The Watching, The Stranger, 2005
By Millie Williams
The day before The Watching was a little bit warm. The Lady-In-Waiting fretted about some, worried that the weather would not be perfect. Should she have the Royal Footmen pull out the wagon instead of the sled, and have it decorated? She moved from room to room, checking decorations. Most were in place and looking very nice. She adjusted a bow here, an ornament there. The Castle was full of corgis and decorations, all ready for the celebrations of the season to begin.
The corgis had placed their bedrolls in their accustomed spots. Some spots were sacrosanct, being reserved for special elders or very young puppies. Some were reserved by Tradition, such as the head of each corgi household getting to choose their spot first, and the other members arranging their beds around them.
Glancing out the window, the Lady-In-Waiting stopped and stared. There he was again! She looked carefully. It wasn’t Brother Wolf, who had made a habit of coming around the back to visit with the pups and to accept a hot bowl of stew now and then. This was a stranger. Although everyone was welcome at the Castle, human or animal, one who lurked about the back without an introduction was suspect. She made a note in her mind to ask St. Frank if he knew who this animal was. Perhaps he had been invited to the Watching but was shy. The Lady-In-Waiting always tried to give the benefit of the doubt in these kinds of situations.
After lunch, she called to all the corgis to come outside and help her with the trees. The Castle had a tradition of decorating all the trees outside. There were at least 50 and each tree was given a special theme. The corgis vied for their favorite trees and most got to work on them. The Footmen had arranged scaffolds about all the trees so that short little corgi legs could get up and decorate every part of the tree. Here and there, were tables set up with hot broth for the corgis to drink if they got chilled. But it wasn’t cold! The Lady-In-Waiting fretted some more about the unseasonably warm weather. She really needed to talk to St. Frank but she hadn’t seen him in several days.
The decorating proceeded with the corgis and animals laughing and having fun, friendly comparisons were made between the trees. There was a gold and white tree, a blue and green tree, an orange and purple tree with dog toys on it (this one had been thought up by some puppies) and of course, Esmerelda’s favorite tree, the pink one with little flamingos all over it. It was always hard to choose a favorite. The colors were rotated so that each tree got a different dressing each year.
Out of the corner of her eye, the Lady-In-Waiting saw movement past the piles of baled hay. Who was that? When she turned to look, there was nothing there. She shrugged and went back to handing out ornaments to the corgis working on the tree she was helping with.
In the castle, everyone was off in other rooms. The Royal Maids were dusting bedrooms and straightening and cleaning. There was always one empty bedroom kept for a special guest. It had rarely been used but it was a legend that some day it would be needed for an extra guest. There had been some puppies that had sneaked in one Christmas Eve and had been found in the bed, snoring away after The Watching. But that really didn’t count. There was also always an empty spot at the table for the guest. None of the corgis quite understood why this was so, but respected it and stayed away from the reserved places.
In the kitchen, the Royal Chef and his crew were wrapping up peanut butter cookies by the dozen. This was always a special treat that was made in a magical way, and placed into little cellophane bags for the corgis to take to their homes with them after their visit every year. These were always given out at The Watching, that was a tradition, too.
The cookies were not really made, they were “given”. No one quite knew how or where they came from. There had been an old small beat up basket found in the attic one day. The Lady-In-Waiting had never seen it before, but she was fond of baskets. She brought it down and cleaned it up well and saw that it had a certain charm about it. One day she came in to find some puppies playing with it. They showed her that every time they reached in, a peanut butter cookie came out. It was truly magic! Everyone had tried to figure out how this worked, but no one ever had. So it was decided that the special cookies would only be given out at The Watching time or to help make money for charities.
The Royal Chef had indicated that they had enough cookies and that one of his assistants should take it back to the Great Hall, and so it was.
Everyone was busy and happy and chattering away at their various tasks when the stranger slipped into the empty Great Hall. At least, he thought it was empty. But it was watched.
Looking about furtively, the stranger carefully sniffed the air. He looked something like a coyote; he was long legged and had dark tipped amber fur. There were upright ears like a corgi and a long bushy tail. On quiet paws he went from corner to corner, in awe of what he saw. For this animal had never seen such a beautiful room! He came to the big Christmas tree in the corner, which had hundreds of presents for the corgis and humans piled around the bottom. He wondered at what he smelled in them and puzzled over why someone would take something and wrap paper around it. This was very foreign to him. He had been raised with no beliefs at all. So he didn’t understand right from wrong or good from bad. He’d been on his own for so long. Although he was quite young, he had reached his growth height and still needed some filling out.
Turning his head to look about the room, he had the eerie feeling he was being watched. But he saw no one and smelled no one. He continued his investigations into the room. When he was nearly through looking at everything, he found a small worn basket in the corner. It was beat up and the handle had been broken and mended at some point with some string. At first he thought it was just a bit of trash, but it was sitting on a red and green cloth. And there was a smell. But it wasn’t a smell exactly. It was the promise of a smell. He puzzled over this and walked over to look at it. He whined and gave it a little bat with his elegant foot. It fell over but rocked back into place. But a wondrous thing happened! A peanut butter cookie fell out. He gobbled first and thought after. He stuck his nose into the beat up basket. There was nothing there but the promise again. He stared at it for a while, and then batted it. Another delicious cookie fell out and he gobbled it up too. Now this stranger was hungry. He had been on his own for longer than he could remember. And here was a basket that gave food! He delighted in the batting and gobbling for about ten minutes. He was finally full and glanced around. This castle had so much. Surely they would not miss a small worn out basket? He picked it up by the handle and trotted out the door with it. Once he was outside, like a flash, he ran for the woods. No one saw him go. Or did they?
Later, the corgis and animals and humans all came into the Great Hall and prepared for their dinner. The Lady-In-Waiting had decided to have the wagons decorated, rather than the sleighs. She anxiously watched the Weather Channel and the weatherman kept insisting that it would be warm and dry. She instructed the Royal Chef to make sure there was plenty of water as well as warm broth for the trip to see The Watching and worried over each detail. Because this was such an important event in the animals’ lives, she wanted it to be just perfect.
While the corgis ate a light meal of crackers, cheese and sausage, she had Blanco, Princess Cheveu’s white burro hooked up to the smallest of the carts. He was brilliant white, having had a special bath that day. The Princess had spent all day braiding his scruffy mane and tail with lovely ribbons. She even put some glitter on his back. She and some of the other young girl corgis had also braided the other horses’ tails and manes and also of Hopi the mule. Everyone was beautiful. They all stood quietly as the Royal Footmen placed their harnesses on them. The harnesses were red and had gold bells that jingled softly as they were moved.
Soon, all was ready for the walk to the special hill where The Watching was to take place. The Lady-In-Waiting helped to load up the old corgis and animals into the wagons. She had given up on a white Christmas. And it was really all right, as it would be easier on the older ones. She sent the Security Animals to line up everyone in a long line that zig zagged back and forth across the lawn. She checked to be sure that everyone knew to stay together and that responsible animals were in charge of the younger ones. Finally all was ready and the Princess led the procession, with Blanco and his cart following, then Hopi and his cart and then the bigger horses and carts filled with food, blankets, flashlights and more elderly animals. Lastly, the line was the animals that were walking. There were more and more every year, as the tradition found its way into the hearts of animals everywhere. Humans were not allowed to come. The only human allowed to participate was St. Frank. The Lady-In-Waiting hoped he was at the site. She hadn’t seen him for several days. But St. Frank knew what he was doing.
But, oh! She had forgotten the basket! It would provide treats on the way home for the baby puppies. She ran into castle to get it. The animals continued walking on. She had left it in the Great Hall. But it was gone. Someone must have already packed it. She was thankful that someone had remembered it. She went to the kitchen to have a cup of tea and put her feet up and talk to the Royal Chef for a while.
Now the stranger was named Spellcaster. He had been sitting in the woods and watching the excitement at the castle. He wondered what on earth they were all doing! Silently, he picked up the basket and trotted parallel to the path. Months of roaming had taught him to move quickly and silently. He stayed hidden from sight but just within earshot. He wondered at these animals that all traveled together so peacefully! There were shouts of exuberance from the older pups who would stop and try to catch rabbits and barks from their mentors to get back in line and behave themselves. The jingling of the bells was pleasant and peaceful. Now and then someone would break into a carol and all the animals would join in. To a human, it sounded like a lot of noise but Spellcaster thought that it was a beautiful sound. He was most intrigued with the whole affair.
After a couple of hours of marching, the hill was just ahead. The Princess and Blanco broke into a trot, to get up the hill faster. Everyone else, excited, did the same. Spellcaster turned to the right and went around the side of the hill into the trees. He sniffed and stiffened. A wolf had been through here! He became very cautious. He did not know that this was Brother Wolf, St. Frank’s personal pet. Where ever St. Frank was, Brother Wolf was sure to be somewhere nearby.
As the animals arranged themselves on the top of the hill, the sun began to set. Blankets were hurriedly placed and flashlights were passed around. No talking or eating was allowed during the spectacle. There was a smaller than usual crop of First Watchers this year. First Watchers were the animals who were over six months old who had never seen The Watching. These animals were settled in the first row. No young puppies came along, as they would sometimes talk or bark or carry on. It was a solemn occasion and so babies were left at the castle.
Finally the sun went down. The squirrels in the trees ceased their chattering and the raccoons settled in on the branches, too. Brother Wolf came and lay in the center of a group of First Watchers who would brag to everyone the rest of their lives that they had attended their First Watching with Brother Wolf himself! The older pups and animals got as close as they could, not only to say they had touched a wolf but he was warm and soft and very nice to lie down next to.
Spellcaster watched carefully. What were they all doing?
Now the sky was totally black. Here and there, an animal yawned or coughed. A few had closed their eyes for just a moment. But then a ripple passed through the watching crowd as a little flash of something appeared on the horizon. “Shhh! Shhhh!” was whispered, although no one had said anything. The animals sat up and those who were half asleep stirred, feeling the excitement in the air. Another bit of light and then a brilliant sweep flew across in the atmosphere. Dots of flashes and then what looked like colored rain swooped down. Many of the animals gasped, for not being able to see color, their eyes were permitted to see it for this one night only each year, and only for The Watching. Rivulets of color blended and swirled and every where one looked, there was beautiful color, like a Monet painting gone mad. Then the colors muted and slowed. The animals who had been here before knew what was coming but the First Watchers were mesmerized. It was always a little bit different each year.
Off in the woods, Spellcaster was similarly mesmerized. He thought the sky was going to fall. He wanted to run and hide but he could not. So he sat behind a tree and watched. The other animals didn’t seem to be afraid, so he tried hard not to be afraid either. Until he heard the twig behind him break.
The clearing below the hill began to illuminate. The light came from a star that was very high and the corgis could even see each other. And very soon, they were there! First, always, was the barn. Then there were some cows that began to moo. Next they saw the man, then the woman. And the Baby! The mother corgis in the audience felt a special thrill. There was nothing like a baby, human or corgi! They could see His little Hands, waving vigorously in the air. He was always so happy. Next came the sheep followed by the shepherds and the Border collie. And then the strange men on the strange beasts walked over. First Watchers were always amazed by these beasts. But they all managed to stay quiet. There would be time for questions later on.
Spellcaster whirled around to find a human approaching him. He took a step to run but he couldn’t. Was he paralyzed? What was wrong with him? He began to panic. He thought of the little basket. No, he would leave that behind. It wasn’t worth grabbing to run with. But he couldn’t run. Something inside him wouldn’t let him. He watched the man approach, and then speak his name. What was this? How did the man know Spellcaster’s name?
“Spellcaster, don’t be afraid. Just listen,” said a warm voice. Spellcaster sniffed the air furiously. “I am called St. Frank. I am the patron saint of all animals.”
Spellcaster thought about this for a moment. He vaguely remembered someone saying something about this when he was just a puppy. He hesitated, not wanting to say anything.
A gentle laugh followed. “I saw you in the Great Hall this afternoon. You took something that didn’t belong to you.” St. Frank paused, to see what Spellcaster’s reaction would be. There was none. He really didn’t understand that what he did was wrong. “You really are a good boy,” the voice continued. “But you don’t know right from wrong. Here,” St Frank said, as he waved his hand through the air. “Now you do.”
Spellcaster felt a very strange feeling. It was in his heart. It was like what he had seen in the sky that evening. It was a bit of light that grew and flashed and spun around and around his heart. Many colors that he never knew existed. And then his whole heart was covered! And he Knew. He was ashamed for having stolen the basket, the magic basket that belonged to someone else. He lowered his head.
He felt a gentle hand on his head. “It’s all right,” St. Frank whispered. “Come with me. I think we still have time.”
Spellcaster, who was now a totally different dog, picked up the little beaten up basket with the promise of smells in it and followed St. Frank out to the field. St. Frank pointed to the barn.
“Go,” he said. “Go and listen to what your heart tells you to do.” Spellcaster looked uncertain but St. Frank smiled and Spellcaster would have done anything that St. Frank asked him to do. He went.
The closer he got to the barn and the Baby, the lighter his heart felt and the more brilliant the colors surrounding it flashed. As he got within a few feet, his new heart said “crawl” and so he did. He got down on his belly with the basket in his mouth and he crawled up to the woman who was now sitting with the Baby in her lap. The baby cooed and reached out. The woman smiled and took the basket, and thanked Spellcaster. Spellcaster could not take his eyes off the Baby. Why, it was the cutest baby he’d ever seen! The woman reached in the basket and drew out a little baby chick. She smiled again and held it for the Baby to see, who clapped His chubby little Hands together. Then Spellcaster’s heart said “leave” and so he slowly stood and couldn’t resist giving the Baby a lick on His little Foot. The Baby gurgled and reached for Spellcaster’s ears and grasped them for a minute. Spellcaster’s heart felt better than it ever had, for it was healed from his months of running and hiding. He spun and ran back to St. Frank.
St. Frank led him back up the hill and they watched the scene fade below and the flashing begin again in the sky. The Angel chorus appeared and sang wonderful songs about many things that the corgis didn’t quite understand but they did understand the intent of the songs, which was to honor the Baby. And the Heavenly Animals were there, too! There was Emma, who looked young and glorious in her shining red coat. Three lovely Japanese Chins who were called Red, Kody and Keko were there. They were so happy to see their friends on Earth again.
There was Dylan, who had fought so hard to stay with his human but had yielded at last to The Boss’s call of “Come!”
Milo, Brownie, Mikey and Blaise; Holly, Jake, Foxworth,
Eleri, Ambi, Hero and Sweet Spirit; ,
Rupert and Mr. Beasley, Luka, Trev, Harley, Hunter, Nicky and Betsy were
singing their loudest. Here and there
were some humans. Mary Frances stood
with Ken, holding his hand and waving. They both sported beautiful shiny halos
and both looked young and healthy.
Crest, Tess and Toby were at their feet and Ken was also holding Raisin
the cat, who had left Earth much too young, in everyone’s opinion. His brother, Bran, sat on Ken’s
shoulder. Bailey, Callie, Floppy and
Jackie were there, as well as Mistletoe, who sported a collar made of
mistletoe. This made everyone smile. Duncan
Dear Cleo was there, who was a human. He was holding Pookie, a Papillon who had recently crossed the Bridge. Pookie had gone first, a few days later, Cleo, who was Pookie’s human grandfather, had followed. And how happy he had been to see this little dog who brought his daughter such joy!
In the front was Indy, who was a beautiful German shepherd and Pepper who boasted bloodlines from
Labrador and from .
Arrow was nearby and everyone was so pleased to see him young and healthy
again. Evan, a kitty, sat next to
Grandpa Dog, who was a sheltie that had been dumped off and rescued. His grey face was gone and the brilliant gold
of his fur dazzled everyone. Trio, who
had just been two years old when he was Called sat next to Gobbie and Glowbear,
and Edward, Lacey, Scoutie Pie, Higgins and Tucker were there. Scoutie Pie was clutching
a cookie. She never seemed to be anywhere without something to nibble on as she
had many digestive problems here on Earth.
Jessica Lynn, who had gone from a wholly terror to a holy terror, was
there, too. Thumper, who was a Cardigan
corgi and Lola, the Great Dane were sitting to the side and singing lustily. Australia
Then there was Courtney, the
. She had been freshly bathed and brushed and
had a lovely bow in her hair. She had on
a crooked halo because she was Newly Arrived and hadn’t had time to walk around
with a book on her head to get the hang of balancing a halo. She was also
juggling a paper with the words to the beautiful songs on it. Finally, she threw the paper down and barked
a song that sounded a lot like “I love you, Mom!”. The animals all tittered at her, enjoying her
just being herself. Lhasa was standing next to her, and he was
in much the same shape. They just hadn’t had much time to get ready for their
performances. Although St. Peter had said they could be excused, they wanted to
be performing for their many friends. Texas sang out in his
baritone voice and gave a nice balance to the song. Texas
There were a number of animals on either side of the choir, some were from the animal shelter in
that had burned down and they had been taken too young. The other group was from Katrina. They held
no animosity towards Katrina, the animals knew that this was sometimes the way
of things. They were happy to be where
they were now, just waiting for their owners to join them some day. Wisconsin
The corgis lifted their voices with the angels and the friends that had crossed over. Soon the hills and valleys thundered with the songs of love and peace and joy. There were many tears and although no one could touch or talk with the heavenly beings, everyone felt comforted, seeing them safe and in another place.
Finally, the angels and the Heavenly Animals faded away. There were a few more flashes and then there was quiet and dark. As usual, one or two younger First Watchers called out for them all to come back but were hushed and comforted by others nearby.
St. Frank came out at the bottom of the hill and thanked everyone for attending. Then he introduced his new friend, Spellcaster and said that he was going to be staying at the castle for a while.
“And there is a special room just for you, and a place set at the table. You are most welcome to stay with us for as long as you like.”
Spellcaster had much to learn and it was thought that he could benefit from being with the Royal Family for a time. Spellcaster was very excited. A family? Oh, he had always wanted one. He didn’t know where his other family had gone. He looked hopefully at St. Frank who smiled that lovely smile again. He took his hand from behind his back and there was the magic basket! Spellcaster wagged his feather tail.
“Will you carry this back for me, please?” St. Frank asked. “And I’ll just bet you know right where it goes.” He gave Spellcaster a wink.
And then they all turned to go back to the castle, for the welcoming breakfast and a nice long nap.
I wish for all of you to have a Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!