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Book One: Santa & the Lost Princess
Being the heretofore most secret Annals of Santopia as related to Sir Nicholas by the High Custodian of the Santa Museum & Historical Society
Sir Nicholas Throckmorton
Gramercy Park Press
SANTOPIA Book One: Santa & the Lost Princess Copyright © 2009 by Gramercy Park Press All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without written consent of the publisher, except for brief passages quoted in reviews. This is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to events, localities, or actual persons, is entirely coincidental. Published simultaneously in Canada and the United Kingdom. Printed in the United States of America First Edition ISBN-13 -978-0-9817154-0-7 ISBN-10 -09817154-0-0
gramercy-park-press.net 4 .santopia.Cover Art & Map by Max Forward A paperback original from Gramercy Park Press www.com www.
This is her book—I’ll give it away. Give her no spinach. no green Brussels sprout.Dedication To Amanda Throckmorton Her name is Amanda. ’Cause she’d rather smile and munch on a muffin. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful dream? She’ll have a small tiffin. or that’s what they say. a dealer in fun. some milk and ice cream. She’s a dealer in magic. and that’s what I hear. And she likes a slice of my cinnamon bun! If you are what you eat. but not so a tuffin. She’ll put an army of veggies to rout! No. She’s sweet with her cakes and her candies. 5 . the dear. give her some cookies.
you’re not quite to blame. Henry. that’s true. We love you so much—whatever your name! Preface / 5 Chapter 1 – A New Son! / 7 Chapter 2 – The Flying Trelves / 14 Chapter 3 – The Death of Connie / 18 Chapter 4 – Journey to Drear / 20 Chapter 5 – The Birth of Noelle / 26 Chapter 6 – Two Storks / 29 Chapter 7 – Taraxa and Inula Worry / 31 Chapter 8 – The Princess Dazzle / 33 Chapter 9 – Taraxa Sets Out / 34 Chapter 10 – The Volcanic Palace / 38 Chapter 11 – The Santa Museum / 49 Chapter 12 – The Schism / 51 Chapter 13 – Back to Drear / 53 Chapter 14 – No Slookery Juice for Baby! / 58 Chapter 15 – Master Control / 60 Chapter 16 – Hurry.She may not be a Throckmorton. we all muddle through. Hurry! / 63 Chapter 17 – Gelf Spicata / 65 Chapter 18 – The Grand Sleigh / 68 6 Table of Contents . But that’s not a problem. So here’s to Amanda.
a heavy burden is lifted from my gladdened heart. As I am far into old age. it is my fervent hope that I will have the 7 .Chapter 19 – A Job Well Done / 71 Chapter 20 – Into the Koliback Wood / 74 Chapter 21 – A Vexing Problem / 77 Chapter 22 – Across the Hyssopus Field / 79 Chapter 23 – The Sending Off Ceremony / 84 Chapter 24 – Setting Out / 88 Chapter 25 – The Forest of Shadows / 90 Chapter 26 – The Flying Trelves Deployed / 97 Chapter 27 – The Magic Staff / 102 Preview of Books 2 – 5 of The Annals of Santopia: / 111 SANTOPIA Book One: Santa & the Lost Princess Preface Finally. Santopia. the story can be told! Now that the current Santa has granted permission to reveal the true and accurate history of his homeland.
Perhaps that’s because it is also the story of the first Santa that I actually knew personally. While this is certainly not the first book in the whole history of Santopia. my modest goal in this first volume is to tell you the story of a true Princess of Santopia. and though I did not come to know him intimately until he was an old man. it is certainly one of my most favourites.strength to set down this history before I am taken away. and how she came to be lost. his story begins—does not every story?—on the day he was born. Though the history of Santa is a long tale spanning many centuries. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton London 8 .
jingle-jinglejingle and jangle-jangle-jangle every morning when they wake up.Santopia Book One: Santa & the Lost Princess Chapter 1 . there’s a bell on every rooftop. Well. When the new Elf family moved in on that first day (only Elf families get houses—before they are 10 . there’s always more than one bell.A New Son! In faraway Santopia. What better way to wake up than with the sound of cheerful bells ringing every morning? So down through the centuries it became a custom to erect a small cluster of bells at the top of each new house the day it was built and before the Elves moved in. for the simple reason that Elves like to hear them ring-ring-ring. Santa always told the Elves that it was up to them to be happy when the new day started.
push. push. as was her habit. Elves live in Blue Boy Barracks and Elfies live in Pink Girl Barracks). the father Elf would pull the string that ran down the side of the house to the front door. jabbing his shoulder. and his wife. pushing on his shoulder. or to signal an emergency. mother Elf would ring the bell to call in her children for meals. when father Elf went to work. ringing. ringing the bells for the first time. baking the oversized morning bun they’d share before going off to work— she to her job in the Santa Museum. One could even accuse her of jab. ringing. he would ring the bell on his way out. and the new house was ready! From then on. “Wha—? Wha—?” was all he could manage to say. to do their chores. And during the day.married. so much did it hurt. and 11 . And so it was that Elf Duncan opened his eyes with a start when he heard bells ringing. “Hurry. had been up much earlier than Duncan. jab. Duncan! Hurry!—this must mean the baby’s born!” Elfie Molliso. Elfie Molliso.
I’m coming.” Sure that Duncan was right behind her.he to Toy Workhouse No. have a pink tint to their cheeks) and she regarded her husband with disdain. all right! I’ll be right behind you. “You are coming into the street with everybody else. Molliso—just put on the kettle. “All right. The blue tint in his cheeks (all boy Elves in Santopia have a blue tint to their cheeks) grew a little bluer as he fully roused himself. Let me find my cap. Duncan! This very instant!” she commanded. He’d had a long month. Duncan’s mouth stretched itself into a wide yawn. Molliso dashed through the red 12 . 7. “All right. where he was Foreman. working to get all the toys in his division ready for Christmas. will-ya? I’ll have a cup before we join the town. Duncan took a little longer to raise himself from what had been a deep slumber.” Elfie Molliso’s small head popped through the doorway into the bedroom. of course. The pink in her cheeks got pinker (all Elfies in Santopia.
his eyebrow arched up. and then padded into the tiny kitchen where he put the kettle on. Duncan crawled out of bed—it was but a short hop to the floor for one so small —and pulled on his pale blue jumpsuit with its gold badge on the right breast pocket indicating his rank as Foreman of Toy Workhouse No. 13 . Elf Duncan’s nose twitched involuntarily. He thought by the time Molliso turned around to find him. 7 and his yellow cap with a miniature four-inch flag pole with a tiny version of Santa’s pennant hanging from it. He shook his head to get rid of the cobwebs.front door of their cottage faster than a brisk North Wind. and his lips curled into a mischievous grin as he spied a large hot cinnamon bun Molliso had just taken out of the oven and left on the kitchen sideboard where it was sending out sweet hungerinducing aromas. went to a wash bowl in the corner and splashed his face with some water to wake up a little more. she’d think he was lost in the cheering crowd.
held up her baby boy to Santa’s outstretched arms. my dear. were her husband. High above the town. Santa. and Connie’s doctors and attendants. gathered in Connie’s bedchamber to view the newborn babe. the very picture of exhaustion. Connie. Here it was. “You look so weak. Santa knelt beside her. Lord Elfington. Connie. Chief of all the Elves. before joining the surging throngs now filling the quaint streets. just two days before Christmas Eve. he thought. Ameritus. and the bells from every rooftop jingled and jangled. ringing out in celebration as all of Santopia poured into the streets to welcome a new Prince born to Santa and his wife. Will you be all right?” 14 . the Great Wizard of Santopia. Santa Pops. alleyways and narrow passages of Santopia.Maybe he could drink two cups of tea.
“Go. my dear—don’t worry about me. “I’ll be back quickly. I love you more than anything. “And I love to look at you looking at him.” Connie said with a weary smile. The physician came around the headboard and sat on the bed to hold Connie’s hand as she fell asleep with fatigue.” “Show the people our boy. I’ll be here.” said the doctor.” Connie said. 15 .” Santa said with a giggle.” “You have Christmas in two days. and then I’ll be back by your side. don’t worry about me. he’s so adorable!” “I just love to look at him. Santa. languishing.” “I love you more than Christmas. Santa. but glanced up over the headboard where Connie’s chief physician stood next to Lord Elfington and the man shook his head. “I’m going to show the people our new son.” Santa took the squealing baby and walked over to stand by his father. “How’s Connie?” asked Santa Pops.“Oh.” Connie said tenderly. “Look. Santa smiled at her.
“I name my son Prince Nicholas. for all his other magical powers. complicated moustaches and sideburns.” said the Wizard. so we can come back to her.” “Let’s get through this. They were distinguished by their highly intricate facial hair designs—that is. Santa turned to all the dignitaries in the room. (All Wizards in Santopia are short. Santa Pops nudged the Great Wizard. eh.“Not so good. Alas. The Wizard took in a couple of long. he was destined to remain short. Even the Wizard’s Welves. heir to the Kingdom of Santopia!” There was great cheering from all the notables. Santa Pops. but not as short as Elves. deep breaths as if by so doing he might somehow magically improve upon his height. drawing himself up to his full height of four feet ten inches. were festooned with 16 . “It would not be out of order for the Wizard to issue a Prophecy on such a momentous occasion. his protectors and guardians. then. Wizard?” “Indeed you are right.” said his dad.
catching the glances of all the people looking at him in high expectation while he turned over in his befuddled mind the different prophecies that he could conjure. when he is invested with mystical powers at the Ritual of the Green Gloves and proclaimed the future Santa. and nodding heads indicated general approval of the Wizard’s Prophecy. still holding the child. yes! he thought.) The Wizard’s eyes dashed about the room. the Prince will claim her as his bride and future Queen!” The buzz in the room rose.elaborate designs of facial hair. Ah. “I. 17 . Santa turned. Great Wizard of Santopia. Santa caught the twinkle in the Wizard’s eye. “… and on his eighteenth birthday. Ameritus. proclaim the first girl born after Prince Nicholas to be his rightful Queen …” There was a murmur throughout Connie’s bedchamber. And they were a full foot shorter than the Wizard.
” “I am happy you are pleased. Santa. As Santa moved out to a large terrace overlooking the town square to show the new Prince to the wildly cheering Santopians gathered before the Palace. he whispered. “Ah. bring more happiness to the people of Drear. Great Wizard. “Do you think a marriage between the houses of Drear and Santa is wise. Great Wizard. knowing how the Baroness has always hated Christmas?” The Wizard nodded. if she is blessed with a girl. Santa Pops moved closer to the Wizard.“You please me.” said the Wizard with a bow. but Santa has always wanted to change her heart. With the Baroness von Drear so close to giving birth to her child. we will be able to bring more happiness to her people when they rejoin our Kingdom. What better way than this to bring about such a fine deed?” “I hope you and Santa are not blessing Drear’s heart with a goodness that is not there.” said Santa Pops as 18 . Over the cheering and clamouring in the square below.
When she married (far below her station. all he saw was trouble if Drear delivered a girl. As he thought about it. Santa Pops knew full well there was no undoing a Wizardorial Prophecy. the Baroness was the first woman ever to hold domain over the Realm of Drear. some in the Kingdom thought) she elevated her new husband to the title of Count. This became a perplexing situation to which Santa Pops realized then and there he’d have to devote a lot of thought. There was always the possibility the Baroness would have a boy—the Drear line had always run to boys. 19 .” mused the Wizard. “I wonder. Even the Wizard himself could not undo a Prophecy once he declared it. But everybody in the Kingdom knew who wore the pants over at Castle Drear.they both moved onto the terrace to look upon the happy multitude of Santopians throwing their caps up to the sky. “What?” replied a sullen Santa Pops as he snapped out of his reverie. In fact.
) “We have to hurry. He knew how urgently the Baroness von Drear wanted to know about the birth.” he told his Gelf driver. 20 . Gelf Spicata. and his very precise instructions were to send the Courier back on Flying Trelves with all the details of the birth. He had to get back to the Realm as fast as the sleigh could carry him. She’d sent an Official Skelf Courier along with him.“How do thousands of Elves find their caps after they throw them all into the air?” Chapter 2 – The Flying Trelves As the news of Prince Nicky’s birth spread over Santopia. (Couriers rode in a sling precariously balanced between two Flying Trelves. the High Representative from the Realm of Drear. That meant driving the Hyssopus-bred reindeer relentlessly hard and fast across Frozen Lake. ran down to the lakeside and his waiting sleigh. The driver nodded.
But the driver knew what Spicata knew: it was still half a day’s trip back to the Castle. as Spicata got into the sleigh. and that Ameritus the Wizard has prophesied …” Spicata watched as the Flying Trelves readied the sling. The Courier came up. followed by the two Flying Trelves carrying the sling. He’d actually flown in a sling twice before. He didn’t much like Trelves. although it was considered very inelegant for a Gelf of his standing to fly in a sling. you’re to tell the Baroness that Santa has a new son. But he’d been thrown with them much more since he rose to become the Count’s right hand Gelf. Though it was quick work to get across the lake in just a couple of hours. and one bounced up and down in the sling with every flap of the 21 . either the Grounded or the Flying variety. it was a rough-and-tumble mode of transport. even if they changed reindeer midway at the Wizard’s Volcanic Palace. Trelves formed the rank and file of the security forces in the Realm of Drear. “Orders. sir?” “Yes.
And their drool was not only wet. Flying Trelves provided the only form of airborne travel in the Realm. fire-snorting Reindeer Flagare bred on the far side of the Frizolean Glacier used only for her personal transport. “Courier!” “Sir?” “I’m bumping you. My clothes will be ruined. the Baroness wouldn’t be caught dead “slinging it” between two drooling Trelves. but that was all. thought Spicata. But he would be first back with the all-important news! Not half a day behind the news. As for the sling. Only Santa had the Helleborean Reindeer that could fly. And drooled.” 22 . The Baroness had her ordinary reindeer bred in the Hyssopus Field and her fierce. Ugh. And drooled. Trelves drooled. Then there was the whole distasteful matter of Trelf drool.Trelves’ wings.” “Sir?” “You’re going back in the sleigh. it was smelly. I’m going back in the sling.
The two Trelves looked at each other in alarm—they’d never carried such an important person on a mission in their whole lives. “Let be quick about it,” ordered Spicata. He’d never liked the look of the Flying Trelves. They had scales where others (like Gelf Spicata) had skin. Their eyes were too far apart and higher on the head than normal. This made it difficult to look one “straight in the eye” because the Trelf constantly had to turn a little bit this way or a little bit that way to see you properly. They had what could only be described as minirhinoceros noses that came up from a large base into a tiny point—a rather sharp tiny point at that, Spicata knew all too well. A cornered Trelf was a nasty customer when he came at you with his nose. Flying Trelves, of course, never got cornered. They just flew up and over you, if they could get a running start. The Trelves lowered the sling and Spicata stepped into it, one leg in each hole. The ends of the sling were attached to a long pole that each Trelf
carried over his shoulders and held with his hands so the occupant of the sling was suspended—helpless as a baby— between the two Trelves. Getting airborne was considered one of the more undignified aspects of “slinging it.” The occupant of the sling had to run along the ground as the Trelves got up enough speed to lift off, waddling along like a baby in a potato sack race. “Hand me that lap rug,” he told the Courier, who gave him the item from the sleigh. “All right, you two, back to the Castle!” The Flying Trelves positioned themselves on Frozen Lake with a clear expanse ahead of them. At a nod from Spicata, they started trotting along the ice, Spicata slipping and sliding as they got up their speed. Finally, they lifted off, and Spicata immediately remembered that he’d vomited multiple times on his two previous trips in a sling. Well, he thought, there’s nothing to be done about it. He wrapped the lap rug around
his face and expensive uniform to shield them as much as he could from the drool that began to flow in abundance from the wide toothy mouths of the Flying Trelves. Chapter 3 – The Death of Connie As Santa was lifting his son and showing him to the overjoyed people of Santopia, Connie’s physician came through the door onto the terrace and whispered to Santa Pops. Santa Pops leaned over to the Wizard. “Wizard, go to Connie. She needs your magic.” The Wizard nodded and withdrew with the physician. “You, too, Lord Elfington,” Santa Pops nodded. “See what you can do.” Santa Pops slowly came up behind Santa and, in full view of the crowd, began waving to thunderous cheers from below. The people revered Santa Pops, but loved his son just as much. They made a fine pair standing on the terrace, both in their red cadet-style uniforms, Santa Pops a robust old man
“I will hold the boy for the people. he and the other dignitaries withdrew from the terrace and the huge glass French doors were closed behind them. athletic.in his seventies with a big belly and a bald head fringed with snow-white hair. handsome. 26 . his salt-andpepper hair giving him just the right touch of authority.” Santa handed Nicky over to Santa Pops. “You should go back to Connie!” The look in his dad’s eyes left no room for misinterpretation. and dashed back into the bedchamber.” whispered Lord Elfington. commanding. his son the very picture of a man in his prime. A few minutes later. Santa Pops had to raise his voice to be heard over the throng. “Too late. broad-shouldered. Santa Pops handed the baby to an Elfie nurse and rushed over to the bed where Santa was already on his knees sobbing with his face buried in Connie’s lifeless hands. waved one last time to the crowd. when Santa Pops thought the people had seen enough of their future Santa.
“Don’t speak to me!” Whenever a Trelf spoke.“So sad. sir. And. more drool spattered from his wide mouth. the less said. And with so much drool running. knelt beside him and put his hands on Santa’s shoulders and gave them a fatherly squeeze. in their case. the better.” said the Wizard. Chapter 4 – Journey to Drear After two hours in the air. Santa Pops crept up silently behind his son with tears in his eyes. he’d vomited not two. he thought. 27 .” announced the Trelf to his left. Spicata was soaked through and through with hideously smelling Trelf drool. spitting out two quarts of drool onto his dripping lap rug. Words were not necessary to convey the grief that filled the room. but three times! Ugh. Trelves actually could not close their mouths— they always had that open-mouthed vacant look that clueless stupid people had. “Comin’ up on the Castle.
which was both wide and deep. half of the huge structure protruding from the mountainside like a massive outgrowth. There was Castle Drear in all its majesty. the other half buried deep within the caverns and caves and passageways dug into the depths of the mountain over the generations. Flying Trelves were always landing on the Terrace in an emergency. The many rooms in her vast apartment gave off onto the Long Terrace. 28 . a whole world suspended a thousand feet above Frozen Lake. saw no spring or fall or summer. a place where winter dwelt year-round. Castle Drear had been added to by each successive ruler till now there must have been a thousand rooms in the Castle (nobody had ever counted them all).Spicata looked up. This is where Spicata would land today. It was a world of ice and mountain stone that never thawed. built on a massive outcrop of the Verbena Mountain Range. On the far left side of the Castle was the Baroness’s suite.
The mountains rose over two miles high.The Verbena Mountains ended abruptly at the Long Terrace. The Forest circled about a quarter of Frozen Lake. hugging precariously to the mountainside. Legend had it that the original Santa had a hut placed on a broad ledge where he installed a small outpost garrisoned with his Purple Elves 29 . as did the Forest. the Verbenas the remaining threequarters. It was a stupendous sight to see the huge branches of the Forest creak and groan and pull apart to create the magical tunnel for Santa. The Long Terrace actually jutted out above the tunnel. The opening in the Forest was immediately next to the Terrace. and the Forest of Shadows began. and was the reason why the Castle had been built so far up. It was from the Long Terrace that the Baroness sat in her throne made of wood and thistles every Christmas Eve to acknowledge Santa as the Grand Sleigh appeared and the Forest magically opened a leafy passageway through which Santa piloted his way to the Other World.
because they heard a cursing wail rise up to them right after Spicata had last burped up his vomit. His last upheaval had occurred when he and his Flying Trelves had gone through a sudden flash of heat rising from the Volcanic Palace.to monitor the Forest as it slowly grew to the same height of the mountain range. the Great Wizards of 30 . The Wizard’s Volcanic Palace was quite a sight even when one approached it in a sleigh—but to see it from the air made it even more unbelievable. cutting off access to the Other World. For longer than anyone could remember. and some of his spit-up must have landed on one of the Wizard’s chubby little Welves standing guard on one of the ramparts. As his Trelves slowly descended on approach to the crenulated parapets of the Long Terrace. There was nothing left for him to vomit out of his churning stomach. This was a sight Spicata had never seen before. Spicata prepared himself for a rough landing.
son of Vulcan. the rulers of Drear took the opportunity to rebel against Santa.) As a condition. down the Volcano on all sides in brilliant orange and red rivulets into Frozen Lake where they would send up a continuing 31 . The Volcano had long been a retreat for Cacus. God of Fire. (Cacus reminded the Wizard that Santa had brought in the ancestors of Drear himself. Cacus demanded the Wizard and all his descendants live in a Palace built on the side of the Volcano. The Great Wizard of the time had gone to the Volcano and made the peace—Cacus would retire to the molten regions below if Santa would let the newcomers rule Drear.Santopia had lived in a Palace built on the side of a live Volcano. slowly and steadily. and when it erupted. The firestorm was so great even Santa could not get around it with his army of Felves (Santa’s Flying Elves) to cross Frozen Lake to subdue the uprising in Drear. The last eruption took place during the Schism— when Drear became semi-autonomous from the Kingdom of Santopia. Lava would flow.
If the houses were ever united by marriage. as they tried to brake to an elegant stop before the Baroness.burst of steam—just to remind the Wizard that Cacus was living not too far below. running. 32 . however. coming up to the Long Terrace. was his burning stomach and his soaking wet and slobber-smelling tunic. slower and slower and slower. The Flying Trelves touched down. run. What was true. it’s Spicata!” he heard the Count say. their feet run. And all would be well as long as there was peace between the houses of Drear and Santa. the Volcano would die and sink into the depths of Frozen Lake and the Wizard would be free to return his Household to Santopia. “Why. But that was legend. Spicata and the Flying Trelves sank lower and lower. and a few seconds later he saw the Count and Baroness rush out from her suite. none of it was necessarily true. Spicata heard a trumpet sound their approach. and as far as Spicata knew.
He moved toward them. Spicata delivered his news about the birth of Prince Nicky.Once they were stopped. Spicata looked down —he was dripping wet and a large pool of drool formed at his feet. When she heard the news. “I apologize to my lady for—” “Enough of that. word of the Wizard’s Prophecy. but he kept tripping. Everyone knew the Baroness was due to have her child in just a few days. You can clean up afterwards. He turned and saw the look of horror on the faces of his masters. but they took two steps back. The Baroness brought a handkerchief to her nose and the Count raised his fingers to close off his—they could smell the drool on him from twenty feet away. 33 . Spicata.” snapped the very pregnant Baroness. and even more important. Drear’s eyes widened. Make your report. Spicata fussed in a futile and awkward attempt to get out of the sling with some semblance of dignity.
34 . and report back to me—we will have more to ask you later.) “I will have my Princess now!” she demanded. Back and forth she paced. “Please come back inside. back and forth. Drear paced anxiously from one end of the Long Terrace to the other. And they do not drool. and consider themselves quite above the other two kinds of Elves that inhabit Castle Drear. Clean yourself. (Skelves are much taller than Trelves and Gelves. Her husband was beside himself.” “My lady.“Leave us.” Spicata bowed and backed away from Drear until he could turn and race inside the Castle to a hot bath. my dear— stay where it is warm. her haughty Skelf physician entered with two assistants. Spicata. She clapped her hands and a couple of her squat ugly Gelf attendants with their oversized jowls hastened over to her. “Summon my physician!” Moments later.” “I know what to do!” she announced.
then back to the Baroness. a baby girl was born in the warmth of a hut in a small village in the 35 . you are not—” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. Count? We must ensure our child is next born. Our daughter shall be Queen of Santopia! Finally! The two parts of Santopia joined together again! The end of the Schism!” Chapter 5 – The Birth of Noelle But as the frightened doctor and his assistants began their work. “Don’t you see what this means.The Skelf physician looked at his assistants. “Silence!” The Count stepped forward. “But …” he protested. is it safe?” A fire burned in Drear’s eyes. “Baroness. “My dear. and even as the bells were still ringing out all over Santopia. far below the pediments of rock and ice unthawed for centuries that formed the dark and ominous Castle Drear.
” said the midwife. rocking Noelle in her arms.Koliback Wood to Inula and her husband. a coal miner. now pale and weak after childbirth.” Taraxa leaned down and kissed his wife gently on the forehead. Taraxa. you know what the Baroness thinks about Christmas. but for now. Taraxa. Christmas in Santopia. strong from hauling coal up from the Tilldeppen Mines halfway across the Verbenas toward the Glacier. we’ll call her Noelle. She put her arms around his massive shoulders.” “You have to rest. we’ll think of something different later. 36 .” scolded the midwife. “You’re very weak. I will hold the child. Inula. “Inula.” “I know. What makes her so hard?” “It’s been that way for generations. but still beautiful with her long raven-black hair and piercing green eyes. “It’s so close to Christmas. but no Christmas for us. why don’t we call her Noelle?” Taraxa looked admiringly at his wife. Here.” “Well. “A difficult childbirth. Inula.
a ferociously efficient rumour mill exists that passes news down by word-ofmouth faster than any Flying Trelf can carry it. Everybody rushed into the hut where Inula lay with her little Noelle to congratulate them.” said the midwife. “I’ll be fine.” Inula said. they went wild. “Maybe this will bring you good fortune. So it did not take long for word of Prince Nicky’s birth to trickle down into Taraxa’s village.“You’re lucky to be alive.” “There’s no rush.” she chuckled. now.” But when the villagers heard about the Prophecy that came along with Nicky’s birth. stroking Inula’s hair. The child. “the child is sturdy as one ‘o them Helleborean reindeer over in Santopia.” said Taraxa.” “I only need a few days. “We have all the time in the world. “Yes.” Taraxa said when he heard the news. 37 . “A great thing to be born the same day as a Prince.” In any tightly closed world such as that controlled by Castle Drear.
rich. “that your little one is destined to be Queen of Santopia.” “Sure.” laughed Groomsman Yarrow. “but how does Taraxa get word to Santa about his little girl?” “The Baroness doesn’t just let her people skate across Frozen Lake to freedom. “She’ll have to be dealt with. “It means.” 38 . the Prophecy said the young Prince will come to claim the girl.The shock was complete. “What does this mean?” Inula cried out.” “Well. even if Ameritus the Wizard issues a Prophecy.” railed the hysterical midwife.” “We don’t even know if the young girl will live to be a year old. rich—living in splendour in Santopia. “Nothing like this has ever happened before.” said another villager.” said one. when he’s eighteen.” said Yarrow. Other villagers crowded into the small hut. that’s what it means!” “You’ll all be rich. “No.
admitting a wave of freezing air. “Open the Terrace doors—the heat is too much in here.” “Yes. driving out any heat coming from the two fireplaces. All of you—out!” Chapter 6 – Two Storks? As the Baroness lay sweating and writhing in her bed in the pain and joy of childbirth. she called to her husband.“Much less eighteen!” On and on the chattering villagers went until Taraxa threw them all out. hauling herself up onto her stubby feet. All the Skelves and Gelves in the room shivered as the Frizolean blast filled the room.” “Damp the fire. He went to the huge French doors giving onto the Long Terrace and threw them open.” the Count ordered a Gelf standing in the corner. “Everybody leave and let her have some quiet time with the baby. 39 . “Inula’s weak as a sapling. “Inula needs her rest.” demanded the midwife.” he said.
He could just make out the Frontier Outpost Stations a few miles out on Frozen Lake. Hopefully.But the Baroness took a deep breath or two and smiled. it comes!” The Count raised his eyeglass and scanned the horizon. Slowly. ever more slowly. gently coming down toward the Castle. He raised his glass and watched as the stork circled and circled. Suddenly. 40 . it comes. her smile was gone. my wife. it descended. She lived for the cold. Her eyes went wide with excitement and apprehension. it would be a daughter. She loved it. and she would be future Queen of Santopia. “Yes. When it landed. Count. Every winter these Outpost Stations had to be erected to prevent their subjects from escaping across the lake to Santopia. there flies the stork!” The Count turned and ran out onto the Terrace to see the stork with its wide wings majestically approaching Castle Drear to take up a steady circular orbit over the highest towers. he would be a father. “Look.
and he ran to her side. Chapter 7 – Taraxa and Inula Worry It wasn’t long before Groomsman Yarrow and the midwife crept up to Taraxa’s hut and called his name softly. this one rising from the dense Koliback Wood a thousand feet below the Castle. Taraxa came out. He adjusted his eyeglass—there was no question about it: a stork in the Koliback Wood. But just then the Baroness cried out.He heard the Baroness cry out as the doctors worked on her. But as he turned. He raised the glass to his eye and saw a second stork. And it was a girl! 41 . He had to go back. a sudden movement caught his eye. “What’s this?” he mumbled to himself. They told him the latest news—the Baroness had that afternoon forced her baby’s birth ten days early.
All the neighbours nodded and mumbled their assent. guiltily. “That is what we will tell them.” Taraxa said to his neighbours.” said Taraxa. in any case. “Friends.” said the midwife. not this morning.” Everybody nodded. The Gelves know Inula was to have a child. creeping up quietly. “We can all say Noelle was born this afternoon.” said Groomsman Yarrow. “you must help us. They all knew what it would mean if the Castle learned Noelle had been born before the new Princess.” “The Gelves won’t make their daily rounds until tomorrow midday. “We will help you. but they don’t have to know the exact hour she was born.Taraxa looked over their shoulders and saw all the other villagers gathering behind Yarrow and the midwife in the twilight.” “We will support you. Where two hours earlier had been a sea of happy faces and a chorus of good cheer now looked like a crowd of sad people shuffling quietly in a funeral march. 42 .
looking over to his wife and child.” “Yes. “I have a plan. Sadness engulfed him.” He knelt by his wife and daughter and took them both in his strong arms. They always do. She’d been watching Taraxa pace back and forth. holding them for a long time. hauling food. Taraxa put more wood on the fire. his wife nodded.” “What’s to be done?” “A storm is coming out of the mountains tonight. “someone will tell.” said Inula.” he whispered. 43 . Tomorrow there will be a pretty price on all our heads. cutting timber. the neighbours left the new family to themselves. return to stoke the fire.” “Even if it’s just to get a better assignment. leave the warm hut to look over the lake. “What do you really think?” asked Inula when they were alone.After a while. After he explained. “All of us. to get out of the coal mines and into a job up on the surface.” he said bluntly. “We are doomed.
you are right. So beautiful.“Yes. Count. He rose and walked outside to get a better look at the dark clouds gathering high above the mountain peaks surrounding Frozen Lake. 44 . It’s only a matter of time.” said Taraxa. close the doors. It’ll be a savage night out. I don’t want our little Dazzle to catch a cold. gently swaying back and forth. Look at her.” “Yes. lulling the baby to sleep. Soon then! Chapter 8 – The Princess Dazzle The Count von Drear came into his wife’s chamber and closed the Terrace doors. my dear. “A storm is coming. The Count’s spies are everywhere.” The Count walked over and put his hand on his wife’s shoulder. She’s so beautiful. Drear cradled the little Dazzle in her arms.” “Good.
my dear. The firm chin. I think you’re right. my dear Count.” “Born to be a Princess. She does look just like me. But the strawberry blonde hair. The lands controlled by Drear 45 . a mighty blizzard borne by the Monarda Winds swept down out of the high Verbena Mountains and over the Frizolean Glacier and onto Frozen Lake. looking at the baby’s reddish hair and bright brown eyes.” said the Count. it’s just like yours. “Actually. Visibility would soon be zero. and a Queen she shall be!” Chapter 9 – Taraxa Sets Out As dusk approached. The flawless skin. it was explicitly forbidden to leave without special permission of the Skelf bureaucrats at the Castle. The velvety eyes.” the Baroness corrected.” “Born to be a Queen. my dear.“Looks just like you. In the Realm of Drear. The Count von Drear’s spies. as well as sentries posted at all trails and passes leaving the Realm. enforced the order.
There was no safe harbour anywhere. there were Trelf sentries positioned at the Frontier Outpost Stations a couple of miles out on the lake. Inula had nursed Noelle. made it to the Wizard’s Volcanic Palace in the middle of the lake. controlled by the Great Wizard. Taraxa prepared to venture forth. some lucky souls had escaped. and thence to the freedom of Santopia on the far side. and as it blew down onto the lake. Even so. There were small spoil islands dotting the lake—once you reached the half-way point—but these were inhabited by the Welves. daring— and dangerous. But even sentries cannot see through a blizzard.backed up onto Frozen Lake. and then as she slept soundly. but that was no escape. 46 . In the distant past. As the blizzard came down and the villagers withdrew to the warmth of their sheds and huts. Taraxa crept out and dug a makeshift grave. Taraxa’s plan was simple. bundled her up tight and warm in a backpack that Taraxa would wear on his journey.
the fierce Monarda Winds howling and screaming in his ears. he and Inula would put out the word that Noelle had died during the night. Taraxa skated out onto the lake a mile away from the Outpost Station in order to avoid the Trelf sentries posted there. Taraxa would try to make it to the Volcanic Palace to seek the Wizard’s help. Or try! Under cover of the blizzard and nightfall. which was the main road to the Volcanic Palace.In the morning. leave Noelle in his care. And during the night. they would both attempt to escape forever across Frozen Lake. and when he was far enough out to be invisible to them. There was a Frontier Outpost Station at the Urtica Road. Taraxa struck out across Frozen Lake. He would have to follow the road or be lost in the 47 . turned back to catch the road. and return home before dawn. After their story was accepted and Inula strong enough to make the journey. which led to Ice Cube Road.
Luckily. When he stopped. the high wind kept the snow moving. Then the pain became so great. he lifted a small flap to check on little Noelle. But the 48 .blizzard. But still. He was concerned that the ruts made by the sleigh traffic would fill in and the sight of the road be lost to him. but every mile there was a signpost. His legs were as stout as any of the workers who slaved away for the Baroness. swooshh. and Taraxa’s legs fell into a swift and steady rhythm as one leg went out ahead of the other— swooshh. and he had to be careful not to miss one lest he and Noelle perish in the cold. his strong thighs seized up and he had to stop to rest for a few minutes before moving on. swooshh—he was thankful now for the heavy loads of coal he had carried on his broad shoulders deep in the Tilldeppen Mines. about an hour into his journey. Taraxa’s muscles strained as he pushed himself harder and harder against the fierce winds.
and 49 . Inula crept out of her hut. fighting against the whipping Monarda Winds. with his head down and his shoulders hunched forward with his rhythmic skating. Twice on his journey he had heard the sleigh bells. Back in the Koliback Wood. Taraxa occasionally raised his earmuffs to listen for sleigh bells. he’d almost been caught by a sleigh bearing down on him. Taraxa quickly closed the flap to keep the warmth from his body inside the backpack. with a deep breath. Then. Once. he hauled himself to his feet and resumed his exhausting journey. but he looked up at the last minute and saw the lamps burning on either side of the driver.little baby never cried out. each time. and dashed off the road a distance to let the sleigh coaches pass.
Her thoughts turned to Taraxa and her little girl. And then a great sigh came from her. and rushed to get back into the hut for warmth—and privacy—so no one would see her cry her heart out. Would she ever see Noelle again? Would she ever see Taraxa again? 50 . She caught herself in a trembling shiver. and she could feel the heaving sobs rising from her belly. and then to have her in her arms but for a single day—not even a whole day—a few short hours. Nine months. She had carried Noelle for nine months.went to the rise behind the clearing where Taraxa had made the grave. where just the day before Noelle lay warm and comfy. safe and secure against the harshness of the world. No one had seen him dig the small trench and fill it with chopped firewood. It was not uncommon for babies to die so soon after birth. Conditions were not the best in their little village. It was just a fresh grave among a lot of older ones.
Taraxa could make out the lava flows streaming bright red and orange down every side of the Volcano. To regain her strength. And a few minutes later. She had to force herself to sleep. even as weak and exhausted and worried as she was. 51 .What would she say to the villagers if he did not return by dawn? She lay awake. a beacon of hope. Even against the howling Monarda Winds and sheets of blinding snow. he could see the lights in the Volcanic Palace itself. Chapter 10 – The Volcanic Palace After four gruelling hours. If Taraxa returned. trying to sleep but unable to. Soon he could see the layer of steam circling the base of the Volcano where the lava hit the lake. As soon as she did. rising up the side of the Volcano. they would make a bold break away from the evils of Castle Drear and begin a new life in Santopia. they twinkled into the night.
even though they were forbidden to travel there. He just knew he had to get back to Inula before dawn or their plan would fail. so he had not made good time. And even though he’d never been beyond the Volcanic Palace to Santopia. he knew all about it. when he’d been sent as a last minute replacement as part of a team delivering a load of lumber the Wizard needed for a new wing he was adding. Taraxa came up to the cloud of steam and saw a well-marked road that led through the steam into the heart of the lower court.He was thoroughly exhausted. His skates were slowed by the drifting snow thrown off by the blizzard. only once. Their world was so small—an underground network kept the gossip and rumours flowing—all the inhabitants knew everything about every part of the Kingdom. but he remembered everything about the trip. That had been many years ago. He also saw a dozen Welves waddling toward him as they lowered 52 . Taraxa had been to the Volcanic Palace once before.
but Taraxa had heard they were fierce fighters when called upon. “Halt!” cried several chubby Welves in unison. “What’s all this?” 53 .their pointed lances at him in a defensive manoeuvre. “I need help!” Taraxa yelled over the wind. The Welves all had faces of little old men with intricately shaped moustaches. each quite different from the other. stepped forward. they were not very imposing. As the sole Guard of the Great Wizard. He slung his backpack off his shoulder and opened it up. with a gold braid over his shoulder. “I must see the Wizard!” One of the Welves. He was obviously Captain of the Guard. Little Noelle started crying. There were more than a dozen Welves. who had lower bodies like penguins—round and gelatin-wiggly with fat—and they waddled rather than walked. Turn back!” “I can’t!” yelled Taraxa. “You’ve come from the Realm of Drear! It is forbidden for you to come here! The Baroness will be furious if we let you in.
sir!” replied the Welf. The Wizard issues prophecies all the time. yessir.“The Wizard must see this child. “Why. rap. but the Captain of the Guard sends his 54 .” “I have no idea what you’re talking about. He’d just donned his flannel nightshirt and adjusted the cotton placeholder that wrapped around his extravagantly coifed whiskers and was cozily settling into bed snuggling up to his hot water bottle when there came a rap. turning to a subordinate Welf. rapping at his door.” The Wizard. “Wha—? What’s that?—who’s there?” he called out. and I will see if the Great Wizard will receive you. was upstairs and very ready for bed. “Sorry to disturb you. “Well. His Welf valet opened the door with a creak. Great Wizard. meanwhile. She is part of his Prophecy. you’ll just have to come inside and warm yourself. all the time. sitting bolt upright. doesn’t he?” asked the Captain.
Great Wizard. well.” The sleepy Welf. but of course he didn’t dare in front of the Great 55 . yes. very put out to have been shuffled out of bed on this cold night for any errand whatsoever. you say?” the Wizard scratched his head under his nightcap. “A coal miner?” “From the Realm of Drear. yawned (or stifled a yawn) smacked his lips and rubbed his eyes as he bowed.compliments and desires you to receive a. he says it’s a coal miner from the Realm of Drear.” “Coal miner? … little girl? … Prophecy?” “According to the Captain of the Guard. uh. but the Captain of the Guard says the coal miner has a little girl who fulfills your Prophecy.” “From the Realm of Drear? A coal miner. your Grace. milord.” The freezing Welf was finding it harder and harder not to yawn.” “It can’t wait till morning? There’s a blizzard outside coming off the Frizolean Glacier!” “Yes. “According to the Captain of the Guard.
It wasn’t even a fire. in any 56 . but after a few minutes the heat from the fire began to make a difference and he felt himself—little by little—thaw out. Taraxa had to admit. “This better be good. He shuddered with cold. glad to have any reason to come indoors from the bitter cold outside. this was the strangest fire he’d ever seen. But he could move his feet and wiggle his toes to keep them warm out of sight beneath his long nightshirt. not a proper one.” said the Wizard as he slipped one foot out of his warm bedclothes and touched the icy slate floor. stood with two of his subordinate Welves warming themselves as Taraxa sat in the chair close to the fire holding Noelle in one arm while sipping hot chocolate from a mug in his other hand. “Welf! Fetch my gown and slippers!” The Captain of the Guard.Wizard. He yanked his foot back under the covers.
ten huge floor candelabra with three dozen candles on each one threw off light as the Household Welves lit them up. Large antlers hung 57 . but here he was now. “They don’t have this sort of thing over at Castle Drear.case.” stammered an awestruck Taraxa. he never got to go inside. of course. He’d never seen anything like it before.” Taraxa looked around him at the splendour of the Volcanic Palace. one by one. “just coal.” said the Captain of the Guard. “No. On his first—and only—trip delivering lumber. A lava flow came out from under the high mantelpiece and gently oozed down a slab of slate until it reached the hearth. Rich tapestries hung from the walls.” “Usually. where it disappeared to wherever lava disappears. the Palace is as warm as a summer’s eve all year round. It’s all coal. It’s only when the Monarda Winds come over the Frizolean Glacier that it gets like this. I’ll wager. using four-foot long rods with flaming tapers to reach the eight-foot high candelabra. nodding toward the wall of fiery lava.
all that hair on their faces. Taraxa started to get up. A far cry from Taraxa’s modest hut.over the lava fireplace that itself was so big a grown man could stand in it with another man on his shoulders and still not reach the mantelpiece.” “Thank you. you’ll need this fire. If only to be born a Wizard. Great Wizard. Some of the whiskers on the Welves were more intricate than the gargoyles carved into the columns holding up the cedar roof beams.” Taraxa sat down again. heavy oaken tables and ornately carved chairs cluttered the Wizard’s Great Hall. 58 . remain seated. If you’ve come all the way from the Realm of Drear in this blizzard. my good man. Gold and silver plate and armour. he thought. There was a commotion in the corridor and the Wizard came rushing into the Great Hall with several waddling Welves feverishly trying to keep pace with him. “No. stained glass. But still. “Now what have we here?” “This is my daugh—” Taraxa began.
“You say this baby has something to do with my Prophecy?” In a few minutes. There was an oddly reassuring hiss to the lava as it moved. Bring some immediately—enough for two— and we’ll warm it up right here in the lava fire. we’ll have a real drink. looking at little Noelle. This is Slookery Juice. The Wizard sat down in the chair beside Taraxa and put his hands on his knees. “What this man needs is some Slookery Juice. The Wizard took the portions from the Welf and poured them into a cast iron pot on an arm and swung it out over the flames spitting out from the lava as it flowed down the smooth slab of slate.” He turned to a Household Welf. I’ll hear that in a minute. “In a minute.” The Welf rapidly waddled (if a Welf can rapidly waddle) off to the pantry. Got a special batch from Santa Pops himself this morning when I was at the Palace for the birth. the Wizard had heard Taraxa’s story and the Welf was back with the special life-restoring brew.“No.” 59 .
he drank it faster. not four— we must hurry!” 60 . and the Welf immediately tipped the pot over into the two cups the Wizard was holding. brought low with grief on what should have been the happiest day of his life. The Wizard handed one to Taraxa. it’s true. The Wizard gave him a cross look. little by little. Then. A Welf swung the arm back out and breathed in deeply the aromas wafting out from the pot.” Taraxa thought of his weakened Inula back in the village and wished he was with her. “It’s time we moved.“We heard that Connie died.” “Yes. Great Wizard. “Whew! It’s strong!” “Santa Pops likes it strong. Captain! Call for my fastest sleigh! And have the sleigh master harness six reindeer. Here. as it cooled. have another cup.” “Thank you. You should have seen poor Santa.” The Wizard stood up. “Careful—it’ll be hot.” Taraxa sipped at the steaming brew.
I will get you back in time—but we must go to Santa Pops first—he will know what to do.” Taraxa protested. Ameritus the Wizard stood up and put his hands on his hips akimbo. I’ve given that a lot of thought over the years.” “Captain. His whiskers twitched wildly. you heard me! Now!” The Captain and his Welves dashed off and soon the whole house was rising. “I must return before daylight or all will be lost. “while I go and change and the sleigh is brought round.” the Wizard said. and I’ve come to realize that while I might have been invested with certain magical powers. “Well.” The Wizard leaned down and close to Taraxa. The Wizard leaned toward Taraxa. I need for you to take Noelle.” Taraxa said. this does not make me smarter than Santa Pops.“Your sleigh? But Great Wizard.” “But you’re the Wizard. “My dear Taraxa—and I can tell you this 61 . “You’re waiting here.
” The Wizard stood back up. all four-feet eight-inches of him.” They were hoping there might be a bit of Slookery Juice left over after the Wizard went to bed.” The Wizard turned to go.because you’ll be leaving soon—I try not to confuse my talent with Santa Pops’s brains. If the Wizard had been listening closely. “You drink the rest of that Slookery Juice and be sure you don’t give any of it to the Welves here—after a dram or two of that stuff they’ll be wallowing around the floors pathetically like a colony of beached walruses. “We? I’m going to Santopia?” “Yes. and then turned back. “So we’ll go to Santopia and seek out his counsel. my dear brave man. Maybe they weren’t quite thawed. They exchanged 62 .” “To Santopia?” Taraxa couldn’t believe his ears. my dear man.” A couple of the Welves within earshot narrowed their eyes. I should say. he’d have heard one of the Welves come out with a subdued “Grrrr.
On each side of the wide stairs ran a rivulet of crackling lava in trenches carved out specifically to control the downward flowing liquid rock. Slookery Juice was extremely hard to come by. we must make haste!” Waiting for them in the lower courtyard was a large (and mercifully) covered sleigh. “Come along. Far below the stairs the steam rose where the lava hit the lake with a loud hissssss that never abated. carrying his Staff. “We’ll be there in less than an hour.glances. the Wizard. As it was. into which the Wizard rather nimbly hopped. they planned on licking the cast iron pot as soon as the Wizard was safely off on his journey across the lake. Drive on!” the Wizard yelled to his 63 . Taraxa. returned dressed in a heavy thick robe made of the fur of Frizolean Wolfhounds (the best you could get) collected Taraxa and led him along a corridor to a very grand and dramatic staircase that led down to the lower outer courtyard. In no time at all.
and he knew she was not sleeping. and grandfather to the newly born Prince Nicholas.sleigh master. and encouraged what Goodness there is in the Other World to triumph over Evil. He thought of his sweet Inula lying warm in their small hut. sending the reindeer bolting away into the night. He was going to meet the legendary Santa Pops. who cracked his whip. But it had been his great-great-great-great-grandfather who had brought the Baroness’s ancestors into Santopia and established them in the Realm of Drear. He had brought wars to an end. She was wide-awake worrying about him … and 64 . saved millions of people. “Santa Pops!” Taraxa breathed out in a soft voice to himself. But that was all in the past. The future lay ahead. unknowingly planting the seeds that over the years flowered into the problems they were all living with today. His famous exploits in the Other World made for many a good tale around the fireside. Santa Pops was the father of the current Santa.
Noelle. retired out of earshot.” he said. and every inch of available wall space was filled with historical objects of one kind or another. on a glance from Santa Pops. or all would be lost. Old staffs. After hearing Taraxa’s story.” said the Wizard sheepishly as he settled with Santa Pops and Taraxa around a warm and welcome fire in the Santa Museum’s Grand Foyer. 65 . He would be back tomorrow—he had to be back tomorrow. The Purple Elves who guard the Museum brought cups of steaming Slookery Juice and. “This is my great-great grandmother’s basinet. “Fit for a Queen. whips.” Taraxa took the opportunity while the Wizard and Santa Pops conferred to look around the Grand Foyer. Chapter 11 – The Santa Museum “Even Wizards make mistakes. It was three stories high. tapestries. Santa Pops nodded gravely as he gently rocked Noelle back and forth.
unusual toys. The Welf sitting with the driver atop the sleigh announced the Wizard and they passed through the ornamental gates and into the town itself. nestled at the base of the Verbena Mountains on exactly the opposite side of the lake from Castle Drear. When he and the Wizard had finished their bumpy journey in the covered sleigh. jewel boxes. then spreading out along the shore and up onto terraces cut into the base of the mountain. beginning on several islands close to land. down broad lanes and avenues until they came to the imposing structure of the 66 .reindeer harnesses. portraits of all the past Santas he could see leading down one long corridor. Taraxa had leaned out to have a look as they approached Santopia. with the Palace perched on a ridge just above the town. The town itself was much larger than he envisioned. They’d been met by a contingent of Purple Elves (who were to Santopia what the Trelves were to Drear).
and I will protect you here in Santopia. you must bring her with you in secret to the Wizard—he will bring you to me. Santa Pops? Time—we haven’t much of it. you must return to the Realm and see to your wife. For now.” “Taraxa.” Chapter 12 – The Schism 67 . you did the right thing by bringing Noelle to the Wizard. Back inside the Grand Foyer. The Wizard broke in on his reverie.” The Wizard rose from his chair. When she is able.Santa Museum. The Wizard and I will devise a plan. The Wizard explained that all retired Santas go to the Santa Museum to live.” “But what of Noelle?” asked Taraxa. “You will leave her with me. “What do you suggest. Santa Pops seemed to have drifted off into another world as he rocked the basinet. “Then we must go now if Taraxa is to return by dawn.
In eighteen years. Santa. His dad had sent over Elfie Molliso from the Museum to help out in the nursery. “You should get some rest.” said Santa as he pulled himself wearily to his feet. “He’ll be there tomorrow. as he sat by the cradle and stared at the sleeping boy. Christmas is day after tomorrow. She looked on Santa. thinking about the Wizard’s Prophecy and all the ramifications it entailed now that word had come to him of the birth of Princess Dazzle.” she said. Molliso. Better to lose myself in work. a little tear in her eye. He’d been down to the nursery earlier to see if his son was sleeping soundly. alone. “I know.In the Palace. 68 . when Nicky came of age.” Now he was snuggled in bed.” “I know. Santa was in the bed he’d shared with Connie. I’m too tired to think. the boy would end the Schism with his marriage to Dazzle. alone and beset with sad thoughts and missing his dear wife very much. Connie would have wanted it. anyway.
Connie had never liked the Baroness. and then elevated him to the rank of Count. thus ending the Schism. The blizzard raged outside. with the snow pelting the windows. She married the next year. train him. Then he met Connie and forgot all about the Baroness von Drear. But he could work with his new son. now that it was official. Santa pulled the warm flannel sheets closer around him. When he was younger. educate him. and steered him away from her. But it was well known that the Baroness was not friendly toward the idea of Christmas. his dad didn’t trust her. It would take a lot of work to merge Drear and Santopia into one Kingdom—the way it had been before the Schism. Still. and get him to understand the importance of the Unification. a minor noble from beyond the Frizolean Glacier. the Prophecy was a good thing. 69 . he’d toyed with marrying the Baroness himself. There might have been a little jealousy involved.
He pitied anyone out tonight. The Wizard creaked as he lifted himself out of the sleigh. 70 . Chapter 13 – Back to Drear The Welf sleigh master made very good time getting the Wizard and Taraxa back to the Volcanic Palace. No. along with six freshly harnessed reindeer. and eat a bite or two. “Do you think I can make it by dawn?” Taraxa looked worried. you will come in for some hot chocolate fortified with a little Slookery Juice. “For all my magic. Then the Welves will take you in the sleigh as far as the Urtica Road. I cannot ease the pain in my old joints. drank the hot chocolate with the powerful Slookery Juice and rejoined a new team of Welves at the sleigh. It would be a very desperate man to be out on a night like this.” Taraxa went in and ate some food. but they must turn back as you approach. No one must know you came to me. Taraxa.
the words of Santa Pops echoed in his ears: “Go secretly! Go safely!” The Count von Drear had never seen his wife so completely taken over with joy—sheer.“May the Santopian Spirit go with you. Taraxa bid farewell to the tubby Welves.” said the Count as 71 .” intoned the Wizard as the sleigh master cracked his whip and they lurched away toward the Realm of Drear. my boy. all one had to do was look at Drear take in the sight of Dazzle and it all made sense. skating like a madman in a race to beat the light. my dear. But it wasn’t unexplained. they turned away in the direction of the Volcanic Palace and Taraxa turned toward the Realm. No. An hour later. “There is so much happiness in the Kingdom. Waving their fat little arms. uncomplicated joy. unabashed. As he moved out.
” “Who will someday marry our little girl and bring the Kingdom together again.” “It has been a long time since the Schism. a pity. In the palace of Santopia. Here in Castle Drear.” A cruel silence filled the room. they have a new boy.” “It’s a shame about Connie. “Christmas Eve is tomorrow. too. Santa wants this match as much as we do. broken only when the Baroness spoke.he walked over to his wife.” “I’m sure Santa was behind the Wizard’s Prophecy.” The Count cleared his throat. but not on his terms. but I have other plans. “You’ll remember the matter of the second stork?” 72 .” “Santa’s long wanted to reconcile the Realm to the Kingdom. all is bright. “Yes.” “I have. He thinks we will give up our Dazzle to return the Realm to his complete control.
” “I’ve assigned my best Gelf. and having been driven over halfway back in the Wizard’s sleigh.” “An hour too long. to find out how many baby girls were born yesterday. He easily avoided the sentries on the Ice Cube Road. he took off his skates and climbed up the 73 .” “It’s not so important how many. Spicata. but when!” With so much time to rest.“Yes. When he reached the lakeside. How long was it before Dazzle was born?” “Maybe an hour. Count. Taraxa had been able to make good time skating back to the Realm. my dear Count. and in the predawn light skillfully skated between two of the checkpoints guarding the roads leading out of Drear onto the lake.
being careful to make sure none of his neighbours saw him as he crept toward his hut. they quietly slipped out of their hut and went to the little grave on the rise where the village’s cemetery was 74 . where all sorts of ancient Santopian artifacts were housed.steep trail that led the hundred feet above to the wide ledge where his village was located. how they were to join Noelle as soon as they could slip away from their lives in the village and cross the lake secretly. And. And they had to buy a little time so Inula could recover her strength. and how Noelle was in the safekeeping of Santa Pops himself. before the villagers rose. But for all that to happen. they had to make a convincing show for all their neighbours. even more important. And how helpful the Wizard had been. He was well inside when dawn rose. She marvelled at his tales of the Santa Museum. holding Inula close and telling her of his amazing adventure on the far side of Frozen Lake. So.
“Oh!” cried the midwife.” he said. “That child seemed the picture of health when last I saw her. “She was so hot with the fever. calling upon help from others only if it was needed. “it was almost a relief when she passed away. and soon the whole village was mesmerized by Taraxa’s sad story of how poor little Noelle had succumbed to fever during the night. and there they knelt by the grave filled only with chopped wood. who was hurrying to check on Inula.situated.” 75 . as she rushed up to the gravesite. Her cry brought others out into the cold morning. “I wanted to put her to rest immediately. lowering his head. and so we made our private ceremony last night. It was common practice in the Realm for each family to tend to its own death rites. knowing how weak she was the day before.” he said.” Everyone understood. The first one to see them was the midwife. and to mourn in its own private way.
whispered the midwife to Groomsman Yarrow. Chapter 14– No Slookery Juice for Baby! When the Santa Museum staff all woke up and started the fires. Santa Pops took little Noelle into the breakfast room.” “Mmm. bacon and a heavily buttered blueberry scone from the 76 . Santa Pops had planted the Rose Garden himself.” was all Groomsman Yarrow could mutter in reply. Santa Pops quickly realized how much he’d forgot about raising kids. What made this Rose Garden so special was that it bloomed all year long. He was just helping himself to a heaping pile of scrambled eggs. when he first moved to the Santa Museum on his retirement. I say. “Very unusual. even when the snow was falling. a room very special to Santa Pops because it overlooked a magical Rose Garden through a large glass wall through which he could see his prized creations.
” “Nothing has ever stopped you before. That would have opened her eyes a little too wide. “Send for Elfie Molliso!” And before long. and then did a quick double take as she looked at the bundle Santa Pops was holding in his arms.” “A baby.” 77 . “You called for me. you are. Elfie Molliso. Elfie Molliso?” “Am I to answer that question before I know where the baby came from?” “Yes. sire. Santa Pops?” she said. sire.” “Well. I think. I seem to have a little problem.sideboard. Elfie Molliso. is a big problem in a little package. I was going to give this little girl a dram of Slookery Juice and some scrambled eggs before I caught myself. what would you advise.” “And I’m very happy that you didn’t give the poor little thing any Slookery Juice. Perhaps you’re right. if I may correct you. when the little thing promptly started crying. “Yes. He called out to the Purple Elf on guard at the door. Elfie Molliso came sauntering in.
And make haste!” The Purple Elf ran out at a clip. taking a deeply satisfying bite out of the scone. 78 . then? She doesn’t look to be a week old. Have Cook prepare some warm reindeer milk and fetch a baby bottle from the storeroom. Chapter 15 – Master Control Santa Pops and Elfie Molliso weren’t the only ones up early—Santa himself had risen before dawn and hurriedly made his way to Master Control.” said Santa Pops.” Molliso rang the bell on the table and a Purple Elf appeared at the doorway. milord?” “Molliso has something for you?” “Yes.“How old is the child. “One day!!” cried Molliso. just a short walk down Candy Cane Lane.” “Almost two. extending his pinkie finger delicately as he picked up his steaming cup of Slookery Juice.” said Santa Pops. “Maybe a day and a half. followed by a draught of Slookery Juice. One day old. “Look at her. “Yes.” “One day. Poor thing.
But all in all. sitting in his big chair covered with the luxurious hides of Frizolean Wolfhounds and looking out through huge windows over hundreds of Elves scurrying around in the Main Chamber below. so it was decided that someone had to manage them not only for their own good. Santa came in and saw the tall and dignified Lord Elfington going over progress reports with his staff. “As much as it can be the day before we leave. where all the 79 . “Everything in order?” Santa asked Lord Elfington.which connected the Palace to Master Control. but for the good of Christmas as well. Santa. With only one day left before Christmas Eve. He was Chief of all the Elves. we’re in very good shape. Elves were thought to be far too mischievous. In ancient times.” “Excellent. even though he was not an Elf himself. all of Santopia was in a frantic rush to get everything ready for the big moment when the Grand Sleigh lifted off and soared across Frozen Lake on its way to the Other World.” said Santa.
I’ll give you a letter.presents Santa would take with him were brought before being matched against the Final Verification List where each gift would be checked—checked twice.” “And you’d better lead the delegation yourself. “Lord Elfington. you’d better put together a delegation to go to Castle Drear to convey our happiness at the news of the birth of the Baroness’s little girl. She’ll understand why I can’t be there right now. the first Elfie ever to hold such a high position in the hierarchy of Santopia. The Quality Assurance Section would pass on the construction of the gift. that is—against the name of the boy or girl who would be receiving that gift on Christmas Eve.” “Yes. and then it would be loaded aboard the Grand Sleigh in the adjacent Departure Concourse. She came running over to Santa’s chair.” “Yes.” “Elfie Laburna!” Santa called out. Santa. Elfie Laburna was the Chief of Master Control. 80 . Santa.
Santa.” “Yes. The old thing loathes being out after sunset. I’m sure it’s nothing. Lord Elfington came over with a paper in his hand. Cold.” “That is odd. “There was a report from the Purple Elves. I thought. sire. Hope we won’t have to deal with conditions like that on Christmas Eve.” She moved away and ordered the Juice.” “Very good.” 81 .” “Yes?” “It appears the Great Wizard came at a very late hour last night and paid a visit to your father in the Santa Museum.” “Elfie Laburna gave me the weather report from the Verbena Meteorology Unit little while ago and everything looks perfect. that the Wizard visited so late.“Yes. but clear. and especially in that blizzard we had last night.” “I believe I’ll have a cup of Slookery Juice.” “The Monarda Winds were specially fierce. Santa.
then. Hurry! Henry was certain he could have the Hifalutin Systematic Model SC-41 repaired in time for him to hitch a ride on the Grand Sleigh. 82 . had let Henry know they still could use three hundred forty-two more units from the machine before the Grand Sleigh took off for the Other World. Elf Brightfellow. in charge of the Hifalutin Systematic Model SC-41. replacement gifts would have to be substituted for those items. Henry.” “Elf Brightfellow reports he should be finished with it later today.” “Plenty of time. otherwise. plenty of time. he was hoping and praying that he’d have it fixed up and ready to go by later this morning.” Chapter 16 – Hurry.” “Yes.“Will Henry be finished repairing the machine in time to travel with us? I don’t want to have to send the reindeer back so soon if we don’t have to. In fact. Santa.
“Hello.” Henry said as he moved straightaway to the sideboard where he filled his plate with some poached eggs. had a bottle of milk and was feeding a baby. Henry. if they believed in him at all. 83 . down the huge spiral staircase into the Grand Foyer and across into the breakfast room where he saw Santa Pops already tucking into his scrambled eggs and haddock. Santa Pops. Elfie Molliso. he noticed.” “And the rest o’ the day to you. which looked much more like the real Santa Pops than the current Santa. a quizzical look on her face. But old images are hard to break. Top o’ the mornin’. and this is what people in the Other World thought Santa looked like. So Henry was in quite a rush when he quick-footed it from his room upstairs in the Santa Museum.Santa was always very interested in the condition of the Hifalutin Systematic Model SC-41 because the toy that it manufactured was none other than a miniature Santa—just the right size for stuffing a stocking! This particular toy version portrayed Santa as the widegirthed old man.
a rasher of bacon. “I always sleep like a baby when I visit Santopia.” Molliso began before Santa Pops cut her off. my old friend?” “Ahh. fried tomatoes.” “Good morning.” Santa Pops explained. “Speaking of babies …” “This isn’t Prince Nicky. you’re baby-sitting young Nicky already?” “Well …. Mister Henry.black pudding. “Oh?” “Ah. Quite a story. “The blizzard didn’t keep you up?” Santa Pops went on. “A pleasant sleep. several braised lambs’ kidneys. this baby has quite a story behind her.” Henry cocked his head to look at the baby. some fried bread. indeed!” Santa Pops noticed Elfie Molliso’s peaked ears suddenly seemed a bit 84 . well. “So.” Henry acknowledged.” “Elfie Molliso. a mutton chop. and a few sizzling sausages before sitting down next to Santa Pops. you know that. the best. some herring.
he only seemed to rise faster than anyone else. squat 85 . the super secret special force the Count maintained to spy on all the inhabitants of the Realm. He’d seen his chance to rise early in his career. Spicata had earned his reputation for ruthlessness by many betrayals over the years. a story the particulars of which I will relate to you when we are … alone!” Chapter 17 – Gelf Spicata Gelf Spicata made his way to the private reception chamber of his master. Gelves were higher in the pecking order than Trelves. He was commander of Brigade HX-2. Spicata had worked his way up over the years so that he was now the Count’s most trusted Gelf advisor. the Count von Drear. “Yes. And while most Gelves were no more than three feet tall. and the pink tint to her cheeks got pinker. or henchman. but for each dark and dirty deed he committed. but not as high as Skelves. as many in the villages referred to him.more peaked than usual.
He’d even gone to the trouble and expense of having lifters fitted into his boot heels. Spicata had been sent on missions as High Representative to the lands beyond the Verbena Mountains and the Frizolean Glacier. Everyone feared her! Spicata was responsible for maintaining the checkpoints along the lakeside that had turned the Realm almost into a prison camp. had married far above his station. everyone knew. He feared no Elf. Now. Two extra inches made the world of difference to a Gelf. He’d never be as tall as a Skelf. but he could do his best. In the past. anywhere.and ugly. who. however. Spicata had gone to great pains to have his jowls reduced and to ensure his grooming was a cut above all the other Gelves serving in the Castle. before the Schism. very few people alive 86 . there had been freedom of travel between Drear and Santopia. He thought he was essential to the Count’s position in the Castle. He didn’t even fear the Count. with huge jowls. The Baroness. was another matter.
had ever seen Santopia. Everything about it was rumour, rumour and more rumour. Only the Baroness and the upper level of society in Drear ever went to Santopia. Such were the rules in the Realm of Drear, so different from those in Santopia. With an air of authority, Spicata strolled down the corridor leading to his master’s chamber. The Trelf guards knew him well and did not challenge him, but merely whipped open the double doors leading into the Count’s receiving room. “Well?” demanded the Count when the doors closed behind Spicata. “The Trelves under my command have taken a thorough canvas in the Realm, Count, and each village liaison has reported to me personally. Only one baby was born yesterday, a little girl born to a coal miner named Taraxa, in the Koliback Wood, and she died shortly after childbirth.” “Ah,” the Count breathed out a sigh of relief. “My wife will be pleased. This will save us all much … difficulty.”
They both turned their heads at the sound of a heavy footfall in the corridor outside. Suddenly, the Baroness barged through the doors. “Gelf Spicata!” “My lady,” Spicata bowed, taken aback. “Well, how many babies did you find?” she spat. The Count came from around his desk and took his wife’s hands in his. “There was only one baby born, my dear, and it was a girl, but she died.” “Are you sure?” Drear looked at Spicata, not the Count. “I’ve been told of the grave, my lady.” “And the parents? Have you interrogated them?” “No, Baroness.” “See that you do. Have you seen the baby’s body?” “She was buried during the night, Baroness.” “Bring the parents to me. I want to make sure the baby is dead, that there wasn’t a switch of some kind. How many
babies were born the day before, the week before? Bring them all, Spicata— the babies, the parents—all of them! Bring them to Castle Drear.” “But if the baby died,” the Count’s voice trailed off. “How do we know, once the Wizard’s Prophecy was proclaimed, that one baby wasn’t changed for another? We don’t know, that’s the answer. No, I want them all here. I know what to do with them! These peasants will not stand between my Dazzle and the throne of Santopia!” “My lady,” Spicata bowed. “I have to change now to receive Lord Elfington and a delegation from Santopia to give thanks for Dazzle. Count, I’ll want you with me when they get here.” With that final word, the Baroness turned and in a swirl of her long Forest green robes, swept out of the chamber. Chapter 18 – The Grand Sleigh As morning gave way to afternoon, all was at a fever pitch in Master Control,
He wore a specially tailored gold uniform (of which he was perhaps a little too proud) that had on it more braid than a French admiral. warehouses and craft shops in Santopia. “Everything in order. hangar-like Concourse to oversee the final preparations. 90 .” Shotgun said with a sort of ho-hum attitude. looking at his clipboard and barking orders to his subordinates. mounting a raised platform where Elf Shotgun was overseeing the loading process. The same every year. Shotgun?” Shotgun was Chief Gold Elf and Master of the Grand Sleigh. Lord Elfington had gone down to the high-ceilinged. factories. your lordship—though it doesn’t look like it’s in order.the Main Chamber and the adjoining Departure Concourse where the Grand Sleigh was being loaded with the last minute orders that kept pouring in from all the workhouses. the only Elf authorized to pilot the Sleigh if Santa or Lord Elfington were disabled. storerooms. “Yes. it really is.
Several decks high. Huge cranes were swinging over the main cargo hold amidships and lowering sack after sack full of presents into the safety of the 91 . I’m sure.” The famed Helleborean Reindeer— each the size of a two-story house and bred specially for this journey—would be brought in late tomorrow afternoon and harnessed to the Sleigh—now they were resting for the arduous trip ahead. Other Elves were testing lights on the mast projecting from the bow—lights that would show the way through the Forest of Shadows on Christmas Eve. Elves were now hanging Santa’s pennant from the short stern mast.“And the reindeer?” “A little anxious to start. painted Christmas green with white trim. it was more like a small Art Deco ocean liner than a proper sleigh. but we’re doing our best to keep them down. Lord Elfington looked up at the massive structure of the Grand Sleigh. and smiled with satisfaction. A high main mast rose from the centre where a lookout was posted in the crow’s nest during flight.
Elf Shotgun. with busy Elves at either end loading. The warehouses of Santopia would be emptied out today and tomorrow. Several Elves came trotting by carrying bags of small Santa toys. Dozens of Elves ran up and down the gangplanks. Elf Shotgun ticked off a box on his list. so it seems. Chapter 19 – A Job Well Done 92 .” “So it seems. Conveyor belts ran from racks on the ground up into the middle of the ship. unloading.” Shotgun bowed slightly. milord. unloading. I’ll be in Master Control should you need me. Other Elves were laying the harnessing rigs far out in front of the Sleigh. carrying more fragile presents to their safe berths within the ship.Sleigh’s interior. preparing for the reindeer. “It seems Henry was successful repairing the Hifalutin Systematic Model SC dash four-one. as the Elves sent off a full year’s work.” “Yes. loading.
Santa Pops sent it down. that’ll keep me up all night. brought over a steaming cup of Slookery Juice. “I wonder what’s actually in Slookery Juice.” said Brightfellow. 4.” “Well. “I thought you might be wanting a cup of this instead of the usual Earl Grey. Foreman of Little Work Shed No. 93 . oh. But. thank you very much.” “You’d have to ask Santa Pops. Henry —he’s the only one who knows the recipe. spitting out Santa doll after Santa doll in an endless stream. Henry. why not?” Henry took the cup and drank deeply from the dark steaming liquid. The Hifalutin Systematic Model SC-41 was purring along quite nicely. relaxing after a long day’s work. He noticed the envious look in Brightfellow’s gaze. Elf Brightfellow. 4. He smacked his lips. Henry took another long drink from the hot cup and smacked his lips again.Henry was sitting on a stool in the Little Work Shed No.
will you?” “Well. Thank you.” “Yes. “This stuff is worth fighting for. “I’m glad this old girl is working again. “Ahhh. Henry. At least you’ll make the trip back with Santa this time. Brightfellow.” “I dare say.” Brightfellow said as his nose turned red and his eyes teared up.” Henry said. which was strictly reserved for Santa and his immediate family and guests. I agree with you.“No one’s around.” said Brightfellow. spitting out toy after toy after toy. Brightfellow drained the cup and smacked his lips. Remember when you had to stay for two weeks after Christmas? When was that? Two years ago?” 94 .” Henry promised. if you promise not to tell. Take the last sip. “I won’t. who brightened considerably at the prospect of getting a taste of Slookery Juice. looking over his shoulder at the Hifalutin Systematic Model SC-41 chugging along in perfect working order.
my friend. Henry thought back to the first time they met.” “You’re not that old. he had only his work to occupy his time at the Hifalutin Universal Intercontinental Amalgamated Toy Machine Manufacturing Company of London. and he’d come to get Henry to 95 . And old man Hifalutin could be such an irritable arrogant taskmaster. He was finding his time in Santopia much more fulfilling than his time back home in the Other World. but I may be mistaken. and considered Santa Pops to be his best friend. Over the years. They were both very young. I forget things at my age. You didn’t forget how to repair the Hifalutin Systematic Model SC dash four-one. when his old friend was the current Santa. Back there. a place he loved more and more as he got older. Brightfellow.” “I’ll never forget that.” Actually.“I think it was three years ago. Henry had come to know Santa Pops quite well. ever since his wife Betsy died a few years before. Henry was of two minds about being “stranded” in Santopia.
much as I would like to stay. “It’s better that I go down with Santa now.bring him back to Santopia from the Other World to repair a broken toy machine. Brightfellow.” Just then there was the tinkle of a bell at the door as Santa Pops came in. “Sire.” Brightfellow bowed. Henry.” Henry beamed.” Chapter 20 – Into the Koliback Wood Christmas Eve morn. Do we have time enough to go as far out as Scruff Island?” “I think so. my good friend. “Thought you might care for a quick skate on Frozen Lake before you head back tomorrow. It’s such a waste of a trip for the Grand Sleigh to take me down all by myself. “That would be superior. Gelf Spicata was up well before dawn to waken his crew of thuggish Trelves to begin the trek to 96 .” said Santa Pops. welcome. I’ll just fetch my skates. “Perfect.
He was sure they were hiding the baby. Earlier. the main source of grain production in the Realm. But he wanted to capture Taraxa and Inula himself. where he arrived just as day was breaking over the Verbena Mountains. that the grave was a trick to fool him. Spicata had told Yarrow to be waiting for him—he wanted to surprise Taraxa and Inula in their hut before dawn. with no warning. as well as their parents. Spicata had sent other teams to collect the babies born the week before Dazzle. which divided the Koliback District from the Hyssopus Field. capture them all at the same time. he’d sent a contingent of Trelves to hide out on the perimeters of the village so that no one could escape. 97 . Groomsman Yarrow and Spicata’s platoon Trelf sergeant were waiting for him at Tremulous Creek. The Baroness herself saw as much. Spicata wanted to capture all the parents in all the villages where babies had been born the previous week.the Koliback Wood.
But Yarrow was not as smart as Taraxa, who had seen him the day before suspiciously loitering around not far from his hut, and spending a little too much time with the midwife. He’d caught their furtive glances. And planned ahead accordingly. Shortly after dawn, Spicata entered the village and had his Trelves storm into Taraxa’s hut. They quickly came out empty-handed. “What? Nothing?” he screamed at them, pushing them aside so he could go in and check for himself. When he came out, he looked at Yarrow. “The grave’s this way,” said the groomsman. Quickly enough, the shallow grave was dug up, revealing the small pieces of firewood and not the body of a newborn babe. “We’ve got to find that baby, if not the parents, at least the baby!” Spicata yelled, turning on the village folk. “Did no one see anything? Anything at all? Where could they be?”
The utterly blank stares coming from the villagers did nothing but exasperate Spicata, push him into a frenzy. It was all he could do to maintain his outward composure. How had they escaped? He’d posted sentries around the village the night before. What else could he have done? He could not exactly go back to the Baroness and say nobody knew anything. Nobody saw anything. Nobody did anything. And the Baroness? She was likely to do something—something like cut his head off! Spicata did not even want to think about her reaction when she found out he could not find the parents, that somehow they’d escaped his series of checkpoints and web of spies. Not to mention the baby!
Taraxa and Inula were quite safe—for the moment—hiding in a snow-covered lean-to in a deserted place by the lake
beyond the last checkpoint where the mountain wall came down so steeply there was no need for checkpoints further on. In the dead of night, he packed the few things they would need for their journey and took Inula out of their village, across Tremulous Creek where it was frozen over, hours before the sentries were posted, up a treacherous mountain pass, then back down the other side, going the far way to get around the last checkpoint. Now Inula was resting in a lean-to by the lakeside, conserving all her energy, which she would need when they made their dash across the lake. Taraxa had everything timed to the last minute—his plan was to set out when the Grand Sleigh reached the halfway point as it flew high over Frozen Lake. Every year, when the Sleigh reached the Volcanic Palace, a loud horn blast could be heard all over the Kingdom announcing the approach to Castle Drear. When they heard that blast, Taraxa and Inula would set out—everyone in
“You’ve spent enough time in Santopia to know the Baroness.” “And my son. Taraxa knew this was their only chance to make it out of the Realm alive —when everyone’s attention was taken up with Santa as he travelled to the Other World.” “Yes. and I agree with you that little Noelle hasn’t a chance against the Baroness. Chapter 21 – A Vexing Problem Henry and Santa Pops were sitting by the fire in the Grand Foyer.Castle Drear would be gathered on the terraces and ramparts to see Santa off into the Forest—it was a ritual that was repeated year after year after year. He sees that he can change the Baroness with the marriage 101 . Henry. “You do have quite a problem.” Henry said at last. my old friend. Santa Pops with a worried expression on his face and Henry with an astonished one on his. well. he’s set on Dazzle marrying Nicky.
And I see only the darkness in her heart.” “Santa’s motives are pure. We still don’t know the fate of her parents.” “Eighteen years is a long time for you to protect Noelle in such a small world. and be anointed the next Santa at the Sacred Ritual of the Green Gloves. you have eighteen years to work it out.” “But what does Drear bring with her when she comes?” “Well. And. I have my magical powers. “The solution the Baroness has in mind is removing Noelle. claim his Queen. “Surely there must be a solution.” sighed Henry. “He only wants to save the people of Drear by bringing them back into the Kingdom.” said Henry. “That may well be. following the Prophecy.of her child and his. But the solution eludes me. 102 .” In eighteen years. my old friend.” “I don’t see how I can elude the Count’s well-paid network of spies here in Santopia.” Santa Pops nodded and sat back in his chair. Prince Nicky would become a man.
” “Can’t you go to Santa?” “He’s stubborn. under every roof for any evidence of Taraxa. I don’t think Santa would believe me or the Wizard that this little girl here is. Chapter 22–Across the Hyssopus Field Spicata personally led the search throughout the village. “Santa Pops.” Henry nodded.” Henry leaned forward in his rocking chair. looking into every hut. Inula and Noelle— he knew her name by now.but the Baroness has powers of her own. What if …” he began. destined to be the future Queen of Santopia. in fact.” “A vexing problem. you know. He interrogated every inhabitant of the village. 103 . And without proof in the form of this girl’s parents. personally. “Indeed. and she will do everything she can to rid herself of this little girl once she discovers that I have her with me. like me. I have something for you to consider.
But he had to keep going. In Castle Drear. would not return to Castle Drear as the bearer of such unacceptable news. But as soon as the Grand Sleigh disappeared into the tunnel. and his master.He got nowhere. had to come up with a plan. So he had a few hours. He could not. ordered the smouldering fire to be brought up.” Spicata demanded from an underling. He went into Taraxa’s hut. before the Baroness sent word for him to report back. He had to think ahead—think ahead to what Taraxa was planning. and sat down. the Count. What would a 104 . No—he’d be expecting results! This he knew. preparations were being made for the Sending Off Ceremony over which Drear presided every Christmas Eve as Santa approached the Forest. dismissing everyone. at most. put himself in Taraxa’s mind. would be expecting news. the Baroness’s attention would turn to him. “Bring me a bowl of Gluckety Goop. All Spicata knew was that he had a little time.
thinking it a little too gamey. snort. It was a hideous thing all Gelves had a habit of doing when they were about to put on the feedbag. as the baby was as stout as could be expected. Such factors would limit Taraxa’s options. A lot of people didn’t like Chalalazada meat. He couldn’t travel fast. and Spicata had taken lessons to restrain himself from this primitive tendency. But when he was around Chalalazada meat. he couldn’t help himself. Spicata always made an excited snorting sound when he smelled Chalalazada meat. but Spicata adored it. The midwife told Spicata that Inula was weak from childbirth. so you could always find it in the local Gluckety Goop. And the only place Chalalazadas thrived in the entire Realm was in the Koliback Wood. and snort. onions. that if anyone should have died. Spicata’s Gluckety Goop was brought and he quickly tore into the stew of potatoes. snorted 105 . it should have been Inula. carrots and Chalalazada meat.desperate man do? He had the added burden of taking his wife and newborn baby with him.
devoid of life. The limited field space was used for cultivation. When he had led his Trelves into the village. He’d started snorting immediately and couldn’t stop himself. One way out was across Tremulous Creek. Worse than hiccups.away. But that led only deeper into the Realm. led nowhere. There were only two or three routes out of the area. and was much too valuable to be used for living space. Another way was across the Hyssopus Field. This path. 106 . the very first thing Spicata noticed was the smell of cooking Chalalazada meat. as the fields were not farmed right now. but to the southern reaches of Frozen Lake. and into the Northern Frontier. up one of several treacherous mountain passes. built on a vast terrace. but just a hundred feet above the lake. but this time of year it was empty. as the village was located on a large outcropping from the mountains. Most of the villages were built out of the rock and ice. too.
and later. he would be captured by Spicata’s Trelves. the checkpoints were only situated every half-mile or so in a broad semicircle sweeping out into the lake meant to cover all the potential escape routes from the Realm. The old Wizard always sided with Santa against the Baroness. and the rest would be easy. eventually. Question was—would Taraxa journey deeper into the Realm.Then there was the path directly down the mountainside. in Santopia. Perhaps Taraxa thought 107 . and the few peasants who had escaped Drear found a warm reception at the Volcanic Palace. basically rolling the dice and taking a long shot at gaining his freedom? Surely Taraxa knew Spicata had checkpoints at regular intervals along this route and surely his Trelves would frustrate any escape plan. Of course. directly to the lake. or set out across the wastes of Frozen Lake. and across it to freedom in Santopia. where. All Taraxa had to do was reach the Volcanic Palace halfway across. in the dead of winter. this time of year.
the smartest thing to do. It would then be even smarter for Spicata to take up a position between the pass leading down from the Hyssopus Field to the lakeside and the route over uncharted ice leading to the Ice Cube Road. doubling back to go down the mountainside to the lake where there were no checkpoints. But there’s one thing Spicata learned after years in the torture chambers of Castle Drear: a desperate man is always more optimistic than rational. It was a longer journey for his sick wife and newborn babe. Such a man might cross Tremulous Creek at night. 108 . but only travel half way. make out across the Hyssopus Field. but it was. Everything he’d been told about Taraxa led him to believe that he was a man of great courage and resourcefulness.he was smart enough to slip between two of them undetected. which was deserted this time of year. when Spicata thought more about it.
Humans. He almost wiped his hands on his tunic.” 109 . Santa won’t be the only one who gets sent off tonight. chewing thoughtfully on the last tough but tasty slice of Chalalazada meat. “Shouldn’t we be back at the Castle for the Sending Off Ceremony?” “If we don’t come back with Taraxa and that brat of a baby of his. “Round up as many lake-sleighs as you can find. Spicata thought derisively as he scooped out the last of his Gluckety Goop with his hand. they think they’re so smart. We are going down the mountain. which was his Courier.” His sergeant came up. He wiped his hands on his pants instead. but remembered all those expensive lessons he’s paid for to learn manners that would set him above all the other Gelves in the Castle. Spicata came out of Taraxa’s hut and walked over to his single Flying Trelf. “Have them ready for us on Frozen Lake.” he barked. Sergeant.
Long leather straps were extended from the bow of the Grand Sleigh down the centre between the rows of reindeer down the length of the harnesses. out to the foremost reindeer. really. First. Then. It was a very delicate matter. to harness a Helleborean reindeer. But over the years.Chapter 23–The Sending Off Ceremony As dusk approached. each reindeer had a cluster of bells strung in 110 . Felves (or Flying Elves) raised the harnesses to the reindeers’ necks. indeed. Elves could then run up and down affixing the harnesses and securing everything. Each reindeer was as big as a house. Elf Shotgun personally took charge of the Elf team leading out the Helleborean Reindeer to the Grand Sleigh. tools and techniques had been developed to make the process manageable. Along this leather strap. the reindeer were placed in position in front of the Sleigh. more like a flexible bridge. and Elves were quite puny by comparison. As a final touch.
the huge ornately carved doors of the Departure Concourse were opened to great applause and. Santa emerged from the Palace and waved to the people. Finally.his antlers and laced around his neck. with Lord Elfington at the helm. Tagging along 111 . Wild cheering drowned out every other sound as the Santopians celebrated the end of their labour for one more year. Shotgun thought this made for a very merry sound as the Sleigh danced through the night sky. making certain everything was shipshape for the long journey ahead. the Grand Sleigh was pulled out by the reindeer into the great circular plaza below Santa’s Palace. the whole of Santopia gathered there to witness the event. Quite without anybody taking notice. The Gold Elves (the highest order of Elf) were special Elves selected to make the journey every year with Santa. They were resplendent in their distinctive gold uniforms and now made their way aboard the Sleigh. Santa Pops came around the stern of the Sleigh with Henry.
he walked down the leather strap between the reindeer. while Duncan pushed a large trunk on wheels with Henry’s other things and special tools he’d brought to fix the Hifalutin Systematic Model SC-41. speaking personally to each one. recruited to help load in Henry’s baggage. Santa bid farewell to the Palace staff gathered on the top step. as Henry was an old friend of Santa Pops’s and would naturally walk with him from the Santa Museum to the Grand Sleigh. and went up the gangplank. Henry and Duncan quickly and quietly disappeared below to stow his gear in Henry’s cabin far forward in the hull. First thing on board. went down the huge staircase leading to the courtyard. no one paid any attention to them beyond the usual courtesies as they moved up the gangplank.was Elf Duncan. Henry carried the original backpack in which Taraxa had carried Noelle. And. Then he turned to the crowd. The crowd could 112 . It was customary for the retired Santa to embrace the current Santa at the conclusion of the Sending Off Ceremony.
” “All right. 113 . Then Santa began to make his way aft to take his position at the helm next to Lord Elfington. Henry came up from below decks to stand next to Santa Pops.” “Go stay with the baby and send Duncan out here. looking guiltily to his left and his right. He shook Henry’s hand and embraced his father. We can’t leave him aboard.see the reindeer eyes light up as Santa petted each one on his big fierce head. and Santa Pops pulled Henry’s sleeve. Then Santa Pops hurried down the gangplank as the Gold Elves drew it in. “No! Wait! If Santa sees you leave during the Ceremony. turning to leave.” Santa was now amidships.” “What do you mean?” “Leave Duncan in the cabin. “Where’s Duncan?” “The baby started crying so he’s trying to keep her quiet.” said Henry. You stay here. it’ll raise suspicions.
No one can say. that it is better to give than to receive.” All the people gathered together in the plaza sent up a wild cheer as Santa took his place at the helm and urged the Helleborean Reindeer forward. stilled with awe. It’s magic so ancient That no on can know. Santopians suddenly grew very quiet. as we all believe. the spirit of Santopia and Christmas itself. “To all Santopians: I go now to the Other World. And if it is true. Santa spoke: Up Dasher and Dancer! Up all and away! How we can do this. This was a very special moment in all their lives. where we will spread the message of good cheer and humble thoughts of thanks to all the many peoples living there. But a crack of the whip And the reindeer will go!” 114 . will live and be sanctified for another year.Santa raised his arms. Immediate silence.
after what seemed like an eternity. came onto the lake and soared up into the sky! 115 . then another inch. until finally. they broke into a light trot. straining against their harnesses. dragging the Grand Sleigh forward an inch. and consulting with Lord Elfington and Elf Shotgun. When Santa judged the speed fast enough for a take-off. Down the ramp the Sleigh followed the mighty reindeer until they reached the bottom at their fastest speed. working their way around the circular path that surrounded the plaza. and another.Santa twirled his magical whip high over his head and brought it down with a loud Crack! The huge animals lurched forward with a jolt. cracked his magical whip again. he shouted a command. building up their speed. and the Helleborean Reindeer veered off the circle in front of the Palace and down a long wide ramp that offered an unimpeded route directly to Frozen Lake.
“Nearly. He went back to get Inula.” he lied. too. Taraxa knew they had no choice but to press ahead with his plan. at least for now. and then we take nothing 116 . Taraxa crept down to the lake to see if anyone had followed them. Still. Leave it all here. She looked much weaker than the day before. Leaving Inula in the little shelter he had built for her. Have a bite to eat. The way looked clear. He had taken the precaution of garbing himself and Inula in white. to be with her.Chapter 24 – Setting Out Darkness was falling over the Realm.” he replied softly. and she had rested now for several hours. so they would stand out less against the white wastes of Frozen Lake. “What should we take with us?” “Nothing. At least he knew Noelle was safe. “I feel stronger. How he longed to see her. It was getting late. “Is it time?” she asked.” “And you look it.
As they moved out away from the land.but some water. “Now! Let’s go!” said Taraxa. but to the south. and they set out onto the lake. but still in line to intercept the Ice Cube Road. The Great Wizard will see to it that we get to Santopia.” They’d just made their way to the lake bank when they heard it: a loud foghorn blast coming from the Volcanic Palace as the Sleigh passed over it.” “And sweet Noelle. angling away from the shore far enough to remain out of sight. he could make out the Grand Sleigh high in the sky hurtling majestically toward the Forest.” “And sweet Noelle. skating as fast as they could. Far ahead. “We have to hurry!” 117 . Taraxa could see the ugly bulk of Castle Drear slowly emerge into his view. All we have to do is make the Volcanic Palace. sticking out a thousand feet up the mountainside like a cancerous growth.
or if Taraxa remained in hiding another day. all was lost. if he had acted too late.Gelf Spicata was able to commandeer half a dozen lake sleighs and make his way about an hour out onto the Ice Cube Road. all within hailing distance. Then he sent a Courier. the Count von 118 . his only Flying Trelf. the Count would recall him. Chapter 25 – The Forest of Shadows As the foghorn blast sounded out over the Volcanic Palace. Surely. Spicata stopped his men and deployed them along the road. If not. he would intercept Taraxa as he made his escape. The danger of losing some of his Trelves to desertion was too great. But still not greater than losing Taraxa and the newborn girl. to Castle Drear to report on his manoeuvre. If he judged correctly. or two.
Drear hurried into his wife’s chamber. He found her cuddling Dazzle in her arms, the very picture of contentment. Until she looked up at him. “What have you heard from that dirty little Gelf of yours?” “Nothing yet, my dear, nothing yet.” “The weather’s fair enough—I think I’ll take Dazzle out to the Sending Off Ceremony for Santa. Is everything ready?” “All is ready. The entire Household is gathered on the parapets. The Flying Trelves are ranged above the castle in full formation.” “Good, then.” Drear rose and made her way toward the Long Terrace high over the lake. Household Gelves whipped open the tall French doors as she approached. When she walked out, the Count made a signal and there rose from her people a joyous cry of support. Drear graciously acknowledged the happy greeting, not that she was used to it. She even smiled. “The people seem genuinely happy, Count.”
“Indeed they do, my lady.” “Perhaps we do not tax them enough.” “I believe they are happy to see you with such a beautiful child, my dear.” “Well, she is beautiful, and as you said, she looks just like me.” Drear went to a great carved chair on a raised platform by the edge of the Terrace ramparts and sat down. She looked in the distance and saw the Grand Sleigh approaching at somewhat less than half its speed. Santa always piloted the Sleigh through the dark Forest at slow speed. Drear snapped her fingers and a Skelf attendant came over and poured a glass of Champagne for her. She reached over and picked up the glass and took a sip. “A little warm, I think.” She placed the tip of one of her very long fingernails against the side of the glass and ice crystals formed inside the liquid. She took another sip. “Ahhh, better.” Below the ramparts were gathered the people of the Realm. On the ramparts
on either side of her, stretching along the side of the Castle, were the people, Skelves, Gelves and Trelves of her Household. Above the turrets her Flying Trelves hovered in position.
On the Grand Sleigh, Lord Elfington gave a nod to Elf Shotgun, who raised his megaphone and boomed out an order. “Trumpets to the foredeck!” Gold Elf trumpeteers raced forward along each side of the bow, an even dozen on each side, and prepared themselves. The Squadron Leader gave the all clear to Shotgun. “Sound!!” The trumpeteers raised their instruments and blasted out Santa’s Fanfare, loud and clear. The sound could be heard all over Frozen Lake as it ricocheted off the high mountains and reverberated all over the Kingdom.
a Trelf detachment manning the battery began firing eleven guns in a formal salute to Santa. At the sound of the Fanfare. until they were all gloriously ablaze. widening. the huge green branches in the Forest began to creak and groan. echoing forth with a cacophony of sounds that sent fear shuddering through anyone who heard them. On a rampart high above the Baroness. The mammoth branches in the Forest continued to respond to the magical sound of Santa’s Fanfare by spreading apart. separating to clear a path: a large round tunnel through the heart of the Forest. lighting the side lamps one by one. 122 .Drear’s eyes turned from the Grand Sleigh to the Forest of Shadows just beside the Long Terrace. the Gold Elves moved up and down the starboard and port sides of the great ship. On the Grand Sleigh. Santa’s pennant fluttered briskly in the wind.
“Have you got anything better?” Duncan sat down on a low stool and stroked his chin. They deposit me very quickly.” “He might think you stowed away.” “Santa deals very severely with stowaways. Henry was devising a new plan with Duncan.” “And what will you tell Santa about me?” “We could say you tripped and hit your head and only came to after the ship was aloft. “Santa Pops thought it would be too dangerous for me to leave the Sending Off Ceremony.” Duncan raised a doubtful eyebrow. in his cabin far forward in the hull. it’s usually Lord Elfington who sees me off. I’m sure.Meanwhile. Elves have stowed away 123 . Henry. so we’ll have to explain to Santa why you’re aboard. he’ll be busy.” “Well. on all my past trips.” “Oh. “Not really. below decks. Santa’s got a million things on his mind. That’s as good as anything else. keep him busy while I get Noelle off the ship when we get to London.
He even saw Molliso standing next to Santa Pops waving at the Sleigh—little did she know where he was! He even saw her look over her shoulder a couple of times. It was only in the cards for Gold Elves to go to the Other World. 7 because he got caught stowing away on the Grand Sleigh. Duncan was overjoyed to be making the journey. For his part. They might even lose their house and be assigned to smaller quarters.before. She’d kill him! Duncan had been mightily shaken when the Sleigh first lurched into motion. They’d have to forfeit the week coming to them at the Steaming Springs Spa halfway up the Glacier. He always stood next to her during the annual Sending Off Ceremony. He’d gone to the porthole to look outside. No one had come to tell him it was time to leave the Sleigh. A mere foreman in a 124 . and lost all their rank when they got back to Santopia.” Duncan could see the consternation on Molliso’s face when she found out he’d lost his position as Foreman of Toy Workhouse No. knowing she was looking out for him.
the Trelves with their cannon booming out a salute 125 . the thousands of townsfolk gathered on the ramparts. even if I do lose my position. Duncan went to a forward starboard porthole where he could see everything —the Forest with its dark leafy tunnel looming ahead of them. Henry left the cabin to go on deck to witness the great event as it happened —that moment when the Grand Sleigh slipped past Castle Drear into the darkness of the Forest.” “Right-ho!” said Duncan. “I’ve got to go on deck as we pass Castle Drear. Castle Drear on the starboard beam. I’ll come back and we’ll work out the details of what we’re going to tell Santa. “I’m afraid you won’t see much more of the Other World.workhouse had no place on the Grand Sleigh—ever! “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be on this trip.” said Duncan. Duncan. the Baroness on her Terrace. Once we’re in the Forest. than the misty river Thames at night.” Then they heard the Fanfare.
drinking her glass of Champagne. the Flying Trelves ranged above all this in flawless parade formation. 126 . just as she had done every year. Once on deck. But this time there was a bundle in her arm. He was too occupied looking at the Baroness in her chair.” replied Lord Elfington. their ugly scaly wings in a slow-motion movement to keep them in perfect stationary position. He stepped to the side of the quarterdeck as the guns sounded out and raised his hand in salute to her.” said Santa. Each smiled to the other. “I’m sure she is. “She must be very excited about the Prophecy. Henry drew a sigh of relief. Santa hadn’t even noticed him creep onto the deck from the passageway. year in and year out. She rose and bowed to him and raised her glass. her new baby.from the highest turret.
he could see Spicata’s men lining the Ice Cube Road. While Drear was paying homage to Santa. He sent the Flying Trelf back with the location so Spicata’s men could investigate further. In the distance. In another moment. actually. But he couldn’t be sure. The Count looked beyond the ugly little beast and saw Spicata’s Flying Trelf make his landing on the Terrace. but he’d heard more than enough to make him wary of her. He’d never met the Baroness.Elf Shotgun just rolled his eyes. a Gelf came over and bowed to the Count. He moved his eyeglass along the various paths away from Spicata and back to the lake bank. 127 . he was at the rampart with his eyeglass. he though he could j-u-s-t make out two small figures working their way toward the road. He thought he saw two little white specks moving slowly across the lake. After a moment. The Count moved away from his wife and over to the Trelf to get his report. surveying the vast expanse of Frozen Lake far below.
“Am I that slow?” was all she asked. “You need to rest.” “No. but there was no way he could imagine them making the whole trek.Chapter 26 – The Flying Trelves Deployed! Taraxa and Inula had made it about half way to the Ice Cube Road when they heard the trumpeteers on the Grand Sleigh sound Santa’s Fanfare. whipping out a large white canvas with which he covered them both. Taraxa. sadly.” he said simply. He knew he was heading in the right direction. 128 . It was also about that time he realized Inula couldn’t complete their journey.” he said simply. He looked into her eyes and saw that she knew how hopeless it was. would never see her daughter again. however. They weren’t even far enough along for him to make out the markers on the road. but forcefully. “Why are we stopping?” she asked. He stopped and sat down with Inula. “It might be better if you just went on without me.
” “No. We both make it to her.” she said. scanning the lake desperately. She is with good people. “And it’s getting dark!” 129 .“I would feel better knowing Noelle had one of us rather than neither. The huge branches began to close upon themselves again. The Count gave the order for everyone to stand down. “Where is this slimy Trelf?” “I sent him back to Spicata with a sighting I made.” Drear went to the rampart and took the Count’s eyeglass. “I can’t see anything. It has to be the peasants escaping with their baby. and was gone. or neither of us does. and told the Baroness about the Trelf’s report.” The Grand Sleigh roared through the tunnel deep into the Forest with a huge SWOOSSSSSSSHHHH.
They moved into position above the Terrace and the officers flew down to stand by for their orders.“Look over there! About midway between the Ice Cube Road and the lake bank in the direction of the Hyssopus Field.” Drear mused. Together. I see nothing! I see that Spicata’s Courier has landed and his Trelves are setting out in that direction. “If it’s not too late!” The Flying Trelves. The Count ordered them back into formation. hundreds of them. “Wait!” said the Count.” She glanced over her shoulder.” She looked at the sun setting over the highest of the Verbenas.” “Ahh … Still. “I think I saw something move!” 130 . were just standing down. “Spicata hasn’t enough men to cover the Ice Cube Road. “Call back the Flying Trelves. they watched as Spicata’s Trelves moved off.” A Skelf dashed into the Baroness’s chamber and returned immediately with a second eyeglass. “Get another glass for the Count. We will need them.
He’ll never even know about this insignificant threat to our future.” The Baroness turned to her top Trelf commander. “General. Intercept the couple attempting to escape the Realm.” 131 . Especially the baby! You must catch them before nightfall or we’ll lose them!” The General flew up into the air followed by his officers. “Yes! You’re right! I see it! They’re wearing some sort of white camouflage. move out immediately in support of Gelf Spicata on the Ice Cube Road. “At least Santa can’t interfere. Bring them to me immediately. as well as their baby.The Baroness brought her glass up and looked. The Baroness turned to the Count and smiled.
On the lake. as he looked over toward the mountains. he saw the long line of Spicata’s squad heading toward them. not out here on the Ice Cube Road. A brisk wind was working its way up. they just might have a chance. While he saw Spicata’s Trelves approaching. He and Inula were all in white. with the sun now falling behind them. but not enough to obscure them. they would have been protected by darkness. and they began to make their way again. if he could avoid Spicata’s Trelves until nightfall. Taraxa got Inula to her feet. they were wearing black uniforms. now that dusk was falling. Taraxa quickly whipped out the white 132 . Taraxa now realized his fatal error. He thought all the Trelves would be formed up at Castle Drear paying respects to Santa. Totally helpless. Now they were sitting ducks. Even with a weaker Inula. But when Taraxa looked ahead. He should have waited till nightfall. and colder weather. quickly wrapped up the canvas. Still.
With a window! “Well. Surely the Baroness would reward him lavishly. maybe even a two-room suite. faster. and pray for darkness. he could see the great branches of the Forest closing behind the Grand Sleigh. faster! We must find them before night falls. “Crouch down low. It’s our only hope. In the distance.canvas cover and unfolded it over Inula and himself. according to the just-arrived Courier. thought he saw something. 133 .” Spicata’s Trelves moved out in the direction ordered by the Count. you filthy Trelves. who. faster. suddenly excited at the prospects of capturing Taraxa and the baby girl. let’s hurry it along. Maybe I was right! thought Spicata. Inula. Perhaps he’d even be assigned a larger room in the Castle.” Spicata looked over his shoulder at the sun just falling behind the Verbena Mountains.
They might have a half-hour. Chapter 27 – The Magic Staff “I’ve lost sight of them!” said the Count. And a wind was getting up which would throw a little snow into the air. I can still make out Spicata’s men in their dark uniforms quite clearly. lowering his glass. He could tell they wouldn’t get to him in time to help—darkness was falling fast. 134 . “Can anyone see them?” No one could. “But they’ll quickly disappear when dusk settles in. Spicata saw hundreds of Flying Trelves heading his way.” said the Count. “No! No! It’s obvious—they’re wearing white. but not much more.” “Bring my Staff!” the Baroness called out to one of her Skelf attendants. In the distance. “They’ve disappeared!” cried the Baroness. Then it would be blind man’s bluff in the darkness.
Drear raised her Staff and pointed it toward the lake. The Count brought his glass up and looked in the direction of Spicata’s men.” “But we might be able to capture them!” “And if our incompetent Trelves lose them in the night?” The Count did not answer. “How will you know where to strike?” “I believe if we wait a minute or more. All our plans would lie in ruin.“What are you doing?” “I’m going to let the Pirandelves finish the job for us. “But what about my Trelves? And Spicata?” 135 .” “Santa is gone!” she said with a snarl.” “But Santa has forbidden you to call out the Pirandelves! They are banished under the ice.” The Count brought down his glass. Spicata’s squad should be in the area where I lost sight of the figures in white. “And I will not let these people escape with that child into the custody of the Wizard or Santa Pops.
Spicata is a nasty little creature. In any case. dear. Drear pointed her Staff as she looked through the eyeglass. and spoke: “I command the Pirandelves to strike and destroy all within reach!” Spicata saw the flash of light set out from the Long Terrace... He immediately knew what was coming. 136 . Just think— this will give you a chance to .” The Count felt a momentary sadness —he was going to miss Spicata. stop fretting.“Oh. promote from within. Never liked him. oh. Spicata had sent his men out in three staggered rows. You can always forfeit a few Trelves and Gelves. Luckily for him. He’d rather liked and grown attached to the hideous little thing. He remained in the last row as a sort of hedge against his prey slipping through. all well ahead of him.
rose up like a graceful arc of bluish-white 137 . But as he saw now. closer and closer. They could not make it before nightfall. He could tell they hadn’t spied him because they hadn’t moved forward faster to challenge him. But he knew they would be helpless once night fell. He also saw the army of Flying Trelves moving in their direction. Taraxa’s spirits lifted. For a brief moment. and the Baroness obviously wasn’t taking any chances.” And then he saw the white bolt out of the corner of his eye. “Inula.He looked up and saw the army of Flying Trelves making their way across the lake. Taraxa had been peeking from the cover of his white canvas and observed Spicata’s Trelves slowly moving toward him. it would soon be every Gelf for himself. I think we have a chance. and fear struck deep in him. The bolt began at the Castle.
“What is it?” cried Inula. thought Taraxa. Inula! Get up! We have to move back. “When I give the signal. and then started downward—aiming directly at the space between him and Spicata’s Trelves. achingly slow. As fast as we can or we are lost!” Just before the bolt hit the ice. in fact.” He took off his belt and leather strap than ran from his epaulet down across his chest and wrapped it around him and the Courier. “Get up. but not as fast. Spicata called over his Courier. Taraxa knew what would happen the moment the bolt hit the ice and broke an opening through to the waters below. sir?” “I’m the message now. “A message for the Castle.” 138 .lightning. you will fly me away from here.
like a volcano spewing forth frozen water rather than lava. my loyal servant. but large. Spicata’s terrified Trelves started to scatter. “Save your strength!” The water continued to soar upward. pointy-nosed lizard-like animals of the deep famed for their razor-sharp teeth. red scales and voracious appetites. the water erupted in a geyser that rose in a roar high above them. Most of them had never seen a Pirandelf before. slimy. When it found the freezing water below. And now they came.“But I’m not strong enough to carry you!” “You’d better be!” Just then the bolt struck the lake and burrowed deep down into the ice. 139 . “Not yet. not yet!” cautioned Spicata as the Courier struggled against him. Clawing their way up from the several holes in the lake created by the bolt were the deadly Pirandelves. each the size of two fully-grown humans. only heard the horrible tales about them.
It was a like a game to them. The Trelf was then taken back to the hole in the ice and thrown down into the water. Another form of sport the Pirandelves enjoyed. 140 . their favourite form of attack being to grab the Trelf by the head. They ripped through the poor Trelves’ puny weaponry. was to surround their prey and force them toward a hole in the ice. The Cretins. they were forced to jump into the icy water where they drowned or were dragged alive to underwater pens watched over by the Cretins. When the victims came to the precipice. thus breaking the neck. after the foraging expedition was over. enslaved to the Pirandelves. collected the catch and the Pirandelves feasted later. when they saw there was no force sufficient to repel them. who laboured below the water. give him a good swing.They poured forth from the holes in the lake and instantly began attacking Spicata’s men with a relish Spicata had never seen in any animal or human.
Santa had banned them from the surface. Then the powerful jaws and razor teeth finished the work. 141 . but they were bound by an ancient oath to obey the Baroness when she called to them. “Come along. you can do it!” Spicata pulled out his knife and held it to the Trelf’s neck. they foraged quickly and retreated to the depths. The Pirandelves had been instrumental in helping the rulers of Drear fight off Santa’s forces during the Schism. pushing and pushing against the ground. forcing his wings into overdrive. His whole squad was routed. “Now!” yelled Spicata as the Pirandelves waded through the first two lines of his men and started to work on the third.It was so rare that the Pirandelves were allowed above the lake that when they were freed. each Trelf dropping his lance and running in a different direction. But they were no match for the quick-footed iguana shaped Pirandelves. One powerful swish of a red-scaled tail could knock a Trelf to his feet. Spicata’s Courier Trelf struggled to fly. you fool.
“I can’t fly away! You’re too heavy!” “You don’t have to fly away—just keep us above them!” Several Pirandelves jumped up at them. he saw the approaching army of Flying Trelves come to a hovering stop. Spicata allowed himself a laugh as his Courier moved higher and higher. slowly away from the deadly Pirandelves. foot by foot. you fool. the Trelf rose in the air. 142 . but they were inches out of reach. ever so slowly. but they kept their distance. “Cowards!” Spicata screamed. afraid to move any lower. “Don’t move toward them. “I can’t steer! I can’t!” cried the Trelf.“You’d better do it!” After much effort. Looking over his shoulder. He called for them to come help him. His Trelf was drifting toward the Pirandelves rather than away from them. go the other way!” Spicata commanded. Spicata’s Courier was laboring mightily against all the extra weight. “Cowards! All of you!” But his cries were ignored.
“Why aren’t they attacking?” cried a terrified Inula. Inula buried her face in Taraxa’s arms. the Pirandelves began their game of shunting and faking.” Taraxa answered stoically. toward our army!” But the Trelf was slipping lower and lower.“Fly the other way. “They’re playing with us. and Spicata dropped with a raging scream straight down. landing just a few feet from one of the water holes. the Courier slipped his arm under the leather strap holding Spicata to him. As the Pirandelves surrounded them. 143 . Taraxa and Inula stood tall and proud. Seeing the pair totally defenceless. even as the feinting Pirandelves forced them closer and closer to a gaping. ragged-edged water hole. rather like football players throwing blocks for one another. Suddenly.
Spicata heard the wailing cries of the last of his squad dying under the assault.They could hear the cries of the dying Trelves in the water below. In the distance. 144 . A lance jarred him as it landed in the ice next to his foot! Looking up. little good that it would do him. momentarily giving him a fright that scared him more than the Pirandelves. calling out for mercy and help that would not come. “Taraxa!” “I am. Now. much less the fate of her parents. he saw the Flying Trelves had finally launched an assault of sorts. Suddenly. And he heard more screams coming from the water hole just behind him. Spicata got up.” “No matter now!” Spicata had long since given up any interest in the little girl who had got him in this mess. Spicata dropped down out of the air right next to Taraxa. He still held his knife. all three of them turned to a face a dozen Pirandelves tightening the circle around them.
Spicata heard the freezing water churning in the hole behind them. But unlike humans. Arrayed above him were hundreds of Flying Trelves now approaching in orderly column after column. he could breathe underwater. Even though the lances were bouncing off the backs of the Pirandelves. Of course. As each column came within reach of the Pirandelves. the Trelf assault was forcing the Pirandelves to turn away from the trio hovering by the water hole. and the lances ricocheted harmlessly off the hideous creatures. 145 .coming low and throwing their lances at the Pirandelves. dead or alive. and thought how ironic it was that he was actually one-eighth Cretin (on his grandmother’s side). the red scales on a Pirandelf were like metal. Taraxa and Inula would die. the Trelves hurled their lances. the Cretins waiting there would collect his body and dump it in the waiting underwater cages where he’d later be eaten by the Pirandelves. and that when he went into the hole.
but then. Spicata actually thought they might make a run for it as he stood side-by-side with Taraxa and Inula. Taraxa!” END OF BOOK 1 PREVIEW OF COMING BOOKS BOOK 2: Santa & the Gullible Gelf. The last thing Spicata heard before he hit the water was Inula crying out: “I love you. In which we follow the adventures of Spicata and Noelle’s 146 . For a moment. if only the Flying Trelves could keep up the attack long enough. without any warning. suddenly.and stand up on their hindquarters and swipe at the Flying Trelves as they swooped down. an errant Pirandelf tail swept all three of them into the icy water pit below.
as his Queen. the Princess Dazzle. BOOK 3: Santa & the Return of Elf Duncan.parents after they hit the water and are surrounded by the Cretins. all her suspicions are roused.net www. Noelle. In which young Prince Nicky discovers he is not destined to marry von Drear’s daughter. BOOK 5: Santa & the Ritual of the Green Gloves. but another girl who is hidden away in the Other World. Email: santa@santopia. In which we learn of Elf Duncan’s experiences in the Other World after he is accidentally smuggled off the Grand Sleigh. The Baroness. BOOK 4: Young Santa & the Secret Voyage. Eighteen years have passed and we pick up the lives of Noelle and Nicky just before Nicky is to claim von Drear’s daughter. still unaware of her true identity. has waited eighteen years for this moment. Send us your email address if you wish to be notified when the next book in The Annals of Santopia is published. returns to Santopia three days before Nicky’s eighteenth birthday.net 147 . the Princess Dazzle. thinking Noelle perished with her parents and Spicata in the icy water hole on Frozen Lake. So when the Count informs her that a girl has been brought in from the Other World instead of Henry to repair a broken machine.santopia. and how Henry plans his secret return to Santopia.
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