1: Cookies and Calamities

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C H A P T E R    O N E

Cookies and Calamities

(4 months til' Christmas)

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                  THEY PUT HARRY in charge of the cookies today. He loved this job; he got to spend several hours supervising the elflings without interruption, and, depending on the type of cookie they were instructed to bake, sometimes they were allowed outside for an impromptu snowball fight or snowman-building competition while they waited for the first batch to finish in the oven. He liked to have little Frieda on his team for either activity. She was his favorite kind of feisty.

                  Really, though, he didn't prefer any elfling over another. It didn't matter. No matter the elfling, he'd rather have their company over the company of any other elf. The elflings were too young to have lost their spark yet, to become the cheerless shells of the elves their parents and the other elders were now. Harry was terrified of turning into that, so he surrounded himself with the elflings as often as possible.

                  As he rummaged through the cupboards for the sprinkles and cookie-cutters, he thought about his future as an elder, uncertain for a moment about whether he'd lose his spark or not before he remembered a very important detail that erased all of his worry almost immediately: he was half human. And humans never lost their Christmas cheer.

                 "Alright, I come bearing gifts," Harry announced as he returned to the large table, squeezing himself into a spot between Frieda and another elfling called Spencer. Everyone's faces lit up when Harry lowered his armful of goods onto the table. "We've got to split into three committees, and I can't be in charge of all of them. Do we have any aspiring Elder Elves in here?"

                  Hands popped up all around the table, less than Harry expected there'd be, but definitely more than the two that he needed. He rubbed his hands together and pursed his lips, eyeing the rosy-cheeked little faces staring back at him hopefully. "Hmm. Erica," Harry pointed, "you look like you spent a lot of time on your hair this morning. I like an elf who knows how to clean up. We'll put you in charge of the dough-cutting committee."

                  Erica lowered her hand, nodding curtly as if Harry'd just assigned her to the front line of an army. He slid her the sack of cookie-cutters from across the empty table.

                  "Okay. Greg, you've got a knack for design, yes?"

                  Greg, an exceptionally small elfling for his age with hair the color of cinnamon and freckles everywhere, nodded quickly, his eyes widening with anticipation.

                  "Perfect. You'll head the decorating committee." The elflings began to whisper amongst themselves then, so Harry had to speak a little louder. "I'll head the baking committee. Split yourselves up into the three groups, and whoever's joining the baking committee let's make some room at the table and head over to the counters."

                  Elflings were efficient and smart. Harry loved this about them. For the most part, the committees ended up being pretty equal in size; when one seemed larger than the other two, a handful of elflings would realize this and volunteer to join a different group. The dough-cutting and decorating committees split the table into two halves, staying out of each other's ways and organizing their supplies so that they'd be ready for the first batch of cookies to make the rounds.

                  That wouldn't happen until Harry's committee got to work. He pulled out a large bowl and gave everyone jobs, passing the bowl along like an offering plate, and his elflings played their parts perfectly. He did the mixing and supervising, but otherwise Harry hardly had to help them. When they were all finished, he brought the ball of dough to Erica's committee.

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