The Winter House: OCTOBER

Bartholomew and King Obake had been the first to return following Loud Ghost’s duplicity. Ahead of them, and the unwilling recipient of Loud Ghost’s dereliction of duty, had been the ill-tempered dwarf, Porthos, who had not been especially fond of the other’s joke.

September had turned to October and, all across the other city, ineffable and infallible London, the clocks had gone back. In Farlas too, the sun rose earlier and the darkness crept in like never before, more and more lights flickering on in the winter homes of traders’ cottages and abodes.

Loud Ghost did not know if the adjustment of the clocks had been a human tradition introduced to the Mononoke trading village, or if early Mononoke merchants had introduced the notion to London but it was gratifying to see the reflection of one in the other.

The winter house shared by Loud Ghost and his companions had slowly become alive once more. Though not all of their number were gathered beneath its slate roof, the fire burnt upon the hearth and the pots and pans were filled with soup whilst the oven warmed bread from afar and sweet teas of winter berries were served in tin mugs.

Outside of the house, the lake had frozen over and the Su Shuang had fled. In the lengthening nights of winter, the noise of travellers passing through the village and the warmth of the lights had at last attracted the attention of displaced gods.

It had become second nature for residents to secure the doors, windows and openings of their homes after dark. Again, Loud Ghost found the parallels of life in London, gaudy directions and carved turnips on display in the afterglow of pagan and Christian ceremony, and Farlas to be in accordance with one another.

The quiet superstition and folklore carried over by the tribes of the Mononoke was a complex one. He could not claim to understand the way in which they approached life and death, the murmurs of a terrible stranger at the heart of the phantom forests and the benevolent watchfulness of a celestial bear in the skies above.

Like the turning of the clocks and the warding off of unwanted ethereal visitors toward the end of October, there was enough of a comparison for him to sense their similarity yet it was not enough for him to equate the figures of Mononoke myth with the symbols of his own world.

It then came as some surprise when, on the very last day of October and in the dead of night when all else where slumbering, the inhabitants of the winter house were awoken by the sound of conflict outside their home.

“Come out!” an oddly familiar voice called in the streets outside, the flicker of candlelight passing by their window, “I chased you this far, foul beast! Come out and face me like a bear!”

Loud Ghost and Bartholomew exchanged worried glances.

“Was that…?” Bartholomew began.

Loud Ghost nodded his agreement before the other boy had completed his question and, as if in conformation of their assumption the voice began to call out once again.

“I challenge you, foul beast, to that most honourable of traditions: a nose fight!”

Porthos was on his feet before the voice had finished, rushing across the room on his stout legs and pulling back the bolts on the old wooden door.

“Come, monster, let us find who has the toughest nose! Face me in combat and feel the renown of my famous nose and envied skill!”

“Woody!” Porthos cried, throwing open the door and spilling light from the house over the threshold of the door, “Woody, you fool, be quiet! Don’t you know there are restless gods about?”

A small bear, stood upright yet still shorter even than the dwarf himself, whirled about, his long scarf trailing in the dirt.

“Sir Porthos!” the bear proclaimed, “I have tracked a fiend here as I journeyed to meet with you! Stay back lest you become embroiled in our forthcoming combat!”

“Woody, see sense,” Porthos proclaimed, scratching at his coarse beard in agitation, “you can’t fight a ghoul!”

There was a rustle of movement, the sound of hooves against the dirt and then, with a sheepish smile, a curious creature emerged from the shadow. It had the face of a lion, surrounded and supported by five distinct goat legs.

With large, dark eyes, it blinked slowly, regarding first the small bear and then Porthos.

“President Buer!” King Obake proclaimed suddenly, hobbling forwards upon its single child’s leg.

The five-legged creature turned to face the haunted parasol and inclined its head nobly.

“Your majesty, from the lord of one principality to the other, I bring you tidings of the season,” Buer remarked in a deep, rich voice.

“President Buer is a Great President in lands beyond these shores,” King Obake said excitedly to its companions, “he has fifty legions of warriors at his command and teaches philosophy and logic to the princes of neighbouring kingdoms!”

Loud Ghost nodded slowly, taking the initiative.

“If that’s the case then we are humbled by your presence, sir,” he said with a smile and a gesture, “please come inside, our home is at your disposal.”

Buer shifted its weight from hoof to hoof as if silently weighing up the options.

“Well, it has been a long journey, that I shall not contest…and I would not turn down a meal if offered!”

Loud Ghost smiled, warming swiftly to the playful wisdom of the curious president.

“In that case it’s settled,” he said happily, “welcome to our home, President Buer.”

Woody looked about the group slowly.

“I suppose a nose fight’s out of the question then?” he murmured in a disappointed voice.

Porthos laughed heartily and slapped the bear on the back.

“Come inside Woody and you may regale us all of your previous victories instead.”

At this, the bear seemed to brighten and, together, the curious group entered inside and crowded once more around the hearth of the bristling fireplace.

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