by Gill James
mint cordial“We’re going to have to close the main gates now,” said Tonga.
“But Bradley’s not here yet,” said Wimple.
“He’ll have the sense to shelter,” said Tonga. “He’ll know what to do in the storm.”
Wimple wasn’t so sure. Bradley wasn’t always the most practical person. But they’d been lucky, year on year. He’d always got through before the main gates were closed and he’d always got there in time to start the story-telling. There’d been storms before but never anything this bad.
“Just go and do it,” said Tonga.
Wimple scurried off in the direction of the main gate.
“Tonga says we’re to shut the gates down now,” he said to Rupert.
The wind was really whistling now and the snow had more than half covered the entrance.
“Right-o,” the guard answered. The gate clanged into place. Then there was a whirring sound. And then it was silent. The wind and the snow seemed to have stopped. All Wimple could hear now were the Yule songs and the sounds of people rushing backwards and forwards. Now as well there were glorious smells. Roast hog. Mint punch. Cherry pies. Somehow now that the noise had gone the food seemed even more enticing.
“I must say that’s a relief,” said Rupert. “I was so worried the water would come into the warren and we would all be drowned.”
“But what about Bradley?” said Wimple.
“Bradley will be fine,” said Rupert. “The moon-folk will offer him shelter.”
Wimple hoped the guard was right. Yes, the moon-folk were generous enough if the stories about them were anything to go by. But would Bradley have the sense to seek one of them out?
A mouse in a footman’s uniform scurried by, carrying a tray of roast chestnuts.
Wimple’s mouth began to water.
Then the gong sounded.
Rupert rubbed his paws together. “Come on. Let’s go and eat.”
It was quite a good suggestion. The lobster soup was as delicious as usual. The hog had been cooked to perfection. The punch was sharp and warm at the same time. The pies were irresistible. Wimple managed six and only felt slightly sick afterwards.
Tonga sighed. “It’s not the same without the stories though.”
“No, indeed not.” Rupert rubbed his eyes and looked as if he was going to cry.
Wimple really did feel sick now. What if something had happened to Bradley?
“Could we tell our own stories?” said Rupert.
Tonga frowned and scratched his forehead.. “I don’t see why not. Would they be interesting enough, though?”
Rupert shrugged. “We could give it a go, I suppose.” He took his bugle and gave it three quick blasts.
All of the other small animals and elven folk stopped talking.
Rupert cleared his throat. “Ladies, gentlemen, elven folk, fellow burrow dwellers. Our story laureate has not yet arrived. We trust that the moon-folk will have sheltered him from the storm. But we think we should go ahead with the story-telling. So we invite each and every one of you to contribute one story. A success story. Or something funny that happened to you. Maybe a time when you were greatly surprised."
There was silence at first.
Then there were some whisperings.
“Rubbish, that, about the moon-folk,” Wimple heard one of the young voles whisper. “There ain’t no such thing. If Bradley’s out in this storm, he’s done for.”
Wimple hoped the vole was wrong.
At last though, a tiny dormouse put up his hand.
Tonga nodded to him.
“Please sir,” said the dormouse. “I can tell a story!”
“Get to it then young man. Everybody listen up.”
The dormouse told his story about the time a domestic cat hunted him. The cat had been frightened by a dog and dropped the dormouse but not before he had been taken two miles away for home. The dormouse had had quite a few adventures trying to find his way home. Then a young elf told about the time she had fallen into a rain puddle and had been helped out by a frog. A young frog volunteered the story of how a princess kept kissing him and then complained that nothing had happened. “She wanted me to turn into a prince, I think,” said the frog.
Soon the stories were flowing one after the other. Wimple helped himself to several more mint punches. They made him relaxed and sleepy. He kept dozing off and somehow the stories got mixed up with his dreams.
Suddenly, though, he awoke with a start. There was a loud knocking at the main entrance to the burrow.
Rupert, who also appeared to have been snoring gently, suddenly jumped up and rushed off with his bunch of keys towards the main gate.
Wimple’s little heart was beating fast as he listened in to the conversation going on at the gate. He’d recognise that voice anywhere. Bradley! And those other people must be moon-folk. He’d never seen them before. He hid behind one of the drapes so that he could look at them without them seeing him.
They were strange creatures. They were completely hairless and did not appear to wear any clothes. They moved very gracefully and they glowed like moonbeams.
“Come out from behind that curtain, Wimple. I can see you. Now, what can you offer a poor starving fellow to eat on this fine Yule Eve?”
Bradley sat himself down by the fire.
Wimple still couldn’t move. He was so fascinated by the moon-folk. They floated round Bradley, moving silently.
“I didn’t think they really existed,” he said.
Bradley laughed. “Every story you hear is true, in its own way.” He took a goblet of steaming mint punch that a young elf offered him. He took a sip and closed his eyes. “Ah. That’s better.”
A red squirrel bounded up with a plate containing roast hog sandwiches and two cherry pies. Bradley nodded his thanks.
Wimple watched as the moon-folk seemed to evaporate with the steam for the punch. They floated up the chimney and although the flames form the fire touched them they didn’t get burnt.
“Where did they go?” he asked nobody in particular.
“Like all stories, they fade,” said Bradley.
“Aren’t they real?” asked Wimple.
“They’re as real as all stories,” said Bradley.
“Well, did they help you in the storm?” asked Tonga. “Didn’t they give you shelter?”
Bradley shrugged. “The storm wasn’t so bad really. The snow was soft, though, and it was difficult to see and to move quickly. The moonbeams showed me the way.”
He'd called them moonbeams. Perhaps it was just the moon that lit his way. The moon-folk had all disappeared now. It was impossible to examine them any further. He would never know now. Had they ever actually been there?
“I suppose the young’uns will be too tired for Yule Eve stories now,” said Bradley as he finished the rest of his second cherry pie.
“Oh, we’ve had some stories,” said Tonga. He told Bradley how lots of people had offered their own stories.
“Splendid!” said Bradley. “Then I will tell you just one Yule Eve story and the rest will do for Yule Day. “Get everybody organised, Tonga.”
Tonga rounded up all of those who not yet scurried of to their sleeping places. Wimple was amazed that so many of the youngsters were still awake.
“Ah yes,” said Bradley as he looked at his young audience. “Young people are always the best at appreciating stories.”
But not just the young people, thought Wimple, curling up his toes in excitement. What was Bradley going to tell them?
“My story tonight is from another world a little bit like our own but the animals don’t talk there. It is a story about a very special baby. An angel - this is a messenger from the god that those people worship, a most beautiful creature with great silver and gold wings – had told the mother that she was going to give birth to that god’s son.” Bradley paused to take another sip of his mint punch.
Wimple’s toes curled even further. This was going to be a good one.
About the author
Gill James writes longer fiction for children and young adults and shorter fiction for adults.
She edits and publishes for Bridge House Publishing, Café Lit, Chapeltown and the red telephone.
See all of her publications on her Linked-in profile or her blog http://www.gilljameswriter.eu/
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