Astyr stepped down from the school bus and headed off down the driveway that led to Grima's house. The rutted dirt road twisted through the thick forest. Astyr took a deep breath and felt a small thrill of pleasure from the fresh scent of life that filled her. The cool autumn breeze was full of the flavors from the many different trees and plants around her and on top of it all was the clean smell of fresh water from the river.
Astyr walked past the tall red house and continued on to the grassy bank of the wide river. The trees were thinner and well-spaced out at this point with only a couple of large oak trees spreading their canopies overhead providing shelter from the late afternoon sun. The strong current of the river pulled leaves and branches and other debris past the spot where she was standing at a surprisingly fast speed. She filled her lungs with the air scented with cool, clean, fresh water.
Well, maybe not quite so clean, Astyr thought as she took a good look at the water in front of her. It was a deep, dark brown color that she didn't think was natural for fresh-water rivers.
"It's completely normal for the water to be that color." Grima said as she stepped up to stand beside Astyr and join her in looking out across the river. "The water picks up tannins from the roots of all the trees lining the banks and becomes this dark brown color. It's exactly the same as a strong cup of tea." Grima added seeing Astyr drawing her brows together.
"How was your first day of school? Did you make any friends?" Astyr had to consider this for a few moments before she answered. "I met some kids in my class, well my classes; it seems that I have every class with the same kids. I guess it'll be easier remembering everyone's name." She said the last part with a smile. "There's a guy in my class who seems kinda nice, and the cheerleaders have assumed I'm joining up with them. I'm supposed to ask you for permission, I think..." Astyr trailed off at the end waiting for Grima's reaction.
Grima studied Astyr's face for a moment while Astyr kept staring at the river in front of her. "If being a cheerleader is something you'd like to do, I have no objections, but you will have to find a way to get home after practices, there's no bus that late." That made it easier for Astyr either way, if she didn't want to join the squad, she had a legitimate excuse to refuse. If she did want to join, Grima knew that there were girls who lived nearby who were on the squad. Astyr decided she would think about it for a while.
Astyr headed up to the house to change. She wanted to get some exercise before it was time to help Grima make dinner. She went for a jog down the driveway and along the long dirt road and thought about her first day at school. She couldn't get a certain pair of deep sapphire blue eyes out of her mind.
Looking into someone's eyes and being able to admire what she saw was a completely new experience for Astyr. Usually she was only able to see someone's soul when she looked in their eyes. It was a terrifying ordeal and left Astyr shaken and almost always nauseous from what she saw. She wished more than anything that she wasn't cursed with this ability. She knew other people were obsessed with staring into someone's eyes. It was considered polite in normal society and an absolute must in finding one's true love. Silly romantics made out like it wasn't even worth knowing someone if you couldn't look lovingly in their eyes for hours on end. For Astyr, looking into someone's eyes was always a death sentence for feelings and respect.
But not Gunnar. His eyes were nothing but dark blue pools in his handsome face. She could imagine spending time staring into those pools. Astyr quickly brought that train of thought to a screeching halt. She had no idea what kind of boy he was behind those eyes. He acted nice enough but Astyr couldn't help but remember the feeling of him holding her wrist like a vice and refusing to let go. And what kind of person would he have to be that she couldn't see inside. That thought brought a shiver up her spine so she put Gunnar behind her and ran quickly back to the house.
After a hot shower she set the table for dinner while Grima finished tossing a green salad. The dining table was a solidly built round wooden table set between the kitchen island and the wall. It had four wooden chairs around it and each chair was unique. Even though they weren't a matched set, they were all comfortable and well-made. Astyr finished pouring water into the glasses as Grima brought over the salad bowl and a tureen filled with a thick meaty stew.
They sat down across from each other and began to eat while Grima questioned Astyr about her long chain of previous foster homes. The questions weren't too deep or painful and the conversation stayed light with Astyr mostly focusing on her plate with quick glances at Grima's chin while she talked.
When they finished eating, Astyr made a motion to get up and clear the table but Grima asked her to sit for a moment. Astyr sank back down into her chair and looked down at her plate waiting to hear what Grima would say. She knew that the easy conversation from dinner was over.
“Astyr, it’s really rude the way you look away from me all the time.” Grima began. Astyr had heard that often enough. She raised her eyes and focused on the tip of Grima’s nose hoping that Grima wouldn’t press the issue. “That’s close, Astyr, and probably enough to get you by somewhere else, but I expect you to really look at me when I’m talking to you.” Grima was definitely pressing the issue. Astyr was trying to wait this out and hoping that Grima would just let it go. Astyr raised her eyes so that she was staring resolutely at the spot on Grima’s forehead right between her eyebrows. Grima let out a sigh and crossed her arms in front of her. “Astyr, look at me.” Grima didn’t raise her voice but Astyr knew that she wouldn’t be getting up from the table until she got this over with.
She took a deep breath and played with the napkin beside her plate for a few moments. Then quickly, before she could lose her nerve, she met Grima’s level gaze.
Frey Falkor was a handsome man. He was tall with broad shoulders and a deep chest and he didn’t carry one extra ounce of fat on his frame. He had a full head of thick auburn hair and there was only the slightest trace of a few silver hairs at his temples. His skin was pale which made it hard to notice the few lines that he had around his eyes. Those eyes were a dark shade of green but would lighten slightly when one of his beloved sons was around. His brows were the same auburn as his hair and were thick and lush and had just the right arch to focus attention down to his eyes. His nose was straight and just the slightest bit too long, but that fit with the rest of his face which was also long and came to a point in a very nice looking chin. His mouth was the same as his younger son’s, indeed, if Gunnar had taken his father’s coloring instead of his mother’s, the boy would be an exact replica of Frey.
Frey stood in the library of his home staring out the window at the thick forest that surrounded the house while his sons were talking. His mind was racing and he could clearly picture the carving that the boys were describing to him. He looked down at the silver bracelet on his wrist and studied the engraving of the tall warrior with a heavy sword in one hand a long oval shield in the other with a long bow slung over the shoulders. Frey knew that the carvings on each silver medallion were different, as different as the people for whom they were made.
“Astyr told the girls in class that she’s staying with Grima.” Gunnar told his father with a slight note of tension in his voice. “Do you think she’s safe there?”
Frey took a few moments to pull his thoughts together and looked into his son’s worried face. “Being with Grima might be the safest place for her for now. Just try to keep an eye on her, and try to find out when she’s turning sixteen. We’ll need to know what she knows before then.” Frey got assurances from Gunnar and Hakon both that they would do as he asked and then he dismissed them.
Frey returned to the window and stared into the lush forest with his mind a long way from where he stood.