Katherine stood in the sanctuary of the large stone bay window, watching the snow flakes fall thickly from the
sky onto the white canopy of the ground below. All definition of where things began and ended had vanished,
concealing obstacles that gave cause for concern for those who were about their business outside. The
icicles that hung from the eaves above sparkled through the diamond shapes of the leaded glass, as the
reflection from the flickering candlelight caught them. This was Katherine’s favourite place. The view from
this window had a different story to tell every season of the year; the freshness and promise of Spring,
followed by the warmth and fullness of Summer. Then comes the splendour of Autumn as nature died back in
a blaze of glory, and now…now it was time for the cold, stark beauty of Winter, as she drapes her icy cloaks
of frost and snow over the land.
Katherine shivered, and huddled further into her cape. She heard the huge fire behind her crackle as it spat
up large greedy flames, devouring the massive logs that were feeding it. The heat did not venture into the
space where she stood. It was as though the sand coloured stones around the window had wrapped themselves about her, holding back the warmth. So that she could feel the Winter, as well as see it.
She peered over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of what was happening in the back ground…the room was full
of people about their duties. Sturdy young men piled logs beside that hungry fire, cheek s aglow from the mix
of physical exertion and coming in from the cold…more young men balancing precariously on tall wooden
ladders, where they were hanging the large garlands of entwined evergreens.
Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe and Yew, bound together with red and white strips of cloth threaded with gold, tied up with large bows. Below them stood their elders, barking orders on how and where to hang them, issuing idle threats of a ‘box about the ears’, if the garlands should come a-tumbling down, raising much laughter from the ladies gathered below. For it was all said in jest. It was the season for merriment!!
The young maids were busying their fingers with the making of more Yule-Tide decorations, and repairing of tablecloths, overseen by those who had done the very same tasks many times before.
There giggled and gossiped, speculated on the events to come as they worked. Others rushed about, backwards and forwards, carrying linen, candles and plate. Some carried nothing at all, but had a job in hand. They all looked as though they knew what had to be done, but Katherine suspected that there were those who had no idea at all, and were just caught up in the whole feeling of anticipation and joy of the time. No one seemed to mind, or even notice their happy confusion.
Katherine turned around, to view the spectacle in full…over in the shadows she could see a young footman, he was trying to coax a pretty little serving girl into letting him steal a kiss from her, under the piece of mistletoe he was twirling in his fingers.
The aroma of food being cooked in herbs, and expensive spices from far away places, drifted up from the kitchens below, and hung in the air with the promise of marvellous treats to come.
Above, in the gallery, the musicians and singers were practising the complex arrangements of music they were to perform.
As they stuck up the song ‘Green Growth the Holly’, a young male singer sang out in such sweet chord, that the room fell silent at the wonder of the sound. Katherine felt tears come to her eyes, and noted that she wasn’t alone in this. When the singer had finished, the silence continued, so silent was it you could hear the snow fall. Even the fire seemed to cease it’s crackling in awe of the voice that had come from the balcony. But a gust of wind slammed a door closed with such a clatter, that the spell was broken. Those who were seated stood up to give applause, there was such cheering that you would have thought the King himself had entered the room. The young singer stretched up to his full height, and bowed in such an exaggerated manner to the crowd below, that it brought about a gentle laughter, his face glowed with pride when he stood straight again. The young girls were smiling coyly, their big eyes twinkled with admiration. Katherine smiled to herself, knowing that after that performance, the young man with the angelic voice would suffer no shortage of seasonal kisses this Christmas tide…
Finally Katherine realised, to her disappointment, that that world stopping moment had passed, and the crowd of people were once again about their duties.
She turned back to face the window once again, wondering what it was that kept her from being noticed, as she stood there just watching, being idle while those all around her were busy. It was as though the window offered her a shield of invisibility from all those about her, a protection from all the chaos of the preparation.
As Katherine lifted her eyes back to the leaded glass window and looked out, she noticed how the dark had crept in behind her back…so quietly.
In the distance she could see the faint light of burning torches, darting about like fallen shooting stars. These belonged to the poor souls that were still out there in the perishing cold, collecting evergreens and logs. There was the odd screech of a disturbed bird as they searched, barking from dogs, as they pick up the scent of a wild creature in the woods, all muffled by the carpet of snow and the density of the trees.
With a heavy heart Katherine knew the time had come for her to leave. The weather was becoming more treacherous, the wind had gathered speed, and the snow fell heavier still. She was so reluctant to depart from this cosy scene of activity, and venture out into the bitter cold stillness, but go she must. She walked briskly across the room, those who were scurrying around her seemed to have the agility to avoid any contact with her, not even a gentle brush of their clothes. Was the ‘magic’ of the window still around her?
As she arrived at the beautiful gothic arch that was atop of the stairs, Katherine took one last look at the room she was about to leave. The people in it, the noise, that delicious smell of of cooking, even the brightness of the fire, all seemed to fade, she rubbed her eyes to bring back the clarity, but to no avail. Katherine was tired and had to go, so she turned. Carefully she descended the steps, they were poorly lit, and her eyes were still adjusting to the dark.
Katherine reached the bottom safely, stretched out her arm to reach the latch that would open the heavy, oak door, but paused…may be she should go back, offer her help and join in with the preparations. Become apart of all the anticipation and joy that had grown in that room.
She was an outsider, she knew that. They might treat her with suspicion to begin with as they didn’t know her, even though she had been visiting for 17 years now..the way she dressed and talked were slightly different, that’s true, but she was sure they would warm to her, Christmas time generally made people put aside their differences…
As she was thinking, she lifted the latch which let out a metallic clunk, and pulled the door towards her. The snow that had built up against it silently tumbled in covering her feet, and the icy fingers of cold poked into every part of her body as she stood there.
With hard realisation, Katherine knew that if she was to get home safely she would have to be on her way. She quickly pulled up her fur lined hood onto her head, and gathered her cape tightly round her. She knew as soon as she stepped over that thresh-hold there was no going back. Nothing would be the same if she did…and with that thought she passed though the doorway,
into the night, overwhelmed with a heavy sadness.
Katherine began to walk away from the Manor House, hearing nothing but the dulled crunch of the soft snow underfoot.
After she walked a few yards, she stopped to look back, but she knew in her heart, even before she turned what see would see…Nothing. Nothing but a grey darkness, the silhouette of what was once a large splendid Manor House in the dim light of a wintery moon. The gentle light of the candles had faded into the stars, the music had been lost to the sound of the wind. No more noise from the movement of people, just the sound of trees groaning under the weight of the snow. All gone…
but Katherine felt nothing but wonder at what she had just witnessed. Once more she had been given the privilege of seeing…for 17 years she had been visiting this majestic ruin on many occasions, but it was only in the depth of winter when she was allowed to look upon the time in which this building was at it’s finest. It was the time of the great Tudor Dynasty, the splendorous times that followed Henry VIII wherever he went. The time when Henry presented his precious love, as his soon to be new Queen and wife. The dark and sultry Anne Boleyn, with her dazzling wit and intellect. With her stylish French clothes and manners. She had captured this King’s heart, and nothing, or no one could tear him away from her…
Katherine sighed, and she saw the stream of warm air from her mouth evaporate into the night, just as the scenes she had watch play in the house, from a Christmas many centuries ago.
She felt an urgency to get back to her family now. They were decorating their house and tree, and she was looking forward to the warmth and excitement that awaited her there. Just like she had felt here.
She had never spoken about her experiences at the Manor House with anyone, not even her Husband, fearful of losing it, if shared.
All those close to her knew her deep connection with the Manor, how she loved to wander around it for hours at a time, on her own, in all weathers. They put it down to her passion for Tudor history.
Katherine always had her nose in the lastest Tudor novel, or was on her laptop, corresponding with like minded people on a wonderful wesite she had found. It never failed to suprize her how big a following Tudor history had gathered…
On her cold journey home Katherine thought about her experiences that she witnessed over the years. And she pleaded…pleaded in her mind, with her body, with her soul, to what ever power it was that had chosen her, had given her this ability to see the past…to please, grant her one wish for when she returned next winter…
For 17 years she had seen this re-enactment take place before her, for 17 years it had never changed in content, though she never tired of it, and never would, but she just wished with all her heart, that on one occasion, she would be permitted to see the Feast. The dancing. The merriment…the Tudor Nobleman and his wife hosting their Grand guests. It had been rumoured, and thought for hundreds of years, that at this Manor House the King and his Lady Love, Anne, were entertained here at great expense during the Festive period…would she see ‘Them’, if her wish was granted…dressed in all their finery.
If only she could have stayed longer. Would there have been more to see? But dark descends with no warning, the weather turns cruel in moments, it would be too dangerous to linger…Though what a sight to behold. Katherine kept this thought in her mind as she bent her head against the elements, pushed herself forward and quickened her steps for home, ‘maybe if I’d stayed longer…’ she whispered…
and back there, in the distance, the Manor House lights cut through the pitch black of the winter’s night sky, and within those lights was the silhouette of a slender, elegant woman, dancing hand-in-hand, with the figure of a tall athletic man. In front of the stone bay window…