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    Valkyrie
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Our Christmas Songbook - 12. Twelve Drummers Drumming

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me....

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Benjamin huddled into his thin wool coat and drew his cap as far down as he could, hoping to protect his ears. It was a futile attempt; however, since the fabric offered little in the way of actual protection from the elements. He grit his teeth and leaned into the wind as he waded through the snowdrifts, taking care to protect his precious cargo. He’d risked his life to get it; he’d be damned if he was going to lose it.

A profound sense of dread settled in his stomach as the swirling snow intensified around him. He wondered if he’d be able to find his way back to the tent. And if he’d have the strength to make it. His legs already screamed with the effort of getting through hip-high snowdrifts. He was drenched in sweat and shivering. It wouldn’t be much longer before hypothermia set in. They’d already lost countless men to the cold, despite there being a lull in the fighting. The lack of provisions only made a bad situation worse. Maybe those who succumbed to the cold were better off than those who froze to death, Ben thought. How was anyone going to be in any condition to fight when the war resumed? They couldn’t let the south win. They just couldn’t!

He surged forward, energized by his thoughts. He was sure the tent was to the west. He angled slightly left. After fighting the storm for another ten minutes, Ben wondered if he’d missed his destination. If he had, he’d be headed right toward the river and certain death. Which also meant Henry would die. He refused to let that happen. He’d keep going until his legs gave out. He paused, trying to get a sense of his surroundings through the maelstrom.

All he saw was blinding snow.

His heart sank as he realized he’d failed his friend. He almost gave up when, for a brief few seconds, the storm relented, revealing a soft glow to his far right.

Ben’s heart beat faster. He was way off course, headed straight to the forest and river! He turned sharply right and headed toward the faint light. Thankfully, the storm lessened enough to allow Ben safe passage back to the tents. The drummer boy tent was on the outskirts of the camp. Relief flooded through him as he stumbled through the flaps.

“Ben! You made it!” Jacob cried. He rushed forward and led Ben to the stove, where the remainder of the drummer boys huddled together.

“You need to get into dry clothes!” Jacob and Richard started removing Ben’s soaking wet clothing, while George retrieved a dry shirt and pants.

“Wait! Here! I managed to get some food for all of us and medicine for Henry. Give that to him first!” Ben held out a tin lunch pail, filled with stale bread and thin soup. It wasn’t enough for all eleven of them to have a full meal, but it would ward off starvation for another day.

“Let me see him!”

Jacob pulled Ben to the side. Ben scowled and tried to pull away.

“Hang on! I know you want to see him, but we have to talk first.”

Ben’s face paled. “Please don’t tell me I’m too late,” he whispered.

“No, well…” Jacob sighed. “He’s still alive, but I have to tell you, I don’t know for how much longer. Honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t… He’s really struggling to breathe.”

Ben nodded silently and blinked back tears. Jacob squeezed Ben’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I know he’s your…friend.”

“I’ve never met anyone like him,” Ben said softly.

“What’s the state of the camp? Any word on when the provisions will come?”

“It’s bad. Scores more men have succumbed to either cold or starvation. The wagons can’t get through the storm. There’s no word on when they’ll get here. I had to beg for the scraps I got. The doc gave me the last of the elixir for Henry. It has to work!”

Ben moved quickly around Jacob and rushed to Henry’s side. The other drummer boys surrounded his makeshift bed in front of the stove. Henry’s face was a curious shade between pale white and gray. Ben had seen that color too many times on the battlefield. Beads of sweat dotted his brow underneath the woolen cap on his head. Ben swallowed and knelt next to his friend. He brushed the wet, golden locks away from Henry’s eyes.

“Henry? It’s Ben. I have some medicine for you.”

Henry didn’t respond.

“Someone hand me the bottle from the pail!”

George hurried over and handed a brown glass bottle to Ben. He opened it and saw it was almost empty. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer for it to be enough to help his friend. He put the bottle to Henry’s lips with one hand and raised his head with the other. Henry’s lips looked so pale. Unlike the rosy red that had first drawn Ben to him.

“Hey, there you are! We’re not done yet. Jacob found a few more bodies on the other side of the hill. We need to bury them before we break camp.” Ben stopped in front of the blond boy sitting on a log in the forest. “I know you’re new here, but this is part of our job. We all have to do it.”

The new boy was bent over, head in his hands, shoulders shaking.

Ben frowned. “Are you okay? It’s Henry, right?”

The boy looked up, his bright blue eyes rimmed with red and filled with tears. His cheeks flushed pink, and his lips were cherry-red from his upper teeth digging into his lower lip. Ben’s heart felt like it skipped a beat. The anguish in Henry’s eyes was enough to melt the steeliest heart. Henry was tragedy, beauty, and desire in one complete package. Ben sat next to him and put his arm around his shoulders, drawing him close. Henry immediately latched onto him, sobbing into his Ben’s shoulder.

Ben bit back his own tears as Henry vented his grief. He rubbed slow circles around the other boy’s back. “I know. You have to find a way to push it all aside, or you’ll never last here,” he said softly.

A few minutes later, Henry stopped crying and took a shuddering breath. He slowly pushed away from Ben and looked at the ground. “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to be so weak,” he muttered.

“Look at me,” Ben said gently.

Henry sniffled and looked into Ben’s brown eyes.

“We’ve all gone through it. This war is terrible, and we’ve all seen horrors no man should. But we have to remember it’s for the greater good. These men died fighting for a just cause. The least we can do to honor them is give them a proper burial.”

Henry nodded. “Will you stay with me?”

“Of course. We better go before we get into trouble.”

Neither boy moved, each looking into the other’s eyes and seeing something indefinable, yet they both knew they shared an unspeakable connection. Ben brushed Henry’s hair away from his eyes. They leaned forward at the same time and gently pressed their foreheads together. Ben softly kissed the corner of Henry’s mouth.

After a few seconds, Ben stood. “C’mon. Let’s get back to work.”

 

When Henry didn’t respond to the bottle at his lips, fear flooded through Ben. Maybe Jacob was right. Maybe it was too late. Maybe his struggle had all been for naught. Anger surged through Ben. He’d almost died trying to save Henry’s life. He’d be damned if his effort was in vain!

“Help me sit him up!”

The other boys exchanged worried looks.

“Now!”

They rushed to obey. At first, Henry’s head lolled to the side.

“Wake up, Henry! Wake up! You can’t die! I won’t let you! I love you too much to lose you over some stupid illness!”

Henry groaned and shifted in the boys’ arms. Ben held the bottle to Henry’s lips again, this time tilting the bottle until the syrup poured into Henry’s mouth. He took several gulping swallows, ingesting the elixir. They gently lay him back down.

“Please work,” Ben whispered. Only then did he realize what he’d said to Henry in front of all the other drummer boys. His eyes widened and he looked up, meeting the gazes of his brethren.

Jacob smiled. “Don’t worry, Benjamin. We all knew.”

Relief flooded through him. “Thank you.”

“I think we need a song.”

They all turned as one to look at the speaker.

“A song? Are you crazy?”

“What better way to lift spirits? This is the perfect time. Pick up your drums.”

The ten drummer boys moved to pick up their instruments. “You can use Henry’s,” Ben stated, handing the boy the instrument. “Who are you, anyway?”

“I’m the twelfth drummer boy, come to give you a special gift. Now, play! As loud as you can!”

The twelfth drummer boy sang in a loud, clear voice, “Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!”

He continued the song as the drummer boys accompanied him. The loud rhythm reverberated through the tent and into the camp and surrounding forest.

They sang and played their instruments, inexplicable joy filling their hearts. When they finally finished, the twelfth drummer boy set Henry’s drum down next to his bed and placed his hand on the boy’s forehead. He leaned down and whispered in his ear, then stood.

Ben placed his hand on the stranger’s arm. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

“My name is Gabe,” the man replied. “I’m here to let you know that you’re not forgotten.”

A soldier burst into the tent. “It’s a miracle! You have to come see! The provisions made it, thanks to you boys! They heard your drums and followed the sound to the camp. You’ve saved us!” The soldier ran back out of the tent.

Ben turned toward Gabe, only to find the man gone. “What the?”

“Ben!” He turned toward the soft voice. Henry was sitting up, looking at him. His complexion had returned to his usual light tan, and his lips were rosy pink.

“Henry? You’re okay!” Ben cried. He darted forward and embraced his friend. He placed his forehead against Henry’s. “I was so worried about you.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not exactly sure. What did Gabe say to you?”

“He told me I was loved, but I already knew that.”

 

It's the twelfth day, so Our Christmas Songbook is now complete!  Thank you to all who read, reacted, and took the time to comment on our stories.  We greatly enjoyed continuing the tradition of posting our Christmas collaborations.  If you read Christmas Confidential, you may recognize a familiar face in this last story ;)  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  
Copyright © 2021 Valkyrie, Cole Matthews, Aditus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Chapter Comments

Such a lovely story and a beautiful way to get help.  It felt very real and vital, like it was happening and poignant.  Great job!

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On 12/24/2021 at 12:48 PM, Mawgrim said:

What a fitting ending. An angel and a Christmas miracle. Thank you for posting these stories.

Thank you, and thank you for reading and all your comments :hug:  

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On 12/24/2021 at 1:09 PM, Kitt said:

Well done, the bunch of you!

Thank you! 

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On 12/24/2021 at 1:19 PM, Ivor Slipper said:

A touching finale.

Thank you! 

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On 12/24/2021 at 2:19 PM, dutch woman said:

Wonderful. A miracle to conclude this serie of stories

Merry Christmas to you all.

Thank you so much !  Merry Christmas to you as well :hug: 

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On 12/24/2021 at 4:48 PM, drsawzall said:

Thanks to all of those who contributed mightily to this endeavor, as with the rest of the stories in this Christmas Song Book, this was masterful and spot on!

It helps all of us to remember The reason for the season!

My heartfelt thanks to all of you and to the readers and commentators as well!

Thank you for all your wonderful comments :hug: 

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On 12/24/2021 at 6:17 PM, chris191070 said:

A touching finale to this great interpretation of the twelve days of Christmas.

Thank you! 

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On 12/24/2021 at 8:12 PM, Parker Owens said:

An angel to top it all off. What a great story to cap this collection. Thank you! 

Thank you!  :hug: 

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On 12/24/2021 at 9:30 PM, dughlas said:

A lovely end to your combined efforts. Thank you all for this gift you've given. Merry Christmas.

Thank you for reading and commenting!  Merry Christmas! 

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On 12/25/2021 at 4:20 AM, raven1 said:

Valkyrie, Aditus and Cole,

Thank you all for these marvellous gifts of Christmas spirit you have wrapped in these beautiful stories and poem.  They brought me tears of joy with all the naughty and nice people in your stories.  This last story of a miraculous arrival of an angel is the topping to crown our Christmas tree surrounded by your many gifts.  Merry Christmas to you and all the other readers of this awesome anthology. 

Thank you for your support and lovely comments!  Merry Christmas! 

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On 12/25/2021 at 11:13 PM, Cole Matthews said:

Such a lovely story and a beautiful way to get help.  It felt very real and vital, like it was happening and poignant.  Great job!

Thank you so much :hug:  

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On 12/26/2021 at 12:02 PM, Quixo said:

I seem to have something in my eye.  Both of them.

*passes the box of tissues *  :hug:  

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