There was a chill in the room, and he could hear the guard coughing in the hall.
Was it getting close to midnight?
He had been mulling over a strange feeling all day. He knew, according to the marks he was making on the wall, that it must be Christmas Eve. How quickly the days had passed, each one deepening the dread in his heart.
Perhaps this was what Melete had felt, locked in a prison in Hererat. Why wasn’t she answering his calls? At first he hadn’t even made them—she had killed his son—but eventually the desperation took over.
Through his exterior window, he could see snowflakes falling in the night. Maybe he could ask the guard what time it was. He wondered how many of them still held a shred of loyalty towards him these days.
If he squinted at the dark ceiling, he could almost imagine that the soft flickering shadows were not from the lantern in the hall, creeping through the tiny barred window of his cell, but the warm crackling fireplace from his first Christmas with Gudrun. Softly, they sang Christmas carols and lit candles around the room.
It was simple, but they were happy and warm and young and foolish. Reverend Terpsi had opened his Bible and read with a voice like distant thunder.
When everyone else had gone to bed, Gudrun laid her head on his shoulder and said, “There’s nothing that makes me happier than you, my love.”
His heart had been too still, too warm to respond with language, so he drew her in for a kiss.
They grew older, and watched their small children playing. He remembered the sad ache of joy mixed with resentment when Ezra Damir had given his daughter a kiss on the cheek under the mistletoe. Everyone laughed, but it was just another reminder that she was growing, growing more quickly every day, like a never ending race.
That was their last happy Christmas all together. Where was she now?
Like a match, the vision burned out. Some days he could hardly remember the shade of the blush on Gudrun’s cheeks or the brightness in Delaney's eyes. Any memory of his eldest son was like a threatening, smoldering coal that he pushed beneath the cinders. How deeply love had turned to despair. He couldn’t think of Bellingrath, couldn’t think of his family. It was too much to bear. Perhaps it would have been better if he and she had never met. What more could they hope for? How could he have forseen or prevented their downfall?
It was too painful to linger, even for a second, on the Christmases of his childhood. Better to bury it all away, like the bodies of his parents. If only he could have been spared the pain of living beyond their ruin.
Quickly, he fumbled through his mind for something that didn’t hurt. There was a Christmas he spent with Marcus once. They were on the road, with little food or water. His body was constantly sore. Marcus never complained, never dragged his feet, though sometimes Bhatair forgot he was just a child. At last, they came across a small farm outside of Greenway.
He knocked on the door. An old woman answered.
“Hello,” he said, “I’m sorry to bother you—I know it’s Christmas Eve, but do you have room for us?”
“Hmph,” she said “I don’t know about that.”
A young man with black hair came behind her. “Mother, let them in—it’s freezing out, and likely to snow.”
“You’re too soft-hearted Joe,” the old woman said. “These boys could be Raritans. I don’t like the thought of letting them go through the house while we’re asleep.”
“Ok, maybe not the house, but maybe they could at least share the night with the horses?”
“Even worse!” She said, “those animals are our way of life. If they stole even one of them, I would skin these boys alive!”
“I don’t think there’s much danger of that,” Joe said. “Look, we’ll let them stay in the barn and I’ll check on them in the middle of the night to make sure they’re alright. And why don’t we share a little turkey with them?”
After much bickering, she agreed to let them sleep in the barn, as well as sit down in their fabulously warm house and eat a few small portions of their Christmas feast.
Later, Joe slipped them some gingerbread. “Mother is going to bed now,” he whispered. “Want to sleep in the house? I’ll make sure she doesn’t find out.”
“The barn is fine,” Bhatair said. "You're incredibly generous."
The horses leaned their heads over their stalls shyly to assess these strangers. Marcus and Bhatair huddled on the floor, plenty of blankets surrounding them. Bhatair put his hand to one of the small lamps Joe had given them, and moths brushed up against him as they danced around the light.
“Marcus,” he said, “what sort of things do they do for Christmas in Preble?”
“Books,” Marcus said.
Bhatair was hardly surprised. “Books?”
“We give them to each other on Christmas Eve,” Marcus said, “and then spend the rest of the evening reading them.”
“Aren’t books expensive?” Bhatair asked.
“Not if a lot of people are buying them,” Marcus said. “Even so, everyone in my family would compile our money over several weeks. Some years, there was just one book for all twelve of us. Other years, we managed to get a book each, or at least a few books we could all share.”
“Do you miss them?” Velvare asked.
Marcus flinched. “No. And they wouldn’t miss me anyways. But I do miss the books.”
Bhatair felt a twinge in his heart. “Well, I didn’t know about this tradition, but I did get you a Christmas present, and because you like books, it was the only thing I could think of.”
Marcus reached with his small hands for the worn copy of A Christmas Carol. His eyes lit up, and he hugged it close to his threadbare sweater.
“You’re welcome,” Bhatair said. “And for what it’s worth, I would be pretty lonely if you weren’t here right now.”
“Same.” Marcus reached into his knapsack. “By the way, I’ve been wanting to give this to you for a while.”
Bhatair took it, feeling its weight. “The Silmarillion?”
“I don’t know if you’re going to like it,” Marcus said, “but I wanted to give you something, and you said you’d read The Lord of the Rings…”
“I did,” Bhatair said. “Marcus, you didn’t have to.”
“I know,” Marcus said. “And neither did you. Merry Christmas.”
Bhatair and Marcus sat until late surrounded by the rough wood of the walls, reading. The book’s words haunted him, a tale ancient and reflective, bringing forth its ideas slowly but surely, like a new leaf opening in the spring. Though it wasn’t always easy to follow, Bhatair found himself immersed as the hours of the night wore on, and finally he surrendered to sleep.
Velvare blinked tears away. Not even Marcus was with him now. He didn’t have a single book to keep him company, and especially not his son. His dear son, with whom he’d spent seven Christmases. His dear son, who had now passed out of this cold, miserable world. What was left to him now? Where had Marcus gone? It comforted him a little, at least, to think that Marcus might be mourning his loss as well. How had he joined the little ship in their voyage to the east?
Why had he gone? They had shared so much together, and then he just left without a word. All this time, Velvare had enjoyed Marcus' admiring, loyal friendship, and now it was gone. Had he neglected...but no, he had done no wrong between them. The image of Marcus holding his son on the ship pierced his mind.
He had to bite his lip from cursing Apen Shephard. He had sworn to protect Enel, and now he was dead. Why hadn't he mentioned Enel was wounded? Had he not known? Where did Melete come into all of this? Where did the lies begin and end? But it didn't matter. Maybe Apen Shephard would die soon too. Maybe they all would, now that he was imprisoned and Syllor’s Curse was going to reign free upon the earth.
He remembered his last Christmas with Enel, the delight he had shown when Velvare had bestowed him with many candy canes. Why hadn’t he talked to him more while there was still time? He’d kept everything from him: His mother, his siblings, his identity, Walter’s Curse—and now he was dead.
Where was Melete?
He wanted to scream, to bash his body against the cell door until it broke open or she came to save him. Why had she betrayed him? Had she betrayed him? His mind fluctuated between a dull ache of confusion and hot bursts of anger.
How was he supposed to be thankful, when he had nothing left?
How was he supposed to celebrate the birth of God’s son, the savior of the world, when his own son was likely lying in the bottom of the ocean, tossed about by the currents? What hope of salvation could he have when his only reason for living had left the earth? What good was ambition now?
There was a clink at the door.
Velvare leapt up, but then lay down again. He would not give whoever was coming in the satisfaction of seeing him riled up. He longed for a mask. He prayed for an earthquake to swallow him whole.
He could see the shadow of Avidan entering the room as he stared at the ceiling. He felt more and more that the shadow resembled his own. In the bleakness of it all, he wondered at the change that was happening to Avidan. No more did the boy wear simple colours and an invisible circlet, but robes and a crown. A small, very small voice told him that Avidan was growing into something else, something more now that he, Velvare, was no longer there to hold him back, but Velvare squashed that voice like a bug in summer.
There was silence in the room, and then there was the sound of something—maybe a tray being placed on the floor.
“Velvare,” Avidan said, “Please say something.”
He would not speak. Not for Avidan, not for anyone.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Avidan said. “Every year I used to think, ‘maybe this year—’ but it never was, and now I don’t think there will ever be the chance of it, ever.”
He would not speak.
“I think maybe our first year together, we felt the most like a family. You got me a small toy ship. I got you socks. I was a child. It was the best I could think of.”
Ah. So that was what he meant.
“With every passing year you felt more distant.”
He would not speak
“I know you probably think I brought this on myself, but I haven’t: you did.”
Velvare shut his eyes tight.
“Why won’t you say anything?”
He would not speak.
“Well, Merry Christmas—enjoy being locked away.” Avidan’s voice rose into an ugly mountain, choking as he stomped off.
Velvare’s mouth started to form the words “Merry Christmas,” but the door slammed shut. Too late.
He opened his eyes. On the ground lay a silver tray, with a plate of cookies and a cup of what was presumably cocoa, topped with whipped cream and steaming. A sprig of holly lay on a book he recognized well. He brushed it away and read the title, scratched and battered with age. How often had Avidan seen him reading it every Christmas?
He pulled it close to him and wept.
I love both writing and art immensely. While becomeing a writer is my dream, you will probably mostly see visual art from me on here.
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Anime and Christianity blog I write for: beneaththetangles.com/