It had been snowing steadily for days now, and countless fluffy snowflakes had covered Camelot under a thick, white blanket. Percival and Leon could be seen hauling a Yule log from the woods, their tracks quickly fading as more and more snow kept falling.
Inside the Banqueting Hall the hearth was blazing, and at the far end stood a giant fir-tree surrounded by dozens of baskets.
“You’re just in time,” Gwen said as Percival and Leon entered the Hall and carried the Yule log to the hearth, “You can help me decorating the higher branches, just don’t break the decorations…,” and Gwen looked a bit worrying at Percival’s big and strong hands. From one of the baskets she took a bird made of delicate glass and carefully hung it on a branch. Soon Percival was stretching his arms high into the air and standing on his toes trying to decorate the highest branches with birds, flowers and fruits, all beautifully made from coloured glass and silver; and, much to Gwen’s delight, he did not break a single one of them.
“Now this one should go on the top,” Gwen said, and from a little basket she took a beautiful ornament made from intricate silver filigree and glass worked in a very delicate pattern. There was even a candle inside it, so in the evenings it could be lit. She looked at Percival who unceremoniously hoisted Leon up in the air so he could put the ornament on top of the tree.
“That’s beautiful, Gwen” came Arthur’s voice as he entered the Hall, carrying a helmet. He walked to the tree, grabbed something from the helmet and started hanging little ornaments on the branches.
“Arthur, what’s that,” Gwen asked a bit icily.
“Decorations of course,” Arthur answered and another trinket found its way on the tree.
“It’s a sword, Arthur, and a helmet.”
“Yes. Lovely, isn’t it. I had them specially made by the finest craftsman in Camelot.”
Gwen stood looking at the tree, shaking her head in disbelief. Behind her back, Percival and Leon gave Arthur their thumbs-up as Arthur carefully put a tiny mail shirt on the tree. “Look at all those tiny rings,” he said admiringly, turning it so it could catch the light.
“You can’t decorate a tree with swords and armour,” Gwen said quite decisively.
“Just because!” Gwen turned to Percival and Leon, but before she could ask their opinion, Leon coughed and muttered something about polishing his boots and left the Hall, quickly followed by Percival. Arthur in the meantime stood a few paces from the tree, beaming and admiring his handiwork. Gwen just shook her head, thinking “men…”.
“And who did you draw?” Gaius asked. Everybody in Camelot had drawn lots as to whom to buy a present for.
“Arthur,” Merlin said and he clasped his head in utter despair.
“Any idea as what to give him?” Gaius asked.
“I don’t know, he has everything, and I can’t afford to buy him a new mail shirt or anything,” Merlin answered, followed by a deep and joyless sigh. “I know!”, he suddenly exclaimed, “Why don’t I just give him nothing. That’s something he hasn’t got: nothing!”
Gaius smiled, careful not to show his face to Merlin. “A little bit difficult to wrap, that ‘nothing’,” he said, patting Merlin on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll think of something,” and with these encouraging words he left his chambers, saying, “I’m going to the market, I want to buy my present for Cook”.
“A whole week of polishing his armour for free? No, that’s what I’m doing already. Change places for a day? No, he wouldn’t survive for five minutes. Think, Merlin, think!”
The Yule log was burning in the hearth now, carefully tended to insure it kept on burning until it was nothing but a pile of ashes. Dozens of candles had been lit in the tree, making all the decorations sparkle like thousands of little stars, and numerous parcels, big and small, were stacked under it.
“Happy Yule,” everybody shouted and lifted their goblets to celebrate the longest night, for tomorrow the days would lengthen again, giving a little more light every day, heralding the coming of spring.
Soon one by one the gifts were opened. Cook smiled and her eyes lit up as she unwrapped a wooden ladle, highly polished and beautifully decorated with an intricate design of leaves and foliage. “Oh, I like this one,” she happily exclaimed, and Gaius beamed too.
Finally it was Arthur’s turn to open his gift. His eyes widened as he opened the box, lifting out a wooden model of Camelot. “This is beautiful,” he said as he turned model, a mere 6 inches high, in his hands for all to see. He turned it upside down and there he read: “For my friend Arthur, carved by own hand”.
“Thank you, Merlin,” Arthur whispered, for he had recognized the handwriting. Merlin said nothing, he just smiled, turning slightly red.
And from that day onwards did this little model of Camelot grace Arthur’s table in his private chambers.