Art by ~boudicca
Chuck wanted a war on Christmas. Be careful what you wish for.
They come, on both sides, from tales of old. From the frozen wastes yet untouched by man, from crevasses and shadows and hidden places too fearsome for even the most brave and the most crazed, from realms and holes and lairs unseen even by devices in the sky, the enemy issues forth. It is almost always Jötnar, either one or a cadre, who lead, mustering up old hatreds and stoking the fires of bloodlust within the foe. Manticores and chimera and goblins and trolls, they all pour onto the glaciers and frozen seas and march on the stronghold.
The defenders come when the horns sound, on or about the Solstice. From kingdoms deep in the earth and forgotten by man come the dwarves that provide the raw materials for the workshops. Elves large and small rouse from their berths and leave their toy-making behind, taking up sword and bow and shield and spear. Spirits of the fae and what few treefolk remain find their way there too, and the skies fill with pegasi and griffons and great birds of previous ages. It is a host meant to match that sent by the enemy, and most years, the numbers are evenly matched.
This year is not one of those years.
The Jötuun who leads is a fearsome creature, towering over even the tallest and fairest of the elves. Such is his ambition and ability that twice the host of previous years has been summoned. Despite being denied what he truly seeks – the All-Father and his kin have long since left for Valhalla to await the final days – he will sate his hunger for despair and dismemberment upon those arrayed against him on the frozen plains he’d claim for his own. The first blow he lands cracks like thunder preceding a mighty storm, and with that one strike, the battle is joined.
Even when outnumbered, the host of defenders make the enemy pay dearly for every inch of ground. The fearsome fervor of dwarf warriors bites into goblins numerous beyond counting. Ancient spirits of the forests that pass for many years as trees wrestle with giants of frost. Pegasus and manticore swoop, dive, and strike, claws leaving ribbons of blood while hooves shatter bone. Beneath the icy plain, kraken and shark vie for supremacy in the silent, inky blackness of the crushing depths.
He emerges for two reasons.
One is that even as the battle rages, he has preparations to make. The sleigh must be filled. The sack must contain every gift. There must be sufficient coal available. The reindeer need to be fed, and all of this is done in spite of the fighting, for he will not forsake the children. Not on this night, not ever. What takes him away from his last-minute work is the other reason: if he senses a true challenge on the field, then and only then does he emerge from his workshop.
His very presence demands reverence from both sides. The defenders give him respect and even love, while the invaders react with fear. The lines of battle part to make way for him. Mail of the finest metal gleams beneath his red coat. No helm adorns his plume of snow-white hair, no gorget beneath the curls of his beard. In his right hand he carries a blade, long and shimmering in the lights of the north, forged in a forgotten age. In his left is a mace blacker than the water in the depths beneath the ice, one that nearly resembles a weapon of the enemy, for he has always been a capricious and merry old soul, loyal only to his devotion to the joy of children. He walks with purpose, without hesitation, until he faces the leader of the enemy host. He stands until the Jötuun turns to acknowledge him, then he taps the flat of his blade to the side of his nose, twice, his way of saluting his foe. When he speaks, his voice is deep, and heard by every ear on the field.
“Someone’s been particularly naughty this year. Ho, ho, ho.”
Some Jötnar banter with Kringle, others offer terms of surrender. But this year, the giant attacks immediately. Claus, for his part, seems to never be terribly surprised by the enemy’s decision, and this year his feet seem particularly nimble. The Jötuun’s axe is a fearsome thing that has cleaved limbs and heads both in this battle, yet Kringle ducks and dodges, giving it only the shallowest of gashes in his skin and coat. It glances off of his mail and bites his rosy cheeks, but never gives the Jötuun satisfaction. When Claus finally strikes, he does so with his blade thrusting at the knees of his enemy. Like a serpent, it darts in and out, piercing darkened frost giant flesh. The Jötuun must turn to keep up with Kringle, opening his own wounds up even further, but the giant is heedless of the pain, fixed entirely on making Claus bleed.
When the moment is right, Kringle brings down his mace on the right kneecap of the giant, then makes a long slash with his blade, and finally swings the black hammer up between the Jötuun’s thighs. The giant topples, howling in agony. Claus is swift, merciful in comparison to many, and plunges his sword into the giant’s heart while swinging his mace down into his enemy’s head. So utter is this defeat and so mighty the blows that the ice cracks, threatening all who stand upon it.
Kringle looks up from his work, smiling, bloodied by the fight but unbowed.
“Now, let’s see. Ho, ho, ho. Who else is on the Naughty list?”
The enemy host quits the field promptly at that point. A mighty cheer goes up from the elves and fae, the dwarves and the spirits allied with the defenders. There will be feasting and drinking in the hall tonight, before Kringle takes his crucial ride. Thanks to him, the war is over.
Until next year.