Riskrunner had said it would be difficult, the search for his soul-name, but so far it had been... uneventful. He was several days out from the home trees, his path each day chosen at random, dictated by fleeting impulses but leading to nowhere in particular that Littlejab could tell. He had successfully hunted small game when hungry and skirted larger predators when necessary, but so far nothing... life-changing... had happened.
Maybe that was the problem. He thought back to Riskrunner's own story of encountering a tuftcat on his soul-search and wondered if he wasn't being a little too careful. It didn't make sense to Littlejab. With four hands of turns behind him he was not quite full-grown, but he was no fool. He couldn't believe that he should willingly put himself in danger. He didn't think Birdcatcher or Blacksnake would approve of him acting careless, but if the point was to test himself...?
Littlejab still wasn't sure, but headed upslope toward the ridgeline where he had seen bear-scratchings in the trees the night before. Certainly he wasn't going to pick a fight, but he could work his way through a little more unfamiliar territory. And if there was a little more risk involved? The image of Riskrunner, aglow with his adventure, came to Littlejab. He grinned as he thought, ’all the better’.
He continued up the hill, scrambling as the ground got steeper and the terrain changed from springy loam to loose-packed gravel. He approached the summit, wondering at the fine-leaved, stunted trees that clustered here, thin boughs heavy with purple flowers that dangled in grape-like clumps. He was just reaching what he thought might be the ridge, when he lost his footing and started sliding back down. Sharp rocks tearing at him, he managed to steer his feet to a cluster of small trunks, slowing himself enough to reach for a nearby branch. Thorns he hadn't noticed bit into his hand and he uttered a mild oath as he crawled to the top of a large boulder, hoping for a stable resting place.
He shivered as a frosty spring breeze gusted over him, chilled by drying sweat, but also by the steep valley spread out under him. A rustling sound drew his attention and he looked just in time to see his bow, carried along with the bouncing rocks, shoot out over an outcropping to be lost to sight over the tree-tops.
He howled his fury, kicking at loose rocks, sending them bounding after the lost weapon. Now he was several days from the Dentrees with only his knife for hunting and protection. Well, he'd wanted a challenge, hadn't he? Legs shaking from effort and emotion, he slid down to sit on the boulder, wondering what to do next.
Calmer now, his wounded hand entered his perception. A long thorn lay embedded in his palm, the tip broken off so all that remained was a black spot, hiding just under the skin. It took a little digging with his knife, but he finally got the thorn between his teeth and pulled, warm blood gushing into his mouth. He glared at the offending plant, and in a last rush of frustration hacked at it.
He wasn't sure later, how long he sat there, or what he thought about, but the next thing he knew he was contemplating the hacked off branch in his hands. He had been learning something about bow-crafting from Sunlight, and while he'd never have her ability to shape what was needed out of the living wood, he did know something about what kinds of woods would make good bows. He gently flexed the branch. This wood was good, firm enough to carve and hold the bow-string taut, yet with enough give not to break. It would be perfect if not for the hard knots left by the twice-cursed thorns. He ripped a thorn off and rubbed his thumb over the protruding knob thoughtfully.
A shelf. The thorn-knot could provide a holder for the arrow, making his drawback more consistent. And any archer knew, consistent form meant better hunts.
Before he knew what he was doing, he had selected a promising branch and had his knife out, removing the hard bark and creating the first of the subtle curves that would turn this stick into something of utility and beauty. He was aware of nothing but the quietness around him and the constant motion of his hands.
Somehow as he worked, it came to him. Kasaj. He expected a thunderclap, but instead, it was a soft feeling, like the coming of night on a spring evening. Littlejab realized that his soul-name was not something that could be found, it was something that had been there all along, just under the surface. It was his core, his heartwood. Everything else was raw and unseasoned, the carving of it up to him.