Celebrations help us to mark moments in time that are meaningful, some for religious reasons, others cultural and historical. New York Times bestselling author Jody Lynn Nye has written about holidays from many points of view, in this world, in another; in the past, present, and future. What holidays—and holiday stories—have in common is that people choose to come together for these festive events to discover joy and mystery.
Gathered together for the first time, these eleven fantastic tales showcase the wonder and mystery of Christmas, Passover, Lammas Night, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Mardi Gras, and Valentine's Day.
Have a happy, magical holiday season!
Jody Lynn Nye has been a friend and close writing colleague for a long time, and has become someone I can rely on for just about any literary need. At WordFire Press we're releasing many of her backlist books. For last year's Holiday Fantasy bundle, I had an extra slot and Jody put together a few of her holiday-related stories that might be of interest. But that lit a fire under her—and in the intervening year she wrote a lot more stories to fill the gaps, enough to make a complete book that we are publishing in print and eBook. Here, before it's released elsewhere, you can get the complete volume of stories. – Kevin J. Anderson
I looked around the ruffled-sided tent at the array of cards, statues, satin pillows, toys, candies, and an array of more adult items, the use of some I had to guess at. Every single item had been made, dyed, or painted red, white, or brilliant, eye-burning pink.
I glanced at Aahz. Like me, the Pervect hesitated on the threshold.
"Come in, come in!" exclaimed the Deveelish proprietor, Valentinius. Red-skinned with hooved feet and a long, skinny tail like all of his kind, he had a long, narrow face and high-arched eyebrows. He beckoned us in with a flick of his beautifully manicured talons, albeit shooting a look of resigned disdain at my companion. Short of stature but broad in the shoulder, Aahz had green-scaled skin, yellow eyes, and batwing ears. He hailed from a dimension called Perv, which meant his kind were called Pervects, if you liked them, or Perverts, if you didn't. They had such an interdimensional reputation for questionable behavior that even after years of knowing him and other Pervects I had no idea if it was earned. Valentinius was no doubt concerned for the welfare of his stock and possibly his employees. I, as a tall, skinny, blond-haired Klahd, never posed a threat to anyone in Deva, a dimension that possessed far more magikal potential than mine ever dreamed existed. "Come and examine the wares. Affection Day is coming! Your special someone will be expecting a gift from here. You know it. I know it! So, buy already!"
"What the hell," Aahz said, plunging into the first aisle. "C'mon, Skeeve."
"Aahz?" I asked, all but stumbling in behind him. "Do you have a special someone? You've never mentioned one."
"One?" Aahz turned back to me, his four-inch-long pointed teeth set more in a rictus than a grin. "I have a dozen, and they'll all be furious if I don't come up with something that tells them how I feel about them." He waggled his scaly eyebrows at me.
"How can they be special if there are a dozen of them?" I asked. My own experiences with women had been largely unsuccessful, or so I could recall. The women that I cared about most in the world were friends, not lovers—at least so far.
"Weeeellll," Aahz said, narrowing one big yellow eye with an expression that spoke of annoyed embarrassment. "None of them knows about the others, so to each, she's my one-and-only."
"Gosh." It was all I could find to say. I admired Aahz. I had no idea how he could juggle a lot of relationships like that without getting them confused. Or in a lot of trouble.
"Try a sweet, young Klahd?" a female Deveel asked, shoving a pink and white box under my nose. "Free samples. Guaranteed harmless and delicious. Just the thing to show your warm sentiment on Affection Day!"
I peered into the container. Nestled in individual paper nests were solid, irregular ovals of dark brown-red sweets with narrow stripes of pink daubed on them in random directions. I'd cut up enough carcasses to know what I was looking at.
"Eyugh," I said, wrinkling my nose. "Heart-shaped candy?"
The Deveel snarled at me, sharp white teeth showing vividly in her deep red face. "Get with the spirit of the day, Klahd. You're supposed to show someone that you'd let them eat your heart if it would make them happy."
The heart seemed to be a common theme in the crowded tent. Shoppers considered all kinds of items featuring that vital organ: cards, scrolls, rings, necklaces, garters, bottles of potions, philters, and spells. Over a half of the not inconsiderable floor space was devoted to racks and tables of embarrassing-looking garments for all genders and body types. I had never worn anything like that myself, but I had seen a number of them among the plethora of wedding presents given to my former apprentice, Massha. I had no doubt, considering the healthy relationship she had with retired general Hugh Badaxe that they had made good use of the gifts.
"Oh, yeah!" Aahz crowed. He headed toward a clothesline from which hung bits and pieces of fabric in the obligatory red, pink, and white. None of them looked large enough to clothe a Gnome, let alone a Pervect. Then I recalled the tiny swimsuits that Bunny and the other beauty contestants had donned (for a brief look (see what I did there?), consult the compelling tale, "Myth Congeniality," in Myth-Told Tales, a collection of brilliant stories of conniving, derring-do, and camaraderie), and the items no longer looked too scanty. But the thought of putting Bunny, Tananda, or any of my female friends into one made my heart pound furiously. I began to understand the candies offered by the Deveel clerk.
"So, how may I take your money?" Valentinius sidled up beside me. He thrust an armload of items into my hands. "What do you need? Flowers? A satin pillow, perhaps? The sentiment embroidered on this one is bespelled to change with your loved one's mood." I glanced at the pink oval. It said, "Drop dead, you creep!"
"Uh, no, thanks," I said, shoving them back. Valentinius flicked a wrist. Instead of dropping to the floor, they hovered around him, spinning so I could see every angle.
"What sort of item were you hoping to find for your very special someone?" he asked, fluttering his long eyelashes.
The phrase had begun to irk me. "I don't have a special someone!" I said, with perhaps more heat than was necessary. Valentinius didn't take it amiss; no Deveel worth his salt would take shouting as a cue to exit an argument. If anything, it indicated the beginning of a bargain.
"Well, if you don't, I have powders and other items you can use to make someone interested in you. Bracelets? Rings? I've got a spray that you can use to perfume a room to attract just the right person. Want to give it a try? Only two coppers per spritz."
I had a brief vision of having hordes of strange people charging toward me with lust in their eyes, and shuddered.
"No, thanks. I can come up with my own bad ideas."
"Are you calling my merchandise bad ideas?" he shrieked, raising his voice so high that shoppers for three rows around turned to look. "It figures that a Klahd can't tell true romance from heartburn!"
"Hey, I'll know it when I see it," I protested, albeit weakly.
"Kid! Stop playing around!" Aahz marched over and shoved a hand between my shoulder blades, aiming me toward the clothes racks. The Deveel gave us both a disgusted look and sauntered away. Not a yard from us, he latched onto the arm of a bright-pink Imp matron.
"Darling, you don't want that! It doesn't match anything in this entire dimension!"
"C'mon," Aahz said. "I'm afraid of what you'll end up buying if you don't stay close to me."
"Okay, Aahz," I said. To tell the truth, I was relieved. Even though I had lived in the Bazaar for years, I had yet to explore every corner, tent, and booth. Adding to the confusion was the fact that shops routinely disappeared from one location and reappeared in another, often under a new name, although less often with a new owner or manager. I'd been fooled more than once by patronizing a business only to learn that it belonged to a Deveel who had tried to outrun his reputation for unusually shady dealing by relocating. To my best recollection, I had never seen this one before. "Has this shop been here long?"
"It's a pop-up," Aahz said. "Seasonal merchandise. It's like the Festival of Hamsters. In between, no one wants to see the stuff. You can see why."
I watched other shoppers, but I really couldn't tell what they were buying. The baskets were bespelled so that anything tossed into them became invisible. Aahz was just as cagey about his purchases.
Every so often, he darted a glance around to see if anyone was watching him, then grabbed something off one of the long tables. I eyed the display, which appeared to be all garments in pink and white, decorated—no, festooned with lace and stretchy straps. I had not seen the size of the item that Aahz had shoved into his shopping basket, so I couldn't even make a guess as to the race of the one-and-only for whom he had bought it. He stopped and eyed one table in the crowded tent. Though they were tinted pink and white, the items on display looked like implements of torture. Owing to a recent visit to a professional torturer (see the whole sordid story in Myth-Fits, coming to a reputable or disreputable seller of literature near you), I had some uncomfortable familiarity with such things.
One apparatus struck me as unusually odd. It consisted eight or ten broad, various-sized loops of white leather all bound together with stretchy pink elastic, chains and matching padlocks, each with a heart incised on it. I picked it up.
"Hey, Aahz, what's this for?"
With a long-suffering sigh, he took it out of my fingers and dropped it back on the table.
"That, you absolutely do not want to know," he said. "Look, it's Affection Day. Why don't you pick out something for people you like?"
"I've never heard of Affection Day," I protested. "And I don't have a special someone, like Valentinius said."
"You have a bunch of special someones," Aahz said, with a shake of his head. "You just ain't dating any of them. Get something PG-rated for them. Go look over there." He pointed to a group of tables where a Deveel, a handful of Imps, and two Centaurs were browsing. "Scram. I don't want to have to keep explaining what I'm buying."
The half-horse, half-Klahd beings made way as I sidled up to the table to examine the wares. A female Centaur, wearing nothing but her long chestnut-colored tresses over her bosom, was sorting through a sheaf of colorful little books. One of them was called The True Story of Affection Day. I picked up a similar volume and browsed through it. What I read made me sputter in outrage.
"Is this right?" I asked the Centaur female. "This holiday was made up by Deveel merchants to sell candy? It's phony?"
She smiled at me, showing a mouthful of long, horsy teeth.
"That's right, Klahd," she said, with a nickering laugh. "But many of us have adapted it for ourselves to tell our loved ones that we value them."
"But what about all that other stuff? The charmed portraits? The Miss Lonelyhearts contests? Those?" I pointed to the racks of questionable garments. "That's not candy."
She gave a nickering laugh and patted me on the shoulder.
"You are young, Klahd. Sweet things come in many guises."
I felt my cheeks burn. I wasn't that young!
"Grizzle grum nang dabbit marn flandifulation!"
One of the clothing displays gave a massive heave and fell towards me. I had just enough time to ready a spell that kept the mass of satin and leather from tumbling down over the Centaur and me. The female trotted out of the way of the bondage avalanche, holding her basket. I tried to make the rack stand upright, but the person swearing must have been tangled up inside it.
Valentinius strode toward me, tut-tutting furiously.
"Did you knock that over?" he demanded.
"No!" I said. "I'm holding it up!"
He glanced past me at the clutter on the floor and sniffed. "Very badly, I see."
I was willing to do favors out of common decency, but such a thing was often lost on Deveels. I let my spell lapse.
The garments spilled in every direction, leaving a large, black-bearded, leather-clad Klahd lying in their midst, only this leather was well-worn military-grade armor—not a bad choice, considering that shopping in the Bazaar during the end-of-season sales could result in mortal wounds. He clutched a handful of pink satin to his chest. I recognized him in an instant. It was retired Possiltum general Hugh Badaxe. His face flushed scarlet as he met my gaze.
"Another Klahd!" the Deveel said, flicking a fingernail. The general swung up into the air as if he weighed no more than the wispy feathers that decorated the garment in his hand. "We request that you do not use the merchandise until after you have purchased it!" He walked purposefully toward the tent's door, preparing to fling Badaxe into the dusty, sun-drenched street.
"Wait!" I said, jumping into the Deveel's path. "Don't you know who that is?"
"No, who is it?" Valentinius asked, raising one thin eyebrow.
Badaxe waved a frantic hand at me. I gulped. If he was buying something in the Bazaar instead of on Klah, he probably wanted it kept a secret.
"That's my uncle Harv," I said. "He's here to make a big purchase. A BIG purchase."
"Oh," Valentinius said. He closed his fingers, and Badaxe dropped to the floor with an audible thud. "Fine. But he's handled the size XXXXXXL Cupy panties, so he'll have to buy them, too."
"No problem," I said.
"Three gold pieces."
"One silver," I countered. "After all, he's handled them now. They're used. You couldn't sell them to a Cupy now if you wanted to."
"Two gold pieces."
"Two silver. That's my final offer."
Valentinius looked from me to the general, who had risen to his feet with what dignity he could muster. He was half again the Deveel's height and at least three times his weight, although physical stature meant little in dimensions where magik might be involved. Valentinius showed a mouthful of sharp-pointed white teeth.
"Five silver. Not a copper less. It will take me such a loooooong time to clear up the mess you left!"
"I'll pay it," Badaxe said, reaching into his belt pouch. "Thanks anyhow, nephew." He dropped the coins into Valentinius's palm, from which they disappeared faster than the merchandise in the shopping baskets. The Deveel flicked a hand at the display. It straightened itself out in a flash, all of the odd-looking garments hanging themselves in perfect order. Badaxe watched with a jaundiced eye. We both knew he'd overpaid to appease the Deveel.
"What are you doing here, uncle?" I asked in a low tone.
This big, muscular man had faced down armies against terrible odds, both in terms of enemy numbers and the parsimony of the kingdom treasurer, JR Grimble, but he almost trembled with nerves.
"Affection Day," he said. "I want to buy something for Massha. No, I have to buy her something."
"For a fake holiday?"
He made a face. "If you want to know the truth, she's upset with me."
"Why?" I asked.
The expression changed to one that he probably aimed at young recruits who had said something monumentally stupid.
"If I knew that, I would apologize and promise never to do it again. As it is," he added with a sigh, "I'm in the dark. She hasn't talked to me for a week. She hasn't even looked at me. That's not like her. We don't even.…" His cheeks flushed. "Never mind, son. Need to know. It can't go on like this. The palace isn't that big. We keep running into each other, and people are starting to talk. You know the Queen's on her side. She could make it pretty miserable for me if she thinks I'm making Massha unhappy. So, I'm using Affection Day as an excuse to try and break through the barrier. My concern is that she'll throw my present back in my face."
I became worried. Massha was someone I cared about, too.
"Can I help?" I asked. He held up the handful of pink satin. I backed away a pace with my hands held up to ward it off. "I mean, I can't help you choose a gift. I'm not good at buying present for people."
"Oh, this?" Hugh looked at it with a faint air of embarrassment. "I thought she'd look good in it." He spread the garment out with both hands. It appeared to be a pair of tiny panties with little white feathered wings affixed at each hip. The wings fluttered.
"That?" I asked, in astonishment. Massha was a lady of monumental proportions, who favored harem pants and brief tops that left her broad stomach bare to help keep her cool. "That wouldn't cover very much of her, would it?"
Badaxe grinned. "That's kind of the idea, Skeeve. I love the way she looks. But I'm in pretty deep muck. If you've seen something else in here that she'd like better, I'm open to ideas."
"She collects jewelry, mostly magikal gizmos," I offered. "If I was going to buy her something it would be a device she doesn't have yet."
"I don't know a quarter of what her magik stuff does," Badaxe said glumly. "I had better stick to a present that shows her I'm sorry even if I don't know what I'm being sorry for."
"I'd be happy to run interference for you," I said. "Massha's been a good friend, as have you."
He eyed me with sideways speculation.
"Would you be willing to deliver gifts to her for me?" he asked.
"Sure." I knew the castle well. Massha occupied the position I had vacated as Court Magician to the Kingdom of Possiltum. She used my old offices, a majestic suite of rooms in the best tower. I also knew the honeymoon cottage that she and Badaxe had been given by the queen as a wedding present.
"Great!" A jubilant Badaxe grabbed me by the arm and dragged me toward the racks of clothing.
"Wait a minute!" I protested. "I didn't say I'd dress up!"
"If you're an Affection Day messenger, you need to wear the uniform," Badaxe said. "Are you a soldier in this being's army, or aren't you?"
"What's going on?" Aahz appeared from the midst of the racks. Hastily, he shoved a bright green and black satin corset into his basket, where it disappeared.
"Hey, Aahz," Badaxe said, his face dropping into a relatively neutral expression. He and Aahz had a cordial relationship. As hard as I had tried, I couldn't get them to warm to each other. "Skeeve just offered to do me a favor."
"What kind of favor?" Aahz asked, always mistrustful of my ability to negotiate on my own behalf. All right, most of the time he was right, but I was pretty sure that I had agreed to a fairly innocuous task.
"Affection Day messenger," I said. "Badaxe needs me to bring some presents to Massha."
Aahz grinned, showing all of his teeth.
"And you need the uniform," he said, hooking his hand into my other arm. "Well, come on, partner. After you drop the general's parcels off, I've got a few addresses I'd like you to visit."
"He looks like a medium long," Badaxe said, running an experienced eye up and down my lanky frame.
"No problem." Aahz plunged into the racks of clothing.