Ancel de Libre liked unusual things, so when his cousin Foss gave him an odd gift and he failed to show anyone, no one thought much of it. That is until Ancel went to Erin a’ Fee to court a lady and vanished.
Suzette Skipton was tired of seeing her sister Yvanne moping over their clueless cousin Tabor, so she went to the cliffs alone on Christmas Eve and made a wish.
After that, a horse went over a cliff, Suzette got swept off her feet, and at last, her wish came true, under the Christmas tree.
Christmas Eve. First Year
It was still Christmas Eve—just—and the ball at Skipton Manor was winding down. In about an hour, everyone would gather and sing in Christmas.
Suzette had enjoyed dancing with a good many single men at the ball, as well as performing duty dances with assorted uncles, cousins and those odd courtesy connections that came about when one’s by-blood relation wed someone from another order.
One such connection had found her dancing with a leprechaun gossoon, a soft-spoken man who had informed her that because her great-uncle Roderick Skipton had wed a pixie miss named Melody Peckerdale, and because he himself had said forever with Melody’s brother Alexander, they were family.
“But not by blood,” she said, struggling to understand.
He laughed and hugged her. “Not by blood, me dear…” Around they went, and she curtsied while he bowed. As they promenaded, he said, “Ye’re playin’ the eight reeds carol wid my son-by-love, so I hear?”
That would be the nice young man talking to Melody Skipton, she supposed, following his gaze. The gossoon, whose name she remembered belatedly was Oison Seekjoy, spun her off to her next partner and she thought no more about it.
The eight reeds carol was a long one, and it took eight players to do it justice. Suzette played it with her sisters, Yvanne and Giselle, and with Great-Uncle Roddy’s four grandsons, the bewilderingly similar Merriweather boys. The connected young man played the eighth strand of the carol and did it very well.
With an hour to go till midnight, Suzette beckoned to Yvanne. It was time for their Christmas Eve tradition of standing on the chalk cliffs and watching for the five ships galleons that sometimes sailed by in the moonlight.
Yvanne wasn’t looking at her, so Suzette went to tap her shoulder.
“’Vanne? Ship time.”
Yvanne looked at her blankly and then glanced over to the Merriweather boys, who were playing some kind of musical game. They’d had a spat a few minutes before because two of them had to dance together in the eight-reed dance, but they’d got over it.
Yvanne went on staring at the boys. No, Suzette realised with a jolt. She was staring at one of the boys, seventeen-year-old Tabor. He and Yvanne often practised tunes and dances together, having grown closer while Suzette was off being sponsored over there. She’d lasted a few months, whereas Yvanne had found a week too much to bear.
“Are you coming?”
Yvanne finally looked at her. “No, I think I’ll wait here. Tab asked me to teach him the Pixies’ Gavotte.” Her voice sounded oddly jerky.
“You can do that any time.”
“I’ll wait. You go. Take Giselle.”
Giselle was over at the buffet consuming cherries with their cousin Timothea, so Suzette just shook her head. All kinds of retorts came into her mind.
But we always do this
It’s our tradition
You can teach Tab the gavotte any time
He’s not even interested. He’s playing with his brothers
Yvanne had turned her attention back to the lads. Her curly head came up, and Suzette saw her half lift her hand. “Tab?”
“Wait a bit ‘Vanne.” He grinned at her and went back to what he was doing.
Suzette saw a painful blush creep up her sister’s cheeks.
Great bogle! She’s in love with him!
The thought was appalling. Yvanne was sweet-natured, kind, and compliant. Tabor Merriweather was impulsive, demanding and full of himself. He was only two years younger than Yvanne by the calendar, but he was a boy. Her sister was a young woman.
That won’t do.
Yvanne drifted over towards the boys.
Don’t do it, ‘Vanne! You’ll get hurt.
Tab glanced at Yvanne. “I said, we can do it later.”
Suzette turned on the heel of her soft dancing shoe, picked up her skirts and hurried out of the ballroom. She knew Yvanne was going to be hurt. She couldn’t prevent it, but she didn’t have to watch it.
She’d left her kelpie bottle in the scullery, but she rushed on past it. Where was the fun in having her bottle along tonight without the tricky bit of hiding it from Yvanne?
We’re too old for such things, anyway…
Suzette ran lightly over the chalk towards the cliffs. Her ball gown, pale blue as befitted her youth but sewn with gold braid to signify her enough years status, swung sweetly around her. This was the first gold braid gown for her. Yvanne had been ahead of her by a year, as always. Giselle was pouting because she had such a long time to wait.
A dancing tune sang in her mind.
The Five Ships.
The words of the carol were full of allure and mystery, telling of islands of roses and carpets of flowers, all blessed by heaven and somehow bound up with the ships that sailed forever.
Suzette danced the first figure of the carol, singing the line in her clear voice.
“And the first of the ships it has a fine sail as blue as the sky and as white as the hail…
The second is flame and the joy of the gale…”
She sang each ship and then she was on the clifftop, her gown swaying and her chest heaving with the exercise.
Would they come? She’d seen them only four times in the ten years she and Yvanne had been coming to the cliffs.
If I see them, I’ll toss my kelpie bottle.
But she’d left it behind.
I’ll conjure it here.