Friday, February 12, 2010

The Mistleberry - Part 2


Master James Armitage was a goldsmith: a master craftsman. I learned that later on, when I began to be familiar with the house and its inhabitants. The house was in Gold Street and had been a goldsmiths for four generations back, Uncle James and apparently my mother too had been born in this house. It occupied a thin strip of the street, but was very tall and extended back a long way, through two rooms on each floor, to a small courtyard and a covered gallery that led to the kitchen building. On the ground floor of the house stood the shop at the front, opening onto the street, and behind it was the workshop. Above that, overlooking the street, stood the big parlour which was used by all the family as the main room, especially in the evenings. Behind that, was the wood pannelled hall. On the next floor were the two chambers, at the front my aunt and uncle’s, and behind it the chamber which had once housed several of their children but now only eleven year old Harry, who was their youngest. And in the attics above that, slept Mark, my uncle’s journeyman after nearly seven years of apprenticeship to him, and Christopher, my uncle’s newest apprentice, who was thirteen. And now I slept there too. My aunt had been anxious about that at first and it had been debated during dinner around the big table in the kitchen: whether I should share Harry’s chamber below.  
“It is warmer.” Aunt Anne said thoughtfully while the table was set. “And nearer to us should you need help, Lynden-“

”I could move upstairs?” Harry offered cheerfully from my left. I knew very little of Harry, other than that he moved fast and usually loudly, never stayed in any one place for very long, and both my aunt and uncle tended to address him in tones of resigned and frequently exasperated affection.  
“You could not.” Uncle James said firmly. “Much of the point of you remaining downstairs was to keep you and Christopher well apart, otherwise neither of you would ever sleep. Lynden is much better off upstairs with the boys his own age. As to needing help, he has Mark and Christopher readily available and much better company for him than Harry I have no doubt.”  
A firm hand took mine as a plate was placed in front of me, and the hand guided mine to find the edge of the plate and the spoon.  
“Rabbit stew.” Mark said quietly, taking his place on my right. I picked up my spoon, murmuring my thanks. He seemed, like Tom had, to know what to say and when: he was not hesitant like my uncle, or anxious like my aunt who had several times in the first few days I’d lived in the house, either warned me completely away from any imagined danger at all, or else not spoken to alert me to a difficulty until I had encountered it and sent a table flying or knocked over a standing cauldron of soup. Harry and Christopher frankly rushed me wherever they felt I needed to be taken, and Mark and their father had told them several times, sternly, to stop it.  
Otherwise, as far as possible, I explored the house and tried to map it out in my mind as it became familiar. The shop downstairs was small and the family never went into it save to pass through it on their way in or out of the house. The workshop was hot and draughty from the fire and the bellows and crowded with the work benches and the smell of hot metals, and my aunt and uncle were particularly anxious whenever I was near there.  
“So much that’s hot and sharp wherever you put your hands.” My uncle said apologetically, taking me back towards the stairs if I wandered too far down them. “And no way for you to know the danger until you’ve found it.”  
My aunt and Sarah, the cook and servant, felt much the same way about the kitchen and I was shooed out of there too – although that was no different to Hartford . That left the parlour, which I knew intimately from the carved wood panels to the inglenook beside the hearth where I loved to sit for the safety of its enclosure- and the loft and the stairs. With little else to do I sat by the hour in the chill of the stairs and played my flute. That at least was not unwelcome. My aunt sounded frankly delighted the first time she heard me play, since she herself played a lute- an old fashioned instrument now but she loved it- and I’d known a few times the workshop downstairs quieten to listen. At least it was one contribution I could make to this chaotic household. Otherwise for me it was a bleak and relentless onslaught of daily sounds and smells and rushing people and chaos. A narrow prison where there was nothing I could do and no one I knew. It was too much to think of Tom or Hartford, and I tried hard not to- Hartford where I had the freedom of the house and the gardens, my horse and Tom with the time to ride with me, a hundred and one ways to fill my time and not be overwhelmed with people everywhere, with their noise and rush and chatter. And where every sound was familiar to me and I knew what it was and what it meant. Here there were so many sounds and movements in such an unfamiliar place, which I never tracked to their source and so made me flinch or startle, and left me angry with my stomach twisting, never sure what was going on around me.  

There were people in the shop below this afternoon. I could hear their voices with my Uncle James, the shop had been busy all day and the workshop was just as noisy with the two older men who worked with my uncle, Mark and Christopher. Usually the workshop was fairly quiet, I’d heard my uncle hush Christopher several times and say that their fine work needed concentration. But they were making quite as much noise as my aunt and Sarah were in the kitchen where there seemed an inordinate amount of banging and clattering going on. Perched in the stairwell between the workshop and the hall, I put my flute down and stretched out my aching fingers. It was cold here, too cold to play well and I was fumbling the notes, but I liked the closeness of the stairs and it was better than the large isolation of the parlour. I heard the footsteps and had to scan my memory quickly to remember them. Harry’s were easy, he ran everywhere. Christopher thudded upstairs with the crash and bang of thirteen year old boy. My uncle moved with decision, a steady and precise stride- this was Mark. Quieter moving than my uncle but as tall, and as measured. I moved over to give him room to pass me on the stairs but I heard the creak as he sat on the step below me.  
“Hello there. Aren’t you cold sitting here?”  
I shrugged, running my fingers over my flute. Wooden, smooth, reassuringly familiar.  
“I was listening to all the noise.”

”We’re ending for the day.” Mark stretched, I heard his shoulders cracking. “Master James is needed too much in the shop and there’s no more to do now before the finishing off tomorrow- which we need better light for than this!”

”Is it dark?” I asked. Inside the house it was difficult to tell at all even what time of day it was.  
“Cold.” Mark said cheerfully. “And grey. Most likely it’ll snow in the next few days. Do you want to come outside and see?”  
I hesitated, surprised at that offer. Mark got up, I heard his deep, quiet voice move high above my head.  
“My work’s finished and I’d like a walk myself, the market will be just clearing up now.”

”Isn’t it early?” I hazarded, feeling my way to my feet and down the stairs. Mark’s hand steadied me as I reached the ground in the workshop.  
“A little, but tomorrow will be their busiest day.”

He handed me my cloak and I heard him pull his own on, calling across the open space of the workshop.  
“Lynden and I are going down to the market, is there anything needed?”  
“Can I come?” Christopher demanded from somewhere to my right. Uncle James sounded harried and closer by.  
“You’ll finish your work first, those benches are unswept and the tools still out. Be quick. Ask your Aunt Anne, Mark. I’ve no doubt there’ll be something she’s forgotten.”  
I hesitated, thinking on that while Mark moved behind me, through the gallery that led to the kitchen. He was back a minute later with a laugh in his voice.  
“Half a dozen things. I’ll see what we can find, we may need to go again tomorrow, they’ll be packing up now.”

”It looks like snow.” Uncle James agreed. Then, more anxiously, “Keep Lynden close to you, Mark.”

”I shan’t let him run off or cause a riot.” Mark said cheerfully, linking his hand through my arm. I heard the rattle of the shop door being opened and then the fresh, stinging cold air in the street.  
“The street runs down into Westgate to the left, that’s where all the stables are.” Mark said, standing while I got my bearings. “It slopes downhill too. To the right is where we’re going- Bishops street up to St Peters . The chandlers shop is across the way here.”

I could smell the tallow as we started to walk, awkwardly at first, then Mark settled into his usual, easy pace which I could follow. The streets were busy, people moved around us and I heard the footfalls and occasionally a greeting from someone to Mark, but they seemed in a hurry and quick to go about their business.  
“Partly the cold.” Mark told me, although I’d said nothing. “And partly the hurry to be ready for Christmas.”

”Christmas?” I said blankly.  
“Right again here, this is Bishops street . It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow, didn’t you know?”  
I shook my head numbly. I’d lost track of months and days, I wasn’t entirely sure how many days I’d been struggling to cope with the mayhem of my uncle’s house. Mark drew me closer as we were jostled and I felt cobbles under foot, then the narrowness of the street abruptly changed and I was aware we’d moved out into an open space where the smell of meats and chestnuts and spices and animals competed with music somewhere in the distance and the babble and clatter of people.  
“This is the market.” Mark said beside me. I realised I’d dragged him to a halt, overwhelmed with the sensory flood, and started to move again, trying not to clutch him as reassurance against what went on around me.  
“ St Peters ?”  
“Yes, St Peter’s square. If you walk straight across the square from here there’s the cathedral, that’s facing us. The market’s in the middle of the square. To the right of the square is the entrance to drapers row and the inn, and to the left there’s Rivergate, that leads down onto the docks.”  
“There was an inn by the river.” I said, thinking of the night Tom and I had ridden into Whittchurch, passing the sounds of men and the warmth of the stableyard.  
“Yes. That’s the King’s Arms. The inn off draper’s row is the Three Shires, it’s where most of the boatmen drink.”

We’d stopped in front of a stall and I heard the jingle of coins.  
“Three sticks of cinnamon please.”  
The smell of the spices was strong and sweet, and competing with the smell of apples behind me. I turned to follow it and bumped into someone large and soft who carried a large shopping basket and had in tow at least one child. Mark drew me closer to him and I felt him pocket the cinnamon.  
“There’s an apple stall behind you and my aunt needs apples.”

”I didn’t know aunt Anne was your aunt too.” I said, saying aloud what I’d thought earlier. “You always call my uncle ‘Master James’.”

”Strictly speaking, they’re not.” Mark held me back for a minute, waiting while people chattered past, then led me across to where the smell of apples was much stronger and when I put out a hand I could feel rows of them lined in paper on the stall.  
“Twelve please.” Mark said, and paper rustled. “Aunt Anne was my mother’s cousin. But she and Master James took me when my mother remarried, I was eight or nine then, so I called them aunt and uncle. And Master James took me as an apprentice as soon as I was old enough.”  
It wasn’t at all uncommon for a husband to be unwilling to be faced with evidence of his wife’s previous marriage, I knew, and yet I wondered how to a young child that must have felt.
“My father died, fighting for the King at Worcester .” Mark added as if I’d asked.  
I saw the King once, in our garden.  
I didn’t say it.  
We bought chestnuts, hot and smoky from a man at a stall, and with them in gloved hands the cold was far more bearable. Mark led me closer towards the music, which he said was at the foot of the cathedral steps. They were playing In Dulce Jubilo and Mark said there were dancers, three of them in green and scarlet, leaping and spinning to the recorders and drums on the steps.  
“There.” He said with something between exasperation and interest as something soft and wet brushed against my face. “I told you, it’s snowing.”                                                                   
The church bells sounded wake-up at five, echoed by the night watchman who was walking the streets, and whose voice came distantly to our window.  
“Past five o clock and a cold and snowy morning! Past five o clock and all’s well!”  
“It’s COLD!” I heard Christopher say as Mark in the bed nearest me, got up and began to dress.  
“Then get up and come downstairs!” Mark teased him. “There’s snow outside, I can’t see how much.”

”Really?” Christopher’s feet pattered past to peer out the small window right under the thatch of the eaves. “It’s deep! The whole street’s covered! It’ll be deeper still out by the woods!”

”Unless you dress and get your work done you won’t be going to the woods.” Mark pointed out.
I found my own clothes and heard him pass me, cheerful as he always sounded cheerful.  
“Morning Lyn. Coming out with us to get the yule log?”  
I must have looked blank. The servants I suppose must have kept customs amongst themselves at Hartford but Sir James didn’t keep Christmas much, and Tom and I kept ourselves to ourselves in the garden and upstairs.  
“It’ll take hours, there’ll be no time for any work today!” Christopher said happily, thundering down the stairs. I pulled on my boots, fumbled for my comb and ran it through my hair. Mark was waiting for me as he usually did, and this morning we were glad to hurry down the stairs to warmer parts of the house. Harry was ahead of us, I could hear his chatter in the kitchen and from the heat and the smells of the cooking, my aunt and Sarah had already begun work.  
Breakfast was hurried that morning, fruit porridge and bread, and as soon as we were done the two workmen from the town were in the workshop, building up the fires, and my uncle was firing orders at Christopher and Mark about the finishing off of the last few items to be collected this morning, and the cleaning of the workshop before they went to the woods and collected the Christmas greenery. Harry, annoyed and unwilling, slammed out of the front door and ran up the street to school, and my aunt and Sarah began what from the sounds of it, would be a complete sweep and clean of the entire house in preparation for Christmas. I was incredibly in the way on the stairs that morning. When I came down for the third time to let Sarah past me, Mark’s voice called across the workshop and I heard him come across to me.
“Lyn, come and sit over here. You’ll get trampled on the stairs. It’s all right sir, I’ll keep him well back from the fire.” He added as my uncle’s familiar intake of breath preceded a warning. Mark led me through several benches where I could hear the tiny sounds and breath of the two older men working, and the brush of Christopher sweeping the workshop. The blazing heat of the fire was to my left, and Mark paused a minute, guiding my hand high up to the mantel stone, at chest height.  
“The fire’s here, between the benches, and it’s wide and very deep- deep enough for us to get right over when we’re working metal. If you find the stone up here and follow it you won’t walk into the fire. Keep the fire on your right and you’ll find my bench, over here.”

I found it with my hands and took the seat he offered me, a high perch stool, and he took my hand and guided it to the item on the table he was working on. An ornate, carved buckle, made from a smooth metal: I couldn’t tell what.  
“We make buckles, brooches, silver and gold plate, apostle spoons, all kinds of things. Your uncle does the finest work, the things he makes are beautiful.” Mark settled back into his seat and took up his tools. “Everything sharp is to your left, you’ve got clear space in front and to your right.”

He whistled as he worked, softly, In Dulce Jubilo as we’d heard last night in the market, and I heard the cough of one of the two older workmen nearby.  
“That your flute there lad?”  
I was never without it; it was the one thing I could actually do with my time that I enjoyed in this strange place. I lifted it in my hands, putting it cautiously down on Mark’s bench for the man to see. He sounded tentative, a rougher voice than Mark’s but a warm one.  
“If you’d play down here we’d be glad of it, we often hear your playing upstairs.”  
“Do you know any Christmas carols?” Mark asked and I could hear him smiling. His voice, always soft, warmed immeasurably when he smiled.  
For answer I thought for a moment and then started to play the song he’d been whistling, picking up the rhythm to make it lively, and Christopher’s newly broken voice promptly joined in with it as he swept noisily around us.
Good Christian men rejoice, with heart and soul and voice,
 give good heed to what we say for Jesus Christ is born today,

Ox and ass before him bow and he is in the manger now,

Christ is born today, Christ is born today!
Several of the others were singing with him when my uncle’s voice came from the direction of the shop, raised but laughing.  
“I’d vow I’ve sold more since you began to play in the house, Lynden, than I ever did before. People have come today asking about the music. Christopher STOP that caterwauling and sweep the shop please, we’ll close shortly.”

Christopher cheerfully went to sweep and I sat back on the stool, hearing the soft sounds of Mark’s fingers working, and dug through my memory to what I’d heard played long ago when I was a child. The notes were sad and sweet.
Lullay thou little tiny child, bye bye lully lullay.
“My mother used to sing that.” Mark said,  pausing to listen. I played, wondering if my mother had ever sung this, and if Mark had ever known her in this house.  
At eleven, we ate the midday meal, again a quick and hurried meal as Sarah and my aunt were still cleaning and scrubbing inside the house. And once we’d eaten Uncle James and the two older men began to clean the shop and the workshop, and Christopher, very far from pleased, was sent with a bucket of water to scrub the front windows, the door and the step of the shop. Across the street I could hear other brushes scrubbing, and buckets being slopped as other residents of Gold street made ready for Christmas. Harry ran in through the shop, slammed his books down with satisfaction in the kitchen, done with school until after Twelfth Night, and his father sent him out to help Christopher.  
“Which leaves you two to fetch home the greenery.” My aunt told Mark as we got up from lunch. 

”I want to go too!” Harry pleaded. “Half the town’s going now and there’s snow in the woods two foot deep!”  
“As soon as you’ve done the front you can go,” my aunt told him, chasing him back out to the front of the house, “I want to see that step white, not black. Mark, you know what we need- keep a good eye on Lynden won’t you? Lynden are you sure you want to go all that way….?”  
“We’ll be fine.” I heard Mark kiss her cheek and I felt for his arm as we moved through the shop, into the street.  The snow was several inches deep and still falling as we collected the heavy pony from the stable that my uncle kept for carting, and I counted the steps, measuring the distance from the stable to our turn into Bishop’s street and down away from the noise in the market towards the bridge over the river that led out of town.  
Several other people called to Mark as we walked and I could hear other horses and children running with sledges around us, and smell the crispness of more snow to come in the air. Out in the fields the snow was much deeper and Mark held onto the pony’s reins, following his solid plodding and steadying me as I followed him.  
“Did you know my mother?” I said somewhere in that walk. Mark paused, letting the pony rest a minute.  
“Where did that come from?”  
“I was just thinking.” I said somewhat defensively. He clicked to the pony again and we began to plod on through the crusting snow. My feet were numbed now and I was aware of the chill of the powder against my leggings as we walked.  
“It just startled me. You’re so quiet most of the time it’s as if you’re not really there, and then you suddenly come out with the most unexpected things.”  
“I’m not so quiet.” I protested, since it sounded something like a criticism. Mark laughed.  
“Lyn, there are entire days when you don’t say anything, even when people talk directly to you- like my aunt in the shop when we left! You leave all this silence around you and let other people fill it in.”  
I thought about that. At Hartford- no. I took a deep breath and said it aloud, instead of to myself.  
“At Hartford it was just me and Tom. And Tom didn’t talk much, and we didn’t really need to- we just knew what the other one meant.”  
“You must miss him very much.” Mark said seriously, as though he really did see how much. I swallowed and shut down on the ache at the thought of Tom.  
“Did you know Tom from the goldsmiths?”  
“No, I’d heard his name but I’d never met him.” Mark said, pausing to rest the pony again. “The same with your mother. I’d heard about Linnet, Master James’s sister, and that she left when she was very young, but nothing more than that. I do know Tom worked for Master James’s grandfather when he was a boy, he was an apprentice and then a craftsman.”

”All the time I knew Tom I never knew that.” I said softly, thinking aloud. It took effort, but Mark was a fairly easy audience. “I never knew he was a goldsmith.”

”What did he do at Hartford ?”  
“He was one of the stablemen before I went blind.” I said, thinking about it. “After that, he came into the house and looked after me. He always HAD looked after me, but after I went blind I didn’t have tutors, it was just me and Tom.”
I felt the closing in of space above us as Mark drew the pony to a halt, and knew we’d reached the edge of the woods. Mark handed me the pony’s reins and I heard his knife drawn from its sheath.  
“Now we need holly, some ivy, rosemary and mistletoe- and a yule log.”  
He cut the greenery and handed it to me by the armful, which made me laugh as he piled snowy branches higher and higher on me. We tied much of it to the pony’s saddle, save for the holly, which Mark stacked to one side of me. Around us many others were doing the same thing, there was loud and cheerful chatter and ragged singing in amongst the strong scent of the cut rosemary and holly. Mark had taken the axe from the pony’s saddle and was chopping at a suitable log when I heard Harry’s voice shouting.  
“Mark! MARK!”  
Mark was chopping and hadn’t heard. It took an effort but I raised my voice and made it carry.  
“Harry! We’re here!”
The chopping sounds paused, there was a crash of running behind us and Harry and Christopher arrived, Harry brushing against my arm as he passed.  
“Lynden? I didn’t know you COULD shout! Mark what whopping piles of green!”

”Stand back.” Mark told him firmly. “And you Chris, Lyn get hold of Harry.”

I felt for him and he came to me, clearly scowling but allowing me to hold his shoulders.  
“It’s not like I’m going to get in the way!”

”It’s more flying chips I’m worried about.” Mark said, continuing to chop. It took several more minutes, and pleas from Chris who had a turn with the axe and did a lot slower than Mark, and then finally we heard the split of the wood and a cheer from Harry and Chris, and they tied the log with ropes. They and the pony hauled home the green across the field, through long tracks in the snow made by most of the other townspeople on the same missions, and I could hear singing as we started across the wide expanse of field, men’s voices and several of the high, bell like voices of the boys who sang in the Cathedral choir.
On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
Harry and Christopher joined in lustily, shouting across the field, and Mark began to sing too, in a strong baritone that startled me for a minute.
Five gold rings!
FOUR calling birds
THREE French hens
TWO turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree!

The house was in utter chaos when we arrived home, and it grew worse until I retreated to the corner of the parlour and let my aunt, uncle, Mark and the two boys hang the boughs and fronds of green over the hearth and around the windows in the parlour, the hall and the kitchen downstairs. The two workmen had gone to their own homes to make ready for Christmas. In the kitchen Mark took me to the spinning wheel Sarah used and I felt the flowers laid on and around it to mark the fact that it would stand unused throughout the whole of the holiday.  
“Bad luck to spin during the twelve days.” Sarah told me. “Anything round, anything that circles should stand still,”

”Why?” I asked Mark, obediently trailing where he led with several armfuls of ivy which he was taking from me in pieces to hang up.  
“Because the fairies will cut your thread and break your luck.” Mark said from the kitchen table where he was standing. “My grandmother always told me that. The risk is high around Christmas, you have to keep the little folk appeased, especially through the twelve days of Christmas.”

That made very little sense. Mark jumped clear of the table, resting a hand on my shoulder to steady himself as he landed.  
“Aunt Anne tells the stories best, I’ll ask her tonight.”

”Papa says to put the yule log in the parlour hearth to dry.” Harry announced, running downstairs. “Can I pull it?”  
“You’re not strong enough.” Mark told him, “Lyn and I will do it, take the rest of the mistletoe upstairs, and the apples.”

”What are the apples for?” I asked, trailing him out to the gallery where we’d left the log. With Mark at the front I was quite able to heave the log up with him and manhandle it up the stairs.  
“Aunt Anne hangs them from the mistletoe in the parlour.” Mark said cheerfully. “Red apples.”

The light in the parlour was bright, and I blinked as we laid the big log down against the hearth. Lit and blazing, the fire should quickly warm through and dry out the wood ready for tomorrow. The strongest light was on the windowsill and my aunt’s voice spoke nearby, oddly eager as I turned towards it.  
“Can you see that Lynden?”  
“A little.” I said, moving closer. “I can see it’s bright.”

Mark’s hands took my shoulders and guided me towards the bright light and the open window where Harry and his mother were sitting on the windowseat.  
“All the lamps are lit in the doorways down the streets, and all the candles are in the windows.” My aunt said, and I could hear her hugging Harry. “They’ll stay lit all tonight and throughout Christmas, to show the Christchild and his family the way home.”

We roasted chestnuts in front of the fire that evening and Harry quickly began to give his to me or his father to peel, impatient with the heat and the skins.  
“Aunt Anne, Lyn doesn’t know the stories about the little people at Christmas.” Mark said when the chatter about the shop and Harry’s school news petered out.

Mindful of his gentle reminder that I barely spoke to any of this family- and I couldn’t bear them to think it was through ungratefulness or resentment- I cleared my throat and tried to explain.  
“Sarah told me about the spinning wheel and the flowers. Mark said we were more at risk from the fairies over the twelve days of Christmas than at any other time?”  
There were a few seconds of silence: enough to tell me that my aunt and uncle were shocked at hearing my voice. The thought of that shamed me: I was going to have to try a lot harder.  Then Aunt Anne said softly,  
“It’s the story of the light king and the dark king, have you ever heard that?”  
She had a beautiful voice my aunt. Soft and clear and low, I’d heard her tell stories to Harry and Christopher before in the evenings. I shook my head and heard her settle back in her chair.
“It’s a very old story, my grandmother told me and her grandmother told her, no one knows how far it goes back. In the world there are two fairy kings- one is the king of light, or as we call him, the Green Man. His powers are good, he brings the luck to grow our crops and keep our harvest, he is the king of living things, life and prosperity. The other is the dark king, the leader of the wild hunt. Have you ever heard of the wild hunt, Lyn?”  
I shook my head again, leaning my elbows on my knees to listen, aware of Mark against my shoulder on one side, and Harry on the other.  
“The wild hunt is seen and heard sometimes at night in winter, sometimes people call it ‘the wish hounds running’. The wild hunt comes preceded by black hounds and accompanied by blasts of a hunting horn, sometimes twenty or thirty horns blasting together. It is the train of the unhappy souls of those who died unbaptized, or by violent hands, or under a curse, and the dark king, or Woden to give him another name, is their leader. It’s very dangerous to be out after nightfall when the wild hunt runs, they may take you up with them, or you may be led astray by will o the wisp, another of their followers, who’ll lose you in forests or bogs, or try to take you into the river. On the nights when it’s very dark, you may feel the high winds, the bells ring where they’re hung in the doorways and lanterns blow out- then it’s time to come indoors and shut the windows for the wild hunt is passing nearby.”  
“That’s why we have the mistletoe.” Harry put in.  
“Yes.” His mother agreed. “The wild hunt and the dark king are kept back from us by
holly, by mistletoe, the greenery and the other means and signs of the Green Man. The holly, the mistletoe, the ivy and the rosemary are all herbs with strong powers. They protect us from evil and bring good luck. But why are we more at risk from the dark king on the twelve days of Christmas?”

Uncle James shifted a little in his chair, relaxing deeper into it. The whole room was still, enchanted by Aunt Anne’s voice.  
“The Green Man rises in the spring, is born and takes rule over the forest and all the world, bringing back the sun. He ages and he dies as the forest dies in autumn, the leaves fall, and while he is gone, while the sun is gone, man is left prey to the dark. And the twelve days of Christmas are the very darkest hours of the year, when the sun hardly rises at all and the Green Man’s power is at its lowest ebb. So that is when we bring the greenery that lives through winter into our homes and houses and put it at our doors. We make wood blessings by burning the yule log, we use the many faces of the Green Man in masques and plays and songs and dancing, we keep lights and fires and candles in our homes and we’re careful to do nothing that brings bad luck. And that’s what keeps the dark king and the fairies back from us until spring when the Green Man rises again and makes us safe.”  
“That’s a good story.” Christopher said in the silence that followed. “But I never heard of anyone seeing or even HEARING the wild hunt.”

”When I was a boy I knew a man who did.” Uncle James said unexpectedly. “He was walking home through the woods when he felt the high winds, it grew too dark to see his hand before his face and he heard the hunting horns going by. So he threw himself down on the ground, hid his face and shut his eyes, and held onto the grass with all his strength so that he shouldn’t be carried off with them until the hunt had gone by.”

The night watchman’s voice came up to us from the street below, near and hearty.  
“Ten o clock and a cold and snowy night, ten o clock and all’s well!”

”Bedtime.” Aunt Anne said, and I heard her lighting the rushlights for Christopher and Harry.  
It took a long time to settle that night: Christopher’s fidgeting took a long time to settle and when it did, I could still hear Mark’s breathing near to me, quiet but not deep enough for him to be asleep. The church bells rang after a while- long and joyous peals, and I half sat up to listen. There was no call in the town from the crier to call midnight .  
“Lyn?” Mark said very softly.  
“Is it Christmas morning?” I asked, just as softly, and heard his smile.  
“Nearly. They’re sounding the devil’s death knell. It’s eleven o clock, his last hour before Christ is born.”
 Continue on to Part 3 of The Mistleberry
Copyright Ranger 2010

No comments:

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.

Do you want to read the FCR Books
and Short Stories on your E-Reader?
Well, lucky for you, e-book files can be found in
both the Yahoo Group and the Discussion Forum.