A Gift from Sir Klaus
A blanket of crisp, white snow lay over the dwarven village of Everstone. Icicles hung from pine branches and glistened in the morning sun. Throughout the village young and old alike labored to prepare the sumptuous food and glorious decorations needed for the upcoming Yule celebration. A giant fir tree, overflowing with decorations and candles, would stand in the common room of Dvalin's pub, and the women of the village would provide more cakes, cookies, and candies than three villages could ever eat. There would be music and dancing, and presents would be exchanged between friends.
Lim and Adella and Thorin raced down the lane toward the pub and were soon joined by Birla and Thekk. Together they hurried toward the pub. Past Rathsvith's shop. Past Finna's store. Past Hanar's house. To slide to a halt as Otnit stepped onto the lane in front of them.
Otnit wasn't any bigger than Thorin, but there was something about him that was just plain scary. At least, the other children thought so. Adults looked at his blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks and thought he was perfect. If they only knew...
“Where're you going?” he asked in his snotty voice.
“To the pub,” Adella replied, balling her fists.
“I heard everybody's gonna be there, but I've got better things to do.”
The group watched as Otnit took off between Ynara's house and Durin's garden and left deep footprints in the pristine snow.
“I'll bet he's up to no good,” Thorin muttered.
“Who cares,” Thekk replied. “I wanna see tree.”
“Me, too,” said Birla. “Let's go.”
Otnit dove into the hedgerow and waited for others to pass. Let them go and see the stupid tree. He was going to sneak into Ynara's and get some of the gingerbread cookies he could smell baking.
Silence descended as the other children moved away. Otnit counted to fifty to be sure no one was coming back, then he crept toward the back door of her cottage. He pressed his ear to the banded boards and listened for Ynara's shuffling steps and incessant singing. He heard nothing.
Otnit gently pushed on the door, holding his breath in case it squeaked. He peered inside to see a neat kitchen painted poppy red. A wood-burning stove sat directly in front of him, and the scrubbed wood table in the middle of the room was laden with iced gingerbread men.
Otnit dashed forward on fleet feet and grabbed two big handfuls of the men, knocking others into the floor in the process. He then dashed from the house and laughed uproariously as he flew across the meadow to his own home. There he wiped the snow from the back stoop and sat down to enjoy his booty.
Otnit jumped as his mother Dýrfinna called to him. Quickly, he gobbled the rest of the cookies and wiped his hands on his trousers before standing up and entering the kitchen.
“Where've you been?” Dýrfinna asked. “You were supposed to help me this morning.”
“I'm sorry, Mommy,” Otnit responded and gave her his most pitiful, apologetic face.
Dýrfinna ruffled his hair and smiled lovingly down at him. “That's okay. But I need to get these candles over to Ynara, then I've got to go to Dvalin's. I promised Ærinndis I'd help prepare the food for tonight. You wanna come?”
Otnit nodded his head, but he didn't really want to go anywhere near Ynara's.
Dýrfinna knocked on Ynara's front door and was surprised when the older dwarf came to the door with tears on her wrinkled face.
“Whatever's the matter?” Dýrfinna asked.
Ynara wiped her eyes with the bright yellow handkerchief she kept in her apron pocket. “Someone broke in and filched half the gingerbread men,” she whispered. “The rest were knocked to the floor and ruined. Now there won't be nearly enough for the celebration.”
“Oh dear!” Dýrfinna exclaimed. “Would you like me to help make more? I can't imagine why anyone would do such a horrible thing!”
Otnit's face paled, and his hands shook. His stomach churned as he experienced real guilt for the first time in his life. The look on old Ynara's face wasn't nearly as funny as he'd thought it'd be. Now he just wanted to get away from there before someone figured out he was the one who had taken the cookies.
“Mommy, can I go play?” Otnit asked, tugging on Dýrfinna's apron.
“Go ahead, darling,” she said without looking down. “Mother's gonna stay here and help Ynara replace the cookies some horrible person took.”
Otnit's gut twisted again, then he took off across the meadow back toward his own house. A lump formed in his throat as he remembered the hurt look in Ynara's eyes. His mind flashed to last Yule and the mounds of brightly decorated men and women on platters up and down the tables.
Otnit looked down to see an orange-striped tabby cat coming through the bushes. He recognized the cat as belonging to Dalla, the baker's daughter. She loved the ragged creature and babbled to it in that stupid baby talk she used.
Otnit drew back his foot to kick the animal, then he got a better idea. He raced inside and hurried to his mother's pot of melted candle wax. He grabbed a wooden cup from the cupboard and carefully filled it with wax, being cautious of the fireplace embers. Then he ran outside and slung the molten liquid at the cat.
Otnit's laughter rang through the snowy meadow, a counterpoint to the cat's injured cry. The poor animal tore through the snow with the steaming wax quickly cooling and hardening in its fur.
Dvalin, Bombur, and Durin strained against the weight of the giant fir tree that was to decorate the pub. It was a full ten feet tall, twice the height of the tallest of the dwarfs, and its branches were full and green. By evening, it would be decorated with shining ornaments and glittering candles. The entire village would bring gifts, and they would feast and celebrate late into the night.
“There,” said Durin as he finished tightening the stand that held the tree.
Dvalin and Bombur let go carefully. The tree stood!
Ærinndis entered with her arms full of candles. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “I declare, it seems those trees get prettier and prettier every year.”
Dvalin stood back to admire their work. “I believe you're right. This one does have a certain majesty about it, doesn't it?”
“I've brought the candles, and Hanar's bringing the ornaments. He said he had a few final touches to put on the new ones.”
Dvalin took the candles and kissed Ærinndis on the cheek. Then the three men began attaching the candles to the branches.
Outside, Otnit peered through the window with a sneer. So, Hanar was making new ornaments for the tree. This was gonna be fun! He took off down the lane, his booted feet crunching in the snow. Hanar's house wasn't too far from the pub, and if he hurried, he could get there before his mother saw him.
He slowed to a walk as he passed Finna's house. He knew she'd be busy cooking like the rest of the women in town, but he didn't want to take any chances. Finna was known among the children as being able to spot wrong-doing from a mile away.
Otnit slowed to a tiptoe when he got in front of Hanar's house. The old dwarf was nice enough, but he didn't like nonsense or mischief and ran off anyone he thought was doing something wrong.
The house was quiet except for the soft sound of Hanar humming Christmas carols. The pansies he had so lovingly planted when the weather turned cold peeked from beneath their blanket of snow, looking like gumdrops on a white-iced cake. Otnit stomped these gleefully as he made his way to the window of Hanar's workshop.
A large fire burned in the fireplace across from the window and cast a warming glow across Hanar in his blue and yellow plaid overalls. He held something small and delicate in his hands – Otnit couldn't tell what – and was running a piece of paper covered with sand across it to smooth out the rough spots. On the table beside him sat a basket filled with brightly colored balls, drums, stars, and other things Otnit couldn’t see from where he stood.
Suddenly, Hanar looked up and spotted Otnit at the window. Otnit yelped and turned to run, but he tripped over the flower bed edging. He landed face down in the snow and choked as it filled his mouth.
A ham-fisted hand grabbed Otnit by the back of his shirt and set him on his feet.
“You wanna tell me why you’re stomping me flowers?” Hanar growled.
Otnit thought quickly. “I... I... wanted to see the ornaments you were making.”
“I'm sure,” Hanar responded in a tone that indicated he didn't believe the boy. “Well, Sir Klaus'll know.”
Otnit breathed a sigh of relief. Sir Klaus was only a story. If stupid old Hanar was gonna use that as a threat, then Otnit had nothing to worry about.
“Get on outta here,” Hanar said. “And be sure I'll be talking to your momma in a bit.”
Otnit's legs trembled, but he wasn't about to let Hanar see that. Without speaking, he turned and headed back toward Ynara's. He had to talk to his mother before Hanar did.
The stars twinkled like jewels on velvet. Snow covered the ground, reflecting the starlight with a serene brilliance. The air was clear and cold, with a breeze that hinted at clouds and snow before morning.
In the pub, the giant fir stood glittering with candles and ornaments, and mounds of gold and silver gifts lay heaped at its base. The wooden, ladder-backed chairs had been moved against the walls for sitting, while the round tables had been left in their places and piled with food. Roast ham, lovingly turned on the fire all day and seasoned with cinnamon, held the place of honor on the central table. Other tables held potatoes, beans, cranberry sauce, turkey, stuffing, and anything else imaginable. Then there were the tables covered with freshly baked bread, cookies, cakes, and fudge.
The entire village had turned out for the celebration. Esja pranced around in her new dress – white with a snow scene printed in blue. Beside her danced Birla in a frock of red and green plaid. Others were similarly attired in their Yuletide finest. Music played, and people danced, and laughter drifted into the silent night.
Balar, the closest thing Everstone had to a ruler, held up his hands. The music stopped, and the room fell silent. “Happy Yuletide, my friends!” he began. “On this darkest night of the year, we gather to celebrate the return of the light...”
Otnit rolled his eyes. This was the same stupid speech he gave last year. When were they gonna open presents?
“... visit from Sir Klaus.”
Otnit rolled his eyes again. He was so tired of hearing about Sir Klaus.
“Ráthsvith will now recite our traditional Yuletide poem about Sir Klaus, then we will open presents.”
Even Otnit cheered at that. He loved getting new toys for Yule.
Ráthsvith stood as straight as his crippled legs would allow and closed his eyes a moment to collect his thoughts. Then he began to speak, his soft voice filling the common room:
'Twas Yuletide at last, and a crystalline night.
The morn would soon bring the rebirth of the light.
Alone on his mountain a-dressed all in green
Sir Klaus stood surveying the wintery scene.
The toys in his pack he loaded onto his sled,
While he waited on young ones to snuggle in bed.
Then down through the snow with his white wolves to guide him
He came with the presents to leave there beside them.
Into each home he crept on silent-clad feet
Leaving gifts by the hearth and taking cookies to eat.
Then away he would slip with a flick of the reins
While children awoke to toys, dolls, and games.
But 'ware ye the child who would hinder the old,
For Sir Klaus will leave thee nothing but coal.
Ráthsvith finished to cheers and laughter from his fellow villagers. Gifts were passed around to squeals of delight from the children. The ham was carved and the turkey eaten. The little ones began to nod off with chocolate on their hands and cookie crumbs on their lips.
“Come on, Otnit,” Dýrfinna said quietly. “It's time to go home.”
Otnit had been dozing but jumped up when his mother called his name. He looked at her face to see if Hanar had told her about the flowers, but her soft smile told Otnit he was safe. So he stumbled through the snow beside her, happy to know that on the morrow he would have even more new toys than he had tonight.
As midnight approached and the residents of Everstone fell into an enchanted Yuletide slumber, Sir Klaus loaded his sled and placed his two white wolves in their traces. With a quiet 'mush' he sent them down the mountain and into the sleeping village, tiptoeing into each home and leaving gifts by the hearth and in hanging stockings. Then he slipped away into the night.
When Thekk awoke the following morning, he found a wooden horse waiting for him. Likewise, Birla and Esja found new dollies made to look just like them. Thorin found a toy sword and shield, for he wanted to be a warrior more than anything. And Dalla found a brand new teddy bear.
Otnit jumped from his bed and shoved his feet into his reindeer slippers. He ran from his room, sliding on the polished wood floor, and into the parlor where Dýrfinna had placed a small tree. He beamed when she entered carrying a large plate of his favorite griddle cakes and placed them on the table beside him.
“Thank you, Mommy,” he said in his sweetest voice.
“You're welcome,” Dýrfinna answered but without her usual warmth.
Otnit dashed to the fireplace where his stocking hung and took it from its hook. He looked inside to see what he'd gotten.
His stocking was full of great, ugly lumps of coal!
Otnit looked up at his mother as a tear rolled down his cheek.
“Sir Klaus left a note,” Dýrfinna said sadly.
Otnit dropped his head in shame.
“Ynara cried all afternoon yesterday,” Dýrfinna sighed. “And Dalla's cat had to be shaved. What you did was wrong, Otnit. It makes you look like a monster, and it makes me look bad because you're mine.”
“I'm sorry, Mommy,” Otnit said as more tears fell. And he really was.
“I'm not the one you need to apologize to,” Dýrfinna said sternly. “I'm not the one you wronged.”
Otnit nodded that he understood, but he couldn't speak for the tears. The guilt he'd felt over taking Ynara's cookies returned a hundred-fold, until he thought his heart would break.
“Sir Klaus left something else. Just in case you saw the error of your ways.”
Otnit looked up. His eyes glistened with tears, but his heart filled with hope.
Dýrfinna held up a single red and white candy cane. Otnit took it with a smile and realized it was the greatest gift he'd ever received.
A children's fantasy fiction short story