons, and Shimmer couldn't wait a single night longer. She stole through the cold forest on silent feet, slipping from tree to tree like a shadow. Her idea was brilliant, she'd been so pleased she'd thought of it, and she couldn't wait to taste the results. The scent of steam and sulphur filled her nostrils, and she could feel the temperature rise in the air on her skin. She was almost there.
Once at the rocky edge of the hot-springs, she knelt on the ground and ran her slim hands along the smooth stones. Where had she put it? She cast her senses down, as her mother had taught her, and found what she was looking for.
Shimmer had tried to maintain a constant temperature for her brewing over a long period of time, but found she hadn’t the temperament for it. Constantly tending the fire, keeping it at the right level, finding firewood... ugh! Half her life was spent hunting firewood, it seemed, and the other half feeding it carefully to the fire: not too much, not too little. There was no time for anything else. She lasted two hands of days before she gave up in defeat.
But then a trip to the hot-springs had ignited her brilliant idea: the springs kept their temperature all year ‘round. If she put her brew in the ground, right next to the hottest of the springs, it would keep it hot for moons and moons if she liked. She was excited to try it, and the time had come to find out how wonderful an idea it really was.
Coaxing the rock to open for her, she gently brought the small clay bottle she’d left in the rock to the surface, and her heart sank. The bottle had broken, the wine spilled out and dried up. All she had left were a few shards of clay and an almighty stink of sour wine and sulphur. She swore under her breath—the idea had been good! But she’d forgotten to leave a hole for escaping, hot gas, and the pressure had broken the bottle.
She was so disappointed. She felt like giving up.
She kept trying, though.
Young Starskimmer lay entangled in limbs and furs, sweat cooling on her skin. The sun, well past its zenith, peeked through the fresh new leaves around her, dappling the clearing in gold and green. The lethargic winter months had finally given way to the renewed energy of spring, and she breathed it in deep. She looked at the two elves with her, sleeping soundly already, as though what they'd just done had drained them, rather than energized them, as it had her. So that was what it was all about, she realized. She’d known about joining for a while, and had been having a lot of fun exploring every nuance of it, but she’d finally felt ready this year to take the next step. And what a next step this was! This was completely different; a whole new level. She understood the New Green Bliss now, more than she ever had before. Lying here in the aftermath, she couldn't help but think that she wanted every day to be New Green Bliss. Why would anyone ever want to do anything else?
She reached for the wineskin nearby, but found it empty. Her hot spring wine, finally a success, had gone down well, and quickly, apparently. She giggled at the memories, and although she'd felt awkward at first, and made a lot of mistakes, the few sips of wine she’d had helped to relax her. There had still been a few moments of uncertainty and clumsiness. Due to her inexperience, she was still imperfect at this joining thing overall.
She kept trying, though.
Baby Dash squalled and squalled and would not stop for anything. Starskimmer's heart ached with each gasping breath he took, and she held him and rocked him and walked with him. She tried to feed him, to clean him, to burp him, to ease whatever it was that was ailing him, but nothing worked. She now regretted practically shoving One-Leg out the den door and on a fishing trip, insisting that there was nothing she and the rest of the tribe couldn’t handle in his absence. She would gladly have eaten her words if it meant that little Dash would finally eat, too. Instead of latching on and feeding, as she knew he had to, he just kept squalling.
This is what I get for having a cub with the loudest set of lungs in the tribe, she thought ruefully, not that she'd had much choice in the matter. Recognition had brought her this bundle of noise, and although she loved him with everything she had, she sometimes feared it might not be enough. He just needed so much of her, and although she had the whole tribe to call on for help, he was still her cub, and needed things that only she could give. They could not nurse him for her.
Finally, after an exhausting morning, Dash latched on and started suckling. Why had this been so hard? Starskimmer nearly wept with relief as her son's cries finally stopped, and tried not to fall asleep where she stood. She dared not move, even to sit down, lest she disturb her finicky cub's meal. This was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do. She wondered if she had what it took to be a good mother, but she also knew there was only one thing she could do.
She just kept trying.