Story for the day: The Fire Fesitval
The Fire Festival
It was the beginning of the colder months in Frewyn, which led to the lighting of many fires throughout the kingdom. Many homes were well kept with the warmth their hearths could provide and there was seldom a darkened window seen in the evenings about the capital when the fear of frost was imminent. The orange tinge of a well-tended flame was to be expected in every home once the sun had gone from the skies but the presence of bonfires outside of the capital wall was not anticipated and was highly concerning.
Captain Connors stood on watch at the main gates of Diras, greeting the traders passing through and checking their goods when he observed numerous bonfires being lit just off the main branch of the Western Road at the edge of the Expanse. The fires were stationary, which meant there was little threat of invasion, but their appearance was irregular and alarming. He neared the disturbance to ascertain the means of it presence and when he drew close enough to feel the discerning heat of the fires, he noted the Nnodainya clan gathering about beacons, preparing for a ritual of celebratory nature. He believed perhaps they were commemorating a wedding or an anniversary but resolved to call for the commander’s opinion as she had been fortunate to trade with them during her days as a farmer on her father’s Tyfirrem farmstead.
The commander came at once when the summons was given and the Den Asaan followed, certain there was some exercise with his blade to be had. He sharpened it before they left the keep and upon their arrival to Captain Connor’s position just beyond the main gate, he grazed his hand along the edge of the hilt. He narrowed his eyes, briefly scouting the area surrounding the fires, and when the giant realized this would be a peaceable inspection, he sighed and leaned against the commander for disappointed hopes.
“Sorry to have to disturbed you, commander,” Captain Connors said. “I thought I should ask you about this since you grew up near them. I don’t know what this was exactly but I didn’t think it was hostile when they started playing the music.”
The commander sounded her understanding of the event she was witnessing with a knowing aw. “It must that time again,” she mused. “I hadn’t realized they celebrated it this early in the year.”
“What is this?” the Den Asaan grunted in displeasure, gesturing toward the merriment beyond.
“Nothing of great consequence. It’s call fheil wyldain, or the festival of fires in Old Frewyn though I’m certain the Nnodainya have their own name for it. Once a year, the Nnodainya revel in this event to commemorate their clan’s enduring resilience. Ages ago, after the clan wars, when they separated from the rest of Frewyn, there was one attempt made to recover them and unite them. It was a decent enough endeavor but the Nnodainya fought back for their freedom from the union. Some of the other collected clans didn’t enjoy their unsociability and unwillingness to comply with the wishes of their new king so they attempted to starve the Nnodainya out of their camps.”
“Their strategy failed,” the giant scoffed.
“It did, indeed. The Nnodainya simply moved to the south and began making their community there. They braved the cold by swathing themselves in thick wools and by making fires. They starved for a time but they kept their fires lit until all of their clan members found their way toward their new encampment. When everyone was collected, they celebrated and therefore they perform this gathering every year. All the sects of the clan come together, light their own bonfires and stuff themselves until the fires go out.”
The dissonant music emanating from the nomad encampment grew louder and the Den Asaan winced in aversion to it.
“I expect they should be this strident all evening,” the commander said in a disappointed tone.
The Den Asaan was pleased that an excuse had been presented that would permit him the use of his sword and he drew his blade into his hand with a terrible grin. “I will quiet them,” he growled, marching toward the camp.
“I daresay you won’t,” the commander laughed. “As you have learned, Iimon Ghaala, they’re immune to ruthless giants when there are so many of their screaming children about.”
The giant was compelled to recollect the fat child who assaulted his leg while on patrol in the capital and stopped his descent. He marked the multitude of children hopping about the fire and turned back toward his mate, defeated by their attendance.
“What do we do, commander?” asked the captain. “Should we ask them to move their celebration away from the roads?”
“You could try. However, you shall not succeed. They will claim you are too thin for your own good and silence you with cold pies and fried potatoes,” the commander said with a laconic huff.
At the mention of untried fare, Rautu’s pointed ears perked and he gave a quick and hopeful look to his mate.
“Oh, if you intrude you will be fed, Iimon Ghaala,” the woman laughed, “but you shall have to bear their intolerable music, the tactical cheek-pinching of their old women and their incessant inquiries about how your family does while they force you to eat everything on your plate regardless of whether you have already eaten or not.”
The giant stood conflicted, half in agony for the thought of many plump children about his feet and half in delight for the prospect of food being readily given to him. The music resounding from the camp was objectionable to the giant’s refined ears and the laughter rampant in the festivities was unbearable. He had resigned not to venture toward the bonfire and conceded to be without the promised delights.
The captain and the giant were about to turn away when the commander began a deliberation she felt both would find most agreeable. “We can bring Mrs. Cuineill as a combat buffer if you wish to go over there without having to suffer all the injustices of their friendly conversation.”
There was nothing more said and the Den Asaan hurried to retrieve Mrs. Cuineill from her residence in the servant's quarter. The commander laughed at her mate’s sudden eagerness to oblige her plan and when her mate returned, she was astonished to find he had managed to secure the old woman, Tomas and King Alasdair for his party. The kindly blacksmith attended his mother and Alasdair appeared beside the Den Asaan in his salvaged captain’s armour. Captain Connors bowed to the king but Alasdair shook his head, informing him that while he was in his obvious disguise such flattery was gratuitous for the time.
“What are you doing out of your bed this time of night?” the commander said to the king with a smirk. “I thought you should be well tucked beneath your blankets with your embroidery hoop and warm milk by now.”
Mrs. Cuineill rasped with a cackle and slapped her old knees while her son held her arm, simpering to himself.
Alasdair sniffed and straightened his armour. “I heard there was a fire festival going on and I came to have a look,” he said firmly. “I like to know what’s happening in my kingdom.”
“And undoubtedly the roasted sausages and fried roots have little to do with your appearance.” The commander smiled at Alasdair’s sweet features growing voracious with the intimation of such rare delights. “The Nnodainya will not treat you as a king,” she warned. “They have no rulers before their god. How are your obscure dialects of Old Frewyn?”
“Then you shall be very well suited for remaining silent and allowing the old Nnodainya women to stuff you. Tomas, have you prepared yourself for their coos of happiness?”
“Aye, bhean,” Tomas laughed. “I ‘ave a Ma who practices often.”
“And don’t you deserve it, boy-o?” Mrs. Cuineill asserted, pinching her son’s handsome cheek in confirmation of her claim. “Aye, I’m ready. I’ve got enough gossip to last t’ose crones a lifetime.”
The party laughed at Mrs. Cuineill snidely endearing nature and journeyed toward the large bonfire to join the celebration. The commander approached before the others to address the Nnodainya chief and explain the means of their visit. Although she was not recognized by any of those present, when her father was mentioned, everyone in the party was accepted with welcoming gesticulations and words of reception spoken in the old dialect. The commander motioned for the others to join their celebration and upon their entry, they were approached by a horde of Nnodainya women, all of them looking with curious glances and all of them with outstretched arms waiting to utilize their pinching tactics. Rautu evaded their touch, leaving the captain, the king and the blacksmith all in harm’s way. The three Frewyn men were assailed by the women while the Den Asaan used his mate for a barrier. He walked with the commander toward the large bonfire, positioning himself unassumingly near the roasting meat. He found numerous links and haunches to his liking and plucked them from their skewers, taking a seat on the short grass far from the festivities. He concentrated on his meal while he bid his mate to stand guard to make certain none of the more portly children should find his haven. She agreed, standing at the forefront of his seat to shield him from any further infringement on his solitude. She observed, however, that the giant seemed dissatisfied with the collection of food he had procured.
“You should teach them to cook, woman,” Rautu grumbled, tearing a piece from one of the haunches with a look of disdain for its dryness. “They will benefit from your abilities. Bring them your spices.”
“I daresay any endeavors I would make would be lost, Iimon Ghaala,” the commander said, taking one of the roasted links for herself. “They are quite restricted in what they allow themselves. Many things I would wish to do to improve this would be forbidden.”
The commander was about to explain the several incongruous regulations regarding the preparation of food among the clan when she noted the presence of two familiar young women. They were standing on the opposing side of the fire, admiring the commander from afar. They were the two women she had seen with the family of Nnodainya who came to Diras not long ago. She studied their hesitant glances and apprehensive posture. They seemed to wish a conversation with her but stopped any approach when the noticed the giant sitting behind her, distracted with the tough and tasteless meat their celebration provided. One of them held out a cup of mulled cider toward the commander as an offering of peaceable nature, and the woman accepted. She motioned for them to join her and the two girls came eagerly to her side, giving her the spiced drink in thanks for her fellowship. The commander began speaking to them in their language and the conversation was soon off, melding with the discordant music and the howls of gaiety from the commemoration.
The melodies of the Nnodainya were played on relia and danced by young women in their constricting attire. They leaped about the fire in circles, holding hands with one another, hopping right and then left and then right again. The old women, though watching the young, were better employed with their mouths than they were with their feet. News and rumors of every tenor were exchanged between them and at the center of every crone’s rising suspicion was Mrs. Cuineill. She conversed with great animation, flailing her frail arms about as she gossiped and nagged with the others of her elevated age. Beside the more elderly of the crowd were the mothers of the clan. They were taking great pains to introduce their many daughters to Tomas, Alasdair and Captain Connors, each woman professing why her daughter was the premiere choice for the young men of dulcet character and pleasant appearance to marry.
Alasdair was lost in the gaggle of faces and voices, unable to understand a word of what was shouted in his direction as the Nnodainya daughters were auctioned at him. He bid them all with pleasant smiles and civil nods but his misunderstood approbation of their behavior only caused them to usher daughters at him with greater alacrity. Captain Connors was just as concerned for though he could understand little of what was said, his worry was that the king should feel pressed to humour them and result in taking wife before the evening was out. Tomas, who was gauged with much circumspection due to his immensity for one with human aspect, assisted in ridding them of the gratuitous offers. His gift for their language was evident in the manner in which the women all quieted at his words and once the king and captain were spared, he argued that they could be persuaded to choose a wife if they had full stomachs.
Alasdair and Captain Connors were given clay dishes and much food to adorn them, more than either one of them was able to eat. They were watched with keen eyes and when their plates were nearly half-empty, they were filled again with an even larger portion than the first. Tomas did his utmost to support the inundation of provisions, eating what neither could finish. He eventually was forced to ask them not to refill their plates with their fried roots and meat pies but did so with a gentility and graciousness that caused every mother to croon and proclaim that Tomas was a perfect match for their children.
In the midst of the continued commotion, Captain Connors managed to steal a look over toward the commander. She was sitting with the two young girls engaged in quiet conversation with the Den Asaan sitting at her back, ignoring the remainder of the festivities. He turned away only to be drawn back again when form the corner of his eye he noticed one of the two girls gawping at him. It was a look that pretended not to be looking but could not help but regard the object being noticed. He smiled at her for the compliment he had taken and she responded the same but neither of them remembered to look away once the smiling was done. There was no inspection of interest. There was only a glance of partiality and it endured until the young woman beside the one gazing at the captain woke the other her from her state. She was chided and dragged off. The captain watched the scolding and his pleased expression faded. He could not comprehend why those two women should be excluded from being offered as wives and began to agonize for them, fearing that they had succumbed to an undesirable fate.
The commander had witnessed the entire affair and listened to the girls’ loud conversation as they stormed off. The one admiring the captain had been promised to another man and was therefore forbidden from forming any designs of her own.
“Those poor girls,” the commander said more to herself than to her mate. “They have the most unconscionable names.”
Rautu tossed the bones from his meal aside and thought that if their names where anything resembling their characterless meat, they warranted severe punishment for lack of interesting savor. “What are they?” he said, shifting closer to his mate.
“Besides impossible to pronounce, there are far too many of them in general. Nnodainya always have at least five names, two of which are the names of their parents passed on through them and three of which are meant to be said in quick succession so they sound as one. Hardly useful should they ever wish to venture out into the world.”
Rautu observed the uncommon expression of vexation on his mate’s features. “You suspect something,” he hummed.
“I do,” she said, lowering her voice. “Those girls shall not be here for very much longer from what I gathered of their conversation. Both of them are betrothed to men they have never met and one of them is to be married in a few days. She’s terribly unexcited about it. They’re twins those girls and where one goes the other will follow. I do hope the best for them.” She looked across the bonfire to see Captain Connors searching for the particular women through the crowds, leaving Alasdair and Tomas to be showered with marriageable girls. “I think our own gentlemen have been tortured enough. Shall we rescue them?”
The giant stood and thundered through the camp to clear a path toward the remainder of their party. Everyone was collected and the Nnodainya were thanked for their generosity and hospitality. A few more offers of brides and food were made but when both were declined, the commander was presented with a parcel of fried potatoes with many complaints of how thin they all were. She thanked them for their kind concern and said her goodbyes with sincere hopes they would soon meet again.
When they returned to the main gate of the capital, the commander gave Mrs. Cuineill a shrewd glare. “Well, Mrs. Cuineill, what did those elderly ears of yours discover?” she asked.
“Clan’s dyin’ out, girl,” replied the old woman, smiling as she gave her report. “Many of t’eir wee-uns are leavin’ ‘em. T’ey want to see t’e cities and get t’eir own professions. T’ey’re chief made a new law or somethin’ about lettin’ outsiders in who want to marry t’eir wee-uns and live as part of ‘em. Once outsiders come to t’e clan expectin’ an easy wife, t’ey’re forbidden from leavin’ wit ‘um. Aye, led ‘um into trouble it did and t’eir clan is now divided into t’ose who want to keep t’e old ways and tose who are wantin’ to be more secular. Not promisin’, girl, I’ll tell you t’at.”
“No, I should say not.”
“T’ose to wee-un sittin’ wit’ you and your man are getting’ married to members of t’e ot’er Nnodainya clan. Hopin’ to patch t’ings between ‘em, aye.” Mrs. Cuineill shook her head. “I’m old enough to know you can’t fix what’s broke wit’ marriage,” she said with a sad sigh.
“Fortunate that neither our king nor our captain was persuaded to marry this evening,” the commander murmured. “Were they, we should never have seen them again, leaving Tomas to reign as our new leader.”
The blacksmith chuffed and waved his hand at the commander. “Go on, bhean,” he laughed. “I’m no king. I’m a blacksmit’. The smit’ is a comfortin’ ‘ome for me and I won’t soon leave it.”
The commander smiled for Tomas’ sincere and resilient declaration, and the party traveled back to the keep where the fried potatoes were quickly passed on to first person who showed an interest in them.
The captain returned to his post at the front gate and looked out at the Expanse to see the fires of the festival finally cease. His mind was besieged with concern be could not soon abandon. He thought of the information revealed to him and he understood that the woman who had shown him favor would never be permitted to do so again. He continued with his evening charge but his heart was not in his duties. He was unnerved and even recollected himself distraught. There was nothing to be done for the young woman and this is what concerned him most of all.