The Reindeer Clause: Epilogue
Gary tries to get closure with his former best friend, and stumbles onto the secret origin of the Reindeer.
February 2: Imbolc
“So, what was the trick, Gary?” Benny asked as he sipped his coffee.
“Levitation!” Gary answered. “As I’ve explained in my account of events, Comet can walk on air. This was when I actually found that out. He was so excited for me to ride him… but I was hesitant to impale myself on him. So, what happened was, after work we went to fool around. He pinned me down and entered me. Then he slid his arms under me, and gently flipped onto his back so that I was mounted on him, and it felt great! Then he started bucking his hips and making me feel like I was riding a horse; I had to hold on to his hands to steady myself, but it was fun. But then, I suddenly realized, every time he was flexing his body, I was getting a little bit higher; the next thing I knew, we were floating a couple feet over the bed. I freaked out at first, but once I got the hang of it, it was amazing. Afterwards, we cuddled, literally floating on air with me laying on his chest.” Gary grinned blissfully at the thought.
Benny sighed and rolled his eyes. “This story you’ve spent the last couple hours telling me is simply insane. You know that, right?”
Gary reclined into the wingback chair he was seated in. He shrugged and set his hands on the arms. “I know Benny. I know you can’t believe me, and I don’t expect you to. The story sounds like ravings.” Benny nodded. Gary leaned forward. “But the thing is, it’s true. From the moment I got that call in the middle of the night on Christmas to Epiphany, what I just told you is real. Admittedly I glossed over some of our antics since we are sitting in a mostly-empty coffee shop.” Also, Gary thought to himself. You don’t need to know Comet’s real name.
Benny sighed. “I get it. This is some kind of punishment, Miles has vanished and you’re telling my fairy tales. You even made up things from your imaginary boyfriend’s perspective.”
Gary looked confused. “Oh, well I was able to tell you all that because Comet told me. Once I lifted the mental seal, he decided to admit the Reindeer have powers beyond being huge and oversexed. He’s still kind of hesitant about the exact details, like he won’t tell me how strong he is. But once we were floating on air … well, there was no going back.”
“Speaking of going back, what did you do to Miles?” Benny demanded, staring at Gary with an intense gaze.
Gary bit his lip and looked away, then looked back to meet his gaze. “You realize you’re the only one who’s missing Miles, right? It’s driving you nuts because everywhere you’re looking for proof he existed as you remember, and it’s not there. Even on your own phone you don’t see photos of him. You’re telling yourself you got hacked and they were erased somehow. You’re panicking. I get that. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Miles just did the same sort of social media scrub people do once in a while when they feel overexposed. All the records that count of him still exist, and they describe Comet. If you keep pressing, it’s you who people are going to think had a break with reality. Comet explained it to me, now that he can talk more clearly. The identity exchange spell has less power over people the better they knew the target. Immediate relatives and ongoing lovers are typically unaffected. Because you knew Miles intimately, you were not affected at all. And I guess he was pretty estranged from his family, so it may be that only you and I remember Miles.”
“Because Santa Claus took him away and replaced him with your new boyfriend,” Benny said sarcastically.
“Yes,” Gary agreed. “Ok, for the moment, setting aside what happened to Miles, I do have a question for you.”
“Shoot,” Benny said, looking at him suspiciously.
“When you met Miles, you seemed to hate his guts. But later you two started fucking? And turned it into a game, enjoying making me your cuckold? You were my friend, I thought, from our second year in college. If you decided you two wanted to be screwing, why not just be open about it? Miles could have dumped me and you two could have done whatever.”
“Honestly, Gary, you are exhausting,” Benny said in a disgusted tone. “The older you get the more you get on my nerves. You’re kind of passively sanctimonious, you know that?” Gary bristled at the comment but also blushed nervously in mild embarrassment. “It was never about Miles, though he was fun for a while. It was actually about you. About how I wanted to put you in your place. You should have just let me fuck you back in college. Instead, I fucked your boyfriend and made him my bitch.”
Gary boggled and snapped out of his feelings of awkwardness. “Wait, you were topping Miles? Mr. Exclusive Top Miles? I thought you were verse but he–”
“Eh, I broke him of that total top misconception fairly early,” Benny sneered. “I have a real magic dick after all, not a fantasy dick. But anyway, I thought I was going to fuck you at one point, and then suddenly you were all ‘let’s just be friends.’ Since we’re putting it all out on the table, tell me what happened!”
Gary sipped his chai latte and exhaled. “You remember that time we went to a Society for Creative Anachronism meeting, and then afterwards a bunch of us went to Checkmate for drinks?” Benny nodded. “Remember how you got so drunk, I had to bring you back to my apartment, put you up on the couch overnight, and you threw up all over my area rug?”
“Vaguely,” Benny said, irritated.
“While you were really drunk, you started talking about what you liked to do to guys. How you liked to get guys really into your dick, and then start slapping them in the face to show them who’s boss. You talked about how much you like to pull hair, choke guys, slap them around and make them your, uh, faggots. And I thought that was pretty gross.” Gary took another drink of his tea before continuing. “When I met you, I was pretty charmed, you seemed so confident, but a little sleazy, and I was attracted to that. If you had kept your mouth shut you really did almost have me in bed. But after you said all that stuff about breaking guys, I realized I didn’t want to have anything to do with you sexually. I’m not saying it’s wrong for you want to bag submissive guys, or have rough sex. Not at all. But it was just not what I was interested in. You seemed fine with just staying friends, and I thought that was sincere.” Gary sighed and leveled a serious expression at Benny. “Clearly I was wrong.”
“Judging from your story you probably would love being roughed up by me,” Benny scoffed.
Gary glared angrily. “Hey! I admit Comet makes me swoon, and he brings out my submissive side in bed pretty often. Sometimes. There’s a difference between having a guy so hot you melt and just go with it, and a guy who wants to actively degrade you because doing that is what gets him off and you don’t matter to him at all.”
Benny shrugged. “Its not like Miles was much different. He told me you didn’t even want to have sex much, and he just used you for blow jobs when he wanted.”
“Not quite accurate,” Gary countered in a steely tone.
“Really, you should see what a big dick looks like for once,” Benny boasted. “I’ve got two inches more than Miles.”
“Did you listen to no part of my story?” Gary asked, perplexed. “I have a big dick, Benny. Much bigger than Miles.” He sipped his chai again before muttering quietly, “Bigger than yours.”
“Your fantasies are astounding,” Benny said mockingly.
Gary tsked and leaned back, irritated. He put a hand in his lap and pulled the fabric of his slacks tight. “I’ve been sitting here talking about Comet for hours, which has got me really hard, actually… look under the table. I’m sure you don’t think I stuffed a cucumber in my pants and sat here with it there this whole time.”
Skeptically, Benny discretely knocked a crumpled napkin onto the floor and then bent down to pick it up. He looked under the table only to see Gary’s bulge running down the thigh of his slacks. It was the boasted size, and even thick. Benny snapped back up in shock, barely noticing Gary had an excessive amount of sock showing under his pant legs. “Damn, what the Hell!” Benny exclaimed. “Where have you been hiding that thing?”
Gary shifted uncomfortably. “I’m a grower not a shower, and I don’t think I was ever seriously turned on when I was around you. Miles knew, of course, but he mostly teased me about being a bottom with a uselessly big dick. As I have already mentioned. I guess he just lied to you about it, but then, he was pretty much a liar, right?”
Benny started to shoot a retort but closed his mouth when nothing came to mind.
“Also,” Gary said, “Speaking of lies. Another thing I found out later when I was combing through his paperwork and emails. When Miles traveled with you to Mexico, he was supposed to still be in quarantine for another four days. He had tested positive, though he was asymptomatic. Instead of finishing his isolation and getting tested again, he just faked a negative test result. I really saw the files and I can forward you the emails for proof. That mild case of COVID-19 you got right around the time you came back from that secret vacation? You were probably infected by him at the start of the trip.”
“WHAT?” yelped Benny. “Auntie Binh dropped me off at the airport. Miles hugged her! She’s still in the hospital!”
“Oh, Auntie Binh is really sweet. I didn’t hear about her. I’m sorry,” Gary said sincerely.
Benny sat there fuming, unsure if he should believe Gary or not. The timing was actually right. However, he brushed thoughts of it away and focused on the reason for their meeting: Miles. Miles had disappeared and now he’d heard his house had been listed and sold just three days later. Gary’s bizarre story could not be the explanation.
“If you got a hold of Miles’s emails and his phone, that just proves you had something to do with his disappearance,” Benny said accusingly.
Gary sighed again and put his hand on his forehead. “I’m not going around with you on this again,” he ground out. “I don’t care if you make yourself look deranged insisting that Miles is gone. You just needed to know what happened, in case what I think might happen actually does. I just … I couldn’t do that to you, not warn you.”
“What are you talking about?” Benny blurted. “Are you threatening me?”
“Benny, no, I’m not. I don’t want to have anything to do with you from here on out. But there’s a decent chance that next Christmas, Santa Claus is going to come for you.”
“What?” Benny said, paling slightly.
“I mean think about it. You and Miles both betrayed me. You both went to Mexico. It’s true you didn’t travel knowing you were infected, but still you instigated things that lead up to that point. I – I don’t know how the supernatural world will look at that, but your actions came from deliberate ill will toward me. So it could be construed as like some kind of reckless endangerment. Comet didn’t have anything else to tell me beyond what I recounted in the story, but he agrees you’re a prime candidate for being made a Reindeer. Plus, he remembers that the first year after he became one, Blitzen was brought on board, so he’s due for swapping out this upcoming Christmas.”
Benny took a big swig of his coffee, upending the new insulated travel tumbler he bought at the store that day for the discount on future refills. He let the going-cold coffee fill his mouth overly full, and swallowed it in a long slow gulp. He set the tumbler down and squared his shoulders.
“First of all your threat is unbelievable. Second, even if it was true, I didn’t do anything wrong. I quarantined for two weeks after getting a negative test. I wore my mask while traveling. I only took it off when we got to the event, which was supposed to be a safe pandemic bubble!”
“Sure! I believe you!” Gary replied, holding up his hands. “I’m not trying to sit here in personal judgment over you. We don’t know what all the criteria are that makes someone be swapped out for a Reindeer. You might be fine, I really don’t think cheating on your supposed-best friend is actually grounds for a terrible fate like that. But I’m not the one making the judgments and we just don’t know what all they go on.” Gary looked over Benny’s shoulder and lifted his left hand and waved a couple times than turned back to Benny.
“Who are you waving at?” Benny asked, mildly surprised.
“Comet, of course. We’re getting no where and I’ve said everything I wanted,” Gary snapped, his nerves clearly more than a little frayed at this point. “He came in a while after we started talking, he was at the other end of the mall getting a haircut. He was that tall guy in a suit you drooled after when he walked by.”
“Wait, what?” Benny leaned far out of his chair and craned around to look at the other end of the coffee shop, and almost head-butted Comet in the crotch as he walked past. “Whoa!” Benny yelled as he recoiled in surprise and with enough force to make the chair rock once. Comet gracefully took a position next to Gary and rested his elbow on the top of Gary’s chair.
“Holy God you are amazing,” Benny blurted, taking in the huge man standing beside Gary. Comet was wearing a perfectly tailored suit which showed off his muscular proportions. It was a brown classic three-piece with a buttoned vest in a silver and brown plaid. Razor-creased dress slacks and shiny black dress shoes completed the look and made the huge man look like the embodiment of masculine perfection. Benny realized he was gaping. He couldn’t stop. Just looking at this guy was making his breath quicken and all the nerves in his body felt like they were holding an electric charge. Even with his face partly obscured by a mask, he still seemed handsome from what Benny could see of his eyes and nose. His eyebrows were certainly masculine and with a start Benny realized he had been staring for more than a few seconds.
With a shake of his head, Benny pulled his attention away from Comet and focused back on Gary, who was looking at the man standing beside him with a warm, loving grin. Little spikes of acid uncertainty started to drip down into Benny’s chest like heartburn. The story couldn’t be true. It could not possibly be true. Gary could not be shacked up with this sexy beast of a man!
“So, you’re Benny,” Comet said, his warm voice making Benny shiver. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet you. You hurt Gary, but, you made it so I could meet him. I’m grateful, but conflicted.” Comet turned to Gary. “How did he take it?” he asked in a quieter, much warmer tone.
“Not well. About like I expected, really. At least he heard everything,” Gary replied before turning back to look at Benny.
Benny gaped. “Ok I’ve got it now. You, you’re an actor. Or an escort. Or a fitness hunk off Instagram he hired to play with my mind,” Benny blurted. “You’re helping him gaslight me!” Gary sighed in frustration and rolled his eyes.
Comet pressed his lips together and regarded Benny with a stony expression. He looked at Gary, likewise troubled and conflicted, and back to Benny. “We could just leave, and it would make sense later,” he said slowly. “And I think that’s what I’d prefer. But Gary thought the right thing was to warn you. So I’ll follow his lead.” Comet moved away from Gary’s chair, leaned over, and plucked the metal travel mug that was sitting in front of Benny and gave it a little shake to confirm it was empty.
“Hey that’s my–” Benny began to protest, as Comet closed his fingers around the steel tumbler and crushed it as easily as a beer can; the metal shrieked briefly in protest, but rather than simply crumple, it bulged and nearly flowed between his fingers. Benny gulped so hard he almost choked. Comet half-smiled and set the ruined travel mug on the table in front of Benny. Benny picked it up and felt the indentations where Comet’s fingers had warped the metal; his mouth hung open. It was simply not human strength.
“Listen to me Benny,” Gary began tersely. “I can’t stop what you’ve put in motion, but I can warn you so you roll with the blow if it comes to that. Remember our story and think about what it means for you!” Gary paused and looked his former friend in the eye one last time as he scooted his chair away from the table. “Good bye, Bennie. I’m never going to see you again, but if you do see Miles then say … say I’m sorry it worked out this way. At least if you see him, you two will be together for a long time.”
Benny’s jaw dropped and he sat back in the chair, unable to form a response. Gary stood up, pulled his mask back onto his face, and gathered up his several empty cups. He started to turn away and then stopped for a moment before turning back to Benny. “Actually, I won’t block your number right away. Text me if Auntie Binh’s condition changes. But only for that,” he said with remarkable firmness.
He and Comet headed directly for the exit with Comet resting his hand on Gary’s back in a protective manner. As they were about to exit the front door, Gary paused to toss his paper cups into the garbage by the door. Benny stared at the two of them, the flash of sock-covered ankle Gary was giving off attracting his attention for a moment. As he looked up, Gary was just passing out of alignment with the robbery height marker edging the door and Benny realized that Gary was hitting the wrong mark. He knew Gary was barely 6’ in casual shoes, but it looked like he’d measured an inch or two higher than that, and that was impossible! But then, crushing a steel tumbler in bare hands and leaving finger marks shouldn’t be possible either. Benny’s head spun and he sank back into his chair, squinting his eyes against the light as a stress headache started to come on. This was all not happening. It could not be happening!
Gary and Comet strolled through the mall toward the center court. “How are you feeling?” Comet asked as he rubbed Gary’s back as they walked along.
“Weird. Drained. Kind of numb. I knew the confrontation was going to be rough, but I admit I was surprised by some of his responses. I was bothered, but not hurt. I guess I already felt like that connection had been cut.” Gary looked aside and up to Comet. “That’s probably healthy, right? I don’t feel the need to get back at him, and I gave him the warning.”
“Yeah, you did, Gareth,” Comet agreed, sliding his hand up to Gary’s far shoulder and delivering a sideways hug as they walked. “If he’s too dumb to realize you were warning him about pissing off … Santa … and getting his mind sealed for 50 years, then that’s his problem.” Gary slid his own arm across Comet’s back as far as he could go and they strolled peacefully down the concourse. There were a few people out, but mostly they were furtive. The stores which were open were plastered with signs about their mask policies and store capacities though no one seemed to be paying attention to any of that at this point.
“Hey if the cinnamon roll place at center court is still open, let’s ruin lunch and get treats.”
“Yes,” Comet agreed. “You’re too thin!” He poked Gary’s tummy with the index finger of his other hand. Gary giggled at the brush of a ticklish spot.
“I only lost ten pounds from someone keeping me busy. It’s not like I got shredded abs!” he protested.
Comet frowned. “But you could. Reindeer Milk would help you get muscly if you worked out, but I like how padded you are. You’re just right!”
Gary laughed. “I’m glad you think my tummy is cute, but I’m just trying to keep up with you,” he said with a grin. “I need to be able to support myself better during our longer sessions.”
“You did well last night!” Comet insisted.
“Only for the first three times,” Gary countered.
Comet shrugged. “That’s still an improvement,” he reassured him. “Well, do whatever makes you feel good, as long as you don’t try to cast more spells,” Comet said, pitching his voice quieter for the latter statement.
“I can’t afford to!” Gary replied. “The shingle damage on the house from summoning the cardinal winds … argh! Fortunately combined with the cracked front window it was enough to make an insurance claim worthwhile. We’re just lucky you noticed the roof problems when you hopped up there and took down the icicle lights, we got it all taken care of at once.”
“Plus that contractor we found was so nice,” Comet said. “I’m excited he’s working on the new bathroom upstairs too. A shower big enough for both of us! Say, how much longer do we have to stay away from home?”
“Probably another three hours, unless he texts us they’re knocking off soon. I mean we could go home, but I don’t want to be there with the noise, and I took a vacation day anyway.”
Gary felt himself being spun around as Comet swept him into a bear hug without warning. He leaned into it and rested his head on Comet’s chest for a few moments. “mmm, so nice,” he murmured.
“I can’t believe we can just do this in public,” Comet mused.
“Well, I wouldn’t do it just anywhere,” Gary admitted as Comet released the hug. “But I think we’re safe here. Honestly you’re so imposing a lot of people who might want to start something wouldn’t. Of course, anyone who does pick a fight with you is probably rabidly crazy, and they might even pull a gun. You just never know.”
“Don’t worry,” Comet said, and planted a kiss on top of Gary’s head. “I’ll protect you. Just think of me as your bodyguard.”
“Well you are supposed to be his bodyguard – did even that escape you, Comet?” interjected a voice with a Russian accent.
Gary and Comet broke apart with Comet reflexively taking a step in front of Gary. The man who’d spoken was less than ten feet away. He was blond, with medium length hair in a tapered fade that was blown up on top of his head with a precision that suggested it had just been cut and styled. He was wearing an awkwardly boxy black and gray wool longcoat over a pair of dark khakis, and a charcoal gray cable-knit turtleneck sweater strained across his chest. Gary’s immediate impression was that everything was technically his size, but nothing was a good fit, as if it were all ordered online without being tried on. Most surprisingly, he appeared to be Comet’s height or even taller. If he’d been wearing a pair of mirrored sunglasses, he’d have looked like every KGB Agent who ever appeared in an eighties action movie.
“Oh… this is bad Gary,” Comet said over his shoulder. “If I say run, run to the car and drive away, do not stop.” The approaching man stopped moving, crossed his arms and rolled his eyes.
“I assure you, Mister Griffith is in no danger from me. Rather, Mister Griffith, I was sent to make sure you were in no danger from this one,” he said, nodding at Comet.
“I’ve never seen his face before, but I recognize that accent. Gary, this is Blitzen.”
“Blitzen?” Gary gasped, the man was so tall and strongly built he was immediately reminded of Comet, but the confirmation still shocked him.
The man nodded. He gestured with an open hand over his face. “My hood was removed so I could discretely check on you,” he explained. “I’ve been watching to make sure there’s no problem. If there was, I would have pulled Mister Griffith to safety and dealt with you separately,”
Gary gulped. He sounded completely certain he could just “deal” with Comet?
“Oh, uh, nice to meet you, Blitzen, I’m Gareth Griffith. Why are you here?” Gary said warily.
Blitzen waved his hand dismissively. “No need for worries, we are here for friendly talk. But no place to sit? Very inconvenient.”
“There’s a retainer wall around center court that you two could at least prop against,” Gary suggested. Blitzen made an approving noise, turned, and strode toward the end of the concourse. Comet and Gary warily followed.
Previously, Center court was full of tables and chairs but due to the pandemic most of the seating had been removed. What remained were a handful of spread-apart tables with just 2 flimsy plastic chairs by each, just the essentials for mall workers who needed to stuff a meal down and scurry back to work. The retaining wall on this side of the court was lobed like a cloverleaf around planters full of typical indoor plants and trees. Each Reindeer took a position against one wall facing each other, with Comet subtly directing Gary to his side and a little further away.
“Lord Kringle expected Comet to not meet your satisfaction and for you to send him away,” Blitzen started without preamble. “He was waiting on Twelfth Night for your call. We all were. But we all felt something different.” He paused, a confused look crossing his face. “The fully bound ones felt it the strongest, they became agitated. Lord Kringle felt power rise, but not in a way that called to him. Since he was not summoned he did not come investigate. The next day he reconsidered, but Christmas was over. He could not travel freely, and the Queen of the Unseelie Court did not grant his request to open a gate from Faerie. So today, the next magic day of the year, he has sent me to check on you. I arrived at your house, but then tracked you to here.”
Gary’s mouth widened into an O. “Right, it’s February 2, we celebrate it as Groundhog Day now, but in ancient times, it was Imbolc. It’s the cross-quarter day at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, the day the ancient Celts marked the year beginning to turn back to life.” Blitzen nodded.
Blitzen looked Comet up and down. “I had many thoughts. I was not expecting this. Now I know what riled the bound ones. You are not in their number anymore.” Blitzen shook his head, clearly having trouble believing what he saw.
“No, I’m not,” Comet said. “I guess there’s no point hiding it. Thinking is still hard sometimes. But I get better every day.”
“Clearly, you are quite happy with him,” Blitzen said. “You two … like …”
“He’s my boyfriend,” Gary said defiantly. Blitzen didn’t respond to that.
Comet spoke up. “Has he done this before? Without the rest of us knowing?” He turned to Gary and quietly explained “The unbound ones do errands and other tasks for him.”
“No,” Blitzen answered, his accent putting a ring to the word like the chopping of an ax. “But he hates you. Personally. I think he was disappointed you weren’t sent back to him for more punishment.” He looked at Gary. “There must be explanation for this, yes? Is practically miracle.”
Gary sighed. “So I used the tool which Santa left for me to cut the rings off Comet the very first day.” Blitzen nodded. “And I kept thinking why couldn’t it do more? So on Twelfth Night I uh, I did a ritual. To make it more powerful. And used it to break the mental binding on Comet completely.”
Blitzen stared at him and silently mouthed words that didn’t resolve to any English Gary could read in them. He looked up at the two of them and then back down to the interlocking tile pattern he was standing on, and after a few more moments closed his mouth with some effort. “So, a spell. You did magic.” Gary nodded.
“I mean, is this really a problem? You don’t have a mental binding. He served his term and Santa … he released him to me,” Gary said evenly. Blitzen shrugged, clearly still a bit stunned by the revelation.
“So Blitzen, I’ve answered your question. Comet can talk fairly freely now, but because his mind was so bound while he was in service, he doesn’t know the answers to some questions I have. But I think you do. So, could you maybe explain a couple things?”
Blitzen shrugged his head slightly, “Da, if I know the answer, why not.”
“Ok. First, Comet’s identity was not erased when he was taken by Santa in nineteen seventy. His disappearance is known to history. Do you know why?”
“Ny—no. Sometimes the switch-out is not direct. The mustered-out Reindeer are entrusted to their new keepers, both to guard them and repair the hole torn in fate. Rarely, Lord Kringle does make a new identity, but it is very hard in modern times, he does not like to do it. The burden of identity is often both a hindrance and a help, but sometimes it just cannot work.”
“Huh, so you’re saying it was just some inconvenient circumstances? Oh, now that I think about it,” Gary turned to look at Comet. “He had a lot of … co-workers who he was actively involved with.”
“No that wouldn’t be a problem, it is really lovers who are the problem. I don’t know, Comet was replaced year before I joined to escape KGB. He made them forget me completely.”
Gary was startled. “That almost sounds like you willingly joined.” Blitzen said nothing but stared back, his lips pressed together. Good God this dude is a former KGB agent who escaped his organization by joining up with Santa Claus? Gary thought to himself. Maybe he could ‘deal’ with Comet?
“Ok, sure, not prying,” Gary smoothly continued. “This next question is more of a long shot, you probably don’t know but … why Reindeer? Why does Santa drag bad men off and punish them by making them act as Reindeer?” He felt Comet gently run his hand across his back, reminding Gary he was right here to support him.
Blitzen sighed deeply and said something in Russian that Gary guessed by the tone was in the wheelhouse of “oh fuck it.” He scratched his forehead idly.
“I actually do know this. As we recall it. Passed on to the small handful who retain human minds throughout their term of service. But is not a story I understand well. It’s ‘European’ and I don’t understand all the parts. Ask me about Černobog or Baba Yaga, and I would understand. But.” he paused and sighed. “You understand, magical world is like bubbles. Many little worlds all outside Earth.”
“Yes, the Celts called them the Otherworlds. Collectively, they’re basically what we now consider Faerie. In folklore, they were sometimes thought to flow into each other, but other times the realms were more separate. Some of them might have been thought of as small faerie kingdoms, others might have been the domains the Celtic gods ruled.”
“Yes. So. Long ago there was a lord of one of these worlds, and he assembled a group of hard men. Soldiers, thieves, killers. Men looking for work they could do despite their dirty hands. He made them strong. He linked their hearts and minds to form a brotherhood–” Gary’s intake of break made Blitzen break off.
“Sorry, I have heard bits of this legend or something related to it. Please go on,” Gary said eagerly. He reflexively grabbed Comet’s forearm in excitement.
“He linked them so they shared strength and could understand each other; they came from far and wide and did not all speak the same language. Long our brotherhood served our lord, protecting his realm and guarding and guiding the people who traveled to it. But eventually, people no longer traveled to it, and the citizens vanished, until it was empty kingdom. Then our lord, he said to his war band ‘I have found you a new lord, for my time is at an end. Serve him well as you have served me.’ And then he gave a piece of himself to sustain the warriors further, and lay down and passed. The band’s new master was Lord Kringle. He inherited the trust to preserve the war band. As men mustered out after their term of service and returned to the mortal world, he recruited replacements. But, over time, there were not so many hard men looking for good work, so he began to hunt down those who could fill the gaps. He used the tools left to him which once joined us in brotherhood to compel obedience, and as we would have said back in the old country ‘re-educate’ the new recruits. He broke the new men and made them serve him like beasts.” Blitzen looked across to Comet and back to Gary. “Is fairy tale but not useful story, no?”
“Oh no,” Gary said with a deep breath looking between the two giant men. “It is absolutely the most useful thing you could have said. My grandfather … he taught me the old folklore very well. I’ve also studied Arthurian literature so I’ve had some separate education of Celtic lore,” Gary continued. “So let me tell you your story back to you, with the missing pieces inserted, ok?”
“Da,” Blitzen said in agreement, surprised at the obvious excitement Gary was bristling with, and intrigued to possibly learn something the Reindeer had forgotten.
“In Welsh mythology, there was a realm called Annwyn. It was analogous to the underworld, like the Elysian fields in Greek mythology, but it wasn’t a permanent resting place. The ancient Celts believed in reincarnation. Annwyn was an Otherworld realm where souls went while waiting for their time to reincarnate; a beautiful, pleasant land of eternal youth. It was ruled over by Arawn. Arawn wasn’t some petty faerie lord; he was a god.” Blitzen hissed at the comment and he started to interrupt, but closed his mouth and gestured for Gary to continue.
“You could think of Arawn as being like Hades, or maybe Osiris is a better comparison; he was a death god, but also a nature god. He didn’t represent murder, but rather death as a part of the natural cycle of rebirth. Arawn was the guardian of the dead who were preparing to reincarnate. It was implied he was a horned god, so he was probably an aspect of Cernnunos, the male principle in nature.” Blitzen nodded, his attention captive.
“Much of formal Welsh mythology was lost, stamped out by early Christian missionaries who tried to downplay all the divine elements of stories, recasting them as heroic lords. But we do have a story where a living human man visited Annwyn, and essentially Arawn asked that man to impersonate him for a year because he couldn’t bear to come into conflict with an encroaching foreign lord, sort of implied to be a sun god.”
“Which god?” Blitzen said, riveted.
“Basically, it was symbolic of the spread of Christianity.” Blitzen nodded in understanding.
“Ok so imagine this,” Gary said to both Reindeer. “You’re a natural death god, kind of like a Celtic Osiris, and you rule over the waiting room for reincarnation. A new faith comes up and yours diminishes. One day a soul enters your realm and after a while you realize that’s the last new soul you’ve gotten in ages, and you wait and wait and not another soul comes to your land. Meanwhile, the goddess of reincarnation is doing her thing and eventually it’s just you and your band of guards,” Gary gestured at both men for emphasis, “and that’s it. The Welsh Celtic afterlife just shuts down for good. So what do you do? Give something of a legacy to your loyal men, find them new work, and then do whatever gods do when they effectively die. But, twist, the band of realm guards find their new manager is Santa and the bit of power they’ve been given by a horned god puts them in position to take over as the caribou which pulled his sleigh in some versions of his story. Moreover, Santa finds it more convenient to treat you as slaves than employees because your natures are now more … primal. Plus, as the men finish their uh, tour of duty, the recruiting goes poorly; so eventually Santa’s just finding whoever he can make work for him.”
Blitzen and Comet exchanged a look. It was hard to read their expressions and they both looked a little rattled. This time Gary slid up against Comet and gave him a light side-hug, which was returned with a warm smile.
“Well,” Blitzen said slowly. “Lord Kringle, especially when his Krampus aspect is on the surface, he is forceful, violent. But he does say he is giving people a chance at redemption. It’s just not voluntary. Is part of his greater nature, he sees the wrongdoer, and he has to take him, or attack him.”
Gary nodded. “I know exactly what aspect of Faerie lore that ‘join or be hunted’ thing comes from, and I bet you do as well: The Wild Hunt. I’m not sure how Santa got combined with that aspect of myth too but it’s clear he has.” Blitzen nodded once, furtively; Gary found himself shivering, and not from the mall’s air conditioning. “Wait.”
Gary paused and cocked his head, a few more pieces connecting for him. “Comet, you said the Naughty, Normal, and Nice lists get written for Santa by a fate goddess. I couldn’t think of someone to fill that role but–”
“Ah yes,” Blitzen interrupted. “The third Faerie Queen. Her realm is smaller than the Seelie and Unseelie courts, but she is the uh, buffer. They rule the light and dark halves of the year, but she rules the hub and spokes of the wheel and keeps their power in check. I have assisted the household high elves as they greeted her messenger.”
“Who is she?” Gary asked slowly.
“The Queens of Faerie are usually referred to by the name of the castle or the land they rule. The Seelie and Unseelie queens change from time to time, as their realms are amalgamations of many smaller realms, and rulership is passed around among those in the alliance. However, the Queen of the Spiral Castle has always been the sole ruler of her realm.”
Gary flinched and squeezed his eyes shut as the words stunned him. He swallowed slowly. “The– the Queen of the Spiral Castle?” he said in a shocked tone. “I know who that is, and she is not the goddess of fate. She’s the Welsh goddess of reincarnation. And she’s no Persephone analog, either; when people were ready to leave Arawn’s realm they went to her castle and walked its spiral corridors to cast off the memories of their previous life and then begin anew.” Gary took a deep breath, his head throbbing with the force of shock he’d experienced. “So the being who is figuring out who needs to be punished or rewarded is someone who may even be looking at past lives and planning events far into the future, and evaluating and manipulating every repercussion. That’s, that’s actually terrifying, but I can see why you all thought she was a fate goddess. Oh shit, wait, maybe it’s me who should rethink how I see her, because that sure does sound like a fate goddess. Maybe this is just an aspect of her the missionaries scrubbed.”
Blitzen nodded slowly in agreement. “The Queens are very powerful. As you said, Faerie is home to the beings once thought gods, as well as the elves. Their power ebbs and flows as memories of them in the human world shift. If I heard the gossip among the house elves correctly, the queen of the Seelie court is famous because of Shakespeare. She has remained in power for most of the time since then with just a few exceptions.”
Shaking off his amazement, Gary continued the discussion. “The thing that gets me though, is how cruel it seems,” Gary said. “To go from recruiting men who wanted redemption to forcing it on them, transforming their bodies and minds…” he turned to look at Comet.
“It’s ok now Gary,” Comet reassured him.
“I know the mute binding is very harsh,” said Blitzen. “But for some, it is better to think like animal and not understand too much. The lessons, the re-education, it is hard. The bound mind, it numbs like a drug that eases pain.” Comet looked down, slightly guiltily, and nodded furtively. Gary’s jaw dropped.
“I have ten months left to serve, now I have come back to human world, even here in America instead of USSR, and I can barely stand the thought to return. But I must.”
Gary grimaced. “Yikes, you have to go back. I’m so sorry. I hope explaining these things is at least helpful. I would think it’s at least a little bit exciting knowing you’re drawing on a well of power left behind by a god for you.”
“Having magic is nice, but it’s limited,” Comet explained. “We’re only given so much at a time.”
Blitzen reached up and formed a ring by touching the thumb and index finger of each hand together. “As a herd, we are a circuit.” He moved his hands apart. “Mustered out of our brotherhood, we are alone. Circuit is open, the power that we held in the past begins to drain from us. Not all at once. We might even have years with some magic still touching us. But only in a union, a circuit of some kind, can we conserve that power. Only as a herd can we reach out and touch the reserves we share to renew ourselves, and even that is not the original legacy, it is the measure of our inheritance which Lord Kringle makes available to us to share. Mostly to feed his elves. They devour magic.”
“So, wait, your supernatural powers are fading?” Gary asked Comet.
Comet reluctantly nodded.
“At first we lose some quickly, but the rest will go slowly if he does not spend it overly. He will be able to protect you.”
“Protect me from what?” Gary said, confused.
“Did I not say? We repair the holes torn in lives and fates by patching where it was torn, but we are also guardians. You were chosen to be his keeper because you need to be protected, and are judged worthy to not abuse our power. Why you? Well, ask the Spiral Queen, not I.” Blitzen shrugged, apparently still a bit skeptical of Comet’s qualifications.
“Then, well, about the Reindeer who leave the herd, you’re not connected anymore. But what if you met up with other former members?”
“Actually, several years ago a few former comrades united, and formed a lesser herd. It helped them preserve their strength, but they had lost so much already.” Blitzen shrugged. “I didn’t hear more about them than that. It was a novelty, not a problem.”
“I see,” Gary said. “But if they formed a herd again, why couldn’t they recharge?”
Blitzen made a face. “Ugh, English. When there is the death, the lawyer comes and reads the will…?”
“An estate executor?” Gary supplied.
“That! The power is in trust for the Reindeer. It is a pool of magic and Lord Kringle is executor. When he joins each of us to the herd we are granted some power, along with enchantments that halt our aging and awaken all our abilities. He also connects us to a small local pool of strength that we share, he refills that from time to time. But we cannot touch the source, the uh, original legacy left by this Arawn. Only he can.”
Gary stopped to think. What Blitzen said made sense, but only up to a point. It simply didn’t match his own experience of making love with Comet and feeling wild magic flowing fairly freely. The implications were…
“Well that kind of sucks. You spend all that time under curses and you don’t get to keep all the powers?” Gary blurted.
“It’s ok, Gareth,” Comet said, rubbing his shoulder. “The little things I do won’t use up much power.” Gary looked at him and sighed. Comet took Gary’s hands in his own.
“Yes and even if you are lovers, you must be happy his drives are roughly normal again,” Blitzen said. “Surely the appetites we use to appease the elves would be far too much for a normal man.” Gary’s eyes met Comet’s with shock as Comet gently gave his hands a warning squeeze.
“Yeah,” Gary said noncommittally. “Things are better now.” Comet nodded just the tiniest fraction. “He really exhausted me at first.” They’d made love five times the night before.
Blitzen slapped his face and muttered quite a lot under his breath in Russian. Comet looked very taken aback. He let go of Gary’s hands.
“Rude,” he said. “Please do not speculate about my Gareth like that.” Blitzen looked slightly embarrassed.
“What did he say,” Gary asked, turning back to face Blitzen.
“Technically, nothing that was untrue, but he said it in a very demeaning way,” Comet answered him. Gary figured out what that meant and frowned.
“Wait where did you learn Russian?” Gary asked. Comet pointed his jaw right at Blitzen. Gary’s mouth formed an O of comprehension. “Hearts AND minds, to share languages,” he murmured to himself.
“As I couldn’t speak, I didn’t realize I had absorbed his language,” Comet admitted.
“Ok, I’m turning off subtitles, then we’re going to watch some international shows on Netflix, and we’ll see how many languages you can understand,” Gary enthused. Blitzen quietly coughed to get his attention. “Sorry!” Gary exclaimed, and turned around to face the other Reindeer. “I think we’ve cleared things up reasonably well, was there anything else?”
Blitzen looked them over, several times and sighed resignedly. “No, I see there is not.” He turned his focus to Comet. “You must conserve your strength from now on. I originally thought he was just nice civilian man who works for charity, but if he cast a spell…”
“I understand,” Comet replied. “I’d protect him with my life, regardless.”
“Protect him with your saved strength,” Blitzen hissed in correction. Comet nodded.
After a pause Blitzen slowly extended a hand to shake. Comet looked at it warily and Gary stepped forward to grab it instead. Blitzen was caught off guard by Gary’s hearty handshake. “Thank you so much for sharing that lore. It had just been driving me nuts trying to figure out why the Reindeer were really men, and I hope it proves useful insight to you as well,” Gary said warmly.
Blitzen smiled indulgently, and looked up at Comet. “Be well, comrade.” He turned and strode away … directly toward the cinnamon roll stand.
Gary and Comet exited the mall, and hopped in the SUV. “The mall was kind of a bust, it’s really in a sad state right now,” Gary mused. “Maybe we should get carry-out lunch from a nice restaurant and go to a park and eat in the car?”
“Sure, order whatever you think, and just give me directions,” said Comet as he buckled his seat belt and put his hands on the wheel. Gary pulled out his phone and looked at it for a second.
“So while we’re here inside this metal box that the elves haven’t been around,” Gary began. “You aren’t losing your strength at all, are you?”
“No,” said Comet turning to look at him. “I actually feel like I’m a little bit stronger, which is impossible. But, I didn’t mean to maul that cup the way I did. I didn’t realize how sturdy it was and I thought I would need to put in some effort, and I surprised myself.”
Gary smiled impishly. “Good, because you deserve to have all your super powers after what you went through.” He looked around the car, checking that no one was around. Gary reached out and caressed Comet’s cheek. “Dante. Think about how the more we were together, the more my sex drive tried to equalize with yours.” Comet nodded. “Also, remember how on New Year’s Eve, right before I passed out, I kind of blurted I thought you were a god and I wanted to be your priest?”
“Yeah…?” Comet said.
“When we’re having sex and it’s really really good, especially if you, as you put it, let the wildness come out, sometimes I feel like I’m touching a divine power. When you’re at the peak of your sexual expression, I feel this nature magic flowing back into you. I was surprised when Blitzen said you guys were limited to a shared pool, because I already thought you could just draw on as much of that wild magic as you needed to. Even when we don’t get quite that intense, I still feel connected to you. That was what was in my mind on New Year’s Eve. I wanted you to be a part of me; I wished for it. And I think, now we are. I feel you share strength with me, mostly emotionally, but you know, the sex drive stuff too. I finally realized why I’m having these really long orgasms the other day when we were giving each other hand jobs, and I saw how much I’m actually orgasming!”
“Yeah you’re cumming a lot, Gareth. Not as much as a Reindeer but lots more than a regular man. I’m really enjoying you.” He leaned forward and gave Gary a peck on the lips. “And I’m drawing a lot of strength from you too. I can’t detail it like you can, but I know you’re helping me a lot.”
“That’s good, I don’t want to just take, I want to give also,” Gary said.
“OH REALLY?” said Comet. Gary blushed scarlet.
“I mean in the relationship!” Gary exclaimed, his cheeks burning. “Anyway, whether it was New Year’s Eve or all of the times we keep pledging that we belong to each other, maybe we made an alternative magical circuit? Enough to keep your power from draining off. And then, on top of that, I’m somehow facilitating you renewing your strength when you do use it. We aren’t a herd, but maybe, maybe, we’re like a magician and a familiar or–” Gary continued to blush and turned to look out the window.
“Gareth?” Comet said intently.
“Well a druid and his animal companion,” Gary said in an embarrassed tone as he turned back to look at Comet, who smirked and laughed. “But if this is what’s happening, then you are not an ex-Reindeer, you are a full-power current Reindeer.”
“And I’m yours, not his,” Comet said seriously. “I honestly don’t know what Lord Kringle would think,” Comet said in a worried tone. “Hopefully we played it cool enough in front of Blitzen he doesn’t find out.” Gary shuddered.
“I’m not just worried about him,” Gary said. “I’ve felt things. I felt something strange when I opened the door to my house on Christmas Day morning. I get bad vibes at Miles’s house, and especially on the spot Santa transformed him on, and stronger recently. Since I woke up from my one day coma, I think I’ve become more sensitive to magic. When we were in the coffee shop and I was telling our story to Benny, I occasionally had this weird vibe; moreover, whenever I skipped some details like sex, or your real name, I kind of felt like I was still telling the full unedited story to someone else.”
“Someone who?” blurted Comet.
“That’s the good question. You know there were a few people besides us in the shop right?”
“Can you describe the ones closest to me and Benny?” Comet paused and thought hard about it.
“No, I don’t remember them.”
“But you know they were there.”
“The whole time I was there with Benny they were there, and I don’t remember them getting up for more drinks. I had three chais and Benny bought his tumbler and got two refills. But I can’t remember the other people nearest us. Like … I was blocked.
Comet whistled. “Oh holy Mary, Mother of God,” he said. “That sounds like faeries all right. And it is a day where the powerful faeries could come to Earth; but they’d still have to be extremely powerful to just drop into a mall and disguise themselves like ordinary people.”
“Yeah,” said Gary. “We’re being watched by the supernatural world.”
Comet sighed. “I’ll protect you. You’ll protect me. We’ve got this.”
“Yeah!” Gary enthused. He took a deep breath.
“I love you, Dante Rinaldi.”
“I love you Gareth Griffith.”
“Now … let’s get lunch.”
THE END. (Until the sequel.)
Ver 1.85 4/1/2021