Marriage Among the Elves, Volume 3 (book)
Marriage Among the Elves
Volume III: The River Clan
-An Investigation By Simon J. Bright
Information about the River Elves is contradictory. Although there are settlements on land, many sources declare River Elves never set foot upon land voluntarily, and many families still follow this tradition. Others tell me River Elves are really two different people -- those who are able to tolerate the land and those who cannot. Intermarriage between the two factions is most common and desirable.
Courtship among River Elves is a fluid, musical process. These Elves commonly prearrange the marriage of their children, and due to their nomadic nature, it is rare for them to meet. If fortunate, the families may ensure they meet during the great spring or fall festivals, and perhaps occasionally when the family boats are close for small family celebrations and companionship. The families watch the interactions of the children closely at these times and gauge their degree of com- patibility. Since life among the ships depends upon harmony and a squabbling couple can quite easily make life unendurable for an entire family ship, it is in the best interests of all that the couple is well matched and enjoys one another's company.
Spring and fall mark the times of great gatherings for the River Elves. During the fall festival, the River Elves beach their boats for necessary repairs and supplies before winter strikes. The festivities go on almost every evening for several andu, with much feasting and dancing during the cooler evening hours. The major clan holdings are alight with bonfires and paper lanterns bobbing from almost every tree branch and house eave, the sounds of the flutes and drums permeating the air with sweet music.
The last evening of the festivities is reserved for the trio of engagement dances, beginning with the lighting of a huge bonfire as the sun sets. The musicians strike up their instruments as the huge bayok drums begins their dignified beat. Soon, the haunting melodies of the flutes of engagement begin to inter- twine among the softer swift voices of the stringed instruments, and all the couples of the age to accept the formal engagement come to the perimeter of the fire.
The dance signifies the acceptance of the marriage proposal, with the wedding to follow during the next festival. If any couple does not wish to accept a life together with the mates their families have chosen, they may stop dancing at any time before the music stops, for all standing at the end of the dance are considered to have accepted the mate chosen for them. Unless serious reservation or concern about the mating has been previously revealed, Elves consider it dishonorable to break an engagement in this fashion, and the family who does so must make reparations to the injured party.
Following this dance, the musicians strike up a different melody. The second dance is for those who have broken engage- ments in previous years and now wish to declare their own choice of mate. This dance has more of a ribald air about it, and comments from the observers are common, some with accompany- ing sidelong glances and sudden gossip about the underlying reasons why some enter the dance. Here, one proud young thing broke her engagement the previous fall, convinced she could choose better for herself. Now she returns, only to dance the second dance with her original intended, who has remained faith- ful to her. There, a flamboyant lass with many suitors for her hand teasingly enters the circle with five of them clustered about her like bees around a sweet flower. Not one yet knows which will win her hand during the course of the dance, but speculation runs wild as the dance unfolds.
This dance is also the one where a River Elf may defy the taboo of marriage to one of another race and bring their intended into the circle for acknowledgement of the intended marriage. Although intermarriage with other races is still relatively rare, it is more likely to be accepted among the River Elves than most of the other clans. Once again, all remaining within the circle of the bonfire when the music ends are declared formally engaged.
By the third time the musicians begin to play, the bonfire has died down to a warm ember and their music is soft and bitter- sweet. This dance is for the older Elves who have lost their mates through some misfortune and have passed their period of mourning. The steps of this dance are more sedate and the Elves participating dignified and courtly. Once again, comments rip- ple through the crowd. One may hear soft murmurs of apprecia- tion and approval for an unfortunate bride who lost her strong husband almost immediately to the ravages of the sea and has now found love again in a gallant captain, or some sharp, unkind observations regarding those finally seeking to exchange their less orthodox relationship for a more formal arrangement.
Ending the ceremony, the families of the couple, or the couple themselves when no family is still alive to stand for them, retire to the huge riverboat used for most weddings and draw lots to determine which day of the Spring festival will be set aside for their wedding.
The end of the festivities denotes the beginning of the long winter and preparations for the upcoming wedding. The betrothed maiden wears a slender necklace of crimson cord laced with tiny shells spaced by seed pearls. Each shell is selected for its beauty and artistic qualities and represents the good wishes of a friend or family member. As the necklace grows in length, the maiden must double or triple the strands about her neck to accommodate it, for frequent indeed become the "accidental" meetings between allied families on the waters, and frequent the stops to acquire more necessities for the wedding and issue wedding invitations.
Come spring, the flotillas of the various family lines raise their family flags as well as cheerful sails of white and red to announce the spirit of celebration and sail in unison to the designated place of the Spring Gathering. Music fills the air around each ship, announcing its arrival in a gracious manner. The ships dock to the north of the wedding barge in what seems to be a flurry of utter chaos, but is actually a most carefully orchestrated affair, with each boat taking its proper place according to the status of the family.
The day of the wedding, the bride is lovingly adorned by her friends and relatives in a gown composed of many layers of watersilk that descend from the carved shell clasp on her left shoulder. Each layer of clothing reveals a different facet of the sea and is slashed and tied to reveal the darker colors beneath. Her betrothal necklace serves a new purpose, tied in a doubled strand about her hips to contain the different levels of watersilk. A circlet composed of large, perfectly matched pearls is set about her high braided coif to contain the veil the color of surf on a summer day that froths almost to her dainty blue slippers, echoed perfectly by the large pearls gracing each delicate earlobe.
River Elves adore ceremony, and the bride will have many attend- dants. Each wears a simpler version of the bride's gown that echoes one of the layered colors she wears in a single layer over a fine lace petticoat. A water lily of a complementary color to the gown is traditionally pinned to the left shoulder.
The groom wears a long tailed coat of midnight blue decorated with carved shell buttons. Beneath, he usually wears a fine silk shirt of cream or ivory, with a crimson sash over the slim trousers of a midnight blue tucked into a high boot. His attendants dress is similar, but their sashes complement the gowns of the women they accompany.
Sturdy gangplanks are set from the family ships and the land to the wedding barge. The barge is gaily festooned with ribbons and strands of tinkling bells made of shell, said to appease the ancestral spirits and drive away any evil influences that may attempt to interfere with the happy festivities. To either side of the walkways, a decorated basket of woven cattails is set. Each guest brings as their gift and wishes of fertility a brilliantly colored and intricately decorated egg to place in the basket, ranging from tiny sandpiper's eggs to mammoth ones likely stolen from the Angiswaerd. Among the true eggs nestle artistic eggs formed of precious metals and gems with elaborate geometries crested upon their surface.
Traditionally, the bride's father carries her in his arms from the family ship to the wedding barge with her attendants clustered behind, while her groom enters with his family from their ship. The gelnurte set in the precise center of the riverboat is most often a tapestry of silk on silk with inter- locking motifs and repeating borders of rich colors, with a plump scarlet tassel on each corner. The groom meets the bride's father and accepts from his arms the body of the veiled woman, giving to him in return a salt grinder full of crystal- lized sea salt. The couple stand in the center of the gelnutre as the bride's father grinds a fine powder of salt that falls upon the shining floorboards, pacing a large circle around the gelnurte. As he finishes his circle around the bridal couple, he turns and hands the salt grinder to the cleric to signify all is prepared and the Rites of the Four Winds may begin.
River Elves exchange torques to symbolize their oath to one another. These are called "geldanto" from the days when the home and the couple were literally tied together. One of the most common yet beautiful motifs used in the torque ia a pair of swans to symbolize fidelity and love. The custom of Geli- najaun Ruh is more common among River Elves than in any other clan, and most couples taking their first vows hope to reach the happy state of affairs where they will again dedicate themselves to one another for all eternity.
Older couples who wish to dedicate themselves in Gelinajaun Ruh do so in the late evening hours, with the darkness held at bay with massed arrays of candles. The private ceremony is always held on land. Traditionally, the husband must carry his veiled wife, regardless of her feelings of walking on the ground, to the place where the rites will take place.
After the rites conclude, grand feasting begins with music and extravagant arrays of food. One of the high points of the celebration is the bringing forward of a seer to lay hands upon the couple and predict the happiness of their future life. The assembled guests wait with glasses of Wuisis prepared to toast the couple. The fiery liquor is raised in toast as all cry out "Sari! Arin! Maite!" (rough translation being, "Life! Light! Love!") at the conclusion of the seer's telling, and all drink.
River Elves have a superstition that wedding festivities must end before dawn, or the couple will never reach the state of soul binding to one another. Once the toast has been drunk, each guest casts down their goblet and crushes it to glassy powder underfoot before silently leaving. Within moments, the riverboat is deserted, the only reminder anything of interest has taken place is the powdery glass, which blows away at the first breeze.