The long wooden structure was brightly lit with candles and oil lamps, the flickering light filling the feasting hall with a welcoming glow. Rectangular tables were set end-to-end around the perimeter of the room, forming a single u-shaped seating area, the opening facing the double doors that let in the cool night air. Chairs were arranged along the outside of the tables, the seats quickly filling with the laughing, chattering members of the settlement, each dressed in their best clothes for the holiday. The joyful chaos of their voices tumbled out the open doors and into the dark Autumn night, the sounds drifting across the compound until they were nothing more than whispers tiptoeing through the trees of the grove.
In the center of the large gathering hall stood a single ancient tree, its massive trunk extending through an open skylight in the ceiling, the building erected around it. The tree echoed a tradition that predated the changes in the world around them, its significance established by Kyle’s mother when they were new to the mountains and he was no more than a boy. As the years passed and other refugees found their hidden sanctuary, the tree had come to symbolize the life of the settlement. Superstition held that as long as the tree grew and thrived, the tiny community would do the same. But if the tree died, the members of the settlement believed that their hopes and dreams died with it. It had become the heart of the community, the tree’s health intimately tied to the livelihood of the mountain village. Children were christened at its base; lovers married beside its trunk. It was a sympathetic magic, a legend hinting that those blessings laid at its roots would grow tall and strong with the mighty oak.
With the celebration of the first harvest, the members of the community had laid tokens of their labors around the tree’s base. Produce and crafts were carefully arranged like presents around a Christmas tree; ribbons of cloth and newly died yarn were woven around the trunk. As the tree slowly grew, it would carry the symbolism of their tokens with it, bringing the hopes for continued bounty into the next year even as those that gathered around its trunk gave their thanks.
Alex strode into the great hall, waiting patiently behind the line of people that approached the central tree before moving on to take their seats. The clothing that Heather had made for him fit perfectly; the thick cotton trousers the color of the earth were tucked into a pair of worn boots, the deep green shirt its perfect compliment, accentuating the lines of his lean, muscular torso. Heather had the eyes of a seamstress, the gift to look a person over once and know exactly how to cut the cloth to fit their build. Meeting her eyes across the room where she directed the children in setting the tables, he mouthed the words, “Thank you,” looking down and gesturing to his clothes, rewarded with her smile when he looked up again.
At last, Alex approached the tree, the couple in front of him laying their token at its base and saying a quiet prayer before continuing on. Moving to the side, he knelt and laid a small loaf of bread among the other offerings. He stayed on one knee for a moment, his eyes picking out a single token among the gifts. A quartered circle, woven of dried grapevines lay nestled under the other offerings. Each intersection of the talisman was tied with a tiny swatch of cloth, its carefully embroidered pattern unmistakable. He wasn’t sure what it represented, but he recognized it as the fabric of the robe Megan had worn when he’d stayed with her, and hope grew within him that it symbolized a blessing she asked the tree for.
Standing, he searched for her among the gathered revelers. A crowd of laughing, talkative villagers had formed around the head of the table and Alex, sharing their good mood with the host and hostess of the feast. Alex tried to glimpse Megan through the milling throng, but couldn’t see through them, so he took his place beside Peter, amidst the patrol members, Megan’s seat at the head of the guardsmen remaining vacant.
The feast had been a wonderful success and praises were heaped upon Heather for her fine cooking and wonderful gifts. The settlement had gorged themselves on venison, pheasant, and duck, vegetable dishes harvested from their greenhouses, and breads baked from bartered flour. Megan looked radiant in her deep green cloak, edged with golden knotwork that reminded one of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Fastened with an intricate iron clasp, the rich fabric draped over Megan’s shoulders, the hood spilling down her back and adding a deep glow to her fiery red hair. Beneath the cloak, Heather had provided a snow white dress, beautiful in its simplicity, the lines accentuating the grace in Megan’s form.
She stood next to Kyle, the old man smiling as his eyes drifted over the strangers who had slowly become family, who had joined a life that had risen from the ashes of the world before. His eyes drifted to the carved wooden cup he held, gazing into the fresh apple cider it contained. Raising it as a toast to the village, he spoke.
“A good harvest and a good life,” he called out, his booming voice met with a loud cheer of agreement from his kin. “This cup holds the fruit of our harvest, the blessings each of us have found within this community, and the promise of more blessings to come. Come! Let’s give our thanks and be known as family and kin.”
Forming a single-file line that wound around the great hall, each member of the settlement approached Kyle and Megan, drinking from the cup of kinship in turn. Megan would top off the simple, wooden vessel and Kyle would take it, sipping from it first to show that the drink held no ill will. Each would drink in turn, stating what they were most thankful for and what they hoped from the year to come. The old man welcomed each in turn, calling them by name, reminding them that they belonged to a family, that whether they fled adversity to reach their new home or were born within the arms of the settlement, each had found a place where they truly belonged...
Remembering Tomorrow is available for $12.99 from Amazon (or $2 more - autographed and including 2-day priority - shipping directly from us) and in about every ebook flavor known to the modern world for $2.99. Links to each version of the book - and to the first three chapters of the novel - are found on my personal site, Virtual Coffee.