The Fire of the Lonely Ones – that’s what it’s called by those who study such things. An ancient tradition, since as long as fire has been known in the darkness of the long night.
It’s where the secret folk come out. Those who live alone, far from prying eyes and listening ears. Those who go their own ways, on hidden paths that no one knows. It’s their fire, for their own reasons, and you – you’re not invited.
It’s not something you get invited to.
No one ever asks anyone to come. You go, or you don’t. If you know where it is and if you get there on time that’s enough. No more. No less. No matter who you are – and as long as you stay within the circle of light you’ll be safe.
It’s one of those things.
Unspoken rules so old you could read them on the invisible walls around the individuals that attend. And yes – that’s individuals. Not all of them are human. Some of them aren’t even people. You don’t have to be a person to be someone, and no matter who you are the light from the fire of the lonely ones will shine on you.
Warm you? That’s a different matter.
Just stay in the light.
– – –
Two shapes trudge across the ice. Heavy snow falls, and a cold wind from the mountains makes its way north towards the sea. It’s the shaman and the young woman he’s looking after. Young woman? Girl? Whatever. She’s old enough to make her own mistakes, but not to know better.
Progress is slow. Backpacks are heavy. Snow is deep. It’s a miserable time to travel, but it’s now or never. The fire will burn when the fire wills and it won’t care if you’re there or not.
First stop is Lurensborg. They spend the night at the shaman’s place. His permanent residence. Where he keeps his things. He called ahead and someone fired up the heat and the room is nice and warm when they arrive.
She falls asleep on the couch almost right away. Still not as strong as she was. Getting there, but not yet. It’s a long way back. She doesn’t even speak yet.
– – –
The snow has stopped falling. The wind has died down. The forest is deep and dark and silent. Two shapes trudge on.
Next stop is Vargtand, where the fylkin lives. In summer a road leads there. Now, there’s the snowed over footprints of someone who walked walked there a week ago, or maybe two.
It’s a long trek. Two days in summer. More now. You have to know the way to make it there.
The shaman knows, and the forest lets him through. It’s uphill all the way, and the trees keep the moonlight away. It’s cold and it’s dark and the ground is uneven. The young woman follows. Silent. Stubborn. Worn.
– – –
Log cabins around a large clearing. Smaller buildings hiding in the forest behind. Barns and stables and stores. A house for the women, and a house for the men. A house for each couple, and a house for the old. A family.
Doors are low. Windows are few.
Here is where the anfylk live. Hunters, fighters, wanderers. This is the homestead of Patriarch Skulk. This is the seat from which he rules his clan.
Here is where you’ll find snow speaker Littlecorpse, should you be brave or foolish enough to seek her out.
– – –
Tall folks step into the hall. Humans. Man and woman. More early guests here for the fire.
The old one is known. The shaman. A friend of the forest. They knew he’d come. The young one. The silent woman. She is new. New and strange. Doesn’t speak. The children shy away from her.
A family springs into action. Helping hands. Welcoming words. Bring out the big chairs. Drag them closer to the fire. Find the big bowls and spoons.
Strange or not, within these walls guests are treated well. Warm furs, hot stew, friendly smiles.
And sure it’s a hassle to house tall folk for the night, but this homestead welcomes all guests who come through the door. Move some furniture about. Make some extra space. There’s a will and a way and that’s really all you need.
– – –
The human woman falls asleep almost right away. Barely finishes her soup. Snores with the bowl on her lap. Relaxes. No longer scares the children.
The snow speaker appears and takes the shaman for a walk. Outside. In the snow. Where only the stars can hear them.
Inside the hall it’s nice and warm. A big fire burns. A home’s heart beats. Someone puts a warm blanket over the sleeping human. She’s much too big for anyone to carry her to a bed without waking her up, and she doesn’t snore, so why bother? It’s not much different from a regular evening around the hearth in the family hall.
And what about the other guests? Well, they’re here somewhere, probably hiding, or asleep, or both. They’ll show up when they’re hungry, just try not to step on them. They get really upset when that happens. Actually, try not to worry about them at all. They’re not really relevant, and they’d get really embarrassed if they knew you thought about them.