O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (by freyakendra)

Summary:  Caught in a blizzard on Christmas Eve, Joe follows his brother’s song after the trail itself becomes obscured by the heavy snow.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated: PG
Word Count:  2500

Inspired by:

Hymn # 31 from Lutheran Worship—Author: French Processional—Tune: Veni Emmanuel—Translated: John Neal, 1818-66—1st Published in 1854


Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel

Joe heard Adam singing. His brother’s cadence was slower, and his voice…softer than usual. Adam sounded contemplative…lonely.

That mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appear

No. It couldn’t be Adam’s voice. That simply wasn’t possible. What Joe heard was a dream…a wish…a desperate hope. Nothing more. No. He couldn’t possibly be hearing Adam. Joe was still far from home, surely much too far to hear his brother’s quiet, solemn, gentle singing.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel

It was the snow, Joe told himself. The silence of it…. The pure whiteness of it…. The numbing breath of it…. The snow wrapped around him like a frigid blanket, obliterating the trail in front of him, hiding the trees to either side, making it impossible for him to see north from south.

Making it impossible for him to find his way home.

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily

He should have stayed in Carson City. He should have waited for the storm to pass. But, of course, he hadn’t expected a storm at all. This one had come sweeping down from the mountains without warning. And now…. Now it seemed determined to keep him from his home.

To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go

It was just snow. Just a little Christmas snow….

That’s what Joe had told himself when the first white wisps had begun to fall. It was just snow, nothing to be concerned about. He’d ridden through snow before. There’d been no reason to think those gentle, quiet flakes would grow into a raging blizzard. No reason at all. In fact, the snowfall had lifted his spirits, made him that much more eager to get home.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel

But snow in the mountains was never ‘just snow.’ The weather could turn quickly, churning showers into blizzards…turning lambs into lions. Joe should have given more consideration to the fickle nature of the weather. And the mountains. His desire to be home for Christmas should never have overruled good sense.

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height

Christmas was just a day on the calendar, after all. The celebrations, the observances, those were what mattered, not the timing. And God’s timing surely didn’t always correspond with man’s. God has His own designs. The mountains…the weather…everything was by His design.

In ancient times gave holy law,
in cloud and majesty and awe

Awe? Yes. Joe awed these mountains. He also feared them. But not always…and maybe not often enough. He loved them more than he feared them. He found peace in them—even at that moment. Even there in that blizzard as he rode without hope of knowing where he was headed or if he was still on the trail at all.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel

Maybe it was the sound of Adam’s voice that was filling him with peace. Maybe that song was even pulling him forward. If not, then he’d have to guess it was Cochise’s uncanny sense of direction. All he knew for sure was he couldn’t rely on any conscious thought of his own. He could hardly tell up from down, let alone where the trail was. For all Joe knew, he might be riding straight to the edge of a cliff. Still, he pressed onward. He had to. It was already too late to stop.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them

He should have stopped when he’d first noticed the weather turning…when he could still see the rocks around him. He should have found what shelter he could, and then waited for the storm to pass. But he’d figured home wasn’t so far, after all. Surely, he could make it there before the worst of the snows began to fall.

That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
bring them in vict’ry through the grave

Now, it was too late. Shelter could be just a few steps to either side of him, and he would never see it. The snow was a prison of white. A cave. A cocoon. A…grave.

A grave? Maybe. Yes, it could be, couldn’t it? Joe’s foolish decision, his childish eagerness to be home for Christmas, might well have been the last decision he would ever make. Snow like this could kill a man. It could blind him, entice him to a deadly, rocky fall…or simply numb him into an eternal sleep.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel

Rejoice? Adam’s song did not sound joyful. There was more sorrow in it than joy, as though…as though he was already mourning Little Joe’s death…as though he already knew Joe would never make it home.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home

I’m not ready for my heavenly home, Joe thought. I’m not ready to die. Not out here. Not alone. Looking up, hoping for a glimpse of heaven, Joe saw only his pristine white grave. Its icy fingers tightened around him. Its frigid heart pumped ice into his own. He was almost too cold to shiver anymore. Too cold to even breathe.

Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery

Could his pride have led to this misery? Joe had taken great pride in his father trusting him to attend to things in Carson City. Like a rite of passage, this trip had been made to show his brothers that he was a boy no longer, but a man, capable of making critical business decisions. Such pride, however, wasn’t the mark of a man. No. There were other decisions, other…considerations that mattered more. And Joe had made the worst decision of all by continuing to ride home through this storm.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel

I’m sorry, Adam…Pa…Hoss. I’m sorry for all the arguments. I’m sorry for my selfishness and bad decisions. I’m not a man. I’m a long way from being a man. I deserve this, I suppose. No one is responsible for this but me. I made a mistake…another mistake in a long string of mistakes. The worst kind of mistake, the kind I can never hope to make right.

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by your drawing nigh

It did feel as though he was drawing nigh, though. Joe still couldn’t see a thing, but…he could sense it. Somehow he felt certain that the house was just a little further. Even Cochise seemed to notice. The horse’s steps grew quicker, anxious…and his ears twitched, as though he, too, was listening to Adam’s mournful song.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight

But even Cochise’s anxiousness couldn’t last long, not out there in that cold, harsh…white wind. He blustered, and then stumbled, nearly driving Joe from the saddle. Cochise was growing numb, too, wasn’t he? As numb as Joe. Or maybe…maybe even more than Joe. The snow was getting so deep it wouldn’t be much longer before Joe’s numb horse could get no footing at all.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel

God? Joe said in the quiet of his mind, not wanting to disturb Adam’s song…not caring whether or not it was truly possible for him to be hearing it. I’m sorry, God, for being so prideful…so stubborn and willful. I deserve this, I suppose. I do. But…my family doesn’t. Please, don’t make them face Christmas in mourning.

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind,
in one the hearts of all mankind

Joe sensed Cochise hesitating. The horse was losing his ability to move on. Just as Joe was losing his strength…his determination to hold on. His fingers were stiff and burning. And his eyes…he was finding it increasingly hard to keep them open, blinded as he’d been for so long by all that numbing whiteness.

Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
and be yourself our King of Peace

He was tired…so tired….

Maybe…maybe he ought not to fight it anymore. Maybe he ought to just slip out of the saddle and lie down atop that cold, white mattress God had spread out around him. Maybe he could even rest easy, lulled by the sound of his brother’s sad song.

But when he felt himself slipping downward, he knew he’d had no part in the decision. Someone was pulling at his leg, his arms. His coat shifted, sending pinpricks of ice down his neck and into the small of his back.

And then his feet sank through snow. Icy tendrils climbed over the top of his boots, sending more pinpricks to his ankles. And then his knees tingled at its touch. And he knew he was falling. God’s mattress was insistent.

Joe closed his eyes, accepting.

“Joe!” Pa shouted through the deafening, white silence.

Confused, Joe opened his eyes again. And…he realized he hadn’t fallen. The mattress was still at his feet. He was being held upright—but not by his pa.

Pa was standing in front of him, with snow crusted eyebrows drawn in concern. “Let’s get him inside.”

When Joe felt himself being pulled forward, he looked to his right to see almost a mirror of Pa’s drawn brow on his brother, Adam.

Then Hoss’s voice at his right stole his attention. “How in tarnation did you ever find your way home in this?”

And Joe smiled. Maybe not so his family could see it, not with his cheeks too numb to respond, but deep down inside, where he could feel a surge of warmth already melting his icy shroud. Because he knew then that he really was home. He was home, and his family had come out to greet him, to see to it he came in from the cold.

“I heard Ad’m singing,” he finally slurred in response, his jaw too tight to afford him the luxury of true speech. Then he closed his eyes again, just long enough to give a silent, quick prayer of thanks, oblivious to the confused gazes passing between his brothers and father.

Hours later, wrapped in blankets and relishing the warmth of a roaring, glorious fire in the great room, Joe lay back against the thin cushion on the settee and listened…as Adam gently strummed his guitar and sang a quiet, blessed song—a song that would forever remind Joe to believe in miracles…and the long reach of his family’s love.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel

***The End***

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