Jack Merry ‘ere. I want to talk about a conversation I was havin’ in the Kitchen with other staffers about what their favourite food, beverage, or book was — whatever each used as a winter talisman of sorts to keep The Dark from coming too close.
Oh, don’t tell me you don’t have one! Mine is an old leather overcoat from some war best long forgotten — faded green in colour with fur lining, shearling lamb I think. Ugly as can be after years of very hard use, but oh so warm. It’s kept me warm buskin’ in St. Petersburg, served as a pillow under me head on the Trans-Siberian express as Bela sat nearby smokin’ his pipe, and has enough pockets to hold everything I need on the road save me fiddle. Bloody ‘ell, there’s just ‘nough room to tuck the fiddle case inside if need be. And need there has been, ‘pon occasion.
But me old coat, ragged as she may be ’bout the edges, is a damn sight less hard-worn than that what a couple t’other staffers offered up as wards against the chill of winter midnights. There were of course the predictables — the steaming-hot plate of shepherd’s pie; the bottle of single malt (heat of a different sort to me old shearling, but just as warming); even the worn, dog-eared pages of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. (‘And what of it?’ said that particular staffer, defensive-like — ‘reading always keeps off the cursed Dark, and if the chill still creeps into my bones, I solve the mathematics the Good Doctor hid within … nothing keeps a body half so warm as a good round of obscure mathematical equations…’)
And those were just the predictables, like I said. As the night (and the discussion, and the dozen or so bottles of stout) wore on, more unusual talismans were confessed to. One of our library staff — the shy one, the one you’d never suspect — pulled from her pocket a tiny stone reliquary, carved of agate. ‘A lock of hair from the Faery Saint’ was all she’d say. Two other staffers, more raucous now, deep in their cups, dredged up tiny reliquaries of their own. ‘The blessed toenail of St. Augustine,’ said one. ‘A rolled-up scrap from the hem of the gown of St. Beatrix,’ whispered another, and kissed the little cylinder of polished silver, then tucked it back into his sweater where it hung once more from the chain ’round his neck.
Stout moved to whiskey. Another couple o’ great logs were tossed ‘pon the fire, and though the mood’d grown of a moment serious, out of respect-like, it weren’t un-merry. What with the company of several Green Man cats, the fire, the mellow glow of good whiskey in me belly … understanding crept ‘pon me. Though me lovely old coat (bless ‘er!) had kept me warm and safe through many a drear moment; though we Green Man bunch had the combined, formidable powers of protection in our cozy kitchen of mathematics and good books and good food and good stout and the blessings of a dozen saints both human and fey — I wager there wasn’t a one of us at that moment who felt the least haunted by the dreads, nor bit by the cold. We had, after all, the greatest talisman ‘gainst the Dark, and that what keeps a body warmest of all on cold winter nights — good friends.