“Once upon a time, in a far, far away kingdom, there was a lonely princess…”
Captain Scarlet was interrupted in his reading by a sound he recognised as a faint but still exasperated groan. He raised his eyes to look over the top of the big book he was holding just in time to see his young daughter of four, Rose, roll her eyes towards the ceiling. She was leaning against the pillow behind her, knees raised up under the blanket of her little bed, clutching her favourite Teddy bear – a snow-white one – closely against her.
“What is it?” he asked, frowning in puzzlement.
She sighed, with a bored expression. “Dad… a princess story, again?”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. Now that was a surprising statement. There was nothing Rose liked more than have someone, preferably one of her parents, tell her a bedtime story, just before being tucked into bed. “You don’t like princess stories?” he asked her. “Rosie, every little girl loves princess stories. You must be the only one on the planet not to!”
“It’s just – it’s always a princess story, Daddy.” She sighed again, more deeply. “It’s… kinda boring.”
“Kinda boring?” Scarlet gave it some thought. “Well, yes… I imagine these stories tend to be repetitive.... So what kind of story would you like to hear, then?”
He saw her little face light up. She put the bear aside, next to her. “How about a Christmas story?” she suggested.
Scarlet smiled. That was a judicious choice indeed. It was Christmas Eve after all. In the Officers Lounge, the party prepared for the senior staff had probably started not that long ago. He and Rhapsody would be joining as soon as Rose was asleep, leaving her in the care of Lieutenant Dun who had volunteered as babysitter for the night. Scarlet had hoped that once in bed, his daughter wouldn’t be too long in falling asleep, especially considering that, come next morning, she would receive her many Christmas presents. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as eager to fall into Morpheus’ arms as he expected; as soon as she found herself in bed, she insisted that her father read her a bedtime story. One look into the little girl’s wide open eyes was enough to convince Scarlet that she was far from ready to sleep and that maybe, a soporific enough fairytale was exactly was what needed to do the trick. But now Rose showed herself picky over his choice of story.
Ah, I still have time, he told himself. Dianne will still be getting ready, if I know her, and I only need a few minutes to get into something before we leave for the party. I might as well enjoy the moment. She’ll grow out of this fast enough.
“Okay, let’s see if I can find you something else, then,” he said, flicking through the many pages of the large book resting on his lap, and which had been Symphony’s present to Rose the previous Christmas. It contained many condensed fairytales and children’s stories, one for nearly every day of the year. He was sure to find something of interest for his daughter. “Mmm… ‘Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer’, maybe?”
He saw Rose wrinkle her nose. “I know that one.”
“How about The Grinch?”
“Know that one too.”
“A Christmas Carol, then?” Scarlet suggested. When he saw Rose looking at him inquisitively, he amended: “Mr Scrooge.”
She shook her head. “I know it too.”
Scarlet restrained himself from sighing. “Rose, you know every story in this book. I bet your mother and I have read them to you many times over.”
“You and Mummy, and Unca Adam, and Auntie Karen, and –”
“Okay, okay… I get the picture.”
“Zillion times over!” Rose concluded, waving her arms around as to include the entirety of her bedroom.
Scarlet chuckled. “You’ll have to choose, sweetie. What story do you want?”
“How about you make one up?” Rose suggested.
He looked at her with an expression of near-dismay. “Make one up?” As she nodded, he added, with a sigh: “Rose, you know how your mother tells me I don’t have any imagination? Well, she’s right about that – at least when it comes to making up stories. That’s more her department. She’s good at that.”
Rose nodded again, a little more vigorously. “She is – and Unca Charlie is too.”
Scarlet frowned. “Did ‘Uncle Charlie’ actually make a fairytale up just for you?” he asked in puzzlement. He could hardly picture Colonel White, sitting here at the side of this very bed, telling a story to Rose, and making it up as he went along. He doubted it ever happened, although anything was possible, if the colonel had taken the opportunity of one of Scarlet’s stays in sickbay and Rhapsody’s absence to visit Rose.
However, if he had indeed gone as far as to make up a story for her, Rose would certainly not tell. The colonel certainly wouldn’t want any of his staff to know about it, and would have asked her to keep the secret – something that Rose would be more than happy to do, even from her parents, just to please him. There was a certain complicity between her and her ‘Uncle Charlie’ – easily her favourite among her many ‘uncles’ – that Scarlet was very well aware of. He knew that despite his apparent reserve, the Old Man loved the little girl much more than he would freely admit.
“I’ll help you,” Rose offered. “I do that with Mummy.”
“You do, uh?” Scarlet said. He gave it some thought for a few seconds, looking into her expectant little face, and then made his decision.
I’m too soft with her, he told himself, but really there was no way he could refuse her when she was looking at him that way.
He closed the book and put it beside him, at the foot of the bed. “Okay, then. Let’s give it a try. How shall we start our masterpiece? Mmm… You wanted a Christmas story… Who’s going be your hero?”
Scarlet chuckled. Santa, she said. His daughter really was hanging out too much with her many American ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’. Although the term ‘Santa Claus’ was certainly in wide use in his native England, he himself had been raised referring to the man in red – the other man in red, he amended – as ‘Father Christmas’.
“That’s a good choice. Let’s go with Father Christmas then,” he said. He thought of how the story should start. He really had no idea how to be original about it. “Once upon a time, in the North Pole, one Christmas Eve evening, Father Christmas was getting ready for his rounds.” Not too bad, he told himself. “He had checked his list…”
“…Twice,” Rose added quickly.
“Twice,” Scarlet confirmed, impishly tapping on Rose’s button nose with his index finger. “And by now, he knew who had been naughty, and who had been nice. His elves had filled his sleigh, and his bag…”
“... Many bags,” Rose corrected.
“Of course, how silly of me. There’s so many children for him to visit. So, the sleigh had been filled with his bags… And other presents that couldn’t fit into a bag. Like… puppies, and kittens and tricycles…”
“Can I have a kitten?” Rose then asked, suddenly.
Pulled up short in the middle of his story, Scarlet hesitated. “That wouldn’t be advisable,” he said. “For many reasons, I’m afraid… One being that your Aunt Juliette is highly allergic to cat fur.” He quickly changed the subject, making a show of ignoring his daughter’s plainly disappointed expression: “Er… I thought you wanted to hear a Christmas story… Shall I continue?” As she nodded, he moved on: “So… with the presents all piled into the sleigh, all was ready to go.”
“You forgot something,” Rose suddenly interrupted.
“What did I forget?”
“Where are the reindeer?” Rose inquired. “Santa needs them to pull the sleigh.”
“Oh, you’re right,” Scarlet admitted, thinking about it. “Well… I guess the elves will have to harness them, then.”
But Rose shook her head. “They can’t,” she then claimed. “Somethin’s not right.”
“Is it?” Scarlet asked with a curious frown.
“Yes, Daddy. Nothin’ goes right in a story, you know? Or you would not have a story at all.”
“Oh. Excuse me. Yes, that makes sense. So what’s the problem?”
“Someone stole the reindeer!” Rose exclaimed.
Scarlet gasped, as if in shock. “Someone did? Who? Who did something so naughty?”
“It was the Grinch and Mr Scrooge,” Rose announced. “They got together, and they decided to ruin Christmas that year!”
“They did?” Scarlet asked with a frown, realising that his daughter had taken her inspiration from his earlier reading suggestions. “But I thought that the Grinch and Mr Scrooge were nice now. What happened? Why are they doing this?”
Rose shrugged. “I don’t know yet. But they did take all the reindeer. Rudolph, and Donner, and Dancer, and Cupid… and all the others... I can’t remember their names.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie. I don’t remember them either.”
“And they took them into a cave, far, far away. A magic cave, that Santa and his elves couldn’t find.”
“Oh, that’s terrible!” Scarlet moaned. “.And let’s not forget, Santa only has one night to do his deliveries!”
“Yes, just one night!”
“So he needed to be on his way soon. He can’t do his round without his reindeer! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear… What should he do?”
“I know!” Rose said excitedly. “He asked his friend to help him!”
“What friend?” Scarlet asked. “Jack Frost?”
“Frosty the Snowman?”
“The Easter Bunny?”
Rose giggled at the suggestion as if it was a very silly one. “No,” she answered. “The White King!”
Scarlet scowled. He wasn’t expecting that one. “The White King?” he repeated. “Who’s this ‘White King’?”
“He’s Santa’s best friend,” Rose revealed. “He’s about the same age…”
Oh this is getting fun, Scarlet told himself. “Went to school together, did they?” he asked, musing.
“Yes, they did! And he lives close to Santa too. In the North Pole. He has a beautiful castle, at the top of the highest mountain there is… It’s called…” Rose frowned, thinking hard. “… Neverest.”
“Whoa – ‘Neverest’?” Scarlet repeated. “Don’t you mean ‘Everest’? That’s the name of the highest mountain on the planet. And it’s not even close to the North Pole, Rosie.”
“It’s not the same mountain, Daddy. That’s another mountain,” Rose protested.
“Another mountain?” Scarlet asked dubiously. Rose nodded. “In the North Pole?” She nodded again. “The highest mountain there is? Higher than Everest?”
“Way higher! But nobody knows it. ‘Cause nobody can see it.”
“Nobody can see it? Why?”
“It’s a magic mountain. It’s hidden in the clouds.”
“Right. Hidden in the clouds.” More and more interesting, Scarlet told himself.
Rose leaned towards her father, and added in a whisper: “And it’s a secret.”
“A secret magic mountain,” Scarlet echoed in the same voice. “Okay, I get it. Tell me more about it. I can keep a secret, you know.”
“I know,” Rose whispered back.
“What does this White King do exactly, from his magic castle, hidden by the clouds, at the top of a mountain?”
“He keeps the world safe,” Rose explained.
“All by himself?” Scarlet asked.
“No, that would be too big a job, Daddy! He has lots of helpers.”
“But Father Christmas does his rounds every year, all in one night,” Scarlet commented. “That’s an even bigger job!”
“Father Christmas has his elves to make the toys,” Rose reminded him. “And the reindeer to pull his sleigh.”
“Right, I forgot that. But he doesn’t have his reindeer this year. Sorry I interrupted you. Please, continue. So the White King has lots of helpers then?”
“Lots and lots. He has princes.”
“Princes?” Scarlet echoed, raising a brow.
“Yes, there’s the Blue Prince, and the Green Prince, and the…”
“…The Scarlet Prince?” Scarlet completed.
“Yes… How did you guess?” Rose asked, opening her eyes wide.
“Lucky, I think,” Scarlet answered with a dismissive shrug.
“… And lots and lots of other princes. The White King sends them on missions around the world. They go everywhere, to help people, and to make sure they’re safe against baddies.”
“Like Mr Scrooge and the Grinch.”
“That’s right. And Father Christmas, he goes to Neverest, and he asks his friend, ‘Please can you find my reindeer for me?’ And the White King says, ‘Sure Santa. I will send my princes to find them. Don’t worry.”
Scarlet opened his eyes wide with surprise, hearing Rose put on a deep voice, in a less than successful rendition of Colonel White’s voice – that he recognised nevertheless. He had tremendous trouble keeping from bursting out laughing.
“For old times’ sake, I’m sure,” he said with a grin.
He chuckled. By now, he had realised his daughter wasn’t contenting herself with helping him make up the story. She had taken it over, completely. And she seemed to be having huge fun with it.
And frankly, so was he.
“But tell me, Rose: Father Christmas, he doesn’t seem to have his priorities right. After all, it’s already Christmas Eve. He’s pressed for time, he needs to deliver his presents. It’s a good thing that the princes are trying to find the reindeer, of course, but it looks like they won’t find them in time! Don’t you think Father Christmas ought to find a way to do his rounds in the meantime?”
Rose’s little brow creased with effort, as she seemed to give these comments some thought. She tilted her head to one side after a short moment. “Well… Maybe the White King could ask his princesses?”
“Because the White King has princesses too?” Scarlet asked, frowning. It was obvious from whom Rose was taking her inspiration for king and princes, so he had a pretty good idea who the princesses were now. He gave her a suspicious look. “But Rosie… I thought you didn’t like princesses?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like them. I said the princess stories you read were boring.”
“And these princesses are not, right?” Scarlet said, smiling at his daughter’s scowling expression.
“No, they’re not. First of all, they’re not called ‘princesses’.”
“No. They’re called…” Rose frowned, obviously searching for a name that eluded her. She sighed, and moaned: “Daddy, I don’t know the word. Unca Rick told it to me, once. He said they were girl warriors in the old times. They ride horses, and use arrows… Mamazing… Mamazi…”
“Amazons,” Scarlet proposed.
“That’s it! Amazons! That’s the word. You’re the smartest daddy in the world, Daddy!”
Scarlet laughed. “I’m not, but thanks for thinking it, angel. So Uncle Rick mentioned Amazons to you. I wonder in what circumstances. I’ll have to remember to ask him… Tell me about those Amazon princesses, sweetie. How can they help Father Christmas make his delivery, exactly?”
“Well, they fly on winged horses…”
“Winged horses? No magic dust like Father Christmas uses to make his reindeer fly?”
“Dad…” Rose sighed and rolled her eyes. “They’re not like Santa’s reindeer. But they’re magic as well. ‘Cause they can fly very, very high. And nobody can see them, if the Mamazons don’t want to.”
“They can turn invisible too,” Rose added in confidence.
“Right,” Scarlet said in a hushed voice.
“The Mamazons, they’re the best flyers in the whole world!” Rose said with such enthusiasm that Scarlet fought himself not to laugh too openly, and drew back slightly, smiling at his daughter’s energetic gesticulation. “And their horses can fly as fast as Santa’s reindeer.”
“So they’ll be doing the rounds, make all of Father Christmas’s deliveries, and all the children of the world will be happy. The end.” Scarlet rose from the bed. “Now it’s time for one of those children to go to sleep.”
“Daddy!” Rose moaned in protest. “The story can’t end there! Don’t you want to know what happened to Santa’s reindeer first?”
“Sweetheart…” Scarlet sighed and checked his watch, before glancing in the direction of the half-open door. Beyond it, he imagined that his wife, having finished preparing herself for the party, was waiting in the living area of their quarters, probably chatting away with Dun. It was getting late. “It’s way past your bedtime, really,” he said to his daughter. “Let’s say it’s a cliffhanger and continue tomorrow?”
“What’s a cliffhanger?” the little girl asked him, with a clueless expression on her face.
“Well, it’s a… erm… it’s…” Scarlet looked down at his daughter. The way she was looking up at him, with those pleading puppy eyes, she was just too disarming. Again, he found that he could not say no to her. He frowned, chastising himself over his own weakness – and at the same time, thinking he would be a very mean father if he should deny her what she so desired.
And to say the truth, he was dying to know how she intended to conclude her tale – if she knew how to, that was.
“Do you know the ending of your story?” he asked her.
She nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes, I know!”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. He was still slightly dubious. “Is it still very long?” he inquired suspiciously.
This time, Rose shook her head to the negative.
Scarlet sighed. I should have my head examined, he thought, sitting back at the foot of the bed. “All right, let’s hear it. And it’s because I’m rather curious to know exactly where you’re going with it. But I warn you,” he said, pointing a falsely accusatory finger at her, “this had better be quick.”
“Promise, Daddy!” Rose replied excitedly.
“So… We established that the princesses would do the deliveries…”
“They will use Santa’s list that he checked twice,” Rose confirmed.
“Right. So on their magic, invisible, flying horses, they’ll leave Neverest, and will have all the time they need to go everywhere and give the presents to everyone. That’s covered then. So in the meantime, the princes will go looking for the missing reindeer?”
“Knights,” Rose corrected.
“Knights?” Scarlet repeated with a frown. “I thought they were princes?”
“I changed my mind,” Rose retorted. “I think it would be better if they were knights. Don’t you think?”
“Mmm… Quite a demotion, if you ask me. The White King… he’s still a king?”
“Oh yeah, he’s a king.”
“That figures. Okay, if you want your princes to be knights instead, let them be knights. So what now? How do they find the reindeer?”
“Well, to begin with, they start to investigate.”
“That’s quite a big word for you, young lady. ‘Investigate’. Who did you hear that from?”
“Mummy, I think.”
“My congratulations to you and Mummy, then. So, the princes – sorry, the knights – start to investigate. They check the stables… The reindeer are kept in a stable, I imagine?” And as Rose nodded to the affirmative, Scarlet continued: “How silly of me, of course they are. So the knights must have found traces, then. That they will follow to where Mr Scrooge and the Grinch had taken the reindeer to. The magic cave, right?”
Rose nodded. “And you’ll never guess where that cave is, Daddy,” she proclaimed.
“No… but I’m sure you will tell me.”
“The South Pole!” Rose announced triumphantly.
“The South Pole?” Scarlet exclaimed, feigning surprise. “Well, you were right when you said that cave was far, far away. You can’t get further from the North Pole than the South Pole! And how did the knights discover that?”
“They found a tunnel,” Rose revealed. “It went from the North Pole to the South Pole!”
“Quite a long tunnel,” Scarlet mused. “Must have taken a long time to dig. But I guess it was done by magic?”
“You guessed again, Daddy! You’re good!”
“Not as good as you are, Rosie,” Scarlet said with a mischievous smile. “That’s quite a story you have there. But how did the knights discover the tunnel?”
“It was all the Scarlet Knight’s doing, Daddy,” Rose announced.
“Was it?” Scarlet said, grinning, happy that she should put him into the ‘hero’ role.
“Yes, he found the tunnel. You see, it was like a hole, and it had snowed, and the snow was covering it. He didn’t see it, but he stepped on it… and fell right into it!”
Scarlet scowled, disenchanted by the revelation. “Oh, he fell right into it, then?” How mundane…
“Yeah, all the way to the South Pole!”
“That’s a long fall, Rosie.”
“Oh, don’t worry. The knights are tough. ‘Specially the Scarlet Knight!”
“I bet he is.”
“So when he found the tunnel, the other knights followed – and they went to the South Pole.”
“Okay – and that’s where they found Mr Scrooge and the Grinch? With the reindeer?”
Rose nodded. “And they asked Mr Scrooge and the Grinch, ‘why did you steal Santa’s reindeer? We thought you were nice now, you shouldn’t do things like that. It’s very naughty.’”
“Yes, it is,” Scarlet approved with a smile.
“And that’s when the knights found out that Mr Scrooge and the Grinch were ‘gnotised!”
Scarlet’s smile fell. “‘gnotised’?” he repeated. “You mean ‘hypnotised’?”
“That’s what I said: they were ‘pnotised’. “It was like in ‘Sleeping Beauty’, when the mean witch ‘pnotised’ the princess into touching the spinning wheel, you see?” Rose frowned deeply, as if thinking. “ ‘Cept… it was like in that TV show you and Mummy watched, with Unca Adam and Auntie Karen, where there was that magician and – ”
“Oh darn,” Scarlet muttered. “You saw that? We thought you were asleep –”
“I woke up. And I watched from the door,” Rose revealed. “It was funny. The magician, he made that lady think she was a chicken.”
“Oh, I remember,” Scarlet said, rolling his eyes. “It was such a stupid show.”
“That’s what you said… and you changed channel.”
“I was bored,” Scarlet said, shaking his head slowly. “Like you were earlier, with the princess story.”
“It was the evil goblins who did it,” Rose declared almost solemnly.
“The what?” Scarlet said, furrowing his brow.
“The evil goblins. They’re kind of elves, but not like Santa’s elves. They’re naughty. And invisible too, which is good, ‘cause they’re so ugly.”
“Where did you hear about ‘goblins’, Rosie?” Scarlet asked her.
She pointed to the book at the foot of her bed. “There’s one in a story. Unca Rick read it once. He had a long name. Unca Rick could never remember it. He called him ‘Rumpy’.”
“Rumplestiltskin. Can’t blame Uncle Rick for taking artistic license with the name – that’s certainly a mouthful. But he’s an imp… Not a goblin, as far as I can remember.”
“Unca Rick showed me the picture in the book. He said that Rumpy looked like an evil goblin, and that goblins, they do naughty tricks to people, just to annoy them.”
“Uncle Rick ought to know about tricks just to annoy people,” Scarlet groused. “He didn’t scare you with those stories, I hope?”
“Oh no! The stories he told were very funny, Daddy!”
Scarlet smiled fondly. “Please, continue with your story, sweetie. Tell me about your goblins. Why did they steal Father Christmas’ reindeer?”
“They don’t like Santa ‘cause he doesn’t want them to make toys. ‘Cause they’re making naughty toys. So they wanted to punish Santa, and all the children of the world.”
“By stealing Santa’s reindeer,” Scarlet concluded. He was past the point of caring about correcting his daughter for the use of ‘Santa’. She looked very serious now, and he was a little apprehensive about the rest of the story. Rose nodded at his comment, and continued:
“They couldn’t steal the reindeer themselves, so they lied to Mr Scrooge and the Grinch. They told them, ‘Santa doesn’t care for you anymore’. So that made Mr Scrooge and the Grinch sad and angry. And the evil goblins ‘pnotised’ them into stealing the reindeer.” Rose looked up at her father. “That’s how they do things.”
“Uncle Rick told you that?” Scarlet asked with a frown. “About goblins, hypnotising people?”
“Oh no, Daddy! He never said anything about that!”
A good thing for Rick, Scarlet told himself. But if he had to be truthful to himself, he was more preoccupied with another subject. He looked at his daughter with uncertainty. “Where did you hear about this, then?”
She shrugged. “Nowhere. I just… know, that’s all.”
Scarlet kept staring at her. He never told her of the Mysterons, and he knew her mother wouldn’t either, and the same could be said of those she so affectionately called her uncles and aunts. Nobody would tell Rose about their alien enemies, or of their nature, how they worked – taking control of people they had previously killed in their many acts of retaliation against Earth. But she knew of them. She always knew of their presence and their evil, and how Spectrum fought to protect the world against them. There was little Scarlet, Rhapsody or anyone else could do to hide that fact from her, bearing in mind she was living on Cloudbase, amongst them – a necessary evil, considering who her father was and how unique she was. But Scarlet had never realised she knew that much. The way she was describing the way the ‘evil goblins’ worked was uncomfortably close to what the Mysterons themselves were doing.
And somehow, the fact that she knew that much about them, without being told, scared him, and saddened him at the same time. It made him fearful for her safety, and sad for her childhood which would never be like that of any other child of Earth.
It scared him for her future, which he just knew would never be that of a normal girl. Because she was so special.
But she was his special girl, and he would make sure that nothing would harm her. And if he had to fight the entire Mysteron race, then he would do it. Time would tell what the future held for her soon enough. At the moment, he was just concerned she would be scared of them.
However, looking at her right now, she didn’t seem scared at all. And she probably read Scarlet’s apprehension on his face, as she added, in a quiet, reassuring voice:
“Don’t you worry, Daddy, everything will be okay!”
“The story. It’s a fairytale. It ends okay!”
Scarlet shook himself. The last thing he wanted was to worry his daughter needlessly, by acting tactless. He cleared his throat. “How come?” he asked, trying to sound upbeat.
“Well, the evil goblins didn’t know that Santa would ask the White King for help. ‘Cause the White King, he knows all about the evil goblins. He and the princes and the Mamazones, they keep fighting them.”
Scarlet smiled thinly, swallowing hard. “So they’re princes again, are they?” He asked softly. “How does the story ends, Rosie?”
“You don’t know, Daddy?”
“Oh, I know...” Scarlet tenderly stroked his daughter’s cheek. “The knights save the day, of course. They tell the Grinch and Mr Scrooge the truth and free them from the evil goblins. They chase the evil goblins away, and bring back their friends, and the reindeer back to the North Pole. Then they fill up the tunnel,” he finally said, “so that the evil goblins would never, ever, come back again.”
Rose nodded slowly. “But they’re still out there, Daddy,” she said in a little voice. “The evil goblins. And they still want to punish Santa. And they will try again.”
“Well then,” Scarlet said calmly, “that will be a fight for another day, for the White King and his people of Neverest, don’t you think? But this fight, my little darling, is finished. Neverest saved Christmas, the reindeer are now safely back where they belong. And all the children of the world received their gifts, because the Amazons did their part of the job.”
This time, Rose’s nod was more vigorous. “And everybody lived happily ever after!” she declared triumphantly.
“And they lived happily ever after.” Scarlet rested a protective hand on his daughter’s chest, and leaned closer to her. “And, sweetheart, don’t you ever be afraid of evil goblins. You know you’re safe here, and everyone will make sure you stay safe. Especially me – your own Scarlet Knight.”
“Oh, Daddy…” The little girl put her arms around her father’s neck and squeezed him tight, and he did the same, protectively. “You are not only a knight,” she declared in a muffled voice. “You are my brave prince knight!”
“And you, my little princess,” he responded. “And not a boring one at that,” he added quickly, looking at her with a mischievous glitter in his eyes.
“And Mummy?” Rose asked.
“She’s my other not-boring princess,” Scarlet said, grinning. He stroked her nose. “Time to go to bed? It’s late, Your Highness, and I’m sure you want to wake up early to see what Father Christmas has brought you in the morning.”
Rose’s answer was another vigorous nod, and she lay down and wriggled herself deeper under the covers. Her father tucked her in very neatly, as she clutched her white teddy bear close to her. She could barely get her chin over the blankets, when Scarlet leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“You sleep well, now,” he whispered tenderly, turning the bedside table light off. “Good night, my angel.”
“Good night, Daddy,” she said. And as Scarlet picked the big book from the foot of the bed, and he rose to his full height, she added, in a louder voice: “Good night, Mummy!”
Scarlet frowned, as he heard the voice of Rhapsody answering from behind him: “Good night, sweetheart.” He turned around, to see his wife standing there in the doorway of the bedroom where the door was now fully open. She was leaning against the frame, wearing the dress he had given her this Christmas as a present, blowing a kiss in the direction of their daughter.
He strode to her, and together, quietly, they left the room, closing the door behind them. They were now standing in the living section of their family quarters, which was decorated for Christmas by a small tree set on a corner table, and garlands hanging from the ceiling. Curiously, Scarlet noticed, Lieutenant Dun wasn’t sitting on the sofa, where he expected to find her. He and Rhapsody were all alone.
“Have you been standing there long?” Scarlet asked his wife as she turned to him, a bright smile on her lips.
“Long enough to hear Rose’s bedtime story,” she said, standing on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. “And I do mean ‘Rose’s bedtime story’.”
“She’s got quite an imagination,” Scarlet said with a grin, holding on to her. “Must take after you… After all, according to you, I don’t have any imagination.”
He kissed her softly on the neck and she giggled. “That depends. I’d say that in some things, you do have enough imagination for two.” She gently pushed him away. “Now behave. Rose isn’t asleep yet.”
Scarlet let go of her and looked around. “Isn’t Dun here?” he asked, with curiosity. Or maybe in the bathroom, he told himself.
Rhapsody shook her head. “I sent her away,” she confessed. And as Scarlet turned an inquiring look at her, she added, “Hearing you in there with Rose, I thought that maybe… you would prefer to stay here tonight? Close to her?”
Scarlet nodded slowly. “You’ve always been a mind-reader, love. Yes. This ‘hypnotising goblins’ story has put me a little on edge, and although I think she’ll sleep like a log now, I’d prefer to be around, in case Rose wake up tonight. So if you don’t mind, of course, I would prefer for us to stay home.”
“Of course,” Rhapsody answered.
“It’ll be cosier for us anyway,” he added with a smile. “‘Cause I’ll be closer to you too.”
He leaned to steal another kiss from her, but she pushed him away again.
“I think you’d better call Adam first, and tell him we won’t be at the party tonight – or people are liable to come and see what had happened to us.”
“We’re a married couple, Dianne, what do you imagine they’ll think happened to us?” Scarlet asked mischievously.
“You have a one track mind tonight, Mr Metcalfe,” Rhapsody said, with an amused smile. “Hold that thought for a little while, though. While you make that call, I’ll go and change into something more comfortable.”
“And after that?” Scarlet inquired.
“After that, you’ll get into something more comfortable. Then we’ll sit down in front of the TV with that nice bottle of brandy my father sent to me and that you smuggled quite effectively onboard...” Rhapsody reached towards her husband, and brushed his lips with hers. “And then, God willing there will be no interruption from any evil goblins - either from the South Pole or from Mars - or from our daughter who will then be fast asleep, you and I will make our own Christmas celebrations… my brave prince knight!”
Acknowledgments where they are due…
The character of Rose Metcalfe, young daughter of Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel, is the creation of my friend Lezli Farrington, and appeared for the first time as a young adult in the story ‘Pride and Joy' in May 2002. Rose made a few appearances later on in other stories, at various stages of her lives, most notably in many Christmas stories, written either by Lezli ('The Gift', 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town', 'The Ghost of Christmas Past'), or myself ('Miracle at 40,000 Feet'). This story is meant as a follow-up to this last story, and is set during the next year’s Christmas. Lezli, this is my gift to you for Christmas, and I hope I didn’t misswrote your character too much!
I acknowledge that the use of the epithets ‘Knights’ and ‘King’ to describe the Spectrum crew has been used first by Ladyhawke, for her story ‘The Dungeon of Dragons’, though the wording and context are vastly different!
The Grinch was the anti-hero of Dr Seuss’ story ‘How the Grinch stole Christmas’, while Mr Ebenezer Scrooge was created by Charles Dickens for the immortal classic ‘A Christmas Carol’. Artistic license have been taken for these characters – as only a child could take it!
Father Christmas (Santa Claus), Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, Rumplestiltskin, elves, flying reindeer, Amazons and all the rest are part of fairytales and legends… Goblins too, and make sure to check under your bed as they might hide there, and come out during the night to tickle your feet – because that’s the kind of pranks they would love to do!
As for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons… The series was created by the team led by the wonderful Gerry Anderson, who passed away the next day of 2012. He made us a gift that we will forever be grateful for.
And lastly… my thanks to Hazel Köhler, who did the beta-reading duty for this story.
Merry belated Christmas to all!
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