Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 12: The Battle for the Bell
Yørgøn was eyeing the great reindeer suspiciously. Although far into the Northlands, he was nowhere near the North Pole, so this couldn't be one of Nick's reindeer. So why did it seem to be following him?
"Shøø!" he snapped grumpily. If it even heard him over the wail of storm winds, it didn't respond. And now -- could it be? -- it seemed to be eyeing him.
"Probably just my imagination," he muttered. "Still ." He held the silver bell in his hand and imagined what he could do to that pesky reindeer. Fly him to the South Pole. Cover him with a mountain of snow. Turn him into a tasty bug. Anything he wanted, he could do.
Still the Coalman had said the power of the bell wasn't to be wasted -- said Yørgøn had wasted it by making that silly tree walk. Getting rid of reindeer probably qualified as wasting power.
What was the point of having the bell if you didn't use it?
Yørgøn didn't know the answer because he'd never had power; he'd always tried to be of service to those who did. But out here on this glacier, with nobody around except a reindeer -- maybe it was time for him to show what he could do. Maybe it was time to show what this gnome was made of! With an evil grin, he looked back at the reindeer --
-- and found two of the beasts staring back at him now.
Yes, definitely staring. It wasn't his imagination. They were looking at him as if they knew who he was and what he'd done. All of a sudden, he forgot about using the bell. He fell back on his instincts, and his instincts told him to RUN AWAY. Even though the bell might be able to help him run, he didn't dare fool around with it. He just turned, hoping the two beasts wouldn't notice --
-- and found three more reindeer watching him!
His jaw fallen wide open, snowflakes freezing on his tongue, he spun in a third direction, and there were still more deer. And more were racing up from the white plains beyond. He was surrounded! The racing deer were almost upon him, and now he could see things on the biggest one's back. The snow was in his eyes but it looked like -- "Døøglin haø!!"
Perched on each antler were the awful elves, Chiss and Mymla, and holding tight to the deer's broad neck, laid out across its strong back -- was the tree!!
"No," he whispered. "No," he said. And "NO!!" he screamed to the unceasing wind.
Now there was nothing for it but to use the bell. He raised it to a point before his eyes, just like the Coalman had done (though the Coalman's hand hadn't trembled like this!) -- he got ready to ring it -- then above its silver curve he saw the tree whip one of its branches forward. Something flew from it, straight into his tiny tummy. "Wøøkkh!" he gasped, and dropped the bell, which fell into the soft snow without making a sound. So did Yørgøn. And falling right next to him was the thing that had knocked him over: a huge pine cone!
I should have burned him! was the one thing Yørgøn thought before Mymla grabbed the silver bell and Chiss tied him up with their popcorn-and-cranberry string.
"We've got it! We've got it!" Mymla shouted.
"We've got him!" Chiss added with a triumphant roar.
"But where did the Coalman go?" asked Rustle, sliding down Regina's side to land upright in the snow.
"H-how did you grow that big a pine cone?" Yørgøn gasped, amazed at what he was seeing.
"You gave him the power, you stupid gnome!" laughed Chiss. "Now talk: where's your master?"
"Gone," said Yørgøn, head swiveling from one to the other. They might have him, but they hadn't really won. "He's gone and he's destroyed your master, so you're too late." Suddenly he burst out laughing. "Really too late, because he's gone to the past!"
"Talk," growled Mymla, and Rustle looked at her curiously; she'd never sounded so fierce before.
"I heard him," said the gnome. "He used the bell to go to the past and stop Nick from ever becoming Santa Claus."
"The town of Myra in the year 282 -- in ancient Turkey, when it was called Lycia, and Nick was called Nikola," muttered Chiss.
"That's right. That's what he said."
"I've heard Nick talk about it many times, on the long summer days when we take a break from making toys," said Chiss excitedly. "That was where he learned to live forever."
"He's not living forever now!" sneered Yørgøn, getting a little of his bluster back as it sunk into him: they hadn't won. Which meant he hadn't really lost.
"But wait -- there's still a chance!" It was Rustle, suddenly speaking up. "We can use the bell ourselves -- go after the Coalman and stop him! Don't you see, if he can travel in time, so can we, and we can go back before he stops Nick!"
Mymla shook her head, and Chiss kicked at the snow disgustedly. "It's a good idea, Rustle," she said, "but it won't work. Elves -- and gnomes -- all of us fairy creatures are part of the time we live in. We're part of the environment -- part of what makes 'now' now."
"We can't travel in time like persons can," said Chiss.
"But why couldn't I do it?" asked Rustle.
"I'm not an elf or a gnome. I can do it!"
"But you don't even know Nick," answered Chiss. "You hardly even know what he does. And even though you're full of magic, you're not a sorcerer; you're no match for the Coalman."
"Maybe not," said Rustle. "But what other choice do we have? And as for knowing Nick and what he does -- I know you, and I can tell what kind of master you'd work for. I know Yørgøn, and I know what kind of master he'd work for. So I know which one deserves to win this war between them."
"I think he's right," said Regina. "My cousins who live with Nicholas and pull his sleigh every Christmas Eve have called to me of their pride and their joy at helping in his work. My cousin Melchior has called to me of the Spirit in the Bark. If there's any chance to save Nick, it must be taken, and if there's anyone to take it, it's Rustle."
"Now wait -- " Yørgøn began.
"Be quiet, you!" said Rustle, surprising himself by sounding as fierce as Mymla had. "Give me the bell, Mymla."
With a sort of silent wonder, she handed it to him, and he hooked it on the end of a branch. With his own sort of wonder, he rang it and vanished from our time!
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