Happy Christmas, happy holidays to all of you. May the next year bring you all good things. To celebrate the season, here's an extract from my medieval fantasy 'Dark Angels', in which the young hero Wolf fulfills a promise to meet his friend Nest, daughter of a Norman lord and a Welsh princess, at the top of the watch tower of the castle La Motte Rouge at daybreak on Christmas morning, in the hope of seeing angels dancing in the sunrise. Wolf has bad news for Nest, and danger is all about them - but - it's still Christmas...
"Look out," said Nest quietly. "It's slippery."
"So did you!"
They beamed at each other.
"I wasn't sure you would, " said Nest, "but I came in case."
... She picked up a cloth bundle tied with knots. "Here - this is for you. Take it!"
Mystified, Wolf untied the knots. Out fell a long-sleeved tunic. A linen shirt. Warm, tight-fitting hose for his legs. And a fine woollen cloak lined with rabbit-fur. They were new. Nest must have been making them for weeks. He looked up at her, speechless.
"Merry Christmas," she said gruffly.
"I can't believe you did this," he said in a hoarse voice. "Thank you." He looked at the clothes again, fingering the cloth. "Nest - I came to tell you -"
A gleam of pink light touched her face. "No!" she pleaded. "Don't tell me yet. Remember why we came? Look, the sun's nearly up!"
Wolf swept snow from the rail. They leaned on it, looking east. Every moment, the colour in the sky grew stronger. A vast cloud stood high over Crow Moor. It flushed rose and peach and gold and began to brighten beyond colour, into pure light. Out of nowhere a small wind ruffled their faces.
Christus natus est! Christ is born! Far below their feet a cock crowed, wild and shrill. A goblet of fire too bright to look at rose over the rim of the world. Fields and woods leaped to life. Rays of light struck across the valley, and the snow-crusted edge of the rail where they leaned turned all to diamonds.
A lump came into Wolf's throat. Poised here on the tower, high above the world, his hard decisions and troubles seemed tiny and unimportant.
Nest grabbed his hand. "Oh Wolf," she breathed. "Look."
Above the joyful blazing disc of the sun, the sky was hammered silver. White sparks appeared in it, like morning stars. Wolf squinted between the bars of his fingers. Far, far away, leaving streaks and curls of fire, the angels danced like a flock of birds before the sun, their immeasurably distant wings flashing.
Dark Angels by Katherine Langrish, HarperCollins
US edition: The Shadow Hunt, HarperCollins
Happy Christmas to you all!
Sunrise over Boldron fields by Andy Waddington, Wikimedia Commons
Angels dancing in the sun by Giovanni di Paolo (Musee Conde), Wikimedia Commons