The smell of amber and spice thickened the air, dancing on the breeze as it twisted around the trees. Winna closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of summer time as it flowed through her window with a smile. This was truly the best time of the year.
"Winna, are you ready yet?" Lena's voice called around the corner as the eighteen-year-old finished clipping her hair back, "Yes mother, I'm done." There was a quiet knock before her mother made her entrance, hands on her delicate hips, "It's about time. Ah, how beautiful you look." Winna stood from her bedroom mirror and spun slowly, allowing her crimson dress to flare out a bit, "You think so? I feel like something is missing."
Abunding with motherly wisdom, Lena took her daughter's hand and led her to her own bedroom. Winna's blue eyes scanned through the different pictures she had drawn as a child for her parents and smiled as Lena proudly displayed every one, no matter the lack of skill. Tonight she wouldn't be a child anymore, tonight she would take her last step into the adult world and there was no part of her that felt ready. Lena pulled out the drawer of the jewelry box which her husband had skillfully carved years ago. Reaching inside, she gently pulled out one of her most prized posessions and held it to the light.
"Oh mother, I can't accept that!" Winna protested as Lena smiled patiently, "Why not?It's an important night for you. This necklace gave me luck for my first dance, hopefully you will have the same experience I did when I met your father. Please turn around." Pulling her long hair past her shoulders, Winna gasped as the gorgeous stone, which matched the blood red color of her dress, rested expectantly between her collar bones.
"There, now you are perfect." Lena said turning her daughter towards the full length mirror. Winna reached a tenative hand to the smooth gem and tried to recognize the woman before her. Chestnut hair tumbled down her back in gentle waves, framing her porcelain face with long, soft lashes that complimented the deep ocean blue of her eyes. As promised by nature, supple curves had developed as the deep red dress fitted gloriously to her. All these things wove the makings of a beautiful, experienced woman, but Winna felt like neither of these.
"Am I ready for this, mother?" Winna whispered, surprised when the girl in the reflection copied her movements. Lena squeezed her shoulder gently, "Of course you are. You're eighteen this year, that means the Midnight Ball is for you to join in with the rest of us. You become a woman when you dance with a partner tonight. It was where I met your father and many of my friends found their mates as well. Anyone you have your eye on?"
There was a blush to her cheeks, "No, I haven't really noticed anyone in particular." As if her daughter's denial was childish, Lena kissed her cheek patiently dismissing her,"Are you coming with us or by yourself?" Winna ran her eyes down her mother's much less fancy dress and shook her head, "No, I have to go over and pry Mie from her house. She's so nervous that her parents haven't been able to make her eat anything for days."
Lena patted her face affectionately, "Well, good luck with that. We'll see you there." Winna nodded and smiled as she made her way out the door. When she had made it a few steps out, Winna didn't miss how her father came through the back door and bent to kiss his wife lovingly, complimenting her on her dress for the evening. It made her heart warm to see them so happy together. Her mother and father were a perfect match, happily married for twenty years. The nervous fluttering in her stomach lifted once more as she remembered her mother's words.
The Midnight Ball was the last step into adulthood for a village girl. Much like the Harvest, this was an event the whole village celebrated, but only a select few could fully participate. With the coming of the summer season, a vast party was thrown yearly including food, music and of course the much anticipated Midnight Waltz. This dance occured when the children of Rinsha had closed their tired eyes and only the adults were left to their festivities. You had to be eighteen to dance with the other members of the village and this year, the young healer would be amongst the ranks.
As she turned to Mie's humble home, she knocked on the front door lightly when Mie's mother answered, "Grace the morning, Winna. You look so lovely!" Winna smiled at her compliment, "Embrace the evening Shinie. Thank you very much. Is Mie ready to leave?" Shinie shook her head, "I'm afraid it will take an act of sheer force to drag her from her room. I believe she is getting ready, but neither myself or her father can convince her to step out. I'm worried that she'll miss the experience all together!"
Winna smiled and began her climb up the stairs, "Don't worry, she won't miss her dance. I'll just have to use some brute strength if need be." Shinie took her husband's arm and allowed him to escort her as Winna knocked on Mie's door, "Come on Mie, it's time to go."
"I'm not going.....I can't!" Mie sounded close to tears as Winna took a breath and stepped into the room, "Come on now, it can't be that bad." Winna searched the room for her friend when she laid eyes on the auburn curls hiding behind a large screen, "I just can't be seen in this. There is so little of it!" Winna rested a hand on the folding screen and pulled it back to reveal the shy girl crossing her arms over her chest. With a bright smile, she laughed lightly, "What's the problem? You made it sound like you were wearing a towel or something."
Mie's violet eyes turned up to her as she blushed furiously, "I might as well be! Look at this thing my mother made me. How can she consider herself my role model when she forces me into dresses like this?" Winna unfolded her friend's arms to get a full look of the dress. Shinie was very good with fabrics and the dress fitted Mie beautifully, "What are you talking about? You look lovely." She gently grabbed her shoulders and turned her towards the mirror, "You see that? That is a very pretty lady."
Mie looked away shyly as Winna tried not to laugh at her upset. There was nothing indecent about the gown other than it wasn't the layers Mie loved to hide underneath. Shinie had woven together a mixture of threads to make a shimmering gold color with a sash across the waist to match. It brought out the red in her hair and the beautiful violet of her eyes. Winna grabbed her hand and pulled her from the safety of the room as Mie complained loudly, "No! Please don't do this! Don't make me go outside in this thing!"
"We are going and that's final! You aren't going to miss out on the Midnight Ball because you're shy. Think of all the boys who will be heart broken not to dance with you; especially Skyner." At the mention of the boy's name, a furious blush shot to Mie's cheeks. While it was true that in the past he had picked on the girls and teased them along with Seto, Skyner had broken away from the trio of bullies and had expressed intrest in Mie before. He was the card Winna held in her pocket to get Mie to agree to anything.
Music lifted into the air as the setting sun cast an orange hue over the village of Rinsha. Excited children ran and chased each other, carrying candies and treats. The Elders were seated in special chairs away from the rest of the villagers with Elder Fala smiling serenely at the people she loved so much. Winna pulled Mie along, her own excitement growing with the familiar sights and smells of the Midnight Ball. She waved to her parents who spoke with some family friends. Both her's and Mie's mother were in much more simple dresses than their daughters, but this was customary as well. This night was for the young couples and there for, all the attention was to be on the newcomers.
"Winna! Mie! You look wonderful!" Rita yelled as she flowed over to them gracefully. Winna greeted the fellow Whisperer who wore a feather light dress of pure white. Rita was in her twenties, but never chose to be with a man; this was odd, but not unheard of. They chatted about the weather and the different events this celebration promised as Mie clung desperately to Winna's arm the entire time. Rita turned her eyes to the shivering girl and smiled warmly, "And what is this I've heard about you and that Skyner boy? I hear he has taken quite an interest in our young Mie."
The very mention of his name sent Mie into an anxiety attack as Winna patted her arm soothingly, "You might want to take a breath, love. Because he is coming this way." Mie barely managed to keep her feet planted as a boy with hair the color of the sun weaved his way in and out of the crowd to their side, "Good evening ladies. You all look beautiful. Hello Mie....." He smiled ashy smile towards her which made her dig her nails into Winna's arm, "Good....good evening Skyner....."
He bowed slightly, "I hope to see you at the Midnight Waltz, I know I'll be looking forward to it. Well, until then, Rita, Winna.....Mie......" He smiled and left when Mie let out the breath she had been holding. Winna laughed and steadied her, "Are you going to faint?" The bird-like girl breathed heavily, "I may, I don't know how you could call yourself my friend and let me stay here a moment longer." Rita put an arm around her shoulders and began to drag her away, "Why don't we get a drink dear? Leave Winna a moment to herself?"
"But why would we do that?" Mie protested loudly as Rita motioned to a group of villagers, "Because it seems like the young healer of nature's work is never done." Winna sighed slightly, but recovered her best face and turned to greet the group of about four villagers.
"Winna, I've been having a terrible stomach ache as of two days ago. Could you do something for it?" An elderly man asked hopefully as Winna smiled softly, "I'll see what I can do." With that, the now more experienced healer placed one hand on the man's shoulder and the other on his stomach, listening intently. There was a pull towards the bottom of the organ and Winna focused her energy into the problem which turned out to be nothing more than indigestion. There was a pinch and a twist in her own stomach as she relieved the pain.
"Oh, thank you Winna! That's much better." The man smiled peacefully as Winna nodded to the next pair of waiting patients. She recognized the doe-eyed woman and sturdy husband from her dealings at the fruit shop they ran. The woman held out her hand, "Winna, please, we need your help. Our little girl is sick with fever. We brought her here for you to heal, if you would." Winna's blue eyes turned down and focused on the sleeping child in her father's strong arms.
Feeling a swell of pity in her heart, Winna stepped forward and brushed a cool hand across the child's damp forehead, "Good evening, little one. I'm going to make everything all right." With that, she closed her eyes and focused, gently running her fingers through the girl's wet hair. This wasn't a normal fever, she had an infection in her blood and her body was trying desperately to burn it off. Inhaling deeply, trying to remember her training, Winna stretched her affinity with pain and felt as the light from her soul poured over the little one in gentle waves.
There was a quiet moment as she bit her lip from the slow burn that was being absorbed into her own skin as the infection slowly began to dissipate. With everything she had, Winna remained standing as the little girl's eyes opened to reveal bright spots of green. They shone intense against the setting sun as her smile widened, "You're the healer."
"Yes, sweetness, I am." Winna replied trying her best not to show how dizzy she felt. The fully healed child hugged her parents tightly as her mother thanked Winna profusely. With a grace that was instinct rather than choice, Winna nodded and excused herself from the happy scene. It wasn't until she safely escaped around a corner of a large tent that the young Whisperer panted heavily, an over-whelming feeling of nausea filling her mind.It seemed as if the air was suddenly thick with moisture as she stepped back weakly, not quite feeling the ground beneath her.
"Breathe, Winna, just breathe." She whispered to herself and it wasn't until she felt two arms come behind her that she was aware she was falling.