A fire crackled merrily, illuminating the dining room of the old Victorian mansion. Evergreens and red baubles trimmed the fireplace, gold velvet banners softened the walls, and the chandeliers twinkled with dozens of candles. Outside the frosted windows, fresh snowflakes swirled.
The smell of roasted turkey and caramelized sweet potatoes drifted around the twelve diners at the long oak table as they chatted, jabbed, and laughed. They were dressed to the nines in two-piece suits and seasonal pocket squares—even (especially) the two women. The attire was a touch more modern than the mansion itself, but still a hearkening to Christmases past. One should expect nothing less from the vintage-obsessed Main Street Cigar Club. They usually went all out for Christmas, but this year they hadn’t had to lift a finger—just their wallets. When a ‘Magical, Victorian Christmas Experience’ had popped up in the local charity auction, the vote to put the club’s funds toward it had been unanimous.
The event company that owned the mansion had nearly all five-star reviews, though details were sparse. Common themes were ‘indescribable’, ‘beyond what I could have imagined’ and ‘downright magical’. The first three courses had not disappointed, nor had their hosts for the evening.
There was a tall, slender man in a prim tailcoat of ruby velvet, standing quietly by the door, watching the merriment with cool grey eyes, always available but never overbearing. He need only incline his head at the other host, a short, plump woman in an emerald silk dress, and she understood what was needed next and would cheerily bounce to it, her ringlet curls flouncing on either side of sparkling brown eyes, her ample cleavage nearly escaping the cling of the silk. They had introduced themselves as Elden and Rosie as they had first welcomed the guests into the warm air of the mansion.
One of the quieter guests did privately think to himself that it was a bit quaint—yet charming, in the end—that despite the overall elegant and high-end feeling of the event, the two hosts had chosen to wear (impressively natural) pointed ear prosthetics to fashion themselves as elves.
The true reason for the hosts’ appearance was, unbeknownst to any of their guests, that they were in fact elves. The promises of ‘magic’ were quite literal. Though, perhaps ironically, Christmastime was the only season where they disposed of the glamours and disguises for their ears and wore them as they naturally were.
The six-course meal, three courses of which had now been plated and served, that seemed as though it would have required a kitchen staff of half a dozen to pull off, was in fact accomplished by Elden’s innate magics. Rosie was his apprentice, not yet qualified to use her magic with guests, so she went about any mundane tasks that remained.
One that she attended with the utmost faith was quietly topping off each guest’s glass of wine. When the woman nearest to the fireplace thought to herself that Rosie must be moving with supernatural subtlety, she was correct. No glass dropped more than half full, even as empty bottles lined up against the kitchen wall.
Rosie poured out the last of her carafe into the glass of the man whose pocket square was folded into the shape of a tree, and then glided into the quiet of the kitchen to uncork another bottle. She hummed a carol to herself as she lifted a little red crystal vial and poured in a generous splash to this latest bottle.
As she placed the vial back in its spot, the faded label twisted into the beam of a candle’s light, and made clear the outline of a heart and the letters V and D.
Rosie froze, her cheeks flushing bright red as her trembling fingertips pressed to her lips. She left the bottle of wine, snapped up the vial in a tight fist, smoothed out the front of her dress with a shaking hand, and stepped back into the room, pausing at Elden’s side, where she was barely taller than his elbow. Even without stooping, he heard her quiet whisper with perfect clarity:
“Elden, might I speak with you in the hall a moment?”
One of his pointed ears swiveled down towards her, but his eyes remained focused on the guests. Though it would appear that he was doing little, he was actually deeply focused on watching every guest’s littlest reaction, sifting through every whisper, all for clues on what foods might best delight in the next course.
“Is it important?” Elden said, his voice as cool and smooth as the ice skating pond behind the mansion.
“Would I interrupt you for anything else?” Rosie hissed through her cheery smile.
Elden took a slow breath—more to clear his head than to signal his exasperation, Rosie had recently learned—and then followed Rosie into the hallway.
Once they were in the dim quiet, he kneeled in front of her, lest he worsen her anxiety by towering over her. This was one reason that Rosie had fought so hard to become Elden’s apprentice—despite his aloof and sometimes bizarre nature, he was really quite kind.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
Rosie took a deep breath. “I-I’ve made a mistake, I…” The words caught in a tangle in her throat. What if Elden fired her for this? What if this would be the last time she got to entertain humans, when she’d made such a terrible mistake? The honor of entertaining humans was sacred to fae, and nothing had made her more honored than this opportunity, and—
Elden’s hand on her shoulder dispelled Rosie’s clouded thoughts.
“Whatever it is,” he said, “we can figure it out together.”
Rosie nodded, but all she could manage past the brink of tears was to extend the near-empty red crystal vial towards Elden.
Elden took it up in his slender fingers and turned it towards the light, then quirked an eyebrow at Rosie as the corner of his mouth twitched.
But not towards a frown, as Rosie had feared—but towards a smile!
“Let me make sure I understand,” Elden said. “Instead of infusing the guests’ wine with a Potion of Merriment, which has the effects of increasing the appetite and the sensation of flavor to divine heights, you’ve instead been dosing the guests tonight with our Valentine’s Day concoction which is…” Elden looked at her expectantly.
“An extremely potent aphrodisiac,” Rosie squeaked.
“And just so that I fully understand,” Elden continued, “While we would normally put just a single drop of the Valentine’s Day concoction into an entire bottle of wine, you’ve been dosing this as if it were a Potion of Merriment, so something like ten times the dose?”
Rosie winced and nodded.
“How did this happen?”
“I f-forgot that Christmas wasn’t the only red bottle.” Rosie squeezed her eyes shut, bracing for punishment.
But instead, Elden laughed. And not just a wry chuckle, which was the most she’d ever seen from him. He laughed from his core, deep and full, and the sound filled the air with the memory of a hundred dozen Christmases, centuries of mirth and mischief, warmth and whimsy, and every candle in the house burned a shade brighter.
Somehow, Rosie’s shame melted away, and she found herself laughing too. When Elden finally settled, his blue eyes still twinkling like a starry sky, Rosie said, “So you’re… not going to fire me?”
“Oh, heavens no. Dear Rosie, we have guests to attend to, and I will need your help.” Elden grinned wide enough to reveal his pointed canines and the predatory gleam in his eye. “I have an idea that will ensure our guests have a delightful night, that will be appropriate penance for you for this little slip-up, and that will keep the Convention from levying anything more than a nominal fine. Does that sound agreeable?”
Rosie’s heart pittered like the hooves of a reindeer yoked to a sleigh, ready to run, eager to work, waiting only for her master’s ha. Her cheeks warmed again, but for a different reason. She bit her lip and nodded.
Elden handed her the red crystal vial. “Good thing you didn’t use it all,” he said. “You’ll want to drink that.”
Excitement tingled all the way down to Rosie’s fingertips and toes, and she obeyed.