The Night Before Wintermass
A Veetu Industries Tale
A chill swept in from the ocean, wrapping around peoples legs and lifting the hems of furs, cloaks, and coats. But no one seemed to notice for the most magical time of the year was upon them.
The time of the year when everyone put their cares behind them. When the hatred stopped and, for a few glorious days, peace and love appeared to hang over the world.
A clear sky hung above the city of Svenfur, stars twinkling across the velveteen night. Already a frost was beginning to brush everything with her icy fingers. Yet, along the promenade, West Road, and pier was the most magical market anyone had ever seen. Stalls and fairground rides lined every possible space. Music tinkled from a number of different stages, while the smells of freshly cooked foods filled the air. At the heart of it, sitting at the entrance to the pier, was the centerpiece of the entire market.
Standing as tall as the buildings around it, the Wintermass carousel was decked in bright lights. Garlands of fir tree, dotted with lights and decorations, danced around the roof of the carousel while the music of a full orchestra sang from its heart. Curls of grey smoke billowed from its chimney and were whisked away by the wind.
But that was not what made the carousel so spectacular.
What made it beautiful and unique were the animals which adorned its four platforms. Standing before the ride, Cedo stared at it, unsure of where to look first.
Like any normal carousel, the horses rode up and down their gilded poles. Yet their limbs were jointed, legs stretching and curling while they tossed their heads, their manes streaming behind them. Real saddles sat on their backs and bridles were looped around their heads. Everyone who rode it appeared to be fall in love.
Erus stood beside him. “So what do you think?”
Looking at his Master, Cedo grinned. “It is amazing! What an incredible creation! I do believe you have outdone yourself.”
Erus smiled under the bright lights of the carousel. Cedo's approval obviously warmed the weapons designer. “I am glad. I trust you will be riding?”
“Of course! I wish to take several rides.” Still grinning, Cedo pressed himself against the redhead. “Besides, I shall have to give a fair and accurate review of it.”
Cedo looked through the crowds for Billy. The blond man had disappeared moments before, his hand raised in greeting to someone he had seen in the crowd. No doubt Billy was catching up with old friends, and Cedo could not blame him. Wintermass was the perfect time for such encounters. A chance to pass on the greetings of the season. Earlier in the day, they had paid a visit to his mother and left gifts and cards for herself and Billy's sisters. It had been good to see her. Even in what seemed like the depths of poverty, she had turned the small house into a picture of Wintermass joy. A tree had stood in the front room, decorations and candles adorning its boughs. In the kitchen, garlands had been placed above the fire, a smattering of cards balanced on the fireplace.
Suddenly the crowds around them parted and Billy, rosy cheeked from the cold, appeared. He gripped an earthenware mug in one hand, tendrils of steam curling from the mouth.
He grinned at Cedo. “'ave I missed anythin'?”
Chuckling, Cedo nodded toward the large carousel. “Only the greatest ride in the whole of the city.”
His lover's face fell and Billy used his free hand to hold wisps of golden-blond hair from his face. “You 'aven't.”
“Not without you, no.” Cedo grinned and looked at the mug. “Drink up and we shall ride.”
Billy drank whatever it was he had brought and handed the empty vessel to a passing automaton. The metal being nodded at them as it continued on it path through the jostling crowds. Cedo saw the emblem of Erus' company embossed on the machine's shoulder; an outstretched claw of with a mouse crouching in its palm.
A burly man dressed in red furs took the coins they offered. Stepping through a small gate, Cedo looked up at the great machine before them. It embodied everything that Wintermass was about. From the sparkling decorations which danced around the roof to the jangling music to the faint smell of cinnamon and roasted apple.
Peering closer, Cedo discovered where the scent was coming from. Oil burners were attached to the sides machine’s engine, allowing it to give off festive scents as opposed to the usual acrid smell of burning coal.
His heart beat a little faster as they climbed aboard the carousel. Turning to Billy, he asked, “Which level would you like to ride?”
“’ow about the top ‘un? That way we can look out over the city.”
With a smile and a nod, Cedo made his way to gilded staircase which wound its way to the upper levels. They passed through the first level and continued on to the top. The sight was breathtaking. Beneath them, all of Svenfur was laid out. In the distance they could see the shadows of the factories, plumes of grey smoke still billowing into the dark night. Lights flickered on streets and, beside the Terminus, they could see the city’s giant Wintermass tree. A glowing star sat atop it and lights glittered on its boughs. From the sea, the cool wind made its presence known against their exposed skin.
Walking around the uppermost level, Cedo selected a horse of red. It had a golden mane and tail with ribbons wound into the silken strands. Its leather bridle and saddle were also decorated in gold and stirrups hung down its sides.
Swinging himself on to the back of the horse, Cedo gripped the reins and waited. Beside him, Billy climbed onto a beast decked out in green and gold.
“Why do you think 'is royal 'ighness ain't ridin'?”
Cedo chuckled. Billy had always referred to the slightly pompous engineer with such a moniker. “Because he believes it would not do his reputation much good to be seen prancing around on his own creation.”
Billy looked at him and pursed his lips. Sliding from the horse, the blond haired man leaned over the railings.
Closing his eyes, Cedo laughed as he listened.
“Yes, you. You comin' up 'ere or are you gonna catch your death down there?”
In his minds eye, Cedo could see how the exchange playing out. Beside him, Billy continued to shout down to the crowd.
“I don't care what you think. It's bloody Wintermass. Get your borin' arse up 'ere an' 'ave some fun.” There was a pause. “I know you know 'ow to 'ave fun. 'ow about givin' it a go once in a while?”
Resting his head against the wooden horse's wiry mane, Cedo laughed even harder.
“I don't care what your idea of fun is! Up 'ere. Now!”
He felt Billy brush beside him and go back to his horse. “'e's on 'is way.”
Sitting up, Cedo shook his head and grinned. “You know he will punish you for that later, do you not?”
Billy grinned at him. “I do. But at least it'll be fun. 'e knows I'm messin' around. An' secretly, deep down, 'e wants someone to tell 'im it's okay to 'ave a bit of fun.”
Around them, people edged their way on to horses and into carriages and gondolas, carefully selecting their own steeds. The crowds were a mix of young and old. All were looking for the same kind of festive magic. Behind him, Cedo heard the gold gate open and close.
“You two will be the death of me on of these days,” Erus' voice was filled with humour.
Looking at him, Cedo grinned and shook his head. “Do not be laying the blame for this at my feet.” He pointed to his lover. “You can blame that man there.”
Laughing, the red-haired man swung his legs a white and green horse. “Well, it is Wintermass. So we should give in and just enjoy the season.”
The music grew a little loud and, beneath them, the carousel juddered to life and slowly began to move. The horses rose and fell on their golden poles, their limbs stretching and curling. As with a real horse, they raised and lowered their heads, metal joints creaking inside their wooden bodies.
As the carousel picked up speed, so did the icy breeze. It whipped at hair and plucked at clothes. Beneath the riders the city and sea flashed by. The lights of the pier danced across the sea, bobbing with the waves. They could hear the voices of the people below, mingling with the music and creak of the twirling ride.
Cedo felt his excitement rise. The season of peace and goodwill to all men was upon them. For the next few days, their worries were no more, carried away by the cold and the snow. Back at the Witheybrooke house, a tree stood in the study with wrapped gifts nestling at its feet. Garlands had been wrapped around the bannisters and, from the kitchen, came the delicious smells of cooking.
It truly was the time of the year when his Master stopped thinking about how best to protect the country and discovered the joys of being able to relax. Having the redhead join them atop his own creation was just another moment for Cedo to treasure.
They had collected trinkets and food on their way through the market, the bags and baskets taken from them by automatons and whisked away home. Breads made with ginger and tree decorations sprinkled with gold. Mugs of mulled cider and beer had been consumed, the alcohol swirling through their brains and warming their bodies. Now it woke them, the laughter of the three men whisked away on the cold air as the horses danced above the city and sea.
Eventually the carousel began to slow. The horses fell on their golden poles and people began to leave. Sliding from his own steed, Cedo took a final look over the sea. Below them, the waves lapped at the shore and the pier and music whispered up to them. From his vantage point, he watched people wander along the boards. Sometimes they stopped to look over the railings and down to the sea. Sometimes they paused just to listen to the music and admire the bright lights. All appeared to be at peace.
And Cedo felt the same as they walked from the carousel. His heart sang and his feet felt light. For once both of his lovers were at peace, their hearts singing the same Wintermass song.
Stepping from the giant wooden structure, Cedo turned his head to the sky. He smiled at the stars and the full, round moon before Erus and Billy took his hands and lead him toward their waiting carriage.
“A Merry Wintermass to all, and to all a goodnight.”
Want more festive fun?! Check out the animated Christmas tree!
Or read last year's Christmas tale, A Mad Engineer's Wintermass.
Or watch Rae's choice of Christmas videos!
Most of all, thank you so much for sticking with me! Thank you for all your love and support and for continuing to be there. I really do appreciate it!