The sound of the ebony wings drew the night guard’s attention. His eyes quickly scanned the darkness. From his tower he could see the open courtyard of the Circle of Merchants and he soon found the cause of the noise. Just a large crow. Nothing special or worthy of greater attention. He turned his focus back to scanning the darkness. A loud squeal erupted from the courtyard. As the guard turned he rose his crossbow into firing position. There, in the middle of a pool of moonlight, that same crow was harassing a cat. The cat hissed and spat, taking the occasional clawed swipe. In return the crow spread its wings and cawed. With jumps and flaps, it stayed just out of range of the cat’s grasp.
The guard lowered his crossbow, but didn’t turn away. The cat was a scrawny street cat, full of viciousness and hunger. The crow, its wings spread and thrashing the air, seemed to have the advantage in size. As it hopped over the cat, who fruitlessly lunged at the bird, its black talons raked over the tabby’s head splitting an ear. The feline spat in rage as the crow taunted it with caws. The guard watched the combat and gave thought to how he could entertain his children with a story of a wyvern fighting a lion.
As the guard plotted another dark shadow scampered on the far edge of the courtyard. The shadow stopped underneath a large window with gold lettering. The shadow looked up. This was the shop. It went to the door and pulled a thick, rusty dagger from a leather sheath. With dagger point readied at the opening of the door lock, the shadow waited.
The crow, continuing its torment of the cat, let loose a series of deafening caws. The shadow thrust the notch dagger forward and twisted. The metal lock screamed and then gave tot he thrust of the dagger. A quick pull and the door opened and the shadow scampered inside. The crow flew away, its departure as sudden as its arrival. The cat rushed into the safety of a nearby alley, where it would spend the evening licking its wounds. The guard followed the flight of the crow until it had melted away in the darkness. He then went back to his duty.
Inside the merchant’s shop, the goblin Claw smiled a toothy smile. His big, yellow eyes had no problem seeing in the darkness and they practically danced at the abundance before him. Cut jewels sparkled. Strings of pearl and opals shone. There was bone china painted with indigo dyes. Ivory dolls fashioned after gentlewomen adorned in silks. A miniature soldier whose armor was of the finest silver engraved with gold. Claw’s clever little hands darted everywhere, snatching up the baubles that caught his eye. Soon his little burlap sack was fit to burst. He gave a soft little cackle at the thought of his riches.
Claw glanced at the door. After a moment of thought he shook his head. Without Blacktooth’s distraction the guard would be sure to notice anyone opening the door. Instead he went up the stairs, his big ears twitching as he listened for the faintest of sounds. The only sound in the house, other than the faint tinkling of his stolen treasure, was of gentle snores of the jeweler and his wife.
At the top of the stairs were two doors. From one came the snores, from the other came silence. Claw crept into the silent room. An array of tools hung on the walls. A neat little table sat in the middle of the room. To Claw it looked rather boring, and he had his fill. What did interest him was the window. With a slight push the window opened. Claw gripped his treasure bag in his vise-like teeth, and with the skill of a little spider her scaled the outer wall to the roof of the building.
On the roof, Claw gave a little gasp as he realized that he would be clearly visible to the guard tower. He hurriedly scampered up the angled roof, quickly cresting the apex and down the far slope. He didn’t slow his pace and at the edge he leapt to the next roof. He did not know if he had been spotted and did not wish to receive confirmation that he had in the form a a quarrel in the back. He continued his running and jumping from roof to roof. The sound of wings told him that Blacktooth had joined him. He continued to run.
He kept up until his lungs burned and his legs ached. he stopped and looked back. He could barely make out the spike of the guard tower in the darkness. Satisfied no one was following, Claw collapsed against a chimney and panted in exhaustion. At first all he could do was gasp for air. Then, slowly, it came to him. There was a scent on the wind. A taste to the air. He couldn’t describe it. It was spiced and fruity. He sniffed the air. The scent came from the chimney he rested against.
Claw stood and shoved his head into the darkness. He breathed in the sweet aroma that bubbled up the chimney. He did not know what the smell came from but Claw knew he wanted it. Again, he gripped the bag in his teeth as he began to lower himself down the chimney. Being a goblin, it was an easy fit.
He emerged in what was a large kitchen. On nearby shelves rested cakes, pies, cookies and breads. From all of them came aromas that Claw had never imagined. He tentatively reached out and grabbed one of the small circles with dark bumps. He sniffed. His tummy begged for a taste. His vise-like teeth closed on the morsel. He couldn’t keep his eyes from closing at the taste. His fingers waggled and his head rocked back and forth. He grabbed another and another, chewing and swallowing as fast as he could manage.
He grabbed a handful of a larger circle. The outside was white and smooth and when he tore off a hunk the inside was red. Delicious. Another was crispy on the outside and tasted of sweetened apples in the middle. Another crispy one was filled with gravy and meat. The little circles cam in more varieties than he could imagine. What was this place. He ate until his belly could take not more. He was full, warm and happy. His eyes grew heavy. His head rolled forward.
He was awoken by loud caws echoing down the chimney. From the edges of the shut curtain Claw could see daylight beginning to peak in. He stood and grabbed for his bag. He paused and looked over all the rows of deliciousness that remained. His midnight feasting had barely made a dent. The cawing grew louder. From upstairs he could here steps.
From his bag he pulled forth some of the bigger treasures, the soldier and gentlewoman dolls, a thick string of pearls and a round golden bauble that gave off a slight ticking. in their place he added handfuls of cookies and pie that gave off a meaty smell. He wanted a cake, couldn’t think of how to get it in the sack without crushing it. The steps grew louder. He gave the white creamy cake a mournful look and then gave in to temptation. Claw opened his jaws wide and bit into the creamy white frosted goodness. He licked his lips and could taste the thick frosting that must cover him from ear to ear. Blacktooth continued to caw out warnings. Claw grabbed his bag, now filled both with jewels and sweets, and and rushed to the mouth of the chimney.
“Stop!” a voice called out. Claw looked over his shoulder. A skinny man in a long nightshirt held a broom as if were a cudgel. The skinny man’s hands shook. Claw turned to face the man. He bared his teeth. “Claw is going,” he told the skinny man. Claw backed his way into the chimney, took the bag in his teeth and climbed up. As he reached the roof bird and goblin sped away to enjoy their success.
Below, the skinny man’s wife, welding a thick wooden candlestick, had joined him and was listening to him relate what he saw. “It was a little man. He had a thick white beard and he was holding a sack. I think he robbed us.”
“Who would rob a bakery? Besides a hungry person I mean,” his wife asked as she went to inspect the kitchen. “Certainly did make a mess,” she sighed. “Oh, my word!”
“What is it, darling?”
“This,” she held up the dolls. “And these.” She showed her husband the peals and the pocket watch. Also, scattered on the floor was a handful of gems and coins.
“Where did this come from? We would never be able to afford these, not in ten lifetimes!”
“That little man must be some kind of Saint! Are you sure you don’t know who he was?”
The husband just shrugged. “I think he said his name was Klaus.” He gave a short laugh. “Imagine that. A Saint with a sweet tooth.”
The wife joined in the laughter. There was a glimmer of tears in her eyes. She held the two dolls. One for a boy and one for a girl. How did he know? “Let’s wake the children and tell them they have presents waiting for them. Presents from Saint Klaus.”
The husband nodded and smiled. He embraced his wife and give her a pleasant little kiss. He nodded again and went to wake his children.