The Christmas Gift

By Anna-Karin


Disclaimer
The characters in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow
are the property of the producers and the original creations
of Washington Irving. This fiction is solely for pleasure and no money has changed hands.




Ch:1 Ichabod Crane wondered why he had agreed to follow Katerina to visit her relatives in Sleepy Hollow.

It was Christmas, and obviously everybody in the village had gathered in the great house of the van Tassel family, to party and have fun. Katerina was the lovely hostess, while Ichabod just wished he was back in New York.

The air inside was hot and stuffy. Ichabod found that he had a difficult time breathing. No one else seemed to have any trouble with that though. He saw Katerina dance in a quadrille, clearly enjoying herself. She smiled at one of the young men of the village, who had said something witty, for her ears only.

In that moment Ichabod felt a desperate need for a breath of some fresh air. He decided that he could take a walk around the house. As he walked out through the front door he noted that nobody noticed that he was leaving.

Outside the winter air was cool and fresh, and he felt better. For a minute, he was just standing still watching the visible breath coming out from his mouth. Then it got too cold, so he began his small tour round the house.

There were giggles and laughs from one of the darker corners by the door. Obviously not only he had gotten the idea of going outside for a moment.

A couple of shadows of a man and a woman kissing.

The sight reminded him of the first time he had come to this house, to this village. And of the first time he had seen that girl, with the long blond hair, and that boy, with the dark serious eyes, and that man, or ghost, with the pale skin and pale blue eyes. The same blue eyes that sometimes haunted his dreams. But that was a thought he quickly dismissed.

And then he began thinking of how that little romance between him and Katerina had started. It had been a small flame, but now it seemed as if there were nothing more to it than that, a small flame kindled in a time of danger and fear, but now there was nothing to feed the flame with. It wouldn't become a steady glow of embers. That Ichabod was sure of.

Ichabod walked back. There really was nothing to be afraid of. His thoughts went once more to his relationship with Katerina. In the beginning they had been so close, the three of them; Ichabod, Katerina and Masbath, but now it felt as if they were drifting apart.And there were nothing he could do about it.

Young Masbath was not here with them now. He had been contacted by a relative, a cousin of his mother, Mr Brigde, who had a small trading company, and now the boy had been invited to celebrate Christmas with them instead of following Ichabod and Katerina out to Sleepy Hollow. After New Year Masbath was going to move to Mr Brigde's house.

Ichabod sighed. What could he do? Nothing. Accept that and move on.

When he rounded the first corner, he saw a person standing outside one of the windows looking in. His heart almost stopped beating when he saw that the person in question was no-one but the Hessian Horseman himself. And the horse was standing a bit away, just outside the reach of light from the window.

The Hessian looked inside, totally focused on what he saw on the other side of the glass, and didn't seem to notice as Ichabod walked closer.

The constable noticed that the Hessian had an almost wistful look on his face.The ghost didn't look very frightening right now. Just sad.

Soon he was standing next to the Hessian, who moved to one side, and didn't seem surprised at all, looking inside too.

Everything seemed so different when he was the one on the outside, looking in, Ichabod thought. All the people in the room walked around talking, dancing, but he heard nothing, just a few strands of music.

They stood like that for a while, in a companionable silence. Soon Ichabod began to feel the cold of the night. He shivered a little, and wished that he had brought his warmest winter coat. The Hessian noticed this, and took off his own long riding cloak and swept it around Ichabod's shoulders. Ichabod murmured a "thanks", feeling a bit surprised.

"Please stay outside here with me. I'd like some company", the Hessian said in English with a heavy German accent. "And they won't miss you. Look! Your lady is having a great time."

The Horseman pointed at Katerina, who was laughing at something the new magistrate, Mr Schmidt, just had whispered in her ear.

"She isn't my lady". Then something hit him: "You speak English?" he asked the Hessian.

"Yes. And I would like to thank you for last year. For getting me my head back. I haven't been able to speak for twenty years, and had forgotten how to use my tongue. I have been practising how to talk though now, for the last year."

Ichabod couldn't think of anything to say so he continued to look through the window.

The Hessian looked at him. He saw a young man, a very beautiful young man, who tended to faint quite a lot. At least he had done that in the past, so why didn't he faint now? Maybe because the boy was so lost in thoughts that he completely forgot that he was a coward, and supposed to faint at the very sight of the Mercenary. The dead man chuckled a bit at that.

Ichabod moved away from the window. The Hessian watched him walk back inside again.

It wasn't until he was halfway back into the Western Woods that the Hessian noted that he had forgotten to take his cloak back from Ichabod.

Not that he really cared. He didn't feel the cold after all, but it was his cloak and one of the few belongings that he had.

Ichabod walked back inside and tried to figure out why everybody stared at him. Then he noted that he still wore the Hessian's cloak around his shoulders. He realized what he had been doing only a few moments ago, then he fainted.

The return to consciousness was slow, as usual. Ichabod noted that he was lying in his bed, in his room. The morning lights shone in through the window. A fire was flaming in the fireplace, and his clothes lay neatly folded on a chair next to his bed.

He rose from his warm, cozy bed, and put on his clothes. Then he noted something draped over the back of the chair. A closer look confirmed that it was the Hessian's cloak, from the evening before.

"I'd better return it", he said before sipping a mouthful of milk at the kitchen table.

"Why?" said Katerina with a little frown.

"Because it is his cloak. He may be missing it."

"No". She shook her head, "not that 'why'. Why did he loan that cloak to you?"

"I guess he saw that I was a little cold, but the reason why, I don't know."

Ichabod finished off his breakfast in silence.

"Ichabod", Katerina called just when he was leaving the kitchen, "about our engagement..."

This was the moment Ichabod Crane had been waiting for the whole fall.

"I'll give you free", he said. "I think you deserve a better man than me." Smiling, "still friends?"

Katerina nodded and returned the smile. "Yes, still friends."

They were both relieved that it had been so easy to break the engagement.

"What are you going to do with the cloak?" Katerina asked after a few seconds. "*He* is going to want it back you know."

"I thought I could clean it and then return it to him", answered her ex-fiancee.

"Do you know how to get blood-stains out of textiles?" At Ichabod's shrug she decided; "let me show you", she said with a little smile.

Later that day Ichabod was walking out in the Western Woods, with the cloak wrapped up in a bundle.

"It's as if the Hessian will get a Christmas gift", he said to himself.



CH:2



In a place somewhere between the waking world and the netherworlds, the Hessian lay on his bed in his room staring at the roof, or at least he called it a roof.

It was a nice room, at least the part that was near the huge fireplace was nice, and warmly lit by the fire. The only piece of furniture was a plain bed. It reminded him of the rooms he had lived in when he was still alive. He thought of maybe adding a rack where he could hang his clothes, and the rest of his gear. And perhaps a chair, one of those that had a high back and armrests. He had seen one in the house of a Polish warlord, and had even stolen a moment to sit in it, very comfortable, just to give this room some more personality, and make it look less like an anonymous boarding-room. He had never had a room that he could call his own before. Being a mercenary tended to keep him moving from one place to the other.

And now when he took the time to think about it, everything in this room was made with the aid of his memories. He simply thought about something and then it appeared. It was a good room, and he liked it a lot. He even called it 'home'.

He sat down on the floor in front of the fireplace. With his index finger he began to draw small designs in the dust left from the fire. Circles, squares, suns, moons, horses...

The taste of gingerbread. The feel of snow on a cold day in the north of Germany in a small village a few hours walk from Lübeck. The stalls at the Christmas Market, full of things only to be dreamed of...

'Georg! Georg! Hurry up! We haven't got all day!' The boy with the bright blue eyes took his gaze away from the wooden toy horse that he had been admiring.

'All right Albrecht, I'm coming', he said, irritated.

'We have to find a good Christmas gift for Mother. I thought maybe a needle-box, one of those tubes one can keep needles in.'

'There are cheap ones in the stall over there, and they still are pretty.' It was Georg's second brother, Claus, who spoke.

The trio, the three surviving sons of the notary Gerhardt Achenbach, Albrecht, Claus and Georg, walked to the mentioned stall, but the youngest one, only seven years old, kept turning to catch one last look at that wonderful toy horse, gaily painted in white with blue spots and with elegantly painted eyes.

The Hessian closed his eyes and tried to recall how they had been choosing between one plain needle-box made of carved bone with roses on the lid, and one of wood, with small painted birds and with an angel on the lid. In the end they had picked the one made of bone.

Christmas morning. A dining table with the finest tin plates and the finest glass jugs. A gift at each plate. For Albrecht, an almanach for the new year and for Berta, a pair of gloves. For Claus, a pack of white paper sheets, for Ermengarde, a doll, and for Georg...

In the Hessian's hands a shape began to take form. Next to his plate Georg saw the wonderful toy horse.

'Oh!' he had yelled, 'the toy horse'.

'What are you going to call it?', his father asked.

'I'm going to call him Sky-Blue!'

The Hessian now held a toy horse in his hands. He looked at it for a moment and then he put it up on the shelf over the fireplace.

He hadn't been able to remember his childhood for many years. The earliest things he could remember were from when he was about ten years old, three years after that last happy Christmas, when Mother Uta still was alive.

He had started to remember now, this year, this strange year, one and twenty years after his death, what his life had been like before the 'bad years' had begun.

He stretched and called for Daredevil, his horse. It was time for his round, the one he rode every day at dusk and dawn, and the sun was going down. First he rode through the woods, looking out for any poachers or any one else that didn't belong to the woods, or anything that didn't belong there either. Then across the fields to the village, where he rode very, very quietly, as not to alarm any of the people in Sleepy Hollow.

He stopped at the place outside the graveyard where those who had killed themselves were buried. Notary Hardenbrook was there, as expected, since he had killed himself and been buried outside the graveyard, without any marker, or any blessing. The old man waved at the Hessian. Hardenbrook had almost completely gotten over his fear for the horseman, now, when he had died. When you are dead there are very few things that can hurt you.

"Hello! Hessian!", Hardenbrook yelled. "I have news for you!."

"Really. What then?" The Hessian answered.

"Katerina Van Tassel is coming here for Christmas. And she's got that Ichabod Crane with her!"

"Indeed."

Hardenbrook saw a certain glint in the Hessian's eyes, and he smiled to himself. It was a common secret among the ghosts of Sleepy Hollow that the Hessian had a more than a passing interest in the young constable. The people that were buried in the graveyard on the other side of the fence came to see the visitor. They could not exit the graveyard so they had to rely on the Hessian and on notary Hardenbrook to get some news from the world outside.

Just as in life, people tended to form coteries even when they were just ghosts in a graveyard, and Reverend Steenwyke was excluded from all of them. Right now he was hovering at the fence, trying to hear the conversation between the undead horseman and the ghost.

"Where is he going?" he asked Hardenbrook, when the horseman left earlier then usual.

"He is going to the Van Tassel manor" the notary told the Reverend, "to look for that boy, Crane."

Steenwyke was about to say something rather rude about unnatural desires and sodomites, but was silenced by the glares from at least three other ghosts; Van Garrett, doctor Lancaster and Baltus Van Tassel. The Reverend kept his silence.

There were festivities going on inside the Van Tassel manor, and everybody seemed to have a good time. There was dancing and there were games. It all reminded him of his childhood. The parties when his whole family had gathered in the home of his parents. Cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives, everyone had been there.

A movement at his side got him out of his reverie. It was Ichabod Crane! Standing next to him without any fear in the world.



Part three



Ichabod Crane walked through the woods. There wasn't much snow, but the wind bit in his face. He had chosen not to ride into the woods, mostly because there hadn't been any horse available that he felt safe around. Old Gunpowder had not survived the past year, and that had been the only horse Ichabod had *not* been afraid of.

The coat was thick and warm and the muffler covered most of his face. Katerina had told him a lot about what to wear when walking outside in the cold winter. Most of the advice had been very sound.

Down below, in his home the Hessian felt someone walking into the Western Woods. Through the eyes of the beasts of the forest he followed the stranger. A rabbit jumped closer to take a better look at the intruder, not knowing why, and then it leaped away as was typical for its nature.

He had walked now for a long while, and the backpack, with his food and the Hessian's cape got heavier and heavier. The crone's cave he had passed by, searching for the old Indian path. The walk took longer time than he had thought, and he felt like someone was watching him.

Well...Someone was, or rather someones, because the whole forest was monitoring every single step he took. The Hessian tried to figure out who the stranger was, and thus sent a bird, a tiny sparrow, to fly near the face of the intruder.

Ichabod jerked his head away as something with wings flew right into his face. His stomach told him that he should go back home, that the Hessian could get his cloak some other day, but he continued to walk.

Now the Hessian knew who the stranger was.

He had ridden his morning rounds as usual, missing his cloak. The notary had told him about young Crane's fainting episode, "and you don't look that imposing without your cloak you know". The Hessian had merely growled and told the old man his side of the story. The other ghosts, hanging about at the fence that parted the graveyard from the land around, had been rather amused, especially old van Garett and his son Dirk. They had been the first to taste the vengeance of lady van Tassel, and they still hadn't forgiven the Hessian his involuntary part in the events that had occurred during the fall before, so they tended to enjoy it whenever the Hessian felt uncomfortable.

"Well", Baltus said, "he managed to stay conscious until he got indoors, which I suppose means that he actually has grown some spine since the last time."

So the boy was coming here, was he? And my cloak is heavy in that backpack of his, the Hessian thought.

The Hessian made a decision and called forth Daredevil. The steed emerged from wherever he had gone after his death. The Hessian had asked once and gotten no more than pictures of wide green fields, full of tasty grass and herbs, clear brooks with fresh water and vast forests to explore. And other horses to befriend. Clearly Horse's Heaven.

The boy was easily frightened, the horseman reminded himself and he would have to go slow as not to startle him.

He leaped out of the Tree and soon slowed down the speed to a relaxed pace. At least there would be no thunderous hoofbeats around here if he could help it.

It was so silent in the woods that Ichabod Crane could hear his own thoughts.

Those tiny voices that normally couldn't make themselves heard over the everyday noise both in New York and here, in Sleepy Hollow.

What do you want Ichabod Crane? What do you seek, out here? Or rather who? The voices of his own mind asked him.

He shook his head. He would not go into that now. Just return the cloak to the Hessian and then go back to the village and than catch a wagon to New York and get on with his life. That was all, and he was *not* looking for anything here.

Liar, said the voice smugly, you lie and you know it.

Yes, alright. So I'm a liar, so what?

Why haven't you been able to stop thinking about the Hessian? the little voice of his conscience asked.

Because I keep wondering, Ichabod admitted, what he likes to do on his days off, what his favorite food is, what his name is. And so on and on.

Do he have days off? Ichabod began to ponder that. Did ghosts have days off, and where were they then haunting someplace else? After a moment he mentally shook himself.

Last fall he would never have thought about that, but now, after he had met Lady van Tassel, and Katerina, the world seemed more or less composed of such things that could be explained scientifically and other things that could not. And both categories of 'things' seemed to be able to coexist rather peacefully as long as you didn't think about it too much.

Behind him he heard a horse walking slowly in the snow. No lightning or thunder. Just a horse walking. Maybe someone else was taking a nip of fresh air today. He turned to greet the stranger.



Part four:



Waking up in strange places was something Ichabod was getting used to. It didn't mean he had to like it though.

He had done it again hadn't he? Fainted at the sight of the Hessian. This was really getting very annoying. At least he was in a bed. There were worse places to wake up in. He could feel that it was a good bed, not too soft and not too hard, with crisp linen sheets, a soft pillow that smelled good. His hands felt around and came across a thick quilt and a comforter. So far so good.

There were no sound of any activity, just the crackling of a fire nearby. Slowly he opened his eyes.

A room. A plain room with a fireplace, with a fire blazing in it, and nothing more. No chairs, no tables, no nothing. Well there was this bed in which he was lying right now.

He sat up to gain a better view of the room. Walls in a light warm colour, a bit reddish where it was lit up by the fire. Floors in a darker colour, somewhere between oak and mahogany.

Ichabod looked around a bit more. The room was strange because he could not figure out where the floor ended and the walls began, and where the walls ended and where the roof started. And the roof seemed to be both near and far away up above him. It was the same thing with the walls. Ichabod just couldn't figure out wether the walls were far off or close. Strange, but not in a frightening way, just strange. At least it was not a small room, but not large either, maybe somewhere in between. It smelled of dry earth, and stone.

He got out of the bed, and found that he was only wearing a thick white flannel shirt, and Ichabod knew that he had not brough t such a garment with him out in the woods, so maybe it belonged to this unknown person who had taken him to this odd room. His clothing had been hung up, by this someone, to dry, in front of the fireplace. And his backpack was propped up next to the fireplace. He picked it up and dug around in it, and found that the Hessian's cloak was missing.

Then there was this sound as if a door opened and closed, but there was no door to see. He looked around and saw the Hessian come walking towards him.

"Do. Not. Faint", the Hessian said.

Ichabod had to smile. "I have no intention of fainting", he said.

"I certainly hope not."

"I hope you saw that I've cleaned your cloak, with the help of Katerina."

"Really?"

The Hessian took of his cloak to see if the young man spoke true. He inspected the cloak and saw that most of the stains was indeed gone.

"Thank you."

The Hessian hung up the cloak on a rack, that had magically appeared, on one of the walls next to the fireplace. Ichabod managed not to faint at the sudden appearance of such an every-day thing. When that rack appeared, the wall got somehow more defined, and it was easier to see where it began and ended. The other walls didn't change though.

Ichabod sat down in front of the fire, with his bag in his lap. The Hessian followed suit.

There was an awkward silence as they looked at each other. The Hessian took of his leather harness and his boots. Ichabod watched him as he rose to hang up the richly ornamented garment.

With the cloak and the harness off, the Hessian wasn't that intimating, Ichabod thought. He was slim, just this side of being thin, but there was power in that body. Like a dancer. Or like a cat.

"What are you looking at, sir?"

"You. You don't seem that powerful without your cloak."

"Hardenbrook said something like that too, this morning."

"Hardenbrook?"

"Yes"

Ichabod decided to ask about something else. How dead people could talk about clothes with other people was not something he was interested in right now. No, the little voice said, you are much more interested in what *he* looks like without those black breeches, that shirt and those socks. Even in the firelight, Ichabod saw that the Hessian's clothes was worn and mended here and there with almost invisible stitches and patches. It didn't diminish his pose, and the grace with which he held himself. The Hessian sat down next to Ichabod in front of the fire again.

"Looks less frightening now, hm?" He said with a smile that showed off his pointed teeth.

"Yes."

They sat together for a while again, in silence, until Ichabod decided to break the quietness. It was rather easy to be silent together with the Hessian.

"What's your name", the constable asked after a while.

"Georg, Georg Achenbach. Though I haven't been called that for a while. It has mostly been 'Hey you, yeah you, horseman' for the last, um, five years of my life. Sometimes I was called 'reiter', which is German for horseman."

"If I let you call me by my first name, can I call you by your first?"

Ichabod looked expectantly at the Horseman as he hoped that the man would say 'yes'.

"Is this an offer of friendship?"

"Yes!"

The Horseman frowned. "Why", he asked, puzzled. Sure, he'd like to be friends, if not more, with this person, but why did this man want to be friends with him?

"Because..."

And for once words failed Ichabod. How was he supposed to tell this man everything that was in his heart, when he didn't have the words for it. Instead he decided it was time to act.

He put away the bag he had unconsciously been hugging, and leaned in towards the Hessian, who didn't move away.

Encouraged Ichabod closed in and kissed him.



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