December 15, 707 CR
It’s been a hard year....
“It’s been an eventful year, I suppose. Lots of reconstruction—construction—going on at the Keep. I’ve been busy. I never thought those old masonry lessons Dad taught me would ever come in handy, but....
“Many folks about, working and caring for others. I’ve seen many acts of kindness this year that inspire my faith in mankind once more. Now that winter’s come, folks are pretty much settling in for the season. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re comfortable and prepared, just like always.
“You always liked the snow. The mountains are beautiful today—sun glintin’ off them like diamonds, or some such. Was never good at describing things, but you know how it is.
“Metamor valley is gorgeous when it’s blanketed in white.”
Ugly when in red....
“Colors disappear and a peace sort of settles over the place. Things are quiet. A body can really do some good thinking on a day like this.”
My God, how it hurts.
“My little Annie! Is your mother keeping you out of trouble? Have you met the baby yet? I always wondered what it would be, a boy or another girl. I’d always hoped for a little brother for you. I’ll bet he’s a terror, as well! I’m sure Mom has her hands full watching over you two.
“Eight years have gone by...my, how you’ve grown! Did Mom talk you into growing your hair long? You had her curls, you know, and they looked great. I’m sure by now the boys your age would be noticing, and I’d have to fight them off!”
The wind picked up, blowing across the open meadow and whipping up the dry snow. Dark clouds loomed just behind the mountains.
“It’s getting cold. Don’t worry, it doesn’t really bother me like it used to.” He shuffled his feet in the loose powder. “I suppose you all don’t feel it much, either.”
A tear caught the late-evening sunlight, glittering as it fell before disappearing into the powdery snow.
Holly boughs were laid along both headstones. With the wind blowing like it was now, they would be buried by morning.
He knelt and kissed each stone, cold as the death they represented.
The soup was warm, though the taste of it was nothing in his mouth. He added a few good shakes of salt, but to no avail.
The soup was not the problem.
He finished off his third ale; his bladder crying for attention. Paying it no mind, he raised his hand to the Innkeep for another.
“Nicklaus,” the Innkeep, Rupert, said in a motherly tone when he reached his table. “You’ll be lucky to stagger home after the three you’ve had. You never could hold much drink.”
Nicklaus smiled up to the big man; the lamplight shining in his mop of curly blonde hair hurt his eyes. Rupert laughed a deep belly laugh, slapping a heavy hand down on the back of the snowbear. “Did I ever tell you, Nicklaus, that you remind me much of my husband?”
“A few times, yes.”
Rupert smiled and slid into the booth across from the white-furred Nicklaus. “He loved to drink, but could never hold his own...even against us ladies!” Rupert got a faraway look in his dark eyes. “Gods, I miss him. Eight years since, you know? Me and you both got a might more hairy during that time.”
“You more than me, I must say!” Nicklaus countered.
“Yeah. I start thinking about him around this time of year for some reason. Wonder what things would be like now if he hadn’t...if things hadn’t turned out the way they did.”
“I know what you mean.”
“I suppose my becomin’ a man with the Curse would have made our marriage a bit awkward, but who’s to say he wouldn’t ‘ave turned female, and things would be alright?”
Nicklaus said nothing. He spun his now-empty soup bowl around on the table top.
“You visited their graves today,” Rupert observed.
“Aye. Same as last year. Can’t bring myself to be there more than once a year, you know. It’s like you said—this season comes and my mind starts dwellin’ on the past, remembering my life before...well, before all this happened.” He held up his hands, covered in the white fur and black paw pads of the snowbears from the north.
“So, what plans do you have for the Yule season?” Rupert asked after a spell of silence had passed.
Nicklaus shrugged his broad shoulders, staring into the depths of his dry mug. “Same as always, I suppose. Sit here with you and Quinn and ponder the mysteries of life.”
“At least for the first ten minutes until you’re embarrassingly drunk?” Rupert smiled broad, eventually coaxing a grin from the snowbear, exposing his teeth along one side of his muzzle.
“Yeah. That’s my favorite part,” Nicklaus replied. He frowned as his bladder suddenly came to mind. “I’d better head home. Gettin’ late.”
“Right. Are you coming tomorrow to fix those cabinets?”
“Yes, I know it’s been awhile since I promised you that.”
“That’s payment for your long tab, you know.” Rupert playfully hit his shoulder as they both stood. “Don’t worry about it. I know you’ve been busy with the reconstruction. Probably not getting paid for it, either.”
The big snowbear shook his head. “I’ll come tomorrow.” He held his head in one hand and waited for the room to stop spinning. “Just don’t expect me early in the morning.”
Light spilled from the Drunk Dragon as Nicklaus opened the door and staggered out into the street. The sun had long set and a light snow was falling. The world was silent and still, as if the fresh dusting of snow had quieted all life on the streets of Metamor.
The whispers of conversation leeching from the lively tavern faded behind.
Through his labored walking and the fog in his head, he was vaguely aware of a burning pain low in his gut. A sudden rush of warmth through his fur finally caught his attention.
Nicklaus grunted, staggering over to a narrow alleyway and reaching into his trousers before he’d even left the street. He used one hand to steady himself as he leaned forward against a cold stone wall, sighing greatly and letting his eyes close.
He liked to believe the ale could wash through him and carry all his troubles with it as it poured into the dark ally, but it was not really so. It never was. Why he kept trying, he did not know.
Maybe next time.
Sometime later, he heard the door to his house slam shut behind him. Nicklaus tossed his thin jacket and trousers into the corner of the room—it was all he ever wore, even in the worst of weather—and flopped onto his bed.
Beautiful and lively dreams—memories, really—flowed through his sleeping mind. Agony gripped his heart as he awoke once again to reality.
He didn’t bother brushing through his fur or making breakfast. Finding a clean pair of trousers and grabbing his coat and carpentry toolbox, he headed out the door.
The pile of charred cabinet doors and shelving grew larger as noon approached. The short-lived fire that had swept through the Drunk Dragon during the winter assault had left its mark on the kitchen. Before today, only the most heavily damaged items had been repaired or replaced.
Some of the pieces could be planed and reused, but most needed replacement. Nicklaus could soon see that he had a lot of work ahead of him.
“How does it look?” Rupert asked, appearing around the corner. He carried a plate with a loaf of bread and slice of ham.
Nicklaus’ nose twitched at the smell of the fresh bread and salted ham. “You read my mind, Rupert.” He accepted the meal and tore into the bread. “There’s nothing too terrible. Got quite a few pieces need replacing, though.”
“I figured as much.” The Innkeep sat his heavy girth on a barstool, watching as Nicklaus switched between eating and pulling nails from hinges. “How’d you sleep last night?”
Nicklaus shrugged, not looking at him. “Decent, I ‘spose. It’s the waking up that’s hard.”
“Aye. Well, after the assault dredged up all those terrible memories of The Three Gates....”
“That it did.”
“Maybe now that the dust is settling, you can put it out of your mind. I’m sure many folks are struggling like you.”
“So, I’m struggling, am I?”
Rupert folded his hairy arms across his chest, saying nothing.
“Aye, I’m strugglin’,” Nicklaus admitted. “And, I know what you’re going to say. I should move on, maybe try to find someone else. Pick up tailorin’ again and forget this carpentry rebuilding-after-the-assault stuff. Take a holiday, clear my head.”
Rupert said nothing, only smiling at his bearish friend.
Nicklaus sighed. “I should do all those things, but it’ll never change what happened, nor what it did to me.”
“Many have gone through the same thing, Nick. I can’t name a person who hasn’t lost a loved one recently.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m still broken up about. There are few who have lost all their loved ones. You still have family near, at least.”
Rupert hung his head, thick fingers fidgeting in his lap.
Nicklaus sighed heavily, rising to his feet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean....” His round ears folded flat in shame.
“I know. It’s alright.” Rupert held up a hand, then rested it on the snowbear’s shoulder. “But, seriously, at least get back into what you enjoy. The rebuilding has gone on for quite enough. Get some coats made. I know how you love doing that.”
“If I still even remember how to handle a needle and thread!”
“Sure you do. You have many good skills, but tailoring is definitely your finest...and most lucrative.”
It would be nice to do something different for a change.
Rupert helped Nicklaus load the burned cabinet pieces into a wheelbarrow that was waiting out the back door. “Don’t worry too much about these. I don’t really need them soon.”
“Thank you, Rupert...for the advice. I won’t be long with these, anyway.”
The piled wood nearly spilled out of the shallow barrow as Nicklaus dug his feet into the snow to stop. A young girl had darted around a corner in front of him, and he narrowly missed walking straight into her. Oblivious, she continued her skipping run, twirling with her arms outstretched, dress and coattails spinning while her curly hair caught the low winter sun.
She seemed untouched by all that was wrong with the world.
Nicklaus was frozen in his tracks, watching the girl, probably no older than five, skipping and dancing in the snow. Her voice, clear as a bell, sang a familiar Yule song.
“Annie? My little Annie?” he whispered to himself. He wanted to run to her, scoop her up in his arms, and ask where she had been this whole time! He wanted to touch her hair and hear her voice ask his name, and he imagined himself explaining to her about the Curse and why he looked like a white bear....
“Kaylee!” a shout came from the side-street from whence the little girl had come. A tall man, though hunched with age over a cane, soon followed, dressed in heavy boots, wool coat, and top hat, stepping as quickly as possible to fetch her. The girl continued her carefree dance and song until the man took her by the hand, leading her out of the street’s center.
Of course it’s not her, you fool!
The man stopped, catching sight of the frozen snowbear and his wheelbarrow. Nicklaus figured the look of shock on his face must have grabbed the man’s attention.
“Hello, there!” the man said, coming toward him with the girl still in tow. “I’m sorry she startled you so.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I suppose if I had been paying better attention I would have heard her coming.”
“It amazes me you couldn’t hear her from afar!” The man, his peppered beard specked with snowflakes, chuckled heartily. He had a bit of an accent to his speech, though Nicklaus could not place it.
The snowbear shrugged. “Lovely child. She reminds me....” He stopped, shaking his head and hoping the man would just move on.
The man seemed to understand immediately, and a look of pity crossed his face.
Behind him, suddenly, came a whole group of children, at least a dozen in number and of all various ages. They crowded around him, and a couple of the older ones introduced themselves to Nicklaus.
“Are these all yours?” Nicklaus asked, astounded. The man smiled.
“They are! Though not in the way you might imagine. I’m headmaster of one of—sadly—Metamor’s orphanages. Kyle Recos is my name.” He held out a rather skinny hand that all but disappeared in the bear’s own.
Nicklaus looked over the crowd of children. There were a few even younger than Kaylee. “Such a shame,” he whispered.
“Aye. ‘Tis most difficult during the Yule season. I try to provide gifts for the children when I can, but this year has been especially tough.” He leaned in close to Nicklaus so the children would not hear. “Please, help spread the word. If you know of someone that’s able....”
“I...I’ll do what I can,” Nicklaus replied, watching as little Kaylee grew impatient and began to tug on Kyle Reco’s hand.
Kyle smiled, patting the snowbear’s broad back. “A merry Yule to you! Come, children! We still have the confectioner to visit!”
A chorus of cheers erupted from the group and, as one, they scampered across the street after their headmaster.
Nicklaus watched them go until the sound of their excited chatter could hardly be heard.
As soon as he got home, he grabbed a quill and paper and scribbled a few numbers. Beneath each number he drew a line. Tall lines indicated older children, and short lines indicated young children. He drew a triangle over some of the lines to represent girls.
Though his tailoring had well taught him the use of numbers and measurements, drawings would have to compensate for his illiteracy.
He checked it over, comparing it to his memory of the group of orphans he had encountered on the street. Nicklaus hoped he had accounted for every child he had seen.
Circling around his cluttered shop, he gathered carving tools, wood blocks, fabrics, threads, needles, and buttons. He cleared a table and began drawing out plans and patterns to match the list he had made.
A fire had caught hold inside him, lit by some invisible hand for reasons he could not imagine. Nicklaus found himself beginning work without even wondering why he was doing so.
The wheelbarrow of cabinet doors from the Drunk Dragon sat completely forgotten near the door.
December 20, 707 CR
“You know, when one of your regular alcoholics doesn’t show up to your tavern for four straight days, you might fear him dead!”
A heavy laughter came from somewhere in the dimly-lit, messy shop. “So, despite the advice to lay off it a bit, when I finally do, you miss my money?”
Rupert wove his way carefully through the cluttered tables, wood piles, racks of fabric, and various odds and ends before he found the snowbear, crouched on the floor searching through a bin of wood and glass buttons of all sizes and colors. Rupert tussled the tuft of hair between Nicklaus’ ears, suddenly noticing the beginnings of several toys on the table in front of him.
“What have you got yourself into, now?” There were fifteen pieces in all, puppets, boats, dolls, and carvings of fanciful animals. “Wow, these are really good!” Nicklaus grunted something underneath, still searching through the bin. Rupert turned to another table behind him, seeing several cuts of colored fabrics. Some were obviously children’s trousers, while the rest could possibly be dresses. “Did you get a special order for someone?” he asked.
Nicklaus rose to his feet, holding several brightly-colored buttons. “More of a request, actually. Could you hand me that needle and thread?”
Rupert turned back to the other table, retrieving a short sewing needle trailing a black thread. “Toys and clothes for children, eh? Sounds like something fun to do.” Nicklaus merely nodded, quickly sewing the buttons onto each puppet’s miniature clothing.
On a shelf to the right, Rupert noticed a few pans with paints and glues already mixed up and ready to use. “You’re really getting into this, aren’t you? It has been a fair while since I saw you this absorbed into a project.”
“It’s for an orphanage. I met the headmaster on the street last week.”
“Figured a child losing a parent is worse than a parent losing a child, so I thought I’d start thinking of someone besides myself for a change. I ain’t the only one lonely this time of year.”
“Sadly, no.” Rupert paused, watching the snowbear place the buttons. “I’ve still got a couple hours before I need to open the Dragon, do you want any help?”
“Uh...sure. I’ve more wooden puppets started that need sanding.”
“Sounds like something I can handle.”
In the end, Rupert did much more than sanding. Over the next three mornings he helped Nicklaus paint, sew, and even purchased a basketful of peppermints from the confectioner down the street from the Dragon.
Even when everything was finished, Nicklaus did not stop. He took the little dresses and embroidered flowers along the hems or snowflakes on the blouse. On the puppets he painted finer details: lashes, hair strands, sparkles in the eyes. To everything he added a special touch, something that elevated the gift above what would normally be had.
By eleven o’clock Saturday, the twenty-third of December, more than a dozen colorful toys and twice as many coats, trousers, dresses, and hats sat completed in Nicklaus’ shop. The big snowbear found a chair and leaned back to get a nap in while his friend went to prepare lunch at the Dragon.
Any sleep beyond an hour’s worth eluded him, however, and he found himself rooting through a pile of old fabrics, searching for something red.
There was an old legend his grandfather used to tell him as a child, that he had recounted to his daughter, Annie, every Yule’s Eve until her passing. It was a legend of joy, giving, and charity told to children all across the Midlands.
Doubtless, the children in the orphanage would be hoping for a visit from Father Yule.
December 24, 707 CR
Yule’s Eve; the evening of Yule’s Eve, even. Every man, woman, and child that could miss their bedtime was either having guests or being one themselves, doubtless consuming too much ale, food, and telling too many tall tales.
As expected, the Follower Cathedral in the Keep was deserted. Rows and rows of dark wood pews sat empty. Candles and sconces lit the cavernous worship hall in absence of the colored light that filtered through the towering stained-glass windows during the day.
Not a sound could be heard save the shuffle of two bear paws on the polished stone floor.
The third pew from the front creaked under his weight. He put his elbows on the back of the pew before him, leaning heavily into his hands.
Silently, he stared ahead at the altar, standing before the depicted Saints, the Madonna, Yashua, and the Tree.
Hardly bothered by his presence, they all stared silently back.
Why was he even here? What was he hoping to find amongst the empty pews and the symbolic adornments?
“Good evening.” The small voice shattered the silence of the cathedral and echoed off its long walls.
Startled, Nicklaus looked up. A boy in white robes was slowly approaching him from the rear of the chapel. Nicklaus recognized him as Father Hough, the priest cursed as a child.
Father Hough pulled himself up onto pew next to the big snowbear, leaning forward as well. His eyes, young and bright, though lined with the toils of a life much longer than his boyish face belied, were fixed ahead.
Unlike Nicklaus, he seemed to not be staring mindlessly, but was deep in thought.
Nicklaus uttered his greeting, then continued to take in the many depictions in sculpture and paint. He tried to find meaning in it all.
Nothing came to him.
Father Hough broke the quiet after several minutes of reflection. “There is little in Scripture about what awaits us at death,” he said. There was a reverence and wisdom in his voice that no real child could have possessed. “Much of it concerns the lives of ancient prophets and the hand of Eli in battle. Even that which is of most importance to us mainly teaches the commandments by which we are to live and the death of Yashua on the Tree. We are given much reason to hope for what lies beyond, but it is mainly our faith in the existence of that place that moves us to live better.
“There is no passage describing the moment a soul is released from his physical self, nothing to tell us of the warmth and the light that envelops us as the pains and troubles of this world are eased, and our tears wiped away by His hand. And, how those who have gone on before are they who fret over us, left alone to struggle in this carnal state. They watch over us and pray for our well-being, awaiting the day we are reunited with them.”
“And what about the dead rising again? Isn’t that in there somewhere?”
Father Hough nodded. Nicklaus frowned. He hadn’t come to the cathedral for a lecture.
“But how can it be? Yashua rose a mere three days after His death. What of those whose bones have turned to dust? How might they rise from the grave? Are we to be torn from that heaven to regain our bodies and live in this hateful hell until death strikes us down again? What say the Scriptures on that?”
Nicklaus’ voice had risen until it filled the whole of the cathedral. Anger and immense sadness and loss flecked his speech.
Father Hough shook his head, placing a hand on the snowbear’s back. “Do you believe you will be reunited with those you’ve lost?”
Nicklaus was struck by the simplicity of the question and the priest’s prescience. “I...I have a hope, I think, but I don’t know what to believe.”
“I can tell you my belief, but it will not do you much good. You must ask Him for yourself.” The boy priest stood, gesturing briefly to the depiction of Yashua above the altar, and started toward the exit. “A Merry Yule to you, my son.”
Nicklaus was once again left alone. “Ask Him myself?” he muttered, brow furrowing. He could remember no prayers—nothing appropriate for the occasion, anyway.
Yashua’s hollow eyes looked lifelessly down at him.
If what Father Hough had said was true, no prayers on his behalf from beyond had made much difference. His charade at the orphanage tonight would be the one bright moment in a near-decade of alcohol and self-pity.
And once the children got their gifts and fell asleep, drinking and wallowing would be all that remained for him.
With a gruff, he pushed himself off the pew and quickly left the cathedral.
Kyle Recos chuckled heartily upon seeing the big snowbear, his white muzzle poking out from between a floppy hat and a broad red coat. His getup was completed with red wool pants and heavy black boots with brass buckles. Bells fastened to his black leather belt jingled with his every move.
“My, you certainly do look the part! The legend of Father Yule is not oft repeated these days, but they should have no trouble recognizing you as him!”
Nicklaus grinned and hefted the heavy sack onto his shoulder. Toys jostled around inside.
“Are you ready?”
The sound of bells was all the fifteen children needed to be aroused from their sleep. Nicklaus peaked into the doorway, seeing a dozen beds lining both walls of a long and otherwise sparsely-furnished room. Windows on either side let in the moonlight and the flickering of big snowflakes falling through the calm night air.
With all the energy he could muster, he burst into the room, laughing a “ho-ho!” for all he was worth. Squeals of delight and the clapping of small hands greeted him.
A broad smile broke across his face like it never had in recent memory.
He swung a lantern in after him, flooding the chilly room with a warm light. “Merry Yule to you all!” he sang.
A chorus of replies flooded the room, and the children jumped from their beds and crowded around him. Nicklaus took a moment to look each child in the eyes. Most were young, as he had remembered after their brief encounter on the street, but he hadn’t realized how many were just past infancy.
A boy and girl in the room, obviously twins, huddled together with the others, though it seemed they hardly understood what was happening. It was doubtful they even remembered their parents from the winter previous.
A vice gripped tightly around his heart.
Most of the others were around six or seven years of age, but there were a couple that could have been ten. One boy, with striking white hair, had to be at least twelve.
He kneeled at the back, helping with some of the younger children, avoiding eye contact with Nicklaus.
He cleared his throat. “Who here has been naughty this year?” he asked, putting much gruff and theatricality in his voice. The children giggled. Some pointed at each other. One enthusiastic young girl raised her hand high, a cheeky grin on her face.
Nicklaus repeated his Father Yule laugh.
“Well, it seems I’m in the wrong place!” He moved to stand, but the younger children rushed forward and caught hold of the hem of his coat. “Oh, so now you are all saying you’ve been good, eh?”
The cheer from the group nearly rattled the windows.
“Ah! I must agree. Mr. Recos says you’ve all been very good this year.” All eyes were on the bright red sack, and he pulled it around and opened the gold tie. One-by-one, starting with the youngest, he gestured for the children to come forward. He asked them their name, said what he could to make them giggle, and tussled their hair before selecting a toy and an item of clothing from his sack that seemed appropriate. To each he offered a big peppermint stick, which they gladly took with wide eyes.
The children began to scatter around the room, playing with whatever Father Yule had given them. Many shared and inspected what others had.
The older boy with the white hair was last, letting the rest of the children go before him. Nicklaus worried he might be too shy, but he soon came forward and sat in the big snowbear’s lap. The boy said nothing, simply putting an arm around his shoulder and burying his face in his neck.
Nicklaus held him for a moment, feeling him shudder with a silent sob that quickly ended.
“I’m sorry,” the boy said, pulling away and looking slightly embarrassed. “My father was a snowbear, and...well....”
“No worries, son,” Nicklaus said, ruffling his white hair. “Did he give you this?” he asked with a slight laugh.
The boy chuckled and smiled broad. “I was born before he was cursed, but he still took credit for it!”
“Did your father pass during the Yule season of last year?”
The boy nodded.
Nicklaus sighed. Words began to pour unbidden from his mouth. “I fought in the Battle of the Three Gates. I was an archer on the wall when the attack on the Keep came. We had a cottage just outside of the city. Nasoj’s army came through while I was away and....” His voice trailed off. Now, it was the boy who was offering Nicklaus comfort.
He quickly tried to change the subject, reaching into his bag. “I brought something especially for you, since I figured a toy might not be the best gift.” He removed a leather sheath about a foot long, from which a black and silver handle protruded. The boy took it reluctantly, unsheathing what was without a doubt a very fine dagger.
“I...I cannot believe it! Never in my life did I count on owning something so fine. You made this?”
Nicklaus shook his head. “A donation from a friend. This, however, I did make.” He removed a long brown coat from the bag—the final item—and handed it over. Momentarily forgetting about the dagger, the boy held open the coat, admiring the luxurious leather and the soft wool lining.
“It’s incredible!” he said, slipping into it. The fit was excellent, though the sleeves were a bit long.
“Made with room to grow, of course.” Nicklaus could not help but smile, seeing the boy overwhelmed with the gifts.
“They are nearly too much! How can I thank you?”
“You needn’t thank me. It’s my job, afterall!” He gestured to his red outfit, and the boy snickered. Nicklaus finally offered him a peppermint candy. “A Merry Yule to you.”
“And to you...er...I didn’t catch your name.”
“Nor I yours! My name is Nicklaus.”
“Marlin Grey.” The boy held out his hand. “You have no surname?”
“Just Nicklaus, now.”
Marlin nodded, seeming to understand. He made no move to leave. Together, they watched the younger children play.
“Will you stay with us much longer?” he asked.
“I would like to,” Nicklaus replied.
“Mind if I stay right here?” Marlin leaned into the big snowbear.
“Of course not, Marlin.”
December 28, 707 CR
A couple hours at the morning market was all Nicklaus had needed to acquire two days’ worth of tailoring work. Along with the cabinetry for the Drunk Dragon, he had a busy week ahead of him.
The work made him happy.
Sitting in his shop with the windows open to let in the cold, he had much time to ponder things while his large hands delicately worked needle and thread.
He thought on the morning Yule service in the cathedral he had attended. It was a nice service, no denying, but again, like the evening before, he felt he had come away empty-handed. Nicklaus shook his white head. He would simply attend Mass next week and let the question of life bother him them.
What he really enjoyed was letting his mind wander back to that night in the orphanage a mere four days past, when his life finally had purpose, and he was contributing to the well-being of others. The laughter and smiles of the children could not leave his head, and he found the memory a better remedy to his depression than alcohol.
At the Dragon last night he had consumed something called cocoa, having lost all desire for ale.
Marlin Grey still tugged at his heart, however. He felt great sorrow for the lad, that was for sure. While the younger children possibly could not fully understand the loss of parents, and most likely looked to Kyle Recos as their collective father, and to each other as siblings, the pain for Marlin Grey was very real and very present.
He struck Nicklaus as an incredibly intelligent boy: well-spoken and sharp-mannered. Who had his father and mother been, he wondered? No doubt, people of status and education, he thought. Talent such as that within Marlin would be wasted festering in a cold orphanage. Perhaps, soon, he could strike out on his own.
A moment later, Nicklaus shook his head at the idea. Becoming a waif on the street was no life for him.
He found himself putting down his work. Could he, truly? Was it the best thing for them both?
It was best for the boy, and that’s all that mattered to Nicklaus.
Trying not to think about it (lest he change his mind), Nicklaus grabbed his coat and, in a flash, headed for the door.
The chance to do good for others did not come merely once a year.
He swung it open to the morning sun and the winter snow, nearly running over Kyle Recos.
“Mr. Recos!” Nicklaus stammered, trying to halt his rushed step. He had been so caught up in the singular act of getting out of his shop that the sudden appearance of the elderly headmaster caused his heart to leap up into his throat.
“I hadn’t even knocked!” Recos exclaimed, smiling up at the snowbear. An awkward moment passed as they both recovered from the surprise.
“Er, would you please come in?” Nicklaus hopped out of the way, and Recos entered. He chose to lean on his cane rather than take the seat Nicklaus offered him.
“I just wanted to come by and thank you again for what you did,” Recos said, his eyes taking in the expansive and cluttered shop. “You really did an extraordinary thing for those kids.”
“I wish I could have done more.”
“Aye. I try, but it’s hard to be what every child needs. Some...struggle.”
“Mr. Recos, I hope you didn’t come all the way down here just to thank me.” Nicklaus tried offering bread and tea, but the speckle-haired man refused.
“Actually, there’s something else. The eldest boy, Marlin, keeps asking about you. I think you really made an impression on him.”
“Likewise,” Nicklaus stated.
“He has not adjusted well to the orphanage, I’m afraid. Not that most children live “well” in an orphanage,” he stammered quickly. “But, he’s had a much harder time than most. I think it’s difficult for a boy his age.”
“I can imagine. In fact, I was on my way to see you just now.”
Nicklaus took in a deep breath. There was no hesitation in his voice. “I wished to inquire on an adoption.”
Kyle Recos laughed, putting his arms around the snowbear in a big hug. “Legends wax and wane, my friend, depending on who’s telling the tale and the events of life that plague and bless us. But you have brought something to life for those children this year, and I’ve never seen them happier.”
Nicklaus could only nod.
“And, I can tell you this with a surety, that you’ve granted one boy’s greatest Yule wish.”