Friday, December 25, 2009

The Last Wish

From my house to yours - a very Merry Christmas :)

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The Last Wish - Janet S. Corcoran

I wasn’t sure which stung my eyes more, the sharp ice flakes swirling in the crisp winter air or the tears I tried not to cry. Both made my attempt at retracing my footsteps near impossible. The bitter wind mocked me by blowing snow over what path I had carved. I should never have left the comfort of the manor on such a fool’s errand.

With mistletoe still bundled in cloth next to my breast, I pulled my cloak more tightly around me and tried to cover my hands to protect them from the cold. My skirts soaked up the dampness of the wet sticky snow and slowed my progress. The grey light of day dimmed and my heart broke at a missed opportunity.

A gust of wind whipped the breath from my lips and forced me to pull the hood of my cloak over my head. What light I had imagined had vanished when I pulled the wool from my eyes. I knew nothing of my surroundings. Neither cottage lamp nor shadowed outline would guide me to safety. I was well and truly lost and could only keep going in the direction I believed to be true. If I stopped, I would die.

My lips twitched, but not from the cold or fear. A smile became a chuckle, which led to the giggles. I stepped high; my gait reflecting my mirth as wave after wave of laughter erupted from my body. I could die on the night I had planned to ask for life.

"The lady finds this amusing?"

I jumped at the sight of the black horse standing directly in my way and tipped my head up to see my husband staring down at me. I flew into his arms before he could fully dismount, sending us both tumbling into the ever-increasing snow bank. I kissed his cheeks. His rough-stubble chin. His lips.

He set me from him. "I would be better appreciative of this attention while in the warmth of our bed. Shall I ask what errand has sent you out in a snow storm?"

A chill shivered through me, most likely from the cold.

"What manner of magic do you seek on this the longest, and coldest, night of the year?"

"None." Even in the dim light I could see his disbelief. I scrambled to my feet. "I simply became lost after visiting the healing woman."

He rose and reached for the reins of his horse. "I have just come from there."

The lie froze on my tongue. The healing woman, known far and wide for her tinctures and tonics, did not know the meaning of discretion. "I had to try."

His hands were warm through the folds of my cloak as he gripped my waist and sat me upon his horse. "Not for me, you didn’t." He settled behind me, his warmth enveloping me, and nudged his horse into a slow walk.

The same discussion, the same conclusion, year after year, did not stop me from voicing my desire yet again. "I want a child."

"It’s not for a lack of trying, Ellyn. But if a child is not in our future, so be it. You can’t conjure one up from spells and wishes." His arm snaked tightly around my waist and his lips brushed my temple.

"The healing woman is convinced – "

"She’s been convinced every year and every year you go to the standing stones with the same result. Heartache."

I glanced over my shoulder. "You’ve known of my pilgrimages?"

"I am not a stupid man. And I never thought you were a foolish woman, until tonight. You could have died trying to get back to the manor."
We rode in silence. I had promised myself this would be the last year of trekking out to the farthest field to beg the pagan gods for a miracle. My husband did not believe in the magic of the stones and he had grown impatient with my obsession. My faith had diminished over the years, as well. The time to accept a childless life had come.

The horse slowed and I pulled my hood from my head, surprised to find not the well-lit inner courtyard of our manor house, but the same grey, bleak surroundings and a dark mass towering over us.

The standing stones.

I glanced down at my husband, now standing with arms outstretched to help me dismount. "Why are we here?"

"I know how much this means to you."

He remained with the horse while I plodded to the center of the circle of stones, determined to be quick in thanks for his tolerance. I fished out the mistletoe from the inner folds of my cloak. Carefully, so as not to touch the plant with my hands, I laid it upon the ground. The waxy green leaves, bright against the white of snow, renewed my hope. I sank to my knees. The cold seeped through the layers of cloth, but I closed my eyes and prayed one last time for the gift of a child.

"Are you finished?"

The snow had muffled his approach and I struggled to stand. But he dropped to his knees and laid a hand upon my arm. He opened his cloak and extracted a cloth bundle.

Not mistletoe, I thought. Fascinated, I watched him pull the folds away to reveal a chunk of pie. My eyes widened at the significance of his gift.

He held the pie to my lips and recited, "Refuse mince pie, bad luck will follow.
First bite’s wish upon the morrow."

I made my wish and wondered if he did the same when he took a bite. Huddled together at the base of the stone, we finished the pie and dusted the crumbs from our cloaks. With my hand in his, we rose and left the circle of stones.

"What if it doesn’t work?"

Big hands, rough with the day’s labor, cupped my face; his thumbs traced my lips. "I love you, Ellyn. With or without children, I will love you longer than all the longest nights, deeper than this mountain of snow, and brighter than the star that dares to shine on such a grey and stormy night. You’re the only magic I need."

I looked up and there, peeping through a hole in the clouds, a star twinkled down at us. Then I looked into my husband’s eyes, dark with passion. I was a fortunate woman and I counted my blessings. With a fistful of cloak, I tugged him closer until his lips were nearly upon mine.

"You wished upon that star, didn’t you?"

"Perhaps." I kissed him before he could protest too loudly. One last wish on a snowy winter night.

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16 comments:

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

Here I am stranded in my house in Tulsa, (the family will celebrate Christmas tomorrow if we can travel), and your story made me feel colder than I was last night outside fighting the snow trying to make it to the house. I found your story totally fascinating...but…you have to finish it! With three different wishing going for them, surely there will be a child come August. Right?

Merry Christmas.

Vince

Janet said...

I had no idea you were from OK, Vince. Silver, who visits here often, said the interstates were shut down and the storm was the worst she's seen in years. I'm glad you are safe in your house - Christmas celebrations can wait!

In my research for this story, I learned that there are more children born in August than at any other time of the year (winter solstice). That's what sparked the idea - and, of course, I love learning about the traditions of medieval times. I didn't know about the mince pie - and at supper last night, one of the guests was a lady from England who told me they still wish upon the first bite of pie (and we all did, too, as we had a delicious green tomato mince pie for dessert).

Thank you for the compliment - I may have to expand this story. But for now, I'll leave it to the readers to come up with their idea of a happy ending :) Stay warm.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Awh Janet, thank you for this gift. I really enjoyed reading this story and look forward to many more from you. You definitely have the gift.

Janet said...

Thanks, Anita. I hope you're having a wonderful Christmas with your family gathered near :)

connie said...

Hi Janet,
I felt every step and every emotion right along with her. You sure can write!
I don't think I want you to finish the story. Most readers will guess they had a baby in August, but I would rather live the rest of the story myself and I don't think there would be a baby but it would take some thinking to devise the rest of the story then. I will look forward to whatever happens next to the tale.
By the way, Husband and I (second marriage each) were married on the winter solstice. Romantically, we attended a son's hockey game, paid the hydro bill and were married. connie

Janet said...

Thank you, Connie - that's a wonderful compliment :)

I really wanted the love of the husband to shine in this story - that he was ok either way, but he loved her enough to take her to the stones and bring the mince pie to wish on. And I'm really torn as to whether or not they do have a baby. I don't know if I'll expand, but it's one I can have on reserve if I need an idea!

Hope your Christmas is going well - and you and your husband had a lovely anniversary.

Karyn Good said...

Thank you for the beautiful story, Janet. I love how he's known of her efforts all along and how she's never given up. And I know how this story is going to end in my mind :D

Janet said...

Yes, I think everyone will come to her own conclusions on this one, Karyn. Thanks for the kind words - hope your Christmas was spectacular :)

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Utterly satisfying and just delightful, Janet. Thank you...

Janet said...

Thank you, Lesley-Anne :)

I hope you're having a wonderful Christmas!

DebH said...

Janet
as a brand new mommy (who thought that chance had passed her by) this story hit the spot!

i love how the husband cares only for his wife and if no child comes, so be it. that was pretty much what my husband always said. we always left the child possibility in God's hands. No tradition wishes or what-not (but simple prayers...yes)

LOVE the story and would enjoy more.

sorry this note came later. i didn't have computer access over Christmas weekend and was itching terribly to visit here, knowing what wonderfully creative stuff would be awaiting me.

nm8r67 at hotmail dot com

Janet said...

Thanks for posting, Deb! And congrats on the being a new mummy! When I wrote this, I really wanted to illustrate the different folklore found during that time in history. Many people still believed in supersticions and wishes - and the research I did was fascinating.

Hope your Christmas was wonderful - and lots of new traditions were started with the new addition in your house :)

Silver James said...

Janet! JanetJanetJanetJanet!!!!!! Dang it! As much as I love your contemporary humor, I adore your historicals! This story is simply beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing.

Many Christmas wishes and blessings on you and yours and may the New Year bring you all the best!

Hrm...how shall I tease the bots now? silverjamesATswbellDOTcom. *teehee*

Janet said...

Thank you, Silver - coming from you, that means a lot.

Got my fingers crossed for you winning the prize - you really have been our biggest supporter.

Happy New Year to you and your family - enjoy the cruise, yeah, I heard ;)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Your story was achingly beautiful. Thank you so much for it.

I kind of agree with Connie. Maybe we don't need to know whether they have their baby. Leave it to the readers' imaginations. But the whole time I was reading the story, I had the feeling that Ellyn probably wouldn't bear her own child, but one would be given to her. That's how my imagination sees the conclusion of their story.

Wonderful stuff.
Jana

Janet said...

I love your version of the story, Jana. I was hoping that everyone would create their own happy ending - and we all know, everyone's idea of a happy ending is different.

And thanks for the kind words - I'm very proud of this story :)