Note: I took the Medieval Yule Goat from Yule Customs from Medievalist Net.
It’s a northern custom, one which I think would have been part of northern england, since the Scandinavian custom of Mumming had survived in the region right up to my mother’s time. Lindsay
Here's the blurb and the opening of my novella:
He had hurt and betrayed her in the worst way possible. Could Kari and Constantine save their marriage?
In a medieval world that believed in God, saints, spirits and the fey, there were also darker forces to be feared. Malicious fairies could steal human babies away or substitue their own children—changelings.
Kari and Constantine have been apart for two years, he on crusade in the Holy Land, she left behind in his lands to raise their unborn child alone. When her husband returns with his Templar brother Hadrian in tow, the separation she and Constantine have endured, plus Hadrian’s evil influence, leads to terrible accusations between them. Her husband thinks now that her beloved baby son Valentine might be a changeling.
In the face of such a charge, and remembering an older tragedy, Kari feels she has no choice but to flee Constantine’s homeland and retreat to her own country of the high waterlands.
Constantine follows her. Realising what he has done, he begs his wife to return with him, but can Kari trust him again? And will he ever accept Valentine as his true son?
At the time of Yule, many things are possible, and as Kari and Constantine strive to rebuild their relationship, the snows, an old hut and the Yule Goat will all play vital parts.
Sir Constantine and the Changeling
December, the High Water Country, Northern England, 1194
“Climb one finger-width closer and I will send you arse-first back over the waterfall.”
Sir Constantine stared up into the unblinking eyes of his wife, his pregnant wife, and froze, motionless, on the cold rock-face.
“Da, Da—” The babe strapped to her back, cause of all our troubles, reached out to him with chubby hands.
“No, dear one, daddy must pass me first.” And he will not, her glinting eyes promised.
A staff loomed into view, aimed at his face. It was long and sturdy enough to poke him off the rock and flick him like a skidding stone down into the icy pools at the base of the waterfall, and he knew that one wrong move, one word amiss and she would strike.
Why should she not? A long, too-silent part of his conscience sneered. You did not believe her when it mattered.
“Kari.” He easily pitched his voice above the early winter trickle of the fall, though his mouth was dry. “Please, Kari.” Let me come up. Let us speak together.
Those last words remained trapped like dead leaves in his throat as an unknown feeling, a dropping, sticky sensation that oozed in his chest, overtook him.
“You have no right to speak my name, husband.” Her scorn burned brighter and more clean than dragon fire. “You lost all rights to me and mine when you denied my son, our son, you imperial bastard.”
She had once been proud of his old name, even called him “Emperor” in their bed. Now she took that pet name and refashioned it into a spear for his heart. The sweeping sickness grew stronger than the scorching ache in his arms and legs. This is shame. I am ashamed.
“Da, Da, Da.” The little boy on her back chanted, waving his arms.
“You are well?” Constantine asked, as if he and his wife were not estranged, that she had not fled his house almost a month ago at All Hallows Eve, slipping away while he was visiting his brother.
His icy, tingling fingers tightened on the rock-face as he considered his sibling. As was his habit, Hadrian had secreted himself away from others to pray in the church. I thought it holy, then, and did not see his act for what it was, a denial of fellowship. Constantine shook his head. I have to break free of my older brother. He has already cost me too much. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Kari?”
“As you see.” She gave him nothing but a final verbal smack. “We are thriving.”
“But you cannot stay here much longer. Not through the winter.” He tried to fashion his dry voice into a coax. “It will be Yule soon, and Christmas.”
“Expect me to return for a Church festival, the three masses and more?” Her threatening staff jerked closer. “You know nothing. Get back to your own lands, Sir Constantine, and leave me in mine.”
“Daddeee!” The infant on her shoulder wailed, tiny face reddening as his fists beat impotently against his mother’s shoulder.
“Please,” he begged. “For the child.”
“Which one?” she rejoindered at once, but the hovering timber vanished and Kari whirled about, as dainty on top of the waterfall as she was in a great hall, dancing. He tracked her rapidly departing figure and only when she had disappeared behind a screen of wild roses full of bright red hips did Constantine think to move. Stiff and shaken, by the time he had reached the summit and any kind of safety, his wife was long gone.
She had left him a trail of snapped twigs and crushed grass to follow, too obvious not to be deliberate. And I have found her only because she wished it. Again, he was reminded that these were her lands. Crouching by a spring with a rough X scratched into the mud beside it—his wife’s doing, and the rune for Gebo, good fortune, meaning the water was safe to drink—Constantine cupped his hands into the clear cold liquid.
As he quenched his thirst, he thought of Kari and their history together, his mind replaying the past in sharp and acute detail.
He had first met Kari at a summer three-day joust and country fair when she was sixteen and he a fresh-knighted nineteen. Even as she was then, eel-skinny and a little clumsy, he saw her kindness to servants, her haste to protect those she cared for, her love of infants, and her skill with basket weaving. A younger daughter of a lord of the highwaterlands, Constantine had treated her as an indulged little sister, taking her hawking whenever he had free time and listening with real interest as she spoke of old springs and ancient magicks.
The second time he saw her at a distance, with fresh graves between them. A deadly fever had taken her parents and older siblings. She had survived only because she had been sent to an aunt’s house to learn the ways of a formal court. Watching her pale, stricken face, her blank, beautiful eyes, Constantine had wanted to do something, anything, to bring back her vital smile. That evening after the funerals he had sent her a letter, wanting Kari to know she was not alone, that others thought of her. From then, they had written to each other for two years and life went on.
So matters might have remained, but his father had taken him aside during a melee where, after that day’s fighting, Karin had been one of the damsels reading to the injured knights in the largest tourney tent. Constantine had been close to bellowing a greeting across the great tent, he was so glad to see her.
Of course his father had noticed. “You like the wench?” Lord Lucian asked bluntly.
Aching from battle and imagining Kari’s cool hands on his sore shoulders and her low voice telling him stories of King Arthur, Constantine managed a grunt of assent.
Lord Lucian stroked his ginger beard. “A good match for you, a third son with a newly-won tiny manor,” he stated, making no bones in being straightforward. “Her demesne is but five miles from your own. She is an heiress now but her lands are mainly woods and water and pasture, rank with springs and old magic, and there is no large castle. They live in tents, I do believe.”
“Only in the summers.” Constantine had learned this from his letters to Kari. “Kari’s folk live out in their wild lands in the good weather. Winters see them indoors. Kari’s kin have a stone and turf keep with stables larger than their quarters.”
“Our beasts are important to us,” Kari had explained, in a note, when Constantine exclaimed—by letter—over that particular living arrangement. After that, Constantine had let the matter go, merely vowing in secret that he would be in no great hurry to visit Kari’s keep for Yule.
Listening and understanding more, Lord Lucian fixed his lad with a piercing look. “Herbs and baskets and fish are the dues owed by her family, nothing more. Even the king does not dispute it. Still, some of the springs in those wild lands will cure troubles of the mind and heart, so long as the family are respected. She will need a light hand, my son.”
“And space, at times, for her to be alone,” Constantine added, recognizing that aspect of Kari from the way she would slip away from the twittering of giggling damsels, from her walking alone, at dawn and dusk. She likes her solitude, but always has a smile of welcome for me. He grinned, despite his sore head. “She suits me,” he admitted, glad that fate had worked it so his newly-gained portion of lands and hers were so close. We are neighbors and soon will be more.
They had married that spring and he had been stunned with joy—doubly so when Kari became pregnant. All that blazing summer he had lived a heaven on earth.
And then, with the falling of the leaves, a summons had come to him from his overlord. Ordered to accompany King Richard on crusade, Constantine had reluctantly bid Kari farewell and set out for Outremer.
He had been gone two years, with no word from his wife. He sent letters and was certain Kari did the same, but none of hers reached him, nor, he learned later, did his to her.
Into the aching gap in his life, his elder brother Hadrian came and filled a tiny part.
Constantine scowled as he now thought of Hadrian, brother and knight Templar. I was blind to my brother’s prejudices, so relieved to have close-kin near that I never questioned what he told me. Looking back, Constantine could see his older brother’s whole battle array. In Outremer, fighting together, guarding each other’s backs, he had never understood. Hadrian’s slingshot comments were part of a cunning strategy, intended to drive a fatal wedge between Constantine and Kari.
Hadrian had started his evil campaign small. “We warriors are God’s chosen,” he said, often by the camp fire of an evening, then, “Others not so much, especially those daughters of Eve.”
Over the months Hadrian told tales of valiant crusader knights and the less-than-true, stay-at-home daughters of Eve. He never called them womenfolk and never praised them.
Why did I not notice that?
Hadrian never asked after Kari, even when he saw Constantine writing to her. “You do God’s work here, what could be finer?” he scolded, whenever Constantine sighed for his wife and home.
Why did I never understand the ruthless danger of Hadrian’s dislike?
Constantine often mentioned hay-making or wool-shearing or other tasks of home, glad and proud to share them aloud, for it seemed then that he and Kari were close again. Hadrian would simply remark, “You allow your wife to rule?”
“Her own lands and portion, yes,” Constantine had answered each time, feeling aggrieved when the other warriors ranged about the fire-camp laughed at his “softness”.
By the time he returned to England, burned by eastern suns and quietly sickened by the slaughter he had seen, the waste of life, he had stared at the green woodland and luxuriant meadows of his lands and thought them wonderful, but strange.
Kari, his wife, the one he had once called mate, was stranger still. She moved differently to what he remembered, smelled differently, and she had a child. From the instant Constantine met the babe Kari called their son, he had been jealous. This interloper had taken his place on Kari’s breast, had first claim on her attention, was even in their bed at night.
“Why is that child not in a crib?” he demanded, after their second night bundled together. Hadrian had asked him that, down in the tilt yard that morning, and Constantine decided he wanted an answer.
“His name is Valentine.” Kari spoke through a clenched jaw. “We agreed on that, my lord, a Roman, imperial name, before you went off on crusade and left me.”
He hated her tone and her narrowed eyes and the way he instantly wondered what name for the brat she might have otherwise preferred. “My question remains.”
Kari did not answer, merely swooped like a hawk over the bed and lifted the squirming toddler onto her breast, where the boy turned and looked cool, smug eyes of possession at him. Hating his own pettiness, Constantine kept staring back even when the little boy was gently laid into a soft, moss-lined cradle.
Only when he was settled and given a soft rag doll to hug and a woolen blanket to keep him warm did Kari turn. When she did, Constantine almost flinched.
“He kept me company,” she said in a quiet voice, ignoring the wide-eyed maid and page who scurried about their sleeping space in their small, private solar off the main hall. “As you did not.”
You can read the full story in ONE YULETIDE KNIGHT, which is only 99cents/99p as part of a Black Friday Deal