As with all things writing, I find my mind sometimes wanders into the strangest of situations. Characters pop into my mind doing the oddest things. Today it was the turn of Santa, reimagined for a Fantasy world with a little help from some old characters from past games of Dungeons and Dragons.
Merry Christmas to all!
It was busy in ‘The Dark Blossom’, it always was this close to mid-winter. Customers sang and laughed as barmaids wound their way through the crowd. A young elf was playing a lute close by the fireplace on the far wall, a crowd of gnomes clapping along in time with his tune.
Narvi sat at the end of the bar, one hand resting on his mug, the other on the handle of his Warhammer. This time of year tended to bring a friendly crowd, but with enough drink in him even the most jovial of patrons could turn sour and he liked to keep his inn safe and fight free. Fighting customers tended to stop drinking and if they were not drinking, they were not paying.
On the stool next to him sat the bard. It still felt wrong to call him that, even after all these years. When they had adventured together, he had been a formidable sneak thief, always first into a dark cave or dungeon, but all the tall tales told across the lands of their fantastic deeds had irritated him. They were not authentic enough. So Lightfinger had given up his blades for a life on the stage where he believed he could sing a better song and weave a better story than those who had not lived the adventurer’s life.
The elf by the fireplace finished his set with a flourish and began making his way around the room collecting coins in his hat for his troubles.
“What name are you going by this week. Are you still using Thandor Thundercrap or whatever it was last time?” Narvi growled.
His old friend looked around, scanning the faces of the crowd, “I think we can do better tonight. Something gentler, perhaps a little more seasonal…” The old rogue scratched at the scar on his cheek for a moment and then the light twinkled in his eyes, “All the really great acts only have a single name.”
“What? You mean like, Elvish.” Narvi asked.
“The King is dead. No, I was thinking of something like Belladonna.”
“That girl with the pointy tits? Not your thing is it.” Narvi looked confused.
“No, no. Just something like that. There’s a guy down south who tours under a royal name…Duke or Dutchess or something. He got so tired of signing his name for fans that he changed his name to a little squiggle. The head of the assassin’s guild was a big fan but hated not being able to say his name so they made him the artist formerly…Prince. That was it. Not a pretty death, I hear he choked to death in a bath of raspberries!”
Narvi grunted and tugged at his beard in deep thought. “Falcon or owl… I always liked animal names. Or if you want something seasonal you could try Hangover.” The old dwarf chuckled to himself at that.
“What about Snow?”
“No. There’s that feller up north. Up by the the Spine of the World, folk are calling him King of the North. He’s called Snow ain’t he?” Narvi shook his head then banged his fist on the table. “I know. What about Badger?”
The two men looked at each other for a moment in silent contemplation and then burst out laughing.
Lightfinger rubbed the tears from his eyes. “Seriously, stop with the animals. What about something random, with a little bit of Giantish thrown in, reflecting my past life. Tonight, singing for you is Bdork!” He finished with a flourish only slightly ruined by the loud guffaws from his Dwarven companion.
Once he had got his breath again Narvi patted his old friend on the shoulder. “You could always try some foods. Was a lad in here the other night singing about bats and the fact he won’t do that. Name was Steakslice or something.”
“What are those salty sticks you put in bowls on quiet nights? Twigbits. That could be a good name.”
“What you need is something authentic. Something that describes the real you.”
“Knife, Blade, death, killer.”
“Something a bit happier. I still think you could go for an animal. A winter animal.”
“Oh, I like that.”
Lightfinger thought for a while. “No. Too cuddly and I can’t help thinking about them getting beaten to death and all their blood staining the pristine white snow.”
The old Dwarfs eyes seemed to mist over as he focused on the middle distance then he snapped his fingers. “Got it. Sleigh!”
“Yes, that suits me fine, I done plenty of slaying in my time.”
“Well, I was thinking more like when we sledged down that mountain after we killed the white dragon but I don’t suppose it matters how you spell it. You ready to play then. Crowds getting restless.”
“Do it.” Lightfinger picked up his lute from where it rested against the bar as Narvi hauled himself up to stand on the bar.
The Dwarf thumped the head of his Warhammer against the polished top of the bar and called out to the crowd. “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen.” Heads turned to see what was going on and the chatter began to die down. “One of the worlds greatest showmen has come to perform exclusively for you. It is said that once his blades were as sharp has his wit is now. Let us all welcome him and listen to his fantastic tales of daring adventure. Put your hands together and cheer him onto stage. The one and only, Sleigh…”
The crowd cheered and clapped as Sleigh danced through the crowd clasping people’s hands, kissing babie’s heads, winking at young ladies and waving to everyone. Once on stage he swung his lute up and struck a long note which reverberated as the crowd quietened.
Narvi sat back into his chair and took a sip of his herbal tea. His friend was getting very good. Perhaps good enough to play in much better establishments than this. Narvi stopped himself from tapping his fingers along to the tune of ‘Fireballs burned their fur’ as the crowd sang along and banged their mugs down in time with the popular tune.
Sleigh finished the song and then sat on the edge of the stage. He motioned for quiet, when the whole room was leaning forward to hear his words he began to speak.
“This is the true story of Daddy Mid-winter and how he comes in the night to delight all the peoples of the world by sharing his riches.”
“‘Twas the night before mid-winter, when all through the house
Not a beast was stirring, not even a mouse;
The sacks were hung by the fireplace with care,
In hopes that the grumpy dwarf would soon be there;
The children were nestled, tucked up in their beds….”
Narvi let the words wash over him as his mind drifted back through the alleyways of his memory to that night long ago.
“Look you lot. Stop laughing at me. You all said to come geared up for a sneaky entrance to the castle. Wear camouflage you said. It is snowing so I thought it best to dress in white. Then the guards on the walls wouldn’t see me creeping up.” Narvi said his face getting redder as his temper bubbled up.
“It was a good idea. But once we were inside the walls you kind of stood out in the dark. That’s why you had most of them chasing you.” The big half-orc fighter, Blare, tried to placate his dwarven compatriot.
“Your outfit is more red than white now anyway, the amount of blood on you. You sure you didn’t get cut in that melee?” Merimen asked, concern in his voice.
“No I did not get cut. It didn’t help having Rally over there exploding people right next to me. One minute they are clashing swords with me, the next… POP. And I’m left standing in gore picking bits of bone from my beard. You lot bloody exhaust me.” Narvi hauled their bag of stash up onto his shoulder and stomped further along the roof to sit by a nice warm chimney.
Lightfinger emerged from the shadows and scampered over to them, running along the ridge of the roof as easily as he would along a paved road. “We seem to have lost them. I spotted some of the guards heading back towards the castle. We should be safe enough up here until dawn. Then the whole town will be able to see us. Have we got a plan for getting out of here?”
Rally winced before he spoke, “If you give me a few minutes I could probably manage a spell so we could all float and I could drift us out over the city walls.”
“Yes.” They all said in unison.
Rally sank down as he began to open his mind to the magic. No one was really sure how he did what he could. Narvi suspected that Rally didn’t really know himself. But his magics had saved them from many a tight spot.
Narvi warmed his hands over the chimney. It was very cold. He turned and let the updraft of hot air warm his posterior. That felt good so he sat down and pulled their haul onto his lap, feeling the comfortable weight of the gold within.
There was a terrible tearing sound as the poor brickwork and worm rotted wood of the chimney stack collapsed. The adventurers stared in disbelief as Narvi fell back into the roof his new shiny black boots kicking in the air for a moment before being swallowed by the hole.
The fall was somewhat lestened by the width of the chimney and it was a suprise to Narvi that he had not become wedged in the dark, to slowly roast in the heat of the fire. As it was, he landed relatively softly in the burning embers and sprang quickly to his feet beating at a few glowing patches stuck to his coat.
“Oi what you doing mister?” A young boy in scruffy pyjamas squawked.
Narvi turned around to see two rows of beds arranged neatly along each side of the room. The boy who had spoken was sitting up wide eyed his covers rumpled around him.
Narvi turned around and pulled the sack of gold out of the fireplace, stamping on the edges to put out any flames. This gave him a moment to try and think of a good lie.
When he turned to face the boy, he was surrounded by innocent dirt smudged faces all staring at him from the darkness.
Narvi stamped his feet nervously, “I..well…um…”
One of the smaller children from further back pushed forwards through his peers and spoke in a high questioning voice. “Are you my daddy?”
Narvi was surprised by this and let out a short grunt of a laugh, “No. What makes you ask that?”
“Mummy always said my dad was a bit fat and he did strange things in the night. I never met him though. That was before the pox got her and I ended up here.” One of the other children put an arm around the now slightly tearful boy.
“That’s a very sad story. Do any of you know where the stairs to the roof are?” Narvi could feel a sense of panic rising as all the young eyes stared at him
“You could be our daddy. You could stay here and protect us.”
“What do you need protection from.”
“The sisters say we might all have to live on the streets soon. Not enough money to pay for us orphans.” The girl spoke with such a depth of emotion that Narvi felt a tear forming at the corner of his eye.
The old dwarf tugged at his beard as he slowly backed away from the children towards the fire.
“What you doing mister?”
“Are you magic?”
“He could be my daddy.”
“How did he get in here? Was it magic?”
Narvi stuck his head into the chimney and whispered up it, “Help me out guys, throw down a rope or something.”
Then he looked back at the children a huge smile on his face.
Some of them had got into his sack and were holding up great big fists full of coins. Narvi did his best to hold the smile as he inched forwards, hand on the hilt of his dagger.
“Did you bring present for us mister?” One of the little thieves asked.
Narvi was about to grab him and make him put the gold back when one of the little girls shouted. “Oh thank you Daddy Mid-Winter. You have saved us all.”
Just then a rope slithered into the fire and angry shouting began in the street outside. It looked like it was time to run again.
Narvi grabbed the sack with one hand and the rope with the other. He started laughing at how bizarre the evening had turned out as he was hauled back up the chimney.
When he reached the top Rally sprinkled some dust on his shoulders and then jumped into the air as though he weighed nothing at all. Blare, Meremin and Lightfinger all leapt up after him, small trails of glittering light left behind in their wake as they sailed off over the city wall. Narvi shook his head, slung the sack over his shoulder and sprang into the night after them laughing hard.
The memories of that night still left a puzzled smile on his face. Narvi took another swig of his tea as he listened to the last lines of Sleigh’s performance.
“And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all shot like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him growl, ere he dove out of sight—
“Good mid-winter to you, and to all a good night!”