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A Winters Tale

The bones of winter cracked the ice black, coal black night.
A hoary wind spits frost crystals that dazzle and blur the sight.
Boney fingers of bare deciduous wood, scratch against the eaves
as the stranger's tread crackles the bracken and long dead leaves.

The villagers sleep or keep a lonely vigil, fire bent, night spent wary
of strangers and the dangers they might bring, unknown and scary.
Check the windows, check the doors, firelight flickers on the stair.
Eyes strain through the pane, noises carry on wind blown, frosted air.

The strangers gait slows - then, wait, he's turning to my door.
Footfalls nearing, my mind fearing what the strangers coming for.
A loud rap, silence, then he beats another tattoo on the portal.
Is he human? Is he fiend? Spectral, otherworldly, or just mortal?

I light a taper from the fire and touch it to the tallow, sputtering, 
With wary tread I approach the door, mouth dry, eyes wide, muttering.
"Who's there? Declare yourself! What do you want so late this Yule?"
"Charity!" the stranger said, "meat and drink, to rest and refuel!"

Mindful of my wife and child asleep on the upper floor, 
with club in hand I stand full height and lightly unlatch the door.
A bedraggled man with snow white beard, bent against the cold,
stood in robes from better days, eyes, though bright, looked old.

And in those eyes a wisdom shone, like none I'd ever seen,
filling me with hope and calm and feelings so serene
that thoughts of danger, imagined or real, were banished from my head
and I bid the stranger enter and he followed where I led.

I gave him meat and bread and wine and sat him by the fire.
I said that when he was replete, there was fresh straw in the byre
where he might rest and get some sleep, safe until the morn.
He nodded his thanks and sank down in the chair and gave a yawn.

I left him there and went upstairs, my mind was strangely at ease,
but, on telling my wife what I had done, she wasn't very pleased.
"You've fed a stranger?"she hissed and glowered, "from our meagre store?
What do you propose we eat this Yule? It's gone! There is no more!"

With heavy heart I climb into bed, with my wife's admonishment ringing.
What have I done? Am I a fool? What stupidity! What was I thinking?"
I fell into a troubled sleep, tossing and turning all night.
Waking with a sudden start, blinking in dawns grey light.

My wife is standing, open mouthed, mute and gesturing me downstairs,
what horrors would I see down there? Had the stranger caught her unawares?
Or yet had harmed our little girl, in some random act of cruelty?
Leaping from bed I race down stairs, then stare in utter incredulity.

Our once bare table strains under the weight of provender thence unseen,
Turkey fowls, pheasant and hams, sweetmeats and apples of green.
Exotic fruits, good strong ales, cheese, bread and berries wild,
sausages, eggs, spirits and wines and even playthings for our child.

And, on the door, a sprig of holly to which is attached a note,
I sit by the fire as the Yule log burns and read what the stranger wrote.
'I thank you for your kindness sire, in a mad world you brought sanity,
I thank you for the greatest gift. I thank you for your humanity.'

Copyright © John Jones