Welcome, Tue-Rah Travelers,
One of my favorite traditions around this time of year is the Very Merry Non Canon Christmas. These little snippets and episodes are not canonical to Tue-Rah Chronicles or the other stories though the characters from these stories do appear and interact off one another.
The basic premise is that the main cast of Tue-Rah Chronicles is all celebrating the holidays as a mostly happy and functional family. There are minor spoilers, and if you haven’t read at least the first couple books, it might not make as much sense.
Of course, while these events aren’t officially canon, that doesn’t mean that some of the events won’t be or that these episodes don’t include fun hints about what is to come in future stories coming in 2023 and beyond.
So jump in and enjoy! You can read these in my secret Facebook group or here. They are posted in chronological order. Due to health challenges and other delays, the posts will be extending beyond December 25, 2022 this year. I will mark when these are completed.
Table of Contents
Episode 01: A Mysterious Location
Episode 02: What’s Eating the Foundation
Episode 03: Brother
Episode 04: Dragon or Wyvern
Episode 05: Whose Dress Is That?
Episode 06: Naatos Is Worried
Episode 07: WroOth’s Holiday Spirit
Episode 08: Jacinda Wants an Introduction
Episode 09: Jacinda’s Deal With WroOth
Episode 10: A Pillow Fort and Cajun Night Before Christmas
Episode 11: Jacinda and AaQar Making Breakfast
Episode 12: Kidnapping Santa Claus
Episode 13: Naatos’s Plan
Episode 14: Bickering at Breakfast
Episode 01: A Mysterious Location
Amelia glanced at Naatos, debating whether to ruin the surprise or play along for awhile longer. That composed way he refused to look at her confirmed he was very proud of whatever was about to come next. He tapped one finger against the carriage wall. “So…you aren’t going to give me a hint.”
“You know everything you need to know now.”
“Except you won’t look at me.”
“I will not.”
“I can read your mind from the side too.”
“Yes you can.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re trying not to smile, aren’t you?”
“I am not.”
He rolled his gaze back to her, his expression rigid with mock severity. “Is there something you wanted to see, veskaro?”
“Obviously we aren’t going to Indiana for Christmas.”
“We are not.”
“But everyone will be there.”
“If they can make it.”
“And you haven’t locked anyone away or done anything dreadful?”
“Everyone you care about should be able to make it.”
“And the presents I got everyone. I hid them.”
“And I found them. They are on the way as well.”
“Including the Santa suit?”
He pressed his lips in a tight line. “That suit was extravagant. Gift givers of the night do not wear such garish colors.”
“WroOth would not be a gift giver of the night. He’d come in the daylight when everyone was awake.”
She laced her fingers through his. “Naatos, there are going to be more children here than ever this year. This will be fun for them. And it would be fun for me if you wore that suit.”
“Veskaro, if I am a gift giver of the night, I will provide appropriate gifts in appropriate attire. And I do not wear that much red unless it is the blood of my enemies. Now. If you want to see where we will be staying, look out this window.” He tapped the blind over the window. It rolled up with a smooth rolling twist, revealing a brilliant scene wreathed in snow and ice.
Her mouth fell open as she stared out the window. Well, it wasn’t what she could have guessed. But now she wondered where else she could have thought he would have wanted to take her.
Episode 02: What’s Eating the Foundation
Naatos pressed the silver carriage door open, stepped out onto the stone platform, and offered her his hand.
Amelia couldn’t stop smiling as she accepted. Her breath frosted in front of her face as she ducked her head to avoid the top of the doorway. The carriage drawn in the front and back by winged green-black dragon horses stamped their hooves on the snowy path.
This platform looked out over a mountain range with a snowy castle situated directly ahead of them. From this vantage point,
The white stones had the faintest hint of iridescent blue that caught flashes of sunlight as the towers spiraled upward in shapes reminiscent of the wind. Delicate bannisters, elevated patios, and curved staircases all adorned the smooth sides, sheltered in spots by rich-blue overhangs and sharply-angled blue slate shingles.
“It’s gorgeous,” she said, looping her arm through his.
“Especially at sunset. This is one of the cadre homes with a few updates.”
“A few?” She smiled up at him. From the way AaQar had described the cadre homes, this was more than a few.
“A few.” His brow creased, his focus moving to the base of the castle. “Unlike the others, we didn’t have separate buildings here in the mountains. The salt winds get very strong. But…” He leaned to the side, his forehead furrowing deeper. “Hey!”
She flinched, frowning at him as well. “What?”
“It’s eating the foundation again.” He indicated a large creature that resembled an ankylosaurus with shaggy grey-white fur that perched on the narrowest of ledges like a mountain goat. It took a delicate bite at the base stone.
“This is a problem here, of course.” She glanced up in the sky. No sign of aerial predators. Just because they weren’t on Ecekom anymore didn’t mean it was going to be simple.
“They like the salt that collects on the stones, and sometimes, they eat the stones too.” He growled as he stepped back from the stone edge. “Stay here. I’ll be right back. As long as you don’t leave the platform, you’ll be fine.”
She caught hold of his arm. “Okay, but you aren’t going to kill it, right? We could just put up a big salt wheel in the clearing up there or somewhere else.”
Naatos held up his finger. “We are not adopting that animal, all right? The castle will be full as it is. Darcy was a step too far.”
“It’s Mr. Darcy.”
“I am not using honorifics for a sand kraken.”
She smirked at him. “That is his name. And you’re the one who came up with it.”
“I also suggested Gilgamesh.”
She gave a dramatic shrug. “We could name the ankylosaurus Gil—”
He put his finger to her lips. “Never. Now. Stay here. I need to stop it before we all crash into the abyss as we welcome in the new year.”
She twitched her shoulder at him. “Well, it would be a memorable way to start the new year.” At this rate, someone was going to wind up with an ankylosaurus in his stocking. Or eating his stocking if the mood took it. “I’m sure Mr. Darcy and Cassio would rather not start it that way though.”
He shook his head at her, though the faintest smile tugged at his mouth. He then stepped back and spread his arms. “Just don’t get into trouble.”
Not that she tried one way or the other. She crossed to the edge as he jumped off. It was really impressive how swiftly he could transform, becoming the black storm dragon minus the lightning reservoir. Great bat-like wings spread wide, he dove down into the canyon, then twisted around, and shot up.
The ankylosaurus watched without the slightest hint of concern as if this happened all the time. Maybe it did. They really should put salt wheels up somewhere if the animals were coming for the salt on the stones.
Naatos really was going to be surprised when he got his Christmas present from her. No way he had found it and brought it here. But that didn’t matter. She knew exactly what to do. And he was going to be very surprised.
Episode 03: Brother
WroOth hopped beside her as if he had been waiting on the platform the whole time. A flurry of snow swept off the stone platform. “So what do you think, dear heart?”
She spluttered as the snow covered her face and hair. Shaking her head, she brushed it away. “That you need to find subtler entrances.”
“Never.” He grinned, setting his arms akimbo.
Of course that was his response. She narrowed her eyes at him and then motioned toward the castle. “I think it’s gorgeous. And it even comes with an ankylosaurus.”
“Does it?” He stepped to the edge.
Naatos snarled from the stone ledge above the ankylosaurus, baring fourteen-inch fangs and spreading his wings. The ankylosaurus gave him a bored look then took another bigger bite of the foundation.
“His name is Gilgamesh.”
“So that’s why we aren’t eating him.”
Naatos, still in his black dragon form, swatted in the ankylosaurus. It only rumbled a response, seemingly entirely unimpressed with his presence. Shaking his head, Naatos leaped into the air, increased his size twofold, and picked up the ankylosaurus. It bleated a sound like an enormous sheep, clearly annoyed at not being allowed to remain and nibble.
Amelia waved at Naatos, not certain if he could see her. “Seems a little rude when he just came by for a treat.”
“You do understand how hunting works, don’t you, dear heart? Lures and all that?”
She shrugged. “Has everyone else arrived?”
“No. But we’ll need to keep the flat-top roofs clear. The others will be here soon.”
“It’s going to be full then?”
“Oh yes. Very full. Lots of guests. Lots of family. Everyone we love, a few we only like, and some we might be able to throw off the cliff edge if things get boring.”
“Is it ever boring during these celebrations?”
“No, but throwing people off cliff edges could be fun. I could throw you if you wanted.”
“Well, when I’m not wearing a velvet dress, we might do that.”
“The velvet won’t keep you from falling beautifully,” he said, draping his arm around her shoulders. “Truly, you don’t know what falling or flying can be until you’re plunging through ice caverns and snow canyons.”
She started to laugh, then paused, nothing movement on the eastern wing of the castle as well. “Wait. Do you see that?”
Episode 04: Dragon or Wyvern
WroOth squinted at the horizon. “There are a lot of things to see out here. You’ll have to be a little more specific.”
She pointed to the right of the castle. “Is that a dragon eating the eastern roof?” A large silver-white reptile with red eyes bit down on the highest spire roof, gnawing like a dog on a chew toy.
“It’s a wyvern. Don’t you see those wings?” WroOth swatted her hair, shaking his head. “Really, dear heart. I think you’d know the difference by now. Can’t you see its legs and wings?”
“And I feel like the bigger point here is that it is eating the castle. It’s actually taking off shingles.”
“If you couldn’t get my name right, I’d eat your roof too. And probably set it on fire.”
“Fine. But it’s eating your house.”
“Castle.” He raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with your vocabulary?”
She set her hand on her hip. “WroOth.”
“Yes?” he smiled sweetly.
“There is a large reptilian creature eating part of the place where
we will reside for this holiday season.”
“Oh dear. Someone should probably do something about it.”
“Is that you?”
“Fine. I will.”
“You have experience with this?”
“Things ate my roof in Indiana.”
WroOth scowled. “I’m fairly certain those were squirrels, weren’t they? They don’t get much bigger than two feet standing.”
Amelia stepped back to the carriage and rummaged around for her bag. “I have a plan.”
“You do not.”
“Actually I do.” She held up the sling her father had given her.
WroOth laughed. “Yes, please. By all means, darling. Sling a rock at the wyvern. This will go over wonderfully.”
“The wind’s in the right direction.” She stooped and picked up a palm-sized stone.
He narrowed his eyes at her but nodded. “Go on then, clever girl. Do it.”
She spun the sling around as she focused on the wyvern. Then, with a snap of her wrist, she unleashed it.
The stone sailed through the air and cracked the wyvern on the side of its skull. It snapped around, glaring and snarling in their direction.
WroOth raised an eyebrow. “And what is the next stage of this plan of yours?”
She lifted her shoulders. “You’re standing here with me. You’re clearly the larger threat. So now you have to handle it.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “You take advantage of my love.”
She gave him a sweet smile. “No more than you take advantage of mine.”
“I’m going to do something absolutely dreadful to you later this season when you least expect it.” He set his arms akimbo as he glared at the wyvern crawling over the roof of the castle.
“Well, you can try.”
Sleigh bells rang out through the air. The wyvern snarled and then dashed away. Sounded like more family and friends was on their way.
Episode 05: Whose Dress Is That?
AaQar hung the dress on the hangar, then started to close the closet door when Jacinda hopped in beside him. “Wait. Is that—”
“What are you doing in here?” he demanded. The bedroom door was open, but he was fairly certain he’d closed it. More importantly when had Jacinda arrived.
“I came to ask you about whether it’s true there’s going to be a huge dance or something on the roof at some point, but now I want to know about this.” She darted forward and seized the silver-pink dress. The hangar rattled and cracked against the bottom of the shelf. “Tell me everything.”
AaQar looked around, perplexed. She had come in her as if she owned it and wasn’t on an entirely new world in a place she couldn’t have ever prepared for. “Jacinda, this is my room. There is a lock on the door.”
“Who is this for?” She swept out of his reach and held the dress up to the window light.
She lifted one eyebrow dramatically. “You know I design clothes, right? And this was tailor-made for someone. These are precise measurements and non-standard. This wasn’t made to trail the ground. It wouldn’t come close to fitting Amelia, and she wouldn’t have a back this low. No. This is for a woman about my height.”
“Surprise,” he said dryly.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re so bad at this. And no, clearly this is not for me. It’s not the right color for my complexion, and I know you have a good eye for color. You wouldn’t just lose that. And this is clearly for someone special. No, whoever this is is at least 5’7 or taller, fuller in the hips and narrower in the shoulders, flat chested. Is this Ruth’s?”
“Ruth is taller and broader in the shoulders. Now return the dress to me.”
“One of these days I need to meet her.” She stepped in front of the window and lifted the skirt of the dress, clicking her tongue. “All right. So based on the color palette for this, I’m guessing warm complexion. Probably active too because this dress isn’t particularly binding and will allow for a lot of movement. No need for a necklace based on this neckline. What shoes go with it?”
It was actually impressive how much this woman could put together based on a dress. He reached for it. “Nothing you need to see. Now give it back.”
She handed it over, smirking. “Do you have a special visitor here for the holidays, AaQar?”
“All our visitors are special, Awdawm.”
“Hmmhmm. Do your brothers know? Does Amelia know? I bet QueQoa would tell me.”
“None of this is your business, Jacinda.”
“Like that will stop me from finding out.”
“I’m sure you’ll find other ways to occupy your time.” He motioned toward the door. “And we have a great many tasks that require tending, so you should go.”
She darted around him and opened the wardrobe. “There are lots of other clothes in here too! Oh, whoever this is, she’ll be here the whole time, wont’ she?” Her brown eyes danced with mischief.
“Off you go.” He took hold of her arm and pulled her out. “There is nothing more for you to see.”
“As long as you’re happy. Are you happy, AaQar? That’s all any of us want.”
“I’m ecstatic.” He shut the door firmly behind her. Well, this was going to complicate things. Especially if he was going to keep this a secret. But sometimes it was the little things like holding a secret closer that made it all the more delightful.
Episode 06: Naatos Is Worried
It took much longer than it should have to get everyone into the castle. It didn’t matter what the holiday was. Naatos swore that when the holiday arrived, at least seventy percent of everyone involved would stop making intelligent decisions and start making purely emotional ones.
Not that he would make emotional decisions.
Every single one of the surprises he had come with as well as the gifts was precisely right and very intelligent. But he had a feeling that Amelia intended to indulge in the less rational. Lately she had had a very mischievous glint in her eyes, and sometimes at random moments, she’d suppress a laugh before walking away.
That unnerved him more than it should. He had faced down entire hordes in battle. Conquered whole nations in a night. Kuvasted with entities far stronger. Yet here…a glint in a significantly smaller being and a slight smile on her lips was enough to make him do a doubletake.
Like the look she was giving him now. He narrowed his eyes at her.
She tossed her hair and then resumed speaking to Hatet who practically bowled her over with an exuberant hug.
His wife was up to something. And while it was unlikely he’d figure out exactly what it was, he could always do something she wouldn’t expect. Lots of things actually. In fact, he could make sure this entire Christmas season was full of them.
It was overall a pleasant scene though. QueQoa chatting amiably with Ngi Kenot, Khanaan, and Elsio. Hatet dragging Amelia off to talk with Lynne, Ona, and Diage while Igrold told a joke to Okianto and Shander. AaQar listening while Jacinda explained something overdramatically. Children scrambling through the hall and laughing as they slid on rugs. More were coming. This castle would be full to bursting.
Wait. He scowled.
Where was WroOth?
He tilted his head back. Oh, crespa. A freezing white mass dropped on his face and dropped him to the ground.
Amelia wasn’t the only one he needed to watch out for during the holidays.
Episode 07: WroOth’s Holiday Spirit
WroOth dropped to the marble floor and leaned over Naatos as he spluttered out from the enormous snowball. “How do you still not know to look up?”
“WroOth.” Naatos shoved a large clump of snow off his chest and sat up. “That was tedious and unimaginative.”
“Really?” He stepped back, hands clasped behind his back. “That offends me. You shouldn’t follow me outside.” With that he pressed the doors open and sauntered out. The wind whipped around him, catching on his red cloak and tugging it to the side.
Naatos pushed himself to his feet. “I am not going to follow you out there.”
“I know.” He grinned. “I told you not to. And you always do what I say.”
Naatos’s eyes narrowed, then he slammed the door shut.
WroOth ran around the side of the castle and then leaped up. He could have changed into a dragon to fly the rest of the way, but he only needed to reach the third floor. He had scaled these walls many times over the years. Funny how certain lifestyles led to being able to climb walls at a great speed.
The reinforced window directly above him flung up, and QueQoa peered out. He extended his hand. “Did you still have the one set up outside?”
“Of course.” There was always a chance that Naatos might have followed him out to prove him wrong. WroOth grabbed hold of QueQoa’s hand and let him help him up the rest of the way.
“Don’t push him too far though. He’s got a lot of plans of his own.”
WroOth shook the snow out of his hair. “We all have plans, brother. Some of us will just be more amusing in their implementation. Now hurry.” He straightened his doublet. “I don’t want to miss the next part.”
QueQoa followed him at a slower pace, still shaking his head but making no effort to stop him. The best part about holidays like this was the opportunity to make memories they could all laugh at later. As he reached the main entrance once more, he slowed to a more dignified pace.
Someone had already gotten the snow swept out of the foyer.
Naatos narrowed his eyes at him from across the room.
He grinned, then waved.
“Surely you did not expect me to follow you out there.”
There were so many things he could say in response to that. Most unhelpful. “You will always do what you think is best,” he answered.
“I think there is food in the next room,” Amelia said, stepping forward. “We should eat.” She started toward the doorway to her left.
Naatos grabbed hold of her sash and pulled her back. Her slippers skidded on the marble floor. “You’re not going through any door he doesn’t go through first.”
“I will happily go through any door you ask me to.” WroOth stepped back under the archway. “If you want to come through here, you can.”
Naatos passed under it first, glancing up cautiously. “Kuvaste later.”
“Kuvaste any time.” WroOth smiled. “Besides, I wouldn’t drop a giant pile of snow on her. That would be mean.”
Naatos narrowed his eyes at him again, then gestured for Amelia to come through as well. She followed, then stopped next to him. “I don’t think you’re lying about that. How could you be certain I wouldn’t trigger the snowball?”
Naatos shook his head as he kept walking and passed under the second archway.
“Because I control it with a button.” WroOth held up a switch and pushed the red button.
A satisfying thump followed from the second archway. “WroOth!”
Holidays were wonderful.
Episode 08: Jacinda Wants an Introduction
Jacinda slid up alongside Amelia as everyone milled about enjoying the various appetizers laid out in the dining room. “So…you need to tell me more about the guests here.”
Amelia blinked, surprised at the question. She was fairly certain Jacinda had met everyone here. “Well, you know Naatos, and I saw you talking with AaQar. And, in case you forgot, that’s WroOth and QueQoa.”
“Yes, yes, yes.” Jacinda swatted Amelia’s hand and then nodded toward Kiehro. “That one.”
Oh. “Well, he’s a friend of my mother’s.”
“Doesn’t look old enough for that.” She folded her arms.
“Does anyone here really look their age?”
“Other than you and me? Not really.” Jacinda bumped her with her shoulder. “Is he single?”
Amelia studied him, then nodded. “Yes. But cautious of Awdawms.” She tilted her head, smiling a little more. “Jacinda—”
“What would you say he is exactly? Friend? Foe? So hot it really doesn’t matter either way.”
“He’s one of the Tiablo generals, a member of the honored sodiwas.”
“It would be rude to touch his wings, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes. At least without permission. Do you want me to introduce you? I’d be more than happy to.”
Jacinda frowned, clicking her tongue. Then she darted forward and grabbed AaQar by the arm. He nearly spilled his mug of tea as she dragged him along. “We require your assistance, somber one,” she said.
“Oh joy.” He pulled free and then straightened his robes. “And what makes you think I’m going to help you with whatever this is?”
“Because it’s going to keep me very busy.” Jacinda grinned. “Now I need you to help me figure out a subtle way of meeting him.” She indicated Kiehro with a nod of her head.
“Romantically?” AaQar frowned.
Amelia nodded. “And apparently without words.”
“Why don’t you ask WroOth? He’s much better at this sort of thing.” AaQar lifted his hand and motioned for WroOth to come over.
Jacinda’s dark eyes widened. “Oh no. No. Do not get WroOth involved in this.”
“Don’t get WroOth involved in what?” WroOth appeared beside them.
“This one likes that one and wants to meet him in a way that will set them up well but that does not require words.”
“I’m not against words. I just don’t like small talk and that awkwardness of what do we talk about after names are exchanged.” Jacinda sighed. “So…let’s come up with some better plan. All right? And something better than all of us standing here and staring at him.”
“You’re the only one who’s staring at him,” AaQar whispered gently.
Amelia threaded her fingers through Jacinda’s. “He’s very friendly. And for secondary subjects, you could always talk about WroOth’s ability to hide snow boulders in various places throughout the castle.”
WroOth laughed. “Yes. That’s not going to get old for me any time soon. But come along then, dear heart’s friend.” He draped his arm around Jacinda’s neck. “Let’s get you a conversational piece.”
Amelia grabbed WroOth’s hand. “Do not hurt her. Do not stab her. Do not—”
“Dear heart.” WroOth sighed. “You and Naatos are the stabby ones. Besides, this one trusts me. Don’t you?”
“Hmmm.” Jacinda scrunched her nose. “As long as you don’t do anything to me that you wouldn’t do to Amelia?”
“Oh that’s a dreadful bargain,” Amelia started.
“Done!” WroOth announced gleefully. He started toward the door with Jacinda in tow.
“Let’s get some other ground rules laid out,” Jacinda continued.
Amelia folded her arms. “We are eating as soon as Naatos gets back. The last of the appetizers are out.” She frowned. “He’s taking a long time getting back.”
AaQar chuckled. “Well, if you require help, I am happy to provide it.”
Amelia glanced in the direction Jacinda and WroOth had left. “All right. Let’s start bringing out the food.”
Episode 09: Jacinda’s Deal with WroOth
Jacinda glanced at WroOth as they reached the second floor. “You know, you really aren’t that bad.”
“I’m really not.” WroOth gave her an amiable smile. “Though you do have to be careful who you listen to.”
“Oh I know. I love Amelia, but she’s always been prone to exaggeration and dramatics.”
“Yes. Between the two of us, I am certainly the most trustworthy and least prone to exaggerate. Actually in the entire family. I may joke a lot, but I would never ever exaggerate. It simply isn’t in my nature.”
Jacinda squinted at him. “Not even a little?”
“Well, perhaps a little.” He shrugged. “But never about anything important. So really, what’s a charming girl like you doing afraid of small talk?”
“I’m not afraid of it. I’ve just done so much of it, and it’s a waste of time. Do you know how many first dates and introductions I’ve been on?”
“I do not.”
“Well, more than I’d like. And it’s not pleasant. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. We just aren’t a good fit, and it’s so painfully awkward. And there’s no way to really know about any of the things that matter.”
“Things that matter like?”
“What kind of man is he? Is he reliable? Is he faithful?” Jacinda shrugged, then shook her head, her earrings
“Will he be there for you when you fall? That sort of thing?”
“Yes! Exactly. You get it.”
“The foundation of any healthy romantic relationship is built on trust. Without trust, what is there?”
“Nothing! So we’re going to get a conversational piece and what? How does this process work?”
“Well, really, that would depend on which of us was helping you. With Naatos, you and this target of your affections would be forced to defend yourselves with it against some horrible monstrosity or life and death situation. He’s very fond of that sort of thing. AaQar, well, he’s just boring. He would introduce you and create conversation, helping to smooth over the awkward points. QueQoa, well, he’s still fairly boring. He likes making up reasons for people to be together and that would have probably resulted in that buffet or the bureau being broken and his asking you and Kiehro to fix it or run some errand to repair it. And I absolutely couldn’t have that. Can you imagine how disruptive it would be to the party if a piece of furniture should fall apart?”
Jacinda raised her eyebrows at him as they reached the hallway that looped the balcony. There didn’t seem to be much up her, and there was barely any railing to speak of. The highest point came up to her calf. “You dropped a mammoth snowball on your brother.”
“Yes, and he’s plotting vicious vengeance on me as we speak. That will most assuredly result in further chaos. So broken furniture is something we should avoid. Don’t you think?”
“I think you’re the one who is helping me meet Kiehro and avoid small talk. So I want to know about your methods.”
“My methods?” He lifted his hands. “Don’t you trust me, dear heart’s friend?”
“You do know my name, right?”
“I know everything.”
Jacinda looked around once more. Aside from more hallway, there didn’t seem to be much up here at all. “Okay, so what are we doing up here then?” She stopped at the edge of the balcony. Down below the rest of the guests milled. And there was Kiehro. Oh please, God or Elonumato or whoever was listening, could he be as good as he seemed? “How much longer do you think this is going to take, WroOth?”
WroOth placed his hand on the back of her neck and smiled. “Oh, dear heart’s friend, just a couple seconds longer.” He then shoved her off the edge of the balcony. “Kiehro, look up!”
Kiehro looked up in barely enough time to catch Jacinda neatly in his arms. She let out a jagged final shriek before flipping her hair out of her. Kiehro’s eyes widened with surprise as he looked from her up to the second floor.
“Kiehro,” WroOth called down, standing on the edge of the balcony’s railing. “That’s Jacinda. She likes you. Actually, she finds you very attractive, but she doesn’t like small talk. She does however love dancing, white wine, and orchids. So you should invite her to our Christmas ball. Maybe sit next to her at dinner. Amelia, I’ve had a thought. You should move the name cards.”
“I already did!” Amelia shouted up at him. “This is your conversational focal point?”
“It does give everyone a lot to talk about.”
“Oh.” Jacinda gasped. Her mouth pinched tight. “I am—I”
“Oh, one other thing,” WroOth said. “She is an Awdawm, so you should be careful doing anything that might break her if there aren’t adequate medical facilities nearby.”
Kiehro’s gaze traveled from WroOth back to Jacinda. “Are you—are you all right?”
Jacinda straightened her shoulders, her face still red. “I’m wonderful. Thank you for asking. And thank you for catching me.” Well, he was definitely as strong as he looked and even handsomer up close. “Would you like to plan a murder together?
Episode 10: A Pillow Fort and Cajun Night Before Christmas
As predicted, the arctic palace filled up with guests. Family, friends, cadre mates. The only downside Amelia found to it was that it was all made of stone and marble, which meant that it stayed rather cold most of the time. Especially in the mornings and late at night.
But the advantage of that was Naatos was more than happy to curl around her and hold her tight all through the night.
The added bright side was that the palace was also largely fireproof. The children loved sliding down the long halls in stocking feet. WroOth, QueQoa, Diage, and several of the others played with them. On one morning when Amelia woke, she found a massive pillow blanket fort at the end of the hall nearest their bedroom. It hadn’t been there the night before. Giggles rose from the mass of silver and blue cushions.
She crouched down and peered inside. Most of the cadre children huddled together, some with hands clapped over their mouths as if they could possibly stifle their giggles. Khanaan and Lynn’s twins, Shander and Miako’s little girl, Lelan’s little brother, and Ona and Diage’s oldest. “And what are you all doing?” Amelia asked. “Are you up to trouble?” It was barely dawn and yet they were
“We’re looking at the stories,” Olci, one of the twins, said. “Your uncle came.”
“He gave us these. Would you read to us?” Lyndie held out a familiar book, creased and dogeared from years and years of reading.
Oh. Now that was a familiar sight. Amelia pulled her robe tight around herself, warmth and happiness spreading through her despite the chill of the morning. “Uncle Joe is here?” That always made her happy. No holiday was complete until he made his showing. Even if he wasn’t as fond of traveling off world these days.
The children nodded happily. “He brought lots and lots of stories,” Lyndie said.
Sure enough there were dozens of colorful books stacked up in the center of the fort as if they were the treasures it had been built to protect. The pillow fort even smelled a little like old picture books.
“Will you read to us, auntie?” Yerno, Lelan’s little brother, asked. He stretched out his small hand and motioned for her to come inside.
“I suppose I can read one or two.” She held her robe shut as she crawled through. It had been a long time since she had been inside any cushion fort. As a child, she’d avoided it because she’d never really believed it was safe. Now it probably wasn’t and her head brushed the soft ceiling. But she situated herself as the children grouped around her.
Lyndie thrust the book into her hands. “You know this one?”
“This was one of my favorite stories when I actually took the time to listen to them. Not that I can do a Cajun accent.”
“Try.” All the children nodded in agreement.
She smiled as she opened to the first page. So many Christmases Uncle Joe had read this to her. Even when she hadn’t always wanted to listen. Clearing her throat, she shifted her position as the children clustered in closer. “Well, let’s see.” She deepened her voice as much as she could to mimic Uncle Joe’s. “Twas the night before Christmas an’ all t’ru de house, Dey don’t a ting pass Not even a mouse. De chirren been nezzle good snug on de flo’.”
Episode 11: Jacinda and AaQar Make Breakfast
Jacinda dropped the large pack of sausage into the cast iron skillet. It sizzled at once.
AaQar glanced over her shoulder before returning to the massive meat casserole or whatever it was he was making. “Don’t get burned.”
“You worrying about me?” Jacinda picked up the wood handled turner up and began breaking up the sausage. “I may just be human, but I know my way around sausage and bacon and pretty much every other thing you can eat except the gross things like spiders and worms.”
AaQar laughed, shaking his head. He resumed cubing a large hunk of purple-red meat. “We can’t always be so careful about taste, but I will acknowledge this. Your kind are the best at ensuring whatever food is consumed is delicious or at least intriguing. Even the Tiablos don’t manage so well with their alcohols.”
Jacinda laughed and turned to face him. “You know, I should be angry with you. Passing me off to your brother and getting him all involved. Did you know he was going to throw me off that balcony?”
“You have a lot of nerve, darling Awdawm. You are the one who came into my closet and started pulling out clothes and examining my life.”
Jacinda laughed. “Yeah. That was nosy. Amelia never had anyone like that for me to butt in on. But, let me ask, would you like me if I weren’t so important to her?”
AaQar shook his head. He adjusted the black apron and resumed his chopping. “If we had had the opportunity to meet, yes. I think so. But don’t get burned to prove a point, do you understand me?”
She smirked, but her heart warmed nonetheless. “You talk to me like I’m your daughter.”
“Younger sister might be more accurate. I never had the privilege of having a daughter.”
“Did you want a daughter?”
His chuckle was sadder now, his chopping of the meat slowing. “Yes. But do not pity me. I might adopt in the future.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I think you’d do well. You’re calm and even-tempered and fairly unflappable.” She smacked the turner down on the sausage meat. “Though being older brother to QueQoa and WroOth, I suppose you had to be.”
“It was a skillset I greatly appreciated havting.” He removed a splatter screen from the cupboard and passed it to her. “But I think you might have tested it all. You know to be careful with Kiehro, don’t you?”
“Yeah, what’s so dangerous about him? He’s sweet.”
“He’s Tiablo. And so far as that goes, he is nobler than most. Just…Amelia thinks the world of you, and I don’t think she’s wrong in that regard. There’s something special about you, Awdawm. You know when she talks about you, she always gets a special tone in her voice.”
“Oh? So…you think I’m not well suited for Kiehro?”?
“No. But Tiablos are telekineticists as well as illusionists. And despite his exposure to years of venom and torment, Kiehro remains remarkably skilled. Sharing illusions is a common pastime with them, a way to form bonds. I’m going to guess you haven’t experienced many shared or individual illusions, so—” He tapped the top of the knife blade against one of the walnut cupboards. “Start drinking the white pearl and rose hip oolong with sea weed and niacin and a teaspoon of the jar that says Giangela’s.”
“Giangela? Isn’t Giangela one of your cadre mates.”
AaQar nodded. “She fell in love with a Tiablo. But that is all I would say on it. If she could have joined us this season, she would have been the best one to speak with. And she would happily share her blend with you.”
“And what exactly does it do?”
“It’ll help you stay grounded. Drink it once in the morning and within an hour after any…encounters you have with him.”
She narrowed her eyes at him as she turned around from the stove. He was chopping that meat with steady determination. “Are you worried for me, AaQar? Do you do this for everyone?”
“Stop questioning me, trouble,” he grumbled.
“You like me, you big lug.” She struck him lightly in the shoulder. “Admit it.”
“I wasn’t aware I had denied it.” He gave her a tight-lipped smile, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. “Now stop being difficult.”
“You think this is difficult?” She blinked at him.
He shook his head, scoffing. “You know that I raised WroOth and QueQoa, and I led a cadre with this rabble. Yet you ask that.” He pointed the knife at her. “Not that that is a challenge. Do not consider this a challenge, young lady.”
She screwed her mouth up. “I don’t even think I could start to rise to that challenge.”
“What challenge are we talking about?”
Oh that sensual voice made her nerves dance and her blood surge. Jacinda stiffened. He’d be more than a perfect gentleman the night before. Setting her down, Carrying on gentle conversation. Appearing just interested enough. And now here he was. All cut jaw, warm eyes, firm muscles, and broad raven-like wings. “Up early?” she asked, her voice about two octaves higher than normal.
Kiehro gave her a small smile that made her stomach somersault.
AaQar’s gaze shifted from her to Kiehro who stood in the doorway. “You want to help in the kitchens this morning? Or do you want to steal the Awdawm away?”
“I’d like to perhaps take her somewhere special. It’s a beautiful morning.”
“Even if it is early,” Jacinda added. Her stomach was somersaulting. He did like her. Oh! She set to breaking up the sausage, even though it was little more than crumpled bits already.
AaQar cleared his throat, shaking his head. “It isn’t that early. If it had been early, the water would be boiling. Kiehro, and breakfast would be made. If you don’t want to stay for breakfast, that’s no business of mine. But you can be a gentleman and brew yourself and the lady large canteens before you traipse off into the frigid wilderness.”
“I can start the water going,” Kiehro said slowly. “But I don’t know this special blend of yours.”
“Just start the water. Then you can slice these onions while it boils.” AaQar gave him a stern look before he resumed chopping the third chunk of purple-red meat. “And perhaps you can tell us about the kind of illusions you love to create and how someone might maintain their grounding and bearings.”
Kiehro’s smile went crooked, but he nodded. “Even if you are immune to them, old friend?”
“Immune and fully aware of what they involve.” AaQar dropped handfuls of meat into the cast iron skillet. It sizzled at once. “But let’s pretend I don’t know anything and I’m not listening to everything you say.”
Jacinda quirked her mouth at him. Sour and quiet though he might seem at times, he really was a sweetheart.
Episode 12: Kidnapping Santa Claus
Amelia looped her arm through Naatos’s as they walked down the hall, basking in the morning light. “I refuse to believe that you do not have any gift giver traditions among your people.”
“I didn’t say we didn’t. I just said we wouldn’t be so garish with the color scheme if we intended to deliver packages at night.”
“Well…I had thought it would be fun for the children if you dressed up as Santa Claus.”
“You want me to dress up like an old fat man with a white beard? In red?”
“Red velvet with fur trimming.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Veskaro, you test my patience.”
“It would be fun. Also you don’t have to change your appearance. You just have to wear the suit. And part of the tradition is the fake beard. So no, you don’t have to change your appearance. You just put it on, and then we get all the children together, and you hand out the presents.”
“Hm.” He put his arm around her waist. “Did you believe in this
“For a little bit, but I was cruelly disappointed.”
“You wanted some particular toy and did not receive it?”
She rolled her eyes. “What do you think I was asking a supernatural entity who could travel through time and space for?.”
He smirked. “So you wanted to ally with Santa Claus to defeat me?”
“The actual Saint Nicholas beat a man up for blasphemy. And clearly Santa has a particular set of skills that allows him to transcend time and space. Tue-Rah access I assumed.” She thrust her hands in her pockets. “It made sense at the time.”
“And what convinced you he would not be a good ally? Aside from the fact that he has reindeer instead of dragons and a host of other reasons.”
“Uncle Joe took me to the mall in Ft Wayne to meet Santa, sit on his lap, ask him what I wanted for Christmas.”
“And what did you want?”
“I asked for a way to kill three shapeshifters without letting anyone else get hurt and a ride on his sleigh to get there. He suggested a doll. I got upset. Uncle Joe intervened. Told me that Santa was a pacifist. It wasn’t polite to ask him to kill people, and he couldn’t do it anyway.” She shrugged.
Naatos tilted his head as he studied her. “That wasn’t the end of it, was it?”
She lifted her chin. “Well…I decided that if Santa Claus couldn’t help me fight you three, then I would just use his sleigh to get through the Tue-Rah. And I set a series of traps to capture him. Which Uncle Joe discovered in unfortunate ways. So…he sat me down after that and told me that there was no Santa Claus. And then I was very angry.”
Naatos frowned. “You set traps for a gift giver?”
“He had a magic sleigh and the ability to manipulate time! Clearly he was someone to talk to in order for me to get back. And I just want to add, after having literal dragons attack and seeing people turn into monsters that I thought only existed in stories, I don’t think I was that far off in believing that Santa could have been real.”
“No, and you certainly would have had the element of surprise.”
“You see.” She grinned at him. “I really was angry though. And poor Uncle Joe. He tried so hard to make Christmas fun for me, but I was rather intensely focused elsewhere.”
“Did you receive any presents from this Santa?”
“From Uncle Joe, yes. And I cried. Because he didn’t give me weapons.”
“What did he give you?”
“A baby doll.” She nudged him as he started to laugh. “It actually isn’t funny. He tried very hard.”
“I’m sure he did.”
“Well what about Vawtrians? Did those gift givers ever come visit you?”
“Taga Ralga? No. Nor Kerrudun. Or any of the others. They would not have come to us. And they no longer exist.”
“But they’re magical stories, yes?” Amelia pulled free and turned to face him, hand to his chest. “You tell Vawtrian children to comport themselves one way or another–”
“Yes, but it was not the case with us.”
“Would you like to be Taga Ralga for the children then?”
He shook his head, smiling a little. “There is more likelihood of Santa Claus visiting our home than Taga Ralga.”
She frowned as she stepped back, moving in front of him as they continued down the hall.. “That sounds rather sad actually.”
“It just is, veskaro. It is neither good nor bad.” He crossed beneath the archway. “It just–”
A loud click popped through the air. A massive snowball dropped down and struck him flat on his back.
Episode 13: Naatos’s Plan
Naatos stood and brushed the snow off his clothing, grumbling. It filled his hair and stuck to the creases in his black garments. He shook them off with a sharp snap. Bits of snow fell to the ground and melted on his face.
“I don’t think WroOth is anywhere near here.” Amelia turned around and then stepped under the stone arch. He was an easy one to sense most of the time. All that caught her attention was a small device with a red light and an almost invisible wire holder that had to be far stronger than it looked.
“No. It’s set to track me. WroOth and technology is quite the combination. An unpleasant one.”
“Do you want someone to ask him to stop?” Not that that would make WroOth stop. But he could be reasonable at times. She turned back to Naatos.
He put his hand on the pile of snow. The gold light pulsed through the snow, and it vanished. He was already dry as well and his hair back to its imperfect perfection. Apparently he was feeling strong enough to spend energy on something so marginal. Or it was suddenly important. Which…she frowned.
“No. Don’t say a word.” He climbed the wall and checked the device. With a grunt of satisfaction, he jumped back onto the ground. He then pointed at her. “You don’t tell him that you saw this happen. As far as you’re concerned, nothing happened.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You want me to lie…you do remember what my eyes do, don’t you? More importantly, you know your brother remembers.”
“You’ve been creative in the past. And it isn’t as if I am asking you to read his mind. I am asking you to fail to understand any questions he asks on the subject.” He paused, then tilted his head and held his hand out to her. “Come with me.”
Squinting, she placed her fingers just over his. “What?”
“If you are asked, you’ll say ‘yes, we walked from our bedroom to the breakfast hall without incident.’ And it won’t be a lie.” He tugged her forward back down the hall, his pace quick and the heels of his boots squeaking on the marble tiles.
“Well, one of us can’t lie without getting red eyes. If you could be a passable liar without any tells, we wouldn’t have to go out of our way to ensure we speak the truth.”
“Do you think maybe you’re taking these jokes seriously?”
“I take all jokes seriously.” He pressed the bedroom door open and pushed her in. “There. Amelia, are you ready to go down for breakfast?”
She smoothed her hair back into place and quirked her mouth up. “Why does it feel like we just had this conversation?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you have a bad memory.” He gave her a crooked smile as he took her arm once more. “Now come along. As you can see, this is not a lie. We are walking from our bedroom to the breakfast hall without incident.”
Amelia pulled the door closed behind them with a solid click. “I think maybe—”
“No. We make sure you don’t have to lie.”
“Maybe you should come up with some better way to get back at him. Something more inventive perhaps.”
“You think I’m only trying to help avoid you being caught in a lie?” he scoffed. “At least you aren’t in my head right now.”
“Should I be?” She laughed. “No. Actually I am going to answer that myself. I don’t want to know what you’re thinking right now. You’ve got that look in your eye.”
“You’re planning something devious.”
“You call me devious when my brother has rigged up multiple snow boulders throughout the castle to fall on me.”
“Yes. Which, speaking of snow boulders,” she said, glancing up at the next archway as they passed under. “What’s the likelihood that he would set up more than one on the way to the breakfast hall?”
“On the same path?” Naatos clicked his tongue. “He would expect that I would take an alternative route. That is more in line with what I have done in the past. This isn’t the first time he’s done this. So this path is most likely—”
A loud click cracked through the air. Amelia tilted her head back, then a great white mass struck them both. WroOth!
Episode 14: Bickering at Breakfast
Naatos and Amelia were among the last to arrive for breakfast. Even Jacinda was there, seated next to Kiehro and doing very well at appearing completely calm and collected as she cut her bacon in tiny slivers.
The enormous sideboard that lined the back wall had been mounded with all kinds of delicious food including an enormous haunch of meat that they had set to roasting the night before. Getting up to see to the roasting procedure was a task divided among the members of the household, and it looked as if it had been handled nearly to perfection.
The large pitchers, decanters, and carafes of beverages had notes about what was inside as well as which races could safely consume them. Of all the pranks permitted, nothing was allowed regarding those or the signs over the food unless it was obvious that they had been altered. Even Vawtrians had their limits.
And apparently no one else wanted to risk becoming embroiled in Naatos and WroOth’s prank war. The hustle and bustle of laughter along with the delicious scents of numerous savory dishes filled the air. Amelia filled her plate and took a seat opposite Jacinda and Kiehro. Those two were up to something, and if she could stay focused on that, then maybe WroOth would leave her alone—
He slid into the chair beside her. “You were very late for breakfast. Did something happen?”
Amelia cut her hardboiled egg into slices and peppered it. “Something? Like what?”
He grinned. “Amelia. Look at me.”
She turned to face him, forcing herself to maintain a neutral expression. “Did you have something important to ask me, WroOth?”
“Did something happen to you on your way to breakfast, dear heart?”
“Naatos and I walked here from our room without a problem.”
“Hmmmhmmm.” He rested his chin on his fist as he stared at her intently. “Not exactly what I asked though. You wouldn’t be trying to avoid my question, would you?”
“I’m just trying to eat breakfast.” She picked up a slice of bacon. “I don’t know what it is you want from me. But maybe you should eat something before your food gets cold.”
“The back of your neck has snow on it.”
She swiped her hand across the back of her neck, heat rising to her cheek. Had she missed something? That fourth snow boulder meant they’d had to hurry. No. Her neck was dry. There was no snow on her neck.
He grinned. “What happened to make you think there was snow on the back of your neck, Amelia?”
She crammed a piece of bacon in her mouth and scrunched her nose at him.
“It’s snowing outside,” Naatos said, sitting on her other side. He situated his plates so that they did not take up too much space.
“And you were in it?” WroOth asked coyly. “I thought the walk from your room avoided the outdoors.”
“We did something Amelia finds very shameful on the balcony outside.”
She choked on her bacon. “Naatos,–“
“I know you don’t want to talk about it. There isn’t anything shameful about it. You are my veskaro. But I will respect your wishes and keep it discrete.” He sipped from his goblet as if he had made some grand compromise.
She glared at him. “Thank you, darling. I appreciate that so much.”
Jacinda tilted her head, suddenly interested. “What happened on
“Nothing.” She took a long drink of juice, aware that this was probably only making it look more suspicious. Most everyone was staying engaged in their own conversations, but they were certainly listening.
“Nothing she wants to talk about,” Naatos said. “And we should all honor that.”
“You are a sikalt,” she whispered at him.
“I am not ashamed of what we did.”
“You aren’t ashamed of anything.”
WroOth drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “I see.” His gaze returned to Naatos. “And you have nothing to add to this.”
“I respect my veskaro’s privacy. If she doesn’t want the details shared, they will not be shared.”
“Yes, if you don’t want me to stab you with a fork in the next five seconds, you will stop talking about this completely, veskare,” she said very sweetly.
“Someone talk to me about something else,” she said. “Anything else.”
QueQoa cleared his throat. “We are going to put up a salt lick at the fourth spire to draw the salt lickers away from the castle.”
Jacinda cut her eyes at him. “Are we sure that’s not a euphemism?”
He blinked and tilted his head. “How would that be a euphemism?”
Jacinda frowned as if trying to determine whether QueQoa was serious.
Kiehro stifled a smile and became even more absorbed in his steaming wine.
Naatos glanced at him sidelong. “Why does this have you so amused, brother? Was something supposed to happen to us as we came down to breakfast? I detected nothing unusual.”
“Really,” WroOth said, eyes still dancing with delight. “Not one thing that was unusual. Not even the events on the balcony?”
“What happened on the balcony is no one’s concern. And no. Not one thing unusual.” He leaned his elbow on the table, giving WroOth a more severe look. “You weren’t so foolish as to set up a snowball in the castle again?”
“A snowball. No, of course not.” WroOth chuckled, though he had narrowed his eyes. “Surely you know me better than that.”
“Oh, I know you well,” Naatos responded in an unusually amiable tone. “I know you very very well. Was there something I was supposed to find in the hall?”
“Exactly what you found.”
“I found nothing.”
“Perhaps you would care to verify the matter for yourself,” Naatos said.
“Did you set a trap for me, brother?”
“I would no more set a trap for you than you would for me.”
Amelia speared one of the egg slices with her fork and debated tossing her goblet of juice on both of them. No wonder everyone else tried to keep from getting drawn into this. Apparently boring wasn’t a word that could ever be used to describe their family gatherings. Somehow though she had to find out about Vawtrian gift givers, finish the presents, and prepare for the ball while playing hostess and without getting caught in the snowy crossfire. Happy holidays indeed!