Can a Druid accept Christmas by helping WW2 orphans?
When a war-torn Druid meets his legendary Green Man, he discovers a new meaning to Christmas by helping Jewish orphans.
Outside the Jeep, the sleet intensified, creating a blinding veil. Bad luck it happened just as I navigated a tight turn. The Jeep's tires skidded on the thick ice sheet. "Damn it!"
I gripped the wheel. For a few frantic seconds, I struggled to keep my military surplus Jeep on the narrow road. Too much dangerous wartime driving in France should have made me panic-proof, but this still tested my resolve. I didn't fancy careening into frosty moor bog and sinking into the morass. I wanted to celebrate the blessed Solstice dry and safe.
The Jeep bent to my will, remaining on the slippery tarmac. My breathing sounded too loud. As long as no silly escapee moor sheep wandered in front of me, I should complete my journey sans a dip in the bog.
Earlier today I had started my celebration at a gathering at Stonehenge. We had welcomed the equinox's dawn. I'd remained longer than planned, enjoying the company of my fellow Druids. My membership in the Ancient Order of the Druids remained secret from others in my life. I worked in a government position, which meant I knew to keep my mouth shut. After all, I doubted if my superiors would appreciate my beliefs.
Ten minutes later, my headlights illuminated a familiar sign. I carefully drove down the icy gravel into the parking lot. The relief sweeping over my nerves embarrassed me. I stopped strangling the steering wheel and breathed normally again.
Damn, two other cars occupied the spaces closest to the inn's door. I scowled.
Instead of exiting the Jeep, I relaxed back, listening to the sleet attacking the metal. The horizontal wind blasts created low plinks, like someone hammered pebbles against the vehicle. Above me the canvas roof shook hard enough to create a hollow billowing sound.
Hiding away like a sugar-spun confection seemed unmanly, but I didn't want the sharp particles to frost me into a living ice sculpture.
Hail to the unpredictable southwest weather. When I had passed Winchester four hours ago, a glittering winter sunset had graced the blue sky. The sharp light had contrasted against the threatening grey clouds massing to the south. In fairness, Old Man Winter had warned me about his nefarious plan to taunt Mother Nature. My desire to reach my destination had made me push through. Suffering through a violent storm on the Solstice made sense. I had passed through the darkness to reach fresh new life.
I chuckled at my pretentious thought. It held truth, but still, spending too much time alone often made me think thoughts which, if spoken aloud, would make people laugh at my drama. Damn, I didn't want to end up as a lonely, pedantic old man nattering on about his spiritual quest to anyone patient enough to listen.
I still lived, which is more than I could say for most of the men whom had fought the Nazi monsters. My limbs were intact as were my faculties, although too often I wondered about my sanity. It had taken a great beating.
Boredom urged me to light a hand-rolled herbal cigarette. My custom mint and lemongrass blend soothed me. When I'd started coughing too much during the war, I'd quit smoking straight tobacco. Afterward, I made due with smoking dried mint when I found it. Someday I would conquer my oral fixation.
As I puffed, I pulled my leather document bag and small travel case forward into the battered front seat. I could fetch my remaining luggage once the storm had passed.
I blew out smoke. It formed a spiral mist within the rough interior. My thoughts drifted back to remembering pleasant hours spent in the sprawling old farmhouse converted into an inn. Good conversation and company was always the case here. I grinned. Sadly, aside from the fresh bread, the food didn't live up to the inn's other attributes.
The carved wooden sign proclaiming The Watchers, above an illustration of three standing stones, swung like a sugar-crazed child on a swing. Ice-rimmed ivy and holly strands twined around the edges, tokens of older rituals stolen by Christmas.
Sad how Christianity tried to steal Yuletide from Mother Earth's worshippers. Long ago I had read the Bible. Reading between the lines told me Jesus had probably been an earth-loving pagan, more of a Druid, who believed in people and their spiritual rights. Christianity had elevated him to their poster child.
Of course, I kept these radical thoughts to myself. After a devastating world war had shattered their spirit, people needed their beliefs.
I certainly needed mine. At this time of year, Christianity dressed up my beliefs in quite a different costume. Then again celebrating Yuletide generated no commerce.
A foul mood waited to darken my thoughts. No, not tonight--tonight I wanted to relax and enjoy life.
The wind ascended into a sullen howl. Suddenly the chilling assault subsided to cup loads instead of nasty bucketfuls. In a blink, the sleet changed over to steady snow. Fat white flakes started covering the icy texture spread across the ground.
I scrambled out from the Jeep, skidding around the bonnet to the passenger side. My soles slipped on the slick stones, sending me down against the hard surface. This wasn't the time for slapstick pratfalls! I grabbed the two bags and minced across the parking lot, trying for cautious speed. Despite my care, slushy slashes splashed over my shins. At least my stout old boots kept my feet dry.
I reached the exterior door and twisted the brass knob. To my relief, it swung open. Practical Ben usually closed down early in the off-season, yet something told me tonight the door remained unlocked for an old friend.
I entered the foyer, foiling the wind-driven onslaught, and secured the outer door against the cold invasion. Soaking my skin didn't sate its greedy need--this storm wanted to freeze even my bone marrow.
A huge holly, ivy, and purple heather wreath decorated the glass-paned inner door, which opened into the impressive wood and stone interior. Mellow honey-toned paint warmed the granite walls. Stout ancient beams buttressed the doorways and windows. The inn appeared lovingly maintained and highly polished, just as I remembered. A tasty aroma tickled my nose.
Ben Tremethyk's great-great-great--damn, many greats back--Cornish ancestors had built the original old farmhouse. After careful remodeling to create public areas, the space offered a protective atmosphere. A small lamp cast light over the rugged old ship table which served as the front desk. Red and silver bows held together berry-rich holly branches and pine boughs. An elaborate wreath of holly, yew, and ivy hung on the dining room door. The greens added a pagan touch to the space although I knew that wasn't the intent. Their natural beauty soothed me.
Ah, a familiar brass key rested on the burgundy reservation book. Amazing how the simple sight faded away the years. Bless Ben for securing me the River Palace. The large room overlooked the lively Meavy River as it tumbled down from the higher moors. Sleeping by the river's natural power recharged me or at least that's how I perceived the sensation.
I hesitated at ringing the brass ship bell. I shouldn't disturb the other guests.
A melodic voice echoed from the dining room. "Dear Roger, I do hope that's you! I felt right worried about you traveling in this wretched storm." Swift footsteps crossed the polished wooden floor. A shadow prefaced its owner. "Ah, you arrived safe, sound, and snow-flaked! What a bloody miserable night. Old Man Winter wasted no time showing who's the boss now. At least the snow is more festive than slush."
Hmm, who was that? I leaned forward to peer toward the voice. My motion skidded the heavy travel bag down my leather-clad shoulder. I staggered to my right. How damned annoying! I extracted myself from the damp mess. When I looked up from my struggle, I froze for a wonderful second. In the face of the heat flooding my skin, the recent icy assault meant little to me.
The most desirable man alive in all of Cornwall, hell, in the United Kingdom, stood before me like a mythical Green Man--tall, dashing, and robust. Curly hair swirled against his high cheekbones in a daring hairstyle, the golden lengths trailing toward his neck. I studied his ruddy face, peeled away the added years, and blinked. "Little Lynn Tremethyk?"
He released delighted laughter. As he grinned, Lynn patted his ample belly. "How cute, no one has used that sweet nickname in years--ha, for obvious reasons. Hard to believe you've been away for six long years."
I sighed. "Unfortunately war has a nasty way of disrupting a life. At least I was lucky enough not to suffer from any serious physical impairment. I saw too many others grievously injured. Mentally, wellâ€¦" I shrugged away the lingering fears. I'd seen too much horror to ever forget certain details.
"Dear Roger, I hope staying here eases traumatic memories." Lynn's cheerful voice seemed designed to chase away shadows. His warm tone soothed my jangled nerves almost as well as a shot of fine whiskey. "When Penny told me you called yesterday to reserve a room, I felt ecstatic. Hearing your name sparked memories of exploring the moor marshes with you. I wouldn't mind accompanying you again. Really, I'm a big man, but I still move quietly." He fluttered his long fingers at me. "Enough talk! Your favorite room awaits you. I told my two other parties the River Palace was reserved."
I wondered what place Penny held in Lynn's life. Wife, girlfriend, or perhaps housekeeper? "Who is Penny? She sounds charming."
"She's an absolute doll. Penny is my second-in-command, my secret weapon of housekeeper and bookkeeper. I'd be lost without her. She created the wonderful holiday decorations." A fond smile crossed Lynn's face. "Penny reminds me of Mum, or at least how I remember her. I think Da is a bit sweet on her."
"Interesting. Speaking of Ben, where is the old rascal? I hope's he's still hale and hearty."
Lynn's dismissive laughter answered me. "Don't worry yourself over Da. He's visiting cousins in the Canary Islands. I spoke to him yesterday. He claims he's tanner than an old walnut, quite the tropical beach bum! This year Da went into what he calls semi-retirement for the off-season. He'll return for the busy season."
"Smart man. Well, let me go up and change. I hate to presume, but is there any chance I can make myself a sandwich?"
Lynn appeared vastly insulted. "Sandwich? I won't hear of such a thing. I'll serve you a proper meal."
I held up my wet hands. "Please, Lynn, it's late. Don't go out of your way forâ€¦" Wait, why was I protesting enjoying time with my new obsession? I was acting completely water-brained!
Lynn's firm headshake squashed my words. "I'm not going out of my way. The fridge is stocked with cold salads. I'll heat up seafood chowder--it's for tomorrow's dinner, but there's plenty." He pointed at my two damp bags. "Do you need my help carrying those?"
Ye Gods, I hoped I didn't appear that old and infirm. I was only thirty-five! I waved away Lynn's query. "No, how kind, I'll handle this moist lot. I have everything I need for tonight. I'll fetch my other gear tomorrow when the weather stops imitating the North Pole."