Spoiler alert – this short story is set after Equinox Betrayal, book 3 in the Rise of Dragons series so you might want to finish reading that first…
Amethyst & Lorandir’s First Christmas Together
I stalled the car as I pulled up outside my family home. Marco had leant us his ancient Volkswagen while he was back in Italy for Christmas and I had cursed the old car and its sticky windscreen wipers the whole journey. We couldn’t even listen to any decent music as the radio was permanently tuned to BBC Radio Four and I was starving after hearing about alternative Christmas roasts for the last hour. I slammed the door shut behind me as I got out of the piece of junk car. It made a satisfying clunk followed by a thud as something came loose inside. Schiztz.
“Hey, don’t take it out on the car!”
Lorandir had been keeping me sane on the journey by passing me jelly sweets that we had bought for an extortionate price at one of the garages on the way. They hadn’t filled the hole in my stomach.
The elf exited the car more sedately and allowed Errol to climb onto his shoulders. The small wyrm settled himself quickly and looked around from his new vantage point. Since he’d spent time with Marco, Errol had decided he preferred to sit around the necks of tall men and I was now second choice to both Marco and Lorandir.
Still grumbling, I started to unload presents from the boot of the car. Lorandir grabbed the suitcases while I struggled to pile the oddly-shaped gifts on top of each other so I only needed to make one trip to the front door. I finally managed to balance everything and shut the boot when I realised Lorandir was already pushing the doorbell. Schiztz. I hurried across the lawn, ignoring the paved path that curved decoratively across the grass, but was a longer route. I felt my foot slip on the wet grass. Schiztz. I didn’t fall thanks to my heavy-duty gothic style boots and their large tread but I dropped a couple of the presents. Swearing again, I bent to retrieve them and lost more to the ground.
“Dzrak it all!”
“Amethyst! Language please!” I looked up to see my mother had opened the door and was staring at me with disapproval on her immaculately made up face. Schiztz. I mumbled my apologies and hurried over but it was too late. She had already enveloped Lorandir in a hug and then stood back to admire the elf.
“It’s so lovely to finally meet you in person Lorandir, am I saying it right? I don’t know why Amethyst has kept us away for so long,” she aimed another disapproving glare at me, “you’re so handsome. Come in, come in.” Mum ushered the elf inside, still talking.
I stood on the threshold, still struggling with my depleted pile of presents. I dumped them just inside the door and went to rescue the brightly coloured packages that littered the lawn.
“Shut the door behind you, would you love?” Mum called from somewhere in the house.
“Don’t worry about welcoming me, your only daughter or offering to help, oh no,” I mumbled as I
closed the wooden door more forcefully than I would normally.
“Now, now love, she’s just excited to meet your boyfriend,” I turned and met Dad’s eyes, brown like my own and sparkling with humour. I rushed to give him a hug.
“Merry Christmas Dad!”
“And to you, now let me look at you,” he stepped back and pretended to study me, “a new haircut?”
I shook my head with a smile, “Nothing’s changed Dad.” I started to take off my boots and placed them next to the shoe rack just inside the door.
“Well you’ve definitely lost weight, we’ll have to do something about that over the holidays!”
“Alright, alright,” he held his hands out, “Why don’t I get you a drink while your mother finishes terrorising the elf?”
I shoved some of the presents into his arms before grabbing the remaining gifts and following him into the lounge. The large fir tree dominated the entire room. Mum and Dad had gone all out this year and clearly selected the biggest tree they could find. The flickering lights made it look magical as they reflected off the silvery tinsel and mirrored baubles. I placed the presents under the tree where they somehow looked more inviting and intriguing, even though I knew what was in them. My hair caught on a branch as I straightened and came nose to nose with a hideous paper Father Christmas. Now I looked more closely, I could see the tree was strung with embarrassing homemade decorations that I vaguely remembered making as a child.
“Ugh, did you have to hang those?”
“We’re proud of all your achievements love, even when your reindeers look like an animal’s done its business.” Dad lifted a brown lump of salt dough hung on a red string to show me how bad that had been.
“In my defence, I was only five!”
“Don’t let your Dad tease you Ame, you should see some of the rubbish he made growing up! I think I’ve still got the helmet that looks like it was made for a mutant bear!”
“Uncle Owain!” I flung myself at my Uncle. His eyebrows were missing again and he bore some fresh burn marks on his cheek but he was cheerful as ever. The wyrms never seemed to appreciate the sanctuary they had at his wyrm farm. I took in the truly hideous Christmas jumper he was sporting with a grin. A reindeer in a pink sweater was dancing next to a Christmas tree somehow knitted from real tinsel. He had outdone himself this year.
“I suppose Dafydd hasn’t offered you a drink yet?” Owain shoved a vodka and coke into my hand. I thanked him and took a sip before starting to choke.
“How much booze did you put in there?”
Owain shrugged, making the reindeer on his Christmas jumper move, “Dylan is making the drinks.”
I should have known. My Uncle’s other half was always overdoing the alcohol. I made my way to the kitchen to dilute my drink and say hello. Dylan was stirring something on the stove and he turned when I entered, almost blinding me with the neon yellow stars on his own hand-made Christmas jumper. He had threaded baubles into his plaited hair and they jangled as he took the few steps across the kitchen to sweep me into a bear hug.
“Glad you could make it! Is your fancy man here?” he looked around as if I was somehow hiding a six foot something elf behind my five foot nothing frame.
“He’s with Mum.”
“Ah, well never mind, I’ve made him a special cocktail to take the edge off when he gets downstairs.”
“What’s in it?” I was always nervous of Dylan’s alcoholic creations.
“Not much,” he reassured me before proceeding to list off a number of spirits that didn’t rightly belong together.
“I think he’ll be alright with just some mulled wine if you’ve made any?”
Dylan looked affronted, “Of course I have! It’s my special recipe with an extra kick.” He ladled a liquid so deep a red it was almost purple into a mug and handed it to me. I sniffed cautiously. It smelled delicious, the Christmas spices filling me with warmth and nostalgia. I took a sip and was pleased that the wine tasted rich and sweet. Whatever was in the concoction was good. I poured another glass for Lorandir and snuck a mince pie before heading off to save my boyfriend from my Mum’s questioning.
I found them upstairs in my old bedroom. It had been redecorated in one of Mum’s spates of interior design. I guessed she had been aiming for a ritzy hotel look but somewhere along the way it had turned into borderline burlesque house. Trying not to focus on the heavily patterned wallpaper, I stood in the doorway and studied Mum and Lorandir for a second. I was clearly too late. The elf was blinking at something Mum had said and was looking at the window as if it was a viable exit. Time to interrupt.
“Here Lorandir,” I thrust the mulled wine into his hand.
“Amethyst! No coloured drinks upstairs!”
I looked down at the maroon carpet. It’s not like a red wine stain would show even if there was a spill. But I played along, “Let’s get downstairs then, everyone’s ready to eat.” By everyone, I meant me.
Mum looked horrified, “Presents first!” She raced downstairs to usher everyone into the lounge.
I patted Lorandir’s hand reassuringly and led him downstairs. The poor elf still looked a bit shell-shocked.
When we got to the lounge, Mum was patting the sofa next to her and looking meaningfully at Lorandir. I decided to spare him; I misinterpreted her gesture and sank into the seat.
“Ugh, there’s not enough room for you Amethyst!”
“Nonsense, just squeeze up.”
Lorandir sank gratefully onto the floor next to me as Uncle Owain and Dylan had taken up the other sofa with Errol curled up between them. Dad was sitting in his own armchair with a pint of beer in his hand. Once we were all settled, he began handing out the brightly wrapped parcels into small piles in front of each of us. I eyed a lumpy looking present suspiciously. It was wrapped in paper that had small dragons printed in rows. The dragons were wearing Santa hats.
“Ooo, that’s from us! Open that first!” Dylan leaned forward in his seat excitedly.
The rest of us exchanged looks and ripped open the paper to reveal personalised knitted jumpers. I fingered the fabric. It was soft and would no doubt be too warm for me. I didn’t know how Dylan and Owain were wearing theirs when the wood burner was blazing.
“Well, put them on!”
I tugged mine over my head. It featured a tree hung with bright purple baubles. Not too bad if you ignored the pink plastic jewels sewn onto it. I looked around. Mum and Dad had matching Mr and Mrs Santa jumpers, completed with fake fur trim. Lorandir’s featured a dzraking Christmas elf outfit. With dangly legs stitched on, turned up boots and all. I froze. How offensive could my family be? Lorandir gave a forced laugh and gamely tugged it on. His head appeared through the neck hole so it looked like he was in one of those cut out picture opportunity things you get at the seaside, normally with a cartoonish picture of a strongman printed on them. Except in this case it was a stereotypical Christmas elf. I thrust another package into his hands to distract him.
“Here, open this.”
“First, we need a family photo!” Mum stood with her digital camera in hand. She lined us all up in front of the tree and then spent five minutes angling the camera to get us all in. After the first photo, Lorandir offered to kneel next to me so his head could be in the frame and the height disparity between him and the rest of the family wasn’t so obvious. After ten timed photos, Mum pronounced herself happy. Then Dylan decided he wanted to take one with his phone of each of the couples. After twenty minutes we were done. I forwarded the picture Dylan took of Lorandir and I to Aloora and Marco.
Merry Christmas x
Aloora sent through a crying laughing face at our jumpers and then sent a picture of her and Professor Elrond. They were bundled up in thick coats in the Breconian forest. They had decided to use the holiday season to study dragons together and get some primary data for Aloora’s PhD. I smiled. I bet both of them had forgotten it was even Christmas day. Marco replied with his own family photo. I hadn’t realised he had so many brothers and sisters. They looked a lot more relaxed and weren’t sporting hideous jumpers.
The rest of the presents were much less lurid than the jumpers. I opened a box of luxury assortment chocolates as soon as I unwrapped it and scoffed three before offering them round. I was pleased that Mum and Dad enjoyed the gift certificate Lorandir and I had got them for a trip to the Omensford bed and breakfast. Mum would like the fact it was owned by a witch and I’d looked up nearby pubs so I knew Dad would enjoy lunch in the local.
Presents unwrapped, Dylan and Mum retreated to the kitchen and Lorandir and I went to set the table while Dad disappeared into the garden. I put the cutlery out and arranged the red and gold crackers in front of each setting while Lorandir folded the napkins into flowers. When I asked him where he’d learnt to do that, he shrugged. He and I had had very different upbringings. I finished placing the tiny ceramic Christmas trees Mum had told me to use as a centrepiece and stepped back to admire our efforts. Pleased that the table looked suitably festive, I snagged a seat along one side and gestured for Lorandir to sit next to me.
Mum swept in carrying a hot serving dish, “Move those! I need space!”
I pursed my lips but decided not to spoil the Christmas spirit by saying anything as I moved the small Christmas trees off the table. She bustled back into the kitchen. Dad appeared and began pouring wine into everyone’s glasses. I noticed we had the cut glass goblets out, as it was a special occasion. Once all the dishes were on the table and we were all seated, Dad carved the turkey and carefully counted out the prized pigs in blankets before handing out the plates.
“Schweinstopf?” Mum offered me the traditional dwarven dish.
I hesitated. Mum tried hard to make dwarven food for Dad but didn’t often succeed and on occasion it had been inedible, “Er…”
“I made it, family recipe,” Dylan offered with a wink that Mum didn’t see. With that reassurance, I helped myself to a generous portion.
“Lorandir, I had to look up some traditional elven recipes for the holidays. I didn’t know what you’d like so I made a selection,” she pointed to four smaller dishes filled with various shades of goop. Lorandir paled but smiled and elf-fully took a portion of each. I dished him up some of the more traditional fare as well so he wouldn’t starve. “I have to say the fish dish was pretty tricky, but I think I managed it.”
I eyed the pink stuff and decided not to try any. I had bad memories of the paste when it had been made properly by elves. Dylan however took a large mouthful and almost gagged. He covered it well with a glass of wine and then fed the rest of his portion to Errol who had followed us in and curled up under the table waiting for scraps. Uncle Owain shot him a disapproving look, he had strong views on wyrm diets.
Conversation slowed as we all ate our food. I relaxed back as I stuffed the last bacon-covered sausage into my mouth and placed my knife and fork on my plate. Lorandir cleared his plate, but I noticed he didn’t go back for seconds of the elven delicacies.
“Thank you Mrs Haernson, Dylan, I don’t think I could eat another bite!” the elf smiled and patted his stomach.
“Please, call me Ruby. And don’t be silly, there’s still pudding!”
She bustled back into the kitchen with Dylan hot on her heels. Dad and Owain cleared the dishes. I patted Lorandir’s hand and thanked him for trying Mum’s speciality cooking. One day she’d stick to the human dishes she knew well.
Dad sat back down, brandishing a bottle of brandy and a huge metal ladle. He grinned as Mum placed a huge Christmas pudding before him, loaded the ladle with the spirit and spoke the Dwarfish word for fire. He must have overdone the magic because instead of lighting up with blue flames, the brandy shot a fireball into the ceiling. Mum stood and flapped a tea towel at the smoke as the fire alarm started to beep. Owain went to disconnect it. I heard a horrible choking sound from underneath the table. I peered under the table cloth to see Errol being sick all over the cream carpet. It was a frothy pink colour. The elven food hadn’t agreed with him. With a sigh, I lifted the small wyrm and carried him outside to finish puking. Mum glowered at my pet as I passed her. With precision timing, he threw up again. This time all over me. I decided it wasn’t all bad. At least I had a legitimate excuse for taking off the boiling sweater. Before I changed, I cleaned up the puddle of sick and then sprayed the carpet with stain remover. Lorandir offered to help and managed to get some of the vile liquid on his own awful jumper. He gave me a wink as he took off the offensive elf sweater.
We decided to skip the flaming brandy and just have the pudding as it was. Thick, sticky and full of boozy fruit. Delicious.
Pudding finished, we cleared the table and headed back into the lounge. Dad topped off our drinks on the way out and helped himself to another bottle of beer.
“Games!” Uncle Owain declared.
We spent a good fifteen minutes deciding what to play. We ruled out traditional dwarven games like Rummy on the basis it wasn’t fair to Lorandir who didn’t know the rules and Mum didn’t want any more flaming drinks in the house. In the end, we decided to go with charades in couples. By the fourth round, Lorandir and I were in front thanks to a brilliant crane kick that nearly knocked over the tree but got me to guess Karate Kid in record time.
Now, however, Lorandir’s eyes were starting to glaze over from the many refills of his drink. We needed this for the win. And my clue was Forrest Gump. I tried pointing to the tree.
“The Christmas Tree?”
I pointed to the tree more vigorously.
“O Christmas Tree?”
I grabbed my half eaten box of chocolates and waved it at him.
I signed two words at him again, although it may have looked like I was swearing. Then I started running on the spot.
I pointed to the tree again.
I tried to go for a ‘sounds like’ clue and was miming a hump on my back when the time ran out.
“Oh. I’ve never seen it,” he took another sip of drink. I stared at him. How can anyone not have seen Forrest Gump?!
After that Dylan and Owain won the game when Dylan guessed Dragonheart almost immediately when Uncle Owain pointed to his own heart. Must have been some sort of pet name for each other. I shook my head and packed up the cards.
“The hot tub should be warm enough now. I turned it on just before lunch. Anyone fancy a dip?”
I stared at my Dad. There was no way I was getting into a warm bath with my parents. Dylan and Owain seemed up for it though and took their drinks outside onto the newly built decking. Mum and Dad joined them. I hoped they had swimming costumes out there. The alternative didn’t bear thinking about. Luckily the oversized Christmas tree blocked the hot tub from view.
Alone at last, I snuggled into Lorandir and we settled down to watch my favourite Christmas film: Nightmare Before Christmas.