Copper was dreaming, and from the way she moaned and shuddered in her sleep, it wasn’t a gentle dream. Goldspice gathered her niece against her gently in the sleeping furs and held the child close, dozing in and out of sleep herself until the girl finally came awake with a jolt and a half-strangled cry.
“Bad dreams?” Goldspice murmured, while Copper stared at her with enormous blue-violet eyes, at first as though from a great distance. Gradually the wild look faded from the child’s eyes and she nodded in solemn silence. **Do you want to share with me?** Goldspice locksent then, conscious of the rest of the sleepers gathered together in the chief’s den.
Copper continued to gaze at her for a time, her expression sober and fathomless. Then finally she sighed, a small, weary exhalation, and closed her eyes.
**My hands were empty,** the girl sent after a time.
Goldspice puzzled over that response. It had been half a moon now since the Fierce Ones had returned, and Copper’s mother and father were both away, shadowing the big band of humans as they camped up near Whitewing Lake to hunt the wintering clickdeer herds. Goldspice suspected more to her niece’s nightmare than what the child admitted to. After all — Goldspice had been having nightmares of her own, as anxious as she was for the safety of her brother Farscout and for all of their tribe, and she doubted any of those left behind at the Holt for the past half-moon slept any easier.
**Empty hands?** Goldspice locksent gently. **Tell me about your dream.**
Copper’s blue-violet eyes opened again, and the girl stared at her, nearly nose-to-nose with her aunt in their nest of sleeping furs. Goldspice smiled encouragement and waited. Her brother’s child demanded patience. Copper was unnaturally quiet and reserved, and sometimes far too old for her years. Farscout had been much the same way as a child, the elders said, so no one worried about it overmuch — ‘She’s got Brightwood in her too, so don’t expect her to stay quiet forever!’ One-Leg liked to say. Yet there were still moments when her stoic, reserved niece just seemed too strange of a child to Goldspice. She simply wasn’t like the other children, or like any of the children Goldspice had ever known.
**The chief’s torc,** Copper finally locksent in return. **I have to make it because it’s been lost. And it’s terrible and it’s wonderful both, until my hands are empty.** Hesitantly, Copper shared the dream-images and dream-memory which shadowed those words, and that burst of information was brilliant with a sudden intensity. **Scents of charcoal and smoke and of the forge itself. Silver was smooth under her hands, lighter than a gold torc of the same size would be. She was setting the polished amber stone of the wolf’s eye into place — the second eye, the one which would rest against the chief’s skin and never fully see or be seen. Her teacher would have thought it a waste, but she would not leave it undone. This would be her masterwork, and even if the rest of the tribe would never see it, she and her chief would both know it was there... Grief was hammered into every fingerlength of the torc, but so was the fierce ecstasy as well that she had found in the very challenge of it. Parting with it was the hardest thing she could ever do. When it was taken from her hands to be placed around the new chief’s neck, it was like childbirth. It was like gnawing off a limb caught in a trap. She knew she would never forgive herself for the terrible joy she had found in creating such a thing of profound beauty and profound meaning. It left her hands empty, and the sense of grief and loss of that was more soul-consuming than the loss of a beloved...**
Goldspice broke the locksending. She shook her head to try and clear her mind of the smells of the forge and of the taste of ashes and gemdust that had found its way under her tongue. She gazed at Copper in bewilderment, unable to name why the child’s lucid dream should frighten her so. Copper lay staring back at her, her red-gold brows furrowed in pain at her aunt’s unexpected rejection.
“I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed that vividly!” Goldspice whispered with a tremulous smile. Somehow, she couldn’t find the courage to chance the intimacy of locksending again — not quite yet, at least. Instead, Goldspice smoothed back some of the loose strands of hair which had worked free of Copper’s twin braids, and pressed an apologetic kiss against her niece’s forehead. “I dream of working at my forge sometimes,” she whispered, knowing the child was waiting for her to say something. “I dream of forging beautiful things, too. Sometimes I dream of making mistakes, and then I have to scramble to find a way to fix them. Once I dreamed I struck a crystal node open and it let loose a blizzard of butterflies, so many that they filled the whole Holt. We wound up making clothing from their wings.”
Copper seemed to think about that for a moment, then offered a shy smile. “I’d like that,” she whispered back. “A pretty tunic made from butterfly wings. But I’d be too afraid to wear it. It would be too easy to ruin, I think.”
Goldspice nodded and smiled and held the girl close. “We should both go back to sleep,” she whispered against the girl’s red-gold crown of hair. “Do you think you can?”
Copper nodded, and after a time, her breathing settled and grew slow and even. Goldspice cradled the girl close and held her for hours, until their kinfolk began to stir awake around them. Try as she might, she couldn’t find sleep again herself, not with the taste of ashes and gemdust still in her mouth.