Christmas Rose Part Three

A busy day at work and after.

Once Martha retired for the night, Jude banked the fire in the woodstove, then went out into the darkness. “Nothing moves yet,” Shoim informed him from his new perch. Jude had added perches to both ends of the shed, painted to blend in with the older wood and metal. Now the harrier had a sheltered place to loiter or overnight closer to his mage, and vice versa.

“For which I give thanks,” Jude replied in his own tongue. He looked up. Thin clouds muted all but the brightest of stars, and Venus. Mars glowered down from beside the Bull’s eye, two red points behind the veil. His people did not look to the stars for omens, but still . . . “I’ve been studying how to work magic around Elementals, should the need arise.”

“Good.” The nearly invisible harrier rustled. His black and dark brown feathers and black-gold eyes blended into the night. “I wonder if it is related to what Veronica mentioned, the boys who tried to observe the coven’s last practice session.”

Hmmm. I’d not thought of that. He went to the gate and shifted to seeing magic, just watching and feeling the flows of power that coursed through the night. Closer to town, he sensed the coven weaving their solstice spells. He did not pry. He turned his attention to the magic closer at hand. Land power had slowed with the cold and longer nights, but shadow power more than filled the void. He pulled a little magic from night itself and played with a ball of shadow, bouncing it in his crippled hand. “I hope you are wrong and fear you might be right.” He allowed himself a sigh. “At least abyssal summonings are usually predictable and easy to find, most of the time.”

The harsh sound of Shoim’s chuckle floated from the south end of the shed. “Indeed. May any problems be weak and easy to deal with.”

“From your beak to the Great God’s ear,” Jude replied. “I’m a little surprised that the coven didn’t want us to attend tonight’s working.” The coven leader, Veronica, had expressed concern that his presence as a shadow worker might interfere with their power gathering and balancing.

Shoim sniffed. “Lucy objected, but Veronica and Hans overrode her concerns. I wonder if the coven will be looking for a new buffer soon, or if Lucy will find a different coven?”

Jude sent the puff of magic in his hand to his Familiar, then stretched. We should be Hunting this night. But I sense nothing new. “We need to look into the rotten place in the far north. Not tonight.”

“No, because if you think we are strong enough to take that on this close to the turning of the year, you are as stupid as a—” The choice and most unflattering terms that followed sent Jude’s eyebrows rising to his hairline.

“I hope you did not learn those from Rodney.” Master Lestrang’s Familiar had the foulest mouth Jude had heard in many years.

“Of course not. From Tay.” Shoim stuck his beak into the air. “He got two of them from the Dark One, after the Dark One opened that last property tax assessment.”

Which explained a great deal. The guardian was not supposed to be a corrupting influence, but in Master Saldovado’s case, well, leopards did not change their spots so easily. And tax officers had invited invective since . . . The time of Noah’s flood, most likely. Explaining his tardiness if he were not at work by five the next morning would be far more difficult. “Defender be with you on your Hunt.”

“Lady bless.” Shoim shifted a little on his perch, then dozed off.


Ten o’clock came and passed before Jude found a free moment to add Martha O’Neil’s order to the list at the bakery. The week before Christmas threatened to overwhelm the bakery, as usual. Jude made pie and bar crusts, restocked the shelves and display cases in front of the store, helped unload the trucks as best he could, and pulled hot baking sheets from the ovens, then reloaded the ovens. “Carefully timed chaos” Mr. Scharbauer, the master baker and store owner, had called it. Jude slid warm bread loaves into bags, then moved them clear of the counter top so Clare could slide a baking sheet of barely-cool mincemeat hand-pies onto the space.

“Thanks,” she gasped. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath. “I don’t think it was this wild last year!”

“It wasn’t.” Jerry, one of the graduated journeymen, had come back to help with the rush. He shook his head and began easing the hand-pies off the tray. “Mrs. S. says that there are twice as many pie orders this year.”

Jude nodded and started folding boxes for the order of hand pies. “I know I’ve made more crusts. Mincemeat is very popular this year.” So was apple.

Mina appeared in the workroom door. “We’re almost out of bread.” Jude stopped folding and moved the loaves to the cart. He pushed the cart to Mina. She grabbed it. “Thanks!” Cart and coworker hurried out of sight.

By two o’clock, when Mr. Scharbauer paid him for the day’s work, Jude needed real food and time to breathe without the heavy dust-mask. “Thank you. I need you Thursday, but not until noon. Then the usual time on Wednesday and Friday.” As the broad-shouldered, middle-aged baker handed Jude a very heavy looking bag of overdone and broken things, he said, “I think there’s more rush because of being closed on Saturday.”

“That makes sense, sir. I’ll take Aunt Martha’s order home on Friday.”

“I’ll plan on that. Thank you.” Mr. Scharbauer returned to the fray.

Jude changed out of his denim overcoat and heavy dust mask, then departed. What is in here? He stopped beside a dumpster in the alley and peeked into the white paper sack. “Lady bless,” he whispered. There were at least three sausage kolaches, and not overdone ones, either. He glanced left and right, then pulled one from the sack and bit into the bun. He tasted meat as well as bread. Ah, these are the ones with the failed casing. The sausage had spread into the dough. It tasted wonderful, but the customers preferred intact sausages.

Jude slipped the bag into his leather rucksack and eased out of the alley. Since court was in session, the Courthouse Café was staying open all afternoon. He nodded and got a late dinner, then went to St. Boniface Catholic Church. Fr. Antonio would start hearing confessions at three-thirty, with mass at six, then the Christmas concert rehearsal at seven-thirty. On the way, Jude fished his phone out of the bottom of the rucksack and checked on Martha.

“I’m fine. One coughing spell, and don’t you tell anyone who looks like a doctor.” The heat in her voice could have baked every pie he’d made that morning. “The nurse keeps calling and I’m about to tell her to go jump in the river.”

Jude smiled a little, then said, “Your orders are on the list, ma’am.”

“Good. At least one thing went right today.”

Shoim waited at St. Boniface, atop one of the handicapped-parking signs. “Took you long enough,” the melanistic northern harrier grumbled.

“Would you like to visit the bakery and see why I was delayed?” Jude slid the rucksack off one shoulder and retrieved the left falconer’s gauntlet from the bag.

The hawk blinked a few times. “No. I don’t want to be baked into a pie.”

“Well,” a voice from behind Jude said, “you are a black bird.” Jude let Shoim climb onto his wrist before turning to face Father Antonio Manfredi. The broad-shouldered priest smiled a little. “And the bakery seemed a little hectic last week. I suspect it is even busier now.”

“Yes, Father. They will close on Friday afternoon, and there are more out of town orders.” Jude smiled, mindful of his teeth.

The priest made a thoughtful sound, then continued into the church. Jude went into the office first, to leave his tithe before going down to the chapel. Laurence Kupfer, Miss O’Raurk, and two other parishioners already waited. Jude genuflected before sitting well away from the door of the confessional. He rested his arm on the back of the pew, easing Shoim’s weight. “I am glad that you are not larger.” Or a carrion eater.

“I am perfectly sized for my duties,” Shoim stated. “And perfect for blending in at night, and for Hunting abyssal creatures and constructs.”

And not cursed with false modesty. In theory, humble and self-effacing Familiars existed. The small sample Jude had met in person did not fit that description.

That evening, following mass, the choir met. Lucy Hoffman, Kyle Traeger, and a dozen others milled around the impromptu rehearsal room. Fr. Antonio had “found” a small electric piano and tucked it into a corner of a large, unused storage room. Jude got his music from the row of black folders and hummed to himself. Shoim perched on the back of a chair. He’d joined in once. Fr. Antonio had stopped rehearsal, borrowed one of Jude’s gauntlets, and he and Shoim had stepped into the hall for a minute or two. Whatever had been said, Shoim behaved after that, more or less.

“Do any Familiars actually sing?” Kyle asked as they got into position.

Jude tried to recall. “I think one? Yes, one in Riverton, or so I’m told. I don’t know about others.” The topic had come up after a lesson, when Rodney and Shoim decided to try “Don’t Fear the Reaper” as a duet. Alas, noise-blocking spells don’t work on Familiars!

Fr. Antonio played a chord on the little piano. Conversation turned into singing. After the warm-up, the priest smiled. “Concert order for tomorrow. ‘Veni Emmanuel,’ then ‘Angel Carol, Es ist ein Rose, In Dulce Jubilo, Riu Riu Chiu, O Holy Night and no, sopranos, we are not adding the optional descant.” Everyone smiled as the ladies nodded with enthusiasm. “Then ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Reindeer Rag,” he sighed and shook his head a little, “and finally ‘Behold a Star’. No matter what Mrs. O’Raurk says, we are not doing The Twelfth Night carol.”

“We’re still in Advent, no matter what the DJs think,” one of the altos muttered darkly. Jude nodded, even though he didn’t listen to the radio. He’d heard grumbles.

“Exactly. So.” Fr. Antonio leaned over and played a note. Jude listened and locked the tone into his ear. “Remember, this is chant. It has no tempo, but you still need to watch me, please.” He glanced at the music on his stand, then looked up again and gestured. The basses and baritones began the ancient plea for the coming of a savior. The women came in on the second verse, “Veni veni O Oriens.”

There would be two solos as well, but they only rehearsed the choral pieces. After just over an hour, Fr. Antonio dismissed them. “Please be at the Verein building as close to six-thirty tomorrow as you can. There will be some snacks in case you don’t get time to eat between work and warm up.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “And no flashing Christmas light necklaces or sweaters, please?”

Two of the tenors studied the ceiling and the alto beside Lucy pretended to be disappointed. Jude rolled his eyes. And to think he’d assumed the “singing” Christmas kittens sweater had reached the nadir of taste!

Fr. Antonio caught him and Shoim as the others departed. “Do you have a moment?”

“Yes, Father.” Jude finished putting the folders in a travel box, then waited.

“I’ll be blunt. I don’t like the rumor I’m hearing about some teenagers trying to work grey magic.” Fr. Antonio folded his arms. “Laurence Kupfer said that he thought someone tried to watch the coven’s working, but couldn’t see clearly through the layers of shields.”

Only being in the church kept Jude from saying what he wanted to. “Father, that matches what I’ve heard. And an Elemental asked Shoim and me to cleanse a bit of state hunting land, if something happened there. The earth Elementals are usually quiet this time of year.”

“Hmm.” The priest narrowed his eyes and glanced to the side. “Good to know. I’m used to warmer climates, or much colder.” He met Jude’s eyes again, then Shoim’s. “Call me if you need more than magical cleansing. There are times when even strong healing shadow magic is not sufficient.”

“Yes, sir. We’ll do that,” Shoim said.

The priest relaxed and started to turn toward the door. “Oh, you might be interested to know that Julian Wegner has been asking about spiritual instruction.” He raised one thick grey eyebrow.

“Thanks be to God,” Jude whispered. “That— Thank you for telling us. We’d been worried.” He closed his eyes. Thank you, Great God, Lady of Night, thank You.

Shoim nodded so fast his beak blurred. “Please may he continue on this path.”

“Amen. Now go, so I can lock up and see if Bishop Carmichael is speaking to anyone yet. He’s rather distressed that Notre Dame will not be in any bowl games.” Mischief sparkled for a moment.

And Army is. Master Lestrang had been gloating that both of “his teams” would be advancing. “Yes, Father.” Jude departed. He made sure that the door had locked behind him.

 A few flakes of snow trickled down from the low clouds, a token reminder of the time of year. The forecast called for no more than an inch or two, meaning he’d arise to find a foot of fluff covering the world, probably. “Was there ever a time when weather forecasters were usually correct?”

Shoim shifted a little on his right hand. “Tay says they were, back before the mess with the serpent in the garden. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know.” Before Jude finished boggling, Shoim added, “Don’t believe Tay. He also swears he was at a Rolling Stones concert and nowhere near the garden when everything happened.”

Don’t believe that Tay is that old, or don’t believe that Tay had nothing to do with Adam’s fall? He spend the rest of the walk back to Martha’s farm sorting out Shoim’s meaning. “Were it Rodney, I’d assume he had been involved in some way,” he said at last.

“Ummm. I plead the fifth amendment.” They’d reached the gate. Jude lowered the shields, and cast a little bit of shadow on the south-facing perch. Shoim launched, then landed as Jude opened the gate and entered the farmyard. “The Lady be with you.”

“Defender guide your Hunt.”  

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved


11 thoughts on “Christmas Rose Part Three

  1. Don’t believe that Tay is that old, or don’t believe that Tay had nothing to do with Adam’s fall?

    Embrace the Power Of “And”! 😉

  2. This is working well. [Exercises Kindle buying fingers… 🙂 ]

    Obligatory typo catches: “Christmas concert at seven-thirty. One the way” Should be Once

    In the choral listing: “Santa Clause is coming to town” ? Ottocorrupt striking?

    If I miss the opportunity later:
    And a Merry Christmas to all!

  3. Nice re-setting the board. The choirs aren’t usually that ecumenical, but at least Lucy hasn’t been read out of the family. Papa must think well of Jude, auslander and all. Thanks for no descant. Smart sopranos know it’s too difficult.

    Kids spying on covens or others, then practicing on their own? I get a foreshadow of Something [Rodney modifier] Stupid This Way Comes. Looks like some interesting things to come.

    Meanwhile, the piggy bank looks on in fear … 🙂

      • Sadly, I’m thinking that Martha is next to die. In her sleep of old age.

        I don’t think she was “around” in the final “main-stream” Familiar Tales books even when Jude was involved. IE While Jude didn’t say much about his life in those books, he didn’t say anything that said Martha is still around.

  4. Author is whetting my appetite for a new Familiar Generations novel. Only problem I have is that the first two are too short.

  5. Oh, the threats to bake Shoim into a pie… wouldn’t need the other three and twenty black birds, now would they?

    Minor typo spill-chuck won’t catch: “He pushed the car to Mina.” – cart?

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