"Show me something fun!" Rill demanded.
Suddendusk looked up from his net-mending and met his young cub's eyes. At barely seven years old, Rill could be quite a handful. "What about those puzzle-knots I gave you?"
Rill grinned and proudly held up three cords and the carved wooden rings that had been tied up in them.
"You got them all done already? That was fast!" Suddendusk said with a smile. It was fast-- Crackle had been faster at that age, but not by much. The tribe might have another crafter in Rill someday, Suddendusk mused, not for the first time. But someday was far off, and right now his cub was looking at him, blue eyes bright with expectation. The nets could wait until another day. "Well, Rill, would you like to learn how to make fire without striking-stones?"
The cub's eyes opened wider, and the cords and rings fell to the ground unheeded. "Show me, I want to do it!"
"All right, the first thing we'll need is a good springy stick." Suddendusk set the net aside and stood up. The evening was warm, and he'd brought the net out to mend it in the clearing among the craft-trees instead of staying inside his workden. "Why don't we go look in that tartfruit tree?"
Rill bounded off, and Suddendusk followed more slowly. The clink-clink-clink of Goldspice's hammer grew softer as they left the small circle of trees. Soon Rill was climbing nimbly up the gnarled old trunk of one of the tartfruit trees that grew nearby — planted in Easysinger's day, Suddendusk remembered. The upper branches were thick with new, finger-thick shoots reaching straight up, and Rill shook one after the other to find the springiest one of them. Though they were all about the same, by the time Suddendusk had reached the foot of the tree, his cub had chosen one. Bending it with all his seven-year-old might, Rill snapped it off at the base and threw it down, then jumped after it, landing with a roll in the grass.
"All right Father, here's one!" Rill said, and Suddendusk took it, making a show of examining it carefully.
"You picked a good one," he announced. "Now find us a spot back at the craft-trees with nothing growing for at least two armspans around."
"Why?" Rill asked.
"Because we don't want to catch anything on fire by accident. Fire is hungry, and tricky too, but if we're clever and careful then nothing bad will happen." Suddendusk himself had once nearly started a forest fire in his younger days, and he didn't want his energetic cub to think fire was just a toy.
When they got back, there was no sound from Goldspice's forge, and Suddendusk couldn't sense his grand-niece nearby. To Rill, he said, "I need to get some things from my workden and then we can start the fire, all right? Just choose a good wide spot right here in the clearing."
It took Suddendusk longer than he'd expected to find the various things he needed among the clutter in his workden. He almost gave up on finding the last one — until he remembered that new and improved skyfishing trap he'd never gotten around to finishing. He had to remove several turns' worth of net-knotting experiments before he could get a close look at the complicated framework of willow sticks. He hadn't stretched the hide onto it yet, so it wasn't hard to remove a piece that was the right length and still perfectly straight. Hoping he hadn't taken too long for Rill to stay out of mischief, he put the smooth, barkless stick into a bag with the other things and went out the door.
Luckily, Rill was still there, though. The cub was running in circles in the middle of the clearing, fast enough that his blonde hair fluttered behind him. "This is the widest place!" the cub said breathlessly when his father reached him.
"That's right!" Suddendusk said, smiling. "You picked the best place to start a fire, far away from anything it might jump onto. And look above your head too, you need to make sure there's nothing hanging down. Fire can jump straight up a lot farther than it can to the side."
"How high can it jump?"
"Really high, sometimes, and the sparks fly up even higher. But you chose a good place. Now pick up your stick and bend it into a bow shape for me."
Rill snatched up the springy stick, which was almost as long as he was tall. He struggled to bend it with his hands, but then suddenly grinned and planted the thick end in the grass, and bent it that way.
"Good, now hold it like that," Suddendusk said, and cut two notches in the stick, then quickly tied a cord from one to the other, long enough that the stick only had a bit of bend in it when Rill let go.
Looking at the simple bow, the cub asked, "What are we going to shoot? It's not very tight. Oh, is that an arrow? And what's that?" he went on as Suddendusk got out the stick he'd had so much trouble finding, along with a short, thin board.
Chuckling, Suddendusk answered, "No, we're not shooting anything, and that's not an arrow, but it does go into the bow, as you'll see in a moment." He sat down and opened the bag to get the rest of what he needed — a bundle of tinder, some wood shavings, and a few larger pieces of scrap all went to one side, and in front of him he set a broad, leathery leaf and a small flattish stone with an odd dimple on one side. He looked up to see Rill looking from one piece of the odd collection to another in puzzlement. "Want to guess how this works?"
"Umm..." the young cub said, frowning thoughtfully. "I don't know?"
"Well, I'll show you, then!" Suddendusk carefully cut a shallow round hole almost at the edge of the board and set it down on the leaf. "Go ahead and pick up the bow again and bend it a little farther so the string is loose."
Rill seemed surprised when he realized that he'd dropped the bow, but quickly picked it up again and bent it as he had before. Suddendusk twisted the cord twice around the straight stick, and held on to keep it from springing back out as he motioned his son to let go. "This stick is the spindle, and we're going to use the bow to spin it really fast in this hole in the board." As Rill watched, he stuck the end straight down onto the board, pressing the dimpled stone on the other end to hold it secure while the bow hung sideways.
"That hole is too small, the stick doesn't fit!" Rill said.
"That's on purpose. It's just big enough that the end of the spindle won't skitter all over the board when we start, and soon the spinning will make it bigger. Watch!" He put one foot on the hearth board to hold it steady, then grasped the bow in his right hand, keeping the spindle steady with the rock in his left. It had been a while since he'd done this — striking-stones really were easier to use — but as he carefully drew the bow back and forth, the spindle turned smoothly, so he'd gotten everything right.
He watched Rill, who at first seemed fascinated, but then started looking bored when nothing burst into flames right away. The cub noticed his father watching him, and said, "You told me this was fun!"
"It will be, once the fire starts," Suddendusk assured him. "Just be patient, son. Patience is one of the most important skills in life." As he spun the drill back and forth, back and forth, he tried pressing harder with the rock, then more softly, until he found the right balance. The spindle still spun smoothly, but its hard tip began to deepen the hole and produce fine black dusty char. Now that the hole was the right size, he paused long enough to cut a notch in its side so the char could spill out onto the leathery surface of the leaf.
Rill tried hard to pay attention, but soon his eyes started to wander again. He caught himself, though, and snapped his gaze guiltily back to what his father was doing.
Suddendusk took pity on him. "Don't worry, you don't have to learn to be patient all in one night. Here, come sit beside me and work the bow for a while."
The cub grinned and plopped down next to his father. Suddendusk helped him hold the bow and spin the drill — the cub kept wanting to go too quickly but finally settled into a rhythm, and the hot char started piling up outside the notch. "All right, father, I'm being patient."
"And here's your reward!" Suddendusk said, as the first dim gleam of orange shone from within the char.
Rill nearly dropped the bow in surprise. "What do I do now?"
Suddendusk rescued the bow and spindle and set them aside. "Get up close and breathe on it — softly!" The elder hastily added that last word as Rill drew a deep breath. The cub paused, then carefully blew on the char, watching it brighten into a glowing coal. Suddendusk picked up the tinder and pushed the hearth board aside. "Now pick up the leaf — don't let the coal roll off!" He held out a wad of tinder, pushing a hollow into the middle. "Tip it in here."
Still being very careful, Rill tipped the leaf, but as Suddendusk caught the coal in the tinder it stopped glowing. "It went out!" Rill said, disappointed.
"Don't worry, breathe on it again," Suddendusk said. Rill did so, and the coal glowed again, weakly. "Now here we need to be patient again. Just keep breathing on it, until the tinder catches."
"This part is like you do with striking-stones, right?" Rill asked between breaths.
"Well, it's slower because the coal isn't as hot as a spark, but sparks can go out right away if you aren't careful."
"The tinder is catching!" Rill said, eyes wide as he stared at the tiny flame. Suddendusk set the tinder down and carefully arranged some wood shavings where the flame would catch them. Soon, they'd have a fire.
But sooner, something else would happen — Suddendusk felt familiar presences in the back of his mind. "Rill, the hunters are coming home!"
All thoughts of fire forgotten, Rill leaped up and ran for the Holt. "Mother! Windsong! Guess what? I learned how to be patient today!"