This is our first Holiday Meets Humor-themed post from our friend J. Michael Radcliffe who always brings out the Halloween in our Horror Meets Humor posts in October. Don’t forget if you have a holiday-themed post to let Donna Cavanagh (Donna@Humoroutcasts.com) know!
The great white dragon yawned and stretched, curling her long tail around herself and settling in for a well deserved nap. She had plucked several nice, fat reindeer from the valley below and now, her stomach full, she would sleep for at least a week. She counted herself lucky, as hunting was usually much more difficult in December.
An ice dragon, she was a rarity, even for her kind. Although there were hundreds of different species of dragon, several from each of the elements, ice dragons were the least common. They lived in the Polar regions, high in the mountains. While most dragons had the ability to breathe fire, or acid, ice dragons had the ability to generate a powerful blast of ice-magic that froze on contact. Their wings beat great currents of frigid air, and they had the power to concentrate the moisture in the air and cause blizzards.
But tonight, Shiv’ra, or Frostbite as she was called by the humans, had no intention of leaving her nice, cold cave, curled into her nest of snow. Or so she thought until a loud voice echoed through the cavern.
“Frostbite!” shouted a gruff, male voice. “FROSTBITE, I KNOW YOU ARE IN THERE – ANSWER ME!”
Her curiosity aroused, the dragon uncurled, shook the snow from her back and made her way down to the entrance of her lair. No human would dare to address her in such a manner, and no dwarf would be found this far north. She reached the entrance to her cave and sat down on her haunches, curling her long, spiked tail around herself like some giant cat.
“Who dares disturb me at this late hour?” she said into the twilight.
She saw no one near the cave, and only a fool would venture out in a snowstorm this late in the season. A shadowy movement in the distance caught her attention and she peered into the dark. A figure was approaching, trudging through the snowdrifts up the path to her lair.
It must be a wizard to have projected his voice from such a distance. Oh, how I detest wizards; arrogant fools.
“Frostbite! I have a bone to pick with you, dragon!” said the figure from about halfway down the path.
A bone to pick? The insolence! I would eat him whole if I weren’t already full; still, I could freeze him for later…
Her eyes narrowed in anger, she watched as the dark form grew larger and gradually took the shape of a large, burly human.
Oh no. It can’t be. I thought that old fool died years ago…
As the light faded and the sun finally sank out of sight, Shiv’ra flicked her tail and two large werelights flared to life on either side of her. As the bright blue-white glow lit the surrounding area, the figure trudging up the path became clear.
Kringle! she thought with a grimace. The one human her race was forbidden to interfere with.
Long ago, the magic users of all the races reached an agreement with the dragons that the magician, Kris Kringle, would be untouchable. A relentless practical joker and trickster, he had taunted and embarrassed the Council for years. It all came to a bitter end however, when the beloved pet snark owned by Eudora Fogle, head of the Order of Black and Chairperson of the High Council, had its fur covered in a bright pink paisley pattern. Even the most talented wizards had been unable to break or reverse the spell, although most were too busy chortling under their breath to properly recite the incantations.
A stern and unforgiving witch, Eudora served Kringle a life sentence. His penance was to spend one night each year delivering toys and presents to the children of the world, to foster their belief and wonder in all things magical. At first this might seem the dream job for a wizard such as Kringle, who was still so young at heart.
But Eudora was a crafty old witch, and she didn’t get to be head of the Council by playing nice. She ruled the Council with an iron fist and was, above all else, a bureaucrat – a rulemaker, a law passer, a ‘three copies filled out in blue ink not black’ if you please – tyrant. For you see, she cursed him with a seemingly impossible task.
It was now Kringle’s task to track every single child in the world – magic or not – and keep a tally of their behavior. Who was naughty. Who was nice. Who was just naughty enough to get coal or just nice enough to get candy. Every child in every country was on his list, and he had to watch them. Every. Single. One. Until they became adults, and then he had to watch THEIR children. Forever. If he ever failed to carry out his mission by sunrise at the Council tower, he would be stripped of his magic and exiled to live out the rest of his life among the mortals.
As a result, he was under the protection of the Council as long as he was carrying out his duties, which meant Shiv’ra could not eat, freeze or otherwise harm the old wizard in any way.
Pity, she thought with a caustic glance at the old man. As plump as he is, I would imagine him to be quite tasty.
Kringle finally stopped in front of the dragon, leaning heavily on his staff and puffing steam into the cold night air like an old locomotive. After a few moments, he finally caught his breath and launched into a tirade.
“Just what do you think you are doing? Have you ANY idea what day this is, you great fool of a dragon?” he snapped.
Shiv’ra was somewhat taken aback, as most humans showed more respect towards her kind. She flexed her broad, white wings and cocked her head to one side, focusing one of her giant blue eyes on Kringle.
“Excuse me? Just whom do you think you are, storming up here at this hour?” she hissed. “If you were not under the protection of your precious council I would have you for a snack!”
“Hmph!” snorted the old man. “You don’t scare me, dragon, and they are most certainly NOT ‘my precious council’!” he said with a shake of his gloved fist. He took a flask out from beneath his voluminous robes and took a deep swig, the smell of peppermint wafting upward and causing the dragon to wrinkle her nose. “For almost two hundred years, I have met the challenge of that hateful old witch, and I have brought Christmas to the four corners of the globe as agreed, ON TIME!” he shouted. “But now, now, I am undone, in a single night, by YOU!”
He’s gone insane. Perhaps this is what candy cane poisoning looks like…
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you are blathering about, Kringle,” she said icily. “After my hunt, I settled down in my cave. I have been nowhere near you or your tower.”
Kringle shook his staff at the dragon and shouted angrily, “You ate six of my reindeer, you fool! How is my sleigh supposed to take flight?!”
Shiv’ra paused at this. She had indeed devoured six plump reindeer – bells and all in fact – as she had been quite hungry. The other three she had let escape into the pine woods as she was satisfied.
“It is not my fault, Kringle. They were out in the open and I was hunting; I am a dragon, you know.”
The wizard put his gloved hand over his face and sighed deeply. “How many reindeer have you seen whose nose glows bright red? Did that not strike you as odd?”
“I must admit, it did make that one easier to catch; it would also explain the heartburn…”
Kringle sat down on one of the boulders near the mouth of the cave and slumped over, leaning on his staff. “I’m finished. After all these years, that hateful old witch has won.”
Shiv’ra snorted, sending a blast of frigid air and ice crystals showering down upon the wizard. “Oh, please! You’re a wizard. Just use a portal, a flying carpet or a broom, for heaven’s sake.”
“I can’t you fool of a dragon!” snapped Kringle. “It’s against the bloody rules! I must deliver gifts to all the children of the world in one twenty-four hour period, traveling in a sleigh pulled by magical creatures. For years I have used the flying reindeer raised by the elves; they were strong and dependable, and could land on almost any rooftop.”
The old wizard took another drink from his flask and looked up at the dragon. “Wait a minute!” he said with the sound of inspiration in his voice.
This can’t be good; a wizard with an idea is a dangerous thing…
“The rules don’t specify reindeer…” said the old wizard, a gleam in his eye.
“No! Absolutely not!” snapped the dragon, knowing all too well where this conversation was headed.
Kringle arched his eyebrow and glared up at the Shiv’ra. “You owe me, dragon. It is your fault I cannot complete my rounds tonight.”
“Impossible,” she said. “Even if I agreed to such an endeavor, which I do not, even I cannot fly that fast; no dragon could!”
Kringle shook his head and motioned with his staff. A shrieking sound filled the air, akin to the sound of sheet metal being shredded. The air shimmered and in the blink of an eye, a large red sleigh snapped into existence in a cloud of snow.
“You don’t have to fly fast, Frostbite. You simply pull the sleigh, and once airborne, it takes over.”
The dragon looked skeptically at the wizard. “What do you mean, ‘it takes over’?”
“The sleigh emits a magical field that forms a bubble around us; we slip through the atmosphere in the blink of an eye and criss-cross the entire planet before you can say mistletoe!”
“Dammit, Frostbite, you owe me! You ate my reindeer, and if I fail in my mission I’ll be exiled to the mortal realm and the magic of Christmas will cease to exist!”
“Absolutely not. It is degrading. I am an ice dragon, not some common dray animal!”
The wizard pulled at his beard, clearly frustrated with the conversation, until he looked up at Shiv’ra with an even brighter gleam in his eye.
“Think of it though, for this one night, you will be the fastest dragon in history – no other dragon will have flown as far and as fast as the great Frostbite!”
Hmmm. He has a point. I would be the envy of my race…
Shiv’ra narrowed her cold blue eyes as she laid out her terms. “I will carry the sleigh, not be harnessed to it.”
“I will not wear sleigh bells.”
“And at the conclusion of our task, you will go away and never bother, harass, contact or otherwise disturb me, ever again – understood?”
“Deal!” said Kringle with a grin, as he clambered up into the sleigh.
He raised his staff and muttered an incantation and an ornate silver railing sprouted from the back of the vehicle, arching high overhead to provide something for the dragon to grasp in her claws. The dragon spread her enormous wings and took to the air with a single, powerful downward beat, causing a flurry of snow to surround them. She grasped the silver bar in her foreclaws and lifted the sleigh and its contents skyward as if they weighed nothing. Although Shiv’ra’s massive body eclipsed Kringle and his vehicle, she felt a slight tingling sensation as the velocity spell activated. There was a sound like a thunderclap and a bright flash, as dragon and sleigh vanished from sight, leaving nothing but silence and snowflakes in the darkness.
Eudora Fogle was happy. The old witch was sitting at her desk in her warm office, watching glittering silver grains of sand slip through the neck of a large hourglass sitting in front of her. A harsh and brittle politician, she was rarely happy, and when she was, it usually meant that some other poor soul was very unhappy. As the last of the silver grains slipped through into the bottom chamber of the hourglass, she smiled – a crooked scar of a smile that creased the cruel lines of her face. At that moment, a loud thunderclap rumbled across the courtyard outside her chambers, and her smile grew even broader. She rose from her chair and gathered her thick, black robes about her and went to complete a task she never thought she would have the pleasure of finishing. The heavy oak door to her study closed behind her with a ‘snick’ and a bright pink, paisley covered snark curled on the hearth opened an eye, then yawned and stretched and went back to sleep.
Shiv’ra released the now empty sleigh, setting it down gently in the courtyard. She then folded her wings and landed beside it as Kringle jumped from the sleigh, causing a cloud of snow to erupt around the plump wizard. The dragon watched as the large double doors to the castle opened and at least two dozen witches and wizards, bundled up against the cold, came to greet them.
“Out of my way!” shouted, a tall, rather stern looking woman in black robes with jet black hair pulled up into a tight bun, brandishing a silver wand.
The dragon saw Kringle grimace as he took a quick drink from his flask, the strong scent of peppermint filling the air. He nodded to the woman as she reached the sleigh and said, “I have completed my mission, madam chairperson. Every child has been accounted for, every gift delivered.”
“Ha!” she spat with a grin as she waved her wand under his nose. “You’re late!”
Shiv’ra saw the color drain from Kringle’s rosy red cheeks, until he looked rather like a snowman in robes.
“What?? That is impossible! I’ve completed my mission!”
“Wrong, you old fool!” she snapped gleefully. “You are two grains too late! You have given your last gift, eaten your last cookie and stuffed your last stocking!”
The dragon looked at Kringle. She had never seen someone look so crestfallen before; when delivering gifts the old man positively glowed with excitement.
He actually enjoys his penance! Bringing joy and wonder to others has become his purpose…
Shiv’ra snorted in anger, sending a shower of ice crystals cascading down upon Eudora. Startled to realize she was standing underneath an ice dragon, the witch staggered backwards, wand raised over her head.
“Do not bother, witch,” said Shiv’ra with the sound of disgust in her voice. “There is little magic that can harm me, and none that could stop me slaying you where you stand.”
“Stay out of this, dragon,” shouted the old woman, although one could hear the fear in her voice. “Kringle failed and now I will strip him of his magic and banish him out of my sight forever!”
Shiv’ra stood and rose to her full height and lowered her head until her massive, tooth filled snout was just feet from the old witch’s face. She snorted again, covering the old woman in a thick layer of frost and causing the wizards and witches around them to gasp in fear.
“Kringle may answer to you and your council, witch, but I do not,” hissed the dragon. “This man has served his penance. Furthermore, he shall continue to spread the spirit of Christmas across the globe as long as he wishes, for the belief in magic benefits us all.”
“You… you can’t do that,” stammered the witch as she struggled to brush the frost from her robes.
Shiv’ra narrowed her eyes and spoke a single word, “gla’sere” and the air shimmered as a bright silver mark in the shape of a snowflake appeared on the forehead of the old woman.
She winced and pawed at her forehead, trying to scrub the mark from its place but it would not budge.
“What have you done to me?!”
Shiv’ra straightened to her full height and addressed the entire crowd of spellcasters.
“From this day forward, the man known as Kringle shall be freed from his servitude to the Council. He shall continue on in his duties as he pleases,” said the dragon, her deep voice echoing off of the castle walls. “Furthermore,” said Shiv’ra as she turned to address Eudora, “if you interfere with or hinder him in any way, your body will be turned to ice from the inside out.”
Eudora blanched as she tried harder to scrub the silver snowflake from her forehead. Someone in the crowd began laughing, and it quickly spread as the crowd erupted in cheers, prompting Eudora to run into the castle for the safety of her chambers.
“I cannot thank you enough, Shiv’ra,” said Kringle with a wink.
Surprised that the wizard knew her true name, she nodded in return. “Merry Christmas, Kringle,” she said, as she unfurled her great wings and took to the air. She angled northward and glided on the air currents, ready for a long winter’s sleep.
About the author:
Michael Radcliffe lives in rural Kentucky with his family, where he spins stories out of the wisps of magic around him. Their home is guarded by seven ferocious felines, who diligently patrol the grounds hunting for irks and weedles. His writing is supervised by Idris, a temperamental dragon, who critiques Michael’s stories about dragons, wizards and magic. Michael’s twitter name, @Alderdrache, comes from one of his books and means “elder dragon.”
For more information about the creatures and characters that inhabit Michael’s books, connect with him online:
Copyright © 2012-2016 J. Michael Radcliffe
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. The events and characters in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org