SEVRIN LORE: Winterborn

The islands of Sevrin lie far to the north, so the coming of winter brings an end to the trade season, and, in troubled times, to warfare.  Winterborn, celebrated on the full moon between the autumn equinox and the winters solstice, is a time of peace and plenty.

Market fairs are held throughout the islands, with the largest and most festive  on the island of Stormwatch.  Outdoor dances are popular pasttimes.  Puppet shows entertain small children.  The scent of meat roasting or curing in smokehouses fills the air, since winter slaughtering is traditionally done at dawn.

This festival, like any other, has its share of odd customs.  Many of them focus on divination. “Crow chasing” is a fairly grusome form of fortune-telling, and thus very popular with young boys.  After the dawn slaughtering, they “steal” the cast-off bits and heap them in places where crows are likely to gather. They hide and await the birds’ arrival.  Each person will pick two or more birds as “their” crows and assign an answer to each bird. At a signal from the boy designed as Crow Master, the boys storm out of hiding.  The crow who takes wing first and fastest bears the correct answer, which might be a yes or no question, or might be the name of the girl most likely to unlace her bodice behind the cooper’s shop.  It’s not unusual for lads to inform budding damsels of these portents and somberly remind them of the dangers of being crow-crossed. Some girls actually fall for this–or at least pretend to.

Like many other seasonal festivals, Winterborn is considered a gateway, a time when veils between worlds are thin.  People take precautions against fairy mischief, and vendors who sell iron charms do a brisk business at Winterborn fairs.  Offerings to propitiate the fey are left out, but they’re left at a discrete distance from homes and places of business.

Though the day is given to visiting, shopping, and outdoor merriment, people light extra lanterns and candles at twilight and take their festivities indoors. According to custom, people spend the night wherever they might be when the sun sets. Hospitality, always a Sevrin virtue, reaches a zenith on this night, and visitors expect to pay their keep by telling entertaining tales.

The second half of Winterborn is a festival of stories and song. Festhalls employ storyspinners and skalds to fill the long, dark hours. Musicians are welcome guests in any household. Schoolchildren learn traditional tales and practice storytelling skills in preparation.

Many of these tales focus on the Wild Hunt, and the misadventures of those who are caught up in it.  Legends vary, but most tales describe the Wild Hunt as a procession of dark fairies riding ghostly horses through the skies.

In the traditional tales, mortals occasionally outwit the fey and are spared or even granted riches or magical boons. In practice, people avoid looking skyward on Winterborn, as sighting the Wild Hunt is considered an omen of ill fortune or even coming death.

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