Writer's retreat

Writer's retreat

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Holly and the Ivy Part 2

The public bar of the The Plough was quiet when Granny entered. Two travellers ate bar meals in front of the large TV. Granny nodded towards the Landlord, who was washing glasses behind the bar as she made her way to the back room where Anvil’s Wood Folk were holding their weekly gathering.

She opened the door, a fog of sound enveloping her. Thirty men of various ages ranging from gangly teenagers to white haired grandfathers were lustily singing an ancient carol to the accompaniment of a melodeon, fiddle and two guitars.

Granny did not stand still for longer than it took her to open and close the door. She wove in between singers like an exotic dancer, greeting some with a touch to the hand, but most with a kiss. By the end of the last verse she reached the front of the room and the small space where the musicians sat. A loud roar of approval for their playing rose up as the song ended. Granny kissed the melodeon player on the cheek, then went to kiss the fiddle player, a tall, thin youth in jeans and a thick cotton shirt. He blushed as her lips touched his, then grinned.

“Don’t I get a kiss from my own wife?” asked Zeb as he replaced his guitar on its stand.

“Not this year, love. I need you for other things.”

“And we all know what those are,” came a deep voice behind her as Anvil appeared from the middle of the crowd.

Granny was serious for a moment. “You took note of those I kissed?”

Anvil nodded. “Fewer this year, I reckon. There’ll be some long faces tonight.”

“And sighs of relief from others. It’s not me who picks, Anvil, nor will I do the choosing. You know that.”

Anvil clapped his huge hands together twice and the buzz of conversation slowly died.

“It’s that time of year again, lads. We need to gather holly from the copse to make wreaths for all the front doors in the village. We’ve booked the village hall for Saturday afternoon, but we can’t go in until the tap class finishes at 3 o’clock.

“The women are bringing ivy and dried fruit for us to use, but I need volunteers from amongst those of you who aren’t seeking holly to cut some withy fronds from Fletcher’s Brook – we’ll need at least fifty if we’re to cover the new estate as well as the rest of the village. We’ll also need bracken from the bridle path near Cooper’s Way. It would be best if we can all meet at the forge on Saturday morning. Will ten o’clock suit everyone?”

There was a general murmur of agreement.

“Now don’t forget to bring your knives. They have to be your own. I can’t lend you a knife and anyone who tries to use secuteurs will be sent home. Does anyone have any questions?”

“What if we don’t have a knife?” A slight young man standing at the back of the room looked at Anvil with a somewhat defiant gaze.

“Then you’ll have to use your hands, won’t you, Colin. Maybe you’d like to think again about making your own. The forge door is always open.”

“How are we supposed to get enough bracken back to the hall? Fifty wreaths are going to take a helluva lot, Anvil.” The speaker was a middle aged man sitting to one side of the room.

“You can take Robin’s pony with you, Andy. I finished making the panniers last week. They should hold enough and you won’t have to carry anything.”

“I’ll cut the withies, “ Zeb offered. “Paul and Martin will go with me. “

“Thanks, Zeb. Leave them at the vicarage. Andrea will take them across when she goes.”

“She can’t carry them, “ Zeb protested, “It’s as much as she can do to carry herself these days.”

“Maggie and I will be with her and I dare say the Vicar will lend a hand. “ Granny’s tone brooked no dissention and the room grew eerily quiet. When she spoke again, her voice was so soft, anyone would have thought she talked only to the person next to her, yet every man felt she spoke to him alone, her words piercing their way into his heart.

“It’s a special year, this year. I feel it and I know Anvil does too. The new Madron bears a solstice child. The Lady Well has a new Keeper, old enough to know the traditions, yet young enough to ensure they are kept throughout the village. These changes don’t go unnoticed. There have been ripples in the women’s side; Anvil senses something approaching for you too.

“Some of you are disappointed not to be kissed tonight. This is not a game where you can win or lose. Only one of the gatherers will be chosen on Saturday. Only one of you will go before the Holly when snow falls and fall it will this year. Anvil says we have two weeks. It’s not long. Every one of you should think what you can do to support both the gatherers and the chosen. He may act alone, but he acts for us all.”

No-one spoke as Granny turned to kiss Anvil on the cheek, then made her way through the crowd and left the room. Zeb picked up his guitar, tuned it thoughtfully for a few moments, then began to sing the Battle of the Holly and the Ivy. Before long, others joined in and soon the room was alive with song once more.

Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be, I wis,
Let Holly have the mastery as the manner is.

Holly standeth in the hall fair to behold,
Ivy stands without the door; she is full sore a cold.
Nay, Ivy, nay, &c.

Holly and his merry men, they dancen1 and they sing;
Ivy and her maidens, they weepen1 and they wring.
Nay, Ivy, nay, &c.

Ivy hath a lybe, she caught it with the cold,
So may they all have, that with Ivy hold.
Nay, Ivy, nay, &c.

Holly hath berries, as red as any rose,
The foresters, the hunters, keep them from the does.
Nay, Ivy, nay, &c.

Ivy hath berries as black as any sloe,
There come the owl and eat them as she go.
Nay, Ivy, nay, &c.

Holly hath birds a full fair flock,
The nightingale, the poppinjay, the gentle laverock.
Nay, Ivy, nay, &c.

Good Ivy, [good Ivy,] what birds hast thou,
None but the owlet that cries How! How!
Nay, Ivy, nay, &c.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Sarah, now I want to what happens next - again!