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Sailing with a 'friend' leads to intimacy.
Only those from the West were attired in the same style as herself, that is, in deer-hide smocks that covered the torso from below the arms to the top of the thigh but barely hid the groin. The bare legs, arms and shoulders of the Westerners with which Heather was familiar wasn't at all typical of the attire of other pilgrims. Some were completely naked (but surely only for the summer months), but nudity could never shock Heather as most people in her village wore clothes only when the Sun shone least warmly or, as at the moment, when venturing beyond the tribal territory. There were some who were bare chested, but wore skirts almost to the ankles. There were some who wore strange attire that enclosed all the leg and groin. There were some who sported headdresses or had feathers, twigs and even pebbles knotted into their hair. But the priests of the Sun, whose role it was to preside over the ceremony to celebrate the annual zenith of the Sun were the ones most outlandishly attired.
The priesthood of the Sun were held in high esteem throughout all the land. Only they could reside all year round in the vicinity of the Great Temple, which they equipped and tended. And it was they who ensured that the sacred rites of the Solar and Lunar Calendars were correctly observed. The priesthood was represented by both men and women, although custom dictated that women held the most senior positions, thereby reflecting the significance of motherhood and fertility in the Sun's domain. The priests were elected from the company of shamans who lived in villages throughout all the land. A new priest was appointed only when an existing one had died and, according to custom, only on rare occasion from the priest's child or kin. Both male and female priests wore resplendent headdresses, most often made from the skulls of aurochs, boar, bear or deer, adorned with as wild an array of feathers or antlers as could be found. The rest of their dress varied from priest to priest but was generally colourful and wild, and mostly assembled from the fur of wolf, lynx, bear and beaver. The genitals and bosom were generally uncovered (at least in the summer) to make apparent whether the priest was a woman or a man, as the priest's sex was significant in the lovemaking that usually followed the climax of the festivities.
As the days passed, Heather observed more and more pilgrims arrive. Generally, those from the North were the ones dressed most in defence against inclement weather, while the Southerners were the ones most often naked. As she'd learnt as a young girl, the further south you went, the nearer you approached the Sun. And it was known that beyond the Southern Sea there was another land where although the Sun shone more fiercely it was accorded less veneration and where, consequently, there was much strife and warfare. And this, more than anything else, was what the shared ceremony of the Festival of the Sun guarded against and which gave the lands north of the Southern Sea such stability and prosperity.
It wasn't long until all the available shelters had been taken even while yet still more pilgrims were arriving, tired and exhausted after their long trek across hills, moors, valleys and even rivers to reach the Great Temple. Heather observed these sometimes outlandishly attired pilgrims warily, conflicted between her natural suspicion of strangers and her knowledge that the right and proper way to celebrate the Sun's undiscriminating bounty was to be equally generous to all born under the one Sun. But when people dressed so peculiarly and spoke in ways that was barely intelligible, generosity came less naturally to her.
"Do you mind if we share your shelter?" asked one of these newer arrivals in a barely comprehensible confusion of long vowels and nasal consonants. "We have travelled many days, have forded great rivers, ascended high mountains and sheltered in dark forests as rainstorms have beat upon our heads."
"Gladly," said Lynx, who due to his advanced years, long beard and evident baldness had