Yendor had puzzled over the clues he had gleaned at the library. The songs, the maps, the fragments. It seemed clear that the old winter solstice celebrations had been important to people in a way that was no longer true. There was still a parade and gift giving, but it was no longer the most important day of the year. It also seemed obvious that the city itself, had been one of the centers of the wizards culture. In modern culture, sorcerers were the champions of good, and wizards had been irradiated because they were evil. Yendor had come to realize that this was the opposite of reality, but many people who just wanted to get through their lives with as little trouble as possible, and eek out what little joy they could never learned the truth. Incarnate had been so successful in erasing the truth that there was little left. The city had a reputation as a haunted, evil place. Yendor suspected that the reason for its reputation was its association with the old ways.
In the old center of the city, which had been long abandoned and lay in decay was field known as “Procession Park.” Yendor guessed that this was where the Winter Solstice parade had been in the old days of the wizards. Winter itself was setting in and though Yendor disliked the city, he decided that if the wizards still held any of the old customs it would be that one. Unable to afford staying at the inn until the day of the Solstice, Yendor found a homeless camp in the ruins near the park and pitched his tent. Most of the camp dwellers were beggars with no way to make a living and at first Yendor feared leaving his tent to forage for food. He kept to himself and avoided contact with the beggars. He was however, among them, and though they were grimy and haggared, he soon realized that they were just people.
One day, as the cold became worse, Yendor went out to get some wood for a fire and see if he could get a squirrel of a rabbit for dinner. His path crossed a ragged woman whom he pretended not to see. She greeted him, and when he appeared not to hear she shook him by the shoulder. “You there! I’m talking to you, boy.”
“Good day, ma’am,” he said.
“‘Tis too cold to be out in that thin cape.” she said. “I’ve seen you, shivering as you go out to hunt, to proud to beg.” Yendor hardly listened as he tried to find an excuse to escape. “I’ve had this shirt of my son’s since he died last year and I think it might fit you. You need it more than me.”
Yendor looked at the old woman for the first time. She held out an earth colored, heavy knit shirt. It wasn’t fancy or new, but it did look warm. “Thank you, Ma’am.” he said. She nodded and went on her way. After that, Yendor didn’t mind leaving his tent, and he greeted the others and passed the time of day with them.
Many were travelers like him. They had come for the winter solstice parade, too. No one minded such rabble, they said.
On the eve of the Solstice, it snowed a cold, wet snow that turned to slush quickly and then to mud. The gray, bitter sky hid the sun on its shortest day, but at noon, the parade started. The beggars sang, and threw confettee, and wore garish colors.
Yendor waited for the wizards to show themselves, but only the beggars were at the park. Once, near the end of the parade of rabble, as they began to lose steam, a few children showed up with a dog, but seeing the odd parade, they left.
Afterwards they all shared hot soup and gave each other trinkets. By now, Yendor was one of them. He had made the children toy animals from pinecones and bits of cloth from his summer clothes. He gave the woman cup he’d made of blue stone he’d found. She smiled at such a gift. There had been magic that day, just not the kind Yendor had expected, and despite the good cheer and festivities, he was disapointed. “Oh well.” said the old lady. “Nowadays you have to find your own magic.” He hadn’t revealed his secret, so he wondered at the expression.
The next day, they all slowly packed up and moved on their separate ways, promising to meet again the following year. By nightfall they were gone and Yendor was alone in the strange place in his strange shirt.
Yendor lay by his fire, unable to warm himself. He had tried to use magic, but that power eluded him. He thought, perhaps the wizards had concealed themselves as beggars and his failure to deduce this earlier resulted in them leaving him. After all, how would they know he was a wizard? He assumed they would be able to tell, but he couldn’t tell, so why did he expect they would be able to? He fell asleep cold and alone. More alone than even the night Danse had been captured.
The next day Yendor woke sore and cold. He lit a small fire and thought about his next move. He had no motivation. He had failed. He had invested so much time into finding some clue to guiding him to a wizard’s coven, trekking to the city, finding the library, God, that had been a nightmare in itself.
Yendor tried to keep a low profile at all times. He wanted to be invisible. He didn’t use magic unless he had to. He didn’t talk to strangers unless there was no alternative. He didn’t even want to be seen under his hood. He kept himself looking as nondescript as possible, His cloak was earth colored his clothes were dark. They weren’t ragged, but they weren’t especially nice. He even worried that his pack stood out. Many wanderers had similar packs, dressed exactly like Yendor was dressed; he was a non entity.
He had finally, had to ask directions to the library after wandering around hoping for a street sign or some clue, but what could be the harm in asking? It turned out that many people didn’t know, so not knowing didn’t make him stand out. Wanting to know did. People gave him strange looks. He began to get paranoid. Finally, a city official, Incarnate’s representative, a constable, stopped him and asked him straight out, “Are you the vagabond looking for our library?”
Yendor’s heart learched. This guy was burly, and had a professional frown. His uniform was impeccable; brass shined, everything straight and lined up. This guy took note of fine details.
“Yes, sir.” Yendor said. If he were caught lying the officer would really suspect something.
The big man looked Yendor up and down. His frown seemed to lead the head in turning this way and that. “Other side of town. About five miles.” he pointed. “Spiraling central tower on a hilltop. Can’t miss it.” He turned dismissively to more important matters.
Yendor headed in the nondescript direction he had been pointed to.
Then he had searched the library, gotten into a deadly fight, and for what? Nothing. That’s what. Yendor fished out his kit and began sewing repairs on the tent. He had to keep it in good repair in this weather. It was beginning to aquire a patchwork quality. He decided to pack it up and head out. There was no point in hanging out here anymore. Perhaps once on the road, he would get an idea what to do next.
As he trudged off towards the nearest road out, he passed a small group heading in. Neatly appointed, as if for a meeting or a convention. One man near the end of their line caught his eye and winked at Yendor with a smile. His bright red coat gleaming under his cloak. Definitely coming to town for some celebration. Yendor hung his head. These people had it together. Not like Yendor. They were organized. Marching into the park like some parade of fancy woodsmen or some such.
Yendor walked about another fifty feet before it struck him. A parade? In the park? He turned to see them stop right where Yendor had been camped, and set up a tent quickly and efficiently. They put all their extraneous belongings in it, and grouped together. They were dressed in bright colors now that they had removed their cloaks. Purple with gold trim, red with white fur, blue and silver. They began dawning capes and hats. The most unusual hats: one had four corners with a ball on top, one came to an arched point at the front. One was conical with stars and moons on it. Fucking stars and moons! One got out a large brass ball with decorative holes in it attached to a chain. He put burning incense and began to swing it around.