Ages ago, I had the ambitious idea of writing a Christmas story for each of my two sisters. And then binding them in pretty little books, and giving them along with a secret-drawer book filled with Christmas carols, and a ceramic piece.
So… only one story actually got written. My sisters still treasure the secret-drawer books, but! Well, suffice it to say that I’ve always been more ambitious than is good for me in the gift-giving department!
But I thought it might be amusing to share the story with you.
It’s set in my fictional land of Ronatia, a large and usually mostly uninhabited island between the more populated De Creste and De Met. How I wanted to add a few whys and hows to this story, to round it out a bit! But I left it almost exactly as I wrote it all those years ago – quite readable, and sweet.
A Christmas Story Abigail Falanga
For my sister Hannah
The cold wind bit through Jeanette’s over-mended shawl as she stirred the soup she was making of the last autumn vegetables. She rose and looked about. Winter was just beginning, and it was turning out to be a harsh one. And Jeanette was prepared. Her small hut was filled with food and her clothes, even though they were thin, were many. But that was the future, what of the present? Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and what could she do to make it festive? Jeanette had always loved Christmas’ back at home as the daughter of a steward. The feasts, plays, feasts, tournaments, feasts, dancing and… well, feasts. And then, of course, there was the mistletoe, holly, candlelight and carols. But now, near the shore of Ronatia, how could a young, poor and widowed woman celebrate Christmas? She had no way of getting to De Creste for midnight mass and not much food for even a small feast. But she could do a little. Perhaps some goat cheese and wheat bread instead of the usual barley. There was plenty of holly up in the hills above her hut and she had a little wine, some spices and some fruit for wassail. She wouldn’t need mistletoe. Not since—not since John died.
Jeanette drew a sharp breath and let the memories fly. They were married two days after Christmas last year. Then she had fallen ill and couldn’t go with him to Ronatia where he was building their house. About six months later, he brought her here where they looked up to the house as the workers were building. Ah, how beautiful Jeanette thought it was then, even if it was only a heap of stones and nothing compared with the beautiful Papillion Cathedral. But then John was called back to De Creste on business and didn’t come back. He left her a small field of barley and wheat, a little money, five sheep, two goats, the little cave-hut and a lot of grief. She had had to discharge the workers for lack of money and since she couldn’t get back to De Creste; Jeanette stayed in the little hut, which as time had passed, she had grown to like.
Jeanette was called back to the present by the clanging of the pot. She looked down to investigate and found that the wind was knocking against the stick she was using to hold the pot up and spilling a good portion of the broth.
Bending down to correct it, she noticed one of the goats eating some of the spilt greens. “Shoo,” she said, waving the spoon at the mischievous animal. “Get back to your nice warm stall. You’ll want to be there before long. There is a cloud on the horizon, I do believe it’s going to snow.”
About thirty minutes later, Jeanette shut the creaking door to her miserable house and set out in search of holly. Over her arm was a big basket, much too large for its contents. Which were just a loaf of bread, some water, an onion, and some cheese. It was too much, she knew, but perhaps she might be gone longer then she expected. One thing Jeanette knew well was always to be prepared, and she would not be caught unprepared. Th basket itself was to hold the holly she was going to collect in the hills and mountains above her hut.
Jeanette made her way through winding path that led to her unfinished house. It was a little overgrown with weeds for lack of use. And it was a good hour’s walk to the exact place she wanted to go. She had often collected herbs and greens around there and had noticed plenty of holly before. The path wove in and out of woods past the first clump of trees another joined it. This one led up a hill to her house, but she bypassed it and headed to a little hill called Hope. Jeanette traveled quickly to keep herself warm, her patched shoes often caused her to stumble. At one point the path wound around a very large bolder so that you couldn’t see to the other side of it.
Whenever she came here a little pang of fear hit Jeanette’s heart. A thief could very easily hide back there, and she could never feel safe. But after this she began the upward journey on the hill called Hope. When Jeanette reached the top, she stood a moment and just looked. From where she was, she could see the sea and its great foam capped waves striking against the gray rocks. The sloping hill was covered with red berries and green leaves ready for her to cut and she devoted herself to this festive task.
Jeanette didn’t know how long she stayed there. What awakened her from her oblivion to the world was a sharp wind from the sea. She looked up and saw that the cloud she had spotted was now much bigger and nearly overhead. She turned around and started quickly down the path. It had gotten much darker even though it was only a little past midday and the cold wind seemed to get faster, stronger and colder. When she came again to the large boulder, the common pang of fear got a little bigger. In the dark and cold it would be all too easy for a thief to lay in waiting behind the rock in hopes that someone would come along with a little food or money. She slowed and cautiously made her way around it. On the other side, she was satisfied that she could see no one and moved back to the path.
“Please—” said someone behind her.
Jeanette whirled around to see who it was and what he wanted of her. It was a young man. His cheeks were white and his nose was red and his lips were a color of almost blue. She could not see what he was dressed in, but they were dark and blended in with the scenery.
“What do you want?” Jeanette said, backing up a step.
“Please,” he said, standing up, he was remarkably tall. “I came here two days ago on business and lost my way in the woods. If you would do me the favor of showing me the way back to the beach…”
Gesturing down the path in the direction that she was going, Jeanette said; “Go down this path until it is crossed by another. Turn left and keep going. You will soon reach the beach.”
“How far is it?”
“A little over two miles.”
She realized only after she said this that he could never make it that far. It was obvious that he had not eaten in while so he was too weak to walk that far without several long rests, during which, in this cold wind that threatened snow, he would probably freeze.
“Thank you,” he said, then, with head bowed in disappointment, mumbled something that sounded like; “I may never see my home again.”
After a pause, Jeanette asked, “Don’t you have any food?
He shook his head.
“Or any warm clothes?”
Jeanette looked down at her basket. Underneath overflowing holly was the food she was now beginning to want. He had no food, no clothes and no way of getting home. And it was Christmas. She looked up and knew exactly what to do. Reaching beneath those red berries she pulled out the loaf of bread and the onion. He took them hesitantly. Then, after a moment of inward fighting, she handed him the goat cheese also.
Jeanette backed up and turned to go.
“Thank you,” he said. “Pray, what is your name?”
“Jeanette, wife—widow, of Sir John of Yvhen.”
“Do you live here?’
“In the little hut, the path.”
“I didn’t know anyone lived here.”
“If you want to get back to the beach before it begins snowing, you had better hurry.”
“Yes. You are right. Thank you again. I am forever indebted to you. May you be blessed with a very merry Christmas for what you have done.”
Jeanette nodded her mutual wishes and hurried quickly down the path. Curious, she thought. I don’t believe he was a peasant. He was eloquent. I wonder what his name is. She turned around suddenly, thinking about asking him. She couldn’t see him, much less the boulder, through the gathering mist. She turned back to the path and made her way to her little hut to start preparations for the coming holiday.
Now, my little story of Christmas goodwill very well could end here. But it doesn’t. It so happened that the young, poor man to whom the poor Jeanette gave the only lunch she had, did, indeed get back to his home in De Creste. And Jeanette, the next day, made as merry as one could all alone on a deserted island.
It was Christmas afternoon, at about the time when everybody was eating a huge feast that would normally take a few hours. Jeanette was finishing her meager feast and dipping herself a cup of the wassail that she had managed to scrounge up, when she heard some noises outside. It had snowed on the night before Christmas Eve and still the world was under a blanket of white. Voices and the sound of crunching snow announced visitors before they announced themselves, so Jeanette had time to put on her shawl.
A knock came at the door and Jeanette peeked through to see, of all things, a messenger.
“Hello?” Jeanette said. “May I help you?”
“I have a delivery for a Jeanette of Yvhen.”
“Jeanette of Yvhen?” Jeanette asked, frozen. Why on earth would there a delivery for her on Christmas day?
“Yes. The widow of Sir John of Yvhen.”
“That’s me. But—why?”
“I’m just following orders, madam. Where would you like me to put the delivery?’
“In my house, I guess.”
Jeanette backed away to allow him to pass through with a box and then turned to close the door. But in walked another messenger with another box. And then again the first one with another box and so on until her hut was filled with about ten boxes of assorted sizes. By this time Jeanette’s mouth was wide open and she couldn’t move a muscle even if she wanted to.
“Excuse me, madam,’ the first messenger said, standing in the doorway and looking at her expectantly. “Um, Madam? Jeanette?”
Jeanette jumped and turned to the man, saying; “Yes, what is it? Why on earth—”
“You have another visitor, m’ lady.”
“May I announce Prince Henry of De Creste.” The Messenger said, and then stepped out of the way.
In stepped a tall young man who, to tell you the truth, was not very handsome. He was quite obviously a prince and Jeanette thought that maybe she had seen him before. Just maybe.
The Prince glanced about the room and appeared to be surprised. “Your decorations are beautiful, madam, but where is the mistletoe?”
Jeanette gasped. She recognized that voice. It was the young man she had helped the day before Christmas Eve! It was a moment before she could answer; “I don’t need it.”
“On the contrary, my lady,” said he. “No Christmas celebration is complete without mistletoe.”
“Well, it’s too late to get any, anyway.”
“That may be true. But it just so happens that I have some.” He pulled out from somewhere among his clothing a sprig of mistletoe and reached up to hang it on the low rafters. He then turned and continued; “About two months ago, I was walking along the street in De Creste when I met a very curious man. He was rather disheveled, bruised and hungry. I took him back to the palace and soon he became part of the court. He always spoke of someone he had left somewhere that he wanted to return to, and since we were indeed friends, I wished that somehow I could help him.
“I came here to Ronatia two weeks ago on business and, due to a little silliness on my part, lost myself in the woods with no food or possible way of getting back. And just when I thought all was lost you, Jeanette, came along and quite literally saved my life, for which I am completely indebted.”
“So these things are from you?”
“Partly. Most of it is from someone else. You see, I went home and told the knight, and soon to be lord, of what had happened here, and he agreed in my plan to bring you something more with which to celebrate Christmas.”
“I think that he had better explain himself.” Prince Henry backed away from door and dramatically gestured for someone come in. In walked the last person she expected.
Jeanette squealed and threw herself her husband’s arms. Once she had regained her composure, she said; ‘Oh John! Where the world did you go? I thought you were dead!”
“So did many people,” John said, laughing. “You see, I was really in De Met with… Oh, that’s a story for another time. But I’m alive and back with you!”
But where could he be lord of?’ Jeanette said, turning back to the prince.
“Ronatia, of course,” Prince Henry laughed. “Where else?”
You mean can stay? We don’t have to go back to De Creste?’
No!” cried John. “But it’s Christmas, don’t we have other things to do?”
‘Of course! I have a small feast already prepared. We have guests, you know.”
“First, Jeanette—” John gently took her hand and led her beneath the mistletoe.