Forget how EVENTIDE ends. Forget the mayhem in the first two books. Just as Jeff was surprised to learn that his characters acted out of standard from how he’d written them, so the Feldall crew are with me. This story has no bearing on what’s to come – it’s just a spot of fun for my readers — and theirs.
Jeff Powell leaned back on the sofa and sipped his Feldallian eggnog, which tasted nothing like the brews back home, full of flavours and spices that didn’t exist in his world.
Maggie Stanwell had cast the Meratis incantation early that morning to summon him, Cassie Murphy, and Venn Connell to Andvell to celebrate House Feldall’s seasonal Festival. He and Cassie had already been down to the stables to see Swish and offer him a bushel of apples as a gift, and Cassie had woven red ribbons in his hair, giggling as Jeff and the bay gelding exchanged bemused glances.
Now he sat with his arm around her shoulder as she rattled a box in her hands.
“What is it?” she asked. “Can I open it?”
Jasmine Feldall laughed. “Of course. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
Jeff glanced around the drawing room, appreciating the tree that reached the ceiling, covered with ribbons and bows and what looked like little glittering marmishes, courtesy of Maggie he suspected. Under the tree sat a mountain of gifts in brown paper—one for every resident of Feldall’s Keep.
“It’s so nice to be with family for the holidays,” he said.
Cassie snuck him a look as she slid Jasmine’s knife under the tied string. “What about your parents?”
“Oh, this is much nicer than being with them.”
He laughed and drank more eggnog.
Three of Maggie’s children—Joseph, Bess, and Thomas, Jeff recalled—chased each other into the room, their shrieks of joy drowning out the horns and strings of the band playing in the corner.
“Jasmine, I love it!” Cassie exclaimed, holding up a needlepoint portrait of the Keep.
“It’s not just me. Maggie had a hand in it as well.”
Cassie went to give hugs, and Jayden Feldall took her place on the sofa. “I didn’t stitch anything for you, Author.”
“Thank you,” said Jeff.
“But here. Me, Brady, and Conrad pitched in to get you this.”
He handed over a small box, and Jeff tore into it with enthusiasm, rolling his eyes when he found a codpiece within.
Jayden nudged his shoulder. “So you’re prepared for your next fight.”
“Thank you,” Jeff repeated, his tone dry.
Brady smiled. “That’s not your real gift.”
He passed over another box, which Jeff opened with less curiosity, although the contents were much more appealing.
The History of House Feldall, by Brady Reed.
Jeff’s eyebrows rose in surprise, and Brady flushed. “I thought I’d try my hand at word dabbling. I hope you like it.”
Before Jeff could express the depth of his gratitude, a cry from Maggie cut through the room.
“Conrad, I love it! You knew I wanted one. Thank you, love, it’s precious!”
The three men looked over to see the enchantress cuddling a pygmy goat, her daughter Bri reaching out to give it a tentative pat.
“It’s not as cute a gift, but I got you something as well,” Brady said to Jasmine, taking her hand. He dropped a key into her palm, and she stared up at him in confusion until he explained, “It’s for the new desk in your office. I know you needed one.”
Jasmine’s face lit up, and she threw her arms around Brady’s neck. Jeff watched on with smug satisfaction.
“The past can make one believe
His actions were justified. Be wary
Of your confidence in dabbling.”
The woman’s voice came over Jeff’s shoulder, and he jumped to see Kay on her own, the first time he’d heard one of the Sisters speak so much at once, even though she kept the rhythmic cadence.
She smiled, winked an emerald-hued eye, and disappeared.
Jeff shook his head, thinking he’d had too much eggnog, but when he turned to set the cup down on the end table, he found Aya sitting there, dressed in silver instead of her usual blue. Her white hair had red ribbons to match the tree, striking against her ebony skin.
“Your present is full of friendship,
And joy. Be grateful for what
You find yourself surrounded by.”
Before Jeff could answer, she faded away as well.
One more to go, he thought, rising to his feet to wait for her.
“What are they up to now?” Venn asked, coming to stand beside him. “Don’t worry, Jayden and Jasmine got me these sweet new daggers, so whatever they throw at us, we can take them.”
She held up the gifts, showing off the balance by resting one on the tip of her finger.
It rose into the air, seemingly on its own, and hovered until a shape took form and a hand appeared around the grip of the blade.
Lan smiled, looking more stunning than ever in a red dress instead of yellow.
“Be not too quick to rush to threats.
The time will come when diplomacy
Is your best recourse.”
Jeff huffed. “You know what, that’s it. Kay, Aya, get back here.”
With tinkling laughter, the other two appeared. Seeing Kay, Jeff noticed her usual light green silk had darkened to a richer shade that matched the tree and caught the copper of her hair. All three Sisters, decked out for the holidays.
“All right, Past, Present, and Future, how about we put you to use for a change. Follow me.”
He led them over to the band, gave a few instructions, and before too long, their sing-song voices filled the room.
“Deck the halls with,” sang Kay.
“Boughs of holly,” continued Aya. “Fa la-la,”
“La-la, la-la, la-la,” Lan took up.
“There,” said Jeff, returning to the sofa with a nod of satisfaction. “That should keep them out of our hair for a while.”
“I’m hungry!” Joseph spoke up. “When’s food?”
“Keep the voice down, little man,” said William, Maggie’s eldest. “The feast will begin shortly, never fear.”
“And what a feast,” said Jasmine. “You should see the roast Jayden went out to get.”
“Me?” asked Jayden, freezing on his way to pour more eggnog. “I asked Conrad to see to it.”
He looked to Maggie’s husband, and the blacksmith shook his head. “You put me in charge of the tree.”
Jasmine’s eyebrow quirked. “You mean there’s no dinner?”
A moment of silence fell on the group that threatened to devolve into chaos, but was interrupted by a timid knock at the door.
“Come in,” said Cassie when no one else spoke.
A white-faced, trembling Tanya poked her head into the room. “Sorry to bother you, but there’s someone at the door. I don’t know – you’ll never guess –”
“Best you let me announce myself then, my dear,” came a voice that left everyone stunned.
Terror filled Jeff’s chest, and in a moment everyone was on their feet, weapons ready. The Sisters vanished, and Maggie clutched her children.
Raul stood in the doorway, his dark attire and courteous smile even more unsettling when contrasted with the cheer of the season.
“I see I’ve surprised you. Good! How could I think about you all here in one room enjoying yourselves and not stop in to say hello and Happy Festival?”
“What do you want?” Jayden demanded.
“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Raul. “I’m here to join the fun!” He pulled off his coat to reveal a bright and colourful sweater, patterned with a warbear in a red hat. “I hope you don’t mind I brought a few things.”
He waved his hand and a line of servants came in with the fixings of a full feast.
“Food!” cried Joseph, breaking free of his mother’s grasp.
Too shocked to react, the entire Feldall clan, including the Sisters who had returned once there proved to be no threat, found themselves swept into the dining room where the table groaned under the weight of the meal.
The silence remained until the children, too young to understand the miracle that had occurred, dug into the feast, Joseph climbing up into Raul’s lap. In the face of the Festival, joy pervaded, and laughter and glee filled the air.
Outside the window, a burst of colour, reds and oranges, filled the sky and then a flash of green as Talfyr circled in the sky.