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.