A short original story about the Blackwing guys spending some quality time together during the holiday period. Probably not canon.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

“I can’t believe you got me to agree to this,” I said. I slumped down in a chair that had seen too many arses over the year, and it creaked beneath my weight. I’d overdone it on the fig pudding at the citadel’s holiday party the night before.

“You smell like sherry, boss,” Nenn said. She couldn’t smell shit over the aroma of mulled wine rising from the cup in her hand and the aroma of mulled vagabonds infesting The Bell. She couldn’t really smell anything anyway.

“You think I’ve been drinking sherry?”

“I sent you a bottle of sherry, so it almost certainly got drunk by now,” Nenn said. She grinned, already a few cups in. And why the fuck not? It was snowing outside, the courts weren’t offering any work for the likes of us on the shortest day festival, and everyone else got a holiday. The shortest day of the year, the longest period of darkness. A good cause for celebration.

The sky gave a shattering howl outside. Reminding me not to get too cocky.

“We’re gathered here today to witness the union…” Tnota started. His eyes were half rolled up into his head. He’d been on it since dawn. Maybe the best thing about short days was that Tnota got to spend less time in the tavern. “Wait a minute, wrong celebration,” he said.

“Here lies Tnota, a piss stain on the scab of the earth, may his soul soar…” Nenn started.

What the hell. It was the holidays.

“Happy birthday to you…”

Nenn snorted wine out of the hole in her face. Tnota dodged back, avoiding the red spray with surprising agility for a man who’d gotten through six cups of eggnog. Almost, anyway. His chair tipped back, and he went arse over head. Patrons howled with laughter as Tnota shook eggnog from his hands. Tnota wasn’t laughing. He looked up, realising where he’d landed. Above him, a clutch of mistletoe dangled from the roof.

“Ah fuck a duck,” he said. “Big Dog says I don’t have to get kissed. I been eating garlic onions.”

“He don’t say shit like that,” Nenn hooted. “You can’t move from there until someone lays one on you. Regiment rules!”

It was a long standing tradition.

I passed Tnota my ale. He’d probably be stuck there a while. His oral hygiene wasn’t the best. None of his hygiene was particularly good, at that, and the rules said you couldn’t bribe someone to give you a lipping. Tnota sat down cross legged and began his observance. Nenn settled in at the table, stuck her boots up where Tnota had been resting his booze.

“You know, Captain, life would be better if it was the holidays all the time wouldn’t it?”

“Really?” I said. “I can think of better ways to spend a day than arguing, eating too much and drinking from dawn.”

“How is that different to any other day?”

“More arguing.”

“Nah, we argue plenty.”

“We don’t.”

“We do.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. Nenn burst out laughing. Called for more drinks.

The door opened and a gust of snow heralded a new arrival. Dantry Tanza appeared, shaking flecks of ice from his coat shoulders, brushing it from his hair. I pulled a seat out for her.

“Captain,” he said, frowning. “This isn’t really the holiday dinner that I was expecting.”

“Maybe not, but there’s a goose on the spit and that’s about as good as it gets out here. Join us and get a drink.” It wasn’t a goose. Might have been a bird of some kind. Or maybe a dog.

“Do they serve wine here? Am I being absurdly optimistic to expect a glass of the Forty-Nine?”

Forty-Nine was hugely optimistic. In fact, a glass was pretty much a long shot. I planted a bottle of Rudd’s Best Engine Cleaning Wine and a clay cup down in front of him.

“Make a holiday wish. Maybe this’ll turn into a bottle of Forty-Nine.”

“I think maybe I’ll pass. Why is Tnota sitting on the floor?” Dantry asked.

“No idea,” Nenn said, cutting me off. “Go give him a hand up, there’s a good courtier.”

Dantry didn’t trust Nenn, which was a good thing, because she wasn’t to be trusted. But his honour didn’t allow him to leave a man sitting on the floor when there was space at the table. He walked over and helped him up.

“Look up!” Nenn crowed. Victorious. Dantry did just that, he groaned when he saw the mistletoe. The customs on Heirengrad were the same as we had here on the Range, apparently. His face creased up, looked pained.

“Do I have to?”

“It’s the holidays,” I said.

“Spirits man, how much garlic have you been eating?”

Tnota made it good and noisy and enjoyed himself far too much.

“Fine, I do need that,” Dantry said, taking hold of the bottle of engine cleaner and downed it. There wasn’t much good to be said of Rudd’s Best, but at least it could be relied on to get the taste of Tnota out of his mouth.

“A toast,” I said as they sat down around the table. I raised my cup. “We don’t get a lot of good times out here on the Range. In fact, all around the world, there’s a lot of folks don’t get to have a lot of good times. Money, love, hunger, boredom, oppression, greed, disappointment, anxiety, depression, hardship – those are all good recipes for having a right old shit time. It hasn’t been an easy year on anyone. Lots of ups, lots of downs. A few small wins, a couple of big ones. But a lot of losses, and when some things are gone, they’re gone forever, no matter how much you might wish it were different.”

They’d all gone quiet. They listened when I spoke, and though we might not always agree, that was something.

“Maybe love’s the hardest thing of all. Nothing harder. But for all the booze and the goose and the traditions in the holiday, they’re all just excuses. Tricks we play on ourselves to feel less embarrassed that we’re getting together with those that we love. So here we are. You’re good people, and I’m glad to have you. Even if most of you are dicks. So here’s to friends, near and far, present and gone. Cheers to that.”

“Happy holiday, Ryhalt,” Nenn said.

Tnota cleared his throat.

“Crowfoot bless us,” he said. “Every fuckin’ one.”