Will and Eva sat comfortably before the fireplace in their snuggery enjoying a hot mug of cocoa. As Eva took a sip, she scanned the sea of packages adorned in red and gold wrapping paper, and her attention was drawn to the star atop the decorated evergreen.
“Will – Honey, do you ever think about the star on the tree?”
“What about it? Do you think we should have got a fairy instead?” he replied.
“No, and they’re not fairies, they are angels. It’s all about the story about shepherds following a star, and bringing a lamb to baby Jesus. Don’t you remember that from primary school?”
“Something like that, but wasn’t it a bunch of kings? I was a king in Year Four,” Will said reflectively.
“Yeah, that’s the story,” Eva said. “And I was sure it was shepherds because I remember, Danny Bowman had a tie-died tea-towel as a hat.”
“What were you? Mary I suppose?” Will queried.
“No, I was panda. You know, one of the animals in the barn. It was the onesie I had so mum didn’t have to buy a costume.”
“Anyway, that star and the shepherds. I bet they were cold out in that field when they were taking care of all those lambs.”
“I guess so,” Will replied a bit puzzled.
“Well I was thinking it’s cold tonight too and though I doubt there are any shepherd out there, I bet there are some homeless people. It was really cold last night too, and there was a lot of frost. The thought of it even makes me shiver. What if we take that extra pair of mittens that Aunt Martha sent you, and give them to one of the homeless people?”
“Kind of like King Winzaluss, giving alms, huh?” Will asked.
“Yeah, then we will really have the meaning of Xmas,” Eva said.
“Okay, but let’s wait till the morning when it’s warmer,” Will suggested.
“Good idea,” Eva said smiling as she took another sip and cuddled into Will.
The lake was a mirror of black glass, and a paraselene moon shone upwards from its surface. It was still – too still. The absolute calm was unnerving to Talbert as he stood guard on the edge of the Baron’s camp.
Suddenly the stillness was shattered by a tremor which was so violent that it toppled several of the tents, and Talbert himself received a sharp blow from a branch that broke away from the tree under which he stood. In fact if it hadn’t been for his helmet and neck stock he was sure he would had been fatally wounded.
As the men of the Baron’s retinue scrambled to rescue him from his collapsed marquee, they found that their lord was not inside.
“Over here you fools,” the familiar bellow rang out, as the Baron tried to free himself from a fallen limb. It seems that the Aristocrat had a dream just before the incident in which a beautiful elf-maiden stood before him in a dazzling jade glow. She beckoned him to follow her to the tree line, unseen by his guards.
“Kiss me,” she said with a sweet lilt to her voice.
As the Baron leaned in, the entire earth seemed to shudder. The next thing he knew was that he was pinned to the ground by a heavy branch.
As Talbert and his colleagues endeavoured to lift the bough from their lord’s legs they failed to notice that the joke was on them as enchantress who had conjured the dream and the quake absconded with the chest containing the Baron’s tax revenues.
It might be cliche, but Arandia saw no rhyme or reason to the Goddess‘ oracle pronouncement. The message lacked the usual poetic style, and it was in no way cryptic, as was the Goddess’ custom.
For six years, Arandia had served the temple as a Keeper of the Doorway, as her mother had served before her. Thus was the thread of life that wove together the Keeper Clan. A keeper would begin her duties at twenty, and then leave at thirty to marry and raise the next generation of Keepers.
At twenty-six it was odd for Arandia to be sent on a mission so far from the holy site. Such tasks usually fell upon Keepers in their twenty-ninth year, before ending their service at the gates.
But the Goddess had called her by name for the task. She was to go to the Shrine of Eskalese and bring back three chalices full of water from the pool there. No one from the Goddess’ temple had been sent there in living memory, and the link between the temple and the shrine were tenuous. There was, of course, the ancient legend that the Goddess once had a relationship with the hero, Eskalese but the details were shrouded in time.
As Arandia approached the shrine she was surprised to find it overgrown and in disrepair. She nonetheless continued up the weedy path towards the shrine and the pool within.
The pool was covered with thick algae and pond weed, and had a foul stagnant smell to it. Arandia took out the stone jar and silver chalice from her haversack and took a deep breath before using the lip of the chalice to clear away the algae. As she did, she was startled by the sound of movement behind her.
Glancing behind her she saw a woman, the exact likeness of the statues of the Goddess at the temple, tied to a stake and being loomed over by a serpent-headed figure.
Arandia bolted towards the assailant and bludgeoned the fiend over the head with the stone jar. After several blows, the creature collapsed to the ground and then seemed to dissolve into the soil.
“Well done, Daughter,” the woman said in a clear hypnotic voice. The woman was now standing unbound before Arandia and radiating a warm glow. “You have proven your worthiness, Daughter,” the Goddess said. “Come,” the deity said, pointing the way to the pool.
Arandia followed with a mix of reverent excitement and fear. The Goddess leaned over the foul pool, and taking Arandia’s hand, she pricked the Keeper’s finger with her nail and a drop of blood fell into the pool. It worked as some sort of catalyst, for no sooner had the drop fell into the waters that they became clear, and the entire shrine seemed to be renewed.
It was then that Arandia saw her reflection and that of the Goddess in the pool. She was taken aback by how similar they were.
“Long ago,” the Goddess began. “I was in love with the human Eskalese. Our love was not approved of by my mother, and she banned me from seeing him again. In sorrow, I gave to him his legendary powers as a warrior, and he unknowingly left me with a child. She grew to be the first of the Keeper’s and my half mortal children have stood by me and served me ever since. But I saw in you something special, something divine. Drink from the pool, and join me, Daughter, claim your birth right.”
Arandia dipped the silver chalice into the clear waters, and then drank deeply, savoring the sweet taste of her transformation.
Alax didn’t know exactly what to expect as he prepared to enter the Mystic’s chamber. All he knew for sure was that he had played out all his other options. The forge was being repossessed by Sir Galor and he had neither the connections or the means to avoid eviction.
At seventeen Alax was the eldest of five siblings, and “provider” for them and their invalid mother. Alax’s father a powerfully built blacksmith had died suddenly after a brief illness and thrust young Alax into this situation.
Several of Alax’s so-called friends said that he should join the army and send his family to the work house. But Alax was not prepared to sacrifice his family with such a satisfice.
So there he was at the door of Madam Ursa’s seeing parlour. Just as the blacksmith’s son was preparing to know on the door, the word “enter” sounded in his head. He started, and then reluctantly pushed the door open.
Before he could utter a word the Telepathtouched her lips with a finger in a gesture to be silent, and then lowered it to a crystal ball on her table.
“Sit,” a voice said in his head, and with reluctance he complied. Alax could feel his own heartbeat in his chest as he settled into the chair, and sweat was beginning to dot his forehead.
“You seek answers to your fate,” the psychic voice said. It was a serene voice, that comforted him a bit, and he immediately began to question himself as to whether a voice in your head could have an accent.
Ursa laughed aloud, the first physical sound she had made since his arrival.
Alax felt embarrassed and looked down and tried to think of the cottage or the ford, or anything that he might not mind being “heard.”
“The army is not for you, young Alax,” the mystical voice said in his head. “You and will however need to go on a voyage, and there you will make your fortune. When you have completed the task I will set you, you will return and serve me. Your family will be under my care until you return, and Galor will not trouble them.”
Alax was confused, and conflicting thoughts raced through his head.
“If you are willing to accept my terms, allow me to affix my mark upon your breast.”
After a pause, Alax nodded and opened the front of his tunic. Ursa laid her palm on the centre of his chest. The touch was soft, and strangely arousing.
Ursa laughed again, as Alax blushed and tried to move his mind to other things.
When she removed her hand, a diamond shaped mark was on his skin.
“Now kiss me and depart,” the Mystic said in her mind-voice.
Alax again complied and as he did, he knew all that he would need to do to save his family.
It was a Coup de Foudre, the viewing of the ring. The sumptuous coil of gold, melded with subtle hints of silver. This was no mere souvenir of the journey to Venice, but a true Renaissance masterpiece of a long-dead master.
Hillary could just imagine him in his leggings and pantaloons, proudly holding his creation between thumb and forefinger to accentuate its lustre to his patron.
How the craftsman would have smiled as patted the coins tucked into his no longer empty pouch. The smile clearly mirrored by Hillary as she slid the crisp Euros across the counter to make the magnificent ring her own.
Joshua wondered how far he had already come. The had run at first, but this slowed to a walk. Later, after he had twisted his ankle, it became more of a hobble, but he was still putting distance between him and the “thing.”
He was tired, wet, and the pain from his ankle shot through his entire body with every step. He knew he would have to stop soon. Between the pain and exhaustion he was already at the point of collapse.
Before him there was a wooded rise. He decided he would rest there before trudging onwards. It would at least give him some measure of cover.
On reaching the summit, he flopped down next to a pine, and undid his boots. He pulled off his sock on the injured leg and looked at the swelling. He knew instinctively, that the greying toes were not a good sign. He sat and considered putting his boots back on, before his ankle swelled too much to actually accomplish the task, but the pine needles beneath his feet gave a pleasant sensation that he didn’t want to give up.
As he reflected on his options, a loud explosion could be heard from the direction he had come. He concluded that the military was trying to counter the ineffable “thing,” that had arrived that morning. He began to wonder how many people had already left this vale owing to its arrival. Suddenly, there was another tremendous explosion. His musings thus interrupted, he forced his boots back on, determined to extend his distance from the “thing.”
Danny was a hard kid to get to know. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a friendly as any other eight year old. It was more that he was wary around others and what they might say.
You see, Danny had metrophobia and the mere hint of a rhyme would create such a high level of anxiety for him that he would feel his belly twist into knots, and then he would crouch in a corner.
While most kids enjoyed Green Eggs and Ham, Danny had to content himself with giant peaches. One day his friend Karen made a Freudian slip in which she inadvertently rhymed, but then made matters worse by saying, “I’m a poet and din’t even know it.” Poor Danny’s whole body shook and he slipped into shock.
Tonight would be different, however. Danny was going to Prosaic ’20, for a reading of all things ‘prosey.’ The theatre was going to be a poetry free zone, and he was going to read his own composition – “The Wonderful Thing About Orange.”
A distant thunder echoed from beyond the hills. Would a storm disrupt the tranquility of this place – this oasis of calmness nestled in the foothills far from the day to day concerns of the human realm?
The growing breeze caused the trees to curtly nod their acquiescence to the sky’s demands. As they did, showers of cherry blossom cascaded into the stream where they danced and swirled amid the whirlpools and eddies before being swept underwater at a little falls, only to reemerge in a pool carved by flow.
But even this sacrifice of pink blossom was no waste, for as the rules of nature dictated, they settled in the inanition of the basin, a treasure chest of colour, where the stream stored riches.
A louder crack of thunder drew Helen’s gaze from the petals in to pool, and and she looked up at the darkening sky. Taking one last glance at the bowing cherry trees, she hurrying home to her secluded cottage.
“Tomorrow,” she whispered to the trees and stream. “I promise to visit again tomorrow, and I will bring cake.”
Tom Peipce hated the whole lock down deal. March and April found him pottering about in the garden. While not much of a gardener there was some thing about the greenery that he found relaxing. The only real company he had was his dog, Buster, and while a loyal companion, old Buster was far from a great conversationalist.
But what Tom really missed, even more than conversation, was seeing women. At least back at the office there were pretty faces other than Buster’s to gaze at. Yes, Tom was a bit of a leerer, a fact not missed by several of his colleagues.
But as May sunshine found its way to his quarantine prison, his concupiscent nature found a new outlet. Yes, as the rays of sunshine became stronger, his neighbour Barbara began to sunbathe. This was an elysian development for Tom, but he knew he would need to tread carefully, and keep on his toes.
That evening he removed a small plank from his garden shed which overlooked Barbara’s garden, and covered the spot with a piece of coconut matting that he could use as a kind of curtain.
Things went well for the next couple of days as the bikini-clad Barbara enjoyed the fine weather. But she had an uneasy feeling that she was being watched. As a result she kept glancing over towards Tom’s location. It had become time for Tom’s Plan B.
Tom leaned over and whispered in Buster’s ear, and the dog immediately went over and began to paw the fence. Barbara drawn by the sound leaned over the fence and ruffled the animal’s hair. “Hey there, Buster. You been watching me boy? I bet you’re lonely.”
Her suspicions now allayed, Barbara returned to her lounge chair. Feeling triumphant, Tom fished out an old pair of binoculars from under his chair, and adjusted them to compensate for the expanse of garden.
Tom Peipce of Coventry was a menace. Fortunately he had his comeuppance when, as social bubbles were introduced, Barbara’s older brother, Gino Godiva noticed movement in the shed. The rest shall we say is history.