|Written By: Whitney Ware|
|(2011 A Thousand Words Contest) (2011 May/June Fic Trade) Cinder discovers a treasure in his grandfather's keepsakes box.|
|Posted: 07/29/11 [13 Comments]
A whisper of sound woke him. His nerves fine tuned to alerts after nearly a moon of long-patrol, Farscout came awake at once. He blinked his eyes clear, disoriented for a heartbeat to find himself sheltering under a ceiling of interwoven roots and a quilt-work of moonmoss.
Again — there it was, a slight rasp of leather against stone steps; Farscout sat up from his sleeping furs beside his lifemate’s bier and turned toward that sound, identifying his visitor by scent even as a voice whispered from the Gathering Den stairs.
“Farscout, are you awake?”
Farscout shifted his shoulders against the bier and pulled a warm fur around his shoulders. “Yes, cub.”
Redfox came the rest of the way down the stairs and into the Sleepers’ Den. Ten winters old now, the boy was thin and wore his crimson hair away from his fine-boned face in three bright braids. Farscout patted the sleeping furs beside him and the child settled there, kneeling with something cupped protectively in his hands.
“You’ve been working on it some more?” Farscout asked. He rubbed his eyes and swallowed back a yawn, very careful to hide his weariness. The chief’s youngest son was prickly in his pride, and would retreat again if he felt his elder perceived him to be intruding.
The moonmoss bathed Redfox’s face in faint blue light, and made the boy’s cerulean eyes seem to glow. The boy was almost vibrating with contained energy as he opened his hands, exposing the treasure he was holding.
“Oh,” Farscout said, shocked at what he saw. “You have been busy.”
“Every day. I’ve climbed up to Cider’s den for the best light and worked on it,” the boy said, grinning one of his rare, shy grins.
Farscout reached down and gently stroked the boy’s handiwork. When Farscout had last seen Redfox’s work, he had carved a boiled branchhorn knee-bone down into a egg-shaped oval. In the past month, that oval had been further crafted into the shape of a prancing wolf. The speed of the child’s efforts was a surprise, but even more so was the sheer skill.
“I’m afraid I’ve very little else I can teach you,” Farscout said, smiling with pride in the boy’s work. “It took me many years of practice to learn to carve this well. And in just two winters, you’ve surpassed my skills.”
Redfox was beaming. “I worked on it every day, for as long as I had good light to work by. It looks just like Father’s Lightpatter, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Farscout said, although the unstained bone could have passed for nearly any wolf in the pack. Farscout gently traced the carving with his fingertip, still marveling at the boy’s skill. “I would have only done one thing differently. You have joined the left fore and right hind legs in the middle here — that is wise, as it strengthens them both. But the right fore and left hind have no bracing. That will make them fragile. But you have a superb eye. This is remarkably life-like. Your parents must be very proud.”
|Illustration by Holly H.|
Redfox ducked his head as his elder hit that particular sore point. “They haven’t seen it yet,” the boy said. “Cider and Rhythm have seen it, because they’re letting me work in their den. Moss has seen it, because he came by and caught me carving on it. And you’ve seen it ‘cuz you’re teaching me. But I haven’t shown Mother or Father. I want to surprise Father with it for New Green.”
“It will be a precious gift to him,” Farscout said with confidence, resting a hand on the boy’s thin shoulder. He smiled at the hopeful look the chief’s cub gave him, and squeezed the boy’s shoulder warmly. “Your father always appreciates fine craftsmanship, and that your hands gave birth to this will make it even that much more precious to him.”
“I hope so,” Redfox breathed. “I really, really hope so.”
Farscout squeezed the boy’s shoulder again, confidently. “Your father will love this. I promise you that.”
Cinder had gone silent. Instantly on alert, Blacksnake looked up from the arrowhead he was carving from a piece of antler. Sudden silences from his grandson weren’t quite as alarming as they were from Crackle or Rill, but Blacksnake still knew a warning sign when he heard it. Across from him, on the other side of the Hunt Leader’s den, Blacksnake saw Cinder sitting with his back turned, shoulders round as the boy hunched his body over whatever-it-was he cupped in his hands.
“What have you got there, cub?” Blacksnake asked.
The boy looked up, nothing sly or furtive in his demeanor. “I found this in your keepsakes box,” Cinder said, holding up a bone amulet suspended on a leather thong. “It looks just like Longhowl!”
Blacksnake had moved to his grandson’s side and reached to take the amulet back before even realizing his intent. “Be careful, cub,” he said as he gently took the thong from his grandson’s hand. “That’s very old and very fragile.”
“It’s wonderful!” Cinder said, reluctant to release his new discovery. “It looks just like my wolf-friend!”
Blacksnake smiled as he looked at the pendant, which swung gently in the air between them. It was carefully carved in the shape of a prancing wolf, head and ears up alertly. The bone had been dyed chestnut across the body, and the passing of many years had added a yellow patina to it. “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Blacksnake agreed. “Your father made that for me, a long time ago now.”
“My father?” Cinder exclaimed, his round face lighting up in delight. “My father made this?”
“He did. He was only a few winters older than you when he made it.”
“The amulet looks just like Longhowl,” Cinder repeated. “Just like him! Can I have it? Please?”
Farscout sought the boy out as soon as he had finished his patrol debriefing with the chieftess. His return from long patrol missed the New Green celebration by a handful of days. Farscout had not wished to participate in the New Green festivities since his lifemate had gone into wrapstuff, but this spring he did regret not having made it home in time.
“Redfox!” he called, finding the boy sitting with his wolf-friend, grooming the wolf while watching Ice work at her forge. Farscout sank to a crouch beside the child. “I tried to make it back in time to see you give your father the amulet, but the Rushwater was flooding. Tell me what I missed.”
The boy refused to look at his elder, and his movements with the flea-comb became short and stiff. “Nothing,” Redfox said, his voice sharp. “You missed nothing.”
Farscout rocked back on his heels, startled by the boy’s vehemence. He touched the boy with a questioning send, urging him the share; the boy’s mindtouch rebuffed him, prickly as a quill pig on the outside and roiling underneath with emotion.
“He wore it for a day or two,” Redfox said, unable to brush his elder’s request entirely. “My father said he liked it, but he only wore it for a day or two, just to make Mother happy. Then it went away. He didn’t like it. Not really.”
Farscout frowned. The child’s heartache seeped through Redfox’s detached façade. Farscout wanted to hug the boy and comfort him, but the chief’s cub’s bruised pride did not seem to welcome that.
**Talk to your sire,** Farscout sent gently, refusing to be rebuffed.
Redfox shrugged the advice off. “Riskrunner asked me to carve him a wolf,” the boy said. “And I’ll make him an even better one, too. But what should I use to stain it to make is look like Bluepelt?”
Farscout knew a piece of bait when it was offered him, but the boy’s blue-eyed glance was earnest with desire to avoid a painful subject. So the scout settled back and took the deflection as deftly as it was offered. “We can boil hawthorne berries and mix it with woad, maybe. Let’s test it first on scored dry bone, and see how well it will take…”
“Can I have it?” Cinder asked, his sea-green eyes shining. “Please?”
Blacksnake hesitated for a long moment before answering. His first impulse was to agree to his grandchild’s request — it was difficult to deny Cinder anything. But… “No. I’m afraid this is just too fragile to be worn. Look. See this here?” Blacksnake touched the leading foreleg, drawing his grandson’s attention to the old fracture lines there. “The second day I wore this, this leg snapped off. I spent a full day and night backtracking my trail from Bluespear Hill to find it. The other hunters laughed to see me crawling on my hands and knees through the woods, but I couldn’t go home again without that little fragment of bone.”
Cinder studied his grandsire’s face, his expression serious and wise beyond his tender years. “You didn’t want to let my father know you’d broken it, did you?”
Blacksnake shook his head. “I couldn’t. I glued the leg back on as soon as I came home again, but I haven’t dared wear it since.”
Cinder smiled — it was a knowing smile, sympathetic and tender and, for a moment, entirely so much his grandmother Easysinger’s expression that Blacksnake felt his heart seize in his chest. Cinder patted his grandfather’s leg and offered him the soft suede pouch which the boy had found the amulet stored in.
“My father must have spent an entire winter carving it. You shouldn’t give it away. Not ever.”
Blacksnake nodded and slipped the amulet back into its pouch. He tousled his grandson’s shining silver hair. “You are very right,” he said. “But you know what? You are very clever with your hands, just as your father was as a cub. You should go to him, and ask him to teach you how to carve a wolf of your own. I am sure he would enjoy that, and then you’d have an amulet of your own, that you’ll treasure just as dearly.”
Cinder grinned and sprang to his feet. “Yes! I’ll make one of my own, and it’ll look just like Longhowl, too!” With that, the boy was gone, dashing off in search of his father.
Blacksnake put the amulet-pouch back into the wooden keepsake box on its shelf. He closed the box’s lid, lingering for perhaps a moment too sentimentally in that task. Then he returned to his seat on the fur-covered bed, and picked up his arrow-head carving tools again and settled back to his unsentimental work at hand.
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