A Yuletide Saga of Sins and Spirits: Part Four



 

((Notes: This story was written for amusement at Christmas. It is IC in the form of visions. It is a spoof of, and inspired by A Christmas Carol‘ by Charles Dickens, and just as much by The Muppet Christmas Carol  by Jerry Juhl and directed by Brian Henson .

The story contains some references to the earlier story, An All-Hallows Eve Dream

Written in collaboration by the players of Waelden and Yllfa. The banner and screenshots for all parts of the story were taken and edited by the player of Waelden.))

 

Hild shivered and drew the blanket closer around her, as she found herself in the bed. There were tears on her cheek, and her eyes almost burned. She couldn’t quite remember why, other than...? It must’ve been quite a bad dream. Then she twitched her nose, as something foul entered her nostrils. The blanket didn’t smell that fresh, somehow. She sniffed it again, and nearly pulled away her face in disgust. There was a damp and murky smell to it, as if the room had been closed off and the windows shut fast for some weeks. A whiff of mildew, and some very old, unwashed socks, or… something even worse than that. Almost like something had ...eugh… she pushed the blanket off of her, and removed her green over-gown with disgust. She always added some rosewater to the water she rinsed all the tavern’s bedding in, and this smelled nothing like that now. The rosewater was a peculiarity of hers, so that her paying guests could speak of good, clean beds and always waking up to a loving, sweet scent. She wiped the tears from her face and sniffed. Her eyes still burned. 

Then she noticed the darkness in the furthest corner of her room. It seemed to move on its own, even in this faint light. Shadowy figures almost swirled upon the wooden walls, and the darkest corner had an even darker shadow concealed within it. The shadow of a man, by all accounts, stepped silently out of the darkness. It was tall and imposing, and its long arms hung lifeless down its body.

“Oh!” Hild clutched at her chest a moment as her blurry eyes reacted to the shadow movement, and she suddenly remembered what it had to be. She sat for just a moment there, her breath quickening and her heart beating faster, as she gathered her thoughts and convinced herself that it was the final spirit that would visit. By rights, the shadow would turn out to be Waelden. Or so she hoped, at least. Although she was a little wary of that family ever since… well, since All-Hallows, she considered she should not hold a nightmare against them. It was just Waelden, draped in a black cloak. Had he come to help her too, as his woman and child had done?

 

The figure stepped towards her, but its feet made no sound against the wood floor. One step forward… two steps… and the outline became clearer with the small starlight shining through the window. It raised one of its long, lifeless arms at last, and extended a very pale, bony hand to point directly at her, and then to the door. The figure made no other sound, it only pointed.

Of the three spirits she had been told of, this was the one she should fear most. She knew that, but it was only Waelden she kept telling herself. The hood of the cloak was raised and covered his face as the shadows behind him kept swirling around, before they eventually laid themselves to rest upon the wall again. For a moment her imagination played tricks on her, and she thought there might be just a grinning, white skull underneath that black hood. Then the practical tavern-keep took over again, as her thoughts gathered and settled.

“Alright Waelden, I am coming. Let me put my slippers on and I will be right with you,” she managed to say at last, though her words sat deep in her throat. Oddly enough, her slippers weren’t there, as they used to be. She wrinkled her nose at the thought of walking barefoot on the cold floor, and even more so in the dead of night, should she need to.

The figure swung around to point to the door of the room, with a demanding, statue-esque manner. He wanted her to go downstairs to the tavern. The memories of her previous ‘vision’ flooded back into her mind, and again her eyes started to swell with tears, but she swallowed and did as instructed. What would she find down there now? Brona… her daughter had been unconscious on the floor, she recalled. That thought almost exploded in her memory, spurring her into action. Brona was freezing cold and lifeless, she remembered. She hurried past the large figure, or through it, shuddering at that, but she had to find Brona and make certain she was well and sound. 

 

Barefooted, and in her nightdress again, she ran past Brona’s door, taking a quick peep in but seeing no one there. The unpleasant, musty, mildewy smell was in that other room as well, it seemed. Oh she would have to scrub out the upstairs of the house, and she’d do it good, once all this was over. But that could wait until she found and checked on her daughter. Downstairs she headed for the spot where she now recalled Brona had been laying in her bad state. She found the large black robed figure standing there instead, and stopped dead in her tracks.

“Come on Waelden, I know it’s you.” she sighed with impatience, and a mild irritation. “Stop this. I must find Brona.” 

For the briefest instant she thought she could hear Ethel saying, or more like whispering perhaps, something that sounded much like: “Stop messing around, papa. Get on with it.” Hild thought she imagined it at first, but then she could hear Yllfa as well. “Come on Greybeard. Get on with it!” There was a brief chorus of voices, faint and dim, of others from Bancross. “Get on with it!” they all echoed as one, until the voices grew silent again. 

Hild shook her head in disbelief. “What? What do you want of me? I know I was a fool. I know I treated folk badly. But Fengel said I would be given a chance. I need you to give me a chance to find Brona!”

Still the long bony finger pointed at the door into the main room, and there was a light shining through the cracks in the wood.

“If my daughter dies because of this…”

 

Hild took a deep breath and entered the tavern, and as the door swung open, she became aware that she was once again of a misty, ghost-like form, as the wooden panelling of the floor could be seen through her naked feet. She looked around at the environment in confusion. The place was different, in many ways. The walls were painted white, and the furniture had been moved around. There was a strange man and woman behind the bar, whom she didn’t recognize at all. They were certainly not folk from Bancross, she was sure of that. 

Turning back to the doorway, it seemed spirit Waelden was content to stand there and watch the scene unfold, his face still hidden by the hood. The finger was now also hidden in his sleeve, and he folded his arms over his chest, as the dark mist-like robes swirled around his feet like solid shadows. 

Hild sighed and resigned to her looming thoughts at last, as it all dawned on her. “This is the future, aye? And don’t tell me, I am dead. That was the smell upstairs, death and decay as I rotted away in my bed? So then where is Brona? This place will be hers when I’m gone.”

A tiny amount of white bone could be seen through the opening of the sleeve, now pointing aimlessly into the room, so she gave up on the unhelping spirit and took a walk to look around her Inn. There were drinks served on the tables, there was some strange food… was that… Gondorian cuisine? She wasn’t entirely sure, but it sure was fancy looking, and it didn’t smell that bad either. Something that looked like a wheel of mashed root vegetables with a piece of boar, cut in the shape of Minas Tirith, and a stick of celery on top. A creative dish, but perhaps too much for the common folk of Bancross, and Rohan as a whole.

‘Oh, folk in Bancross will just love that’, Hild thought with a touch of smugness as she drew one of her ghostly fingers over the vegetables. Indeed, the guard who sat at that table poked his food with his eating knife a few times, seemingly not so interested.  

“I do miss the food we used to have here,” he grumbled to the group on the next table. Now she noticed the three extra tables that had been squeezed into the room, and made the whole tavern substantially harder to walk around in, or dance, or... 

“Good meaty broth, roast stuffed hearts, mutton and mead, ah… that Hild and her daughter could cook.” said one, who was pushing around something that leaked blood into what looked like cabbage. He was not that impressed, but still took a hearty bite to satisfy his hunger.

“If only Waelden’s daughter had taken over, eh. She’s the best cook of the lot. But she is still working in the forge, preferring to hammer metal instead of tenderising meat.” said another. 

Hild pulled a face at that, and again thought she could hear Ethel chuckle in her mind for a moment. At least those men recognised a good meal when they had one. Saying that, she leaned a little closer to them, trying to recall their faces. She knew some of the guards of course, but those who just came, ate, and left did not concern her that much. 

She wandered unseen to the next table. Heard sat there, with old Agnes. She looked older, but healthier too. Both were trying out small pancakes… tiny pancakes… with a few berries and a tiny slice of smoked fish on top. 

“Horses douvers, she said.” Heard looked disappointed. “I thought it meant enough food for a horse!”

Agnes patted the tall fair haired smith on the arm. “It might be tasty though. Let’s give it a try.” she said in her croaky voice. “I have mutton broth cooking at home, and you are always welcome to share that with me if you like. Now that will fill you up, boy.”

The man smiled at the old woman as if she was his own grandmother, who he delighted in helping out and spending time with. The woman smiled back with an almost toothless grin. Agnes looked almost happy again.

Hild watched and waited. At least Old Agnes was none the worse. It looked as if Heard was true to his word, that he was indeed trying to help her. Both took up their tiny pieces of food and ate daintily, chuckling as they did. 

“Mices douvers more like,” grinned Agnes and cackled merrily as she put one of the odd food items in her toothless mouth. 

“So what about this new name then?” The first grumbling man called over to Heard. “Sergeant Thilwend had this place named after her famous deed. What has ‘White Treebucks’ got to do with us, eh?” One of the men who had been quiet now spoke up. “I was no more fond of Hild than the rest of you. But I think I miss her.”

Others turned in his direction and snorted derisively and dismissively at the prospect of missing Hildfrith.

“Aye, she could cook, but she was also mean, and gossiped about one and all, no matter if what she spoke was true or not.!

“I just didn’t like the way she treated Brona. It wasn’t right, none of it.” Heard spoke softly, and Anges placed a wrinkled hand on his arm, shaking her head.

“What’s done is done,” She said, “I still think she loved her daughter deep down. And I don’t think we should be speaking of the dead at this moment”

Of the dead? Brona... was dead? Hild gasped at the thought, and her heart began to beat with anxiety and panic. No… Not Brona. She should have found some way to remain in Yule Present with Yllfa. She should have got Brona warmed up and to her bed. She should have done so many things to make her daughter’s life a better one!

“That woman lay in a drunken stupor all through the night to the next lunchtime. Her poor daughter was exhausted and freezing to death on the stone cold kitchen floor as the fire went out. It was only patrons hammering on the door that woke her. That says enough about what sort of woman Hild was.” The first man added in contempt. 

 

No… That was enough... Hild had always thought many of her customers had a warm spot for her. Realising many did not was bad enough… but Brona… she was dead! No, she can’t be! She ran for the door, not caring what the spirit of Waelden thought, or wanted to say or point at. She fled on naked feet through the field and the trees, only stopping when she saw a small cairn of stones under one of the tall oaks. She sank to her knees, sobbing as she finally realized it was true. Brona was gone.  

The tall, dark robed figure appeared beside her again, seemingly out of nowhere. He pointed the bony finger of a dark and demonicaly red hand at the cairn, and suddenly pushed back the hood of his cloak. Compelled to turn, Hild, with teary eyes, saw the face of a horned black goat, with red eyes. Its fur was long, and its black beard tangled and unkempt. She screamed in horror at the vision, and remembered again the night of All-Hallows, and the brief encounter with the black goat. This one looked exactly like that, only it was walking on two legs. The goat opened its mouth, bared its yellowish teeth, and spoke in a deep and rasping voice, the first sound he had made this night. And it was a horror to her ears. 

“Hildfrith, behold the memorial you placed last winter for your daughter, whose ashes are now scattered to the four winds.” The finger took on the appearance of a white spear, stabbing at the air in the direction the spirit required Hild’s attention to focus on.

“You doomed your daughter and so your line that night. She was already working beyond measure those past weeks, but you cared not and her heart gave up. Anges would have frozen to death in her cabin, had Heard not intervened that night. These were but the last of the actions that sealed your fate at long last. There was a long clanking chain of other ill-deeds dragging in tow, as you dragged yourself to your own doom.”

“I know, I know. But ohh… I was to be given a last chance! Why else did Ethel show me my past, and Yllfa show me what love and friendship could be? There must be more to this, and another way!” 

“Silence!” The goat boomed out in a thunderous voice that demanded obedience. “Lesser woman of the Mark, your pleas fall on….”

Hild crouched a little, torn between shivering in fear of the horned horror in front of her, and anger that her daughter was beyond her reach. Then her shivering stopped, and her eyes widened. The goat had loomed over her as he stood under the tree and his voice cracking, while still pointing the finger of judgement. Then, as she looked on, the finger dropped to the grass, revealing itself to be… a chicken bone? 

The black cloak was swirled round, and unclasped. 

“Oh, I’ve had quite enough of this.” said a much more familiar voice from beyond the goat’s mouth. “It’s too damned hot in this get-up even for a ghost of years still to come. Whose idea was it I should be the spirit of Doom, eh?” 

“You chose it yourself, papa,” came Ethel’s amused voice again.

The cloak fell to the ground, revealing another, slightly thinner blue cloak underneath it. With that, the tall and imposing goat-like figure seemed much less threatening.

“Boo! She-Wolf, you should have done this and let me be all merry and jolly.”

The blue cloak was also unclasped, and discarded to the ground, to reveal a much more common green cloak of a Rider. The figure was not quite so unnaturally looming now, and it kept shrinking to the size of a normal man. 

Hild could hear Yllfa chuckle from beyond the veil of the spirit worlds. “You never let me finish, dear. You changed the time before I had given Hild my last message. Now you have to sort it out yourself.”

With that, normal hands moved up to remove the thick, imposing goat mask and lay it down on the pile of see- through cloaks. Its glowy red eyes still looked up at Hild, and its lifeless tongue hung out of the corner of its mouth. The man was almost a foot shorter now, as if he had stepped down a ladder of sorts, or just worn some very high shoes, or stilts.

“Waelden! I knew it was you,” Hild blurted out. “What was all that about?”

Walden seemed more interested in sitting down and making himself comfortable. He trampled around in the grass for a moment, and sat down with his hands resting in his lap. 

“I was setting the scene for you, Hild. Normally I am not that scary, unless you happen to be an orc or a warg or a certain Dunlending, eh?” He patted the grass beside him, though his hand partially vanished into the soil already. “Sit down, please. I have a message, of course, but I am not playing the dressing up game any more. It was just too hot in there.”

He wiped some drops of ghostly sweat from his forehead, before he continued.
“Let’s just have a chat, and see what can be done?”

For a moment Hild almost found the normal, approachable Waelden more scary than the overwhelming goat-like one, with the chicken-bone finger and glowy red eyes. She was used to thinking of Waelden and his family as… different.

There was a sudden sound of munching. Someone was eating a piece of fruit. 

“Give me a break here, pumpkin. I’m trying to make a point!” 

The munching stopped almost immediately ‘’Aww, sorry.”

Waelden turned to face Hild. “Yllfa is right, I was just a little too eager to show off the fancy costume, all in good humour of course. But the main thing here is well, pointing you in the right direction from here on. Not for one minute are you the worst of the worst, but there have been important moments in your life where you took the wrong path. The first was in letting the bullies in Snowbourn make you feel worthless.“ He held up a hand to stop her from intervening. ”I know, I know. They were the ones at fault. But you held on to that moment when you lost your ‘doll’ Brona, and let the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, direct your life. Ill things were done to you, but instead of deciding never to be like them, you became almost one of them.”

Hild was indeed listening. She understood what he was saying, and many things dawned on her as he spoke. But her thoughts were more on the daughter, that the stone cairn represented. 

“Believe me, I know now. I cannot change the past, but I can perhaps change the future.”

Waelden nodded, and he took the top stone off the pile, setting it aside.

“You grew into a fine woman, but your heart hardened over the years. There was a man you liked… maybe truly loved, but Paega had more money. You never wanted to be poor again… understandable, but you knew the man you married was a gambler and small time crook. The one who really had your heart’s deepest love was a handsome farm hand…..who eventually went on to own a good and prosperous farm of his own.”

Hild snorted. “Did he, by Bema? Well, good for him. He was worth more than… he was a good man and deserved a good wife. I would not have been that at that time. Now I start to think that I’ve never been.”

With a nod, Waelden removed a second stone, laying it alongside the first.

“And the money, the coin became your first and main love, in the absence of a man you could fully trust and give your heart to. Security, which is understandable, gave way to greed. Any extra coin you could make, you hoarded.”

“Aye. And at the time I would have said ‘what of it?’ Now I still see coin as something I want, but not for me alone… I see friends and family… and even old women begging food… all are worth helping. Does that surprise you?“

Two stones were removed that time. Only three were left.

“No Hild, it does not. You always hid a good heart in there. I knew as much, you only had to find it again.”

“Get on with it papa,” came a young and eager voice. “Party time?”

“You have some challenges of your own, Waelden.” quipped Hild as Ethel’s voice chimed in again, disturbing the somber mood between them.

“You better believe it! But I love them both, far beyond any measure.”

“I heard that, Greybeard!”

Waelden shook his head, as Hild actually managed a grin at Yllfa’s comment. 

“The fighting, now I am not at all against such… pastimes, but I believe my Yllfa explained to you what the main problem with your ‘club’ might be?”

Hild was beginning to relax again, and she drew a couple of deep breaths. It was all so clear now, where it had been all dark, gloomy and… so full of death and misery before. But here in this moment, just having a little chat with a ghost, sitting beside a cairn she built for her dead daughter, while two half Gondorians turned the Roaring Dragon into ‘Treebucks’... it was all so every day. But one thing was on her mind, and one thing only.

“There will be a time limit set for the men, and I will have herbs and bandages ready for treatment. None shall be badly injured anymore.”

Waelden removed another stone and laid it to rest with the others. Only one remained.

“And now, if you please, tell me how I bring back my daughter? That is all I want to know.”

Waelden turned, his eyes full of compassion, understanding what the woman must be going through. Having a child of his own, he understood. 

“They threw my doll, my baby, my Brona down the well. Ethel showed her being rescued, but that’s not how it really happened. I went to that well every day for two weeks, too afraid to try and fish her out, too afraid to ask for help… My mama asked what had happened to her, and I was too afraid to tell the truth. I told my mama I had given her away, and watched as I broke my own mama’s heart. Now tell me… I am asking, *begging* for help.”, she said. “How do I get my baby, my Brona back?”

 

Rising to his feet, Waelden knocked away the final stone, and they all lay in an unruly pile now. “She is back,” he said simply. “Where is the cairn you built over her? It is no more.”

“That easy?” asked Hild, also rising to her feet.

“Aye. Love and kindness and caring… It’s really that easy.”

For a moment Hild just stood, trying to make sense of what she heard, and what she could expect from here on now. “Then when I wake from this… dream… or whatever it is, I will be in the present again… and Brona..”

“Will be unconscious on the floor, perhaps. But your love will save her this time, and her heart will keep beating.”, he said with a compassionate look on his face. “All hearts may break in one way or another, but most of them can also be healed, given enough time and love.”

Stepping forward, Waelden gave the woman a cold and chilling hug. “Be who you were meant to be, Hild. We have only ever had small glimpses of that, and I for one would love to see more of the woman you may yet become.”

Hild shivered at the ghostly touch, but nodded in thanks and understanding. “Thank you, I think. Aye… thank you… and your strange family. I know not why it’s always you and yours in my dreams, but…” Hild shrugged and gazed off into the distance for a moment.

Waelden grinned, a merry laugh ringing out from somewhere in the air as his women seemed happy with the conclusion. Both of his cloaks seemed to rise from the ground and swirl about Hild, lifting her into the air, borne upon wings of heavy wool, towards the open skies…

 

...and she awoke on her bedroom floor, still entwined in her bed covers, and with a half drunk bottle of mead still in an arm’s reach. She rose up to her feet and kicked the bottle into one of the corners, as she ran towards the door.

“Brona!”, she cried out. “I’m coming, dear!"