Yule, Light in the Darkness




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Winter had come and the nights were long and dark and cold. Snow fell softly over the fields and houses, and between the clouds the stars shown like cold and distant flecks of silver in the pitch black of the sky.

King Hollyhorn had grown heavy with the passing years, and his beard was thick and there were threads of white in his black hair. Each evening, a fire would be lit in his great hall. Torches hung from the walls, and there were many candles burning on the tables. He would order his servants to bring out bottles of wine, and roasts, and root vegetables from the stores. Fresh loaves of bread were baked, and apples brought up from the cellars. At Hollyhorn's feasts, the people could forget, for awhile, the dark winter outside their doors.

Now at the feast of midwinter, an aged seer appeared at Hollyhorn's table. She ate and drank well, and when she was done, she spoke in a hoarse whisper. All those at the table fell silent to hear her words.

"Before winter ends, the stores will be emptied and the food and wine will be gone. Many will die of cold and hunger, and each person here will then regret tonight's feasting with pain and lamentation."

"Old woman," said Hollyhorn with a laugh. "As long as I am king, no one will go hungry. There is more food in my stores than any man can reckon. Let us celebrate!" But some of his servants cast worried glances amongst themselves.

The seer nodded politely toward the king, and continued. "Even your glorious reign will not last forever, my lord. This very night a child is born who will take the kingship from you. His eyes are as blue as a summer sky, and his hair golden like the fire of sunrise."

"Nonsense," said Hollyhorn. "I am at the summit of my power, the height of my authority and lordship!"

"Aye," said the seer. "From the summit, all roads lead downward."

Hollyhorn laughed and had another bottle of wine opened and passed around the table. But he also pulled one of his servants aside and whispered in his ear. "Tell the captain of my guard to search the city for a house where a child is born tonight, and have that child killed." The servant's face went white, but he obeyed the king and went to the guard captain.

The captain went out and searched all the houses in the city. At long last, he came to a small, disheveled house along the city's eastern wall, and there he found a newborn baby and his mother, lying in a cot close to the fire. Both mother and child had fair skin and hair the color of golden sunlight. He took the child and told the mother of the king's orders. She cried out and wept, but was too weak to stop the strong young captain, who took the child from her and went out into the winter night.

Whether because of kindness or because of cowardice, the captain could not bring himself to kill the baby outright. Yet he also feared to disobey the king, who could be terrible in anger. Therefore, he left the city by the eastern gate, resolved to leave the child alone in the forest, far from any dwelling, where the cold, or the wolves, might take him. He lit a lantern and plodded with heavy heart down the path that led into the forest. Sometimes the snow came up to his knees, but he traveled on.

The trees grew thicker around him as he walked, and the path became hard to make out. Finally, in the densest growth of the forest, he set the baby down on the snow, wrapped in a blanket, and silently asked forgiveness in his heart. Then he turned and made his way back to the city. When he returned to the king's hall, it was almost dawn. The king and revelers were sleeping on the benches or on the floor, with skins and furs around them for warmth. The captain did not disturb them, but went to his own home, where he slept restlessly.

Now it so happened that an old woman passed by the spot in the forest where the baby had been left, for she could not sleep and wanted to be out among the stars. She stooped down and lifted the child, who was still alive. "Well, wonders never cease. Blessed with a child, and at my age!" She held the baby close to her chest, with her cloak and shawl wrapped around him.

The old woman took the baby to her cottage in the forest and cared for him. She named him Goldhelm for his bright yellow hair.

In the city, Goldhelm's mother gazed out the window of her small house as dawn came. She was still weeping, but now she knew in her heart that somehow her child had survived, and would live and grow to manhood, and the knowledge lightened the burden of her grief. As she gazed out beyond the city walls toward the dense, snow-covered forest, the first light of sunrise painted the sky in shades of green and gold and white. Even now, she thought, in this darkest night of winter, there is a spark of light, the seed of a distant summer, yearning to sprout and grow.

Seasons of the God is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2007 Tom Waters