The Nutcracker, Talbot's Peak Style
I settled on to the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and a huge mug of eggnog, wrapped up in my favorite comfy blanket, ready to begin my Christmas Eve ritual of watching the late showing of the Nutcracker on PBS. Yes, I know it’s cheesy, but I love all the melodramatic music and fantasy of this holiday tradition. I first watched it live when I was eight, and Lex took me to see it my first Christmas with him. He’d given me my first ever Christmas dress, a beautiful green velvet and plaid taffeta little girl’s cocktail dress complete with a black velvet opera cape, little black kitten heel pumps, and an honest to goodness white fur muff to tuck my hands in. He said it was a ‘proper tradition of my people, and like all traditions, it was horrible but good for me to experience nonetheless.’
It had been my first Christmas in a real home with a real bed rather than holed up in some flop house my black magic addicted mother had passed out in. There had been a lot of firsts for me that year, but there’s just something about my first Christmas with “Uncle” Lex. I remember feeling a lot like Clara, whisked off by a strange man to a magical place. The story really resonated with me, and so I still insist on watching it every Christmas Eve.
Of course, I was watching it alone despite being grown and having a family of my own. My mate had informed me, quite pointedly, that wolves do not watch ballet. Our twin pups, both male, had picked up their father’s opinion, so here I sat, by myself and almost quivering with excitement while Mooney and the boys spent Christmas with the Ewing side of the extended family. I honestly did not mind that they were not in the room with me. Last year, Loki and Thor had decided to join me, more because they wanted to stay up late than because they wanted to share in this. No one had enjoyed it much, especially not me. Not until they fell asleep, anyway. This year, I was going to enjoy the magic of a little girl’s dream come to life in peace.
It was just after the opening credits that I began to feel something was off. I got up, carefully setting my popcorn on the coffee table before slipping out from my blanket cocoon so I don’t spill any, and I tip-toed out of the living room, the strains of Tchaikovsky accompanying me into the darkened hall. I didn’t hear anything, but that didn’t mean much. I may be a witch with wolves for a husband and sons, but I have regular old human hearing. I did have intuition, though, and that was telling me that there was magic afoot, and not magic of my own making.
I conjured a light ball in my right hand while keeping my left hand—almost all witches conjure best with their left hands even if they write with their right—and I make my way down the hall, checking the laundry room and kitchen as I go. I’m not creeping along, exactly. It’s my own house, after all, but the music behind me is slightly haunting, the part where the little baby rats are sneaking around Clara while she dances with her nutcracker. It’s not conducive to late night checking of the house.
Finally, I step into the front sitting room, which I have decked out like a Victorian parlor. It’s the only room in the house that’s got anything nice in it because Loki and Thor avoid it. It has no TV but does have a wall of floor to ceiling Cherry book shelves filled with my non-dangerous books. Right in front of the bay window is our Christmas tree, which is full of little magic infused witch’s lights my sons had conjured on their own after I showed them pictures of Old World German tree candles. I check, but those little lights are not the source of magic I’m sensing, not that I expected them to be. The boys made them weeks ago and they hadn’t pinged my intuition in all that time.
Just as I start to turn around, a slight shiver in a shadow behind the tree catches my eye. I stretched my senses out very carefully, just letting it drift where it would without pushing. I hadn’t done this earlier because non-directed searches have almost no range and directed searches pretty much signal to those you’re trying to find that you’re looking for them. I had waited until I knew I was likely in their vicinity. I was not particularly surprised when I found my front sitting room lousy with elves but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with it, either.
“Ok, guys,” I said out loud as I folded my arms in front of my chest. This wasn’t as aggressive a posture as it might have been had I been addressing humans; witches use their hands to conjure and cast, so folding my hands into my body made it clear to them that I wasn’t going to be the aggressor here, even though they were in my space uninvited. “What are you doing here,” I continued when none of them came out of hiding. Still no response.
“Fine,” I said after another very short pause. I raised my hands to begin a banishment spell. Yep, that worked. Elves started popping out of the woodwork. Literally. Huh, these must be wood elves, I decide. I don’t know if they are, or if there’s even such a thing, but not all elves are the same and this was the first time I’d had any try to hide in my bookshelves, so wood elves is what I was calling them. The only ones I had any direct knowledge of were those rock elves in Iceland and there are just too many types of unusual critters in the world to know all of them.
I looked at them and they looked at me, neither side saying anything. It was a classic dominance show; who was going to break first now that I had forced them to show themselves. Everything in life comes with dominance plays. I had already been familiar with the magical variety before I found myself mated to a beta wolf, thereby marking myself as a non-wolf alpha in the middle of a shifter town. It hadn’t been much of a learning curve for me to pick up those additional skills, and learning to hold my own around creatures that could eat me had only made my natural bull-headedness even more pronounced. While I waited, I ogled my uninvited guests openly.
They were about six inches tall, about the same basic size as an average fairy, but never say that out loud or call them fairies. For starters, you’ll piss them off if they hear you. Next, they are not related to fairies in any way, even though some fairies falsely call themselves elves. Fairies can’t lie directly but they’ll bamboozle you with bullshit if you let them. Elves won’t; they don’t need to and see no point in even trying. The easiest way to tell a real elf from a fairy that’s trying to pass itself off as one is the lack of glowing. Fairies are radiant and elves are not. All elves have pointed ears, mostly human-like features and no body hair at all, other than the tops of their heads and eyebrows. No elf has ever had a beard, full or otherwise. Santa and his helpers—yes, they are real—are fairies, not elves. Now, not all elves are tiny, but all of them are honest to a harsh degree and overly proud of themselves. My personal theory is that certain mischievous fairies called themselves elves specifically to annoy the elves. And elves, big or small, all dressed like they jumped off the fashion train about the same time Beowulf was killing Grendel and never looked back.
I could hear my program in the background and was becoming very annoyed that I was missing it, but there are protocols to be observed. Once you began a power show with an elf, you don’t stop until they give in. Judging by the way some of them were starting to fidget, I was winning, so no way was I going to push them out just to see the Sugar Plum Fairy Dance. They’d take that as a win for them because they’d pushed me into impatience and then I’d never get rid of them.
“You are a very stubborn young woman,” an older elf doe murmured. That’s another thing with elves; they were does or bucks, not male and female, at least not to their faces. They considered that set of phrases to be applicable only to humans or human derivatives, which they were not. I don’t know enough about them as a race to know where they came from, but I do know that high elves were the inspiration for the Irish tales about the Tuatha Dé Danann, which suggests they are probably descended from gods in some way.
“I am,” I agreed firmly, still standing in the middle of my front room, dressing flannel pajamas covered in candy canes with my arms crossed in front of my chest. I began tapping one slipper on the floor to show my growing annoyance with them. I’m sure that only added to my ridiculous look since I was wearing the snarling zombie slippers Loki and Thor had given me on my last birthday, not that I cared. The elves had spoken first, so I was free to show my annoyance. Oh, and I didn’t care much that I looked silly. This was my home and I’ll dress silly in comfy clothes here if I want to.
“We have a bit of a problem,” another elf said, this time a timid looking buck elf that probably was very young. You can’t always tell the age of elves by looking at them, but something about this elf made him seem less mature than the others. I nodded my head in a swirly motion, letting them know that I had already figured that out by myself and would they please get on with it.
“Our home has been overrun with rats,” another said.
“The king of the rats has taken our lady prisoner,” the first young buck continued.
“Whoa, there,” I said closing my eyes and shaking my head. “The Rat King and taken over your home and taken your lady prisoner?” I ask incredulously. In the background, I hear the strains of the music that plays during the battle of the Rat King. No, this can’t be happening, I thought to myself.
“He turned our champion into a nutcracker,” a very small, child-like elf doe said, clearly about to burst into tears.
“We need someone to lead us into battle,” the first elf doe said calmly. “We understand that you know the story these horrible creatures are basing their attack on.”
“And you want me to do it,” I said sarcastically.
“Verily not,” she said with a sniff. “We need you to restore our champion so that he can lead the battle. I understand that this transformation is done by a magician in the story. As you are reported to know the story well, you are needed to fulfill this role.”
I glance down at my plush zombie slippers. I glance around the room at the dozens of small wood elves watching me closely. And I shrug.
“Ok, I guess,” I muttered. “This can’t be any weirder than the time I turned half the town into horses’ asses.”
I was wrong about that. With my words, the elf doe nodded once and then flung some kind of magical dust all over me. Between one blink and the next, I found myself transported to a large throne room that I was very sure was not located on Earth. Before me, a battle raged. Mice were nibbling on large, animated gingerbread men, which were crying with pain as they pushed a large rat back away from a little girl who was perched on top of a huge Christmas present, which was tucked under an even larger Christmas tree.
I looked about and then spotted the nutcracker I was to bring to life so that he could lead the toy army in battle. I blinked once because it really did look like a large nutcracker but I could feel the energy of a powerful elf emanating from it. How in the hell had someone managed to turn an elf lord into a giant nutcracker against his will? Never mind, I decide. It’s an easy spell to reverse. I wave my hand and push an effort of will at the figure.
It didn’t change, though. I tried again, but nadda.
“You must animate him,” the old doe elf said from beside me. I jump a bit because she’s suddenly full sized rather than knee-high. “If I’m not mistaken,” she continued, staring at an open ballet program, “It is his triumph over the rat king that returnes him to true life. You need only reanimate him.”
I shrugged and made a slight change to my spell and recast it. The nutcracker came to life and joined the battle. After a moment, I saw him wave towards a pile of life-sized toys to come join the battle.
This is where it got really weird, and really fun. The pile of toys were all family and friends. Leading the charge were Loki and Thor dressed as tin soldiers. My mate, Mooney, was in wolf form, as was the rest of his pack, and the Ewings were all there, as well. All of them rushed into battle and began chasing the mice around. Even Miss Ellie had gotten in on the fun with a strand of blinking Christmas lights wrapped around her horns as she head-butted the Rat King. All of the little elves from my front room, except the older high elf doe beside me, were now dressed as dolls and tin soldiers, also joining in the battle.
I laughed with delight, not sure if this was real or not, but enjoying it nonetheless. The elf doe laughed with me.
“How did this come to pass,” I said with a grin as Loki and Thor dragged a struggling mouse around by its little feet. A quick check of my sixth sense let me know that the mice were nothing more than magical constructs which could not be harmed by such rough treatment.
“We owed your sons a debt of honor for assisting us in gaining an audience with Lexor,” she said with a warm smile. “When asked what they wanted for their favor, this was what they asked for, to spend Christmas Eve with you in a way that everyone would find enjoyable. I must say, I was not expecting such an enjoyable task. Most mortal who have the chance to ask anything from us do not ask for something so selfless.”
I smiled happily. Yup, them’s my kids,” I thought.