(Ed. note: "Ash" is the cubname of Blacksnake, and "Axehand" is an earlier name of One-Leg's.)
Muckabout stared back at Ash from atop an unlit candle inside the stubborn elf's den. Above the Preserver, a leather drape shut out the exterior view, thus keeping any sights outside from interfering with the discussion. They had been at this for far too long.
"Again," he said firmly. "What is my name?"
Muckabout giggled. "Silly Highthing still not know own name? Teeheehee! Is too funny!"
Ash directed its attention back towards himself with a short growl. "I know my name, bug. And so will you. I have made my first solo kill, and proved my worth to my tribe and my chief. I am a blooded hunter of the tribe. With a hunter's name: Ash. That's the name I choose to keep and that's the name that I will be called. Now say it." His voice was firm and all business.
Muckabout looked at him, and very helpfully said, "Sharp-words Highthing."
Ash --barely-- resisted the urge to slap his own forehead. He'd chosen Muckabout because of its alleged reputation as the most compliant and helpful of Preservers. But just asking didnít work. Bribing it with pouches of the dyes and paints it coveted didnít work. Making a game of it didnít work. But Ash would not be defeated by a simple-minded insect!
'Fine. If the fool wants to act like a cub, I'll teach it like one.' He guided the all-too-easily distracted bug's eyes back towards himself and began anew. "Repeat after me.... Aaaaaahhhhh."
"Uuuuhhhhh," Muckabout arched its torso forward, head titled up, in a wide-mouthed display of mimicry.
But its pronunciation was wrong. "Aaahhhh."
"Shuh shuh shuh."
"Now put it together what do you get? "Aaash-shuh."
Ash's hands contorted themselves into fists. "We'll try this from yet another angle. Stay there. I'm not done with you yet." He crossed over into his bed and came back with a small pouch. He had not gone into this quest unprepared. He showed the contents, and reached in, obtaining a pinch of ash which he'd acquired from a recent bit of spear-sharpening. He let it rain down with the twisting of his fingers. "What is this?"
"Muckabout knows! Is fire-dust!"
"What color is it?"
"Is fire-dust color!"
Of course. Even 'grey' or 'silver' or 'dark white' was too much to ask for. Not yet about to admit defeat, he nevertheless had to admit to himself that he was out of ideas. He covered his face with his hands while he collected his thoughts, lest the Preserver interpret his frustration as anger. Upsetting the bug would ruin everything.
That's when he felt the pat-pat-pat of a miniscule hand on his forehead. "No worries. Highthing figure things out some day." And with that Muckabout flew away, tittering.
"BWAAAAAA-HA-HA-HA!" Axehand's bellicose laugh came from outside the Child Tree with force enough to send the drape rolling. He strutted into the den and kept right on laughing. "I'm sorry, brother! HAA HAA HAA! I couldnít hold it in anymore!"
Ash reached over to the wineflask atop his furs. He threw the sack at the wide-open stomach of his big-mouthed bass of a brother. "Shut it."
"I'd rather open it, if you donít mind." Axehand chuckled. "Oh wait, it's mine now. I'll do with it as I please." The older elf leaned against the entrance and took a healthy swig. The younger had received it as a gift from their father, a reward for the very same kill heíd informed the useless bug of. A fine, tall deer that heíd tracked and shot down all on his own. Heíd taken the first taste of its meat and blood, and skinned its pelt for his next set of clothes. He hadnít had time to take a single sip of this third prize before Axehand shouldered in and walked his younger brother into the wager with all the finesse of a bear talking a badger into a stinktail's nest.
Ash just turned toward the stairs and walked away, too humiliated to respond.
"Some things just donít change. Should have known when to back down." Axehand's face was as red as his hair with mirth. "But the bug's right. You'll figure things out someday!"