“Noel”

This word has two meanings, each equally apt. It means “Christmas” – which, of course, is today. And it means “a Christmas carol” – which, of course, is a song; but it’s also a novella by the well-known English author, Charles Dickens.

            For all that I tend to avoid Dickens’ big, gloomy books, I love his noel. It is neither big nor gloomy, but quick and delightfully stuffed with Christmas spirit (or rather, Christmas spirits – three of them, not to mention the ghost of Jacob Marley).

            Heavily influenced by this 19th-century tale, and featuring the main cast from my “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, I give to you “A Merry Christmas Carol”!

* * *

I – Merlin’s Dream

Merlin was asleep, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. He knew it? Not right away. How could one expect him to? Certainly, he was, at one point, aware of getting into bed with the intention of falling asleep soon after. But there is often a period in slumber – sometimes spanning its entire duration, from fuzzy beginning to bleary end – when the one doing the slumbering is quite ignorant of the fact that he is not truly living the events his mind would have him believe he is. Let it be restated here, however, that Merlin was very much asleep. This must be distinctly understood, for, if we were not perfectly convinced that what immediately follows this expository paragraph was the beginning of an extended dream sequence, we would likely find ourselves every bit as confused as was, initially, the man doing the dreaming.

            “A merry Christmas, uncle!”

            Merlin looked up from his paperwork, brows the same silvery gray as the beard hanging low from his chin drawn down in irritated surprise. “Excuse me?”

            “A merry Christmas, I say!” cried the young man again, his handsome, ruddy face aglow with smiles for the ancient wizard behind the desk on the low dais at the office’s rear. “And God save you!”

            “That he save me from your foolishness, Mr. Scarlet, is my daily prayer,” said Merlin, glowering over his spectacles. “What’s all this ‘uncle’ business? And what in the world are you supposed to be dressed like?”

            “Oh, this?” said Will Scarlet, tipping his top hat to a subtly more rakish angle over his red-gold hair. The accessory added an air of style to the outfit which included a vaguely shabby dress coat (burgundy red) and heavy woolen scarf (faded vermillion) informally tossed over one shoulder. “Isn’t it a riot?” he grinned. “Just screams ‘nineteenth-century man aboutLondon’. I thought it the very thing to wear Out caroling this evening!”

            “Out caroling?” Merlin repeated, disbelieving.

            “Yes, you know – going house to house, cheery candles raised high, singing jolly tunes and being offered warming treats like cider and chocolate and cookies and figgy pudding, one can only hope,” he laughed, “since goodness knows we won’t go until we get some!…”

            “Nonsense!” Merlin cut him off curtly.

            Will’s brilliant blue eyes blinked in astonishment. “Christmas caroling nonsense, uncle! You don’t mean that, I’m sure?”

            “I do.”

            “But it’s Christmas Eve!”

            “Yes, I am in possession of a calendar,” said Merlin. “But I don’t see what the day has to do with your going Outside to torture people with your attempts to carry a tune, let alone your insistence on naming me your uncle. You know perfectly well that you’ll not be leaving the Faire – not for caroling, nor for any reason short of a dire emergency of the sort we faced this past summer.”

            Will’s lips puckered into the beginnings of a pout. “Why not?”

            The wizard’s pale blue gaze was hard and sharp as flint. “Really, Mr. Scarlet?”

            “All right, all right, I know your so-called reasons why. Maintenance of secrecy, avoidance of death, so forth and etc. You don’t have to be so cross about it.”

            “Don’t have to be so cross about it…” Merlin muttered, halfway to himself. “What else can I be, when I live in a world with such a fool as this? If you don’t have anything more important to speak of than empty plans and ‘merry Christmas’, then good afternoon.”

            “It would be a great deal of fun, you know,” Will Scarlet wheedled.

            “Good afternoon,” Merlin said again.

            “I don’t see the harm in our going, just this one night. It needn’t be far, it wouldn’t be long… and you know you’d be invited to come along, right? You’re what, a baritone? I’m sure we could work out some killer harmonies…”

            “Good afternoon.”

            Will sighed. “I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute and so much the definition of a spoilsport. But I’ll keep my Christmas humor to the last (with little thanks to you). So a Merry Christmas, uncle!”

            “Good afternoon.”

            “And a Happy New Year!”

            “GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!” Merlin bellowed.

            “Getting out of your office,” Will said cheerfully, already tripping backward to the door. “Good afternoon, by the way.” Pitching his voice a little louder and past Merlin, he called, “Season’s Greetings, Gawain!”

            “And to you, Mr. Scarlet,” came the courteous reply.

            Merlin turned, startled. He hadn’t known anyone else to be in the room. And strictly speaking, no one was. In the wall to the right of the dais, a doorway opened into a dim little cell of a room which, to Merlin’s knowledge, had not been there as recently as five minutes ago. Inside the room, hunched over a guttering candle on a desk of his own – and, it seemed, striving valiantly not to shiver with cold – was the aforementioned knight of Camelot, arrayed rather as if he meant to evoke a nineteenth-century drudge about town.

            “Sir Gawain,” Merlin barked. “What do you think you’re doing, back there?”

            Gawain glanced over, his broad face professionally placid, as was his habit. “Copying letters, sir.”

            Since when was letter-copying in a nonexistent closet a part of a knight’s job description? Merlin had just drawn breath to demand an explanation when another man burst into the office, an eruption of woodland brown and green from head to hood to shirt to hose. Finally, Merlin thought; someone dressed like a normal person.

* * *

(For the continuation of the tale we’ve only just begun, please follow the merry link to the full note on my “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page. If I haven’t the chance to tell you again before you and my words part ways, Merry Christmas! ~Deshipley )

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