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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9. Friendly Competition & Another Game (Lentaika)


A strong and stiff breeze blew and gnawed at everyone's cheeks and clawed at their hair. Many were sitting at the top of a hill instead of preparing food for the feasts later. Lentaika was about to begin. A game that Thorne wasn't too fond of. But his father and aunt, however, loved it and speedily prepared sleds and wooden planks, recovered from old trees and smooth to glide across snow.

Sevri stood next to Thorne and asked "Aren't you going to play? You did it last year with Mila."

Thorne shot him an "Oh really? I didn't know that" look, complete with a raised brow and steely glare beneath half closed lids.

"Right, right. But you could do it with me. Or against me. Or are you too chicken?" Sevri goaded.

"Pishko. Hachte, you must love to get beaten," Thorne spat, his competitive nature already beginning to take over.

"Lanugage! There are ladies and fine maidens present," Sevri retorted sarcastically. He gestured towards a cluster of people which included Mila and her new husband. Thorne's blood boiled when he saw the husband, but froze when Mila saw him and waved at him sheepishly. Sevri noticed the exchange and whispered in hushed tones "Here's your last chance to impress her."

"And be an affair like Uncle Daithi?" Thorne hissed with embarrassment.

Sevri didn't say anything. He wasn't offended. He'd heard the jests and taunts his father had taken when that mess went down. And he himself wouldn't have changed a thing. But before he could get lost in the thoughts, he sauntered off and called over his shoulder "Either way, you still couldn't beat me." Then he picked up a sled big enough for him and examined every inch.

Thorne shot a last glance over to Mila and saw her leaning forward with wide eyes and a smile that made his knees weak. He noticed her husband's supposedly protective and affectionate grip root her in place. That was what did it. Thorne walked in the tracks left by everyone else who want to race and grabbed a wood board, smoothed and cut and glossy. It reminded him of a snowboard and thought that in hindsight it was probably the first prototype of the ones people out in the world used. But the type of sport the Nioneksa had devised wasn't like any that they played out there. It was a race, first and foremost. And it was tricky and dangerous. Few of those that participated saw it through to the end. Kids would race and make it to the bottom of the hill and stop before they reached the river that participants were meant to travel down to another Andruisk.

The adrenaline that fueled him forced Thorne to move to the top of the hill and dab a mix of sap and other mysterious ingredients that shamans and concerned parents had concocted onto the bottom of his boots so the plank would stick. He tried to lift his foot from the wood and felt a satisfying and comforting resistance. And they were off. A hand pressed against Thorne's back and sent him shooting down the hill with the others. Thorne gave a scream and struggled with keeping his balance. The trees and other sledders whizzed by him in a flurry of faces.

Sevri held onto the sides of the sled and flew in front of Thorne and to the side. "Need a hand?!"

"Shut up!" Thorne whined, falling forward and catching himself with Sevri's shoulders. The sudden change in balance sent Thorne to the ground.

"Hachte! Thorne!" Sevri cried, nearly falling out of his sled to see Thorne.

His momentum kept Thorne rolling out of control. His head banged against the packed snow and his ankles popped when the end of the board caught the snow. Somehow, the board righted itself and Thorne in the process. Dazed and unsure of what just happened, Thorne waited for the stars to disappear from his eyes before realizing he was upright again. It took him another moment to realize the air had been knocked out of him. Coughing and sputtering, he fought to get air into his lungs. When he could breathe and he caught up with Sevri he shouted "I thought you were supposed to be the smart one! What the hell was that?!"

"I didn't grab a moving sled!" Sevri shot back, a smile on his face knowing that if Thorne was able to joke then he was alright. "But now that you're upright, enjoy the ride!"

Thorne shook his head and crouched down low so he could speed up more. The cold air was probably for the best with helping the new bruises that were painting his body as he sped along with Sevri only a few paces behind. It got to almost be relaxing if they weren't going faster than a speeding car. Even the younger kids with their parents were enjoying themselves, despite the few worried mothers ready to stomp their feet to the ground and stop them.

The trip downhill took them around a bend further into the valley and away from most of the onlookers who'd seen them all take off.

Confident that he could actually control himself, Thorne sped up and weaved past a few more leisure racers. Thorne dared to glance over his shoulder for a moment and saw Sevri with his hands on the back of his head, contently coasting on the snow.

At that point, those that didn't plan to go down the river were already branching off and coming to a stop. Normally, Thorne would have joined them. But the path to the river was a one way trail, and that moment he'd used to look at Sevri had cost him his chance to bail. In fact, it cost him precious seconds to slow down and hop into an actual canoe like other boarders did. He zipped by and found himself on the river. The waves were bitter cold and tried to soak through Thorne's boots. He looked to those on the riverbank for help, and only got looks of shock and humor.

Refocusing on the task at hand, Thorne looked at the raging rapids and tensed. He liked canoeing, but he'd never done anything close to surfing in his entire life. As he was splashed and bombarded with the spray of freezing water, Thorne was extremely grateful for his multiple, thick layers of clothes that were meant to fend off the cold.

Hearing the telltale splash of the others, he caught sight of a canoe and even a sled catching up to him. But he wasn't prepared for what happened next. The woman in the canoe, aged and graying flaxen haired, grabbed him by the collar and forced him into her canoe. Thorne was dumbstruck, having hit his head on the side of the canoe and his legs flung over the other side. "T-t-thanks," he murmured.

The woman only smiled before pulling her scarf back up over her face and steered them along.

Thorne was amazed with how hardy and resilient she was for her age, being at least three times his soft and tender age of baby-faced eighty-seven. Then, in his dizzied state, he thought about how people aged and how short normal peoples lives were and how long his people's were. That train of thought pulled into the station of why the two groups could be different and that got on a bus going to when did this change happen. A big wave of water and ice chunks washed over the side and into Thorne's face, interrupting the confusing cluster of thoughts and ponderings. The woman laughed again and let out a content sigh when the river slowed to a more relaxed speed.

"Well, boy, I think this is your stop," she said, paddling to the shore as people from the Andruisk began to gather and clamored while other racers appeared.

Thorne checked himself, making a mental check of all of his limbs and such before getting up. Brushing himself off, he turned to thank the woman but saw no one in the canoe. All that was there was a paddle resting peacefully inside. Despite the pats on the back and praise, Thorne stared off into space, a little unnerved, then suddenly laughing like an idiot. A blur across the river caught his eye and he saw Sevri running and waving his warms.

"Are you okay?!"

Thorne hesitated to answer with a shout, fearing his head would begin to hurt from the various blows to his skull. But he finally answered "Just barely!"

"How did you get there?!" Sevri asked between panting.

"I....I have NO idea!" Thorne replied with a touch of laughter. "But whoever pushed me down that hill in the first place is in trouble!" A round of laughter and cheers erupted from that remark as they all ushered the finishers to the Andruisk to enjoy some food set out for the competitors. Despite the dull ache in his joints, or the parts of his skin that felt completely numb, or the sinking feeling in his stomach that the woman who saved him wasn't even real, Thorne realized he was starving.

 

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