The Longest Night Who: Anyone - open thread! Where: Thedas (9_9) When: The winter solstice, several different years Summary: Ferelden has many holidays, all of which are associated with Andrasteism or the Old Gods - but then there is the natural phenomenon of the winter solstice. Whether someone views it as a chance to party or a night for quiet reflection, one way or another, everyone holds vigil on the Longest Night. (This is a group thread of a different stripe, and sort of bending the fourth wall, but if nothing else it will get your creative juices flowing again! Anyone wanting to contribute a short story to this collective tale, please feel free to do so. Where is your character, come the Longest Night?) Rating: Should be PG for the most part.
Firelight dotted the mountainside like stars across the black sky, reflections in red and white; the witch-tribes, scattered across the highest of the Anderfels peaks, were like handfuls of embers scattered over the carpet of snow, glowing almost silver in the light of the full moon. The skald watched them briefly from the edge of the village, her mind soaring out across the white plains, all imperfections in the jarling's landscape covered over in a sheet of glistening ice. Somewhere out there, her mother's family warded off the darkness with silence and contemplation; in the villages of Brandr, which were bonfires of light and noise dotted across that perfect white snowscape, the jarl and his thanes and the peoples they protected clustered in each village's central square. Holly and ash, pine and fir, branches from living trees had been taken, at great cost and care, from the forests at the foot of the mountains to adorn every door and house, symbols of life, of enduring strength in the face of the northern winters. Even at sixteen, Hilda Aelricsdottr knew the stories, the sagas and the eddas, the reasons behind the tradition; she knew that, in days long ago, that the villages of the Anderfels would once sacrifice a hunter to the winter god, the one-eyed All-Father, in thanks and in surety that the jarling would survive to see what brief summers that the All-Father's wife could grant them.
She was also old enough to know that Albrecht could not return home for the Longest Night, and young enough to be disappointed that there were no travellers' lantern-lights in the distant, snow-mantled passes.
There had come a letter, though, delivered through numerous hands from village to village until it reached the home-house of the jarling of Brandr, and with her back to firelight and the snows of the valley arrayed before her, a gleaming expanse of whiteness, she smiled and opened the wax seal, imprinted with the flaming sword of Andraste - Albrecht's mistress, since his wedding of his wyrd to that of the warrior-priests of Andraste. Hilda read his looping scrawl with greedy, avid interest, and crowed delight to find that among that priest-elect there seemed to be an artist of some skill; Albrecht, ever thoughtful of those he cared for, had enclosed a sketch-portrait, a square of vellum perhaps the width of her palm on all sides, but inked upon it was his familiar face, his laughing eyes and a gently teasing smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He had shorn his hair shorter than was his usual wont, but then, it was warmer in the south, he told her, warm enough that Orlesian and Fereldan winter days seemed as mild to him as an Anderfeln summer.
Footfalls behind her, heavy and clumsy and quick, warned her of Lukas's approach before he playfully barreled into her from behind - the youngest of the clan was only eleven that solstice, but he was already promising to grow into the same heritage of height that his brothers and sisters had inherited, his blonde hair tousled and a quick smile upon his sweet face. Hilda, the letter held in one hand, laughed and swept the boy up into a hug, crouching to show him the vellum with Albrecht's mirthful face upon it. "Look, our brother has sent us a solstice-gift," Hilda smiled, as Lukas's grin grew wider in enthusiasm.
"It's perfect! Come on, we have to show Mama and Papa! Besides, Alaric says you're missing the whole celebration. You can't do that!" He tugged at her elbow, and the skald went where drawn, laughing gaily as she allowed Lukas to drag her through the village.
There would be stories, later; Gunnarr Dragonsinger, who sat on the steps of the longhouse and smiled at the Anders making merry, had most assuredly been asked to tell once more the story of Denerim's siege and the fall of the Dragon. Perhaps he would allow Hilda that privilege, to take the lead in the celebrations, to spellbind the village entire while her father looked on from his ash-arbor with tears of pride prickling his ice-blue eyes. Perhaps - only if she was ready, and if she was not, well, wyrd ben ful araed. Fate could not be changed, and she would not allow it to affect her enjoyment of the festivities.
And though Albrecht could not leave his order in the south to join his family in the north, Hilda felt his warm presence in her heart all the same.
When the Lady had been with them, they had hunted the Longest Night; it had been a test of manhood, a proving-night for the cubs of the pack, to show their prowess and earn the right to be viewed as an adult. Deer and elk, boar and bear, all had been hunted on that most sacred of nights - and in years when there had been no game to hunt, his pack had hunted the Dalish instead. More than one elf of the wood had come to adulthood with the pelt of a werewolf skinned on the night of the Lady's solstice, but that was part of the risk, part of the ritual. The shadows, lit often by the wealth of a full moon, had never been a safe or guaranteed thing, even deep in the heart of the Lady's own territory.
Now, with Her gone and the curse of the wolf fled with Her, aside from a chosen few, it was little more than a night for thought and reflection.
Garrett had considered returning home, for the Longest Night. It was the closest thing his people had to a holy night, after all, and his mother at least would be glad to see him - would pull him into her and smooth his hair (reaching up on tiptoe to do so, for Nightsinger was as small and delicate a human as she had been a werewolf) and feed him until he thought his stomach would burst. And if any could convince Swiftrunner to lift his banishment of Garrett, if only for a night, it was the alpha male's mate; but the Bannorn was desolate and silent, winter wreaking its havoc across the green expanses, and he would not risk the true-men roads, not even in the swift dark of night.
He was far enough south now that the water in the streams had not iced over in the center, though he detected little change in the scent or shape of the air, the cold still piercing, still seeking weaknesses in the thickness of his double winter coat. He bent his head to lap from the water, and for reasons he could not have spoken aloud felt a sudden, stabbing yearning for those hunts of old - moving as a blonde shadow through the oaks and cedars of the Brecillian, sometimes in his father's wake, sometimes ahead of him leading the chase - muzzle tipped back to howl to the leaf-bowered sky above. And despite the cold, he left his coat of fur behind, changed to a shape with hands and feet and skin open to the attacks of the winter air, and knelt down by the stream to scoop the icy water into his palms.
Garrett knelt there at the edge of the stream, catching the full moon on the reflection in his cupped hands, for longer than he would care to admit to anyone.
"The Longest Night is a thief's holiday," Black Matthew told his pupils as they walked along the wharf, where the Drakon drained into the sea; the oceanside taverns were seedy, badly lit and usually highly suspicious of pickpockets, which only made them greater training grounds for Azabeth and Lalin, who had yet to learn the harsh lessons that Matthew had of what might become of a thief that got caught. He intended to keep it that way, that they never learned such torment. If he pushed them all the harder for it, well, it would better prepare them for the nastiness that fate and the Maker could so easily provide. So here they were, a pair of fourteen year old girls and an old retired cat burglar-assassin, striding the boardwalk, Denerim's docks lit up with lanterns on every pier and people and noise everywhere. It wasn't an official day of celebration, as such (the Chantry hardly approved, after all, and so kept their Templars indoors for an evening of reflection or self-flagellation or whatever else it was that Templars did behind closed doors) but the populace was out in force, merchants and sailors rubbing elbows with urchins and soldiers. Everyone was full of good cheer, candles in hand as they ventured out into the chill night, vendors hawking their wares long after sundown, their calls echoing out across the water. This was a ritual older than the Chantry, older than Denerim, older perhaps than the very sea they tasted on every breath - the defiance of the shadow, illumination to banish the demons of the Longest Night. The full moon dipped low over the water, her silvery light wrinkling its way across the sea, a beacon to ships and souls alike.
It was, in short, the perfect environment for their first night out without him.
It was also the perfect environment for them to get themselves snatched or hurt, which was why he planned to watch them from the rooftops. His girls never did look up as often as they should.
"Take a look around you," said Matt, keenly aware of Az and Lalin's position just behind him as they walked; their eyes were bright and gleaming with the anticipation of an assignment, while Lalin's clever gaze picked out purses on the targets Az's smile marked. Their heads were bent together exactly like they were sisters, the pair of them for the moment the same height - Az's growth would come in soon enough, and she would shoot up over the slender elf most likely, but it wouldn't be for a lack of trying. "Celebrations of all kinds, drinking, gambling, all sorts of excess - everything anyone thinks they can get away with. They're not watching their purses, they're thinking of the next greeting, the next person, the next purchase." He stopped on the boardwalk and turned neatly on the balls of his feet, the crowd parting and flowing around them as if they were rocks in a stream, and he flashed his best smile upon his young students and despaired of how quickly they were approaching womanhood. "Tonight, this is your playground. Go and practice your skills. It's just you and the marks tonight, and I want you to have a little fun with it. Give me your hands."
Their eyebrows crawled up their faces, but they did as bit, and quick as lightning he pressed into each of their little hands an entire gold sovereign; Lalin gasped, and Az's brows came down to knit themselves into a frown as she opened her mouth to speak. Matthew headed her off. "None of this goes to the Talin Tax. Yes, I know about that," he added, as the shamefaced girls exchanged a mortified look, Lalin's cheeks and Azabeth's ears turning a delicate shade of embarassed pink. "But in between your training, if you see something you want for yourselves, you can buy it legitimately. Just this once, though." He dropped one black lash in a wink, and that restored their laughter and smiles. "Now go. Have fun, and don't get caught."
"Thanks, Matt!" "Thank you!" they chorused, and then with a sisterly grin and a giggle of excitement, they melted into the crowd.
Black Matthew himself scaled one of the buildings on the wharf, sat upon the rooftops in his silks and jacket, warm despite the cool air, and as he kept an eye on his near-daughters, thought of Lillie and if she was looking out across the water, under the same stars he was, only in a land far far away.