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.