It smelled like spring.
Things had smells. Each smell varied. The scent of the world was presently spring.
The girl breathed it in. Such a word. Spring. With such a smell. After months of ice and snow that chilled the very breath spring was intoxicating, wine she could gulp down until her mind spun and her body relaxed into a stupor.
She opened her eyes. She was met by green. Constant green, perfect green, green everywhere. Spring green for spring was green. Leaves, grass, even the water. She took another breath. Her belly filled with air. She held it for a moment, then slowly released it. No on getting drunk on spring air. The spring already pulled her mind and soul; if she went any deeper, she would be lost.
A silly fear that deserved a laugh, one that broke her from the concentration. Someone descending so deep into the other world they were lost forever. Though one couldn't deny legends existed. She had been warned about it, at least, and a warning was nothing to shrug off. Especially a warning from someone like Vomitia.
Vomitia had died exactly three springs ago.
One should never underestimate the power of three. Things good and evil came in threes. There was never anything between.
The girl laughed again. Already she had lost focus. Why had she come out here in the first place? To commemorate Vomitia's death? To descend into nature magic she could barely navigate because her mentor's heart had given out three years before? To see just how stupid she could be with nature magic?
No matter, either way. Her focus had wavered, laughter had brought her out so that the waving mass of green before began to resemble real things. Reality. Boring, mundane reality, the kind only the rest of the island's brutes could handle.
She breathed in again. No hate, no bitterness, no matter how mad they all drove her. Focus on one thing. Focus. Lose yourself. Everything Vomitia had taught her.
Her body tingled. She hated that, the sensation of blood, muscles ready to tense again, the jerk back from that other world her mind liked to touch. She was back in the real world; specifically, the little gorge a mile past Raven Point where the water collected into a perfect pool and the animals felt the need to mate.
And it was green. How perfect that word was, just as wonderful as the word spring. The color darkened with the setting sun.
Her breath drew short. How long had she sat by the pool? She sprung to her feet, skirt catching under her boots. She tumbled into the grass with an unattractive "oof".
So much for the grace a wise woman was supposed to possess. She could lose herself for an entire day, not moving a muscle, and as a reward those muscles betrayed her every chance they had. That, or she could accept the description of clumsy. Petite, short, and clumsy. That was her.
The girl clambered through the rocks, silently cursing herself for coming out so far and dawdling for long. Even then she wanted nothing more to linger, touch every cool crevice of each boulder, take in every sight and sign of spring.
Vomitia had always said magic was renewed after the long winter. Spring was lousy with it. Growing, life, birth, it was all there.
But she couldn't. She was to be back in Berk by nightfall. Everyone was to be there. An overly cautious rule, perhaps, but one that had been in stern effect ever since that man had been torn to pieces by a Deadly Nadder fourteen years before. Safety was in numbers, and those safe numbers were in the boundaries of the village where one could count on a meathead capable of operating a catapult to handle a dire dragon incident.
At least she wasn't the only one to be late. She burst from the woods above the village to see teenagers sprinting across the fields and from the docks to their homes, and even a few men anxiously trying to herd their sheep before it was too dark. Daylight grew with each spring day, but already the sun was but a thin burning line on the horizon with its shadows spilt over the ocean like tar from which that sun burned.
Dragons loved night. Like everyone else in Berk, she spent a moment each evening wondering if this would be a night for dragons to make their move. The village couldn't go too long without an attack. It wasn't natural. It would have thrown everyone off their schedules.
She hated thinking such thoughts. They were dragons, they attacked, they stole food, they burned buildings. Was it such a huge thing to accept and move on? Still, her thumb rubbed the ring on her finger. She should have more reason to wonder and fear than most.
As clumsy as she was, she could run. She had always prided herself on that. Perhaps it was her small size. Perhaps the wind helped her. She could twist among the paths of the village with ease, dodging people a step within crashing. When she was younger she had made that into a game; now at eighteen years of age she was a little more mature.
She pushed open the door of her home. The warmth of the hearth was startling against the coolness of the spring night, and the light made it as if she were stepping from a dying fire into a growing one. She closed her eyes against the hearth heat. Fire. Warmth. Life. Protection. Never mind its ability to kill. Fire was tamable.
"Gothi," her mother said from her chair where she sat stitching. "You're home." There was no anger in her voice, just the quiet kindness accompanying acknowledgment.
Gothi nodded and sunk into a chair. Interesting-looking, twisted, very strong. Her father made furniture. He could make anything of wood, and his talent was an art form. He saw things in wood others did not see. Beauty. And the chair sat in the perfect circle of light from the fire. Light in darkness.
She laughed silently to herself. Maybe she hadn't broken from that trance. She still thought in pretty phrases.
"I'm sorry," she said to her mother. "I… I lost track of time. I didn't notice the sun."
Her mother nodded. Her blue eyes were focused on her stitching. "It's fine. Just be back before dark. You know the rules."
"Vomitia died three years ago." Gothi didn't know why she had to say it, but say it she did. A mere anniversary as an excuse to a woman who didn't mind what her crazy daughter did.
"I assumed as much." A log burst in the fire, and sparks crackled though the air. The effect was like fireflies. "It's a difficult day for you. You're entitled to a few difficult days."
Gothi sighed and pulled at her braids. She had returned to that girlish style months before. It seemed appropriate, and no one had commented, though the stares had not been few. "I have my difficult days. I have more than my share."
"You were her apprentice," her mother continued, as if her daughter had not spoken a word. "You were close to her. And then she died, leaving you—"
"Half-trained," Gothi finished dryly. It had been a loss, a tragic loss. Even the dumbest overmuscled idiot of Berk knew that. Wisdom of two centuries, gone with the last breath of a dying woman. There had even been something of an uproar, people panicking and begging neighbors for tips of remedies and wisdom that Gothi had always figured everyone should know.
"She meant to tell you more, you know. Her grandson said she had been compiling a book for you, everything she knew that she figured was worth passing on."
"I know, Mother." She had heard that story a hundred times. An unfinished book of rumor was useless to her. Had Vomitia really made such a thing? Why would she? Had she truly been expecting a heart attack? She had been elderly and sickly, but she was the village elder and should have made it a little longer in life because of silly idealism if nothing else. Pages of parchment had been found, jotted with notes of things interesting that Gothi had of course absorbed, but little else. Besides, the lore was practical, not meant for being trapped in a book. Common sense, most of it was. And then the magic.
Sometimes the thought of all that she had not learned was frustrating. No, the thought was always frustrating.
Prior to three years ago all had been well. She was the acolyte of the village elder, learning everything a wise woman should know, betrothed to a good, hardworking man.
Gothi watched her mother, who was absorbed into the beautifully simple task of putting needle and thread through cloth. Homemaking, gentleness, a necessity to daily life. She should be soothed by it.
But instead her temper was smoldering inside her. Vomitia had always warned her about that. Passions and emotions however wild were fine, but were to be kept in check.
The day had been good. She had been lost in that other world, happy, blissful.
But night had come. She was home in her parent's household, a young widow, and responsible for filling a village position for which she had not enough training.