The old grandfather clock struck midnight, twelve solemn bells that signified Ending and Beginning in the way that no other number, and no other clock, ever could.
Jack sighed, downed the last of his whiskey, and stood up. The candles that spluttered near to the end of their wicks on the mahogany throne behind him finally gave up and smoked away into nothingness.
“Lords and Ladies of the Court, ladies and gentlemen both living and departed, I must now bid you farewell. My time is over for another year, and I must now hand over to my sister as your host for the next four moons and two. Now if you will indulge me a few more seconds – one last toast! Whether you rest here or beyond the Western sky this Winter, may you rest in peace!”
“May you rest in peace!” returned the court, even its incorporeal members managing to drink to the sentiment.
The doors at the back of the audience chamber blew open, banging back against the stone walls as their hinges creaked and complained. A chill wind blew through the room, carrying on it leaves of red and yellow in their thousands that spiralled in the air. And following it came a tall woman dressed in red and brown cloth and with the same leaves plaited into her hair. In her left hand she carried a staff of chestnut wood, and in her right a flagon of frothing cider. She was followed by three girls and three boys, each dressed in autumnal brown, who carried jugs of the same cider to refill the glasses of anyone who desired.
The woman gave her brother a hearty hug as they passed each other down the aisle.
“Farewell my brother, Jack of the Lanterns,” said she.
“Welcome my sister, Lady November,” said he, and the Court chorused “Welcome Lady November!”
The Lady November reached the front of the chamber, turned to face the Court, and sat down upon the throne that was now hers. The doors slammed shut, and bereft of wind the leaves settled on the ground, giving the impression that the whole floor was aflame. And at that moment the clock began to strike twelve again, for as all present knew, when no Lord or Lady sat upon the Throne of Seasons there could be no passing of time in the world.
She addressed her audience.
“My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,” she said, “the nights draw in, and it is but a short time until I must hand over this throne to the eldest of my brothers, Saint Nicholas. At this time of year it becomes necessary to stop thinking only of enjoying the day, but also of enjoying the night.
“And so,” said the Lady November with a grand sweep of her arm, “let our hearts be warmed by blazing bonfires and free-flowing drink! And…” She stood, and turned away from the Court to look through the great glass windows and the night beyond. “Let the fireworks begin!”
With a drumroll from the orchestra and a bang and a flash of gunpowder, the sky lit up in a blaze of all the colours of the rainbow – and then some – as hundreds of fireworks shot up into the ink-black night. The Court raised a cheer, and raised a glass, and the month of November began.