Writer's retreat

Writer's retreat

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Christmas story - or The tale behind the tale

Back in 1998, members of Solihull Writers Workshop were asked to bring in items relating to Christmas. We then had to write something inspired by one of the items. I can't remember what I took, but my attention was taken by the beautiful velvet jacket brought by Mary. It has a pattern of large flowers whose outlines are illuminated by gold thread.

It spoke to me of Christmas at home in the Cotswolds where I would often provide a relief organist to one of the local church services either on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. I remember one Christmas morning when my mother was playing in one church, I was playing in another and my father was ringing bells at a third!

Those times are past, but they can still provide settings and "flavour" to a story and thereby be preserved and shared. Can you work out which village it is?

This story has been a long time coming to fruition. The original version, where the main characters were both university students was rejected by The People's Friend as not being suitable for their readership. Mary kindly critiqued it for me afterwards and made some helpful suggestions. I then "left it hanging in a cupboard" for seven years and have now dustied it off and made some alterations. I hope you enjoy the finished article.

The Christmas Jacket

The velvet jacket lay on the bed, gold thread encircling deep purple and blue flowers glittering in the harsh electric light

"Very seasonal!" Hugh's words lingered in her mind. At the time, his approval of her expensive Christmas purchase made her glow, but now she could hardly bear to look at it.

"Come on, Sally!" her mother called up the stairs. "If we don't go now, we'll be late and that dreadful Mrs Pringle will sit in our pew. She always does if we're not there first!"

"All right, mother, I'm coming." Sally sighed and pulled on the jacket, trying not to notice the soft velour as it fitted snugly round her. She could almost feel Hugh's arms encircling her, stroking the velvet pile. It was too cruel he wasn't here to share her Christmas!

It was October when she first invited him to join her in spending Christmas with her mother in the small Cotswold village where she lived. They’d spent many happy weekends as visitors, being plied with home cooked food and strolling along country lanes breathing lots of fresh air.

Hugh had struck up a relationship with Oswald Prenderghast, the emaciated organist at St Mary’s church. He offered Hugh the opportunity to try out the small pipe organ and Hugh surprised everyone with the beautiful music he created from the moth-eaten instrument.

Sally arranged to collect him from the upstairs flat above the greengrocer’s shop in the High Street of the busy market town where they both worked. Hugh’s job was only a mile away from where he lived, so he walked or used his bicycle. Sally was the car owner, spending an hour each day commuting.

Everything seemed set, but they forgot to agree a time. Things were so rushed at work Sally didn’t contact Hugh until just before she left. There was no answer from his darkened flat, his mobile was on voicemail and when she stopped by the Observatory where Hugh spent his days analysing computer data from distant stars, the security man told her all the staff were gone.

Perhaps he had forgotten their plans. Hugh spent so much of life with his eyes on the stars; it was difficult to keep him focused on practical things. He must have gone to stay with his sister in Kent without telling her. Unsure what to do for the best and with time running out, Sally decided to drive home without him. She had to be back in time for the Christmas Eve service.

Sally grabbed her fur hat from the top of the wardrobe and pulled it tightly down over her curls. It was always cold in church. Even more so on Christmas Eve. David, Lower Trumpton's hard-pressed vicar, was sure to have forgotten to put the heating on until tea-time, when he knew it needed all day if the ancient stones were going to warm up and release the frost.

Finding her boots by the front door, Sally put them on and fiddled with her gloves as her mother fussed around her until they were both safely outside in the dark night. It was only a short distance up the hill to the church, so it was silly to take the car.

Arm in arm, they climbed the steep road, stopping half way to get their breath. Sally looked around at the silent village. The lights were still on in the hotel and she doubted the landlord of The Golden Ball was calling "Time!" yet, although some of his customers were already making their way up the hill for their annual visit to Church.

Frost made the road surface twinkle, reflecting the bright stars above. Sally could see the Plough standing on its nose behind bare thorn trees by the village hall, but the moon was not high enough to be seen against the black sky. It wasn't really dark at all, Sally thought. Soon they reached the black railings of the churchyard. Someone had hung coloured lights around the two yew trees, so their way was lit to the old oak door.

Carefully minding the step down into the Norman nave, Sally's mother smiled brightly at Mr Culpepper who was giving out carol sheets, whilst looking anxiously over his shoulder to see if "their pew" was still unoccupied. It was and Sally heard her give a sigh of relief. Together they walked up the aisle admiring the holly in the deep window ledges and the large Christmas tree Mr Watson from the Gas Houses had borrowed from the local Garage for the Christmas services.

Sally sank down onto her blue, embroidered kneeler trying not to think of Hugh’s absence. The pews looked much brighter since the ladies of the Mothers Union finished their mammoth task of re-stuffing all the church’s kneelers and embroidering scenes to commemorate village history as part of the Millennium celebrations.

She let her gaze drift towards the lady chapel with its beautifully carved stone arch adorned with animals and birds from the medieval bestiary. In front of the small altar stood the green man chair. The smiling face usually lifted her spirits, but tonight he seemed to be mocking her for thinking she would be able to share her simple village Christmas with Hugh.

The organ was playing a quiet medley of mediaeval carols. Hugh loved early music. It deepened her sadness to think he wasn't there to hear them.

David came out of the vestry. Everyone stood up and the service began. Sally sang the well-known carols, but her mind was elsewhere. She hardly heard David's usual thoughtful sermon, interspersed with well-worn anecdotes. Before she knew it, the organ was thundering out "We wish you a Merry Christmas" followed by a raucous rendition of The Boar's Head Carol and everyone was going home.

“Coming for a sherry, Sally?” Her mother always joined Mrs Dorncliffe, their nearest neighbour, for a festive tipple after the service.

“I’ll be along in a minute.” Sally indicated the mess of carol sheets strewn all over the sandstone floor by the wind whistling in through the open door. David had already rushed off to celebrate the Midnight Service with his other parish five miles away and old Mr Culpepper was busy counting offerings in the vestry.

Up in the nave, the organist was locking up the organ and switching off lights. She heard the clink of keys being dropped in their usual hiding place behind the memorial stone to Edward Palmer, Esquire, the 17th century church benefactor, then footsteps came down the flagstones towards her.

"I like your jacket," said a familiar voice, "very seasonal!"

“Hugh!” Sally gasped, dropping the carol sheets again in her surprise.

"I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to phone you before you left," Hugh knelt beside her, gathering up errant carols sheets into a tidy pile. "I had to finish my calculations on Ursa Major at the observatory before I could leave. I fell asleep under the telescope and you'd already gone by the time I got back to the flat.

“Luckily, the greengrocer was coming down here to make a delivery to The Golden Ball, so I hitched a lift. I knew Mr Prendeghast is always busy tonight with three services to play for on Christmas Eve, so I offered to deputise for him the last time we came down. My mobile had no battery left and there wasn’t time to come and tell you before the service. I hope you’re not too cross with me?"

Sally looked at the earnest young man in front of her and her heart melted. There was no point telling him how miserable she’d been without him. He was here now and they had the whole of Christmas to spend together. She smiled. The carol sheets lay forgotten as Hugh enfolded her in his arms. Christmas was complete and the gold thread in her special Christmas jacket sparkled in the light.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Three Yule Stories

Several years ago I started to write short stories to illustrate the eight different seasons which make up the Wheel of the Year. As time passes I notice there are many aspects for each season and the number of stories grow. Here are three which illustrate different issues associated with Yule.

Please accept these stories as my Yuletide gift. Feel free to share them with your friends and family. Leave me a comment so I know how the stories have touched you.

An Ancient Story for Yule

The earth froze. Far away where ice had not yet grasped the air in its fiery breath, rain fell upon rivers so they swelled in darkness and burst their banks. Men and animals fled to high ground to escape the floods, but the hills were covered with snow. Sheep and oxen scraped in vain for frozen grass.

Pale light filled the sky and the men knew day had broken. They looked to the sky for signs of the dreadful conditions easing, but all they saw were black, hanging clouds above the hilltops that spoke of more snow and bitter weather.

Those who laughed and sang when the sun was high and warm grew silent. Harps were stilled. Those lucky enough to have shelter from the elements drew their furs around them and huddled together, only venturing into the icy wind when animals needed feeding or there was water to be drawn from the one well still unfrozen.

They tried not to think of the travellers, making their way along the Ridgeway track for the winter solstice. It was bleak along the top of the hills even on the mildest days, but now the beaten path would be hidden and treacherous under the snow. The old women shuddered and hushed children who were too young to hide their questions.

Would the sun rise again? This was the question on everyone's lips. Would the child of the Triple Goddess be born to bring life and hope to this ice bound world, or would winter hold sway for ever, snow and frost eking their way into carefully hoarded food until even the strongest perished alone under the shadow of the hills?

"Will the priestess come, Granda?" asked a small child. "You said she'd be here to celebrate Yule with us this year?"

"I don't know, little one." The old man shook his head and pulled back the wooden shutter to peer out into the flurries of white. "I don't think there's much hope. We'll just have to pray they found shelter somewhere before the storm struck."

The child seemed about to speak again, but he saw the fear on his grandfather's face and kept his peace, slipping his small hand inside the larger one for comfort and reassurance.

At least they still had food, although no-one felt like eating when they thought of the small party stuck somewhere along the ridge. They gathered around the fire and spoke in low voices, eating their stew quickly and seeking their beds, as if trying to escape from their fears in sleep.

Some time in the middle of the night, the boy awoke. Bright moonlight was shining on his face through a crack in the wattle. The wind had dropped and an eerie calm enveloped the round house, broken only by heavy snores of those still sleeping.

The boy got up and shook his grandfather. "We must go and find the priestess, Granda, or the sun won't rise in the morning."
The old man muttered in his sleep, but the boy persisted, bringing him his fur lined boots and his warmest cloak. Together they went out into the still white world, marvelling at the fullness of the moon shining as bright as day.

"This way." The boy tugged at the old man's arm, leading him down the hill and into a gully where an exposed rock lay half buried under the snow.

"How do you know?" the old man grumbled, but deep in his heart he'd heard the call as well, faint at first, but stronger as they neared the stones. There under the rock they found them, the small group of travellers huddled together for warmth and still alive. The priestess' eyes glittered with the power she had called to herself, but she greeted them with a smile and helped the others as they made their way slowly up to the roundhouse.

The priestess looked up to the sky and urged them to hurry, to wake everyone in the small community so the ritual was not delayed. Bleary eyed, men, women and children stumbled from their furs, holding birch torches in the snow as the priestess led them up to the burial mound at the top of the hill in a dance of welcome to the son of the Triple Goddess.

As they finished the dance and stood watching the moon fade in the darkness, the sky began to lighten above the hills. A sudden brightness shone from behind the highest peak. A beam of gold struck the huge capstan on the sacred stones, lighting the inner chamber for all to see. A great roar rose from the people as they greeted the sun returning to them for another year.

The roar masked groans from the priestess, caught in her own birth pangs, brought on by the journey and the hardship she had suffered. The women took her inside the birthing hut, tending her for many hours until another shout was heard and the healthy cry of a new born babe rang out for all to hear.

"You see, Granda, everything was all right," the boy said solemnly as they sipped a Yule cup together beside the fire. "The sun has returned and we have our own child from the Goddess to care for."

"Aye, lad." The old man's eyes misted over as he ruffled the boy's hair.

Once again, the Goddess shared her greatest gifts amongst them. Spring would come again to the land.

The Battle of the Kings

It was well past noon when they noticed Ann's absence. Everyone was busy with preparation for the Yuletide feast.

The huge Yule log had been dragged in from woodland three fields away. Now it lay in the Great Hall hearth to be lit tonight from the remains of last year's ember which had been safely stored on a special shelf in the chimney. Every nook and cranny was decorated with garlands of holly and other evergreens. Sunlight pouring in through high windows shone on waxy green leaves making the dark red berries glisten.

Donald made his way through the mud to the warband's winter barracks next to the cattle sheds. He was sure he would find his sister treating the never-ending toll of cuts, bruises and hacking coughs brought on by the bitter weather and the need to search further afield for fresh fodder and fuel for both livestock and people. As the only remaining unmarried daughter of the chieftain, Ann was responsible for the health and welfare of their tribe now her mother slept with the ancestors.

Brian, the warband leader, was busy showing young lads from the settlement how to hack an enemy to death using a straw filled dummy. He wasn't happy to be disturbed.

“No, she isn't here." Brian grumbled at Donald. "Check with Michael, she was heading for the kitchens the last time I saw her."

Donald let flow a string of newly acquired curses, "She's not in the kitchens, she's not in the solar, she's not in the cellars and she's not down in the infirmary!" He was angry his younger sister was taking up so much of his time when he wanted to be making his own preparations for tonight's feast. "Dan says she's not been in the stables either."

Brian sheathed his sword and sighed. This wasn't the first time Ann had gone missing. As a child he was always retrieving her from various hiding places, but it was a long time since she'd disappeared without telling someone where she was going.

"It's not like Ann to go running off when there's things to do," Donald admitted, worry edging his words.

"Get on with your duties, lad," Brian told him, "She's not gone far in this weather. I'll find her" He pulled on his sheepskin boots and wrapped a great cloak of furs around his broad shoulders. The cloak was warn in places and spattered with mud from recent forays, but as he strode out into the yard, his long, bronze hair looked like a great ball of fire moving amongst the buildings.

He climbed up the watchtower, thinking he might see her if she'd made her way outside the settlement. His keen eyes gazed out over meadows and fields then he caught sight of something blue fluttering in the cruel wind by the wall on top of the far hill. The huge winter sun was just beginning to touch the horizon, bringing with it the longest night of the year. Brian had already seen the full moon risen high over the hills behind him, the pale silver circle foretelling the power of the Goddess in the night sky.

Brian left the settlement quickly, passing bondsmen feeding sheep in the near pasture and went up the hill to the high stone wall. On the other side was a ploughed field, dark brown clods stiff with frost. The wall was sheltered on his left by a patch of woodland. To his right stood a single line of fir trees, beyond which lay the small stone circle high on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

Ann was sitting on a flat stone on top of the stile, wrapped in her new blue cloak, watching the sunset. She seemed totally mesmerised by the scene, hardly noticing when Brian climbed up and sat beside her.

"You've set them all searching for you!"

Ann did not reply, but he caught sight of two fat tears trickling down her cheeks to join the dark stain on the collar of her cloak.

"What's wrong, lass?" His deep voice was gentle as he wiped away the tears.

"It's so beautiful," she whispered at last, "and it's leaving us!" Brian covered her small hand with his and felt how cold she was. He drew her towards him, wrapping his cloak around both of them.

"It will be back tomorrow," he soothed her. "Didn't we welcome the birth of the child this morning in the fougou beside the outer wall?"

Ann continued to stare at the setting sun. "I saw them fighting, Brian!" She shivered. "There was so much blood spilled. You wouldn't think an old man had so much blood in him!"

For a moment Brian wondered what she was talking about. There had been no battles on this land for several years now and certainly none where old men had fought and died. Then he realised what she had come here to see - the battle between the Holly King, God of the waning year and the victorious Oak King, who would rule over the waxing year and bring in summer.

Brian rubbed her cold arms and hands. "Come back, Annie, that's not a good vision for a feast day like this. We should be celebrating. They'll be lighting the Yule log soon and starting the feast."

"But the Oak King had to win," Ann might have been talking to herself, "otherwise the wheel won't turn and the sun will set and not rise again; but it was so hard, with the Mother here in her fullness, both of them wanted to stay with her! Who would have thought the old man would have fought so hard!"

Brian wrapped Ann up with his arms and held her tightly. The sky was crystal clear in the freezing air with hardly a wisp of cloud to reflect the pale pinks and blues around the sun.

Brian nestled her head against his shoulder and rocked her as he would have done a child. "He wasn't always an old man, love,"

"I know." Ann's voice was tinged with sadness, "How could he have grown so old over just half a turn of the wheel?

"All Gods can do as they wish," Brian told her gently, "It’s just an illusion for our eyes."

"But I was standing here watching them fight; they called me to witness! Others came too. They bore the body away and crowned the Oak King with his crown!"

"Others?" Brian wondered who else amongst their people might have been called to view such an ancient battle.

"Colin was here," Ann named a young man who was part of the warband, "but I didn't know any of the others."

"The king dies and is reborn again," Brian said, trying to find the words to bring his charge back from her terrible grief. "It’s the same every year."

"That doesn't make it any easier, knowing events will repeat themselves."

Ann gave a deep sigh and pointed towards the horizon, "Look, it's gone now!" and as he turned, the last reflected rays slid away leaving only the azure sky above.

Ann turned her attention once again to the ploughed field where she had watched the battle such a short time before. "We should mark the spot where he fell."

"How?" Brian squeezed her hand. "Plant a tree? Plant another stone?”
"I don't know. I've not been a witness before to such an event." She turned and searched his face, hoping to find a solution to her continuing confusion. "Father will be angry if we mark his ploughed land."

Brian cleared his throat, "Your father doesn't plough up here amongst the stone circle."

"They didn't fight amongst the stones, it was there in the field" She pointed to a spot about ten feet in front of them. "They came out of the wood; the other witnesses came with them and that's the way they went back, through the trees." She wriggled free from his hold and climbed down the other side of the stile into the field. Holding up her cloak and skirts, she began to search amongst the clods.

Brian followed her. "What are you looking for?"

"His blood!"

"But . . . Ann!"

"The night you were left for dead by the raiders and I found you, the soil was coated with your blood. It was sticky. I kept slipping in it."

Brian closed his eyes for a brief moment remembering that time so many years ago. Raiders from the sea had lured them into an ambush. A hastily thrown axe pierced his body armour and he’d been left for dead. Then it was Ann who’d come searching for him, insisting his broken body could be healed. It was months before he could fight again, but she’d saved his life.

"Yes," Brian agreed, "but I'm not a God."

"But I saw it! He bled! There were great gashes in his front!"

"He's a God, Ann!"

She looked at him, her eyes glittering, "I don't understand. What does the old man being a God have to do with him not leaving any blood? I saw it, I bore witness!"

Brian thought. "First of all, he's not really an old man, he's just . . . he's everywhere, not just here. You saw an image of him here and thousands of others saw him in other places."

Ann's expression was distraught, "I held his head in my arm as his spirit left. I wiped the blood from his face with my skirt. I wept for him!"

"Look at your skirt, lass."

Ann pointed to a small dark patch on the material. "It's still there, look! Do you still doubt me?"

Brian knelt down and inspected the dark stain. "It's dry, Annie, blood doesn't dry so quickly, even in this wind. I don't doubt you at all, lass. I'm sure you saw what you think you saw. You've been given a great gift by the Gods. However, the nature of what you saw is not of this world."

"It doesn't feel like you believe me," Ann retorted, "it feels like it used to be when I saw pictures in the fire and Mother beat me, or I saw faces in the water barrel and everyone laughed at me. I was so sure it was real but now I have no proof! How can I bear witness if I have no proof?"

Brian stood up and grasped her firmly by the shoulders, his sea-green eyes boring into hers. "I'm neither laughing at you nor beating you. You have proof for yourself, lass!"

"But isn't a witness supposed to tell other people?"

"Tell what you saw if you think it is necessary. You saw it; you experienced it, that should be enough. Those who want to believe will, those who don't won't, whether you have evidence or not."

Ann thought about this for a few moments then she said, "It's not up to us to give others faith, is it? They have to find it for themselves."


"So this was for me.

"It seems likely."

Ann digested this and then nodded, "For Colin, it was different and would be different. He hailed the new king and beat his drum and laughed and sang as he followed the procession down through the wood."

Brian nodded.

"So my grief at the old king's passing was my grief at a time of change."

"Or just your grief for the old king."

Ann looked at Brian and smiled for the first time. "I didn't want to let go but I had to." She ran her hand down the side of her skirt, "I was afraid of change, but it's all right, I understand that now. It took the Old King's blood to draw me out of myself, to grow."

"Yes, I see you do understand." Brian took her hand in his and squeezed it. Here was his Master’s daughter, his charge, a girl no longer, but a woman born to live her life as best she could.

"You have found the secret of Yuletide," he said as he wrapped his arms around her in a fond embrace. "You must let go of the past and reawaken the joys of hope and possibility,"

As he finished speaking and bent to kiss her cheek, a huge flock of birds rose from the field and circled above them, calling loudly as if in agreement.

A Yule Ritual

“The Solstice will soon be here, but I cannot go to the Grove meeting. I shall be travelling home.”

John looked at her, smiling, “You need to do something.”

Laura sighed. “Perhaps. Maybe I can visit my plants and speak to them about the turn of the year, of the darkest time, of bringing back the light.”

“You should do something.” His voice was insistent. Strange for one who did not follow her path to be pointing her towards a rite - something important, something she needed to do.

Time passed. She fetched holly from the garden, weaving it through the three woods of her pentacle – hazel, willow and ash- to bring green and red to her altar. She threaded velvet ribbons, green and purple over the holly and seashells, over the elder necklace and around the antlers holding her maiden and mother ornaments, their soft folds draping down to the kestrel feathers, the swan feathers, the polished wood of the yew bowl.

She brought home mistletoe, placing it reverently into the horn cup; the white, translucent berries adding richness to other hues gathered there.

Laura was sad it would not be blessed over the Yule fire. There would be no gift for the Dark Goddess this year.

How mistaken she could be!

The postman left a parcel. Out of brown wrapping she drew a gift. John explained in his letter. “The painting was done a while back. It was never quite what I wanted it to be, but I supposed that comes with working in a medium like oil on a small canvas, with limited skill. I always wondered why his face was never clearer, but perhaps it was never meant to be seen clearly. I thought you might like to have it.”

She sat for a while, taking in the scene – the Horned God striding through his wildwood, his long knife in his hand, caught by surprise by the watcher, turning to look over his shoulder for the briefest instance before returning on his way. His long legs and flank were fur-coated. There were antlers clearly visible on his head, yet merging with the branches of trees around him; vegetation shielding him from prying eyes.

It was time. It was the shortest day. She would be given space to bring light into darkness, blessing both mistletoe and gift before the Old Ones.

She lit her candles – a circle of flame creating a place apart from her modern world. She did not need to contain the sacred space, no circle casting on this occasion; it was her intent which was paramount.

She lit a charcoal brick, placing it carefully in sand where a bowl sat in the centre of the light. Incense from far away dropped onto heat, wafting smoke and scents into the air.

She stood before the flames, adopting the stance of invocation which came so easily to her now.
“I ask for blessings upon this room, upon this house, upon those whom I love and who love them.

“I bring air to this place in the incense burning. Air, so essential to our life; for without breath we cannot live.

“I bring fire to this place in the candles burning, drawing light into the darkness as we move from the dark time of the year once more into the time of light, illuminating our path.

“I bring water into this place.” She stopped and dipped her hand into the bowl, scattering droplets around the circle. “Water which sustains us, from which we came; without which we cannot survive.

“I bring earth into this place. Earth, which is beneath our feet, which is in the wood of the instruments, the wood of the candleholders, the wood of the furniture which supports us. Earth, from which we came and to which we shall return when the life spark leaves us.”

She drew the mistletoe from its horn and brought it towards the smoke. “I ask blessings for this mistletoe. May it bring joy, health and happiness to this household for the coming year.” She passed it through the smoke, before returning it to its place.

She turned to the painting, now sitting in the centre of the bookcase. She carried it tenderly towards the smoke. “I ask for this picture to be blessed with love; which was born of love and sent with love to be used on Hu Garden’s altar, to bring down the God into this place beside the Goddess. This day, when she brings forth her son into the quiet of the darkness, so he may grow and take us into the light.”
She passed the picture three times widdershins around the smoke, then returned it to the plinth.

“Finally,” she said, “I dedicate myself anew to the Old Ways. I ask for patience and compassion towards all who approach me. I ask for clarity of speech so all may understand my ways and how they, too, may be helped.”

Her voice dropped and her eyes glittered with tears. “I am so blessed in all that has been given me and I offer thanks.”

“Is there not one more thing you wished to do?” a voice inside reminded her.
She went to the bookcase and withdrew her herbal tarot cards. Sitting in the centre of the room, she shuffled the pack, then drew the first three from the top, laying them face up in front of her.

The first card was the five of wands – Turmeric. Such a lush, green plant, speaking of abundance in her life. The stave were crossed, preventing her from moving back into the past, but the wood showed green shoots - new life!

The second card was the six of wands – hawthorn, the herb of the heart, of love, of nurturing. Six staves were stuck in the earth, still sprouting leaves, protecting the man in the centre - a time for rest amidst the bustle of life before continuing with the battle.

The third card was Judgement. A woman held a goldenseal plant in her hands – rich, fruitful, mature, she was the plant, offering herself to the opportunities in the sky – renewal, new beginnings.

It was enough.

She put the cards away, standing to thank those who had drawn near to assist with her rite. She bad them farewell, opening the door to allow them to leave and the outside world to enter once again.

She doused the lights, leaving a single votive candle to freshen the air with scents of oranges and cloves.

It was done. She felt the quiet of ritual fill her deep inside and she smiled.

“A Blessed Yule to you and all you love and cherish.”

Let it be so.