Merry (belated) Christmas, dear readers of this blog!! I wanted to celebrate by writing a Christmas short story tied into the Warriors of Aralan series. I've written very few short stories, much less any Christmas-y ones, so it was something refreshingly new. It takes place in Calima, which is a country of dark-skinned people on Aralan's western border, a people that figure prominently in Journey to Freedom (WoA #8). Ironically, this Warriors of Aralan short story contains only one passing reference to Aralan itself.
I chose Calima as the setting for several reasons, but mainly because they're the country that introduced Christianity to Aralan back in Finding Hope (WoA #4), and would therefore be most likely to celebrate Christmas if any of the people in my stories did. I also chose them for the fact that the Caliman twins I introduced in Journey to Freedom are so full of the Christmas spirit the rest of the year, that they'd be the perfect ones to deliver this story during the actual Christmas season. (Only they don't call it Christmas—they call it Rakkaus—and if you're curious what that means, Google the translation.) ;)
This story takes place in the "winter" before Journey to Freedom, so if you've read that, there'll be lots of Easter eggs hidden inside. But if you haven't, don't worry, there aren't any spoilers. You'll just get to see a pair of awkwardly adorable identical twins doing their thing in my version of a Christmas story. :) Enjoy!
His Favorite Rakkaus Story
“You want to hear Elias’s favorite Rakkaus story?” Emory feigned a groan and glanced at his brother, enjoying the clamor of small voices just as much as he did.
All around them was a crowd of little ones, beaming faces highlighted by the cozy flickering glow of firelight emanating from the hearth. Nearby Emma, Josiah and Hadassah sat around the table on one end of the cottage, looking fondly upon the children—the oldest of which was barely ten years old.
This child in question lay on the floor on his stomach, chin propped up on both palms, grinning as he blew a stray lock of dark curly hair out of his face. “You always act like you don’t want to tell it, but you do!”
Emory heaved a long-suffering sigh and rolled his eyes. “If I must! But maybe I want to tell my favorite Rakkaus story once in a while you know…”
Elias prodded him in the ribs. “No one wants to hear about the five pounds of lamb roast you ate in one sitting any more than you want to remember the stomach ache it gave you.”
Emory looked indignant. “How should you know? Maybe I do!” After pausing dramatically for an instant, he leaned out over his young audience and lowered his voice to a ghostly whisper: “‘Twas a dark and stormy night—”
“It was not!” Elias treated his brother to another good jab in the ribs, much to the hilarity of the children present. “If you’re going to tell a story, do it right.”
Emory rubbed his ribs ruefully and appealed to the imagination of the youngsters. “Every good story deserves embellishment, doesn’t it? After all, announcing that it started on a bright and sunny morning doesn’t grab your attention much!”
“But it did start on a bright and sunny morning!” Elias laughed, “And it wasn’t just any bright and sunny morning. It was Rakkaus. And that was a very promising fact to the young whipper-snappers that we were…”
The moment the sun rose over the far eastern horizon and tinged the arid Caliman sky pale blue, Emory and Elias were out the door of their cottage and surveying the small town of Orston with great satisfaction. Every mud-brick house was decked out with what little greenery the desert could provide, which mostly took the form of palm fronds hanging from the eaves and cacti gracing the windows. One of these fronds dangling from the eaves of their own cottage tickled Elias’s ear in a faint breeze, and he brushed it away.
The air was pleasantly chilly, having not yet recovered from the night’s absence of the sun, and Elias breathed deeply, savoring the temporary coolness. As always, he felt his heart swelling alongside the breaking of the day on this most glorious of mornings—Rakkaus—the day the Calimans celebrated the birth of their Savior. It was his favorite day of the year, and he intended to make the most of it, in the way that only an eighteen-year-old Caliman could. There would be races, and dancing, and gift-giving and singing and church, and he didn’t want to miss a single beautiful moment.
Soon the hungry bleating of their sheep drew the brothers away from their silent stand of satisfaction, and they wandered around back to feed their flock, where they were temporarily penned for the day. Even the dusty aroma of the straw they forked into the pen didn’t make Elias sneeze on this wonderful morning. He felt sure that nothing but good things would happen. Nothing but good things could happen.
Not long after the sheep were fed, their mother’s welcome voice sounded, calling them to breakfast, and the haste they made to beat each other back to the door was one that a bystander would have thought the races had already begun. Emory beat Elias by a hair—such a slim hair, in fact, that they got jammed in the doorway—and burst inside with a gasp of laughter.
Neither of their parents viewed this as at all unusual, however—raising such a set of twins had made them immune to most surprises by this time—and they were quickly ushered to the heavily-laden table by their mother. The family joined hands as father said grace, and then immediately fell to savoring the dried dates for their porridge, the buttered toast, and the fresh milk. Everything tasted better on this lovely morning, and soon the food had disappeared entirely under the brothers’ ravenous appetite.
Both Emory and Elias were looking forward to the races immensely, and since it was the event that kicked off Rakkaus for Orston, they wasted no time in heading for the door after breakfast. But their mother stopped them before they could put a hand on the latch.
“Oh, boys,” she called, “Wait one moment. Since you’re going that way, take this basket of Rakkaus sweets to Talya’s mother, would you?”
Anyone watching would have noticed Elias turn a peculiar shade at the mention of Talya’s name, but he took the basket as nonchalantly as possible and wasted no time in escaping to the freedom of the outdoors. He took a deep breath to clear his head, and even managed a grin as Emory caught up to him.
“She knows,” Emory whispered with a devilish smirk.
Emory was very nearly clobbered by the basket of Rakkaus sweets, but Elias caught himself just in time. Instead, he lifted his chin airily. “About what, might I ask?”
“Who you’re hoping to dance with this evening,” Emory replied, and narrowly ducked a non-basket swipe aimed at his head. Instead of repenting, this retaliation seemed to delight him. “Ah! I was right!” he crowed, and was immediately forced to flee as his brother pelted after him.
Elias was not really angry with his brother—very few things ever came between them—but he thought that he’d rather die than have anyone else know what he thought of the pretty young Caliman girl that had recently come to live in Orston. The fact that Emory was mentioning it so freely was an alarming one indeed, and his alarm, and by reflection Emory’s, carried them halfway across Orston before they were stopped by a good-natured villager.
“Aren’t you boys running in the races?” the elderly man asked.
“If Elias will ever stop chasing me,” Emory gasped, panting to catch his breath with a mischievous glance in his brother’s direction.
“Well then you’d better hurry—it’s about to start!”
“It’s what?” Elias exclaimed, looking worriedly at the basket he carried. He couldn’t run a race with that in his hand!
Emory seemed to share his thoughts, because he stopped grinning and looked around at their possibilities. Mud-brick huts with thatched roofs greeted them from every angle. “Set it on that table over there,” he said at last, and pointed to a long wooden construction that seemed to have been set up in the town square for their personal convenience.
“But that’s the gift exchange table! What if someone thinks it’s a present and takes it?”
“The gift exchange isn’t until noon. We’ll be done long before that, and can grab it before it starts. We’re speedy.”
“Mother’ll tan our hides and feed us to the sheep if anything happens to it—”
“But it won’t. C’mon!”
Emory’s reasoning was too much to resist. Elias dilly-dallied for a moment, then followed his brother over to the table and set the basket down. He noticed then that a few of the doughy confections had been jiggled loose from their resting places by his antics, and that the cloth cover was askew, so he clumsily repaired the damage and trotted after Emory as he headed for the races.
The races were a yearly installment in Orston’s Rakkaus celebration, and much-beloved by the young men of the town. Few girls entered, not because it was frowned upon, but because it usually ended up such a jostling, dusty, sweaty sport that not many cared to.
The event was held in a dried-up streambed that arced away from the town and out into the desert wilderness to the west, which made it easy for the spectators to see as they watched it from the banks. It also made it impossible for the runners to lose their way on the course, and end up running blindly out into the desert, which had happened before they utilized the streambed.
Emory and Elias arrived not a moment too soon, as everyone else that wished to compete was already at the starting line scratched in the dust at the bottom of the streambed. Elias was too busy returning the wave of their friend Tobias, who was competing, and scrambling down the slippery, dusty, pebbly bank, to pay much attention to the spectators, but when he was at the bottom and positioned between Emory and Tobias, he chanced to look up and spied Talya’s mother in the nearest group of spectators. And she was standing next to his mother.
Elias suddenly discovered a desperate need within himself to nudge a pebble by the starting line with his toe. At the same time, he wasn’t sure whether his feet would obey him when the starting signal came, or he’d run faster than he ever had before in order to flee. Running in front of spectators he didn’t mind—in fact he really rather enjoyed it, since it gave him a chance to distinguish himself from his brother—but guilt, among other things, rose up and confused him in that moment.
He was so distracted, wondering whether his mother had mentioned the basket to Talya’s and found it lost en route, that he missed the starting signal and was left choking on a cloud of dust. But he wasted no time in following, and immediately fell into the ground-eating lope of the famed Caliman runners, leaping rocks, dodging slick pebbly spots, and altogether catching up quickly.
As it turned out, chasing his brother had been a very good warm-up.
Elias felt his worries melting away as he sprinted after the last runner, drawing steadily nearer. He savored the pounding of his heart, the feeling of the wind rushing by, and exulted in the power he felt while running. He quit wondering about the basket and gave himself over to the enjoyment of the holiday. So what if he didn’t win? It was Rakkaus, and it was a glorious time to be alive. It was the one day all year when all of Calima put aside everything in order to love one another, and follow the example of the One whose birth they were celebrating.
He’d passed the last runner before he realized it, and then another. There were eight of them all told, and Elias forced himself to regulate his breathing, and conserve his energy for a final dash at the end. But even with these restrictions he flew on, and passed the third runner from the end, who glanced at him with surprise as he passed.
Elias had no idea how far he’d already gone—but at least he wouldn’t be the last one across the line. He set his sights on the next runner, and realized it was Tobias. That knowledge sent the new strength of friendly rivalry into his legs, and he kept on, almost laughing at the look of consternation his friend aimed at him as he passed.
“Oh come on!” Tobias yelled, “That’s not right! You started last and still passed me!”
Elias laughed, but after that had no more breath in him to reply than to laugh any more. The pounding of his heart was reaching fever pitch, and he concentrated on putting one sure-footed rapid stride after the other.
The next competitor was a girl, but Elias scarcely registered this fact. He was zeroed in on passing the next runner; nothing more, nothing less. It took him longer to pass her than he had anyone else thus far, for the very simple reason that she was gaining on the second place runner, and he had to run twice as fast to catch up.
But catch up he did, and neither of them spared a glance for the other as he inched by. They were both so dead set on the task at hand, that they didn’t want to waste precious moments seeing who had shown the other up.
Elias now had his sights set on his brother. Emory was running in second place, but only just—Elias knew he was biding his time, waiting until the end when he’d put on an extra burst of speed and win in dramatic fashion. He’d done it before.
But not today, brother. Elias’s breath was tearing in his throat by this time, and the roar of the blood pounding in his ears was deafening, drowning out the screams of the spectators watching from the bank. Brotherly competition gave fresh fortitude to his pounding legs, which were beginning to feel a lot like wet ropes.
He drew nearer steadily, steadily—and suddenly, Elias spied the finish line in the distance. It was time for the final dash. Emory, however, appeared to think he had plenty of time left, because he continued at the same pace, but Elias was catching up.
Elias’s feet churned the cracked mud streambed into a cloud of dust, pushing himself ever harder, ever faster. He was almost abreast of Emory.
The finish line was a hundred feet away, seventy-five, fifty—Emory finally put on the extra burst of speed that Elias had knew he would, and passed the lead runner—but Elias was in his element, and passed the former leader moments later. Twenty-five feet, fifteen—Elias could have reached out and touched Emory—ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one—and it was over. Elias burst across the finish line half a second ahead of Emory, much to the consternation of the judge, who sat nearby, and now had the troubling task of figuring out which twin had done the winning that day.
“What?” Emory’s exclamation sounded like the croak of a dying toad as they slowed down together. “How—?”
Elias laughed, gulping in great gasps of air, unable to reply for the moment. It was only when he had walked in several slow circles that he could draw breath enough to speak. “Today I won,” he said simply, and slapped his brother on the back. “Don’t worry, maybe it’ll be your turn next year.”
The look on Emory’s face was enough that Elias laughed again, then doubled over with a fit of coughing, every muscle in his legs trembling with exhaustion. He had given it everything he had, and though now he was so weak he could barely stand, it was worth it.
Just then the judge walked over, holding the prize—a wooden cup—and looked at the brothers uncertainly. “My congratulations!” he said, proffering the trophy to the safe zone between the two brothers.
Emory grinned and took the cup. “Why thank you! It was an honor to run today.”
As soon as the judge’s back was turned, Elias poked Emory in the ribs. “Excuse me!” he exclaimed. “That’s mine!”
“‘Course it is,” Emory laughed, and handed it over, slipping around to Elias’s other side. “I just had to make sure they weren’t cheating you, is all. Got to look out for my little brother. Y’know, one year they covered straw with mud and painted it to look like wood, instead of actually carving the cup out of the real thing.”
Elias rolled his eyes, taking his brother’s teasing with his characteristic good nature. “Oh, right, that’s it. Mhmm-hmm. Y’know, that story sounds an awful lot like the one father said his mother told him back when he used to compete—”
Emory grinned. “Minor details brother, minor details.”
By this time they had wandered out of the streambed and into the pressing crush of the crowd that wanted to congratulate the winner, but they waded steadily through, until they saw their mother. And then Elias stopped, and immediately began to backtrack. “This way, brother!” he exclaimed, grabbing Emory’s hand and towing him away. “It’s time to make a basket delivery!”
They successfully avoided Death by Sheep, and lost their mother in the crowd, walking quickly until they made it back to the gift exchange table. And what to their wondering eyes did appear, but the basket on the ground, divided by children so dear.
“Hey!” Emory shouted, “What do you think you’re doing?”
The boys—who evidently thought the basket fair game—looked up with surprise. They were all around ten years old or so, and much delighted by their Rakkaus plunder. “It’s a gift, isn’t it?” the leader of the little gang asked, looking at them with puzzlement.
“No—well, it is—but not for you!” Elias looked around anxiously for his mother—or worse, Talya’s. “Give it here. You haven’t eaten any of it yet, have you?”
The boys exchanged guilty glances. “What’ll you give us if we give you what’s left?” the lead boy asked slyly, instead of answering.
Emory and Elias exchanged mutual groaning glances, but then Elias was struck by a sudden idea. “Would this race trophy be enough?” he asked, holding it out.
Immediately the boys crowded around, admiring the wooden cup, and Elias saw their leader’s eyes shining with greed. “It’s a deal!” the little boy announced, and they immediately put what was left of the confections back in the basket, and made off with the trophy like the little bandits they were.
Elias looked sorrowfully at the now half-empty basket, and wondered where the cloth covering it had gone. “We’re dead,” he moaned, turning to Emory.
“Dead, cold, and ready to put in the ground.”
“We can’t give it to her like this!”
“No, but… maybe some flowers would distract her from the empty places? Maybe she’d think they were supposed to be there.”
Elias watched a little more hopefully as Emory wandered out of sight behind a nearby cottage and returned with a fistful of some half-dead greenery, which he proceeded to lay in a vacant spot amidst the sweets.
Elias snatched it back up again immediately. “Those are weeds, Emory, for goodness’ sake! Here, let me do it.”
He shoved the basket into his brother’s arms and sallied forth to find something other than the blooming grasses that Emory called flowers. It took some snooping, but he at last found some actual flowers of the wild variety, and when he returned, Emory was gone.
“What kind of Rakkaus is this?” Elias muttered, standing where he’d left his brother and looking around in vain. It was supposed to be a happy day, but was instead turning into the most stressful specimen of this holiday that Elias had ever experienced. Then he noticed both his mother and Talya’s engaged in conversation near the gift exchange table, along with a growing crowd, and knew why Emory was nowhere to be seen.
To his further horror, his mother noticed him at the same moment, and looked slowly from the flowers in his hand to his face with an unreadable expression. Elias wanted to melt into the desert ground, never to be seen again, but as that wasn’t an option, he turned and fled behind the nearest cottage, where he almost bumped into his brother.
Emory looked relieved as soon as he showed up, proffering the basket. “Put them here, and then, as soon as the gift exchange is over and Talya’s mother is away from ours, we can give this to her and be done with it.”
Elias put the flowers in the basket with a very deep sigh, and said nothing. The sooner this was over, the better.
Unfortunately, the gift exchange lasted quite a while—as it always did. Every so often Emory peeped around the cottage to check its progress, since Elias absolutely refused, and gave a report. It was always the same: lots of people, little change, and a lot of presents. But finally, nearly an hour and a half later—or fifteen years off Elias’s life—the group began to break up and drift towards the church to have their Rakkaus service.
This took a while, for the older women especially, since they were deep in conversation and apparently couldn’t walk and do that at the same time, so another half hour passed before their mother headed towards the church. But to their utter exasperation, Talya’s mother followed.
Emory and Elias exchanged pained glances behind the safety of the cottage. They’d have to wait until after the church service to get Talya’s mother alone. There was nothing for it but to stash the basket in the middle of a cactus patch and follow the crowds. So that’s what they did.
And Elias prayed that no scorpions would find their way into the Rakkaus sweets. Stranger things had happened.
The church was a very old building, built out of the purest sun-baked bricks Elias’s ancestors could get hold of, rectangular in shape, and complete with arched stained-glass windows and a bell tower, the inhabitant of which was at this moment busy in calling all of Orston’s people together.
Elias usually loved the unity of gathering at the church with fellow believers, on Rakkaus especially, but today he was much too preoccupied with the problem of the basket to really pay any attention—except for the fact that he made sure he and Emory did not sit by their parents today. That would only lead to an awkward whispered interrogation, and he wanted a chance to actually deliver the basket before he faced that kind of pressure.
He and Emory seated themselves towards the back, in one of the many polished dark wood pews placed perpendicular to the stand where their pastor stood to deliver sermons, and stared forward as if his life depended on it. He dared not glance to the right or left, lest he accidentally meet the eye of one of the two matrons he absolutely, positively did not want to meet at the moment.
Though they were some of the later arrivals to the church service, it took at least another quarter of an hour before people stopped filing through the door. All this time the pastor—an old, white-haired man with a quiet voice and a big heart—was moving amongst the people, wishing them a merry Rakkaus and generally spreading good cheer.
Elias watched his progress out of the corner of one eye, wishing for the moment when he’d head to the stand and begin the service, but it took a life age before he even looked that way. But at last he walked to the front, and at last he stood before the pulpit, gazing out over his congregation with a smile. “Merry Rakkaus,” he said finally, and glanced at the ancient behemoth of a Bible on the stand before him. “It is the day we celebrate our Savior’s birth.”
Instantly the hubbub of voices ceased, as every eye turned respectfully towards the front to hear the Rakkaus story read. Elias thought it was finally safe to look around, then, and studied the peaceful faces highlighted in the rainbow hues falling from the stained-glass windows lining the walls.
Suddenly, his own woes seemed small by comparison. And so he listened in thoughtful silence to the reading of Jesus’s birth, and especially to the bit that involved shepherds. This was the part that always rang truest with Elias, since he was one himself. He’d spent days without count trying to find a patch of green for his sheep to munch, and to think of thousands of angels suddenly appearing in the midst of all that lonely quiet and singing “glory to God”—well, it was a staggering thought.
He left the church calmer than he’d been entering it, and neither he, nor his brother spoke. It was early afternoon now, and most people were heading home for a time to eat the largest meal of the holiday with their families. This gave Elias an idea. If they could just deliver the basket to Talya’s mother while she was at home, things would be much easier. The only problem was that Talya was liable to be there also, an idea that made Elias’s stomach do a spectacular flip.
He shot a surreptitious glance at Emory, weighing the chances that he’d say yes if he proposed sending him to do the delivering alone. After a moment of calculating, Elias dropped his gaze to his feet and gave a little inward sigh. The odds were next to zero, or he wasn’t Emory’s twin.
Instead, they headed towards the basket as if drawn there of one accord, and to their utter relief it was in one piece, and looked as if it hadn’t been touched since they left it there. Elias even counted the pastries to make sure, and they added up to the right number. He grabbed the basket and exchanged a nod with Emory. “Let’s try going to her house.”
Emory merely nodded, and together they set out. It didn’t take them long, and soon they stood in front of a small hut on the edge of Orston. When they knocked, a pretty girl of seventeen answered the door, and Elias’s mind was shocked as blank as the desert sky. This was definitely not the plump, middle-aged woman they had been hoping for. She looked both of them over inquiringly, then at the basket, and then met his gaze. “Yes?” she asked, smiling softly.
Elias couldn’t speak—couldn’t even form a coherent thought—and instead held the basket out with a dumb kind of automation. He’d never felt as awkward his entire life as he did then. It was supposed to Talya’s mother, not Talya that answered the door! His mind was a buzzing hive of exclamation points, most of which were very confused ones.
Thankfully, Emory rescued him. “Merry Rakkaus,” he said, with a bow
Talya’s smile widened, and her eyes shone. “Thank you!” she said, taking the basket from Elias and looking from one to the other, as if unsure which of them she should be thanking. “My mother and have moved many times, but no town has been kinder to us than Orston. I wish we could stay here permanently, but we just got word today of some family in another town that wish for us to come live with them.” She glanced at the basket, seemingly heedless of its disheveled appearance, then looked up again and smiled at them both. “Merry Rakkaus to you as well, and many thanks!”
Then she shut the door.
Emory waved a hand in front of Elias’s face in the silence that followed. “Good grief, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Elias stared at Emory. His initial reaction was an inward groaning of, “She’s moving?” followed by a pang of fierce disappointment, but then he pulled himself together and straightened, both outwardly and inwardly. “Let’s head home,” he said. Emory gave him another strange look, but mercifully didn’t prod. Elias didn’t know whether he was numb, or something else much like it, but a very small part of him was relieved. After the agony of the day, it was almost good to know she was going to pass out of his life soon.
Orston was like a ghost town as they wandered through the streets, heading back home, and not one face peeped out of a window at them as they passed, yet sounds of merriment could be heard outside of every hut. It was the time of the day that Orston’s community celebrated family, and took the time to reflect on the goodness of their Lord, and His mercy in sending His only son in the form of a tiny baby that first Rakkaus so many years ago.
Elias, however, was doing a very different kind of reflecting as he walked, and it was one that ultimately led to a much clearer head by the time they arrived at their door. Still, he said not a word, and only grinned as their mother greeted them with a cheerful scolding upon their arrival.
“My word!” she exclaimed, plopping a steaming bowl of lamb gravy on the table next to the roast lamb itself, “What have you been doing? We thought we were going to have to go out looking for you if you didn’t show up soon!”
Emory laughed as he pulled out a chair. “Mother, we’re eighteen.”
“But you’ll always be my boys,” she laughed, putting a ladle in the gravy and setting down a dish of roast vegetables in front of her husband, who was already seated and ready to begin. “Although,” she paused thoughtfully, “I would appreciate it if you acted like a mature young man and didn’t eat five pounds of lamb again this year.”
Elias and their father burst out laughing, but Emory had the grace to look mildly ashamed. “If you insist.”
Though happy, contented conversation and good-natured ribbing was going on all around Elias, he was uncharacteristically quiet as he ate. He decided that he was glad, deep down, that Talya was moving. He viewed it as an act of God. Perhaps what he felt could develop into something deeper, but Elias wasn’t going to waste time indulging that shallow feeling when there was no chance of that. This—he looked around at his mother, father and brother, engaged in animated conversation—this was love.
By the time everyone emerged from their houses, the sun was setting and tinting the pale blue sky with gold. It was the time for the dances. That morning Elias had looked at this event with a mixture of hope and fear, but now he viewed them as calmly as was possible for someone of his age. Emory, incorrigibly optimistic as ever, was raring to go. Usually Elias was right there with him, but not this year.
Unlike the dances of their neighboring country of Aralan, most of the dances the Calimans took part in were a community event. There were a few kinds that involved couples, but the fast, joyful, colorful, whirling celebration of life that began the end of Rakkaus was far from it. Slowing down didn’t come until later, when everyone was too tired to do anything else, if they were to continue at all.
Elias and his family joined the crowd drifting towards the western edge of the town, where colored lanterns had been set up on wooden poles, although it wasn’t dark enough yet to really see the difference they made. Everyone was decked out in their most colorful finery for this last event, creating a living blaze of reds and yellows, oranges, greens and blues, made of a light, airy fabric suited to the hot climate.
Already most of the young people were gravitating towards the open space in the middle of all the lantern stands, but a few of the more adventurous—or spry—mothers and fathers joined them, with the women lining up opposite the men, and not a few of these former exchanged whispered giggles.
Elias wasn’t so sure he really wanted to dance this evening, instead finding himself well content to watch this time, but he didn’t resist when Emory grabbed his wrist and began towing him towards the dance “floor.” After all, they did nearly everything together.
Emory finally let go when they were firmly stationed at the end of the men’s line, and turned to him with a lopsided grin. “Got to get the wiggles out before bed, right? That’s what mother always used to say.”
Despite himself, Elias laughed. “Because there’d be no rest for anyone if she didn’t make us run about ten laps around the cottage every night before we went to sleep.”
“And now let’s do about ten dances.”
“Ten!” Elias gasped, then poked him in the ribs. “Well I don’t know what you were doing lollygagging back there during the race, but this winner’s already a little tired, and needs his beauty sleep tonight.”
“Beauty sleep, hah!” Emory scoffed, and returned the good-natured prodding. “It’d take an awful lot of that to fix you.”
Elias made a show of drawing himself up stiffly. “Excuse me, sir, you share my face.”
Emory’s eyes wrinkled up, and for a moment he looked as if he were a fair candidate for Death by Laughter, but then the musicians began with their bean-filled gourds and gangling string instruments, and they were swept up into the whirlwind of Rakkaus joy. The dancers leaped back and forth, a skipping, whirling, twirling, organized chaos of color and laughter and light. That was the dance that the Calimans used to celebrate the birth of their Savior, and it was nothing short of a physical embodiment of the joy He brings. It looked like utter insanity from the fringes, but to those wrapped up in the middle, it was a breathless coordination of timing and rhythm, and though it truly was a wonder no one collided, no one did, and the dance went on and on, faster and faster and faster, until the musicians stopped with a tremendous bang of silence that fell across everyone gathered.
Then, sobbing for breath, most of the dancers fell down and laughed so hard they cried. It truly was the most glorious day of the year—Rakkaus—the day the Savior was born. And as Elias lay there panting for breath alongside all the others, he felt the glory of it in every aching inch of his body.
There was a long, thoughtful quiet after the twins finished telling their story. Some of the youngest children had fallen asleep before the end, and no doubt dreamt of kaleidoscope dancers from the peaceful smiles on their slumbering faces—but the older ones, as well as the adults—were quiet, scarcely heedful of the popping of the fire that broke the comfortable quiet with some regularity.
“Can I ask why that’s your favorite Rakkaus story?” Josiah asked Elias at last, with a curious smile.
Elias sat up, having been slumped in his chair, lost in a thoughtful reverie. “Pain is a good teacher,” he chuckled, “It’s the Rakkaus I remember the most clearly, since it was a very uncomfortable one for me.”
Amidst the general laughter this caused, and the practical moving on of the conversation towards putting the children to bed, Elias cast a sorrowful glance at a dark corner of the cottage. “And it was one of the last with us all together,” he whispered.
If you liked that, more Warriors of Aralan can be found here.
Thanks for reading, and merry Christmas!!
Welcome to Katelyn Buxton Books! I'm a Christian author and blogger, with a passion for writing stories that are not just enjoyable, but also lead people closer to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!