Log In

Winter 2017 Writing Contest: The Perfect Gift

The Perfect Gift
By: Rotsuoy

Alhwin, the old grey rat, had drifted off to sleep at his work bench like usual. He had finished cleaning his tiny shop for the season, after his Snowfest nutcracker deliveries, and had little energy left. Luckily it was all over with and he could catch up on much needed sleep. Alhwin had spent this year's Snowfest working on his nutcrackers with a small carving knife instead of his favorite gouge, and it took much longer than previous years. He'd have to replace it before the end of this new year, otherwise he'd have yet another sleepless Snow Fest.
He shivered slightly in his dreaming state, and Alcine, the brown chest, perked up her lid. She had been dozing in her corner on a cushion while he worked. With a stretch of her feet and a long yawn of her lid, she stood up in the tiny shop. The chest pulled a wool blanket from a nearby shelf, and clambered up on the desk, trying not to disturb her friend. It took her a few tries to drag the thing up the desk, but she had experience in this situation.
Haphazardly, she managed the blanket around Alhwin's shoulders enough so that he would sleep for a while. The sun would be coming up soon so he wouldn't be cold in the stone-slab-floored shop for too long. After blanketing her friend she slowly peered across her surroundings in thought.
Alhwin would spend all winter longer giving gifts to friends, family, and even creatures he had only just met on his travels. Sure he would get the odd gift from those he gave nutcrackers too- mostly food for his journey -however, he hadn't really been given a gift quite like the ones he had given away. Alcine would change that, she thought.
She leaped off of the bench without thinking twice, paused to make sure Alhwin was still asleep, and then wiggled out of the flap door her friend had made just for her. Her wooden feet padded through the snow as she trotted into town, and her breath bellowed into the air like a happy steam engine. She was on a mission and she was going to make sure a good gift would be found.

In town, she made her way towards the livery stables in search of Brynhldr the badger. Once there, the stables were quite a sight. Most had been converted into aquarium space for wet pets and sea critters. Alcine passed a gulping meshy who creaked and groaned as it opened and closed its mechanical mouth. Across from the meshy tanks was a sandy bottom tank filled with cuddling shelhowls, nesting down for the day as is appropriate for nocturnal sea life. Alcine wagged her body happily then galloped towards the livery office.
Bryn, arms full of feed bags and buckets, rounded the corner of the office right as the brown chest bounded her way. There was a collision of grandiose proportions as feed scattered to the ground and buckets clattered all about. “What in tarnations is going on here?!” she shouted, trying to catch what she could before it was all lost to the floor. Alcine pounced into Brynhldr's arms and lapped her muzzle happily. “Ally you dirty dog! You nearly scared the life out of me. What are you doing here so early-” she glanced around “-and alone?”
It wasn't entirely rare for the chest to make some rounds in town by herself, but it wasn't common place either. Usually it involved a delivery that Alhwin had forgotten, however, Alcine was without a package so it was that more unusual. The chest only wagged her body at the question. “Well, since you're here, why don't you give me a bit o' help?” Bryn pulled herself to her feet and lifted her load above her powerful shoulders. Alcine creaked her lid open in a smile.
As they were feeding animals and scrubbing tanks, Alcine searched high and low for a suitable gift for Alhwin. Nothing was quite right. She found a rusted nail that was bent in a perfect circle, a discarded scale from a white shelhowl, and pearlescent molt from a blue sandhopper. No, these won't do, she thought, and she was off to her next destination.

The gardens were slowly blooming back to life as the harshest colds of the winter begin to fade away. Tzigana the friesian-vanner cross and Gwendyl the golden gryphon were milling around the pots. Tzigana was the herbalist in these parts and Gwen often came to assist when she wasn't tending to sick villagers in her clinic. After all, where would a doctor be without an herbalist?
Hearing the greenhouse door open Tzigana and Gwen looked up from their work. “Magnificent morning, my brown, buxom beastie!” Gwen chattered, her beak clicking delightedly. Alcine galloped towards the gryphon struggling not to stop and enjoy the new blossoms taking their place amongst the cold-withered crops.
“Good morning, Alcine! I'm so glad you've come to visit today!” Tzigana whinnied happily.
“What exquisite enterprises is this cherub chest charting this darling day?” Gwen cooed as Alcine nuzzled against her robes. Tzigana and Gwen looked at each other and giggled softly. They both adored the brown chest.
“I'm actually glad you're here, Alcine, sweety,” Tzigana said patting the chest on the lid. “Our pets could stand to use a little bit of play time while we work.” At the sound of that, a brown basilisk and forest bun poked their heads out from under a nearby table. Beatrice, the basilisk, and Basil, the bun, squawked and squealed as they fluttered to their wooden friend. Once they were perched atop the chest, off the three went, in search of the perfect gift for Alhwin.
Romping through the snow the three pets overturned broken pots, preened the hedges, and Beatrice even pecked through the compost. They found a heart shaped mushroom, a sunflower, and a pumpkin seed, probably left over from all the pumpkin growing during Halloween. Alcine sighed. These still weren't good enough for her beloved friend. She waved goodbye to the other pets and trotted down the road towards home.

Alcine was very disappointed. There wasn't anything appropriate as a gift in the two places she knew Alhwin loved visiting the most. Her pace slowed as she felt the items she had collected slide back and forth inside her with the beat of her stride. Maybe she could give them all to him? Maybe quantity could surpass quality? No, no, she thought, that's not good enough for Alhwin.
“Ally!” she heard a voice call from down the streets. “Ally come here girl!” There was a tuxedo cat in a finely pressed suit waving her down from one of the shops. It was Tybalt the town's artisan crafter.
She quickened her pace and bounded towards the feline, happy to see another friend. Once at the cat's shop she leapt into his arms, licking his face with her long tongue. “Whoa there, now” he chuckled uncomfortably, trying to keep the excited chest from wrinkling his suit. He lowered her to the ground and straightened his sleeves. “I'm so glad I saw you out and about. I need you to do a favor for me.”
Her lid shifted as she tilted her whole body to one side questioningly. “Alhwin was here delivering some supplies a month ago, and he must have dropped one of his tools. I repaired it for him and meant to give it back to him, but he's been so busy and I didn't want to disturb him.” Out of his coat pocket, he presented Alhwin's favorite gouge. It looked even better than before! Not only did Tybalt sharpen the tiny gouge, but he had replaced the worn handle, so it won't slip in his old hands while chipping details in wood. “It was the least I could do,” Tybalt said, pointing to a tuxedo cat nutcracker in his shop window next to a sleeping stormy cloud cat.
It was perfect! Alcine knew this would make Alhwin as happy to receive as any of his nutcrackers had made any villager. She gently took the gouge in her lid then swiftly spun around to dart back home. “Take care of yourself!” Tybalt shouted in the distance, “And say hello to Alhwin for me!”

Alhwin was awake at that point, and had prepared brunch for himself and his companion. He sipped some warm cocoa as he took the time to enjoy his Snowfest tree before having to take it down for the season. The old rat realized he had worked much too hard this season and forgot to enjoy the little things as much as he had in previous years. Alcine made his winter venture much easier, and without her he would have never gotten all of his nutcrackers delivered on time. However, it wasn't enough this year without his gouge. It took too long to detail all the nutcrackers and he felt like they weren't high enough quality. He never even took the time to have a proper Snow Fest celebration at home with his beloved chest.
As he admired the golden tiger atop the tree, he noticed a brown reflection on it that seemed to bob and sway in a rhythm. That's when he spotted Alcine through the window behind the tree. She was galloping towards the door with incredible zeal.
She burst through the door flap and right onto Alhwin. The old rat stumbled over into a chair trying desperately not to spill his cocoa. “Well, good morning to you too, my dear!” he exclaimed, patting her sides. The contents of his companion rattled a bit. “What do you have there?” he asked.
She was so happy to give him his gift that when she opened her mouth, she accidentally belched out all the gifts she had collected. “Oh my! Quite the collection you have there!” She sat down ashamed at herself. “It's okay!” Alhwin stammered, “I'll help you pick them up. You can add them to your toy box.” She shook her lid back and forth and Alhwin paused trying to understand.
Alcine leaned over gently and pushed the gouge towards him. His eyes widened and began to water. “Wow, Ally. Not only did you find my gouge, but it's been cleaned up too! This must be Tybalt's handy work. He's such a detail oriented gentleman.” He took a moment and stared down at Alcine with abundant love. “You're really a spectacular gift,” he said.
She unfurled her tongue and looked as if she were smiling. “Come,” Alhwin said, “We'll celebrate a real Snowfest, late as it may be, just you and me. We can even add your collection to the tree.”