( A Darkniciad story )
Stepping out of a warm, brightly lit cottage into a gentle, moonlit snowfall, an elderly woman approached the man standing just beyond the silhouette of light from the door. "What are you watching, dear?"
The old man chuckled and said, "Someone special, I believe."
The silver-haired woman laid an arm over his shoulder with obvious familiarity, gazing into the glowing snowball her husband was using to scry. She saw a man who looked much like her husband, with his full white beard and kind eyes, except the man they watched was obviously quite frail.
"He looks familiar," she said, kissing her husband's cheek. Looking again, she said, "Oh, I remember him now. You've looked in on him in seasons past."
The old wizard turned to his wife and said, "I think he's the one. It all depends upon whether he keeps his heart this year, I believe."
She asked, "He's married?"
"Of course. There are others, but this one is special I think."
"Well, we'll know soon. It wouldn't be so bad to carry the tradition for a few more years if necessary, would it, dear?"
He laughed and waved his hand over the snowball, causing the glow of magic to vanish from it. "Of course not, dear. I love it as much as you do, but if the ones who will take our place are ready, then it's time for us go back out into the world."
A coquettish smile crossed the old woman's lined face as she suggestively said, "That wouldn't be so bad either."
He smiled back at her and said, "Behave, dear. Let's go inside, there is still a lot to do, whether it will be me or another who carries on the tradition this year."
They clasped hands and walked back inside, chuckling when they saw the impatient look on the face of the diminutive sprite who awaited them both. They indeed had much to do, and time was slipping away.
Nicholas slept with his balding head down on the table, snoring loudly. His wife, Marta, hobbled into the room with the assistance of her cane, pursing her lips and shaking her head when she saw him.
"Nicholas, you've fallen asleep again."
With a snort, he jerked his head up and looked around in confusion. "No I haven't. I was just thinking."
"You snore like a bear when you think then." She slowly crossed the kitchen to where he sat, laying her hand on his shoulder. "I know this is special to you, but you're going to have to get used to the fact that you're old. We both are."
"I'm not too old to work magic," he protested, returning to the task of measuring out spell components, which he had fallen asleep in the middle of doing.
"You can still hurl a few spells, but you're old, dear. It never snows here. We're too far south. You're fighting all the forces of nature every year when you cast your spells to bring the snow and keep it there until the Yule."
Nicholas hung his head and sighed. "Those children will be heartbroken if it doesn't snow this year. Most of them haven't known a Yule where it didn't."
"They'll be just as disappointed if you die trying. You always promised me you wouldn't die before me, remember?"
Laying his hand on hers, he replied, "You know that's a promise I can't really keep, Marta. It's not up to me."
"That don't mean you've got to go and get yourself killed over bullheadedness," she scolded.
"I'll try just once more. I'll be all right, dear."
"You said that last year, and then I woke up to find you outside half-covered in your snow on Yule day."
Nicholas winced, "I'm sorry about that. I should have told you I was going to try."
Marta kissed him on top of the head and said, "Just you remember that, and don't you leave me, Nicholas. Now, come to bed."
Rising on shaking knees, Nicholas nodded and picked up his cane, following his wife to bed.
The sun was shining bright as Nicholas walked outside his humble home the next morning. Marta walked out behind him and said, "I still say you are going to get yourself killed."
Sitting down his bag of carefully measured spell component on what he called the Snow Bowl
, a stone pedestal with a concave top that served as a birdbath most of the year, Nicholas turned to his wife and said, "I'll be fine. You can whack me with your cane if I look like I'm dying. That will break my concentration. You know that."
With warning in her eyes, Marta exclaimed, "Don't you think I won't either!" Her eyes and her tone softened then. "Please be careful."
"I will, dear."
Once more outside in the snow, the old wizard Kristopher looked into his snowball, finding those he would visit this year. Suddenly, his head came up as he heard a sound like the tinkling of bells.
Almost immediately, Tanta emerged from the front door of the cottage, "You felt it too."
He nodded, smiled wide, and then looked down at the snowball as his wife approached, "Show me now the one with the kind heart to call to the spirit of Yule."
The image of a child on the surface of the snowball faded and started to swirl, slowly coalescing into something else.
Nicholas dropped his arms and collapsed against the pedestal in front of him. A few flakes of snow fell about them as Marta went to steady him, with deep concern in her eyes.
He had tears in his eyes, and his arms trembled as he tried to support his weakened body on them. "I can't do it, Marta. I don't have the strength any more. The magic is there, but this old body just can't hold it."
"Nick, the young ones may be disappointed, but they'll get along. The snow was just a special treat for the season. They'll have enough joy."
"But it was always my gift to them – to everyone," Nicholas argued.
"And you've given that gift to them all for the last thirty years. Just like some folks can't afford to give their children gifts on Yule, or find the time to make them, you can't afford the price of your gift this year."
Speaking a word of command and tapping her cane on the ground, Marta summoned up a magical disk of light directly behind Nicholas. He allowed her to help him sit on it, so she could use it to get him back in the house.
"Those younguns always get gifts, though. You know that. Somebody always makes sure they have gifts for Yule. Most think it's us sneaking around and leaving them. Who's going to give my gift this year, since I'm too old to do it?"
A flash of light from behind startled the couple, and they heard a voice say, "Perhaps they are one and the same."
Turning his head, holding his cane at the ready to discharge its potent magical powers, Nicholas saw Marta had also lifted her enchanted cane. Their eyes both fell upon the speaker at the same time. He had long white hair, and a full beard of the same color. The man was rotund, but not grossly fat, dressed in red robes trimmed with white fur, and they could both see the power of the magic within him.
Nicholas asked, "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"Don't you recognize me, Nicholas? I would think that at this time of year, anyone would know me," the wizard replied.
"I know who you're dressed up as. I asked who you were," Nicholas warned.
The newcomer let out a great, booming laugh full of mirth before replying, "I am who I appear to be. I am Grandfather Yule, although my real name is Kristopher. It is I who gives presents to the poor children, and perhaps I can help you give your gift this year as well."
"You're just a myth, a tale parents have told even when we were young," Marta scoffed.
"Is that so, Marta? Did you enjoy your red-haired dolly when you were three? It was what you wanted, wasn't it?"
Nicholas' eyes narrowed. "Reading our minds now?"
Kristopher grinned and countered, "You have more than enough skill in magic to know that I cast no spell. I know that because I was there, and I know you found a sled waiting for you on Yule morning on your seventh birthday, Nicholas, despite overhearing your parents lamenting their inability to give you a proper gift that year."
"I believe you," Nicholas said softly, letting his cane fall to his side. Marta hesitated for a moment before lowering her magical weapon. Nicholas' eyes lit up and he said, "You could bring the snow for the children?"
"I could, but I think it would be better if I helped you to give your gift, as you have done every year."
"I don't see how. I can't hold the power any more. Just bring the snow for them," Nicholas pleaded.
"Why don't you come with me, and meet my wife? You might just find out that you have the strength to give your gift, and many others, for years and years to come." Kristopher held out his hand toward the couple.
Marta asked her husband, "What do you think?"
"Let's go with him. I believe him, and I'll do about anything to make sure those children have their snow this year," Nicholas responded.
"Very well, then," Marta said, gesturing with her cane to cause the disk Nicholas sat on to drift along beside her.
"Just take my hands, I'm sure you know how the spell works," Kristopher instructed.
They each clasped one of his hands, and the wizard spoke a few words of magic. They appeared in a flash of light next to a cheery little cottage surrounded by a perfect landscape of white.
The door of the cottage opened, and Tanta impatiently waved to her husband. "Come along now, get them in from the cold, Kris."
Kristopher chuckled and replied, "Yes, dear." He then turned to the couple, who were gazing around in wonder, and said, "Please, come in. Tanta has made some tea. Once you've warmed your bones and recovered from your spell casting, I'll explain everything."
"So you've been doing this for two hundred years, then," Marta said.
Kristopher nodded, "We took on the tradition from a man named Erastide and his wife. He came to me just as I've come to you. We know those who have the heart to wear these robes and assume this mantle. It's part of the powers that come from the spirit of Yule."
Nicholas asked, "Why give it up?"
Tanta answered, "The spirit likes to have new people and fresh ideas. Everyone is different, and each new couple brings something special to the season when they take up the tradition. There's also the reward." She glanced at her husband and smiled mischievously when she said the last.
Kristopher laughed — the booming, Ho, Ho, Ho
always associated with Grandfather Yule in the tales — and then explained, "The reward is something truly special. We were both in the twilight of our lives, frail and soon to leave this world, when we took on the tradition. When we accepted Erastide's offer, the same offer we're making to you, we found our bodies restored to health. We also beheld a great miracle. The years simply drained away from Erastide and his wife, restoring them to their youth. What's more, not long afterward, they conceived their first child. Just like us, and just like you, they were unable to conceive before taking on the mantle of the Yule."
"That is the reward – the gift for serving man for your two hundred years," Tanta added. "We've loved our time, but we want a family of our own, at long last."
"We'll be strong again?" Nicholas muttered in wonder.
"And I'll be able to have babies some day?" Marta whispered with tears in her eyes.
"Yes, and the only cost is to see the smiles on the faces of children and families for two hundred years, give or take a few. Erastide only held the mantle for one hundred and fifty, and he said his predecessor was Grandfather Yule for nearly three hundred years."
Nicholas asked, "How do you manage? The legend of Grandfather Yule spreads far and wide. Surely you don't do it all alone?"
"That's part of the magic. You'll know when you put on these robes, if you accept," Nicholas explained.
"We'll leave you to talk it over," Tanta said, rising from her chair.
Kris rose as well, "We'll be back in a little while, but we'll be in the workshop out back if you want to talk to us before then."
When Kristopher and Marta returned a short while later, they found the couple sitting next to each other with wide smiles on their faces. Kristopher asked the question, even though he believed that the answer was obvious, "So, you've come to a decision, then?"
Marta and Nicholas nodded, and then Nicholas said, "We'd be fools not to. We both love doing things for other folks, and to be young again..."
Tanta said, "No need to feel selfish for wanting that. The spirit wants you to be happy too. I'll go get my dress, and my husband needs to change out of his robe."
Kris smiled a little sheepishly. "It's just so comfortable, and it never gets dirty, so I wear it all the time."
"Lazy man," Tanta teased. She then turned back to the smiling couple and said, "We'll be back in just a few moments."
When the couple left the room, Marta turned to her husband and whispered, "I pray this is all true. Imagine it, being hale and healthy again, and one day we'll be young and have babies."
"And I'll be able to bring the snows for those children."
"You'll bring smiles to the faces of far more children than that if this is all true."
Kristopher and Tanta both returned shortly thereafter, as they had promised, holding their magical garments. "We'll help you get dressed. I know it was all we could do to pull these on when we accepted the tradition."
A few minutes later, Marta and Nicholas were dressed in the garments. As soon as the last buttons were in place, they immediately felt magic wash over them. They both stood up straight, restored to strength and health the likes of which they had not felt in years.
"Now, you just both need to say the words, and formally accept the spirit of Yule. You know the words. That's part of the magic," Kris instructed.
Clasping hands, Marta and Nicholas said in unison, "We accept the tradition, and we will strive to bring happiness to all the world in the most joyous season of Yule."
The new Grandfather Yule and his wife both heard the sound of bells tinkling, and then they beheld the same miracle Kristopher had mentioned before. The years faded away from the couple before them. In mere moments, Kristopher was a strapping young man with dark brown hair, and Tanta was a slender, curvy young woman with long, red flowing locks.
The couple embraced with joyous laughter, even as Nicholas and his wife leaned in close to smile and watch them.
Kristopher wiped a tear from his eye and said, "Laugh for me, Nicholas."
Nicholas did, but it didn't quite have that booming joy in it that Kristopher was able to summon up. Kristopher winked and said, "Unfortunately, that's not part of the magic. Work on it a bit. It comes from deep inside. You'll get it, I'm sure."
"There is a lot to do, isn't there," Marta mused, "I know everything as if I've been doing this all my life."
"I'm sure there's one special task that you want to attend to, isn't there, Nicholas?" Kristopher said with a smile and a wink.
Nicholas laughed, doing a little better this time. "Indeed there is, and I think you'd better get going and get settled. Your wife is growing a bit impatient with you. She's ready to get started on that family."
Tanta and Marta both blushed, but Tanta said, "He's right."
"Goodbye then and joyous Yule," Kristopher said, walking up to shake Nicholas' hand.
"Joyous Yule to both of you too," Nicholas responded.
Kristopher spoke words of magic, and the couple vanished from the cottage.
Marta hugged her husband and said, "Let's go home and get our things, dear."
With all their things transported to their new home, Marta and Nicholas stood outside near the Snow Bowl, holding hands. Summoning up the power of Grandfather Yule, Nicholas closed his eyes. A moment later, he felt the flutter of a snowflake on his face. When he opened his eyes, snow was falling as far as the eye could see.
They remained for a while as the steady snowfall covered the land in white to watch the children run out to play.
"We'd better get back, we have a lot to do, and only three days to do it," Marta suggested.
Looking at his beautiful, smiling wife, Nicholas felt his blood stir. Then he felt something he hadn't felt in a very long time, as that stirring blood rushed somewhere it had abandoned many years ago.
Marta's eyes opened wide. She sensed the feelings of her husband through the even deeper connection they shared now that they were the embodiment of a legend. "Oh my," she whispered.
"I'm sure we could take a few minutes for ourselves before we get started," Nicholas suggested, taking her hand and tugging her toward the house.
Reaching down, Marta laid her hand over his rising manhood as they walked and said, "I suppose we could use a little practice for when we pass on the tradition and earn our reward."
"I have all the reward I need in you."
This time it was Marta who tugged Nicholas toward the house, hurrying him along and closing the door soundly behind them.
It was truly going to be a joyous Yule.
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