In the Cold Midwinter

Posted By: tirnanog
Thursday, 21 December 2000, at 4:04 p.m.

The old man sat by the fire, carefully turning the skinned rabbit carcass so that it would roast evenly. He'd had some luck with his snares for a change, and was looking forward to a nice meal to celebrate the Solstice. Of all the feasts of the year, this was still his favorite, despite the cold and dark that accompanied this season. He had been born at Solstice, long, long ago, or so he had been told by the old couple who had raised him from infancy, and the midwinter festival was forever linked in his mind with the presents and special treats his adoptive parents had given him. They had both died centuries ago, but sometimes, during his occasional lucid periods, he still thought about them, and the snug little house of turf and stone where he had grown up.

Now his home was this damp and drafty cave, and instead of the warm woolen garments his adoptive mother wove by hand he wore an odd assortment of filthy rags and animal skins that would have appalled her with their stench. But if she could see him now, he knew she would not turn away in disgust at what he had become. If he could only tell her what he had been through, what he had suffered for the sake of all mankind, surely she would understand the reason he lived now as a hermit in this godforsaken place, waiting for the day when death would set him free. Surely she would honor him for what he had done, and pity him for the torments he now suffered because of it. But he could never tell her his story, even if she appeared before him at this instant. No one must know except the One he was waiting for, the One who had been born, as he had, on the Winter Solstice.

Someday soon he would come, like the returning Sun in winter, the young man with the bright sword and the aura of power, to claim his great and terrible inheritance. The old man longed for that day, when he could pass on the burden to another, yet he was reluctant, too, for he knew what the young man was in for. But it couldn't be helped. This was what they had both been born for, to do battle against the darkness that came every thousand years. It was their special gift, and their curse. He had no choice but to pass it on.

The rabbit was done now, its tender flesh almost falling off the spit. The old man tore off a haunch and blew on it to cool it down enough to eat. He wished the young man would come now, tonight, on their shared birthday. At least he could give him a decent meal before getting down to the awful business... But he knew in his heart that it wouldn't happen. Not yet. Maybe not for a long time. Still, even thinking about him made the old man feel a bit more cheerful. Or perhaps it was just the prospect of a full stomach. Whatever the cause, he suddenly lifted the rabbit haunch into the air, and in a raspy voice which had not spoken more than a dozen words in the past twelve months, he whispered, "Happy Birthday to us, Duncan MacLeod."

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