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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8. Storytellers and Dreamweavers

A cluster of children and adults alike had gathered around Siiri as she told stories. Ronan even sat in wide-eyed wonder as she spoke. Siiri was younger than him and Callum, but she knew more by far.

"Skye wanted to impress Nature, for he envied all her gifts and power. But he also loved her deeply for the same reasons," she said, recounting the tale of the Northern Soul Lights. Her hands moved endlessly as they braided and weaved light into figures meant to be the beings she spoke of. Skye was illustrated with a blue figure; not the careless blue of a sunny summer day, but the blue that chases the other colors out of the sky when the sun sets. He strode along with a swiftness and sprightliness as Siiri made him dance over the heads of her audience. Nature was a deep green with red hair falling on her shoulders and down her back, always blowing in a breeze caused by Skye's nonstop dancing.

Thorne's eyes began to grow heavy and he fought to keep them open. It was one of his favorite stories when he was young. Sevri's had always been the story of his mother and father. Quite a tale of it's own, Sevri thought. And no one denied that, but not a single person present even thought about anything other than the story Siiri told.

"Skye decided to knit Nature a scarf. But his hands were clumsy and his temper flared." The Skye figure swirled around and began to weave his own strands of light, each one more crooked and ugly than the last until it threw them away to evaporate in glowing tendrils and return to Siiri's hands. Her face lit up when Skye exploded and reappeared, hiding from Nature behind a tree. "He decided to come down from watching over Nature and ask for her help in teaching him. And teach she did; she taught him how to make fine garments fit for kings and chiefs alike. She taught him to use the brightest colors she could offer and make them mix and flow together as if they were dyes in a stream," Siiri went on. She made Nature and Skye sit together and craft growing tails of purples and yellows and greens. One child reached up to grab it, but furrowed her brows in dismay when her grasping fingers passed through it.

Thorne shook his head, hoping to keep himself awake, but only succeeded in falling backwards onto the warm skins that had been laid out. The soft furs tickled his skin and warmed him up. He drifted off into sleep and dreamt of the story.

 

He still heard Siiri's voice, but couldn't see her or anyone else who had been listening so intently to her tales.

He saw Skye, wearing clothes of dark blue and the stars twinkling for forever. Sparkling eyes stared at a woman so fair it was beyond Thorne's ability to describe. Nature wore a long-sleeved gown with flowers stitched in, so real and life-like she was able to pick one from her skirt and smell it or braid it into her fine red hair. Skye came down from his home above Nature and sat beside her, asking her to teach him what she knew. So she picked up her yarns and cloths and fabrics and showed him how to fashion fine clothes. The first thing he'd made was a bright pastel blue shirt with white stitching.

Thorne felt satisfied when he pieced it together that those clothes turned him into the day sky. Thorne crept ever closer in silence, though he'd no body to creep with. He watched them fashion a set of clothes for Nature. A nice coat of white and frosty blue and washed out grey and pants to go with them. When she put them on for the first time, Skye showered her with snowflakes to show his affection. The flakes sparkled like his stars as they fell to the ground and settled in Nature's hair and turned it a near white blonde. Thorne held his breath upon seeing her amidst the snow drifts that Skye had sprinkled for her.

Skye, however, didn't feel any of his gifts were enough. He paced and paced as he waited to change from night to day. So he fell to earth and scoured the land for bright flowers and berries and created new colors no one had seen. He crushed them and dyed a pure white scarf he had made. The one he had wanted to give to Nature but never knew how to make. He held it up to the light of the dawn when he'd finished his task, but it couldn't be seen. Skye continued to wait through the wintery day, refusing to make snow for Nature so the sky would be clear that night.

Nature emerged from her forest and looked upwards, wondering where Skye had been. But to her astonishment, she saw a long strip of colors that stretched from one end of Skye's home to the other. It had the most brilliant colors she had ever seen. A bright green that rivaled even the green of her eyes, a vibrant yellow that glowed like the sun, and still more colors than could be found anywhere.

Skye smiled wide while he held it out for her. He reveled in her delighted gasps as she took it from him.

"This is incredible. Oh it's radiance is a marvel, Skye. Surely we must hang this for all to see?" She asked, wrapping it around her neck, it's colors changing and mixing on their own.

"If you wish it to, my love," Skye replied. He prepared to take it from Nature and hang it up in the sky for her, but she retreated.

"No. Not now. Only for the best occasions. Let it help those in Nutine see those they've left behind. That way they can be seen. Let it light up with every spirit that returns," Nature explained, knowing Skye would agree. Her love of man was unrivaled as it was her job to look after them and provide them all they had. As she said this, singing began from far off. Thorne recognized the song, the language, the voices. He followed them, not realizing Skye and Nature curiously drew closer to the source of the sound.

What Thorne found was a dance. Dancing and music within an Andruisk. He even thought he saw faces he knew. A flash of Sampsa's smile, an echo of Ronan and Siiri's laughs, a glimpse of firelight in Sevri's blonde hair. Thorne turned around and saw Nature smiling approvingly.

"For this reason, we should hang it up, my darling," she said resolutely. Skye nodded in wordless agreement and took the scarf when it was offered and flew into the air. At first, there was only the night sky as before....and suddenly there was color. A flashing radiance that illuminated the dancers and their merrymaking. Everyone stopped and bathed in the glow of it. Thorne found himself consumed by it. And in the changing ribbon of color, he saw faces and figures and spirits dancing to their own music. He joined in the dancing himself, feeling lighter than air. But just as Thorne was beginning to lose himself, he was brought face to face with the two Great Spirits. Skye and Nature stared through him and he got a good look at them. He realized just how small he was, a normal man was compared to them. But there was such a kindness and warmth from Nature that he couldn't feel afraid. A protectiveness radiated from Skye made Thorne feel safe.

Despite this, everything began to melt away. Skye and Nature faded into a swirling vortex of blue, the music died, and the lights had dimmed. Slowly, Thorne woke up from a good shake from Sevri. Sevri gave a tired laugh before getting up and leaving for their place.

Sitting up, Thorne looked around and realized everyone else was gone. He had been left to sleep in the middle of the furs at the foot of the Great Tree beneath a blanket of stars. "Really nice, very neighborly," Thorne huffed while he rubbed his eyes and stretched. Once he was fully awake, he shuffled to his home and opened the door. He found Ronan, Callum, and Sevri sitting around the fire with wineskins and a large jug full of, what Thorne guessed, Siiri's special wines.

"Welcome, join us," Callum slurred, cheeks rosy. "Big Brother Sampsa should be here soon. And Ssssiiri too." The words smelled of wine made from huckleberries. Thorne sat down near the fire and logs to keep it going, listened quietly to the inside jokes the twin brothers shared. Ronan was merry, but not as drunk as Callum. That was one thing that Thorne thought of and how grateful he was for it: his father knew his limits and never passed them. So when Callum kept trying to pass the wineskin to Ronan, Ronan declined and passed it to Thorne. Thorne took a sip and swirled it on his tongue before swallowing. It sent a warm and fuzzy feeling down his throat and to his chest where it pulsed with his heartbeat.

Before they knew it, Sampsa knocked on the door. His face wasn't as similar to the twins as it could've been. Darker complexion with a spattering of freckles and hair that was only a few shades darker than his skin with a few streaks of gray. His features were soft and rounded, but he shared the same eyes as the twins. Twinkling greenish blue jewels that reflected the light of the fire when he came in.

"Ronan, can I have Siiri's jug back? She needs it," he said, surveying the situation amongst his brothers and nephews. "And it seems you need to be cut off," he added with an almost fatherly chuckle.

Ronan puffed out his chest and stated matter-of-factly "I didn't take it in the first place. You'd think our own sister could tell the difference between us. At least the fact that she wouldn't have known I had taken it could have told her it was him." He flicked his head towards Callum who had to bring his hands to his mouth to fend off a fit of giggles.

Sampsa shook his head, but instead of taking the jug and leaving, he sat down beside Thorne. The scent of pine and berries wafted off him and replaced the smell of wine and fire smoke. It was refreshing; at least Thorne thought so.

"So what'll it take to keep you here? Surely you could use a break from those grandkids of yours," Ronan pointed out. Always the joker of the family.

Sampsa shook his head. "No, I just came to get the jug Callum took. But since I'm here....it's always the winter festivals I start thinking about everybody," Sampsa explained. His voice was weighted with age and a faded sorrow that comes with old memories. Everyone shared the look except for Thorne. He hadn't known any true loss except for losing his friend that very day. He knew his pain couldn't compare to theirs. Even Sevri's heart was heavy.

"Yeah. Marnietta use to love it around this time," Callum pointed out, thinking about their youngest sister, born after Siiri. Neither Thorne nor Sevri had known her long. She'd died from fever not long after Sevri's father had disappeared.

Sampsa's eyes misted over and he began to hum a melody that everyone in their family knew. It was soft and sweet and filled the room effortlessly with their combined voice. It was the lullaby that had rocked each one of them to sleep, passed down from the generations before. It seemed to go on forever. Thorne swayed when he wasn't adding a log or kindling to the crackling flames that popped in time like a metronome. It could have been the drowsiness beginning to take him over, or it could have been magic that he didn't understand, but he thought he could make out the shapes of people in the flames. There were seven in all, coming into existence one by one amidst the burning logs. One grew and gave off its own light and receded deeper into the logs with other figures, its own family to care for. But its light still glowed brightly and cast shadows on the wall more noticeably than the fire did.

Thorne turned to look at Sampsa and almost thought he saw that light coming off of his rune stone necklace. He stopped himself and chocked it off as the firelight bouncing off the stone and returned his gaze to the fire. Little did he know he'd missed part of the story that played out. But he noticed that one figure was missing. The second one. He suddenly felt a sadness and watched the floating embers escape through the vent hole and into the open air. Thorne heard a sniffle and looked across to see Callum with red-rimmed eyes and damp cheeks while he clutched the wineskin loosely.

Sevri nudged Thorne with his elbow to look back to see what was happening next. One of the two twins wisps of fire and the youngest disappeared before one reappeared, barely alive. Without knowing it, Thorne held his breath and waited, watching the other figures gather around the returning hero. Then it disappeared again and returned with the one that was missing. Ronan looked away for a moment and took a breath as he watched this.

"Sampsa, enough. This is a time to be merry, not think of things such as this," Ronan stated a bit wistfully. His voice wavered and surprised Thorne. His father was almost always hardy and boisterous.

Sampsa shook himself of whatever reverie that had entranced him and the figures disappeared. "Uh, sorry. Ronan, I didn't mean to," he stammered, mortified that he'd lost control of his power. Before another word could be spoken, Sampsa reached over and stole the wineskin from Callum and emptied it. Sampsa was up and gone before Callum had the chance to wine about his stolen drink.

"...that was mine," Callum huffed before laying down and turning his back to them all.

Sevri's eyes were glazed over and half closed in a way that indicated just how tired he was and how close he was to passing out. Thorne decided to man the fire for awhile longer and stayed awake when Ronan curled up by the door, within grabbing distance of his bow and arrows and his knife. When Sevri's trance was broken, he too succumbed to sleep. Only when he thought he saw daylight chasing away the shadows from beneath the door did Thorne realize he'd been asleep, sitting at his self appointed post. With that in mind and a silent but big yawn, he pushed himself ot the wall and let himself slip back into sleep again.

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