So, I’m clearly not going to get Alchemist of Middlesbrooke out there before the New Year, but here’s Wintermorn with Petra, Lucia, Apolline, Roland, Alda, and Celeste.
Lucia, Apolline, Petra, Roland, Alda, and Celeste mark Wintermorn with a traditional Middlesbrookian secret gift exchange.
Known in the old Midlandic language as the Geschenketausch, the tradition of gift-giving begins at the start of the month, with everyone drawing someone else’s name from a hat — in this case, an Uncle Wintermorn hat — then secretly buying that person a secret gift, with the givers only revealing themselves on the day of Wintermorn as their person opens the secretly-given present.
By virtue of being twelve, Alda is allowed to open her present first.
“This is for you, Alda,” Petra says, handing the girl her present. “Merry Wintermorn!”
Alda tears through the wrapping with the ruthless efficiency of a hungry Turboshark.
“Petra,” she says gravely, looking up at the Troll-Amazon. “Why did you give me a rock for Wintermorn?”
“It’s upside down, Alda,” Petra answers.
When Alda flips over the rock and looks down at it, she finds it looking back at her.
“Oh! You painted it!” Alda says. “And it’s got googly eyes! It’s so cute! I’m going to put it on my desk! Thanks, Petra!”
She springs at Petra, giving the Troll-Amazon an eager tackle-hug.
Soon, most of the gifts have been exchanged.
Alda is admiring the painted, googly-eyed rock given to her by Petra. Petra is testing the bristles of the new paintbrushes from Celeste on her fingers. Celeste is adjusting the Aurorean-style beret given to her by Apolline. As she helps Celeste with the beret, she has the potted plant from Lucia on her lap.
Lucia is the only left waiting to receive her gift.
After he finishes stacking his new alchemy flasks from Alda into a pyramid, Roland crosses over the room towards Lucia.
“Surprise!” Roland tells Lucia, holding out his present for her. “I was your Wintermorn, um, guy. Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?”
“Roland,” Lucia notes, “it’s not a surprise. I’m the only one left.”
Lucia opens her present.
“It’s socks,” she says.
Roland frowns. “You don’t sound happy.”
“Are you kidding?” Lucia exclaims. “This is great! You can never can never have too many socks! Thanks, Roland! This is awesome.” She looks up at the musclebound alchemist. “Wait. Are you crying?”
“That’s the first thing nice thing you’ve ever said me,” he notes tearfully.
“I mean, hey, you are an idiot,” Lucia notes. “But you’re our idiot!” She blushes and adds in a murmur, “And, uh, my friend, too. I guess. And — gah!”
Roland pulls the Wildering into a smothering hug, threatening to crush her with the sheer force of his friendship and affection.
“This is the best Wintermorn ever!” he says. He grins broadly. “Come on, everybody. Get in here! Time for a group hug!”
“Don’t even think about it!” Lucia groans, already being crushed by Roland and not particularly looking forward to the added weight of four more hugs.
“Let go of me!” Lucia cries. “I will scratch your face off, Roland!”
I’m not entirely satisfied with this one. I think I needed to do more about the actual gift-giving, but decided not to because writing everyone reacting to getting a gift would have made the story too long and not really added that much.
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