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Part 7. Midwinter

Next morning early rose the three

And rode westwards to Brittany.

As he took his horse, poor Anselm sighed

For he had to face another ride.

‘It’s sure to be as bad,’ he thought,

‘As was the journey here, or more

For I’m already saddle sore!’

But Tristan was impatient as before.

No chance was there of an easy ride.

The wizard seemed to be at ease

His steed had a firm and steady stride.

‘I’m sure he has a spell for that,’

Sighed Anselm as he jogged along,

Bobbing always up and down,

As the three together left the town.

It was, as now I well remember,

The frosty season of December.

The sun was pale and weak throughout the day.

The nights were cold, and it was dark at four,

When working men went home and closed their door

Against the dampness of the night,

Which entered in their very bones it seemed.

They called the wind a lazy wind

For it did not trouble

To go around the men

As they went about their fields and barns,

But straight through their coats and flesh and bones it blew,

And each farm worker young or old

Was left there shivering with the cold.

From field and hedge all green had gone.

The freezing rain and sleet had stripped the trees

Of every leaf from every bough.

The birds sang sadly on the branches bare

Of the oak and ash that grew together there.

Winter did not merit a whole song,

And anyway, they thought much more

Of the happy songs they sang in May.

Then, frozen to their wing tips,

They flew down and, thirsty, hopped about

Looking in trough and stall and yard

For a little water not yet frozen hard.

And the walled garden, where they all had danced

In summer on the well mown lawn,

All her greenery had lost,

And was left to sleep alone,

On her bare bed of cold brown earth

Hard and brittle with the frost.

Then in the town the wind blew down the street

As people walked with frozen feet

And stamped them hard upon the stones

To shake off the snow and feel their toes once more.

Glad they were to reach their cottage door

And close it on the bitter cold outside.

Then they stayed inside their houses warm

And prepared their Christmas as best they could,

With holly and its berries red that would

Add some bright colour to the cold, grey days.

Light were the windows of the village inn,

A welcome sight to the working men

Who now had left their fields to the cold night

And led their oxen each one to its stall,

And every horse was stabled fast,

And every man could rest at last.

Inside the inn the men looked for some bench or chair

To rest after a day of work and toil.

In the fireplace was a blazing fire

Where cherry logs were placed across the dogs

And smelled like flowers in bloom.

The fireside settle held the grey-haired men

Who said the winters of their youth

Were colder far than those today,

Though when the young came in from work

With fingers blue and cheeks bright red

They did not yield the seats they had

So close to the red embers of the logs.

They drank in sips the warm mulled wine

And made it last the evening through.

They passed the old brown jug around

As they had done on Christmases before.

The great boar’s head was roasted then.

Apple in mouth, it held the centre of the board,

And Noel sang the merry boys and men.

At home the fires were stoked and logs   

Were stacked to dry inside the ingle nook.

The family sat around the hearth

As close as they could be

For fires can toast your hands and feet

But leave your back quite cold!

Each night the father would take out the holy book

And read the Christmas story once again

To the children gathered round his knee.

Their mother bustled at the stove

And stirred a stew of onions, carrots and of meat

And mixed the fruit into a pudding sweet.

Candles were lit around the room each night.

Fresh rushes were then strewn upon the floor

And the Christmas wreath was hung upon the door.

The three rode back to Brittany,

Along the cold and windy road,

Where snow had drifted in the hedges

Blown there by the bitter wind.

And the morning after they reached home

And each of them had rested well,

Tristan begged their guest to set to work

And bring an end to all his sorrow.

The wizard, seeing his sad looks,

There and then took out his books

And laid his papers on the table.

I don’t know exactly what he did,

I don’t understand these hidden things,

But with his tables of tides and winds

And studying the stars and planets in the sky

And how the moon can move the sea,

And how strong and hard the winds will be,

He calculated on a certain day

It would seem to those who looked down from the cliffs

That the black rocks were each and all away.

When that morning dawned at last

And when above the fields rose up the wintry sun,

The wizard said, ‘Go now and walk upon the cliffs.

Look down into the sea.

I’ve kept the promise that I made,

I’ve done what was required of me.’