ORPHAN

A Celestial Saga Story

By Shade Jalo

All Rights Reserved

Special Thanks to the other contributions to this story.

Beta Readers: Rob Burgess and Cheryl Jalo

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     Orphan . . . defined as a young child without the care of parents due to death or abandonment. In an old town in medieval Germany, it was also the name of a boy. The village was ruled by a far distant king. The humble people lived in cottages and cabins built of wood. Majority of residents, farmers and herders.

      Orphan’s name, while cruel, was fitting. He could remember no other because both his parents were gone before his true name could sink into memory. The one he now bore was given to him by the other children of the town. While it was their playful mocking that brought about the name, it soon became the only one he knew.

     Orphan wandered around the small town of Odisheim in search of shelter and food daily. Most of what he received as food was stolen or thrown out scraps. The trees of the nearby woods became his home.

     It was nearing the time of Yule, or as they recently coined it, Christmas. Not much had changed of the festivities short of no human sacrifices and a new figurehead of the holiday. At least with many of the pagan traditions being traded for Christian ones, the church would condone the celebration.

     None of that mattered to Orphan. Religion wasn’t for him. If God would never hear his cries, then why waste his time with yet another absent parental figure like him?

     There was one thing this season brought that upset Orphan more than some distant deity. It was the bitter cold and winter storms sure to come. After being out in the streets for thirteen winters, as he’d counted, Orphan learned to track the weather patterns. A storm was coming, that much he knew. Scouring the town, he searched for shelter before it was too late. The townsfolk were not hospitable. They would not allow him into their homes, for he was a burden they did not wish to bear. Even if he snuck into their barns and sheds, they would find him and throw him out. Neighbors warned one another that the orphan child was trying to stow away in their barns, leaving him no place to be safe from the storm.

     At long last, Orphan arrived at a place where he hadn’t yet stowed away on the property. The lovely cottage was built on the outskirts of town, far from other homes and barns. It was unlikely neighbors would warn the family of his coming because there were none. While he knew who lived in each home, the habitants of this one were a mystery to him.

     Tip toeing, he snuck past every window until he came to the last one and stopped. Therein was the entire family; a mother, a father, and a sickly boy only a few years younger than he. The child lied on a bed covered with blankets. The mother sat on his bedside, placing her hand on his forehead with a shake of her head. She then turned to the father, a look of alarm.

     It occurred to Orphan that he’d never seen this boy out in the streets, taunting him with the other children. The parents he’d only seen on occasion, but only on trips to the church or to the market.

     The young boy in the window let out a nasty cough, the pale of his complexion becoming like the snow that was to come. Tears came from his eyes while his breath was nearly taken from him in that moment. This illness Orphan had seen before. It had caused the death of both young and old alike. With how often he spent in the cold chill, it was a wander he had not come down with the illness.

     Orphan continued past the window, sneaking into the nearby barn. There within he found a large stack of hay that would become his bed. He leapt onto it as though it were his own and he’d missed its comfort. Though it poked him through his raggedy clothes and caused him to itch all over, it was more comfortable than the rough trees.

     Orphan only managed an hour of sleep before the barn doors swung open violently. Though he wished it had only been the wind, there was no such luck. The parents were coming into the barn, candlelight guiding their way. While they entered, he leapt behind the hay stack.

     “Come on out, young man,” the father called. “We know you’re in here. We saw you gaze into our window.”

     Still frightened, Orphan remained behind the haystack. The father moved so as to approach Orphan, but was stopped by his wife snatching him by the sleeve with the subtle shake of her head. Afterwards, she spoke, a gentler and kinder tone.

     “We have stew to share should you be hungry.”

     Food . . . now that was the key. Orphan glanced down at his growling stomach. He couldn’t remember the last time he ate. It’d been at least a day, if not longer.

      Orphan followed the kindly gentleman and lady through the ever sharpening cold and into the warmth of their house. They replaced his torn clothes with new ones. Though originally sewn for the ill boy in the room, who was smaller than orphan, the mother was able take them out in the waste so that he could squeeze into them. They were uncomfortable, but warmer than the rags he wore. With a smile, she promised she’d get to work on some new clothes for him that would surely fit.

      There was more than enough stew for the entire family and for Orphan. He was even able to have a second bowl. While their son could not join them, they delivered him his bowl in his bed. In conversation at the family table, the father revealed himself to be named Cristoff, or Cris for short. The mother was called Bridgette. After sharing their names, they both turned to Orphan.

     “What is your name, Son?” Cris asked.

     “Orphan . . . as far as I remember anyway.”

     Cris and Bridgette exchanged concerned looks.

     Realizing a storm would soon be upon them, they offered him something no other family in town ever did . . . a place to stay for the night. Orphan was overjoyed, especially considering it meant he wouldn’t have to travel out into the storm. Bridgette then added:

     “You can stay as long as you need.”

     Orphan accepted the hospitality. A pallet was made for him of furs that had been sewn into blankets. They were warm, soft, and a wonder to behold for the orphan who had nothing. While he’d seen many children tucked into covers like the ones he would now use, he’d never had the luxury of being so close to one. With Orphan settled in, Bridgette and Cris also went to bed.

     While Orphan slept, the storm arrived. Thunder and lightning accompanied the wailing winds and blanketing snow. Orphan found that he could not sleep. Because of this, he stood up and walked to the room wherein rested the ill boy. Though the boy’s breathing was faint, his wheezing was loud. Walking closer towards the boy, he arrived at the head of the bed. The young child was awake, his hopeful eyes glued to the family’s guest.

     “Are you -” the boy’s words were stopped by a cough “- to be my new brother?”

     Orphan’s eyes widened. A thought that never occurred to him before became like a screaming in his mind. This family, which had showed him such hospitality, may very well wish to take him in. While they had been so kind to him, they were already burdened with an ill and most likely dying child. Why should he too burden them? They had no time to raise an orphan when their only child could die. Even if they tried, Orphan couldn’t bear to gain a brother only to lose him shortly after.

     Downcast, he shuffled out of the room without ever responding. Orphan gathered himself his favorite of the fur blankets. It had been died green with the exception a pure white trim, reminding him of the pine trees he called home. The length and thickness together would keep him warm in the winter. After finding a needle, some thread and a button, he fashioned the blanket so that he could wear it as a cloak when he attempted to traverse the storm. He’d watched many mothers from windows when they sewed clothes for their children, always wishing he had a mother to do the same for him. In all those observations, he learned how to sew himself. If only he had the materials, he could have replaced his rags ages ago.

     With his blanket made coat and new clothes given to him by the couple, he snuck out of the house before anyone could stop him.

     Though Orphan could not see in front of him because of the blinding snow fall, he marched into the thick of the storm. Being homeless, it didn’t matter where he went, as long as he did so before he faced heartbreak. Little did he know that he was walking away from the town and towards the pine tree woods.

     Sadness struck him near the same time a pine tree did. He fell to the ground with a tear in his heart and a bump on his forehead.

     Looking out into the storm, Orphan couldn’t even fathom what appeared in front of him. The snow was collecting into a single form. While it did, it shone with the purest of white lights. The wind blew the powder away to reveal a person standing with him in the midst of the blizzard. The harsh winds and wet snow had no effect on her. All the while a glow emitted from her like some angel. Orphan rubbed the bump on his head wandering if hitting it had triggered hallucinations.

     With a white shawl pulled over her head, and cloaked in a long, flowing dress of white, Orphan could hardly tell it was a woman. She looked to him with eyes that seemed more like a window into the night time sky. Her hair matched with specks of light glimmering like stars from within its pitch black strands. Smiling, she outstretched her hand for Orphan to grab. While he was frightened at the magical appearance of this stranger, an unexplainable peace came over him. The two trudged through the already fallen snow until the soft precipitation from above surrounded them. Only a few steps into the blizzard, and it disappeared. The two were standing miraculously in the home of Bridgette and Cris. Orphan couldn’t even remember walking through a door.

     Cris was throwing on his thick coat typically used when going on a winter hunt. All the while, Bridgette paced across the wooden floor.

     “Cris, it’s too dangerous out there for you to go into it. You too will be lost.”

     He would not listen, but instead rebutted:

     “And if it were our little Timmy lost in the winter, would you ask me to stay then? He is yet a child lost and alone in the cold.”

     While still reluctant, Bridgette could not bear the thought of letting an innocent young man like Orphan die in the winter’s cold. She let Cris go.

     The mysterious woman grabbed hold of Orphan’s hand before he could ask further of the scene, pulling him out the front door. While he expected to be yanked into the storm, he was not. Instead, he was taken to a grave yard where both Cris and Bridgette were staring down solemnly at two plots.

     “It’s what he would have wanted,” Cris assured Bridgette with a squeeze to her shoulder. “Little Timmy lived alone. At least there was someone for him to be buried by.”

      The two turned away from what was surely Timmy’s grave. Orphan was appalled at the death of the hopeful child he met only once. Turning to the spirit in fret, he tugged on her sleeve.

     “Tell me it isn’t so, mysterious spirit . . .” he begged her. “Tell me little Timmy lives on.”

     The woman was as silent and still as death itself.

     “Then tell me at least who is buried beside him.”

      Quiet still, the woman continued walking. Afraid to be left behind in this nightmarish vision alone, Orphan followed. All around them the wintery white trees and snow covered tombstones faded away, replaced by a large room. Within it stood older men all yelling in words foreign to the young boy. After the silent raise of his hand, one clothed in all white and sitting in a golden chair stood. This person Orphan had heard referenced on occasion, a man they called the pope. When he spoke, it was calm and sure unlike the yelling of the other men.

     Realizing that Orphan could not decipher what the men in the room were saying, the woman leaned forward and placed her index finger on his forehead. All those muddled words became of his own tongue. After the pope spoke, another man stood before all the bishops and cardinals gathered in that one room. He was a firm man with bitterness in his eyes and a constant scowl. Pointing to the heavens, he proclaimed:

     “Christmas is a disgrace to God and the church. Those pagan heathens have tainted it with their ancient traditions and celebratory habits. I move that this establishment forever more ban the celebration of Christmas and mark it for what it has become, a pagan holiday.”

     The pope glanced around at every cardinal and bishop with remorse in his stare.

     “I sent notice to all the parishes that if any wish to come and speak on behalf of this holy day, let them come. Is there no one present who would speak on behalf of Christmas?”

     A cough in the crowd, the shake of angry religious leaders’ heads, Christmas’ fate was sealed.

     Orphaned looked around the room, discouraged by the lack of people who came to argue in the holiday’s favor. Wasn’t it a day to celebrate Jesus’ birth? Wasn’t it a time of hope and joy in an otherwise dark winter? Admittedly, the people from his home village used the holiday to reminisce on the old days of Yule. As time went on, the old traditions of Yule had become a part of the new Christmas tradition. In addition the people would gather at this time and have celebrations together as a community, as a family. Therefore, it was also a time of bonding and love. One that Orphan longed to take part in, if only he had a family to share in the celebrations.  How could they ban such a holiday?

     Orphan turned the woman robed in white, tugging on her long sleeve once more. She turned and looked to him, even her eyes saddened by the impending loss of Christmas.

     “Wasn’t there someone meant to come and speak for Christmas?”

     The woman nodded.

     “Then tell me spirit, where are they?”

     She looked sadder still.

     “If you will not speak, then show me.”

     Taking his hand one final time, the woman pulled him through the Vatican halls until the walls were not but snow being whipped around by harsh winds. At last they arrived at the tree where Orphan first met the woman. She pointed to a pile of snow beneath the tree. There in that snow bank was the one meant to speak for Christmas.

     Anxious to save the holiday before it was too late, Orphan dug into the snow ferociously. Much to his surprise, it was he who lied beneath the tree covered with now. Lips blue, face pale, his body was still and frozen. Orphan turned to the woman in a panic.

     She floated in the air. Her white gown was flowing in the wailing wind of the storm. Around her shone a white light brighter than any he’d ever seen. Even her eyes became of nothing but light. Now her hair flowed freely, the shawl drifting away into the wind until it transformed into a white owl, which perched on a nearby tree.

     Having seen such a sight, Orphan became filled with fear.

     “Fear not little one,” at last she spoke. The words rang through the air in a ghostly tone that sounded more like the blowing wind than actual words. “I am Izrael, the Angel of Death. I have come to take you home, into the light.”

     Orphan tightened the grip on his stiff body, shouting:

     “You can’t take me! It’ll doom Christmas.”

     “It is too late for you and for Christmas. You chose to live shackled by fear, hating and mistrusting the people who you felt abandoned you. Christmas is about hope. How can you save it without that understanding? Even now you act out of the fear of dying. If fear are your chains and hate the darkness, then doesn’t it go to reason that courage is the key to freedom and love the light you seek? Now have courage and come with me that I may bring you to the light.”

     Izrael reached out her hand once more to grab Orphan. He embraced his cold body with tears running down. While Death neared, he looked down at himself. Yes, he was afraid. He’d always been afraid. So was the life of an orphan. To have hope was to believe that things could improve, something he could never do because he feared a broken heart. Still holding tight to himself he whispered into his ear.

     “I can live. I can save Christmas. I can have a family. Hope is not gone . . . it is never gone. Now wake up!”

 

     The Angel of Death faded while Orphans eyes peeled open. Much to his surprise, he awoke to Cris shaking him and shouting for him to awaken. Orphan and Cris both let out a simultaneous sigh of relief that life still persisted in his body.

     “I thought we lost you.” Cris told the boy.

     Orphan looked up at the tree overhead. There perched was a white owl like the one accompanying Izrael. It hooted before flying away.

     Nothing else was said the rest of the way home. Cris and Orphan journeyed through the wretched storm, though it wasn’t nearly as violent as it had been when Orphan ran away. The moment the two entered the cottage, Bridgette attacked the both of them in a warm embrace accompanied by excited laughter. She then pointed a motherly finger toward Orphan.

     “You gave us both a fright, young man.”

     “I know, I’m sorry. I was . . . afraid.”

     Bridgette gave Orphan a benevolent smile like a mother would give her child.

      “You have nothing to fear here. We aren’t like the others.”

     Having heard the commotion, Timmy emerged from his room and stumbled weakly towards his mother. Seeing him, Bridgette rushed to his aid. She tried to pull him to his bedroom, but he would not go because of his delight at seeing Orphan. Barely able to contain himself, Timmy shouted:

     “Will he be a part of our family now, mother?”

     Orphan looked down. The same speculation had caused his departure. Both the mother and father chuckled, turning to Orphan.

     “I don’t know,” Bridgette squeezed Timmy’s hand tightly. “That is entirely up to him.”

     Timmy let go of his mother, stumbling over to Orphan. When he did, he tripped, Orphan catching him. Looking up at their guest, Timmy pleaded.

     “Please! I always wanted a big brother.”

      “And I always wanted a family.”

     No other words were needed. From that day forward, Orphan became a part of their family. Cris and Bridgette treated him as though he were one of their own. For Timmy, he was everything the ill boy dreamt of in a brother. With high hopes and good company, Timmy’s health improved.

     No longer an orphan, the name was no longer fitting. It was Timmy who knew the most suitable name for his new brother. The once orphan was now called Nicholas. Not even the other children called him Orphan anymore. Something about his new name seemed better. It had a ring to it, like he was meant to do something important.

     Many years would pass before he would stand as a witness to the church about the importance of Christmas. Many more years would pass before he would become wrapped in mystery and myth, given the title Father Christmas for his important role in its continuity. For the time being, he grew in the midst of a family that loved him. That first Christmas and every other Christmas to follow, he attended Christ Mass with the ones he loved.

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