A selection from The Story of Shaw…
The story-tellers of the island of Eydenbard were known the world over. For as long as anyone could remember there had always been ten and they had always lived in the opulent house at the far end of the north valley. Why this was so, was anyone’s guess. (That story had been told and forgotten long ago.) But then, nobody could remember a lot of things about Eydenbard. Like why they held the winter festival every spring, why the girls all wore juniper blossoms in their hair on the first day of school, or why the boys always tried to steal those same blossoms just so they could take them home and feed them to the family fires at night. (Lance Byrd once claimed they burned them for the smell, while his brother Ethan often argued that anything stolen from a woman, even a young woman, must be destroyed before she found a way to get it back.)
Eydenbard’s culture was dense, complicated, and founded on a collection of manners and common practices that had slowly evolved and taken on new meanings over the years. Traditions were formed and adhered to it”s true, but they were not so rigid as one might think. They were also built upon, added to, and at times, even transformed.
For example, the men of Eydenbard had always worn hats when walking into town on Sundays while the woman wore scarfs, wrapped tight and close against their heads. Then, four or five winters ago when it was especially cold and Gillian Felton was shivering in her translucent blue scarf (that was beautiful yes, but like so many beautiful things completely useless) Eric Sheffield removed his hat, a hat that had been in his family for centuries, and without thinking about the places his hat had been (the Permidian Mountains, the Sea of Lustria, the dark caverns of his Aunt Hester’s ancient basement) or the heads it had covered (his father’s, his grandfather’s, his grandfather’s father’s) he placed its soft woolen fur carefully over Gillian’s head and warmed both her ears and her heart forever.
Naturally, the people of Eydenbard instantly adored the gesture and it was just two Sundays later that Henry Ossian gave his hat to Meridith Brooks, five Sundays before Victor Holland had timidly offered his to Julian Welton, and seven Sundays when Fiona Berrington had screamed with glee as she felt the worn, weathered touch of the Stewart family’s ancient brown duster descend slowly and reverently over her head. (Poor Daniel Stewart had been trying to tell her his feelings for years, but could never quite manage until then.)
It wasn’t long after that when the Martin’s store received an usually large number of requests for translucent scarfs of all different colors and sizes. (Apparently beautiful things had their uses after all.) Shimmering and shivering young heads, barely bathed in hints of greens and purples, oranges as faint as the dawn, pinks as light as the merest suggestion of a blush, and saffrons barely discernible on a sea of dark brown curls could be seen flooding into town every Sunday and covering the square in a swath of trembling loveliness. As a result, certain young men of a somewhat independent nature were spotted rushing into the local stores, clutching their hats with tight scared fists. A few unfortunate girls had suffered terrible frostbite while others, who couldn’t quite bring themselves to suffer the unbearable chill of an Eydenbard winter, even if the promise of eternal love and warmth was not far behind, found themselves protected from the cold but sheltered from just about everything else. (The fathers of such daughters did not mind so much, but more than a few mothers had something to say about it.) And then there were the rebellious ones—like Keri Morgan, who had taken to wearing scarfs of the thickest fur, dark and deep and impenetrable. Jason Elwin, who showed up with a new old hat just about every week. And Wallace Ayers who had asked a lovely yet confused Quin Jacobsen if she would please be so kind as to give him her scarf. (She had denied him at the time, but had wondered for years after how things might have been different for them both had she handed it over.)
Over the course of a mere year and a half, the custom had morphed into a series of actions and reactions more complex and varied than the first simple offer could ever have dreamed of suggesting. Aided by new ideas, manipulations, creative impulses, and the subtle machinations of time itself, the wearing of a cold beautiful scarf and the giving of a warm old hat had become such a part of the Eydenbard culture that if it wasn’t for Eric’s constant reminders it would be hard to remember a time when people told each other of their love in any other way.
Every spring at the winter festival eligible men would wear their hats far back on their foreheads to signify their availability. Girls below the age of sixteen were discouraged from wearing any scarf that was not completely solid. And Briana Sutherland was looked upon with both horror and awe when she had walked into town one frigid Sunday with no scarf at all—her bare head held high, her ears growing red and swollen with each determined step—as she refused every offered hat until she stood in front of a bewildered Zane Fredrick and smiled her invitation.
Oddly enough, it was their wedding that had been the first to feature the now-favorite translucent-scarf dance. And it was Zane’s brother Jacob that had written the song, The Dark Girl with the Light Scarf, in an effort to coax Paige Ansel into something more substantial than friendship. (Unfortunately, the next Sunday she showed up wearing Ranolf Eldin’s hat and poor Jacob hadn’t written of anything but dark-haired girls ever since.)