by Valerie Christie
It had been snowing for several hours by the time I left our home to gather firewood. I should have gone out much earlier, but we had been settled in the warmth and it was only when I noticed the fire dying down that I realised it was time to go.
As I walked through the village I could see the remnants of the bonfire, a reminder of the winter solstice celebrations that had taken place only a few days previously. I could picture the faces of our neighbours as they celebrated the return of the sun from its place of darkness and the bright days that would no doubt come again.
It had been a wonderful evening of joy and celebration, and I reflected on it as I made my way to the woods where I used the knife I'd brought with me to cut some branches from the trees. I found a few discarded logs that I would bring home with me too; these would help keep us warm for a little while at least.
When I returned home, I found that the fire had all but died out, and my husband was cold and alone in the dark. I managed to light a tallow candle from the one remaining ember, and went over to the bed where he lay.
“Wilfrid,” I whispered. “It's me, Darla. I've come back, and I've brought firewood.”
He sat up on his straw mattress with some difficulty. “How is the pain?” I asked him.
“No better,” he replied. “But at least it is no worse than when you left.”
My poor husband. He had been ailing for some time, and visits to Maer, the wise woman, had not restored him to health. She had given him some preparations of herbs, but these had not eased his pains. Each night, he coughed almost constantly and his body ached all over.
“Nothing has helped me,” he lamented. “Even the prayers we have offered to Brighid the healer have done no good.”
He was right; nothing we had done so far had made him any better. I consoled myself with the thought that at least his condition had not worsened, even if his health still showed no signs of improvement.
I heated some water over the fire and stirred in the remainder of the herbs Maer had given us. “Drink this,” I told my husband. “Perhaps tonight you will sleep more peacefully, and in the morning you will feel better.”
“Perhaps I will,” he said, trying to sound hopeful but I could tell from the strain in his voice that he did not truly believe he would be well again.
During the night, my husband’s breathing seemed to grow calmer. I did not allow myself to hope that this meant his condition was improving, but after a few days he grew stronger,and on the fourth day he felt well enough to suggest going outside. I was hesitant at first, but he insisted and soon we found ourselves walking around the village, marvelling at the whiteness of the snow and talking about times gone by.
“Do you remember your first Winter Solstice celebration?” asked Wilfrid.
I thought for a moment. “I don’t remember very much about it,” I told him.”It was a long time ago.”
“It was,” he agreed. “We have celebrated the turning of the seasons many times since then, and have watched our children as they joined the festivities.” He suddenly looked solemn. “I remember your first Solstice.”
“You do?” I asked, drawing closer to him in an attempt to protect us both from the cold.
“It was the first time I had noticed you in the village. I was eight, you were a few years younger and I felt drawn to you. I'd never seen anyone so enthralled by the celebrations.”
“I remember that!” I said. “I was so entranced by what happened that evening that I didn't notice anyone around me. I was amazed at all the festivities; the size of the bonfire, the smell of the roasting meat, and the firelight illuminating everyone's faces. My parents had thought I was too young to attend the celebrations until then.”
Thinking about the events of all those years ago brought a wave of nostalgia, and many memories came to my mind. I thought about when I'd first held our daughter, Elisabeth in my arms at the Solstice celebrations and how Wilfrid had held the wassail cup to my lips so I could drink the spiced ale. Elisabeth was married now, and lived in another village, but I looked forward to the time when she and our son Harald would bring their children to join with us as we celebrated the Winter Solstice.
“It's beginning to get dark now,” I remarked. I could see that some of the homes in the village already had tallow candles burning in their windows. “We should return home.”
Huddled together, we made our way back to the cottage. Memories of the solstice celebrations always made me feel thankful for what we had. There was enough firewood to last us the night, we had warm stew to fill our bellies and my husband was well again. We may not have been wealthy, but this was enough for me.
I am a theology graduate, history geek and yoga enthusiast living and working in Belfast. I enjoy writing short stories and blog occasionally at http://www.bluevelvetjacket.wordpress.com
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