Friday, December 27, 2013

Vunterdua: the winter festival of Aldsburg

The winter in Aldsburg is long and dark.  Lady Ring of the Ramhorns weeps contstantly for her imprisoned lover the sun, her tears splashing on the spires.   Lord Vinde of the Ramhorns is always shouting at her, his cold breath freezing the lady's tears and covering the cobbles with frost and ice.  The Wizard Kal attempts to hide the pain with an endless dusting of snow - pure and white and beautiful.  And the Rån, the sun, makes his appearances when he can to warm the heart of his lover, but the weight of ice and snow and the rage of Lord Vinde keeps his visits short.

Vunterdua Eve is the winter solstice - the longest, darkest night of the year.  It is a night of terror for many, but in this darkest of nights, the communities of Aldsburg come together in preparation for the Vunterdua Day celebration of surviving the night once again.

Vunterdua Eve

The night before the winter festival is the longest night.  It is one where families gather together to huddle by their oily fires and take comfort in what little they can.  Music from the top of great spires filters through the city streets and gantries, in the lowest levels, there are prayers to Narkul begging his red knight to stalk the city streets and protect them from the Hulufk - the elves that crawl from the darkest places to steal whatever and whomever they can.  The families and cloisters hold tight when they hear the red knight wander by on his iron-shod mount and the sounds of vicious battles won are sounded with deep hand bells that echo ominously.  Don't go out or you may be mistaken for Hulufk.


Vunterdua Day

With the longest night come and gone, Rån will slowly make his triumphant return.  In days long past the day would begin with the sounding of the Ramhorn itself - a might trumpet of brass and gold - to announce that the underworld contingent of dwarfs have come to trade.  It sounds infrequently now, but small versions can be heard bleating and echoing all about the city at dawn.  While Vinde and Ring still continue crying and shouting and Kal does what he can to keep the mythical din to a minimum, people emerge and celebrate.

Food made slowly on the night hearths is brought into the street and shared with neighbors and friends and strangers.  The strange priests of Narkul, wearing a sash to cover their eyes, come out as well and mingle freely.  There are also some nobility (or perhaps more terrible things) that dress as the Red Knight of Narkul, Vunterdua,  and hand out small gifts and coins to all they see.

Bodies of the slain Hulufk, wrapped in bloody burlap, hang from bridges and lamps and overpasses.  The blood frozen, glistening in the sunlight, makes for a beautiful sight.  It is bad luck to look upon the Hulufk, but often you'll find them decorated with sprigs of holly and evergreen.  The priests of Narkul take them down and throw them into the char pit that evening - the reeking smoke shadows from the ghostly flames filling the streets. 


The Hulufk & The Red Knight

While some claim that the Hulufk are actually people who have been murdered by the clerics of Narkul (and perhaps some of those burlap covered bodies are the victims of dark ritual or simply the method some unscrupulous criminals dispose of their kills), the Hulufk are real.

These human-sized demons creep out of the mountain underworld. Their faces covered with masks of ice, they are otherwise nude.  With bluish skin, long blackened nails, and teeth stained red with blood, they prowl the street looking for easy prey.  The Hulufk also seem to have a tendency to take anything they find interesting and carry it around with them.  As the night goes on, they become burdened with their load but their greed will not allow them to drop a single item.

Vunterdua, the Red Knight of Narkul, is likely not a true Red Knight.  Nonetheless, something comes hunting these monsters and hangs their bodies.  None have truly seen Vunterdua and lived to tell the tale, although fleeting glimpses of red capes and a huge bloody goat surface from time to time.

Better Not Shout.
Better Not Cry.
Better Watch Out.
I'll tell you why ...