The Winter House: NOVEMBER

November seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.

No sooner than President Buer had settled into life in the Winter House, it seemed that he was leaving again, preparing to travel onwards to Orthen for mid-winter and to celebrate Christmas with the magi.

Porthos had made the scholar a knapsack chock a bloc full of food and drink; a French loaf full of cucumber and cheese, a loaf of lime bread from s’Hertogenbosch, various winter fruits and an insulated flask of milk tea.

Whether or not these were the kind of provisions an otherworldly scholar such as President Buer required they never found out as the curiously shaped President was far too humble to reply with anything but its heartiest thanks.

And so their number had been reduced, until the arrival of the Storyteller’s magpie familiar, Tobit in mid-November that was.

It was about this time that Loud Ghost had begun to pine for the city once more.

It wasn’t that he was unhappy with Farlas or their communal winter abode but rather that he missed the noise and traffic of those crowded London streets, the warmth from wooden stalls in Covent Garden selling chestnuts and coffee and the burning glow of neon lights beneath which antiquated and sluggish double-decker buses crawled.

He missed the brush of people, the warmth rising up from the city’s underground temples and the blessing of crisp winter mornings in Hounslow and Osterley when he could see his breath crystallising before him.

As if sensing the nature of his homesickness, the Howling Pope became agitated, clawing at the front door during the night with the many paws that hid beneath those stained white robes.

In order to raise the dejected boy’s spirits, a decision was made that, upon the coming weekend – the 29th to the 30th of November – the small group would begin erecting the house’s multifarious Christmas decorations.

Although the Mononoke winter festival of the dead was starkly different to Earth’s Christmas traditions, the two festivals had grown together over the years since the first settlers from SUNNY Corporation had arrived.

He did not have a particularly good grasp of Mononoke folklore, yet from what he had gathered from the talk of travellers the winter festival was something of an epic about the conquest of death, like the Christian festival of Easter.

The stories and songs of winter all seemed to commemorate a legendary hero who had travelled into the bowels of the world to do battle with a cult of wraithlike entities named Sin Mages and a terrible lindworm that had plagued the tribes of the Mononoke long, long ago.

Loud Ghost had heard various names attributed to the lost hero and almost every village and settlement held some claim to his patronage – even the human city of Eoz claimed a historically enshrined myth detailing the line of descent from this Mononoke leonheart to its present human royal family.

In the time since the young boy had been visiting Farlas, he had witnessed firsthand the amalgamation of human traditions brought in by the settlers with the older narrative of Mononoke tradition. Some held that the newly born Christ of Earth’s festive tradition was the hero who had journeyed in search of the Sin Mages and their terrible lindworm whilst others inserted the hero and his symbols into the nativity scene of Christian homes.

The amalgamation of Christ and his Mononoke counterpart had led to a rise in both trinket and talisman depicting the human saviour as a bear or sometimes even as a man with the head of a bear.

Whilst Woody himself had never professed an interest in the religions of Earth, Loud Ghost had noticed the appearance of several carved animal-like figures amongst the nativity set he had brought with him from London. Kindly, he had chosen not to bring the matter up with the noble bear, worrying that were he to do so, he would offend him and dissuade him from sharing his own beliefs with the rest of the house at such an important time.

Over time they had grown together, their separate faiths intermingling just as their habits of housekeeping did.

They strung tinsel and paper up amongst the rafters of the roof, much to the displeasure of several pigeons that had made their winter home amongst the thatch and wood, and hung a wreath of holly and ivy upon the door.

In the corner of the living room, they erected an artificial tree Loud Ghost had purchased in London for £2.3s.6d. Farlas was far too close to the phantom forests for any of them to feel comfortable cutting down a native tree to decorate and risk upsetting vengeful tutelary spirits.

Once December had arrived in full, Bartholomew and King Obake would, no doubt, prepare an offering of supplication to the sprites and fey of the forest in exchange for the right to fell one of the many trees on the outskirts of the forest but for now the artificial tree, replete with carved angel atop its spire, would suffice.

It was said that those wraithlike Sin Mages of legend were sometimes the guardians of trees that had grown naturally and without cultivation by Mononoke hands, and that they would often inflict a terrible penalty of any who harmed or felled a tree without the proper ceremony. In this way, the curious nature of Mononoke religion eluded Loud Ghost.

At one turn, Mononoke myth depicted the Sin Mages as hideous villains of unparalleled cruelty; at the next, they were the unseen ghosts of nature who demanded supplication in exchange for the everyday supplies of wood and coal.

He could not help but wonder if humans would likewise enter into the folklore of the strange native species in much the same way, sometimes playing a role of antagonism and at others appearing as mysterious benefactors.

With a quiet smile, Loud Ghost hung the last of the decorations upon the tree’s plastic branches. Tomorrow it would be December proper but before that, there was one last night of poor, transient November.

He stood back and looked upon his work with pride, silently wondering what gifts of wisdom and insight both time and the advent of Christmas would bestow upon them.

In the brick and stone of the fireplace, the fire crackled merrily, casting the shadow of the tree long upon the boards of the floor.

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