After a week, the snow wasn’t looking so dazzling white, or as attractive to my characters. The inaugural snowball fight of the winter was followed by several more the next day, and the next; and then almost everyone joined in to make a huge snowman. But after that, the novelty seemed to wear off and fewer and fewer of my characters ventured out into the frozen yard. By Christmas Eve morning, everyone was content to stay inside.
One who had from day one staunchly declined all invitations to romp in the snow was Dragon. She stared through the French doors at the frozen white expanse and growled softly. “Why would I want to go out in the snow? It is cold, it is wet, it is uncomfortable. And it does not even taste good!”
My Young Hero laughed. “I bet your friend, Ollie, loves the snow.”
Dragon fixed my Young Hero with an intense stare. “My friend, Ollie, has a luxurious fur coat. Does this look like a fur coat?” She gestured to the shimmering cerulean blue scales covering her body. “I think not.”
My Gypsy nudged my Young Hero, mirth twinkling in his black eyes. “You could always shapeshift into something warm and furry, Dragon.”
The large creature cocked her head. There was a dreamy look in her eyes, and tiny smoke rings drifted lazily from her nostrils. “Perhaps . . . if someone warm and furry were here to romp with. But, lacking anyone with a thick fur coat to help me stay warm, I will retain my most majestic appearance and lie here by the fire and stay toasty.”
“Fire? What fire?” My head jerked up and the book I had been reading slipped off my lap and thudded onto the floor. My jaw almost hit the floor with it, as I saw a crackling fire in a rustic stone fireplace along the wall where the television used to be. “But we don’t have a fireplace!”
Dragon stretched her reptilian lips into a reasonable facsimile of a coy smile. “Oh?”
As she spoke, the fireplace by which she was sprawled slowly disappeared.
I frowned at her as I retrieved my book. “Cute. I would appreciate it if you characters wouldn’t do things like that! You know the problems illusions have caused, or have you already forgotten the fright I suffered when my Arrogant One conjured the illusion of the evil wizard Morcant right outside my office window? I could really live without those types of frights!”
“So, what do you suggest we do for entertainment, if we can not torment you?” Dragon grinned a toothy smile.
“Well, I thought you and Cleric and Sorceress would be trying to figure out why Miles suddenly started acting and talking like your friend, the Innkeeper.”
“Too little information to go on.” Dragon shrank to the size of a Cocker Spaniel and started writhing on the floor, scratching her back on the carpet, her hard scales tearing tufts of fiber.
“Stop that.” I glared at her. “What do you mean, too little information?”
She ignored me and continued to enjoy a nice scratch. “I mean exactly what I said. We do not have enough information to determine the reason Master Miles acted and spoke as he did.”
“I think it is obvious.” My Young Hero’s jaw tightened and his hands curled into fists at his side. “Something has happened to the Innkeeper. He needs our help.”
The corners of my mouth turned down. “I told you if that were the case, you would help him. Not the you that exists here in this world, but the you who exists in that world.”
My Young Hero’s shoulders slumped, but he nodded. “I know, but that does not make the me in this world worry any less about my friend.”
“Nor this me, either.” My Gypsy placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “But if Mistress Writer says the we that exist there will help him, then we must accept that.”
“Good.” I looked at my watch. “Well, it is time for me to get to work in the kitchen. Perhaps you two strapping lads can go downstairs and give Miles a hand with the Christmas tree.”
“Yup. It’s that time of year again. I’m going to finish baking the Christmas cookies, and Miles is setting up the tree and the last of the decorations.”
The two lads looked at each other, dubious expressions on their faces, but then they both shrugged. “Sure, we’ll give Master Miles a hand.” They tromped off down the stairs just as Cleric entered the room.
“Did I hear you say you are going to bake some more cookies?” Her blue eyes were alight with interest.
“Yup. Would you like to help?”
“Oh, yes! I love baking!”
Dragon quickly shapeshifted, taking on the appearance of an elf maiden, almost a twin to Cleric. “I like baking, too.” She looked at me hopefully.
I smiled. “Good! Let’s get working, then.”
As I set the oven to preheat, Cleric got the cookie sheets out. “What type of cookies will we bake?”
“Today, we are going to bake Norwegian Wreaths, what my mother used to call Norwegian Christmas cakes.”
“These are special for Christmas?” Dragon looked at the cookbook “Classic Christmas Recipes” propped up on the kitchen counter.
“I believe they are. At least, Christmas is the only time of year I remember my mother making them.”
Dragon frowned. “Mistress? You have been making Christmas cookies all week; Master Miles has been putting up Christmas decorations and now a Christmas tree; you have had Christmas music playing on your magic box, and you have been shopping for Christmas presents for your family members.”
I nodded and reached for a measuring cup. “Yes, Christmas takes a lot of preparation.”
“So, just what is this Christmas that you make such a fuss about?”
I paused, my brow furrowed. “That’s really a hard question to answer. You see, in my religion, Christmas is a holy day. It is the celebration of an event that took place more than 2,000 years ago. It is the celebration of the birth, in human form, of Jesus Christ, the Son of our God. But other religions have different beliefs. Many people who celebrate Christmas today celebrate it as a secular holiday, not a religious holy day. For them, it is merely a day for giving and receiving gifts, and sharing good will and good times with family and loved ones. Then, still others do not celebrate it in any form.”
Cleric tilted her head and chewed her lower lip. “Are there many different religions in your world, Mistress?”
“Oh, yes, just as there are in your world.”
“How do followers of different religions get along with each other, with persons not of their own faith?”
I put down my mixing spoon and bowl, and wiped my hands on my apron. I frowned and chewed on my lip for a long while before answering. “Well, I wish I could tell you we all get along fantastically, and we all respect each other’s beliefs. Unfortunately, that is not so. Some people feel their beliefs should be the ones held by all people. They get angry with people who believe differently. Some even hate people of other faiths, and many wars have been waged and much violence has been committed in the name of religion.”
Dragon gaped at me. “Surely all people do not feel this way?”
“No, not all. Perhaps not even most. Many people are very accepting of all people, regardless of their faith. They live in harmony with everyone, and do not disrespect other people’s religious beliefs.”
Cleric and Dragon fell silent for a while, and we continued mixing the cookie dough and forming the wreaths on the cookie trays. I put the first two trays in the oven and set the timer. Cleric and Dragon began to wash out the measuring cups and clear the counter so we could cool the trays as they came out of the oven.
After a few minutes, Cleric put down the dishcloth and looked at me. “Mistress?”
“I am glad you respect people who do not believe as you do.”
I smiled warmly at her.
Later that evening, my characters joined Miles and me around the Christmas tree. We sang carols and ate cookies and drank eggnog. Then we went over to the Nativity scene that Miles had set up at the other end of the room. From the Bible, I read aloud Luke’s account of the Christmas birth.
Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space. In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night. An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words:Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours.
My characters sat, mesmerized as I read. They remained silent for a long few minutes following the reading.
Cleric broke the silence. “That was a beautiful story!” The others nodded in agreement.
I put the book away, and we had some more eggnog and cookies. Then we popped some CDs in the player and listened to “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Feliz Navidad,” “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “Frosty the Snowman.” We finished with one of my personal favorites, the Dar Williams classic “The Christians and the Pagans.”
Everyone clapped and Cleric spoke for them all when she said, “What great songs!”
But then my Old Dwarf, on his third pint of eggnog, started to sing. My Foreman winced and covered his ears. “I think that’s our cue that it’s high time the festivities came to an end for the evening.”
He motioned to the lads, who helped the off-key singer to his feet. Everyone said their goodnights and headed off to bed, my Old Dwarf still bellowing and hiccupping.
I started gathering the empty plates and glasses while Miles turned off the CD player and the lights on the Christmas tree. As we started to ascend the stairs, Miles stopped and leaned over. He picked up a small object from the bottom step.
“Honey, did you drop this, or does it belong to one of your characters?”
He held out what looked like a coin, a little larger than a dime. I took it from him and examined it carefully. It was a small silver talisman, round and flat, with fine runes etched on either side. I could feel the color drain from my face.
“This talisman belongs to my characters’ friend, the Innkeeper.”
Miles furrowed his brow. “Maybe he gave it to one of your characters before they came here?” He sounded hopeful.
I shook my head.
“Well, how did it get here?”
“How did my characters get here? It must have fallen out of one of my manuscripts, just as they did. The question is, why now? Why did this appear here now, just as you have been speaking and acting like the Innkeeper? It can’t be a coincidence.”
Miles frowned. “Well, whatever the reason for it, we will figure it out tomorrow. Let’s go upstairs and get some sleep, so we can attend Christmas Mass in the morning.”
I nodded dumbly and followed him up the steps. He stopped on the landing, reached over and switched on the porch light. Then he pointed at the mistletoe overhead and gently pulled me close for a kiss. “Merry Christmas, honey!”
I barely had time to respond “Merry Christmas!” before our lips melded in a tender holiday kiss.
Happy holidays to all our readers. No matter your beliefs, may peace and love be in your hearts now, and throughout the New Year!
Be sure to stop back from time to time to see what is happening with my characters. The porch light will always be on for you.