The wind was cold as Sybil walked to the village hall. Everyone was bringing bundles and baskets filled to the brim. Vivien waved at her and Sybil waved back. She was glad that the snow wasn’t too deep as walking was getting difficult.
“Be givin’ me that.” Vivien took the basket from Sybil. “Now in by the fire with ye.” Sybil did as directed and watched as children ran around and the adults put out the food for the feast. Two men were clearing the fireplace and a bevy of young women giggled as they decorated the Yule tree with ribbons, fir cones, and straw stars.
“Ye be huge,” said Vivien as she sat down beside Sybil.
“Aye, and there be 2 moons to go.”
“Well, that Cern be a fair sized man. Spect a big baby eh?” Vivien smiled. “Do ye have enough for the babe?”
Sybil thought a moment. “Aye. ‘Cept for the birth.”
“When yer time be close, I’ll check on ye daily.” Vivien patted Sybil’s hand and then stood up to see to others bringing in food.
It wasn’t long before the candles and small lamps were lit around the room. Evergreen boughs decorated the walls and tables. Everyone chatted and sipped hot cider or mulled wine. The boom of the doors opening hushed everyone as the men hauled in the Yule log. They dragged the huge log over to the fireplace, where it was nestled amongst pine cones, the straw dollies from the harvest and the remains of last year’s Yule log.
Aunt Mog, the oldest of them lit the fire and blessed the feast. Everyone joined hands and began to sing.
Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,
Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Holly hath berries red as any rose,
The forester, the hunter, keep them from the does. *
The villagers danced and sang as they moved around the hall. Sybil danced as best she could and wondered what Cern was doing this night. Was he keeping the holly berries from the does? When she could dance no more, she sat down next to the fire and clapped her hands.
Soon it was time for the feast. The food was good and Vivien and Mary plied Sybil with sweets or tender morsels of roast until she could eat no more. The children were tucked into furs and blankets while the adults told stories as the fire burned. Some stories were silly, while others were ghost stories to make the bravest man wonder about the noises outside. When the stories were finished, men and women sang to see who was the best. The winner was kissed beneath the mistletoe hanging from the arch.
Sybil and Vivien chatted and nibbled food from the table. Everyone was doing their best to stay awake the whole night in order to greet the dawn. Finally, one of the young men opened the door and the first rays of the sun were peeking over the ridge and into the hall.
Aunt Mog toddled to the door. She led the villagers in greeting the sun. There was clapping and drumming and noise making to ensure the sun woke up.
“The gees fly high this Solstice morn,
The woods are bare, the snow is deep.
We wait for Herne to sound his horn,
To wake His children up from sleep.
To celebrate this happy night,
When Winter may be put to flight!” **
When the sun was well up in the sky, the remains of the feast were eaten as breakfast along with hot tea, and porridge. When everyone had finished, they began to head home. Sybil collected her basket and headed for the door.
“Will ye be right?” Vivien and Todd were standing near the door as she passed.
“Aye. I be wantin’ to feed the chickens and find the eggs and then off to bed.” Sybil hugged Vivien and headed home.
Sybil was surprised to see smoke bubbling out of her chimney. When she opened the door, she discovered Cern sitting by the fire.
“Cern? Have ye been here the whole night?”
“Nay. The forest needed me. I blew the horn at dawn and then came here. Afigured ye be at the village.”
She walked over to him. He stood up stiffly, and the two of them hugged. She looked up and saw how drawn and tired his face looked. A lock of hair, white as snow fell across his face. “Cern, are ye alright?”
“Aye. Jus tired. Tis a long night.”
Sybil nodded. She was tired. “I need to collect the eggs.”
“Nay, my love. Been done.” He pointed to a basket with ten eggs. “Come to bed.”
Sybil nodded and the two of them undressed and climbed under the quilts. Both were too tired to even think lusty thoughts. Cern kissed her growing belly and then held her while they fell asleep.