A Mad Engineer's Wintermass
A Veetu Industries Tale
Twas the night before Wintermass and all through the theatre, the bannisters were decked and the hall was filled with cheer.
The grandest theatre in all of Svenfur was celebrating the season. In the lobby of His Majesty’s Theatre, a tree stretched from floor to ceiling, decorated in fine red and gold ornaments. On its branches sat gas filled safety bulbs, the glow warm and welcoming. The golden bannisters were wrapped with greenery and ribbons, the rich red carpet dusted with snow. Modern marvels to enchant the festive audience.
Within the auditorium, the crowd roared and cheered, fuelled with the spirit of Wintermass. They sang and danced as the night engulfed the city, the magic hour close at hand.
And sitting proudly at the top of the bill was one Cedo Reilly, his name emblazoned on the marquee in black, foot tall letters. On this snow filled night, he stood astride the stage, dressed in a suit of claret red velvet, gold thread picking out a design of delicate snowflakes. Bathed in the warm light of the limes, he wove a story for the night before Wintermass, telling the audience of long dark nights, roaring fires, and a cloaked being who delivered gifts in the dead of night.
“You must keep your kitchen window unlocked,” Cedo's voice projected to the crowd, “for this is how Saint Nicholas shall enter. He is a lowly man and much prefers to use the tradesman's entrance to the front door. Do not forget that he is a lover of the poor, so leave an offering upon the table of the kitchen. Food, wine, and a small amount of money are his favoured offerings. In return, he will bless you with gifts, gifts which you shall find under the tree come dawn.”
Throughout the auditorium, decorations hung. Collections of red and gold decorations dangled from the heavens, catching the light from the stage and sending a million twinkling dancing around the house. As Cedo prepared his final speech, he glanced heavenwards and smiled. He knew what was to come, the final surprise before the clock struck eleven. For they all needed to be home before the clock reached twelve. If not, then Saint Nick would not visit.
“There is one final thing you must not forget,” he whispered loudly. Before him, the audience strained forward, their ears and eyes on him. “Saint Nick comes to us upon a sleigh pulled by six white horses. If you wish to receive gifts, you must remember to leave them a little something too.” Gazing around the full theatre, he smiled before stretching a hand above his head. “A Merry Wintermass to all, and to all a good night!”
With a snap of his fingers, the snow began to fall, slowly descending on to one and all. There were gasps and cries of glee, faces lighting with joy as it settled over the auditorium. Sweeping his hat from his head, Cedo smiled and bowed, quickly making his exit before they had noticed he was gone. It was time for the real magic of Wintermass to begin. The decorations had already been hung at the Witheybrooke house, trees, large and small, sitting in every room. The normally sombre house, one which was reserved for the coming war, was alive with Wintermass joy. The staff were happy, exchanging gifts and creating meals large enough to feed the ever growing army. Billy had disappeared for a number of days, citing Wintermass, before returning bearing brightly gift wrapped boxes, the thick paper held in place by string. They had been promptly deposited beneath a tree and nothing more said. No amount of pleading and whining from himself was going to make Billy reveal their contents.
And as for his Master... Cedo grinned as he walked through the winding corridors of the backstage. Erus had taken on a whole new persona in the days leading up to Wintermass. Not only had he assisted them in hanging the decorations, but Cedo could have sworn he'd heard the flame haired engineer humming Wintermass tunes to himself. His jolly mood had even lead him to forbidding the servants from working on Wintermass Day, ordering them to have left the house by midday so that they could travel to their families.
Reaching the door to the loading yard, Cedo pushed it open and...
All that the yard contained was a growing drift of snow, thick flakes floating down from the quiet sky. Beyond the walls of the large yard, he heard the sounds joyous celebrations, of people singing and being merry. Of people relaxing from a world which, in previous months, had shown them nothing but hardship. Soon it would become even harder and, for a few hours at least, they could forget it all.
Forgotten. That was how he felt. After the excitement of the past weeks, Cedo suddenly felt cold. Wrapping his heavy coat closer to him, he watched the snow, wondering where his Master and lover could have gotten to. They had accompanied him into the city, Erus making for a luxurious restaurant to celebrate Wintermass with the Patron, while Billy had made for his Mother's, eager to spend time with his family before the following day. A day when they would do nothing but relax and feast. Yet they seemed to have forgotten him.
Looking at the snow, Cedo tugged his collar up. He would have no option but to walk. It would take all night but he would be home by dawn, safely tucked beneath the piles of bedding. He would be frigid by the time he returned, but it would be worth it to celebrate Wintermass with the people he had come to call his family.
Cedo was just about to step into the snow when he heard it. Carried on the gentlest of breezes was the sound of bells. They could just be made out amid the countless voices and songs.
As if by magic, it appeared, sliding in to the yard on long, upturned golden skids. Behind the skids, he noticed six wheels, drawn up from the ground, obviously ready to be dropped should the terrain become free of snow. Pulled by six snowy white iron horses, the sled was just as white, intricate designs painted along its sides. Bells and Obtainium fired lamps dangled from the four corners, filling the air with a warm light and gentle sound. Open to the elements, the sled could carry a number of people, yet only one sat at the rear, huddled beneath blankets and furs. At the fore sat another fur covered being, a large hood pulled up around their head, the reins gathered in their hands. A long, slender whip was clutched in one hand, ready for use.
The excitement rose, his cheeks tinting red as he strained to look over the ornate creation. Was it a dream? Or was it real, his story come to life?
The being holding the reins turned and swept the hood from their head. Flame red hair tumbled around their shoulders, a stark contrast to the grey and snowy garments they wore. A grin broke his Master's normally stony face and he gestured to the sleigh behind him.
“Well? What are you waiting for? Your ride home awaits!”
Cedo laughed and stepped from the theatre, the snow cascading in to his boots. Grasping the edge of the sleigh, he pulled himself up, settling himself beside the single rider.
His happiness grew, the spirit of the season once more filling him, as the other occupant turned to him. Bright blue eyes sparkled from beneath a hood, a warm hand reaching out to briefly touch his face before it disappeared back in to the depths of its muff. Collecting cloaks and blankets from the seat, Cedo wrapped himself against the biting cold before leaning against Billy. Balmy breath touched his cheek, lips following in its wake. He smiled, eyes on the powerful, prancing horses. Steam poured from their nostrils and they tossed their heads, straining against the harness.
“'e came and got me from 'ome,” Billy murmured. “Couldn't believe it when 'e pulled up.”
Cedo chuckled and pressed himself closer to his lover's warm body. “You are not the only one.”
“My Ma made these for us.” Reaching in to a bag at his feet, Billy pulled out three knitted stockings. Each bore one of their names, and had already been filled with small gifts.
Smiling, Cedo reached for his. Quickly it was snatched away, a mischievous grin on Billy's face. “No touchin' 'til tomorrow.”
Kissing Billy's cheek, he chuckled. “You are such a tease.”
“Aye, an' don't you know it.”
From the fore came the cry of, “Walk!”, and the sled smoothly pulled away.
Turning from the yard, they slid along a snow covered road. From the pavements, people watched, their attention caught by the jangling of the bells. Cedo heard himself laugh, a sound which mixed with that of the city around them. Beside him, Billy pressed himself closer, enjoying the ride.
Cedo felt elated. Erus, his Master, had stepped from a place where he felt comfortable to create a unique and beautiful gift. For him to be at the helm, driving it through the icy streets, was another great stride for a man who considered himself to be above all others. For him to be serving another was nothing short of a splendid shock.
Slipping his hand from beneath the blankets, he reached in to the muff and wrapped his cool fingers around those of his lover's. Against his cheek, he felt Billy smile.
Around them, the city was alive. People spilled from gin houses and theatres, singing, arms linked around one another. Colourful decorations hung in windows, a million candles guiding them home. The air was filled with the smell of mulled wine and hope. Hope for a better life, for one where war did not hang over them. Songs of joy reached their ears, the words touching Cedo's heart, causing his own voice to reach to the citizens they passed. Beside him, Billy also began to sing, his voice a low, and delicious, baritone.
They rounded a corner and found themselves on Svenfur's main thoroughfare, the wide and steep West Road. Here the snow had been cleared, leaving bare cobbles. As they touched it, the sled paused and jolted. Leaning out, Cedo laughed as the skis retracted and the wheels touched the cobbles. Only an engineering genius could have devised such vehicle. With the wheels down, they joined the throngs returning to their homes, the road saturated with hansoms, steam-carriages and the brightly coloured, multi-storyed omnibuses. Horses and steam engines jostled for space, coming and going, the noise a delight to hear. For it was the sound of people returning to their loved ones for a day of merriment.
People stared at the six massive horses, their iron hooves ringing against the ground. They tossed their heads, wire manes rippling in waves, their metallic whinnies calling to their blood brothers along the road. Yet Erus barely appeared to guide them, the man-made beasts knowing the route they needed to take.
Between the Terminus and the subterranean railway station sat a tall Wintermass decoration. Made from red, green and golden wood, the four tiered carousel was alive with children, all riding one of the dazzling horses. Steam belched from the roof of the tall structure, joining the downy snow-filled clouds, jangling Wintermass music only amusing the children and watchers more. Wintermass decorations hung from the roof of the carousel, the sparkling lights turning them into strings of stars. The smokestack, Cedo noticed, was in the shape of a dragon's claw with a mouse sitting at its heart, the carousel a gift to the city from Veetu Industries. He could not help but smile.
Above the noise, people called Wintermass greetings to them, children shouted with delight as the sled powered on up the road, happiness alive and well amid the coal-scented night. They returned the wishes, laughing and waving as people chased after them. A banner hung from the Terminus, The Svenfur Terminus wishes all our citizens, both young and old, a very merry Wintermass.
They continued through the city, passed the Terminus and toward the city boundaries. Every building they rolled by was festooned with the trimmings of Wintermass, with the scents of roasting chestnuts and figgy pudding floating from a million chimneys. They rode in silence, enjoying the bite of the cold air, and the feeling of falling snow against their faces.
The sleigh swung out of the city and on to narrow country lanes. Pitching to the left, the streets and lanes disappeared to be replaced by rolling hills of freshly fallen snow, the full flickering from behind the heavy clouds, its light glistening from the fallen flakes. With a jolt, the skis were lowered and they raced across the Downs. The horses panted and chomped at their bits, the mechanical parts whirring and clicking.
Sweeping over the rolling ground, Cedo and Billy cheered with exhilaration, the wind tugging the hoods from their heads and catching their hair.
“This is extraordinary,” Cedo cried above the wind.
Beside him, Billy laughed, a fur warmed hand reaching to grasp him, pulling him in to a tight embrace. Onward they raced, the horses seeming to never tire, their endurance going beyond anything Cedo could have ever imagined. They never faltered, forever pulling them toward their home.
They careered through trees and over a frozen river, the thoughts of what was to come blown from their mind by the speed, the sleigh coasting easily over the snow, the bells wildly jangling. The lights lit their way, the bright flames catching the snow and the bare skeletons of trees. Amid them, Cedo swore he could see the shadows of Wintermass' past, their childlike hullabaloo only fuelling the one which was to come, the one which lay only a few moments away. For some, it would be their last Wintermass, their lives lost in the coming war. But they did not think of that. All they thought of was the present, of the bright day which would dawn, of gifts, of friends and family, of the love it would bring. The war was another day, in another time, and, for now, it was banished to nothing, the thrill of Wintermass chasing it to nothing. For if they could cling on to such feelings then perhaps it would not come. Perhaps the enemy would catch news of what they could do and retreat back to their icy lair.
Skimming over the brow of a hill, the Witheybrooke house came in to view. Its windows were alight with Wintermass lanterns, the warmth drawing them in. The sleigh swung down over the frozen stream and in to the garden, sliding to a halt beside the small yard.
For a moment, they sat and stared at the house, stunned in to silence.
“If you dally, you'll miss the magic hour,” Erus called.
Unwilling to break the spell, they slowly stepped from the sleigh, both giving it longing glances as their boots crunched through the heavy snowfall. It was the only noise which broke the thickness of the night, their thoughts still turned to the enchanting ride.
The house was warm and aglow with the welcoming light of gas and paper lamps. Heavy layers of furs were shed and left beside the door, the snow fading away. His Master was dressed in a suit of white, fur lining the cuffs and collar, a stark change to his normal black attire, his hair almost glowing against the bright colour. Walking past the empty servants quarters, they entered the study, Cedo and Billy murmuring with delight at the transformation. It was the one place they had not decorated, Erus refusing to let the spirit of the season permeate his sacred work space.
Intricate wax-paper lanterns adorned the shelves and desk, fashioned into five-pointed stars, trees, and the fantastical sleigh. Boughs of fir tree weaved their way around the fireplace, bows and baubles peeping from beneath the sharp scented needles. The room was filled with the delicious fragrance of cloves and mulled wine and a fire was burning in the grate. And there, beside the window, was a large pine tree adorned with ornaments.
Cedo turned to Erus. “Did you-?”
His Master leaned against the desk, a smile lighting his face. “Indeed I did.”
“You did not attend a meal, did you?”
Laughing, Erus shook his head. For once it was not a malicious sound, but one filled with love and happiness. “You are correct, I did not. But I shall not tell you how it was done.”
Placing a hand against one hip, Cedo playfully frowned. “And why not?! I demand to know the secrets of Wintermass Eve. I demand to know how this-” He gestured around the room. “And the sleigh, came in to being!”
“Then keep demanding for you shall never know.” The smile remained on Erus's face and, knowing he was not going to get any further, Cedo returned his attention to Billy.
His lover, hair wind ruffled around his face, stared in wonder at the richly decorated room. “Never 'ad anythin' like this when I was a young'un.”
He leaned close, an arm going around Billy's waist. “Yes, but you have a family, and that is what Wintermass is about.”
“True. But doesn't always mean it was good. 'specially with my father around.”
Feeling the love of Wintermass wash through him, Cedo placed a gentle kiss to Billy's cheek. “He is gone now. You do not have to worry. Your family are happier now that they are free. Do not worry, just enjoy the moment.”
Billy looked to him, a wistful smile curling his lips. Gently he slid a hand along Cedo's jaw, drawing their lips into a soft kiss. Closing his eyes, Cedo let himself melt against his mate, fingers dancing through his hair.
A hand brushed over his own head and he leaned back to look up into the emerald green eyes of his Master. Cradling the back of his head, Erus kissed him, and Cedo felt his heart swell with the affection from the two men who loved him. And he loved them just as much, blessed to feel safe and wanted. For one day, they could lay aside their jealousies and differences.
Behind them, the fireplace clock began to chime midnight. With it, came the gentle whirr of clockwork and they moved to look at the tree. Cedo and Billy gave cries of delight as it came to life, the small ornaments moving and stretching. Fairies fluttered their wings, horses and reindeer shook their heads, and tiny children swung on swings. A top the tree, the star unfolded its points and, with a shake, dispensed golden glitter across the room.
As the clock sang its final call, a flight of small, golden angels burst from inside the tree, taking flight around the room. Whirling around, their tiny voices joined to sing the praises of Wintermass, before settling back on the boughs of the tree.
Mulled wine was poured and Ma Burton's stockings were hung before the roaring fire. The lower boughs of the tree began to shake and, a moment later, and Misty bounded out, a clockwork frog caught in her jaws. Erus laughed. “It looks as though someone has already found their Wintermass gift.”
The laughter rose in Cedo and he picked her up, placing the white cat on his shoulder. She curled around his neck, dropping the frog in to his outstretched hand, purring as it gave a metallic ribbit. Draining his glass, Erus ushered them to the door.
“And now to bed. Because if you don't, then good Saint Nick will not come.”
With the thrill of Wintermass in his heart, Cedo allowed himself to be chased to bed, he and Billy curling around one another as the door was carefully closed behind them. Jumping onto the bed, Misty curled herself between them, deep, rumbling purrs shaking the bed.
What they did not see was Erus, the smile on his face, and finger raised to his lips. From beyond the door, he quietly shushed the young lovers before sweeping back down the stairs. Pulling the fur-lined hood over his head, he silently stacked the paper wrapped gifts beneath the tree, a glass of mulled wine at his side.
As the last gift was placed beneath the tree, he leaned in to the window and stared at the snow covered lane beyond the glass. Large flakes still drifted downwards, the gas lamps beneath the tree catching them and turning them, briefly, into floating stars. He was happy and he did not want the feeling to die.
“A Merry Wintermass to all, and to all a good night,” he softly whispered.
~~ The End ~~
Thank you for reading! I really appreciate it! Do you want more Cedo, Billy and Erus? Mars on the Rise (Veetu Industries #1) and Selling Mars (Veetu Industries #2) are now available from Torquere Press and all good retailers!
Feel free to check out Rae's 12 Videos of Christmas post. A little bit of fun and a heck of a lot of music!