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.


10. Feasting, Drinking & Dancing

"I'd be lying if I said I never tried going down the river on a board. And it isn't the brightest idea. Thorne, there is no doubt that you're mine," Ronan teased, handing the shamaness a medicine soaked bandage. She smiled coyly at Ronan, but Ronan was more focused on the purple bruises littering his son's body.

Thorne sat by a fire in the shamaness' home with his shirt and coats wadded in his hands, wincing at every poke and prod. "Y'know, Dad, I don't think you have room to talk. I remember Uncle Sampsa telling me something about how you stole from an angry old man and got whipped before you could run home," Thorne responded, adjusting a bandage wrapped across his chest. "That's only one story. I think you've done more stupid stuff than me."

Ronan didn't bother denying it, instead saying "So that I could keep you from doing it, of course. Good thing Sevri came and found me at the top of the hill."

Thorne shook his head wryly and tied up his hair so it was off his shoulders where a particularly large bruise was developing. "Better?"

"Yes, thank you. It's a wonder you didn't drown today," the shamaness pointed out, wrapping a dripping bandage around the bruise on his shoulder. "You really have been protected by the Great Spirits."

"His mother prayed for it when he was born. Guess it worked," Ronan blurted, not noticing the sly smile disappear from her face.

Before further conversation could be explored, Thorne rolled his shoulder and put his shirt back on. "So it'll heat up, right?"

"Yes. It starts cold then warms up the more you move. Good for workers and hunters," she said, quickly gathering her herbs and going outside.

Ronan and Thorne watched her leave quickly without a word about where she was going. "That was weird," Ronan muttered to himself with a quirked brow.

"She liked you," Thorne said curious and somewhat accusingly. "Honestly, a lot of women like you." Thorne said this, hoping to hear something he didn't know. He knew in his youth his father had been a philanderer and didn't shy away from a pretty girl. But that never happened after he met Thorne's mother, Willow. And as far as Thorne knew, she was just any normal affair for him.

"Don't notice. Come on, the feasts are about to start. The days are short, and the nights are long so let's not waste the last bit of daylight," Ronan began, already slipping his coats back on and holding the door open for Thorne. Thorne did the same and breathed the open air again. Ronan was right, Thorne thought. The day was almost gone already. So, together, they climbed back up the river and crossed where it was lazy and slow. By the time they had made it back, the feasting had already begun.


"Unkie Thor!" A shrill voice shrieked, dripping with excitement and cutting through the music that played. Before Thorne could turn to see or even begin to think about who's voice might have said that, he was attacked by his youngest cousin, Maura; a daughter of one of Sampsa's girls. Unfortunately, she collided with a bruise on his back, making him wince.

"Maura, you have to be careful. I'm very sore today," Thorne chided, trying not to sound harsh as he slipped her from his back onto his knee. But rather than heed his warning, she set to work undoing his short ponytail and began to weave braids into his hair.

"You have to look pretty today, Unkie Thor!" She informed him. Yet her work was interrupted after finishing only two braids that laid side by side amongst the chocolate locks of Thorne's hair. Her mother had scooped her up and scolded her for running off like that. Thorne waved at her and she waved back before waltzing off, back to the conglomerate of people awaiting their shares of food.

Thorne sat in a circle of some people he knew and some he didn't, enjoying a bounty of smoked fish, berries, bread and various jams and spreads all made from scratch. The log he sat on was surprisingly comfortable with a blanket laid on it. He ignored the jests made by the others he sat with, regarding how he didn't put up a fight with his cousin when she insisted on interrupting his meal and braiding his hair. He didn't pay them any mind because he knew that most of them would have done the same. So he chewed his jerky in silence, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the relaxing melodies that a handful of flutists and drummers played. In fact, Thorne almost wished the night could end there. But once enough people finished eating, more instruments were picked up and tuned for playing. It wasn't long before the lights were shining brightly over them and the music grew louder. Just music to tell everyone the dancing would soon begin. But that didn't stop a few people from trying. Thorne watched in amusement as some began their own dances with each other.

Eventually, a familiar song began to play. The drums pounded out the beat, enhanced with the clapping of every set of free hands. Thorne however still savored the salty sweet of his jerky when a young lady in his circle set her leftovers to the side and skipped along, adding a pirouette or two on her way to the massive opening in the Andruisk, meant specially for dancing. Others followed her lead until at least twenty people were skipping around in a circle. Then, in an explosion of sound, the other instruments joined in. A few violins and violas, shakers, flutes, and even a handful of mandolins and guitars. Thorne watched as the steps became more complicated. The steps that he could do, albeit much slower than intended, but got dizzy trying to explain. A voice began to sing out the lyrics to the song as everyone grabbed a partner and formed arcs with their arms for pairs to pass under, all while still dancing from the waist down like the Irish.

Then they all broke away and formed in pairs again, leaving a group in the middle of them. The pairs swing danced and managed to move continuously in a circle around the group of dancers. The drummers played out more for the acrobatic performers. Thorne spied Sevri there, showing off his spritely skill with the others, almost like they were in some grand ballet. And the entire dance was in perfect time with the drumbeats and melody as if the song had been composed just for them. When they finished they merged with the swing dancers and let another group move in. The drummers died down and the flutists had their moment to shine. These dancers were very much like the Irish in their dancing, and Thorne caught sight of little hints and nods towards Celtic ancestry adorning them. That kind of dancing Thorne could do better than the first routines.

The jig seemed to last the longest, but when their turn had passed, the next faction group up in cluster of four and grabbed a wrist to form a square in the middle of their clusters. The violins and violas wept and pleaded for this group. Every wheel moved smoothly and stomped their right feet in unison. Then a quick transition to holding both hands and kicking inwards. The sound their shoes made against the ground reminded Thorne vaguely of what tap dancing was meant to be, but they didn't have anything to make such a sound other than the force with which they could bring their feet down. Each group split into pairs and continued dancing in this stiff, yet graceful fashion and finished their turn.

When the song did finally end, six different groups had shown off different dances. They all ended standing alone in a bow, showing respect to the audience that had watched them. There was applause and a few dancers traded places with musicians to give them a chance to eat more or jig around themselves.

Sevri appeared from the controlled chaos, sweating and smiling from ear to ear.

"That was an interesting show. Tell me, do your feet ever touch the ground?" Thorne asked, handing Sevri a cup of water.

Sevri laughed and took a cup of wine instead. "I'm glad to see you okay. Do you have any idea what happened today with the canoe?"

Thorne felt a chill race down his spine, remembering the strange woman who had saved him. "Not a clue. But I think I'll give the drummer by the Great Tree a break," Thorne told him, handing what was left of his jerky to Sevri. He walked over and politely asked the drummer if he wanted a break three times, as it was considered rude to just relieve someone of a chore or duty without asking and imply they weren't fit to do it. The drummer agreed on the third offer, as was also customary, and Thorne stood beneath the Great Tree with a drum in one hand and tapping out the rhythms with the other. He went on like this until his hand was red and sore. All the while, Sevri insisted on dancing near him as if to say "See? Isn't this fun?" When the drummer returned, fed and merry, he thanked Thorne and sent him off to enjoy the next set.

This particular song was a touch more formal. The mandolins and guitars played a bigger role in it and the drums became more subtle.

Thorne joined the lines, both side by side and facing each other. He noticed more people had joined since the music had begun and saw a familiar face appear in front of him. She didn't realize he was there until she looked up.

"Mila. A pleasant surprise" Thorne stuttered, attempting to be formally standoffish to try and punish her, as childish as it was.

"Thorne. It's good to see you," she replied, raising her wrist to his and starting the spin. He smiled, unable to truly stay mad at her. Friendships, especially old ones, are hard to sink. Neither said a word. Their hands slid from being aloft to clasping each other. From there it turned into a brisk waltz. All too soon, the partner switch took pace. Mila's line moved to their right a space, Thorne's to their left, and the ends switched to the other line. When the dance was over, Thorne attempted to leave and find his place that he had with the others around the small campfire.

He was away from the crowd and the brighter lanterns that hung above the floor when Mila grabbed his hand. Her expression was fool of worry. Her eyes said everything her mouth couldn't say. But Thorne was able to say what he wanted to.

"Mila, don't worry about me. You made your choice. Go enjoy it. Even if he did push me," He said with a wry smile.

"How do you know?!" She screeched, the worry being replaced with innocent shock.

A mischievous smile snuck onto his face, illuminated by the crackling fire. "I didn't. I just guessed." She gave him a punch in the arm, making him laugh and easing the tension between them. She skipped off to enjoy more dancing, accompanied by her husband.

Thorne sighed, knowing he wouldn't get over that for awhile, but it was easier to claim he was fine than cause a scene on such an important and joyous night. So when the casks and jugs of wine were brought out, he didn't shy away. He filled his cup and sat close to a cask of cherry wine. As his senses grew more and more dulled, he grew more and more quiet, barely even responding when someone accidently bumped his knee or stepped on his foot. He took in the moment. The fuzzy feeling in his chest, the warm glow of the lanterns, the wooden ornaments dangling from the ropes and tethers the lanterns hung from, the brightly painted doors to every home. But his admiring was brought to an end when someone grabbed him by the sleeve and made him dance again. The song was fast paced and there was no particular dance for it. And in his drunken state, Thorne danced without care. Others who were tipsy joined in his seemingly aimless step, making it seem almost planned.

When it was over, Thorne staggered to the cask and left his cup there before sitting on the bench by his door. But when he caught sight of Ronan coming home, rosy cheeked and unsteady, Thorne felt like a kid again; caught red handed and guilty, he tried to slip inside as fast as he could. But instead of opening the door swiftly and slipping inside like the wind, he stumbled and bumped his head on the wood of the door. Thinking of nothing else, Thorne sprinted right past his father and into the crowd of dancers. He giggled to himself, thinking it was a clever escape plan. He tilted his head back to let out a howl of victory. When he did, others joined in, not knowing what it was supposed to be for. As he howled he saw the Northern Lights stretching above them. And like in his dream that he suddenly recalled despite his foggy state of mind, he saw faces and figures dancing amongst the stars. His howl died out when he saw it, and his knees grew weak when he saw the woman who had saved him come down from the sky and turn into a blue, glowing elk spirit. The very same one that had helped Thorne win his game.

It bounded off into the trees, leaving a trail for Thorne to follow. And he did. He staggered along and stared in disbelief. And without any words to anyone nearby, he disappeared into the forest. 


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