O Night Divine – Kathryn Le Veque

“AND THEN THE three wise men saw the star over the stable.” “They came to see the Christ child, Dada?” “Nay. They were much more than that.” The great hall of Chalford Hill was warm and cozy, surprising for such a high-ceilinged hall. A vast amount of rushes covered the floor and the walls, all of them fresh, having been cut that very morning. The carpet of rushes crowded up to within a few feet of the hearth, which snapped and crackled softly with a gentle blaze. Big pieces of wood were tucked back into the blaze, glowing red and white with heat. A very large man with shaggy, dark hair and dark eyes sat on a big chair in front of the hearth, two little girls snuggled in his lap. A third little girl, a bit older than the others, sat at his feet and across from him, his beautiful wife sat with a tiny infant nursing at her breast. The woman was swathed in a heavy robe and the infant was tightly swaddled, content in her arms, but she glanced up at her husband as he told their daughters the story of the birth of Christ on this snowy Christmas eve. At least, that’s what it was supposed to be. She didn’t like the direction the story was going. “What more were they, Dada?” she asked, a hint of warning in her tone. “I will remind you that you will not blaspheme the birth of Christ in my presence, and most especially not in front of our children.” Maxton of Loxbeare looked at his wife, his eyes glimmering with mirth.

He had been known to tell his wide-eyed girls some wild tales, much to the disapproval of his wife. Tales of rabbits who attacked unwary travelers with knives, or cows that used pitchforks against farmers. His girls hung on every word, but his wife… not so much. It was great fun to taunt her, but easier to do it when she had their six-month-old son in her arms because she wouldn’t become too loud or too angry with the baby against her. Therefore, he pushed his luck. “Do you want to know the truth?” he asked. “The Magi, or the three wise men, weren’t kings at all.” “They weren’t?” The great hall of Chalford Hill was warm and cozy, surprising for such a high-ceilinged hall. A vast amount of rushes covered the floor and the walls, all of them fresh, having been cut that very morning. The carpet of rushes crowded up to within a few feet of the hearth, which snapped and crackled softly with a gentle blaze.

Big pieces of wood were tucked back into the blaze, glowing red A very large man with shaggy, dark hair and dark eyes sat on a big chair in front of the hearth, two little girls snuggled in his lap. A third little girl, a bit older than the others, sat at his feet and across from him, his beautiful wife sat with a tiny infant nursing at her breast. The woman was swathed in a heavy robe and the infant was tightly swaddled, content in her arms, but she glanced up at her husband they, Dada?” she asked, a hint of warning in her tone. “I will remind you that you will not blaspheme the birth of Christ in my presence, and most especially not in front of our Maxton of Loxbeare looked at his wife, his eyes glimmering with mirth. He had been known to tell his wide-eyed girls some wild tales, much to the disapproval of his wife. Tales of rabbits who attacked unwary travelers with knives, or cows that used pitchforks against farmers. His girls hung on every word, but his wife… not so much. It was great fun to taunt her, but easier to do it when she had their six-month-old son in her arms because she wouldn’t become too loud or too angry with the baby “Do you want to know the truth?” he asked. “The Magi, or the three wise men, weren’t kings at Maxton shook his head confidently, returning his attention to his girls. “They were assassins sent by King Herod,” he said.

“They had come to find that baby and slice him up.” “Max!” Andressa gasped with outrage, startling the baby dozing against her nipple. As the infant whimpered, she rocked him gently, calming him, before glaring at her husband and hissing. “Stop it at once, do you hear? No more of that.” Maxton wasn’t listening. He openly defied his wife. “It was the evening of Christ’s birth and King Herod knew the baby was out there, somewhere,” he told his daughters gleefully. “He had tried to find the Messiah earlier when the Romans went hunting for him, but the night Christ was born, he sent out his very best men disguised as wise men from the east. It was their duty to find the baby.” Andressa was ready to explode but the baby had quieted and was still nursing, so she was forced to keep quiet as Maxton grinned at her tauntingly.

In his lap, his youngest daughter, Ceri, tugged at him. “But why, Dada?” she asked. “Why did they want to slice the baby?” Andressa rolled her eyes, growing furious, as Maxton kissed his child on the head. “Because he was the son of God,” he said. “That is what this season is about, my little loves. The birth of Christ to save man from his sins. But King Herod wanted the child dead so he could continue with his evil ways.” “So he sent three men to hack the baby to pieces!” Melisandra said. A year older than Ceri at nearly five years of age, she loved her father’s gory tales when her mother wasn’t in control of what came out of his mouth. “And then what would he do with the pieces?” Maxton could see that he would be in real trouble if he didn’t ease his daughter’s bloodlust.

He kissed Melisandra on the head, too. “Must you be so graphic, Melly?” he asked her. “Do you remember when Magnus was born?” All three girls looked over at their baby brother in their mother’s arms. They nodded solemnly. “Aye, Dada,” Danae, the oldest, answered. “He was very small.” Maxton agreed. “He was,” he said. “He is still very small. Can you imagine someone wanting to do that little baby harm? It would be a terrible thing.

” Three heads wagged from side to side. “Nay, Dada,” Danae said. “I would protect Magnus with my life. I would not let anyone harm him.” “Good lass,” Maxton said, reaching out to touch her blonde head. “You are a good sister to protect him so.” “Who did Christ have to protect him?” Danae asked. Maxton pointed a finger upward. “The greatest protectors of all,” he said. “God and the angels were there to protect the Christ child.

” “And they protected him against the three wise men? The assassins from King Herod?” The baby against Andressa’s breast was asleep and she rose carefully, carrying the sleeping baby from the hall. Maxton put his finger up to his lips, indicating silence from the girls, as their mother took their baby brother to bed. Once she was clear of the hall, he returned to his story. “The angels brought swords of fire and axes of flame,” he said dramatically. “But the wise men were clever; they brought gifts for the Christ child, but concealed within the gifts were knives and arrows. But God sent the archangels to defend the baby.” The girls were hanging on his every word. “Did they fight them?” Melisandra wanted to know. “Did they swing their swords and cut off their heads?” Maxton shook his head confidently, returning his attention to his girls. “They were assassins sent “Max!” Andressa gasped with outrage, startling the baby dozing against her nipple.

As the infant whimpered, she rocked him gently, calming him, before glaring at her husband and hissing. “Stop it at Maxton wasn’t listening. He openly defied his wife. “It was the evening of Christ’s birth and King Herod knew the baby was out there, somewhere,” he told his daughters gleefully. “He had tried to find the Messiah earlier when the Romans went hunting for him, but the night Christ was born, he sent Andressa was ready to explode but the baby had quieted and was still nursing, so she was forced to keep quiet as Maxton grinned at her tauntingly. In his lap, his youngest daughter, Ceri, tugged at Andressa rolled her eyes, growing furious, as Maxton kissed his child on the head. “Because he was the son of God,” he said. “That is what this season is about, my little loves. The birth of Christ to save man from his sins. But King Herod wanted the child dead so he could continue with his evil “So he sent three men to hack the baby to pieces!” Melisandra said.

A year older than Ceri at nearly five years of age, she loved her father’s gory tales when her mother wasn’t in control of what Maxton could see that he would be in real trouble if he didn’t ease his daughter’s bloodlust. He All three girls looked over at their baby brother in their mother’s arms. They nodded solemnly. Maxton agreed. “He was,” he said. “He is still very small. Can you imagine someone wanting to Three heads wagged from side to side. “Nay, Dada,” Danae said. “I would protect Magnus with “Good lass,” Maxton said, reaching out to touch her blonde head. “You are a good sister to Maxton pointed a finger upward.

“The greatest protectors of all,” he said. “God and the angels The baby against Andressa’s breast was asleep and she rose carefully, carrying the sleeping baby from the hall. Maxton put his finger up to his lips, indicating silence from the girls, as their mother “The angels brought swords of fire and axes of flame,” he said dramatically. “But the wise men were clever; they brought gifts for the Christ child, but concealed within the gifts were knives and The girls were hanging on his every word. “Did they fight them?” Melisandra wanted to know. Maxton loved seeing the bloodlust in little eyes. He knew it was wrong; God help him, he knew. But it was so much fun to see them get excited about something he did in everyday life. He’d been an Executioner Knight for more than half his life, a long time indeed, and tales of swords and blood and guts were his normal. In a sense, he wanted his girls to understand him.

Truth be told, he’d never been around girl children in his life. All he knew were the ways of men, so having three daughters in rapid succession had changed his world a great deal. He was still becoming accustomed to daughters. But he adored them down to his very bones and they were the soul that lived within him. He wanted their love, their adoration, and he was trying to connect with them the only way he knew how. By letting them into his world. Even at their young age, he wanted to relate to them. “It was a nasty fight,” he said. “The bible does not speak of it because God and his angels do not want you to know how bad it really was, but it was a terrible fight. Melchior was from the land of Persia and he was best with a shield and ax.

He fought with Archangel Gabriel, the who was disguised as a cow. Gabriel kicked Melchior right through the stable wall.” The girls gasped in awe. “But there were more wise men, Dada!” Danae said. “What happened to them?” Maxton was enthralled with his own story, speaking quickly because he wanted to be done before his wife returned and forced him into a kinder, gentler version with no blood and no swords. And no fun. “Gaspar was from a faraway land of Bharata,” he said. “He was a master of the short swords, and he had two of them. He tried to cut Mary and Joseph, but Archangel Michael was disguised as a ram and he rose up to defend them. He head-butted Gaspar all the way back to his country.

” The little girls were very excited. “And the last one?” Danae asked. Maxton grinned at their enthusiasm. “The last one was Balthazar from Arabia and he was an expert with a crossbow,” he said. “Archangel Raphael was disguised as an ass, but he had his magic shield and he protected the Christ child when Balthazar launched a bolt at the baby. The bolt struck the shield and bounced back, knocking Balthazar so hard that he rolled all the way back into the sea. And with that, the Christ child was saved by the archangels and that is why we celebrate the Christmas holiday.” The girls were in awe of the exciting story. “We celebrate the baby not being killed?” Ceri asked. “Exactly,” Maxton said.

“We celebrate the brave battle between the archangels and the Magi and the fact that Christ was not killed in the process.” The girls were very happy with their tall tale of a story. Maxton sat back in his chair, satisfied with himself, as both Ceri and Melisandra cooed and chattered about the rather violent tale of Christ’s birth. It was Ceri who finally put her little hands on his face. “The angels were very brave, weren’t they?” she said. Maxton nodded. “They were, indeed.” “And you are very brave, aren’t you, Dada?” “I am, love.” “I want to be like you when I get old,” she said. “Can I have swords, too? One for each hand.

” “If you like.” She nodded excitedly. As he hugged her, Melisandra wouldn’t be left out. “Me, too!” she Maxton loved seeing the bloodlust in little eyes. He knew it was wrong; God help him, he knew. But it was so much fun to see them get excited about something he did in everyday life. He’d been an Executioner Knight for more than half his life, a long time indeed, and tales of swords and blood and In a sense, he wanted his girls to understand him. Truth be told, he’d never been around girl children in his life. All he knew were the ways of men, so having three daughters in rapid succession had changed his world a great deal. He was still becoming accustomed to daughters.

But he adored them down to his very bones and they were the soul that lived within him. He wanted their love, their “It was a nasty fight,” he said. “The bible does not speak of it because God and his angels do not want you to know how bad it really was, but it was a terrible fight. Melchior was from the land of Persia and he was best with a shield and ax. He fought with Archangel Gabriel, the who was The girls gasped in awe. “But there were more wise men, Dada!” Danae said. “What happened to Maxton was enthralled with his own story, speaking quickly because he wanted to be done before “Gaspar was from a faraway land of Bharata,” he said. “He was a master of the short swords, and he had two of them. He tried to cut Mary and Joseph, but Archangel Michael was disguised as a ram Maxton grinned at their enthusiasm. “The last one was Balthazar from Arabia and he was an expert with a crossbow,” he said.

“Archangel Raphael was disguised as an ass, but he had his magic shield and he protected the Christ child when Balthazar launched a bolt at the baby. The bolt struck the shield and bounced back, knocking Balthazar so hard that he rolled all the way back into the sea. And with that, the Christ child was saved by the archangels and that is why we celebrate the The girls were in awe of the exciting story. “We celebrate the baby not being killed?” Ceri asked. “Exactly,” Maxton said. “We celebrate the brave battle between the archangels and the Magi and The girls were very happy with their tall tale of a story. Maxton sat back in his chair, satisfied with himself, as both Ceri and Melisandra cooed and chattered about the rather violent tale of She nodded excitedly. As he hugged her, Melisandra wouldn’t be left out. “Me, too!” she declared. “I am going to be just like Dada and Uncle Kress and Uncle Achilles and Uncle Sherry!” Maxton was the recipient of little arms around his neck as Melisandra launched herself at him, hugging him tightly.

He had two happy little girls, declaring their desire to be just like their father, and he was a contented man. Proud, too. He never knew life could be so good. But the excitement eventually faded and the girls fell asleep against him, safe in their father’s arms while visions of fighting angels danced in their heads. As the fire snapped low in the hearth and the snow fell steadily outside, Maxton found more peace than he had ever known with three sleeping girls. That was his idea of heaven these days. Eventually, Andressa came back down the stairs, entering the hall to find her husband and all three girls sleeping. At least, she thought they were all sleeping until Maxton peeped an eye open at her. She smiled faintly. “Well?” she said.

“Did you fill their heads with gore and battle?” He closed his eye. “I gave them a tale of glory,” he muttered. “Isn’t that what this season is all about? Glory?” “The glory of God, Max. Not battle.” “There is much glory in battle that God is responsible for.” Andressa looked at her sleeping angels, shaking her head with regret. “I hope this does not come back to haunt you.” “What do you mean?” She gestured towards her daughters. “Do you really want your daughters to grow up to be assassins, living the life of death and blood as you did?” she asked. “Is that really what you want?” He opened both eyes, looking at her.

“They are only stories, Andy,” he said. “You take them too seriously.” “And you do not take them seriously enough. They are impressionable, Max. They believe everything you say.” He simply grunted. Seeing that she would get no answer from him, Andressa turned her attention to the sleeping girls. “’Tis bedtime,” she said softly. “Everyone has had a busy day and it will be even busier tomorrow.” With a weary sigh, Maxton stood up carefully with sleeping girls in his arms as Andressa bent over to pick up her eldest daughter from the fur on the floor.

“Tomorrow is Christmas morning, Mama,” he whispered. “They’ll be awake before the sun rises.” Andressa cuddled the child in her arms as they headed for the mural stairs that led to the upper floors. “They are always awake before the sun rises,” she murmured. “Is everything ready for tomorrow?” Maxton nodded. “Three little girls, three ponies,” he said. “It has been difficult hiding those animals from Danae. She comes into the stable often.” “That is because she is nosy, like her mother,” Andressa said, mounting the stairs as Maxton followed. “She didn’t see them, did she?” Maxton was the recipient of little arms around his neck as Melisandra launched herself at him, hugging him tightly.

He had two happy little girls, declaring their desire to be just like their father, But the excitement eventually faded and the girls fell asleep against him, safe in their father’s arms while visions of fighting angels danced in their heads. As the fire snapped low in the hearth and the snow fell steadily outside, Maxton found more peace than he had ever known with three sleeping Eventually, Andressa came back down the stairs, entering the hall to find her husband and all three girls sleeping. At least, she thought they were all sleeping until Maxton peeped an eye open at He closed his eye. “I gave them a tale of glory,” he muttered. “Isn’t that what this season is all Andressa looked at her sleeping angels, shaking her head with regret. “I hope this does not come She gestured towards her daughters. “Do you really want your daughters to grow up to be He opened both eyes, looking at her. “They are only stories, Andy,” he said. “You take them too “And you do not take them seriously enough. They are impressionable, Max.

They believe He simply grunted. Seeing that she would get no answer from him, Andressa turned her attention “’Tis bedtime,” she said softly. “Everyone has had a busy day and it will be even busier With a weary sigh, Maxton stood up carefully with sleeping girls in his arms as Andressa bent “Tomorrow is Christmas morning, Mama,” he whispered. “They’ll be awake before the sun Andressa cuddled the child in her arms as they headed for the mural stairs that led to the upper floors. “They are always awake before the sun rises,” she murmured. “Is everything ready for Maxton nodded. “Three little girls, three ponies,” he said. “It has been difficult hiding those “That is because she is nosy, like her mother,” Andressa said, mounting the stairs as Maxton Maxton took the stairs carefully. “Nay,” he said. “We put them in with the cattle so she has not seen them.

” “Good.” “I put your gift in with the cattle, too.” Andressa glanced at him, grinning. “Nay, you did not,” she said. “You have hidden it in your chest.” He frowned. “Did you go hunting for it, you little minx?” She laughed softly. He growled. Three little girls were deposited in their warm beds, tucked in by doting parents. Andressa lingered a moment, looking over her three adorable girls as Maxton came up behind her, drawing her against him and nuzzling her neck.

“Shall I give you another gift now?” he whispered. “It’s ready and waiting for you.” She knew what he meant and she started to laugh. “That is a gift you give me almost every night.” “With pleasure, Madam.” Bending over, he swept her into his arms, carrying her from the chamber as his daughters slept peacefully. Maxton gave his wife his “gift” twice that night before finally falling into an exhausted slumber. Outside, the snow had grown worse and the winds began to howl, but inside the master’s chamber at Chalford Hill, all was cozy and peaceful. At least for the moment. But that was about to change.

Maxton took the stairs carefully. “Nay,” he said. “We put them in with the cattle so she has not seen them.” “Good.” “I put your gift in with the cattle, too.” Andressa glanced at him, grinning. “Nay, you did not,” she said. “You have hidden it in your chest.” He frowned. “Did you go hunting for it, you little minx?” She laughed softly.

He growled. Three little girls were deposited in their warm beds, tucked in by doting parents. Andressa lingered a moment, looking over her three adorable girls as Maxton came up behind her, drawing her against him and nuzzling her neck. “Shall I give you another gift now?” he whispered. “It’s ready and waiting for you.” She knew what he meant and she started to laugh. “That is a gift you give me almost every night.” “With pleasure, Madam.” Bending over, he swept her into his arms, carrying her from the chamber as his daughters slept peacefully. Maxton gave his wife his “gift” twice that night before finally falling into an exhausted slumber.

Outside, the snow had grown worse and the winds began to howl, but inside the master’s chamber at Chalford Hill, all was cozy and peaceful. At least for the moment. But that was about to change.

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