The Eve of the Festival

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Westerson, Errand, and I stripped off our harnesses. Errand laid his out neatly, while Westerson and I just dropped them on their pegs.

Sheila was out helping Bard again. He wasn’t ready to be a Jack, but he was old enough and the only survivor of Morrison’s Jills. There was no polite way to deny him the post. So several of the Jacks lent him Jills “until he was ready to choose some of his own.” It was no real secret that Sheila was really the one in charge.

“That was a bloody nightmare,” Errand said as he broke the rifle apart. He still smelled of gunpowder, and the sharp lines of dust where it snuck between his mask and goggles were stronger than ever.

I shivered, images of Quixotes climbing the side of the Giant coming unbidden to my head. “That was the biggest pack I’ve ever seen,” I said. “Why did they have to be passing by right as we stopped her?”

Errand gave a mirthless chuckle. “There always seems to be one nearby. I think they know somehow. Still, at least the repairs were quick this time. I only had three bullets left by the time you got the Giant swinging again.” He deposited the pieces of the gun on a sheet of canvas.

“Did you want me to clean that for you?” I offered. Errand’s fingers would be cramped, and my small hands were better for cleaning the rifle, anyway.

He considered for a moment, then shook his head. “No, I got it.”

“Like hell you do,” Westerson snapped.

“Sir?” Errand asked.

“I know you’ve got a girl you’ve been seeing. Bein’ a Jill is no excuse not to go do something romantic for her. It’s the eve of the Festival.”

He frowned. “She’ll be with her family. They… don’t approve of me.”

“That just makes it more romantic,” Westerson laughed. “And you, Massie,” she said, pointing suddenly at me. I had picked up a cleaning rag, but I froze. “You’ve got family of your own. Leave that work to me.”

“Are you sure, sir?” I asked, as Errand left.

“’Course I am. Market’s should still be open, so if you hurry you can get your mother and that little brother of yours something nice. Assuming you’ve got any coin you haven’t given to them already.”

I felt my cheeks flush. I didn’t exactly hide the fact that I sent most of my wages to my mother, but I wasn’t expecting to be called on it so openly.

“What about you, sir?” I asked.

She laughed again, but it was a little more hollow this time. “I’ve got no one waiting for me. I’ll clean up here, then head over to the Old Joy for a drink with whatever other poor sods are there. Now, go on, I see the you plenty the rest of the year.”

I paused, my hand on the door. “How about you come with me, sir?” I said.

“You think that’s a good idea, Massie?”

“I think that there’s no way Sheila let you spend the Festival on your own. You told me yourself that when she went off to help Bard, it’d be up to Errand and me to pick up the slack. So I’m going to go to the market while you finish cleaning up, and then I’ll come back and we’ll both go see my mother.”

“You win. Bossed around by my own Jills,” Westerson chuckled. “I must be doing something very wrong, or something very right.”

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Prompt: Christmas

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Forgot to put up a prompt earlier. I’ve decided to revisit my Christmas one. Take existing characters and write about Christmas (or whatever winter holiday is appropriate).

After this, I’ll be on a short hiatus until 2014.

Good luck and good writing.

Christmas in a Cave

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Snow crunched underfoot as Katey and Julia walked through the woods.

“I’m just saying it would be easier,” Katey said, holding on to a tree branch as she stepped around an icy spot. The ravine was difficult enough to travel without all the ice and snow, she thought to herself.

“No,” Julia said, not bothering to turn around to look at her older sister. “Ruby said I could only tell someone in an emergency.”

“Ruby also said she’d be back by now, didn’t she?”

Julia shrugged, her heavy jacket rising with her shoulders and exaggerating the motion. “She didn’t really say when she’d be back. I thought she’d be back by now, though.”

“Next time somebody asks you to look after their kid, get a time-frame, okay?” Katey still wasn’t entirely sure how a dragon had been living in the ravine behind their house without anyone ever noticing.

A cheery fire burned in the cave, and the girls shrugged out of their jackets. Katey folded hers and placed it on a rocky shelf near the entrance, along with the bag she had brought. Then, with a sigh, she picked up Julia’s coat off the floor and put it next to hers.

“Jule! Kay!” an ecstatic voice called out. The dragon leapt straight through the fire, scattering embers around him. He had grown incredibly large in the last three months, and was already bigger than most dogs.

He bounded up to Julia, rubbing his head against her shoulder. She pulled off a mitten and scratched him right behind his ear ridge. His eyes closed in ecstasy and his comically small wings flared out.

“Jule visit?” he asked a moment later, hopping up and down with excitement. “Kay visit?”

“’Course we did!” Julia said. “It’s Christmas!”

The dragon cocked his head and looked at Katey. “Ch… Chrisss… Chris… mas? What Christmas?”

“What is Christmas,” she corrected him, while trying to figure out how to explain Christmas to a dragon. “It’s… a holiday. People spend time with their family and friends, and we give each other gifts.”

“Ah,” the dragon said, bobbing his head up and down in a gesture Katey had learned meant that he only sort of understood.

“There’s more to it, but let’s leave it at that.”

“An’ no one should be alone on Christmas,” Julia added.

“I’m not alone. Kay and Jule visit!”

“Can we give him his presents now?” Julia asked.

“Sure,” Katey told her, which sent the young dragon into a fit of excitement where he jumped around the fire. “They’re in my bag.”

Julia went and retrieved two square presents out of the bag. The dragon raced forward, almost knocking Julia over in his eagerness to examine the gifts.

“What are those?” he asked, wrapping his head around behind Julia to continue sniffing the packages.

“They’re presents,” she told him. “One from me and one from Katey. You pull off the paper and it’s a surprise what’s in ’em.”

Katey glanced at the dragons sharp, black talons. “Maybe we should open them for him, so he doesn’t damage them.”

“I’ll be careful!” the dragon insisted. “I’ll be really really careful, okay?”

“All right. Open mine first, though. It’s not as delicate.” She took the smaller box from Julia and handed it to the dragon. He took it reverently in one claw and gingerly lay it on the ground. With exaggerated care, he began to tear at the paper with his teeth. Finally, he uncovered a brightly colored book.

“What this?” he asked, studying it carefully. “It has an apple. Is it food? I don’t like apples.”

“It’s a book,” she told him. “Like the ones I bring with me sometimes. This one teaches you how to read.”

“I can read?” he asked, overjoyed by the thought. “Like Kay does?”

Katey couldn’t help but laugh. “You still need to learn. But this book will help. Just don’t set it on fire.”

Settling back on his haunches, he looked at the book intensely. “No fire. Got it.”

“Open mine!” Julia said, thrusting the other gift at him. Just as carefully as before, he opened it. Inside was a painting of a red dragon. It was perhaps a little crude – Julia had never been much of an artist – but this was one of her better works, and the care she had put into making it was clear.

“It’s Ruby,” she explained. “Your mom. I haven’t seen her in a while, but that’s what she looks like.”

The dragon looked at her in amazement, then stared at the painting. His eyes glanced up to Julia frequently, but never for more than a brief moment before returning to the picture of his mother.

“We can hang this on the wall for you,” Katey offered. The dragon nodded, seemingly unable to talk. He watched her as she took the string attached to the paper and found a outcropping on the stone wall she could loop it over.

The three of them looked at the painting for a while. Then, the dragon walked over to Julia. He lay down beside her, resting his head on her lap and looking up at her.

“Thanks, Jule,” he said softly. “I miss her.”

“You remember he?” Julia asked, stroking his head.

“Yes,” he said, hesitantly, closing his eyes, “but no. I… If I think back – real far back… there’s warmth… and a voice… And it went away, and different warmth come, with a different voice. Jule’s voice. I like Jule’s voice, but… I miss the other voice, too.”

“I’m sure she’ll be back soon,” Katey said. “Any day now.”

“Why did she leave?” He asked in a mournful tone.

“She didn’t say,” Julia said, and Katey could hear she was fighting back tears. “Just that it was important. And she made me promise to look after you until she came back. So you won’t ever be alone, okay?”

“Glad she did,” he murmured, then his eyes snapped open. “Don’t have gifts for Jule and Kay!” he cried. He stood up, running around the cave in a panic.

“It’s okay,” Katey said. “You didn’t know. You don’t have to give us anything.”

“But Jule and Kay gave me so much!” He poked at the half-eaten corpse of a deer in the back of the cave, but – to Katey’s relief – he rejected it. “Meat’s no good. Have wood for burning, but that’s everywhere. Oh! I know!” Without warning, he plunged his head into the fire. After a moment, he trotted back to them and spat out two small round stones. One had a blue tinge to it, while the other had red streaks running around the edge.

“Found them while hunting. Found this one first.” He indicated the blue stone. “Reminded me of Jule eyes. Took a long time to find one for Kay eyes. Keep them safe in fire.”

“Let it cool before you pick it up,” Katey said. Julia had been reaching for hers, but pulled her hand back with a sheepish smile. “It’s very sweet.”

They stayed in the cave a while longer, and Katey started to show him how to read the book she gave him.

“We’d better be going,” she said after a while.

“Do you have to?” the dragon asked.

“Do we have to?” Julia echoed.

“Mom and Dad will get worried if we’re gone too long. I’ll come back tomorrow to teach you more reading, okay?”

He hung his head sadly. “Okay.”

“Bye,” Julia said, giving him a hug.

They were just outside the cave when he spoke again.

“Kay?” he asked, a tired note to his voice. They turned to see him curled up in a ball next to the fire, watching them longingly.

“Yeah?”

“Next time you bring gifts… could you bring me a name?”

She hesitated before answering. “I’m sure your mother will give you a name when she gets back.” According to Julia, Ruby had said names were very important to dragons, but Julia couldn’t explain why. She was worried that naming the baby dragon might cause problems when Ruby finally returned.

“Will she be back soon?”

“I hope so, but we’ll always be here for you… And if she’s not back by your first birthday, I’ll give you a name. How’s that sound?”

The dragon yawned. “I’d like that.”

Prompt: A Very Promptly Christmas

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This week’s prompt may be cliche, but I’m doing it anyway. Take an existing piece of writing and have the characters celebrate Christmas (or some fantastical equivalent, if needed).

Good luck and good writing!