Our Quiet Year: Winter
For such a “quiet year,” our people have endured a whole lot of clamor across the last three seasons. The mounting tensions (and Bazongas!) of spring. The fracturing of our family over the summer. And more recently, the reappearance of our greatest enemy during the autumn. When last we played The Quiet Year from Buried Without Ceremony, the few remaining members of our community had decided to migrate south for the winter, both to make a new home in a bunker we’d discovered and to hide from the pitiless leeching of The Jackals.
There are a lot of questions on everyone’s minds. Will our enemy overlook us? Will Short Red prove a better leader than his father? What happened to our brothers and sisters who fled Grandfather Tall Red’s reign of terror? The only thing that’s absolutely certain is that, at some point during the coming harsh months, the Frost Shepherds will appear and spell the end of our family as we know it.
Our New Home (Again)
There’s a lot to get done, what with moving an entire community and all. Despite the significant thinning of our ranks, there are still a whole lot of people to pole across the river, let alone the crates of supplies we’ve amassed over the last few months of stationary living. Our caravans, the mobile homes of our family for years, won’t be making the journey with us. It’s a shame, but all our gasoline is long burnt; even the vapors are spent, and the rest was given to The Jackals in a bid for peace. For all the good it did us.
There’s so much work to do that Short Red argues we need to divide the labor. He institutes two separate programs: one to safeguard our family as we make the crossing to our new home, and another to refurbish, clean, and make the bunker safe for long-term living. After all, we’re taking an entire people underground, and once we close those hatches there’s no telling how long it will be until we see the sun again.
In spite of everything, most people seem satisfied with the state of affairs. Of course, they’d rather this past summer’s coup and a sizable string of murders hadn’t gone down, and a fair few are a little disheveled by the recent conflict over whether our ancient holy symbol could protect us from our enemy, and there are those who’d like to send out more scouts to find the other strands of our far-flung family, but all things considered, they’re coping pretty well.
That is, everyone but Grandfather Tall Red.
Upset by his son’s treason (though of course Short Red has done right by everyone, even his poor stupid father if the old man would just shut up long enough to recognize it), and enraged that all his scheming and power-grabbing has come to this — an exodus, running away from our homes, and worse, his halfwit son in charge — Grandfather Tall Red makes one last desperate grab for control. He calls a meeting, tells everyone it’s important, and as soon as everyone has put down their work to hear what their leader has to say, he announces that he’ll now be known as Great-Grandfather Tall Red, and that his word is law. Naturally, everyone in the community thinks this is the funniest thing they’ve heard in months, which only pisses off the old man even more — though his blurred vision morphs into a blind rage when Short Red gets up and points out his father’s hubris, saying he’s wasted an entire day during a crisis in order to proclaim himself a god. With everyone laughing at a sad old man, Tall Red clutches his knife and charges his son with intent to kill, though of course the latter’s hunters spring into action and spear the elder down before he can shuffle fifteen feet. Sad as it all is, people are sick enough of their string of corrupt grandfathers that someone shouts out “Grandpa Kebab” and everyone laughs despite the gore dripping from the geriatric’s limp body.
Well. That settles that.
Our Final Battle
Preparations are coming along. Though we’ve wasted some time listening to Grandfather Tall Red’s silly last words, soon enough we’re back on track. Some hunters begin fortifying the bunker, rearming the traps we disengaged when we first cleared it out back in spring. It also turns out that the bunker is atop a high bluff on two sides, and the river on the third, meaning that a defense, if it becomes necessary, will be that slight bit easier. We’re ready for war if need be, and though we’re light on stockpiled food, hopes are high.
In the distance, our people catch sight of a good omen: a great silver bird streaking across the sky. As birds have become something of a new symbol of our family, everyone agrees it must be a sign of our survival.
Without our knowledge, things are going well for our sister community to the east. They’ve made some new friends, and are working to merge the two groups. Of course, there’s some dissension even there, but it seems that overall, winter has brought more hope than despair.
In fact, the only somber detail of the season comes when Serene, carrying Baby Conifer on a particularly overcast morning, disappears in the wintery mists. Neither are seen ever again. Still, even this doesn’t get our family down, as rumors spread throughout camp that they’ve been found and welcomed in by our neighbors to the west, or perhaps got adopted by spirits, or any of a thousand other good and hopeful things.
And then, on the forty-third week of the year…
The Frost Shepherds arrived, and the game ended.
On the Table: The Frost Shepherds
This is how The Quiet Year always ends, though the appearance of the Frost Shepherds means different things to different people, just as surely as our ideas about stories and narratives differs in the profoundest and strangest ways.
Within our own group, one member suggested that the Frost Shepherds were another community, winter people who traveled atop dogsleds, and that they led our family on a journey into something entirely new — though whether to a bright future or the end of our people, he wasn’t sure.
Another thought they might be a metaphor for division, for strife; that our community was doomed to quarrel and divide itself into ever-receding fractions, until only the smallest shards remained, alone and tiny in a terrifyingly large world.
Still another believed the Frost Shepherds represented hunger. As reasonable an explanation as any, considering we’d run out of food and never really succeeded in addressing the nagging ache that clawed at our family’s stomachs right until the end.
The member of our group who most enjoyed the filthy magazines from spring (Bazongas!), and constantly spun plot threads that somehow reintroduced them, argued that the Frost Shepherds were a metaphor for debauchery. I think he just liked saying “Bazongas” a lot. I mean, it’s a great word. Bazongas.
As for me, I think that in our game, the Frost Shepherds represented quiet.
One of my friends pointed out halfway through our autumn session that this community’s “quiet year” was anything but quiet. In fact, it was rather loud.
I agree. Absolutely, I agree. But I don’t believe the title is a misnomer. The Quiet Year is a metaphor itself, talking about communities. About internal conflict. About communication. One of its central mechanics is that it allows its players scant little conversation — each person is in charge of their section of the story, and each person will pull the narrative in their own direction. It’s no surprise that eventually the story snaps back with all the force of a stretched rubber band. Without communication to bind everyone together, to resolve disputes and guide debates, it’s a rather quiet year after all, no matter how many battles, screams, and calamities cry out for people to sit down and listen to one another. Lots of noise, not much sound.
So that’s my theory. The Frost Shepherds are the stillness of a frosted winter morning, silent despite the crackle.
(Give The Quiet Year a try. It’s worth it.)