Chapter 36: Tournament

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The Sylvans arrived at the old ruins of Fawn's Peak to find it had been cleaned up quite nicely and plenty of room had been set aside for the various activities that would take place.

Each clan had an assigned area to stay for the duration of the games and festivities, and they promptly went to preparing their beds for the following week.

Once everybody had a chance to get settled in, the various spiritual leaders of the clans called their people together to the center of the ruins. Each gave their blessing to the participants and those gathered near, and together they lit the sacred bonfire.

After the fire was lit, a steady drum beat began and the priests chanted. Low, rhythmic, and solemn. Priestesses with rattles tied to their legs started a slow dance toward the priests, and gestured for the clans to follow. One by one, each of the clans joined in some way. Some joined the long chain of dancers and some sang.

The ceremony ended with the first feast being served that night of various dishes such as venison, beans, breads, soups, and pies. Whatever bitterness was between them, it was understood they were still one people, and were to respect the outcomes of the games.

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The following day, the elders of the clans gathered the Kurach together at the bonfire to introduce the various warriors chosen and the games that would be played. One warrior gave a sheepish grin and small wave. Various cheers and words of encouragement were shouted as each warrior was presented and his task announced. When this was done, the elders dismissed the Kurach to go enjoy the first parts of the festival.

Merchants and vendors who had arrived earlier had their wares on display, such as rugs and clothing made from wool, cotton, and skins, clay pots, woven baskets, tools, charms, and many other things, and eagerly welcomed visitors to their venues.

There was some friendly taunting among the clans as to who would win the games, and a bit of wagering and betting went on as well. A few of the more prideful came to blows, but the guards were quick to break it up before anything serious happened.

The warriors who would be competing were not allowed to mingle with the crowd until after the individual in question had completed his part of the competition, and were sent away to private quarters. The truce between the two Sylvan tribes was still fragile. Should one of the competitors be disabled by dishonorable methods such as sabotage, it would mean a lot of families and cubs would be in the middle of a battle. Neither side wanted to risk that.

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"This is gonna be great!" Shanku squealed as she picked out a new leather belt to replace her worn and nearly broken one.

"It's just a belt, Shank," Muso laughed.

"Naw, not just the belt," Shanku said as she put it on. "I can't wait for tomorrow when the fun starts."

"I'm more interested in the cubs' pageant," Banhi said as she straightened her new dress.

"I hope ya win your frilly contest," Muso teased.

"Win or lose, I intend to be the most graceful one there," Banhi stated. She carefully continued to practice her walk and gestures just so.

"I'm glad you're not like that. She's all the sass I need in my life," Muso whispered to Shanku.

"Despite the best efforts of various people, they never got to convert me," Shanku whispered back.

Banhi urged them to hurry up so she could get to the pageant in time. Nari nudged her children and off they went to where they heard the little girls would be presenting themselves. Banhi shuddered when she saw the crowd gathered and began to have second thoughts. Shanku patted her on the shoulder, whispered some words of encouragement, and Banhi held her head high as she went to join the other cubs waiting for their turn.

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One by one, each cub was called forward to demonstrate her grace, manners, and how useful she was to her family. There were cubs from every class. The gathering cubs told of how they could reach fruit, plants, and mushrooms in areas too small for an adult. The hunting cubs told of how they provided much of the small game for their families' meals. The scribes' cubs told of how carefully they helped keep the ink and paper orderly. The crafting cubs told of how carefully they minded and cleaned the tools. Banhi was one of the few whose skill lay in working with goats and sheep, and she told how she helped birth the kids and lambs, milk the mothers, and work the sheared sheep wool.

Various adults would question the cubs about different parts of their duties to see who was actually helping their parents and who was just trying to make themselves look good.

The daughter of a leather worker ended up proving herself the most capable assistant of the cubs. The daughter of a crafter was considered to be the best dressed. And Banhi spoke so kindly and politely, she got her wish as being considered the most graceful. Their reward was to each have an apple tart, much to their delight.

"Good job," Nari congratulated her when she rejoined them. Banhi grinned broadly, her smile covered in gooey apple pulp.

"What was that about being Miss Manners?" Muso teased.

"I didn't wipe my hands on my dress, so I still count!" Banhi snapped after she swallowed her bite.

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"Hello, again!" came a cheery voice from behind. Shanku turned to look, and there stood her old gryphon friend.

"Hello to you too, Kirill!" Shanku exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"It seems the Ferals were so grateful for the help, they invited us to come and celebrate this autumn festival of theirs," Kirill replied. "The roasting meat at least smells very good."

"Will you be dancing as well as feasting?" Shanku asked deviously.

"Oh, no, not at all. We gryphons dance in the air!" Kirill laughed. "We're much too awkward and clumsy for trotting about on the ground."

"Suit yourself," Shanku grinned. "Will you at least stick around for the games tomorrow?"

"Aye, I think I will. A few others are also curious to see how you Sylvans intend to work this out. And perhaps to hold the victor and loser to their part of the bargain. All this squabbling and running about is very irritating," Kirill replied.

"No kiddin'. I almost hit the road again as soon as I got home and found what a mess everything was," Shanku sighed.

"Ever thought o' dyin' your feathers?" Kirill asked suddenly. "There's this great booth a few rows down..."

"You can if you want to. Dyes and beads are not my thing," Shanku shuddered.

"More for me!" Kirill laughed and trotted on to the feather decorating venue.

"Who'd have thought gryphons are into that whole feather dye thing?" Muso asked, bewildered.

"Ya got me," Shanku shrugged.

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Soon they came to a contest that caught Shanku's attention: who could eat the most meat tarts. Never one to turn down a good meal, she promptly plopped down in the circle as her family stood to the side to indulge in a more moderate consumption of the treat.

The chef proudly placed piles of his tarts before each hungry member of the circle and called for them to start. They tore into them quickly enough and eagerly devoured tart after tart. After about a dozen, many became full and conceded. It came down to Shanku versus an older fellow, and both had slowed down considerably. At last, after a little over two dozen tarts, Shanku admitted defeat.

Her opponent heartily congratulated and thanked her. "I won by a mere half-tart, but it took great force of will, lass! I'm glad ye stopped when ye did, or I'd have burst!"

Both were given a tall glass of tea made from a root to combat potential indigestion.

"Gluttony! Of all things for you to be good at, gluttony!" Banhi exclaimed in frustration. "Are you even my sister?"

"We can't all be as proper as you," Shanku said happily as she patted her full stomach. "Think of it as me making you look that much better by contrast!"

Banhi sighed. "Mother, are you sure she's not a pig?" Shanku began to snort and root at her little sister for fun, much to Banhi's disgust and Muso's amusement.

"Give your sister some peace you two," Nari shook her head.

Shanku gave Banhi a rub on the shoulder and let her be.

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Many of the crafters took the opportunity to put on demonstrations alongside what they had for sale.

"Hey, Hilael, do ya need a new basket?" Shanku asked as they stopped near a stall of basketweavers in the process of splitting saplings into strips. Hilael simply shook his head. Shanku watched them for a few moments as they took strips that had been soaking and wove them around the frame before Muso nudged her to another stall.

Other tools and containers were being made. Clay pots and jars, wooden mallets and mauls, and, to Shanku's great delight, a smith had set up a temporary forge. He was creating mostly axe heads, hammer heads, and small blades, but he said at his home forge he also made augers, cauldrons, and cookware.

Of course, crafters and cooks weren't the only ones plying their trade. The healers had their own area with plenty of poultices, potions, powders, and proverbs. Unsurprising, they found Misen taking a keen interest in and having many healthy debates over it.

Haro had little interest in his wife's arguing with and berating the alchemists, and soon set off to do the very same thing with the leatherworkers.

"A perfect match, no?" Shanku chuckled.

"Sometimes I wonder what keeps them from turning on each other," Nari sighed.

"They do. They just make up later."

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One set of stalls set up by the Weolcen had many blankets on display unlike any Shanku had seen before. While rather plain on one side, the other was bursting with color and covered in geometric patterns.

"What are these?" Shanku asked curiously.

"Quilts, of course!" the vendor said and laughed.

"Aye, obviously, but I haven't seen that kind of pattern before," Shanku shook her head.

"We have a lot of kirshani in our territory," she explained. "They love to sew a lot more than we used to, and they taught us how to make prettier quilts."

Shanku nodded, quite impressed. "What do you want for one?"

"Dwarven silver, unless you have something to trade," she replied.

Shanku took her pouch off her belt, rifled through it, and presented one of the coins she had gotten in the mountains. "Like this?"

"That will do nicely," the vendor nodded and accepted it, after it had received a thorough inspection from a nearby kirshani that was helping her sell the quiltsh. "Take whichever one you like."

She browsed for a few moments and then chose one with a green and yellow leaf theme.

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With evening coming on, it was time for another grand supper. Thick stews, breads, vegetables that had been chopped, fried, or simmered, roasted and smoked meats, jams, jellies, pies, wines, ciders, and more good eatin' than could be found in the rest of the Fernwick territory.

"And what's a good supper without a little music?" laughed one fellow and he pulled out a stringed instrument. He began to play and sing humourous songs making light of the misfortunes of life, one of the crowd favorites being of the hunter who went out without his breeches and came to regret it. An area cleared and young and energetic Kurach danced and flirted with each other.

As the night wore on, a sombre mood fell over the attendants. Tomorrow was the big day when the games would begin. Within a week it would be known who had the most right to the Nyre, and if the Sylvans would reunite or remain divided forever.

Should the Imperials win, it was clear they would then work to drive the Ferals completely out of the Nyre and claim both forests for themselves.

Should the Ferals win, only the rebel Imperials would be welcome to stay. However, the Ferals had no dreams of conquest, much less a taste for the bitter cold of the north-lying Eor, and would not seek to drive out the Imperials.

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After the evening meal, Shanku's family went to their quarters. Banhi and Muso were very sleepy and had to be carried by Shanku and Hilael. Nari was quiet and distracted as she led her cubs away. Shanku and Hilael made a nest and tucked their siblings close to them, settled down, and tried to go to sleep. Shanku pulled Banhi under her new quilt, but couldn't sleep herself. She was staring at the stars in anticipation of the next day, almost oblivious to the worry of her mother and oldest brother. She gave them both a reassuring grin and continued to unofficially keep watch for the night.

The first day went much better than I had hoped. So far, it seems like everybody is getting along. Tomorrow is when the tournament will begin, and I can't wait!

It would be a good idea to sleep. It's going to be a long day tomorrow. But can I? No. No, no, no. I'm happy to be home, and the feuding has finally amounted to something interesting!

I wonder if any of those big ol' bison minocentaur will wander into the games? I guess that wouldn't be fair if the Imperials are scared of them now though...

~ Shanku Ravenwing

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