“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.”
December 28th was Childermas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents in Christian calendars. Coming as it did three days after Christmas, Childermas was by and large a forgotten holiday, in no small part because it was a bloody one. It commemorated the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod murdered newborn children by the hundreds, making them the very first martyrs. The holiday was symbolized four mirrors.
A holy day draped in blood and embodied by reflections, it was unsurprising that the Jack-of-Crows had decreed that Childermas was his Birthday.
Everyone knew the Jack-of-Crows, even if he had been some years out of power. He was the Patchwork King of Autumn, the mad, frightful monster who ruled the Unseelie Court with a tyrant's fist and a sorcerer's will. He was erratic, intelligent, evil, and yet he had ruled the Unseelie justly and well for thirty years, and had handed off power to a chosen successor. Such matters as the near-war that had marked the succession or that the Jack-of-Crows had occasionally dismembered enemies and had miscellaneous body parts bob up in the river were quietly swept aside in the interests of amity.
The Jack-of-Crows was no longer the Patchwork King, and his word was no longer the law of the land. But it was still December 28th, and it was still his Birthday.
December 28th, 2006
The Jack's Birthday Party was held in his Hollow, a frightful little place on the borderland between nightmare and wakefulness, where reality held a loosened sway. Inaccessible but for those who knew their way through the Thorn-laded path for three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year, tonight the Jack's Farm, the Corpse Farm, was open to all who wished to come. One needed but to ask the crows, and say to them, "Hey, bird-of-black, murderous raven or unkind crow, hie you to the Jack-of-Crows, and show me the way to the Corpse Farm." And then one but followed the birds into some darkened alleyway, into the shadows, and turned around and they were there.
The Corpse Farm looked ripped straight from some ghostly story by Washington Irving or an early Hudson painter’s dream. Deathly dark, the sky was overcast but for the gleaming moon, and a frigid wind howled through the barren farm. The Jack-of-Crows grew goblin fruit here, and no one asked what things he buried here. It was a frightful place, made worse by the ever-wheeling crows that gathered singly or in black clouds above the farm, and by the many scarecrows that hung crucified from their posts.
Tonight though, the Jack-of-Crows had given his domain a more festive mien. There were jack-a-lanterns placed upon the ground, providing flickering candle-light for the Party. Rough-hewn wooden tables had been dragged out into the field, and food placed upon them, thick-cured hams and pumpkin pies and endless bottles of hard, strong cider. Wolves, huge, shaggy monsters with chill yellow eyes played with meatbones between the tables, tussling like overgrown pups. Ghostly music played through the air, and someone sang, though you knew not who or where they came from.
The Jack-of-Crows sat on a throne of wood and wicker, and he was a daunting figure himself. He was tall and muscular, with deeply tanned skin and straw-colored hair, and two curving horns of obsidian rose up from that hair. He was clothed in a russet-brown frock coat, complete with gloves, but frayed and patched so many times he seemed like a scarecrow. Indeed, the Jack's skin was patched in places, scraps of multi-colored material sewn into his flesh with large stitches. He had wings. Black wings, like a crows, that folded behind his back.
He sat on his throne, toying with a black wooden flute in his hands, while a wolf curled up at his feet. He grinned, a sharp little smile. It was the Jack-of-Crow's Birthday Party, and it was time to celebrate.