Once upon a time, in the village of Inglewood Hamlet, there was a boy who sold magical trinkets in the market.
These trinkets were of a strange and wonderous variety: a locket that held a wish that was different for each person who opened it; a cane that caused lightning to strike every time it’s tip struck ground; and a deck of cards that would shuffle itself while playing music.
People came from all around the village to view the boy’s trinkets. He wandered amongst the stalls in the market, selling foodstuffs and clothing, herbs and spices, animals, and furniture. Some days were luckier than others, but the boy did not mind; that was the way of the world.
There were fewer people in winter, however. The snow had come the day before, falling down around the boy like confetti and blowing in the wind. There were some people about, but they were in a hurry due to the oncoming snowfall. They didn’t want to take the time to look at anything magical.
Soon, the boy was the only one left in the market. All the other vendors had gone home to their warm beds. The boy searched the market and, when he could find not place to take shelter, he went into the village proper.
A voice near his left ear said, “I don’t see why you can’t just find somewhere warm to lay your head, Gustav. It’ll be a cold one tonight.”
Sighing, Gustav tried to catch sight of her, but he was never quick enough. She remained just out of sight. “It’s always cold in the winter.”
She let out a sigh of her own and it sounded like the wind in his ear. “Still though, why do you sell these magical things if not for money? Isn’t that the point of all this? Don’t you want to live on the hill, with the other royals?”
He shook his head, though he wasn’t even sure she could see him. “I only ever get enough money to eat, Mama. That’s all. Besides, I like to think of the magic I give the villagers brings them hope. That’s payment enough.”
He heard a sound like his Mama was sticking out her tongue and blowing it at him. “Pshaw. Giving other people hope won’t get you a warm bed at night.”
Gustav knew that she would continue to disagree with him, but this was okay. It was her way, or at least it had been. He wasn’t sure when his Mama had started talking to him, but it often seemed that she had always been with him.
He walked on, past houses that shone with light in the darkness. The snow had grown heavier, so that rather than like confetti, it now fell hard and fast like rain. He found himself taking shelter in an alleyway, trying to find a spot of warmth for himself.
Gustav heard the sound of singing. He wondered why people sung carols but realized it was Yuletide. He had forgotten.
“This was always my favourite time of year,” His Mama said. “Do you remember when you used to hang your stocking by the fireplace, hoping that Saint Nicholas would leave you something wonderful?”
“I always hoped for a book,” he said with a smile. “I remember.”
He heard the sound of a door opening nearby and saw the shape of a shadow on the snow. It appeared larger than life but, as he watched it, the shadow grew smaller. Gustav heard the sound of footsteps and suddenly, the shadow stood in front of him.
He knew that it was a man, but Gustav could see no features because of all the light behind the man. Then a voice spoke and the sound of it was like honey on his tongue:
“Why, you’re the magic man. You must come inside.”
Gustav shook his head. “No, I can’t impose upon you.”
His Mama blew her tongue at him again. “If the man wants to offer you warmth, why do you say no?”
“Please?” The man asked. “No one should be alone on Christmas.”
His Mama nudged him very strongly. “Go on, Gustav, go on. He doesn’t want you to be alone and neither do I.” Gustav heard the sound of wind moving away, then it returned to him, squeezing him as if in an embrace. “It’s okay, Gustav, you can trust him.”
Slowly, Gustav made his way forward to the other man who held out his hand. When Gustav took it, a current ran up his arm that filled him with delicious warmth. The man’s grasp was gentle and somehow reassuring.
He led Gustav into the lighted foyer of his rooms and closed the door. Blinking, Gustav tried to clear his vision. When he could see properly, his eyes took in a modest bedsit with walls that were covered with shelves. The shelves held all manner of books and, looking closely, items that Gustav recognized almost at once.
There was the tin solider that Gustav had given to a little boy a few months back. It moved on its own without aid of electricity. There was the snow globe that a woman had taken that reflected the true weather outside. On the topmost shelf was the small tree that he had given to a man last Yuletide. It shone with its own lights as if bedecked in the stars themselves.
Turning, Gustav started to ask the man why he had all of Gustav’s magical trinkets and he found he couldn’t speak. All Gustav could do is take in the man in front of him, who stood in the light. It looked as if he had a halo and when he moved towards Gustav, the very air around them sparkled. The man had head of curling blond hair and blue eyes that shone like sapphires in the darkness. There was a ruff of stubble on his chin that framed full lips.
“Are you made of magic?” Gustav whispered.
The man let out a small laugh that sounded like the music leaves made in the forest. “No, but you are.” Holding out a hand he said, “My name is Liam.”
When Gustav took Liam’s hand, warmth slid up his arm, as if he had dipped his hand in a jar full of stars. Looking at Liam, Gustav knew he felt it, too. “Why do you say that I’m magic?”
Liam took his hand away and Gustav felt its loss keenly. Liam motioned around the room that contained a great deal of his trinkets. “Because of these. They all contain magic of some sort. I know you created them all.”
Gustav watched Liam as he moved around the room, touching objects with fondness. “How do you know?”
Liam turned and looked at Gustav. “I know because they all feel the same. I know they all do different things, but they all feel like you. Does that make sense? I first came across this globe over here. It would light up as you traced a path on its surface when you asked it a question, as if it were telling you where you had to go.”
Picking it up, Liam held it out to Gustav. Taking it gently, Gustav held it like it was a child. He remembered it well. He had given it to a little boy who had been lost and wanted to find his way home.
“I then came across this crown. A woman I knew gave it to me when I was having a particularly difficult day. She told me that the crown would make me see myself as I really was, not as I saw myself.” Liam gently placed it on top of Gustav’s head and Gustav felt the hum of its magic, almost as if it were saying hello, as if it had missed him.
Liam smiled, and it was as if a light had turned on inside of him. Gustav smiled back when he saw Liam lit so brightly from within. “As I found more of your objects, I began to know even more about you.”
Gustav laughed. “That’s not possible.”
“Says the man who can make magic—actual magic.” Liam came closer and ran a finger along Gustav’s jaw line. “Tell me, magic man. Why do you wander alone, selling your magic for acts of kindness?”
A light burned brighter inside of Gustav at Liam’s touch, and he found himself looking into Liam’s eyes. They had gone from the deep blue of sapphires to the grey peaks of waves. Heat blossomed on Gustav’s cheeks and he wondered if they were glowing.
“Oh my,” Mama sighed in Gustav’s ear. “Just look at him. Isn’t he beautiful?”
“Shut up,” Gustav whispered urgently.
“I’m sorry?” Liam asked, a hurt look on his face.
“No, I didn’t mean you,” Gustav said.
“Oh sweetheart, if you don’t take him, I will. He’s just so dreamy and he has it so badly for you.”
“Mama, be quiet!” Gustav cried, making a shooing motion with his hand.
Liam put a hand on Gustav’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Letting out a cry, Gustav ran to the door and threw it open. The cold air hit him like a slap to the face and when the wind hit his tears, they turned to jewels that fell to the ground and they clattered on the hardwood floor.
Letting more tears fall, diamonds and pearls and pieces of crystal, Gustav didn’t listen and ran out into the darkness. The snow began to cover him like a blanket almost right away. He stood there, shivering, when there was the sound of footsteps behind him. Liam put a heavy cloak around Gustav’s shoulders and pulled him into an embrace. Liam smelled like wood smoke and oranges.
“Why did you run? What are you afraid of?” Liam asked.
“Why aren’t you afraid?” Gustav countered. “You should be afraid of a freak like me. There’s something wrong with me and what I can do, anyway?”
“What is it you can do? Create magic?”
“Yes,” he said in a harsh whisper. “I create the things that people dream of and they toss it away. When people get to know me, I frighten them. They find what I can create amazing, but don’t find me so captivating.”
“Is that why you’ve been alone?”
Gustav nodded. “I’ve been alone since my Mama died…but she’s always with me. She spoke to me in your bedsit before. That’s who I was talking to. At least that way, I’m never alone.”
He looked away from Liam, not wanting to see that look of shock or discomfort that arose whenever he let someone in. Another tear fell and was taken by the wind. He felt Liam squeeze him softly.
“You don’t have to be alone anymore, if you don’t want to,” Liam said.
“Oh, honey! I like this one. Give him a chance, will you?” said Mama.
Gustav looked up to find Liam looking at him, his eyes filled with wonder and light, not with fear or disgust. “You’re not afraid of me?”
“No,” Liam said. “I’m enraptured by you.” He reached up and wiped the snow off of Gustav’s brow. “Is your Mama here right now?”
“Yes, she is.”
“Very nice to make your acquaintance, ma’am. You’ve got quite the grandson in Gustav. I love him so very much.”
“Oh, be still my heart!” Mama said softly.
“How can you love me?” Gustav asked. “You don’t even know me.”
“I do know you, through your creations. They say that to understand magic, you have to study it. I’ve studied your magic and therefore I’ve looked into your soul.”
A softness began to form within Gustav, a warm pulse moving through him. “You love me.” He said this as a statement, not as a question. “You love me.”
“I do,” Liam said. “I’ve been looking for you for years, never dreaming I would find you outside of my bedsit. But I saw light and I felt a hum in the air so familiar to me, so pure. I came out and found you.”
Not thinking about it, Gustav leaned in close and kissed Liam. He wrapped his arms around him and felt as if he were melting when Liam kissed him back. He felt, rather than saw, a brilliant light coming from both of them, pouring out of them from their hearts as they beat as one.
“Open your eyes,” his Mama said.
Gustav felt her presence lift from him and a soft breeze swirled around them. Gustav broke the kiss and opened his eyes. Gustav looked at Liam and saw that he had his eyes open, too. They both took in the gorgeous light that came from their love for each other.
“Now isn’t this just beautiful?” Mama said softly.
Turning towards the sound of her voice, Gustav saw his Mama standing there in front of them, her face a glow with a smile. He reached out to touch her and, though she was made from light, he felt her solid form.
“How is this possible?” he whispered.
“You are made of magic and, yet you ask this?” Liam asked. He kissed Gustav softly. “Anything is possible during Yuletide.”
“Oh, this makes me happy,” Mama said. She reached out and touched Gustav’s cheek. He could feel the warmth from her touch. “Now I can leave you.”
“Where will you go? We’ve been together for so long now.”
“Sweet child.” She looked at him with kindness and love in her eyes. “I’ve been gone from this world for so long. I only stay to watch over you, to make sure that you were not alone.”
“What will I do without you, Mama?”
“Why, you have Liam. I can feel his love for you and it is true and pure. The seed of love has been planted and it can only grow. Besides, I will not be far from you. If you have need of me, you have only to look up into the stars. I will be there.”
She leaned in closely and kissed Gustav’s head. A tear fell from her eye and she caught it. It was a golden crystal, filled with the light of the sun. She fashioned a chain of light and attached the stone to it. Gently, she put it around Gustav’s neck.
“Be well, my sweet boy. Happy Yule.”
She began to fade from sight until she was as bright as the stars around them. They could see the shape of her made out of stars for only a moment. Then the shape flared brightly and then faded once more.
Their own light still flared brightly, and Gustav turned to Liam and kissed him, feeling as if he had received the greatest of gifts.
When Liam took his hand, Gustav let him lead him inside where warmth and their future together awaited.
So the story goes…