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Christmas With Grace Draven!

Grace Draven

Copyright © 2016 by Grace Draven
All rights reserved


Gideon scowled at his and Nathaniel’s reflections in the full length mirror residing in a corner of the library. “We look ridiculous.”

Nathaniel adjusted the crown of oak leaves and acorns perched atop his head, then brushed away imaginary specks of dust from his lapels. He eyed Gideon’s own crown of holly and red berries. “Our countenances are far too strange to ever look ridiculous, only frightening. Or on better days such as these, merely odd. Besides, we’re doing this for a worthy cause.”

“I wouldn’t bother were it not for the fact that Lilah has badgered her mother and me nearly into Bedlam with her request for a duel between the Oak King and the Holly King as part of the Yule celebration.” Gideon reached up to move his crown, hissing when the needle tip of a holly leaf pierced his finger. He jerked his hand away to wipe it across his coat, leaving a thread of silver blood across the fabric. “Already have first blood, and we haven’t even crossed swords yet.”

Nathaniel paid only half a mind to Gideon’s complaints. He cocked his head, listening for a moment to the sweet sound of female voices coming from the parlor. His Lenore played hostess this Yule evening to an unlikely crowd of holiday celebrants while he and Gideon readied themselves to take on the roles of dueling pagan kings.

His mother-in-law had deigned to grace Nathaniel and Lenore’s home with her disapproving presence for a few hours, claiming the chair closest to the fire that fed merrily off a Yule log in the hearth. Jane Kenward’s face had pinched so tightly at Gideon’s arrival, she looked as if she’d eaten a basketful of green persimmons. Her expression had eased only a little when she caught sight of Gideon’s elegant housekeeper Rachel Wakefield and Rachel’s young daughter Lilah.

Lenore’s mother had then downed two glasses of sherry in quick succession when Nathaniel’s friend and erstwhile senior office, Nettie Widderschynnes, sailed into the parlor, decked from head to toe in a flamboyant array of striped skirts paired with military jacket and enough beads, baubles and feathers tucked into her numerous braids to hide a lost city. Lilah had been enthralled, Jane appalled and Nettie blithely unconcerned by it all. Even now, Nathaniel could hear her entertaining Rachel’s daughter with stories of her adventures as airship captain on the HMA Pollux.

“Your mother-in-law is certainly a sour creature.” Gideon raised his rapier and practiced an en garde followed by a parry-reposte, barely missing slicing the fabric of a nearby chair. “I’m pathetically out of practice,” he groused.

Nathaniel danced nimbly out of striking range and reached for his own rapier. “A bonekeeper for a husband isn’t exactly what Jane Kenward dreamed of for her only child when it came to likely husbands.”

“She didn’t like you even before you were transformed.” Gideon saluted with his sword, his otherworldly gaze dark and piercing and a mirror of Nathaniel’s.

To others, they might look like spectral siblings for their coloring and unique appearances. They weren’t, though the blood coursing through their veins now was far more familial than that of the brothers and sisters with whom they’d once shared parents.

Nathaniel shook his head, careful not to dislodge his crown, and grinned. “No, she didn’t, so the idea that I might meet an untimely end at the tip of your blade and make her daughter a sought-after widow has likely drawn her from her house to ours.”

Gideon cocked an eyebrow. “Surely she knows a pinprick from one of these blades isn’t enough to kill a Guardian? Besides, this is Yule and you’re playing the Oak King. You’re supposed to win this duel and dispatch me.”

Nathaniel took a moment to practice his own fencing maneuvers. “Hope springs eternal.”

He cursed when Gideon suddenly shot across the room in front of him, narrowly avoiding a skewering from Nathaniel’s blade.

Gideon plastered himself to the frost-glazed window to peer into the rectory garden, buried under an ever deepening shroud of snow. He motioned for Nathaniel to join him. “Do you see that? You’ve someone slinking about your garden. Bloody resurrectionists.” He uttered the name as if it were a vile taste on his tongue.

A hot rage boiled inside Nathaniel’s veins, incinerating every last speck of holiday cheer. He strode to the door, sword still unsheathed. “They think it safe to do a little grave robbing while we’re in here instead of out there. I look forward to proving them wrong.”

Gideon was on his heels as he yanked the library door open and sprinted into the foyer for the front door. Lenore peered at them from the parlor’s threshold with Rachel looking over her shoulder. Her lovely features were flushed pink from the parlor’s warmth. “Nathaniel,” she called. “What’s wrong?”

Gideon answered for him. “Stay in the house. We’ll return shortly.”

Outside, the air hung heavy with fat snowflakes and froze the lungs with every inhalation. Fleet and silent as shadows, the two Guardians raced around the house to the back garden, swords drawn.

Nathaniel pulled up short and stared, bewildered, at the trio of figures standing under the bare-limbed oak that shivered in the December wind. Beside him, Gideon muttered an unintelligible curse.

Not resurrectionists. Not even living men, but ghosts, and some of the oddest Nathaniel had ever seen during his tenure as Guardian of Highgate Cemetery. One was a spindly old man with the shriveled face of a prune that somehow reminded Nathaniel of Jane Kenward at her most disapproving. He wore a necklace of chains around his stooped shoulders. They clanked and rattled with an ethereal echo.

Beside him towered a ginger-haired giant with a gloriously full red beard. Unlike his aged, rickety companion, this man looked in his full, potent prime. Dressed in the robes of a medieval bishop with a lush crown of holly on his head to put Gideon’s to shame, he clutched a silver chalice from which he quaffed regularly and wiped away the dribbles with his sleeve.

The third spirit was even stranger than the first two, a cloaked and hooded figure with only a black abyss for a face and dark, skeletal hands that drifted in the air like the ragged feathers of a dead crow.

Ghosts regularly haunted Highgate and were often Nathaniel’s companions as he patrolled the cemetery and kept watch over the graves. They didn’t frighten him. He was a shade himself in some ways, as was Gideon and the other five men Gideon had rescued from the madman who created them.

Still, these three specters were unusual as far as specters went and why they chose to lurk about his wife’s back garden, Nathaniel couldn’t begin to guess. “Who are you?”

Gideon spoke before any of the three could answer. “Confused,” he snapped.

Nathaniel turned to his friend and brother in spirit. “You know them?”

“Yes, unfortunately. They suffer from an unfortunate inability to keep to a schedule. They haven’t gotten this right yet.”

Nathaniel’s eyebrows lifted. Gotten what right?

The giant redheaded ghost drifted closer to stand directly in front of Gideon, heavy brow furrowed in a scowl as his gaze took in the holly crown perched on Gideon’s white hair. “You can’t be me, Bonekeeper. There’s only one Christmas Present, and I’m it.”

“And you agreed to be Christmas Past, Bonekeeper” the old man’s specter protested with a rattle of his chains.

The hooded figure stayed silent, but Nathaniel felt the lash of its contempt in the whip of snow that spiraled around his body.

Gideon rolled his eyes, his white pupils brilliant as stars on a winter’s night. “And I will be when it’s time. You’re three days early, you idiots,” he practically snarled. “We aren’t supposed to scare your miserly, misanthropic banker until Christmas Eve. Remember?”

The old ghost’s nose twitched, and his beady eyes blinked as he pondered Gideon’s remarks. The giant wasn’t quite so ready to accept the explanation—one that only confused Nathaniel more than he already was.

“Then why are you wearing my crown?” His gaze settled on Nathaniel. “And you’re wearing my brother’s crown.”

Gideon pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger and closed his eyes for a moment. “It’s Yule. We wear the holly and oak crowns to fulfill a child’s request to see the ancient duel replayed.”

The Ghost of Christmas Present relaxed and raised his goblet in a toast. “Ah well, mate, that’s a fine thing then, and you’ll both do a fair enough job as me and my brother even if you do remind me more of that rasher of wind, Christmas Yet to Come, there.” He waved a casual hand at the sinister specter wrapped in its ragged gray cloak.

Chains rattled again as the elderly ghost scratched his nose. “Are you sure it wasn’t supposed to be this evening?”

“Why are you scaring someone in three days?” Nathaniel muttered.

Gideon slashed the air with his hand in a gesture for silence. “I’m certain, Marley. Even if I didn’t keep an accurate calendar, my housekeeper does. Now go away. I’ll see you three nights from now. Not one, not two. Three. Meet me at Kensal Green then.” He paused. “And Marley, remember you’re to arrive at Ebenezer’s door the evening before we do to warn him we’re coming. Can you do that?”

The ghost scratched his nose a second time. “I don’t know,” he whined. “This is unduly complicated.”

“It was your idea, man,” Gideon spat. “Keep to the plan.”

Christmas Present patted Marley on his bony shoulder, throwing the ghost forward a few steps. “I’ll see to it he shows up on the right night, Bonekeeper. You just leave that crown at home so no one mistakes Christmas Past for Christmas Present.”

Gideon bowed, and with the next swirl of wind-driven snow, the three specters melted away, leaving no trace of their presence behind them.

Nathaniel eyed the man who had saved him from the horror of enslavement and gave him the chance at a life worth living. “What have you been up to during the holidays, Lord Crowhurst?”

Gideon offered a faint smile, nothing more than the lifting of one corner of his mouth. He clapped Nathaniel on the back. I’ll tell you about it later. I blame the entire thing on Rachel and her overblown sense of compassion. She asked for my help for a friend named Cratchit. I’m giving it to her.”

He turned back to the house, gliding as lightly across the snow as Nathaniel. He halted and Nathaniel halted with him. “Don’t mention this to Rachel,” he said. “I’m pleased to help her; she just might not like my methods.”

Nathaniel nodded. “You have my silence.” He suspected that if Rachel asked Gideon to thread the moon on a silver chain for her, he’d do all in his power to fulfill that desire, no matter how impossible. Nathaniel would do the same for Lenore.

They were met in the foyer by three women carrying pistols and a child gripping a washing bat. Nettie spoke first, her gimcrack-and-feathers coiffure shaking with annoyance. “Took ye long enough. What were ye doin’ out there? Getting half-rats in Lenore’s garden? We thought we’d have to rescue you.”

Nathaniel laughed and glanced at Gideon whose gaze lingered a moment longer than proper on Rachel. “Gideon and I wanted to practice with our swords before we dazzled Lilah with our dueling brilliance.” He eyed the bat gripped with such confidence in Lilah’s small hand. “Or maybe I’ll just let you duel the Holly King, Lilah. Somehow I believe he’d find in you a worthy match.”

“Just like my mother,” Lilah said, with the uncanny wisdom of the young.

Gideon stiffened, and Nathaniel caught a glimmer of softness in Rachel’s expression before she hid it behind that cool dignity she wore like armor. Lenore met Nathaniel’s gaze before the others toward the parlor.

“Let’s put the firearms and swords away for now, shall we? Before someone accidentally shoots or stabs someone else. An unfortunate event under any circumstance but especially during Yule.”

She lingered with Nathaniel in the foyer as the others disappeared into the parlor. “Tell me, husband,” she said, keeping her voice soft so only he might hear. “What really happened out there?”

Nathaniel drew her towards him with one arm, the other holding the rapier a safe distance from their bodies. “We met the ghosts of an old man in chains, accompanied by that of Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come under the oak tree. With Gideon’s help, they plan to scare a miserly banker on Christmas Eve. I believe it’s to be a lesson in compassion.”

Lenore swatted him lightly on the shoulder. “That’s a taller tale than the one you told about practicing with your swords.”

He chuckled and bent to brush his lips across hers. “I swear it’s the truth.”

She returned the kiss, then pulled away. “According to myths, there are supposed to be three Christmas ghosts. Where was Christmas Past?”

“He’s in your parlor, my love. Celebrating Yule, wearing a ridiculous holly crown and preparing to slice me to ribbons for the entertainment of his housekeeper’s daughter.” Lenore’s eyes rounded, and Nathaniel grinned. “Merry Christmas, sweet wife. And God bless us, everyone.”


I hope you enjoyed this small peek into the world of the Bonekeeper Chronicles. Nathaniel is my hero in GASLIGHT HADES, Book One of the Bonekeeper Chronicles. His and Lenore’s story may be found in the duology BENEATH A WANING MOON, along with a fabulous Elizabeth Hunter tale. Gideon is my hero in GASLIGHT VIDUUS, Book Two of the Bonekeeper Chronicles, which I’m writing now. Gideon and Rachel’s story will be published in 2017.

Karina’s theme of writing a tale in which an unexpected visitor interrupts the Christmas celebration of some of my characters offered me a chance to tip an affectionate hat to my favorite Christmas story: A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. Though Dickens wrote his story in 1843, and my story takes place in an alternate Victorian England of the 1860s, I took a small literary license of moving the events in ACC up almost twenty years to suit the purposes of this particular tale. Mea culpa.

There are other elements in this work which I incorporated from the history of Yule to the neopagan tradition in which the legendary Holly King and Oak King battle for supremacy over the Wheel of the Year. The Oak King always wins at Winter Solstice, and he reigns over the year until midsummer, when the Holly King returns to do battle and wins at Summer Solstice.

Happy holidays,

Grace Draven

I'm an author and Louisiana native living in Texas with my husband, three smalls and a big doofus dog. I have lived in Spain, hiked the Teton Mountains, honeymooned in Scotland, ridden in competition rodeo and am the great great granddaughter of a Nicaraguan president. I also hate doing laundry and refuse to iron anything.

I've loved storytelling since forever. I published my first short story with Amber Quill Press and have since written several other tales. A love of the bad boy in fiction always inspires me.

Find Grace:

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