Jilly: Christmas Story–A Gift Fit for a Queen

Here’s my contribution to our 2019 short story challenge. I think I got all the prompts 🙂

Happy Holidays, all!

A Gift Fit for a Queen

“Careful with those crocks, lad.” Ben Wildridge watched hawk-eyed as his apprentice unpacked straw-filled crates containing the finest bee nectar in the northern borderlands. Maybe in the entire kingdom.

“Yes, master.” Fifteen-year-old Toby rolled his eyes, but he lifted out the earthenware jars with care, cradling each one like a priceless bauble.

Which it was. Ben sold his regular honey in the weekly market, but he saved his mountain nectar for Wintersnight. The fragrant, sticky syrup was like the essence of summer, and the high prices of the midwinter holiday made it worth his while to wait.

When the crates were empty he left Toby to set out their stall and drove the cart into the inn yard. In an hour or two the place would be nose to tail, but it was still early and the bored ostlers were more than happy to spoil Silver.

Ben knew all too well that by noon the press of bodies, the gabble of voices, the smell of woodsmoke and fried food, warm wool and unwashed skin would make him puking sick. For now he could take an hour to show the townspeople he was alive and well, and that he knew how to exchange social niceties like a civilized person, no matter what the gossips said about his aversion to crowds. Then he’d sell his nectar as fast as he could and retreat to his mountain lair.

He strolled round the half empty market, exchanging Wintersnight greetings with families he’d known all his life. He’d almost finished his rounds, a warm venison pasty for Toby in one pocket and a flagon of cordial for himself in the other, when he saw an unfamiliar stall, displaying small rock crystal jars filled with something that caught the light and glowed like amber.

It couldn’t be honey. First, he was the only honey seller in Borderbridge. Second, who ever would put honey in rock crystal? Crystal was expensive, hard to find and even harder to work. And third, surely no honey could be that bright, that clear?

He stood rooted to the cobblestones, slack-jawed and blinking, until a small woman uncapped one of the jars and used a crystal dipper to drizzle the contents over squares of fresh bread on a wooden board. His nostrils flared. His mouth watered. It was an invitation, and a challenge. Continue reading