The First Elf - A New Story for Christmas by Holly Keena
Holly Keena is one of the brilliant young writers from Write Club.
She has written a fantastic new story for Christmas!
Many moons ago, deep in the tundra, there lived a town of the warmest, brightest people in the North. They were kind, weather-beaten and curious. Their pointed ears were hidden under colourful wool hats year-round, their dark eyes squinted and smiling. They wore deerskin boots for the treacherous ice, and leather gákti tunics in royal blue, scarlet and gold. The tallest of them wouldn’t have reached your hip, yet they had survived the wolves, bears and eagles since the Aurora had first shone. They endured.
Every winter solstice, a feast was held in the village centre. Lanterns were strung across their homes in swooping lines, bright against the all-day darkness. A great fir tree that touched the stars was decorated with endless paper chains and glinting ribbons. A few sturdy candles gave the whole thing a warm glow. Their finest hunters ventured into the neighbouring woods and caught the biggest reindeer they could find to feed the whole town. All the children made toys for each other, and the adults danced all night long.
These people were called elves, and the feast was called Krismast.
This year, Ilja the elf was not happy. He had no need for the toys given to him, for he was the finest toymaker in town. He cared not for dancing, and the idea of reindeer hunting was repulsive to him. He always felt lonely at Krismast. So on the eve of the solstice, he packed a little cloth rucksack with gingerbread biscuits and a tin flask of hot chocolate. Then, after mustering all of his courage, he tiptoed out his front door and started towards the woods. As he wandered, he thought of the stories his mother used to tell him when he was younger. Myths of a huge red monster that captured the lost in his bottomless sack…
Ilja shivered. They’re just stories, he thought. The only things out here are trees and snow. Except… what if there’s another village? It was this thought of finding another person, someone he hadn’t grown up knowing, that had really sparked his ambition to embark on his little adventure, despite his pounding heart and shaky knees.
A few gingerbread biscuits later, he was completely surrounded by towering evergreens. He could see the scattered stars above the fading Aurora. Fresh snow sparkled on the branches, and his tiny legs tired quickly from battling through it. Silence blanketed him, but did not keep him warm.
“Should’ve brought two flasks,” Ilja sighed, watching his breath make a cloud. Just when he began to consider turning back, he smelled something. Smoke. And where there’s smoke – “Fire!” he said. He heaved himself out of his regret and followed his nose. Half running, half dragging himself, he reached the edge of the woods. The trees were spread thinner here, and someone had gotten rid of all the snow. Taking the last biscuit from his rucksack, Ilja looked up.
Whatever he had been expecting to see, this wasn’t it. The village was mountainous compared to the three-feet-tall Ilja. The tallest fella he knew couldn’t reach a door knocker on the houses, arranged in a semi-circle shape, like his own village. All the houses were dark; candles out, curtains closed.
Parked in front of him was an expertly crafted red-and-gold sleigh. Ilja inched closer, brow knitted. There was something odd about it. Obviously, it was far bigger than any he had ever seen, but there was an air of mystery about it, drawing him nearer. He was steps away when he saw two things that made him drop his biscuit. The first was the reindeer. Eight of them, all female, attached to the sleigh with jingling reins. The second was the fact that the sleigh was most definitely floating a hat’s height off the ground.
“What on Earth?” he whispered, kneeling down. He placed his gloved hand beneath it, feeling nothing solid. “Extraordinary. How is this possible?” he said, loud enough to interest the reindeer. He stood up and slowly backed away. I won’t hurt you. Clearly, he wasn’t that interesting, because they all turned their attention to a house with yellow poppies in its window boxes. Ilja followed their gaze to the roof, and gasped. Someone ten times the size of him stood silhouetted against the moon, black boots and belt buckle shining. On their shoulder was an almost-empty brown sack. Before Ilja could blink, the person leapt from the poppy house to the last house in the village, and shot straight down the chimney.
Ilja had to stifle a scream. They were gone! A moment ago they were standing on the roof, broad as a bear, before turning into glittering red dust and vanishing into someone’s house! But as quickly as they had gone, the person flew back out of the chimney and plonked onto the snow, brushing soot out of a thick white beard. Ilja wanted to run back to his village where everything was the right size and sleighs stayed on the ground, but his legs felt glued to the ground.
They looked down at him. “Who are you, little one?”
“M-my name is Ilja. I’m an elf, and you’re really tall,” he squeaked, turning pink.
“Why, I’ve never seen an elf. You’re awfully small, and you’re shivering! This simply won’t do,” said the man-giant, stroking his white beard. “I can give you some hot chocolate and take you home, since you don’t seem to live here. My work in this village is done for another year”
“Oh thank you… what may I call you?”
“I am Nikolas.”
“How will your sleigh fit through the forest, Nikolas?”
“Ah, that won’t be a problem,” he said with a wink.
The pair walked towards the sleigh where the reindeer waited patiently. The man-giant lifted Ilja up into the seat, but he couldn’t quite see over the sides. Nikolas stroked his great beard for a moment, before breaking into a smile. He sat into the sleigh and reached into the back of it, pulling out a huge red-chequered blanket. “I sometimes need this in chillier weather. Here, you can sit on it.”
There was enough blanket to boost Ilja up and for him to wrap around himself. He was settled only long enough to take one look around him, when Nikolas shouted “Onward!” The reindeer perked up. They looked, Ilja thought, as though they were grinning at each other. Then they began to run. Ilja let out a yelp. They were going to hit the trees!
Nikolas let out a hearty laugh. “Don’t worry, little friend.”
And then they were flying.
The sky was every colour the night could ever be. Paint strokes of violet, teal, indigo and lime dashed across the stars and along the biting wind. The reindeer seemed to be galloping through nothing. Looking down below, the fir trees that had towered over Ilja were nothing but distant dots, and the village of giants looked as if it was for toys. All the world was white and still, all the sky was alive. His vision began to blur, and he quickly wiped away some traitorous tears. Maybe Krismast was a beautiful night after all.
“How is all this possible?” he asked. “How are we flying?”
Nikolas patted him on the shoulder and sighed. “When I was a boy, there was a lot of sadness in my village. Every winter, we scrambled for food and fuel to heat our homes, but there was never enough to go around. It always broke my heart to see my three sisters huddled together by the fire, wishing for better times. So one year, I decided to surprise them. I snuck down to the craftsman’s workshop and made something for each of them. A cuddly toy for baby Kristiina, a rocking horse for Hanne and a tiny chest of drawers for all of Isla’s paints. I left them in little bags by their beds, and when they woke up–” he put a hand to his heart “–the joy on their faces! I had never felt so well. Every year after that, I left them presents on the eve of the solstice. They soon told their friends, so I left presents for them too. Of course, I couldn’t very well sneak into their rooms, so I left the bags by the fire. Nobody ever figured out it was me making all those toys. I still deliver them to this day.” He gestured to the enormous sack in the back of the sleigh.
“But Nikolas, that doesn’t explain how you can fly.”
He chuckled. “I can’t just tell you. Then the magic would be ruined!”
On they flew across the land until they were very near Ilja’s village, when he heard a sudden wail that cut through him like ice. “Oh Ilja,” it cried, “where have you gone?”
“Mama,” he whispered.
“Oh dear,” said Nikolas. “We must get you down there pronto.”
They landed to hundreds of cheers and whoops. Ilja was carried off the sleigh in a crowd of friends and family, all holding him tight. His mama gave him the biggest, warmest hug he’d ever felt, and suddenly he was crying again. “I’m sorry I ran away. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“You did scare me, Ilja,” she held his face in her hands, “but I’m too glad you’re here to be angry at you.”
They all thanked the stranger that had brought him home in his magical sleigh, offering him biscuits and mince pies galore. The festivities could begin at last.
All the elves gathered around the big tree in the middle of the village, wrapped up well in hats, scarves, coats, socks, blankets and mittens. They all held hands and sang the Krismast song at the tops of their lungs. Then with a flourish, they lifted their hats from their heads and took little wrapped presents from underneath, handing them to the person next to them. Bits of string and paper flew into the air as the gifts were opened to laughs and sighs.
Ilja turned around and noticed Nikolas’s furrowed brow. “Are you okay?” he said.
“Oh, I’m feeling wonderful. These toys, they’re expertly crafted. I could never make ones as good as these.” His face lit up then. “How would you and your friends like to make toys for the children of the world?”
“The world? But there are far too many children in the world to make toys for all of them.”
“Not if we start soon. How long would it take I wonder… a month? Two?”
“Surely it would take a whole year.”
“A year indeed.” Nikolas scratched his red hat and looked around at all the giftgivers. “Excuse me for interrupting the ceremony everyone, but my friend Ilja and I have had an idea.”
The whole village looked at Ilja, and he had never felt smaller. He looked up at his new friend, whose smile was as big as the moon. It made his courage bubble up inside of him.
“Well, ah, Nikolas would like to know if you’d all be willing to make toys for the children of the world.”
Gasps and whispers rushed around the circle, paired with thoughtful faces and nodding heads.
His mama spoke up. “That sounds like a wonderful idea, Ilja!”
Soon the whole village was in agreement, and Operation Krismast began a few weeks later. Every year since then, the elves (and the many friends they have made) have built millions of gifts for children everywhere on Earth. Ilja was made chief toymaker, and the little elf was never lonely again.
Of course, everyone has their own idea about who goes around delivering all of these gifts and how they do it.
They can’t just tell you. Then the magic would be ruined.
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