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The Festival of Icy Lights

24 Dec

Unlit lanterns hung from the eaves of every building in the town, each made of low-quality glass, and filled with bubbles and cracks.  All around, citizens were busily building ice tables, chairs, cups, and plates.  Holes were ground into the tables, and expensive candles were forced into each hole.

Children laughed as they gathered shards of ice from the construction and carried them in buckets to a large pile in the center of town, where young women painstakingly created a tree from shards and packed snow.

Every person was dressed in their bulkiest, warmest clothes.  When a person shivered, they were sent inside to warm up before the matrons who managed the kitchens became annoyed with their presence and shooed them back out while they prepared the feast.  Large rolls of bread were baked, each as big as a man’s head, and soup was simmering on an open fireplace.

Only one little boy had nothing to do.  None of the other children let him pick up shards.  None of the men wanted his help with carving.  None of the women wanted him near their work to overhear their gossip.  The lone boy was dressed in his warmest clothing, and still shivered.  He refused to go inside, however.  For a boy of ten, it was akin to admitting defeat to the hands of bitter nature.

Instead, he curled up with his back pressed against the warm stone of someone’s fireplace and pulled a stolen book from inside of his coat.  The edges had dug into his tummy and left it aching, and the relief was substantial now that it was removed.  The boy opened the book, only to reveal the image of a town with a castle, covered in snow and lights.

The boy looked at the page, then turned to one side to look at the preparations.  The similarities were uncanny. He flipped to the beginning of the chapter and placed is finger under the first word and began to read aloud.

The Fesival of Icy Lights is a well-known celebration that originates in Tradzhek.  The  celebration is believed to originate with the bandit tribes who founded the duchy, and continues on today.  The festival is celebrated in every duchy of Saldecla, and a few regions of the People’s Republic.

While the exact reasons for the festival are unknown, it is said that the tribes once had to survive an icy winter, and had only candles and potatoes with them.  They cut down the local trees and created many bonfires, but ran out of wood to make tables to eat at.  The bandits used snow as their tables, but the fires melted the outer layer, and during the night, the tables became glittering, smooth ice dotted with candles.

Today, people celebrate these ten days with large feasts, set at tables carved of ice (when possible), that are covered in candles.  Bonfires are common, and every recipe for the Festival of Icy Lights includes potatoes.  Often, lovers and families exchange gifts each day of small monetary value, usually handmade, in order to form stronger bonds with each other.  The festival is usually considered the season of acceptance-

Sickened, the boy slammed the book shut.  Season of acceptance, his buggering bumhole!  He almost threw the book, but stopped just before it flew from his hand and gripped the tome tightly.  His father’s warning echoed through his ears. “Books have more value than wood.”  The boy closed his eyes and counted until he calmed.

As he counted, he noticed that he couldn’t feel his face, and his hands felt like they were being stabbed with many pine needles.  He hugged the book and looked around to reaccquaint himself with the area after his reading session.  As his mother’s home came into view, he dashed there.  He didn’t notice as people looked up to watch him run by, nor did he notice as he entered that his father was present.  The boy plopped the book onto a nearby stool, then sat by the fire and shoved his face near the flames.

A deft hand pulled him away. “Not so close.” a too-familiar voice warned.  The boy became rigid as he yanked himself away.  Only the still-grasping hand of his father prevented his launch directly into the fire. “Calm down.  You’re going to throw yourself into the fire if you keep that up.” The voice was strict and strong.

“Let me go, then!” The boy wrenched to one side, insistent on being away from his sire. “And go away, I don’t want you here!”

The man’s face registered pain for a moment, before he once more resumed his usual calm facade. “Junior, it hurts when you say things like that.” His tone was more gentle now. “Do you really hate me so much, or are you just mad because nobody was letting you help them?”

The boy stopped struggling and pouted. “They all hate me.” He spat. “Each and every one of them.  I can’t pick up shards, I can’t help carve, I can’t help cook, and I can’t help make the tree or do anything else!” As he spoke,  Junior’s tone took on an increasing amount of helplessness. “Why do they hate me, Father?” Tears stung at his eyes, burning with the boy’s inner heat against his frozen flesh.  A single tear slid down his chill-reddened cheek. “Why?” His voice broke as he tried not to cry.

The stern, silver-haired man knelt and wrapped his arms around his son. “I’m so sorry, Junior.  They’re afraid of me, because I’m a noble.  They think if they let you get dirty, that I will be angry.” He stroked the boy’s hair gently, in awe again at how identical the shades were between the two. “Would you like me to teach you how to make a bowl out of ice?” he asked after a moment. “Maybe then, they won’t be afraid to let you help.” He smiled, his fine features lighting up at the prospect of bonding with his son.

The boy wiped his face and nodded.  His voice broke again as he spoke. “I want to, Father!  I want to make a very big bowl!” His expression was so serious that his father couldn’t restrain a chuckle.

“Warm up, and then we can go make a bowl.” The man kissed his son’s head, then stood back up to allow the boy time near the fire.  His eyes, the same shape and color as his son’s, wandered to the stolen book.  His lips pulled back in a slow smile of approval.

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