Winter Story

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[a story to tell aloud:]

   Long ago, in our wanderings, we Outsiders found an isolated land beyond the marshes, where the Eternal Enemy does not go, and there we built the three high Walls, and made for ourselves a new City. There we thought ourselves safe from the harshness of the world and the never-ending War – and forgot how to live in the wastelands.

   One year, though, when the days grew short and the sun hung low, Outsiders in the City found for the first time their world turn terribly cold – so cold that their fingers became stiff and breath froze in their lungs – and the wind bit skin and cut through clothes and screeched through the cracks in the walls… And then it began to snow.

   The Outsiders of the City became fearful, for the only thing that had ever fallen from their skies was bitter rain and ashes – and this was colder than any rain, and whiter than any ash they had ever known. They looked onto the nameless thing apprehensively, certain that doom would follow.

   At that time there lived in the City a young man they called 'the Prodigy': on the day that the snow appeared, all his friends and his neighbours, and even the City's Elders, they went to ask him what this omen meant, and what they should do, for many of them thought it foretold of a new attack from the Eternal Enemy. "Now, wait a moment," he told them, "we do not know yet if it be good or ill. Give me a day, good Outsiders, and I will tell you what I think."

   So he went for a long walk down the deserted, cracked-stone streets of the City, and he puzzled and he pondered and he wondered at this thing he did not know.


   That morning he saw an Old Man hunched over by a doorway, squinting at the snow most grimly. He asked him what he made of all this? And the Old Man answered him, shaking his head: "Oh, young Prodigy, I do not know how much good it would do in the end to 'make' anything of it. It will only get worse: I can feel it in my bones. The gods have long since abandoned us and now the Earth has finally tired of our kind. I tell you, she will send more and more of this white doom upon us until it covers everything and ends us. There is no stopping it.

   The Prodigy nodded pensively at his words and went quietly on his way. And he puzzled and pondered and he wondered at this thing he did not know. And, still, it was snowing.


   In the middle of the afternoon he happened to pass by his home again and saw his neighbour the herb gatherer at the window. The Prodigy asked him, for he knew there was much wisdom in this man: "Do you, too, think we should fear the white omen?"

   And the Wise Man answered him with a shrug: "I do not know if we should fear it, young Prodigy. See, hold it in your hand and it turns to water. Yet if it continues to cover the land, and it does not disappear, all the plants will die and there will be little left to eat. I tell you, we should gather what we can – before the cold grows any worse – but the others are too frightened, I think, to come outside and help us."

   The Prodigy nodded pensively, agreeing, but he could not think of what to do and what to say to convince the rest of the Outsiders. And he puzzled and pondered and he wondered at this thing he did not know. And, still, it was snowing.


   He went around the City's frozen streets once more until he came, just before dark, to the First Wall and Gathering Place within it.

   There he saw an Outcast perched atop the ruins of the throne, grinning slyly at the falling fragments of skies. Outsiders used to say this man was 'mad' yet the Prodigy knew that he had wisdom of his own – secrets from the other City, old City, where he once lived before his exile, and things only learned by someone who still lived the wanderer's life – so he said to him: "Surely you could help me with this riddle. My people are filled with fear and hopelessness at this apparition and I am not sure what to do."

   He told him what the Old Man had told him. And he told him what the Wise Man told him. And he told him of the fears of his friends and his neighbours and his elders. But the Madman only shook his head and laughed. "My gods," he exclaimed, "what silly stories they have told themselves just so they could be afraid." He jumped down from his perch, and was barefoot in the snow, "Look, it is nothing more than what it is and nothing less – and, like anything, has its beginnings and its ends."

   "Then… it will be gone tomorrow?" the Prodigy asked.

   The Madman smiled knowingly and replied: "Change is certain, young Prodigy, but if your people are to survive its comings and its goings… you too must change."

   "Then what should I say to them so they will change?" the Prodigy asked again

   The Madman laughed again. "These are not my people – and not mine to save. It is all the same to me if they starve themselves in their homes and do not face the world again: No, young Prodigy… I will not tell you what to say." He took a few handfuls of snow in his hands and shaped a little snow-king on the ruined throne, with impossible jewels upon his crown.

   Seeing this… the Prodigy nodded pensively, for he understood the Madman's unspoken answer.


   And so that night in council he told the Outsiders a beautiful and enchanting story – such stories as only the Prodigy had talent enough to tell – a story in which the white omen was no sign of doom but a miraculous apparition, bringing them the dreams that the Earth dreamed in her sleep, and if you looked hard enough you might see them. It did not matter that the story was made up on the spot for it served its purpose: the white omen could be shaped any way one could imagine and he had made it wondrous.

   From then on, Outsiders and their children shaped the snow into all kinds of impossible, fantastical things. And every winter, they come together as we do now to tell stories… so as not to be afraid… And always we tell this story, as we have for generations upon generations of Outsiders: the story of how we learned the power of stories, and first began to use them against the winter's cold.
A little story of the Upper World for you guys, kind of a holiday story really. I wrote this one (a first for me) with the express purpose of having it told aloud. I've been going to these local storytelling contests ([link]) at a cute little café (delicious chai lattes and red velvet cupcakes!) for a while, and last month I actually tried my hand at telling a story up on that stage myself. Didn't turn out so good, from my perspective at least: I wasn't so well prepared and I ended up rambling and going over the time limit. So this month I decided to tell a story of my own making. Keep that in mind while reading this piece; if it's a little different from my usual style it's for those reasons.

My inspiration for this particular story came in three parts: First, the storytelling aspect: I wanted to write a story that was the kind of story that, maybe, Outsiders in the City of Ice and Fire had been telling for generations. Thus it needed to be a little formulaic (i.e. having bits that repeat a lot, the way orally transmitted epic poems -- the Iliad, the Kalevala, etc. -- might have) and sound a bit mythical (from the distant past). You may recognize (if you've read some of my other RoH short stories) the Madman character (i.e. the Viper), but this is the Outsiders' version of him.

Second, I was reminded of how fairytales and/or children's stories in general often have this three-fold structure: you know, how a boy on a quest will meet three different people on his journey, or have three different tasks...

And third, I wanted to write a holiday story. My family has never been religious but we've always celebrated Christmas. Recently, my mom has decided we should "call it something else, since it's not really CHRISTmas that we celebrate". It made little difference to me: as far as I was concerned, we've always had our own particular family traditions for the holidays that had nothing to do with religion, which included listening to music and audio-tapes of Christmas stories (especially Vinyl Café stories). And so I thought to myself, what would the equivalent to a winter holiday celebration or tradition be on the post-apocalyptic Upper World? The Outsiders are multiple generations removed from any leftover traditions the Underwater City might have kept; and so if they have any kind of winter ritual, they would have come up with them by themselves. So this is the story of how that would have begun.

Hope you all enjoy!
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