This is an excerpt from the novel I started writing in 2015 for NaNoWriMo. It is not finished, it is not line edited, and this is in no way reflective of what will be the final version whenever I get around to editing and finishing it. However, I'm sharing cause reasons.
This novel follows Leif, a young man who has to leave his homeland on a sort of customary pilgrimage. As he journeys in a strange new land, he meets friends, enemies, and a war-fueled conflict that he is ill-prepared to deal with.
Bright rays of light peeking past the crevices of the shoddy curtain were what finally caused Leif to stir. He remained laying upon his bedding for some time still though, staring at the ceiling unthinking. Perhaps he’d be more frantic or thoughtful had this been a regular day of his life, but as it stood it was not. This would be the day he’d be departing his town for parts unknown, on a quest he was to find out at sunset.
The quests were a matter of tradition for Leif’s people, serving as a rite of passage after a child had survived to see a full twenty season cycles. Each season, a group of qualifying youth was sent out into the world, each given a different task to complete to prove they were worthy and honorable members to be a part of the town. Such a fact was simply a part of Leif’s life, so he had numerous seasons to contemplate the inevitability of the departure that laid before him. He certainly could not say whether he was actually ready or not to survive in the world far from his town, but the choice was quite out of his hands.
As he laid lazily amongst the soft furs of his bed, the sound of bustling outside ever increased. It was a clear sign that the festivities of the afternoon that preceded the giving of the quests were in full preparation mode. A feeling of guilt arose in Leif somewhat at the picture, as it was normally the duty of every town member to pitch in. Even the children of the town were expected to do little tasks here or there, such as setting the tables or helping with the food. Yet, he was forced to squash this guilt down; as part of the tradition, he was supposed to be spending the day reflecting on his past and future, preparing what he could in ignorance the necessities he would need for his trip, and thanking the Divine Ancestors for their guidance.
Once Leif’s muscles begged for a change of position, he finally deemed it time to get up. While he did not have any idea how he was supposed to reflect, he certainly could finish up his preparations for leaving. He stretched, his joints cracking a bit, and made his way over to his wash basin. To his surprise, the water was clean and fresh, signs that his mother had taken the liberty to replace the water for him this day. He looked down at his reflection in the water, making out his shaggy, red hair easily despite the dimness of the image. It was, though, acceptable in appearance as far as he was concerned.
Leif grabbed a bottle of the oils he kept nearby and generously splashed some onto his hand. He massaged it into his face vigorously, his palms scratching some light stubble of the beard that could never seem to grow. With oils thoroughly ingrained into his face, Leif splashed water from the basin onto himself, scrubbing in intervals to make sure he was perfectly clean for the day ahead. Satisfied and feeling refreshed from the task, he grabbed his fur jacket and put it on, the spring not yet quite warm enough to chase away the harshest of the winter nip.
With morning routine complete, Leif headed over to the corner of his room where he had been keeping a neat pile of necessities for his journey. He began an inspection, taking inventory of what he had and did not yet have. There was rope, his backpack, a few knives, and the list of what he had really already gathered went on to the point of over-preparation, or so his younger sister had stated. She had also been happy to remind him several of the other youth had not even intended to start preparing until that day. To be honest, he did not quite believe her, as there was no reason for the others who would be leaving with him on their own quests to tell her that. Yet, a part of Leif wondered if he was putting too much thought into everything, or if deep down he was perhaps eager.
As it was, though, Leif’s thoughts overtook him and he did not hear the padding of feet behind him.
“Leif,” said a soft, feminine voice of wisdom that entered his ear, causing him to jump a bit.
“Mother. I…didn’t hear you come in.” Leif replied short of breath, as he looked over his shoulder at the newly entered presence.
Leif’s mother smiled slightly, her blonde braid resting neatly on her shoulder. Her broad shoulders and rather fit form stood in an imposing manner in the door, and also served as a striking contrast to the gentle aura she permeated. In her hands she held her mortar and pestle, which she was using to carefully grind an herb into a green paste for one of her healing concoctions. All in all, the imagery was something that completely characterized his mother to Leif, and he felt it was a rare time to see her in any other manner.
“I hope you’ll remember to be more aware of your surroundings after you’ve left,” his mother stated in a somewhat scolding, but light tone.
“Of course. I have every intention of coming back alive. I was even just checking over my supplies. That’s why I was lost in thought.”
“Didn’t we check them over together last night? We were sure you had everything you could so far. Do you doubt the word of your own mother?”
“No, ma’am. I just want to be sure.”
“Leif, you do not even know what task will befall you, nor will you leave until the sun rises in the sky tomorrow. There will be time yet to add more.”
The statement somehow stunned Leif, and a bitterness coated his tongue preventing words. Despite being on his twentieth year now, the words of his mother still made him feel like a helpless child. Doubts always began to coat his brain, wondering if he was truly even ready for the journey he was about to be sent on. Even if he had no choice, it was truly a struggle to steel his confidence back whenever he and his mother discussed his departure. Only her words truly had such a deep effect on him.
“Leif, are you going to have breakfast? I saved you something,” his mother began, pausing thoughtfully, now with a creased brow that Leif could not determine the cause of. “You slept so long though, the festivities may begin by the time you finish.”
“No, that’s, umm, okay. I’ll fast until the festivities. There’s always a lot of food, and this year I’ll get my pick first,” Leif mumbled, his stomach suddenly feeling heavy as if it had only existed just now.
“Then, will you do your mother a favor?”
“Yes. Of course. Anything you need.”
Without another word his mother disappeared back into the living area of their modest house, only to return with a pouch that smelled of sea and mint. She held the pouch out to Leif, which he took with care and curiosity. He turned the pouch over for a moment, before turning large eyes to his mother in question.
“I want you to take this to the Storm Ancestor’s shrine and give it as offering, Leif,” his mother said clearly and slowly, to make sure her instructions were clear.
“The Storm Ancestor? Today is to honor our War Ancestor, mother,” Leif said with a slightly higher pitch, as if to enunciate this seemed somewhat blasphemous.
“The War Ancestor will receive all the blessings he can handle tonight. It was also not the War Ancestor who I prayed to for your safe birth. One offering to the Storm Ancestor will not cause the Last Times to reign upon us.”
“I…suppose not,” Leif stuttered out, with no confidence written into his voice. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his mother’s mouth frown, prepared to scold him. This was certainly an unwanted situation, so Leif cleared his throat to make sure his next statement had more firmness. “I understand, mother. I will do as you ask.”
“Good. Thank you, Leif. I would do this myself, but….there’s just something else I must do.”
A smile returned to his mother’s face, making Leif feel relieved and calmed that at least he could feel helpful to someone for the day. As if by reflex, Leif grabbed one of his sheathed knives that he was leaving home for his sister, and inserted it firmly into his boot.
“I will make haste then, mother. Farewell.”
Leif and his mother exchanged a nod, before Leif exited the house with a determined stride. Of all the shrines, the Storm Ancestor’s was perhaps the furthest from Leif’s house. Really, that was the case for most of the townsfolk, as the shrine sat far on the edge of the village where only the fisherman lived. It was, though, the most ideal place for the Storm Ancestor’s shrine, as this edge of the town also bordered the ocean, one of the main dominions the Ancestor watched over. Despite the distance, Leif felt a little glad that his time would be occupied with a task of some sort.
As he meandered through his town, he was a bit disappointed no one in particular stopped to talk to him. While certainly a few of the older residents nodded an acknowledgement toward him, everyone hustled all around, carrying dishes, pots, decorations, and all sorts of miscellaneous that would be for the festivities. Leif had considered greeting a few of the residents, but had nothing in particular to force even small-talk. Thus, he kept on his lonely trek to the shrine.
Wood structure after wood structure passed Leif on his way, some being regular houses, and others serving as community buildings for gathering and merriment. Most of the buildings near the center of the town were old looking, but well-maintained by some of the master builders of their people. As Leif traveled further out, however, he noticed a decay in the quality. Certainly, the workmanship was superb, but builders had a much more difficult time seeing to the buildings of those further out. Of course, the exception were the shrines, which always took priority over any other structure in the town.
The fact shrines took priority truly made the Storm Ancestor’s shrine stand-out, as Leif saw already despite still being a good distance from the shrine. The shrine had been built on a high outcrop that rested overlooking the beach. A few of the fishermen houses rested at the base of the outcrop, and near the beginning of the slope to ascend the outcrop as well. The fishermen houses were fairly identifiable from the distance Leif was at too, if only because the wood had darkened with age and stood out against the green and rock backdrop. Comparatively, though, the Storm Ancestor’s shrine was made of a rich, beige wood, that looked as if it had only been used in construction yesterday. It was a rather odd sight, though at least one Leif was not unfamiliar with.
The climb to the shrine was relatively easy, though Leif recalled the most ancient of their elders often needed assistance in order to reach the top. For a child too, as Leif recalled the seasons past of his life, the climb could be a challenge just for the sheer length and the inability of children to pace themselves. Fortunately for most children, unlike Leif, the Divine Ancestors who granted their birth had easier to reach shrines.
As Leif arrived at the shrine, he noted how much smaller it always seemed as the season cycles went on. All the shrines were modest structures of wood, being about a full-grown person laying down in length on each side. The structure was always a perfect square, with a thickly made fur curtain that shielded the shrine’s innards from the harshness of the outside world. While the inside of the shrines varied to a degree, particularly depending on which Divine Ancestor they were dedicated to, there were a few features that were universal across all the shrines. Each shrine would always contain a small table that had a few candles and a bowl for offerings. At the very back of the shrine from the entrance stood a child-sized effigy of the relevant Divine Ancestor, made from one of the precious metals rare to Leif’s people. All in all, it was a rather simplistic setup, but the Divine Ancestors were practical if anything.
Upon entering the shrine, Leif made note that he smelled nothing but a faint hint of the outside sea air. This was a very steep contrast to the other shrines of the Divine Ancestors, which usually had the fragrant smell of some offering that had been left. A brief tinge of sadness embraced Leif’s heart, though deep down he hoped the lack of smell was simply because it was the day of the War Ancestor. Nevertheless, Leif was happy to see the Storm Ancestor was not so ignored the shrine was barren. From strings attached the ceiling hung seashells of all sorts, which complimented the wall decorations which were a variety of decorations made of seaweed, sea-glass, and colored sand. There was enough character to the shrine that would please the Divine Ancestor, or so Leif hoped anyway.
Shaking himself from his admiring and strange thoughts, Leif set to work on the task that had been set before him. Dropping to his knees in front of the table with a loud plod, Leif gently took the pouch his mother gave him and set it into the offering bowl. He searched beside the table and found the skin that contained the special fire liquid needed for a proper offering. Leisurely, he doused the pouch with the liquid before returning the skin to where he had found it.
For a moment after, he paused trying to remember the proper lines used for the Storm Ancestor when making an offering. A tinge of embarrassment colored his face since these were always one of the basic skills taught to children, but he’d always struggled with remembering such lines. Truthfully, he doubted the ever forgiving Divine Ancestors would really care about the words spoken, but he would rather do it proper than risk their wrath. As his memory of them began to resurface, he silently mouthed the lines until he felt through muscle memory that it was the correct saying. With a gargle from his throat and his hands together, Leif set to work.
“Ancestor who conquered the storms with honor,
Who became of the Storm itself, heed me:
This I humbly offer and beseech you to take,
And may you bless those you guide with boon
of rain to feed and thunder to smite.”
Digging in one of the pouches Leif had attached to his clothes, he pulled out his flint and steel. He struck it a few times with precision and practice, until the sparks finally encouraged the fire liquid to alight. A burst of blue flame engulfed the pouch in the offering bowl, and Leif watched in a mild fascination as the offering was quickly turned to ashes within a few minutes. While certainly it was never the first or last fire Leif would ever see, the special formulas of the fire liquid used for offerings were always a spectacle to behold. However, at Leif’s age, the fascination dwindled upon the last sputtering of the flame, and he soon found himself on his feet.
Leif stepped outside of the shrine and looked upon the surrounding area. The smell of food wafted across the air, telling him that preparations for the festivities had gone much quicker than he anticipated. If he took his time going back, he may even conveniently arrive back at his house for the beginning. Feeling ready to return, he began a casual stride back to the more crowded parts of the town, taking a brief glance back at the Storm Ancestor’s shrine. Of course, it was still the same as it had been.
Loud music and chatter traveled through the entire village as the festivities began in earnest. Food was being served right and left, from thick slabs of red meat to boiled cabbage. The grand hall had little room for movement, being filled to the brim, and the outside was no better as the sheer amount of turnout always required extra tables to be set up outside. The clanking of bowls on the tables as people consumed their food meandered with the other sounds, as did the always present loud chugging from the sheer amount of mead served. If ever there was a time for using the excuse of not being able to concentrate, these sorts of gatherings in the grand hall were for them.
Leif found himself awkwardly sat for the first (and probably last time) at the back table of the grand hall. His mind was been whirling from the sheer abruptness of finding himself there, not even being in the thicker parts of the town before being ushered over there. To either side of him sat other youth who were of their 20th season cycle, nine in total if he included himself. While not the largest ever recorded, it was an unusually high number for one send-off. For some, this certainly boded well as tasks could be relatively easier because of the number that had to be given. On the other hand, socially speaking, there was far less honor to be had for tasks presumed to be lesser.
Regardless, though, Leif forced his thoughts aside of the actual rite aside. Skipping breakfast had truly done a number on his stomach, and he found himself eating more quickly than he usually did. The food was not the best it had been, but to a starving young man it would keep. In between bites he often glanced at the others of his table, and noticed that most seemed rather quiet. Two of the boys, whose names Leif did not know, sat to his left at the end of the table, chatting as if the festivities were no prelude to something serious. Another girl who was nearer the center on his right, also chatted away, though her immediate tablemates seemed to only pretend to listen to humor her.
The observations of Leif’s rite group did nothing to truly ease his mind, as none of these people he knew really well. Feeling somewhat out of place, he glanced around the room and spotted his mother easily, particularly since she was allowed to sit fairly close to the back table. To her side was his sister, his junior by five years, looking as bubbly and optimistic as ever. It struck him by surprise for a moment that she had opted not to sit with her friends, but then imagined that his mother must have asked her to stay by her side because of the occasion. Seeing them together made him a bit jealous, though he knew it was from the sheer amount of loneliness and pressure he was feeling.
As he ate, his thoughts drifted back to the winter that had just passed, when one of his closest friends had left on his rite of passage. Elvar had been the eldest of his closest friends, thus the first to leave. Of all Leif’s friends, Elvar was perhaps the best fighter and, to the opinion of many in the town, the best looking. Truthfully, Elvar had struggled with other tasks, like fishing and gathering, but they were flaws he covered up well. Consequently, of Leif’s friends, Elvar had seem the most capable for beginning his rite of passage. On the day of the festivities Leif had recalled staring up often at Elvar who sat upon the back table. Elvar was his usual self: charismatic, social-able, and brave. It was truly easy to tell from the other two people in Elvar’s group, who seemed relieved beyond belief to have Elvar at their table. Even upon the next day Elvar had waved energetically from the boat he left in, making the rite look as if he was taking a brief fishing trip and would be back in a season’s time.
Yet, as Leif now sat at the back table himself, he wondered if, like his flaws, Elvar had simply been covering all the fear up. While advice on the rite always varied in the town, the one piece that was always consistent was the sentiment no one was ever ready. Truly, it was the point of the rite to supply the readiness that a young person would need to be a full adult of the people. Perhaps, Elvar had taken the sentiment more to heart than Leif had, and was trying to project the lack of worry so it would be believably. At present, though, Leif regretted not having asked Elvar more before he had left.
Long into the festivities did Leif’s memories dwell on Elvar, perhaps as a sort of comfort that his friend was still somewhere out in the world Leif would be heading to. Conversation at the table remained mostly the same, in the sense there was mostly silence, whispers, and eating besides the identified select few. As the sun started to dip into the horizon, though, Leif was jarred to attention by the sounds of several horns blowing. People in the grand hall and outside slowly dulled their chatter to a whisper, bowls and cups abandoned on the table in the increasing silence. Leif felt himself stiffen to sit up in the straightest manner he imagined he ever had, while at the same time his hair stood on end.
Amongst the silencing of the crowd, a burly man approached the back table. He was covered in thick furs, and a scraggly black beard covered his face in almost the same manner. Atop his head sat his steel helmet, that had scratches all about, and evidence of bumps hammered out of it. Truly, there was no mistaking Chief Hrafn for anybody else in the village, for if the characteristics didn’t identify him, his overbearing presence stood out even more than Leif’s mother did to him. Following the chief were two women, one who was master of the festivities, and another who served as the Magus of the War Ancestor. Neither was as overbearing as the chief, but their stances demanded an equal respect and valor.
Once the chief reached the back table, he shone a proud smile to Leif and his fellows, one that never wore out no matter how many times the chief would perform his own role at the festivities. After seeming to assess the table, Hrafn turned to the rest of the grand hall, puffing his chest out. As if a silent message had been sent, the master of festivities clanged two empty mugs she was holding, the metal of them reverberating loudly in the room.
“Shut up ya lot!” the chief suddenly bellowed, silencing the few murmurs that had all but remained traveling through the grand hall. Once the silence was assured, the master ceased clanging the mugs together as well, and a tense and anticipating silence took over.
“My honored warriors, my good friends, let’s delay no further,” the chief began with all the grandeur his speeches always contained. “On this day of spring we come together to celebrate yet another batch of our youth. All brave young lads and lasses, ready to prove their honor to our Divine Ancestors and to us, their comrades-in-arms!”
Yells and cheers began to erupt, as well as thunderous clapping at the chief’s words. A light pink tinge covered Leif’s face, as somehow the attention seemed more overwhelming then it had ever seen from the other side of the ceremony. The chief guffawed at the crowd’s enthusiasm, while the master of the festivities began clanking the mugs together to preemptively restore order once again. After a few moments, silence once again returned to the room and the chief cleared his throat to continue.
“Truly, this will be the greatest test they have yet faced. This rite of passage has been completed by us, by our forefathers, and even by our Divine Ancestors. There is no purer test of honor, nor a more thorough test for preparing our youth for the lives they will live. Should they return successful, they will take their honored place at our sides. And, even if they should fall on this quest, their sacrifices will be remembered!”
More cheering erupted into the hall again, this time somehow even louder. For a moment, Leif could even swear he saw the walls of the grand hall vibrate from the sheer noise level that the town could muster. The familiar clanging of the master’s mugs returned, though this time the chief stepped aside so the Magus of the War Ancestor could take center stage.
“Please, beloved townsfolk, a moment of silence so the words may be said,” the Magus enunciated loudly, the sound just barely louder than the crowd. Slowly the mass calmed, and once satisfied, the Magus put her hands up into the air and looked skyward.
“Ancestor who conquered all wars with honorable victory,
hear now the people you guide with glory.
In your name we hold this feast,
And in your name we send out our young.
Let them prove their worth and earn their honor,
Turn your gaze to them, and let their victories
Stand as proof of your progeny.
Otherwise, should death take them,
Accept them with you, for their sacrifice is not in vain.”
The last of the Magus’s words hung heavy on the back table, as Leif noticed he was not the only one whose gaze now resembled that of someone counting wood grain. Unlike the chief’s speeches as well, silence had remained amongst the crowd for a moment. Yet, the solemnness was beaten back by the town’s warrior spirits, and huzzahs soon erupted as everyone clanked cups and mugs in the War Ancestor’s honor. As the Magus turned to return to the side, Leif noticed the feint hint of a smile fading, making the speech at least seem less solemn than it sounded. However, the observation was soon disrupted by the chief returning to the center of the room.
“Alright, everyone. Alright. I’ve bored everyone enough! Return to your drinks and food! Just remember you celebrate in honor of these youth, and the more grand and joyous our festivities, the more honor we send with them!”
A last cheer from the grand hall nearly took the roof off (though the previous festivities proved that was far from possible), and the people of the town returned loudly and with more vigor to their feast. The back table, however, had a set of somber and serious faces, as for them, the feast was over. As if on cue, the chief turned round and faced their table, the same smile as before plastered even wider on his face.
“Come, young ones. The sun has begun its descent, and it is time you each received your tasks,” the chief said with a warm, almost fatherly tone.
Slowly, people of the table began to stand, Leif being the third to last to do so. As if they were all weighed down by rocks, they began to follow Chief Hrafn, though in no fashion that resembled organization. Leif cringed a bit as some of the grand hall applauded as they passed, and he almost cringed again when he caught his mother’s eyes watching him depart with the rest of his kin.
Once out of the hall, Leif was struck by how cold the air still stun, though it was certainly no winter air at least. Some of the others in the group of nine shivered a bit, though no one dared even so much as sigh with a sign of complaint. A brief glance behind him told Leif that the Magus of the War Ancestor was indeed in tow, though that was hardly surprising given her role for the night was not yet complete. In contrast, the master of festivities was nowhere to be seen, her role ending for the most part with their departure for their tasks.
It was a mere short walk to their destination: the chief’s home. The chief pulled aside his furs for them, and one-by-one the youth entered into the entrance area. Obviously, being the chief meant he had the largest home in the town, though much of its function served for community issues. The entrance room itself was fairly simplistic, with mats on the floor and a fire burning warmly in the fire pit in the center. Furs, teeth, and weapons hung at spots on the wall, all trinkets of Hrafn and the chief’s before him. There were doorways on each of the four sides of the entrance room, though each doorway had a fur curtain that hid the contents of each room.
Once all the group had entered, including the Magus, the chief entered without word. He and the Magus shared a nod, and both silently went into the room that was to the left of the entrance. For a time, there was no sound or signs of movement, and the youth of the room merely looked around nervously and intimidated. A few, of course, tried to look indifferent, but the act fooled no one. Leif himself did not bother, and mostly kept his eyes to the ground, assuming further instructions would be coming.
With no confidence on how much time had passed, someone finally emerged from the room where the chief and the Magus had gone. Who came out, however, was one of the chief’s advisors. The man in question was rather small-framed, particularly compared to the chief, though he had some powerful looking legs that seemed good for running. The man had thin, graying hair, and a beard that was almost as scraggly as the chiefs. The advisor took a minute to look over the group, though his expression was quite unreadable to Leif. However, the lack of ability to discern what the advisor was thinking gave Leif time to notice the man was carrying a small paper.
“Hello, youth of our town. I am, Orvar, advisor to Chief Hrafn, if you do not recognize me. It is the time you each received the task that will be your rite of passage. Keep in mind these will be no easy tasks, but they are not meant to be. You will complete these tasks to prove not only your own honor, but that you are indeed a true friend of our people. I will be reading each of your names, one-by-one. When your name is called, please head into the chamber over where you will be given your task.”
Silent nods were directed at Orvar, though Leif was purely distracted by the hope he would not be the first. While he may curse deep down his own sense of fear from such a simple task, the pressure had increased immensely throughout the night of what the rite of passage would actually mean. The townsfolk had not been joking when they said no one was prepared for the rite of passage. Leif’s eyes darted to Orvar’s face, which was currently looking at his paper. Only a brief breaths moment must have actually passed between Orvar’s instructions and him assessing who would be first, but Leif felt the grasps of eternity at his back.
“Sten, son of Werner the hunter and Gry the Red.”
Leif felt all breath leave him at once, though the action felt more pained than relieved from the movement. His eyes darted around the room and he saw one of the more talkative boys from the table rise and, almost a bit shakily, head over to Orvar. Orvar pulled the furs aside, and with a nod, the boy who was Sten entered into the room as instructed. For the true first time of kinship, the others from the group all looked at each other, understanding that whatever they were going through, it was shared amongst them all. Leif, however, could only wish Elvar was present to be nervous with.
Despite the shared experience, silence and tension were still the masters of the day, though at least to a lesser degree than they had been. No words were shared, and even Orvar seemed to just stand about awkwardly waiting for the whole affair to be done. Truly, though, it was no time at all before the boy called Sten reemerged from the furs. He nodded to Orvar, for a moment, and with no words to any of the rest of the group, exited the chief’s house as quickly as he had reappeared. A few confused blinks occurred, but without missing a beat Orvar called the next name to receive their task.
One by one names were called, until only four people were left in the entrance room, one of them being Leif. Having sat still for long, Leif had spent the time observing the others in more earnest, as this time there was no food or drink for distraction. To his surprise, he realized he at least knew more names of the people he was with than he first thought. Of those left, one boy he was sure he had only even ever vaguely seen before, and couldn’t even begin to guess who in the town were his folks.
Another boy he recognized as Wieland, son of the most third most skilled smith of the town. Unfortunately for Wieland, he was not blessed with any remote talent for smithing, and the favor of the family mostly rested upon Wieland’s older brother, who returned from his rite of passage two seasons ago. Leif could only recall speaking to Wieland once, and that was when he accompanied his mother when she went to drop off some sort of concoction for Wieland’s mother. The other youth Leif was more familiar with: Runa, daughter of Ylva. Ylva, though gone from the world now, had been a great warrior in her time, and could best a great deal of the warriors in their town. Truthfully, no great battles had given her a name, but the treasures she brought back from traveling were well valued in the town. Though not friends, Leif had shared more words with Runa than Wieland, and he knew from sheer observation that she was under intense pressure to live up to her mother’s name.
“Leif, son of Birgir the Sea-master and Dagmar the healer.”
At Orvar’s words Leif found himself on his feet automatically, his body ready for what took his brain five seconds to figure out. A haze engulfed his mind a tad as Leif tried to quickly rebalance himself. The thoughts he had let himself indulge in had truly been consuming, and Leif was no longer sure if he was ready or not for what was about to happen. His eyes glanced over to Orvar as if in response, and the image of the burly man standing there with his paper reminded Leif the point of no return had passed already the moment he entered the chief’s home. With an almost shaky gait, Leif headed over to Orvar and nodded, as Orvar held the furs aside. With a sharp intake of breath, Leif stepped into the room, feeling the furs drop behind him almost as quickly.
For as tense and serious as the situation was, the room Leif found himself in was rather anti-climatic. The room was a tad darker than the entrance room, and also a more rectangular shape than square. There were few decorations, though the many piles of scrolls in the room told Leif the room was probably used for war meetings or something of the like. At the far end of the room in some sturdy chairs sat Chief Hrafn, the Magus, and the supreme advisor. In front of them a reasonable distance away was a mat, which Leif surmised was where he was supposed to sit. Carefully, and feeling confident of the logic, Leif approached the mat, and seeing the chief’s smiling gesture at it, sat down as calmly as he could.
“So you’re Leif? Of course you are. Spitting image of your father, may he be battling honorably with the Ancestors,” the chief laughed out as he smiled and nodded some sort of approval at Leif.
“Yes, sir,” Leif mumbled more than he meant to, but felt unsure if the chief’s statement even required a reply.
For a moment the supreme advisor and the chief exchanged a few whispers Leif could not hear, and then the chief turned to Leif, a more serious expression on his face.
“Well then, young Leif, are you prepared to hear your task, and to go through your rite of passage to prove your honor,” the chief questioned, each word weighted down by the chief’s firm voice.
“Yes, Chief Hrafn. I am ready to receive whatever task you will give me,” Leif replied, happy he was now maintaining at least some decorum.
“Very well. Many centuries ago there was a great battle between our people and one of the outsider cities. During the chaos…” the chief began, but paused with eyes reflecting a sort of inherited shame from the event. “…one of the Divine War Ancestor’s holy relics was stolen, much to our shame and failure. Even worse, it was the dagger he named Aðalbjörg, the blade that saved his life in the Beginning Cataclysm when his divine and powerful sword faltered. I assume you know this story, young one?”
“Yes, sir, I know it,” Leif said, not missing the stern look the Magus gave him, as if to look for any sign of lies to scold him on.
“Very good, then. Very good. Your task then, Leif, will be to travel, track down, and return Aðalbjörg to us and to its rightful home. In so doing, you will prove beyond question that you are a worthy and honorable friend to not only your people, but to our Divine Ancestors.”
For a moment Leif was silent as he pondered the words spoken to him by the chief. The first thing that struck Leif, was that this was surely one of the more difficult tasks, and in the group of more unusual tasks in general for a rite of passage task. What he could recall of people’s whose tasks he knew, they often consisted of finding treasures, new methods of doing something, or going to aid in some great battle. While tasks like his did come about, it was certainly not what he expected he’d be given to do. Nevertheless, what overcame him next was the sheer complicated nature of his task. What did the dagger look like? Who had it? How would he even begin to track it? As his mind whirled with these questions, his eyes turned to the chief, and a spark of indignation rose in him.
“Chief Hrafn,” Leif suddenly felt depart from his lips, the sounds bouncing off the walls around him.
“Yes, young Leif. Do you have a question about this task,” the chief asked calmly, a smile seemingly returning to his face a bit.
“Sir. I do not mean to question the judgement of my honorable elders, but how am I supposed to complete such a task? The outside world is large, and I know little about it. To find such a relic seems…a difficult task to take on.”
Though Leif had chosen his words carefully, he proudly held the chief’s eyes during his speech, feeling that any sort of falter would result in his failure. The chief, fortunately, seemed humored by Leif’s gumption, and laughed a bit, though a serious look befell the man once again.
“Of course you’re right. This is a challenging task we give to you. But…” the chief started, before turning a gaze to the Magus. At this point the Magus cleared her throat, and looked at Leif seriously as she presented a slightly aged paper towards him. Leif looked at her curiously, and then took the paper from her. His eyes traveled about the paper, but they saw only a few symbols were on the page, a script that Leif did not particular recognize.
“We do not send you into this quest blindly,” the Magus chimed in, her tone carrying a sense of venomous intent to it. “On this paper you see a script, an ancient script used during a time of the Divine Ancestors. When the wretched thief stole holy Aðalbjörg, the Divine War Ancestor cursed him and his descendants. To mark their blood for their crime, the thief and his descendants bear a mark on their cheek, a mark whose twin is that script before you. Seek the person with this mark, and there you will truly begin your quest.”
Leif once again looked at the paper in his hand, trying to absorb the script into his very soul given its importance to his task. A frown marked his face, however, seeming to reflect his thoughts that this was still not very much knowledge to travel forth on. The chief cleared his throat to grab Leif’s attention, and Leif mustered that attention fully.
“There is nothing more of worth we can give you, Leif. Truly, though, that is the nature of our rite of passage. You must learn from this point forward to be resourceful, honorable, and steadfast. Be assured, those of the town will pray to our Ancestors for you,” the chief asserted, a smile once again fully on his face.
A moment passed as Leif looked at the chief, and then in a sort of acceptance, he rose from the mat he had been sitting upon. He nodded to those before him, and gently stashed the paper from the Magus into one of his pouches.
“I understand,” Leif said, almost sounding distant, “thank you for your guidance.”
“Good luck, young Leif. May the Divine Ancestors guide you.”