Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Innkeeper's Children - Xmas Story by Elizabeth Housden

To get us into the Christmas spirit I've asked a few of my author friends from varying genres to write a Christmas story. I'll post one each week leading up to the Big Day.

My first author is Elizabeth Housden. Elizabeth worked as an actress for many years before starting her own theatre company and becoming a novelist. 

The Innkeeper's Children
Elizabeth Housden

The inn heaved with people, quite ten deep in front of the bar.  In spite of the chilly evening, the landlord's children had taken themselves outside.  The two of them, plus their smaller cousin, Benjamin, were bundled into coats playing Fivestones, a present from a soldier of the occupying forces.  He missed his own children and these three mischiefs were engaging youngsters. 
"Ruben!  Red wine!"  Inside, even above the noise, their mother's voice was heard.  "Imbecile!  Get another barrel!"  It was always the same but tonight was so crowded, she shouted louder.  They went on with their game. 
"Children..."  An exhausted man stood before them, supporting his pale, sweet-faced wife who appeared on the point of collapse.  "Are there any rooms here?"
They stared dubiously.
"You could ask."  Sarah, the eldest, indicated the bell-pull.
Hopelessly he tugged.
More shouting and the door was flung open.  "Right, who rang?  Ben?  Was it you?"  The landlord glared.
"No, uncle! Course I didn't..."  His outraged innocence was utterly unbelievable.
"I'll take my slipper to you if..."
"Sir, it was I who rang."  The man spoke wearily.  "Have you a room for my wife and myself?"
"You've gotta be joking!"
"A closet, even, just somewhere she can lie down."
"Not a cat in hell's chance, mate."
"She's pregnant.  The baby is"
"So?  There's nothing here, got that?"
"Are you sure?" 
Behind Ruben another voice spoke and he turned.  In the door frame he was flanked by two tall men, the hoods of their floor-length cloaks lumped behind them on their shoulder blades.  He had just served them with wine.
"Bloody sure." 
But they weren't talking to him.  They were looking past him at the children.
"Rube?  Wine!  NOW!"  His wife's voice, raised in increasing frustration, yelled at him again.
"No room in this inn, so shove it, mate!"  The door slammed.  He was gone.
The young woman, groaning, sank down onto the doorstep.
One of the strangers squatted beside the children.  "Can you kids think of somewhere this lady might stay?" 
They stared.  They had never seen anyone as tall as these two.
"What's your name?"  Benjamin regarded him curiously.    
"Michael.  You can call me Mike."
"What's his?"
"Gabriel."  He smiled.   "Gabe, if you prefer.  Is there anywhere for this lady to have her baby, would you say?"
Silence briefly.  Then...
"There's the stable."  Rachel spoke slowly.
"Ooo, yessss!"  The others approved.  It would be fun to sleep in the straw.
The husband leaned against the wall.  "Thank God."
"Brilliant."  Mike stood up.  "Come, Mary.  The children have found you somewhere."
She stared as he helped her to her feet.  "You... know my name?"
"Mmm.  You met my brother once, remember?"
"I did?"  She searched the other's face.  Recognition registered.  "Oh... yes."  She twisted sharply in sudden pain.  "Aaaagh!"
 "Come.  Kids, show us where.  This stable is much needed."
It was warm and dry and the children forked down more straw from the loft, laughing, as it fell onto sleepy animals and the heads of the adults.  The lady sank into it with thankfulness.   She caught Rachel's hand.  "Thank you, sweetheart.  You'll never know what you've done for us."
Rachel touched the bulge of unborn baby gently.  A strange tingling warmth spread through her fingers.  It was an extraordinary sensation.  Unforgettable.  "Oh!  That'"
The husband spoke.  "All those adults and not one to help.  Just children to save us..." 
Gabe watched him.  "This world can always be saved by the children, Joseph, if they are allowed to, that is."  He indicated they should leave. "Come.  You’ll meet the new baby later."  He commanded respect and obediently they followed but Rachel hung back, unwilling to go.  "Rachel, you too.  All is well."
"Will I see you again?"  Rachel caught the edge of his cloak as he moved outside.
"One day, yes - a long time from now.  But later tonight, too, if you look."
"Look for you?  Where?"
"When the sky fills with light and voices fill the heavens." 
Mike pointed.  "Up there, see?"
The three gazed upwards, puzzled. 
"How?  Nobody could..."  Rachel turned.
But she was talking to an empty space.  The men had vanished.
Benjamin nodded. "HE could.  He had wings."
"Wha'chew talking about?"
"When you pulled his cloak.  I could see his wings sticking out."
"You're a liar, Ben Shultz!"  Sarah was contemptuous.
Later that night glorious light and sound filled the skies.  The children gazed, entranced.  Apart from a handful of shepherds, no one else seemed to notice.
Benjamin was smug.  "Told you!  There's Gabe.  Mike's in the middle.  They've BOTH got wings.  That is soooo cool." 
And the children waved and shouted and danced and the archangels leaned down from the heavens and delivered each an ecstatic high five.

Adult Fiction by Elizabeth Housden

Children's Fiction

Elizabeth's children's book, The Jade King and the Animals of Destiny published by Shimran is available in paperback from any book shop - ISBN No: 978-1-910819-49-4.
Her paperback version of The Gentlemen Go By published by Housden Publishing is available through any bookshop ISBN 978-0-9934104-0-6.
Only the ebooks are available on Amazon at present.