Christmas on Velar

By

Brian W. Antoine

December 25, 1997

It had become my habit over the years to spend the last few weeks of each year recovering from it and getting ready for the next one. This usually took the form of my quietly slipping away for a while, back in the days when I was still firmly in "hermit" mode. Now days, with the crazy family I have the honor to be a member of, I have to either sneak away, or dodge the items being thrown at me to get me out of the house.

You see, I get cranky about this time of year ...

This turned out to be one of the years I had to dodge objects. Kalindra, my loving mate, had cornered me outside our home one afternoon about two weeks ago. Politely but firmly she had explained that, "If you dare step back inside our house before the end of your year, it will be my great pleasure to turn you inside out and sell the remains to the Meenzels." Since sheíd chosen to tell me this by yanking my head down to her level and snarling at me, I allowed as how she might actually be serious. Twenty seconds later I was headed down the road that ran in front of our house.

There are disadvantages to living with something that looks like a five foot tall fox with fangs and claws. This was one of them.

Now call it a sign of how cranky I was, or write it off as my being silly, but as I had sat beside the road about a mile from the house, Iíd decided I wanted snow. It was the end of the year, I wanted a White Christmas. The trouble was, it was mid-summer in northern Velar and snow wasnít exactly easy to find. Iíd actually considered screwing with the weather to make it snow, but had quickly abandoned that idea when Iíd realized that Kalindra would have coming looking for me to skin me. So, Iíd ended up a bit further away then Kal had probably figured, Iíd headed to my old home in the mountains of southern Velar, which were covered in all the snow I could want.

My home, or rather the isolated laboratory that Iíd made sure included living quarters, was a modest stone structure built on the sheared off top of one of the taller mountains. Iíd designed it both for function and view, so it overlooked a huge valley in the direction of the setting sun that gave me some absolutely stunning sunsets to enjoy. After two weeks of working to forget all the troubles of the waning year, I was actually starting to enjoy them.

This particular evening, Iíd stayed outside after the sun had slipped below the peaks of the mountains in the distance. With the bitter cold winds blowing the snow around in small swirls not ten feet away from me, I sat back in my deck chair in my bathrobe and sipped hot chocolate. Being a Mage has advantages, the environment field that covered the deck was one of them.

Space still fascinates me even after all these years of bouncing around in it. I love to just sit back and let my mind drift as I watch the heavens dancing slowly above me. My family knew this, and took obscene advantage of my mental state.

The first I knew that theyíd followed me south was when a snowball hit me in the back of the head ...

Now remember, Iím the ArchMage of my world, an accomplished adventurer and Iíve spent years honing my reflexes to surprise situations. I reacted instantly to the vile, underhanded, sneaky and uncalled for attack on my person. I jumped straight up, spilled hot chocolate on myself, and yelled in shock.

This of course was a mistake.

The snow that had been clinging precariously to my hair proceeded to break loose and slip down the back of my robe. My yell went an octave higher than before as I spun around to face my attackers. The attackers that were busy laughing themselves silly.

"Can you give me one good reason why I shouldnít throw the lot of you over the railing and into the nearest snow bank?"

Naldantis at least had the good sense to look pitiful, Kalindra and Lythandi were too busy laughing to even hear me. The first step I took caused him to rush to stand in front of them. My second step caused him to move forward and block my further approach. "Sorry, I have my instructions" was all he said as he looked down at me.

"Instructions?" I asked as I managed to peek around him and see the ladies step back inside my house, close the door, and then pull the drapes closed.

"I am to keep you out here until informed otherwise."

Now Naldantis is the quiet one of our family, which means he tends to get more of the unpleasant jobs when they come up. Having long ago realized that was happening, and not being able to fight a matriarchal society, Iíve simply made it a point to help him out when I noticed it going on. Because of this weíd become fairly good friends over the years. If he was standing against me now, there was a good reason for it.

"So tell me," I asked with a grin. "Why would you try and block my revenge?"

"Because I am more afraid of them then you," he answered immediately with a grin the equal of mine. "At worst, you could throw me off this mountain and kill me. Our respective mates inside could make my life miserable for a very long time. It was an easy choice."

I thought about it for a moment, nodded in acknowledgment of his flawless logic, and shook the last of the snow from under my robe. "I donít suppose you brought any hot chocolate out here with you?"

"As a matter of fact..." and he pulled a thermos bottle from behind his back, which instantly made me forgive him for his part in the dastardly ambush of a few minutes ago.

* * *

It was roughly an hour later when light spilled out onto the darkened deck as the drapes behind us were pulled open. Naldantis and I had been listening to my latest bit of tinkering, Iíd rigged up a way to play music using the mountains around us. Even though Terran music sounded off-key to him, Nal had admitted that Iíd done a good job of arranging the magical system that Iíd created.

Right in the middle of Tubular Bells III, the curtains were pulled open and Lythandi opened the doors onto the deck. Naldantis knew what to expect but I was caught cold. It took about five seconds for the scene before me to register then I broke out laughing so hard it hurt. This didnít go over well with the reason for the laughter ...

Lythandi, her own natural red fur comprising half the color scheme, was dressed in a bright green costume to complete the traditional red and green of the season. The costume, which was the reason I was laughing so hard, was a direct steal from something she and Kalindra must have seen on one of the video tapes that Iíd held onto through the years.

Lythandi was dressed like an elf from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer ...

I tried to stop laughing, really I did. Instead I got the hiccups as Lythandi got this desperate look and started making noises like she was going to cry. I finally got control of myself though when Naldantis leaned over and whispered "If she cries, you are going to regret letting me learn about human anatomy..." That kind of sobered me up fast.

"Did we get the costumes wrong?" asked Lythandi when I finally got control of myself. "Kalindra and I tried to make sure we didnít make a mistake like last time, we tried to find something that matched the holiday marked on your calendar, we didnít ..."

 

She was starting to ramble and she still looked kind of desperate, so I shut her up by walking over and giving her a huge hug. "You did fine Lyth," I whispered in her ear as I gave it a small nip. "You just caught me by surprise. A fuzzy elf was the last thing I expected to see walk through these doors." The smile on her muzzle told me things would be fine. "Now would you mind telling me just what is going on?" The giggle I got as a reply should have put me on my guard.

Taking me by the hand, Lythandi led me through the doors and into the house while Naldantis brought up the rear. If I thought Lythandiís costume had been a shock, the changes made to my home gave me heart failure. Kalindra had been busy during the last hour ...

One of the few things in my home that really reminded me of my home world was the huge pine tree that grew in the open area in the center. Iíd carefully crafted a special environment field in the central atrium that allowed it to thrive on a world far from the one that had created it. True to the season, it was now decorated in shiny baubles, twinkling mage lights and about a thousand strands of popcorn. Standing next to the base of it, as we looked down from the second level where the balcony was, were my mate and my son.

It would have been one of those special memories you keep for a lifetime, it probably was going to be anyway, but not for the reason I suspect Kalindra had wanted. As I watched, she was busy trying to keep Lan Louis from fidgeting in his costume while my son tried to keep my pet dragon from eating the popcorn that decorated the tree. Then Kalindra noticed we were watching.

"Uh, Merry New Year?" she blurted out quickly as she tugged Lan Louis next to her and held him in place.

I wasnít about to correct her. As it turned out, I wouldnít have gotten the chance even if Iíd tried. While I stood there trying to decide whether to yell about what sheíd done to my tree or laugh at the silliness of the scene, the arrival bell attached to the Worldgate in the den went *chime* and my house was invaded by hungry aliens bearing gifts.

"Uh, let me guess," I whispered to Naldantis as the first guests began to wander out of the doorway that led to the den. "Kalindra decided to throw a party?"

"A Christmas party to be exact," replied Naldantis with just a hint of humor in his voice. "She began planning it about a week ago, you should have seen the mess she made trying to locate reference materials for the costumes and decorations."

I suspect he enjoyed the look on my face as his words sank in. "Itís finally happened, sheís cracked under the strain of living with me all these years" I muttered to myself under my breath.

"Probably," answered Naldantis with a twitch of his ears. "I know I donít understand most of the references she found during her searches. Simply trying to make sense of what you Terrans call Ďreligioní was enough to give her a headache."

I could just imagine the flood of junk sheíd have gotten if sheíd simply asked the Central Library for any information relating to Christmas. "I know it always gave me a headache when I tried, which is why I stopped trying years ago. Christmas is supposed to be a peaceful holiday on my world, but it got so corrupted by people trying to make money off of it that I gave up on it."

"Well for one night at least you are going to have to celebrate it again. I wouldnít want to be in your skin if you tried to tell your mate to tell everybody she invited to turn around and go home. Also, *ahem*, you might wish to be dressed more appropriately since I believe thatís the Tipkatz ambassador standing there watching us."

It took a second or two for that last part to sink in, then I blushed almost as red as Lythandiís fur. "Oh shit Ö" and I vanished with a *pop* as I teleported to my bedroom to find something besides a bathrobe to wear. After several minutes of silent grumbling, I floated back down from the top of the central core, dressed slightly more appropriately for the occasion. Kalindra gave me one of her more memorable glares as she spotted the t-shirt I was wearing.

"It is NOT always my fault," she grumbled under her breath.

"Oh yeah? Name once this year when it wasnít." That got me another glare that I ignored in favor of saying hello to the first of the guests who had stopped staring at the way the tree decorated and had walked over to where Kalindra and I were standing. "Welcome to my home," I told the ten foot tall bear that was trying to figure out what question he wanted to ask first. "Had any problems with the Illinert raiding your system lately?"

"Why is your tree covered with those decorations?"

"Because today is a holiday on my home world called Christmas and one of the ways we celebrate it is by decorating trees like that."

"Yes, your mate used that word in the invitation I received, but she did not explain what it meant."

"Donít worry about it," I said. "I doubt she understands it either since it is a religious holiday now days and Velanís usually get headaches trying to understand religion."

"We do not," protested my mate as she swatted me with her tail.

You have to remember that I was still supposed to be in seclusion, clearing my head of the scruff that had filled it during the year. Kalindra and her party had interrupted that and I wasnít in the best of moods just yet. Before common sense could stop me, I grinned and said, "Ok, then go right ahead and explain it, Iíd love to hear it."

I should have kept my mouth shut. Several other guests were within hearing range and various appendages and translation mechanisms swiveled our direction.

With her best evil grin, Kalindra shook her head and said, "Itís your holiday, you explain it. Iíd hate to get it slightly wrong and confuse our guests, and Iím sure they would rather here you explain what Christmas is so they know they are getting the correct explanation."

I was seriously tempted to teleport to a random location on the planet and hide. The last thing I wanted to do was try and explain to about a dozen different races just what Christmas was. Hell, after all these years I wasnít sure I even remembered what the official definition was myself.

*Iím going to get you for this* I Ďpathed to my mate while I pasted a smile on my face to hide how I felt.

*You have to catch me first* came her reply. *Youíve been slowing down the last few years and I doubt you could catch a Snath in the middle of winter.*

Putting my arm around her, I kept smiling and hugged her, and pinched her on the butt as I released her. "Ok, who wants to know just what it is you are all here to help me celebrate?" To my disgust, about half of the guests who were present answered "I do".

"Then as soon as everybody arrives, we can get comfortable and Iíll try and explain it. Until then, I smell something good cooking in the kitchen and Iíll bet at least a few people here are capable of ingesting something my race calls EggNog. Itís a wonderful concoction that we only drink this time of year." Knowing what was ahead, I made damn sure my glass had more then just plain old EggNog in it.

* * *

Iíd actually hoped that my guests would forget my offer to explain what Christmas was, I know I tried to help them forget by plying them with dinner Kalindra had arranged and their racial equivalents to alcohol where possible. My mate though wasn't about to forget, she knew exactly what I was doing.

"I believe itís time you explained what Christmas was," said my loving mate as she waved her paw at the dishes to make them vanish into the kitchen.

"Lan Louis, you better get Smaug out of the tree again, I just saw another strand of popcorn vanish," I said while trying to ignore her.

"Here is a nice cup of hot chocolate, now sit down here and tell our guests what Christmas is," said my now slightly annoyed mate as she walked over to where I was standing.

"No, they really are just random lights," I told 931 for the fourth time that night as I once again saw him trying to talk to the Christmas Tree.

"Ok, time for you to be a storyteller," came the voice from behind me and my obnoxious mate grabbed me by the arm and led me over to where about a half dozen of our guests were sitting.

I was caught, Iíd just get it over with as fast as possible.

"Ok, let me see if I can explain this," I told the odd assortment of aliens sitting and floating around me as I got comfortable in my chair. "Please understand that Christmas means something different to everybody on my planet that actually celebrates it, so what Iím telling you is my own definition."

"Actually celebrates it?" asked 931 as he gave up talking to the tree and swiveled around to face me.

"Yep, not everybody celebrates it, since itís supposed to be a religious holiday and the majority of my race doesnít believe in the particular god that the holiday is associated with." Taking a sip of my chocolate, I quickly continued and hoped they wouldnít try to get me to explain just what a god was and why my race had so many different ones.

"Anyway, I think that Christmas actually has a couple of different explanations, so Iíll go through them one at a time. The first explanation is based on my planets orbit. Christmas is within a couple of days of our winter equinox. Thatís the shortest day of our planetary year for the Northern Hemisphere, the hemisphere where most of our early recorded history comes from. Someplace in those years I believe people started getting together to celebrate that day and the fact that it meant the days would now get longer again. Also, since that wasnít a religious based reason, a lot of people celebrated it even though they stopped doing so later in our history."

Taking a sip of chocolate, I caught my breath and waited to see if anybody had a question, then I continued.

"Now when people got together to celebrate, they did so with a fine meal, using the best parts of the stored supplies they had created to last them the winter months. So I suspect people began to look forward to that day because it meant theyíd be eating better than they normally did." Nodding in the direction of the dinner table, I grinned. "Thatís why most Christmas celebrations include a dinner with family and friends even today."

"If itís a celebration, you can help me cook next time," whispered Kalindra in a voice just loud enough for everybody to hear.

"Sorry, by long standing tradition, cooking the Christmas dinner is a female job. Youíll just have to muddle through without my expert help." That got me a snort of disgust and a Ďpathed comment about not wanting to eat chili for Christmas.

"Anyway," I said, ignoring the snide remarks from my mate, "With everybody getting together to celebrate, somebody started bringing gifts with them to give to the children of their hosts. Or at least thatís what I suspect happened, and here is where one of the other traditional parts of Christmas comes from. Maybe nobody wanted to let the kids know what was really going on, maybe some bright individual saw a chance to pull a fast one on their children in an attempt to get them to behave."

That got me a couple of gestures of agreement from those present who had offspring.

"When things settled down, the adults had created a mythical being called Santa Claus who visited children all over the world on Christmas night. If you had been a good child that year, you got a toy, if youíd been bad, you got a lump of coal."

"Visited children all over your world in a single night?" asked the ten foot bear who had done an admirable job of containing his curiosity until now. "How did he carry all the toys? How did he travel that distance in a single day? How did he Ö" and those of us who knew Hurn well just started laughing, because we knew heíd be asking questions the rest of the night now that heíd gotten started.

"Ok, remember I said this was a mythical person," I told Hurn as I managed to interrupt him. "There are several different versions of him depending on what part of our history you examine. The only common thread seems to be his giving presents to children if they behaved. How he did it varies depending on when you examine the legend. He started out on foot in some parts of the world, used a sled in others, and the modern version has him using a magical sled pulled by flying animals."

"A flying sled?"

"Yep, and the animal in front has a bright red nose to light the way in bad weather. Either that, or heís drunk because heís afraid of heights."

"That would be Rudolph?" asked Kalindra.

"I figured youíd watched that tape given the costumes you and Lythandi are wearing. Yes, thatís Rudolph." Reaching over, I straightened her elf hat and snickered.

"Anyway," I told my audience, "That is the first explanation of what Christmas is. Itís basically a celebration of our winter equinox, a reason to get together with friends for dinner and conversation and a method of getting our kids to behave during a part of the year when they are inside most of the time."

"Like we have done tonight?" asked 931 as his transverter field twinkled brightly.

I thought about that for a moment, and realized he was right. Whatís more, I started remembering the times Iíd celebrated Christmas long ago with my own family, and a smile crept onto my face. "Yeah, I guess you have a point there. Too bad I canít use it to make certain adults behave," I added as I reached over and tapped Kalindra on the nose."

I started to take another sip of my chocolate and discovered my glass was empty. "Excuse me while I refill my glass, then Iíll continue," and I got up and walked into the kitchen.

Standing there while the microwave heated the water, I took my first good look at what my house had become for one night and found I wasnít very upset with Kalindra anymore. Most of the rather odd assortment of aliens who were strolling around my house or sitting in the central core listening to Kalindra at the moment were people I considered friends. Hell, in a couple of cases theyíd fought at my side in some of the insane adventures weíd had years ago.

And of course most of my family was here as well, or at least those parts of it that knew the whole story of my life. The rest were snug in their beds back on Earth. Yeah, I thought to myself as I stirred the chocolate into the water, I suppose this isnít a bad way to spend Christmas. Grabbing my cup, I walked back to where everybody waited and sat down to continue. As I walked by, Kalindra reached out and gave me a hug then smiled up at me.

"Ok," I said, "Now you know what I believe the earliest version of Christmas was. Iíve mentioned it was a religious holiday though, so Iíll explain what I meant by that next." Here is where I knew some of my feelings about religion were going to taint the story, but Iíd warned them that everybody believed something different. Taking a large sip of my chocolate, I got started.

"One of the religions on my planet has a story about the son of their god being sent to our planet to teach them how to behave better and to wipe the slate clean of everything weíd done wrong up until then. Now there are lots of arguments about just when this person was born, but the most common belief puts the date of his birth real close to our winter equinox. That wouldnít have caused a problem, except for one rather nasty habit of the religion in question."

"What was that?" asked Kalindra, as she felt my disgust through our link as I thought about what I was going to say next.

"The religion Iím talking about has a long history of doing anything they want to people who donít believe the way they do. Now Iíll admit they werenít the only ones who acted like that, but they were one of the worst. When ever they ran into a group of people who didnít believe the way they did, they either converted them to their belief, subverted them as best they could, or exterminated them if nobody was looking."

What bothered me even more then thinking about what had happened in our history was the fact that children growing up on my world today werenít being taught that those things had even happened. Too many people had Ďsanitizedí the history books because they didnít like what they said, what was left was useless drivel that omitted the dirty truth of our history.

"Anyway, and Iíll admit this is my personal belief, the original Christmas celebration got taken over by the religious version as a way of assimilating groups of people. Christmas became a celebration of the birth of a religious figure with the original meaning being forgotten or ignored." I personally ranked it high on my list of examples of Ďgive them fewer reasons to distrust usí. The pagans had either been hunted down simply because they were pagans, or had been systematically brainwashed until they forgot their own history.

"So that is what Christmas was and what it turned into," I told my audience. "But the story doesnít end just yet, if anything, it gets worse."

"Excuse me," said a quiet voice from behind Hurn. "I can sense you do not approve of what happened, but what I sense does not seem like enough of a reason for you to have stopped celebrating this holiday of yours."

"True," I said as Hurn moved aside to let what looked like a large gumdrop slide forward. I hadnít even seen the Ambassador from Xuilt arrive, I was slightly surprised to see him here since weíd only been in communications with his race for about three months.

"It was what happened in modern times that caused me to give up on the holiday, even though Iím supposed to be a member of the religion that celebrates it. Remember my first explanation about the parents giving gifts to their children? That all happened at a time when those gifts were made by hand because my world hadnít gone through itís first industrial revolution. If you wanted something in those days, you either made it yourself or you bartered for it. As far as Iím concerned, Christmas began to die when our modern world discovered it could make a profit off of it," I said and I didnít bother trying to hide my disgust.

"You didnít make the toys for your children anymore, you bought them at a store. Christmas became a nightmare with the kids demanding certain toys that they had been told they needed, the parents being told that they werenít good parents if they didnít buy their kids tons of stuff they didnít need, and huge companies playing the parents against the kids in an attempt to make even more money. Christmas is one of many holidays on my world, but in one of the most insane examples of greed Iíve ever seen itís started destroying other holidays that compete with it."

Just talking about it was giving me a headache. I didnít like having to remember why Iíd given up on Christmas, but Iíd finish what Iíd started.

"Iíd be willing to bet that the first advertising for Christmas began about three months ago back on my world. Each company trying to be the first get people to spend money with them instead of with a competitor. At best giving lip service to the other holidays that occurred, but probably ignoring them completely."

"Itís all run by a big eastern syndicate," muttered Kalindra as she repeated something she remembered from watching my old video tapes.

"Iím sorry to admit that it probably is now days Ö" and I stood up looked at my audience. "My friends, Iím sorry if I seem a bit upset by this, but it isnít a topic I enjoy thinking about. I grew up during a time when the worst of these changes was starting, I got to see it from both the childís point of view and the adults. When I couldnít stand what I was seeing any longer, I fought back in small ways, then gave up when I found out that nobody else seemed to care."

Taking a deep breath, I looked out the window at the snow storm that going on and nodded to myself. "Please excuse me for a few minutes while I get some fresh air. I believe there are plenty of snacks left and it looks like Lythandi is giving tours of my home." There were a few vague replies thanking me for my explanations, but most of the people sitting around me were silent as I levitated up to the second floor and walked out onto the deck. The snow storm that now howled just beyond the environment field matched my foul mood rather well.

* * *

Iím not sure how long I stood there. I was so lost in my thoughts that I never noticed that the storm had passed and that the winds had cleared the skies above so that the stars twinkled through once again. It wasnít until I felt an insistent tugging at my arm that I took notice of my surroundings, and found my son trying to get my attention.

"Da, would you help me build a snowman?" asked my son as he looked up at me.

It took me a moment to shift mental gears. "Excuse me, build a what?"

"A snowman," he repeated. "My mother said I should ask you to help me build one to get your mind off of what youíve been thinking about."

I had to laugh since I imagine thatís just exactly what sheíd said to him. Looking over the edge of the deck, I found that the storm had left about a foot of brand new snow on the ground below us, and it looked like fine snowman material to me. "Ok, lets go build a snowman and Iíll show you a few other things you can make with snow."

"Such as?" asked my son, with a gleam in his eyes and ears twitching.

"Oh, snowforts, snowballs, snow angels, all sorts of things thatíll have your mother throwing fits when she sees us." So while whistling the theme to Frosty the Snowman, I led my son downstairs and then outside to educate him in the fine old art of snowmen.

Now since this was Velar instead of Earth, a few modifications to the basic design had to be made. It took Lan Louis and I awhile to figure out how to make a muzzle out of snow that didnít fall apart under its own weight, and the ears gave us a little trouble, but the tail was easy. When we were finished, there was a snow family lined up at attention by the front door of my house and weíd acquired an audience of sorts who had been watching us from the windows.

"Which one is my mother," asked Lan Louis as we looked over the results of our efforts.

"The plump one with the big Ö" The rest of the sentence was lost to a flurry of snowballs from the deck above us. "Ok, I let you get away with that once, but Iím Ö" Another volley of snowballs rained from the sky, and I heard the distinctive sound of a Velan female wuffing in laughter. "Son, our snow family is under attack, we must defend it," I said as I ducked underneath the door overhang. He just grinned and dove under cover with me.

"You understand, this means war," I yelled to our attackers. All we got for a reply was more laughter. Ok, theyíd brought it on themselves Ö

Looking around to determine how much ammunition was available, I noticed that this close to the house the snow had been melting slightly. "Son, let me introduce you to a rather evil variant of your garden variety snowball." Reaching down to fill my hands, I began creating my weapon. "Itís called a slushball, guaranteed to penetrate even the thickest fur if applied by surprise. Watch how I make this one, then make me at least a half dozen more."

While we prepared for the coming battle, we could hear our opponents doing the same above us. We were confident of victory though since we had the power of right on our side and a good supply of the Holy Slushball of Antioch. When things started to quiet down above us, and I saw bits of snow float down as somebody brushed against the deck railing, I winked at my son and we launched our assault on the forces of evil aligned against us.

In other words, we fired first Ö

Iíd been tracking Kalindraís position via our link, Lan Louis had tracked Lythandi by her sounds, his little ears swiveling like tiny radar dishes. We each nodded to the other and began the assault on the forces of evil.

"Da, Iím cold and Iíve got ice in my fur," whined my son as he hobbled his way out from under the door overhang. "I donít want to do this anymore." I had a hard time not laughing out loud as he did his best to sucker our victims into the open.

"Brian!" yelled my mate, "What have you done to my child!"

The moment I saw more snow fall from the railing above us, I went into action.

I knew roughly where they were, I trusted Lythandi to be standing close to Kalindra thanks to Lan Louisí acting job. Imagining a spot about 10 feet above her, I teleported into position with my hands loaded with slushballs. I came in right on target.

Both Kal and Lyth were bent over the railing looking at Lan Louis when I yelled. Being bent over made the backs of their necks available and each of them got one slushball down the back of their costumes. Their screams were music to my ears. The moment they started to look up to locate me, Lan Louis went into action. From behind his back he pulled a couple of slushballs of his own and both his mother and Lythandi got caught with their guard down for the second time.

Then both of us ran like the demons of hell were after us, which wasnít too far from the truth Ö *smirk*

Kalindra took to the air to come after me, Lythandi jumped over the railing and took off after my son. Neither of them bothered to take any of the snowballs theyíd stockpiled on the deck with them, which they soon regretted since Lan Louis and I were still armed. By the time I let Kalindra catch me, we were both laughing so hard that we had the hiccups. When we got back to the house we found Lythandi sitting on top of Lan Louis in the snow, him squirming like mad as she rubbed snow into his pelt.

"Ö as bad as your father, just wait until I get my paws on him!" she was yelling as Kalindra and I flew over the top of the house to hover above them.

"Youíll have to stand in line, somebody else has prior claim on my hide" I yelled down to distract her. When she paused to look up at me, held out my hands like I still had a slushball in them and pretended to drop it. That was all it took, she screamed again and dove out of the way, which gave Lan Louis a chance to scramble to his feet and go free.

"We men have to stick together" I told my mate as she glared at me from a few feet away. "Iím going to have to teach Naldantis how to deal with you two when Iím not available to keep you in line."

"I better get you inside, youíre delusional again," she replied with a laugh. "This cold has numbed your mind."

"Youíll just have to warm me back up again then," I said with a wink, then I chased her down to the deck were we both landed and then walked into our home.

"I told you he was faster," I heard Naldantis telling 931 as he accepted something one of our other guests was handing him. "Never bet on Kalindra when heís involved." I wasnít sure I wanted to know what had been going on inside during our battle, but I saw Kalindraís ears twitch at Nalís comment and I figured heíd just guaranteed himself an unpleasant surprise in the near future.

"So," I said as I brushed some snow off my clothes. "I donít suppose anybody thought to have some hot chocolate ready for the winning team?"

"Are you sure you won?" asked the Meenzel Ambassador. "It appears you left your victim alive to come after you another day when you might not be expecting it."

It was one of the few times all evening heíd spoken to me, and I wouldnít realize what he was really talking about until much later. "Never underestimate a Mage," I replied as I hugged Kalindra. "I can take care of myself." Had I not turned away, Iíd have seen him frown and nod to himself.

"Hot chocolate! I need hot chocolate!" I yelled as I made my way to the kitchen. "Anybody else want some?" I asked. I had a half dozen orders by the time I could take two steps.

* * *

The rest of the evening was pretty quiet as dinner parties go. Kalindra and I spent a couple of hours circulating amongst our guests, catching up on the latest rumors and filling a few of them in on the status of the announcement planned in about a week. It wasnít all business though, I ended up teaching Hurn how to build a snowman and listened as Kalindra tried to explain just what snow was to a being who thought liquid water was a rarity and ice an impossibility.

As things eventually started to wind down, I found myself back on the deck looking up at the stars overhead, thinking of who might be out there looking back. It had been Kalindraís idea to invite the various ambassadors to what I normally considered a private event, but I had to admit it had worked out ok. How many other races might I someday get the chance to invite to Christmas dinner. What would they think of what Kalindra and I had done, what we planned on doing next? Would they join us as friends, or would they see us as a threat to be eliminated?

Would the fact that two people born on different worlds could become as close as we were show them the possibilities that existed?

Though the open doors behind me I could hear the last of the guests saying good-bye as they stepped through the Worldgate and headed home. The shuttle that had brought some of the others was just pulling away from the landing pad and I watched as it quietly climbed back into the star studded sky above me and vanished.

Sitting there on my deck with my son curled up asleep in my arms, I looked up at the stars and smiled. I hadnít celebrated Christmas in a long time, Iíd kind of lost all reason to over the years. On a world far from where Iíd been born, new reasons had come looking for me to remind me of what Iíd forgotten. Leaning down to kiss my son, I started to sing to him as he slept.

"Silent Night, Holy Night ..."