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Monday, December 25, 2023

Tiwald the Traveller - a fable for Christmas.

I know ghost stories are traditional at Christmas. This story is lighter and, as people often travel around the holiday season, a traveller's tale, written in a saga style. Hope you enjoy.

Tiwald the Traveller



There was once a man, Tiwald by name. He was a traveller, a mariner who loved the dancing seas—the salt spray and curving foam, the slapping sail and screaming gull, the smell of pitch and Frankish wine. Many times had he crossed the whales’ road in his tall, deep-bellied ship, carrying furs and spices and silver to all countries, every god-fearing people.

One day in late spring he made ready his boat and set forth, a good wind behind and silken seas following. Two days the ship journeyed, slipping through the waters, easy as the sunshine, the crew singing

rowdily, sleeping soundly.

But with the dawn of the third day came a strange wind, which the boat could not avoid, despite the clear and shining seas. Tireless and unceasing the wind blew the ship off course, far out into deep water and empty, unknown skies.

The crew could do nothing. They took down the sail and mast, then unshipped their oars and huddled together in the hold, silent and fretful, forgetting even to pray.

Tiwald alone along them remained stout-hearted and would not quit his post. Standing solitary at the helm, her urged the crew to follow his example. His pleas were all in vain. The master mariner scanned the strange stars alone. The crew had turned bloodless, they had no spirit.

For three days the wind moaned, bursting down on the boat and driving it on a single straight course while the sea around lay flat as beaten iron. Then, on the morning of the fourth day, as sudden as it had come, the wind ceased. Though no land could be sighted, Tiwald fell to his knees, praising the Almighty. He strapped up the tiller and slept for the first time in five nights. His crew were still below.

When he woke, the mariner found that the ship had beached itself and was lying, clear of the water, on a narrow sandy strand. They had been driven to a mighty estuary, full of shallow salt pools and black sand dunes. Across these flats, farthest from the sea and at the very edge of the estuary could be seen the beginning of a great forest, dark and hostile-looking despite its array of spring green. Above this forest rose mountains, snow-clad and glittering, their tops lost in the clouds. In all of this place no animal could be seen, but strange birds, brightly coloured and mute, flew in an settled on the clear water to feed. A few, bolder than the rest, even alighted on the bows of the ship.

Tiwald and his followers stood on the dunes and gazed silently at the forest and the mountains beyond. As they watched, a wide and even path of green stones emerged from the trees’ edge, where none had been before, and wove its way back through the forest towards the hills.

Tiwald looked at his crew. “We follow the path,” he said. “Over the mountains perhaps there will be a city and people to aid us, if we approach in good faith. But,” he warned, “do not linger on this road or stray from it, for whatever reason.”

So speaking, the mariner directed two men to remain with the ship and then, seeing the rest provisioned for the journey, strode off, wading through the shallows to the green path.

The crew walked far that first day. The path was straight and level and no man was tempted to leave the way for the damp and tangled woods. At sunset they bedded down on the stones, too wary to light a fire lest they drew attackers. Wrapped shivering in their cloaks, the men listened fearfully to the cries of the owl and wolf and to other sounds which they dare not think on.

Dawn when it came was welcome and welcoming—birds sang, the earth was warm, the woods tranquil. Tiwald and his men were merry that morning, singing and running along the path. Some of the crew, heartened by the blue cloudless skies and gleaming sunshine even crept off the road to the edge of the forest. There flowers sprang form every tree stump and encircled every tree base, each different from its neighbour, wondrous to behold and with a sharp yet heady scent. Many there were that day who wished to pluck these blooms and tear them from their rightful home, but Tiwald, being wiser than most, forbade it.

Onwards they travelled until one man, farther along the path than the others, gave a great shout and left the green stone path completely. Sprinting forward, Tiwald saw the mariner kneeling in a grassy clearing some way from the track. Beside him stood a most fair and lovely maiden, slim and straight, naked and golden-haired, though cruelly used. Thick chains bound her shapely arms, wound around her slender middle, hung heavy from her hips down to her tiny feet. A great iron ring, thicker than Tiwald’s thumb and as wide as his clenched fist was threaded through the chains and embedded in a massive boulder.

Much moved to pity by this poor beauty’s plight, Tiwald and his men left the path and fell to hacking and tearing at the chains with swords and axes. All their efforts were in vain, the chains were not even scratched by their blades.

Suddenly the maiden spoke. “The ring,” she urged, looking directly at Tiwald as the tallest and strongest of the group, “You must break the ring.”

Instantly a man lurched forward to obey her but was himself stopped by Tiwald.

“Wait,” said the master mariner. “Something here is not right.” Indeed, Tiwald was much troubled, for he had seen an uncanny gleam in the maiden’s eyes when she had spoken to them and he had watched a look of ravenous and hideous anger cross her face as the sailor had tried to approach the iron ring.

The lady, sensing his bewilderment, appealed now to his crew.

“Please, free me,” she begged, with such a breaking voice and so many tears that her face was most beautiful, even in despair.

Again, Tiwald tried to prevent his men from meeting the maiden’s demands, but his followers, maddened by lust and greed turned upon him and beat him down, knocking him to the ground where he lay as one dead.

When the master mariner woke, the maiden, his crew and the forest had disappeared. He himself was lying on a golden couch, set upon a raised dais in a great high-gabled hall. Sitting up, he looked about, full of awe at the strangeness of the place. The hall was a palace, brightly painted and richly adorned, filled with cunningly carved chairs and tables of pure gold. Around its walls glinted tapestries of ruby and gold and at its entrance was set a pair of copper gates, finely wrought and burnished to a gleaming glory. Most wondrous of all in the centre of the hall there rose a mighty spring, a fountain such as might be seen in ancient Rome. Soundlessly its waters flowed up and fell back again like a fire, lighting the whole building with a strange silver radiance.

Tiwald gazed in delight at the fountain, unheedful of the light tread behind him. A voice, very sweet and low, broke the silence.

“Welcome to the hall of healing, Tiwald, wisest of men.”

The master mariner turned, ready to answer the speaker, but found his tongue stilled at what he saw.

There before him stood a woman, tall and dark and comely, dressed in green, with green veil and headrail. Her eyes shone silver, like the fountain, and her smile mazed his wits, like wine. Beside her, the glories of the hall were feeble, as cobwebs in the morning dew are before the rising sun.

The lady spoke again. “The hall gives you fair blessing and I, keeper of the hall, do likewise. Yet I fear I come with poor tidings, though this be your first waking hour for a year.”

Stunned by her words, Tiwald remained silent for a moment. Forcing his limbs to move, he leapt from the couch and bowed low before the stately dame, stammering a reply. “Forgive me, my lady, for being so surly. I am a simple man and gratitude for all you have done for me and the wonder of this place has stolen my tongue away.”

The mariner paused, but for shyness dare not look at the lady. Yet the keeper of the hall seemed not angered by this but pleased, and she held out both her hands to him, touching his brow. “Come. We must go from this place. There is much to do.”

Thus speaking, the lady turned and walked slowly away, towards the copper gates. Tiw lad, followed, quick as he could. The gates swung open for the lady, closing silently behind the mariner, as he crossed over the threshold.

Outside the hall was desert. An eerie land it was to Tiwald, empty and soundless, where the sun shone hard and brilliant but cold, like a crystal. It gave a man no warmth. Nothing dwelt here but sand and wind. The barren dunes lay heaped, colour upon colour, even up to eves of the hall of healing.

The mariner stood silent for a long while, looking all about him. Finally he spoke. “I must again crave pardon of you, my lady. I know that I am a blunt ignorant fellow, but my mind is not easy and forces me to speak. Do you know aught of my men? And the maid bound by the iron ring, do you know what became of her?”

The keeper of the hall looked steadily at the mariner, her face full of sorrow. “Alas!” she cried, “Your men are no more. A great evil has befallen them. The maid they strove to free was not all she seemed. In betraying you and cutting the iron ring they loosed a merciless beast upon my country. They freed none other than Swiftbane, the deathly dragon of Albaessa. A wily, subtle beast it is, too, much skilled in shape shifting. She bewitched your men, but gave them poor reward for their service. Seven she devoured and the rest she burned, your ship too. You alone escaped her venom, yet how I know not. You were brought here from beside the very boulder to which the dragon was tethered.”

Seeing Tiwald’s pale and saddened face, the lady paused a moment, but then resumed her grim tale. “Swiftbane is free, and how this land has suffered! And I fear you yourself might suffer too, for you must seek the dragon out and face her. Your men’s actions have placed this fate upon you.”

This time, Tiwald did not hesitate. “I will find this worm,” he answered, “though I spend my life in the task, and I will rebind it, or perish in the attempt.”

The lady smiled and clapped her hands. “Well spoken, Sir mariner!” she said, her eyes gleaming brighter than stars, “but soft,” she continued, gently touching his spear arm with a cool hand. “First you must forge anew the iron to bind Swiftbane. You and you alone must seek out and quarry and forge the base metal, for to my people, the touch of iron is forbidden.”  

Tiwald gave a grim smile at this and would have made a bold reply, had not the lady checked him.

“Listen, Tiwald! Though the worm has magic, I too have charms to guide and keep you from harm, but you must obey my words, else all will be lost. Once you have made the chains of iron, you must travel east, towards the rising sun, and into the plains. There, along the edge of a great green lake, whose waters you must not drink, you will find a narrow path. Take this track, which leads to a gorge and the gorge leads to a cavern and in the cavern’s deeps is Swiftbane’s lair. The worm goes to the cavern to devour her prey and there she sleeps off her slaughter, resting on the very bones of my poor folk!”

So speaking, the lady turned away and without a backwards look, re-entered the hall of healing. Tiwald was left outside—he knew he could not go there again. Instead, with a heavy heart, the mariner turned eastwards, ready to begin the long journey over the endless dunes, seeking iron first and Swiftbane after.

Of his travels, his long wanderings, his sufferings, men have heard nothing. All that is known is that Tiwald the sailor journeyed and toiled for a year in that land before he found the green lake and the path beside it. Though dry-mouthed and thirsty, he obeyed the lady and did not drink the emerald waters but staggered on, dragging the iron chains behind him. Down into the gorge he went and down into the cavern, where he found the dragon Swiftbane, sleeping, as the dame had foretold, on a great mountain of bone and half-devoured, half-charred flesh.

Beautiful was the dragon, brilliant as Lucifer, with scales of beaten gold and a silver underbelly. Her wings were as hard and glowing as rubies and her great winding tail was a royal purple. The whole cavern was lit amber with her presence and was warmed and perfumed by her breath. A pleasant scent it was too, like rare spices burning on coals.

For a long time Tiwald gazed on the creature, almost forgetting his task. Yet the bones scattered beneath the dragon were mute witness to her evil nature and reminded the mariner of all he must do.

Soundlessly. Tiwald lay the first chain across the beast’s jaws. Swiftbane shifted slightly at the iron’s touch upon her head and a dart of flame spurted through her teeth, but she did not stir. The second chain was easy, too, but the third scraped over her brow and the worm awoke.

Instantly uncoiling herself, the dragon rose up before Tiwald, tossing and shaking her head in an effort to snap the chains. Great gobbets of fire scorched the cavern roof as she twisted this way and that, but miracously her bonds held firm. Furious, Swiftbane turned on the mariner instead, rending the air with her claws and tail as she pursued the man through the central hall of the cavern, her flames licking at his heels.

Tiwald ran on, as he had never run before, racing across the cavern’s sandy floor, seeing nothing but the small passageway at the far end of the cave. Sweating and breathless, he reached the small tunnel and flung himself face forward into it, not caring where it led, glad only to escape the beast’s hellish fires. For a moment he lay there, still and silent as orange and gold tongues of fire spurted up the tunnel, singing his back and hair. Then, as the dragon tried again to tear the maze of chains off her head, Tiwald took up his spear and cast it at the creature.

The deadly dart flew and landed well, full in the belly of the dragon, where it would have stayed, had Swiftbane been of mortal kind. As she was immortal, her flesh expelled the spear and she remained uninjured. Still, the blow had been enough to enrage the beast Swiftbane. For the first time in her long life, the dragon forgot her wisdom and, in her rage, tried to follow her attacker up the narrow passage. There she was soon caught, trapped by a vice of stone and her chains of iron, unable to turn or free herself.

So it was that Tiwald the mariner freed the land of Albaessa of the bane of the deathless dragon, winning for himself the great glory and honour in the place. Albaessa made the sailor king over all their lands, with much treasure and many followers. And it is said that when Tiwald returned by ship to his own home, many years later, he brought with him the keeper of the hall of healing, to be his bride and true companion.

So ends the tale of Tiwald the mariner.

Lindsay Townsend 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Dance Scenes in Historically-Set Movies – December – The Sound of Music #prairierosepubs #moviedancescenes

For the last eleven blogging months, I’ve shared a series of dance scene from historically-set movies.

 It’s now December, and we’ve come to my Number 1 favorite dance scene.

As a recap, here are links to the movies to this point:

Movies to this point:

January – Cat Ballou
February – The King and I
March – Easy Virtue
April – Shakespeare in Love
May – Chocolat
June – Beauty and the Beast
July – Dirty Dancing
August – Cinderella
September – The Mask of Zorro
October – Gone with the Wind
November – Pride and Prejudice


Name of Movie: The Sound of Music
Historical Time Period: World War II
Location: Austria
Occasion/Purpose: Party at the Von Trapp mansion
Types of Dance: Laendler / Austrian Ländler


Disclaimer: I acknowledge the reality of the story of the actual Von Trapp family is significantly different from how their story is portrayed in the music The Sound of Music. With that bit of business out of the way, I’ll move forward.

The Sound of Music is a musical with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The basic plot involves a young woman named Maria who is hired as a governess for several siblings whose mother has died. Maria takes this job during a time in her life when she is uncertain whether she wants to take her final vows as a nun. The widowed father, Captain Georg von Trapp, vehemently opposes the Nazis, a position which puts him and his family in peril considering this story is set in Austria in the midst of World War II.

Maria falls in love with the children and they with her. She and Georg marry and the family flees Austria, so that Georg will not be persecuted by the Nazis due to his refusal to take a commission in the German navy.

The Dance

This dance is a called the Laendler or Ländler. It is a traditional Austrian folk dance performed as a partner dance that involves hopping and stepping. I have pitifully little musical knowledge, but I’ve read the dance is ‘a waltz-like dance, typically in ¾ time’.

The Dance Scene

This dance scene shows us better than dialogue ever could that Maria and Georg have fallen in love. The immediate set-up to the scene comes about at a party at the von Trapp mansion when Kurt, one of the children, asks Maria to teach him to dance the Ländler. Maria and Kurt dance, but Kurt has trouble with a particular set of steps, so Georg steps in to demonstrate.

What follows is cinematic magic.

In the YouTube clip, we see the chemistry building between Maria and Georg as the dance progresses. What is so well done is Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer play their respective parts so well, that they don’t allow their characters to acknowledge what we already know: They are in love.

At 1:35 in the clip, their mutual love hits them both right between the eyes. We grin. We sigh. We’re so smug, because we saw this coming, and we absolutely love it.

 At 1:42, Cupid’s arrows have shot straight and true to their hearts.

 At 1:47, they are so lost in the realization of their love for each other that they can’t continue dancing. They look at each other with equal amounts of Oh My Gosh what has happened and Oh My Gosh what do we do now?

 At 1:52, Maria backs up. Her mind is reeling. She’s emotionally conflicted.

At 1:53, Georg is seeing Maria through ‘love lenses’, and he’s completely taken aback. For the first time, he’s seeing Maria as a woman and not a governess.

 At 1:58, Maria realizes what they feel for each other is impossible to acknowledge, and she also knows how socially inappropriate it would be for them to continue dancing at this point. Georg is completely charmed by Maria’s confusion. He’s in love, and he doesn’t care who sees it.

Incidentally, you will also notice that Baroness Elsa Schrader, the woman who plans to marry Georg, has witnessed what has transpired between Maria and Georg. She knows as well as we do that Maria and Georg are in love. Eleanor Parker portraying the Baroness does a marvelous job of conveying her displeasure in body language, facial expression, and her comment, “That was beautifully done. What a lovely couple you make.”, which translates to, “Of course you know, Maria, this means war.”

This has to be the perfect ‘show us what it looks like when people fall in love’ movie dance scene ever filmed.

It is the Mary Poppins of romance dance scenes: It’s practically perfect in every way. ;-)

I simply love this scene.

Thank you for accompanying me on this twelve-month series of historically-set movie dance scenes. I enjoyed writing them.

See you in 2024.

Kaye Spencer
Lasterday Stories
writing through history one romance upon a time

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Twelve Days of Christmas

 The Twelve Days of Christmas

C. A. Asbrey

We are all familiar with the cumulative Christmas carol dating from the eighteenth century, and the gifts that keep being added by the singer's 'true love' right up until Christmas day, but what about the actual twelve days of Christmas?

We all know that the Victorians essentially invented the way we still celebrate this ancient festival, and in part that was due to the Industrial Revolution. Factories and workplaces were not prepared to close for the traditional break celebrated a more agrarian economy. The depth of winter was a quiet time on the farm, and that allowed people to enjoy a long break before the hard work all started up again. Sometimes called Twelvetide, the Twelve Days of Christmas ran from Christmas day right up to Epiphany on the 6th of January. the advent of the Gregorian Calendar, but the Eastern church still works on the Julian Calendar, which means that the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholics have the same festivals transposed to 7th and 19th January.

William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night captures the merrymaking and continuous feasting that used to take place over the holiday, culminating in a festival where a Lord of Misrule was appointed, and a degree of licensed disorder. The play's inversion of social standing and gender reflects celebrations many people would have been familiar with at that time. These celebrations are linked to the traditional Christmas pantomimes people in the UK still enjoy. These are generally fairy tales with a humorous twist, and include the main male hero, the principal boy, being played by a woman. A comic turn of a pantomime dame, a man dressed in ridiculous heightened versions of women, is expected in all of them, and is the main comic vehicle in the performance. There's little or no effort to try to make these characters realistic, and the audience plays along with the conceit as part of the fun.  

Pantomine Dames
Many of the customs of this extended twelve day feast were passed down from ancient pagan festivals that people were unwilling to give up when Christianity took over. Saturnalia was a winter Roman Feast held in honour of Saturn. Gifts were given over an extended holiday from 17th to 23rd December. Masters served slaves, feasting, drinking, and trickery were widespread, and a general carnival atmosphere prevailed. The gifts were normally gag gifts called sigillaria, often small figurines with exaggerated sexual organs, hunchbacks, gods or mythical figures. These were said to have originally been a substitute for ancient human sacrifices, but became no more than amusing figures given to children to play with. Lucian of Samosata wrote that Saturnalia is the 'festive season, when 'tis lawful to be drunken, and slaves have license to revile their lords.'    

There were also links to the Germanic festival of Yule, a pagan festival that took place in the months of geola or giuli that correspond to our December or January. Incidentally, the word 'jolly' was adopted in to the English language from French in the 14th century, and has it's roots in the word 'yule', which tell you a lot about the way people thought of the festival. Yule celebrations involved the farmers coming to the temple where sacrifices were made, feasting and drinking took place, and banqueting went on for days. The Yule Pig is still represented in our feast as the Christmas ham. Whether it was called Yule or not, archeologists have found evidence of such feasts, and mass killing of livestock taking place around Stonehenge around the time of the Winter Solstice. We don't know what they called this gathering, but it makes sense to cut down on livestock at a time when nothing is growing, retaining enough for breeding in the spring. Not only does it save on animal fodder, but it provides much-needed nutrients until you can grow more crops. It's not hard to see how that down-time in the world of agriculture, a surfeit of meat, and a worry about spring not returning could turn into a religious feast for everyone.   

The Yule Ghost Hunt, where Odin lead a ghostly procession in the winter sky, led to a connection between the period with the supernatural. The Victorians still participated in the older tradition of Christmas ghost stories, and the most famous example is still with us in the form of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.    

In the Yule festival, evergreens were bought into the home to decorate it in a form of sympathetic magic, in the hope that the green would return in the spring. This tradition led to Christmas wreaths, decorations, and, of course, the Christmas tree. The Yule log was an enormous lump of wood, and was burned on each of the twelve nights. For many that then developed into a log-shaped cake. In French-speaking areas this became the Bûche de Noël, and also spread to the US and UK. Christmas Cake developed from the Twelfth Cake, the centrepiece of the table on the last night of the celebrations. There are many versions throughout the world, but Queen Victoria led a fashion for it to be very elaborate. A large dried bean was randomly baked into it, and whoever found it became king or queen for the day.

Bûche de Noël 
This is also linked to the tradition of adding charms to Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings, all related to fortune telling. A thimble meant that a woman would remain a spinster, but finding a sixpence was a portent of coming into great wealth. A button was a sign that a man would remain unmarried. The puddings are stirred in a ritual, with every member of the family being required to stir with a wooden spoon from east to west.

Carol singing was not traditionally associated with Christmas, and certainly not with churches. They were fun songs sung by common people in pubs, but they became merged with the Twelfth Night tradition of Wassailing to ensure a good harvest the next year. People gathered in orchards to make offerings to the apple trees. The Wassail Queen was raised to the boughs to deliver toast soaked in punch and to pour cider on the trees. Noises are made to drive away evil spirits, and guns can even be fired into the air in modern times. The Wassail punch is based on cider (alcoholic, and called hard Cider in the USA) with spirits, fruit, and spiced added and warmed. Beaten eggs could also part of the recipe in some areas, leading to our modern versions of the warmed and spiced drinks, and egg nogs. Wassailing evolved into carol singers going from door to door, singing seasonal songs in exchange for money, drink or food. However, Wassailing the apple trees still exists in the UK today, and is carried out on Twelfth Night in many places.    

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, farm labourers would spend the twelve days of Christmas visiting friends and family in turn, and over-indulging in luxury food and drink where they could afford it. It was a reward for a year of hard work, and light in the darkest time of the year. As the holidays became compressed into a single day, many of the customs evolved in a way that allowed favourite elements to be retained, leading to the traditional Christmas we see today.        

However you celebrate, what you celebrate, and how long you spend enjoying the season, is really a matter of choice and family tradition. I wish you the best for the season and a very Happy New Year.

Happy Everything to Everyone.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Tombstone Territority - The TV Show

Post by Doris McCraw

aka  Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

Can you believe the year 2023 is on its way out? It also means this is the last post on the early TV Westerns. I am finishing the year with the show 'Tombstone Territory" based loosely on the Wyatt Earp legend although the characters we know from that time were not used in the scripts for the show.  It ran for two years on ABC and a third season as a syndicated show.

The show starred Pat Conway as Clay Hollister, the Sheriff, and Richard Easthman as the newspaper editor of the Tombstone Epitaph. On a side note, there was a real Tombstone Epitaph, and it began publishing in 1880. Yes, it still is in existence. Tombstone Epitaph

I always enjoyed the narration by Eastman as he gave the date the events took place and the setup for what was to come. His voice and delivery were spot-on.

Pat Conway, at 6'3", was an imposing presence. Born on January 9, 1931, he passed away on April 24, 1981. He had a deep pedigree in the industry. His father, Jack Conway, was a director at MGM, and his grandfather was Francis X. Bushman. 

Pat Conway
Photo from Wikipedia

For more about Conway, here is a link to his biography on IMDb: Short biography

Richard Easthman, was born June 22, 1916, and died July 10, 2005. He stood three inches shorter than Conway at 6'. Before his acting career and serving in WWII, Eastman sang with the St. Louis Grand Opera as a college student in St. Louis, MO. On Broadway, he was the understudy for Ezio Pinza, as the lead in 'South Pacific'. 

For more on Easthman, here is a link to his IMDb biography: Easthman short bio

If you want to experience the show, here is a link to a YouTube episode: Tombstone Territory - Ep. 1

Below are the links to the previous post on early TV Westerns.

Mackenzie's Raiders

Frontier Doctor

The Tall Man

The Adventures of Jim Bowie

"Overland Trail" - YouTube

Trackdown - Self-Defense

Cimarron City

Whispering Smith


Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy.