Holiday Wishes & A Non-Snippet

Posted: December 14th, 2013 under snippet, Story.

Whatever you do this time of the year,

Midwinter up here, midsummer down south

I hope you have joy and friends all around you

The taste of your favorite foods in your mouth.

This is a scene that came to me from well after the end of Crown…years after, I think.    I’m not sure who this is (and if you think you know, take it to spoiler-space just in case, please.)   I’m not certain it will ever be in a book, and I don’t know what came immediately before or will come immediately after.  But it’s an appropriate scene for the time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, so here it is.


The rider paused when she caught sight of the great house, dark against the snow,  no lights showing at all.   She glanced up at Torre’s Necklace high in the sky.   Stars shone steady, hardly any glitter at all, but for the light thrown back by the snow itself, each facet of each snowflake sparking with light when she moved her head.  So.  Midwinter night, and in a house like that all would be together in one room, most likely the kitchen.  Lord and lady, if there were a lady, children and servants, all around the bare hearth, telling those stories told only in the dark midwinter, and waiting for the sun’s return.

A cold draft touched the back of her neck and she shivered, then adjusted her scarf.  Such houses gave shelter freely at Midwinter; she could go there and stay for the feast, if she would.   The thought had hardly come to mind before she cast it away.  She was no waif cast adrift in the winter, helpless and homeless.   She was out this Midwinter night by choice, not chance.   Under her, the horse she rode heaved a sigh; she laughed softly, patted the long, silken mane, and rode on.   She let her mind dwell a moment longer on the ceremonies of Midwinter, let herself imagine the lord of that house, wondered what such a lord would choose for a lady, wondered how many of the children of the house were theirs, how old they were.   It was pleasant to think of such houses being inhabited, not in ruins.

Unseen, unheard, she rode across the open ground, enjoying the sparkle of starlight on snow.   Smiling.   Her own Midwinter tales rose into her mind and she recited now the rituals, the questions and answers, even those roles she had never lived.

The next morning, the lord of that house saw hoofprints, blue-shadowed, leading past the house and out across the meadow, veering toward the frozen ford and then away again on the far side.

“Danger?” asked the lady.

“I don’t know.”  He frowned, bent down and sniffed a hoofprint, touched it with his fingers.  “Last night…something came near, but I felt no menace.  I felt I should know, but I don’t.   It has a faint smell of horse,  that is all.”

“It can’t be a stray, surely…a stray would have come to the smell of the other horses.”

“Not a stray,” he said.   “But someone who meant no harm, and had no need of our shelter ”   He shrugged.  “A Midwinter mystery,  love.  But we should be making merry, not worrying.  The sun returns!”

“The sun returns,” she said, just as boldest of the children threw snowballs that hit the lord in the face and the lady in the shoulder.    For the rest of the day, all made merry and played the games of joy and strength,  then ate the hot rich foods that celebrate the sun’s return.   That night’s vigil was shorter and easier on them.


There are several potential locations for this, in my mind, and each would have different characters.   It may come clear later, or it may not.  But I hope you enjoy it.






  • Comment by Kerry aka Trouble — December 14, 2013 @ 1:31 pm


    I neither know nor care who was riding that horse, but I feel sorry for anyone who cannot or will not be with family for such a family-oriented time.

  • Comment by GinnyW — December 14, 2013 @ 3:55 pm


    Thank you.

    It is indeed an appropriate scene for the season, at least here in Philadelphia, where it is snowing. Although we are not in the dark, yet at least.

    And while I am here, and thinking on the season, I have a brief update for Jenn, whenever she makes it to the internet.

    The extras breakroom has been converted to a giant kitchen. Since Fox Company is snowed in waiting for the next book to come out, they have taken it upon themselves to tell mid-winter tales to the young Verrakai children. Each of these tales begins with a description of the spiced cider or wine and the cakes that were traditional in his or her family. Farin Cook is trying to reproduce ALL OF THEM, with the help of the young Verrakais, who are in charge of stirring, decorating, and (surruptitiously) licking the bowl. Every counter would be covered, except that the young thieves keep snitching. And the soldiers have to keep tasting (testing?) to see if the recipe is up to his or her mother’s standard. Natzlin is in the thick of it! The youngest Verrakai has shaped her cake into a red horse. She says that it is a paladin horse and will keep them all safe in the dark.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 14, 2013 @ 4:41 pm


    I like that, GinnyW.

  • Comment by AJLR — December 15, 2013 @ 11:48 am


    I like the silent stillness of the night and that the rider was happy and content in her purpose. May her journey be successful.

  • Comment by Annabel — December 15, 2013 @ 4:03 pm


    I think I know who the rider is, but won’t say here. Not sure where she is or where she is going. But she knows.

    And as today is my husband’s birthday, and thus the day that Christmas officially starts in our house, may I take the opportunity to wish you a very happy Midwinter Festival, whether you celebrate it with the good folk of Paksworld, or whether you have a more traditional celebration!

  • Comment by LarryP — December 15, 2013 @ 9:12 pm


    May the lord keep all you good people and bless you for all the year.
    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

  • Comment by pjm — December 16, 2013 @ 6:03 am


    Thank you for giving us a snippet (or non-snippet) again. You have a wonderful way of making things feel real, even though I will probably never understand deep down the importance of sun-return.


  • Comment by elizabeth — December 16, 2013 @ 8:31 am


    LarryP: Thank you.

    pjm: Year-cycle markers have been important in many cultures, so they fit well into an invented one. I grew up in a semi-tropical latitude, so I didn’t get the sun-return thing I read about in folktales and mythology until I moved farther north (in my case–south to the equivalent latitude also works.) The inexorability of seasonal change, in a climate with a short growing season and marked daylength changes–including the polar areas where there’s no sun for a time in winter and no darkness for a time in summer–probably combined with folk-memory of years in which the growing season was even shorter, harvests failed, and famine the next winter–led to concern about whether the sun and longer days would return. So I used that here, for a similar situation. I’ve never lived in a polar area, but I’ve talked to those who have, and I’ve been far enough pole-ward from where I grew up to experience the difference that makes…and to see its effect shortly after midwinter when days lengthen again and there are visible signs in both plants and animals. By mid-January in northern Virginia, the stems of some plants are changing color: no leaves for months yet, but a subtle change from gray to yellow or reddish. When we had chickens, the hens’ combs (for older hens) would start to redden and grow by a week after the winter solstice and they’d be laying again by the third week in January.

  • Comment by Tuppenny — December 16, 2013 @ 10:02 am


    That snippet makes the hair on the back of my neck twitch – in a good way.
    I hope that someday it grows …
    Merry solstice to all, and may the returning sun bring health and good fortune.

  • Comment by Annabel — December 16, 2013 @ 12:38 pm


    Yes, you only have to live here in the UK for a year to know about the importance of sun-return! Even here in the South, at this time of year it is not light much before 08:00 and dark again by 16:00, although you’ve probably turned the lights on at lunchtime, and on a bad day there simply hasn’t been enough daylight to turn them off at all. And we have it easy compared with further north and/or west – in the far north of Scotland it is barely light at all.

    A celebration of the return of the Light long predates the Christian Christmas – and rather overlaps it, hence the two stuck-together traditions!

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — December 16, 2013 @ 9:41 pm


    Thank you very much for the short tale, Elizabeth.

    To all, best Midwinter blessings from this descendent of Northern European tribal peoples (Vikings, Angles, Saxons, Scots, Picts, and Gauls). Sun-return is part of my DNA.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 16, 2013 @ 11:38 pm


    Annabel: In early 2001, I visited England and Wales, and yes–I really noticed the difference in daylength. It felt very Dickensian, except for the train in East Anglia, which was taking us straight into Sayers’ _The Nine Tailors_ country, hundred foot drain and all. (Frozen, with a very disgruntled swan crouching on the ice.) We stopped a bit in Ely to visit the cathedral and then caught the next train on to Peterborough.

    Nadine: I suspect it’s in my DNA too, since I’ve got a lot of UK ancestry, plus some Dutch and German, plus some interesting mysterious bits (great-great-grandmother Hester whose family was suspected of being melungen–the local dialect word for mixed-race.) The first time I was in the UK, at age 50, I felt an immediate affinity for certain places–quite small bits here and there in Scotland first, then in England. But growing up so far south that the daylength difference wasn’t pronounced left me unaware of it except for “moods.”

  • Comment by pjm — December 17, 2013 @ 3:56 am


    It is odd sometimes. So much literature, folklore, and general background assumes Christmas in winter, North as a cold place, etc that most Australians find this fairly natural. However our experience is Christmas in summer. We picked apricots to use in the stuffing of the turkey.

  • Comment by pjm — December 17, 2013 @ 4:05 am


    Oops- hit the Comment button! NH people might like to look up “the north wind is tossing the leaves” for a different look at Christmas. We have used water instead of candles for Advent symbols.

    However the significance of Christmas does not change. May the blessings of God’s incarnation be with everyone here at this time and through the year ahead.


  • Comment by elizabeth — December 17, 2013 @ 12:14 pm


    pjm: People tend to write what they know–and most of our literature in English derives from a firmly north-hemisphere culture…the literature of southern-hemisphere English-speakers is quite young, though vibrant growing in influence. I remember standing on the south shore of an island off the coast of southern Australia and feeling the cold from the south…and how odd it felt. My head didn’t try to spin and make it the north–I knew it was farther south than I’d ever been, and in addition it felt southern in a way I can’t explain.

    The people I met in Australia and New Zealand have told me about Christmas in summer–a hot Christmas–which is eerily like the Christmases where I grew up, in the northern hemisphere’s subtropics. We had citrus blooming and the fruit coming ripe, fields of winter vegetables, fields of roses, flowers in the yards, etc. And all the Christmas decorations at school were snowflakes (which we never saw) and snowmen (which we never got to build) and so on. Now it wasn’t like our summer, which was sustained heat, whereas the winter heat wasn’t as brutal, or only for a day or so, between pleasant shorts-and-shirt weather, but it was easy to imagine Christmas in someone else’s full summer.

  • Comment by pjm — December 17, 2013 @ 8:43 pm


    Imagination is a wonderful thing. It is a good thing for us you don’t write only what you know (unless de Camp’s Harold Shea was a historical person).


  • Comment by Iphinome — December 18, 2013 @ 5:54 am


    @pjm “Bad books on writing and thoughtless English professors solemnly tell beginners to ‘Write What You Know’, which explains why so many mediocre novels are about English professors contemplating adultery.” –attributed to Joe Haldeman

  • Comment by Iphinome — December 19, 2013 @ 4:35 am


    Apologies for double post. A question related to the arc contest.

    Tsaia – say-yah? Tsaian – say-yhan?

    There’s a chance pronunciation will matter.

  • Comment by Richard — December 19, 2013 @ 8:13 am


    @Iphinome, in the pronunciation guide our author did last spring for the Limits audio book, “Tsaia” = TSAY-ah, no reference for “Tsaian”.

    As for mid-winter festivals in pre-Christian times, Stonehenge is famous for being aligned so that the centre faces the Midsummer sunrise, which means that the Midwinter sunset shines out from it. Archaeologists have found evidence of feasting at both ends of the year (animals butchered about 9 months after being born in the spring – as they always are – must have been for a winter festival, and those about 15 months old for a summer one) so which occasion was the more important makes a fascinating if unresolvable debate.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 19, 2013 @ 8:28 am


    Iphinome: TSAY-ah. The explosive “ts” is a phoneme that rarely appears as the initial sound in English but is usually found within a word (“itself”) or at the end of words (“pets”, “frets,” etc.) This is the noun form, the name of the land: “So, this is Tsaia, is it?” “Yes, we crossed the border back there, where that little gulch was.”

    The adjectival form, Tsaian, is TSAY-(neutral vowel)-n. Thus it would be understood if said TSAY-un, TSAY-en, or TSAY-ahn.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 19, 2013 @ 8:54 am


    Richard: And this is what I get for answering comments individually…you already said that.

    Iphinome: Sorry if I seemed to be pounding a lesson home.

    Richard: Secondary point on your post about animal age and its relation to date of birth and date of feasts and so on. As far as we know, early herding societies were able to exert some control over the choice of a male animal for their herds or flocks (none over wildlife, however) but did not attempt to move the date of birth around. In modern times, keeping the supply of milk constant around the year (for instance) required staggering the birth-dates of cattle, because a cow “goes dry” after delivering a calf and before the birth of a new one…and that requires, in modern dairy practice, artificial insemination, artificial light in dairy barns, pregnancy checking, and so on.

    Earlier, a herding (and possibly some level of farming) culture had to look at young animals in terms not only of the meat they carried, but the resources they used if kept over the entire winter. This would vary from year to year, with the weather, but twice yearly culling of the herd is an excellent way, even now, to improve your cattle.

    You raise the obviously less desirable animals (especially bull-calves) for winter slaughter–as their weight gain falls off and before they eat up too much of your stored hay. How many cattle you can keep depends on how reliable your winter pasture and how much hay you’ve stored.

    You wait until winter because gain on pasture (provided you have enough) is “free”–you don’t have to handle the crop that feeds them–and a bigger animal has more meat on it. Also, slaughter in winter means the meat lasts longer, giving you time to smoke some of it for (you hope) protein for you over the winter. You might also kill an older bull who’s been siring inferior cattle before the next breeding season–he’s not going to gain weight over the winter, and you have a fine young fellow you hope to use next spring. The better looking ones–and the heifers–you keep.

    But by late spring/early summer, you’ll cull again–the heifers who didn’t catch may not be fertile, the young bulls that now don’t look as likely as herd sires as they did in the fall–you have your standout and your backup. Slaughter in a warmer season means the meat spoils faster unless you have a way to preserve it (and sometimes even then) and the smell of the offal will draw predators you don’t want down on your herd and your young animals. The solution for a temporary glut of meat and the need for some help with the slaughter and processing is simple: invite everyone to come enjoy the bounty and help.

    Yes, there’s a religious significance in the times of year, but it runs parallel to the practical management of a herd of cattle.

  • Comment by Iphinome — December 19, 2013 @ 5:51 pm


    Thank you Richard

    That you Lady Moon, it did not at all appear as if you were pounding a lesson home. I was not for the life of me able to figure out how to pronounce that T without a vowel before or after it.

  • Comment by Richard — December 20, 2013 @ 7:58 pm


    Elizabeth, you gave Iphinome a fuller answer than I could.

    I’ve just found on the internet the exact moment of this year’s winter solstice, and where the sun will be, from which I reckon that your longest night has started (20th/21st December) whereas mine will be a day later (21st/22nd). Specifically, longest night started over the eastern USA (at about 78 degrees west) and travels round the world so that Buffalo NY is one of the first places to begin it and Washington DC will be one of the last.

    I had to find and work this out for myself, but perhaps some people’s TV news or weather program told them?

    Seasons Greetings everybody.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 20, 2013 @ 8:21 pm


    Modernity and a different faith mean that I am not observing the winter solstice tonight (aware of it, honoring those who do, but as an outsider with no ritual in hand)…I am midway through a story you all will someday read, and it’s got me by the writerly short hairs, pulling me along very strongly indeed. Not book-length, but…I don’t know how long. Ten pages in, at the moment. Just read that much to my husband…from his reaction to that much, you’re going to like it. Perhaps the day and the night are right for this story, and drew it out. No spoilers.

    My longest night, in terms of effort, will be Christmas Eve: singing two full and slightly different services from about 7 pm to after midnight. Counting rehearsals for both, probably four solid hours of singing. Then the long drive home. Depending on road conditions (which I hope fervently will be DRY!) I may be home by 2 am.

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