The distant sound of carol singers caused the magician to look up from the silver bauble he was holding. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly…
He smiled. He liked that one.
The old man huffed on the sphere and rubbed in on his robe, then held it close to his face. The curved surface distorted his reflection, making his hands seem huge and his head tiny. Something inside the ball made a sound like a fox in the night.
Still smiling happily, the magician hung the bauble carefully on a branch.
A log hissed and popped in the grate. He paused in his tree decorating to stir the liquid in the cast-iron pot hanging over the fire. The smell of oranges, cinnamon and peppery spices filled the room. He sniffed appreciatively and added a generous measure of clear liquid from a glass bottle.
Returning to the tree he examined the lights which he’d wound around the branches. One sputtered and he flicked it impatiently with a fingernail. It squeaked faintly, then returned to producing its greenish light.
Humming fa-la-la-la-la he rummaged in the dusty wooden crate on the rug next to the tree. Over several branches he hooked curved, white objects which might have resembled candy-canes, although they lacked the traditional red stripes.
He let out a happy exclamation when he discovered the string of pearlescent, squarish objects with curiously sharp edges. These he draped all around, so that they shimmered in the firelight.
Then came a series of miniature figures. Reindeer with branching antlers twisted on their strings and butted at pine needles. The magician wagged a finger at them.
A selection of elves with curling shoes hung rather brokenly. At these, he sighed and shook his head sadly.
Another figure drawn from the box was an ugly thing; two pointed horns had been stuck to its forehead and it was dressed in dark, coarsely-woven clothing. It had baleful, light-brown, almost amber, eyes and carried a switch of wicked-looking branches. It hissed as the magician gently stroked it. He stared at it for a moment, looked back at the crate and then, cocking his head to one side, placed it towards the back of the tree.
Last was the figure of a man, dressed in red and white and carrying a lumpy, hessian sack. This one made a soft sound that was almost a groan. The magician gazed at it as if it were a much-loved grandchild, and then hung it carefully on a branch at the very front.
He took a few steps back and examined his work. The figures swung gently on their strings and the lights twinkled most prettily. Faint groans and hisses filled the tree like the wind winding its fingers through a forest. It was, he decided, almost perfect.
He reached into the box and drew out a silver star. He turned it over in his hand, frowning. What were stars, after all? Huge balls of flaming gas, seen from such a distance they were nothing more than dots. He would, he mused, much rather have a fairy on the pinnacle of his tree. He glanced at the string of squarish objects he had draped through the branches.
Yes, a fairy with pretty golden hair and glittering wings. That would be so much more in keeping with the true origins of the mid-winter festival.
The magician cocked his head. The singers had started up again, and they were louder. Very loud, in fact. Almost as if they were just outside his door.
They fell silent and their song was replaced by knocking.
Fa-la-la-la, hummed the magician.
He opened the door. Three women stood there, cheeks flushed from the cold. The middle one pushed a lock of blonde hair away from her eyes as they all burst into song.
The magician listened, a beatific smile on his face.
He clapped his hands as they finished. ‘Oh, that was wonderful. Wonderful! Why don’t you come in for a moment? I’ve got some mulled wine warming in the other room.’
They smiled at the kindly old man with the eyes that spoke of warmth and safety, and thought how bitterly cold it was. The carol singers agreed that, yes, it would be lovely to come inside. Just for a moment.
The magician ladled the dark, cinnamon scented liquid from the pot over the fire into cups and passed it to the singers as they admired his beautiful tree.
Yes, he thought, as they sipped. A fairy with beautiful golden hair. Perhaps she would even sing.
And he could always find room for more elves.
COVID-19 has probably put an end to door-to-door carol singers this year, but just in case, beware kindly old men with strangely active Christmas ornaments… 😉