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Christmas Night, 188x. Falun.

continued from December 25th, 188x. New Babbage.


Odnar, in his excitement, had gone to the station an hour early to insure he was there to meet Maggie and Tenk when their train arrived. After seeing to their luggage and a quick cup of nog to welcome them to his home, he hustled them off to the tavern in time for the Christmas dance, where they lost no time at all catching up to the rest of the revellers.

“It’s so good to have you home again, cousin,” Odnar said, pouring out the last of the pitcher between their heavy pint glasses. “Cheer up already!”

“Everyone seems so happy to see you,” exclaimed Maggie.

Tenk stared into his tankard and thought about his beloved tower clock, now ruined beyond repair. Nothing was going to lift his dark mood, not even Christmas.

“Mmm,” Tenk mumbled grimly. “I’m afraid not everyone is happy to see you, Maggie.” He motioned to three sullen young women sitting at the next table over who were blatantly trying not to stare. “Those are the Halberstadt sisters, Petronella, Solveig, and Dagmar. Their mother has been trying to marry one of them off to me since each has come of age.”

Maggie turned her head. The countenance of the sisters blackened as each in turn trained the evil eye on her.

“Silly cows.” Maggie said, finishing her pint and putting the glass down on the table upside-down. “As if I’d fancy you.”

Odnar guffawed and slapped the table to hide his brightening hope. “Those are my brother’s girls. They don’t mean no harm by it. Being you’re a semi-cousin, rather than a full cousin, well, you know. That makes you a good match.

Maggie put her chin in her hand. “Are you really Odnar’s cousin?”

Odnar and Tenk looked at each other awkwardly. “Well, you see,” started Odnar.

“There are cousins, and there are cousins,” tried Tenk.

“Our parents…”


“Well his were fostered together with mine, here…”

“…which make them semi-siblings…”

“Right, them being semi-siblings, being she was from Topperwick.”

“Underwick,” interjected Tenk quickly.

“Underwick.” Odnar confirmed.

“Most everyone fosters out in Underwick. Its a wonderful place, but bad for raising children.” Tenk twisted his spine and arm oddly for a moment by way of explanation. “So we’re actually semi-second cousins.”

“So why don’t they just send them to Topperwick,” Maggie asked smartly.

Tenk mentally rummaged for a reasonable answer to that. Odnar, having more of his wits about him than Tenk, quickly got up. “You explain it, Tenk. I’ll go get us another round.”

Maggie watched Odnar walk toward the bar with obvious fondness. When her attention had returned, he gazed at Maggie smugly before changing the topic of conversation. “Aren’t you two just eyeing each other like two turtle doves.”

Maggie flipped her hair and adjusted the angle of her hat. “What of it? It’s my holiday too.”

“So it is.” Tenk leaned in towards Maggie in a conspiratorial manner. “I’m actually a demi-uncle, not a semi-cousin.”

Maggie giggled with delight at being told a secret, but Tenk nodded seriously towards a long-chinned woman who was working behind the bar. Maggies’ jaw dropped as she saw the obvious relationship between them.

“Close your mouth, Maggie. If her mother has told her, she will call me uncle.”

“But…” Maggie started.

“It is not something one talks about. In fact, her father has the right to kill me should I try to acknowledge her.”

“But…” Maggie tried to say.

“Everyone knows what happened in Bump,” Tenk said sternly.

“But…” Maggie tried again.

Tenk gave Maggie a warning look. “It is very rude to refuse mountain hospitality. Now behave. Here she come with the drinks.”

The long-chinned woman leaned over the table and served a fresh pitcher of beer, complementing Mr. Tenk upon seeing him again. Tenk responded cordially with no more than casual interest. Odnar returned and settled in after coming back from his business and poured the round.

“I wouldn’t play poker with that one,” Odnar said jovially as the waitress departed. “She’s got the luck.”

Tenk beamed proudly despite himself, but only for a passing moment. Maggie’s jaw dropped again.

“Lord, and I thought my family were odd. I wish Molly were here. She’d like meeting so many cousins.” Maggie got a mischievous look, seeing that the sisters were watching her again. She raised her voice a little above the din. “Yes. It’s too bad Molly isn’t here, eh, Tenk? When was the last time you danced with her, eh?”

“Maggie…” Tenk’s voice was a low rumble of warning.

“Oh C’mon. Cannae deny me a little fun. Besides, we’re not in your city anymore. I’m allowed to cause trouble.” She leaned to kiss Tenk on the cheek, oblivious to the ashen look that passed across Odnar’s face. A whoosh of air sounded from the next table over as three sisters gasped in unison.

Tenk pushed her away with a scowl and wiped at his face. “You’re buying the next round.”

Maggie laughed, a merry sound that turned more than a few handsome faces her direction. A pair of pipes was blown and a fiddle struck up.

“Come on then,” She said. “Who is going to dance with me?”

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