I’m delighted to be taking part in the Christmas Story tour, organised by R J Scott! There’s a terrific line up of names – all offering free fiction to read on their blogs and prizes. Click on the picture to go to RJ’s blog where there are links to all the participants stories, and their competitions.
Diane Adams | JP Barnaby | Kay Berrisford | LM Brown | Sue Brown | Nicole Dennis | Eli Easton | Sandrine Gasq-Dion | Elin Gregory | Jordan L Hawk | Jambrea Jo Jones | Amber Kell | Amy Lane | Clare London | JL Merrow | Meredith Russell | RJ Scott | Nic Starr | JC Wallace | Sara York
If you haven’t already been to RJ’s blog and entered her prize draw there here’s the link, if you have then simply read the story below and leave me a comment telling me what song Colin was singing in the kitchen for a chance to win a sheep related prize and your choice of ebook from my backlist. Don’t forget to leave me means of getting in touch!
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas – or maybe I should say Nadolig Llawen?
Now for the story:
The ancient church was glowing with candles, its warm purple-grey stones almost covered by swags, garlands and bunches of greenery through which the carven stone faces of green men peered, as though amused by the antics of the worshippers. Dafydd Jones, farmer at Hen Cwrt in that parish, smiled as he sang up at them. He had provided much of the holly and all the mistletoe that studded the decorations with rubies and pearls. He and Colin Wilson, lodger at Hen Cwrt as far as most people in the parish knew, had spent the afternoon yesterday hanging the greenery. He felt that he was entitled to a smile or two.
Christmas, and especially this midnight service, was his very favourite. It fell in a lull between ploughing and harrowing the fields ready for next year’s wheat and the six weeks of sleeplessness that was lambing. All around him were other men and women, determined to enjoy this well-earned holiday. In pews in front and behind, they sat, well wrapped in their tweeds, men with caps on laps, the ladies with their best hats tilted on newly permed hair. Underfoot too, and outside in the graveyard, were generations of Joneses and Jenkinses, Pughs, Harrhys and Progers who had shared this midwinter break.
Sixteen eighty-nine or nineteen sixty-eight, it doesn’t make much difference to sheep, Dafydd thought, nor to those of us who work with them.
But the modern age, now, had its perks. The Electricity Board had promised to bring a line right up into the valley. Up as far as the church and even beyond to Hen Cwrt. It would make a big difference. He would no longer have to remember to buy batteries for the cherished transistor radio he took to the lambing shed for company. He remembered a time when there had been only the sounds of the farm and maybe his own voice raised in song. As it was raised now, blending its strong true baritone with the other voices around him, but especially with Colin’s lighter tenor to his right that felt for but never quite seemed to find the right note. His life had changed far beyond the conveniences of electricity.
They sang all the old songs, rocking the rafters with the power of it, as the minutes ticked by to midnight. When they fell silent and the Reverend Evans began to speak, Dafydd leaned back in the pew. After a careful glance around he let his right hand fall and, secretly, linked his fingers with Colin’s where they lay waiting on the age polished oak between them. Colin smiled and squeezed, shifting to let a fold of his coat cover their linked hands. Even tonight, even here with their vicar reminding everyone of the utmost importance of love, they had to keep that space, that little distance between them.
Dafydd returned the squeeze but continued to look down the aisle to where the Nativity scene had been set up. Large Victorian plaster models, beautifully painted – Mary awed, Joseph looking as shell shocked as only a new father can, shepherds rustic, kings regal and the angels with arms and wings spread, their ecstatic faces lifted to Heaven. All those were old favourites and familiar from Sunday School, but it was the animals Dafydd particularly liked. The sturdy donkey, ears drooping with tiredness, sheep and their lambs – Herdwicks from their extravagant fleeces – and two large patient oxen, which would surely have been cudding quietly at that time of night, filling the stable with the intense scent of fresh grass.
They sang again before taking their leave of friends and neighbours, most of whom spoke in English out of courtesy to Colin. Many of them thought Colin was staying at Hen Cwrt because it was cheap and not too far from his place of work in Radnor. Only a few knew otherwise – that Dafydd Jones, confirmed bachelor of thirty three had finally found someone with whom he wished to spend the rest of his life – and of those few, some appeared unconcerned but others avoided him unless, as tonight, they were forced into reluctant civility. In their little world of village, church, two pubs and a garage, you couldn’t afford to be at odds with your neighbours, even if they had habits of which you disapproved and Dafydd was more useful than most and more pleasant than many. But there were ways of showing your disapproval that fell short of outright rudeness. There weren’t many of them but somehow their terse goodbyes and frosty glares took the warmth out of the truly affectionate farewells of others. Dafydd smiled and spoke mildly but wasted no time in leaving.
On an icy night like tonight it was safer to walk than to drive and Hen Cwrt was only a mile across the fields. They pulled on hats and gloves, turned up their collars and strode out across the graveyard to the stile. Once they had put the first field behind them they could walk together, rather than yards apart, and Colin took Dafydd’s arm, his gloved hand settling warm in the crook of his elbow.
“You don’t mind, do you?” he said. “This ground is rough.”
Dafydd smiled because the pasture was a smooth sheep-cropped sward of turf glistening with frost, but the excuse was a good one.
Cloud shadows moved slowly thrown by a gibbous quarter moon. Dafydd glanced up at the bright arc, uneasy as he remembered the news that men were up there now, circling around it in a spaceship. Three Americans, highly trained, carefully selected. Dafydd wondered if anyone cut them dead as they left church.
When they reached the farmhouse and opened the door, Fly bounded to meet them, her white muzzle, ruff and paws bright in the moonlight. Dafydd greeted her then went inside to light the lamps. The sharp scent of matches and paraffin were a small price in exchange for the warm glow that brightened the shabby but much loved comforts of home. He opened the firedoor of the Rayburn to stoke it up and Colin came to join him, drawn to the warmth.
“Why don’t you put the kettle on while I check on the ewes?” Dafydd suggested and went to change his good coat and cap for the old ones he used around the yard.
“It’s so cold tonight,” Colin complained rubbing his hands together. “I don’t know how you stand it.”
“I have something warm to come back to,” Dafydd pointed out and whistled to Fly but paused at the door to look back, smiling with content to see Colin, quite at home, opening the pantry.
Dafydd made sure that the skim of ice on the water trough was broken and that the bale of hay he had fetched for the ewes earlier hadn’t been trodden down into the frost. Most of his flock were sleeping. Only a few raised their heads and just one bleated, a soft unworried mmmrrr.
Above, the clouds had thinned and everything was stark black or shining white under the brilliant nail paring of the moon and its accompanying astronauts. They were so high, so distant, like gods looking down on the miserable sinners, while below in the valley, the last lights were winking out. There went the pub. There the Pugh’s place – they were probably having difficulty settling the kids. There went the Jenkinses. Now it was just Dafydd, Fly, the sheep and the men in the moon – and, inside, Colin singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” a little off key.
The singing broke off and Colin shouted. Dafydd ran. He was half way across the yard when Colin reached him, Dafydd’s little transistor radio buzzing static in his hand.
“What? What is it?” Dafydd demanded, for Colin had no coat and big as he was, was already beginning to shiver.
“No – no listen!” Colin tilted the radio and the signal fizzed before settling to a calm American voice reading something familiar.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters
“What’s that?” Dafydd asked.
“It’s them,” Colin pointed up at the sky, looking round, his finger tracking across until he had found the moon. “The Apollo chaps.”
“Oh.” Dafydd listened, looking at the plastic and metal box in Colin’s hand rather than the hard edged arc of the moon. He listened to the quiet voices, thinking not of gods and judgements but of ordinary men far from home, and yearning for the touch of a loving hand.
“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we pause with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
Dafydd looked up at the sky, then at Colin who was smiling at the moon, his face filled with pleasure.
“Gogoniant i Dduw yn y goruchaf,*” Dafydd murmured, “and on earth peace, goodwill to all men.”
“Amen,” Colin murmured, looking up into the star strewn sky. He had dropped his hand and the radio had gone off station again so Dafydd took it from him and turned it off to save the battery.
“Thank you,” Dafydd said. “Tonight I needed to be reminded that bendithio Duw** made the world and everything in it – including you, cariad***, and me – and saw that it was good.”
“We’re good,” Colin said with a grin. “Come here.” They both looked around, first, then laughed because there was no one to see unless one of those astronauts had a very long telescope. Colin’s hands on Dafydd’s face were icy but his mouth was warm, his tongue warmer still. Dafydd held him close until they both shivered, not with cold this time.
“Inside,” Colin murmured against his cheek. “Come on. It’s nineteen sixty-eight! Inside, with the doors locked and the curtains pulled, it’s legal for us to do whatever we like.”
“God bless Leo Abse****,” Dafydd replied and gave Colin’s arse a good hard squeeze before they turned towards the house. Inside would be cocoa and kisses and then, with any luck, a reason to be more than seasonally joyful before sleep.
* Glory to God in the Highest
*** blessed God
**** Leo Abse, Welsh, straight but very flamboyant MP, was instrumental in making the law that led to homosexuality being legalised, as long as restrictions about age and privacy were observed.
So here’s the link to RJ’s blog again. Have fun.