#Holiday Story: Holiday Surprises

Not everyone likes the holidays. Or surprises.

Ailneighdaeth gingerbread display 

Everyone’s ready concurrence was given for joining the king in the Great Hall for one of Frewyn’s most beloved and ancient practices, and Alasdair could not have been more in raptures. Though he had grown up with celebrations in the Great Hall, he could not himself hold them often without being wracked by a pang of solemn regret that his grandfather could not attend or that Bryeison and even his father could not be there to delight in all the joys of the day. Now, however, with so many friends and family always about him, he would lavish them with all his doting affection and commemorate their support with the celebration that their unwavering affection must warrant.
Everything will be perfect, was Alasdair prevailing cogitation, and while everyone was discussing as to what tunes Alasdair was to play and what dances should be danced and what songs should be sung—Boudicca would not be singing any, unless her father could prevail—Alasdair slipped out of the commons and went down to the kitchen, where he began preparing a list of the dishes he wanted Martje to make for the following evening.
“Turnips and cheese with that delightful breadcrumb crust,” he read as he wrote, “bacon coddle, a few dressed birds, bolaig since Gaumhin and his entire family are coming and there is no doing anything in Westren without bolaig—I’m not allowing mardeam at the table though-- pea soup with salted pork, some pasties for the children, honey cake, baked apples, and absolutely no pies or crumble or anything with rhubarb whatsoever. Oh, and something chocolate for Rautu since his birthday is coming. There, I think that’s a very good list. I’ll leave it for her and—By the Gods!”
He had turned round to place the list on the counter and found Rautu standing directly behind him, his features tapered, his finger already pointing at the king’s nose.
Alasdair’s shoulders jolted in momentary fright, and then he sighed and swore to himself, “By the Gods. I didn’t even hear you come down the stairs—Rautu, you cannot creep upon a person like that. It makes my skin horpilate when you suddenly metalize form the darkness. You aren’t allowed to do that anymore. I had a moment’s thought to defend myself, my subconscious not recognizing you at first. Despite what you think of how was trained, I am trained and I was so by Vyrdin and Dobhin, two men you admire, and I was a second away from raising my pen to your throat.”
“You will tell me what you are hiding,” the giant insisted.
Alasdair hemmed and adjusted his jerkin. “No, I won’t, because I’m not hiding anything.”
“You are,” the giant seethed.
“And if I were, which I’m not, why should I tell you?”
There was a pause. Rautu’s lips pursed and his eyes smouldered, and Alasdair looked almost self-satisfied.
“You do not make a formal invitation for everyone to join you in the great hall unless you intend to have visitors.”
“I suppose I don’t,” was all Alasdair’s answer, said with a snurling aspect, which astonished he Den Asaan, and with a polite nod, Alasdair said a most dignified, ”If you will excuse me,” and left the kitchen, leaving the Den Asaan to wonder at the king’s sudden audacity and tighten his fists in increasing frustration.                  
                Thank the Gods he hasn’t worked it all out yet, thought Alasdair, as he hastened toward the servants’ quarter in quest of Searle. There is barely hiding anything from him when he has an eye and ear in every corner of this keep. Fortunately I have Brigdan and Gaumhin on my side. Gaumhin can distract Rautu with a hunt, and Brigdan can certainly keep a secret. No doubt the two of them know about what I mean to do already. I’m glad they haven’t said anything about it. I do like Rautu, but I don’t want him ruining the surprise merely because he must be in on every secret. Well, it is my keep, and if he is going to live here—“By the Gods!” he cried when he turned the corner toward the servants’ hall. “Rautu! Didn’t I say not two minutes ago not to creep up on me?”
                The giant was standing in the passage, his features frowning, his stance wide, and his air defiant.
                “And how did you get here before I did? Did you trundle outside from the kitchen and come across the field to here-- and when it’s snowing?” Alasdair looked horrified. “I’m telling Boudicca-“
                “You will tell my Traala nothing,” the giant growled.
                “Won’t I? Well,” Alasdair huffed, “I suppose then I will tell Martje of your lurking around the storeroom earlier.”
                Rautu looked askance.  “I am allowed to be there.”
                “You are, but you aren’t allowed to be eating your birthday cake before the proper time.”
                “If the cake is mine, I may eat it when I choose.”
                “Then by that reasoning, if something is mine, I may also keep it to myself. Is that not so?”
                Rautu would say no, but here was his own deduction being cast against him, and he therefore said, with speaking hesitation, “I am allowed to inspect the cake for poison.”
                “You are, considering that she did try to poison you once, but inspection and eating nearly half the cake are not the same thing, Rautu, and whether you agree or not, I am still telling your mate that you raced across the field to harass me.”
                Incited and disappointed at having been defeated by his own reason, Rautu pouted and turned aside.
                “Go back to the commons where there is warm cider for you,” said Alasdair, in a kindly accent, and stepping passed Rautu toward the servants’ hall, he added, “And Martje knows anyway.”
                The giant’s eyes flared. “You did not tell her.”
                “I left her a note telling her we would need another cake, preferably one made of vanilla to keep you away from it.”
                Here was a most insensible slight. How could the king be so unfeeling? True it was that the giant had eaten the cake before its proper time, but it was made for him, though it was fashioned by Martje’s fat hands, and as it was chocolate and not terribly poisoned, he would eat it after all. Everyone else might get their own cake, and the cake was so small besides that she could not have meant to be shared. That a new cake should be made, and a vanilla cake, which was only slightly less abominable than a white chocolate one, was an insufferable recommendation, and Rautu was about to wrawl of the injustice being flung at him when he decided that if Martje were already applied to for making another cake, the remainder of the one in the storeroom might as well be aet. Nobody could want it now, being half gone, and if there should be a vanilla one for everyone else to share and delight in, then the rest of the chocolate one must be all his own. He turned from the passage and leapt down the hall, hurrying toward the kitchen with all the alacrity that his newfound reckoning could accord, but when he reached the storeroom and opened the door, much to his horror, the cake, or the half that was left, was gone, and all his happiness gone with it. Twice thwarted by the king in one evening—twice. It was a most grievous business, and when he returned to the commons, he sat beside his mate, leaning his chin against her shoulder, and looked woefully forlorn.
                “Did Alasdair tell you about your cake, or did you learn of your misfortune by yourself?” said the commander.
                “Shh, woman,” said Rautu, in a solemn hush.
                “If you are in the business of hushing me rather than making a demanding answer, your sorrow must be serious.” Boudicca smiled and seemed unconcerned. “Are you groaning about the fact that the other half of your cake was eaten by Martje, or about Alasdair not telling you of his surprise?”
                The giant gave her a flat look, not knowing whether to be incensed by Martje’s eating what had been made for him or by his mate knowing of the impending surprise, and then looked pained and distressed.   
                “Come, Iimon Ghaala,” she laughed, drawing his cheek close to hers, “I know that you are worse than me when it comes to loathing surprises, but this is one you shall certainly like. And no, it is not a vanilla cake. Or a white chocolate one.”
                “You will promise it is not,” said the giant, with a deplorable expression.
                “I give you my word as your mate, it is not anything you will dislike, I assure you.”
                This, though given with artless sincerity by his mate, was hardly consoling, for it seemed now that others were in the king’s confidence, they were in the secret, and if his mate knew, surely Brigdan and Gaumhin ought to know, and even Teague must be aware of this very great surprise that was to surmount the holiday and agitate the keep. Rautu sat in a rage of mopes, “fit of the junters”, as Dobhin so slyly suggested, and was very sure that he begrudged everybody in the keep in any way associated with the king’s connivance, and lamented that he had tittupted through the freshly fallen snow only to be circumvented and superseded at every turn.