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Winter

Back to Autumn

22. Bling

Young Keith wasn’t seen for the rest of the weekend.  Hnaef told me that, when he really caused some trouble with short-stay pilgrims, Keith would head off to his uncle’s until they’d all gone home.  He also told me that the pilgrims had threatened to sue the Community, but that Eileen had pointed out that Keith was not employed by the Beaker Folk, nor did he have any official position.  If people wanted to follow the instructions of random people in the woods at night, that wasn’t the Beaker Folk’s fault.  And apart from me being assigned the nickname “Little Willi” by certain of the less spiritually minded members of the community, that was pretty much it.
The next random outbreak of trouble-making wasn’t of Keith’s doing at all.  Maybe he thought he’d done enough for one year.  No, this time it was down to a couple called Morgas and Orgel – or Peter and Petronella Finch, as they were known in their day jobs as city stockbrokers.
Morgas and Orgel were a prime example of what happened when the middle classes really got into exterior Christmas decoration in a big way.  It was one of those curious crazes that overtook suburbia in the 1990s and the Noughties.  In days gone by, the possessors of bay windows used to stand their Christmas trees in the window.  Normally they appeared mid-December, tastefully lit, and no-one complained.  Everyone just quietly appreciated the Christmas spirit and they all went on their way.
When did that change first occur?  Sometime in the mid-90s?  Someone, somewhere anonymous and unimportant like a housing estate in Rushden, stuck a few coloured bulbs on his roof and made his house look like a pub for Christmas.  Everyone passing laughed, while the neighbours sighed and shrugged their shoulders.
The next year, someone put an illuminated Father Christmas in the window.  And then someone decorated a tree in their garden like it was a Christmas tree.  And after the first unfortunate electrocution, someone developed low-voltage lights specially for the outside.  And then the dancing snow-men appeared.  And the giant inflatable Father Christmas.  And then all those really spooky Father Christmases, who are meant to look like they’re climbing ladders up the side of the house.  Except of course that the definition of Father Christmas is that he’s somebody who doesn’t need ladders to climb up the side of the house.  Because, let’s face it, he’s in possession of flying reindeer.
And then the penguins appeared.  And so we reached our current situation, where the average suburban house has a CO2 footprint in December that could raise sea levels by an inch.  And Morgas and Orgel thought the Community should join in.
Now every year, as the electricity bills had shown me, vast amounts of electricity had been burnt on the roofs and walls of the Great and Moot Houses as the number of celebratory lights had increased.  But this year, the Finches really wanted to go for it.
Morgas and Orgel put their names down on the Visiting List, to see Eileen every day for a fortnight.
“But it’s Christmas,” they had told us each morning in late October and early November over breakfast.  And then explained how the Archdruid had told them, at great length, that the Beaker People celebrated Yule.  This being the old term for the Winter Solstice – which happened, in the Beaker view of things, to include Christmas.  It appeared that by the time she had explained all this each day the ten minutes were up, so they never quite got to put their request that this year the Community should really go with it.
In the end she caved in.  What seemed to sell it to her was the promise that the Finches had agreed to pay for the electricity required, and also to provide additional electricity by the installation of alternative power sources – specifically, by using a heat pump driven from the heat difference between the pond and the Moot House, and a windmill – and to agree that the lights were the property of the community.
Now the Finches were seriously rich.  And the deliveries started on 6 November.  The Beaker People became very excited.  Big strings of lights were carefully lifted onto the roof of the Moot House and secured there. The clipped bay trees were draped with white lights.  The Great Trilithon was illuminated for a time in a red flashing light-strip.  However the Archdruid had it undecorated again, on the grounds that “it will look a bit tacky come Winter Solstice”.  Dancing reindeer in their hundreds decorated the length of the drive, while the sound of “Silver Bells” played on a loop, replaced the normally-ubiquitous Enya.
“Shouldn’t we really be getting ready for Advent with solemnity and fasting?”  I asked Hnaef.  One thing I learnt at the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, was that I never really learn.
“No.”
“Care to expand on that?”
“We don’t really like gloom and doom in our religion.  The end times, death and judgement.  They’re great.  But if you ever get the urge to think about these things, one of the Druids will tell you to go and light a tea light.”
“But you talk about the circles of nature – the dying and rising, the dark and the light…..”
“The yin and the yang, the circle and the square, the black rose and the universal wheel, the chalk and the cheese…  Oh yeah.  We talk about these things.  You could say we celebrate them.  But you wouldn’t want that kind of stuff actually affecting your life.  No, in an ideal Beaker world we’d have a celebration every day.  We don’t want any of that sad stuff.  The world’s got enough sad stuff in it already, without having to invent some for ourselves.  No, the sooner we can get all the bling up, the sooner it will all feel like Christmas.
And so it went on.  More penguins.  More Santas.  More snowmen.  Inflatable, illuminated nativity scenes that played “Oh Holy Night” whenever the wind blew.
But even with the boost from the alternative power supplies, the strain started to show on the electrical network.  First the fuses kept blowing.  So Hnaef replaced them with nails.  Then the lights kept going out in the village.  So the Finches bussed in a couple of oil-powered generators.
My guess would be that the site would have been clearly visible from space.  I started to look up nervously at night whenever I heard planes going over, in case they confused the Community with the flight path for Luton Airport.
And still more bling went up.  As you walked up the drive early of an evening, it was a living illustration of the expressions “all his Christmases came at once”.  The whole place was a glowing, chiming, singing embodiment of Christmas.
The Christmassy mood spread through the Community.  People became friendlier – Beaker People were always friendly in a kind of slightly-spaced-out way, but now they were positively jolly.  Hnaef took to going around with a spring of mistletoe.  The religious rituals became increasingly surreal in appearance – to see a bunch of people wearing hi-viz vests and safety boots singing “Kumbaya” was odd enough at the best of times, but when these were supplemented by false white beards and Father Christmas hats you wondered just how seriously any of this was now being taken.  But then even the Archdruid was starting to smile properly – not just her traditional, serene holy glow but a for-real, genuine smile of true happiness.  And so, with a sense of increasing mutual good will, we headed towards the Solstice.

23. Yule

And so the Big Day itself came.  When I say the Big Day, of course, I refer not to Christmas, but to the 21st – the Winter Solstice. The shortest day.  The “Day when the Earth is Dark”, as Eileen referred to it throughout her talks that week.
The day dawned cold and snowy, covering the ground and leaving a depth of snow on the roofs of the Moot House, the Pilgrim’s Quarter, the Souvenir Shop but not, strangely, the Great House, where it melted as it fell.
At 3.30 pm we marched out to the orchard in the snow. The bling had been switched off for the day, and the place seemed gloomy and dark, with just the streetlight glow from Milton Keynes to provide some illumination - that and the torches that we carried.
We stood in silence, broken only by the occasional oath as another Beaker Person received a burn from the tallow that dripped from the candles.  Then the Solstice Song began:
“Raise your banners high
Don’t die, Sun, don’t die!”
The sun fell below the horizon. The song continued, becoming increasingly panicky, until the Beaker People were literally screaming it with fear. The Moon Gibbon Folk, emotionally unbalanced at the best of times, ran into the woods howling with terror.  Then the silence fell, and the Archdruid led the sad procession back to the Moot House for eggnog and sherry.
At midnight we were back again. Now it was really dark, and seriously snowy. We shuffled in our safety boots into the centre of the orchard. – where the Archdruid drove her staff into the ground and every torch was extinguished. Eileen addressed the assembled Folk.
“Now the Sun kisses the Tropic of Capricorn. Though far away, he starts his return journey. Though the winter lays ahead, yet the light will return. The darkness will fade and die.
“OK, Hnaef, hit the switch.”
At that, every piece of Christmas illumination that had been installed – plus a few more that we hadn’t previously seen – was switched back on.  Snowmen, dancing penguins, scary Father Christmasses, stars – the whole Community shone with the light of a thousand setting suns. We staggered around, blinking and suffering from temporary blindness.  The Solstice had been celebrated, and it was only for us to return in the morning – to ensure the sun wasn’t dead.

24. The Carpet Crawl

And so we passed the few days to Christmas Eve in a kind of spiritual no-man’s land.  Our Solstice had been celebrated – but the secular equivalent, Christmas, was yet to come.  Come Christmas Eve and eight of the clock, I dragged myself down to the White Horse with the others.  If we had been good Catholics, or even certain kinds of Methodist, we would have been preparing ourselves for Midnight Mass.  But we were Beaker Folk, and we’d been through the Yule Ceremony already.   So there was nothing to do until New Year but get plastered.
Quite a few of us were wedged in there, including Young Keith.  I still hung onto the suspicion that Keith actually knew far more than he ever let on.  So I was happy to get into quite a series of rounds of drinks with him, thinking I might be able to get more information.  I knew that I had to find out the truth – at the rate I was progressing through the Beaker Folk ranks, I was concerned that I might be Assistant Archdruid myself before I was able finally to publish my exposé.  Whatever that exposé was going to be.  Broke and homeless as I was, I’d have to be able to sell it to Fleet Street, with a true-life documentary mini-series to follow if I were going to make as much out of it as I needed.
The Husborne Crawley villagers were in festive mood.  Carols and Christmas songs were playing through the pub PA system and occasionally I joined in.  Oh Come all Ye Faithful.  A reminder of another faith – one where I’d known a certain amount of assurance.  A baby in a stall, a bunch of scruffy shepherds and, if you were pedantic about your Gospels, an unspecified number of Wise Persons turning up bearing gifts an indefinite time after the Nativity, to a Holy Family that was still in Bethlehem according to Matthew, even though Luke had packed them all off to Nazareth by that stage.  I felt a nostalgic tear in the corner of my eye for those flimsy certainties I had rejected as a teenager.  Instead, now I was in this land where all was uncertain except the turning of the earth, the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon.  Where the mythology was never spelt out, practices were picked and mixed from a host of Eastern and Judaeo-Christian beliefs as well as from a neo-pagan wonderland of alleged Germanic, Celtic and – most imaginary of all – Beaker sources.
Young Keith was rolling around the place in the best of moods.  Fairytale of New York was blaring out.  Keith was conducting Kirsty and Shane with a sprig of mistletoe, and all the drunks they were singing.  He conducted through to the final “Christmas Day”, sank down exhausted next to me.  He was clearly in the sort of state that could have left him spending Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, if his uncle were not the local police officer.
“Tell you what, Willibrord,” he said to me, “I love Christmas.  All the tinsel, the carols, the sleigh bells roasting on an open fire.  It’s all great.  Sometimes I wish I could be a proper Christian, and enjoy it all properly.”
“Did you used to be a church-goer then?”
“My parents used to make me.  I was a Methodist in those days.  On the down side, I wouldn’t want to have to face all that temperance again.  Very keen on abstention, were the old Wesleyan Reform where I came from.  You’re a bit freer in the Beaker Folk.  But then – sometimes you think to yourself, “is there anything here I can actually believe in?  A true doctrine, a real belief – a real Person of some kind at the other end of the line?  Or is this all just about me and my experiences, and my own self-fulfilment?  Would I be better off – in the eternal sense of the word – giving up on this self-centred so-called spirituality, giving up my savings – which are pretty substantial, given I’ve been here for the last four years – and going to work for a voluntary organisation?”
“I know what you mean.  I think we come from similar backgrounds, Keith.”
The landlord was ringing a festive tune on the bell at the bar prior to physically throwing us out.  It had gone midnight, and was now Christmas Day.  We ambled our way to the door, turned right and headed up School Lane towards the Great House.  It wasn’t a white Christmas – the snow of solstice had melted in the wintery sun  – but there was a chill in the air, frost on the grass and the giant Father Christmas could be seen glowing across the fields.
As we were rolling past the school, Keith said to me,
“Actually Willibrord.  I think we’ve shared enough that I can tell you this.  I feel you’re someone I can trust.  Can you promise not to say a word?”
I agreed, willingly.  I’d got to that point in the evening in rural trips to the pub that normally corresponds to putting your arm round another man and telling him that he’s your best mate and you really love him.  So of course I could promise.
“Thing is, Willibrord, it’s taken me four years of lying here undercover to come to the secret – but I reckon I’m nearly there now.  I’m actually not really a railway timetable planner.  I’m really a journalist.  I’ve been living here to work out what the scam is – how the Archdruid is making her money.  And I’m just about there.  I reckon – I think that given just a little more information I can make all the pieces come together.”
I knew there was something to be learned from Young Keith, but I’d never dreamed it was this.  School Lane swam around me – even more than it already was.  I grabbed onto him by the lapels.
“That’s me too!  I’m a journalist!  And I’m trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on here!  Tell you what – after we watch the Queen’s speech tomorrow, we’ll get together and compare notes.  I’m sure we can do it!”
“Just fancy,” reflected Keith, “maybe we’re not the only ones.  Maybe Eileen’s the only genuine Beaker Person.  Maybe the whole Beaker Community consists of journalists trying to find out what’s going on.”
“What, even Hnaef?  And Drayton?”
“OK, maybe not.  But Burton – now that’s a great cover he’s got.  And he’s got access to all the financial records.  Even the ones he hasn’t shared with you.  He’s in the perfect situation to be a journalist.”
I was surprised that Keith seemed to know about my conversations with Burton – but then of course, he’d no doubt been asking Burton questions as well.  He was as sharp as a tack, was Keith.
As I neared the turn into the Great House, just before the left turn into Crow Lane, I realised I was now on my own.  Looking around I could see no sight of Keith.  Once again he had disappeared without trace.  I reflected that on this occasion he had probably fallen into a ditch, something which he had a habit of doing walking back from the pub.  So I left him to it.  I figured that he’d sort himself out, and it was on the cold side to go walking up and down School Lane looking for fallen Beaker Folk.
I weaved up the drive to the Great House.  The bling was shining beautifully around the Moot House, the Doily Shed and the Beaker Bazaar.  I noticed that someone had added another reindeer to Santa’s ridiculously large herd since I had left.  The Great House itself was a beacon of light, beaming from every downstairs window as the Beaker Folk celebrated the Yuletide season with warm mead and dodgy cider.  The fires were roaring in their grates as I passed the dining room and library.  Through the library window I could see Burton – fast asleep with his head on a pile of receipts.  Obviously even accountants could be overtaken by the Yuletide spirit.
I didn’t feel myself to be in any state to join the other members of the community.  The night at the White Horse had taken its toll.  So instead I headed up the staircase towards my bedroom.  But gravity was seriously against me.  I was finding that the struggle to get up the stairs while standing upright was becoming increasingly difficult.  So I tried climbing on all fours – this was more satisfactory. And in a kind of crawl I made my way upstairs.  Occasionally a Beaker Person would come the other way and have to climb over me on the stairs.  Eventually I met a particularly kind one.  Ardwulf picked me up and carried me up the stairs, dropping me on the carpet on the top floor.
Just ten yards to go.  I crawled along the carpet, singing “Wombling Merry Christmas” quietly to myself.  I reached my door.  Disaster.  I couldn’t figure out how to use the handle.  There it was – only three feet from the floor, and all I had to do was turn it the right way.  It wouldn’t turn.   I realised I was probably turning it the wrong way – and then tried the same way again.  This really wasn’t working.  So I grasped the handle as hard as I could.  I pulled myself upright, as least as well as I could.  I leaned away from the door as far as I could, consistent with still remaining vertical and clinging onto the handle.  And I lurched towards the door, hoping in my confused state that I could somehow use brute force to bang it open.
The first time, I just bounced off.  I lay there face down, with a mouthful of carpet.  It tasted horrible.  I picked myself off of the floor, tried again.  Bounced off.  This time, I’d bounced myself across the room, dislodging a picture of “Aubrey at Avebury”, which fell from its hook and landed on my chest.  I took it off – considered putting it back on the hook.  Decided that there was no way I was going to manage it.  Pulled myself up again, threw myself towards the door.  And just before I hit it, it opened.  I fell through the door and crashed to the floor.  If I hadn’t know better, I would have said that I had tripped over somebody’s leg.  Somebody who wore size 7 safety boots for a living.
Just before I passed out on the carpet, a thought went through my mind.  That thought said, there was altogether too much falling over and getting dragged around, in the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley.

25. In the Gulfing Room

I wasn’t in my room when I awoke.  In fact, I wasn’t quite sure where I was.  I was in a room – that much was clear.  And playing quietly somewhere was Enya.
The Archdruid was leaning over me, smiling quizzically.
“Good afternoon, Willibrord.  And a Happy Christmas.  Or what’s left of it.”
“What time is it?  Sorry… I… I must have had too much to drink at the White Horse.”  I staggered up to my feet.
“I think you probably did.  Young Keith told me all about it.  And about your… well, I’d use the word “profession”, but that would be too offensive to the other, real professions – the useful ones like doctors and nurses and bin-men and architects and prostitutes – you know, people who bring something useful into the world occasionally.  Let’s call it an occupation.  After all it’s been occupying you for the last seven months – even if it hasn’t paid too well.”
“Young Keith?  He told you… But he told me…”
“Yes, he’s a treasure, is Young Keith.  That’s why he is so highly prized by the Druidic Council.  It is useful to have a… well, for want of a better description let’s say a tame idiot.  Not that he’s an idiot, our Keith.  But because he acts the irresponsible trouble-maker and rabble-rouser, the real problem inmates flock to him.  He’s like the jester at a mediaeval court – he releases the tension, but he also acts as a lightning rod for us.  And on this occasion – as a fisherman.”
“So what are you going to do now?  I warn you – I’m prepared to stand torture.”
“Torture?  What do you think I’m like?  I tell you Willibrord, if I were so inclined I could have Hnaef and Ardwulf place the various parts of your body in Waitrose bags all over the Home Counties.  But I’m not like that.  That would not fit with the Beaker Way.  Where do you think you are at the moment?”
A question I had not asked myself particularly up to that point, preoccupied as I had been with Eileen’s presence and the massive feeling of sickness and the headache that was reminding me of the night before.  I looked around.  The walls were pained a uniform turquoise.  Unlike the rest of the Great House, there were no pictures.  It was just a plain turquoise cube.  In one wall was a door.  A door with no handle.  And two chairs.  Beautifully padded black reclining office chairs – if a little over-size for an office.  Surely not…
“You’re in the Gulfing Room, Willibrord.  You know what happens here?”
“You torture people so they don’t reveal the secrets of the Community.  This is where you deal with the trouble makers, so they don’t do it again.  This is where the real heavy work happens.”
“Did Keith tell you that?”
I nodded.
“As I say, he is good.  He likes to keep people in the right degree of apprehension.  And it is fair to say that the work I do here might not be covered by the Geneva Convention.  Now then, Willibrord…”
I took my chance and leapt for the door.  As the Archdruid put her hand out to stop me, I shoved at her as hard as I could in her chest.  It felt wrong to be hitting a woman, but I felt that I had no choice.  I had to get out.
But I never made contact.  Instead she grasped my arm, pulled me to one side and flipped me over onto my face.  The next thing I knew she was kneeling on the back of my neck with my arm behind my back.  She had one heck of a grip for a middle-aged woman.
“Willibrord, the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley are a people of peace.  We do not resort to violence.  However occasionally in my role as Archdruid I have to waive that rule.  Not for the others – just for me.  Now if I wished I could snap this arm like a wish bone – quite appropriate that, for Yuletide, don’t you think?”
I nodded, struggling for breath while dealing with the second mouthful of carpet I had taken in the last twenty-four hours.
“OK, Willibrord.  Take a seat.  And remember – I really could break your neck if I felt like it.”
I sat.  Sure enough, they were dentist’s chairs.  An icy hand gripped my heart.  Not a real icy hand, I was relieved to discover – just a metaphorical one.  Eileen sat down in the chair opposite.
“So Willibrord – let me tell you some facts at last.  You’ve been trying long enough to get something concrete out of me, so I reckon it’s finally time.
“You may think I rule this community with a rod of iron.  You are right.  You may think that the Beaker Folk is based entirely on made-up traditions and pseudo-religious gobbledygook.  And you’re right there.  And you may think that we take money from the gullible, the gormless and those looking for a made-to-measure spirituality.  You’re right there as well.  But consider.
“We never force anyone to contribute any money to this community.  You have lived here for eight months and not paid a penny.  So some would consider that your repeated attempts to prove over this year that we are ripping people off are – at the least – a betrayal of our hospitality.  In the end, how could we keep on smiling at your disguise?
“We give the gormless a purpose.  Not a very clear purpose, but at least they know some fulfilment.  Left in the wild, as it were, they would only go wasting money on Tarot or mediums or Tai Chi instruction or herbal tea.  You could say, with our sustainable ethos, we are the low-cost alternative.  A kind of EasyJet of faith options.  Not least because we are, like that estimable organisation, addicted to the glowing of bright colours.
“And you tried so hard to find evidence that I was making my fortune from fraudulently claiming expenses.   I can only say – if it were true – would that so bad?  Our law-makers, after all, are passionately addicted to the same activity.  If it were true.
“You tried to find evidence that we are brainwashing our Beaker Folk.  And you found nothing.  And if you kept looking you would find that by giving people a rhythm, a routine, a community, a meaning and a purpose – in fact we contribute to a greater level of mental health than you would find in the same people if they continued to live their atomized lives in detached houses where they only talk to the neighbours when the fence blows down, and the only rhythm in their life is washing the car on Sunday morning.  And the irony is… well, you’ll find out.”
Hypnotised by the rhythm of her words I found myself stuck to the chair, as she stood and left the room.  The door closed.  The lights went down.  I realised that there was no light switch this side of the door.  I was stuck in the Gulfing Room.  It occurred to me to look for hidden doors, but the daftness of this thought struck me.  She seemed bright enough to think that I might be bright enough to look for hidden doors.  And so I just sat there in my dentist’s chair, with a massive headache and a sense of dehydration from the previous night.  And the growing sensation that the room was filling with something.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t poisonous – or at least not directly so.  It smelt so strong, so sweet – so overpowering.  It was a moment before I realised.  It was lavender.  Can you poison people with lavender? I had only a moment to ask myself that question before it was changing – now still sweet, but different.  A minty smell?  No.  A citrus kind of smell, almost greasy.  It was… lemonbalm.  That continued for a couple of minutes, becoming acutely powerful in its own right until I felt the world consisted solely of lemon balm.  And then that in its turn was replaced by something – patchouli?  I once had a girlfriend who was seemingly addicted to burning patchouli.  Her face flashed before me for a moment, smiling.  And then on again – back to lavender, and then something I didn’t recognise.  And then rosemary.  And then camomile.  And then… and then another.  And another.  And another.  I realised I was being sucked into the rhythm of the alternating essential oils.  My spirit was moving in time to the changing scents.  And all the time the sound of Enya was becoming louder.  At first she had been that barely noticeable presence in the background that she had been all over the community – but now she was positively loud.  And growing louder.  And louder.  Could you go deaf listening to Enya too loud?  It seemed like a travesty of all she stood for.  And still the smells changed.  Now it was rose oil.  And then bergamot.  And Caribbean Blue segued into Orinoco Flow and onward into Shepherd Moons.
Now I became aware that the walls were changing.  Where they had just been a blank turquoise, now they were showing images – the rainforests, and whales, and a baby and a rose and a guinea pig.  A guinea pig?  How did that fit into the sequence?  Nice-looking guinea pig though.  The sound changed as Enya drifted away and was replaced by the sound of the wind, and then of water running.  Finally it changed to a heartbeat, a mother’s heartbeat heard in the haven of the womb.  And the sound became a feeling, as the chair in which I was sitting and the whole room started to vibrate with that same frequency.  Even the changing scents in the air and what were now ever-changing images of the stars and moon on the wall seemed to pick up that frequency.
And time lost its meaning as I sank into the frequency, and I was one with the universe.  I understood how the earth revolved beneath the sun, and the moon grew and died as the months went by.  I heard the songs of the stars and the voids beyond Pluto and the grieving of Mother Earth over her children that suffered and died.  I knew the joy of a growing leaf and the loss a tree feels as it falls.  And the sudden shock a star experiences as it realises it just went super-nova.  And the depths of rest at the bottom of a black hole.
And the door opened.

26. Attaining Husborne Crawley

I was so pleased to see the Archdruid.  I stumbled out of the Gulfing Room, through the hidden door that was covered with railway timetables and a time planner and emerged in the Archdruid’s office.  She smiled, and hugged me.  I noted just how firm that hug felt.  It was a loving hug, a deeply caring hug, but the hug of someone who would have snapped my spine if necessary.  Blessing her for not snapping it, I returned the hug, went out through the office door and then through the Great House and out of the back door – the way that led into the quadrangle.  Snow had been falling since I had entered the Gulfing Room – indeed, it was still falling.  It lay, soft and fluffy and lovely, on the ground before the Moot House.  Snow covered the roof of the Moot House, the Doily Shed and the Beaker Bazaar.  And I noticed again that only the roof of the Great House was completely bare of snow.  Probably due to insulation, I reckoned.  Happy, smiling Beaker Folk were throwing snowballs at each other.  Some of the snowballers appeared to be fauns, but I was sure that was just the lowered visibility due to the falling snowflakes.  Suddenly I even understood the sheer six-pointedness of being a snowflake.  Not knowing that snowflakes were six-sided – I’d always known that, of course.  But knowing how it felt to be that flake.  That beautiful, divine, eternal symmetry, filled with the cosmic sadness that each one would only happen once.
I looked up into the sky, light again already on this Boxing Day morning.  The scent of essential oils that still clung to my nostrils – to my nostrils?  No – to my mind, even – were displaced by the beef that was roasting over the Yule Log ready for the evening’s great Boxing Supper.  I looked past the Moot House and saw, setting there, the crescent moon.  And I knew that finally, although my eyes could see only the crescent, I saw the whole of the moon.  I smiled, and joined in the snowball fight.
I was holding my own well, when Young Keith got a shot in from an unexpected angle – darting out just into the corner of my eye, from behind the Moot House wall.  I felt the cold of the snowball, as it squelched into the back of my neck and knocked me off balance, so I fell into the snow.  And I laughed.

Because I knew at last.

I loved Archdruid Eileen.