In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Sertraline, King of the high elves declared war on Santa’s workshop. The conflict was inevitable. You see, in the latter half of the twentieth century, advances in communications technology helped bring people from across the world closer together.
Humans, for example, interacted with both the high elves and Santa’s elves online. Though they bore the same name, the two races were very different.
The high elves were almost identical to humans except immortal, pretentious, and better looking. Santa’s elves were jolly little folk, not even half as tall as the average human. As far as Sertraline was concerned, the only thing the two races had in common was their pointed ears.
Now, humans confused them constantly. They were always asking the high elves for cookie baking tips and handing them letters to Santa. Sertraline started dreading the Christmas season because it meant continuous misidentification. His people would spend hours writing blog posts and answering forum questions explaining the difference, but it never seemed to do any good. The humiliation continued.
At last, Sertraline decided he had to take action. So he arranged for a conference call with the queen of the Christmas elves. Sertraline was an elf of habit, so he joined the conference call using the same magical seeing stone he’d been using for the last three thousand years. The elf queen used Webex. She was a cheery little person with rosey cheeks and a long blonde braid hanging down from beneath her pointed, red hat. Her name was Cranberry Cedarpine the Amiable, but she insisted her everyone call her Cedar. She didn’t care for formalities.
When Sertraline explained the issue, she said: “It’s very considerate of you to want to resolve the confusion, but we don’t mind sharing our name.”
Sertraline explained in a long, elegant, and round-about way, that he did.
Cedar asked if Sertraline had considered changing the name of his people, to which Sertraline became indignant. The call ended with the elf king in a sour mood and nothing resolved.
He returned alone to his council chamber and paced back and forth, his brow deeply furrowed as he pondered the situation. Since Cedar was unable to see reason, it seemed the only thing he could do was declare war.
The king loathed the idea of the death and destruction that would result from such a choice, but the alternative was to be forever confused with the most annoying race of people on the planet. Because of them, the radio played the same five songs on a loop every day from November 1st through December 25th year after year. These cheery tunes bore through the skull and gnawed away at the mind. Sertraline had every radio in the palace destroyed years ago. Even so, he only had to hear one line from the window of a passing car and the whole tune would loop repeatedly in his head until he called out to Heaven, begging God for the sweet release of death.
He told himself he’d be doing society a favor by wiping the jolly, little folk off the face of the Earth. Still, he was conflicted, and debated with himself throughout the night. When morning came, he had an idea. He called Cedar again.
The king’s tone was grave. “Despite my attempt to resolve our differences peacefully, we’ve made no progress. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart, that I declare war on your people.”
Cedar sipped her hot chocolate, her cheery disposition unaffected by the king’s declaration.
“‘Kay,” was her only response.
“However, to minimize the destruction brought about by our conflict, I propose we select champions from among our warriors and have them engage in combat. If my champions are victorious, your people will have to change their name. If your people are victorious, we’ll change ours.”
“If my people are victorious,” Cedar said. “We’ll continue to share the name.”
Sertraline rolled his eyes. “Alright, we’ll share the name. There will be three contests—”
“Poetry, baking, and craftsmanship,” Cedar interjected.
“I was thinking something more lethal,” Sertraline replied.
“That’s not very nice,” Cedar observed. She pulled a book out of her pocket and scratched a note.
“You brought this upon yourselves,” Sertraline stated. “If you do not accept, we will be forced to invade the North Pole.”
“Poetry, baking, and craftsmanship,” the queen repeated. “Take it or leave it.”
She ended the call.
Sertraline sent for his generals and ordered them to prepare their troops for battle. While the army was assembling, the king sat in his council chamber scowling as he meditated upon the gravity of the situation.
“Accept her terms,” a voice demanded.
Sertraline would have jumped, but he was too dignified for such expressions of alarm. He slowly turned to see the speaker, his golden locks fluttering around his shoulders. He sighed when he recognized her.
It was Alika, the justice fairy—an imposing, immovable, force of a woman. She had a habit of showing up at inconvenient moments and telling him not to carry out his plans. She’d been doing this for as long as he was king (which was a very, very, long time).
“This is not your war,” he replied gravely. It was his way of telling her to leave.
“It is the war of every person who will suffer the devastation of your conflict, elvish or no,” she stated. “Make an enemy of the Christmas elves and you make an enemy of Santa Claus.”
“Santa Claus is no threat to me,” Sertraline grumbled.
Alika’s expression became dark. “You have no idea what Santa Claus is capable of. If you proceed, only one race of elves will remain on Earth, and it won’t be yours.”
“What kind of a king would I be, if I allowed my people to endure such humiliation?” He cried. “What would you have me do?”
“I already told you what to do,” the fairy responded. “Accept her terms. Besides, do you really think the Christmas elves could defeat you in any of the contests she suggested?”
The king thought. The greatest poems in history were written by his people (usually off the top of their heads). Their craftsmanship was also unmatched. Everything they made was beautiful, functional, and insusceptible to decay. Sertraline had been using the same sword for the last two thousand years and he never needed to have it sharpened. He’d never thought of their culinary skills specifically in relation to those of other peoples, but this was likely because he refused to eat anything that wasn’t made by elvish hands.
“Those little people have no appreciation for true artwork,” Sertraline scoffed. “They will declare themselves winners in every category though our work is objectively superior.”
“What if I were to select three unbiased judges from among non-elvish races and let them select the winners?”
“I’ll consider the matter,” he answered.
He waited twelve hours, then told Alika he would accept Cedar’s terms.
A short while later, Sertraline found himself, his family, his nobles, and the champions they’d selected, on the royal jet headed for the north pole. Elvish aircraft ran on a clean, renewable energy source they’d developed for their own use but wouldn’t share with humans because they were angry with humans for causing climate change.
When they arrived, they were greeted with cheers, red and green confetti, and cups of hot chocolate. Queen Cedar did not have a castle of her own, but instead, shared one with Santa Claus, the reindeer, and her thousands of subjects. Santa Claus was not present when Sertraline arrived. One of the little elves explained that he was speaking at a conference for holiday legends.
Sertraline and his entourage were escorted to the great hall. The king wasn’t sure where to focus his attention when he entered. He thought the walls were grey stone like those of most castles, but he couldn’t be sure because they were completely covered in greenery, tinsel, paper chains, and crystal snowflakes. A layer of Christmas trees bordered the entire room. It looked as though they had cut down a forest for the sole purpose of moving it indoors. Sertraline grumbled at their lack of respect for the environment.
“Don’t worry,” said a Christmas elf as though reading his mind. “They’re made of plastic!”
Sertraline sighed deeply. They’d end up in the ocean eventually. He was sure of it.
The Christmas elves all gathered on one side of the hall, bouncing up and down with excitement. The high elves gathered on the other side in silent anticipation. At last, Cedar herself came out to meet the king, trailed by a small entourage of little elves. She was even more adorable in person. Sertraline had to resist the urge to kick her across the room.
“You have beautiful hair!” She noticed. “It’s so soft and shiny, like in a shampoo commercial!” Her fellows all agreed—all the elves, both short and tall, agreed. Even by elvish standards, Sertraline had amazing hair. That’s why they made him king.
After exchanging greetings, Sertraline and Cedar parted and went to their places on either side of the hall.
Alika entered. The Christmas elves cheered all the louder at her arrival. She smiled slightly, then held up her hand to silence them so she could introduce the judges she’d selected.
The first was a kindly looking human elder. She fussed over the little elves that escorted her in and offered them mints from her purse.
Alika announced her as Miss Maggie of Milwaukee.
The next judge was a mermaid. She cruised through the door on a motor scooter. She was all bundled in a thick coat and snow pants (or snow pant, it only had one leg for obvious reasons.)
Alika announced her as Tivela of Atlantis.
The last judge was a fairy who clearly wasn’t phased by the cold weather. She was wearing a knee length pencil skirt and heels. She entered Santa’s hall with her eyes fixed on her phone. This was, of course, Eda the business fairy. Her previous engagement had been canceled, so she agreed to come judge the contest.
“Where you living these days, Eda?” Alika asked.
“San Jose,” Eda replied.
“Right,” Alika noted. “Our third judge is Eda of San Jose!”
The judges were seated and the first contest began. The contestants had ten minutes to write a poem of any kind.
The Christmas elves had a team of three champions, who all huddled together with pens, scratch pads, and markers.
The high elves only presented a single champion. His name was Acetaminophen. He was currently Sertraline’s favorite poet. He walked onto the floor and stood before the judges for the full ten minutes as though already prepared.
When the alarm signaled the end preparation time, the Christmas elves allowed Sertraline’s champion to go first. He spoke from the top of his head:
An elf-maid fair, afar did roam,
Without a care, for hearth and home.
Lured away by love deceiving,
Swift to obey a face so pleasing.
The headstrong child left unknowing,
Of heart defiled, love unflowing.
For rejection came no better tutor,
Than affections of her human suitor.
The poem continued to recount the story of the unfortunate elven lady and the troubles that came about because of her human lover. After thirty-six verses, he left her for a mermaid and she died of grief.
It was the most depressing poem ever recited under Santa’s roof. It made Sertraline feel miserable. He loved every word of it.
When at last Acetaminophen finished, the high elves clapped politely and the Christmas elves jumped up and down, yelling and cheering happily as though they’d forgotten he wasn’t a part of their team.
Miss Maggie was scowling as she viciously scrawled her thoughts in her notepad. Eda elbowed Tivela who was starting to doze off.
One of the three Christmas elves, introduced as Myrrhy, came forward holding a crumpled piece of looseleaf.
“Our poem is made of a series of limericks!” He explained, jittering with excitement.
Sertraline rolled his eyes. Limericks were a scourge on the art.
Myrrhy tore the paper into three pieces and handed one to each of his teammates. Then they lined up behind him. He cleared his throat and read from his paper:
There once was a fellow named Petey,
Who was nothing but wicked and greedy.
For his covetous soul,
He earned nothing but coal,
And spent the year hopeless and needy.
He high-fived both his teammates, then stepped aside to let the next elf speak:
There once was a boy named Dwayne,
He was conceited and vain,
Consumed by his pride,
‘twas alone that he died,
So stubborn he’d live so again.
The second high-fived his teammates, then stepped aside allowing the last elf to speak:
There once was a boy named Phil,
Who served others with goodness and skill,
Giving all that he had, to make others glad,
Was an excellent use of freewill.
Miss Maggie smiled as the last elf tucked the paper back into his pocket.
“That was very nice,” she said.
Alika gave the judges a moment to collect their thoughts and then called upon them one by one.
Miss Maggie explained that she was voting for the Christmas elves because Acetaminophen’s poem perpetuated an offensive stereotype. Tivela also voted for Myrrhy’s team because she’d slept through most of the first poem. Eda was torn, but in the end, settled upon the Christmas elves because: “They kept their target audience in mind.”
So the Christmas elves were declared winner of the first contest. They exploded with excitement, bouncing and hugging each other, and crying tears of joy.
Sertraline scowled. Fairies, humans, and mermaids seemed to lack appreciation for true art. But two contests remained and he felt certain the high elves would be victorious in the end.
The baking contest began. The teams were to mix their ingredients in the hall and proceed to the kitchen when they were ready to use the oven (with Alika escorting to ensure no one was cheating).
The high elves supplied a single champion for this contest also, and the Christmas elves a team of four. The Christmas elves never seemed to do anything alone. Sertraline was sure they had a hive mind.
Each side worked similarly in their respective areas. The only difference in method was that the Christmas elves used an electric mixer and the high elf used a spoon carved from the wood of an ancient elm.
When the contest was over, the Christmas elves presented the judges with a wide variety of cookies—sugar cookies for Miss Maggie, biscotti for Eda, and salmon cookies for Tivela. (These looked and tasted like salmon.)
The opposing champion presented organic, gluten free, GMO free, sugar free, flattened white octagons. The judges tried the Christmas cookies first since they looked more appetizing but were pleasantly surprised when they tried the octagons. These were light, fluffy, and subtly sweet.
Miss Maggie surprised the crowd by voting for Sertraline’s champion because she appreciated the health benefits his cookies offered. Eda also voted for the high elves because the demand for healthier alternatives to traditional desserts was growing and she thought their cookies would appeal more to modern populations. Tivela voted for the Christmas cookies. She liked the fishy taste.
Sertraline smirked. The little elves cheered just as they had before and Sertraline’s smile turned into a scowl. He wished that, just once, they’d remember this was war.
The last contest was craftsmanship. The two teams had one hour to make something of their choosing. Sertraline’s team was made up of three of his finest silversmiths. They were opposed by five Christmas elves.
The teams provided their own supplies. The high elves brought molten silver in a crockpot along with all their smithing tools. (It was a magic crockpot able to maintain a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The little elves had a bin full of wires, plastic, and other odds and ends. They also had a whiteboard and millions of sticky notes.
The high elves set to work at once. They were making something they’d made a thousand times before, so they were able to skip the planning phase and get right to work.
The little elves spent the first fifteen minutes talking among themselves, writing on stickies, and adding them to the whiteboard in neat little rows. Then they broke off and worked individually.
Three were typing away on laptops, one was assembling something from the materials in the bin, and the fifth was moving sticky notes around and calling for standup meetings every so often.
When at last the timer announced the end of the contest, it was the Christmas elves who were prepared to present first.
They gleefully handed Tivela a shiny touch screen tablet, explaining that it was completely water resistant, and could withstand pressure up to ten thousand feet below the surface of the sea.
Tivela was delighted. Most technology companies didn’t take mermaids into account. (At that very moment, her latest cell phone was sitting in a bowl of rice). Her amazement only increased when they turned on the tablet to see that the elves had programmed an online portal for submitting Christmas requests. Popular items were suggested and could be ordered with the click of a button.
The portal also had recommendations for donating to charity in the spirit of the season. They were all environmental charities focused on cleaning up the oceans and protecting endangered wildlife.
It was sleek, intuitive, and no attempt on Eda’s part could produce a bug. The Christmas elves explained that they tested it thoroughly. Eda was especially impressed with their planning, execution, and attention to detail.
The portal was even in compliance with accessibility laws, so Miss Maggie could see everything on the screen.
The high elves presented a pendant. It was designed to capture the beam of a full moon, so it could be used again during travel on moonless nights. It was one of their most popular items before the late 1800s when the flashlight was invented. Sertraline still used one.
“Oh!” Miss Maggie said. “This looks just like the one I got in Heathrow airport. That was a keychain though.”
Tivela thought it would be an excellent tool for night fishing, but Eda was less than impressed. She thought the cost of production was too high and doubted anyone would buy one when they could get a flashlight for less than a dollar.
The high elves countered saying that artificial light was useless for keeping goblins away.
“My husband is a goblin!” Miss Maggie gasped indignantly.
“My ex is a goblin,” Tivela noted. “How much do you want for this?”
Since this contest would determine the winner of the entire event, Alika called for a quick recess so the judges could deliberate.
Sertraline wasn’t worried. His people were clearly superior. They only lost the poetry contest because Acetaminophen offended one of the judges. (Humans were so sensitive.) He assured himself that if they defeated the Christmas elves in a baking contest, they could defeat them in ANY contest.
It was an agonizing fifteen minutes.
At last everyone was called back to their seats.
The vote was unanimous. The Christmas elves were declared the winners of the entire event.
Sertraline was in shock.
The contest was over, the little elves victorious. They threw a feast for their guests without a single sugar-free item available.
The elf king wandered the perimeter of the room in silence, staring vacantly as he nibbled the corner of a sugar cookie. It was sweet, too sweet, like Cedar’s personality. He hated it.
He took another bite then patted his hips to make sure they weren’t expanding.
Around the hall the high elves were talking with their small companions. There wasn’t a grim face among them. They were all sitting together making Christmas ornaments, gifts, and paper chains.
As Sertraline patrolled the room, he even saw the rival teams sitting together talking and laughing, their enmity forgotten. Acetaminophen was sitting with Myrrhy writing poems for the insides of Christmas cards. Sertraline’s craftsmen were listening to their Christmas counterparts explaining Agile Methodology, and the baking rivals were talking about how they could combine the flavor of Christmas cookies with the health benefits of elven bread.
“Perhaps you have more in common than you think?” Came Alika’s voice.
Sertraline ignored this and instead grumbled: “What did they do before the birth of Christ?”
“Don’t bring that up,” Alika said. “It’s the one thing that makes them upset.”
Sertraline thought of the humiliation his people would continue to face as a result of the outcome. He considered organizing an invasion, but when he observed the happy conversations taking place around him, he doubted his people would support it.
“How can I allow my people to continue enduring such disgrace?”
Alika glanced around the room. “I’m beginning to think the issue isn’t as important to them as it used to be.”
The elf king glared. “Who are you to tell me what is and isn’t important to my people?”
Alika raised an eyebrow and asked with a hint of a smile: “To your people or just to you?”
Sertraline went red in the face, then breathed deeply so his color returned to normal. He excused himself and left Alika, grumbling under his breath.
Some of Sertraline’s people enjoyed their visit so much, they chose to stay in the North Pole and work for Santa Claus.
And when the children of Para Sympan opened their gifts that year, some were made by the hands of Christmas elves and some were made by the hands of high elves (though I suppose technically, they were Christmas elves now too).
The new alliance increased the confusion of non-elvish people, but for the most part, the high elves no longer cared. They were proud to be associated with a people so kind and talented as their shorter brethren.
Except for old Sertraline. He returned to his palace as sour as he’d ever been and sat in his council chamber munching sugar cookies until the dreaded month of December was over.