Every culture has its customs, and The Inbound Lands is no different. Gift-giving forms a vital and important part of Folken interaction.
Regardless of their folken origins, a few customs span every culture:
The Exchange of Trinkets and Shines
Though especially popular among trade routes such as Caravan and Caravel lines, or along The Process Way, it is common practice throughout The Inbound Lands to exchange trinkets and shines when entering into Truce Grounds, or common spaces, with strangers. When being invited as a new guest into someone’s home, meeting around campfires or water sources, and/or engaging rituals of sharing beverages or food, individuals will trade items as a way of beginning conversation and finding common ground.
The Exchange is not offered when parties are passing through, and it is not considered impolite to refuse an Exchange by explaining that you are in Passage. The Exchange is also not offered in places of trade (such as shops or other dedicated barter grounds), though when offered on neutral grounds, the Exchange may lead to further bartering if the experience has been favorable. People who are familiar with each other typically do not offer Exchange, unless they have either not seen each other in some time, and/or have set up a special gathering, which is often offered (in the invitation) to begin with an Exchange.
Many Inbound gear have a special (often decorated) pocket for holding these exchange items, which are gathered during the wanderer’s travels; a traveler often carries around five small items for exchange. The quality of trinkets varies based on the interests of the individual (and an explanation of why they found such a thing fascinating is often part of the exchange), and may be anything from folkmade objects such as metalwork, fabricwork, or carvings, to found natural items such as stones, leaves, or shells. This open acceptance of items allows all, regardless of class or stature, to participate.
Because of its widespread popularity (especially among trade routes), its strict rules regarding where it does or doesn’t take place and how, and the emphasis on an economy of objects, it is believed that the tradition was spread (if not started) by Birdfolk explorers, though the practice has been widely adopted throughout The Inbound lands due to its harmonizing and socializing effect, as well as its economic influence. Specific regions have developed reputations for producing certain types of trinkets (which bolsters export goods and even the tourism industry, as collectors enter regions specifically to try to find objects), and even offer special souvenir tenugui designs to celebrate landmarks, philosophies, or events.
When entering into the space, all parties will acknowledge the other; once it is established that the various parties will remain present in the space for any length of time (not just passing through), someone will make the offer to Exchange. It doesn’t matter who initiates, so long as the offer is made (however, given the folkloric associations below, folken rarely wait too long to initiate). It is considered highly impolite – almost unheard of – to refuse to offer items or to choose an item (there is some forgiveness to those who are obviously tourists, but natives will generally strongly encourage their participation); in some cases, words or songs may be offered up as substitutes for physical gifts.
The participants gather in a rough circle to lay out or unwrap their tenugui (the large, plain scarves of cloth carried by many natives, which serves many purposes; many folken will have a few on their person, depending on need). It is custom that the span of the circle be no more than an arms stretch from tenugui to tenugui; large groups will often break into smaller circles for the purposes of exchange, which serves not only to create an intimate space for the exchange, but on a practical note, to speed up the exchange for purposes of setting up camp or eating a meal.
Emptying the contents onto the scrap of cloth, the trinkets are offered up for the other to choose as they please. (If the participant has no physical items, the cloth is still set out, empty; in this instance, touching a corner of the cloth denotes choice.) Typically, the one who initiates the Exchange will be the one to first offer up the contents of their tenugui, but there is no set pattern for exchange afterwards. Though there is no time limit on choosing, it is considered polite to choose efficiently rather than weighing one’s choices too long; once an item has been touched, it is considered chosen.
Once an item has been chosen, the original owner will typically extend a hand. This is both the acceptance of the choice, and the signifier of a tale: if the palm is sideways or the fingers spread, the item should be taken without comment; if the palm is up with fingers tight together, it signifies that there is an explanation behind the item, and that the other may (but are not required to) ask to know more.
Particularly in the North, many roadside Rests, shrines, or shelters have small bowls dedicated to trinkets; these locations form easy places to relieve oneself of an unwanted trinket, or to find something unexpected to pass along. Periodically, these may be maintained by local authorities if items build up: there is a steady peddlers trade of trinkets among nomadic routes, buying excess and selling new additions; folkmade objects may be smelted down or otherwise disposed of; organic materials may be buried or otherwise destroyed. However, because they are chosen with care, most trinkets tend to stay within circulation; items taken from these bowls are often kept until they collect a story, and then entered back into the Exchange.
It is commonly understood that everyday travelers may come into contact with Long Face Folk during these random encounters, and it is believed that many of the empowered items (objects imbued with magical technology) within The Inbound Lands were acquired during these such exchanges. The Exchange gives a casual context for the Long Face Folk to appear and offer powerful gifts to individuals of their choosing, while still maintaining their disguise and an somewhat impartial involvement due to the following:
The Long Face Folk can never be the one to initiate the Exchange: In its most basic form, the Exchange is a choice, revealing hidden facets of the chooser through what they pick, why, and how. Every choice has a consequence…especially in dealing with Long Face Folk. As Long Face Folk can influence or guide – but not force – the outcome of events, they cannot initiate the Exchange. It is up to the folken to have the presence of mind to engage what often appears to be an ordinary stranger. On a practical sense, this encourages a social openness to strangers and customs of politeness; you never know who might be a Long Face Folk, and to refuse one the courtesy of The Exchange would have dire consequences.
Nothing may be as it seems: Long Face Folk are often in disguise during some (or all) of the encounter, and the items they offer are typically (but not always) seemingly ordinary, their magics often masked until after the choice has been made (if not longer). As the individual chooses the item without any indication from the Long Face Folk (and thus any effects are a consequence of choice), the Exchange becomes a contest of character: if the chooser is good or purehearted, the revealed effects are generally positive or benign; if the chooser is dastardly – or just in need of learning a particular lesson – then the effects may be negative, or temporarily cursed in some manner until the lesson is learned. In a practical sense, this folkloric association serves as a moral lesson, encouraging all to enter into the Exchange with good intentions, and to treat others well. However, it’s also known that Long Face Folk are often, at worst, tricksters whose definition of “lesson” can be based on whim, or at best, inscrutable in their farsighted reasoning as to why you even need to learn such a thing, and even a “positive” effect can be undesirable. Birdfolk view most Long Face interactions as a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” catch-22, and generally feel that the fewer legendary involvement, the better…but if you have to interact with strangers (legendary or otherwise), be on your best behavior, because you never know who they might be, or what the consequences will bring.
The Long Face Folk may or may not explain the item: If the Long Face folken are going to reveal themselves as such, they won’t do so until after the choice has been made, but there is no requirement as to when, or even if they will. They may offer the story palm up after the choice; appear to the chooser later in a vision, dream, or physical encounter through which they explain their reasoning; or choose not to explain at all, leaving the blessing or curse up to the interpretation of the chooser. Sometimes, the chooser is merely a carrier: they may not know the magic they hold until it reaches its intended destination, whether that destination is physical (“the key began to glow as I approached the gate”) or intended for another individual entirely (“When he picked up the key I had been carrying, his eyes widened as if he had received a shock. ‘Where did you get this?’ he blurted). In a folkloric sense, this serves to move the narrative along. In a practical sense, it teaches that one doesn’t always know the meaning of an experience right away – that sometimes it takes more information, reflection, or another perspective to open our eyes – or that what seems inconsequential for us may be invaluable to another.