Baldric was standing over a fire atop the steel oven, calmly stirring a large pot of rabbit stew when the front door banged open. Quick as a fox, he grabbed a bundle of fabric off the high-stone table and chucked it into the mouth of the oven, closing the door just as Gretta tromped in and sat in one of the dining chairs, green eyes glassily staring at wall tapestries. The princess looked as if she had seen something unspeakable, and Baldric wondered what could have spooked her thus.
Then her champion strode in behind her, idiotic smile plaster on his face while wearing the single most hideous woolen sweater the old magician had ever seen.
“Good afternoon,” Dwight said, plucking an apple from the basket. Baldric nearly gagged when he saw the green circles of evergreens dotting the sleeves.
“Ah, Sir Dwight, what—”
“Don’t bother,” Gretta interjected. “He refuses to listen to reason.”
The boy bopped Gretta on the nose with a finger as he walked around to sit in the chair closest to the window. “And you,” he said, “have no Christmas spirit.”
“Christmas?” Baldric asked, head tilted curiously.
“It’s a holiday. You gather with friends and family, have good food, swap presents. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
“Oh! Is it like Yule?” Gretta asked, sitting forward in her chair.
“Yeah, I think so,” Dwight replied. He thought he’d heard of Yule before, though he didn’t know any specifics.
“I still do not understand why you and the others at peasant school wore such… attire today,” Gretta said. Baldric nearly choked. The entire school in garments such as Sir Dwight’s? No wonder she was haunted.
Dwight plucked at the green and white monstrosity. “Oh this? It’s a tradition. Lots of people have ugly sweater parties.”
Gretta frowned and stared at the sweater as if she’d like to set it on fire.
“Do you burn it upon the Yule log?” she asked.
Dwight clutched his sweater protectively. “No! It’s just for fun.”
“Oh,” the princess replied, relaxing. “I suppose that is fine, however, it offends my eyes.”
Dwight started laughing, a sight which caused Gretta to flush with both happiness and annoyance.
“It’s supposed to,” the knight gasped. “But if it bothers you that much, then I’ll get going. I have some shopping to finish anyway.”
The knight stood and slung his bag over his shoulder as he waved goodbye to the medieval duo. As soon as the boy was out of sight, Baldric slumped over the counter.
“You were wise to make noise as you came in,” he said, removing the bundle from the oven.
Gretta jumped up to inspect it. “Thank you. I should not have left it on the table. Now, shall we continue?”
A few days later, Baldric opened the door to a possessed Dwight and Nana. They stood outside the door, covered in flakes of snow, and sang a god-awful song about jingling bells. Once they finished, they grinned like a couple of buffoons and bustled into the castle with packages wrapped in red paper.
“And a Happy Yuletide to you as well,” Baldric boomed.
“Is Gretta out back?” Dwight asked.
“She is upstairs, actually. I’ll go fetch her.”
Dwight patted the shoulder of the lumbering man. “No worries, I can do it,” he replied before bolting up the stairs as only a teenage boy could.
Dwight heard the princess squealing with joy before he got to her door. He chuckled and knocked lightly on the wood.
A thump and a scurry, and then Gretta was peering through the crack. “Sir Dwight,” she said, “what are you doing here?”
“Nana and I are here for the Christmas party. We brought gifts. Why don’t you get ready and come down?”
“Very well, just a moment,” the princess replied, retreating inside.
The knight thought nothing of it and returned to the family room. He found Baldric and Chlodwig sitting happily, each with a warm mug of Nana’s Christmas Cocoa. Nana pressed a cup into his hand as he sat in a relocated dining room chair.
“What a celebration,” Chlodwig exclaimed, chugging the steaming cocoa and coughing heavily as a result. “A test of valor!”
Dwight looked at his buddy with concern. “Actually, you’re supposed to drink it slowly.”
“Drink what slowly?” Gretta asked, turning down the stair. She had removed her armor and donned a bright-red top that complemented her skin tone, and her hair was braided carefully down the side. She looked… utterly astounding.
Dwight had to take a moment to gather his thoughts.
“This, honey,” Nana replied, handing her a mug. “Careful, it’s hot.”
The princess nodded and gingerly sat upon her throne. Dwight watched her blow on the liquid carefully, noting that her lips were a shade darker than normal. Had she put on lip-gloss?
Gretta closed her eyes while she drank, savoring the rich chocolate. “This is divine, aged one,” she said.
Nana smiled appreciatively. “You’re welcome.”
That evening — after the food had been eaten, the carols sung, the presents ripped open — Dwight found himself on the balcony wrapped in a thick blanket. He was enjoying the crisp December air as it filled his lungs and the feeling of a warm mug in his hands.
Gretta appeared behind him, holding a black sack tied off with a silver ribbon, and causing Dwight’s heart to nearly give out. Dwight placed a hand over his heart and took a few deep breaths to calm himself.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” she responded.
“I’m just… enjoying the season. Reminiscing,” Dwight said, taking a sip of cocoa. “A lot’s happened this year.”
Gretta smiled nostalgically. “Indeed. Tis a year I am grateful for.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the stars. Gretta began to rub her arms and Dwight threw part of his blanket over her.
“You know,” Dwight started, “I haven’t had a Christmas party like this in a long time.”
“Nor I. For Yule, Baldric would prepare a modest feast of roast pig, and we would exchange simple gifts over a small Yule fire. He would tell me stories of the elegant balls my ancestors had thrown. Walls lined with silver and gold, and the echo of bells through the halls. But this… this party was different from either of those.”
Dwight nodded. “That’s because Christmas is about spending time with your friends and family, and showing them how much you appreciate them.” The knight fished a small box wrapped with silver paper from his pocket. “Here,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”
Gretta took the box, smiling, and handed Dwight the black sack. “For you. Happy Yuletide.”
Together, they opened their gifts. Gretta had gifted Dwight with a hand-sewn, sky-blue jacket lined with wool and trimmed with fleece. Whereas Dwight had given Gretta a silver bracelet beset with small charms depicting oak trees and swords. Dwight chuckled and slung his new coat over Gretta’s shoulders as he helped her clasp the bracelet to her wrist.
“Thank you,” Gretta responded, green eyes twinkling in the winter moonlight.
Dwight rubbed her shoulders to generate some friction. “And thank you, it looks beautiful,” he responded, glancing at the coat.
Gretta stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Dwight’s torso. As the knight still had the blanket on him, he grabbed the ends and wrapped her up.
“Let’s do this again next year,” Gretta mumbled into his shoulder.
Dwight nodded. He wondered, vaguely, if they’d be the same next year.
And so, the two huddled together on the balcony until neither one of them could stand the cold and opted to return to the warm house.