The holidays are approaching; please enjoy this nudge toward getting "in the mood"!
When Sydney awoke to her first Norwegian Christmas, Nicolas was already downstairs with John wrestling the huge pine Yule log into the drawing room fireplace.
“It’s tradition,” he explained. “Vikings used to celebrate the passing of the shortest day of the year with the longest fire they could burn. Now it’s part of our Christmas tradition.”
Sydney helped Addie prepare pinnekjøtt from lamb ribs that were salted and smoked last summer. They would steam for the next few hours in a pot with small stripped branches, until the meat actually fell off the bones. While the ribs cooked, Sydney propped up her feet and watched Addie make rice pudding. Nicolas kept coming to steal tastes and Addie kept smacking his hand with her spoon.
“Don’t forget the almond!” he admonished. “Whoever gets the almond in their pudding will have good luck throughout the year!”
Nicolas stepped behind Sydney, leaned down, and wrapped his arms above her belly. “My year will be lucky no matter who gets the almond.”
His soft lips, amidst the prickle of his beard, nuzzled her neck. Gooseflesh rippled down her arms. She wished she could drag him back to bed to play, even though her own pleasure was weeks in the future.
At a little past eleven o’clock that night, Nicolas descended the stairs with a sleepy Stefan in his arms. Sydney waited below in her cloak. She had just been to the privy—again—and still felt the chill of the December night.
“Is Julenisse here?” Stefan rubbed his eyes.
“I’ve not seen him yet. Are you certain you were a good boy this year?” Nicolas teased, setting him on the floor.
Stefan nodded, his auburn hair flopping in his face. “Real, real good!”
“Well, perchance he’ll come while we’re at church.” Sydney suggested. She ruffled Stefan’s hair. “Do you need to use the privy?”
Stefan yawned, shaking his head.
“Let’s go then!” Nicolas herded his family out the front door.
A three-quarter moon shone on snow that twinkled with a million stars. Sleigh blades slid over the snow with a soft hiss, the team’s hoofbeats hushed by the frozen fleece. The jangle of tack rang loud in the frigid air. Stefan snuggled between his pappa and his new mamma.
Tonight, entering the school and church building held no fear for Sydney. She considered her new Nordic-god husband and was certain it never would again.
“Onkel Rick!” Stefan bounced to his uncle as soon as they walked through the door. “Merry Christmas! Did you bring me anything?”
“Of course!” Rick pulled a bag of peppermint candies from his pocket. “Make them last, do you hear? And don’t forget your Tante Lily!”
Stefan waved at Lily. She didn’t seem to notice.
“Mamma, look what Onkel Rick gave me!” He showed Sydney the bag. “Can I have one now?”
Nicolas leaned over. “Did you say thank you?”
A horrified look came over Stefan’s face and he bolted back to his uncle. “Thank you, Onkel Rick!”
His urgent voice pulled Rickard’s rapt attention from Miss Bronwyn Price. “You’re welcome, Stefan.”
Stefan returned to Sydney, but his eyes slid sideways to his father. “Now can I?”
Nicolas answered him. “Yes. Sit down and be quiet then, the service is going to start.”
Stefan sat next to Sydney and carefully unwrapped one piece of the precious candy. He slipped it into his mouth and his eyes closed in childish ecstasy. With a contented sigh, he pulled his feet up on the bench and leaned over. Resting his head on Sydney’s stomach, he received a kick from his surrogate pillow. Unfazed, he patted her belly.
Sydney’s composure quavered at his simple acceptance. She slid much more easily into Stefan’s life than she had into his father’s; now he casually comforted her unborn babe.
The immensity of being the only mother Stefan would ever know made her feel very small and very incapable. She closed her eyes and thought of Lara. Would she approve of Sydney as a wife for Nicolas? Would she trust Sydney to raise her son? She closed her eyes and crossed herself, finding the familiar motion reassuring.
With God’s help I’ll do my best for both of them, Lara. I promise.
The burden eased and a sense of goodwill infused her core the way candlelight infuses darkness. She ran her fingers through Stefan’s hair as one tear rolled down her cheek.
Nicolas’s finger brushed it away. “Is something amiss?”
She nodded toward Stefan.
His eyes dropped to his son, tunelessly humming as he rested against Sydney’s bulge and patted its restless inhabitant. When his eyes returned to hers, they sparkled with moisture.
The last notes of the Christmas Eve service dissipated. Worshippers filed out slowly, calling ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other before dispersing to their far-flung homes. Rickard was one of the last to leave. He kissed the back of Miss Price’s hand.
“He’s smitten.” Sydney held Nicolas’s arm. “And he has a bad case!”
“It’s about time. I was beginning to wonder about him.” Nicolas helped Sydney into the landau.
“Pappa, do you believe Julenisse came yet?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Nicolas’s mouth twitched. “Do you think he knows you forgot to thank your Onkel Rick for the candy?”
“Stop that!” Sydney laughed and smacked Nicolas on the thigh.
At the manor, Stefan jumped out of the carriage and ran to the door. He pushed it open and could not be bothered to close it.
Nicolas helped Sydney down and kept her from slipping as they mounted the porch steps. Stefan reappeared, radiating excitement.
“He came! He came!” Stefan bounded out the door. “Look what he brought me!”
Stefan held out a pair of carved wooden horses painted to look like Fyrste and Sessa. Nicolas looked down at Sydney with amazed appreciation. She gave him a self-satisfied smile.
“Did he?” He turned back to Stefan. “And is that all that you found?”
Stefan disappeared again. Nicolas and Sydney followed, closing the front door.
“Look at this!” Stefan held up two jointed wooden knights. They were painted like Knights of Norway. They were a little too large for the horses, but Stefan was already setting up a jousting match on the drawing room floor.
“Son, I’m glad Julenisse came tonight. But you’ll have to wait until morning to play. Go upstairs and get into bed.”
Reluctant to relinquish his new toys, Stefan did so without complaint only when Nicolas told him he could eat one more peppermint while he undressed. Sydney eased herself to the settee. The staircase was daunting when she was this laden and this tired.
Nicolas grinned at her like a lizard with a mouthful of cricket. “Julenisse brought something for you, as well. Wait here.”
He strode from the drawing room. Once he was out of sight, Sydney awkwardly retrieved Nicolas’s gift from her sewing basket on the floor and tucked it behind her back.
“Close your eyes!”
The command came from the hallway. Sydney heard the floorboards complain as Nicolas crossed the room. She felt something heavy come to rest in front of her. “You can look now.”
“Oh, Nicolas! Did you make this?” Sydney ran her hands over the carved maple-wood cradle. It was large and sturdy, and it rocked easily.
“See this?” Nicolas pointed to an extra piece of wood on one of the rockers. “This is so you can rock it with your foot.”
“I’ve never seen such a beautiful cradle! What are the carvings?”
“Norse mythology. I’ll tell the child stories as he grows.”
“I am certain she will love that!” Sydney laughed, reaching for Nicolas. “Thank you!”
Several lingering kisses later, Sydney pulled the pliable bundle from behind her back before his delicious attention made her forget it was there.
“Now it’s your turn.”
Nicolas untied the ribbon that held a roll of fabric. Two shirts of soft brushed cotton unfurled before him, both with elaborate stitching and pleating.
He wiggled the fabric between his fingers. “This material is so soft. Where did you get such a thing?”
“A peddler came by while you were hunting. I was only going to make baby clothes from it, but I struck a deal with him and got the whole bolt.” She grinned up into his beautiful eyes. “You deserved to be pampered some as well.”
“Thank you, min presang.”Nicolas kissed her again—very thoroughly—and she was transported. She inhaled the scent of him and nestled into his arms. She was so contented that she felt she could float up the stairs; her bulging womb would pose no impediment at all.
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