Story for the day: The Winter Birthdays

It always astounds me how many birthdays our family circle has to celebrate at the beginning of the new year. It seems there is always an excuse for cake from one weekend to the other.

A present Twisk is making for Soledhan's birthday
Brigid’s Day over, and all the excitement of the high holidays now diminished, it was time to have done with commemorations belonging to antiquity or the gods, and new celebrations must have their way. The barrage of birthdays that was the late winter and early spring amongst those belonging to the royal party must now begin, and everyone, from Myella and Brighel, Vyrbryn and Peigi, Fionnora and Ennan, to Little Jaicobh and Little Aiden and Adaoire must all celebrate their age with toys and cakes, new arrows and hunting bows, and new animals to torment with fervent affection. It was a standing mystery amongst their set as to why so many of them should be born in the months from winter to spring; it was generally thought that the chief of the cubicular activity in Frewyn was committed during the long and lugubrious months of winter, and while the Donnegals were certain to plague their wives for a Tyfferim thanking at any time of the year, it was odd, that whether carried for only three months or nine, most of the children should have been born within the span of three months. It was true that there were birthdays enough throughout the keep to last until the end of autumn—Gaumhin being the first on the night of Ailineighdaeth, and Brigdan and Vyrdin ending the year at the beginning of the High Holidays-- and while even celebrations had their fatigues, everyone must own that the preparation of a family party was always pleasant. The bustle of kitchens, the joyous agitation of making and giving presents, the games and gaieties were enough to recommend having a birthday in the keep every day, but the notion of having cake more often than is otherwise permitted always brings with the excuse for more. Birthday after birthday, celebration after celebration-- it was a wonder that anyone in the keep was under Bilar’s avid gaze, for as the enemy of sweets and baked goods in general after Alasdair, he must forever be on the watch for everyone’s waistlines. Smaller cakes had been thought of over the years, and Martje made one or two, but the practice was not lasting; “Can’t have no birthday proper without no cake,” was Martje’s final word on the subject, and cakes enough to supply twenty with an ample slice were therefore always made.
There had been used to be a thinning in the ranks of birthdays in the early summer, but now with the Grameres and MacLachlanns, Hawardens and Farhaydens occupying the keep, and with the addition of all the newest children, there were enough birthdays to have cause for cake every other week at least. With Cairn now corralled with the other children, and under the watchful eyes of Mureadh and Ennan, there was reason enough to have as many birthday celebrations as possible: he had missed many, being under the auspices of the Haven, and while he had innumerable visits from his cousins and friends, the fullness of the whole family gathering had been wanting. He had been used to an assembly of ten of twelve, when Ruta and Cneighsea could attend, but here was a profusion of relations and friends, all clamouring about in merriment together. A birthday was no mere commemoration at the castle; it was a galaday of endless enjoyment, of decoration and delights, and regardless as to whose birthday it was, everyone was in raptures over a birthday at the keep.     
Soledhan, though not the first born amongst the set of children, was the first amongst that generation to be commemorated at the beginning of the year, and while Dorrin’s birthday was only a few weeks off, and Little Jaicobh’s not much further away, Soledhan was always determined to go shares in the triumph of the day with his cousins and friends. Though only the evening before his birthday, the shameless anticipation of cake and presents brought him to the kitchen, where he lingered by the counter, oscillating on his toes, looking coyly at Martje, who was just mantling over the range and inspecting the fried potatoes she had conjured for dinner.
“Aunt Martje?” Soledhan chimed, the herd of cousins galloping to the counter behind him.
“Aye, son,” said Martje, placing the potatoes aside and giving all her attention to her nephew.
Numerous eyes peered eagerly over the range, noses rested on the counter top, and Soledhan stepped forward with a twinkle in his eye.
“I know my birthday isn’t until tomorrow,” Soledhan began, “but I saw the bowls and all the cake ingredients beside you, and I know you’re going to make the cake tonight.”
“Aye, so I am,” said Martje, “and they’ll be no eatin’ it till th’morra.”
“I know, but can we help you bake it?”
Martje placed her hands on her hips and arched a brow. “Learnin’ the tricks from yer Da, aye?”
Soledhan blinked. “What tricks?”
“Sure, I know a pair a hands what wants to be the batter when I see ‘em.”
Martje pursed her lips and seemed suspicious, and Soledhan demurely twisted his foot about.    
“Aye,” said Martje sweetly, her features softening into a smile, “we’ll do the cake now then.” She ruffled Soledhan’s tumble of curls and brought the bowls to the counter, but after glancing under the table, she glowered and said, “Only keep that cat outta here. It near turns itself inside out when I bring out the salted butter. I know she likes it, but she can have what don’t make it into the bowl when we’re done.”
“Go outside, Khaasta,” said Soledhan, gesturing toward the kitchen door.
Khaasta had little idea of going anywhere, knowing something was about to be made, and judging by how many were in the kitchen and by the pots and pans that were putting away, whatever it was that Martje was going to bake was certain to contain something worth having, and Khaasta therefore remained where she was, with head canted and eyes wide, her consciousness awake to baking and butter tins. The potatoes and brined bacon that Martje had made for dinner was no longer an object with her; all her interest was in the excitement that the string of children gathered round the counter was beginning to excite.
“I’m lettin’ you sit there, cat,” said Martje stoutly, “but if you start skulkin’ whilst we’re workin’, I’m puttin’ you in the washin’ basin, and shise shin.”    
Khaasta sat on her haunches and seemed unconcerned, while everyone from without, from those in far field to the gallery, entered the kitchen, in want of the fried potatoes and brined bacon that Khaasta no longer cared for.  

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