A Medieval Tale for Christmas

I posted a snippet from my Time Travel Fantasy in my last post and since there was some interest, I thought I might offer another nibble. 

This is from the same book: Light in the Dark Ages, but this bit is from the tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin

Time: around 510 AD, in the days of King Arthur.

Place: The no man’s land that divided the English kingdoms from the Scottish immigrants.    

Gerraint and his crew have escaped their captors, but they are being pursued and it is snowing:

            Gerraint came back, even as Gwillim nudged him and pointed.  There was a face in the distance sticking out from behind a tree, and it seemed to be beckoning them.  “A Scot.”  Gwillim sounded afraid.

            “No.  A friend.”  Gerraint said, and Uwaine saw it, too.  They hurried as well as they could and carried poor Trevor between them.  The face appeared again, just as far away as the first time, but in a slightly different direction.  They changed course, and a third time made them change again.  At last, they came to a place where the whole world changed.  The shouts of pursuit were cut off as suddenly as if someone had closed a door.  They stood still, and listened.  Even Trevor stood up, carefully.

            There was no sound and no wind in this part of the forest.  Curiously, it was not snowing in this place, though the ground was covered in a white blanket, and more.  A mist was rising from the surface of the snow because the ground beneath was warm enough to cause some melt.  The mist obscured their sight, but it did not entirely blind them.

            “A man could get lost in here and never find his way out,” Gwillim said.  His voice sounded strange as it broke the quiet.

            “This way.”  A man’s voice echoed amongst the trees.  It was hard to tell where he was, but Gerraint started out and the others were obliged to follow.  There were lights of a sort to their left and right which seemed to flutter about, almost like floating light bugs only much bigger, and their makers always remained shrouded in the mist so they could not see exactly what they were.

            “A little further.”  The man’s voice spoke.  After a moment, it spoke again.  “Just a little more.”

            They came to see a light in front of them, much stronger than the lights that danced through the trees.  The ones around them were pale lights as white as the snowflakes.  The one before them was warm amber, the light of a warming fire well lit.  Gwillim pushed ahead, and even Trevor tried to hurry up, though he could only go as fast as Uwaine on whom he was leaning.

            It was indeed a fire, deep inside a cave, and it was warm and so home like in their hearts, it was all anyone could see at first.  Gerraint, alone, noted that the door closed behind them and shut them in as they gathered around to warm themselves.

            “Ought to find some tepid water for Trevor,” Gwillim said.  “He looks frostbitten.”

            “Already taken care of.”  The voice came from above them, but only Gerraint and Gwillim looked up.  Uwaine was watching the elf maidens who brought shallow bowls of water to soak Trevor’s extremities.  Trevor looked frightened at their appearance, but he did not resist them.

            “Macreedy.”  Gerraint named the Elf Lord who looked at him with curiosity.  “Thank you, and be sure and thank Lord Evergreen, Queen Holly, Princess Ivy and their clan for guiding us to your safe haven as well.”

            “So it is true.  You are the one.”  Lord Macreedy needed no other evidence.  He started to rise, but Gerraint waved him back to his chair.

            “Right now I am simply a man, half frozen and starving.” he said.  “But tell me.  How did you know to look for us.”

            He could see Macreedy wanted to tell some lie about the magic and mysteries of the Spirits of the world, but that would not have impressed Gerraint at all, and Macreedy knew it.  Instead, he looked aside and looked a little embarrassed.  “Runabout does tend to talk,” he said.

            “Quite all right.”  Gerraint assured him.  He went back to the warming fire while Gwillim began to look around the room.  Gerraint was sure that Gwillim was completely taken in by the glamour that surrounded him, making the cave appear like the most lavish of manor houses, with great tapestries lining jewel encrusted walls, and even glass in the windows.

            “A mighty fine home you have, my Lord, for one so deep in the wilderness and in the wilds of the North.”  Gwillim also saw Macreedy as a plain noble Chief rather than the elf he was.  For that matter, Gerraint looked over and noted that Trevor’s discomfort was because of the idea of being attended by a half dozen beautiful young women.  Gerraint was sure Trevor did not see them as elves at all.  “Are you sure the Scots won’t find us here?”  Gwillim finished on the practical note.

            “The Scots won’t come here,” Macreedy reassured him.  “In fact, would you like me to call the Slaugh to visit them in the night?”  That question was for Gerraint.

            “Heaven forbid,” Gerraint responded.  “They have two deaths now to mourn and were just trying to defend themselves, even if they don’t know that revenge is never an answer.  Let them be.”

            “Very gracious of you, my Lord,” Macreedy said.

            “Yes,” Gwillim added.  “Especially since we just avoided being whipped half to death and thrust naked into the frozen wastes.”

             Gerraint simply coughed, and there was a moment of silence.

            Macreedy stood and walked down to them.  He slipped his arm around Uwaine’s shoulder and turned him toward another part of the cave.  “You seem a man of wisdom.  You hold your tongue well,” Macreedy said.  Gerraint was simply not sure how far Uwaine was taken in by the glamour.  “I suspect, though, you may just be hungry.  What do you say we repair to the dining room.  The feast is all prepared.”

            “Food!”  Gwillim shouted, but then remembered his manners.  “With the Lord of the house’s permission, of course.”

            Macreedy stared hard at Gwillim for a moment.  Some Little Ones could be sticklers for the most miniscule bits of propriety, but then he laughed.  “Permission granted,” he said, and he waved to the ladies to make sure they did not let Trevor leave the fire.  Instead, two of the women pushed passed the men and came back with a plate full of delights.  They appeared to be thrilled with cutting and spoon feeding Trevor, and then wiping his chin with the softest elf cloth, laughing merrily most of the while, and Trevor did not mind that at all.

            “For you, my Lord, we killed the fatted calf,” Macreedy told Gerraint.  Uwaine, who had glanced at Gerraint once or twice, looked fully at his Lord when they came to their seats.  Gerraint explained.

            “The food of the light elves is normally very light and delicate, like gourmet food.  Not much substance for flesh and blood.  Macreedy is saying they cooked up some real food for us, and don’t worry, I have decided the food of the Little Ones will not affect you, Gwillim or Trevor to any harm.  So eat, and enjoy.”  That was all Uwaine needed to hear.

            “Pork loins!”  Gwillim was shouting again in his excitement.

            Gerraint certainly ate his fair share, but by then, his mind had turned once again to Cornwall, his home.  He imagined poor Enid fretting away, with no word from him to hold on to, and sweet Guimier sleeping in his place beside her mother until he could again be with them.  He stood, letting the others remain seated, and stepped to the door.  It opened without his thinking about it, though an invisible barrier remained in place so neither the wind nor cold could penetrate the cave.  Outside, it was snowing again, obliterating their tracks. 

            As Gerraint looked out on the beauty of the white upon the northern forest, his heart began to sing, and his mouth whispered at first.

                        What child is this who laid to rest,

                        on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

                        Whom angels greet with anthems sweet;

                        While shepherds watch are keeping?

                        This, this is Christ the King

                        Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

                        Haste, haste to bring him laud,

                        The babe, the son of Mary. 

            He let his voice trail off as he found the others gathered around his back.  The elf maidens were all on their knees.  Gwillim was smiling with a serious smile.  Even Trevor was standing, staring at the beauty of the world.

            “Must be Christmas.”  Gerraint said, turning to Macreedy, who had a tear in his eye rather than the great anger he would have had with anyone but Gerraint, his Lord.  “Remember this word,” Gerraint told the elf, putting his hand gently on the Little One’s shoulder.  “That the whole world might be saved through him.”  Gerraint felt better saying that, and a little less alone.  “Remind Manannan of this, will you, when his time of sorrow and dejection comes on him because of the monks.  I worry about that boy.  And as for us, I suppose a bit of sleep would not hurt…”

Merry Christmas to all…  Michael.

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