The Night Before Wintertide
A Story by Kevin M. Gallagher, Jr
Jason stood before the Nadeus tree, a twelve-foot pine adorned with albino flutterballs, in the holiday room of the castle. It was the holiday season, the time of year where citizens of Argos, the city of which Jason was prince and heir apparent, celebrated Wintertide. The town was bustling with traffic as families shopped for loved ones and friends gathered for Wintertide Festival, a weeklong celebration, activities.
Ten years had passed since Jason last thought about Wintertide and its meaning. He never understood the weeklong festival, or the celebration of Andekus, the goddess of charity and the deity of the holiday. He couldn’t grasp the idea of celebrating seven different ideals when it was clear to him that it was all made up. However, he did understand that his father, King Iollan Dactyls, despised everything related to Wintertide.
Although the Dactyls ruled Saffraan, the western nation of Arthica, they were part of a small community that believed in one creator, rather than the gods and goddesses of the land. Believers of the one, true savior also disregarded the Wintertide holiday and celebrated Nadeus. But even the most powerful believers were afraid of what the majority would do if they found out about their belief system.
“Son,” a voice from behind Jason snapped him out of his thoughts.
Iollan stood behind his child, stroking his black, bushy beard. He was imposing, standing at six feet tall with muscles bulging through his heavy royal garb. He was looking his son in his eyes when Jason turned around.
“It wasn’t so long ago that you looked up to me.”
“That was long ago father. I’ve grown much since I was a child.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Jason looked to the floor. He and his father had a tenuous relationship in recent years, specifically with how non-humans were being treated in the kingdom. He looked to his father, brushing his dark brown hair out of his eyes.
“You treat those not like us without respect. We were all created equal in His eyes.”
“That may be true, but that does not mean we all grow to be equal. The world is more complicated than you believe it to be, son.”
“Maybe you make it more complicated than it needs to be, Father.”
Jason walked out of the room. He had spent the last ten years following his family blindly in what they believed. When he witnessed his father kick a down on his luck gnome—just looking for a warm place to sleep—out of the city, he was heartbroken. Jason confronted his father about it and when he saw that his father held no remorse, he knew he had to follow his own path.
As he made his way out of the castle, he was stopped by Arik Purdell, the five-year-old son of his father’s top General, Alan. Jason didn’t acknowledge the young boy, the thought of his father’s treatment of other races still on his mind, and quickly walked by with purpose. He was running late to meet a friend.
“Master Jason,” the boy said.
“Arik, I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
Jason stopped walking. He could hear the disappointment in the boy’s voice. He turned and stared at the child and gave him a brief smile. “How many times do I have to tell you, it’s just Jason,” he said as he knelt down beside the lad.
“Sorry, sir,” Arik said. “You seemed angry, and I wanted to try and make you feel better.”
Jason smiled. “The fact that you wanted to help me is all I need to feel better. You are going to make a fine general one day.”
“Thanks,” the boy smiled, “what are you up to?”
“I’m meeting some friends at the Wintertide Festival.”
“Won’t the king be angry with you?” Arik asked, befuddled.
“That’s the idea.”
Jason smiled and stood up. He tousled Arik’s hair before turning around and heading out of the castle. As he left the castle grounds, his mood began to change to match the holiday décor—the more fantastical the town looked, the less he thought about his father. Jason’s eyes grew large as he soaked in all that Wintertide had to offer.
* * * * *
The Falcon’s Nest, a tavern in the south side of Argos, was the home to criminals and lower level Saphron Brotherhood members that visited Argos. The brotherhood, a group of assassins from the region, often had their initiates use the tavern as their home base. Once they had proved themselves worthy, the initiates were promoted and invited to the Saphron Brotherhood’s main hideout, which remained a secret to all but those who belonged.
Icarus Callatuil sat at a table in the tavern, waiting for his friend. With its dim lighting, insipid odor and penchant for attracting the least trustworthy citizens of the city, the elf could never understand why his friend chose the tavern as their meeting place. He didn’t mind though, for the Falcon’s Nest had some of the best ale in all of Tellest.
Jason walked into the tavern as the elf finished his drink. He scanned the room for his friend, before locking eyes with Icarus. The elf waved him over and pointed to the bartender, holding up two fingers to request another round of drinks. Jason walked to the table and sat down as the drinks were delivered.
“I’m surprised you continue to agree to meet at the Nest. My father would be livid if he knew you were complicit in my rebellious actions,” Jason smiled.
“Your father would be even more livid if I shared all his dirty secrets from his rebellious years to you,” Icarus smirked as he responded.
“My father? Rebellious? Even so, he wouldn’t forgive my choices.”
“Jason, my boy, there will come a time when you complete your training and take the throne. We will become friends and work together often. I will also be sitting with your future son, training him,” Icarus paused to take a drink, “aiding him when he rebels against you.”
Jason smiled and they clinked their mugs and gulped down their ale. Icarus signaled for another round.
“I will never understand your stubbornness about meeting here. It’s a dangerous place, and this is just to anger your father.”
“I’m disappointed. I thought you would know me better. The fact that coming here bothers father is just an added bonus.”
“Enlighten me then.”
“Argos is the capital of Saffraan. If you want to find information, the Falcon’s Nest is the place to find it.”
“And what information can the prince of Saffraan get here that he can’t get from official contacts?”
“What information could I possibly receive at the castle that could lead to an adventure? Come to the Nest enough, you’re bound to hear about something exciting. You can’t tell me that an elf of your age doesn’t know how to find adventure?”
“And I suppose you want my help when the time comes?” Icarus asked, ignoring Jason’s question.
“What are mentors for?”