December is here, and so is the holiday season. I’m once again sharing my “Solstice Fest” short story (which can be found in the Chronicles of Riss anthology) to help spread the holiday mood and start getting ready for Christmas.
And if you like this story, why not check out the other stories in Chronicles of Riss, too.
There was a definite nip in the air, and I pulled my cloak tighter about me and continued to stroll along the streets of the city of Eastover. As I walked, I watched the bustling crowds and enjoyed the festive decorations of colorful ribbons, holly wreaths, and garland that had been put up over the last few weeks in preparation for tomorrow. What’s so special about tomorrow? It’s the winter solstice, and everyone over the world celebrates it with a big holiday festival known as Solstice Fest. It is usually preferable for there to be snow during the Fest, and if the cold and overcast sky were any indication, there definitely would be snow this year.
As I walked, I couldn’t help but remember the Solstice Fests that I had celebrated with my family when I was a child. We always had such fun singing, dancing, feasting, and playing games. And I always received such nice gifts. I remembered a doll that I was given one year. I loved it so much. I had wanted to take the doll with me when I went to stay with Althor, but he wouldn’t let me bring her. She’s probably destroyed now, I thought sadly. Probably got burned up with the house when the bandits raided…
Finding myself beginning to dwell on the unhappy subject of the death of my parents seven years ago when I was only eight years old, I shook my head to clear the thoughts away and looked around for something to cheer me up. Something like food.
I noticed that I had stopped walking during my reverie and that I now stood in front of a street vendor who sold sweetmeats. The old man behind the cart noticed me. “Hey, miss!” he called to me. “How about some sweetmeats? I’m running a Solstice Fest special. You can get five sticks of sweetmeat for only two gold pieces.”
He calls that a special? I would hate to see his usual prices. I considered lowering the hood of my cloak so the old man could see my blue hair and know just who I was and get a better deal out of it, but I decided not to. I had kept my hood up not only because it was cold outside, but because I wanted my identity hidden. I wanted to enjoy the holiday as a normal person and not have everyone acting scared of me and being overly nice to me because of who I am – the infamous sorceress Marissa Cobalt. Besides, I was hungry, and just didn’t feel like complaining or looking elsewhere. “Deal,” I told him, and pulled a couple of gold coins from the leather bag on my belt and stepped forward to pay the man.
With a smile on my lips and five sticks of sweetmeat in hand, I turned and stepped away from the vendor, only to feel something slam into my side and to find myself sprawled on the ground and my food scattered in the street.
“My…my food,” I said sadly as I sat up.
“I…I’m sorry, miss,” said a small, shy voice beside me. I turned and saw a small blonde girl only about eight years old pick herself up off the ground. Her little pink dress and gray cloak looked somewhat dirty but otherwise in good condition. “I was in a hurry, and didn’t see you.”
I gave her small smile. “It’s all right, sweetie. No harm done. Run along home now.”
She smiled back. “Okay. Good-bye, miss!” she said, then ran off down the street.
I stood up and looked sorrowfully down at my now ruined lunch. Two gold pieces gone, and nothing to show for it. Maybe the vendor saw what happened and will have pity on me, I thought hopefully. I was about to turn around to talk to the vendor when…
“There she is!” an angry man’s voice yelled. “Get her!”
“”Huh?” I muttered, and instinctively looked in the direction of the voice. A group of five big men were running down the street, right towards me.
What did I do now?! I thought, and took off running.
“Stop her!” called one of the men. “Stop that little thief!”
“Thief?” I said as I ran. “But I haven’t stolen anything today. At least, not from any innocents.”
I turned a corner, and found myself catching up to the little blonde girl who had bumped into me just a few moments earlier. I quickly realized that it wasn’t me they were after, but her.
“Hey, you!” I called to her.
She stopped running and turned to look at me. As she did, she saw the group of men turn the corner behind me. Her eyes widened with recognition and fear, and she took off running again.
I chased after her. As I ran, I checked my belt for my purse. Sure enough, it was gone.
I caught up to the little girl after she had turned another corner and grabbed her shoulder, bringing us both to a stop. I could hear the men who were chasing us getting closer.
“If you want to get out of this without any trouble,” I told her, my voice low but commanding, “stay quiet and play along. Got it?”
She nodded. I released her and turned around, ready to face the men. They rounded the corner a moment later and stopped suddenly when they saw us standing there.
“There’s that little thief,” said the big, tall, dark-haired man in the lead. “Get her!”
I stood in front of the little girl and lowered my hood, revealing my blue hair and identity. The men and the little girl all gasped.
“M…Marissa Cobalt,” stammered the men.
“What do you mean by chasing my little sister around town and calling her a thief?” I snapped. “You’ve scared her half to death.” Mentally, though, I was casting a spell by picturing runes in my mind.
The little girl took her cue. As I softly whispered the incantation, she stepped up close beside me and grabbed and held on to my arm tightly with both hands. “Big Sister, don’t let them hurt me,” she said softly, putting just the right amount of fear into her voice. That girl would make a good actress one day.
“Your sister?” said the lead man. “I…I didn’t know she was your sister, Miss Marissa. She…she ran into me and knocked me down. Then she apologized and ran off. After that, I noticed that my bag of money was gone from my belt. My friends and I took off after her to get it back.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you’re confused,” I said, putting a slight emphasis on the word “confused” and waving my hand ever so slightly in the direction of the men. A blank expression formed on their faces. “My sister here is not a thief. She didn’t steal your purse. You probably left it somewhere, or forgot to bring it when you left home this morning. Maybe you should got back and check.”
The men nodded, then slowly turned around and shuffled off back they way they had come.
With a satisfied smile on my face, I turned my attention to the little girl. She smiled up at me. “Well, thank you, Miss Marissa,” she said. “Good-bye!” She started to walk off.
“Not so fast,” I said sternly, grabbing her arm.
She stopped and looked at me with wide eyes.
“Hand it over,” I commanded.
She blinked at me as if she didn’t know what I was talking about. But I knew better. She should definitely go into acting when she grows up.
“My purse,” I clarified for her unnecessarily.
“Oh, that,” she said. She reached around under her cloak and brought out my little bag of coins. “Sorry. Here.”
I took my purse from her little hand and attached it back to my belt. “Now the other one,” I told her.
“Huh?” she said.
“The other purse that you took. You know, the one that belongs to that man who was chasing us. I’ll take it, as well. Both as payment for me helping you out and as your apology for ruining my lunch.”
“No buts. Hand it over.”
She sighed and reluctantly brought forth another leather bag full of coins from under her cloak and handed it to me.
“Thank you,” I said. “Now, run along home.”
But instead, she sat down on the ground and started to cry. Rather loudly, too.
Dumbstruck, I just stood there and stared at her. After a moment, I found my voice. “Hey, not so loud,” I told her. “Someone will hear us.”
“But now what will Tommy and I do?” she said. “We needed that money for food. We haven’t eaten in days.”
My eyes went wide. “Who’s Tommy?” I said.
“My little brother.”
“What about your parents?”
I squatted down beside her and put an arm around her heaving shoulders. “What happened?” I asked softly.
“We ran away from home. Mamma and Daddy were arguing and yelling at each other all the time and stopped paying attention to us. When they would, it wasn’t like it used to be. After a while, we got tired of all the yelling. And we were afraid Mamma or Daddy might leave. We wanted it back the way it was, before all the yelling, when they paid attention to us. So we thought that if they missed us, they might stop all the fighting and things would go back to normal when we got home.”
“I see. And how long ago was this?”
“A couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks?! Why haven’t you gone home yet?”
“Mamma and Daddy never came for us. So we’re not going home. It’s just me and Tommy now.”
“But don’t you want to go home?”
“If Mamma and Daddy wanted us. But they never came for us. So they don’t want us. So we’re not going home.”
I shook my head softly. “Sweetie, I’m sure they want you. I’m sure they miss you. They’ve probably looked everywhere for you. You’ve probably just wandered farther away from home than they would have expected you to. They’re probably sitting at home right now, worried sick and hoping you’ll come home soon.”
She looked at me hopefully. “You think so?”
“I know so.” A wistful tone entered my voice as I said, “You know, you’re lucky to have parents. Especially now, at Solstice Fest.”
“But you have parents, too, don’t you, Miss Marissa?”
“I did. And they missed me a lot while I was gone away learning magic, and were so happy to see me when I would come home for a visit. But they died when I was your age. I loved them very much, and still do. I miss them all the time. You love your parents, don’t you?”
“And you miss them, right?”
She nodded again.
“So, how would you like to give them a nice surprise present for Solstice Fest?”
She nodded again. “What present?”
“You and your brother. I’m going to take you both home.”
“Yep. Now, where’s your brother?”
We stood up, and the little girl led me down the street a few blocks to an abandoned building. She opened the door and we entered a dark room that was empty save for a couple of piles of hay. A young blond boy about five years old lay atop one of the piles in a tattered shirt and pants. As we entered, he sat up.
“Lyla! You’re back!” he said with a big grin on his face. “Did you bring any food?”
“No, Tommy,” she said somberly.
The little boy’s face fell.
Lyla put a happier tone to her voice and told him, “But I brought something better.”
Tommy perked up. “Better than food? What?”
The girl pointed at me. “Miss Marissa. She’s taking us home.”
“Hooray!” Tommy cried out. He climbed down from his pile of hay, ran over to me, and hugged me. Lyla joined in.
I laughed. “Okay, okay,” I said as I pried the two kids off me. “It’s time to get you two home. Where are we going?”
“Liten,” Lyla said.
“Liten? You’re lucky. I was just in that little village the other day. We can be there in no time.”
“Really?” Tommy asked.
“How?” Lyla queried.
I winked. “Magic.”
“Magic?!” the siblings said. “Yay!”
I chuckled. Those two kids sure were cute. As I pictured the runes in my mind, I told the kids to hold my hands. When they had a good grip on me, I pictured the village, said the incantation, and activated the spell by saying “Teleport!”
A blinding flash of white light later, we were standing in the middle of a street in a quaint little village bustling with activity. Solstice Fest decorations dotted the buildings around us. We looked around, and I asked the kids, “So, where’s your house?”
Before the kids could answer, a woman’s very surprised voice cried out behind us, “Lyla! Tommy!”
We turned around to see a tall, pretty blonde woman and a somewhat attractive tall blond man standing just a few feet away from us, hand in hand.
“Mamma!” the children cried out happily. “Daddy!” They ran to their parents, who knelt down and hugged them tightly. As I stood there, watching the scene with a smile on my face, I wished I could hug my parents like that again.
After a few moments, the parents stood up and faced me. The father held Lyla and Tommy tightly in his arms.
“Miss Marissa,” said the mother. “Thank you so much for bringing Lyla and Tommy home to us.”
“Oh, it was my pleasure. Those two are such sweet kids.”
“Why don’t you stay with us for dinner and Solstice Fest? It’s the least we can do to thank you.”
“Yeah!” said Tommy.
“Please stay!” said Lyla.
I laughed. “How can I say no?”
As I followed the happily reunited family home, it started to snow.