‘Twas the night before Christmas
And in the alehouse below
A creature was stirring
A miserable old crow…
“Stirring’s a bit strong a word for it to be fair Nug, but I admire your cheery optimism.”
Nugget shook his lumpy, misshapen and somewhat yellow head. “You know me Bresst. Ever cheery.”
“Been meaning to ask you something though, Nug. What’s this Christmas thing you keep singing about?”
“That? The celebration of Christopher Thomas?”
“Christopher Thomas? You’ve heard the tale of Old Chris surely?” Nugget laughed goldenly as Bresst shook his head. “In that case I propose the same again to lubricate the tale. And,” he continued, poking the form slumped over the table beneath a black feathered cloak, “We’d better get another ale into him if we’ve got any chance of him functioning. Now where’s my favourite…ah! There she is! Menna! Three ales please darlin’. And a couple of those otters on a stick if you’d be so kind.”
Bresst drained his tankard. “The name does seem familiar to me Nug but I just can’t place him.”
“Been dead many a winter now,” said Nug. “But it’s all thanks to him that this place is still standing to be fair. When he took over The Jester’s Coin it was nothing but a ramshackle DUCK!”
Oblivious to the tankard that smashed in a pewterly fashion into the mound of black feathers to his left, and, in complete ignorance of current fashion trends, Bresst wore a puzzled expression. “A ramshackle duck? I’ve seen a few sorry looking specimens over time but I’m not sure I’d go as far as calling one ramshackle Nug.”
“Never mind the Duck, Bresst. Let’s get back to Christmas. So like I was sayin’, this place was nothing but a ramshackle, dirty, run-down excuse for a tavern before Chris got his hands on the place. I’m not one to believe in fate but something was at play. There he was, a non-betting man, away in Narmaynger playing cards for the keys to this very establishment.”
“Shew,” said Bresst, attempting to approximate a whistle and a sigh and ultimately failing on both fronts. “They take their cards seriously out West that much I do know.”
Nug wobbled his head in boulderly agreement. “They say when he laid down his three kings the guard at the door uttered his first words since he took his vows.”
“A Silent Knight actually spoke?”
“The first such breaking of vows since the day of Stephen’s picnic when Celas – good King that he remains – last looked out for the rights of the aurally acute.”
“Shew,” said Bresst in a spirited yet unsuccessful attempt to right the wrongs of his recent utterances. “It’s almost imp…”
“Ossible to imagine.” said a voice that neither brooked, streamed, nor indeed confluenced a debate.
“Told you he’d wake up,” said Nug in a soft metallic tone. “Any objection if I finish my tale, Sire?
“If you must.” replied Stormcrow in a tone that hinted at the breaking of worlds but stopped several pillages short of a rape.
“So like I was sayin’,” continued Nug. “Old Chris won the rights to The Jester’s Coin and he turned it into the well-kept, child-friendly, gastro-inn you are sitting in right now. The very same establishment in which he so tragically died thirty years ago tomorrow, trying to break up a rogue bout of arm-wrestling between one Zinroyle Davidzitty – a drifter just passing through – and a small chap of peerless rhythm known locally as The Little Drummer…”
“He was no boy,” muttered the feather coated world-weeper. “That thing was a…”
“Halfling?”asked Menna as she set the ales down on the table, fixing Stormcrow with a look that went ever on and on. “Why do you get like this? Why is everyone so afraid of you? And why do you hate hobbits so much?”
“That’s Three Whys Menn. I don’t do well with questions.”
Menna shrugged daintily, which, given her Amazonian form, wooden arm and full sleeve tribal tattoos was no mean feat.
“Questions or not, you’d better look lively. Francis wants his money and he’s got a fair rage on him.”
“Gold? Frank Incensed? Mehhhrrr.”
“Spit all you want. I’m just passing on a message. To quote him directly: I don’t care how he does it just get him to pay. I’ve got some pregnant bint in the barn who just tried to trade her donkey for a room and I’ve a good mind to give her his.”
“He will get his money. Finish the tale, Nug.”
Menna limped off for compensatory reasons and left the men to their stories.
“So, like I was sayin’,”said Nug through a fresh mouthful of foam, “Chris waded in to break up the arm-wrestle-gone-bad but his heart gave out before he made it to the table. The first person to his ailing side was Elizabeth…”
“Wait, you don’t mean Betty who left here to open that mint-themed modernist grogshop in Screwge?” said Bresst
“Bar Humbug,” nodded Nug, “The very same. Beth Ezda – or Leehem, as she was in those days – cradled poor dying Chris in her arms but there was nothing she could do. His last instructions to her were quite garbled, but she maintains Chris asked her to seek out an ancient, hard-drinking warrior from the frozen North named Rudolf and to then run the establishment as best she could. Reins, dear he kept repeating over and over again until at last there was no more. And so, thirty years on, we raise our ales and toast, to the death of Chris T’Mas.”
“The Death of Christmas,” intoned Bresst and all* the other patrons of Gorbless’s only remaining alehouse (Gorblessers, every one)
*Save one, who, while agreeing with the idea of death could play no part in a story containing small creatures with hairy toes. Stories abound** as to the whereabouts of Ethel Immanuel Stormcrow on the rest of that fateful night.
**None are proven.