It was the fourth day of Christmas, just one of the twelve until Epiphany. Joshua Shephard was passing through northern Bellingrath when he saw a rather unusual sight--A very bright and well decorated shop. This was strange because, as everyone knows, Bellingrath should have been dirt poor. But this shop surpassed even some of the finest shops in Cedulan.
“How about we stop for a bit, dear?” Joshua said.
Isis, who had been reading a book, looked up. “So soon?”
“I’ve seen something interesting,” Joshua said.
Isis laughed. “Oh no. It wasn’t King Bhatair, was it?”
Joshua kissed her on the forehead. “Of course not. Even I’m not cold hearted enough to bother him on Christmas. See that store? The sign outside said they were selling hot chocolate.”
“Good to hear,” Isis said, gently nudging the shoulder of her eldest daughter who was sleeping beside her. “The girls could use a bit of time to stretch their legs. Wake up, dears. We’re getting hot chocolate”
They stepped out into the cold. Of course, most of Bellingrath was usually rather milder than Cedulan, but not so much in the north.
They approached the shop, the the girls happily following after their mother and the promises of hot chocolate. It was hard to tell exactly what kind of shop it was beneath all the fancy decorations. Giant candy canes sat in the yard. Wreaths were stacked on top of each other to make small mountains around the door. Signs were elegantly painted and decorated with holly. Bells jingled behind them as they entered. Lanterns glowing in every corner, and the shop was very well arrayed with candy of every kind: Lollipops, marzipan, chocolate, and more. There were rows and shelves of them everywhere. While Isis ordered hot chocolate, Joshua walked through the aisles, admiring their careful arrangement.
“Pardon me, you wouldn’t be King Joshua of Cedulan, would you?” An old woman asked.
“Why yes, that's me,” Joshua said with a smile.
“I am very honoured to have you in my shop,” the lady said. “My husband is from Cedulan, so I hear news about you often.”
“It’s a marvelous place,” Joshua said. “Your store, I mean. You don’t see many like this in Bellingrath.”
“I have weathered more than a few nasty years, and come out all the better,” she said with a tinge of pride in her voice. “I have connections all over the continent. Those large candycanes outside came from Amythyst.”
“Really?” Joshua asked. “They’re real candy, not just in pretense?”
“Of course they’re real!” The shopkeeper said. “If you want, you may even sample one, for a price.” Her eyes sparkled, and Joshua knew she was hoping to pad her pockets a little. But he was willing to entertain such an idea. At that moment, he decided he would pay anything for a giant candycane.
“May I go out and choose one?” He asked.
“Of course, any one you like,” the woman said, obviously pleased with herself. “Take your time. And remember, if anyone ever asks, I swear that my candyshop is the finest in all Levant!”
Isis carefully handed the hot chocolate to April, though she couldn’t help be a bit worried as her tiny fingers grasped the cup in a wobbly manner.
“Careful not to spill it, dear!” she said.
“Mommy, The trip isn’t going to be so long, is it?” Adara asked, poking a nutcraker on a shelf.
“Be a little more patient. We’ll get there when we get there.” Isis said. “Let’s just take a break and look around a bit. This store is fun, isn’t it?”
“Hey look!” Aphera said, wandering past the shelves. “There’s an entire town made out of candy!”
Isis smiled as she watched April waddle after her sisters.
“Delaney, why don’t you look for something with your brother?”
A tall, elegant woman in a soft burgundy coat stood nearby with a small redheaded child. Although Isis had only seen Gudrun once, from a distance, she knew this was the queen of Bellingrath. The little girl ran down one of the aisles. Isis tried to watch Gudrun for a moment without drawing attention to herself. Despite the rivalry between her families, she knew no one could help but admire Gudrun Hollingsworth’s impeccable style and taste. She’d heard as well that she was a woman of great wit and a force to be reckoned with.
Gudrun noticed her watching, of course. She smiled.
“Hello,” she said. “Are you from Cedulan, by any chance? I love your scarf.”
“Yes, we're on our way to Desdemona,” Isis said. “Thank you! I adore your coat.”
“Mom!” April said, running up to her, “Adara wants to know if we’re leaving soon.”
“I don’t know,” Isis said. “Go ask your father.”
April ran back through the store. For a moment, Isis almost wondered if Gudrun hadn’t figured it out yet. Perhaps she, not being a lineage obsessed Shephard, didn’t know the names of the neighbouring country’s royal family.
Gudrun picked up a bag of caramels, although she only seemed mildly interested in it. “Adara? Is that a common name in Ceduan?”
“Not particularly,” she said. “What about Delaney in Bellingrath?”
“Alright, I suppose we’ve found each other out.” Gudrun said, putting down the caramels “You’re Isis Shephard, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Isis said, crossing her arms. “I’ll admit, I’ve been wanting to meet you for a while.”
“Since before or after Bhatair threw a book at Joshua?” Gudrun asked.
“Oh, come on.” Isis said. “Neither you nor I were born into this madness of cursed bloodlines. We can be above these silly feuds. But, for the record, it was before their fighting began in earnest.”
“I think they must enjoy it, deep down,” Gudrun said. “Though it’s caused Bhatair a lot of grief.”
“I wonder if the children will grow to hate each other so much.” Isis said. “I’m doing my best to teach them to be kind, but the bloodline rivalry may be stronger than me, I think.”
“But will it last forever?” Gudrun said. “That’s what I’ve often wondered.”
“Perhaps,” Isis said. “I would like it to end. Then maybe our children can be friends. Either way, if you’re ever in Cedulan and would like to meet me, feel free to let me know. I think we might have a bit more in common than it seems.”
“Apparently we both our husbands take detours into candy shops,” Gudrun said. “I’m becoming a little worried, though. Where exactly are they?”
The air was icy cold like the brine of the ocean at night. Bhatair looked up at the twinkling stars, which seemed more bright in Bellingrath than any other place in the world. The snow sparkled back from the distant hills, and there were no sounds to be heard except the laughter of his children playing inside the shop. It was too beautiful, too perfect to last.
There was the sound of crunching behind him, and he turned to see Joshua Shephard walking by the candy canes. He stared for a moment, dumbfounded, until Joshua looked up at him. In a second, it seemed like he was no longer in the shelter of Bellingrath, but in the awful mountains of Cedulan.
“Oh, King Bhatair.” Joshua said. “Didn’t expect to see you here. Fine night, isn’t it?”
“It was until you showed up,” he muttered before clearing his throat. “Funny, I didn’t expect to see you in Bellingrath this time of year.”
“Didn’t expect to see you at all,” Joshua said, with his extremely irritating grin. “Don’t worry, we’re on our way to Desdemona, we won’t be staying here.”
“You didn’t, even though you chose to come through here instead of taking the longer way?” It seemed like an especially convenient coincidence.
“Everyone loves a shortcut, even a shabby one,” Josua said. “But here we are, either way. Merry Christmas!”
Bhatair took a deep breath. This was not the time for him to stir up a fight or try to intimidate the Shephard, even though he desperately wanted to make a jab about the fact that it had been three years and he still didn’t have a son. But it was Christmas, and Gudrun was probably waiting for him. “Merry Christmas,” he said. “I hope the rest of your celebrations are as good as ours were.” It was the closest hint to smugness he would allow himself.
“Thank you, same to you.” Joshua turned back towards the shop, and Bhatair was suddenly filled with a maddeningly strong urge to scoop up some snow and hit Joshua squarely in the shoulder. He was unable to resist. Joshua turned, his face filled with a delight from no longer having to keep the pretense of friendliness. He ducked behind one of the trees, and Bhatair dropped to his knees on the snowy path and began to build up a small ammunition stockpile of snowballs. When Joshua emerged, Bhatair jumped back to dodge his throw, and then hurled his own at Joshua’s face. He missed, and soon many snowballs flew through the air and they were both out. Without pausing for a moment, Bhatair reached over and pulled one of the giant candycanes out of the snow, and pointed it at Joshua’s heart.
“Fight me,” he said.
Joshua plucked his own candy cane from the frozen ground and swung it towards Bhatair. “Gladly.”
Bhatair twisted to avoid Joshua’s candycane and feinted to the right before swinging his around to almost knock the cane out of Joshua’s arm, but Joshua caught onto it and blocked his blow. Joshua whacked him in the side, but that left just the right opening for Bhatair to hit him in the shoulder.
Delaney ran along the path “Mommy says....” She stared at them, dumbfounded. Then a grin widened on her face, and she pulled a slightly smaller candycane almost as tall as she was from the snow.
“Swordfighting with candycanes? That's so much fun! Can I play too?”
Bhatair hesitated. Delaney was only four, he didn't want to hurt her, but he also didn't want her beautiful smile to fade.
“Of course, sweety,” he said. “But be careful not to hit too hard, you might hurt us!” After his last words, he looked up at Joshua with his most powerful death glare. Their fight was basically reduced to tapping each other with the candy as they accommodated Delaney’s slow, but sometimes actually quite hard swings.
Bhatair felt a blow to his side and faked his best shudder for his daughter’s sake, but instead saw the second Shephard girl, the biggest grin ever on her tiny face.
“Papa!” Aphera cried, running up behind them. “Is that King Bhatair you’re fighting? Let me help!”
The fight, if it could be called that, continued at an equally grinding pace, and then the smaller girls joined in, and soon all the children were swinging candcanes or throwing snowballs at each other.
It was the shop lady, her face as grim as a nutcracker. Within minutes, both Bhatair and Joshua were reduced to their most humble apologies, and they both agreed to pay her for damages. With some complaints from the children, the two families got into their carriages and rode away, off into the frosty winter evening.
In the carriage, as the girls nodded off to sleep. Joshua gently put his arm around Isis’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry my dear,” he said. “I’ve made you angry haven’t I?”
In the moonlight through the window, Joshua saw her smirk. “Not a chance. I’m pleased.”
“I never thought I’d get to see your and Bhatair’s fighting stalled by some children and a shopkeeper. It was amusing.”
For once, Joshua couldn’t find a single word to say in his own defense. He never brought it up again.
I love both writing and art immensely. While becomeing a writer is my dream, you will probably mostly see visual art from me on here.
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