Tomten: A Yule Tale

"Yes, I think I can."

And he turned to go.

Gudrun stepped back inside, closed the door, and ran back to her room to watch the tomten's retreat. That was when she noticed something odd about his steps across the snow. He left footprints, as one would expect, but only for a moment. These quickly fell in on themselves and smoothed out almost perfectly, so one could hardly know someone had been there unless one knew it already. And even then, one would have to look carefully.

He didn't go back to his rock. Instead, he stood by the gate and waited. Not long after came the fox, prancing through the snow. The tomten waved to him, and the fox trotted over as if to talk. Gudrun couldn't hear what the tomten was saying, but the fox's glorious tail swished back and forth now and then. The two of them stayed together for some time. And then the fox turned and trotted back the way he came. But Gudrun didn't see that, because she had fallen asleep with her cheek on the windowsill.

The next morning, she went out to look by the gate. There were no tomten tracks to be seen. But those of the fox were plain, as was the place he had swept with his tail. Best of all, the chickens were secure and laying in the henhouse.

Gudrun watched many nights out through the crack in her curtains. She would watch and watch and watch and watch, and nothing happened. The she watched some more, determined to see the tomten appear. Then something would cause her to look away, or even just blink longer than usual, and when she looked back, there he was, standing near the rock. Gudrun wondered more than once if he lived in the rock, or just under it. Having seen what lives under many a rock already in her young life, she thought in was the more likely place for a dignified tomten to live.

After the tomten appeared, he went straight to the gate to wait for the fox, who always arrived on time. The tomten talked, mostly, and the fox's tail swished. Sometimes, Gudrun thought, the fox even laughed with that tail of his, which was wonderful to watch. And then he would tip his head back and howl. It was just a little yipping yowl, and very foxy, and very fun.

In the morning, the fox's tracks turned back at the gate, and the chickens were still safe and laying in the henhouse.

Yule was approaching. The Yule Tree was chosen, and brought in, and decorated. Mother baked things she only made at Yule, while Daddy sang old songs with words that weren't quite right, and maybe even a little naughty, which made them all laugh.

And Gudrun thought to thank the tomten for all of his help. So on the eve of Yule, she told her parents about her conversation with him, and what he had done, and asked what she might do about that. Mother and Father smiled at each other, the way parents do when their children say cute things. Her mother said that, while she didn't know for sure, she had heard when she was a girl that a tomten likes porridge, with a big blob of butter melting on top. Her father agreed that this would be a fine gift. But when Gudrun said she wanted to give some porridge with butter on top to the tomten tonight, they didn't like that idea so much.

"But, Gudrun," they said, "tonight is Yule, and the Wild Hunt rides abroad. It could be dangerous for you to be out tonight, even for a moment."

Gudrun thought this was strange: Yule was a time when gifts were given. This was the night to do it. Besides, they had been hinting to her recently that the Wild Hunt, and several other things they'd often told her of, weren't really real. What were they worried about? Still, they looked at each other with that look parents have when they are afraid for their children, but don't want the children to know it.

They offered to set the porridge out for the tomten themselves, after she went to bed that night. But Gudrun argued that the tomten might not know who it was for, or why it was given, if she didn't give it to him herself. Finally, they gave in. They would make the porridge, and Gudrun could put it on the step late at night, as long as she was only out for a moment. And if she heard any strange noises, she must close the door and close her eyes and not look about at all until they were gone.

After dinner and presents and stories on the sofa, Gudrun went to her room and waited. The moon came up, and the light on the snow was so beautiful. She turned her attention to the rock, and she watched, and she watched, and she watched. And, as I'm sure you know by now, nothing happened. It wasn't until the house made one of those noises houses make late at night, and she turned to look, and then looked back, that the tomten appeared.

Ever so quietly, she ran to the kitchen, where the big bowl of porridge was still hot, with the pool of melted butter spreading slowly across it. She picked it up and took it to the door, where she looked out. The tomten was still standing by his rock. So she said:

12/16/2011 5:00:00 AM