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Everything is softer here; here where snow falls in tufts, where eddies and whirlwinds of snowflakes dust your eyelashes, where youth is endless because here, yes here, is where it snows dreamlike and splendid, where you find gladness and cheer. Here is where you find hot cocoa in everyone’s veins, rosy cheeks, pointed ears, and little hands, working hands, skillful hands to make toys that bring happiness to children on Christmas Day. Here is where you will find a man in a red suit, his beard white as the snow that falls upon the candy cane lampposts.
Because ‘here’ is the North Pole.
My name is Gemma Starbright, and I am not a horse. I’ve got the pointed ears, the long hair, and a white diamond marking in the center of my forehead, but, I repeat, I am not a horse.
I’m an elf. Not the Keebler kind that makes the cookies, or the Fae kind in those romance books with tons of sex in them (don’t tell Santa that I read them, please), and I’m not the kind of elf that makes shoes for a living or does chores for humans overnight while they sleep.
I’m a Christmas Elf, if you haven’t guessed. There are those of us that are toymakers, which is the most traditional image people have of us Christmas Elves, but there are others too. In our little town, we’ve got bakers, shopkeepers, animal handlers (and boy do those reindeer need handling!) and just about every type of profession you can think of for a small town in the North—and then there’s the ones like me, the studious types. A graduate of Yule University, with my Ph.D. in Yuletide Education with Concentration in Santa Training, I have submitted the highest number of Yule journals studying Santa genetics, behavior, and psychology. And not to brag, but I also made the Dean's Smile List a record fourteen times and discovered six new uses for cinnamon sticks from my research into the works of Baron Von Pinecone.
I have often been told that I am the most accomplished elf of my generation, but that means nothing when elves live to be thousands of years old. At one-hundred-and-twenty-two years old, I am nothing more than an infant in my field. I have been working in the Santa Training Program for a mere fifteen years, three of those as an intern who did nothing but fetch cocoa, drag the disorderly reindeer back to their stalls after flying practice, and make endless copies at the busted old copier. For the duration of that internship, I fumed. Being a young female elf in a field of mostly old white-haired male elves, I was treated more like a secretary than the highly accomplished academic professional that I actually was. Somehow, I survived that nightmare.
After completing my doctorate, I was officially hired as a junior associate with the Kringle Team. You see, there are multiple bloodlines of Santas, and only one is selected for each human lifetime. The current Santa is nearing eighty and is coming close to retirement, and he’s Père Noël—yes, his bloodline originates from France! The three bloodlines are the French Noëls, the English Clauses, and the American Kringles. Sometimes we get petitions to the Christmas Council for other bloodlines like the Russian Ded Morozes, or the German Weihnachtsmanns, and once, the Italian Babbo Natales, but those bloodlines rarely make it to the North Pole. Their magic isn’t strong enough to sustain flight on their own sleighs, much less the official International Association of the Transportation of Holiday Authority approved ones made here.
Being on the Kringle Team, I have, naturally, been assigned to a Kringle, more specifically, Nick Kringle XVI, the sixteenth of his name, and he’s a disaster. The worst Santa in a millennium is what us elves whisper, but we never let him know it. He’s far too tall, not fat enough, doesn’t have the Twinkle in his blue eyes, refuses to wear the suit—the list goes on and on. At twenty-six, he’s the youngest Kringle, and with about the most arrogant personality one could imagine, he brings shame to the Kringle name.
To make matters worse, he’s inherited the Kringle look. The angular, aristocratic features of a long successful line of Kringles bred with sophisticated, well-learned humans. In other words, he’s handsome and he knows it. Interbreeding within the Santa lines is forbidden, but that doesn’t stop him from flirting with the French angelic-looking Noël girls. They fawn over him, he beds them, and their fathers take it up with the Council. Being a Kringle, a name that carries a lot of weight, he generally gets away with just about everything…I mean, bedding the Noëls! Really! It’s nauseating.
Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled. And I am assigned to his team. The handsome idiot who can’t be bothered to pay attention to his Santa studies, and spends more time ogling at girls and fixing his hair than concentrating on the very reason he was born: to be a Santa. He often orders around us elves, sending us across town to fetch his books, which he ‘conveniently’ forgets, and has us make him more cocoa than he could possibly drink. Letting cocoa go to waste is despicable; us elves hate it, and we seldom hate anything!
The only thing Nick Kringle seemed to excel at was flying. The reindeer adored him, and he was very soft on them, winning them over with carrots and sugar cubes even though we warned him not to spoil them. But, I had to admit, there was something magical about watching Nick Kringle fly. He was a natural, and there was a look of pure elation on his face when he flew that red sleigh. He could make all the sharp corners, land on rooftops perfectly, and he was especially good at feinting a crash and making us all lose our minds.
Some of the more mean-spirited elves call him Krampus behind his back, but in my experience, I have not found Nick Kringle to be an evil or even bad person. He’s on the Nice List, and has been every year for the last twenty-six years. Nick Kringle has been the most difficult child to raise, and in adulthood, he is the most difficult man to give direction to, but somehow, despite it all, despite his flaws, I still cannot help but like him. Yes, he was obnoxious, yes, he was arrogant, but he was also the very same person who had put a selfie of Marcy Sugarmuffin on top of the tree in the break room when she’d gone into depression over losing her cat Sprinkles. He’d told anyone who would listen that Marcy was a star! Nick Kringle was also the one who’d taken the blame for the misplaced spring curriculum in ’09 to keep those in charge from having to answer to the Council and possibly lose their long-standing positions.
And Nick Kringle? He was the only person who remembered that my birthday was on the same day as Valentine’s Day, and has, for as long as I have known him, gotten me a new charm for my bracelet each year.
So no, he’s not all bad. Not bad at all, actually.
He’s just naughty.