Midmorning, December 25th, 1001,
Two miles East of the village of Stretham, Surrey, a small cottage
Loud barking from his dogs, Goderic and Godwine, told Dag that someone was coming down the road. He set down his carving knife and the little statuette he’d been working on, then stood from his stool. An uncomfortable glance toward the corner set his heart racing. He cast his eyes about until he caught sight of his stack of extra hides.
Luckily there was a full cured hide of cow. He tossed sheep hides to the side, pulled out the cow-hide, and tossed it over the main beam. Looping a hammer through a loose end of leather let him hang most of the hide down one side of the beam, effectively concealing the other half of his modest hovel.
Satisfied that his makeshift screen wouldn’t fall over, Dag ambled over to the door and pulled it open to peer outside. His heart fell. He wasn’t ready yet. How was he going to hide them from the biggest busybody in the entire village? How would he hide them from his best friend?
“Hey! Quiet you two,” he barked at the dogs.”Can’t you see that it’s only Acca. Though he is as slow as the oak tree he’s named after.”
“Very funny Dag,” the other man chortled. “We missed you at Christmas Mass last night.”
“Yes, well…” Dag’s grin faded. “I… was not feeling well.”
The lie sat sour in his stomach. Acca’s twisted lips said he didn’t believe the lie either. Something drew Acca’s eye to the ground behind him and the other man snorted.
“Are you still leaving a bowl of milk out for the elves? I thought you didn’t believe in Idonea’s superstitions.”
“I… didn’t,” Dag replied. “I leave it out for her. She would have wanted it.”
“Oh my friend,” Acca said, stepping up and laying a hand upon Dag’s shoulder. “We need to find you a new wife. This farm is empty without a woman.”
He glanced down again at the bowl, brows quirking.
“It’s only been since Spring,” Dag said, his shoulder sagging, feeling every day of his thirty years. “And I loved her. How do I replace that?”
“The hens were clucking about you at church last night,” Acca said with eyes wide. “If you don’t look for another woman yourself, you might find yourself with a useless young girl they all think will give you plenty of strong babies. I’ve had your cooking. You need someone who knows how to cook better than you or you’ll both starve to death.”
“Oh it’s a tawdry life of a farmer you lead when you should be a teller of funny tales at festivals,” Dag groused, deadpan. “I can hardly stop myself from falling over laughing that was so funny.”
“Not funny,” Acca grinned, taking a step into Dag’s home. Glancing down again at the bowl by the door. “Just truth.”
“Wait! I…” Dag exclaimed, caught off guard. But it was too late. Acca was already inside.
“So, have you had a stray cat move into the area?” Acca inquired. “The milk bowl is empty.”
“Ah, well… no,” Dag replied. “Not quite.”
He stepped in behind his friend who was staring at the hide hanging from his main beam.
“What’s this?” Acca demanded. “Never in my life have I seen you hanging screens. Have you had a woman out here?”
“Ah… well… uh, not… not exactly,” he stammered. Stomach twisting, even trying to lie to his friend. In the end he decided it wasn’t worth it. Acca would find out. Better it was now, when no one else was nearby. “Not a woman, not in so much as you think of the kind of woman that would visit with me. But not just one either. It’s complicated.”
“Not a woman,” Acca repeated, then cocked his head to the side, a tight, pinched, look on his face. “But more than one? What are you talking about? Have you been eating bread with mold on it lately?”
“No. What? No!” Dag retorted. “My head is fine thank you very much. Would you like to sit and drink and talk about it or do you just want to make fun of me?”
“Refuse your ale? I think not,” his friend replied, looking around. “I’ll sit here. and I won’t even look behind this odd screen you have hanging in your home.”
Dag frowned at his friend but drifted over to his barrel he’d fresh tapped the night before. He turned the spigot and held a tankard underneath, but frowned at the anemic flow. He tipped it a bit, which sped up the pour, but informed him that his guests had drunk much more ale than their diminutive stature should allow. When the cup was full he closed the spigot and grabbed another, placing it underneath to drain most of the rest of the barrel’s contents. With a few perturbed backward glances he made his way back to sit by his friend.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Acca shushed him just as he was about to begin explaining. “No talk of business before I get a sip of this. Merry Christmas my friend.”
“Yes indeed,” Dag smirked. “Merry Christmas.”
His friend was already sipping, which turned into a longer drought. Finally Acca sat back with a contented smile after a long pull.
“You’ve outdone yourself,” he murmured. “That is a fine, smooth, ale.”
“I… had help,” Dag admitted. He put up a hand to forestall questions. “It all started a fortnight ago.”
“The fog,” Acca grimaced, paused, took a breath. “And those lights.”
“Yes, well. I was too flustered to remember to put out the bowl that day, but I placed an extra portion out the next day after the milking. It was gone before midday when I returned with the herd.”
“Some wild cat probably found it I expect,” Acca said with a sneer.
“Nope,” Dag replied. He got up after finishing his own cup and walked over to pull back the hide screen. “It was them.”
There, on the corner bench, tapping and chiseling away at the most exquisite little wooden figurine Acca had ever seen, was a crowd of tiny little people. None any taller than his hand. It was only quick thinking and reaction speed, on Dag’s part, that saved the rest of Acca’s ale, as his cup fell from nerveless fingers.
Sean Gallagher is the author of the upcoming novel, Mysts of Mythos, first book in a new series of what he is calling historical fantasy. Raised in Syracuse, NY he moved to Oregon while still in high school and currently resides in Portland with his wife, Monica, and son, Rune. The Gallaghers are also the proud human friends of Blanca the dog and Thor the cat.
Check out jhis website or join his mailing list for further updates: www.mystsofmythos.com