the holly and the ivy

There is a pleasingly pagan English carol which, despite its name, devotes six verses to holly and only two words to ivy. One might wonder why the ivy is there.

The boy with the ragged black hair stands alone on a field of crumbling bones, and challenges the Paladin for control of the army which covers the plain like a dark lake. The warrior explains, laughing, that he has made alliances with every beast and bird, every fish and plant, every stone and the works of all crafts, both human and fey. He cannot be harmed.

The boy nods, and says that he is aware of the ancient alliances. He has questioned each crawling animal and each fish in the swift rivers and the deep darkness of the sea; he has petitioned each flint and each oak, each sword and each bow. All have bowed their heads in apology, but said they could not harm the Paladin of Grey Deeps. All except the tender creeping ivy, which had been too lowly to trouble the alliances of so great a Lord.

The ivy rises from the field of bones and closes over the great Lord on his great horse, tendrils thick as the threads packed into a woven cloth. After a little while, blood begins to seep through onto the dark leaves.

The boy reaches out and plucks a long strand, and silently wreaths it about his unkempt head.

The English understand that it is best always to remember the ivy.