That’s it, he thought, no longer will I allow this to continue. He slammed a gnarled hand down upon the arm of his icy throne and bared his overlong yellow teeth. A few pale elves glanced fearfully over before returning to their baleful yellow forges, tiny fingers held into the arcane flames, writhing artefacts taking substance from their pain.
‘Work faster, thralls, or you’ll find some of these gifts at the foot of your own beds come this Christmas,’ he growled. The haggard creatures visibly struggled to do so, though one or two laid down in defeat. Matters not, they need last only a little longer. He rose and strode across the glimmering floor to view the mountainous heap of neat little presents stacked almost to the vaulted ceiling of his palace, foothills spilling out for seeming miles across the ground. A twisted smile poked through his coarse bristly beard as he contemplated what he had wrought here. They have forgotten. As I nearly have. But they shall remember on the morrow, they shall drink deep of that knowledge, and they shall choke on its bitterness.
In the old days he had been a scourge. Not yet a danger to many, but in the crofts and the foresters’ huts, come winter, folk would hide themselves away and hold their children close. Stories were whispered over firelight, of the red wizard who would appear from the flames and steal sons and daughters. They feared him and he fed from that fear. He needed it, as he needed their children to work his mines and forges. And always he would leave a trinket as a sign: this was my doing. As their fear spread and grew so had he, his power blossoming, and his reach lengthening, until he was near divinity. The people, being weak as people are, attempted to appease his hunger for new chattel by leaving their richest possessions above their hearths and he laughed in malice. He took their gold and their steel and as the whim took him he left their children in safety. A simple incantation would make his thrall-children stay as they were – a human lifetime spent small and unthreatening, simply growing ever more wrinkled. He didn’t need many each year. The people, telling lies as people do, told their children of the wizard who came through their hearths and left them a gift in return for a few valuables, and the children gasped in wonder. How wondrous must this wizard be to reach so many households in a single night? Only when their children had children of their own would those same parents tell the truth: put out your finest possessions, or he’ll take your sons and daughters. But the power of belief is a strange and fickle thing; it changes the believer and that which is believed in as much as it itself changes. Word passed down generation after generation, but the world itself forgot the taken children and simply noted the trinkets which appeared on Christmas morning. The parents reminded their children to put out something for the red wizard before going to bed, he’ll leave you a gift in return, but why make mention of some old legend about kidnapping? They are just stories, and stories cannot hurt us. As the gifts they found became ever more elaborate and numerous their offerings in turn became poorer and poorer, in the way of spoilt children everywhere. Anyway, they reasoned, surely we ourselves bought most of these gifts. I’m not even sure there are any that we didn’t provide. Were we ever so silly as to believe presents arrived here by magic simply because we left out a glass of sherry and a mince pie?
The wizard himself, drunk on the wave of power the people’s belief had infused him with noticed little. To reach the ever growing number who knew his existence he bent his powers to tricking time itself into becoming sleepy. The world slowed, and he rode through crowds of statuary bedecked with unmelting flakes of snow. If he noticed his leavings were far from the simple gimcracks of before he thought little of it, save that it showed the extent of his efficacy. If he noticed that less of gold and steel was left for him he scarcely noticed amongst his vast bounty and bulging treasure vaults. What he did notice was that his elves were failing. They had become too old and somehow he had neglected to replace them. He had not taken a child in thrall for half a hundred years. What was this? He looked down upon his world and saw a land without fear. He snarled in disgust. They were singing. Everywhere he saw a mocking effigy, fat where he was bestial, jolly where he was malign, and everywhere demonstrating some kind of effervescent brown beverage. The terrible creatures which drew his chariot of bone and tusks become deer. Is this what I have become? Glancing down at himself he could see the gaudy outfit flickering in and out of perception, the peoples’ belief warring with his terrible reality. In a rage he tore this lie away, reaching down into himself to rid his soul of the taste of compassion and generosity wherever he found it.
He brooded in his gelid palace until the gifts were completed. The last elf sat down, just remembering to draw his pained hands from the forge. The wizard emerged from giant arched gates and with a harsh cry summoned his beastlings fashioned from blood and darkness. Difficult now to so handle the folding of time and space, so few truly believed in him any longer, but he had always been strong. He surged out into the sky, under stars no longer twinkling and as he passed over towns and cities drove his will through every fireplace. One simple gift he left at the foot of every child’s bed, until his chariot was depleted and his strength spent. Dismissing his creatures he sank upon the throne and coaxed time back into life. He watched as the distant winter sun bathed the homes of the people and stirred their little sons and daughters into wakefulness. He watched as they spied the little shining gift at the foot of their bed. He watched as they tore the radiant cover from the little shining gift. And he watched, and he smiled a fearsome smile, as lich hands, twisted and yellowed, snatched the children, all of the children, and dragged them all wailing into his realm.
Yes, he thought, they will remember.