Sorry for so long between posts. Temps here have been in the single digits with highs in the low 20’s for almost 2 weeks. Ive spent the last 3 days planning our spring garden. If you plan to put food in the ground this coming year (if not, why not?) you need to be getting your seeds in by Feb.
Being as it’s the Christmas season, here is a story I wrote some time ago. I keep meaning to go back and add more to it, but life keeps getting in the way!
Can You Hear Those Sleigh Bells Ring?
Nick passed through the kitchen on his way out of the house, patting his wife’s round bottom on the way by. She made a half-hearted attempt to flick him with the dishtowel in her hands and gave him a coy smile.
Nick threw on his fleece lined leather coat and work gloves and strode towards the harness shed. A three-quarters moon shone on six inches of new snow, broken only by the paths trod by the house elves who had spent all day preparing his sleigh and harness. He took a moment to let the cold, clear air sweep the cobwebs from his mind. His mind settled into crystal clarity allowing him to absorb his surroundings. He saw the moonlight, tasted the flavor of snow in the air, caught the delicate scent of the surrounding pines underneath the more immediate scents of wood smoke from his chimney and apple pie which had followed him from the kitchen. His ears reported the crunch of dry snow under his soft boots and the creaking of snow laden pine boughs. His skin was sensitive all over, reporting contrasts between his silk underclothes and wool outers. The leather of his gloves and the cold band of his wedding ring.
He entered the shed and began inspecting his equipment. The sleigh was light brown stained Holly with black iron accents and runners. It was heavily scroll worked and had a smooth, satiny finish from its recent polishing. It was just big enough to carry him and one other on the front bench seat with a small cargo area in the rear for his bag. He ran his hand lovingly along it as he headed towards the long tables where the harness was laid out. The heavy leather harness had been polished and checked for dry rot and cracks. The silver bells attached to the backlines were likewise freshly polished and tinkled seemingly too long at the slightest touch.
He paused for a few minutes, reflecting on the years. This was a touchstone for him, a time to remember all that went into this night each year. Like little medals he took out small memories of heroic victories and painful defeats of years past. With a sigh he turned back towards his home, retracing his solitary footsteps.
He passed through the empty kitchen, dropping off his coat, gloves and boots in the mudroom. His bride was seated at their dinner table. She presented a study in contrasts to his eyes. Her flawless ivory skin and deep, brown eyes gave the impression of a lass of twenty years or so. Her care worn hands and silver shot black hair put her solidly in middle age. The look in her eyes, though, full of wisdom and compassion, comes only to those who have lived long and well through many trials and seasons. She wore a heavily brocaded black velvet gown with a plunging bosom and a short string of pearls. A single, simple silver band adorned her left hand. She rose and took her husbands hands. He placed his on her hips and pulled her close, kissing her lips lightly and then smiling down at her. She was no small woman, carrying a full figure well, but he was a veritable giant, well over six feet tall with heavy shoulders rolling with muscle. His hips were still relatively trim but his belly had spread to become “generous”. He seated his lady and took his place across the small table from her. The room was lighted by several silver candlesticks on either end of the table. They illuminated a veritable feast for two. He took a biscuit and crumbled it onto his plate followed by shredded venison roast and brown gravy. He dipped potatoes and carrots that had cooked with the roast to his plate and poured a tall glass of sweet tea. He held both his wife’s hands across the table and spoke grace over the food, asking for God’s blessing for the night’s duties and thanks for the many years of past blessings. They completed their meal with a slice of apple pie and mulled wine.
Nick rose and kissed the top of his wife’s hair. She held, briefly, to the hand he placed on her shoulder and he turned and entered his private rooms. His valet, an aged elf, had drawn his bath and laid out his cloths for the evening. He soaked himself in the hot water and neatly trimmed his flowing beard and mustache, neatly dividing it and braiding it in two forks, tied off with blue glass beads. His long, now mostly salt, salt and pepper hair was neatly clubbed behind his head and his valet tied it off with a black, silk ribbon.
He stepped into the padded arming doublet and high, wool socks. His valet assisted him into his leather covered, steel cuirass and then the un-dyed wool sur-coat. The sur-coat was a work of art heavily filigreed with gold wire in a swirling Edelweiss pattern. It was almost criminal, he felt, since it would return in the morning sliced and pierced and stained with blood and grime. It was held in place with a wide, black leather belt and brass buckle. He donned greaves for his forearms and highly polished knee length black hobnail boots. Their only adornment the golden spur affixed to each. . He tucked heavy, leather gloves into the belt and attached a strap running from the rear, left portion of the belt over his right shoulder and to the left front of the belt. He placed a simple, steel cap on his head and covered it with a long, pointed wool one. His aide entered from a side door carrying his long, hand-and-a-half sword in its tooled leather sheath. Ororoan (Golden Ruin) was a “special” sword, able to cleave both in the flesh and the spirit worlds. He slipped the sheathed sword into the frog over his shoulder. He nodded to both elves and stepped into the hall to a large, wooden door fitted into a stone arch. He pulled outward on the two iron rings set into the doors center and it split, revealing a long nave leading to an alter. The small chapel was dimly lit by candles set in sockets around the walls. He strode down the center isle and removed his sword, setting it point down into a setting below the alter. He bowed, using the sword as his cross and began to pray. His prayer was simple, beginning with adoration of his God, praising His might and power and beauty and mercy. He then confessed his sins, his willfulness and unbelief. He gave thanks to God for His sacrifice, for purchasing his soul and forgiving his sin. For his many blessings and the joy of his life. Finally, he prayed fervently in supplication for himself and his household and his domain. For all those he would come into contact with this Holy evening and their souls.
He crossed himself and rose, re-sheathing his sword and stepping towards a side door. As he opened it the elf warriors lining the hall broke into song, the Carol of the Bells. Each came to attention, raising his spear into an arch. Nick strode through the arch and out the side door of his home. The courtyard was now lit by hundreds of torches, each held by an elf. All were there, Elf warriors and artisans. Elfesses’ and Elf maidens. He strode out, into the courtyard and looked towards the wood just across the small cleared space out from the yard.
Like ghosts, materializing from the snow a line of reindeer appeared. Each was creamy white with dark brown muzzles and socks and, even from this distance, huge antlers. As they paced towards Nick it became apparent how huge each truly was. Standing over 16 hands high at the shoulder and weighing over 1000 lbs each was a living, breathing example of perfect freedom. The leader approached him first, accepting his hand to sniff and then rubbing his huge head along Nick’s shoulder in affection. He greeted each of the nine reindeer individually and then led the procession to the center of the courtyard. Each of the reindeer took his place in pairs with the lead out in front. Elves ran the sled up behind them and began buckling up the harness. Nick stood back, inspecting the harness and again chuckled to himself the current foolishness revolving around his own myth. The reindeer before him were the embodiment of wild and free and to compare them to the concept of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was truly laughable. These reindeer suffered themselves to be harnessed once a year because they were his allies. All but the two new reindeer bore the scars to mark them as veterans of past Christmas Eves’.
Finally the last buckle was cinched down and the last strap tightened. He strode towards his bench and was met by his wife and five of her elf-maidens. She was still in her velvet dress, but had added an ermine cape. The lead maiden carried a silver tray with a wooden goblet and a clay plate. His lady took the cup of wine and offered it to him. After he had drunk she took it back, drank from it, and placed it back on the tray. She then took the flat loaf of bread from the plate and broke him off a piece. He ate it and she ate hers. She stood up on tiptoe, kissing him passionately and stepping back. The second maiden handed her a black cape, worked with silver wire. She placed it around his shoulders and closed the Celtic knot clasp. He stepped into his sleigh, settling himself. In a holder to his right was a filled flask of black coffee, heavily laced with good Irish whisky. Behind him was a bulging leather sack. It, like the sword, was “special”. Anything that would fit through its neck would fit in the sack and the sack could never be filled up. All he had to do was imagine the person he wished to gift and the appropriate item would come to his hand.
He looked one more time at those around him. The artisans whose work and skill made his mission possible. The warriors who guarded his domain and household. The ladies and house elves who served his family. And, finally, his beautiful beloved. She who sent him off each year with all her love and faith and heart, risking all, trusting his skill and competence and heart and, most of all, their God. He raised an arm in farewell, grasped the reigns in his left hand and spoke to the reindeer “Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!”
Lifting high on the reins, the sleigh with its lead of reindeer shot rapidly almost straight up. He anticipated his enemies would lay a picket line of minor demons around his domain, seeking to delay his departure long enough for the larger, more deadly demons to arrive from where they circled high above. On many years, he would use his knowledge of the surrounding terrain to fly nape of the earth, between the very tree tops and rapidly out-distance the smaller, slower pickets. But, some years, just to throw off his enemies he rose straight at the greater enemies, meeting them high above the earth in combat to win free into the wider world on his way to his nights missions.
This year was no exception. He could see the smaller pickets, dark oil stains against the white and green background, seeking to rise behind him in a loose circle around his home. Above, the greater enemies floated, bitter clouds with ember eyes, waiting to fall on him. There were three of the great ones this year, coming into line with each other they charged straight at him, one behind the other. Reaching behind him with his right hand, he drew Ororuin from its scabbard and prepared to meet his foe. At the last instant, the lead demon sought to rise above him, doubtless planning to wing around and fall on him from above and behind. He reckoned without Nick’s allies. As the lead demon rose the leader of the reindeer rose also, bringing Nick’s sleigh still further vertical and allowing him to gut the demon from chin to crotch as it rose past. The reindeer’s antlers blazed silver-blue holy fire and the demon’s remains fell past Nick in a cloud of ash and cinders. The second demon in line at the same instant attempted to fall below the sleigh and Nick heard the score of his claws as he found purchase on the bottom of the sleigh, seeking to rip the belly from the craft. The last demon made the fatal mistake of attempting to rip the lead reindeer’s throat out as it reached for the first and was simply trampled down by the nine-thousand plus pounds of reindeer as they passed over him. Nick took his sword and reached low, jabbing with the point of the long sword underneath the carriage until he felt the smoky, slimy resistance of spiritual flesh. He jabbed hard and with a flash of silver-blue light and oily smoke the sounds of wood rending underneath the sleigh ceased.
Nick brought the sleigh down in a hard drive, making for the East. The minor demons still rose in a netlike formation below him but with hoof and sword and his superior speed he simply ran through their formation, making for distant parts of the earth. He surveyed the damage. The lead reindeer had taken a talon cut on the back of the head where the first demon’s paw had sought to turn his head. All of them were coated liberally with ash and cinder burns. He looked beneath his feet and saw that the Holly floor had been gouged clear through in a spot about a half by three inches. Otherwise, there did not appear to be any significant damage. He chuckled a little darkly to himself. The children of the world who had seen him in years past had taken note of his many cinder marks and ash stains and begun the rumor that he came into their homes down their chimneys. As though he wanted to sit on a fire! Still, it had become a little part of his legend that made him smile.
Now that he was free of his pursuers, at least temporarily, he could get on with his mission. Long ago he had been gifted by the Creator with a special mission and the gifts to complete that mission. He would travel the world tonight, outside the confines of time, with the sole mission of bringing the joy and peace of the Savior’s birth to those most in need. For him it would seem a single night but for his family the time would stretch on. He would seem to be gone from home, sometimes for a month, sometimes for a year or more. Then, a year would pass for him at home until the next Christmas Eve in this world.
He surveyed the land beneath him. The world was brighter in many ways than in decades past. Electric lights had supplanted torches, lending the world a sparkling quality under the moon. But the same dark spiritual blotches roamed the streets of the more populace land. Feeding on the fear and anger of Men. Swaying them to live in their woundedness, feeding their base hungers. Clouding their vision so they are unable to see their noble purpose in Creation.
Guided by an instinct he could not name, but had come to trust he steered the sleigh to the South, coming to rest on the lawn of a large mansion, well back in the trees from the light spilling from the many windows.