Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 3: Chiss and Mymla
Rustle lay on the cold ground and stared at the two so-called "elves." The woman and the man were looking between him and the fleeing Yørgøn. They seemed concerned about him, but the gnome was getting away. Still, the elves stayed where they were, giving Rustle time to study them.
The woman's hair was black and shiny-straight, pouring down around her wide-cheeked face. Large pointed ears stuck up through her hair; large blue-black eyes straddled the wide nose between them. She was dressed in a blue robe which was tied around her ample hips with silver cord. The robe was knee-length, with gray stockings and felt slippers showing on her thin legs and broad flat feet.
The man was much brighter than the woman, both in face and in clothing. His eyes were small and vivid; his cheeks were plump and ruddy; his sideburns were the colors of fallen leaves. He wore a reddish-brown jacket with a hood that sat back on his round head as if it made him too warm. Like the woman, his legs were too thin and his feet and hands were too large. He wore tight black leggings and his knees bowed out.
"We're not gnomes," the man said this time, in a bright buzzing voice.
"I-I didn't say anything," whispered Rustle.
"We can hear your thoughts. We're elves," said the woman. "Don't be afraid."
"I'm not afraid," Rustle lied. "But I I never knew anything about gnomes or elves before today."
"That's not unusual," she replied, in a voice as smooth as a sapling's buds. "Most everyone looks right past us, unless we want to be seen, which we don't usually. My name is Mymla."
"I'm Chiss," buzzed the man.
"I'm Rustle," said Rustle. "But I'm sorry, but persons all look alike to me. I don't see -- what's the difference between gnomes and elves?"
"What's the difference?" cried Chiss. "What's the DIFFERENCE?!!"
"Yes, what?" asked Rustle, smiling just a little in spite of himself at the little person's outrage. He knew already that it was different from Yørgøn's calculating menace.
"Gnomes are the scum of the earth, you stupid tree!" yelled Chiss, bouncing up and down. "Gnomes live in the muck and the mire, eating bugs and peat moss, with decaying leaves for dessert! Elves are made for finer things, like fire (like me), and water (like Mymla)."
Rustle looked at the blue lady. "Then it was you who washed Yørgøn down the hill!"
"That's right," she smiled. "Like this." She raised her hand and water shot from between her fingers, flashing in the setting sun. "We want the silver bell back, but we won't let anyone be hurt if we can help it."
"That's very good to know. Thank you. But, Chiss -- if you can do with fire what she just did with water -- "
"Don't worry. I don't work for the Coalman; I don't need to burn anything I don't want to."
"Who is the Coalman?" asked Rustle, looking down the hill apprehensively. The stumps threw long flat shadows across the hillside. "And while you're telling me, can you help me get up?"
"Might as well," said Chiss. He hopped around to take ahold of a branch on Rustle's far side, while Mymla grabbed one on her side. Slowly, but with surprising strength, they raised the top end of the young tree high enough for them to slip underneath, and then they walked toward the base, straightening him up. As soon as all his roots touched the ground again, he dug them through the crust, fastened down tight, and stood on his own.
"Now, the Coalman " said Chiss. "It's not really very complicated. He's the fool who wants to destroy Nick."
"You mentioned him before," said Rustle. "Who's Nick?"
"Rustle is a tree, Chiss," said Mymla soothingly. "There's no reason he should know."
"Everybody knows Nick," grumped the fire-elf, and glared at Rustle as if he might set him ablaze after all. Rustle backed up a step. But Mymla slid between them. "Nick is Saint Nicholas -- Santa Claus," she said.
"Who's Santa -- "
"DON'T SAY IT!!!" Chiss was jumping up and down again, and this time the ground around him was melting slightly.
Quickly, Mymla said, "Santa Claus -- Nick -- brings presents to persons at Christmas."
Rustle looked stricken. "I'm very sorry," he said, "but what's Christmas?"
"Listen, tree," said Chiss, "if we'd known we were going to have to explain Christmas to you, we wouldn't have gotten involved with you."
"Oh yes we would," said Mymla. To Rustle she added, "Don't mind him. Fire-elves are always excitable."
"Fooey!" said Chiss succinctly. "Here's what Christmas is about, tree. A long time ago, a baby named Jesus was born in a country far, far away. He was a very special baby, and persons celebrate his birthday every year, at the end of this month. One of the ways they celebrate is by giving each other presents, and the biggest present-giver of all is Santa Claus. He lives forever, up at the North Pole. He wears a red suit, has a long white beard, and gives presents to every person who's been good during the year, especially children. On the night before Christmas, he loads his sleigh with all the presents his elves have made for him, and his eight reindeer fly him all around the world in one night." Chiss took a deep breath. "Understand now?"
"Well, I've never been outside my valley before today," said Rustle, wishing he weren't quite so ignorant of something apparently so obvious to everybody else, "but wouldn't flying around the world take more than one night?"
"That's why he needs the silver bell," Mymla said. "It gives him the magic he needs to stretch time. But Yørgøn stole it from him."
"Ahhh," whispered Rustle. "I see it now."
"Yes," said Chiss. "Nick sent us to get the bell back before Christmas Eve, and we lost our first chance because of you. So now you have to help us get it back!"
Rustle thought about that. He was sure these elves couldn't make him do that. And he'd been on his way back home but he'd really only seen one new horizon since he'd left. He was a little afraid of meeting Yørgøn again but he liked the idea of taking the silver bell away from him before the gnome caused any more trouble with it. "Why not?" said Rustle at last, and his trunk straightened as he said it. "Why not?"
He held a branch out for each of the elves to take hold of, and together the three of them started back down into the twilight valley.