The dancing moons appeared, the solstice came at last,
and in the darkest days the Albans all feasted.
From Wellan’s mountain hall to the cabins of ships,
the people took their ease, to drink and celebrate
the passing of seasons: another year had turned.
The snows covered the land, drifts covered the paths,
the land dreamed and slumbered within her wintry bed.
Though the wind carried ice inside its frozen fangs,
Within the well-built halls there was shelter and warmth,
as men rested from work, and the harvest labor.
On mountain and in vale, from the house with the oak
to Pramil’s sea cabin, from Ilanseth’s steading
to the hall of Wellan, men raised their cups of wine,
toasting prosperity, kindness and gentleness:
it was the last such year for many years to come.
Up in Wellan’s household, his whole kindred gathered
in the wide feasting hall his great grandfather built
to hold the mountain clan at feasts and handfastings,
funerals and councils, and suchlike occasions.
The tables fairly groaned with drink and fine spirits,
the hard apple cider and the sweet honeyed mead,
good wine and pear brandy, and golden askavis.
Nor were the foods less good, for they rivaled the drinks:
Pastries stuffed with pumpkin, and good yellow apples
baked in the sweetest crusts, and pies filled with mincemeat;
cakes of fine white flour, flavored with vanilla;
oranges and lemons, and sweet grated carrots,
cabbage and long green peas and rice laced with saffron;
mussels and fresh quahogs, and lobster and crabmeat,
the best nine kinds of fish, and abundant pepper.
Wellan provided meat from the winter altar,
the offering to gods given back to mortals:
thick links of pork sausage, and ribs all well-basted,
from Kashan’s sacrifice as ordered from of old;
meat from the year-old lamb, gift for Mother Ocean;
steaks from the Sun’s two cows, chops from Tarven’s two sheep,
chicken, turkey and goose, and also crispy duck,
offered to Alanna who guards the marriage bed;
and mutton from Kodoss who brings the sailors home.
Nor did Wellan hold back, but made Lenna open
the storehouse for his cheese, the best made in Alba,
rich and most flavorful, and softer than butter,
to spread thickly on bread with good blackberry jam.
No one could go hungry anywhere in that hall,
and the hearth fire burned from sundown until dawn.
“Speak!” said Wellan to guest, to Avren the Heron.
“The time has come to tell what kind of adventure
has brought you to Alba and cast you on your shores.
We here are curious, and we love a good tale,
that rouses the spirit with the rush of battle
against men or nature, or a good woman’s love,
or the friendship of men. Tales have their own purpose,
and drive away the dark, in the dark of the year.
Later, we’ll have dancing, and the bodhran and harp,
but now over dinner, and this good venison,
tell us where you come from, and your journey’s purpose.
We thought you were pirates when you first came to us,
and we nearly killed you, before we saw your plight.
Now repay our kindness by shaping a story
that keeps away the cold, and drives out the winter.”
Avren rose to his feet, from his seat of honor
placed at Wellan’s right hand, and bowing to his host,
began to shape his words, stumbling skillfully
in his borrowed language, as good as any Jade.
“Wellan, my host, thank you, for many courtesies,
and goodly food and drink, and roof for my old head
and bed for my body, and safety for my men.
I’ve learned your old pattern, the way you shape your tales,
giving honor to gods whom I have never known,
but worship now as you do, guessing their origin,
and finding them proper all gentle, kind and good.
Therefore give ear to me, you daughters of the Twins,
Sun and Moon, Ocean’s get, keepers of all secrets:
Give my tongue proper skill, let me tell my story
and say how I came here to feast with such good friends.”