The Gift Giver, The Blessed Child, and The Brave Warrior
I’ve had the idea for this story for a long time and started working on it about a year and a half ago. Between computer troubles, having to transfer all of my work to an external hard drive, getting a new PC and losing track of it, I’d completely forgotten that I’d wanted to post this last year. I found it recently and finished it. Please enjoy this little tale of wonder and love. Happy Christmahannukwanzmayulstice, and have a wonderful day.
He moved with purpose to the place where they waited for Him, those who sought His succor, His blessing, His…approval. As He came closer to where the throngs stood in ecstatic glee, He changed his form to the one they knew, the one He’d worn for many a year. They came to this place – and many others like it – for some time now, hoping to meet Him and to beg His boon. While this was a newer tradition amongst His faithful, He quite enjoyed it. It allowed Him to visit directly with some of them, whom He was indeed so very fond of, from time to time.
This was not all for their benefit to be sure. He gained both power and influence from their worship and adoration. Their prayers, their wishes and desires and hopes – sustained and strengthened Him. In return He gave them His love, occasionally he gave them His protection and, most important of all, He gave them a sense of wonder and joy about the universe that they would never again feel as keenly. His relationship to them, such as it was, was finite. As time passed, so too would their wonder. For such things both He and the World wept.
He moved forward through the crowd of supplicants and basked in their glory as they basked in His. Some yelled, some tugged at His garment, most stood staring in silent awe. He walked passed them all, offering a calm smile that bathed the place in warmth, and sat upon the chair that waited for Him and Him alone. …Well, that wasn’t entirely true.
The first of His followers approached His throne of gold and crimson, nervous and – as they were so often want to be – shy. He found it amusing that those who stood before Him uneasily were often those the most excited to meet Him before he arrived. An attendant, whom He had not even noticed as He’d approached, offered the devotee a morsel of refreshment – as was the custom – which garnered a smile. It was several heartbeats before He spoke.
“And what might your name be, little girl?” He said in a booming and friendly voice, as He patted his knee. The child promptly climbed up and sat in His lap.
“My name’s Sharonda,” the little girl said to Santa Claus.
“What a magnificent name you have, Sharonda!” Santa said excitedly. “It sounds like the name of a warrior princess. Princess Sharonda!” The last word was said exaggeratedly, with the R heavily rolled and He thrust out His hand in a fist as though gripping a mighty war spear.
“I like princesses!” Sharonda said enthusiastically, smiling coyly.
“So do I!” Santa Claus said in astonishment, as though it were the most impossible of coincidences. “I think you and I are going to be fast friends, Sharonda.”
“I’ll be your friend!” Sharonda exclaimed in perfect earnestness and generosity of spirit.
“Thank you.” Santa Claus sighed as He placed His hand over His heart, genuinely touched by the little girl’s sudden gesture of kindness.
“You’re welcome.” Sharonda said happily, smiling brightly. “Will you be my friend?”
“I will indeed.” Santa Claus said solemnly, offering Sharonda His hand in genuine fellowship. She grabbed it fast and shook it vigorously. “Now, Sharonda, my friend, would you like to tell me what you would like to have for Christmas?” He finished the question with a knowing wink from an eye that wasn’t there.
“I want my daddy to come home.” Sharonda replied simply, but very seriously, as she gazed intently into her idol’s eyes. As Santa looked back into his new friend’s eyes, He saw His reflection there. His true reflection, not the illusion that she saw. More than that, He detected a desperation behind those eyes, and He knew that this was no small matter. He looked to Sharonda’s mother who had been standing in front of them both. The woman smiled sadly and shook her head, and He knew.
Suddenly everything around them became quieter and quieter, until all of the place around them was in silence. At the same time, everything slowed down until it stopped and the light dimmed gradually until it became dark. The other children, their parents, Sharonda’s mother and the other people running around in their busy lives were all gone. All that remained in the perceivable universe was Him and his new friend Sharonda.
“Tell me child…where is your father?” He asked her inquisitively, suddenly a bit more Himself as He truly was. For if things were as He expected, The guise that he had come to wear in recent centuries, with seasonal trappings and jolly attitude may not be enough.
“He’s…” Sharonda started staggeringly, as if trying to remember. “Overseas?”
“Is He in a faraway land?” He said helpfully, once again Santa, trying to speak her language.
“Yes.” Sharonda replied sagely, nodding. “He’s been far away for a long time. We sometimes get to talk on the computer, but he gets real busy with the other army men.”
“Ah,” He affirmed knowingly. “As I thought, your father is a soldier then?”
“Yes, Daddy’s a soldier, not an army man, sorry.” Sharonda corrected herself sternly, as though remembering a scolding she might have gotten.
“That’s quite alright.” Santa replied reassuringly, patting her on the back lightly. “You know in my day they were called berserkir. Names of things sometimes have a tendency to change as time goes by. It is the way of things.” He looked off into nothingness then, contemplating His new friend’s request.
“What’s wrong, Santa?” Sharonda asked Him concerned, patting His snowy white beard. “You look sad.”
“Oh, I just know a lot of things, my dear and when people know a lot of things, they sometimes just look sad.” He said thoughtfully, hugging the little girl close and hoping that she never knew the things that He knew. “Now, about your request! Can you keep a secret?” He shifted His head slyly, so that she could only see one eye, then He winked at her mischievously.
“I can!” Sharonda said excitedly, as if trying to get picked to answer the question.
“Well, if you promise me to not tell anyone until after you see him, I can promise you that you will see your daddy very soon.” Santa said conspiratorially.
“Really?!” Sharonda exclaimed excitedly, then her demeanor dropped slightly. “Oh…I can’t tell mommy? Daddy said I should never keep secrets from him or mommy.” She stared worriedly into the red of Santa’s coat.
“That’s because your father is an honorable and, more importantly, intelligent man.” He said to her approvingly. “That’s good, but don’t worry about it Sharonda. You won’t have to keep it a secret for very long, just until you see him again. Then you can tell your mommy all about it, if you like.” He smiled at her reassuringly.
“Well…ok, if it’s only for a li’l while.” Sharonda replied relieved. She looked back into Santa’s eyes then. “I’m really gonna see my daddy soon?” The shear unbridled hope that poured from the lass was almost enough to bring a tear to His old eye.
“This, Sharonda, on my honor, I promise.” Santa Claus swore, placing a fist against his heart and then releasing the fist to extend His pinky to the little girl in an offering of one of the most sacred vows one can make. She extended her own pinky and linked it with His, then they shook solemnly, offering one another very serious looks.
Then the lights came back and so did the sound. Soon people and things were moving again and the world was back in sync. Or were He and Sharonda? He supposed it was all a matter of perspective. Sharonda’s mother, as well as several others nearby had a bewildered look upon their faces, as though they were lost in thought.
“Everything alright, miss?” Santa asked the distracted woman, casually.
“Huh?” she replied abruptly, then more sheepishly went on. “Oh yes, sorry. Just a bit of Deja Vu, I think. Ronda, did you ask Santa for that Thor action figure you’ve been wanting?” He turned stunned to look back at Sharonda, intrigued.
“I like Thor.” Sharonda said a little embarrassed, smiling shyly.
“So do I!” He said earnestly, though this time the coincidence was real and palpable. “Very much indeed, in fact! I’ll see what I can do about your action figure, Sharonda. It was very nice to meet you.” He smiled genuinely at her then.
“Nice ta meet you too!” Sharonda replied happily, smiling back. She was about to hop down off of His lap, but he held her fast.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Santa Claus said exactingly, in sudden remembrance. He pulled her close and whispered in her ear. “What was your father’s name?”
“Mark Peters.” Sharonda whispered back pulling back at Santa into a hug. “It’s like my name Sharonda Peters, but his first name is Mark.” She released Him from the hug and then looked back at her mother and then back to Santa worriedly.
“Oh yes, I see.” Santa covered quickly. “Returning Mjolnir Action Thor, that’s the one! How silly of me! HoHoHo!” He’d almost forgotten about the HoHoHo’s! Sharonda hopped down off of his knee and went to her mother, who seemed unaware of the deception. Then the little girl turned back, as if remembering something herself.
“Hey Santa?” Sharonda asked politely.
“Don’t think so much about all the stuff you know,” she said, thoughtfully herself. “I don’t want you to be sad.”
“I will do my best.” He said emotionally, trying to stifle another urge to weep. They waved their goodbyes and then His new friend was gone. The rest of the night went on without such momentous events. Some children were polite, some were greedy. Some were even indignant and insisted that Santa Claus did not exist. He would praise the courteous, admonish the selfish and amaze the unbelievers with parlor tricks like knowing what they really wanted. Eventually all came to love Him and the wonder He offered.
As the festivities came to a close, and the place where His worshipers came to glimpse Him suddenly became a place of trade and commerce once again, He rose from His seat and moved away from that place then. Those whom he’d beguiled and fooled to acquire that particular position at that particular place would be bewildered soon when the man they’d hired, one Allfred Wednesday, never came to get his payment.
When He had left the place that was no longer one of worship to Him behind, He called upon his Thought and his Memory – the two most useful aspects of his being, for His thoughts were of the whole of the World and His memory was of the whole of humankind’s. He whispered a name to the wind, Mark Peters. Soon, two ravens from the saintly days of yore perched upon his shoulders and whispered they to Him the place and the time.
His visage now changed, to reflect the truth of His nature and His being. Gone was the red garment with white trim, to be replaced by robes of the dimmest gray and blue. His hat changed as well, hardening slightly and changing color with His other clothes, as the white puff ball that had hung from its tip disappeared. Last, but certainly not least, his eye – or rather the illusion of the eye that he did not actually have – melted away, revealing a hollow socket. Then He called to His steed, and the mighty, many legged beast trotted out from behind nothing to stand at its rider’s side.
Once mounted, he moved with purpose through time and space, to the place and the name He’d been given. It was, of course, a battlefield, like so many others that He’d seen. The ring of sword had become the thunder of gunfire, the battle cry of the warrior was now the blast of the explosion and the whistle of arrows was now the whir of drones that, too, brought death from afar, but in the end – war was war. Men and women cried out in pain, chaos rang out all around, despite those within that chaos struggling so hard to impose their order, and the only thing that was assured was that fewer than was thought would survive.
It did not take long to find the man whose name He was given. Like so many on that field of smoke and sorrow, the man lay dead at the hands of an enemy, a bullet having torn through his throat. He surveyed the immediate area and found that many others lay dead as well. Many of them were the enemies of Mark Peters, and none were his allies.
“Mark Peters.” He called out, His voice strong – and clear. Before Him the spirit of Sharonda’s father rose gently from his body – in truth, the spirit was the man, and the body: what was lost, but that might also be a matter of perspective. Mark’s own visage was different from the one that lay upon the ground beneath him as well. While his corpse was in full battle raiment, with armor and helmet, Mark now appeared as though dressed in what those of this time called fatigues. It was typical of the dead, He noted, to take on an aspect that reflected how they saw themselves in life, and this man saw himself as…
Still a soldier…very promising.
“I…what…where am I?” Mark Peters asked confused, looking about for who had called him from his bones.
“I believe this place is called Afghanistan right now,” He said casually, stroking His beard thoughtfully. “Though later, who knows?” He did know, of course, but that was hardly the matter at hand, was it?
“Who are you?” The soldier asked more assertively when he saw Him.
“I am Odin.” The Wanderer intoned seriously from atop his horse, offering the soldier a slight nod. “Though, some call me All Father.”
“Are you like…God?” Mark asked awkwardly, seeming shaken by Odin’s admission of title.
“To some, yes.” Odin admitted buoyantly with a weak grin. “To others, not so much anymore.” He pondered that for a moment, glumly. He guessed that most folk just didn’t have need of Him anymore, as they had the attention of other gods. He minded not, for He was not one for jealously, but nor was He one to abandon his duty over such trifles.
“Am I dead?” Mark Peters asked seriously, then turned to find his own body on the ground behind him. “Oh…”
“You died well.” Odin offered earnestly, as though it should soften the blow – and it should.
“What about my squad?” Mark asked worriedly, looking about with eyes he no longer had. “Did they make it back safe?”
“Of course they did.” Odin replied as if the opposite were absurd. “You held off the assault long enough for them to retreat. You saved them all. Now come, we don’t have much time.” His words, in all, were the honest truth, the Wanderer had seen it in His Memory.
“Wait,” Mark insisted cautiously. “Where are we going?”
“You are wise to ask,” Odin said, impressed, cracking a slight grin at the soldier. “We are going to see Sharonda.”
“Sharonda, is she ok!?” Mark asked, even more worried now. “She’s not dead, is she? Is Roberta?”
“No.” Odin said reassuringly, in a gravely, down tempo sing-song tone. “They are both alive and well, I swear it.” He placed his fist upon his heart and offered Mark a somewhat melancholy look. He reached a hand down to Mark. “Worry not, Sleipnir doesn’t bite…much.” He winked with his good eye at the man, who – seeming to find no other better choices before him – took the offered hand. The All Father pulled the dead warrior onto the back of His horse and they were off through the places between the other places. Soon one of those places led to the home of the Peters family, where Sleipnir landed silently upon the roof.
Once they’d dismounted, Odin snapped his fingers and Sleipnir transformed instantly from an eight-legged horse with one name, into eight tiny reindeer with many, leading a sleigh. He noted Mark’s bewildered and completely confused look and winked at him once more, playfully, as he transformed once again into the form of the Giver of Gifts.
“Come along, Mark,” Santa said in a much more jolly voice, as He regarded the clear night’s sky with approval. “We don’t have very much time. Oh, by the way, it’s probably best if you just call me Santa in front of Sharonda.” Mark simply nodded, bewildered. Santa then touched Mark’s ghostly arm and it exploded with color and substance. Mark suddenly seemed very much alive and well, though he was not at all either. Then, with a bit of a jolt at first, Santa and Mark glided straight down through the roof as though it were naught but air. They passed through shingle and beam and floor until they came to rest in a child’s room. Sharonda’s room.
The child lay soundly asleep in her bed, snoring softly as she held tight to a stuffed bear. All about were the stuff of childhood and youth. Drawings, colorful furniture, images of things that the girl either likened to herself or simply enjoyed – and toys. There were always toys of some kind, Santa noted. Even if those toys were made by the children themselves.
“Sharonda?” Santa whispered quietly, as he touched the little girl’s foot. “Awaken, dear child. It’s Santa. I have someone here who wishes to speak with you.” The little girl woke from her sound slumber with just a bit of a start, but brightened widely awake when she saw who had woken her. Before she could call out excitedly, Santa brought his finger to his lips in a comically dramatic way, throwing out shushes to the little girl.
“Santa!” Sharonda exclaimed in a harsh whisper. “What are you doing here? It isn’t Christmas, is it?” She made a face somewhere between confusion and suspicion, scrunching up her features.
“No, Christmas is not for a little while, yet.” Santa agreed sagely, nodding to the child exaggeratedly. “I am here about your request.” He smiled wide, warm, and knowingly at the little child and stepped aside to reveal Mark standing behind him.
“Daddy!” Sharonda exclaimed loudly, jumping off of her bed and rushing to her father, who knelt down low and caught her in an embrace. Then, as it had before, everything got a little quieter, darker and less and Sharonda and Mark were in their own congruent space-time safe from the ravages of the world and of humanity. All the while, the eye of Odin watched them from outside time, in approval…and in sorrow.
“It’s so good to see you, baby-girl.” Mark told her lovingly, as he squeezed her tightly. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too, daddy!” Sharonda replied earnestly, burying her face in his neck. “I love you.”
“I love you too, baby-girl.” Mark said emotionally, tears streaming down his face. He held her embrace for a long time, before he pulled away to look at her.
“You’ve gotten so big!” Mark exclaimed exuberantly.
“I’ve grown a whole inch since my last birthday!”
The father and daughter spoke of many things then. Of the past, of the present, and of things yet to come. The All Father gave them as much time as He could. Even still, when He found it time to end their reunion, He also found that He wanted to give them just a little more.
“I’m sorry, Sharonda, but it’s time for us to go now,” Santa said apologetically, at a lull in the conversation that seemed appropriate. “I have much to do to prepare for this Christmas and your father has pressing matters, as well.” He frowned crookedly as He stepped into their space-time continuum.
“What?” Sharonda asked mournfully, looking from her father to Santa. “You’re leaving? But you just got home!” She frowned sadly and slumped to her knees.
“I’m afraid so, my dear.” Santa said sorrowfully. “I wish it were not so, but it is.”
“I’m sorry, baby-girl.” Mark offered supportively, hugging his daughter again and still crying. “I really am, but I’ve got to go.” He picked the child up gently and carried her to her bed, the All Father’s magic making it possible with neither of them even knowing. After he’d tucked her in, Mark kissed her gently on the forehead.
“I love you, Sharonda.” Mark said seriously, trying practice a bit of stoicism. “Be strong, baby-girl.” He stepped away from her then and smiled down into her eyes.
“Goodbye, Sharonda.” Santa Claus said affectionately, offering a little wave. “Remember to be a good girl for your mother. Can you do that for me, my friend?” He offered the child a weak, but apologetic grin, which she returned earnestly, if sadly.
“Yes, Santa.” Sharonda said moodily. “I’ll be good. Goodbye, Daddy. I love you.” Santa Claus then lifted His hand to wave and to use His magic to put the child back to sleep – or started to, as the child interrupted Him with one more word of parting.
“Santa?” Sharonda said earnestly, her chin still under her blanket. “Thank you, friend.”
“You are most welcome, my friend.” Santa Claus and Odin said back in perfect honesty. With that, Santa waved His hand and many things happened at once. Sharonda fell into a deep and happy sleep, time and space returned to normal, and both He and Mark rose once again toward the rooftop from whence they came.
“Can I see my wife?” Mark asked Santa Claus plaintively and as he did, Santa promptly turned back into Odin with the words. So too, did Mark return to a transparent and ghostly apparition.
“I’m sorry, but no,” The All Father told him, dourly. “I do not have the time for that and besides, it would just confuse her. Children can accept these kinds of things more easily than adults…these days anyway. Come along.” He walked over to the sleigh, which turned back into Sleipnir when He touched it, and mounted His steed.
“What happens now?” Mark asked, again bewildered, as he approached Sleipnir, seeming to only now really understand his situation. It was fair, though, the man had had other, far more important things on his mind than death.
“That’s completely up to you, Mark,” Odin explained, calmly. “You can stay here, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Haunting does more harm than help in these sorts of situations, honestly.” He grimaced, looking about, as if seeking possible avenues for the soldier to take.
“You could go up,” The All Father said, matter-of-factly, gazing upward to the sky, which was now not so clear, as they drifted further into the ether. Dark grey clouds blanketed it now, broken through here and there by beams of pure white light. A rumble of thunder could be heard coming from them and figures flew into and out of the cracks that the light made.
“Many go up,” Odin explained casually. “Not sure why, but I think they think it’s happier. I hope it is. I’d hate to think that so many had gone there thinking it was, only to be disappointed.” He sniffed, grimacing again.
“I could return you to whence we came,” Odin continued tentatively. “Many haunt the place of their falling and it is no dishonor to do so. Though in cases like yours, where you would go and what you would see and do there might itself create an undeserved torment.” He waved a hand sharply, as though he should not have even mentioned it.
“You could wander, as I did,” The All Father intoned cryptically, raising the eyebrow of his hollow. “Seek out those souls of like mind, that you might band together and discover and rediscover forgotten mysteries.” He gestured grandiosely, almost hoping that the soldier would take that route.
“I don’t understand,” Mark expressed in confused frustration. “How does all of this work? Is up heaven? Is down hell, then? Who’s in charge?” He held his hands up in the air, helplessly. Shaking his head and seeming to try and make sense of it all.
“I told you.” Odin said carefully. “You are in charge. You can go where you like. Heaven, Hell and anywhere in between, or even beyond, for that matter – and as for how all this works, I can tell you only this: I’ve been searching for the answer to that for well over ten thousand years and I still haven’t a clue.” He offered Mark a shrug and a shake of His head, as though none of it really mattered.
Mark cast about once more, seeming to look about, as Odin had, for somewhere to go. Somewhere to be. Just as he looked as though he were going to ask to be taken back to the battlefield where he died, the Allfather spoke.
“There is, of course, another choice,” Odin offered dramatically, as he fixed the soldier with a piercing stare from his one eye. “You could come with me. I have much need of brave and tactical minds such as yours.” He let His gaze linger on Mark for some time, waiting for him to speak.
“Where are you going?” Mark asked suspiciously, folding his arms across his chest.
Still cautious. Good.
“I go to prepare.” Odin said simply, still holding the ghost’s gaze.
“Prepare for what?” Mark asked dubiously and a bit sarcastically, his arms still folded. “Christmas?”
“Hardly,” the All Father said, without blinking. “I go to prepare for war.”
“What war?” Mark asked, almost incredulous.
“Oh…” Mark uttered, almost nervously, his arms slumping down to his sides, then, after thinking a moment added. “Wait, which side are you on?” Odin raised an eyebrow at that, for no one had ever really asked Him that question before. Mark was truly an interesting find, indeed. The All Father searched for the most appropriate answer and then smiled as much to Himself as to Mark when He found it.
“Sharonda’s.” Odin stated flatly, fixing Mark with the same piercing gaze.
The soldier licked lips that he didn’t actually have any longer and thought, crossing his ghostly hands across his transparent chest again. After a moment, he sighed breathlessly, looked about one more time and then walked over to take the offered hand of the All Father, who pulled him back atop Sleipnir.
“One last question,” Mark asked curiously from behind Odin. “Why did you bring me here, if you think that I shouldn’t stay?”
“Because…” Odin All Father and Santa Claus declared together, lowly, with deep satisfaction – and a bit of mirth in his tone – “I keep my promises.”