Note: This is this year’s final letter of my and my brother’s Advent Letters project. We’ve really enjoyed creating these for our kids and for all of you, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading. The story will continue next Advent.
After a night of staring at the ceiling from his mattress, Matt got out of bed that morning to a tap at the door. He opened it with a groan.
“You again?” He said.
“That’s right, lady-hips.” Said Ratatosk, who was literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “Eat a quick breakfast, boys. They want us at the chapel in ten minutes.”
Because of the knot in his stomach, Matt could barely eat half a sugarplum before Ratatosk whisked them out the door. Trudging through the new snow, something popped into Matt’s head.
“What happens when our parents wake up and realize we’re gone?”
Ratatosk said, “Not a problem. It’s hard for your tiny human brains, but time doesn’t work here like it does down south. A hundred years here could be a month where you’re from. Or a week. Or even a day.” Matt wondered if that was how Santa delivered the toys in one night, but was afraid to ask. Ratatosk continued, “And if you’re lost forever, we’ll just send changelings.”
Before Matt could follow up, Brian cut in. “Is that Santa’s house?”
The group had entered a bustling central square. On one end was a towering building, cruciform and with a golden spire in the center.
Ratatosk laughed. “You don’t know Santa at all. He lives in a one-room cottage outside of town. That’s the North Pole chapel.” He led the boys through its doors, carved with saints and fantastical creatures.
Inside was a cavernous silence except for a soft chanting that hung on air heavy with incense. It was dark except for candles reflecting off icons.
Behind an altar at the front was a silver filigree screen. Squinting, Matt almost thought he could see a large shadow behind it. But instead of Santa, Erno and Kanute emerged, coming toward them at a brisk walk. Kanute held a large velvet bag, while Erno held a scroll.
“Come with me.” Erno ushered them out.
“We just came out of the council with Saint Nicholas.” Erno said as they walked through the courtyard. “We have a plan. Step one: read this.”
Matt took the scroll. With a shaking voice, he began:
My dearest Mellemas
I am sorry I cannot see you face to face. I trust it will not always be this way.
You may wonder why I have chosen you boys to retrieve the Heart of the North. I do not wish to simply contain the Mark by banishing you from the world. I want you to be healed. The only way to do that is return the jewel with the right heart.
That’s why I have given you my bag. And yes, it is the bag–the one I use to make my Christmas deliveries. Everything you need is in it. And yes I do mean everything.
PS: You may be wondering how, even if you find the jewel, you can return it with the right heart. Hopefully that will become clear along the journey.
By the time Matt finished reading, Erno had led them to the base of a giant tree on the other side of the courtyard. Kanute handed the bag to Jer.
“But how will we know–” before Jer could finish his question, the bag leaped toward him.
“Go on.” Kanute told him.
Gingerly, Jer reached inside. After a moment’s confusion, his face sparked with wonder. He presented a glistening bow, along with a quiver of arrows.
The bag jumped toward Brian. He plunged in and came out with a war hammer so enormous Matt wondered how he could lift it.
A wave of dread slithered down Matt’s chest in the moment before the bag jumped to him. With a sigh, he pulled out a sword and shield. The sword was the length of his leg, was double-edged and straight, and had a ruby in the pommel. The shield had the same ivory unicorn as his tunic.
“These are not merely weapons.” Kanute said. “Each has its own blessings and abilities.”
“They’re magic?” Brian asked.
“That’s a crude way of putting it,” Kanute replied. “But in a way.”
“What are their powers?” Jer asked.
“That’s for you to discover.” Erno said.
“Discover?” Matt squeaked. “We’re actually going to use these?”
Instead of answering, Erno nodded to Ratatosk, who scampered up the side of the giant tree. He waved his paw over runes carved deep in the wood. For an instant the runes flashed vermillion. Then the tree began to quiver and shake.
In answer to the boys’ expressions, Erno began, “This is Idrasail. You may know it as the North Pole. It connects the human world to Faerie. Watch.”
Matt stepped back with racing thoughts. So the North Pole was actually a tree? Or mayke that two trees–one ash white and one cedar red–twisting around each other. The shaking grew stronger, and then the tree started to grow, shooting up toward the stars before stretching out its branches across the sky. Below, the roots grew and expanded, diving in and out of the cobblestone like sea monsters. At its base, a gap between the trunks glowed that same deep vermillion into a swirling vortex.
“Whenever you’re ready.” Erno said, gesturing to the portal.
“Wait–what?!?” Matt had expected weeks of training to prepare for every possible problem.
“You have to.” Erno said. “Even a moment’s delay could lose the Heart of the North forever.”
“And your Mark is growing stronger by the second.” Kanute added.
Matt glanced at the throbbing Mark on his arm. “But we’re not ready,” he pleaded..
“You’re as ready as you’re ever going to be.” Kanute said.
“Boys,” Erno said, “the bag will give everything you need. But be wary. Faerie is a beautiful place, but also dangerous. Topsy-turvy. You must learn wisdom.”
A crowd had gathered around the boys, who stood frozen before the portal.
“Well!” Ratatosk finally shouted. “You wimps going or what?”
Brian, with sudden resolve, gave a battle cry. War hammer raised, he charged into the portal. Jer rolled his eyes, tightened his quiver, and followed after. Matt just dug in his heels.
“Well, lady hips?” Ratatosk taunted. Behind Matt, the crowd muttered about the delay. Erno and Kanute’s encouragement fell leaden on his ears. He couldn’t go. He just couldn’t.
Then something happened. The sword jumped in his hand. It pulled him toward the gateway. For a moment Matt thought about letting go and escaping. But he held on. The sword dragged him into Faerie.
And with that, I’m afraid our tale must end for another year. I have to navigate through the festival in the town square to make it to the post office in time. Plus, Avvu is returning to prepare Christmas lutefisk for his polar bear friends, and I need to escape that scent as quickly as possible.
Have a merry Christmas through all twelve days of Christmastide. And if you see Santa tonight, please don’t ask him for any hints about what happens next. I’m afraid he might actually tell you.
North Pole Head Secretary