Tweet "Caleb, I found the box you were looking for."
Liss held up a small wooden crate. Uneven letters spelled out the word 'Festive' along the side in black paint. She looked across the room. Caleb balanced on a ladder near the door. Two stood below, holding the branch of a fir tree above the window. Caleb swung a hammer, hoping to knock in a few nails to keep it in place.
"What in the name of sweet Vertigo are you doing?" she asked.
"Putting up the festive decorations. Two wanted to help," replied Caleb.
"Why is Two covered in holly garlands?" asked Liss.
"I assume it's because he's overcome by the festive spirit. Go on, Two. Go and see Liss, maybe some of it will rub off on her."
The automaton shook its head, gesturing to the branch that hung from the wall. Only one nail held it in place so far.
"I'm not overcome by the festive spirit because I still don't know what we're celebrating. All my life, everyone has insisted on dragging trees inside and hanging up poisonous berries or eating their own bodyweight in mince pies, and I just don't get what all the fuss is about," replied Liss.
"Oh come on, Liss. You know the stories as well as I do."
"Yeah but they're exactly that - stories. It seems a bit of a waste of time and effort to go to all this trouble over a fairytale," said Liss.
"You're such a grinch," said Caleb.
"Well why don't you tell the story anyway? You know how much Two loves to hear it, even if I think it's folkloric hogwash," said Liss.
"Two, would you like to hear the Festive Story?" asked Caleb.
The automaton nodded. The small antenna at the base of its torso wagged enthusiastically.
"Very well then. Come on, Two. I think that'll hold."
Caleb climbed down the ladder and crossed the workshop to the fireplace. He settled into the armchair in front of the crackling flames. The automaton thudded across the room. The pistons in its knees hissed as it lowered itself to a crouched position.
"Back in the days of feudal rule, long before a single building of Vertigo City had been built, two powerful lords saw the potential in the land. They could farm here, and the river would provide good fishing. But instead of sharing the land, or dividing the land using the river and each claiming a bank for themselves, Lord Oakenstaff and Lord Hollybrough wanted all of the land, and they came to blows," said Caleb.
He looked at the automaton. Two gazed at him, its twin eye lamps focussed on his face. Caleb sneaked a glance at Liss. She stood by the window, pretending to be engrossed in catching a spider. Caleb could tell she was listening by the tilt of her head. He grinned at Two, and continued the story.
"The lords had a mighty battle, and in the end, Lord Hollybrough was beaten. He took his men and left, although he vowed to return one day. Lord Oakenstaff decided to claim the land immediately, and began to build a citadel. He named it Vertigia, after his mother," said Caleb. "Lord Hollybrough did return, but he found the beginnings of a great city where the fertile land had once been. They struck a truce, and took it in turns running the city. Each lord would take a holiday and travel the world while the other was in charge. Every 21st December since then, we have celebrated the great battle that saw the birth of our city."
"How do you explain all the greenery that people bring indoors then?" asked Liss.
"It symbolises the greenery of the land that they originally fought over," replied Caleb.
"And the mince pies?"
"Vertigia's baked delicacy."
"The roast turkey dinner?"
"Turkeys were the only birds that would live in Vertigia."
"Well it's a birthday, isn't it? We're celebrating the birth of the city."
"So why don't we give things to the city then? We could give time, to do things that need doing around the city, or we could give money to the new charities..."
"I didn't make up the rules, Liss. I just celebrate them," replied Caleb. "I know you don't believe in anything, Liss, but a lot of people believe in this story, so stop trampling on their faith just because you don't understand it."
Liss looked at the floor, casting her gaze downwards to hide the embarrassment clouding her amber eyes. A thought crossed her mind, and she looked at Caleb again. A wicked grin played around the corners of her lips.
"Still, it's better than that claptrap that visiting preacher was going on about, isn't it? What was he saying? That the festivities are really about the birth of the son of some invisible being that controls the world?"
"Oh I know, that one really was a bit far-fetched, wasn't it?" replied Caleb. He chuckled.
“Festive Felicitations, Caleb,” said Liss.
“Festive Felicitations to you too, Caleb.”
Two wagged its antenna. Liss and Caleb smiled at each other.
“Festive Felicitations to you, Two!”