Hello everybody! Today, I am unbelievably excited to be kicking off A Golden Christmas, aka my attempt at blogmas and attempt to add a little extra sparkle to December by celebrating amazing books and authors.
The first post is a short story from the wonderful Sinéad O’ Hart, which focuses on the characters from her books the Eye of the North and Skyborn. This made me cry happy tears when I read it, so I hope my fellow Sinéad fans love it as much as I did. Now, onto the story!
“Penny for ‘em,” came a voice from Emmeline’s left. She turned to see her new foster brother, Thing (or Michel, as she now had to grow used to calling him), gazing at her with a curious expression.
She sighed and turned back toward the window. Snow was falling gently outside, blanketing the grounds of Widget Manor. At least, Emmeline thought, it made the garden less forbidding and overgrown-looking, but the view was still unsettling. Full of shadows and sharp angles and surprises – and who knew what could be lurking out there…
She pulled herself away from the darkness, scanning the room for any eavesdropping adults. Her parents were by the fire at the far end of the parlour and Watt stood close to them, his hands folded neatly behind his back, as was his way. “I was just thinking about the Northwitch, actually,” Emmeline whispered, looking back at Michel. His eyes widened.
“What for?” he whispered back, his voice a little hoarse.
Emmeline couldn’t suppress a shudder. “I – I just wonder, sometimes. If she’s still out there.”
The children turned to the window again. A snowflake pasted itself to the glass, and they both jumped, but as it began to melt they turned to one another and shared a smile. “She went into the pool, din’t she?” Michel said, his voice low. “An’ none of the rest of it would’ve ‘appened unless…” He paused briefly. “Unless she’s gone fer good.”
Emmeline chewed the inside of her cheek. The Northwitch had been such a terrifying foe. Unconsciously she rubbed at her chest, where sometimes, in the dark of the night, she still felt the pain of the Northwitch’s cold power, the stabbing ache of her dark magic, when she’d tried to steal Emmeline’s body and make it her own, back on the glacier in Greenland…
“Still hurtin’?” Michel asked, his eyes sympathetic.
Emmeline tried to smile. “It’s nothing,” she said.
“No it ain’t,” Michel said, quietly.
“Children!” called Mrs Widget – or, as she had become since the events in Greenland, Dr Widget. Everyone’s changing names around here except me, Emmeline thought. Her father had also been granted the title of ‘Dr’, so now their letters came addressed to ‘Drs Eloise and Martin Widget’, which always made her proud. Her parents had more than earned their honours. Sometimes, Emmeline could hardly bring herself to believe all the things she and her family had done. It all felt like it had happened a hundred years ago, not merely a few months before. “Children, what are you doing over by the window? You’ll catch your death in the draught. Come over here by the fire, won’t you?”
Emmeline and Michel slid down from the window seat and made their way toward their parents. Dr Martin Widget sat at one side of the fire nursing a small glass of brandy, and his wife sat opposite him with her knitting in her hands. It was, Emmeline thought, supposed to be a sock, though it looked like nothing of the sort. She sat on the fireside rug with Michel close behind.
“Should we share out the gifts?” Emmeline’s father said. “It’s Christmas Eve, after all – seems like the perfect time for it.”
“Yes, let’s,” said Eloise, glancing up at Watt, who gave a single nod and moved toward the Christmas tree at the end of the room. Its branches were decorated with baubles and bells, sprigs of holly and mistletoe, ribbons and bows, and decorations made from foil and card which Emmeline and Michel had made. There were lighted candles fixed to the ends of the branches, which Michel regarded with caution.
“Can’t believe in a house as stuffed with brains as this one is, that lightin’ a tree on fire inside don’t seem like a bad idea,” Michel muttered. Watt turned, his arms laden with presents, a small smile on his lips as he looked at the new young master of the house.
“Now, Michel. If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for us,” said Eloise, her own mouth lifting in a grin. Her needles flickered as she added a few more stitches to her knitting, but finally she frowned at the pile of yarn on her lap. “Oh, bother this,” she said, putting her work aside. “I’m not cut out for handicrafts.”
“No, indeed,” Martin said, putting one hand over his wife’s. “Saving the world is more your style.” Watt came to a halt and bowed, placing the gifts carefully, one by one, on the small table between the armchairs. “Here we are,” he said, arranging the wrapped boxes neatly. “And if the young miss and master don’t object…” He reached into his waistcoat pocket and drew out two small parcels, one of which he handed to Emmeline and the other to Michel. “I took the liberty of procurin’ a gift for each of you.”
“Oh, thank you, Watt,” said Emmeline, stretching up to give the old butler a kiss on the cheek. He flushed, looking pleased. Emmeline reached into her own pocket and drew out a hastily-wrapped present, which was already falling free of its paper and ribbons. “Michel and me clubbed together to get you something, too. Happy Christmas.”
“Well, now. Isn’t that fine,” Watt said, holding the gift close.
The carriage clock on the mantel began to chime the hour as Eloise and Martin Widget gazed around at their family. Pride in the children shone in their eyes, and gratitude for their loyal butler, Watt, who had been steadfast in his service on the glacier. Their experiences in the frozen North were something none of them would ever forget.
Before they could begin opening their gifts, the bell at the front door rang. Watt straightened, ready as ever to answer it, and then he left the room.
“Who could that be, at this hour?” Eloise muttered to her husband, who gave her a blank look in reply.
Moments later, Watt returned. In his hands he bore a silver tray, upon which sat a rectangle of white. Emmeline stared at it as he walked toward the family, a feeling of sudden dread wrapping itself around her heart – but, to her surprise, Watt didn’t pause in front of her. Instead, he walked to Michel and bowed, slightly, just enough for the writing on the envelope to be visible.
“Master Bastjan Manduca, a.k.a Michel T. Widget,” Emmeline read, gazing at the neat handwriting.
“It’s not for you, darling,” her mother chided, doing her best not to stare at the envelope. “Don’t pry.”
“Bastjan Manduca?” Martin said, in an undertone. “Who on earth’s that?”
Michel reached out and took the envelope. He glanced up at Watt. “Fer me?” he asked, his eyes wide.
Watt nodded. “It would seem so, young master,” the old man replied.
Michel gave Emmeline a worried look as he tore open the envelope. Inside there was a Christmas card bearing a painted robin holding a sprig of holly. A sheet of paper fluttered out too, falling to the floor before anyone could stop it. Emmeline bent to pick it up, handing it to Michel with a thoughtful frown.
“How strange,” she said. “Doesn’t that look a little like you?”
Michel took the sheet from her, his fingers trembling. On it was drawn a picture of a young boy in a circus costume, swinging in a trapeze hoop, his eyes and smile wide. Something in the back of Michel’s mind began to stir, something that smelled like grease-paint and sawdust, something that sounded like a crowd beneath a tent and the harsh voice of a cruel ringmaster. “What’s it say?” Michel said, handing the paper back to Emmeline. “There – underneath. Underneath the boy.” Underneath me, he wanted to say. The drawing did look extremely like him.
“For One Night Only,” Emmeline read, lifting her eyes to gaze at Michel, and they were round with wonder. “Quinn Family Circus presents… The Skyborn Boy.”
Michel’s mind reeled as he thrust the card at Emmeline. He’d been trying to learn to read over the past few months, but he knew these closely-written lines were beyond his skills. He licked his lips nervously, scanning the room as though looking for a way out. Eloise put a calming hand on his arm, and he settled slightly.
“Dear Bastjan,” Emmeline began to read. “I hardly expect you to remember me, as you were so young when we were separated, but I – that is to say, Crake and I – have been looking for you for over six years. We hope this card finds you, and that it brings you Christmas joy, along with all our love. We want you to know we have not forgotten you, and that we have never forgotten you. Yours – Alice, Wares, and Crake.”
Watt cleared his throat gently and gazed kindly at the Widgets, his eyes lingering longest on Michel. “Well, now. To my mind, what we’ve got here is a small Christmas miracle.”
Michel looked around at his family – the family he thought he’d never have – as Emmeline handed him back his Christmas card. He ran his fingers gently over the names. Alice. Wares. Crake.
Finally, he smiled at Emmeline. Her eyes lit up with joy and relief. “I think I’ve already ‘ad my miracle,” he said, placing the card on the table, where he could see it.
And outside Widget Manor, the snow kept falling, until all the world around was white and new.
Thank you so much again to Sinéad for writing this, and to you for reading! Have you read Sinéad’s boooks/are they on your TBR? Which book would you love to have a Christmas companion story? I’d love to hear in the comments!
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