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Chapter One

The North Pole, 1880

Fritz listened to the conversation in his little sister’s room with an expression that looked like he was in pain. Poor little Faith never seemed to be able to get away with anything. What was worse was, when she was caught, she never seemed to know any of the right steps for keeping out of a spanking.

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Not that there was any way that she could keep out of this particular punishment. She would be lucky if their parents didn’t really lose it like they did the Christmas the year before.

“Merry Chris—” Berry, Fritz’s younger brother came through the door with a cheerful season’s greeting on his lips, only to get shushed by four of his siblings, including Fritz, immediately. Berry stepped back, a little aghast, but quickly heard the muffled yelling from one of the rooms. He cocked his head to the right. “What’s going on?” he whispered to Adele, who was closest to him and pretending to be working on her sewing.

“Faith was caught making a magical device that would help her see that Edward fellow,” Adele whispered back. “Oh, it’s beginning to sound ugly.”

“They can’t spank her!” Berry said, looking sympathetically towards the hallway. “It’s Christmas Eve, for goodness sake!”

“They whipped her last Christmas,” reminded Elizabeth, who was straining her neck to hear better. She sighed and shook her head. “We shouldn’t be listening to this.”

Berry sat down and grabbed a book he could pretend to read. “Well said. It’s wrong to pry.” Still, he didn’t hide the fact that he was facing his own ear in the direction of the room, where their father, normally even tempered, was barking.

“I am absolutely ashamed!” their father said. “You promised us that this matter was closed!”

“You wouldn’t let me see him any other way, Papa! I didn’t mean to make you angry!” Faith’s little voice defended.

“I bet you all a crown that she’s going to say something stupid in the next two turns,” Michael said mischievously, grinning with delight at all the excitement.

“Michael…” Fritz tisked wearily.

“I’ll take that bet,” Berry quickly said. “She’s already going in the right direction, which is quite good for her.”

“Shh!” Elizabeth hissed.

“Of course I wouldn’t let you see him any other way! He’s a cad! With his reputation, I wouldn’t let you alone with him in the same room for five seconds. And now you’re trying to see him behind our backs?”

“I don’t know why I have to see him, but I do, Papa. Please understand—I never got to say goodbye to him. If I could, even if just for a moment… I can’t get him out of my mind! I’ve never felt so good in my life than when I was with him… I love him.”

“Awe…” Faith’s sisters both sighed at the same time, both pouting out their bottom lips in sympathy for her.

At the same time, however, all her brothers rolled their eyes and groaned. “She’ll say something even stupider,” Michael clarified.

“You’ve only ever met him for one day! Hours! Forget it, young lady. And if you think you’ll get the opportunity to see him ever again, you’ve got another thing coming! Your mother and I can’t even trust you now after something like this!”

There was a sharp pause, as if a whip was reared up to lash, before Faith burst with fury. “How could I trust you, you mean! You’re the ones rifling through my things!”

Michael snorted out a laugh.

Berry put his hand over his eyes. “How could it go so wrong so quickly, though?” he asked, digging in his trouser pocket for a crown. “I’m lost, I’ll admit,” he admitted, turning in the direction of Fritz and talking over the carrying on in the next room for a moment. “What’s so wrong about that Edwin?”

“Edward,” the room chimed.

“Right, right. What’s so wrong about Edward? I’m quite out of the loop, I daresay!” He flipped a coin over to Michael’s direction, who smoothly caught it in the palm of his hand.

“He’s human, for one,” Elizabeth replied.

“Well, that’s not so bad! Aren’t we all, deep down? We’re certainly not one hundred percent elfish, as my wife likes to point out. She says it’s why we’re all so odd,” Berry said with a shrug. “A couple of years at the North Pole, and he’d turn quite elfish himself.”

“Edward’s an aristocrat,” Fritz sighed. “I don’t imagine he’d leave everything to come up here, and you know Faith—she’s so in love with human culture, she wouldn’t hesitate to leave us behind.”

“She certainly loves to help the poor things, just like Papa does,” Adele reminded with an affectionate tilt of her head.

“Papa, I’m too old to be spanked! I’m eighteen, now! I’m not a child!”

The room snorted all at once.

“Well, that’s a nice dream while it lasts…” Elizabeth said dreamily. “But…”

“You act like one, you get punished like one.” Mrs. Claus chimed in sternly. “Get the paddle, now.”

“Papa, please… Don’t…”

“Didn’t you hear your mother?”

The door of Faith’s room open and closed. Faith looked already miserable beyond belief—or so it appeared so in the peripheral vision of all her siblings, who were sitting there in the parlor, avoiding eye contact. “Fritz,” she sobbed, trying to collect some support from the oldest. “Can you talk to them? Please?”

Suddenly, all eyes were on Fritz. He looked around the room as if to say, “Mind your own business!” but no one got that message. Fritz sighed slightly before he explained regretfully, “Oh, Faith. You know I can’t… Not about this. You know how resolute they are.”

Faith squinted out tears, which fell past her cheeks and right onto the floor, before she walked the not-long-enough distance to her father’s office, which was by his workshop on the other side of the house. There, a very old, well-used, wooden paddle was waiting for her, hanging on the same peg it had rested on for the last two hundred years.

As soon as she was out of the parlor, however, Berry turned towards Fritz. “So, besides the humanity, which can’t be helped, what’s with this… Edgar that’s so bad?”

“Edward,” the room chimed.

“Right, right,” Berry waved his hand in the air dismissively. “Edward the aristocrat. Continue?”

Fritz hesitated in answering for a short moment, but finally, he sighed and straightened himself in his chair. He leaned over and whispered something into Berry’s ear.

Berry’s eyes widened. “That many women in one lifetime? Isn’t the man exhausted?” He paused. “How do you even find out information like that?”

“Father’s done a full inspection—he has ways to find out anything! The man was a long-time occupant on the naughty list, anyway,” Michael explained shortly, sitting back without traces of sympathy or concern for his youngest sibling.

“Until this year,” Fritz argued, raising his finger for the point. “Faith might be right. She seems to have inspired him to turn his life around.” Fritz shrugged. “The poor little thing is in love—I thought it was just a short-term infatuation that wouldn’t survive last winter.”

“But here we are, a year later,” Michael noted. “Father thinks ‘too little, too late’ about Edward’s sudden appearance on the ‘nice’ list… And I don’t quite blame him for being skeptical.”

“Well… Certainly, I wouldn’t want my daughter sitting next to a man with such a record!” Berry said, obviously still disturbed by whatever Fritz had told him. Adele and Elizabeth did their best not to pry for information that was not appropriate they know.

“I’m impressed she’d even try seeing Edward again,” Elizabeth admitted. “After last Christmas… Remember—”

This time, Berry waved off the explanation. “Oh, I remember last year. Unfortunately.”

It was impossible to forget what had happened last year—a spanking of such epic proportions that all of Faith’s siblings, all who were aged from two hundred to thirty, had to admit that it was a punishment that stood out in their memories, even though it wasn’t their own. None of them had anything to do with it.

The last Christmas Eve, Faith had snuck onto the back of their father’s sleigh. It was bold—certainly none of Nicholas’s other children had the gall to ever do such a thing, but Faith—ever interested in humans—simply would not be told ‘no’ about seeing London. Probably because their parents had let Faith read too much about it; about balls, and parties, fine dresses, dancing, music… There many wonderful things that were held supposedly so different from Elfish celebrations that Faith would even dream about them. It was only a matter of time before the girl went and did something stupid.

Faith had snuck out of the sleigh and then proceeded to immediately slip and fall off the roof, which was covered by ice. She was young, only seventeen then, and barely knew much magic—certainly not enough to save her from injury. Luckily, Edward Grimm, a young English Lord who was visiting his sister’s home over the holidays, was busy avoiding his sister’s Christmas Ball by sitting outside on the upstairs balcony.

Edward broke Faith’s fall perfectly. She got not a scratch on her.

Surely the man was confused after nearly having his neck broken by a pretty young girl falling on his head. Not only had he been confused; he was furious. The anger mostly came out of the fact that such a slip of a girl could cause him so much pain: the glass of the brandy he had been consuming had done a good job of piercing his elbow during the fall.

Faith, who had gone her whole life without causing anyone the smallest of injuries, was mortified by what had happened. As she had never been in the human world before, she had a bit of a cultural faux paw when she tried to heal him despite his rage with her. Presently, the rage melted into fascination as Faith merely had to kiss his arm to heal his wound, not even realizing she was doing magic… The spell came too naturally for her to think anything of it.

Finally, Edward Grimm was able to see Faith without being in pain, and because of this, he was able to realize how wonderfully unique she was. Faith was beautiful with porcelain-like skin and large, round, doe-eyes. He didn’t have the heart to remain angry with her, and found himself soothing her out of the guilt she felt from falling on him.

The two spent the whole night together; dancing, playing chess, giggling like naughty school children. Neither of them had ever had a better time—they never separated. They wrapped up with each other before the fire in the upstairs parlor and fell asleep.

That’s where Old Saint Nick found his sleeping daughter the next morning; wrapped in the arms of a sleeping, strange man. He had come to find her as soon as he had come back to the North Pole, where Mrs. Claus quickly screeched out that Faith had disappeared.

Needless to say, it didn’t go over well. He woke Faith up, and before she could say a word, he rushed her up the fireplace and onto the sleigh, leaving Edward still asleep.

The siblings remembered when she got home that morning. The whole house was still up: everyone was looking at each other with worried expressions, hoping nothing had happened to their baby sister. She was so small, was so incredibly naive, and her magical abilities were so weak, that everyone had feared that she had gone to London and gotten herself murdered.

Instead, she got a spanking that made it only sound like she was being murdered. She hadn’t even been allowed the privacy of her own bedroom to get punished—she was lucky that her father waited until she was in the house before he started switching the daylights out of her while all her siblings had watched with guilty fascination.

“She certainly knows how to ruin her own Christmas,” Adele hummed.

Faith came back through the parlor on the way to her bedroom, crying harder now than when she had left. She carried the wooden paddle in front of her as carefully as if it was her own, tiny coffin.

Faith’s door opened and closed.

“I feel bad for her,” admitted Elizabeth with a sigh.

“Papa never decides on a spanking lightly,” Adele reminded them all loftily. “You know he would rather spoil her. She just knows the exactly wrong thing to do… Besides, poor Papa then has to work all night with this on his mind…”

“That’s good and sympathetic of you, Ad,” Michael chuckled lightly. “But I know I wasn’t thinking ‘poor father’ when it was me in there with the paddle as a child. But, you know—women take a whipping better than a man, so what do I know?” Michael shrugged, and then shushed, as it would now begin.

***

Faith didn’t know what was worse—the paddle or the switch. Either way, she had never taken a graceful spanking in her life, and she didn’t expect to do well that night, either. She had seen the elf-children get spanked without them admitting even a sound or struggle. She decided that they weren’t getting spanked as hard as she always was.

It was humiliating to be caught in the middle of running away. But what choice did she have? She was in love with Edward Grimm—it felt like she had a string around her soul pulling her in his direction. It was possible she would have gotten away with it, too, if she could have found one of her siblings to help her.  All of whom seemed much better than her at creating magical objects—their skills had been refined with age. She was the baby of the family at eighteen.

When she walked into the room, she saw her father, with his sleeves rolled up, sitting on a chair in her bedroom with no arms. Her mother was watching her with very close, skeptical eyes, lecturing her with a stern glance.

She swallowed nervously. “Can’t we do this another night?” Faith pleaded, hoping that a later punishment would calm them into giving her a far lesser punishment. “It’s Christmas!”

“No, Faith. It’s time to put an end to your foolish antics once and for all,” Nicholas told her, trying to look as stern as he could, even though the tears falling down her cheeks were tearing him apart. “Come here,” he said, pointing to his knee.

Faith hung her head, finally resigned to her fate. She handed her father the paddle as if it was a gun she expected him to shoot her with, then she carefully allowed herself to be pulled over his lap.

She remembered when she was a child—which wasn’t very long ago, really—and she used to sit on her Nicholas’ knee every evening, just chattering on while he listened to her and indulged her—it was surely his favorite part of being a father. It seemed like, since last year, they had been butting heads so much anyway, that she was frequently being put in this position instead. She had some small hope that her birthday last week would make him less quick to punish her like a child, but that hope was growing smaller by the second.

She felt her skirt being raised in the back, leaving only the thin, worthless protection of her bloomers and stockings. She gripped Nicholas’ leg tightly, already wincing in anticipation of the pain that she was suddenly remembering much more clearly than she had not five minutes before.

CRACK! She howled in response—marveling at how such a simple, non-magical object was able to cause so much pain.

CRACK! Supposedly, her brothers didn’t cry when being paddled when they were “tots” (which, in Elf-time, is any time under the age of twenty), or so they claimed. The liars!

She was screaming already, and she wasn’t even on the fifth CRACK of the paddle. She had no idea how many more were going to come, either. She wasn’t given a count, which wasn’t a good sign—probably, if she knew how long he planned to paddle her, it would have just made it worse somehow.

“…Mischief on Christmas Eve! Of all times to be sinful, and naughty, and spoiled, and ungrateful!…” her father lectured over her cries, or the sickening smacks the paddle made upon contact. She had just realized he had been talking.

“You’re killing me, Papa!” she screamed.

“No, I’m not. And not seeing that boy won’t kill you, either!” he assured, bringing the paddle down again and again.

Surely the whole North Pole could hear what was going on—especially because the Elves were out tonight! Christmas Eve was the busiest time of their year! For the next two weeks, there would be nothing but celebrations going on, and they were out, hanging holiday wreaths, party lights, cooking delicious foods… listening to ‘Santa’ (as they called him), their “King”, give his daughter a merciless spanking on this most important of nights.

She had not been counting how many strokes of the paddle she had so far endured, but she feared the count would have been heading into the thirties, which meant that she was acquiring a new family record.

She resigned from struggling, or kicking, or screaming. The paddle was now louder than she was—her voice was coarse from crying: she just sobbed.

This is when her punishment ended. Her bottom seared with pain even when it was over—she couldn’t stop crying—her bottom simply throbbed.

She hadn’t died, which was all well and good for her family, but for her, she wished she had in a way. She would never see Edward ever again—by the time she would earn back her parent’s trust, he surely would have found and married someone else. That is, if it didn’t take a hundred years for Faith to be forgiven—Edward would surely be dead of old age by then.

Nicholas helped her to her feet, but was quickly standing with his arms around her, though mostly so she couldn’t see the tears in his own eyes. He hated being the disciplinarian! He didn’t want any of his children to fear him, or flinch away like Faith had just done.

But it was what Faith needed: a firm hand from the head-of-household. It was why he didn’t want her to be with that human. Edward hadn’t ever had responsibility to anyone, not even himself. How could he protect his daughter from the world? Or from herself, as she was so foolhardy and reckless! It would surely be better that she would stay in the family home for a few more decades, like her sisters were doing, before Nicholas could find a man worthy of her…

His wife put a hand on his shoulders, her eyes filled with gratefulness and sympathy. “Nicholas,” she said. “You should get going. It’s getting late.”

He nodded and squeezed Faith tighter. “You’re very important to me,” he told her, but she didn’t respond beyond continued sobs.

Her parents left the room—Mrs. Claus to help her husband get ready for his biggest night of the year. They were somewhat surprised to see all of their children in the parlor… Reading.

“Is Faith okay?” Fritz finally asked, snapping his book shut; quick to give up his charade. “Mind if I go in and speak with her?”

His parents nodded and, in a heartbeat, Fritz knocked quietly on his sister’s door and let himself in.

Faith was lying on her bed, face down, looking catatonic.

“Faith,” Fritz said, just to get some acknowledgement from her.

“Urgh,” she replied, exhausted.

Fritz was slow in his movements as he sat down on her bed next to her. “You’re very brave, you know,” he told her softly.

“Urgh.”

“You know, I fell in love once,” Fritz told her quietly, knowing that their siblings would be watering at the mouth to infringe more on Faith’s privacy. “With a human girl.”

Faith lifted her head up. “I didn’t know that,” she said, wiping her face on her dress’ sleeve.

“It was many years ago… Probably about a hundred years, now. Annabelle LaCriss!” he sighed sadly and shook his head. “She was beautiful—so, so… beautiful. I met her Christmas Eve at a party. I was pretty much doing exactly what you were doing, only I was much older then  than you are now. I didn’t require permission.” He chuckled at his sister’s amazed expression. “I didn’t fall off the roof or anything, but I fell for her instantly, anyway. It was… Love at first sight. I courted her, wooed her—I would have done anything for her…”

“What happened to her, then?” Faith sniffled.

“Well, I couldn’t get her parents to let me marry her and take her back here before Epiphany. Then I had to go home, of course, before the way was shut. I told her I’d be back the next year, and she was supposed to marry me then.”

“But she was already married?” Faith guessed.

Fritz’ expression became still as stone. “No. The plague came into her village that summer, and they all died. The only thing left was a couple of old women and a bunch of empty houses.”

Faith looked horrified. “Why would you tell me a story like that?” she cried, breaking into a sob. There might have been no hope at all if she waited until next year—they had to be back at the North Pole by Epiphany, or else they would turn into mortal humans!

“I’m just explaining why I’m going to help you, baby sister!” Fritz informed her quietly, reaching deep into his coat pocket—a pocket that was beginning to seem as if it didn’t have any bottom. “He must prove he is worthy three-fold, or else—at the end of the twelve days, you will simply come back here. If you can no longer stand him, you can come back anytime you wish—just shake this three times…”

Fritz revealed from his pocket a small snow globe, which was a new sort of human toy. This one, however, had a miniature of the North Pole inside. She could see her father’s workshop, and the house… and he and mama walking hand-and-hand over to the stables—it WAS their house!

She gasped, “Fritz, this is beautiful!” She stared a moment in awe as he continued to swivel the globe in his hand, blowing snow about inside the glass. In the same instance, she heard a snow flurry blow mightily against the shutters outside.

“I’m glad you like it,” he said, gently putting it in her hands. “Because it was very, very difficult to make. Be very careful with it. You cannot marry him until he proves himself to you, or else you will be brought back,” he reminded. “And… well, I’m sure everybody would be quite furious with me.”

“Won’t Papa just know I’m gone?” she whispered.

“You leave Father to me,” Fritz told her firmly. “You just worry about your Edward.”

“What if he doesn’t actually love me at all?” Faith fretted.

“Then, you’ll be brought home in twelve days. Twelve days, Faith, is all I can give you and Edward to make this work. Twelve days for Edward to prove himself, twelve days for him to want to give up everything for you. Twelve days—if I knew a way to give you longer, I would.”

She looked down at the snow globe and swallowed. “I only made you a pair of shoes for Christmas…” she sighed.

“Well, thanks for spoiling the surprise.”

“Why would you do something like this for me?” she asked, looking awed by his kindness.

“Because the days where I feared the paddle are about two hundred years behind me,” he laughed. He leaned over and hugged her. “Now, sleep tight. And good luck.”

“How can I sleep?” she said excitedly.

He stood up and shrugged. “That I can’t help with,” he told her, and winked. “Merry Christmas.”

Fritz quietly left the room, and walked face-to-face with his mother, whose eyes were filled with concern even as she took off her coat from where she walked her husband to his sleigh. “I was going to go in and speak with her,” she informed. “Maybe give her some cookies?”

“She’s tired. We should just let her sleep,” Fritz suggested, buttoning up his coat lest his mother see something glowing in his vest pocket.

“Oh,” the woman looked a little disappointed by that, but walked away with Fritz’s suggestion. “I’m just worried about her infatuation with that human boy,” she went on. “It just breaks my heart.”

“Don’t worry, Mother,” replied Fritz, calmly shrugging his shoulders. “I’m sure she’ll be better after Christmas.”

“You think so?” Mrs. Claus asked hopefully.

“I’m quite sure,” Fritz nodded, and grinned. “She can’t cry about him forever.”

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