Author's Note: I enter into a new chapter that is rightly placed within "The Bauble," but wanted to share it with you before that time in the story. So this small segment is a part of that whole. As always, we are all grateful to Leiji-San for creating such delightful, complex characters, and the universe they inhabit. You will note a character or two are of my own invention, one is Legend, and all have a place in the whole tale. The End becomes the Beginning in the donut shaped Universe.
Merry Christmas to everyone, may Peace and Joy be yours this season, and the whole year through.
Christmas Magic - Chapter 1
"Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox;
that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home." G.K. Chesterton
He tugged at the huge Frasier fir, hoping that he'd sawn enough of the trunk to get it to fall. "Not yet," he muttered under his breath, as the condensation from his spoken words trailed away in white smoke, off into the bitterly cold night. They would want a tree, a properly smelling evergreen, and old fashioned tree, he thought to himself. He had trudged almost all night through the ancient forest near Heiligenstadt looking for just the right one.
His feet were encased in warm boots, and so his feet were warm, he had on an arctic rated, insulated dark green coat, that came below his knees and protected his body, but his cheeks and nose were like ice. He held his mitted hands up to his face and breathed back in some of the warm air that escaped his lungs, warming his nose and cheeks in the process. He should have worn the ski mask, but hadn't wanted it; he had craved being able to directly breathe in the fresh, cold air of Earth's atmosphere. No matter where he went, nothing read like "home" than here, where he had been born. The consequences of that wish were a cold face, and an icy nose.
He was wearing a red and green patterned knitted hat, mixed with blue and white characters at the edge of the brow band. It came with a matching scarf and it was colorful in daylight. Frankly, he was grateful for the dark. The hat and scarf had been a gift, and he hadn't liked its colorful design, but it kept his head and ears warm, and had been a gift from a now departed and deceased friend. The set had been a joke gift, but he wore it now and again, to honor the one who had gifted it to him.
This was the one, he thought. The tree was a good 20 feet high, full of good length branches, gracefully arranged around it in a very even bracts, with a bonus of only one small, holey area that he could see. It smelled wonderful, and he could imagine it decorated with all of the collected ornaments they had gathered through the years.
He knelt down, got under its skirted lowest branches, and sawed a bit more. He heard a sharp crack in the wintry night, and scurried out from under the tree, hoping he had guessed correctly about which way the tree would fall. It started to go, slowly and gracefully over to the one side. It gained speed as it fell toward the earth, and finally whooshed down into the powdery white, moonlit snow. As it fell, the snow that had been on its branches fell loose from the tree, sending powder in all directions.
A part of him was sad that the tree would no longer grow, but it would warm the hearts of people who had need of its beauty. He promised himself that he would return in the spring, at Easter, to plant a new one; it was the responsible thing to do. His parents had taught him that, years before. He smiled at the memory. Nights like this, trudging through this same woodland, searching for just the right tree with his parents. What idyllic times those were!
Franz attached the base of the tree trunk to the back of his flying platform, got on, and slowly revved up the hovercraft to begin to move the tree. It didn't want to move at first, so he had to increase power. Once he got it moving, the tree became a sled as he threaded his way through the forest and back to the ship.
Aboard the Arcadia, the crew mostly slept while the AI kept watch. It was still in the puckish phase of development, and was still playing pranks on the crew, now and again. It didn't like it when its Pattern left the security of its walls. It fretted a bit. It considered the idea of going after the Pattern, but discarded the idea, as it had tracked him a part of the way, and noted the odd, rambling trail that he had left. The Pattern occasionally walked like that while inebriated, but the ship hadn't noted a high enough alcohol level. So, not noting any harmful things that might happen to the Pattern, at least in the current view, it could do some reflecting of its own. And maybe set up a prank or two. One of the nice things about Dark Matter was the ability to make things that you wanted. It had been "reading," or should one say, exploring its own mind, about this thing called Christmas. It might want to have some fun with that. So, it mentally curled in on itself, and studied its own memories.
Harlock slowly worked his way through the forest to the boundary of its confines. The trees began to thin out, and the dark star-strewn sky became more prominent, the forest was densely populated with beautiful firs, and other trees, who were in dormancy for the winter. While those trees bore no leaves, their trunks and bare branches lent an architectural beauty all their own, in the stark relief of the bright, moonlit night.
It was amazing to see how well the world had healed. He shook his head, wondering at the recuperative powers of the mighty forest. And the absolute power that he had once held in his hands, for the good, or ill, of the universe. It hadn't been all that long ago that he had wished for it to be healed, as he held the orb that the Arcadian Queen had given to him. Zone had chosen the destruction of the Illumidas, while Harlock had wished for the healing of his home world.
Both desires had been granted, and interestingly, while Harlock had "read" as a destroyer to the Queen's telepathic probe, and Zone had not, after rescuing the Earth Zone had turned his new destructive powers against Harlock. Zone's choice regarding Harlock had told the Queen which was the more worthy man, and the Arcadian Queen had intervened, rescued Harlock, and then dealt harshly with Zone. Harlock had been given an orb and a choice, and his choice was restoration of the Earth. If he had been given the first orb, he too, would have called for the destruction of the Illumidas. It was providential that he had gone second. Without his wish, the Earth would still be depleted, and its people decimated.
She had granted Harlock a further wish, much later through her daughter, Ar'Shenda, but he didn't know how to use that orb, not yet. It glowed oddly at times, showed up in odd places - when he could have sworn that it was safely in his desk drawer - and he really wondered what it was doing. Or why he had custody of it. He shrugged mentally. The orb would make its purpose known at some point, and given his past history with the Arcadians, he did not think that the purpose was malignant. He was a patient man and would await the revelation. He wondered if it would perch on the top of the tree, and smiled at the idea.
The glimmer of pre-dawn was beginning to show on the horizon, and he pushed his platform flyer to go a little faster. He had wanted to be gone again when daylight came. The Arcadia could hide easily in the dark of the night with the cloaking it had, but in broad daylight, the ship was a little too obvious. And the eyes of others were not what he had in mind. He was weary, and wanted to rest, both physically and mentally. While the people of this area were not angry with him, nor wished him harm, and would likely aid him did he need it, he did not want for them to suffer on his account. And Earth Council would see to their punishment, if they discovered any assistance to him.
As he wound his way through the trees on the trail back to the Arcadia, he noticed a small church through the thinning trees to his left. It was big enough to have an organ, but small enough that no one would be living there. He was torn, and stopped the platform transport, to decide what to do. On a whim, and at the urging of an internal voice that told him to go, he veered over to the church. If he hurried, he could still make it.
The child sat on the stone floor, in the front of the small church. If anyone had happened upon him, they would have noticed that he was crying softly. He was eight years and some months old, and had on a battered coat four times bigger than what he needed. His shoes were scuffed and worn on the soles, nor did his clothing match at all; it was layered for warmth against the cold.
He had let himself into the church by jiggling the door handle, hoping against hope that by doing so, that it would open for him. Surprisingly enough, it had. He had hurried into the old church. While there was no running heat in the church at this day, or hour, it did have a roof, and its stout stone walls shielded him from the cold winds. He looked up at the moonlit altar, seeing through teary eyes to One who had suffered also. He had been told that you could pray to Him, but the boy didn't know how. Yet one more mark against him, he thought miserably. Hot tears ran down his cold and rather dirty face, tracing their trails as they disappeared into his jumbled clothing.
He didn't know what to do. His stepfather had thrust him out into the night, hours earlier, and had told him not to return. He didn't understand why he had been told to go, as he had done nothing wrong, nor why his mother had not spoken up for him. She had merely looked away, after she had loaded as many clothes as she could onto his slender frame. They were very poor, but at least there had been heat, and a bed to go to. Now, he was hungry, cold, and homeless.
He looked at the front of the altar, where the Nativity had been prominently displayed. Stories that he had heard, said that the family portrayed there had been without a place to stay, too. Yet when he looked at them, they didn't look as miserable as he felt, and being in a stable was certainly less nice than even the inside of a cold church; he wondered about that peace they seemed to have. The serene Madonna, protective Joseph, awestruck shepherds, and regal wise men bearing rich gifts; all seemed to see something wonderful in the baby in the manger.
He wished for people who would think of him like that. He really wanted a family who would be protective of him, love him, and honor him. What would it be like? He wondered if that was even possible. He locked his eyes in mute pleading with the baby in the manger. "Help me," he whispered.
Harlock entered the church from the back, placing his flying platform out of sight, and away from the road leading to the church. The door had been open when he tested the knob. He wondered at the trust that this showed, and smiled. The people of Heiligenstadt were always hospitable. The kind priest of this small church obviously believed in the open door policy; for which Franz was very grateful. He looked at where the bell tower was, knowing that the organ pipes were likely in a loft adjacent to it. He figured that the church's organ had to be in that general area. He saw a small, steep staircase off to his left. Confidently, he climbed the stairs to the loft above. He opened the small door, and squeezed his large frame through it. Apparently, he thought ruefully, when this church was built, the organist had been of smaller stature.
He saw the beautifully carved wood case of the organ. It had been lovingly cared for over the years; the wood glowed with a polished patina, and was worn with being handled. He hoped that the care shown to the exterior of the organ, also translated into care for the bellows within it. He truly hoped that the bellows were in decent shape, otherwise this detour would have been for naught.
Franz raised the rolled top back to reveal the organ stops and keyboards. He flicked the switch for the lights above the organ, and swore under his breath when nothing happened. He suddenly realized where he was, and muttered, "sorry," under his breath, looking upwards with unaccustomed embarrassment. He would need to find the power switch. Nothing would happen without that. Harlock backed out of the loft, and went downstairs to the vestry, hoping to find the power switch there.
The boy heard the movement in the loft area, and sucked in his breath. If he was discovered, he would be thrown back out into the night. He was still so cold, that he didn't think he would be able to live if that were to happen. He frantically looked around for a place to hide. The church pews would do, but if anyone was really looking, he would be found.
Where, where to hide? He spotted the arras behind the altar. It was sticking out a little ways. He scooted over to look at it, as he heard the sound of feet on stairs coming down. There wasn't a lot of room, but if he squeezed in behind the altar, and behind the arras, he could hide there. The boy scrambled behind the altar, and sat on the floor. As he caught his breath, he noticed that the altar back was hollow, and made a nice big box to hide in. He carefully crawled in to the empty space. Safe at last! He breathed a sigh of relief.
Harlock found the power box in the vestry area, behind a cabinet filled with aging vestments. He noted that some were rather threadbare, but well taken care of. Things had improved in the outer world, but the margins were still quite slim for the people here. That made him sad, and he reflected on the wonderful childhood he had had, with a loving family, and many friends among the town's children. He wondered if any of his old friends had survived the war, and what life was like for them now. He wistfully wondered if they spared any thought for him, or good memories from their time together.
He pressed the power button and the little church came to life, light and heat running through its ancient mechanical veins. Franz smiled in delight. The church might be old, but it had been lovingly cared for, and given what was possible. He left the vestry, and on his return trip to the loft, noted the sanctuary to the side, through the other door. He hesitated, and then went into the church proper.
Well, at least Heaven hadn't struck him dead upon entering the church, he thought to himself ruefully. Nor had there been any thunder or lightening. Not that he had expected any. Really, he was being silly.
He looked out at the quiet interior, the muted stained glass window in the back, which was probably glorious in daylight, up to the chancel area, and the altar beyond. He stepped up to the communion rails, to look at the altar, and above, to the crucifix of the Suffering Christ, suspended against a richly brocaded, but faded arras, and the Eternal Flame hanging to the right above the altar, and then down upon the beautifully carved, and expertly painted, wooden Nativity set before it on the floor. The soft glow of the interior lights as they warmed up, rested upon the peaceful scene.
Out of respect, he genuflected and crossed himself as he had done when younger, when his life had been simpler, and he had been more innocent. He wished for some of that peace, but knew he was unlikely to find it. But he could pretend, if only for a part of an hour, that that peace existed.
He turned and went to the steps to go up into the loft. This time, when he pressed the power button on the organ, it hummed to life. Franz grinned. He swung himself onto the bench, shook off his coat and snowy boots, and put them aside, he placed his stocking feet on the pedals below the bench, and his hands on the triple keyboard above. He moved some of the stops on the organ, breathed in, and began to tap on the yellowed ivory keys. He did some warm up first, to gauge the responsiveness of the organ, and then with a delighted smile, sprang into playing beloved Christmas hymns from his memory. As he played, he relaxed, and the beauty of the music leapt from his beleaguered mind, down to his talented hands, and out into the quiet night.
The music calmed not just a war-torn warrior, but also a small, frightened boy, hiding behind the altar. The boy was soon asleep, worn out from his ordeal that day, lulled by the beautiful music. The man allowed himself to give in to the beauty also, and he lost all track of time.