Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Dec 232016

Merry Christmas!

This year, I wrote a special short story featuring characters from one of my novels. They’re from my NaNoWriMo novel, so the worldbuilding isn’t quite settled yet… but for now, I’ve created a Christmas-like holiday for my characters to celebrate.


Elliot sat alone in his room and paged through his newest book. The old, thin tome recounted the adventures of a family stranded in the wilderness. It wasn’t his usual sort of book, but it sounded interesting. Besides, Malachi was busy preparing for an advanced combat test. With nothing else to do on the weekend, Elliot might as well read.

Partway through the book, the family discussed whether or not they could still celebrate Tavasday despite their misfortune.

He frowned at the word. “Tavasday… Tava’s… day?”

If it had something to do with Tava, then Malachi probably celebrated it. He read a little further, but the book didn’t go into much detail about this Tavasday. The characters exchanged gifts and wished one another a Happy Tavasday, and then the story moved on.

Not good enough. A mysterious Tava holiday that involved presents? After everything Malachi did for him, he had to learn more.

Elliot closed the book and raced back to the library.


Two hours later, he sat in his room with a stack of books, from fiction to encyclopedias and even a songbook. Most only contained short references to Tavasday, but it was enough to give him a better picture of the holiday. Sort of.

He took notes as he went, until he had a nice list of everything he knew about Tavasday. It seemed to involve Tava, presents, a costume, and lots of bells.

More importantly, the book he currently scoured for details described it as a religious holiday celebrated by followers of Tava… tomorrow?

Elliot jumped up. If he wanted to surprise Malachi with a Tavasday celebration, he didn’t have much time!


Elliot walked into a small shop he’d never been in before. It was supposed to sell holiday supplies. He looked around at all the shelves in confusion, and then walked between them to the desk at the front. “Excuse me…”

The clerk straightened and offered him a kind smile. “Hello, dear. Are you here with your parents?”

Elliot blushed and tried to stand taller. “No…” He held up his coin purse to make it more obvious he was a customer. “I’m looking for stuff for Tavasday.”

“Oh! A gift for someone?”

“No, right now I need stuff to celebrate with.” He knew what to buy Malachi, that was the easy part. But getting the holiday’s tone and trappings right could be tricky.

“Follow me.” She stepped out from behind the desk and led him to a shelf near the back. “Here are our Tavasday decorations.”

The display made him dizzy. Glittering garlands, boxes of bells, colorful objects neatly packaged and stacked… Then there were the plants, mainly clusters of green leaves with red berries, clusters of green leaves with white berries, and large red flowers.

“I’ll take one of each!”

The clerk’s eyebrows flew up.

He coughed and rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe that was too much. And he probably didn’t have enough money for everything. “I mean… I’ll take one of these.” A plant. “And one of these.” A string of gold garland. “And one of these.” Another plant. “Hmm, two of these.” The colorful metal objects looked important. “And twenty of these!”

Elliot gathered as many of the bells as he could into his arms and turned to the clerk with a smile.

She looked a bit astounded. “Planning a big Tavasday celebration, are you?”

He nodded.

“In that case, are you sure you don’t need more garland?”

More garland? He hadn’t quite figured out the purpose of the garland, but he couldn’t imagine he’d need more than one string. “No, this is good.”

“Well, all right…”

She helped him carry everything to the counter, and he paid for it. Then he closed his eyes and concentrated—he didn’t show off with magic often, but he didn’t want her to think of him as a poor little boy struggling to carry it all—and crystalized the air between his hands.

With a little effort, he created a tray of ice. It was cold against his skin, but mages usually had extra resilience to any elements they specialized in. He piled his purchases onto the tray and smiled.

“Thank you again!”

“Any time. And have a Happy Tavasday!”


After two more trips into the city, he had almost everything he needed. Elliot stood in his room and frowned at his assortment of treasures. Aside from the wrapped present, it was one big mystery.

Someone knocked.

He jumped. “Who is it?”

“It’s me,” Malachi said from the other side. “I’m done.”

Oh no. One look at the bells, and the surprise would be ruined. Elliot stared at the door. Maybe if he stayed silent, Malachi would think he wasn’t there. Except he’d already said something. He could say he felt sick? No, then Malachi would worry.


“Just a minute! I’m, uh…” He looked around desperately for a place to hide everything. “I’m… getting dressed.”

He dashed to the wardrobe. No good, it was full of clothes. Under the bed? With his luck, Malachi would drop something and have to crawl around on the floor. Elliot shifted from foot to foot. Some of those books talked about Tava’s blessing coming at dawn, so he didn’t have much time to spare, either.

There was only one solution. He threw open the door, dashed into the hall, and closed it behind him before his friend could see inside.

Malachi frowned. “Everything okay?”

“Oh yes, fine!” Elliot stood between him and the closed door and smiled as though this was a perfectly natural interaction.

“Is something wrong in your room?”

He shook his head and continued to smile. “I thought it would be nice to talk out here for a change!”

Malachi glanced around the hallway. “Uh…”

“Also, I’ve been busy studying.”

“Need any help?”

“No!” He blushed and lowered his voice. “I mean, it’s magic. I need to study my magic. And it takes a lot of concentration.”

Malachi’s shoulders slumped. “I see.”

From his tone, he didn’t see at all. To him, it had to sound like exactly what happened when they first met. “We’ll hang out tomorrow!”

“But… not today.”

“Right.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Funny, huh? You were busy earlier, and now it’s my turn.”

“Well, when you take a break to eat, we could—”

“Not today.”

“You’re too busy to eat?”


The door next to his flew open and hit the wall with a loud thud. Myra stuck her head into the hall. “Can’t you take a hint, Malachi? He’s made it pretty clear he wants you to go away.”

Malachi scowled. “Fine.”

“Wait,” Elliot said, “I didn’t mean—”

“See you tomorrow.” He hurried down the hallway back toward the other wing.

Elliot glared at Myra. “Thanks a lot.”

She shrugged. “Then chase after him and argue down in his hall, not here where people are trying to study.” Then she shut her door.

He sighed and retreated into his own room. Once Malachi saw his surprise tomorrow, he’d understand…

But that meant Elliot had to get it right. He stared at his pile of supplies. He needed help, and he couldn’t ask Malachi. That only left one option.


“So what do you need help with?” Diana asked, once Elliot closed the door to his room.

When he’d found her, he only explained the basic situation—he needed help with a surprise for Malachi—because he didn’t want to linger and risk being caught on the fourth floor. Finally, it was safe to talk.

“Okay,” he said. “Tomorrow is Tavasday. I want to give Malachi a Tavasday gift in the authentic Tavasday style.”

She tilted her head. “But I don’t know anything about Tavasday.”

“Me neither.” He sat down on the edge of his bed and gestured to his pile of books. “But I’ve been reading, and I’ve got a few things figured out. Okay, so Tavasday is about Tava.”

“Oh yes, I guessed that one right away!”

“But there’s also lots of stuff about exchanging gifts. So here’s how I’ve got it figured. Tava came to give people his blessing, so when you give someone a Tavasday gift, it symbolizes Tava giving his blessing!”

“That makes sense!” She sat beside him.

He dug through his books to find the ones focused on religion. “Now, in one of the stories, a kid was disappointed to learn that the gift-giver was just her father in a costume, so I think you’re supposed to dress up like Tava to make it more symbolic.”

Diana blinked. “You mean Tavasday parties are a bunch of people all dressed like their god? That’s weird.”

“Maybe they pick one person to be Tava or something.” He found the books and opened them to the correct pages. “Anyway, these are the most common depictions of Tava I found.”

She leaned closer to see. “That’s what you want to look like?”

“Right.” He sighed. “The only problem is the robe. See, he wears a white robe, but I couldn’t find one.” He checked the entire marketplace, too. No one sold godly white robes. Such a big city should have a robe shop.

Her eyes lit up. “I have a white dress!”

“Is it like a robe?”

“It’s made of silk and it has puffy little sleeves and flowers embroidered down the sides!”

Not quite what he needed for Tava’s robe. He sighed.

Diana jumped to her feet. “Up! Up!”

“Aah!” Elliot leaped off the bed. “What’s wrong?”

“Your bedsheet!” She clapped her hands together. “You can make a white robe out of a bedsheet!”

“Yeah!” His excitement lasted for a few seconds, and then he shook his head. “Except my sheets aren’t white.”

“What?” She threw back his blanket and gaped at the blue sheet.


She folded her arms. “I have wonderful, luxurious white sheets. One of those will make the perfect Tavasday robe.”

He brightened. “Really? You don’t mind?”

“Of course I don’t. The whole idea sounds charming.”

“Thanks!” He sat down again.

She narrowed her eyes.


“I am not dragging a sheet down here before I know if you’ll approve it. You’re coming with me.”


The sheet was perfect, possibly a little larger than he needed, but that gave them more cloth to work with. Elliot bounced with each step as he carried the sheet down the stairs after Diana. This would be the greatest Tavasday surprise ever.

Once they reached the second floor and could speak safely again, he said, “So, you know how to turn a sheet into a robe?”

“What?” Diana frowned. “Of course not.”

“You don’t?”

“Why would I?”

“It was your idea!” They stopped in front of his door, and he groaned. “You know what? I bet Malachi could do it.”

Malachi’s voice came from the other end of the hall. “Malachi could do what?”

“Agh!” Elliot hid the sheet behind his back and turned to face his approaching friend. “W-what are you doing here?”

“I was on my way downstairs for dinner when I heard my name.”

He laughed nervously. “Oh, we were just saying that you could… um…”

Diana smiled. “He was telling me about how you… uh…”

“That thing you did the other day!” Elliot nodded rapidly. “Remember when you deflected my magic with your daggers? I told her about it, and she wants to see it.”

“I do?” She blinked. “I do.”

Malachi ran a hand through his hair. “O…kay… we can do it again…”

“No,” Elliot said, “she wants to see you do it against her magic.”

“She does?”

Diana bobbed her head in a quick nod. “I’d love to.” She looped her arm through Malachi’s. “Shall we? Is this all right?”

“Um. Sure?” He glanced at Elliot.

“I’m still busy.”


Once Diana got Malachi out of sight, Elliot retreated into his room and let out a long breath. That was a close one, far too close.

Inside, he spread out the sheet. Turn it into a robe. This shouldn’t be difficult. He looked at his pictures of Tava. He looked at the sheet. He closed his eyes and imagined people wearing robes.

Right. Nothing to it. But first, that special Tavasday touch.


Diana still wasn’t back. While she was gone, Elliot transformed the sheet into a Tavasday costume by sewing his collection of bells onto it. He also had a set of jingle bells attached to a stick, but he’d carry that.

Once he attached all the bells, he wrapped the sheet around himself. At first, he only got it to cover one shoulder, but since it was so long, he managed to twist the other side up around his back to cover his other arm as well.

That left him with a problem.

While he stood puzzling over his robe, a knock came at the door. “It’s me,” Diana said. “Don’t worry, I’m alone.”

Finally. He opened the door and she swept inside. “What took you so long?”

“After Malachi’s demonstration, I ate dinner. I’m sorry.”

He shook his head. “Well, here’s how far I got. But the sleeves are way too baggy, and I’m pretty sure it could fall off at any minute.”

“Didn’t your research tell you how to make the costume?”

“No, the stories assumed you knew what it looked like. I… Wait a minute!” He grinned. “That’s it! That must be what the garland is for!”

“Oh?” Diana picked up the glittering string of golden garland. “So we use this to tie your robe?”


Together, they fastened the garland around his waist, and then tied his right sleeve so it wouldn’t billow when he moved. From there, Diana looped it across his chest to tie the other sleeve. The end result made it tricky to move his arms, but that was the price of a good costume.

Elliot sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the rest of his supplies. He picked up one of the colored objects, a shiny red ball. “What do you suppose these are for?”

“They look like earrings to me.”

He clapped his hands over his ears before she tried anything. “N-never mind!” Not only would he have to stab bits of metal through his ears, but they also looked heavy. Malachi would understand him not going that far.

“Are we done, then?” she asked.

“Well, I got all these Tavasday plants, but I don’t know what to do with them.”

Diana picked up a cluster of green leaves with red berries. Then she let out a delighted laugh. “Do you remember my fourteenth birthday, when Father wove me a holly crown?”

“Yeah.” A pang of sadness struck him. He’d asked why he never wore a crown on his birthday, and Lord Andress promised to make him one when he turned fourteen. One more thing that would never happen…

If Diana noticed his change in mood, she didn’t comment on it. “This is holly. It must be for a crown.”

“Oh yeah!” The revelation cleared away his gloom. “Kings wear crowns, and gods are like super kings, and Tava’s also about life and stuff, so I’m probably supposed to wear a crown made of plants!”

“And this,” she said, “I know how to do.”

She gathered up his collection of Tavasday greenery and wove it together into a beautiful crown. Then she handed it to him, and he put it on.

It slid down onto his forehead. He pushed it back into place, but it only slid down the back instead.

“Now what?” he asked.

She studied him with pursed lips. Then she lifted the crown from his head and began to undo it.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“I think we should weave your hair into the crown,” she asked. “Your hair is long enough, and then it won’t fall off.”

“That’s a great idea!”


“Well?” Elliot stood up carefully. The robe was tied to his body with garland, bells jingled and jangle with every movement, and the holly wreath was woven into his hair so well he couldn’t shake it free if he wanted to. “How do I look?”

Diana clapped her hands together and laughed. “Oh Elliot, you’re adorable!”

Heat rushed to his face. “I’m not supposed to look cute, I’m supposed to look godly. Do I look like Tava?”

“Yes.” She giggled. “The most adorable little Tava ever!”

He groaned. At least it was something.

“It’s getting late,” she said. “I should leave soon.”

“That’s okay. All I need to do now is wait for dawn.”

She blinked. “Why?”

“I found a few different references to Tava coming at dawn. It sounded important.”

“You’re going to sit around in your costume the whole time? Shouldn’t you take it off to sleep, and put it on again when you’re ready to go?”

Elliot glanced down at his costume. “I… don’t think that’s possible.”


At last, dawn on Tavasday!

Elliot felt stiff after sitting up all night in his costume, but it was worth it. With his present in one hand and his stick of jingle bells in the other, he snuck into the hall. Due to Myra’s ill temper the previous day, he tried to make as little noise as possible. Not an easy task with all the bells attached to him.

He jingled his way down the hall, past the landing, and into the other wing. Then he walked to Malachi’s door, took a deep breath, and shook the bells as hard as he could.

After a moment, the door opened. Malachi blinked at him with a wild-eyed expression, clad in shorts and a shirt and looking as though he leaped straight out of bed to see what the noise was.


The door slowly swung shut.

What? No, that wasn’t how it worked. He rang his bells more insistently.

Malachi opened the door again and stared at him.

“Surprise! Happy Tavasday!”

His friend rubbed his face and blinked. “So I didn’t imagine it the first time.”

Apparently, he was still half asleep and didn’t quite figure it out yet. Elliot rang the bells again and held out his present. “I said, Happy Tavasday!”

Malachi accepted the gift with a dazed expression. “Thank you… Wait, is this why you were acting so weird all day?”

“Yep!” He grinned. “I learned about Tavasday, and I wanted to surprise you. Are you surprised?”


He jumped up and down in glee, which shook all of the bells on his costume.

“So,” his friend said when the ringing quieted, “you’re… dressed up. Is this a tradition here? What are you supposed to be?”

Elliot stared at him. “I’m Tava!”

Malachi made a choked sound. Then he retreated into his room and burst out laughing.

“Hey!” Elliot ran after him, jingling with every step, and whacked him on the shoulder with his bells.


“Don’t laugh! This took a lot of work, you know!”

Malachi looked at him and his lips twitched. “El, you’re a treasure.”

That… sounded like a compliment, if an odd one. “Thanks?”

“Here.” He picked up something from his desk and held it out. It was a wrapped present.

“For me?”

“Happy Tavasday.”

Elliot accepted it, but didn’t open it. “You first.”

Still inexplicably amused, Malachi unwrapped his present to reveal the leather dagger sheaths Elliot bought for him in the city. “Thanks!” He grinned. “Now I can look dangerous and cool.”

It wasn’t in his best interest to look dangerous, but Elliot didn’t comment. If he did, it would take time, and he’d have to wait even longer to open his present. It felt like a book.

“Your turn.”

He tore off the wrapping paper as quickly as possible and uncovered a thin book about the viability of traveling into space.

“I know fiction is your favorite,” Malachi said, “but since you—”

“It’s the best!” He clutched the book tightly and jumped up and down, which set off another round of jingling. “Thank you!”

“You like it?”

“I love it!”

“I’m glad.” Malachi took his daggers out of the plain sheaths he usually carried and slid them into the new leather ones. Then he lowered his head and wiped his eyes.

Elliot blinked. “Are you crying?”

“No. Yes.” He laughed and shook his head. “When I bought your gift, I figured you didn’t know anything about Tavasday.” His lips twitched as he glanced over the costume. “And now I have positive proof of it.”


“You know, this is my first Tavasday away from my family… away from anyone who celebrates it… I thought I’d wish myself a Happy Tavasday alone and wonder if I’d ever belong here.”

Elliot lowered his head, startled by this unexpected display of emotion. His friend always seemed confident, dismissive of what other people thought. He had no idea he felt so lonely and out of place.

“But… that’s not what happened.” Malachi placed his hand on the dagger sheaths and smiled. “You learned about Tavasday, you knew it meant something to me, and you…” He looked at the costume again and shook his head with another laugh.

“I wanted to give you an authentic, traditional Tavasday celebration!”

“I’m not sure I’d call it that, but…” He wiped his eyes again. “This is the nicest Tavasday I’ve ever had.”

Embarrassed, Elliot stepped forward. “And it’s just beginning. We’ll sing, or string lights, or do anything else you do for Tavasday.”


“Let’s go!”

Malachi held up his hand. “At least let me get dressed first.”

“Oh, right. I’m afraid I don’t have any extra bells, but I could unsew—”

“No, no, that’s okay!” He held up his hands. “You keep the bells. I’ll be ready in a minute.”

“Okay.” Elliot grinned and jingled his way back out into the hall.

“Oh, and El?”

He glanced back.

“Next year, let me plan the Tavasday celebration.”

Did that mean next year’s holiday would be even better? Hard to believe, but if he had something in mind… “It’s a deal.”

Elliot couldn’t wait to see what the next Tavasday would bring.

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