The steam from the tea danced its way up through the air like a spinning ballerina and settled against Winna's nose as she inhaled the sweet scent of roses. Elder Fala hummed from the kitchen, preparing a meal for the two girls sitting beside one another; Winna staring at the wooden tea cup distantly and Mie trying her best to clean off the dirt from her friend's hand. Winna's blue eyes turned to the ancient woman who stirred the vast pot rhythmically, "What does it all mean, Elder Fala?"
As if she hadn't heard the question, Fala tasted the soup gingerly, smacking her lips lightly, "Hmm, it is still missing something....." Winna and Mie looked to one another confused as Fala snapped her fingers, inspired, "Quildge, that's what I need." Without wasting a moment, the experienced Whisperer reached to the open window and extended her wrinkled fingers. Winna watched, transfixed as a twisting vine crawled its way up the window sill and waited for instruction. Smiling softly, Elder Fala touched the vine's head gently as it split down the middle to reveal the tiny pod of herbs.
"Thank you," she said, brushing her hand away, dismissing the plant affectionately. Sprinkling the quildge herb into the mix, Fala took another sip and smiled, satisfied, "There we go, perfect." Mie continued to scrub until any trace of dirt was missing from Winna's pale fingers as two bowls of steaming soup were placed in front of them. Winna glanced at the food before Elder Fala slowly seated herself into the rounded out chair across from her, "Now, tell me everything that happened last night, Winna."
Hearing herself speak of the events which occured felt wrong, somehow. Like the entire encounter was meant to be secret between her and the wolf king, Vikas. But as she explained, Elder Fala's smile grew wider and Mie's eyes watered slightly at the tale of her friend's adventure. The softly creaking house exploded with life as the scent of nature's musk was thick in the walls. Several flowers bloomed in the many nooks and cracks of the corners; their deep purples and brillant yellows filling the cozy home with color. Winna's eyes flickered across the roses of bleeding crimson and purest white which were growing intertwined with the beams that held the structure secure.
"And that's when you found me." Winna finished, quietly reliving the encounter again in her memory. A bewildered gasp escaped Mie as her violet eyes sparkled wetly, "Oh Winna! I knew you would find your affinity! I knew it!" As Mie's fragile arms wrapped around her friend, Winna blinked heavily, finding herself trying to keep from falling into shock again. Tapping the bird like arms of her friend softly, Winna whispered, "So that's my affinity? Over the wolves of the forest?"
Mie smiled brightly, but shook a little, "Well what else could it be? Although I wish your affinity would be with a slightly less frightening animal." Winna smiled at her friend's worryas Elder Fala sipped her tea quietly, "I don't believe it is just over the wolves, my dear."
The confusion that filled the air was almost as thick as the scent of the blossoming sunflower on the north wall as Winna's dark eye brows pulled together, "What do you mean, Elder Fala? I don't understand." Setting her cup on the mahogany table, Elder Fala's gray eyes appeared more wise than ever as she held out a hand to her young student, "Winna, I want you to come with me." Eager to please her mentor, Winna rose and took the wrinkled hand gently as Fala led her to the storage room in the back of the house.
Among the various jars and viles of different plants and roots suspended in water and dirt was a medium sized, wooden box. Fala reached up shakily as Winna noticed her movements were more frail than she remembered as if the bones would snap with the barest amount of pressure. How much time did Elder Fala have left in this world? What would she do without her teacher? These thoughts troubled Winna's mind until her attention was drawn by the small squeaking escaping from the inside of the box.
Once she had set it on the sturdy table, Fala opened the lid to reveal a mound of fluffy cotton. The two girls watched carefully as the mountain of white moved and a tiny head popped out suspiciously. At the sight of the small mouse, Mie backed up, not quite caring for the rodent as Winna smiled softly. Fala reached her ancient hand into the make-shift nest and gently scooped up the protesting mouse, before holding her up for her student to examine, "Now, I want you to find out what is special about this mouse, my dear."
Winna looked to her with her classic inqusitive expression as Fala's gray eyes searched her's expectantely. Not quite understanding what was being asked of her, Winna twisted her head from the left to the right, conducting a through scan of the creature's movements, only to find a normal field mouse. Looking back to her mentor, Winna shrugged, "I don't see anything different." Nodding patiently, Fala took Winna's much younger and smoother hand into her own and slid the rodent into her care, "Try now."
Curling her nose slightly at the tickle of the creature's tiny feet against her skin, Winna cleared her throat, attempting to concentrate on something she had to find. "I really do think it is just a.....normal......wait......" Closing her oceanic eyes, Winna focused on the darkness as she had the night before with a much larger beast than the one in her palm. Searching around the mouse's anatomy, Winna raised a finger and gently set it on the white underside, "There is something there....."
"Concentrate, love, tell us what you see." Elder Fala's voice seemed far away, echoing against her mind as she breathed lightly, "I see a small twist. Like a pinch in its insides."
"All right, now what?"
Winna licked her lips, "I think I can get it......."Holding her breath and focusing on the interruption of the rodent's insides, Winna felt the same light she had last night. It twisted and filled her, warming her soul like the embrace of sunlight as she touched the pinch and felt a twinge of pain in her mind; not nearly as bad as the experience with Vikas, but not pleasant either. Shooting her eyes open, Winna struggled not to drop her patient as she stumbled backwards.
"Winna! Winna are you all right?!" Mie fussed as she attempted to steady her bewildered friend. Fala took the mouse from her palm and set it back on the table before reaching into the pocket of her tunic and retrieving a small piece of grain. The elderly woman placed the piece of barley in front of the mouse's nose and waited silentley. As the creature sniffed the air in an attempt to establish what just happened to its small body, the scent of food drew its attention as tiny paws came around the seed and equally small teeth broke open the hard shell for the prize within.
"Just as I thought." Fala whispered with much more certainly than Winna felt as she assured her fretting friend that no real harm was done, "I'm fine Mie, really. What's going on Elder Fala? What just happened?" The ancient woman turned around, wiping a salty tear from her steely eyes and grasped her student's hands firmly, "You have indeed found your affinity, my dear Winna. You will become one of the most powerful Whisperers Rinsha has seenin over seventy years. Your affinity is not with a specific aspect of nature, you are the healer of nature. I found that mouse three days ago and haven't been able to get it to eat a thing. There was something preventing it from digesting properly. You have healed it, my dear."
"Healing?" Winna repeated as Fala nodded, "Yes, my sweet child. The last Whisperer to have your affinity was someone very close to me. My sister, Brye, held the same look in her eyes that I've seen in you since you were born." A overwhelming feeling passed through the fifteen-year-old as the name settled on her like a weight, "Brye? The healer of nature?You are saying I will be like Brye someday?" As the question lingered in the air, Winna backed out of the storage room and fled through the rounded door.
Mie and Fala watched her depart as Mie's soft voice inquired, "What does this mean for Winna?" Elder Fala placed a hand on the pendant of the necklace which never left her possesion since the day her sister drew her last breath, "It means that Winna will be expected to become more than herself. Once word gets out that she is indeed the healer of nature, people and creatures alike will flock to her for their different ailments."
"Well that's a good thing, isn't it? Winna loves to help people." Mie asked as Elder Fala's eyes began to water again, "In theory yes, but what most will not understand is that every time Winna uses her affinity to heal someone, she will be taking that hurt into herself. That's why when she spoke of healing the wolf last night and how the pain errupted through her mind, I had the suspicion of her true calling. The balance will always be kept. You can't just expect something to come from nothing at all, a price must be established. Winna is not making the pain disappear, she is simply channeling it through the link she establishes with her mind and transferring it to herself. She can only do this so many times before it will begin to exhaust her."
"So you're saying that her affinity will harm her?" Mie asked horrified as Elder Fala sighed, "That is the price she will have to accept if she wishes to heed to her calling." As the words settled on the fragile girl, Mie turned her violet eyes toher wise teacher, "Elder Fala, this affinity.........will it kill her someday?"
There was a moment of silence before the ancient woman turned away from the door and left her horrified student shaking with a chill that came from no wind other than the promise of death in the air.
The village of Rinsha passedby in a whirl of color and life as Winna clawed desperately at the air to gain more speed. Several faces watched her pass with a look of concern before the fleeing girl found her legs could no longer support her frantic escape and she collapsed onto the grassy hill on the outskirts of the village. As her chest rose and fell heavily with her lungs' frantic search for oxygen, Winna's mind raced through the words exchanged between Elder Fala and herself.
She knew the story of Brye, the original healer of nature better than the rest of her classmates. As her heart pumped its life's blood, Winna closed her eyes and remembered the day she asked Elder Fala about the necklace she always wore.
"Elder Fala, where did you get that pretty necklace?" The nine-year-old Winna asked as she helped her mentor in the garden. The sunlight caught the pendant's blue surface and made it shine brillantly as the patient woman smiled, "This was a gift from my sister."
"You have a sister? I didn't know that!" Winna announced surprised by the new discovery, "Does she live outside the village?" Elder Fala smiled softly at the young girl's desire to learn all about the outside worlduntil the dull sadness filled her heart, "No, sweet girl, my sister found her place in paradise many years ago." Catching the error of her words, Winna bowed her head sadly, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything." Pulling at a stubborn root, Winna tried her best to pry it from the ground and ended up falling backwards with the wasted effort as a fresh cut met her hand from the bushes behind her.
"Are you all right?" Fala asked touching her student's small hand tenderly. The tiny girl tried her best not to cry as she nodded bravely, "I think I have a sliver in my palm." As the experienced woman tried her best to pull the invading sliver from Winna's soft skin, she attempted to distract her from the pain of the task, "My sister did this for me once. When I was about your age, in fact."
"Really?" Winna asked not able to picture her graceful teacher ever making any kind of blunder which would cause her to be in the same situation. As she slid the evil sliver from its hole, Elder Fala rubbed the skin gently, "Yes, she had a very special affinity for healing. Didn't matter what it was, Brye could fix it."
Relieved at the absence of pain, Winna smiled brightly, caught in the story, "That must have been nice. Then why isn't she here anymore. Couldn't she just heal herself?" The question was simple and truly expressed the way a child's mind works, but it still stung the elderly woman's heart as she replied, "Not all wounds can be fixed, my dear. Brye was called to heal a hurt that was far too great and the act ended her life. That's the price when you are the healer of nature."
So that is the life of a healer? Would she be called to experience the same destiny as her predecessor? Could she die to ease the pain of the people she loved? Allowing her weary eyes to open, Winna sat up and grazed her sights over the village she called home. Would that really be such a terrible way to die?
"Winna? Are you all right?" A voice broke the woman's concentration as she jumped at the intrusion of her privacy. Twisting around to place a face to the voice, Winna's eyes rested on the characteristic dark hair and impossible golden eyes of the boy before her, "Oh, Kaden, I didn't see you there." He shrugged slightly, "I haven't been here long." A cool breeze danced its way over the hillside as both classmates stared each other down, neither quite sure what to say.
"So....is something wrong? You seemed to be a little....perturped." Kaden asked as he sat down beside the girl he had known since infancy. As she pondered how to best answer his question, Kaden watched as the sunlight rested warmly in her locks of chestnut hair and made it seem to glow softly. A slight rush came to hisheart as she turned those dark eyes to look him dead on, "I feel selfish."
It took a moment for him to understand the words that escaped her seemingly perfect lips as he inquired, "Selfish? That wouldn't really be a word I would think of for you." The comment made Winna blush as she continued, trying her best not to notice at how the muscles in Kaden's arms seemed to be forming quite nicely, "You were there this morning. You saw what I was doing." Kaden nodded, "Yes, indeed I did. I knew you would find your affinity sooner or later. Funny though, I figured you would be much happier than you are now."
Winna shrugged, "I thought so too and I was until I figured out that my affinity isn't exactly a normal one. Kaden, have you ever heard the story about Elder Fala's sister, Brye?" As the warm sun carassed the trees like a welcoming friend, Kaden searched his memory for the person she was asking about, "Yes, if what I remember is correct, she was a great healer. She died though, didn't she?" The word ran an involuntary shiver down Winna's spine as she nodded, "Well, as it appears, I am going to be the next healer of nature."
The silence lingered as the seriousness of her words sunk in. Kaden glanced to Winna's delicate hands which he had seen work wonders long before the thought of any affinity came about. Whenever there was anything involving any kind of balance, whether it be herbs, music, growing things, Winna was a natural. Kaden had often felt envious of the way she seemed so connected with everything around her, where as he had to work so hard for any kind of balance in his thoughts. Considering all he knew, it seemed only natural that she would be a great healer and the fact that he hadn't thought of it ealier puzzled him, "So why is it you feel selfish? This really seems like a good fit for you."
"Because that is how Brye died, Kaden. She was called to heal a wound greater than the energy within her and it killed her. What if when the word gets out, I'm faced with the same decision? Am I selfish in thinking that I would consider choosing my own life instead of the person asking? Does that make me a terrible person?" Hearing the worries of her heart expressed so openly, Kaden felt a twinge of hurt in himself as he took in the image of the girl beside him, "I don't think you could be a terrible person if you tried, Winna."
The words struck her as Winna turned her eyes to the two pools of melted honey beside her. Kaden smiled sheepishly as he continued, "I've known you for a while now and no matter what, you always put other people's needs before your own. Most people wouldn't even consider giving up their lives for someone else and the fact that you are concerned with it, shows that you would be willing to make that choice if you had too. If you weren't worried, then I would think you were foolish. So you see, you are extraordinary Winna and I admire you for your courage."
As an echo of a nearby bird filled the air with its song, Winna tried to wrap her mind around the words that Kaden had said and even more so, the look in his eyes as he was truly looking at her. "Kaden....I....."
"And what do we have here?"