A clatter startled Revin awake. She sat up quickly, her head surprisingly clear. Scanning the room, she noticed a chest for storing clothes and a small table with a basin and pitcher on it. She got up slowly, still trying to orient herself, and walked over to the table. Pouring water into the basin, she washed. She didn’t remember taking her cloak and coat off and guessed Keely must have removed them when she fell asleep.
Revin couldn’t remember much after sitting on the bed, but two things Keely had spoken to someone else in the dark room, who, Revin couldn’t remember, ‘Phoenix’ and ‘The Burning’. Everything else was a blur.
A pot banged against stone and brought her out of her musings. She opened the door and peeked out at a larger room, probably the main room of the house. To one side Keely stirred something in a big pot while a full-figured middle-aged woman put a plate and a mug on a table set to one side. The aroma of roasted pork floated through the air and Revin inhaled appreciatively.
“You’re up. Good.” Keely looked up at Revin. “Sit. Maeveen said to show you around Awakening today.” She pointed to a bench on the right side of the table, while the other woman placed a platter of the roasted pork in front of the plate.
Maeveen again. Revin frowned but sat at the table. From what little she knew; it appeared as if the woman ran the village. Unfortunately, she didn’t think the shrewd woman would be easy to deal with. Maeveen had managed to deflect her questions while providing lodging. This put Revin in the woman’s debt…not the best position to begin negotiations. Revin chided herself for letting Keely lead her away from the hall the previous night without getting any answers. I need to be on my guard and figure out how to get the upper hand. She reminded herself of why she was there, to capture the Gold. But first, she needed sustenance.
Revin speared a large piece of pork and put it on her plate. She leaned over the plate and inhaled deeply. A lightness, almost like sniffing a bouquet of flowers reached Revin’s nostrils as her stomach rumbled. A mixture of delightful spices danced in her mouth with the first bite. She could sense a hint of vanilla.
The woman spooned some steamed carrots, onions, and leeks onto Revin’s plate.
“You need food,” the woman’s voice was soft, and her abundant smile made Revin relax. The woman returned and poured something into the mug.
Revin felt the warmth as steam rose from the rim of the drink. “Be careful,” Keely said as she sat across from Revin. “Inga thinks everyone needs fattening.” Keely pinched her own side, though Revin couldn’t see any fat on the young woman.
“You said Awakening. What is it?” Revin asked Keely halfway through the second generous slice of pork, unable to resist the meal regardless of Keely’s warning.
“It is all this.” Keely spread her hands to take in everything around her.
“It seems a rather odd name.”
“Odd?” Keely’s head tilted and her eyes narrowed as if she didn’t understand the question.
“Awakening is a curious name for a village,” Revin spoke quickly, but then realized she shouldn’t speak so freely, at least until she knew more about her hosts. “No offense, I’ve just never heard of one of that name before.”
The young woman giggled. “It is more than just the village. It is…” She swept her hands around indicating her surroundings, then shrugged. “It is everything here.”
Revin looked around the room confused, but hesitant to push the issue. Instead, she picked up the mug. It was the same spicy scent she’d smelled back in Winterheart, the aroma that had permeated the meeting hall the previous night. Steam rose from the golden liquid as a thought crossed her mind. It must have been what they were drinking last night…and what I drank.
“What is this?” Revin swirled the drink hesitantly.
“It’s called Muspell,” Keely answered.
“Ah, I remember Maeveen saying that.”
“It means realm of fire.”
“It made me dizzy last night.”
Keely grinned. “Muspell only gives you what you need.”
Revin squinted and stared suspiciously into the mug. That’s impossible! It can’t know what I need.
Revin’s disbelief must have been evident because Keely shrugged her shoulders and said, “It just does. If you need rest, it helps you sleep. If you have a fever, it cools your body. If you are nervous, it soothes you.”
It sounded almost as if the drink had intelligence. But someone would have to be insane to believe that. Revin wondered if the Muspell had been her problem, although drinking it last night hadn’t hurt her…she had just been overly tired. Her muscles still felt tight, but she felt more refreshed than she had in a number of moons.
Revin knew she had to trust these people, at least to some degree because they knew where to find the Gold. She sipped from the mug and a warm sensation spread throughout her body making her feel relaxed, the knots untwisting, but not making her drowsy as it had the night before.
“Now eat so we can go. The sun’s almost cresting.”
Revin had no idea how long she had slept, but it must have been quite a while. “Why the rush?” She nibbled at the remaining pork on her plate.
“There is a lot to see, and we need time to get ready for tonight’s feast. You don’t want to be late for your own celebration,” the younger woman’s tone was excited as she explained.
Revin dropped her fork on the plate. Feast! For me?
“Good, you’re ready.” Keely took a cloak off a peg by the door and handed it to Revin. It was thinner than the one Revin had worn the night before. Then the young woman grabbed a second one from another peg.
Keely opened the door and Revin quickly slipped on the cloak. Her body tensed, waiting for the gust of frigid wind, but none came. The air was cool, not freezing as she had remembered.
Turning around, Keely motioned for Revin to follow.
Bright sunlight greeted them as they came out of the house and Revin held a hand up to shade her eyes.
“Is there a problem?” Keely had taken a couple of steps forward but spun around when Revin halted just outside the doorway.
“Where…where are we?” Revin fought to control the quiver in her voice. Her senses were jarred by the view that confronted her. Winter had just begun with its onslaught of bleak biting winds the night before, yet the images in front of her spoke of early spring. Snow still dotted the ground, but much of the land was clear or a little muddy. Buds hung from trees and bushes, birds could be heard in a nearby evergreen tree, and two butterflies fluttered past. Butterflies? She watched them as they separated, alighting on plants that seemed to be rising toward the sun, the hint of purple flowers trying to force themselves from the stems.
A short path ran from the house up to the main road where dozens of people were out-and-about. A wagon, filled with barrels, rolled past with a man at the reins and a young boy next to him. Another man strained as he led a reluctant shaggy brown-haired beast that stood as tall as a man with a single long horn in the middle of its forehead. She recognized the Trouncher, a common herding animal in the north. Though fierce looking, the creature was as gentle as a lamb. Most of the people wore a light cloak or coat, though a few men wore nothing more than a tunic over their leggings.
“This is Awakening.”
“It sure is.” Revin blinked as she stared at the people and the signs of spring spread out before her.
“I already told you that inside.” Keely’s head tilted, concern in her expression as she asked, “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Where’s the snow?” Revin glanced around confused by the sudden change in the weather. “There was a storm last night. I nearly froze coming here and the wind…” she sputtered, unable to grasp what her eyes beheld.
Keely frowned and rubbed her temple, then squinted and wrinkled her nose. After a moment she said, “It’s not easy to explain. It’s best if you talk with Maeveen.”
Maeveen again. A scowl crossed Revin’s expression.
“I’m sorry.” Keely’s pout made it clear Revin was doing a poor job of hiding her frustration. Emotions had no place in negotiations.
“No, I’m sorry. You did nothing wrong.” Revin smiled. “It was a long journey to get here.”
Keely grinned in return. “Maeveen said you might be disoriented for a while.” She stepped back and put an arm through Revin’s and led them both up the path. “You probably should have had more of the Muspell,” the woman continued cheerfully. “But a little fresh air will help clear your mind. I can’t wait to show you the market. Arick and Frigga returned the other day with new material. Maybe we can find something to go with your dress tonight.”
I don’t have a dress, Revin reminded herself, but then wasn’t sure anymore.
The last few days had been strange to say the least and today wasn’t starting well in Revin’s mind. She was being ushered around, ignorant of the situation, and that made Revin anxious, which might explain the uncomfortable sensation that continued to nag at her.
They spent nearly a full Turn at a stall with a woman whom Keely introduced as Frigga.
“I think this would look beautiful with your dress.” Keely held up a light blue scarf, her grin widening at the find.
But I don’t have a dress, Revin wanted to say, but the young woman had already ignored this argument twice.
“Whatever you think best.” Revin smiled in return. Her idea of shopping was to replace worn leather pants or damaged gear. Function was her only guide as to what to purchase. She left form to the noble ladies who strolled the larger towns and cities.
Keely returned to sorting through fabrics, bracelets, pendants, and other finery while Revin scanned the market. It was significantly larger than she had imagined.
As they had walked down the main road, the number of people increased until there must have been well over a hundred in the market. And considering it was later in the morning, Revin could only guess at how many would have been there earlier in the day. The numbers didn’t equate with the tiny remote village she had expected. Stranger yet was the quality of the merchandise for sale.
Around the square she spotted several food stalls, one that even sold fruit that looked as if it had just come from the orchards. How did they get fresh fruit all the way up here? Revin’s confusion only deepened. One stall contained pots and other worked-metal tools and utensils. Another had leather goods, while an apothecary displayed jars and other containers of various sizes. These were goods found in any modest town, not a village. Revin didn’t count them but guessed that more than three dozen booths were setup around the village square.
“I think this is the last,” Keely’s voice brought Revin back to the purpose for their outing.
When Revin turned around, the young woman stood there with a polished bright band in one hand, and a scarf draped over her arm.
Revin grabbed the armband.
“Sorry,” she nodded to Keely, realizing she had snatched the bracelet without asking.
“It’s yours.” The young woman’s smile never faded as she folded up the scarf and placed it in a small cotton sack she had carried since leaving the house.
Revin studied the bracelet and tried to scratch it while Keely was putting the scarf away. When she couldn’t mark it, she held it up in the sunlight. It’s silver, she realized as she held it out to look at the detailed work on it. A gold rope-like design ran along the edges and twisted around the center.
“I can’t afford this.” Revin held the jewelry out to Keely. “I would have to sell a Red, and I doubt even one dragon would be enough.”
Keely frowned, then her lips lifted into a soft smile. “You don’t have to purchase it.”
Stunned, Revin thought maybe she had heard incorrectly.
“I thought you would enjoy it. It’s like mine. See.” Keely pulled back her sleeve. She wore a similar bracelet, but smaller with a slightly different design.
“But I don’t have the money to…”
With a wave of her hand, the young woman stopped Revin. “You don’t have to pay for the bracelet. Or the scarf.” She sighed like one trying to make a difficult child understand. “Nothing in Awakening has a price. It’s already been paid.”
The older woman, Frigga, stood behind the stall and nodded with a wide smile across her face.
“But how…?” Finding the concept entirely bizarre, Revin was unable to form a proper question.
“Maeveen can explain it better than I,” Keely stated as if it would end the discussion. She fitted the band on Revin’s arm, then turned toward another stall. “If I remember correctly, Eailey has a headband that will match nicely.”
Revin stumbled behind the determined younger woman, unable to take her eyes off the extravagant bracelet.