Tuesday, December 22, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 25: "One by one then ten by ten then hundreds upon scores"

We Went Off All A’Riding (A Xmas Epic Poem, Part 3.)

I thought I’d breathed my last but then
I woke in quiet dark
I could hear no sounds around me
As I caref’lly lit a spark.

Then with my torch held low, I looked
Around the empty tomb.
I could not see my wife, nor sons
Nor nothing in that gloom.

Behind, I heard a scuffle-sound
And turned with quick’ning dread.
But my fears were baseless; I
Saw just the old man’s head.

He beckoned with a bony arm,
He bade me follow close.
I went with him down a narrow path
Where neither of us spoke.

At last we came to a tiny room,
Where I beheld my wife:
Tending my two injured sons.
The third had lost his life.

“Come you far?” the old man asked,
His withered face grown curious.
I told him of our journey,
His expression turned mysterious.

He sat down in the corner,
And wrapped his blanket tight.
He held his head with bony hands
And blocked us from his sight.

I laid my hand upon his,
And begged him tell us please,
What had hurt his spirit so,
And how his pain might ease.

He raised his eyes up to us then,
They glistened with his tears.
“I had by now no hope left in me,”
He said “After these years,”

“This endless span while I was trapped,
The world locked far away,
I supped on nothing but despair,
I drank naught but decay.”

“I scarce believed my ancient eyes,”
He went on, his voice quiet
“When in the antechamber there,
I saw that battle-riot.”
He ducked his head back to his hands,
A sob came shudd’ring out.
He looked back up at us, and then
Let out a mighty shout.

“Seek you now your lost Xmas?”
He cried, and spread his hands.
“It sits before you in this cave –
Long banished from your land.”

“I am Xmas, come to life,”
He told us, “Once I was
A healthy jolly happy man.
Not this decrepit corpse.”

“Starved from lack of faith, I am,”
He wailed, and clapped his head.
“I waste a little more each day,
And soon I will be dead.”

“Banished!” my wife spoke up, her face
Quite angry, eyes aflame.
“You left us o’ your own accord!
You’ve got yourself to blame!”

I tried to calm her, smooth things out,
But the old man spoke up first.
He gave a sad long laughing sigh
And said: “You think the worst.”

“’Twas not me who left you,”
He said, his head held low.
“Your people threw me out the door,
So many years ago.”

“I used to visit every year,
Just when the snow first fell.
I’d loose the good and happy cheer
You kept inside yourself.”

“But each year on, my visits grew
Much harder to maintain,
As men and women, girls and boys
My spirits did abstain.”

“One by one then ten by ten,
Then hundreds upon scores,
Humanity gave up on me,
They pushed me out the door.”

“Your thoughts became much less about
Peace on earth, to men goodwill,
And dwelt upon much harder things
Like gold and silver, power and thrill.”

“Those barriers you faced?” he said.
“Those monsters, ice and walls?
They were erected by yourselves –
They stand because you fell.”

“Eventually I could not fight
I could not make my way.
So stuck here in this cave I stayed,
Right to this very day.”

A long still silence fell around,
‘Til I reached out my hand.
“Not everybody wants you gone
From our beloved land.”

We told him that we’d bring him back,
And he agreed to try.
We carried him up from that cave,
The ice-bats standing by.

They took another of my sons,
But soon we’d made the wood.
The goblins found us quick enough –
They must have smelled my blood.

My wife was taken first, she fell
Before my very eyes.
“Keep going on!” she yelled at us.
“Just don’t let Xmas die!”

My last remaining son and I
Made quick across the wood.
Before long we could see the wall –
And there the giant stood.

I left my son to guard the man
And braced the giant, brave.
When first he reached I slashed his hand,
Then lifted up, his face.

I got him in the eye and found
Myself flung hard and fast
Towards the hard forbidding ground.
I feared I’d die, at last.

My son, he caught me – broke my fall!
We made haste to the wall.
He boosted me up first, and then
He lifted up the man as well.

I reached my hand back down to him,
But he shook me off, and said:
“Someone must stand guard, now go.
Your road is hard ahead.”

I tried to argue, pull him up.
He said in short reply:
“The world won’t miss a man like me,
But don’t let Xmas die!”

I bore the man down to the ground,
And bid my son goodbye.
We set off then across the plains,
On foot, the man and I.

We walked along for weeks and weeks,
Cold and sad and tired.
‘Til finally we could see our town,
With all its welcoming fires.

We made our way into your inn,
And now I’ve told my tale.
Please bring my friend your warmest food,
And, too, your strongest ale.

I told no lies: this elder man
Is Xmas, sitting here.
Take good care of him, for me –
The price we’ve paid was dear.

And from that night on forward,
The townsfolk all and each,
Would meet on every Xmas Eve
To sing and laugh and preach.
They’d tell about the family,
The brave ones who had died,
The father, mother, sons – all three,

To bring Xmas back alive.

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