Yuletide was Ylva’s favorite time of year.
The smell of fresh greenery indoors, all the little candles twinkling among the boughs—it was like bringing the glimmering night sky indoors to the warmth of the crackling fire. Then there was the singing, the games, the feasts, the wine, the drunken kisses, the sneaking outside for a little bit more than a kiss… the long nights had their benefits. The cover of darkness made all sorts of delightful deviance possible.
On the new moons, when you could hardly see your own hand in front of your face, she only bothered pulling the boys a few strides off the path before reaching down their trousers.
They called themselves “men”, but they were still barely twenty, so they were “boys” to her. She’d just passed her nineteenth name-day herself, but she’d hardly call herself a “woman”. Women practiced embroidery and fretted about dowries and thought about finding a husband. Girls were still wild, unkempt things with dirty feet and tangled hair.
It was the day before the solstice, and Ylva rode Petrie, the butcher’s son, on a snowbank behind the meat shop. Strands of wavy brown fell loose from her braid clung to her face. Her fur coat and tunic were half-unbuttoned, and Petrie grasped her bare breast.
The cold hardly bothered her—her body ached with so much heat. She loved being on top—she could rock her hips just-so and almost always cum.
“Y-Ylva, I’m close…”
“Me too,” she whispered. “J-just a few minutes more—oh, this feels so good…”
“M-minutes, Ylva… I’m not… I’m gonna…”
Ylva lifted her hips just in time—Petrie’s seed spilled out over onto his stomach.
Ylva huffed and plopped into the snow next to him.
“Why did you stop?” Petrie said, sounding disappointed.
“Because I don’t want to get pregnant. I told you that,” Ylva said. “Besides, you can touch it yourself. And not just now. Any time, did you know that? You won’t even go blind or turn into a goat or whatever your mother tells you.”
“Why do you care?”
“Because maybe if you did that a little more, you’d last longer,” Ylva snapped. “But if I’m the first hot thing to touch your dick in a week, of course you’re going to pop like a keg.”
“We-we could go again,” Petrie said, hopeful.
Ylva signed. “No, I’m not in the mood to suck cock.”
“Well, but… you were just…”
“No, now I’ve got to be careful. That…” gestured to the smear of white on Petrie’s cock and stomach, “Is what gets you pregnant, you know. You have to wash it with soap and make water before it’s safe again.”
“Says Auntie Helda.”
“That old witch? You can’t trust her.”
“Oh? Didn’t you trust her when Grulna missed her bleeding last year?”
Petrie exhaled sharply. “We’re done here.”
“Good, I already said I wasn’t in the mood. I’m leaving first. And don’t bother slipping me another note until you can last longer than it takes to wash your hands, hm?”
Ylva stalked off into the snow. She knew the last jab was unnecessary—but so was the discombobulated arousal she was going to be stuck in for the next few hours. She could use her own hands, too, but sex was always such a strong sensation, it took a few hours before she was sensitive enough. Ylva buttoned up her coat and clomped out from behind the butcher’s shop.
Other villagers hustled to-and-fro, walking by the gold light of the candles in every window and the thin silver of the moon, finishing preparations for the solstice celebrations.
Seeing the massive evergreen in the center of the town square with every candle proudly lit, limbs sparkling with ornaments that held well-wishes for the next year, improved her spirits a tad.
Still, it was too cold to just stand around, and Ylva wasn’t quite ready to head home. That left only one place to go.
As Ylva pushed into the little herb shop, the jingle of the bells on the door and the scent of dried sage and tarragon greeted her.
A fat calico cat jumped down from the windowsill and wove between Ylva’s legs, purring. She bent down and scratched the cat’s rump.
Auntie Helda stepped out from behind a shelf of pickled vegetables. The herbalist looked to be in her sixties, with white hair and soft, weather-worn skin—but she moved like someone not a day over thirty. She wasn’t Ylva’s aunt—she actually wasn’t anyone’s aunt, and as far as Ylva knew, she didn’t have any family in the village—but everyone called her ‘Auntie’ just the same.
“Ylva, my little sprig!” she called out. “Happy Yuletide.”
“Looking for anything particular today?” Auntie Helda’s eyes twinkled knowingly.
Ylva stopped by often for contraceptive teas whenever one of her partners failed to manage his timing. Auntie Helda had never judged her—by the contrary, the older woman seemed to approve.
But Ylva’s cautions had been successful this time. Wryly, she wondered which was worse—the cramps that the tea caused or this visceral frustration. It was almost enough to tempt her to let Petrie finish next time.
“Just a moment of peace and quiet today,” Ylva admitted.
Auntie Helda winked. “Understood. But before I leave you be… take this.”
She tied a cotton cord around Ylva’s neck, and at the base hung a sprig of dried rosemary.
“What’s it for?” Ylva asked.
“Protection,” Auntie Helda said. “And mostly it just smells good.”
Ylva smiled. She’d always appreciated how down-to-earth Auntie Helda was. “Any specific reason I need extra protection?”
“Perhaps,” Auntie Helda said. “It might just be the little insanities of an old woman, but… my bones are creaking like they used to in the old days.”
“During the convergence?”
Auntie Helda nodded. “The veil between worlds was much thinner, then. Sometimes, the heavens align just right… and Yuletide has always been when the veil was the thinnest.”
“So you think spirits might come through the veil? What kind?”
“Well, when I was a little girl, it was not men in masks that we ran from during the Krampus parade.”
“There’s a real Krampus?” Ylva breathed. She’d thought it was just another fairy tale to get children to behave.
Auntie Helda nodded. “I saw him, once. Dreadful, beautiful creature. But I wasn’t quite naughty enough for him to drag me away…” She sounded almost disappointed. “Now you, on the other hand…” Auntie Helda winked. “You might need to watch out.”
Ylva grinned. “I’ll be sure to do that.”
Ylva rolled around a ball of wool for the fat calico cat until she knew it was late enough that she’d be getting a lecture. She ruffled the cat’s fur one last time, then trudged home.
As cold as her hands were when she reached her home, she knew as she pushed the door open that it would bring her no relief.
“Tsk, Ylva!” barked her mother, who stirred a cast-iron pot of soup in the fire. She was plump and strong, her curly black hair going grey early—something she never missed an opportunity to blame it on Ylva.
“You’re late and tracking mud in,” her mother snapped.
“Sorry Mama,” Ylva murmured insincerely as she back-tracked and wriggled out of her boots.
Her hand was mere inches from the knob of the door to her room when her mother said, “Ylva, I need to talk to you.”
Ylva sighed, tromped back to the living room and plopped down in front of the fire. If she was going to be lectured, she may as well be comfortable.
“Priest Jorin told me he caught you engaged in certain activities with one of the candle lighters… again.”
“It’s like you’re trying to get caught!”
She was, actually. She thought it was funny how mad it made Priest Jorin.
“So you’re fine with it as long as I don’t get caught?”
Ylva’s mother sputtered. “That’s not what I’m saying. Ylva, I’m worried for you.”
“You’re always worried for me. If this is about no husband wanting me—that’s fine. I don’t want one.”
“Ylva, it’s not just about you. It’s about starting your own household, not being a burden on this one!”
That one stung. Ylva looked away and forced her shoulders to shrug.
“Tch. Ungrateful child.” Ylva’s mother whipped the spoon through the stew.
“So if that’s everything…” Ylva stood, stepping towards her room.
“Peel the potatoes. And do it right this time.”
Ylva’s mother was unrelenting in her demands through dinner, when she ranted to Ylva’s father about their daughter’s latest deviances.
Ylva’s father murmured an obligatory “Listen to your mother,” but his mind was clearly still in the wood shop, dreaming up new joineries or something.
Ylva thought his work was interesting, but she resented that he seemed to care more about it than her. Her own mind wandered back to the snowdrift behind the meat shop. She shifted restlessly under the table, her cunt still wet and aching from her earlier denial.
Finally, her parents climbed the ladder to their loft, and she was allowed to go to bed. She opened the door to the closet that she’d taken over as her room, only barely large enough for the cot. It was the only door in the little house, other than the entrance.
She flopped down and pulled the door closed behind her. It wasn’t much. But it put a sheet of wood between her and her parents, and that was all she needed to plunge her hand into her cunt.
The denial always made the relief that much sweeter, but Ylva was not usually one for delayed gratification. The Petrie in her imagination could last as long as she needed, and Ylva bit her pillow to stay quiet as the release rolled through her. It took the edge off, but a restless horniness still bubbled under her skin.
When Ylva finally drifted off to sleep, she dreamed of endlessly running, the shadow of a birch branch always close behind her.