A Husband for Santa
Doreen Heron © 2019
All Rights Reserved
“Prepare the landing bay to receive the sleigh. I repeat, prepare the landing bay to receive the sleigh. We expect the mission to be terminated in fifteen minutes. I repeat, the sleigh is fifteen minutes away.”
The elves began to scramble, thousands of them getting to their feet and running from dormitories and lounges, through the glistening silver ice corridors and into the straw-lined landing bay. With nimble fingers, trained through years of constructing toys and preparing lists, they padded out stables with fresh straw and hay. They filled troughs with water and bowls with cereals and carrots. They swept the solid snow that had drifted in when the sleigh left and dried up the pools of water where the snow had warmed enough to melt. The elf children, too young to have any real responsibilities yet but old enough to graduate over the year and take on jobs for the following Christmas, took a break from observing and making notes and leapt to the gas lamps, lighting them to give the reindeer a cozy environment to come home to.
“We expect the mission to be terminated in ten minutes. I repeat, the sleigh is ten minutes away.”
Some of the older elves, particularly those celebrating their final Christmases, jumped as Turk’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. They hadn’t enjoyed this particular “innovation” and much preferred when his father had been in training and instead came to each of them in turn to make the announcements personally. They were glad to be retiring to let the younger generations—who didn’t seem to be quite as attached to the traditional ways—take the reins. En masse, the elves retreated to the back of the room, where they surveyed their work. It looked nice. Cozy. They wanted nothing more than for the reindeer to be able to rest as soon as they arrived home, and for Father Christmas himself to feel the wave of relaxation hit him after finishing his deliveries for another year. The younger generations waited with bated breath as Inger—the oldest elf and Chieftain of their little tribe—surveyed the room. She pointed to a corner where one last errant cobweb was stubbornly clinging to a beam, and one of the children leapt to a broom and scurried to clear it away.
“We expect the mission to be terminated in five minutes. I repeat, the sleigh is five minutes away.”
Inger surveyed the room again and smiled as she was satisfied with what she saw. Her team had served her well, this final Christmas. She nodded to the corner, where an elf stood alone. He was easily two heads taller than the others, almost the size of one of the human children for whom they made presents and was well muscled. At Inger’s nod, he turned to the wheel at his side and began to crank it. A creaking sound boomed from the timber roof, as it began to part. At once, the elderly elves started their chant, an ancient elven magic to protect the stable against the elements. The snow itself obeyed them, falling to settle on the roof and avoiding the hole that was emerging. When it was wide enough for the sleigh to fit, the muscled elf stopped cranking. But the elderly continued to sing, keeping the heat generated by the gas lamps inside the room, and keeping out the snow that was falling so violently.
“The sleigh has been sighted over the Crystalline Falls. I am on my way. I repeat, Turk is en route.”
The elderly elves rankled at the announcement. Never before had a Santa-in-Training ever felt the need to oversee the landing. It had always been a privilege afforded to the elves as a reward for their hard work. But times were changing, and all new Father Christmases had to put their own mark on the role.
Turk’s mark, it seemed to the elves, was micromanagement.
But they continued to chant, regardless. One slip in their song and winter would get into the landing bay, undoing all their work and discomforting Father Christmas and his eight faithful deer who had fit an entire year of work into a single night. And not one of them was prepared to let that happen.
The chanting could be heard across the palace. Turk emerged from the control room and stopped for a second to listen.
The sound of the elves was the sound of his life. Of hours waiting for his father to come home from work and tell stories of all the children to whom he had delivered gifts. Of those he thought Turk might like to be friends with if it were ever possible to leave Polynya. Those who had grown older and who chose not to believe in him anymore, just because their parents had chosen not to believe. Those who ignored all the evidence right in front of them that proved he existed, and instead put blind faith in parents who had no evidence other than what their parents had told them, who relied only on what their parents had told them before. Those were the stories that saddened Turk the most, particularly when he entered his teenage years and the children who he had considered peers and friends stopped believing.
They no longer wanted him to exist.
It was a happy song and a sad song. A song of hope and joy and obligation and loss. And in that moment, as he finally allowed himself a break in his work to take stock, he felt the loss of his own father about to retire and the joy of his own life about to begin.
He took a deep breath to steel himself. He couldn’t allow the elves to see his moment of weakness. Yes, they may have raised him and bathed him and changed his diapers, but as of the moment his father touched down in the sleigh, he was Father Christmas, and he had to lead them as a general leads his troops.
He had a family legacy to live up to.
He set his jaw, strong and stubbled, and took a moment to wipe the tears from his icy blue eyes. He pulled himself upright, towering over the elves at six feet and two inches and straightened his back. He’d read a book that said good posture commanded respected, and he needed his elves to respect him.
The echo of his black leather jackboots clattered through the ice corridors as he strode to the landing bay. Another tip from his book. Walk with a heavy step and make your presence known before you arrive so people know you’re there. He wasn’t entirely sure if that one applied to working from his own home, but he figured the author knew what he was talking about and was quite determined to follow all the advice on offer.
The torches lining the walls lit as he approached and extinguished as he walked by—lit long enough so that he could see, but not so long that they would begin to melt the walls. He moved deftly through the maze-like corridors and hallways, following the shortcut he’d figured out when he was a child and wanted to trick the elves into thinking his magic had developed. The truth was it would have been easier for him to teleport into the Landing Bay, but that didn’t quite make as much of an impact on the sound of his boots on the ice floors.
And it was all about the impact.
The elves scrambled out of the way as the two solid pine doors to the landing bay swung open, and Turk strode in. Quickly, they pulled themselves back together and stood to attention as he had taught them. The elderly elves objected to this, finding the position highly uncomfortable, and their hearts were glad they were required to carry on chanting.
“At ease,” he commanded, and the elves moved fluidly into position. Even the children, keen to impress their future boss, joined in and tried hard not to giggle as Turk walked back and forth past them, looking them over. “You are well presented, in spite of tonight’s working conditions. I’m glad I’m finally getting through to you.”
Inger chaffed at his words and closed her eyes to drown out what he was saying so she could focus on the ancient and magical words of her people.
“The loading bay is acceptable,” he continued, striding around the bay and peering into each hay-filled stall. “I feel we will have much work to do over the coming year to modernize this space and maximize efficiency, but that will come on December 26. For now, this is acceptable.”
A single snowflake fell through the opening in the roof as Inger let her guard slip. The Landing Bay had never been merely “acceptable” on her watch. Nor on her mother’s. Nor on her grandmother’s. She and the Matriarchs took their role seriously, and they worked hard to ensure that everything was done to perfection. Thankfully, the flake melted long before it was noticed by anyone other than her. She felt it fall as she felt her concentration lapse, and she certainly wouldn’t allow herself to do anything that he would merely consider to be “acceptable.”
She was so looking forward to retirement.
She felt for her daughter, who would need to take the reins and put up with Turk’s peculiar brand of nonsense.
A roar of wind and snow occurred overhead, and the children became antsy in anticipation of what was about to happen. Turk looked up and nodded, happy the elements were being kept out of the landing bay and satisfied the roof was open enough to allow the sleigh in so it could land. He squinted and saw a very faint red light in the distance.
“Showtime, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. The elves scrambled once again, lining up along the walls and the stall doors, leaving as much floor space as possible free for the sleigh to come in and land. While still chanting, the elderly elves walked to the far north wall, against which was set a raised platform. They walked up onto the platform and stood, choirlike, continuing their chant for the last few moments of their careers.
They were ready.
Turk joined them on the stage, running his hand through his dirty blond hair and smoothing down his wine-red suit. This was his moment. The moment he had spent his whole life preparing for. From the moment his father landed the sleigh, he would take charge, and the next Christmas would be his. His book had said to “make sure one presents oneself properly” from the very beginning of the job.
He was ready.
The red pinpoint of light grew bigger and bigger as the distant sound of sleigh bells began to chime. Turk took a deep breath and shifted his weight from foot to foot. He would never admit he was nervous and was almost positive the churning in his stomach was caused by the questionable reindeer meat in the curry which his mother had served the night before. But as he straightened his red tie for the fifth time that minute, the elves could see he was nervous. A couple of the children sniggered and pointed, but the others had sympathy for him. They knew his dad was a popular Father Christmas, and so he had a lot to live up to.
And if some of them were honest with themselves, they weren’t sure he would.
The sound of the sleigh bells grew louder and louder until finally the sleigh itself hovered overhead. The deer were well rehearsed by now and hovered in place until they were given the order to descend. It was a silent command, given by a Father Christmas who had spent two centuries working with each family line. He allowed for a delicate lowering of deer and sleigh alike until its wooden rails and thirty-two hooves set down on the landing bay’s tiled floor. At once, the elves scrambled into action and the bay became a hive of interaction. The elves turned the wheel, and the roof closed. The elves standing by the stall gates unlatched them, and then headed to their own deer, unhooking them and leading them over to their stall. First Rudolph, then Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, and so on until all nine were safely locked away and gratefully lapping their water.
As they were working hurriedly, Inger and the other elderly elves made their way to the sleigh and helped Father Christmas. He was wobbly on his feet as he stood but was able to make his way down to the landing bay floor entirely unaided.
“Turk,” he called, his voice booming through the Bay. “Please see to it that the sack is returned to its rightful spot.”
“Of course, Papa,” Turk replied. He turned to an elf, the only elf currently unemployed, and gave the command. “You heard him. Take the sack to the—”
“No, Turk.” His father stopped by the pine doors. “I asked you to please take the sack and put it away.”
“But Papa. This is what the elves are—”
“The elves are not your slaves, Turk. They work for the children, not for you. Now, please put the sack away and then meet me in the Lounge.”
“The Debriefing Room,” Turk corrected his father under his breath as he made his way to the sleigh and pulled the large, empty, hessian sack from the back seat. It looked so different with the enchantments faded and the magic gone for another year. Now, it was loose and malleable and normal.
He didn’t like it.
Carefully, he laid it out on the floor, careful to ensure no elf trampled over it and folded it in half, and then half again, and then half again. There was no ceremony to the sack any more, and that made him a little sad. He very much enjoyed being a child and watching his father and Inger fold it carefully and then carry it solemnly to its room to be put away. He looked at Inger, who was observing him carefully, and was certain he saw a tear in her holly-green eye. It was a shame, he thought, that she so disliked him that she refused to even help him with the sack ceremony.
“At least there will be new Elders next year,” he mused, picking up the sack and carefully making his way out of the landing bay along the twisting corridors toward the Toy Room. “Maybe the new Matriarch will want to do the ceremony with me.” The Toy Room doors slid open, and he walked amongst the empty shelves to the illuminated glass box where the sack resided during the off-season. Gently, he opened the box and placed the sack inside. As it hit the bottom of the glass, it began to shine in gentle hues of red and green and gold, its magic immediately beginning to replenish and rejuvenate. “I’ll see you next year,” Turk whispered to it before he turned around and tiptoed to the Debriefing Room.
He saw no need to announce his presence to his own father.