Wednesday Wee Bit: Christmas Part 2

In Which Lelia learns the cause for her employer’s frustration. Deborah has returned from her mission and has moved in with Mrs. Schmidt while going to college (nursing degree). Art has his own apartment near the university, where he is a professor. Hiram is stationed in Korea.

Business at the shop had been steady, building since the annual early-November decline. No arcane eruptions had troubled either Arthur or the local magical community since the Labor Day weekend, thus far. All the European orders had arrived on time, intact. So why had Arthur come unglued?

Lelia chewed on the question all the way to their stop. She departed the bus, arranged handbag and Familiar-carrier, and strode briskly down the sidewalk. “The boss,” she began.


I don’t like that rising and falling tone. It bodes poorly for my peace of mind. “The textile tangle was not, ah, the overarching cause of his, let us say, vehement expostulation.”

A long sigh came from the carrier. Should she see if the air flow had loosened the band patches on the carrier? “Um, no, the fabric wasn’t the cause.” He shifted a little again, then unzipped the top of the modified handbag and poked his head out. “Up, please.” She stopped, got him situated on her shoulder, and resumed strolling. He sank his claws into the padding on her coat. After they passed an overly loud pickup, he whispered, “He killed one of the younger Hunters two nights ago. The . . . individual experienced a sudden attack of exceedingly poor judgement, and discovered that breaking the rules can have lethal consequences.”

Lelia frowned down at a new hole in the sidewalk, eased around the gap, and growled.

Tay continued, “Raj says that the idiot jumped Arthur as he and Florian, one of the other Hunters, were practicing two against two with Rendor and one of the youngsters, in the practice circle. The fool broke the circle to do it.”

A long string of curse flowed through her mind, starting with some choice terms in Street and going downhill into German, then Shakespeare. As she lowered the house shields and turned up the walk toward the front stoop, she said, “That was indeed a major failure of judgement.” She set Tay on the ground.

He “read the newspaper” as she unlocked the front door and raised the shields again. Her Familiar trotted back across the wet grass at a high rate of speed. “Cold feet! And major? Yeah.” He sounded unhappy. “The Hunters need to learn proportional response.” He marched in ahead of her, leaving damp lemur-prints on the tile and faux-wooded flooring.

“Hunters. Proportional. The guys who are probably genetically programmed to have two settings, those being ‘off’ and ‘kill it too dead to identify.’ I wish you luck in that endeavor, Master Tay,” André said, taking his wife’s bags as she closed the door. They kissed, and she removed her boots before going farther than the front mat. “Current events? I heard from Rodney through Raj.”

Lelia nodded. “Arthur raised his voice this morning. He’s never, ever done that before.” She left boots and her coat on the rack by the door, then followed him and the scent of food through the house. “As in, came unglued in my presence, dumped the contents of a box on the counter and hurled the box against the wall unglued.”

Her husband hugged her shoulders, then handed her a mug of hot tea. “Supper will be done in fifteen minutes, and I can see why you might be a touch, ah, dismayed at his behavior.” André shivered a little. “I’d probably head for the civil defense shelter under the bank, the one that’s not supposed to exist.”

She saluted him with the mug and hurried up the steps to the bedroom to change into something warmer.

After supper, he stopped her in the living room. “Permission?” When she nodded, he took her hand and pulled her close. He rested his chin on the top of her head. Something’s bothering you, love. She waited, holding him and savoring his closeness.

“The kid was a fool, to put it mildly. Even Arthur’s brother doesn’t surprise him when they are training, unless it is agreed in advance. That’s how the Hunters have managed to survive each other.” He took a deep breath, then exhaled sharply. “I’d have reacted the same way—defend first, identify later. Arthur’s partner got a few blows in as well, before they realized who or what it was.” André let go. “Which doesn’t make it easier. Arthur had to talk to the idiot’s parents last night, per tradition.”

“And they get to decide if a blood price will be demanded.” She shook her head, then met his eyes. “OK, that explains why he was wound so tight.” She shivered. André hugged her again. “I know it will be a token payment, since the deceased dummy brought it on himself, but that’s got to hurt, even when it is pure reflex and self-defense.”

André looked away, then met her eyes. Ghosts flitted behind the impassive facade. “It does. Even if the kid had just been maimed, it would hurt like hell.” He closed his eyes, and she held him tighter, being calm and quiet for him. “Thank you, dark my lady.”

She got more tea, and he settled into his chair in the living room. “Oh, yes,” he began. “I was informed that we need a proper Christmas tree.”

Lelia looked at him, then at the cute little midnight, blood-red, and silver Goth tree-under-glass that currently replaced the statue of Tay on the fireplace mantle. “A proper Christmas tree.”

“I believe an eight foot tall Frazier fir with multi-colored lights and several dozen glass balls and other ornaments was implied, if not outright commanded.” He hid farther behind his book.

“I’m game!” Tay caroled from the cat tree. “That sounds like a wonderful way to enrich my environment and improve my habitat.”

Rodney, André’s kit fox Familiar, snorted from his nest in the corner by the locked and illusion-warded book case. “Only if you go with all-natural, traditional decorations. You know, like jerky strips, and dried mice, and popcorn without the strings. That kind of biodegradable ornaments. Oh, and bacon strips. German ‘farmers’ bacon’ would be very culturally appropriate.”

Which is why we have a tree-under-glass on the mantle. Lelia settled onto the couch and let her eyes half close.

“‘Dad, we have a pathetic tree,’ were your middle son’s exact words.” André snorted. “I will not add his observations about overly-fresh seafood. Sushi that fights back didn’t agree with him.”

“I thought you dunked the stuff into that ferocious green horseradish until the meat stopped twitching, then ate it.” Still-frisky octopus had never, ever made it onto any of her “might try” dining lists. “And I prefer the term petit to pathetic.”

“Yes, dear.”

If Hiram had time to grumble about his parents’ choice in decorations, then the Army obviously needed to find more for him to do! Lelia glanced at her husband, then sipped her tea. Maybe I should find out who Hiram’s first sergeant is, send the gent a care package, and suggest that Hiram needs more homework? From what little André and Mike Radescu said about the military, it just might work. Or I’d find the first sergeant on my front mat asking for more treats. Never mind.

When her phone buzzed on Saturday afternoon, Lelia was too busy to notice. Only after she staggered home that evening and devoured not-too-bad-for-frozen lasagna did she glance at the message. It was from the All Arts list that Shoshana Langtree had persuaded her to join. “Religious news? Huh?” She clicked the link. “Oh!” She re-read the article and danced a little in the living room, careful not to hit anything.

“What?” Tay rested his head on the lip of his nest on the cat tree.

“St. Margaret of Scotland is having their Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols again, followed by the choral worship!”

Something thwapped her shin. She looked down as Rodney’s brush hit her again. “Yeah!” he called, then trotted away, leaving silver-white hairs on her skirt and the floor.

“Now who’s shedding?” Tay grumbled. “But that’s good about the church.”

“Which church?” André inquired, dodging his Familiar. Lelia showed him the press release. “Oh, that is good..”

“I’m surprised they were able to rebuild so quickly.” She put the phone away after clearing the message list.

He stretched a little, left and right, then headed for his chair. He arranged the cushions, then said, “They were very, very fortunate. All the interior damage was contained, and that the other place decided to dump their pipe organ.” He shook his head as he sat. “I sort of understand why a church would get rid of their organ if they don’t use it, but to just scrap it out? Ugh.”

Tay’s tail flipped left and right. “Well, the Episcopalians benefited. I heard that someone learned that some organ pipes are made from lead, and panicked.”

Anyone who chews on an organ pipe gets what she deserves. Lelia sat in her sewing chair and put on the lighted magnifier headband that André and the kids had given her a few years before. “Alas, Master Tay, that would not surprise me at all.” She picked up her latest project and wrinkled her nose. She couldn’t salvage the lace from the bottom hem, but the other layers should be reusable. The skirt had lasted for longer than it probably should have, given that she’d rescued it from the “quarter a piece” super-bargain-bin at the Community Thrift.

After removing two levels of crocheted and bobbin lace, she stopped to rest her eyes and wiggle a little. André appeared either deep in a book or asleep with his eyes open. Snores rolled from Rodney’s corner. Tay’s tail hung down from his nest like a “pull-for-service” cord. She saw headlights moving down the road outside, and two porch lights glowing, one of them now red for the holiday season. Someone has no idea why that part of Riverton is still called the red-light district. And she was not going to be the one inform them, either.

As she wound up the lace for reuse, she thought about the day. Arthur. Something still chewed on him. He’d gone back to Arthur-normal, sort of. He’s brooding, I think. It’s been a long time since he had to slap down one of the youngsters, and that just left the brat bloody and humiliated, not dead. An idea simmered as she tidied the rolls of lace and added them to her work basket. She got up, visited the washroom and got a cup of fancy water, then sat again. “Um, dark sir?”


“Do you mind if I invite Master Saldovado to come to the Christmas Eve music with us, if we go?” She hesitated. “That is, if you want to go.” Art and Deborah might want to come over that evening, or André might be called to assist at church that night.

He closed the book, stood, and stretched, then came to stand behind her. “Permission?”

“Yes, please.” He rested his hands on her shoulders, gently squeezing.

She heard him inhale. “I think . . . I think it would be good to invite him, dark my lady. I do want to go to the Lessons and Carols, and after.” He kissed the top of her head. “At least he’ll know that we’d like him to come, even if he refuses. He might have church that night. Christmas Eve is rather important to the clans.”

There was that. “Thank you, gentle sir.”

He leaned down and whispered into her ear, “Which reminds me. Art wants Santa to bring his department chair common sense for Christmas. Deborah wants a dragon for the nature reserve, to keep mushroom pickers out. Krimhilde did not veto the suggestion.”

She closed her eyes. “Dragon. I think we can find one on the ‘net. There is no way short of a miracle to find common sense for an academic. No. Even Mr. Smith would throw up his hands, or whatever, at the very idea.” She opened her eyes and smiled up at him.

His laughter made the evening perfect.

The next morning, Tay hopped onto the sofa beside her as she nursed hot herbal tea. André and Rodney were still getting ready for church. “Um, your boss.”

She braced. “Has decided to take a tropical vacation in Cancun and I’m supposed to be in charge until New Years?”

Her Familiar snorted. “You wish. No. The penalty, the blood price?”

“How high?” Adrenaline hit her system and she clasped the mug more tightly.

He eased closer. “For him, very high. He was asked—ordered—to stay away from the clan’s Christmas Eve devotions, so that the dead Hunter’s parents can attend without having to see him. That’s a really low blood price, except . . .” His voice trailed off.

Except what? The memory bubbled up of Arthur kneeling before the priestess and guardian in what he called the Old Land. Oh nuts. Except that he’s some kind of priest and defender of the Lady. So it hits him hard. Fist in the gut hard. Right. I am asking him to come to the service with us.

(C) Alma T. C. Boykin 2021 All Rights Reserved.


7 thoughts on “Wednesday Wee Bit: Christmas Part 2

  1. I hope no one would be foolish enough to engage him in theological discussion, at least no one below St. Thomas Aquinas rank. I have this awful feeling (DON’T CONFIRM!) that MG might have engaged the saint in light discussion like that. The question is where to seat him – defense of the Lady, or near the Defender? What about exits and back protection?

    Jokes aside, this is excellent descriptive sketch and a major show by telling about it. That’s a good setup for either action or drama.

  2. Now that all their children have moved out, have Leila and Andre moved back to the duplex? Great piece. I’ve been wanting to see a piece about when the children were older.

  3. About the blood price for killing another Hunter who attacked him while he was “practice” fighting already, with his brother, the Clan leader also involved in his defense. You explained the near-deadly conditions of the practice fights earlier. How would Arthurs’ attackers death not be seen as being his own fault for his presumption?
    Also about the blood price itself, the issue did not arise as a possibility when Lelia hilted the young Clan man who tried to test her, nor when she knifed the suborned man in the old country. No sanction against Boitano was implied when he injured and exiled the Lone Hunter.
    The society you describe in having the ?unmarried? Hunters hide their sleeping spaces from other Hunters, apparently to avoid murder, does not seem to be a culture which would survive in a hostile world.
    Most tribes are very much aligned against the hostile world, and the outsiders in it, us against them, and sacrificing either your younger or your more experienced warriors in mutual combat or assinations does not seem conducive to survival as a society.
    Love this world, and your stories in it.
    John in Indy

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