Land of Light
The snow trickled down from the dark heavens above. The streets were quiet, and mostly dark. People were in their homes, resting up for the New Year, and recovering from Christmas.
It was almost midnight, and the lights slowly were distinguished one by one as the power was cut.
On the one dark street, a lamp post stood, all regal. Its lights were slowly flickering, but not enough to shine some light into the dark night. It stood in the middle of a circle, a road going all around it.
Many people had lain their eyes on it as they rounded the circle to drive down one of the four roads. But, none of them knew the true power behind the lamp post.
The lights started flickering a little brighter as the shuffling of feet approached. A cane was heard, hitting against the cobblestone.
An aged man appeared, clinging tightly to a little girl’s hand. She was walking on his left side, allowing him to use his other hand to hold the cane that helped to steady him.
His hair was as white as the snow, standing a little statically in different directions. His spectacles were hooked on to the pocket of his jacket, within ease of reach. His fading green eyes sparkled with excitement, but they also showed the last flicker of life left in him.
His brown fur coat hung heavily on his body, but protected him against the cold. His cane was strong and sturdy, splattered with touches of gold.
The little girl by his side was something else. Many people had laughingly asked if she was a little pixie, and in her life she had been teased plenty, by the jealous, because of her appearance.
She was very slim and thin, considering that she was only five years old. Her black hair fell down onto her shoulders, a tease of a curl in the strands.
Her green eyes shone like emeralds; they were also full of life and excitement. Her nose was a little pointed, but very petite. She had a petite oval-shaped face, rosy cheeks, and a small mouth. When she smiled, a dimple appeared on each cheek. Her ears were slightly pointed, to the surprise and chagrin of her family.
She clung like a nervously excited child to her great-grandfather. Her coat dragged in the snow, adding even more white to the edge of the fur.
Both the old man and little girl reached the lamp post. By now, the light was growing stronger and stronger. The luminance reached out farther and farther, brighter and brighter.
“Nia, we are going to go there now, okay?” He huffed out, and then coughed. “Don’t be scared. The Luminians are good people. Like their country, they are bright and friendly.”
“Yes, Great-grandfather.” She said timidly, her eyes wide.
He let go of her and reached out his weathered left hand, resting it against the post. “Luminia, Lantin ofen Lumin, welkomen wene.” He muttered.
The whole post started glowing golden bright, and both closed their eyes.
“A new year. And after this celebration, I can die in peace.” He mumbled, before the ground underneath them seemed to vanish and they started floating.
Luminia, Land of Light, had their new year celebration on December 28, for the humans. It only happened every five years, though. Every five human years counted as one year for the Luminians.
If the doctors say I’m dying, then I must be dying. But I won’t die in this godforsaken world. I’ll die with the people of my heart. The old man thought, floating in the air. And Luminia will take over from me. She’ll come back home, but she will be there for the Luminians too. If only the children will accept my last wish.
A small prick of light flickered in front of his eyes. It grew bigger and bigger until a young woman appeared. Her black hair fell down to her feet. Her amethyst eyes glimmered. The rest of her body seemed to be covered in light, though. She smiled at him.
“Lumis, she is only five. And she is a girl. She won’t be able to do it. You expect too much of her.” The soft voice floated towards him.
And I am a hundred and twenty, Lucia. I’m too old and she’s too young. Which one is the right choice. She is, trust me...You don’t know her, dear. She’s perfect for this. You wait and see. He promised. Her smile drooped as she looked on him sadly and then sighed.
“If you say so, Lumis. But your time is over...I’m really sorry about that.” She seemed to step even closer, and then she leaned over. A soft kiss fell on his cheek. “Rest now.” She said before disappearing again, but he saw the tears in her eyes.
I love you, Lucia. Take care of my little girl...
“I will...” The voice whispered, before the darkness folded in around him, and he fell into an abyss.
New Year Holiday
Rocky emerges from behind a bush and strolls over to a nearby tree. Leaning against it, he waits for his friend Daisy. Two minutes later, he hears the rustling of bushes and the girl appears.
"Well, it is nice to see you too on this great day."
Rocky rolls his eyes.
"You know that I do not like holidays...I especially do not like those that occur in the snow."
"But this is the holiday that we all look forward too! The other holidays are fun, but this one is best!" Daisy twirls and her pink skirt bulges. "I think that out of all our Ruin Other People's Holiday holidays, this New Year one is best."
The girl looks over to Rocky with a sweet smile, but his face remains grim.
"I prefer the Ruin Independence Day holiday, but I guess I can't choose." The boy glances down. "We better get on with our mission."
"Yes, we must."
After running through the woods for a few minutes, the boy and girl reach their assigned town. The two survey the little town that is bustling with preperations for the night's grand event. Men are positioning the fireworks; women are setting up and decorating the tables; children and dogs are running around and stealing a bite of food every once in a while.
While Daisy smiles at the running children, Rocky plans where all of the escape routes are located, where and how the most havoc can be wrecked, and where people might gather in large groups. After all of his plans are in order, the boy holds out his arm for Daisy who immediately takes it. While the pair is walking down the narrow path towards the town, a woman notices them.
"Welcome to our village! How may we help you?" The woman asks while wiping her hands on her apron.
"Good afternoon, Ma'am. If it would not be too much trouble, may we stay here for a few hours?" Rocky's previous grumpy voice has dissappeared and a seemingly sincere one has taken its place.
"Of course, of course."
Twenty minutes later, Daisy is making pies in one of the kitchens. She is alone in the house for the task was entrusted solely to her. After making the delicacy exactly according to the instructions, she walks over to the cabinet and takes out a bag of salt. Walking back, she throws two cups of salt into the batter and stirs it thoroughly. Daisy pours the batter into the pans before shoving the pans into the oven. Taking the salt and exitting the house, the girl jogs over to the decorated tables that already have plates of food on them. Without feeling any pity for those who made the food, she sprinkles loads of salt onto all of the plates' contents.
While Daisy was spoiling the food, Rocky was helping with the other jobs. When the men were called into one of the houses for afternoon coffee, the boy takes his chance. He heads over to the fireworks and adjusts them so that they will fly over the crowd and explode there. Next, he unwraps the crackers from the pole to which they were attached and winds the coils between the legs of the chairs on which the people will sit.
Two hours later, when the crowd take their seats, it is almost pitch black outside. The plates of salted food are handed out by a few unsuspecting women. Everyone's mouths were watering, except for Rocky's and Daisy's, but sounds of disgust claimed the quiet night as soon as everyone started eating. Those who had cooked the food felt awful and many started to cry. After calming down the women, the men decide that it is now time to light up the fireworks and end the night with a spectacular firework display. Rocky and Daisy offer to light the fireworks and crackers, and they are immediately given the permission to do it.
"Is it going to be something that they will never forget?" Dasiy inquires as they stand behind the rows of explosives.
"I sure think so."
He hands a box of matches to the girl and she starts to light the fireworks while Rocky lights the crackers with his own box of matches. The fireworks shoots out of their holders at the same time that the crackers begin popping. The few seconds of awe are immediately replaced by chaos and confusion. The fireworks that explode in the midst of the crowd and the crackers popping at their feet caused all of the people to scream and run into their houses. Rocky and Daisy, who are watching from a nearby hill, are laughing loudly at the situation.
"This was a great holiday, wasn't it?" Daisy looks over to Rocky.
The generous man
It first began with the choosing.
In the darkness before dawn, Mrs Colesbury was wide awake, buttoning up her winter coat, putting on her boots, wearing her gloves before she tucked a small scrap of paper in her breastpocket.
"Whatever is the paper for Ma'am?"Josh held up an oil lamp, watching her scrurry to the door.
"Not now, Josh.Not now."She chided and left.
Odd...He shrugged and headed back to bed.
But a slender figure in her icy white nightgown surrendered an answer.
"She's going for the Choosing."
Josh cast the lamp over her oval face.
Nina Colesbury.Mrs Colesbury's daughter.
"What choosing, Miss?"Josh prompted.
"For Winston's logding."
"You're kidding--right?"Nina sighed like Josh missed an impossibly obvious answer right infront of him.
"Well, who is he, Miss?"He was feeling stupid.
"Forget it.You're leaving tomorrow anyways."She whirled away and climbed the stairs to her bedroom.
"I'm not, Miss."He sighs.
"I can't.The snow's too heavy, Miss."
Nina stopped in her tracks.She twirled with her dark brown hair, melted into the darkness.
"You're really staying?"Her grey eyes widened.
"Yes I am, Miss."Josh paused before reminding,"Now can tell me who's Winston? "
"Fine.Just stop calling me...'Miss'."Nina cringed at the word.
"Understood, Mis-I mean, Understood."
"Good,"She smiles, beckoning him,"you might want to have a seat for this."
It was from there, Josh learnt of Winston--the old man who came to town once a year.They called him "an angel from heaven" for his generosity and kindness.In return for these attributes, the town folk treated him hospitably, threw him a feast and gave him a place to stay(which was where the Choosing came in).
But there were still a hazy detail he didn't understand.
"I've a question."Josh frowned.
"Spill."Nina sipped her late-night cocoa.
"What makes Winston so great?"He paused to catch himself from saying 'Miss'.
"I get that he's legend for his virtuous personality, but...what did the man do?"
Nina shook her head.
"This part, I cannot tell you."Her silvery voice slipped into a whisper.
That wasn't part of the deal.
"It's bad omen, Josh.Speak of Winston's kindness before his arrival, and he'll have no generosity for you--for his whole visit."Nina told him slowly.
"That's an odd custom."He thought aloud.
"Odd but treasured."
Nina swallowed what remained of her hot cocoa and blew out the lamp as daylight had began to filter through the windows.
"Thanks...Nina."Josh dipped his head respectfully.
"Welcome.Do get some sleep, before my mother gets you up to do the chores."Nina yawned.
But Mrs Colesbury burst through the door.
"Good news!"Her announcement rang through the house, like a joyous melody.
"We'll be housing Winston!"
The Colesburys spent the rest of the week preparing.They spared no expense.
With the new guest on the way, Josh worked doubly hard, to rid the house of grime and dust.His old room was cleaned and rearranged.Nina helped him hang glossy gold streamers all over the room, so they dangled playfully over the ceiling.
Mrs Colesbury mopped the floors, polished, well, everything and scrubbed the fabrics spotless.Mr Colesbury borrowed planks, the Taleens' hammer and some old nails to fix the leak in the storeroom.
Josh was grateful Mr & Mrs Colesbury let him stay in the attic.They knew how he got nightmares sleeping in the alarmingly quiet storeroom with odd silhouettes that manifested as monsters in the night.
"Shall I add salt to the road, sir?"Josh volunteered when Winston's arrival drew near.
"Not yet."Mr Colesbury held up his hand."We need the salt for the food."
"We could borrow salt from the mayor's wife.She'd understand."Josh proposed.
"Yes, but that won't be nice, will it?"The mayor's secretary flashed a smile Josh could almost pass for wincing.
Indeed, it wasn't nice.The Colesburys were already borrowing meat, vegetables, fruits, milk and wine from the mayor's family.There was only so far diplomatic friendships could extend.
"I'm sorry, sir."Josh dipped his head.
Mr Colesbury waved it away,"It's alright, lad."
The man gazed towards the snow covered path in a great depth of renewed hope.
"Winston's coming soon."
Finally, Josh got to see 'Winston the Generous'.
But he was nothing the boy expected.
He had no gold robe, no mighty steed or parade of riches.Not even valued gems or stones hanging in earrings, necklaces and bracelets and his silvery beard.
He was quite the opposite.
This Winston was a skinny old man in mud brown clothes.His eyes were crescents over his rosy, toothless grin as he ambled slowly to the Colesburys' home.
He was panting from exhaustion.Yet, this frail man managed to raise a bony limb to wave eagerly at the cheering and clapping townsfolk.
"Hello dear people of Gaderian!"Winston announced in a shaky voice.
Everybody fell silent, listening intently to the old man.
"It's great to see all of you again!"
The townspeople whistled and applauded.
Nina wove through the crowd to stand beside Josh.She whispered to him.
"He always says this speech.Every year.I wish he'd at least find a new way to say it."
Josh shushed her.
"...wonderful as ever.I'm so glad all of you are still prospering as a town and helping one another.In return, I shall grant you all one thing you desire as I have for the fifty years since the riot."
The crowd burst into shouts and claps.Someone played music, drowning out the 'thank you's exchanged.People formed a dancing train and lined up along the Colesburys' lawn, swaying to the rhythm in their fluffy winterwear.
When all the preliminary celebrations died away, the Colesburys and Josh proudly ushered Winston into their beautifully decorated house.
The cottage floor sparkled.The new lights glowed.The aroma of Mrs Colesbury's feast wafted down the corridor and lured them into the dining room, where a generous spread waited for them.
"Hold it, let Winston take his portion first."Mrs Colesbury instructed.
All of them stared longingly as her hands hovered over a golden turkey, fragrant bread rolls, chicken pot pie with filling oozing from its lattice, corn with coats of glistening butter...
"Oh, you're too kind Mrs Colesbury.There's no need for that."The cheery old man waved away her hospitable gesture."All of you must be starving too."
"Really, sir, its fine.You've had a long journey."She shot them a warning look.
"Alrighty then."Winston shrugs.He plucked a few rolls and distributed them among everyone--including himself--before insisting they sat down with him to enjoy the food.
Josh sat at the Colesburys' table between Nina and Winston--another reason he liked working for this family.He thanked Winston, along with the Colesburys and wolfed down the fluffy roll in a single mouthful.
"Oh my,"Winston looked at him and gave a good-natured chuckle."Your roll must be especially delicious."
Josh could only nod and try for a smile.
"Well, relax Josh.You look like a chipmunk."Nina commented.
"Fuit orself,"He gestured at the turkey bone on her plate.
"Manners, lad."Mr Colesbury tapped his mouth.
The rest of the conversations went about in the same airy manner, until the mayor dropped by.He wedged himself between Josh and Winston for Mrs Colesbury's "famous chicken pot pie" and to fill the old guest in on the events of that year.
Josh--squashed between a meaty diplomant and Nina's elegant frame--felt uncomfortable listening to the mid-year drought and trade exchanges.
He peered over to glance at Winston.His amber eyes flickered between weariness and interest.
Then, Winston winked at Josh.
It was so subtle even the mayor didn't notice.
Josh couldn't really sleep that night.Maybe because he gobbled too much of Mrs Colesbury's rich pudding.Or the strange new environment.Or that this was the first December he wasn't going to spend with his family.
Whatever it was, it was making him tingly and itchy.He wormed out of bed and reached for his nightlight--a candle the Colesburys let him keep in the storeroom.Josh made his way out of the room to pace about the house, gazing idly as the honey glow from the candle mingled in the blue black night.
"Well, hello there."A mellow voice greeted him."Figured I'd find you here."
This was followed by a series of shuffling as Winston stepped into golden candlelight with his signature smile.
"Hi,"Josh returned response.
"Is there room for another?"
Winston nestled himself on the last few steps of the staircase landing.
"I believe you're enjoying your time here?"Winston inquired politely.
"What's your name?"
"Ah."Winston's eyes sparkled in the light."Beautiful name."
"Thanks, I guess."No one ever told Josh that before.
"Now, I suppose you must be wondering what a funny man I am, in funny clothes celebrated in funny tradition no one would tell you much about?"
"More or less."Josh shrugged."Where are you from anyway?I've never heard your accent before."
A shadow swept over his face, pursing his lips grimly, before Winston reverted to his radiant smile.
"That's a difficult question.I was never really from anywhere.I didn't have parents or family, though, having one seems wonderful.When I was, I simply knew this was what I was meant to do."
Then Winston added with a hollow laugh,"Believe it or not."
"It sounds whimsical but...I believe you."Josh smiled.
Winston looked gratefully into the eyes of this innocent boy.
"Thank you, Josh."
"Couldn't sleep?"Nina asked, arranging her baked beans in a weird curly line.
"By the way, why'd he wink?"
"Who winked?"Josh yawned.
"Well Winston, silly! He winked at you last night over dinner."
"Oh...Honestly, I'm not sure, Mi-"He cut himself off in time."What do you think?"
"Josh, Winston winked at you and you're asking me?"
"Aren't you the expert?"
"Uh-no.I'm just the person who fills you in.And if you two weren't talking about the winking, what were you both chatting about last night?"
"Mysterious stuff."Josh bit into the plump sausage, oozing with grease.
"Good morning everyone!"Winston smiled."Have I mentioned?You have such a cosy house."
"You have."Nina reminded.
Mrs Colesbury elbowed her.
"I mean--thank you, Sir."
Mr Colesbury smiled at Winston,"Would you like some breakfast before you go?"
"Why, how kind of you."The man beamed."But, I should begin my rounds.Speaking of which, I might as well begin with all of you."
"Begin what?"Josh asked everyone when the Colesburys started grinning like children on Christmas morning.
"Watch."Mr Colesbury told him.
All eyes were on Winston as the man snapped his fingers.A loaf-sized drawstring bag blinked in view, hovering in thin air.
With another snap, it plopped softly on Winston's hands.
"Gather round, Colesburys."He set the bag in the table and opened it.Light sprang from the bag in streaks of gold.
Mrs Colesbury went first.She slipped a hand into the leather bag, rifling through its contents.Until, she found something.When she pulled her hand back out, Mrs Colesbury was holding a skinny pair of knitting needles.
"Why, I couldn't find these since March after I traded them away for flour.Thank you, Winston."She held fast to their beige shafts.
Mr Colesbury was next.From Winston's bag he drew a curious amethyst gem, twinkling in the morning sun.
"Mr Colesbury, you and your lovely wife must truly care about your family."Winston commended the two of them."This crystal is a talisman.It will keep your family from going hungry."
Mr Colesbury seemed to relax.
"I cannot thank enough, Winston."He clasped the old man's hands."This means the world to me."
Winston smiled and nodded,"Always the pleasure Mr Colesbury."
And last was Nina, who pulled out a huge broom from the impossibly small bag.
"Yes!I knew it.Thank you so much Winston."Nina brandished her new broom like a magical staff.
"What is that, dear?"Mrs Colesbury tilted her head to find anything extraordinary.
"It's a broom that can sweep on its own."She said proudly.
"Why?"Mrs Colesbury sighed.
"Because you, me and Josh spend way too much time sweeping.It's boring."
Then everyone stared at Josh.
"Well go on, lad,"Mr Colesbury urged.
"Yes, you."Nina folded her arms.
Josh reached his hand into Winston's bag.
There was only one thing in it so Josh took the smooth, flat object out.
Everyone leaned in to see him pull out a golden panel.
On it were the words,
WILL YOU BE MY APPRENTICE?
On Eid Day, we celebrate. We celebrate the end of the days of fasting, the end of hard times and the beginning of happy ones. We stuff each other's mouths with sweetmeats of all shapes, sizes and colors and laugh and rejoice as normal life resumes once again. We eat to our heart's content and don our best most blingy clothes to show off our joy. The men wear perfume and visit the mosques early in the morning to offer prayers. The women prepare noodles floating in sweetened milk with chopped almonds, dates and soft raisins infused with fragrant kewra and fresh warm chickpea salad with tangy tamarind dressing. Children run around in excitement holding up their little wallets to gather money from people as gifts. It is a wonderful occasion where people come together and spread love and happiness and happens to be one of my most favorite and desperately awaited holidays of the year.
Solsallan in the Crescent
Maria waited anxiously for the Captain of the ship *Veritas* to come to Thurin’s Thoth. The man was possessed of a love of reading that rivaled even her father’s and his ship had been unloading since dawn. She worked through one of the recent crates of books that had been delivered to Thurin’s Thoth, shelving one and rechecking the time before getting another. *Today,* she thought to herself, *today I’ll ask him.*
Magnus gave a faint smile as he watched his daughter. “You looking at the clock won’t make them finish any faster.”
Setting aside a book that she thought might interest Captain Holy, she asked, “Do you think he already has plans for tomorrow night?”
He sighed uncomfortably at the question, knowing how likely it was that the boy had already been invited elsewhere, but was saved from answering by his wife breezing into the room.
“He’s very popular, darling, but he *has* only been back since last night. So I believe your chances to be fairly decent.” Shishelly perched on her husband’s desk, completely dishelveling his papers. “You’ll never know until you ask.”
“She shouldn’t be asking him to begin with,” Magnus grumbled.
She lightly swatted his shoulder. “Maggie! You grumpy old bear, she is twenty years old and perfectly able to choose with whom she would like to spend the holiday. If she wants to pass time with a merchant Captain-.”
“Not that it stops you from taking his gold or his goods,” Maria sassed.
″- that’s *her* business.” She sniffed derisively and looked down at him. “And the young man has been quite good for *your* business, has he not?”
“Have I come at a bad time?” A new voice sounded from the entrance, soft and rich with a slight seaworn huskiness, and the very subject of their conversation stood framed in the doorway.
“Captain Holy!” Laughing, the woman hopped down from the desk. “We were just talking about you!”
“Mother!” Maria blushed again and busied herself with sorting a box of maps. “Good afternoon, Captain.”
The corner of his mouth crooked up into a smile. “Good afternoon, Miss Thurin.” He turned his attention to the couple and openly grinned. “Shishelly, Magnus. How are my favorite shop owners? Wealthy beyond reason and celebrating with a morning spat?”
The woman embraced him affectionately and the man clapped his arm in a vigorous handshake. “We’re well, dear. Did you bring anything to sell? Or just visiting?” She ran her fingers through his ponytail and worked out a small knot.
“How was your trip, Jimbo?” Magnus pulled his wife away before she could begin mothering the boy in earnest.
He gave a breathy chuckle and rubbed his neck, something that Maria suspected was a nervous tic. “Not the kind of success I’d hoped for, but better and worse in its own way. We gained nothing that would interest your shop. However! In case I don’t get to see you tomorrow...” He rummaged through his bag and pulled out two boxes, squinting at them to make sure they went to the proper recipients. “Solsallan presents.”
Magnus grinned as he opened the box and saw a bottle nestled on a bed of moss.
“Spiced ale made by the owner of The Creaking Jaw in Scyllan Bay. It’s perfect for this cold weather.”
Shishelly’s parcel contained a puzzle box with an assortment of coins. “Oh, Jimmydear! This is lovely!”
He blushed when she hugged him and cleared his throat. “You mentioned once that you wanted to start a coin collection. I tried to find a few different ones, but we only spent time in Decatur...”
“It’s perfect just the way it is.” She glanced to where Maria was shyly shelving books. “Come, Magnus. I need you to help me find the perfect place for it!”
His face twisted in confusion. “Why do you need-?”
“I just *do!*” she groaned, tugging on his hand.
Jimmy watched them go and shook his head at her vast lack of subtlety. Once they were gone, his eyes went to where Maria stood on her toes, haloed in sunlight. He wandered among the books, drifting aimlessly toward her until he stopped at her side and looked intently over the shelf in front of him. “You’ve been quiet today.”
“Have I?” Bright pink crept across her cheeks. “I must have just been distracted. We still have so many new things to register and put away.”
“Ah.” He sounded disappointed. “Well I should be going. We still have a few things to get done before tomorrow.” He began to reach into the inner pocket of his jacket.
*Tomorrow!* “Wait!” She grabbed his sleeve. “About tomorrow.” *Come on, Maria! He’s right here. Just say it!* “After the sun goes down, there are going to be fireworks to celebrate Solsallan. I was wondering if you would like to watch them? Together. With me. It’s the longest night of the year, you know, the Winter Solstice. So the fireworks are supposed to bring light into the long, dark night. I know it sounds silly, but it should be fun. If you like fireworks.” *Great. Now you’re babbling.*
He shifted awkwardly. “I’m sorry. But I can’t.”
She pasted a brittle smile on her face like a mask. “I understand. If you’re too busy or there’s someone else or you just don’t want-.”
“No! It’s not that.” He held up his hands to stop her from going on another ramble. “Rebecca and Tsuria have already invited me to dinner at the palace tomorrow night. One doesn’t turn down a personal invitation by the queens.” Her crestfallen look ate through him and he continued. “They did say that I am welcome to bring a guest. If you would maybe like to join me?”
She gasped. “At the palace? I’ve never even met them before! What do I wear?”
He laughed, finally taking his empty hand out of the pocket. “Anything you’d like. Ancestors know they will be.” The clock in the tower tolled the hour and he frowned. “I really *must* go though. We do still have some unloading to finish before nightfall. Which... It gets dark around, what, seventeen-hundred? So I can be here at about fifteen-hundred to escort you, if you wish. That will give us two hours to mingle, sample the hors d’ourves, and get a feel for the atmosphere before the fireworks and feast.” His eyes clouded with visions of the life he’d left behind. “I hope there’s dancing...” He returned his attention to her. “Do you know how to dance?”
Internally, she loosed a girlish squeak of excitement, but outwardly remained calm. “A little. Mother taught me, but I’ve never been to any proper dance.”
He looked at her kindly and gently stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “As long as you know the basics, you’ll be fine.” With a soft smile, he brought her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. “Until tomorrow then.”
He was gone and down the street by the time she could breathe again and she cradled her hand to her chest with a giddy squeal. *He kissed me!*
Jimmy approached Thurin’s Thoth wearing a black linen tunic with poet sleeves and silver toggles, a sage and silver samite jerkin, soft and supple tan leather breeches, black leather boots, and a fur-lined tan gabardine coat that matched the breeches. His hair was pulled into a neat queue and tied by a sage ribbon criss-crossed with a leather cord. With a smile, he sniffed at the agalloch oud oil that he’d dabbed onto the collar of his shirt. On his way, he’d slipped a silver to a lady selling flowers for a small bouquet of pink stargazer lilies, lilies of the valley, snowdrops, and forget-me-nots. The woman had given him an extra snowdrop for his breast pocket with a wink.
He nearly dropped the bouquet when Maria descended the stairs.
She wore black, beaded slippers that sparkled enticingly in the light as they peeked out from under her dress. The gown itself was an understated work of art. Silver-shot lilac tilsent flowed in smooth, clean lines until she took a step, then the skirt of the gown divided into so many long, flowing strips and showed the ruched black linen shift beneath. He noticed the distinct pattern of corset boning beneath the bodice of the dress, just enough to enhance her figure and give her some support for the long night ahead. It had bishop sleeves that left her shoulders bare, belled along her arm, and came to cuffs at her wrists. Her neck was adorned only by a ribbon that matched the gown and her doll-like golden ringlets were braided into a knotwork bun at the crown of her head, pinned with tiny crystals.
But it was her eyes that captivated him the most. Like staring into the indigo abyss of the night sky.
*She really is a woman then. Not just the girl I met so many years ago. How did I not notice before now? Or is it that I didn’t want to?* He swallowed hard and stepped forward to give her the flowers.
Holding them close, she breathed in their fragrance with a happy sigh. “Thank you so much, Captain. They’re lovely.”
“Not even half so lovely as you.” His voice was gentle as he pulled a snowdrop to match his own from the arrangement and tucked it into her hair, awestruck by the woman who stood in place of the girl he’d expected to see. “Your beauty elevates such paltry trinkets to the stars, but they are still mundane in comparison.”
She hid her blush among the petals and turned to find a vase to put them in, only to be stopped by her parents.
“I’ll take those. They’ll be in your room when you get back.” Shishelly beamed while Magnus teared up. “Have fun, you two.”
He offered his arm to her and she took it with a nervous smile. They strolled in companionable silence, looking around at the other people who bustled to and fro about their lives. Closer to the castle, there was a different kind of urgency to the energy as people set up food and souvenir stands and prepared for the celebration. Occasionally, someone would greet one or the other of them, bowing to or saluting Jimmy and nodding to Maria.
When they reached the palace, marveled up at the elegantly imposing sandstone building. It had great pillars and sweeping arches, shining picture windows, and was accented with intimidating grotesques and gargoyles. The whole thing had an inviting, warm glow in the orange of the setting sun. The doors swung open for them and they entered into a veritable kaleidoscope of colors and sounds, jewel tone gowns swirling to a melodic cacophony of music. At the center was a striking woman with mahogany skin and a clingy gown of golden silk leading her ink-haired wife in a waltz.
“Shall we join them?” He held his hands up in a basic waltz frame and Maria stepped into his arms.
They danced until the sky darkened and the announcement was made for the show to begin. When they stepped out onto the great balcony off of the banquet hall, he pulled her under his coat to share heat as the boats in the cove shot their fireworks into the night sky to push back the darkness, spreading bursts of color across the sky.
“Maria. Reach into that pocket there, would you?” He nodded at where his coat was around her.
She did so and pulled out a small paper-wrapped package. At his nod, she opened it to find a gold chain so thin it was nearly invisible suspending a solitary blue stone nearly the exact color of her eyes.
“Kyanite. I saw it and thought of you.” He kissed her temple and held her tightly against his side as the sky lit like multicolored day. “Happy Solsallan.”
I did not expect a visit from Ebenezer.
It was surely my due. I had turned as jaded as the Grinch. Perhaps greener, though the envy was so subcutaneous as to escape any social scrutiny. I was, afterall, quite nice, but... I was 29.
A precarious age, an idiotic one I would say. Old enough to have tasted some successes... To have felt the weight of “potential!” ...And too young to appreciate either. I was, in short, an ingrate. Others had achieved more, sooner, or on time... as if Life were linear! There was nothing to celebrate, in my mind. Winter was a particularly dark time.
By all accounts, I was doing fine. Like more than half of everybody else, I’d guess. I had no appreciable income, no stable job. The idea of a “career” was an abstract slogan for a pamphleteer. I had no children, aged 9 or 10, like so many of my so-called friends. The prospects of it, like marriage, indefinitely shelved. Holidays are a time for family folk to get together, and for the rest of us to get over as soon as possible, was what I subconsciously felt.
I suppose you’d say I needed to get over myself. The rim of my glasses had gotten too thick. I was dull. Tired. And sick. I had little perspective, and was losing even this. I nursed my perceived inadequacy, bit by bit, making everything in my life bland, like food for an invalid.
And so I layed me down to sleep Christmas Eve, with the contemptous outlook of another day “off.” Perhaps I was a little more pissed than usual. I had disagreed with myself with a larger dose of disgust. In anycase, I slept. The bored sleep well even when awake.
I got up, showered, got dressed in my usual drab secretarial best. I poured a tasteless breakfast blend, from the autodrip I had predictably pre-set, into my travel mug where it stays hot half the day. Coffee is a bandaid for many things besides physical fatigue. It also remedies conversational awkwardness and social debility. Like the out-of-vogue cigarette-break, it makes one look smart, and busy. I gathered my briefcase and office homework, my overcoat and matching umbrella, just in case. I had five- or ten-minutes to spare, but I hate to be late.
I walk to work, a thing which aggrevates, for embarassing lack of transport. But today was different. As I stepped through the door of my rental unit 9A, a chill swept my face. A pleasing thrill that tousled the hair of an innocent. A child who still believed in a better today stirred. Of course I was grown up, and was about to write it off as sniffling sentimentalism, but I felt... Taller. I realized I was holding my head up. It sounds so silly in retrospect.
I was holding my head up, like an infant babe, sticking out its neck. The world was a strange new place, with much less concrete... Glittery and picture postcard, even in the shadowy nooks. The path that I thought had been so streamlined, suddenly wasn’t as narrow. It sounds all too obvious, but in the moment I was shocked. And all the more appalled when my unwatched feet suddenly walked another way. The long way around. That scenic route, filled with family vingettes, wafting fireplace scents, fantasies and window displays.
“I will be to work late!” I told my former self... but then vestiges of pragmatism recalled that there were five - ten minutes to spare. You see how confused I was. Especially when I sensed something special in the air about me, like the ringing of a bell. Holding my head high, people said, “Hi” and smiled. They seemed shinier, and taking their time. Ornamented. I saw someone sipping a cup of steaming coffee, and remembered about mine. I took a sip automatically, just to clear the morning fog. And it was... delicious! Spectaluous. Devine. I can’t explain it. I was stupified. It was, like I’d said, just the same stupid coffee I buy out of habit all the time...
But in this moment, it was a little party in a mug. My face lightened ten years, maybe twenty. You see how attached I was to my numbers... I had been carrying on as if a middle-aged bodybag. I saw people of forty, fifty, perhaps even well-kept sixty, stepping sprightly along in their daily affairs... They were celebrating something, something in the now. They walked arm in arm, intimate. In pantomime they were wishing each other well. I couldn’t of course hear what they said. I took pleasure in their enjoyment. Damn it, I haven’t done that for a very, very long time.
I got to the office building feeling fine. I even liked my reflection in the big glass door of the skyrise. There was a colour rising in my newspaper cheeks. I took the stairs. I thought to myself, “There IS something to be said for exercise.” Seven flights and I was brightening all the while. It wasn’t just the tinsel in the hall. The security guard seemed a little disconcerted at my sight, but I gave such a pearly smile that it was as disarming as an extravagant tip.
I even (imagine this!) started humming a tune I’d heard from childhood. Snow and sleighbells. I’m sure I messed up the lyrics, but not the cheery message. And so elated, I arrived at the office door to find it thoroughly locked. Huh, just my luck!
I was dumbfounded for a moment more... till it hit me like an organ. The sign on the door, simplified as it was, written by my own hand: Closed for the Holidays.
This really was my day off.
Happy Holidays Challenge @LexiCon