Note: This is my final letter of Advent 2021, but part 20 of me and my brother’s Advent Letters project. For an explanation of the project and to get caught up on past letters, go to my Advent Letters page to see them all.
Back in water horse form, Cail glided along the surface of the lake. On his back, Matt subjected his brothers to their plan of attack. In agonizing detail.
“And that leads me to my final point. Once Jer lands this arrow, Brian sweeps around with a defensive hammer thrust. Then I’ll come from the other side and—”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Cail said. “But I want to make sure you understand that some kelpies are very hard to kill. Like werewolves, they can only—”
“Gotcha,” Matt said.
“So you’ll be prepared to—”
“Absolutely. Let us off up here, will you?”
Cail shrugged his great water horse shoulders and slowed along the shore. The boys hopped onto the grass, and Cail reverted to his human form.
“Good luck, Mellema brothers. I’ll lend you whatever help I can.”
Cail dove deep into the water. The brothers drew their weapons, and started for the bridge.
The closer the boys got, the more heightened Brian’s senses became. He could hear every twig snap, see every leaf shadow. When they finally reached the final turn before the bridge, Matt put his finger to his lips and ducked behind a boulder. Then he waved his hands in wild gestures.
“What are you doing?” Jer whispered.
Matt gave a deep, aggravated sigh. “The hand gestures I taught you. We need to move quietly along the tree line. Morag could be watching for us.”
Laughter crawled over the air. Wheezing, sickly laughter that froze Brian’s blood.
“So nice of you boys to make a second visit. Come out and let’s talk.”
Brian followed his brothers into the clearing. The granite cliffs, the grass, and the lapping river were all silvered by moonlight. In the shadow of the ruined bridge, the figure of an old man stepped forward.
Morag. His face seemed more haggard, his teeth more crooked. His eyes gleamed with added menace.
“I was wondering when you boys would get back. Impolite of you to hit me with your giant hammer. But I suppose all’s well that ends well.”
“All won’t end well for you,” Jer declared.
“This is your last chance, kelpie,” Matt said. “We have blessed weapons of Saint Nicholas. Surrender now, or we’ll have no choice but to use them.”
The kelpie’s lips twisted into a smile.
Jer notched an arrow. “We’re warning you!” he shouted.
Morag didn’t move.
Shaking his head, Jer fired. The enchanted arrow sailed through the air directly toward the kelpie’s heart. It bounced off. Jer fired another arrow. Then another. They all fell harmlessly away.
Matt ran up and, closing his eyes, swung his sword at the kelpie’s torso. The sword rebounded with a twang. Matt only barely raised his shield before the Kelpie sent him flying with a lazy backhand.
Brian raised his war hammer and charged.
The hammer’s sedan-sized head landed on the kelpie, making a crater. But when Brian removed the hammer, the kelpie crawled out. He brushed himself off with a wheezing laugh.
“I don’t…How…” Matt stuttered.
“I’m no ordinary kelpie,” Morag replied. “I can only be killed by a silver bullet, a silver knife, or a stick with a silver handle. Like a werewolf.”
“I tried to warn you!”
Cail burst above the lake surface. “When you said it was fine, I assumed your weapons were silver.”
Brian and Jer both glared at Matt. Matt avoided eye contact.
“Cail? This is too much!” Morag laughed. “How’s your golden-haired maiden doing?”
“Give me back my chain and we can end this,” Cail pleaded. “I pledge that Nixie and I will leave this lake forever.”
“Cute, but of course I don’t believe you,” Morag retorted. “Onto business. I prefer devouring my prey at the bottom of the lake. But this will do well enough.”
Morag crouched unnaturally, his legs and elbows bent like a spider. With sudden speed, he darted toward the tree line and out of view. Brian stood out in the field. Jer and Matt huddled behind Matt’s shield.
A deep silence fell. For a moment, nothing seemed to move or even breathe.
“Brian,” Matt whispered. “Get over here.”
Brian nodded. He was just turning his back on the trees when Cail shouted, “Look out!”
The dark blur of the charging kelpie came faster than Brian could think. All he could do was swing his giant hammer.
It connected. Morag sailed backward toward the river.
But the hammer’s momentum was so strong that it sent Brian sailing toward the stream as well, taking Matt and Jer with him. The brothers grabbed at the earth and the hammer to slow themselves down, but they were soon tumbling into the river.
After dunking beneath the water, the boys came up by a boulder in the middle of the stream. They barely climbed onto it before the mermen arrived.
The river soon frothed with the clambering mermen—their blue-scaled backs sliding over and under the surface, their glassy fish eyes locked on the boulder, their webbed fins flashing claws.
Further down the stream, Morag climbed onto his own rock. His wide eyes and swiveling head told Brian that he was also terrified of the mermen.
Matt brandished his sword and shield, and Jer kept his arrow notched. But the mermen darted in and around the boulder so quickly that picking out any individual was impossible. Brian whacked the stream with his hammer, but that only seemed to anger them.
A merman leapt clean out of the water toward the boys. Matt knocked it away with his shield, but not before the merman’s claws gashed his cheek. Jer fired an arrow into a second leaping merman, but a third grabbed Jer by the ankle. Matt only barely sliced off the merman’s claws before it could pull Jer into the water.
Brian knew this couldn’t last much longer. He had to do something. Anything. As his hands fretted along the handle of his hammer, an idea struck him. Not the safest idea. But it was all he had.
Brian shouted for Matt and Jer to grab his war hammer’s handle. Then he plunged the head into the river and, with a shout, charged forward with the biggest leap he could muster. The hammer kept growing and growing as the boys pole-vaulted through the air.
The arc reached its pinnacle and started down toward the shore. But not before passing Morag. At that moment, Morag was crouched on his rock and furiously stabbing at the swarming mermen. As the brothers flew past, Brian reached toward Morag’s neck.
They boys landed back on shore with a great grassy thud. Brian sprawled on his back as his brothers spluttered next to him. After the stars and moon stopped spinning, Brian sat up. He uncurled his hand to reveal two silver chains.
Cail shouted for joy. Morag, meanwhile, grasped at the blank space on his neck as his voice rose to a wail. He locked eyes with Brian as the mermen made their final pounce onto the rocks. But before they could reach him, Morag vanished.
Brian jogged to Cail and handed him the chains. Cail took the smaller one and placed it slowly around his neck. The next moment he climbed onto shore, and was dancing through the grass.
“You’ve done it! You crazy boys have done it!” he shouted. “Not only did you free me from the lake, you banished Morag to his home lake. And it’s so small and isolated that he won’t bother any travelers ever again. Huzzah!”
Brian thought about Morag being trapped in a forgotten lake. All in all, the punishment seemed to fit.
“Let’s get a move on, boys!” Cail said. “I must go and propose to my lady love, and you boys must come with me!”
The brothers weren’t thrilled with the idea of helping on a marriage proposal. But Cail was so happy that they couldn’t refuse.
When Cail walked over the final hill to Nixie’s cottage, her face lit up like the sunrise. And Nixie’s mother regained enough of her health to announce the wedding for the next day. As Cail’s best men, the Mellema boys spent that night in the cottage as guests of honor.
The brothers considered having a contest to choose one best man, but thought better of it. And considering they had no wedding experience, they did a fine job during the next day’s ceremony. Faerie folk from the whole region thronged to the wedding. Finally rid of Morag, even the lake itself seemed brighter.
The following morning, the brothers prepared to continue their quest. Before leaving, they said final goodbyes to Cail and Nixie.
“I hear the river’s main bridge is out,” Nixie said. “No matter. There’s a path to a higher bridge. You can find it right here,” as she spoke, she traced a line on the map, creating a magical golden trail.
“Also, trophies are in order,” Cail said. “Brian, since you’re the one who took Morag’s necklace, it’s only fitting that you should keep it.”
Cail placed the chain around Brian’s neck. “Are you sure it’s okay?” Brian asked.
“Of course!” Cail replied. “It’s Faerie’s just and proper custom. Plus, wearing a kelpie chain brings protection to the wearer. Could come in handy later.”
“Thanks!” Brian said. He tucked the chain safely under his tunic.
The boys gave final farewells, and started toward the higher bridge.
“Do be careful!” Nixie called out. “As soon as you cross the mountains, you’ll be nearing the outer territory of Krampus.”
The brothers paused only a moment before continuing their quest.
And with that, another year’s story draws to a close. I hope your parents were not too frightened. Also, you may be curious about the fate of Brian’s silver kelpie chain. I have it on good authority that he owns it to this day. He still wears it for important events such as pickleball tournaments and rumbleball matches. But if you ask him directly, of course, he’ll look embarrassed and then change the subject.
Have a blessed Advent and a merry Christmastide.