Feast of Stephen

Today is Boxing Day here in England, and in much of “the British World.” The term is relatively new (19th Century), but the practices linked to it are much older. It revolves around the idea of “Christmas Boxes” which were given to formal servants or others who had provided “service” such as postmen, etc.

Christmas Boxes often contained bonuses, small gifts, and often small parcels old clothes or leftover food from the more “well to do” benefactors’ Christmas celebrations.

This spirit of giving is linked to the day in its more Christian manifestation: St Stephen’s Day.  Many people in the English speaking world know of it as “The feast of Stephen,” as mentioned in the carol Good King Wenceslas.

Wenceslas was known for his acts of charity and alms. In the song he is depicted as  wandering through the snow to give relief to the down trodden,

 

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay ‘round about
Deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither;
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page,
Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

(lyrics source: https://www.christmasmusicsongs.com)

This giving of oneself ultimately follows the example of Stephen himself, who gave his life in service of God.  He is noted as the first Christian martyr, and his example of piety is a model for us.  We may never be called upon to “lay down our lives for a friend,” in a literal manner, but we can give of ourselves and our resources, as did Wenceslas, and the “box-givers” of the past.

Padre

 

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Chance Meetings: A Sisters Tale

wil

Wilberta Small had a life that no one could be envious of. She was born in a brothel, where she continued to live until she was twelve. She was destined to have this life as her own future, but she was unprepared to accept the abuse she had seen her mother and the other “ladies” endure. She became more and more contrary, and it became evident, when she bit a “visiting gentleman” who happened to lay a hand on her shoulder as he passed, that she had to go.

She was short and petite, less than five feet in height. She was extremely quick, and agile as well, and she would often climb up into the rafters to avoid either chores or punishment. So when the circus came through her town in the north of the kingdom, the “mistress” of her house sold her to the passing ring master.

She had been “indentured” basically to run errands, and to clean up the animal pens. The ring master, however, who was a kindly man, saw more potential for her than that. She was soon apprenticed to the acrobats. Her small stature and gymnastic skills made her an instant success, and by the time she was fifteen she was a featured member of the company: The Amazing Wil Small.

She could climb a rope to the brink of the big top in less than ten seconds, and could carry out truly remarkable flips from the trapeze.

In the winter of her seventeenth year there was a fire in the big top, and many of the exotic animals perished as it spread to the hay filled wagons. The circus soon folded, and the Amazing Wil found herself on the streets of the capital practicing minor burglary, and picking pockets.

*           *           *

The “sisters” were in need of supplies, and were making their way through the capital to some legitimate suppliers. They would need reliable horses, tents, and food; all at a quality that couldn’t be guaranteed in the Alleys.

Thilda, Gwendolyn, and Maya were entering the central square near the palace.  It was a bustling place, with merchants shouting out offers, and an entire cross section of the kingdom’s peoples going about their business.

As they passed armourer’s stall there stood a tall androgynous figure with long plaited platinum hair. Thilda looked back at the figure a couple of times, and then excused herself, saying she needed to go look at some bowstrings.

Gwendolyn glanced back to see Thilda gazing up into the eyes of the figure. Gwendolyn didn’t recognise him (or was it her), but Thilda apparently did, judging by her demeanor. There was just too many things about this person, that jostled Gwendolyn’s curiosity. “Where did Thilda know them from? Was this an albino, or were these the traits of a half-Elf?” She would however allow her “sister” her privacy (at least for now).

The other women were proceeding to the bakers to order hard biscuit for the journey, when a short brunette of about eighteen bumped Maya.

“So sorry,” the small woman said apologetically.

“Not half as sorry as you will be,” Maya retorted, a small ball of fire beginning to form in her palm. “Give it back. Now!”

The woman looked stunned. She had never been caught out before. Then again she had never tried to pickpocket and Enchantress before.

“So, so sorry,” she stammered, as she handed a small bag of coins back to the saree-clad Maya.

There were several man about wearing the black jerkins embossed with a purple rose which identified them as members of the King’s Constabulary.  They seemed rather more interested in discussing the results of last night’s games, than in watching the crowd however.

“Do you see those “Rosemen?” Gwendolyn asked. “How would you like us to go and meet them?”

“I really . . . um . . .” Wilberta sobbed.

“What’s your name girl?” Gwendolyn demanded.

“Wil, Wilberta Small,” the girl stammered.

“From the circus?” Gwendolyn asked.

“I was, but . . .”

“Come with us, and don’t try to run. We might have a job for you, but you will need to meet someone first.”

Padre

World Tour Travel Tips

world map

It is Travel Tuesday, so the perfect day to reflect on tips for a round the world trip.  World travel can be a formidable undertaking but with some planning and preparation, it can be a real joy. Those who have read my travel posts in the past know that I am a big fan of cruises. Cruises are an excellent way to see the world, but are time consuming. If you have limited Holiday time, and need to keep to a work schedule, flying is the better option.

Of course working out your itinerary is important as well. To maximise the potential of schedules, starting at the International Date Line seems to be the way to go.  But, this approach is not without risks, however.  I find that for a clear mind, and to maximise the desired outcomes, starting in North America and finishing in Europe is the better plan.

“But why?” you might ask. Well if you are trying to get around the world in lets say, one night, you need to have your wits about you.  In America you will need to negotiate a wide range of cookies, and small snacks, but most are accompanied by glasses of milk, or the occasional cup of cocoa.  In Europe however, mince pie, Yuletide puddings, and glasses of sherry can quickly fill you up and make you a little tipsy.  Best save these to the last.

Your choice of air provider is also important. It doesn’t matter if you are using major carriers such as British Airways, or smaller more personal providers like Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, you need to look at their record of cancellations and delays.  You don’t want to be caught out by missed connections or become stranded by some technical failure.

This leads to some associated travel tips. It has to do with vegetables. Eight (or occasionally nine) little reindeer cannot possible eat the number of carrots, parsnips, and turnips placed out for them.  Flying on a full stomach is really a no no. But this is where the magic toy sacks come in handy.  As the presents are deposited in stockings, under trees, and in wooden shoes around the world, the sacks make for an excellent collection tool for the excess veg.  This can be taken back to headquarters for long term deer feed, or it can also be turned into a hearty stew for hardworking elves.

Speaking of headquarters, the North Pole is a great strategic manufacturing venue, but weather conditions might provide difficulties on priority travel night. I know reindeer number nine has done much to alleviate these problems, but having a reserve airfield in a place such as Lapland remains a prudent arrangement.

Well, I hope you find these tips useful, and that you will enjoy your Christmas celebrations and that they herald a great New Year.

Padre


 

The Haunted Wordsmith: Dancer, Dasher, Prancer

Fandango’s One Word Challenge:Formidable

Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle #215:

Present 

Yuletide

Holiday

Herald

Santa

Tree

celebrate

mistletoe

stocking

pudding

elves 

reindeer 

The Afbow: A Sisters Tale

The mountains before them, with their high peaks, and white snow-caps looked forbidding. The foothills, however, were generally lightly forested, and the party was making good time. There were some groves which were more dense, and some of the small stream valleys were a tangle with undergrowth. These they endeavored to avoid, but there was still a sense that something was amiss. Both Breena and Maya picked up on it, using their respective gifts.

“We’re being stocked,” Maya told the others.

“Yes, and the White Ones say on two sides,” Breena added.

The group became more vigilant, and their mood became less buoyant.

Seymour was on guard, shortly before dawn, when he heard a commotion in the small valley before them. He quickly roused the others, and they prepared for an onslaught which did not come.

Shortly after daybreak they proceeded to the watershed, and peered down.  There next to the stream bed, a scene of carnage greeted them.  Seymour led them downwards, and there they came across the body of man, which seemed to have crumpled where he had stood. He had a short black fletched bolt protruding from his left thigh, two more in his belly and right shoulder.  The death-blow however seemed to be from the fourth bolt which had struck his throat. Five others had struck trees or the ground around him.

Before him, starting from about thirty long paces away, lay the bodies of six Goblins, each with a slender red feathered arrow piercing its torso. Thilda looked at the remains of the creatures, and couldn’t help but be impressed with the skill of the archer who had brought them down.

She turned to look at the man. He was of medium height, but athletically built. Around his shoulders he wore the forest green cowl of The King’s Rangers. He was about fifty years of age, and had begun to grey at the temples. By his side was a quiver with six more red fletched shafts, and across his lap lay an exquisitely crafted composite bow of ewe wood and antler.

Thilda lifted the weapon, and was surprised at how light and easy to manoeuvre it was for its size. As she examined it, her eyes fell on an engraving in the antler work.  It was a stylised arrow running through a bow fashioned from a number three. It was capped with an “A” and fletched with a “F.” The makers’ mark of Augustus Feathermann the Third, her father. It must have been one of his finest pieces of work, though she had never seen another quite like it before.

AFBow

She shouldered the bow, and exchanged quivers with the corpse and selected her five best white-feathered arrows from her old quiver as well. She then went to collect the remaining arrows from the Goblins’ bodies. Thilda Feathermann was now, more than ever, a force to be reckoned with. None of her sisters dared question her why she had tears in her eyes.

She was appreciative of this, but thought it prudent to state, “Damn pollen getting to me, Seymour,” before he had a chance to say a word.

Seymour dug a grave for the Ranger, and Breena said the appropriate words. At the same time Gwendolyn and Wilberta gathered wood, while Thilda kept watch. They built a pyre and Maya lit it with an incantation to dispose of the Goblin remains.

“Do you think that’s all of them?” Gwendolyn asked Maya.

“I’m not sure, but I know that the ranger had been one of our “stalkers,” and “the Goblins the other,” she replied.

“No exactly,” Breena interjected. “The Goblins were indeed stalking us , but the Ranger was stalking them in turn.”

“We will keep double watch tonight,” Gwendolyn declared.

All agreed and they set off to make the greatest distance from this place as they could before nightfall.

Padre


Sue Vincent’s Photo Prompt inspired the image of the foot hills.

Rag Tag Daily Prompt White

This tale is posted out of sequence, as it while vaguely plotted, been really enhanced by some outstanding prompts(Thank you Sue and Rag Tag). The Sisters Tales are presented in the correct order on the “Themed Fiction” page of my blog.

Revelation, Reflection and Reform

breena

Breena the Healer had set up an infirmary which served some of the neediest neighbourhoods of the capital. She was adored and revered by the poor, many of who called her Breena Bright, or “The Prophetess.”

Yet, Breena had no formal ecclesiastical standing, as she had shunned all of the major sects and orders.  In fact, she identified with none of deities of the official pantheon of the kingdom, but described herself as a devotee of “The Power that Is.”  She was a devout woman, deeply entwined with spiritual forces, and who still had regular visitations from “The White Ones,” her name for the angelic figures who she had first met as a child.

*      *      *

Maya was convinced that the expedition to follow the map would require the services of a first class healer; and one with clerics skills would be all the more useful.

Word around the Alleys was that just such a person could be found on the Back Lane. Gwendolyn would go to see her in the morning.

The next day, Gwendolyn dressed a little more modestly than usual, and she and Thilda made their way through the maze of alleys and narrow streets until they saw the ramshackle building used as an infirmary.

“Is this the right place, Gwen?” Thilda questioned.

“It must be, look at the queue lined at the door,” Gwendolyn rejoined.

The two joined the line of the sick and dispossessed, many looking as if they were at death’s door.

When they reached the door, an attendant dressed in a stained smock met them.  She said, as if routine, “Food to the right, just take a bowl, or go to the left for treatment.”

“Actually, we have come to see Miss Bright,” Thilda said.

“You will need to be assessed by an attendant first,” the nurse replied, “Breena only sees the cases in most need.”

“No, it’s about something else,” Gwendolyn answered.

“Wait here and I’ll see,” the attendant said, and walked off to the left, as another woman in an equally soiled apron took her place sorting the queue.

“A few minutes later the first attendant returned and said, “Follow me.”

They rounded a corner into a large room with rows of mismatched beds, each filled with some of the most pitiful cases the “sisters” had ever seen.

To one side stood a short copper-haired woman, seemingly having an animated conversation with herself.

The sisters looked at each other, but before they could retreat, the woman came towards them holding out a hand to Gwendolyn.

“Greetings,” she said smiling. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, we were wondering . . .”

“If I could accompany you beyond the kingdom’s borders,” Breena interrupted.

“Why, um . . .” Gwendolyn chocked, swallowing heavily.

“Yes, I will go with you, but there will be conditions. Firstly, my food and necessary equipment will be provided for me. Secondly, no matter what the size of the party, I will need one tenth of the “findings” to be donated to the infirmary. Thirdly, I will require no payment for myself, except for two particular artifacts. Finally, if I am to take part in this endeavor, then we pay our way, there can be no stealing from the children of men.”

The sisters were intrigued by the redhead’s conditions. “What does she know about the place?” Thilda whispered to Gwendolyn.

“I don’t ‘know’ a lot,” Breena interjected in a matter of fact tone, “Only that it is a place of evil, which holds some items which can be used for good.”

“I guess we have a deal then . . .” Gwendolyn began.

“One more thing, though not a condition,” Breena interrupted. “I see that you are not bad, much less evil, women. Pragmatists yes, bad no. You really need to consider my final condition as a new start, especially after your recent unpleasant experience.”

Padre

 

 


Fandango’s Prompt: Intrigue

Haunted Wordsmith’s One Word Challenge: Spiritual

This is a Sisters Tale, and it follows Breena’s Calling: A Sisters Tale. A full index of the Tales can be found on Themed Fictions.

Miscellaneous Prompted Micro Poems

Silent forms together huddled lie,
Victims of cruel Autumn’s vengeance,
Mourned only by the tears of the watching sky.

TLT Throwback 29 Nov 18

All by six divided –
Yet, no two ever the same-
Heaven-born crystal destined, but a moment to remain.

TLT Throwback  6 December 2018

Puffed against Winter’s barren chill
Ever defiant to the monochrome conquest
Life’s tiny sunburst hope of Spring.

TLT Throwback 13 Dec 18

glasses-3002608_1920

For youth – the world is ever tinted –

In Shades of rose and hope,

Too readily set aside when weathered by age.

 

Inspiration Call: Micropoetry Monday 17 December 18

sunset wreck 1

There is a spirit to a ship –
That is why we call her she –
And when she perishes that soul’s set free –
Leaving but her bones – cast upon the sea.

CCC6 19 Dec 18

 

 

Breena’s Calling

 

41DeFH2CImL

Breena Olafdottir was short, and of a slight build. She has wavy hair, which was the colour of a newly minted penny, and  a patch of bronze freckles across the upper cheeks and nose. Her gift first manifested itself when she was nine, and it set her apart from most all of the young people of the kingdom.

It was during the first winter of the Black Dunes War, and King Hector was leading a column of soldiers to the front via her village. She was playing near the chicken run, when a bright figure with glistening feathered wings appeared to her. The apparition spoke kindly to her, and told her that she was to take a message to the king.

She was of course astonished, and tried to hide.  The angelic figure however beat her to her favourite hiding place, and again told her to deliver a message.

It said, that she was to join the citizens lining the road, and when the flag with the crown and dragon came near, she was to take a purple rose to the king.

“Don’t be fooled,” the White One said. “It will not be the one with the golden laurels on his helmet that you need to see, but the man in the black armour riding next to him with the flag.”

It seemed a very strange instruction to the little girl.

“Tell the man in black that the rose will bring him victory.”

Breena was confused, it was all too much to take in.  Besides, there was she going to get a rose, much less a purple one in February?

The white figure disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Then she noticed, next to the hen house, a single purple rose.

Three days later the army arrived. Breena plucked the rose and stood by the roadside, just before where it crosses the mill stream. When the important looking men came close, she stepped into the road.  A soldier started to block her way, but when the man with the golden wreath on his helm say the flower he ordered that she be allowed to pass.

There was a little confusion when she proceeded to take it to the standard bearer.

“Why have you brought it to me?” the man asked.

She responded, “Because the White One told me to give it to you, Your Majesty.” She handed him the flower and stepped back and gave a clumsy curtsy.

The two men immediately dismounted, and all the people bowed when the one in gold stepped onto the pavement.  He and the black clad man both bent down to talk to her.

She stuttered, and then gave the men the message. “The purple rose will make you win,” she declared.

And win they did.  Hector placed the rose into his helmet plume, and in the battle, the Ralulee were routed.  After the victory he ordered that the army paint the emblem on their shields, and the rode now adorns the royal standard as well

As for Breena, there was talk of taking her to the capital to receive an education from the greatest mystics and sages of the land.  She had other plans, however. After all, the White Ones spoke to her not because of her learning, but for the purity of her heart.

With the aid of her guides, Breena the girl managed to escape into obscurity, while Breena the legend captured the imagination of a nation.

Padre


 

The Sisters Tales are presented in the correct order on the “Themed Fiction” page of my blog.

 

 

 

The Magi

magi_tissot868x600.jpg

painting by: James Jaques Joseph Tissot

Last year, Steven Colborne of Perfect Chaos posted a challenge to enter a four line poem with a Christmas theme. The end result on my part was the second stanza of the poem below.  I have since expanded it in keeping with the season.

 

The Magi

Watchers of the sky, they followed a star

Leading them westwards from afar

Its regal meaning they could attest

But journey was needed their theory to test

 

Learned yes, wise pra’ps not

For they went to the palace and not the manger cot

A king the sought, and two kings they met

But it was with babe king that their needs were met.

 

At stable humble, they did alight

Kneeling in the star’s guiding light

They proffered gifts

Of wealth and might

 

Scent and gold

Power in Heaven and on Earth

And dark ointment of death

To mark His birth.

 

Padre

Betrayal: A Sisters Tale

Liverpool Picturebook

The laundresses had only recently arrived at work after their extra evening off, and none of them was prepared to risk disturbing “The Washer Woman,” even though her absence at opening time was unusual. Fortunately, Mildred had keys to the front entrance and to the cash box, so they began to get on with their daily routine.

Then Dennis breezed in, carrying a large sack over his shoulder. Helen stopped and looked expectantly at the front door, and when her mistress didn’t come through after Dennis, she smiled.

“Did it work?” she asked.

“Brilliantly,” he responded, as she squealed with glee and ran over to him.  She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately, as Thyme and Mildred looked on in confusion.

“You two, move over there,” he said pointing to a space behind the counter. Helen gagged them both, as Dennis bound them hand and foot.  Helen then pulled the keys from Mildred’s apron and unlocked the cash box.  Its contents were emptied into Dennis’ sack, and then Helen turned the sign to read “Closed,” and locked the front door.

The couple then went into the back room, where Dennis pried up the floorboards under Thilda’s desk and pulled out the treasure chest, which was emptied into his hessian as well.

They then made their way back to entrance, Helen wearing Gwendolyn’s best cloak, unlocked the door, and departed into the morning air,  leaving the laundresses sobbing behind the counter.

*                 *                  *

Dennis’ scheme had a few holes in it. Firstly, he didn’t thing to remove the rope from the pulley. Though it was out of the immediate reach of the sisters. He had also failed to relieve Gwendolyn of her lock-picks.

One end of the rope was still tied to the gate, but the other end was hanging free about a foot beyond their reach. They used Thilda’s bow to catch the rope and slowly coxed it towards them. Gwendolyn grabbed it and tied it to the gate as well.

“Okay, we have the rope and the pulley, but we are at a bad angle,” Gwendolyn observed.

Thilda said, “Help me pick up the barrel staves. I have an idea.”

She then inspected each piece to see which was the most useful. “Gwen, Can you use these to lever the lid off that coffin?”

Gwendolyn placed the boards into the gap and together they kicked them until the lid started slide.

“Careful not the let it fall,” Thilda said,”Just let it slowly slide to the floor on the bottom end.”

The two women struggled, but gravity helped and they were able to get the heavy stone lid to stand upright, as it leaned on the sarcophagus.

“Did they bury him with an axe or hammer?” Thilda asked.

“A hammer.”

“Perfect,” Thilda replied, “Bring it here, and keep hold of the lid so it doesn’t slide.”

She then began the care fully chip a groove into the bust on the top of the lid. She then went and untied one end of the rope and attached it to the anchor point on the image.

“I see,” Gwendolyn said nodding, and together they positioned themselves on either side of the tomb.

“On three,” Gwendolyn said.

“One, Two, Three.” Both women pushed with all their might an the lid toppled over, and its mass was sufficient to act as a counter weight to the portcullis raising it about eighteen inches.

The women scrambled to squirm under it before anything could go wrong. Thilda easily slid though and grabbed the larger Gwendolyn by the arms to speed her escape.  No sooner had she cleared the threshold, did the knot on the sarcophagus lid give way, and the gate again crashed down.

Gwendolyn muttered some profanities as they dusted themselves off.

Thilda made a quick check that neither was seriously injured. A few scrapes and bruises to be sure, but more their pride than their persons was damaged.

“What do we have?” Gwendolyn asked.

“One lantern, the arse left behind; your tool kit, my bow, and a dwarf hammer; it looks like,” came Thilda’s appraisal.

They made their way into the Guild cellar, and again looked for any thing useful.

“Nothing,” Thilda snorted.

“Wait, there are a couple of candle ends in the sconce,” Gwendolyn observed. “They may be useful.” She wiggled them free, and they proceeded up the stairs.

Dennis had removed the wad of twin from the lock on his departure, and Gwendolyn had to gain go through the process of picking it.  It was even harder from underneath, and the candle ends proved useful, as the time it took her was almost novice like in its duration.

At last the bolt clicked, and Thilda exerted herself to push the hatch open, against gravity.  But they were nearly free.

Beams of day light trickled through faults in the roof work of the old building, but it remained largely a world of shadow.

The carefully opened the rear door of the annex and had to blink against the noon day sun. They gave a careful look in each direction, and then as nonchalantly as was possible for two dusty, disheveled women made their way into the street.

*          *          *

Gwendolyn was surprised to see the “Closed” sign on the door to the laundry. “Surely Mildred would have opened up by now,” she muttered absent-mindedly.

The door, however, was unlocked. Pushing it open it seemed all was in order, except for the absence of the “girls.” It was then that she heard the muffled cry for help, form behind the counter.

Thilda drew her dagger and jump onto the counter, only to see Mildred and Thyme struggling against their bonds.

Gwendolyn rounded the counter and began to untie the laundresses, and Thyme burst into tears, as Mildred repeatedly apologised.

“I’m so, so sorry,” Mildred said between sobs.

Gwendolyn intervened, “Nonsense, Milly you have nothing to apologise for.” Gwendolyn eventually composed herself enough to get an account of the proceedings.

Gwendolyn let loose a series of profanities during the tale.

“I am going to kill him, both of them,” Thilda declared as she hugged the still shivering Thyme.

Padre


Fandango prompt: intervene

Fandango Prompt: Compose

Inspiration Call Photo

The Sisters Tales are presented in the correct order on the “Themed Fiction” page of my blog. The preceding segment to this one is: Trapped: A Sisters Tale