Solomon Kane’s Christmas
High boots, cuffed above the knee, crunched through snow upon the frozen heath. The feet within the boots contained little more warmth than the white blanket they trod. But the boots marched on, steady and unvarying, for Solomon Kane did not bend or waver in the face of inclement weather any more than he did in the face of opposition from man or beast. Or creature of Hell.
Only his long black cloak, wrapped tightly about his whipcord lean frame, and the black slouch hat tugged snuggly atop his head, gave any indication that Solomon Kane was aware of the gusts and blowing snow. Beneath the cloak his long rapier awaited, oiled and sharpened within its sheath. His pistols held fresh flints and his powder was dry. The Lord aided those who looked after their tools. And these were the tools of Solomon Kane, dour Puritan and foe of Satan.
Yet this evening his only foe was hunger and lack of shelter. Night came on fast, the sun, already dim behind the unbroken ceiling of cloud, slipped behind the hedge of forest walling off the western edge of the heath. A grim prospect. And yet Solomon retained his faith, which was rewarded by a welcoming twinkle of light from the narrow windows of a cottage on the verge of the woods. Smoke drifted up from a chimney to be whipped away by the raging wind. The windows beneath the thickly thatched roof were covered with scraped hide, allowing a glimpse of candlelight and firelight within, yet no prospect of the interior of the simple, but sturdily constructed cottage.
“Ho, the house!” called Solomon Kane as he neared.
The door opened a crack. The bearded face of a yeoman peeked out.
“Who ventures out on a night such as this?” quoth the yeoman.
“I am Solomon Kane. I go where God wills,” answered Solomon Kane, “heeding not the vagaries of wind or weather.”
“Is it only you, then, sir? Mortal man? Neither veiled beast of Hell, nor tricksome member of the Wee Folk? ‘Tis a night when elves and sprites roam and the Wild Hunt rides.”
“Mortal Man am I, and a cold and hungry one, not too proud to crave hospitality.”
“Enter and be welcome, Solomon Kane, this Christmas Eve.”
The yeoman — John Good — and his wife and son greeted Solomon Kane with what warmth and welcome their meager circumstances allowed. He was soon warming himself by the fire while Goodwife Good portioned out for four a supper meant for three.
After a generous stoup of ale, John Good gave forth on the legends and rumors of the dark forest within which he eked out his living, a forest that, from Yeoman Good’s telling, crawled with Satan’s minions and the spawn of Hell. Solomon Kane listened politely, knowing his courtesy was the only recompense he could provide for the hospitality afforded him.
Unless there was substance to John Good’s tales, some foul demon Solomon Kane could dispatch and obviate at least one danger to the yeoman’s forest labors. It would not be the first time his blade had put an end to such an unearthly peril.
Kane slept that night on the packed earth floor by the fire. He slept lightly, ready to spring into action should any malignant bogart, bandit, or basilisk endanger the hearth of his host.
A shuffling, little more than the rustle of a mouse’s foot, brought him instantly alert. A figure, crimson in the dim light of the fading embers, bent at some work by the chimney. Solomon Kane leapt to his feet, rapier slipping free of the sheath as he moved. A darting lunge, a cry…
John Good arose from the bed he shared with wife and son. He stirred the fire to life. A white bearded old elf in a red velvet suit sprawled bloody and unmoving before the hearth, a heavy sack lay beside him, oddments spilling from its open mouth.
“Oops,” quoth Solomon Kane.
[Merry Christmas. Why not get yourself a present?]