It was the season when everything was dying, leaves turning gold and orange and red, then brown and dropping to the ground to rustle there until the whitecold came to cover them. The light was dying too; the sun rose later, and set earlier, and nights stretched out further and further.
The season was no friend to Goldspice and her work. She always stayed up later than the rising of the daystar, making use of those hours when the bright, pure light allowed her to do her finest work without straining her eyes. Now the dawn came later and the light was faded; but it was still better than a candle's light for working delicate details.
Sometimes Moss sat up with her, scraping hides or stitching into the day. Today her lovemate had another purpose, and he and Nightstorm and Whispersilk were away down by the river, taking batches of soft leather and smooth silk from their dye-baths. The tribe's tailors needed daylight, too, to see if the colors were as they should be. Today Goldspice would be uninterrupted in her work.
She leaned close to the bench, her nose almost touching the golden bracelet held still by a blob of sweet-spicy smelling beeswax. She used the slender shell-tipped awl's point to pry back the setting around the big, cracked green stone in the center. Starskimmer had brought her the lovely piece – not made by Goldspice herself, no; made by Cloudchase, one of the tribe's first true metalworkers, and given by Stoneback to his daughter Agate, Starskimmer's mother.
Starskimmer's hands could easily mend the stone, a talent that Goldspice envied. The voluptuous elder's rockshaping magic was strong enough for that. But the fall that had cracked the stone had also damaged the setting, torn through the soft gold, and the bracelet's owner was rightly worried that the mended stone would fall out. It was precious not because it was rare, but because the green agate was just the color of her mother's eyes, so Starskimmer said.
Working on the bracelet was, for Goldspice, like listening to Snowfall, the tribe's Howlkeeper, tell stories of the tribe's distant past. She hummed a little as she worked, and thought about Starskimmer's mother the rockshaper, and her own mother, Ice the metalsmith. She ran her fingers over the whorls of the design and thought about Cloudchase, and what her mother might have learned from that ancestor. She could see where the style of decoration changed, knowing from it that at some time in the past, Ice must have repaired or reworked the bracelet herself, and put her own stamp on it. Old pieces like this were like a story all their own.
**You're working late,** came a well-known sending, and with a squeak of surprise Goldspice stood up, leaning over her bench to look out the work-den's window.
**You're back early,** she countered, with a broad smile, seeing Farscout standing below, gazing up at her, lit by the orangish slanting sunlight. **I thought the season's first snow would be here before you.**
Her brother gave her a tolerant smile, and scaled the outside of the tree until he could perch on the window's ledge. He saw what she was working on, and his eyebrows went up in surprise. "What happened to Agate's bracelet?" he said, running a finger over the crack in the stone.
"Otter happened to it," Goldspice told him dryly. "Otter and Crackle and a little too much indoor wrestling."
That earned a knowing chuckle from the scout. "You can fix it, though?"
She snorted. "Of course. It isn't badly broken. Starskimmer is just worried that the stone might fall out. I'll make sure it doesn't."
"If I'm keeping you from your work –" he began, shifting his weight as if to leave, and Goldspice reached out quickly to grab his hand.
"Oh no you don't!" she laughed. He settled back, and long, long years of knowing him let her read his mild expression as teasing. "This will keep a little longer. It's not every day my brother comes back to the holt and stops to see me first."
"No, it isn't, I suppose," Farscout agreed. "Not for a long time, anyway."
There had been a time when she had clung to him more closely, felt his months away more keenly, watched with greater worry for his return. Both of her parents had been lost so soon after each other, when she had been so young, that Farscout had sometimes seemed more like a second father, a **real** father to her than the half-brother he was. In his own way, despite his long absences from the tribe, he had cared for her, and his attention and approval had helped to fill in a piece of what she'd needed, growing up deprived of her mother's cool, detached encouragement, and her father's bright, whirlwind energy.
Goldspice was a grown woman now, happy and assured, with a life and loves of her own. She had changed, but Farscout never seemed to; he was exactly as she remembered him from her childhood, aloof and enticingly mysterious to a sister who was more homebody than adventurer. Most important, though, he was as dependable as he had always been, and with maturity she'd come to realize how much more that had meant to her than anything else. He always returned, and she loved him for that because it was what her parents had failed to do.
"I was thinking of you, though," he went on, reaching into the satchel that he wore slung across his body. "I found this, and knew I had to bring it to you."
What he handed her was a lump of mottled brown and cream, and it looked like a clod of mud, but when she took it in her hand it was heavier than she expected. She turned it over, peering at it closely, and saw what seemed to be a spiral shell embedded in one side. "You went out to the coast?" she said, picking at the surface with a fingernail. It wasn't the prettiest shell he'd ever brought her, but perhaps it would clean up better than it looked.
He smiled, and his eyes were laughing at her. "Guess again."
"Not all the way to the lake?" she said in surprise. That would be an unusual trip even for her far-roving brother.
"No, not that way at all. Up in the north," he told her, "on the ridge between two of the Finger rivers."
Goldspice frowned at him. "What would a seashell be doing on a ridge up there?" she said, even as her fingers were telling her that the brownish lump wasn't mud at all.
"I don't know," said Farscout honestly. "But there was a place where a face of the ridge had fallen away, and I found this amongst the shards at the slope's base. There were others, but this looked like the best one – at least, that I thought I could carry."
"It was in the rock, then? It is rock," she realized, hefting it.
"I think so. Ask Starskimmer, though – she'll know if it's rock or not."
Up on the shelves in her work-den, there were a few pieces of stone that had the faint impressions of sticks and leaves in them; and one pretty lump of golden amber pine-sap hardened around a little beetle with half-spread, crumpled wings. She'd never seen a stone shell before, though. "I'll ask her. Maybe she can help me figure out a way to make it pretty."
Starskimmer was good at that kind of thing, and possibly-pretty results were usually enough to convince her to put forth the effort. And, Goldspice realized, she could trade with her in exchange for fixing Agate's bracelet.
"I thought both of you might enjoy that," Farscout told her, with a fond tug at the dark-golden curls falling over her forehead, and instantly Goldspice felt as if she were thirteen again, relieved beyond measure at her wide-ranging brother's return, thrilled at the little gifts he would bring to her.
"Thank you," she replied, holding his eyes, with a warm smile of her own. And when she said it, she meant for more than the gift itself.