(It is of course non-canon. Eternal thanks to Brenda Cooper, Wil Wheaton, Christina Diddle, and Yesenia Cisneros for story notes and feedback. Yes it’s a little blasphemous, if you are sensitive to that, don’t bother reading. You will have no one to blame but yourself.)
Teaching Toward Bethlehem
The air was crisp and cold, and smelled strongly of smoke. To be more clear, it wasn’t the smoke smell of destruction nor the smoke of a pipe of herb. It was hearth fire smoke. Wood smoke. A smell of comfort, and Nathanial Boren inhaled it deeply and held it inside of him for a moment. He exhaled and watched his breath float away into the night sky, imagining for a moment it was smoke itself. It was a childhood play act that even at the ripe old age of fifty-one he indulged in.
His wife was fast asleep in the settlement behind him, his children were grown and had hearth fires of their own. Nights like this he could stand out near the perimeter, see the stars in the winter night air and just be. For a moment he wished he’d poured a dram of the spiced cider on the stove before he went out, then decided that tiny imperfection made the night somehow better.
Sometimes just being meant feeling a slight pang of regret.
The grassy hills that rolled over the landscape were dusted in a bit of light frost and the dark outline of the old city structure could just be made out against the far mountains under the light of the full moon. The perimeter was set up to prevent raids from there, but the grand old Vancouver skyline still stood proud if inert. Nathanial’s reverie was broken by Old Messy goat, the cranky one, who bleated from her position at the center of the flock and that’s when little Rhiannon scared the living shit out of him.
“Caught ya dreaming!” she shouted, slapping him on the backside.
After the shock wore off “Sweet Christ child, you’ll give me a heart attack!”
Rhiannon cocked her head, dark skin and eyes bundled up in her little parka, “You weren’t tending the flock. I get spanked for that.”
All of nine years old, his granddaughter was already a taskmaster at settlement responsibilities, and yes, he had been musing instead of watching the herd. For a moment he was doubly grateful for not having the cider, as she startled him so badly he would have either dashed it on himself or on her.
“Fair point. What are you doing out here? The perimeter isn’t safe at night.”
A shrug, just like her mother would, “Yeah well you guys say that, but no one has come from the city since, you know, I was born.” She put a sarcastic emphasis on the last word and Nathanial’s heart soared because that part, that part was just like his wife.
“All right little one, look and tell me what you see.”
Rhiannon dutifully gazed over the perimeter fence line for a moment. Nathanial could see her mind working on the proper response. She was analytical. Businesslike. It hurt somewhat to realize she was not whimsical, and that this world had by necessity made her that way.
“There’s no tracks in the frost, no one has been in the crossfire zone. Old Messy is cranky because none of the males want to fuck her.” She said plainly.
Rhiannon rolled her eyes, “Owpaw I know all about fucking. That’s how we get more goats and babies.”
“Language! I should speak to your mother about her teachings.”
Again with the rolled eyes. “You guys tell me how important words are, then spend a lot of time telling me not to say them.”
Nathanial took a deep breath for a blistery comeback and exhaled slowly instead. The air still smelled of burning wood and comfort.
“Yes. Yes, sometimes we do that. We’re not perfect. But while your eyes caught much, you missed my point. Look at the sky.”
She cast her eyes up at the stars then shrugged again like her mother.
“It’s clear. No glowy fog or clouds tonight.”
“But do you see that star?” he pointed.
“The brighter one?”
“Yes, that one.” He said.
This time there wasn’t a shrug. Now, she was listening.
“I see it.”
“That star is Polaris. It is the northern star. It’s one of the brighter stars in the night sky. It is said that Polaris guided the shepherds.”
And yet again with the eye rolling. Nathanial wanted for a moment to chastise her but Rhiannon wasn’t one to be silenced or interrupted.
“Oh not the Christmas story again.”
“It’s winter little one, and the time when we used to mark this time with great celebration.”
She pulled the hood of her winter coat back, her dander up now, which again gave Nathanial great delight. Rhiannon had a sharp mind. He had much hope for this young generation.
“Stupid! Owpaw no one tends flocks in the field in desert winter. And wise men don’t need a star to guide them. The whole story is dumb. Why would a god fuck some woman—“
“—to create another version of himself to die but not really die so everyone here could hurt people then feel bad and feel ok about it later because they think they get to live forever?”
Rhiannon’s blood was up he could see, Nathanial changed his mind and wished for a moment he had that cider. He looked back up at the sky.
“I suppose you’re right.”
Rhiannon blinked, unsure of herself. He shifted slightly and put his arm around her.
“I like the story though,” he said, “It reminds me of generosity. It reminds me of sacrifice. It reminds me of the fact even if we worship something, that doesn’t mean it didn’t face struggle too. All we have in the end, are our stories. Isn’t the message of the Christ worth that? Forget the main parts, think about the message. Of love and sharing it. Doing something to help everyone. Yes, the story is a myth but all stories are. We can take the lessons even if we don’t buy the story right?”
Rhiannon hugged her grandfather tightly around his waist. “No. It’s silly. But I think I know what you mean?”
He did. They stood like that, enjoying the cold for a moment.
“There’s a hymn I like,” he said.
“The holy night one?”
“It’s fun to sing isn’t it?”
“I guess,” she said.
“There’s a line about fall on your knees, hear the angel voices.”
“That’s dumb. You can’t fight back on your knees.”
“That’s not entirely true, but also not the point,” Nathanial said. He didn’t feel the need to further it.
There was a moment again with just the two hugging each other in the cold. The goat bleated.
“I think you’re right about Old Messy,” He said.
“Yeah. I am I think,” came the small reply.
“Go to bed little one.”
Rhiannon hugged him tight and breathed in deeply. Nathanial realized for a moment that perhaps he had imparted some wisdom. He also realized that having an impact on her was a life experience few and far between. Rhiannon let him go and trudged off but then turned for a moment.
“Owpaw, what is the point though? Why even bother with these people you made if you’re a god? Make them think they can be bad but feel bad and be forgiven?”
Nathanial smiled. “I don’t know. Maybe people should try harder to avoid being bad.”
Rhiannon frowned. “Wait. This is you telling me again I can’t tease Nat Jr? Owpaw he is so lame.” Again she emphasized the last word with sarcasm.
Mission accomplished, her brother might experience a little less torment.
“Merry Christmas, Rhiannon.” It was an instruction not a wish.
And she rolled her eyes, shuffled back to her cabin. Nathanial took a deep breath of the night air, and watched the flock.