The moon is high. Magnar and Syndri are tired, weary, and hungry. Since starting off early that morning on horseback from Dryhtenhaven, the brothers traveled up through Taungoun, and into the Sundorwick Forest with no rest.
“We’re ever so close now, Brother,” Magnar says confidently, “On the other side of this forest lies the Togyn River, which we shall cross to get to Nurvenheath where Princess Valonia of Syperragg is being held.”
Syndri exhales and nods as they continue onwards, then slows as the sound of a steady drum begins to sound. Just ahead of them lies a pallet of food strewn neatly about on tree stumps and logs in a clearing. Filled with hunger and curiosity, Magnar eagerly nudges his steed forward but Syndri approaches with caution. Magnar smells the good victuals, but Syndri spies the native forest tribe.
“Food is there, brother!” Magnar says, “I’m starved,”
“Careful, brother,” Syndri warns, “We shan’t intrude upon their little gathering. We wouldn’t want to disturb them or anger them.”
“Nonsense, Syndri. You know nothing about these forests,” Magnar says with confidence, “I’ve been here many times. This is where I met the beautiful maiden in the river.”
“And?” Syndri snorts, “That says nothing of the native peoples.”
“They are harmless, brother,” Magnar states, “I don’t believe I’ve ever once crossed one.”
Syndri sighs in slight annoyance but still follows after his brother who takes off with great speed on his horse over to the forest clearing.
“Brother!” Syndri quickly calls, “We should dismount from our horses…. You do remember the last time we traveled to a forest tribe, do you not?”
Magnar begins to retort but thinks better of it. He rides his steed up to a nearby tree, leaps down, and ties its reins around a low branch. Syndri dismounts his and does the same. Magnar with great excitement, and Syndri still yet with very much caution, make their way on foot into the clearing. But, before they can fully make it into the clearing and into the presence of the tribe, the two brothers are stopped by a little girl. She comes from in front of them and pushes their legs back to stop them from walking forward. Their eyes glance at each other, then down to see her smiling up at them.
“Hello. Are you two strangers?” she asks curiously yet with some sense of authority in her voice.
The brothers look back at each other and then at the girl again. She is no older than nine, and they have no idea of how they didn’t notice her sneaking upon them.
“I suppose,” Magnar says suspiciously with an eyebrow raised, “But likewise are you,”
“Of course I am a stranger to you, but there are many more of us over there in the forest,” the girl sneers, “I am no stranger to them, but YOU are.”
Magnar grows slightly agitated but is still amused by her. Syndri’s eyes dart back and forth from his brother to the girl.
“It’s alright to be a stranger.” she quickly adds, “Have you come for the feast of strangers?”
“FEAST of strangers?” Magnar roars, countenance changing from skeptical to delighted as he places a hand on his belly, “Oh, then in that case, well of course we’re strangers.”
“SHH! It’s the Feast of Strangers,” she whispers harshly, “You can come along, but-- SHHH! You must be quiet.”
“Wait…” Magnar ponders aloud, “Exactly why must we be quiet?”
”Hush!” the girl breathes indignantly, “You mustn’t talk or else they’ll turn you out.”
“Who will turn us out and what for?” Syndri asks gently but with much curiosity, “We mean no harm to your tribe, milady,”
“No harm at all,” Magnar booms, “We only wish to ask if there is any food for us.”
“There IS food…” the little girl murmurs, “And the only reason for opening your mouth should be to put it in.”
Syndri smirks and looks to his brother with a slight laugh.
“And what do you mean by that?” Magnar frowns, quite offended.
The girl smiles slyly and folds her arms, then turns away from the pair with a flip of her braided hair and steals away into the night. The two puzzled brothers follow her (or at least try). They hide behind the trees she hides behind, and skip along in her shadow until they have made it into the clearing. There, the steady beat of the drum they heard earlier can be heard louder and clearer. Lots of tribals are seated at the large feast, but none of them say a word.
“Come,” the girl whispers, beckoning them onwards with her hand.
The two cautiously step out from under the canopy of trees and into the moonlit clearing. Magnar and Syndri scan their surroundings. Some of the tribe members glance their way, but most of them continue minding their own business. None of them speak or even gasp. The little girl motions for them to have a seat and she sits beside Syndri. Syndri observes that most of the people look like Sundorwickians (much to his relief, they are not Firgenholt Woodsmen), but quite a few of them seem to be weary travelers just as they. Suddenly, the drum stops, causing the brothers to instinctively hold their breaths. Just at that moment, all around them, everyone’s heads fall forward in a swift motion. Magnar is startled, but Syndri grasps his arm, then clasps his own hands together and bows slightly, closing his eyes. Magnar lets out a little sound of relief but raises his eyebrow at the peculiarity of the sudden happening. Then, even he bows his head and closes his eyes. No prayer is uttered aloud, but it is assumed this act is a giving of thanks to The Shining Lord. Suddenly, exhales can be heard as the gathered group collectively raises their heads and begins to eat. Magnar grins cheerfully and begins to dig into the food placed before him when suddenly someone from across the log table picks it up and begins passing it around in a clockwise fashion. Syndri nudges Magnar, causing him to look to his left. There, A Sundorwickian sat passing a dish to him. Magnar took from the dish a small loaf of bread. Taking a bite, he followed the cues to hand the bowl down to Syndri. As the dishes and goblets were passed around, everyone got a taste of their contents. The food and drinks were delicious, but not a sound was heard, save chewing and muffled acknowledgement and approval of the scrumptious meal.
After sampling many of the foods, the forest people begin reciting tribal chants and pounding upon the tables. Syndri is caught off guard for a moment but eventually pats his palms gently against the table in a rhythmic pattern at the prompting of the little native girl’s elbow. Magnar, on the other hand, is amused by this sudden uproar of merriment and joins in (quite offbeat), bared teeth and curled lips reflecting his giddiness. His eyes scan the approving smiles of the tribals when he suddenly glances over and spots a beautiful young woman. His eyes grow big in surprise and he immediately elbows Syndri.
“Look! Brother look!” he whispers with excitement, “There she is!”
“There who is?” Syndri asks, eyes glancing about.
“It’s the girl!” Magnar whispers again.
“What girl?” Syndri repeats impatiently.
“The girl I met at the river!” Magnar mutters with an enormous grin.
Syndri peers in the direction of his brother’s gaze and his eyes rest upon Anselma who is looking around with a serious face as she slams her hands upon the table in a ritualistic manner. Her dress is simple and plain. She is wearing a thin, light green (almost white) short dress with short, tapered sleeves, embellished with minimalist patterns. Her thick, dark brown hair is done into many braids that fall loosely upon her shoulders. Her skin is tawny brown. Her rich caramel eyes dash at the brothers and land on Magnar, causing her to appear slightly unsettled. She deliberately looks away with much effort in attempts not to be recognized, though she clearly sees it’s too late for that. Her heart jumps, slightly disturbed at being noticed by the man she met a while back at the river. She is slightly embarrassed at her behavior. She didn’t expect to see him again. She really wanted to leave that lasting impression upon him and vanish, never to see him again. Partially, the fear was rooted in falling in love. She had half felt attached to him but refrained from trying to see him again. There were times he had returned to the river to find her, but she only spied on him from a hiding spot in the trees. She admired his handsome physique and powerful stature. His blue eyes, golden hair, and brave-- yet chivalrous and slightly awkward-- personality (or just the bit he showed her that once upon their first and only meeting yet) were all somehow alluring. But, besides gazing upon him from afar, and keeping his garment that she stole from him that mischievous morning, she guarded her heart and didn’t want to fall in love with anyone in fears that the dream she had when she was a young child would materialize into a true prophecy.
Meanwhile, Magnar stares from afar, hardly able to contain his overwhelming joy, but Syndri’s eyebrows ruffle then raise high upon his forehead.
“Her?!” he questions in confusion and slight disbelief.
“Yes! Her!” Magnar repeats.
Syndri looks her over, shocked that Magnar had described her as ‘the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen’. She is not wearing any powder or makeup. She is not wearing an elaborate dress. She is a plain, tribal woman with no hint of royalty in her appearance whatsoever. Syndri remembers Magnar’s previous infatuation with princesses, and his desire to rescue one to wed all the way back when they were but young lads. Then, as they grew older, he seemed to take a liking to the more prissy girls in the village with the fanciest dresses and hairstyles. And, as of late, he would be highly attracted to the heavily made-up women in the taverns in promiscuous gowns, the busty ones with blush, eye shadow, and deep crimson lipstick. Syndri can hardly believe his eyes, in fact, he looks around to see if maybe another stranger was there somewhere in that direction, but of course, you would never find a royal at some such event as The Feast Of Strangers on their own free will. He sits staring, involuntarily blinking. Magnar observes his brother’s countenance.
“What?” Magnar whispers accusingly.
“Hmm?” Syndri quickly answers innocently.
“What was that look?” Magnar asks.
“What look?” Syndri immediately responds, still not making eye contact with his brother.
“What?” Magnar murmurs, “What’s wrong with her?”
“Wrong?” Syndri blinks, “Nothing’s wrong,”
“…You…You think she’s ugly?” Magnar asks, slightly disappointed.
“No, no. Not at all,” Syndri sputters with a shake of his head, “She’s quite pretty, actually… it’s just, I didn’t expect you to fall for someone so–”
Suddenly, the drumming ends with one last heaving boom from the hands striking the table as all the Sundorwickians rise to their feet simultaneously. Magnar and Syndri do the same under the close direction of the little girl who seems to have adopted the two for the night. The tribals step back away from the table. Then, a few of the young men take the long table by each end, lift it, and carry it long ways away. At this action, the music from the band resumes abruptly, and the natives begin shuffling around until all girls are lined up opposite to all boys who are also filed in a line (sort of like a square dance). The brothers’ guardian is forced to leave their side for a moment, but she still keeps a watchful eye upon them from her position among the ladies’ side. Magnar glances over and sees that Anselma is still across from him to his left, but about seven people down. As the tribals continue rearranging themselves, he tries to make his way and line up with Anselma. Just as he is nearing her, she turns away and skips a couple of folks down. Magnar is smiling very big and bright. Anselma has a face that looks as if she’s seen a ghost, then her eyes scatter around and she tries to pretend she doesn’t see the eager Magnar trying to catch up to her. The two lines of people begin to draw into each other, bow (and curtsy) then back away again. The girls ruffle their dresses, the men smooth out their shirts. Two girls smile at Syndri and giggle, for they are lined up with him and they think him to be cute. Syndri has an awkward countenance but follows the lead of the others. Suddenly, people begin taking each other by the hands as partners and do a little spin. Syndri uncomfortably pairs up with one of the two girls as the other is taken by his neighbor. The one who is dancing with him giggles with glee and glares over at her sister with a teasing face. The sister scowls. Syndri’s eyes stare big in much discomfort.
Meanwhile, Magnar is right near Anselma, but she quickly grabs hold of a tribal man who stands beside him instead. He, on the other hand, is accosted by an older tribal woman who smiles at him feebly. Magnar smiles but cringes, looking off and still not taking his eyes off of Anselma. Suddenly, everyone abruptly separates from their partners, shifts around in line, backs up, steps forward, bows, curtsies, backs up, draws near again, then joins as partners once more. This time, Syndri ends up with the other sister who grins evilly at her counterpart who in turn pouts. Syndri inhales deeply and cranes his neck, looking up to the moon in an obvious state of awkwardness. Magnar on the other hand is about to be overtaken by another woman, but he quickly lunges for Anselma. Unfortunately for him, he stumbles and Anselma finds herself drifting off with another young man. As Magnar regains his footing, he is joined by a different young woman until the beat changes again and the couples separate back into their perspective sides. They back up, curtsy and bow to each other, then quickly dash off in all directions deep into the forest. Magnar starts after Anselma but Syndri quickly grasps his arm.
“Do remember what we came for, brother…” he sternly warns, “Only to pass through.”
“Only a moment more shan’t do any harm,” Magnar whines.
“Princess Valonia awaits us across the river,” Syndri insists, “Both her father and OUR father are counting upon us to deliver her from King Adjorran’s hand.”
Magnar shows great disappointment, but finally exhales and resists the urge to break away from Syndri’s grip.
“You’re right, brother,” he says with some sadness, glancing down at the ground, “Let us find our horses and go.”
As the brothers venture back, they find their steeds tied exactly where they had left them and, now with bellies full of strange but delicious wares, and minds full of odd but wondrous pondering, the duo sets off towards the moonlit river, beyond which lies the King of the North.