?

Log in

 
 
02 February 2008 @ 02:43 pm
Bring Me Tidings of Yule  
Title: Bring Me Tidings of Yule
Author: zenni
Recipient: dammitliv
Rating: G
Prompt: Mrs. Lonsdale preparing a Christmas feast
Notes: It is taking your prompt and complicating it a little, and going slightly off topic, hope you don't mind ♥ The lovely ittykat was my beta, round of applause please.



Arianne Parslow still believed in Saint Nicholas when her ma said she was old enough to help with preparing the Yule feast. Of course, being the youngest in the kitchen meant that all her responsibilities were fetching vegetables from the small greenhouse outside, and occasionally passing on dishes to the servers who would be waiting on the scholars of Jordan and their guests. Once or twice Arianne was able to catch a glimpse of those in the dining hall, her daemon Rye fluttering nervously around her head, or trying to drag her back to her duties.

“We’ll get in trouble with your ma,” whined the daemon, now a weasel, grabbing a mouthful of Arianne’s skirt and pulling her towards the kitchen. “She’ll cane you, and I’ll hurt too.”

“Shush, Rye,” the young girl grinned and tugged her skirt back gently. She was only a child, after all, and she was innately curious about the lives and customs of the upper-class, the aristocrats and the blue bloods she would spend the rest of her life serving. If she leaned more to the right she could probably see the profile of the Master of Jor-

There was a sudden pain around her ear as her mother pinched her lobe. Next to her feet, Rye yelped in pain, rubbing at his own ears.

“What’s you doing here?” Mrs. Parslow said in a hiss, even though no one out in the hall could possibly hear them. “Go back an’ help Mrs. Chitcock with the onions, go on.” She made to nudge Rye with her boot, and even though he knew it would never touch him, still scooted back into the kitchen hurriedly behind Arianne.

Her night ended two hours later – Arianne sneaked out before anyone could ask her to help clean up, and gloated to her playmates about her almost-brush with the college scholars. Her friends listened enviously, while the normally demure Rye enjoyed this moment in the spotlight. The children then tried to stay awake, anticipating the arrival of Saint Nicholas, but it had been a long day, and they dozed off long before their parents came to fetch them for bed.

---

Now fourteen, Arianne Parslow knew the truth about Saint Nicholas, but helping out in the kitchens had become a Yule tradition. No longer delegated the mundane tasks, she was in charge of cleaning the utensils, a responsibility she wouldn’t dream of shirking. Rye, now settled as a stocky terrier, occupied himself any way he could, never getting too rowdy, because that would result in a smack on the rump, or a sharp look from Arianne, which was probably worse than the shared physical pain.

“This en’t no fun,” Rye said to Arianne as she stroked his belly, a temporary respite after dessert had been served. They were sitting on the steps leading out to the gardens, their breath misting. Arianne lifted Rye onto her lap and let the daemon sprawl there, though after the bustle in the kitchens, she hardly even needed the warmth.

Arianne glanced inside, blushing as one of the kitchen hands waved at her. “It’s a little fun,” she admitted, her hands became slightly more frantic as she scratched Rye. “’Sides, it’s tradition and I like to help ma.”

Rye peered at her with one eye closed, then twisted his head to see who it was she had been looking at before. “Sam Lonsdale, eh?” he teased, tongue lolling. “That the sort-a tradition you thinking of?”

She didn’t need to reply – there was no use arguing with one’s daemon, after all. Besides, Rye was right – if it hadn’t been tradition before, then it certainly became habitual from that year onwards. A look as they passed each other, a brief touch of hands, and a light kiss on his cheek, Arianne on tiptoes, underneath the Santalales.

---

Five years later and Arianne Parslow had become Arianne Lonsdale, and her post within Jordan College was now an official one. A maidservant to any visiting female scholars, Arianne spent the rest of her time attending to duties in the tearoom. Her wedding had been in September, and come winter solstice, the newlyweds were still inseparable, meaning that an assignment in the kitchens for the Yule feast was assured.

“You’re aglow,” commented her friend Bessie as they passed each other, both with a considerable heap of plates in their arms. “And I bet it en’t all from gettin’ into the Yule spirit.”

Arianne swatted playfully at her, while Rye echoed her movements and tugged on the other daemon’s tail. “Hush, you, an’ get back to work.”

Her night didn’t last much longer after that, and as she vomited into the frozen garden beyond the kitchen stairs, her friend holding back her hair, she realised that she had been glowing, but not from the spirit of Yule, nor was it merely being in love. Rye whimpered, nauseated too, shakily licking the splattered sick off his own fur.

“Oh, en’t this a fine night to find out you’re with child,” Bessie consoled Arianne after fetching a glass of water. She sat down beside the mother-to-be, patting her back, and handing her a handkerchief when she had finished the drink. “You mus’ be happy.”

Truth be told, Arianne found it difficult to be happy when moments earlier she had been heaving up her lunch. She was scared – terrified, and for the first time, remembered that she was still a child herself.

Soon Bessie returned to her work, requesting permission for Arianne to rest, so she went to her chambers and sat in the dark. Rye had gone to sleep, exhausted for reasons he couldn’t quite fathom. Arianne listened to the distant clink of silverware and subdued murmurs of chatter from the Hall, wishing that for once the scholars were less refined, more disorderly at the dinner table, and then maybe they could be noisy enough to drown out the silence in her head.

When Sam finished in the kitchens, she had laid down above the covers, curled up and facing the wall with Rye in the space between her stomach and her knees, a space that, in a few months, would be taken up by something else completely. Her husband didn’t turn on the lights, instead climbing onto the bed with her in the dark. He slung an arm across to hold her, stroking her arm, the nearness of his fingers to Rye raising the hairs on the back of her neck. They slept like that that night, neither one wanting to talk, even though there were still so much unsaid.

---

The arrival of Lyra Belacqua coincided with Mrs. Lonsdale’s promotion to housekeeper. Almost no one called her Arianne anymore, not since the birth of her child and the death of her parents, but she loved Sam, and she liked the name Lonsdale, and as a woman approaching mid-life, a youthful first name just didn’t seem appropriate.

She was put in charge of the wellbeing of the child – it was a harsh winter and it wouldn’t do for Lyra to fall sick. For the first time in years, Mrs. Lonsdale would not be joining the other staff on the kitchen floor, but would have food and such brought up to her. Come the night, it seemed that all precautions taken were quite unnecessary, as Lord Asriel’s niece (or perhaps she was a child closer to the adventurer than anyone thought, if the rumours were to be believed) slept through the night, only waking at the crack of dawn to struggle out of her warm beddings and wail for new nappies.

Bessie stopped by in the morning to coo at the new arrival. She described some of the events of last night to Mrs. Lonsdale, and they scoffed at the inexperience of the young girls, conveniently forgetting that they had once been clumsy and ungainly too.

---

Lyra Belacqua was eight years old and drunk on holiday cheer when she and Pantalaimon caused a ruckus in the main hall and broke a number of fragile ornaments on the decorative pine. The Master of Jordan sent her to her room as a punishment, not allowing her to take part in the feast until she “learnt to sit still”. With nary a sulk, Lyra obliged, Pantalaimon flouncing along behind her, changing every few steps that they took.

Mrs. Lonsdale watched them go from the dining hall, where she was giving instructions to the servers about table settings and plate arrangements. Although she was no longer hands-on in her duties, this was still the busiest night of the year. She had a full plate, and she knew Lyra wouldn’t disobey a direct order from the Master, so she really has no business check on the girl…

But still, Mrs. Lonsdale climbed the stairs, huffing slightly as she reached the top. Her frame had ballooned in recent years, her steps not as deft as before, which made keeping up with her young charge very difficult indeed. Rye, however, had no such considerations and had trotted along ahead of her, and started to groom himself while he waited.

The girl and her daemon had actually been sitting still when Mrs. Lonsdale entered the room, cross-legged on the window sill and watching the snow fall. Upon seeing her enter, Pantalaimon sprang up and flew, as a moth, to land on Rye’s ear. Lyra did not move from her spot, though it was too much to hope that she had taken the Master’s words to heart.

Ignoring the vague ticklish sensation on her own ear, Mrs. Lonsdale asked Lyra if she was hungry, and on the pretence of watching the snow too, locked the window with a decisive snap, pocketing the key, just in case.

Lyra watched this happen, seemingly unmotivated by the restriction of her freedom. Pan, getting no reaction from Rye, fluttered back to settle in Lyra’s hair, before she answered that yes, they were a little hungry.

Unaccustomed to this demure Lyra, Mrs. Lonsdale returned to the feast preparation with the promise that she would bring something up later. The thought never left her mind, and as she bustled about, she put aside dishes of food she knew Lyra liked, to take up to the girl once things tapered.

It came as a surprise that when she brought the meal up to Lyra’s room, she had not moved from the original spot. Pantalaimon, too, was unusually sedated, a sloth on her shoulder. Mrs. Lonsdale went about then, setting out each dish on the tray as she would on the formal dining table, pouring a cup of chocolatl, putting is aside to chill slightly, lest it scalded mouth and tongue.

Lyra slid down from the window sill when she noticed the absence of sound. Mrs. Lonsdale was almost to relieve to see her starting to talk non-stop as soon as she started to eat, asking curious and silly questions, not perturbed by Mrs. Lonsdale’s request that she be quiet and not talk with her mouth full.

“D’you have any kids, Mrs. Lonsdale?” she asked between mouthfuls of mash, the personal question taking the housekeeper by surprise.

I did have a son, but he died. I was only nineteen when I had him and I weren’t ready for a kid. I tried to be a mother, tried my hardest to do a good job by him, but I wasn’t much of one, not really a mother. He was always sickly since he was born, though his pa and I were real sturdy. Bessie said he’d of grow out’a it but I knew she was just comfortin’, ‘cuz she didn’t want’a see me sad. I took him to see the doctors when he was three months ‘cuz he was coughing such, but they said there weren’t nothing they could do for him; they said it wasn’t my fault.

Mrs. Lonsdale gave Lyra a look, but instead of withering the girl just sat up straighter and met her eyes with defiance. “I could of had kids,” she lied, softening. “Mr. Lonsdale wanted a son, but if he’d turn out anything like you I’m glad I didn’t have one.”

And with that they resumed their usual bickering and scolding, Mrs. Lonsdale staying up in Lyra’s room long after her meal was finished, to keep her company. Eventually they settled in front of the fireplace, Lyra telling absurd stories and Mrs. Lonsdale rebuffing them until she ran out, and the two sat in silence, basking in the warmth, chocolatl forgotten.

They stayed that way until the fire started to die. Lyra yawned and stretched, finding out that Mrs. Lonsdale had already dozed off in her chair. Gathering a sleepy Pan up in her arms, she kissed the woman on her cheek, whispering, “Happy Solstice” before climbing into bed, letting the light snores lull her to sleep.
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)