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Shen Ling, especially the colorful homes, shops, docks and parks around the lake, is done up in style for the celebration to come. Tables of all styles and sized have been brought out into the streets and parks. The brightly colored beads, paints, feathers and other crafts laid out among the tables only adds to the festive appearance. People are out in numbers, yet there is a subdues tone to things, this is a ritual of mourning after all. People sit quietly, working on their cups, politely sharing the items at the tables and speaking in hushed tones. Some sit in large gatherings, others prefer to find a shade tree to lean up against in solitude. Many have the red rimmed eyes of those who have lost much, cried for days, maybe weeks, and finally ran out of tears to cry. The victory is great, but today is about those who did not make it to the celebration…or according to Oki Lo Kin, Today is about those who did make it, who wish they could share it with those who did not. Occasionally you will hear a loud voice speak up, as someone stands on a table to give witness to a lost loved one. Some will stop to listen, some softly cry as the testimony moves them, or makes their own loss a little too painful for a moment. Some stay fixed on their cups, nodding in approval as they continue their work. At the end of such a testimony, all within earshot whisper “Heart is homeland”. This is definitely different from the wild impromptu celebrations that broke out the night the Unicorn returned, or the rowdy yet productive mingling that took place in the taverns of Oldhome the next night. This is an attempt of a people to make peace with the costs of victory. To recognize though things can be rebuilt, and lives reforged, loved ones cannot be replaced. They each mourn in their own way, yet they do so together.
Those who do not work on cups quietly prepare for the nights festivities. The finishing touches are being put on temporary stages and feasting areas. Roasts are being slow cooked, mountains of bread baked up fresh in a hundred ovens, cakes and sweets, massive kettles of spiced rice…the smell is intoxicating. Random people, mostly elderly folk that remind you of the classic grandma/grand pa types, wonder about all day with baskets, handing out samples of the first batch of baked goods. Rosemary bread, sweet rice balls, and cookies flavored with peanuts and almonds. Surely men roll out heavy looking kegs, setting up bear gardens for the night ahead. Most people are not drinking, but occasionally one of the keg tenders will come over and fill just one persons cup full of an apple infused, spiced saki, from a fancy clay jug, that looks a little like an oversize tea kettle. These drinks seem to occur at random. More commonly, people sip on hot teas of various flavors, and brightly decorated tea stands are set up everywhere, many of them staffed completely by children, with perhaps one elderly adult who keeps an eye on them from a distance. The Tea is not free, it’s an unspoken known that each stand is set up for a specific family who had a lost, and proceeds will go to them. Oki Lo Kin mentioned that those who can afford it will drink one cup from every stand before the day is done…it is an honor to all who have lost, and to Chu Jung to do so. That’s a lot of tea, and dozens of colorful outhouses have been set up in a few roped curtained off areas.
The most interesting thing, is that no one seems to pay you or anyone else any extra notice at this time. In fact, just across the way you spot The Lord of Shen Ling, dressed in rather plain, muted greens, sipping tea. To his right, Oldbow, to his left, a beautiful dark haired woman with perfect posture, she looks half elven to you. Finally, there is an elf dressed in grey’s, and for a moment you think it might be Grey, the resemblance is shocking for a moment, before the obvious differences are noticed.