Winter Festivals

A typical "Christmas" celebration amongst the Nioneska, a northern tribe of magic users seen through the eyes of a member returning home for the festival and experiencing the more supernatural aspect of their way of life and be with family again.
A winner of the Advent Calender writing competition.

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12. A Safe & Quiet Place


"Must have been from the Guarding," someone said. "One of the beasts that didn't get scared off? Could be," another chimed in. These were only a couple of things that were said between those that helped carry Thorne up the hill. He'd stopped shivering but his skin had gotten sickly pale. His breaths were deep and slow. Despite his condition, he kept a careful eye on Maura who was carried by Mila of all people, with the husband nowhere in sight.

At some point he fell asleep and was hand delivered to his father. Ronan took him inside and laid him on warm skins. Then he hung up blankets on a rack as close to the fire as he could to get them warmed up. He removed Thorne's soaked pants and boots, laying them by the fire to dry. When the blanket was warm enough, he draped it over Thorne. And then he waited.

Thorne's sleep wasn't nearly as deep as he would have preferred. He opened his eyes and scanned his surroundings. He was home. The familiar paintings on the wall were a comfort to him, and not a sound other than the fire hissing and popping could be heard. His shuddery breath brought on his father's attentions.

"Here. Drink this," Ronan instructed, handing a warm cup of tea. The cup was almost burning hot in Thorne's hands, forcing him to pull his arms deeper into his sleeves so his cuffs wrapped around the cup. When it hit his tongue he yelped and spilled it on himself. Ronan went out and came back with a small chunk of icicle and dropped it into the tea with a sploosh. When the tea was more bearable, Thorne drank it in big mouthfuls, unable to get enough of the heat that ran down his throat and sat in his stomach. Just as he downed the last drops down to the gritty sludge at the bottom, Thorne looked up from his cup and saw a set of warm clothes. Thorne put them on, his movements sluggish and clumsy. His fingers struggled with the buttons while he watched his father root around in the chest for something else. What he emerged with was his long hunting coat. He handed it to Thorne to put on, and sat on the other side of the fire to add logs and kindling.

Thorne put it on and wrapped the tail of it around his feet. The furs were soft and brought back fond memories of sitting on Ronan's shoulder while wearing this coat. It was old, but it was warm.

After a time, Ronan reached over and pressed his knuckles to Thorne's cheek. "You're still cold to the touch. But you're alive. Thank the spirits above for that," Ronan stated, his voice beginning to waver.

"Y-yeah, I g-guess. B-but I'd r-rather be warm," Thorne stuttered.

"You can't rush these things. I'll go swipe a hot stone or two form the sauna for you." But before Ronan could even get up the door opened and Siiri appeared.

"Yure nintoska! You little idiot! Jumping into a river was just plain foolish even by this family's standards!" She screeched, her concern twisting her face into a worried grimace. She already had hot stones in hand, wrapped in cloth. Without so much as a warning she placed one on Thorne's neck and tucked one inside his shirt. Her hands, that usually were so icy, were so warm and toasty now.

"Aunt Siiri, is Maura okay? The beast didn't attack anyone else did it?" Thorne asked, forcing the words out in one breath to prevent stuttering. The look on Siiri's face proved Thorne's assumption that the beast had been run off or lead away by whatever it was that had helped him. He sighed with relief and let himself relax. He didn't realize he'd nearly jumped to his feet. The fact that no one knew what he was raving about was enough comfort to know it hadn't attacked.

"What beast?" Ronan and Siiri asked in unison.

"I-I don't kno-ow what it was. But I rem-member....but I remember being lead out last n-night. A s-spirit s-said I needed to be there. A-and Maura found me after tha-t. We woke up and that t-thing chased us. It m-might have been left over from the Guarding after the Presenting," Thorne explained, breathing hot air onto his hands every now and again. His audience of two analyzed every thing he said.

"Thorne....I know you need to rest, but can you tell us....everything?" Sirri asked tentatively. Her brows were knit together in a perplexed way and her eyes were steely as they searched the dirt floor for answers.

So Thorne told them what he remembered. Starting from when he was drunk, to when he was lead off by a spirit. When he got to that part he noticed Siiri fight the urge to yell and scold him for such a reckless action. Ronan only listened intently, eager to find out what had happened. So Thorne went on and told them about the spirit, losing all sense of the present and putting himself back to then. Just telling the story got his blood flowing, thinking about how terrifying it was. The elk, the lights, Maura emerging from the woods in the dead of night, waking up at daybreak. No one even noticed that he began to sweat from the heat he gave off on top of his layers and the fire. When his tale was finished, he was breathless and fell back against the wall.

No one said a word.

Then Ronan played with stray threads and whispered "We're so glad that you and Maura are alright. We were all worried sick." 

"Thorne, you did a good thing. That spirit must have been your guardian and knew you had to be there to save Maura. It was still stupid. But it could have been worse," Siiri told him. Her eyes were softer and her face more forgiving. Then she went on to say "You might be okay right now, but take care. Stay warm, nephew." Then she got up and left.

"I always forget how standoffish she can be," Thorne blurted when the door was closed.

"Of course..it isn't her fault. Her partner Magnus wasn't the best to her....and when your Uncle Daithi disappeared. But she cares. Believe me, she does. And so do I," Ronan explained. He slid across the floor and wrapped his arms around Thorne's shoulders. Ronan pressed his forehead to Thorne's and gave a sniffle. When Thorne looked, he saw tears on his father's cheeks. "You have no idea how terrifying it is to not know if your child is safe. Next time give us some warning," he said with a laugh and a sniffle. "You're too much like me. And your mother. To be fair we were both reckless," he added jokingly, hoping to cover up his tears with jokes.

"Dad...? Are you alright?" Thorne asked, getting a bit worried. He returned the hug and felt the warmth building between them. Felt the wraps on Ronan's forearms for archery and remembered him teaching Thorne at a young age. Ran his fingertips over the tattoo on his cheeks and nose and thought of his mother and how she never got to see him grow up but made sure he would become a good man. Breathed in the smoky air of burning wood and recalled Sevri and his father coming over for the brothers to enjoy the company and for the boys to play inside.

"I'm fine. I'm very proud of you."

That was all the comfort that he needed. Thorne drifted off to sleep in his father's arms like he was a child again. And he didn't care. He was tired and he felt safe and warm at home, safe in a bear hug from a man he'd known since birth and looked up to from then on. So Thorne let himself sleep. Let himself be calm and still. And he thought of how Maura must have been feeling the exact same thing.

 

 

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