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The sound of the forest birds drifted in through the cottage windows. Though they were shuttered against the cold, Arna could still hear the birds’ song. Fanndis’ wind chime also fluttered with the wind and the soft, lyrical tones of the bells made the girl want to fall back asleep. Still, she was very excited about the day ahead. The night before, the old snow woman had assured Arna that they would make a trip to the secret greenhouse deep in the woods. Arna washed, dressed, and rolled her sleep pallet. After years of living as a servant, she still woke before everyone else—even Fanndis who awoke at dawn.
All was dark, save the glow from the fire. Arna had summoned it the night before. It burned a pleasant amber color. She was reminded of how her closed eyelids lit up with the sunshine in summer. Being the only one awake in the house, Arna tidied up her sleeping pallet and set about making breakfast for Fanndis and Stigg. Birds sang outside the cottage windows and she smiled as she went about her work. For a moment, she felt the same fascination that Soryn had for the fifa birds. It was remarkable that they could survive in Niflheim’s incredibly cold climate. Arna created a fire in the kitchen hearth and asked it to burn hot and strong all day. She knew, without looking or checking, that it would do as she had commanded. She made oatmeal in the cauldron over the fire and added some honey to it. When Arna had asked about the honey, Fanndis told her that Stigg kept a few bees in the shed attached to the back of the greenhouse and harvested the honey before the heavy snows returned at the end of summer.
Sometime later, the old woman walked into the kitchen and greeted the girl through stifled yawns. Stigg entered from the back kitchen doorway and the three of them sat down to a nice quiet breakfast. He muttered a nigh unintelligible “thank you” before he went out to work on the chores. After the dishes were cleared from the morning meal, Fanndis dressed for trekking through deep snow.
“You’ll need to bundle up well, Arna. The greenhouse is a ways away and we’ll need to pack lunch. Bring a large basket, some shears, and twine, if you please.”
Arna did as she was told and by the time the suns had barely peeked over the northern mountains, the two of them set off.
“Will we be back in time to see Lord Maslyn?” Arna asked.
“Not in time to see him for very long, I’m afraid. It will take an hour or so to get to the greenhouse and then we have a lot of work to do when we arrive. We will need to visit the greenhouse each week at the same time. The plants get ornery if they don’t have structure and consistency,” Fanndis replied.
“Plants?” Arna raised an eyebrow.
Fanndis’ face showed surprise, “Of course. Plants are finicky creatures. High maintenance.”
They walked for a long time, avoiding snow drifts and renegade roots from the giant trees they passed. Arna spotted many creatures in the forest: a fox, a hare, even an enormous winter deer. It was three times as tall as Arna and she marveled at its white coat. It stared at the two travelers and sniffed. When it moved on to other haunts, the old woman and the girl continued carefully.
“Fanndis, what sort of plants do you grow in the greenhouse?” Arna inquired.
“Many of the plants in this greenhouse are unlike any you will find in the village. Most of these are ancient specimens from the time of Ancient Earth. The seeds have been passed on generation to generation in my family and kept very safe. I think I was the first person to dare plant them. It took me a long time to figure out how to care for them properly.”
Arna was delighted with the prospect of seeing plants that had once grown on the humans’ old home world. Colonization of other planets began nearly a thousand years ago and people had lived on Niflheim a little over nine hundred of those years. It was mind-blowing to think of vegetation even older than that, crossing countless light-years of space to grow on a new planet. Just when Arna’s feet had begun to ache, she saw a glass-walled building. The glass was translucent, but not entirely see-through. She thought she could already make out some of the greenery within.
YOU ARE READING
Night Bells (Tales from Niflheim #1)Fantasy
Lord Maslyn has been a prisoner in his own home for the last six years. When the twelve year old noble of New Kristiansand discovers a secret passageway in his tower, he delves into a world of adventure, intrigue, and secrecy. With the help of a mys...