Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Magical Ring

I started out in the landscape's cups and valleys, shrouded in a cloak of morning mystery. The postman had already got well underway, spreading his Santa's bag of parcels and cards. I could see his slow progress, a red bug crawling the meandering contours of the distant hillside. I climbed further up, further in, to the bowl of the valley, it's arms reaching around both sides of me in an earthen embrace. I left behind the wet meadow grass glittering with ice crystals melting in the weak warmth of the solstice sunrise and let my feet follow the mud path into the woodland. A melange of broken semi-skeletal leaves were strewn at my feet, dulled from their original autumnal passions. A tracery of frost sat on the leaves, and every so often a crème brûlée crunch would cut the stillness as my foot broke the surface of an iced dip or puddle sending skittering shards into disarray, a jagged spiders web of ice telling where I had been.
A figure appeared from the camouflage of moss and branches on the track ahead. His clothes made him almost indistinguishable from the surrounding crepuscular light. A trapper's hat was firmly fixed on his head and a worn out waxed long coat was wrapped loosely about him. There was no camera or binocular about him so I looked round for a dog. Normally it was a bird watcher or a farmer if I saw people out at at that time of day. No dog. I looked at the figure again. He appeared to be leaning forward, slightly hunched, with one hand clutched in a downward claw, as if he had been holding a ball or something, and it had been stolen from him. Instinctively I slowed my pace, scanned the woods again while walking but still saw no dog. Everything was still, even the birds had ceased their song. Something made me stop then, a dip in the temperature, a solidity to the air. I looked again at the figure, closer to me now. Odd that he had not moved at all, had not turned to nod or greet me.
"Morning," I tried experimentally. No reaction. Perhaps he was deaf. I didn't want to startle him so moved forward away from his peripheral vision. His face was pale and deeply creased, weathered with age, deep set eyes lurked in the shadow of bushy eyebrows and a crooked nose. An expression: surprise, anger, was frozen on his face. I shivered, my teeth chattering, feeling the intense cold penetrating my warm layers of clothing. I hadn't realised I was holding my breath until I let it out in a steam of condensation. And yet this man was not creating breath clouds at all. It hit me with a rush of adrenalin: he's not breathing. I pulled my gloves away from my fingers, holdings the back of my hand up to his mouth and nose.
"Hello? Sir, are you alright?" No breath, not even a blink. I pulled my hand away and reached for the phone in my pocket, ready to call for help. What should I say? I didn't know what had happened. I looked about for clues and noticed a shimmer to his clothes. The coat in particular seemed to glisten, and the waistcoat and scarf beneath. Instead of my phone I found myself reaching for his clothes. They were stiff with cold. Beyond stiff really, they seemed frozen but glittering with frost, a suit of lights. The clothes seemed rather old fashioned up close; a linen shirt with no buttons, the waistcoat roughly cut in worn leather, his shoes were simply cut, hand stitched leather and the trousers were split legged, felted wool. The ground beneath his feet seemed even more thickly coated with ice and frost than elsewhere.
Jack Frost.
The name came to me from nowhere.
"But that's a fairy tale" I scoffed at myself. "It can't be." And yet there was no sign of injury, he had not collapsed. This figure, standing stock still in the cold dawn, glittering like magic, defied logic. He appeared to be as old as the hills themselves but that was impossible, surely, and even if it was Jack Frost, how had he come to be here, frozen stiff, caught in his own trap.
I looked around for clues. I could hear the gentle burbling song of the brook still flowing nearby; it was not held in Jack Frost's curse! But there, on the ground, leading towards the river there appeared to be a trail of golden grains of yellow sand on top of the mud. It seemed so out of place. My curiosity piqued, I bent to touch the gritty granules and found them to be warm. I followed its morse code line first with my eyes and then with my feet, broken in places, puddling in others, to the edge of the brook and then back upstream towards the waterfall. The head of the valley was one of desolation, rocks split asunder many harvests before and smoothed by the mysteries of time. A mixology of tumbled trees split like broken bones, sat in company with raw earth and jagged roots, strings of moss and fern. Some rocks, like giant stone marbles, lay half submerged in the plunge pool at the foot of a curtain of water. But away from the fierce frothing of the deep water was a way across, a path of stepping stones, and on each there was a hint of golden sand. I crossed the slippery stones with care and carried on up the bank at the other side, the wayside lit with sunshine and emerging flowers of a species I had never seen before.
As I followed the path the flowers seemed to multiply and I was soon surrounded. It seemed in a space of a few metres I had walked from winter to spring and into summer. I marvelled at the wonder around me and, bathed in the delicious perfume from the blooms. A little further the trees too came into bloom, the new lace of lime coloured beech leaves curtaining the path. And then I came upon the shortest daughter of the Shah of Persia in a shallow dell. She was sitting on a tree stump a small mirror in her hand, crying rainbow tears quietly into the silk folds of her turquoise kurtah. She looked like a study of a young lady who had learned not to be noticed. I didn't know what to say, whether to stay or slip away. Could she even be real? Questions flooded my mind and I found I could not leave without satisfying my curiosity.
"Are you real?" I asked tentatively. She looked up startled, burnished almond eyes open wide, as deep as black holes in space.
"For certain I am real. Can you not see me with your own eyes?" She sounded put out.
"Yes I can. But, forgive me, I am not sure I trust them. There has been a lot of magic in the world this morning. Why are you crying?"
"Who are you?" She asked ignoring my question.
"I live here. I- I think I followed your trail to this place. The sand? Maybe it was in your gown. And the flowers. Did you make the flowers grow? We don't usually have many flowers in the winter."
"You ask many questions. Will you tell me your name?"
"Sorry, I'm Emille, my family live just down the valley, all seven of us. I come here to be alone sometimes. What is your name? Where did you come from?"
Seemingly satisfied she wiped her tears and stood to curtsy.
"I am Princess Nasmina, daughter to the Shah of Persia. I am the shortest of my Father's many daughters, the most overlooked. My Father was displeased with me for learning the Jin's Magic. He shouted at me, told me that he would never find me a husband if I continued to be so wilful. I was upset for displeasing him and ran away. But as I ran the Jin's seeing eye fell from my sirwal pocket and smashed at my feet. I was sucked through time and space and transported here.
"A man dressed in a suit of lights found me. He told me he was the King of Winter and would make me his Queen, but he was cold inside and out and I refused to go with him. I could see he was just greedy for my magic. He bound my wrists with trailing Ivy and forced me to go with him. He pulled me on until the dawn but then said we must both become invisible and ride the wind. He threw me to the floor and began to chant an ancient rhyme:
'Cold of night make cold the day,
Death upon me if I stay.
From the North winds I shall spy
In the cracks 'tween Earth and sky'
"As he chanted the air around him shimmered and cracked with cold. That was when I remembered the Jin's magic mirror. He had given it to me as a talisman against evil and I knew I must use it to protect myself. As I pulled it free of my sirwal the King of Winter saw that I had something in my hand and went to grab me, but in doing so he looked in the mirror and his own magic rebounded on him. The ice in his heart consumed him and he turned into frozen form.
"I ran away as fast as I could. But how can I run when I do not know which way to go? My only hope is to rely on the kindness of strangers."
As I digested her story she began to cry again and my heart went out to her. I had no idea if she knew about the celebration of Christmas but I knew it was a time of goodwill, a time to be with those you love and a time to help those in need.
"Tell, me, is there anything I can do Princess?"
She thought for a moment and then looked at the Hazel switch in my hand.
"Will you make me a gift of that wood?"
"Of course," I said, handing it to her, " but I don't see how that will help."
"You will."
As I watched she bent the wood into a circle, the wood blossoming beneath her hand into a berry wreath in all its bright glory, the two ends knitting together into an eternal loop. She placed the coronet on her head and made a deep curtsy.
"Thank you, Emille. What a beautiful gift you have given."
"But it was just a stick"
"Yes, it was, but the kindness in your thoughts made it blossom into something quite spectacular, wouldn't you agree?" I smiled and returned he curtsy a little awkwardly, feeling embarrassed. "I have nothing to give you in return Emille, but I can grant you one wish."
A wish! What would you wish for: toys, games, clothes? I wanted something that would last a life time. The knew that making a difference to someone's life would make me happy far longer than things I would grow out of.
"I've made up my mind Princess. No one should be lost and alone, especially at Christmas. I wish for you to go home to your family."
At that moment the sun's rays broke over the top of the dell flooding the hollow with golden light. I put up my hand to shield my eyes from the glare and saw the air waver around the shortest daughter of the Shah of Persia like a heat haze and heard her whisper her thanks, before I was forced to look away. A moment later and the dell was filled with warmth but the princess was gone.
Where she had stood by the tree stump lay the berry wreath on the ground. I picked it up and sat on the tree stump. I turned my face to the sun, smiling with pleasure at my good deed and imagining the homecoming she would enjoy.
Later, as I walked back through the woods there was no sign of Jack Frost. It seemed he too had been released from the Jin's magic when the princess returned home. I took the wreath with me and placed it on the windowsill at home for all to see. Many years have passed since that solstice in the woods when I was just a young girl. Now I have a family of my own and the berry wreath sits at the heart of my family table as fresh as the day it was made, a symbol of giving and of the gathering of loved ones, a symbol of rebirth and hope for the year to come.

The copyright of this post belongs to Holly Khan