The Importance of Ritual

Apropos of the mild kerfluffel over advertising the availability of a more traditional Latin mass or not advertising (Roman Catholic – Latin or vernacular), I got to thinking about ritual, and how important it is, even for non-religious people. Many cultures have certain patterns and behaviors that must be observed, even if they are informal. They serve as markers, as ways to glue society together, to provide a bit of stability in a chaotic world.

Latin mass and ritual in worship, political rituals, “propriety must be observed” and so on. Animals too. Day job – felt odd when something got moved, so daily invocation is back “where it should be.” Lunch is always at X time. Administrative notices are posted at Y locations around the building, this teacher always parks in that slot (even though we do not have assigned slots). Athena cat sleeps in the front chair in spring and summer, and the library chair in fall and winter. Unless it is after a certain hour, in which case she moves to the sunny patch in my bedroom, migrating with the sun across the floor. She gets fed at certain times, and woe betide anyone who is late. The larger US society has rituals, although they vary across region and culture. The opening days of dove and deer season. Christmas. July 4 however commemorated, the opening day of baseball (college or professional) or basketball or football season. Some businesses have rituals, and people have rituals in commerce. You go to the same coffee shop, at about the same time of day, or visit a tea emporium and get eight ounces of your favorites, then see what else might be available. You get dressed in a certain order, make the bed in a set way . . .

We all have our daily rituals, good-luck acts, however we consider them. Society too has had rituals going back as far as anthropologists and archaeologists can determine. We don’t always know exactly what was done, by whom, but we know that all over the world, people have performed certain actions as groups at certain times of the year. Evidence for the ending of long-practiced rituals suggests major social changed, or problems, or both. The end of ritual and pattern often signals the end of social order, of a new governing group, or the coming of a new ideology. We humans are creatures of habit, and prefer that those habits not change. A few years ago, when I was on one of my forays to Central Europe, I had a giggle fit at the news that an openly Communist French trade union was protesting the suggestion that the Corpus Christi holiday be eliminated. Communists fussing about losing a very Roman Catholic feast! Now, granted, it was because of the day off of work more than any religious sense, but still. “We don’t believe in that god, but we want to keep all the holidays associated with that opiate of the masses!”

I’ve been watching people dig in recently. “This we might tolerate changing a little, but not that. No, you may not claim this for something it has never been. No, we are going to keep the religious aspects of that. Thanksgiving is not about what you claim, but what it has always been.” When you try to change a harvest festival into a day of penance, um, well, you deserve to be smote with a still-frozen bit of poultry or a casserole dish, in my opinion. I do agree about the wreched excesses of “Christmas shopping starts in August!”, however.

Vienna 1: “Old Stones”

A re-post from 2014. It is based on a visit in the 1990s.

Paris is the city of light, the city of romance, the heart of all culture and art. And it sprawls, has too much traffic, and do not get me started on the crowds in the Southern European side of the Louvre. Or how “wonderful” and “romantic” it is to walk from the Louvre to your hotel on a 100 degree F afternoon in June when you can’t find a cab. I’ve seen what I wanted to see: the Musee de Cluny and the Northern European art at the Louvre. Send me back to Vienna, please.

Ah, Vienna. It’s a little too trite to talk about “faded splendors” and “an air of nostalgia, wistful yearning for past glories, like a faded beauty,” and all those other things people say about the city. Once you take off the Empress Elizabeth-tinted glasses, there’s a  great deal more to Vienna, which may explain why I enjoy spending time there.  I am aware of the dark side, Karl Luger and the anti-Semitism of the 1900s-1940s. I’ve seen the soldiers patrolling Judengaße and Salztorgaße, protecting the synagogue and Simon Wiesenthal’s offices. The century or so between 1848 and 1955 were not happy years in south central Europe for a number of reasons. But Vienna’s history goes back much farther than the unhappy postcard painter and the sad story of Empress Elizabeth.

Here’s a little piece I wrote some twenty-eight years ago, after my first visit. At the time I had no idea I would end up making what would be eight trips to the city.

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StephansDom on the Feast of Stephen

Everyone else went to an art museum, a private collection that was being opened for a short while to the public. Me? I went to mass. Because how often do you get to visit a cathedral on the feast of the patron saint, during the Twelve Days of Christmas, when the mass-setting is Josef Hayden’s “Lord Nelson Mass”? Not often. Plus I’d not gotten what I wanted out of Christmas Day mass, for various reasons.

December 26th is Boxing Day in Britain and the Commonwealth. It is “hit the sales day” in the US [alas]. It is also the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. If many people in the US even think about the day, it might be in connection with the song/carol “Good King Wenceslas” who went out “on the feast of Stephen.” Wenceslas, or Vaclav, or Wetzel, was one of the early Christian princes (kings) of Bohemia, and he was murdered by his half-brother for politics as much as for faith. Not that it stopped his being named a saint. Just for confusion there’s also St. Stephen king of Hungary, who really was a king . . . But my digression is digressing.

So, it was colder than a well-digger’s hip-pocket in Vienna that year. As in single digit Fahrenheit cold, which caused problems for public transportation because the power was diverted to heating houses. Things started thawing a little on Christmas Eve, but not much. I went to mass at St. Michael Archangel, the parish church in the Hofburg palace, and it was wonderful – small, devout, and worshipful. At midnight, all the bells in Vienna rang, led by Pummerin. On Christmas I went to mass, learned how panic-crushes happen, and then visited a Cistercian abbey out in the middle of nowhere (the Wienerwald). Come St. Stephan’s Day, I wanted something different. So I went to mass at the cathedral once more.

Stephansdom after a rain. Author Photo, June, 2019.

I got there early, genuflected, and opted to sit. I found myself in with some elderly folks and a group of Benedictine nuns and novices. I settled in for a long sit-stand-bow-kneel-bow-sit. The church didn’t completely fill, but it was close. I didn’t see many obvious tourists, and I was dressed to blend in. The wait gave time for meditation and prayer, and thinking about how long people have been worshiping on this site. At least two thousand years, because below the crypt, Roman ruins have been found. And those are on what seems to have been a pagan, probably Celtic, worship site. St. Stephan’s itself has very old bones, going back to 1137. An older, mortuary church existed before then, predating St. Rupert’s*, but there are no records thus far that name that chapel. The large open area around the church shows where the cemetery was, and the Roman cemetery before that. In 1258, a fire did in the older church, and the Gothic version we see today was started. (Fire is/was the bane of medieval churches.)

Note the rainbow at the base of the tower. Author photo, June, 2019.

Mass began with bells, and a procession led by the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, in crimson and white, with lace trim and a very elaborate pattern on his miter. Just behind him followed the relics of St. Stephan the Martyr, including part of his arm. The music, as I said above, was what most of us call the “Lord Nelson Mass,” a festival mass. It was the end of the Hayden Year, and a fitting end it was too. I’d never heard a mass “at work,” so to speak. The language of the mass was German, with some Latin and Greek (the Kyrie) and I followed it easily. I freely confess that I was glad to have a wooden kneeler instead of kneeling on the stone floor like the novices and younger nuns were doing. The homily was about the persecuted church, a topic that raised my eyebrows a little, given the attitude of the EU at the time. Looking back, I wonder of the Archbishop was poking someone (December 2009). Either way, it fit the day. It was a very uplifting, worshipful service.

Having learned my lesson the day before, I eased out the door of the transept, staying well away from the main doors.

I met the group that afternoon and spent the day packing and then enjoying a very nice supper. We had to be at the airport at five AM the next day.

*Rupert’s Church, on Salzgasse, is the oldest church in Vienna. St. Rupert of Salzburg is the patron of salt makers and salt traders. More about that church tomorrow.

Merry (Western Calendar) Christmas!

Tunes in order: “On Christmas Night all Christians Sing,” “We Three Kings,” “What Child is This,” “Noel Nouvelet.” It is A Christmas Fantasy for Orchestra by Dan Goeller.

The first tune comes from a song-family that includes a version of “I Saw Three Ships.” “What Child is This” is often attributed to Henry VIII of England, although it may be a folk tune, or composed by someone in his court and then ascribed to him. He did compose a few songs that are documented, such as “Green Growth the Holly.”

Christmas and Advent are the one period on the church calendar that I truly cannot imagine without music. Lent and Easter? Maybe, especially Lent, but not Advent and Christmas.

I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas have a wonderful, blessed, quiet, and contented day. And I hope that all my readers share in the peace, joy, and hope of the season.

Friday Finale: Christmas Part Four

Another Christmas rush breaks over Belle, Book, and Blacklight.

The next week and three days passed in the usual blur of sales, restocking, returns, gift wrap and sleep. Arthur stayed quiet, even for Arthur definitions of quiet. Should I worry or be relieved? Lelia wrinkled her nose on Christmas Even afternoon as she added the last of this year’s limited-edition sweet Shoshana Langtree Christmas print to the folder. It wasn’t the elegant unicorn in the snow watching a slightly-chubby, blue-white dragon decorating the tree that sucked away her goth points. Oh no. The ring of oh-so-cute fairies dancing around the tree dang near gave her sugar overload just glancing at them. Now, the ferocious black unicorn with crimson eyes and a silver star gleaming on the tip of its horn as it stood beside a holly tree at night? Much more to her tastes! A Christmas murder ballad, “Candlemas Eve” by Valentine Wolfe, sang down from the speakers mounted on the ornate, pressed-tin ceiling. 

“Excellent! I’d hoped there might be one left,” a gentleman exclaimed from over her shoulder. She sidestepped, clearing the way for him. He took one of each of the sweet and spooky limited edition prints and hurried to the counter. She heard the back door alert chime, and ignored it for the moment. The gent’s comment had attracted other shoppers to look at the prints, and she quickly restocked what she had in the box, then ducked into the workroom.

“Ahem.” Lelia dang near jumped to the ceiling as André cleared his throat. “You need better situational awareness, and food. Come and partake.” The implied “or else,” and her boss’s pointed frown, suggested that sitting and dining would be a good idea. That and her shaking hands and headache.

“I will as soon as—”

Four male growls stopped the words. Her Familiar, husband, husband’s Familiar, and suflit talshu all glared at her.

“As I wash my hands?” she squeaked.

Something filling, hot, and Italian appeared as soon as she emerged from the washroom. André leaned against the wall and watched her eat. “Yes, your Familiar ratted on you. Not to me, however.” She looked to Tay. A shaky illusion of a halo appeared between his ears, matching the faint halo over Rodney’s head. “When you finish for the night, we are getting supper at that new steak place before going to St. Margaret’s.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “I don’t know how Kit Wilmington got my e-mail address, but he asks the most forensicly esoteric questions. Even some of Art’s queries aren’t that strange.”

“Strange, or wyrd, boss?” Rodney snickered.

Lelia finished her food. “Have you suggested that he try holding a séance and asking Patrick Lee’s ghost?”

“Dark my lady, I shudder to think what Patrick Lee’s ghost would say. Eloquent, vehement, colorful, colloquial, polyglot, and arcane to begin with, and then downhill.” He scowled. “Worse, can you imagine what would be required to summon Patrick Lee’s ghost? Any summoning spell that starts with ‘pluck two hairs from the chin of a napping Cape Buffalo, after excavating—at midnight on the southern hemisphere winter solstice—a moa femur from under the council house of the Rotorua Maori, and then adding one hind claw from a left-pawed Amur leopard’ is going to be far too interesting for my peace of mind, thank you.”

He’s got a point. She disposed of the take-out tray, visited the washroom once more, and took the large soda to the counter as Arthur and André ducked into Arthur’s office. Corava was helping customers, so Lelia handled sales and caught up the ledger between gusts, so to speak. A soft click sounded from over her head, and the dark music shifted to the Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge. Yeah, the end is in sight! She liked the business. However, the last minute rush wore more and more each year.

At seven, Arthur gently ushered the last customers out, locked the door and turned off the first row of lights as Corava lowered the shades over the windows and Lelia finished entering sales and turning off the computer. Was he going to come with her and André? Lelia didn’t have the nerve to inquire. Arthur nodded to her. “Thank you, Mrs. Lestrang. Master Lestrang awaits in the alley. Have a good Christmas.”

She curtsied. “Thank you, sir. You likewise.” She nodded to Corava and hurried to the back. She clocked out, helped Tay into his hard-sided carrier, and opened the door as little as possible. Very cold arctic air had settled into Riverton that afternoon, cold with hard edges to it. No wonder André’s pickup lurked at the end of the alley, bespelled to look like a sheriff’s department pickup. “He’s playing,” she murmured to Tay.

“Yeah, he’s been experimenting.” A long sigh. “His Familiar needs to have a word with him about that.”

His Familiar, a voice of reason?”

Another sigh, “Hey, I can hope, OK? Miracles happen.”

She bit her tongue to keep from laughing, and then having to explain why.

As usual, finding parking in Riverton, even on Christmas Eve at eight-fifteen PM, required far more effort than seemed reasonable. Lelia fed the meter, then tucked her hands as deep into her sable-fur muff as she could fit them. The matching fur collar around her throat helped, as did her wonderful, faux Victorian coat with modern insulation, but cold was cold. She was glad of André’s presence beside her. He took her arm and they walked quickly to the church. Her imagination and memory smelled smoke and something fouler. She told her imagination to take the night off.

She and André stopped clear of the doors, allowing two other couples and a large family to depart from the family service. The lights visible through the stained glass dimmed. The last of the worshipers had departed, and the ushers would start seating people for the Lessons and Carols. André took her arm once more. As he did, he murmured, “We have an escort.”

A figure of shadow detached itself from the pool of darkness in front of the now-locked side door. Arthur nodded, then took her left arm just as André held her right. Together they entered the dim stillness of the church. Arthur released her and genuflected. She and André continued until they reached André’s preferred pew, beside the emergency exit door, halfway to the altar rail. He bowed, then followed Rodney into the polished wooden pew. She genuflected in turn to the Presence lamp flickering, gem-like, to the side of the high altar. She did not jump or act surprised when Arthur sat on her right. She let Tay out of his carrier. He eased to the ground, reappearing on the pew beside Rodney.

As before, following the Lessons and Carols, the choir left the loft and moved to stand around the nave. Only candles, emergency lights, and the light filtering in through the blue, gold, and white stained-glass windows dispelled any darkness. André eased his arm around her shoulders and whispered, “A light shone in the darkness.”

“And the darkness overcame it not,” she murmured back. Oh, how hard it was to remember some days. She, her husband, and her suflit talshu spent so much time in the darkness that it seemed to stain everything around her. A soft series of fluty notes came from the organ, then faded as the choir echoed the instrument. “Requiem aeternum dona eis Domine,” the choir half-chanted. Lelia relaxed into the ebb and flow of the music, following the ancient Latin prayer. André pulled her closer for a moment, then let go.

“O nata Lux de lumine,” O birth of the Light of light, Jesus redeemer of the world. As the words filled the shadows, washing up against the stones of the walls, a hand took hers. Arthur held her right hand, his grip firm but gentle. She risked glancing at him. A tear rolled down the prominent cheekbone and dropped onto the blackness of his coat. He might have been a statue, save for the slight rise and fall of his chest, the tear, and the warm hand around hers. The music shifted and he let go.

A few minutes later, the “Agnus Dei” filled the church, voices chasing each other ever higher and richer until golden beauty resounded over and over from glass and stone and the very candles seemed to dance. A callused hand encircled hers once more. Half holding her breath, Lelia leaned a tiny bit to the right and rested her head against Arthur’s shoulder. He started to stiffen, then relaxed, accepting her touch. She let her eyes close part way, heart soaring with the soft, rich prayer rising gently around her as the choir repeated the opening plea. Give his spirit rest, oh Lord, please? Whatever hurts him so terribly, please grant him peace this night, please, Sir? Both Arthur and André, please? Miserere nobis, Domine. Have mercy on us, please, o Lord.

As the last organ note faded, the choir began the dark, hushed invocation of Mystery, the greatest mystery of all. “O magnum mysterium,” floated around them. The hand holding hers tightened its grip. André took her other hand and the three Hunters sat, surrounded by shadows and beauty. The choir concluded with the haunting, mighty hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Lelia straightened up. A quick look at her husband revealed tears on his face, and a joy she longed to share. What did he see, did he know that she couldn’t fully understand? She didn’t dare glance at her suflit talshu. Only when the final notes whispered into silence and the choirmaster lowered his arms did the men release her hands.

Arthur rose, genuflected, and disappeared. Lelia genuflected and waited for André and Tay. Once she got Tay in his carrier and both situated, André took her arm and they walked slowly into the soft, chill air of Christmas Eve. He tensed for half a breath, then relaxed, not breaking stride, his cane making soft taps against the frozen ground as they walked out the side yard of the church toward where they had parked. Rodney trotted along behind. Arthur joined them once more, the hood of his coat pulled up against the bitter night air.

They stopped in the last shadow of the parish hall. Arthur turned. “Child. Thank you.” He faded into the night without further word or sound. She hid her shiver by pure force of will.

After they got home, let the Familiars out and back in, Lelia checked the house shields as André triple-checked that the doors remained locked. When he finished, she took his hands and pulled him close. “Thank you for sharing our night,” she said.

He brushed her forehead with his lips. “Dark my lady, you are welcome. I hope he found what he sought.”

As the stars turned to the midnight hour, Pisicagheara dismissed the Hunter on watch. “Go to the vigil,” he ordered. Ladislu bowed and departed. Pisicagheara watched the night, alert for movement or sound. “Gloria in excelcis Deo,” the stars sang from the heavens. “Et in terra, pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.” Peace unbidden remained within him, a peace he had yearned for yet dared not request. Again, through the child the Lady had given him a blessing unsought. He moved without sound through the darkness, listening, tasting the wind for hints of any uncleanliness that dared try to defile this most holy of nights. “O nata Lux,” he whispered.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Thursday Tidbit: Christmas Part 3

An Invitation is tendered.

On Wednesday afternoon, once Corava arrived, Lelia mustered enough courage to approach her boss. He had stayed in the office most of the day thus far, and one dish had hit the wall just after opening, but between customers. “He found the tax assessment update,” she’d guessed.

“Probably,” Tay had agreed from the end of the sales counter. “The invoice for the Valentines’ stuff isn’t that bad, actually.”

“No, it isn’t.” Now she wiped her hands on her skirt and eased through the bead curtain separating the workroom from the main shop. Why was she so nervous? Because this is Arthur, and December. She rubbed her hands on the fabric once more, then tapped on the door frame.

“Yes?” the growl did not ease her nerves. Arthur frowned at her over his reading glasses.

“Ah, sir, that is,” she inhaled, then blurted, “Master Lestrang and I are going to the Lessons and Carols and choral music on Christmas Eve at St. Margaret of Scotland and thought you might, that is— If you want to come with us, you’re welcome.”

The frown deepened, then disappeared. He took off the glasses and set them on the blotter. He flowed to his feet. She shifted her weight, ready to run, not that it would do any good. Confusion replaced irritation, and he said, “Child, suflit fica, do not fear.”

“Yes, sir.” She tried not to gulp aloud.

He rested one hand very lightly on her shoulder. For a hint of a moment, she saw pain and exhaustion in equal measure in his eyes, soul-deep pain. Then the mask slid back into place. “What time, child?”

“Nine, sir. We, that is, André and I, get there early so he can sit near a door. Eight-thirty. Talshu?”

The hand moved, and she put her arms around him, being steady and quiet for him. Strong, weary arms closed around her. A few words whispered over her head, then he let go. “Thank you, Mrs. Lestrang. I will, perhaps, attend.”

Creak-thud, thumpity thumpity thud. A pause, then thump. She spun and sprinted to the shop. Books lay all over the floor! A quick glance showed that the middle shelf had failed. One end rested on the next-to-bottom shelf. Tay and Raj stood at the far end of the sales counter. “We didn’t do it!” they chorused in unison.

Corava looked from the prints in her hands to the book-slide and back. With an eloquent shrug and sigh she resumed sorting and stocking. Lelia rested on hand on her forehead, just above her cosmetics, and sighed as well. “I knew things were too quiet.” She crouched, picked up as many books as she could, and stacked them on the counter. The shop door opened, and Arthur went to meet the black-clad young man who eased in. After he finished ringing up the sale and the gent departed, Arthur lifted the heavy composite shelf off the remaining two brackets. He studied the wall. Lelia saw a bit of metal on the floor. She picked up the remains of the third bracket and handed it to her boss.

Master Saldovado considered the jagged, torn metal, the rest of the bracket still wedged into the wall mount, and growled an especially pungent phrase. Wow. The string of maledictions continued. Lelia glanced at the Familiars. Both now crouched, paws over ears. Very wow! Whatever Arthur was saying must be especially nasty, or creative, or both. As wide as Tay’s eyes had opened, probably all of the above.

” . . . I don’t know what he said, but Corava set down enough prints to make some really interesting warding-off gestures at the wall. I did catch the general sense,” Lelia told André that night when he picked her up at the shop. “He found a shorter shelf piece in the back, so we could do a half-shelf. Removing the remains of the bracket from the wall-mount needs power tools.”

“Ugh. I can see why he’d resort to intemperate language.” André glanced at her, then turned his attention back to the road. “Collin was one Rodney-hair’s width from summoning an infernal entity to take the big laser printer back where it came from.”

Rodney snorted from behind the driver’s seat. “Yeah, except the entity would probably run screaming and throw itself into a holy-water font to get away from the copier.”

“Duuuuude,” Tay intoned. “I’d pay all the money I don’t have to see that.”

“What the lemur said,” Lelia half-chanted. She leaned her head against the pickup’s headrest and closed her eyes. Quiet. No one grumbling, brooding, or snarling at her, just road sounds and—

Hoooooonk. HOOOONKKK Screeeeech! No crunch followed the spate of sound.

“May you get what you deserve,” André snarled.

Rodney sniffed, “She probably will, boss. There’s a big hole in the street two blocks that way, remember?”

Lelia wrinkled her nose. A lesser abyssal imp had probably inspired the city wait to start sanitary sewer and utility work until late November.  “Is the Good Idea Fairy abyssal or infernal? I can never remember.”

“Abyssal,” Tay replied. “Although there’s still some debate about that.”

“Emperor Mong is infernal.” The certainty in her husband’s voice gave her pause. “He may claim abyssal or even heavenly origins, but noooo, he’s infernal.”

“Yes, dear.”

Large, wet flakes of snow danced down from low dark clouds as she hurried from the bus stop to the shop the next day. So big as to look like feathers or tufts of fur, the snow seemed to land with silent thuds. She unlocked the shop door, raced to the back and turned off the alarm, then returned and re-locked the front. “We’re going to be busy.”

“Yes, you are.” Once out of his carrier, Tay marched to the heat vent in the workroom and arranged himself to hog the warm air.

Lelia rolled her eyes, then clocked in. She saw the pull list for “at-store” orders. “Nyyyaaaaathhpppth.” Once she turned on Arthur’s computer and logged into the internet dark music station, she flipped through the list. Ah, of course. She’d do books first. Nox Arcana’s dark winter music sang down from the speakers as she worked. She made good progress. All the morning pick-up orders were finished before anyone else arrived. She let Tay out, then in, and drank some water before restocking. The steampunk Christmas prints sold very well indeed this year. She danced a few steps to a waltz as she worked.

The alert on the alley door chimed. He’s baaaaaaack she giggled to herself. Corava wasn’t due in until after three, but all three of them would stay until closing. Indeed, the office door clicked, and the music grew louder. She turned on the main shop lights, then  unlocked the door.

“Hi! I need these.” A college student announced ten minutes later, waving her phone so fast Lelia couldn’t read the screen.

“Yes, ma’am. Which titles?”

The flow of customers eased around one. The alley door chimed, and soon the smell of food from the workroom made Lelia’s stomach growl as she tried to catch up the big sales ledger. She giggled. Black items now tied brown items in terms of numbers sold. “And that acrylic is gone,” she cheered, very far under her breath. The excessively perky, big-eyed white tigers and unicorns among lush, brilliant green trees and painfully happy flowers had drained her of Goth-points every time she glanced at it. Now it belonged to an appreciative home. She did a tiny happy-dance in place. Erasure’s version of “Gaudete” filled the air, followed by “Il est né” by Souxie and the Banshees.

A soft clatter from the bead curtain announced Arthur’s presence. She turned. He stopped just past the doorway, listening. “Normally I do not approve of ‘updating’ sacred music, but perhaps I shall make and exception.” As she closed the ledger and added the entered receipts to the proper stack, he approached the counter, moving so smoothly that he seemed to glide rather than walk. “Go eat, Mrs. Lestrang, before your Familiar consumes your dinner.”

“Yes, sir.” She bobbed a curtsy and eased past him. Whatever it was smelled soooo good.

She found Tay’s back half emerging from a large brown delivery bag. Much rustling and muttering also emerged from the bag. She slid both hands under his aft end and middle, then hoisted. His front end appeared, a thick-cut potato wedge in one paw and the remains of a second wedge disappearing into his maw. “You are a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad lemur.” She deposited him on the door mat inside the alley door.

“Whaaaat? Fat’s good for my fur, yes?” At least, that’s what she thought came from his muzzle.

She rolled her eyes as she ducked into the washroom. Now I know where the kids got it from.  The bag contained a prime-rib sandwich, home-made fried potato wedges, a salad with fancy ham and cheeses in it, and still-steaming pear cobbler. She devoured it all, then nursed a small, rich coffee with her initials on the cup. She’d cut way back since joining the church, but . . . I’m trying, Sir, I really am.

Lelia washed her hands and tidied a now sulking—and burping—Tay. She got the box of Winter-Christmas jewelry and returned to the main shop. Arthur was assisting a gentleman with vests. At least a 2X, probably a 3X or special order in that Slovak line unless he really wants a trim fit. A nicely-dressed lady in a bright blue wool car-coat perused the window-end of the jewelry wall, glancing at what looked like a list in her right hand. She had one of the fashionable bucket bags, in a tasteful dark red leather. Lelia studied some of the earring pegs. Dangling winter-trees had been popular today. She added more to those pegs, put a necklace of linked black roses onto the proper spot, and frowned at the Christmas cats. The front brooch’s pin lay in the bottom of the baggie, so she pulled that one, put it in the box, and turned a little to see if the lady needed any assistance.

Wait, what’s she— “Stop that!” Lelia threw a hard physical shield over the fine jewelry case. The big carpenter’s hammer in the woman’s right hand swung down, then bounced off the shield and rebounded.

Thunkrunch. The woman dropped the tool and clutched her mouth and jaw with both hands.

“Hold the barrier,” Arthur commanded from behind the counter, reaching for the phone.

“Yes, sir.” Lelia flipped the shield, re-forming it around the would-be thief. Blood seeped from between the woman’s hands. She swayed, then sat hard, moaning, hunched over.

Lelia set the re-stocking box under the print shelves and stood guard until an ambulance rumbled up, followed by a cop car. Tay emerged from the back and leaned against her shins. She managed not to panic much when the policewoman entered the shop. Much. “Here sir, ma’am,” Lelia pointed down at the woman and lifted the shield. “She suffered an injury to her face when—” The woman’s left hand moved, and a flash of power flared. Lelia caught the charm, held it, and heard a predatory growl from her boss. 

“Break it, Silver, don’t hold it,” Rings commanded. She drew power from him and threaded magic into the charm, unmaking it, then grounding the power.

“Strong intention, pre-set spells, sir. A look-away and fire illusion.”

The woman’s face had turned green under the blood. Lelia grabbed Tay and moved well clear of the medics, and of any bodily emissions. The metal of the fine-jewelry case had been dented through the spell. At least, it seemed dented. The case swayed, as did she. She felt warmth under one arm, Arthur’s hand closing on her elbow, steadying her.

“You all right?” the police officer asked.

“Yes, ma’am. Working spells back-to-back makes me light-headed,” Lelia fibbed. Well, not quite fibbed. She hadn’t pulled from Tay until she’d broken the charm. She could feel his irked look.

“Go sit, then I’ll get your statement.” The policewoman sounded sympathetic, or at least not angry. That was good.

“Thank you, ma’am.” More quietly, she said, “I’m fine now, thank you, sir.”

She felt her boss’ irked look as well. “Perhaps.” He guided her to the counter, and only then let go. She eased Tay onto the top of the counter, then sat on the stool. Arthur spoke to the police as Lelia got a cup of Tay’s sugar-gel out of her belt pouch and opened the top, then gave it to him. Enthusiastic licking sounds ensued. The tubes had been better, but the company didn’t make those anymore. Once he’d been cared for, she pulled the baggie of nuts and chocolate out of a different pouch and ate half, then stowed it again.

Twenty minutes later, perhaps a little longer, one of the medics spoke quietly with the police officer. The other had escorted the injured woman to the ambulance and was in the back with her. Officer Meecham nodded. “I’ll call the hospital so security will be ready,” she told the medic. The slender brunette turned to Lelia and Tay. “If your story is corroborated by the video, there probably will not be charges filed against you, ma’am.”

Oh, I’m glad Arthur didn’t hear that. He was burning the video from the cameras onto a DVD as well as sending a copy to the department’s e-mail. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“How long have you been a reserve officer?”

“Twenty-six years, ma’am, I think. My husband was one in Phoenix, and when his credentials transferred to Riverton, the then police chief was encouraged by my former parole officer and Sergeant Jamie Macbeth to swear me in as well.” The shaking in her hands had nothing to do with the memories of that visit, nothing at all. Tay eased closer, and she rested one hand on his back. It helped.

“Huh. That explains the strange badge number. Good to know, ma’am.” Officer Meecham returned her licenses and ID. Arthur pushed through the curtain, DVD case in hand. “Thank you, sir. Have a quiet rest of the day.”

“Thank you, Officer, and I hope the same for you,” Arthur said. After the woman departed, he turned to Lelia. He studied her as she petted Tay. “Silver, go get something more to eat, and see to Master Tay. I will clean the floor.” The medics had sprayed disinfectant on the floor and wiped up the blood, but the surface looked as if it was a little tacky yet.

“Yes, sir.” She stood, carefully. The world didn’t sway. Tay eased down to the floor from the counter, and they retreated with slow steps to the workroom.

How long had it been since they’d had a shoplifter? At least five years, not counting the small things like the cheap earrings that walked off on occasion. Word got around, especially after Arthur had bodily heaved the guy into the side of the cop car. Lelia smiled despite herself as she finished the nuts and drank some water. Her boss had needed the stress release, and the guy had deserved it.

Not ten minutes later, the rush picked up. Lelia, Arthur, and Corava all sagged with relief when Arthur locked the front door at ten that night and flipped the sign to “Closed. Come back Tomorrow—If there Is One.” Raj and Tay had made themselves scarce in the workroom. The Pallas cat had grumbled mightily about her mage was working too hard and was ignoring her, that being Raj’s, needs and desires. Lelia suspect that desires outweighed needs. Raj was pure, double-distilled feline and it showed.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Wednesday Wee Bit: Christmas Part 2

In Which Lelia learns the cause for her employer’s frustration. Deborah has returned from her mission and has moved in with Mrs. Schmidt while going to college (nursing degree). Art has his own apartment near the university, where he is a professor. Hiram is stationed in Korea.

Business at the shop had been steady, building since the annual early-November decline. No arcane eruptions had troubled either Arthur or the local magical community since the Labor Day weekend, thus far. All the European orders had arrived on time, intact. So why had Arthur come unglued?

Lelia chewed on the question all the way to their stop. She departed the bus, arranged handbag and Familiar-carrier, and strode briskly down the sidewalk. “The boss,” she began.

“Yeeeeeessssss?”

I don’t like that rising and falling tone. It bodes poorly for my peace of mind. “The textile tangle was not, ah, the overarching cause of his, let us say, vehement expostulation.”

A long sigh came from the carrier. Should she see if the air flow had loosened the band patches on the carrier? “Um, no, the fabric wasn’t the cause.” He shifted a little again, then unzipped the top of the modified handbag and poked his head out. “Up, please.” She stopped, got him situated on her shoulder, and resumed strolling. He sank his claws into the padding on her coat. After they passed an overly loud pickup, he whispered, “He killed one of the younger Hunters two nights ago. The . . . individual experienced a sudden attack of exceedingly poor judgement, and discovered that breaking the rules can have lethal consequences.”

Lelia frowned down at a new hole in the sidewalk, eased around the gap, and growled.

Tay continued, “Raj says that the idiot jumped Arthur as he and Florian, one of the other Hunters, were practicing two against two with Rendor and one of the youngsters, in the practice circle. The fool broke the circle to do it.”

A long string of curse flowed through her mind, starting with some choice terms in Street and going downhill into German, then Shakespeare. As she lowered the house shields and turned up the walk toward the front stoop, she said, “That was indeed a major failure of judgement.” She set Tay on the ground.

He “read the newspaper” as she unlocked the front door and raised the shields again. Her Familiar trotted back across the wet grass at a high rate of speed. “Cold feet! And major? Yeah.” He sounded unhappy. “The Hunters need to learn proportional response.” He marched in ahead of her, leaving damp lemur-prints on the tile and faux-wooded flooring.

“Hunters. Proportional. The guys who are probably genetically programmed to have two settings, those being ‘off’ and ‘kill it too dead to identify.’ I wish you luck in that endeavor, Master Tay,” André said, taking his wife’s bags as she closed the door. They kissed, and she removed her boots before going farther than the front mat. “Current events? I heard from Rodney through Raj.”

Lelia nodded. “Arthur raised his voice this morning. He’s never, ever done that before.” She left boots and her coat on the rack by the door, then followed him and the scent of food through the house. “As in, came unglued in my presence, dumped the contents of a box on the counter and hurled the box against the wall unglued.”

Her husband hugged her shoulders, then handed her a mug of hot tea. “Supper will be done in fifteen minutes, and I can see why you might be a touch, ah, dismayed at his behavior.” André shivered a little. “I’d probably head for the civil defense shelter under the bank, the one that’s not supposed to exist.”

She saluted him with the mug and hurried up the steps to the bedroom to change into something warmer.

After supper, he stopped her in the living room. “Permission?” When she nodded, he took her hand and pulled her close. He rested his chin on the top of her head. Something’s bothering you, love. She waited, holding him and savoring his closeness.

“The kid was a fool, to put it mildly. Even Arthur’s brother doesn’t surprise him when they are training, unless it is agreed in advance. That’s how the Hunters have managed to survive each other.” He took a deep breath, then exhaled sharply. “I’d have reacted the same way—defend first, identify later. Arthur’s partner got a few blows in as well, before they realized who or what it was.” André let go. “Which doesn’t make it easier. Arthur had to talk to the idiot’s parents last night, per tradition.”

“And they get to decide if a blood price will be demanded.” She shook her head, then met his eyes. “OK, that explains why he was wound so tight.” She shivered. André hugged her again. “I know it will be a token payment, since the deceased dummy brought it on himself, but that’s got to hurt, even when it is pure reflex and self-defense.”

André looked away, then met her eyes. Ghosts flitted behind the impassive facade. “It does. Even if the kid had just been maimed, it would hurt like hell.” He closed his eyes, and she held him tighter, being calm and quiet for him. “Thank you, dark my lady.”

She got more tea, and he settled into his chair in the living room. “Oh, yes,” he began. “I was informed that we need a proper Christmas tree.”

Lelia looked at him, then at the cute little midnight, blood-red, and silver Goth tree-under-glass that currently replaced the statue of Tay on the fireplace mantle. “A proper Christmas tree.”

“I believe an eight foot tall Frazier fir with multi-colored lights and several dozen glass balls and other ornaments was implied, if not outright commanded.” He hid farther behind his book.

“I’m game!” Tay caroled from the cat tree. “That sounds like a wonderful way to enrich my environment and improve my habitat.”

Rodney, André’s kit fox Familiar, snorted from his nest in the corner by the locked and illusion-warded book case. “Only if you go with all-natural, traditional decorations. You know, like jerky strips, and dried mice, and popcorn without the strings. That kind of biodegradable ornaments. Oh, and bacon strips. German ‘farmers’ bacon’ would be very culturally appropriate.”

Which is why we have a tree-under-glass on the mantle. Lelia settled onto the couch and let her eyes half close.

“‘Dad, we have a pathetic tree,’ were your middle son’s exact words.” André snorted. “I will not add his observations about overly-fresh seafood. Sushi that fights back didn’t agree with him.”

“I thought you dunked the stuff into that ferocious green horseradish until the meat stopped twitching, then ate it.” Still-frisky octopus had never, ever made it onto any of her “might try” dining lists. “And I prefer the term petit to pathetic.”

“Yes, dear.”

If Hiram had time to grumble about his parents’ choice in decorations, then the Army obviously needed to find more for him to do! Lelia glanced at her husband, then sipped her tea. Maybe I should find out who Hiram’s first sergeant is, send the gent a care package, and suggest that Hiram needs more homework? From what little André and Mike Radescu said about the military, it just might work. Or I’d find the first sergeant on my front mat asking for more treats. Never mind.

When her phone buzzed on Saturday afternoon, Lelia was too busy to notice. Only after she staggered home that evening and devoured not-too-bad-for-frozen lasagna did she glance at the message. It was from the All Arts list that Shoshana Langtree had persuaded her to join. “Religious news? Huh?” She clicked the link. “Oh!” She re-read the article and danced a little in the living room, careful not to hit anything.

“What?” Tay rested his head on the lip of his nest on the cat tree.

“St. Margaret of Scotland is having their Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols again, followed by the choral worship!”

Something thwapped her shin. She looked down as Rodney’s brush hit her again. “Yeah!” he called, then trotted away, leaving silver-white hairs on her skirt and the floor.

“Now who’s shedding?” Tay grumbled. “But that’s good about the church.”

“Which church?” André inquired, dodging his Familiar. Lelia showed him the press release. “Oh, that is good..”

“I’m surprised they were able to rebuild so quickly.” She put the phone away after clearing the message list.

He stretched a little, left and right, then headed for his chair. He arranged the cushions, then said, “They were very, very fortunate. All the interior damage was contained, and that the other place decided to dump their pipe organ.” He shook his head as he sat. “I sort of understand why a church would get rid of their organ if they don’t use it, but to just scrap it out? Ugh.”

Tay’s tail flipped left and right. “Well, the Episcopalians benefited. I heard that someone learned that some organ pipes are made from lead, and panicked.”

Anyone who chews on an organ pipe gets what she deserves. Lelia sat in her sewing chair and put on the lighted magnifier headband that André and the kids had given her a few years before. “Alas, Master Tay, that would not surprise me at all.” She picked up her latest project and wrinkled her nose. She couldn’t salvage the lace from the bottom hem, but the other layers should be reusable. The skirt had lasted for longer than it probably should have, given that she’d rescued it from the “quarter a piece” super-bargain-bin at the Community Thrift.

After removing two levels of crocheted and bobbin lace, she stopped to rest her eyes and wiggle a little. André appeared either deep in a book or asleep with his eyes open. Snores rolled from Rodney’s corner. Tay’s tail hung down from his nest like a “pull-for-service” cord. She saw headlights moving down the road outside, and two porch lights glowing, one of them now red for the holiday season. Someone has no idea why that part of Riverton is still called the red-light district. And she was not going to be the one inform them, either.

As she wound up the lace for reuse, she thought about the day. Arthur. Something still chewed on him. He’d gone back to Arthur-normal, sort of. He’s brooding, I think. It’s been a long time since he had to slap down one of the youngsters, and that just left the brat bloody and humiliated, not dead. An idea simmered as she tidied the rolls of lace and added them to her work basket. She got up, visited the washroom and got a cup of fancy water, then sat again. “Um, dark sir?”

“Yes?”

“Do you mind if I invite Master Saldovado to come to the Christmas Eve music with us, if we go?” She hesitated. “That is, if you want to go.” Art and Deborah might want to come over that evening, or André might be called to assist at church that night.

He closed the book, stood, and stretched, then came to stand behind her. “Permission?”

“Yes, please.” He rested his hands on her shoulders, gently squeezing.

She heard him inhale. “I think . . . I think it would be good to invite him, dark my lady. I do want to go to the Lessons and Carols, and after.” He kissed the top of her head. “At least he’ll know that we’d like him to come, even if he refuses. He might have church that night. Christmas Eve is rather important to the clans.”

There was that. “Thank you, gentle sir.”

He leaned down and whispered into her ear, “Which reminds me. Art wants Santa to bring his department chair common sense for Christmas. Deborah wants a dragon for the nature reserve, to keep mushroom pickers out. Krimhilde did not veto the suggestion.”

She closed her eyes. “Dragon. I think we can find one on the ‘net. There is no way short of a miracle to find common sense for an academic. No. Even Mr. Smith would throw up his hands, or whatever, at the very idea.” She opened her eyes and smiled up at him.

His laughter made the evening perfect.

The next morning, Tay hopped onto the sofa beside her as she nursed hot herbal tea. André and Rodney were still getting ready for church. “Um, your boss.”

She braced. “Has decided to take a tropical vacation in Cancun and I’m supposed to be in charge until New Years?”

Her Familiar snorted. “You wish. No. The penalty, the blood price?”

“How high?” Adrenaline hit her system and she clasped the mug more tightly.

He eased closer. “For him, very high. He was asked—ordered—to stay away from the clan’s Christmas Eve devotions, so that the dead Hunter’s parents can attend without having to see him. That’s a really low blood price, except . . .” His voice trailed off.

Except what? The memory bubbled up of Arthur kneeling before the priestess and guardian in what he called the Old Land. Oh nuts. Except that he’s some kind of priest and defender of the Lady. So it hits him hard. Fist in the gut hard. Right. I am asking him to come to the service with us.

(C) Alma T. C. Boykin 2021 All Rights Reserved.