The word-hunters had returned at dusk, so Farscout had offered to take Glow for the night, giving her parents some private time together. In the way such things worked, what with four cubs all close in age, the night turned into an expedition to Glitter Falls, complete with travelcakes, wolf pups, a travel-kit of tools and supplies, and even a sleeping fur big enough for all four children to share for a nap before their return hike home. Goldspice joined them for the night, and she promised to help each of the children find a special treasure to craft into a piece of jewelry.
The party set out for Glitter Falls and, escorted by Farscout and Goldspice's wolf-friends, they completed the several-hour hike with high spirits. The spring rains always brought flooding to the narrow channels down the steep eastern slope of Badger Hill, and each year's flooding meant fresh washout on the banks of Glitter Falls. The pool had been one of Copper's grandmother, Ice's, favored places to pan for gold, and Farscout had borrowed one of his sister Goldspice's panning bowls for that purpose. The children soaked their feet in the cool water of Glitter Pool as they ate their midnight meal, rested, and watched as first Goldspice showed them how she used her panning bowl to collect gold, and then Farscout showed them how to find pieces of crystal among the flood debris in the narrow gorge cut by Badger Creek. Then -- within very short order -- all four children were scrambling among the stones of the streambank, searching out treasures of their own.
Copper proved to have the most practiced eye -- she soon had a handful of quartz and agate, while Rill was quickly distracted by the prospect of gathering crawfish instead, likely to be a gift his mother would be more apt to appreciate. Cinder found one remarkably large piece of quartz, then shifted his attention to trying to pan for a gold nugget. Cinder and Rill's wolf-pups, Longhowl and Softjoy, played together along the riverside, quickly losing interest in their friends' interest in rocks, while Flea, Duskgreeter and Peakrunner all lounged on the high western bank, keeping a lazy eye on the activity below.
It was the youngest cub, Glow, who was having the most frustrating go of it. One year usually meant nothing more for the long-lived elves than a raindrop in a lake, yet for Glow and her playmates, one year was a terribly long time, and Glow was more than a year behind her friends developmentally. Little Glow didn't have Rill's strength for moving large rocks, or fingers as nimble as Cinder's for picking among the scree of the creekbed. Nor had Glow spent as many hours practicing her observational skills as Copper had done since a tender young age. She watched Copper digging out an egg-shaped rock that Copper and Goldspice broke open to reveal a hollow center of crystals inside, then turned to see Rill dropping a handful of crawdads into Cinder's gold-panning dish, causing the other boy to snatch away the nuggets he'd just found to safety. Glow tried not to scowl, but it seemed mightily unfair to her that all of her friends were finding treasures, and all she saw were dirty rocks under her feet.
Farscout had seen the youngest girl's trouble, and was moving to offer her his help when he saw Glow suddenly squat and snatch after something between her sandled feet. The girl held her discovery up for a cautious inspection, then hurried to clean it in a handful of water from the creek. She peered at it closely again, then lifted it to her mouth and gave it a quick taste. Then Glow turned toward her elder and grinned wide with delight.
"It's poo!" she squealed, holding up the treasure she had found. "It's stone poop!"
The boys dropped everything and rushed to see for themselves as Glow offered her find up to Farscout. He looked at the green-brown thing, which formed a coiled, snake-like "V" in Glow's hand. Farscout reached for it dubiously, for it looked exactly like a recently-extruded turtle dropping. But it did not squish between his fingers -- no, it felt like rock, and was hard to the touch. Farscout lifted it to his nose and sniffed. It smelled like rock and like the dried fish Glow had been holding in her fingers for lunch. When Farscout touched it with his tongue, the thing tasted like rock -- which was to say it tasted faintly of the earth it had recently been washed out of, and of the silt of the summer flow of Badger Creek, where blood salmon had recently spawned.
Farscout shrugged and handed the strange thing back to the girl. "It's poopy and it's stone!" Glow exclaimed again, clutching her treasure close and nearly dancing with excitement over her discovery. Having only recently mastered her own body's functions, the oddity of petrified excrement was perhaps of special importance for her. "It's stone, and it is poo!"
"Let me see!" Rill cried eagerly. Both boys peered with intense fascination at Glow's treasure when she held it out for them to see, while Copper hung back, her nose wrinkled fastidiously as she looked on over Glow's shoulder.
"It is a piece of poo!" Cinder marveled, as Glow let him hold her discovery. "But it doesn't stink at all!"
"I want one!" Rill announced, before spinning around and casting around avidly at the spot where Glow had found it.
"What poops rocks?" Glow asked, her golden eyes aglow. She and Cinder both turned to their elders expectantly.
"Trolls," Copper said in a low voice.
Goldspice and Farscout looked at one another, and Farscout reached for his daughter and drew Copper close, recognizing the borderline fear in her tone. "No," he said firmly. "Trolls would have to eat rock in order to pass it, and they don't eat stone. They eat meat and greens, the same as we do."
"We sometimes find strange stones in the earth," Goldspice added. "The same as we do quartz, or gems, or silver and gold. I've got a small collection of such things -- bones that have turned into stone, and shells, and wood too. I've got a lovely fish skeleton, looking as if it had swum into the rock. If wood and bone can turn into rock, then I don't see why a piece of dung might not as well. It's turtle dung, do you think?" she added, looking from the stone-poop to Farscout.
Farscout nodded. "Turtle, or maybe a very young beaver. It's hard to say, without scent to identify it."
Goldspice smiled, and ruffled Glow's dark brindled hair. "So you have yourself a very rare thing, there. What do you want to do with it?"
"I'll give you all my crawfish for it!" Rill said eagerly.
"I'll trade you the big piece of crystal I found, and these gold nuggets too!" Cinder added, just as quickly.
Glow clutched her piece of stone-poop against her chest and shook her head solemnly. "It's my poo! Mine!” she said. She turned her amber eyes to Goldspice, and beamed. "You said so."
"You want to make a poop necklace?" Copper said.
"Choice bite!" Rill exclaimed. "A turtle nugget necklace!"
"That's the most wonderful idea ever!" Cinder agreed eagerly.
Goldspice couldn't help but smile. She glanced at her brother and held Farscout's eye for a moment. Farscout shrugged, and knelt beside Copper to take a look at the knobby stone geode she had found. "We've got another hour or two at most before the cubs need to take a nap, and then we head for home," he said.
Goldspice grinned and turned to get her tool bag from near where the wolves lay panting on the high side of the creekbed. "I'll get my stone drill, and we'll see what we can do about starting to make you your necklace."
A leather thong and a handful of wooden beads from Chicory's collection, and within a few nights, Glow's new treasure was complete.
"I found it! I made it!" Glow announced with pride, showing off her new pendant to her amused parents.
"It's beautiful," Chicory agreed, with a sunnily innocent smile.
"It sure is," Rainpace echoed, crouching down for a closer look. Chicory had shown Glow how to polish her find, and they had bathed it first in a vinegar rinse and then in wash of egg-whites, giving the fossilized coprolite a wet gleam and bringing out its ruddy undertones. "It sure looks just like it's slime-fresh, too," Rainpace observed drolly.
With obvious pride, Glow pulled off her treasured necklace and offered it to her father. "You like it," she said. "You keep it," she said, pressing the gift into his hands.
Rainpace gave his Recognized an alarmed look, and Chicory grinned back at him, her eyes dancing. "That's very thoughtful of you, precious cub," she said.
"Thank you, my little love." Rainpace hugged his daughter close, then set the leather thong back around her neck. He tapped the stone-poop pendant so that it swung against Glow's chest. "But I'd rather you wore it. It makes me happy to see how it makes your eyes shine when you wear it."
Glow beamed and clutched her pendant tight. "It’s the only one," she said, holding her prize aloft to marvel at it again in delight. "It’s the only one ever."
"Yes, dearheart," Rainpace said, kissing the top of his daughter's head. "It's special, and that makes it just like you."
**Did you just call our daughter a piece of poo?** Chicory locksent at her Recognized in amusement.
**Never in an oak's years,** Rainpace replied. **Although I do think that when she's looking at her favorite piece of poo, she looks just like her mother.**
**Beautiful, you mean?** Chicory laughed.
**Heart-stoppingly so,** Rainpace replied. He caught Chicory up in one arm, and Glow in the other, and hugged them both tight.
"We’re going back!” Glow said. "I’ll find more. And I'll make necklaces. One for you,” she said to her mother, “and one for you,” she said to her father. “And then we’ll match!”
Rainpace felt Chicory' silent laughter through their family embrace. "That would be lovely," he said, trying to keep a straight face. "Absolutely lovely."