The Ninth Guest
As a foreign guest I had the honor of being seated next to the Ninth Guest. I didn't make much of it at first, even though people around me spoke to her as if she were real. It was merely an oddity to me, until the light outside faded and the candles where lit. The flickering light danced across the empty seat next to me. Its plate full of food, untouched. In the shadows, I could have sworn, I saw the silhouette of a woman. I pinched myself to remind me she was a mere fiction of my imagination. Still, it was as if I could feel something tangible taking up the seat next to me.
One of the most peculiar traditions in Ghynzua is that of the Ninth Guest. At special occasions where dinner is being served to celebrate or welcome guests, it is custom to set an extra plate for the Ninth Guest. It does not matter how many people are actually seated around the table, the ritual is always called the same.
In Ghynzua the matriarch of a family always has the honor of sitting at the short end of the table furthest from the door. The rest of the family sits on her right or left side. The seat opposite the matriarch is usually empty. It is reserved for the Ninth Guest. Whenever a family has something to celebrate, be it a name giving, a holiday or the welcoming of a special guest, they will invite the Ninth Guest. To make this none existent guest feel welcome an extra plate will be set. When the food is stalled out on the table the matriarch will put food on her plate and then offer it to the Ninth Guest. Switching out their empty plate for hers. During dinner people will talk to the Ninth Guest as if she were a long time family friend. She is always treated with the greatest respect. It is very rude to ignore her or to start an argument when she is present at the table. For foreigners this custom is often an uneasy one. They are seated on the right side of the Ninth guest. An honorable position to sit at in the eyes of any ghynzuan. For the foreign guest not so much. Many experience a feeling of someone really sitting in that empty seat.
The origin of this tradition is believed to tie in with Amanism. Amanists believe Ama had eight daughters. However, in manuscripts predating the Pulse more than a thousand years, there is mention of a ninth daughter. Little information can be found about her. Scholars believe though that the custom of the Ninth Guest comes from this ninth daughter. The tradition is widespread throughout the continent, and can even be found among many of the Northern Clans. Therefor it is assumed that it originated a very long time ago. Possibly during the initial colonization of East Eghea.
After dinner any leftovers, including the food from the still full plate of the Ninth Guest, is brought outside as an offering to Ama. The ritual involving this offering starts at the dinner table where it is custom to ask the Ninth Guest for permission to take away the food. It is then brought outside to a spot specifically used for this ritual where the food is left on a small altar. It is a big taboo for humans to eat from this food offering. However when animals or Inflicted beasts eat the food left outside it is seen as a great honor and a blessing from Ama.