Fragment: The Abduction Rite

A little bit of fiction I wrote a few years ago

I wrote this a few years ago. There's not really any fictional context for this, just something that popped into my head.

To the north, at the base of the mountain, nearly overtaken by the forest, lie the bones of an old city. Nobody knows whether our ancestors lived there or foreigners; however, the square buildings, formed from stacked massive stone blocks, are unlike our own. Very little remains in these structures. What wasn't removed by human hand years ago has long since been scoured away by time and the elements. However, each year in the spring, the ruins are once again occupied, for one day and night.

It is our way to celebrate our children coming of age twice. First, at the age of eight years, to mark the end of idle infancy and the beginning of the arduous path to adulthood. Second, at the age of sixteen years, to celebrate the completion of training and the assumption of adult responsibilities. All who have attained these ages have particular duties in the spring festival, and receive gifts as well. But there is another tradition, passed down from children to children, that adults dare not interfere in. The night the spring festival ends, when the adults are deeply asleep after a week of wine, song, dance, and feasting, the sixteen-year-olds gather together and then move from house to house, collecting the eight-year-olds. In the distant past, it is said that this was a genuine shock, but today the older children teach the younger ones to expect the nighttime visit. That isn't to say that the more dramatic youths never stage a false "kidnapping", with screaming and tears. Regardless of the disturbance, adults are not to intervene.

The older youths gather together with the younger ones and tell them that the time has come for their first venture into the wilderness. They will travel together to the north, to the bones of the old city, and they will shelter there for a night and day. The older youths are responsible for the safety of the younger ones. However, the expedition can only be supplied with a pittance of stolen goods. Everything else will have to be obtained from the wilds themselves.

Travel to the ruins is generally safe. In living memory, there have been occasional injuries, but no deaths. Once arrived, the older youths venture out to collect firewood and kindling. There have been times when the weather was too wet to permit this, and the youths have been forced to huddle together for warmth through the night.

In the morning, the older youths go hunting and the younger help forage. After returning, the older and younger children work together to prepare a wild feast. They drink well water, but it is also traditional for one sixteen-year-old to pilfer a bottle of wine from the festival. Even the eight-year-olds are allowed a sip, as a "taste of adulthood".

While the youths make merry in the ruins, the adults back in town have their own tradition. The parents of the "abducted" children wail when finding an empty bed, and hurry to the town square to raise a hue and cry. The parents of the "abductors" bemoan that they have raised their children to be bandits. Together, they search the village, going house to house and receiving ritual responses. Then, all the villagers dress in mourning clothes and gather together around sunset and wait.

After feasting, the youths set off towards home, returning around sunset. The gathered adults cry out in "surprise" and joy and the children return to their parents. The parents of the young children shower them with kisses. In times past, it is said that one of the parents of each older youth would raise a hand to strike them, and the other would stay their hand, saying "they are an adult now; it is not for us to discipline them". But parents in our land have long since stopped striking their children as a way of discipline, so instead they are ritually scolded.