A Brown Christmas

The joyous looks on Pep and Mari’s faces warmed Bernat’s body, like a fresh glass of spiced wine. Not even stepping outside the smoky bar into a wintry December night dampened the enthusiasm Bernat felt at the turn of events, which saw him heading home to his family earlier and less tipsy than usual.
He put on a floppy crimson cap to keep the northern Tramuntana wind off his head and lit a pipe to calm down. The embers crackled and burned as he led his guests out of the village’s walls, up a steep path. The light from millions of stars dusted the surrounding trees and fields like fresh snow. Bernat looked up to see the pan-shaped constellation his father had once shown him as a young boy. A bright star with a fiery tail streaked across the heavens, as if it were an arrow launched by Sagittarius.
“Did you just see that?” a wide-eyed Bernat shouted, turning to Pep.
He and Mari had fallen a few legs behind. “What’s that horrible smell?” she cried, wrapping her arms around her waist before doubling over.
Bernat rushed down the path to help. “We’re fertilizing the ground for spring,” he explained, between deep breaths, as he took their heavy sack and slung it over his shoulder.
“Thanks, but...” Pep sniffed as he focused on his wife who had buried her nose in swollen cleavage, “it doesn’t smell like any animal dung I know.”
“Animal dung! Who can afford that luxury with all of the taxes we’re paying Rome?”
Bernat had Pep’s full attention now. “What is it then?”
“Let’s just say we kill two birds with one stone here, so don’t go looking for any toilets.”
“That’s disgusting,” Mari squealed, rising from her crouch, with her hand pinching her nose and mouth.
She looked like she was about to deliver the contents of her stomach, not a baby. “What's the matter?” Bernat asked, surprised the strong woman from earlier now acted like a city dwelling princess whose carriage had broken down. “Haven’t you ever lived in the country?”
“I’m in pain you idiot!” Mari tightened the hold she had around her bulging waist. “I think the baby’s coming.”
Bernat felt his body fill with enough strength to carry five plump sheep across his shoulders. He grabbed Mari’s arm, putting it around his neck. He and Pep lifted her so that her toes dragged against the ground as they carried her up a narrow path, under the cover of overhanging branches.
They emerged from the dense woodland to a depression in the mountain sprayed white by the starlight. On the other side of the shallow valley, perched on a ridge, smoke billowed from a chimney and orange lights flickered in the thin windows of Bernat’s stone farmhouse.
He shared it with his three brothers, their wives and children, which meant that even his beloved dog had to sleep outside. “You’ll have to stay in the stable,” Bernat delivered the news to his guests as he led them off the main path and down a gradual incline.
“No problem,” Pep said. “As long as there’s a roof and walls to shield us from this wind.”
“Yep. You got that,” Bernat told him. “Plus the hay dulls the smell of the fertilizer. I’d originally built it for my two donkeys, but they make a bull seem flexible and prefer to sleep outside even in winter,” he ended his pitch with a wave of his hand, “so no need to worry about unwanted intruders,” as he showed Pep and Mari to their accommodation.

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