A little note: This story does not include Rafael Jones. It is, however, a look into the life of Sir Lynn Fox, his colleague.
Peter Fox pulled off his mittens as he walked to school alongside his father, Sir Lynn. Sir Lynn had straight, silver hair, and glittering blue eyes, whereas Peter got his brown curls and dark eyes from his mother, Susan. “I don’t know why mother has to fuss so. It’s the last day before the Christmas holidays, and nothing bad ever happens to children around Christmas.”
“Maybe not to good children,” Sir Lynn said, though he could think of all too many exceptions, “but there is danger for naughty children. So put your mittens back on and don’t worry your mother by getting frostbite. You’ll want your fingertips when you’re older, even if you aren’t thinking of them now.”
Peter had already stuck his hands in his pockets, because they’d felt the cold the moment he’d taken the mittens off. He tried to look as if he was only being condescending as he put the mittens back on and asked, “I don’t exactly call Father Christmas leaving coal or switches dangerous. Disappointing, to be sure, but not dangerous.” He was ten years old, after all, the eldest of four children, and had to show he was too sophisticated for such threats.
“I wasn’t thinking of Father Christmas, Peter. There are other things to be concerned with, Krampus being the one most likely to harm you. The Yule Cat tends to stay in Iceland.”
“Krampus sounds like a pain we would learn about in Latin class.”
“Angustiam dolorificam,” said Sir Lynn, absentmindedly.
“The proper Latin for cramps. Sorry, you were asking about who Krampus is. I haven’t met him, but he’s said to be half-goat, half-demon– which I have my doubts about the likelihood of. Half-satyr, half-demon would be possible. Anyhow, whatever he is, he’s known for finding naughty children the night before St. Nicklaus’s day, and beats them with sticks, then throws them in his sack and carries them away.”
“Where does he take them?”
“I think that’s a matter of pure speculation. Some people say he eats them, or takes them to hell, or to his home, but none of that but the eating is specific about what happens to them, and while goats will eat anything, demons generally have no more need for food than any other angel.”
“I thought you knew about all sorts of magical creatures.”
“Well, I do, and I know about all kinds of people. But if you looked up a random name in a telephone directory and asked me to tell you about him, I wouldn’t be likely to know them specifically. I suppose the best way to find out about him is… no, no.”
“I know what you were going to say.”
“Yes. You always say one of the best ways to find out about someone is to meet them and judge for yourself.”
“That’s right. But the obvious flaw in that plan is that I am not a naughty child, and those are the only people who he comes to.”
“I could pretend to be a naughty child,” Peter suggested.
Sir Lynn smiled. “Pretend… yes…”
Peter wasn’t sure he liked his father’s tone on that. “I can make it believable. Plus, I’ll use a summoning circle so it wouldn’t just be random bait.”
Sir Lynn nodded slowly. He hadn’t meant to make this into an investigation, but supernatural creatures kidnapping children did fall broadly into his jurisdiction, as the official Knight Protector against occult threats. (A little-known title, to be sure, but one he had well earned.)
And Peter was diligent when it came to summoning circles. It had been about the only way to get him to care about his maths studies. Lydia, the second eldest, certainly wouldn’t be permitted, as she had a bad habit of dragging her foot through the circle as she worked. What she lacked in spatial awareness, though, she was making up for in a knack for languages. Susan found her a great help in translating. The other two, Percy and Lucy, were so young that their only magical training at this point was learning to redirect emotional reactions so as not to do something they would regret, and to not touch things they did not understand.
Perhaps the reason this was the first year he’d thought about what Krampus actually did was because this was the first year one of his children was old enough to volunteer to be bait. That thought troubled him, and he decided he would talk to Susan about it once he had seen Peter safely to school. He was good at thinking of the big picture, of strategy and resources and so on. He wasn’t always grounded and able to think in terms of appropriateness… a failing he almost certainly got from his own father. Although he was much older than Susan, he hadn’t had experience parenting until Peter had come along.
He made a few suggestions and encouraging remarks as Peter rattled off ideas for getting Krampus to come when they were ready, and what the design for the summoning circle should be. The idea of drawing wards on the walls with messy crayon to strengthen the containment and irritate it on the basis that grownups hate scribbles on the walls was inspired, in his opinion, and Peter admitted it was inspired because of how the housekeeper, Mrs. Cook, and the maid, Miss Butler, had fussed about Lucy’s “floral art pieces” a few weeks ago.
Once the boy was safely at the school yard (to think, Eton was only a year away), Sir Lynn took a short cut back through a reflection in a window and stepped out through the full-length mirror in the vestibule. Susan was on the telephone, taking notes. “Certainly,” she said with a soft urgency. “We can make room for them. Our own children range from 2 to 10 years of age. Three children? We can take twice that many before we need to add staff.”
She made a few more notes, reading back a date, time, and train station information, and then responded, “Happy holidays to you as well, Neville, and good bye.”
She then looked to Lynn. “Refugee children. Kindertransport. The Germans don’t want Jewish children, and I knew you’d agree we need to show them a warm welcome.”
Fox nodded. “If there’s one good thing to come out of this appeasement strategy, it is that we can at least offer that now. There’s war brewing, though. It’s nothing but wishful thinking to believe the Germans only want to recover lost territories and wealth.”
“Is that just an opinion, or are you remembering the future?”
“Pieces. Not as much as I should like to know, and yet more than I want to. Don’t worry about how many children they send us now; there will be more later, from cities. We shall need to set up a large schoolroom in one of the halls. Best to work on it now, I think. It will be hard to find craftsmen later. How is your sister doing?”
Susan bit her lower lip the tiniest amount. When Sir Lynn seemed to suddenly change topic, he was probably following a connecting thread no one else knew about yet. “Which one?”
“Laura,” Sir Lynn said. “As far as I know, your youngest sister doesn’t stay in touch.”
“Laura is… I’m not really sure how she is,” Susan said suddenly, “She called yesterday, and I asked, as one does, and she simply said not to worry. I thought it was odd at the time, but now that you ask, I’m bothered. Should we go see her?”
“No, but call her back, and make sure to be clear that she can come visit any time, for as long as she likes.”
“Of course, she and–”
“Oh, no need to mention him. If she wants to bring her husband, she can.”
“Must you be so mysterious?!” Susan was annoyed now. There seemed to be vague hints of trouble and as Laura was her sister, she ought to be informed.
“I see a very likely future of her wanting to go somewhere on her own,” he said. He gave a small smile. “And it will work out very well for all of us if she comes and stays with us for a while, when she’s ready. But now to the big plan of the day.” He sat down, patted the chair next to him, and once Susan was seated, he took both her hands in his. “Peter has suggested summoning Krampus.”
“Who?” Susan looked confused for a moment, but then asked, “Not that Christmas demon some Europeans believe in?”
“There are more things in heaven and Earth…” he reminded her.
“I know that very well,” she told him. “Still, is Krampus really Britain’s problem?”
“Europe rather is our problem,” he told her. “Krampus included. There’s more than enough evil in the world right now without a demon increasing it.”
“So Peter is going to summon Krampus and you’re going to talk to him?”
“I’m going to do more than that. I’m going to find out where he takes those naughty children he makes off with, and if possible, rescue them.”
She sighed. “I can’t possibly say no to that. But make sure you put wards on our other children so he doesn’t hone in on their naughtiness instead. Percy was chewing on the head of his little toy lamb, and Cook complained of a headache, so he’s been accidentally making magical poppets of his stuffed toys again.”
When Peter arrived home from school, he wanted to go directly to the west wing, which had rooms for magic practice, easily isolated from the rest of the house when needed. Susan insisted he wash his hands, have a snack, and put his school bag on its hook first.
“You don’t do this with father,” he protested.
“I pretty much have, except for the school bag, and a briefcase from the ministry is much the same thing. You have to concentrate in order to do magic safely, and you can’t concentrate with a growling stomach and other pressing business on hand.”
He argued no further and he did appreciate the cheese, cress, and crackers, and milky tea much more than he cared to say.
“This is going to be a family project,” she added.
“This is the first time anyone is calling an unfamiliar demon into the house and, with the amount of trouble you lot get into, I don’t want any of you to not be under our eyes when Krampus comes. It won’t do any good to have your father watching over you if Krampus is busy snatching away another child. You two can get started and I’ll round up the others and be there at 15:45.”
Fifteen minutes. He sighed noticeably and headed to the west wing. At the first door along the corridor, he gave a short knock and went on without waiting. That was his father’s private library, full of books and scrolls and things not meant for people to browse without oversight, and he knew his father was probably there this time of day, especially when there was occult action to prepare for. Further on in that part of the manor, there was a room with slate tiles on the floor and stone-and-mortar walls. It had one window and the roofing was lightweight, giving a couple of directions to direct energy one did not want bouncing off the stone.
Peter took a metal rod out of a cupboard and placed it into a little hole in the center of one of the large slate tiles. In the same cabinet, he found some cotton string and a piece of chalk, tying the items together to work as a compass allowing him to roughly draw the circle. A carved wooden box held several glass jars and from these he picked one containing sea salt, another with a gooey mix of honey and sap, and, after consideration, a third with powdered mica. Yes, mica was the thing. Aligned with Mercury, it was good for communications and should aid in getting Krampus’s attention. It also acted to repel negativity, helping to reinforce other protective elements in the circle.
First, he traced the sticky honey and sap mixture onto the chalk circle with his finger, making sure to dip his finger again every few inches so the drawing didn’t end up dry and thin anywhere. Then he sprinkled a bit of the mica on it, all the way around. He stepped back for a moment, not so much to admire the sparkling circle, but to make sure there weren’t any cracks through it or scuffing. Then, he carefully drew another circle a foot beyond the first. For this one, he laid down the salt, not lightly, but a quarter inch deep. When his jar ran out, he went back to the box for more.
Sir Lynn came in, then. “Sorry I took so long. I was doing a bit of research. How’s it coming along?”
Peter gestured to the circle and Sir Lynn pivoted to look. “Oh, very nice. Mica is an excellent choice.” He stretched out a hand. “Incense, please. I’ll set up an area for the little ones to give them a little more cover if things get tricky. “
“He’s only half demon,” Peter said, unperturbed, as he found a second jar of salt to finish the outer circle.
“Possibly so, but what if he’s the son of Pan? That would make his other half a god and we would have a much less predictable situation. Never prepare only for the most likely scenario, Peter. Prepare for anything from the most likely to the worst possible and you’re pretty well covered.”
“Did you tell Arthur that?”
“I could tell him what I liked. But he was a man of faith and such men tend to assume things will turn out well for them.” He paused. “I still prepared for the worst, and that helped.”
“Sorry, father. I didn’t mean to bring back a bad memory. It’s just… learning where things go wrong is how I try to prepare for the worst. I haven’t got much of my own experience to draw on, so I have to ask about yours.”
“And it’s quite right that you do so. One day I’ll go through it in detail, how I lost my best friend in war. But today, we have sigils to draw.”
“You’ve got your best walking stick with you, haven’t you?” asked the boy.
“With the Seal of Solomon carved under the cover. Of course. Should it be necessary, I should be able to bind him outside the circle. That’s a fallback measure. What signs are you thinking of?”
“The signs of the archangels at the points of the compass, as my serious ones, and I also thought this would be how I’d get his attention…” Peter pulled a piece of notepaper from his pocket. Sir Lynn grinned and clapped him on the shoulder.
Just then, Susan entered with the other children. Lydia was wearing some of Peter’s hand-me-downs. She had her own school uniform and a wardrobe full of pretty things, but she liked her brother’s clothes better. Lucy, on the other hand, was so sweet looking in her little green dress and white pinafore, one could almost forget she had a tendency to mentally throw fireballs when she was particularly upset. Lydia was being helpful, and carried a blanket so that Susan could try to settle Percy down for a nap, and on her arm was a basket with some toys, snacks, and other pass-time things. This left Susan free to guide the two youngest.
Peter gave them a brief wave, but kept his focus on the signs of the archangels, and Sir Lynn grabbed a piece of chalk and set down two of the signs himself, then stepped back to make sure things were aligned. He stepped in to fix some tiny details, then gave Peter a nod.
Peter suddenly rushed over to his siblings, gave Lydia a mild but rudely sudden shove, pulled a box of crayons out of the basket and used them to make a drawing on the wall. It was approximately the symbol called the Seal of Solomon, or King Solomon’s Seal. At least it had the basic Star of David inscribed within a circle, but instead of the inner details being filled in, it was depicted as being balanced on the nose of a performing sea lion. That seal had a clown nose and top hat on.
Susan, having made sure Lydia wasn’t hurt, just offended, began to sternly remind Peter that a need for something to write with was no reason to forget his manners. But as she scolded him, a cloud of black smoke appeared within the summoning circle on the floor.
A deep, menacing voice boomed forth. “There is mischief afoot! Deeds of selfishness or malice must be corrected.” The smoke began to spread, slowly revealing the form it had obscured. Krumpus stood at least seven feet tall, not counting his goat-like horns, and his animalistic legs were likely not fully extended. Long dark hair covered much of his skin, with his chest and face bare.
“At least you’re wearing enough to be decent,” said Susan. “Is that lederhosen?” She continued without waiting for an answer. “And I am dealing with Peter’s mischief, thank you very much.”
Krampus looked awkwardly away from Peter and her, catching Sir Lynn’s gaze in the process. “This isn’t how it normally goes.”
“We’re not the most normal household. Anyway, you were really invited here for other reasons. I need to know more about what you get up to… normally.”
“Invited?” Krampus was even more uncertain, shifting from one bent leg to the other. “Is this boy so out of control you want to be rid of him, then?”
“Nonsense. We concocted this plan together and working with him is always a delight. Oh, he may sometimes eat too many biscuits before dinner or write rude poems, but nothing that isn’t simply part of growing up. He only shoved his sister just now to bait you. Quite clever.” Sir Lynn didn’t mention that Peter had kept that part of his plan to himself to ensure natural surprise and anger from the rest of them. He generally made it a principle to support initiative from those working on one of his projects, and he wasn’t about to make Peter at any greater risk by expressing disapproval.
“What am I here for, then?” Krampus stamped a hoof down in frustration. The impact shook the room, but, although some of the powder was knocked out in thin rays, the circle remained intact. That was why the sticky layer was so important.
“Mind your manners,” Sir Lynn snapped at him. “You are in my house, and you are frightening the children.”
“I am supposed to frighten children,” Krampus snarled.
“You’re a little alarming,” Peter said, “but not that scary. We’ve seen much worse. That man from Inland Revenue, for instance.”
“You stink!” Lucy complained. He didn’t just look like a goat, he exuded the scent of a billy goat to go with it; furthermore, brimstone and other rarer chemical smells still hung in the air from his crossing between worlds.
Susan, still holding her hand, reminded her. “We do not say things like that to people. If it is necessary, we…” Susan was at a loss for a moment. Offering a mint wouldn’t exactly do much for a smell that came mostly from a hairy, goatish hide. “Well, we be discreet. Mr. Krampus will not be staying long, I think, so offering him a chance to wash up would not be in order.”
“Is that why you suggested it to Lady Hortense last summer?” asked Lydia.
“She had spent the entire afternoon in the heat on a sweaty horse. Whether she smelled or not, she most certainly wanted to wash up.”
Krampus stamped a hoof down. “Excuse me. This still doesn’t make any sense. This is not my usual entrance and certainly not my usual reception. What exactly is going on?”
“Sorry about that,” Sir Lynn said. “Things get a little chaotic sometimes. You were brought here because of the nature of your other visits to humanity. I understand that when you come to naughty children, you not only scare them and hit them with switches, which by the way is in itself inappropriate, but you are known to stick some of them in your bag and take them away.”
“That is correct. Except I mostly just scare them and leave the switches behind to be used if needed.”
“I see. You aren’t exactly volunteering information. In that case, I further compel you to tell me where you take them.”
“I take them to school.”
“They generally are never seen again. What do you mean by school?”
“It’s a boarding school. For troubled children. It’s… it’s not easy to explain.”
“So far it doesn’t seem hard at all. Where is it? Who runs it?”
“Well… the location. It’s in between places really. And I suppose you could say I run it. I leave the instruction to humans, though. Some are graduates, others volunteer for the job for other reasons. It’s… it would be easier if you saw it.”
Sir Lynn took a deep breath. The demonic being was offering to take him to where the children were taken. Sure, Krampus said it was a school, but compelling a creature of chaos to tell you something wasn’t always effective, and without compulsion, he could well be lying. If he was lying, Lynn Fox could be stepping into a trap.
He stepped into the circle. “Peter?” he said softly.
Peter Fox swallowed, trying to quelch a sense of trepidation. If anything happened to his father, he’d never forget this moment. But it had to be done, if they were to ensure the safety of the missing children. “To the outer realms, I release thee. Go back to whence you came.” It was the proper way to send away a summoned entity, so as not to accidentally release them into the world.
For a brief while, they travelled through a kind of fog, although Sir Lynn knew it was probably the same kind of smoke that had come through with Krampus on his arrival. Such things were common in the liminal space between demons and the human world, but since he was himself effectively now part of that space, it did not have the intrusive scent and feel it did in his home.
It felt like it took minutes to travel, but his heart beat only once before he found himself on a well kept lawn surrounded by the fog. The clear area was lit as if by sunlight, but, looking up, Sir Lynn could see no source.
Krampus noticed. “We have a lot of filters going on. There are energies that wouldn’t be so good for humans, and this is supposed to be a haven.” He gestured to a large brick building beyond a playground. “There’s enough light coming through for us to grow a lot of our own food in a garden in back.”
Sir Lynn took in everything in view from where he was. Aside from the surrounding haze and the sunlight without a sun, it would be impossible to tell they weren’t on Earth, in the plane of existence living people called home. There were about a dozen kids outside right now, with a pair of women in nun’s habits keeping an eye on them as they played. It was his turn to be confused. “I really didn’t expect anything like this. What do you do it for? I thought you came to punish naughty kids?”
“Oh, most children just need a good scare. But some of them act up because they don’t have any consistent rules and attention. Maybe their parents are busy, maybe they don’t know what they are doing, maybe they think they shouldn’t have to provide structure for their child, but expect the rules of the world to bend to the pleasure of the family. That last group, and the ones who create and enforce rules, but do so with inconsistent anger and leave the children confused and resentful, those are the ones whose children are the naughtiest.”
“When a child has been misbehaving over the course of years, has a pattern of worsening behavior, well, that’s when I take them away. Because for them, it’s not really the child being naughty but the parent. If I can get to them in time, we can give them the structure they need. A schedule, adults who take the time to know their names and give them individual attention, responsibilities, but rights, too, that give them reason to believe they can trust in us.”
“This is unexpected. You are part demon, right?”
“Sure. My mother was a guardian angel before the war. Like a lot of the ones on the losing side, she got transformed, made into a sort of goat-bat woman, but she could still look like a human with enough focus. Well, when she was on Earth one time, she met a teenage orphan, depressed, leaving his family herd virtually unattended, and she took him under her wing, because that’s what guardian angels do, even if the wing has gone leathery.”
“And you decided to do the same?”
“Hey. I’m telling the story. You want to see the gardens? Let’s go around to the back while I explain the rest of my backstory.” They turned down a neat, gravel path. “So when he’s gone and rounded up the animals who strayed and fixed the fences and generally gotten things back under control, she goes on her way, and she doesn’t see him again until years later. By then, well, he cleans up nice and she realizes he’s no longer a boy, but a man, and she rather takes a fancy to him. About a year later, there’s me, but she can’t take me back to hell with her when she needs to leave, and dad has to raise me on his own. But I’m way too weird for him to take into town. His parents are gone so he can’t ask them how to raise a kid. He’s worried the neighbors will think I’m some kind of monster. So I don’t get a chance to develop normal social skills. I help out around the farm some, but if I wander off, my dad doesn’t know what to do about it, so I go into the forest a lot. I guess some of the old stories come because I was always messing around in there. Jump out at someone who is on their own to scare them, see them scream and run. When I got older, flirting around with the nymphs and such.”
“So you weren’t the son of Pan or a satyr– you were what got humanity telling tales about them.”
He shrugged. “I guess so. Of course, at the time, I was just trying to have some fun and see people without causing trouble for my dad. But that’s the thing. I was kind of rotten because I didn’t know better. So I’m trying to give other kids who aren’t coping well with the parenting they are getting a chance to try something a little more structured.”
“It’s not exactly a chance to try, though. You’re kidnapping them, not asking for consent.”
“They already have more freedom than they know what to do with and no way of knowing how much better off they will be without it. Of course I’m not going to ask for their opinion on the spot.”
“It’s not right.”
“You think not? How many messed up families have you seen? When I got to your house, I expected a drunk father, mother with mental health issues, and a group of younger siblings bullied by the oldest, who was on the edge of puberty and about to break into potentially criminal behavior if it wasn’t nipped in the bud. I didn’t know what to do because I found family unity and loving support. I’ve barely seen what happy families look like… but I knew it when I saw it.”
“Ah. Well. We do our best. But what about the families of the children here?”
“Sometimes they are ones I visited a year before. Other times, I can see that they been ignoring other warning signs. Guardian angels err too much on the side of free will and parental rights, but they do often try to do some interference and correction, and I can see where that’s been falling on deaf ears. Look, my mom wouldn’t have been a demon if she didn’t think she knew better what was right than the Almighty. Maybe I’m not doing what I do by the book, but I’m getting damaged kids to a place where they heal.”
They turned the corner. Sunflowers grew higher than their heads, blossoms pointing straight above. Climbing peas were trellised against the building, reaching the second story. Fruit trees had larger than average fruit weighing down the branches, and the herbs were kept in neat containers to prevent wild overgrowth. “The plants, at least, are thriving,” said Sir Lynn, reaching out a hand to a touch the flowers of a mustard plant that had a bee exploring another part. “Where did that come from?” he asked.
“We have five hives. The original bees came from Earth, of course, generations ago. Sometimes I bring back a drone or a spare queen, to keep the lineage fresh. Most things I brought down myself. The lawn, for instance, is sod I tore up and took here piece by piece. The building is magical.”
“I wondered why it was so like a modern English boarding school.”
“The first one was based on Plato’s symposium. I update it as domestic engineering gets innovated in the human world. Seems to make things safer and more comfortable for the mortals, and it makes it easier for them to graduate back if they are used to modern things.”
“Very few children went to school until the last century. What made you think of it?”
“They needed lessons. Of some kind. They needed looking after. Schools are a place where children learn from someone they can trust and respect. And even if most cultures had them just for the elite, that isn’t always the case. What they learn has changed over time, too, but they always leave competent in something that they should be able to put to use.”
“Well, Marcos wants to be a beekeeper. He works with Sister Brigit on the hives. Kathleen wants to paint and is building a portfolio. Eyes-of-Elk is quite a good typist and working on her shorthand. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to come up with a way to simulate switchboard operation for her, but she can probably get an office job without it.”
“May I talk with some of the staff?”
“Certainly. Anyone in particular?”
“I’m more interested in their perspectives than their specialties. One of the former students, I think, and one of the Sisters, and perhaps someone who isn’t your usual source of workers?”
“Let’s start with Alice. She’s in charge of the kitchen. I don’t just want to call her the cook, because she makes sure the children are fed properly, but she also teaches them, so they will be able to take care of themselves when they grow up. She learned the same way from Pierre.”
“Who did he learn from?” Sir Lynn asked casually.
“Hannah. Although he also remembered techniques he’d learned before coming here. His father worked in a kitchen, and sometimes left Pierre to handle the food while he got marinated.”
“You have an excellent memory.” That spoke well of Krampus. If you supervised that many people over that much time and remembered them in detail, you had to care. Of course, it was always essential to verify what one could. He added. “I always thought of demons as being chaotic, but you’re giving the children stability.”
“I had too much chaos as a kid.”
Just then, one of the children ran past them. Well, tried to run past, he collided glancingly with Krampus, who put hands on his shoulders and stopped him, “Piotr, what is the rush? You could get hurt or hurt someone when you run without paying attention.”
“Sorry. Just excited. We’re going to meet new students today, aren’t we?”
“Possibly later, but not just now. Would you believe I got distracted by a magician with a happy home?”
“Why would that distract you?”
“Maybe because both those things seem rare.” Then he knelt next to the boy and explained to him, “He’s got power and influence, Piotr. When you get asked a question by someone like that, if you are doing right, giving them a full answer can get someone on your side worth having. Why don’t you say hello to him?”
Piotr looked inquisitively at Sir Lynn. “Hello, sir. Who are you?”
“Well, you can call me Mr. Fox. Have you been here long?
“Just a year. This will be my first time welcoming new students. I made scarves for them with the school motto.”
Lynn Fox scrutinized the one held up for him to see. “‘Caprae non ovium’… that means ‘Goats, not sheep’.”
“Because we misbehaved, which makes us goats, but also because we don’t follow mindlessly, and also because Mr. Krampus is a bit goatish.”
“I see. Very nice craftsmanship, too.”
“Thank you. I used a tool to cut the motto out from felt that I could sew on and make them all standardized. It’s also faster than embroidery.”
“Did you learn to do that here?”
“Yes. Mr. Johanson teaches us to work with machines.”
“Is Mr. Johanson a former student?” Sir Lynn asked of Krampus.
“No. He’s a former counterfeiter. I’ll let you get his story straight from his mouth for the most part, but just so you understand how it works. A little boy was going to paint something rude with whitewash on the same bridge Mr. Johanson was going to jump from. He’d gotten out of prison to find out he couldn’t get a job and no one in his family wanted to speak to him. Well, that was a bigger priority than a bit of vandalism, so I pulled him back from the edge. I guess the boy saw me and ran off, but I offered Mr. Johanson a place here.”
“Thank you. You mentioned having me on your side.” They were moving up a few low steps to the kitchen door. “Do you have something working against you?”
“Just the usual. Maintenance costs, retirement funds, food bills. Then there’s getting the graduating kids back into the real world. That’s where someone with your influence might be able to give us a hand.”
“I’ll be frank. I believe we are on the verge of a war. That wouldn’t make it hard to find work for them. But you have children from many different countries. They might not feel comfortable sewing uniforms for an army not their own. Or being asked to put on a uniform themselves– I wouldn’t ask it of them, but while I could give them an identity for their new life, that identity wouldn’t protect them from being treated like other young men and asked to do their bit.”
“You’re using a lot of euphemisms.”
“War is terrible. It’s easier, sometimes, to avoid talking about what really happens. That the bit we ask young men to do includes fighting and dying; losing their innocence, if nothing else. I remember too much sometimes, past and future. This war– this one is important. It’s worth fighting. It’s also worth trying everything we can to make it less horrible. Krampus, do you only visit the children who celebrate Christmas?”
“No. Like I told you, I grew up in pagan times. It’s just a matter of which people keep stories of me.”
“I’d like to fund an expansion of your school. Can you… can you go to Germany, and Poland, especially the ghettos? Just this year, focus on those children. They won’t be there next year, one way or another.” Darkness moved behind his blue eyes.
“Are you a seer?” Krampus asked. He looked more closely. “You’re only half-human yourself. What are you?”
“Someone not quite bound by time.” He paused. “I remember. I remember the war that is to come, and other things. I remember setting up documents for the students you collect this year, later on, when the war is ending. I remember Eyes-of-Elk getting a medal from the War Office, as she worked with code talkers in the field, translating and relaying information. I have a friend who is an American senator. I’ll ask him about finding a job for an Indian girl educated in an English boarding school, a scholarship student.” His manner was increasingly positive as he continued. “This will work. And since I have, in one timeline, already interviewed your staff and students… I remember them. Let’s just go to your office and figure out what I can do to help with the expansion, and then I can let you get back to your work.”
Stepping between worlds was easier for Sir Lynn than it was for most. Some beings were all spirit, while others were all earthly. Spirits often needed help to interact with the earthly world, and it took either a rare gift or special training for a human to see into the spirit world under normal circumstances. But Sir Lynn was of both worlds, and could choose when to travel unaided. Still, in some places the veil was thinner than others. On the one hand, Krampus’s school was built for earthly beings, and so was more real than the rest of the astral plane. The timbers were natural wood, the lawn the children played on was real sod, and they were, in fact, going to go back into the world one day. So it was as close to earthliness as a hidden realm could be.
Meanwhile, in his own home, the summoning circle was still there, creating a kind of tunnel to the spirit world. Easy as mince pie to walk through. “Home, sweet home,” he said, as he saw his family eyeing him.
Susan’s face fell in dismay. “Where are the children? Couldn’t you rescue anyone at all?”
“I didn’t need to, darling.” He stepped out of the circle and came over to kiss her on the forehead, then all of his children likewise. “They were already rescued.”
He picked up the two youngest children and nodded to his wife. “I’ll explain everything. Over a bit of cocoa.”