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New Development

So…. Ummmm… Well…., this happened.

Ebook is available now, print book will be available shortly.

Many thanks to everyone who alpha and beta read for me.  Feel free to out yourselves in comments if you’d like.

In case you’ve already read the Minivandian stories here, they’re all in this volume, as are a few new things.  I hope you all enjoy.

The War Chant of the Minivandians

The Lady of Eire and The Thing From The Drain

Humming softly to herself, the Lady of Eire began her work to clean the raiments of her family.  Separating the rough wool and furs of her husband from the delicate silks and satins of her own wardrobe, she loaded them into the mechanism of cleaning.  Adding soap, she turned the automaton on.  As it filled, she busied herself with other activities, continuing to hum an old shanty she had heard as a young child.

Suddenly, an explosion of suds and warm water erupted from the drain and soaked her.  Tendrils, slimy and barbed, whipped out, wrapping around the automaton’s hoses.  Slowly, pulling tighter, they began drawing them into the drain.

Crying out, the Lady of Eire pulled MoraDirk, her dagger of supreme sharpness and beauty, from her sheath.  Charging at the tendrils with her cry of battle, she sliced at the thickest of them.  With a squeal, it split, loosening its grip on a hose.  Recoiling, it snapped back, then rebounded to wrap itself around the wrist of the fair lady.  Its speed surprised the Lady of Eire, and it pulled her off of her feet.  In the fall, she lost her weapon.  Kicking and screaming, she was drawn closer and closer to the drain from which the soapy water and slimy tentacles emerged.

With a bellow, DaddyBear the Minivandian rushed into the room.  Swinging Gnarlthing, his legendary blade of slashing, he cut at the bundle of tentacles at their source:  the drain.  With a squeal of steel against stone, the blade clove the tentacles in twain.  A roar echoed from the drain as the stumps withdrew back to whence they had come.  The parts that were left behind let go of the Lady of Eire and the contents of the room, flopped around in the sudsy water on the floor, then lay still.

Rushing to side of his mate, my lord DaddyBear helped to her feet.  Her gown of silk was soaked and filthy, and angry welts were forming on her wrist.  Holding her to his breast, the Minivandian kissed them, hoping to bring some relief.  With a smile, she laid her delicate hand on his cheek, saying “‘Tis but a scratch, my love.   Thanks be to you for your assistance.  I am afraid that this thing took me by surprise, and it would have been quite a fight to get loose and retrieve my blade.”

Kneeling upon the floor, she picked up MoraDirk.  She began to wipe it off on her gown, but smiled sheepishly as she realized that it was as big a mess as the steel of her knife.

“Go, my love, and tend to yourself.  I shall deal with the monster and clean up this mess.” said DaddyBear, a look of concern for his wife on his noble visage.

“Thank you, my lord.  Yes, I shall get out of these sodden things and clean up.  Will you require my return to assist you?”, she answered.

“Nay,” answered the Minivandian, “I shall attend to this myself.”

Leaving her husband to his battle preparations, the Lady of Eire returned to her chambers.  Warm water and dry woolen robes went a long way to restoring her, and a quick wipe of an oiled rag on MoraDirk returned it to its perfect gleam.  With a nod of satisfaction, the Lady of Eire thrust it into its scabbard on her belt.

Back in the cellar, DaddyBear prepared for battle.  Putting on his best gauntlets and helm, he considered what weapons and tools to use in flushing the monster from the drain and dispatching it.  GnarlThing, after being embedded in the stone of the dungeon wall, was out of commission until it could be sharpened.  The gaze of the Minivandian roamed his armory.

“A short axe would be best for this work, but what will I use to flush it from that hole?” he pondered, taking down OakCleaver and strapping it to his belt.

Then his eyes came upon the shelf upon which he kept his magical serpents.  An idea formed in his mind.

“Hmm, let’s see.  The Serpent of the Bore is for my arms of fire.  No, and not the Serpent of the Bones, either.  I shudder to think of what would happen if that monstrosity got loose in the plumbing.  Ah yes, the Serpent of the Pipes.  That will be perfect.  He shall bring the monster out into the open, then I shall hew it into pieces small enough to pass through a sieve.”

Bringing down the cask which held the Serpent of the Pipes, the Minivandian opened it, and muttered the spell to bring its occupant out of his hibernation.

“Yesssss, my lord.  What ssshall I do for you thissssss day?” asked the serpent.

“A foul beast has invaded the drain in our cellar, and has attacked my mate, the Lady of Eire.  I would have you assist me in bringing it into the light, where it may be dispatched for the good of all.” replied DaddyBear.

“Of coursssse, my lord.  I relissssh the thought of a good fight in the confinesss of a drain pipe.  It’sssss what I’m for, now issssn’t it?” said the serpent, a hint of a smile crossing its face.

“Are you ready, my servant?” asked DaddyBear, carrying its box over to the drain.

“Yessss, my lord.  I shall go down into the pipe as far asss I can, grab hold of the coward, and then together, we shall pull him out.”, replied the Serpent of the Pipes, his tongue flickering out in anticipation of the coming fight.

DaddyBear helped the serpent reach the drain, then held onto its tail as it wriggled down into the pipe.  The magical gift of the serpent became apparent as its body stretched and stretched, reaching many feet down into the pipe while its tail stayed motionless in the Minivandians hand.  After a few minutes of wriggling deep into the drain, the serpent sensed the tendrils of the monster in the pipe just in front of him.  Rearing back, it struck, sinking its fangs deep into the tentacles.

“Pull, my lord! I have it!” hissed the serpent.

DaddyBear pulled back on the serpent’s tail.  At first, he was able to make headway, but the job quickly became a tug of war.  The Serpent of the Pipes assisted by retracting its body as much as it could, but the monster fought back just as hard.  Just as the Minivandian was about to give a mighty heave, the serpent gave out a cry of pain, let go of the monster, and wriggled back out of the drain.

“My lord, forgive me, but thisss isss beyond me.  I fear that I have damaged myssself.  This fiend is too much for me to pull out, even with your assssissstance!”, it hissed, a look of shame and disappointment on its face.

“Good serpent, no need to apologize.  I felt and heard how mightily you struggled with the foul beast.  We shall try something else.  In the meantime, is there anything I can do for you to ease your suffering?” said the Minivandian, hoping to soothe his servant’s pain.

“Thank you, my lord, but all I require isss sssleep.  May I return to my box, there to sssslumber a while?” replied the serpent.

“Of course.  I wish you good sleep, and dreams of field mice and sunny rocks.” said DaddyBear.

DaddyBear gently lifted the serpent and placed him in his chest.  As he lowered the lid, the serpent’s eyes closed, and its tongue flickered out one last time before it dropped off to sleep.

As the Minivandian returned to the chamber of raiment cleaning to begin pondering what to do next, the Lady of Eire came down the stairs.

“Is it done, my lord?” she asked, surveying the room.

“Nay, my love, ’tis not done.  The wretch in the drain has bested the serpent I sent down there to fetch him, and now I must come up with a new plan.  I will need something much stronger to destroy this monster.” answered DaddyBear, a scowl of aggravation on his noble brow.

As he ruminated, the Lady of Eire picked up one of the tentacles that were still laying on the floor from the earlier attack.  Turning it over in her hand, she noticed that once it dried out, it did not resemble anything from any animal she had ever seen.  In fact, now that she looked at it, she realized that it was more wood than meat.  An idea crossed her mind, and taking her leave, she went up the stairs and out into the courtyard behind their home.  As she went through the door, she heard her husband leaving by the cellar door.

Crossing the courtyard, she placed her hands upon the trunk of the mighty maple tree that stood there.  Many summers had this tree shaded her family, and its lush canopy of green leaves was only eclipsed by the beauty of its red and gold finery in the fall.  Muttering a spell of communication, she waited for the tree to answer.  Slowly, a wizened face appeared in the bark, but its eyes were closed in sleep.

“Hear me, oh tree.  Come out of your winter nap and speak with me.” ordered the Lady of Eire.

With a yawn, the tree opened its eyes.  Sleepily, it peered at the Lady of Eire and said “Who disturbs my slumber?”

“It is I, the mistress of this house,” said the Lady of Eire, “and I would speak with you, good tree.”

“Oh, my lady, of course.” said the tree, “What do you require of me?”

“A foul beast with tentacles of wood has attacked me in my cellar, and it came from the drain which runs close to you.  Do you know anything of it?” she asked.

“Why, no.” said the tree, “I have been asleep for weeks, and I was just having a wonderful dream about dipping my toes in a warm stream.”

“Hmmm,” said the Lady of Eire.  Her suspicions that the tree might have something to do with the issue of the drain were being confirmed.

As the Lady of Eire was chatting with the tree, DaddyBear the Minivandian came up.  Wrapped over his shoulder and chest was a small dragon.  Its head and body were streamlined, and were not more than a few inches across.  Its wings were rudimentary, and its legs were short, but powerful and tipped with wicked looking claws.  Its tail was twisted as if into a hook, and its head was covered with barbs and sharp horns.  Its scales were a bright blue, and as it rode on the Minivandian’s armored vest, it left a coat of fine blue powder behind.

Seeing the Minivandian’s approach, the tree sucked in its breath. “Why hast thou brought such a fiend here,  my lord?  Many a young tree has been killed by the ministrations of such as he.”

The dragon narrowed its eyes and greeted the tree.  “Hail, pipe clogger!”

The tree returned the greeting, “Well met, root biter!”

The Lady of Eire and the Minivandian exchanged knowing looks.

“Good maple, have your roots been looking for somewhere warm and accommodating to spend the winter?” asked DaddyBear.

“What?  No! Well, maybe.  The drain, you say?  Woody tentacles, you say?  Well, it could be that in my sleep, they found their way somewhere that I would normally not allow them.” sputtered the tree.

“Did you not say that  you were dreaming of bathing your toes in warm water?  It could be that your tropical stream was the drain from my washing machine.” said the Lady of Eire.

“Well, yes, I suppose it could have been.  Honestly, when I slumber, they can get wherever they stretch.”  answered the maple.

“Can you withdraw them?” asked the Minivandian.

“I’m afraid not.  Once I grow to somewhere, I cannot easily withdraw.” said the tree.

“And that is where I come in,” said the small dragon, “For I am the Drake of the Drain.  My lord, I shall snip back these errant roots and leave behind magic to ensure that they do not recur for many months.  That will give you time to find where this wooden vandal has invaded your pipes and stop it up.

“Now see, here, my good drake, there is no need to call names.  I was just stretching out my toes, as it were.” huffed the tree.

The dragon puffed out a small cloud of blue smoke.  “Just stretching your toes, eh?  How many times have I heard that?  My lord, let us get to it.  There’s no use in reasoning with this creature.”

DaddyBear carried the drake down into the cellar, but the Lady of Eire stayed behind to comfort the tree, who had begun to weep big tears of sap down its bark.

“This shall hurt so awfully!  Is there no other way, my lady?  They are but small roots, and I promise that I shall not let them grow larger or to multiply!”, it sobbed.

“I’m sorry, good maple, but this is the only way.  We must be able to wash our clothing, and once you slumber again, who knows what your roots will do in that pipe?  I shall stay with you until it is over, and then you may return to your hibernation.” said the Lady of Eire in a firm, yet soothing manner.

In the cellar, the Drake of the Drain uncoiled himself from the Minivandian.  Hooking his tail over one of the pillars of the house, he affixed his glare on DaddyBear.  “Now, as I fight with these roots, mind that my tail does not come unhooked.  I shall use it as an anchor to twist and bend.  If I should come unhooked, hold fast to me and return my tail to its place.”

DaddyBear nodded his understanding, and stood ready to assist.  With a wink, the drake pushed its head and body down into the drain.  In moments, the sound of mighty combat could be heard, both coming from drain in the cellar and coming from under the ground in the courtyard.

“Oh, my lady, but he is killing me!” cried the tree.  The Lady of Eire laid a kind hand upon his bark, and said soothing words to the tree as gouts of steam and fire rose from the yard.  The sound of battle rose and fell, then rose again.  Might roars and the sound of wood being rent echoed through the house.  Then, as suddenly as it began, it ended.  An eery calm fell over the courtyard, broken only by the sobs of the maple.

In the cellar, the voice of the drake came up from the drain. “Pull, my lord!  I have bested the beast, but I am afraid that I cannot get myself out by my own power.”

Grabbing the tail of the drake, DaddyBear hauled back.  The body of the dragon slowly came forth from the drain, and then, with a pop, his middle came out, followed quickly by his head.  Where his scales had glimmered a bright azure before, now they were fouled, and all of the blue powder was gone.  Several of the horns on its head were gone, and deep scratches had been dug into its muzzle.  Its middle, however, had grown quite plump, and a small burp issued from its mouth as it took a deep breath of the clean air of the house.

“A fine meal!” laughed the drake, “It shall keep me well fed and plump until the soft shoots of spring tempt me to awaken.”

Taking the drake in his arms, the Minivandian returned to the courtyard to find his wife comforting the tree.

“‘Tis done, my love.  The drake has removed the roots that invaded our home and attacked you.  Hopefully this teaches you a lesson, good tree.  You and your appendages are to stay outside of my keep.  I will do what I can to help you in doing this, but further invasions will cause me to consider more…. drastic measures.  I would hate for you to become a part of our household in the shape of a table or a bookshelf.” said DaddyBear the Minivandian, drawing himself up to his full height and glowering at the woody visage of the maple.

“I will stay out, my lord.  The sting of this brute’s claws and teeth are enough to keep even the toughest hickory at bay!” whined the maple.

“My lord, I shall be returning to my nest now,” said the drake, “but if you have further need of me, you know by what means you may summon me.  Good sleep to all of you, and may your pipes ever be free and open.”

“Goodbye, my friend, and may your dreams be full of pleasure and rest.” answered DaddyBear.

“I too shall return to my slumber,” said the maple, “for I wish to sleep through the pain this has caused my roots.”

“Good sleep,” said the Lady of Eire, “and may you awaken to a warm and sunny spring.”

The Minivandian and his wife, the Lady of Eire, returned to their home.  After cleaning the cellar and sharpening Gnarlthing, the Minivandian tested the drain.  After many gallons of water had flowed freely down the hole, which now glowed with the blue of the warding magic of the drake, he was satisfied that this particular monster had been defeated, at least for the moment.

Many times did the Minivandian and his family fight battles of home repair.  Much treasure did they spend in the buying of materials and the rental of magical tools of mighty strength and heavy weight, and much sweat and blood did they both expend in the upkeep and improvement of their dwelling.  But those are stories for another time.  Now, let me tell you tales of high adventure….

The Flight of the Winged Beast

DaddyBear the Minivandian approached the Portal of the Securitat.  This day would he be journeying back to his home and hearth, and he was anxious to get started.

“Good sir, welcome to the Portal of Securitat.  Before we allow you to make your way to the resting place of the winged beasts, please remove all metal objects from your person, and place them within the box of magic seeing.  Also, we ask that you also place within it the belt by which you gird yourself, as well as the magic elf box that you carry with you.  Oh, and you must remove the shoes which you wear upon your feet so that we may see if you have any dangerous potions or spells in them.  If you have any weapons secreted upon your person, please give them to us, and we shall make sure that they await you upon your arrival at your destination.” recited a young agent of the Securitat, her hands covered with pink gloves.

Her eyes grew larger with every chink, chunk, clunk, and BANG as implements of many uses, sizes, and edges were placed in the magic box of seeing.  DaddyBear brought out Gnarlthing, his blade of disembowelment, as well as Clyfrender, a battle-axe that had served his clan for generations, and handed them to the young woman.  She could tell by the stern look he gave her that dire consequences awaited anyone who would cheat a Minivandian when it came to returning freely surrendered weapons, and she quickly endeavored to tag them and speed them to the gnomes of baggage.

After disarming himself thoroughly, removing his belt and shoes, and placing his magic elven box with them, DaddyBear stalked through the frame of detecting, giving proof to his good intentions and honorable demeanor.  With a huff of derision, he collected his belongings, redressed himself, and continued toward the gates of the winged beasts.

As my lord DaddyBear approached the gate of his appointed winged steed, he noticed that a large crowd was already gathered.  Among them he saw warriors, both young and old, merchants, and several young mothers with their children.  There was set of lucky twins, their hair as soft and shiny as spun gold, a young barbarian dressed proudly in the red and gold livery of his house, and a wee babe, as innocent as an angel, asleep in his mother’s arms.  The Minivandian smiled at the youngsters, all the while inwardly praying to whatever god would listen that they would all sleep through the journey.

Sitting himself down on a stool near the gate, DaddyBear could hear the growls and howls of the winged beast that would take him and his newfound compatriots on their way to the City of the River.  By the sounds of it, it was a young beast of the variety born in the northwest forests and fens.  It sounded strong and ready to take wing, which gave the Minivandian confidence in getting home that day.

Presently, a clerk emerged from the gate.  Clapping his hands above his head, he began his litany of preparation.

“My lords and ladies, harken to me!  Each of you has been assigned a letter and a number.  It will appear on the air before you presently.  I ask that as your designation appears, you form ranks before the gate, and as I summon you, you show to me your mark.   In this way shall we get everyone aboard the winged beast and on their way to their destination.”

Grumbling to himself about wizards and their need to be cute with their magic when a slip of parchment would have worked, my lord DaddyBear looked at the air before him.  After a moment, a mark of his letter and number began to glow faintly in front of him.  Standing, he joined his fellow travelers in ranks of 30.  Presently, the clerk motioned to the first rank, who filed through the gate after showing him their mark.  Eventually, it was the Minivandian’s turn, and he went through the gate, into a tunnel,  and approached the winged beast.

At the end of the tunnel, DaddyBear could see the blue and red scales of the winged beast.  It’s wings beat in excitement, forcing a mighty wind down and behind it.  Through a window in the tunnel, its head, crested in golden fringe, could be seen as it watched travellers enter the chamber that was strapped to its back.  The tenders and keepers of the beasts were scurrying around, over, and under it, loading the belongings of the travellers, feeding the beast, and checking every claw, tooth, and scale to be sure that it was ready for flight.

Making his way into the chamber, the Minivandian found an open seat close to the wings and sat down to read from a scroll of patience and strength.  This was his ritual of preparation, and for once, he was able to finish it uninterrupted.  The rest of the travellers found their seats, and a voice from the front of the chamber began the pre-flight prayers and invocations.

“My lords and ladies, harken unto me!  I am Gwynneth, Shieldmaiden of Hospitality, and I, along with my partners Gonnevir the Fair and Snarglefist the She-Orc, shall be serving you this morning.  If you look to the front, middle, and rear of the chamber, you will notice portals of emergency.  We ask that you not open these unless there is a risk to your survival, as any passengers who open them while the winged beast is flying will need to learn to fly themselves, and those who open them on the ground must be wary of teeth, claws, wings, and tail. ”

If you are smoking upon this winged beast, you had better be aflame, for if you are partaking of the weed of the pipe, then I am afraid that federal law allows us to defenestrate you from 35,000 feet above the ground. ”

In the event that the winged beast decides to alight in a body of water, it will usually mean that it is hungry and fancies fish.  We suggest that you find something that floats and stay away from its head.”

We shall be coming through the cabin to bring you refreshing drinks and filling victuals.  We have beer, mead, wine, and products made by the mages of fizzy beverages.  We will be coming to you to ask of your wishes soon, but until then, please sit back, strap in, and hold on, because this particular beast is not known to be gentle when leaving the bounds of land.”

My lord DaddyBear leaned back in his seat, and continued reading from his scroll.  From his left, he heard a coo as of a dove of peace.  Looking over, he noticed the wee babe, now ensconced in his own throne of safety.  With one chubby fist, he was batting at a hanging bobble, and babbled sweetly to it as he played.  His mother, a lovely young woman who obviously loved her son, was preparing a bottle of fresh milk of the jungle yak for the boy.

After a moment, the doors to the chamber was closed and locked, and the shieldmaidens of hospitality found their way to their seats.  The young she-orc sat down just behind the Minivandian and the young mother, mumbling a prayer to her gods for protection from winged beasts.

It was not long before DaddyBear understood why she prayed so vehemently.  Where normally a winged beast would sedately walk to the line of departure, this beast loped with joy to the end of the field of takeoff.  Pausing and kneeling at the line as a runner does before a race, it went from a stop to a gallop within one bound.   Before half the field had passed beneath its claws, it stretched out is leathery wings and caught the wind.  Leaping into the air, it began to immediately gain altitude and speed.

DaddyBear smiled to himself at the enthusiasm of the young beast, and made a note to be braced for the impact of landing.

As the noise and jostling of takeoff subsided, the Minivandian looked over at the young mother and her son.  From the look on her face, he could tell that something was wrong.  Looking down at the child, he understood why.

The visage of the boy went from the pale rosiness it had on the ground to a deep red, then it gained a greenish cast.  Where the skin had been smooth and soft, it was now becoming scaly, and small horns were breaking out from the forehead.  Instead of the cooing and laughter that had been heard before, now a low growl rose from the seat of safety.

“My ears!  My ears pain me!” howled the small demon, struggling against its restraints.  The voice was both low and rough, as loud as the bellow of a were-gnu on the attack, and it raised the hair on the back of the Minivandian’s neck.  With every passing moment, the visage and voice of the changeling became more horrible to behold, and the threats and assertions it made became more horrible.

“The seas shall boil if my pain is not alleved!  I shall set son against father, father against uncle, and mother against cousin unless I find some relief!  The land shall burn and the sea shall boil! A plague will fall upon all of your houses! I do not know who is doing this to me, and I do not care!  For as I suffer, so shall you!  Look up on me, listen to my voice, and know that I shall make you all pay!”

Just as the Minivandian reached for the charm of protection he kept around his neck and began to mutter a spell of warding, he heard a loud pop, as if someone had bit into a blastfruit from Grenada.  At that moment, the small demon in 15C reverted to his original form.  Green scales were replaced with cheeks of peach fuzz.  The horns retracted into the skull, and the blazing red of the eyes faded to a pale blue.  The deep, rumbling curses gave way to coos again, and chubby hands reached out to the mother and her bottle of milk.

Behind the Minivandian. the she-orc intoned a prayer of thanksgiving to the gods of tympanic membranes, and the Minivandian joined her in the refrain, as did all of the adults in the chamber.

In time, the winged beast made a bounding landing at the City of the River, and my lord Minivandian returned to his home and hearth.  As he did each time he returned home, he promised himself that never again would he leave, but in time a quest of sufficient honor and interest would tempt him again, and he would return to the place of the winged beasts.  Many of these quests did he complete, and the legends of them are told around the fires of his descendants to this day.

But those are tales for another time.  Now let me tell you stories of high adventure!

DaddyBear the Minivandian and the Horrible, No Good, Horrendous Day

DaddyBear the Minivandian looked down upon the scroll from Padrog the Snake Banisher school.  Next to him stood the Lady of Eyre, her face flushed with emotion.  Before him stood the Young Prince, streaks running down his crimson cheeks where tears had so recently run.

DaddyBear bent his knees so that his eyes were level with those of his young son.  The boy’s blonde hair was striking against the crimson hue of his skin.  This was the mark of a student that had transgressed the rules of the class in an extreme way.  Normally, the Young Prince would come home with a small, glowing, green mark upon the back of his right hand, the mark of a good day at school.  If his day was not so good, but not atrocious, his left hand would come home dyed a bright yellow.  If his behavior was very bad, he would be colored red from head to toe, with the darkness of the color magically getting deeper as the day got worse.  The Young Prince was the color of a bull red dragon during the rut, signifying a day that would be long remembered at Padrog’s.

“My son,” intoned my lord DaddyBear, “your teacher, Mistress Llewellyn, has sent this missive home with you.  It details  an accomplished list of transgressions.  Also, the master of the school has called upon your mother and me on two occasions already.  Do you have anything to tell us?”

“N-n-n-o, father.” said the Young Prince.   His chin was still quivering and fresh tears welled up in his bright blue eyes.

“It says here,” continued the Minivandian, a look of fatherly concern crossing his noble brow, “that you have come to blows with another young man in your class.  Have we not spoken about the need for you, a boy of great stature and strength, to not lay hands upon another child while not engaged in combat training?”

“Yes, father”

“She goes on to say that while in the chamber of music this morning, you were so disruptive that the sorceress of harmony wishes that you be accompanied to her class by an adult the next time you darken the threshold of her class.  Have we not talked at great length about your duty to be attentive and obedient in class, no matter the subject or the teacher?”

“Y-y-yes, my father.”

“And finally, Mistress Llewellyn writes that when she took you aside to correct you gently, you insulted her, called into question her motives and honor, and tried to remove the badge of authority from her raiment.  Is this true, my son?”

“Sniff, snarfle, yyyes!”

“My son, your skin is as red as any I have ever seen, and you seem to have well and truly earned that.  Do you wish to always be crimson from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?”  asked the Minivandian.

“No!  I wish to come home with the mark of green on my hand so that I may partake of the delights of the box of talking heads and play at games on the magic elf box!” replied the Young Prince.

“Then, princeling, you must earn that green mark, and earn it you shall.  You bring no honor to yourself or your house when you walk about the color of a cooked lobster.   Henceforth, I hope that you shall find it in you to contain your impulses at school, keep a respectful tongue in your head, and neither attempt to harm nor even touch another student.  Do you understand me, my son?”

“Yes, father.  I understand.  I shall try harder tomorrow, I swear!  But father, shall I be forever cursed with this hue?”

“Nay, my son and heir.  The mark of today shall fade as you sleep tonight, and you shall start anew tomorrow.  If you choose to obey the rules, respect your teachers and other students, and act in the manner your mother and I expect, then shall you come home with green upon your hand and the rewards for that shall be wonderful.”

“Oh, thank you, father!  I will try, I truly will!”

“Good my son.  Tomorrow, you shall also apologize to those you have wronged, and I only ask that you keep your honor and that of your ancestors in mind as you go through the day.”

The Minivandian then took his son to his breast, and hugged him tightly.  It was never easy to be angry with the Young Prince, and DaddyBear hoped that the day of red, discussing it with his parents, and the loss of his nightly entertainment would be enough to correct the issues that seemed to be plaguing the Young Prince.

“Now, my son, you shall go to your room and entertain yourself while your mother and I discuss today’s events and prepare the evening meal.  But before you go, please know that we love you, and that we want you to do well in your lessons.  Please remember that tomorrow as you try again.”

The Young Prince wiped away his tears with the back of his hand, snuffled once or twice more, then ran to embrace his mother.  After a long, tight squeeze, he scampered off to his bedchamber, there to play with his blocks of building and his new pet, a miniature talking panther.

My lord DaddyBear and his mate, the Lady of Eyre, then discussed what could be done.  A missive was dispatched to Mistress Llewellyn, and a meal of fowl and potatoes was prepared.  As DaddyBear said the prayer of thanksgiving for the meal, he silently prayed to all that is holy that his son would find his way in the temple of learning.

So did the Minivandian and his family work through the tribulations of the Young Prince.  His way was never smooth, but he did eventually find it.  Many years later, as the Young Prince took his father’s place he encountered the same challenges with his son, as had his father, and his father before him.  The Young Prince took the lesson of his own troubles and used it to help his progeny, thus continuing a long family tradition of talks with educators about the behavior of young barbarians.

But that is a tale for another day.   Now, let me tell you tales of high adventure….

Kindergarten for Barbarians

The Lady of Eyre took DaddyBear the Minivandian by the hand and led him toward the temple.  Waiting for them was the Master of Education, an elven mage whose wizened face gave the lie to his apparent youth.

“Welcome to Padrog the Serpent Banisher School.  Are you here to learn of our school or to participate in the mid-summer sacrifice?” he queried.

“Our offspring, the Young Prince, shall be starting his education here within the fortnight, and we are here to meet his teacher.” answered the Minivandian.

“Excellent.  Please go into the hall of meeting, where we shall begin the program in a few moments.”

My lord DaddyBear nodded his head in acknowledgement, and taking his lady’s hand, entered the hall of meeting.  Gathered there were the teachers of the young and the parents of the other acolytes.  Among them were warriors that the Minivandian knew, and they exchanged nods and stern looks of greeting.  The Lady of Eyre made the rounds of the other mothers, murmuring greetings and smiling.

After a few moments, the Master of Education strode to the front of the room, and in a deep voice of authority, bid the parents to take their seats.  After everyone had found their place, he fixed them with a warm gaze and greeted them once again.

“Welcome, my friends, to our school.   Before we begin our time of informing, I will ask the padre for a prayer.”

Entering from the shadows of the hall, the priest walked to the front of the assemblage.  His black robes were impeccable, and the dueling scar on his cheek told the Minivandian that there was more to him than a humble cleric.

“Lord of hosts,” intoned the holy man, “please be with us as we begin the education of our children and their preparation to be willing leaders of your faithful.  Help us to shoulder this awesome responsibility, and always help us to remember the prayer of our Lord and Savior:  ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'”.

The prayer ended, the Master of Education again took the stage, and introduced the teachers of the young children.  Among the women there appeared to be masters of both magic and combat, with one proudly wearing a glittering red robe of dragon skin and another bearing a headdress of phoenix feathers.

After the introductions and some notes about how to utilize the magic elf boxes to gather still more information, the Master of Education bid the parents to adjourn to the chambers of the classes so as to learn about the teachers of the very young.

The Lady of Eyre placed her delicate but firm hand on the arm of the Minivandian, and they followed the teacher in red dragon robes down into the dungeon of the school, there to find the chamber of the Garden of Children.  Behind them filed the rest of the parents, 10 in all.

As they all entered the chamber, they were greeted with colorful pictures of runes and numbers.  A large slab of slate was bolted to the wall for marking, and small shelves for the students’ belongings were along the opposite wall.  Small tables with even smaller stools were situated around a throne carved from what looked like the thigh bone of a great red dragon.

The teacher stepped up to the throne, and placing her hand upon it, addressed the parents.

“I am Mistress Llewellyn, the teacher of the very young here at Padrog the Serpent Banisher.  I am very excited to be starting anew with your children.   I have been instructing here for many years, and I hope to do as well with your offspring as I have with other students.”

Surveying the gathered parents, she smiled the smile of a predator on the hunt.

“As you can see, the children are given their own space to keep their things.  The shelves should be large enough for their beginner’s scrolls and quills, pots of glue, and melee weapons.  We do ask that children of such a young age not bring missile weapons to school, except on Fridays of course.  That is the day of the school-wide tournament, and if a child wishes to compete in either the general scrum or the contests of skill, then they may bring their bows, spears, or slings.  You will find the permission slips for these activities in the folders on the tables in front of you.  In addition, even through I know that many of you may have begun training with them at home, we do ask that no bladed weapons be brought to school until the third year.   This is done to prevent any…. unfortunate incidents before we are sure that all of the children are ready for such things.

“In the folders you will also find the forms for deciding on whether your child shall bring their mid-day meal with them from home, or shall purchase it from our Master of Culinary Magic, Master Dispertiebat.  Please remember that he tends to prepare rather exotic fare when allowed to, so unless you have served your offspring firedrake sausage or sea serpent steak in the past, you might consider having them bring lunch for the most part.

“Pick up and drop off for the first week will be done quite slowly and methodically as the children learn their combat roles and how to leap into the back of a moving vehicle.  Of course, after that, we expect them to roll out of their car seats and pull themselves back into the vehicle as you roll past as fast as you can safely do so.

“Finally, I just want to ask if any of your children have learned any spells, and whether or not they have actually been able to curse anyone?”

My lord Minivandian raised his hand, remembering the condition of the boy who had broken his daughter’s heart.  It had taken weeks for the curse of the black warts to wear off, no matter the dire punishments with which he had threatened the Young Prince.  Mistress Llewellyn made a note of the Minivandian’s affirmative response, and that of a handful of other fathers.

“Well, now that we are through that, does anyone have any questions?” she asked.

The Lady of Eyre raised her hand, and the teacher acknowledged her with a friendly smile and a nod.

“We have found that our son transforms into a hairy, ill-tempered beast if he is given the milk of the field-beast that has not been magically gathered by Hungarian cattle masters, and filtered through the used stocking of a Filipino fairy princess, or if he is fed food colored blood-red, or flavored by the mages of artificial sweeteners .  Does the school stock commodities that would prevent that, or should we send along his midday meal from home?”  inquired the Minivandian’s mate.

“In that case, I would suggest that he bring his lunch from home, my lady.  Of course, on Wotan’s Day, we provide the meat and tomato pie of the Italians, and he might enjoy that as a treat.”

The teacher answered several more questions about how the students were to dress, the time of beginning and ending of classes, and whether or not the children would learn advanced combat techniques, both armed and unarmed.

Eventually, all questions had been answered, and the parents were shown the circuitous route back to the place of parking.  On the way out of the temple of learning, the priest took the Minivandian’s hand and wished him well, one old warrior to another.  Returning the firm grip of the wizened old cleric, the Minivandian returned the sentiment and made a mental note to enjoy a few ales with this priest.  No one tells better war tales than a cleric who has had a few brews of the wheat and barley.

Returning to his freehold with the Lady of Eyre, my lord DaddyBear felt confident that the Young Prince would do well at Padrog the Serpent Banisher.  Packed in a box downstairs was the miniature war club that he himself had practiced with in the Garden of Children, and his father, and his father before him.  He looked forward to presenting it to his young son on the first day of learning.

Many adventures did the Young Prince have at his school.  Many new lessons did he learn from his teachers, and I dare say that he taught them a few tricks of his own.  But those are stories for another time.

Now, let me tell you tales of high adventure…..

The Trial of the Golden Egg

DaddyBear the Minivandian stood at the edge of a field of competition.  His heir, the Young Prince, stood before him, kitted out in his finest sweater and running shoes.  His mate, The Lady of Eyre, along with his daughter, Listens to Stories, stood to his side.  The Lady of Eyre was making preparations to use her magical box of images, while Listens to Stories was rapidly telling harrowing tales of rushing mobs and hand to hand combat to her brother.

As the family of Minivandians waited, the highest of the local holy men walked to the front of the crowd.  The cleric raised his hands, asking for silence from the multitude gathered around him.

“Silence!  Silence, please!” he said in his quiet, but authoritative, voice.

The crowd slowly gave their attention to the wizened holy man.  The mass of townsfolk was made up primarily of children and their parents, with a healthy leavening of gray-headed grandparents.

“My friends, we come together during the Festival of the Risen God.  I am delighted to see so many young children here today.  We mark this holiday with sacred green plastic grass and chocolate.  We revere the symbol of this season: the white rabbit wearing a colorful vest and top-hat.  And finally, we mark this most holy time of year with a quintessentially holy rite:  The Trial of the Golden Egg!”

At his words, the assembled children whooped in glee.  The shook their brightly colored baskets and hooted their excitement.

“Across this mighty field of sport are scattered thousands of colored eggs.” the priest continued, gesturing at the expanse of green grass behind him.  “All the children will be released to gather as many as they can, and the one who finds the Golden Egg shall be remembered as the champion of this holy competition for an entire year.  But beware, young adventurers, this competition is difficult.  There is only one Golden Egg in this field of thousands of eggs, and every child here is going to be fighting and clawing to find it.  This trial is only for the pure of heart and thick of skin.”

“Now, if everyone is ready” he said, as the noise from the assembled children rose to a war cry that made the Minivandian wistfully remember barbarian hordes set to sack a monastery and other wonderful parts of his youth, “We shall begin!”

At his words, the crowd of children broke into a dead run.  As the line of children spread across the field, they snarfled up the colorful eggs like a plague of locusts.  The young and timid were happy to pick up the normal eggs in order to savor the sweet treats they contained, but the truly adventurous and ambitious eschewed such easy pickings in search of The Golden Egg.

The Young Prince broke from the pack, along with several larger boys, as they scanned the grass for a glint of gold.  Clasping his father’s bag of holding, he ran past clutches of red, blue, green, and yellow eggs in search of the elusive prize that would bring him fame.

A larger boy, hoping to cut down on the competition, attempted to knock the Young Prince down and out of the running.  Seeing him coming, the Young Prince dipped his shoulder, caught the knave in the breadbasket, and flipped him over onto the grass.

Continuing his quest, the Young Prince noticed a metallic glint coming from the corner of the field.  Picking up speed, he ran toward it.  Other children noticed his change of direction, and the three closest moved to intercept him.

The first attempted to trip the Young Prince, but the young warrior anticipated his attack and dodged it.  As his opponent overextended his feet, the Young Prince landed a well-placed kick to the knee, knocking the bigger child to the ground with a howl of pain.

Within feet of the Golden Egg, the Young Prince was knocked sprawling by a tackle from the largest child on the field.  Scrambling forward on his elbows and knees, the Young Prince mumbled a curse and flung a handful of grass and dirt into the boy’s face.  Bellowing in pain and rage, the young orc tried to lash out, but the young Minivandian was able to scramble to his feet and dive for the prize.

As his hand closed around the most prized of all eggs, he felt another hand closing around his.  Muttering the beginnings of one of his most heinous combat spells, the Young Prince looked up into a pair of beautiful blue eyes.  The young girl who gazed back at him was barely two years of age, but had been able to both keep up with the Young Prince and fend off the hordes of older, larger children who tried to impede her quest.  Her clothing showed the grass stains she had gained in her struggles, and her golden curls of hair were coated in dirt.

As she realized that the Young Prince had bested her, though by the smallest of margins, the glee on her face melted to sorrow.  A single small tear crossed her cherubic cheek, and her smile turned quickly to a quivering chin.  As only a two-year-old girl can, she began to cry.

The Young Prince considered the young girl and looked at the Golden Egg. It’s cool metal suddenly felt very heavy, as did his heart.  Where was the glory in being the hero of the hour if he must harm one so small and beautiful to do it?  Could he face his ancestors in the Hall of Heroes when his first conquest had been a girl not yet old enough to walk across the street without holding onto her mother’s hand?

Muttering under his breath, the Young Prince released his grip on the egg, dropping it into the still outstretched hands of the little girl.  Her quivering chin returned to a wide grin as a look of surprise and happiness crossed her face.  Wiping the tear from her cheek, she grasped the egg and wrapped her arms around the Young Prince in a hug of thanksgiving.

Hurrying up to the Young Prince, My Lord DaddyBear saw this tableau and knew that his son was truly a noble young man.  Taking him by the hand, the Minivandian helped him select several of the other eggs that were strewn on the ground as the Lady of Eyre captured images of the adventure for later reflection.

Thus did the adventures of the Young Prince begin with a noble twist.  As he matured, he had many other moments of glory, but this was the one his father would look back on most fondly.

Now, pass me those jelly beans so that I may tell you tales of high adventure….

A Bedtime Story for The Young Prince

DaddyBear the Minivandian kissed his son, the Young Prince, good night.  It had been a long day of caring for his steeds and making repairs to his castle.  The recent attacks by trolls had caused many of the plates that lined the outer walls to slip, and he had gone out in the wind and the damp to make what repairs he could.

“Good night, my son.” he rumbled as he pulled the covers up for the boy.

“Father, would you read to me tonight?  I wish to hear tales of high adventure.” asked the Young Prince.

“But of course, my cub.  What would you like to hear?”

“I want to hear the tale of Herbert the Horrendous and the Big Red Dragon!” said the Young Prince.

The Minivandian went to the cupboard of scrolls and selected the correct one.  Sitting on the edge of the bed, he unrolled it and began to read.

Herbert the Horrendous and the Big Red Dragon

Twas brillig, as Herbert the Horrendous left his castle in search of treasure.

 

He searched high and low.

 

He searched the cathedral, but all of its treasure was already gone.

He searched the village, but all of the villagers ran away.

He searched the fields, but all of the farmers just watched as he tried to talk to the cow.

 

Suddenly, Herbert the Horrendous had a brilliant idea!

He would search the mountains, looking for the lair of a dragon.

“Dragons always have treasure!” he thought to himself.

 

He searched the tall mountains, and the deep valleys.

He searched the dank caves and the dry slopes.

But no dragons were to be found.

 

Herbert the Horrendous was tired and sad that he could not find treasure!

He began the long walk back to his castle.

 

Suddenly, he heard the flapping of big, leathery wings!

A dragon, a big red dragon, was swooping down to its lair at the base of the biggest mountain in the land!

Herbert the Horrendous hurried to the mountain.

 

As he got closer, he could smell the dragon’s stink,

He could feel the dragon’s hot breath,

And he could hear the dragon’s snoring.

 

Herbert the Horrendous crept up as quietly as a mouse to see the dragon and his treasure.

That old dragon was asleep on his bed of gold and jewels.

Puffs of steam and smoke came out of his nose as he snored away.

 

Herbert the Horrendous raised up his mighty sword and shouted

“Awake, foul beast!  I, Herbert the Horrendous, am here to take your treasure as my own!”

 

The dragon awoke with a start, and flew up in the air.

 

It used its smell to try to stun Herbert the Horrendous.

It used its hot breath to try to cook Herbert the Horrendous.

It even used its mighty roar to try to scare Herbert the Horrendous.

 

But none of these things worked.

 

Herbert the Horrendous jumped up onto a tall rock.

As the dragon flew past him, he jumped out upon its back, grabbed the dragon’s wings, and pulled with all his might!

The big red dragon fell from the sky, landing back on its pile of treasure.

 

“You win!” roared the big red dragon, “Take the treasure, but leave me with enough to make another nest!”

Herbert the Horrendous let go of the dragon’s wings.

He let the dragon go, and let it take along 20 gold pieces, 20 silver pieces, and 20 pretty jewels to start its new nest.

 

Herbert the Horrendous put the rest of the treasure in his bag of holding, and journeyed back to his castle.

He was celebrated as a great warrior for defeating the big red dragon and for bringing home so much treasure.

He spent the rest of his days telling tales of adventure and glory, and he never had to go out looking for treasure again.

 

My lord DaddyBear looked up from the scroll at his son, who had fallen asleep with a smile on his impish countenance.  Leaning forward, the Minivandian kissed the young barbarian good night, rolled up the scroll, replaced it in the cupboard, and left the chamber.  Many good dreams of battle and fire breathing dragons did the Young Prince have that night.

Many years later, when the Young Prince was a warrior of great fame and power, the Minivandian would look back fondly on the evenings when he was still small enough to listen to bedtime stories.  Many books of adventure, many sagas of poetry and heroics, many magical tales of the little people and their games did the Young Prince listen to as he drifted off.  And then, when he himself was a father, did he read these very same scrolls to his children, sometimes with the help of the Minivandian, his hair grown white and his eyes grown tired.  So did the cycle of noble parenting continue, and so did the next generation of warriors learn their place as defenders and adventurers.

Now, let me tell you tales of high adventure…..

A Barbarian’s Daughter

The Lady of Eyre gazed down upon her husband’s dressing table.  Arrayed there were his best war kilt, his battle-scarred shirt of leather and ring armor, two daggers, a short mace, and an ancient battle-axe that bore the signet of the Minivandian clan.

“My love,” she asked, “what exactly are you doing?”

DaddyBear the Minivandian looked up from the stone he was running along the blade of Gnarlthing.  “My darling wife, I am preparing to avenge the honor of my daughter.” he growled from beneath heavy brows.

“Her honor?  But she has not lost her honor!” said the Lady of Eyre, a look of surprise upon her face.

“There is a code, woman, and the young knave who broke her heart also broke that code.”  said the Minivandian, his rough hands gently testing the edge of his sword, “‘If thou makest mine daughter weep, then I shall make thee weep.’ I did not write the code; I am only subject to it, and so is he.”

“Oh wonderful father and comical husband, put up that blade!  Listens to Stories has already called upon Adama of the Hoosier clan to escort her to the ball.  He has accepted the offer, so there is no harm done to her.  Besides, what has already been done to the young man who disappointed her is much worse than you could do with such crude instruments.” said the Lady of Eyre, a glint of lightning crossing her jade eyes.

“Eh?  What do you mean?  Has an accident befallen the fool?”  said DaddyBear as he guided Gnarlthing into its scabbard.

“Why, I only told the Young Prince the name and location of the boy who toyed with his sister’s affections.  I am guessing that something rather ugly, but probably less than fatal, is about to happen to him.” said the Lady of Eyre, an impish grin crossing her delicate visage.

“Lord have mercy, the poor bastard will be lucky to only come out of it with an affliction that lasts a month.  Which reminds me.  Remind me to instruct our son on the concept of mercy before he can get his curse complete.”  said DaddyBear.

“Yes, my love, I shall.  He must learn to control his temper and not actually harm those who wrong him or his kin.  Now, put up those weapons and get out more appropriate clothes.  Adama of the Hoosiers might as well be one of our own children, and there is no need for such things with him.” said the Lady of Eyre as she reached into the Minivandian’s trunk.

“Adama?  A fine lad.  He is a much better choice to escort our daughter to her ball this night.” grunted DaddyBear.

The Lady of Eyre laid out a new set of clothing for her husband and left him to change into them.  She also bade him to come to the great hall within the quarter-hour, as Listens to Stories would be ready to be taken to the home of the Hoosiers to retrieve young Adama and thence to the ball.

My Lord Daddybear changed into the clothing his wife had selected for him and headed to the great hall.  There, he met the aunts and grandmother of Listens to Stories, who had all gathered to see the young princess as she wore a lady’s gown for the first time.  Upon the hour, a hush fell over the room as the aunt closest to the portal to the chamber of Listens to Stories hissed that she was coming.   The Lady of Eyre slipped her hands up onto the eyes of the Minivandian and whispered a spell.  As she heard Listens to Stories enter the hall, she pulled her hands away.

DaddyBear the Minivandian beheld his daughter as she had been the day that he first allowed her to run and play with her brothers.  Her tresses were held up in two braids which the Minivandian had done himself.  Her clothing was of the same rough cloth as worn by the boys, with the only feminine touch being two embroidered wildflowers on the shirt.  Upon her feet were sandles made with the leather of a vermicious knid, which she would wear for three summers before even their unbelievable toughness could not withstand constant scuffing, kicking, climbing, and fighting.

As my Lord DaddyBear marvelled at the beauty of his young child, she changed before his eyes.  The auburn braids lengthened and brought themselves up into a woman’s styled hair.  She grew longer and leaner.  Her gap-toothed grin changed into a radiant smile of bright white teeth.   Her raiment changed from rough denim to draped purple silk, accented with a brooch of the finest firestones.

DaddyBear the Minivandian beheld his daughter as the young woman she had become.  Gone was the chubby tomboy of bygone years.  That little girl had been replaced with a beautiful young lady; strong, yet elegant; youthful, but not childlike.   DaddyBear  felt a twinge of fear in his heart as he realized that while he would always have his daughter, he would never have his little girl again.

The aunts and the Lady of Eyre fussed over Listens to Stories as they adjusted the dress and her hair.  Many compliments were made on her appearance and ability to walk in the shoes she and the Lady of Eyre had purchased for the evening.  Through all of this, the Minivandian sat upon his chair, contemplating just how many weapons and men at arms he would need in the coming years.

Stepping before her father, Listens to Stories turned to allow him to see how the dress fit.  He noted that it was modest without being overly conservative, pretty without being flashy, and to her father’s jaundiced eye, crushingly pretty.  Nodding his approval, he grunted “It will suffice.  Mind that you do not dance too vigorously this night, for that dress might not survive it.”

Listens to Stories, now grown to a young woman, wrapped her arms around her father.  “You are my favorite father.” she intoned the greeting she had shared with him her entire life.

“I am your only father, but thank you for the thought.” intoned the Minivandian, “You are my favorite daughter.”

“I am your only daughter, but thank you for the thought.” replied Listens to Stories, finishing the greeting and reminding DaddyBear that she would always be his little girl.

Then did the Minivandian place Listens to Stories into SilverRust, his mighty steed, and convey her to the manor of the clan of the Hoosiers.  Retrieving young Adama, who was fitted out in his best suit of clothes, they continued their journey to the hall of festivals.  Leaving Listens to Stories and Adama there to enjoy their evening, my lord DaddyBear returned to his home, there to spend the evening in quiet conversation with his wife and the aunts.

Much merriment was made by Listens to Stories that evening, and for many years did she look back on her first night as a young woman.  DaddyBear also looked back on that night, and it never failed to bring a smile to his noble countenance.  Many times did he see his daughter dressed for a festival, and many young men did he greet and judge over the years, until finally she found one who could look the Minivandian in the eye and was not afraid to take him up on his offer of sparring with blunted swords and axes while Listens to Stories finished her preparations.  That young man was enthusiastically received into the clan of the Minivandians, and DaddyBear later enjoyed many grandchildren with auburn hair and their mother’s easy smile.  Many adventures did Listens to Stories have in her own time, some with her father, but most as a warrior in her own right.  But those are stories for another time.  Now, let me tell you tales of high adventure…..

A Christmas Visit

DaddyBear the Minivandian awoke with a start.  During his winter slumber, he had dreamed of peaceful mountain passes and glorious battles.  But that had been interrupted by the sound of a dog collar clinking and a low growl from the throat of his war hound, Walks in Shadow.  Retrieving Gnarlthing, his magical blade of disembowelment, he bolted to the hall of gathering.  As he passed through the portal to the chamber, he raised his sword to counter any blows and to strike at the intruder.

“Hold, Minivandian!  Put up your weapon, for you have no need of it.  ‘Tis I, Nicholas of the North!” said the ancient warrior who sat upon the floor, all three war hounds laying next to him.  His crimson coat was rimmed with the fur of a white wolf, and his peaked helm was wreathed with holly.  His beard, which had once been almost as red as his coat, was now a shock of white that ringed his almost perpetual smile.  DaddyBear remembered watching this man smile and laugh as he waded into many a fight.  At his side lay his bag of holding, along with the remains of the sweets that Irish Woman had laid out before retiring for the night.  My lord DaddyBear returned Gnarlthing to his scabbard, remembering that his blade would have no effect on the jolly old elf, and that with his preternatural knowledge of who was good or bad, Nicholas would know his intentions before even he did.

“Greetings, Nicholas.  It’s been too long.” rumbled the Minivandian.

“Aye, it has.  Greetings to you and yours on the day we celebrate the birth of the God, DaddyBear.  When last we met, you were not yet the Minivandian.  You have changed much, my friend.”

“Yes, life has gone on in the years since my youth.”

“So I can see,” said Nicholas, his eyes twinkling as he eyed the liquor cabinet.

DaddyBear sprang to his feet, and threw back the door to the cabinet. From the top shelf, he brought down his most prized bottle of corn liquor, aged in oak casks by the monks of Loretto.  Grabbing two crystal drinking vessels, he poured a generous libation into both.  Handing one to the saintly warrior, he raised his own in a toast.

“To good days gone by, and to better days to come”.

After returning the toast, Nicholas took a deep draught of the amber liquor.  Sighing appreciatively, he looked down at Water of Fire, who was sleeping contentedly with his head on Nicholas’s knee.

“Nice pony,” he remarked, “although I am surprised that the Lady of Eire will allow such livestock in the house.”  A wry smile came across his face.

“Ahh, but he is still young.  The mage of animal healing thinks that he will more than double in size before he is through.”

“Well, then, I am glad that we became friends while he is still small.  Even so, it took almost an entire plate of sweets and a glass of milk to calm him.

“I believe that I have something here for you all.” said Nicholas, reaching into his bag of holding.

“For the Young Prince, I have a “My First Magical Combat” kit.  Please pass on my condolences to him that I could not provide the powdered claws of a red dragon.  Such things are not for the young, no matter how talented.  For Listens to Stories, I have a new bow carved from the wood of the Tree of the Letti.  It weights almost nothing, but in skilled hands, can put an arrow through the eye of a needle at 100 yards.  I have also included a quiver of silver tipped arrows.  I understand that she has begun accompanying you on your forays against the undead.  These will come in handy.”

DaddyBear smiled at that.  Such a gift fit his daughter perfectly.  But he knew he would have to watch her very  closely as she trained with it, almost as closely as he would be watching his son.  He didn’t know what qualified as “Magical Combat” for young princelings, but he could imagine that it would be something that would have to be done out-of-doors and away from his mother.

“For the Lady of Eire, I bring a ring, wrought of the finest dragons gold, with the fire of a dragon captured in the stone we have set in it.  That is powerful, but there is still room for magic she can place in it if she so wishes.  As for you, my good warrior… I am sorry.  I received your missive, but even I cannot find a bolt carrier group and match grade trigger now.  I wish you luck in finding them.  If you are successful, please send word to me as to where they are to be found.  I have three builds myself that sit idle, waiting for parts. No, instead, I have this for you.”

Nicholas drew forth from his bag of holding a small, rectangular wooden box.  Handing it to the Minivandian, he smiled as it was opened.

“This is Kolmet, a dagger wrought by the same smith that created your blade, Gnarlthing.  It is sharp enough to cut flame from candle, yet light and balanced enough to be spun on its point with not a wobble.  I believe it will serve you well.”

DaddyBear looked into the box, and beheld Kolmet, the brother of his sword.  As he gripped him, he could feel the two blades sing to one another, and knew that he would enjoy the first time he took both of them into combat.

Just then, a soft tapping was heard on the ceiling above them.  Looking up and sighing, Nicholas got to his feet.

“Well, my lord Minivandian, I must be going.  There are many more families that I must visit this night, though I doubt many will be as pleasant a visit as this.  A Merry Christmas and Yuletide to you, my lord.”

“And to you, Nicholas of the North.  May your paths be easy, your ride be pleasant, and your sleep be deep.”  answered the Minivandian.

With that, Nicholas turned toward the fireplace, where the roaring fire had bedded down to coals.  With a wink to the hounds, who had roused from their slumber just in time to thump their tails at him as he left, he disappeared.  DaddyBear could hear the pawing of hooves upon the roof now, followed by the swishing of a sleigh as it was pulled up and off of the house.

My lord DaddyBear then placed Kolmet onto the mantel above the fire, patted the war hounds upon their heads, and returned to his bed chamber.  The next morning, his children were delighted with the gifts that Nicholas had left, and many warnings about using them in the house, skewering a sibling on a cloth-yard shift, or turning a sibling into a toad were given.  The Lady of Eire did indeed place a spell of protection into the fiery stone of her ring, while DaddyBear took Kolmet out and practiced with him for several hours.

Thus did the clan of DaddyBear spend their Christmas.  An old friend, a happy warrior, visited them, many gifts were bestowed, and their feast of that day was legendary.  The Lady of Eire outdid herself in preparation and hospitality, and he, he himself, DaddyBear carved the roast beast, which the Young Prince had brought down with a magic missile just the week before.

Now, let me tell you tales of high adventure and deep snow….

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