A series of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons vignettes for Christmas 2003
by Tiger Jackson
The Holly and the Ivy: 12 December
Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel were busy putting up decorations in the Officers’ Lounge.
“I don’t mind finishing the decorating work; the others did a good job with this tree. But I thought there were going to be a few more people here helping right now,” said Rhapsody.
Scarlet chuckled as he unfolded a ladder and picked up some greenery. “I think the others skived off as a sort of Christmas gift.”
“Leaving us all alone is some sort of gift? Oh!” Rhapsody gasped, realising what she’d said.
Her lover grinned at her. “Exactly. But without any chance of being caught in a compromising situation.” She made a face at him. Suddenly, he dropped the sprig of greenery he was holding and clapped his hands to his head.
“Paul, what’s wrong?” Rhapsody asked, concern in her voice.
“My ears are burning.” Captain Scarlet lowered his hands. “It’s nothing.” He retrieved the sprig and climbed up the ladder.
“My great-uncle has invited us to join him at his house in Axethorpe for Twelfth Night,” said Rhapsody as she stretched to hang a silver snowflake on a high branch of the Christmas tree.
“The twelfth day of Christmas.”
“You mean a party with lords a-leaping, maids milking, all kinds of birds underfoot while ladies are dancing, and a partridge in a pear tree? Sounds like fun.”
Rhapsody reached up and swatted him playfully. “No, not at all! My uncle keeps to the medieval traditions. Or at least he did when I was last attended a Twelfth Night feast.”
Scarlet thought she sounded wistful. “Has it been a long time?”
Rhapsody nodded. “When I was still a child. Almost 20 years ago, I guess.” Her eyes sparkled and her face lit up with remembered joy. “It was wonderful! The cook made two Twelfth Night cakes, one for the men and another for the women. The men’s cake had a bean in it, and whoever found it in his slice became the Lord of Misrule for the evening. There was a dried pea in the women’s cake; the finder became Queen of the Pea and the Lord’s consort.”
“I imagine you were the Queen?” Scarlet asked as he climbed back down the ladder.
“And my great-uncle was the Lord of Misrule.” Rhapsody grinned broadly, a smile that was reflected myriad times in the glass balls on the tree. “We sat at the head table together and gave orders. The napkins were all folded like hats, I thought, so I ordered everyone to wear them on their heads. Uncle called for dinner to be served backwards. We began with dessert and ended with appetizers. The jesters sang silly songs, made atrocious puns, and juggled assorted plates, cups, candles, anything they could reach.” Rhapsody grinned mischievously. “And after dinner we danced, drank wassail, and played snapdragon.”
“Snapdragon? I’ve never heard of it. How is it played?” asked Scarlet, genuinely curious.
“It takes daring. You have to snatch raisins out of a bowl of burning brandy. The flames weren’t really very hot but only the bravest even tried.” Rhapsody giggled. “I made myself sick eating raisins!”
Scarlet laughed. “Sounds like it was a perfect evening.”
“I thought the best part was when the Green Man came. He was covered in ivy when he arrived and Uncle ordered us to strip the ivy away. Underneath was all holly.”
Captain Scarlet smiled. “We’ve never had a Green Man for our family Christmas celebrations, but we always have holly and ivy. My mother festoons the whole house with them! Anything that isn’t moving gets draped in garlands or smothered in wreaths. Comes of being in a military family except instead of painting things, my Mum decorates them.”
It was Rhapsody’s turn to laugh. “She must have bought up every bit of greenery available in all of Winchester! Or was it Hampshire?”
“Neither. It was all gathered on our own estate. My father hired helpers, but it was also a family outing to gather the holly and ivy. Mum made it a sort of winter trekking party. We’d take a sort of cold-weather picnic along: flasks of hot beverages and soup, meat pies and such that could be heated in a tiny, portable, battery operated oven. And we had a wheeled sledge to haul the cuttings back to the house; we’d bring a sled if it had snowed. Mum would never let us cut away everything in one area; she insisted on leaving some to grow and propagate for the future. So we’d spend a lot of time walking through the woods, breathing the cold air, listening to the winter birds and the silence. The last time for me was just before I went to West Point.” He picked up an ornament and started working on the tree. “I remember that time more clearly than any other. I was sitting on a fallen tree and my parents sat on another while we ate our food. I caught a motion out of the corner of my eyes, something small and red. It was a fox and it looked hungry. It had snowed a lot that year, and the fox’s normal prey probably hadn’t left their burrows for weeks. I watched it creep up carefully, keeping low to the ground, ready to run if a human gave any sign of noticing it. Mum had dropped a bit of her sandwich a foot or so away from her. The fox crept up, seized the tidbit, then broke into a run and disappeared into the trees. Dad commented that she’d dropped the sandwich on purpose. And, of course she had; she told him she’d noticed the fox tracking them long before and seen how thin it was. Dad laughed and put his arm around her as he set aside the remains of his own food for the fox to retrieve later. I was happy, seeing how much my parents love each other. I hoped I’d find that kind of love someday for myself.”
Rhapsody felt a warm glow fill her as her eyes met Scarlet’s. They both smiled.
“We’d pull the ivy off the walls of the house after we came out of the woods. Dad joked that it was the only thing holding up some of the walls but he’d climb higher on the ladder than anybody else to make sure he’d get the longest trails of ivy. Holly was my specialty. I’d look for the bushes with the reddest berries, then wade in to cut off the bunches. I always end up with scratches all over my arms and hands and face from trying to get the biggest, greenest bunches of holly.” He looked at his hands and sighed. “I’ll never be able to do that again. How would I explain why I heal so fast?”
Rhapsody laid a hand on his arm. “We’ll find a way. Maybe you could wear gloves and a balaclava.”
Scarlet nodded, then changed the subject. “Twelfth Night does sound like fun. But we may not be able to go.”
“I know. I’ve hinted to Uncle that we may not be able to attend because of work-related commitments.” Rhapsody placed the last strand of tinsel on the tree. “There! Finished.”
“Not quite. We still have to make sure everything works as it should.”
“Oh, of course. You’re right.” Rhapsody flicked a switch. The fairy lights came on and shortly began to twinkle. She nodded with satisfaction. “Everything’s working fine.”
“There’s still one thing left to test,” replied Scarlet. He beckoned to her.
Puzzled, Rhapsody walked up to him. With a smile, Scarlet pointed upward. A sprig of mistletoe hung from the ceiling. She giggled as Scarlet wrapped his arms around her.
“Happy Christmas, love.”
The Green Man is a kind of nature spirit or god, easily more than 2,000 years old in Britain.
Snapdragon is actually a Victorian parlor game, not Medieval. But it is challenging to play. Learn how at http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/snapdragon.html.
Twelfth Night Cake (North American measures)
1 1/3 cups hazelnuts
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 (17 1/4 ounce) package frozen puff pastry dough, thawed1 dried bean
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon confectioners’’ sugar
Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. When nuts are cool, rub them in a tea towel to remove skin. Finely grind nuts in a food processor. Set aside.
To make filling, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium to high speed, until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and beat until well blended. Gradually add nuts to butter-egg mixture with mixer on low to medium speed. Stir in orange peel and Grand Marnier. Set aside.
On a slightly floured surface, roll out one sheet of pastry slightly to remove creases. Trim to a circle about 8 inches in diameter, and place on a greased baking sheet. Heap filling over pastry in a dome shape, leaving a 1-inch border. Hide dried bean in filling. Roll out another sheet of pastry as above and trim to a 10-inch circle. Brush edge of bottom pastry with beaten egg; cover with second circle of dough and tuck edges under. Press to seal tightly; decoratively crimp edges. For a glossy crust, brush top with beaten egg. Chill cake in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
With a small sharp knife, score cake in cuts radiating from top and center to within 1 inch of edge. Brush again with beaten egg. Bake about 30 minutes at 375 degrees F or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners' sugar.
Wassail Bowl (North American measures)
6 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
half teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cinnamon sticks
1 inch peeled fresh ginger
2 litres of ale1 bottle (750ml) dry sherry
Honey or sugar to taste – optional
Bake apples whole (180C, 350F, Gas 5) for 20 minutes until tender but still holding their shape.
For an extra mediaeval touch: Beat 6 eggs in a 4-quart punchbowl until thick and lemon-coloured. Gradually beat in the hot ale and float the apples on top.
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