“Ivan, Olaf, Eddie, come to the sleigh barn.” The trio, who had been dubbed, ‘the Insubordinate Clauses,’ due to some trouble down in Miami a few years back, looked up from the floor they were polishing when they heard that on the intercom. They found Jolly Old Saint Nick tinkering with the propulsion system on his newest sleigh. He finished up and wiped his hands on a shop towel. “I know I put you on janitorial duty for five hundred years, but since you’ve been being good elves since I bailed you out, and you’re one of my best teams, I’m gonna let you take this new sleigh out for a test run. You know the drill, over both poles and back here as fast as she can run. Keep the cloaking system on. I don’t want to hear reports of an early delivery. Think you can handle that?”
“You got it, Boss,” the three of them said in unison. Soon they were suited up and in the sleigh with Ivan as pilot, Eddie copiloting, and Olaf navigating. Nick gave them the go and they took off.
“It’s three days before Christmas, I’m freezing and there’s no ducks. I could’a been in my nice warm bed,” Jason Thibodeaux grumbled as he crouched in the duck blind with his cousins. “But, no, Bobby wanted duck gumbo for Christmas. Chicken and sausage gumbo’d be good enough for me. And we have all those wild hog hams too.” He opened the big thermos and poured a cup of steaming coffee.
“Hey, pour some for me.” Etienne Comeaux was no happier than Jason. They huddled against the chill pre-dawn wind.
“I don’t know what you two are griping about,” Bobby said, “Neither of you brought a dog to fetch the ducks.”
Etienne slurped coffee and laughed. “Allyn brought Bob.”
“I can’t believe he brought Bob. Nobody brings a cat hunting.”
“I do.” Allyn Jones and a big bobcat stepped into the blind. He and the cat crouched down with the others. On the edge of hearing, like music on the wind, the sound of a flock of ducks quacking as they flew made the cat’s ears prick up.
Jason nudged his cousin none to gently. “Boudreaux, you gonna use that duck call you got from the Dynasty guys or are you gonna let these fly past?”
Bobby blew on the call, doing his best imitation of a duck. It worked, the flock began to circle the small lake linked to the bayou. All the men aimed their shotguns and fired. Ducks fell from the sky. A blur of tawny fur darted out and pounced on the nearest duck.
Bob was on his way back to the blind when a large object fell into the lake. He dropped the duck and turned to face the unknown, back arched, fangs bared, and hissing. Allyn’s eyes narrowed as he peered across the marshy terrain. Etienne picked up his field glasses and looked at the lump in the center of the shallow lake.
“What do you see?” Bobby was jostling Etienne’s elbow.
“It looks like a sleigh and three Santas.”
“Dude, how much did you drink last night?” Jason was trying to get the binoculars away from his much larger cousin.
Allyn started laughing. “That’s what’s out there, boys. We shot Santa’s sleigh.”
“Why are there three of him? And, for that matter, where are the eight tiny reindeer?” Etienne lowered the glasses and handed them to Jason.
Allyn pulled out his cell phone and punched in a number. “Nick, are you missing one of your sleighs?” He held the phone away from his ear. “Well, the boys and I found it. Actually we shot it down. It’s in a little lake in LaBelle. Yeah all three of ‘em seem to be moving around okay. Yeah, home in on this phone signal. See you in a few.” He put his phone back in his jacket pocket and looked at the cat. “What’re you waitin’ for? Go get those ducks.” Bob trotted off to do his job.
“Who were you talking to?” Etienne was watching the men waving their arms, trying to signal for help.
“You lyin’ piece of work. Who was it?”
“Jolly old Saint Nick. He’s not gonna be jolly when he sees this mess. C’mon, let’s go check on those guys.” Allyn strode away toward the lake.
Etienne followed, saying, “You don’t have your waders on.” He stopped at the water’s edge.
“Don’t need ‘em.” Allyn walked across the water. He stopped and looked back. “You just have to believe you can, Etienne.” He turned and continued to the downed sleigh.
The men on the wreck stopped flapping their arms when they saw the tall man with flowing red hair walking their way. Eddie asked, “Ivan, who walks on water?”
“I haven’t seen that trick in over two thousand years, and that guy sure isn’t Yeshua ha Nostri.”
Olaf squinted at the approaching figure. “There was a Welch guy who could command the water to his will.”
Ivan shook his head. “Those guys are long gone. This one probably knows where the shallow spots are.”
“Whatever, I hope he can help us get this thing out of here before Nick knows we wrecked it,” Eddie said with a shiver.
Olaf rolled his eyes and said, “You think he can just tow us out of this muck with his pickup truck?”
“He looks nice enough. Maybe he’ll do it.” Eddie squeezed water out of his hat.
“Fenris the crack dealer looked like a good guy when we met him,” Ivan said. Olaf shuddered at the mention of that name. “Remember how well that turned out? Besides this guy and his buddies shot us down.”
Olaf snapped, “I told you to stay away from those ducks! But noooooo, you had to chase ‘em.”
“Cut it out,” Eddie said, “he’s almost here.” Eddie raised his hand in greeting and called out, “Can you give us a little help here? We need to get this thing out of the water.”
“Yeah, I can get you out of the cold water. The hot water, that’s your problem,” Allyn said as he stepped alongside the downed sleigh.
“Hot water? What do you mean?” Ivan asked, eying the tall redheaded stranger.
“Nick’s on his way.”
“I told you to stay away from those ducks! Now we’ll be mopping floors forever.” Olaf glared at Ivan, then, turned to Allyn. “How do you know he’s on his way?”
“He knows when you’ve been naughty.” Allyn snickered. “I called him.”
Olaf looked closely at the man standing on the surface of the water. “I know you, Celt.
One copper eyebrow raised. “Do you, Elf?”
“You’re that magician, Manawyddan fab Llyr. I thought you were dead. What are you doing here?”
“Duck hunting. Now that you and your buddies have dropped in on us and ruined the chance of me shooting another one, I’ll be getting this neutron powered bucket out of the way. All of you, walk to shore, I’m not wasting my energy on you.”
Ivan stepped out and sank in cold water and mud up to his waist. He shrieked. Eddie said, “I told you he was walking on water.”
Allyn reached out, pulled Ivan up, and stood him on the surface. The elf teetered and began to sink. “Believe,” Allyn said. “Isn’t that the business you’re in, belief?” Ivan pulled his feet out of the water, steadied himself, and started for the shore. The others followed. Allyn shook his head. “Putzes.”
He got in the sleigh and found the controls. In the driver’s seat, he lay his hand on the dashboard and felt the hum of energy begin to pulse through the sleigh. It lifted out of the sucking mud with a pop and a splash of cold swamp water. Keeping it a few feet above the lake, he flew it to shore and landed. As he got out, he saw a bright red crew cab pickup truck rolling slowly down the trace of a trail toward the duck blind. He waved. The truck drew alongside and stopped. The driver’s window lowered.
“You shot my sleigh down? With a shotgun, you shot it down?”
“I had help. There were four of us shooting.”
“You shot my sleigh down with shotguns. How did you manage that?”
“Steel shot. Cold iron trumps magic. They were chasing the ducks and flew into a cloud of steel shot.”
“Gaaahh!” The door opened and Nick got out. He glared at the Insubordinate Clauses as they stood wet and shivering.
Ivan hung his head and said, “Don’t blame them, Boss. This is all my fault. They tried to stop me.”
“Thank you for being honest, Ivan. You’re back on floor duty. Eddie, Olaf, take it back to the barn.”
Eddie’s teeth were chattering when he said, “Uh, Boss, we’re freezing, can we get dried off first?”
Allyn raised his left hand, pointed at the three wet elves and spoke a few words of ancient Welch. They were clean and dry. Eddie and Olaf thanked him, climbed in the sleigh and took off.
“Get in the truck, Ivan. We’re gonna have a little talk on the way back to the shop.” Ivan climbed into the rider’s seat and shut the door.
Allyn reached out and put his hand on Nick’s shoulder. “You coming to dinner Christmas Day?”
“Is Evelyn cooking?”
“Yep. Wild hog ham, duck gumbo, and all the fixin’s”
“I’ll bring some gingerbread.” Nick got in the truck, started it and took off over the bayou, disappearing from sight.