Most of the attempts to completely smooth his carvings were dismal failures. Salt wasn't hardy enough, and coarse sand made ugly jagged swipes through the wood -- and his fingers as well most times. While Suddendusk did have the patience needed to filter through the down-river sand to get the finest particles, and place them in a shallow rock dish, and even wear a glove out of deer skin ... the results after three eights-of-days had been minimal at best. Discouraging.
The best results came from putting his carving in a jar or stretched drum, filling it part-way with sand, placing a woven lid or wide strip of bark over the opening, and then shaking the liver out of it, so to speak. What he didn't like about that was it was an imperfect method at best. It smoothed edges and grooves somewhat. But not always where he wished, or exactly how he wanted. It was all right for polishing stones and yes, getting the roughness off of his carvings. But what he WANTED was to be able to smooth bends and curves where he wanted, when he wanted, and precisely the way he wanted. There had to be a better way. It was starting to bother him that he'd not discovered it yet.
He needed sand or something for the abrasive; preferably something he could control the amount of. And he needed a way, a tool, to apply it just where he needed, and rub it just long enough to give him the results he desired.
He readjusted the strap holding his eyepatch in place. It hadn't been so very long since losing his perfect vision. The strap only annoyed him now when it was uncomfortably warm. Come to think of it, he hadn't constructed a carving he'd been happy with, SINCE the incident. He frowned to himself.
It wasn't just a wish; it was a mission. A quest for excellence. Something inside him shifted, a bulky, dark shape that kept his dreams, his past success, his former life safely hidden: go forward, adapt, improve, don't burden the tribe. Don't try, failure is pain. He rubbed a finger over his forehead. A quest, still. But one perhaps simply of ... dignity.
Go forward. He inhaled deeply. Adapt. He needed sand he could control. He'd have to make his own. The thought nearly brought a sardonic laugh from the cumbersome shadow lurking inside. To make rocks into sand took almost as much time and force as turning sand into rocks again. To his left, Strand was boring a hole in a flat shell. He put sand on the shell then twirled a stick between his palms where he needed the hole to be. Very little energy, but some tenacity and patience.
The shadow shifted in apprehensive silence.
Salt disintegrated too quickly. It was like a rock, but softer. It would break into different facets like ... like ... the clear stones below the Great Ice Wall. And the tan and red crystals in the wall of Dry Creek to the south.
If Cider caught him 'ruining' those pretty red stones, he'd hear it for moons.
He exhaled silently. It was worth a try, at the very least.
He and Raven and True Edge and Strand set off to find the stretch of the river that produced the red stones. He hadn't found out yet which one of his 'friends' leaked the information to Cider, but she stood staring at him wide-eyed after the first crystals were placed on a granite pounding slab. Standing there in front of him, all quiet, her smoky-brown eyes full of distressed astonishment; all ... BREATHY right there in front him distracted him greatly. He made a huge (futile) effort to not notice. Her eyes, the color and nearly the size of a doe's, said everything, gave away every mood she ever felt; she didn't NEED to say ANY thing.
**What are you doing?**
He tried to not wince, mentally or physically. **I will put the choice ones aside. I promise.**
High Ones, if she started crying he was going to just quit and go soak his head in the river. He resolutely kept from meeting her gaze and eventually she wandered away. He breathed noticeably easier. And definitely ground the stones with more enthusiasm.
Just in case, he slept a day and ground as enthusiastically the next evening.
"Here is it," True Edge handed him left-over strips from last moon's bear hide. Wider than strips to secure on winter footwear, but shorter than ribbon ties, True Edge and Raven never threw away anything. The tone of True Edge's voice was skeptical at best.
"And the --?"
True Edge opened up the shoulder pouch he wore, and plucked something from it that trilled furiously.
"Muckabout not some eat-bite honeycake!" The Preserver shook its tiny fists at True Edge. "Muckabout working hard, shining shiny things and -- Oooh! What No-Eye High-Thing making with bright sparkly shinies? What?"
True Edge went to a stoop at the base of the Mother Tree and sat. Suddendusk frowned in his direction.
True Edge shrugged. "Either it works or I find Raven and we have a good laugh at your expense."
Suddendusk snorted. Then he wondered how many others were lurking about to see the same thing. The black shadow hollowed out a place in his gut to deposit the humiliation and defeat it expected. Suddendusk willed himself not to scan the branches overhead. He felt distinctly like the awkward elf struggling to walk normally his first night out of the den after losing an eye. He brought the shallow bowl of gleaming, crimson 'salt' and the sheaves of thin hide and sat with a new carving he'd made of a tall, stick-legged, river bird. Muckabout stayed at his ear, flitting curiously.
He took a moment to bundle his fingers inside the material, directed the Preserver to spray some of its stickiest wrapstuff on it -- just a thin layer! -- studied it to give the audience the feeling he knew exactly what he was doing, dipped the wrapstuff-coated hide in his finely ground crystals, and began carefully rubbing it over the wooden bird's body.
After a relatively few swipes, he paused to examine the results . He squinted and turned the figurine around. With his free thumb, he brushed at the excess string and garnet sand left behind. Both wiped off easily. And -- to his grateful amazement -- he could already see a difference! The ridges left behind by his stone knife were softer, the marks more faint, blending with the feather grooves he'd made at the wings.
He laughed. It had been quite a while since anyone had heard that laugh. He looked triumphantly over at True Edge, who tried not to grin, but Suddendusk's victory smirk was contagious.
Muckabout hovered, looking at the wooden bird critically. "Muckabout just wrapstuff No-Eye High-Thing's handy fingers next time? No need fuzzy-growly-growly big-thing skin!"
Making his own fine sand for smoothing wood worked. What else -- what all -- could this be used for? A beautiful, noble hawk for Cider and embedding two of the pretty, polished crimson stones for eyes; then there was the matter of wolf totems; and a buzz-bird, barely bigger than a bee, flitting from flower to flower. Sunlight loved those. He smiled anew as his head filled with possibilities. He hardly noticed them crowding out the silenced black shadow that had lurked for a time at his core.