Drawing breath is automatic, and yet, for Nirwen, it almost seemed like a new process. It had only been a day since her parents learned the truth of everything between herself and Nehn. At least the part that could be spoken of that wasn't a soul-shared depth of electric sparks. The knot within her stomach, the fear of separation, of hearing words like knives of misunderstanding, those had melted away.
The early morning air was chilly, and Nirwen breathed the cool air slowly, concentrating on the mingled fresh air and relief through her. Her father's inscrutable expression had given way to his concerned nature. Remembering him asking if she had questions, or needed help warmed her. The idea that her parents, her ever-reliable parents, were similarly anxious over Nirwen having discovered love was an endearingly amusing thought. Yet, at the end of the night, despite the searching looks and furrowed parental brows several times over, she was still their daughter. Perhaps something new was there too. Nirwen no longer had to turn away to mask a blush from Nehn's presence. Could absentmindedly caress her beloved's fingertips while chatting with her mother. It only made her smile wider.
It was strange, still, but Nirwen knew the burdens had shifted. Now that her parents knew, they would not see Nehn the same, either. Maybe they could tell the flutter the mere sight of her face created in Nirwen now. Maybe they would change again, limit them, treat Nehn differently. It was still early, yet maybe the truth between them opened something that could never be closed.
Keeper Deshanna arrived last night, on Nirwen's birthday for the first lesson as planned. It was merely an introduction, and Nehn was permitted to stay nearby, playing hide and seek with a giggly Elathyn while the group talked. Rodan was asleep in his sling, nestled against their mother. Etharla shot Nirwen a glance, brows raised, then both smiled.
"Nirwen, you are on the first step of your journey into adulthood," began Deshanna, her blue eyes crinkling warmly, as the Keeper took Nirwen's hands into her own. Nirwen bowed her head slightly, listening. "We are the observers, young Nirwen, those who remember the fight, the struggle to wrest our people from slavery, never again to submit. We must never slacken our guard, grow complacent in our ways, or we lose our way again. These, and other lessons, are your path now." Nirwen raised her gaze, meeting Deshanna's eyes, a gesture that somehow also felt refreshed, existing in a new skin.
Hands still holding Nirwen's, the Keeper turned to her parents. "This is a time of blessings, but the lessons must come first." Deshanna turned back toward Nirwen, letting go of her hands. "But tonight, I leave only one request."
Nirwen traced a finger over the leather bracelet she wore, easing a pang of nerves.
"What does it mean to you to come of age, Nirwen? Do not answer now. Take some time, and return to me when you're ready," she stated as she rose, gesturing for Nirwen and her family to remain seated. "This is your first step. Do not rush any of them. But there is no reason to rush the first. When you're ready," she said, as she turned to walk away. The flames from the fire echoed within her parents' eyes, as Nehn came toward them, carrying Ela by the waist, squirming with laughter, looking up at Nehn and kicking playfully.
Nehn placed Ela down before her parents, then took an exaggerated bow. "I've brought this one back. I believe she's yours. Excellent at hiding. She will make a fine scout one day," she said, then took a place at Nirwen's side, the smallest of acts, meaning so much. Nirwen leaned her head toward Nehn's shoulder.
The morning sun, languid in its cloak of mist, rose high. Nirwen's day lay ahead. She set out first, meeting Nehn by one of the oldest trees on the path between their families in the settlement.
Nehn smiled, those freckles dancing under her eyes. Nirwen bit her lip, cast her gaze down with unexpected shyness in the morning light. This was real. Nehn adjusted the wrap she wore, bringing it up to cover Nirwen's shoulder.
"Are you ready?" Nehn asked as Nirwen smiled and placed her hand in Nehn's. After telling her parents last night, they agreed to tell Nehn's as well. Nirwen wasn't sure if they were simply glad to have the secrecy off their shoulders or were too happy to care too much about those implications, but today was a new day.
The central camp was already active with morning duties, a few children playing, and the night guards returning for their rest. The chill, a reminder that vital storage work was upon them, and that all had to prepare for the upcoming cold. The Keeper, on advice, had decided they would stay there through the winter season. When they arrived, they would already find Nehn's mother working with the food brought in by the latest supply runs. Nirwen's mother was to meet them all soon.
"My mother knows, I think," blurted Nehn as they walked. "Well, not everything. But I think she knows it's...girls with me. At least you have siblings. I have to uphold our honor somehow." Nirwen felt her tense, a sigh escaping her, and pulled Nehn's hand close, placing soft kisses along the bend in her fingers. They both paused there, nearly at their destination amid the orderly bustle, such familiarity, close but distant. Nirwen moved Nehn's hand, palm open, to the space above her own heart, glancing into the brown eyes that meant everything. No words were necessary.
Nirwen's heart beat faster, but there was no knot this time. It was as if whatever would come they both channeled, together. As if she could believe in this. As if they could. This was their second test, they both knew. They started walking again, needing to meet both of their mothers soon. Nehn's hand in hers, steady, soft, finger calluses undermining the weightlessness of its perfect presence.