Cinder Claws: The Caribou Legend of Kol-Klor
High Chieftain's House, Trottholm (Caribou Capital.)
Hearth's Warming Eve, three years after Rupert.
"Ah, pony friends!" The High Chieftain said, opening the door. "Come in! come in!"
"Thank you, Gunnar," Celestia said. "It's very gracious of you to let us all stay here."
"Is least can do for friends, no?" Gunnar said, motioning her and the rest of the ponies behind her to enter. "Besides, is Winter's Eve. Very scary night to be without fire and feast."
Celestia ducked her head through the door, and was followed by Luna, Twilight Sparkle, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
"Scary?" Scootaloo said, looking up to the Chieftain. "Hearth's Warming Eve is the best time of the year!"
"Ha! So you ponies say. Caribou know darker things come in winter though. Long nights not so happy in cold country."
"It gets pretty cold in Equestria too," Sweetie Belle said. "That's why it's Hearth's Warming Eve."
"Ja ja, happy friendship times. Gunnar know your pony story. But Caribou know real reason for fire in winter is keep Kol-Klor away!"
"Kol-Klor?" Apple Bloom asked, "Who's that?"
"You don't know of Kol-Klor?" Gunnar put on his best look of shock and turned to Twilight and the Princesses. "You take three fillies on overseas trip for education, yet they not know of Kol-Klor? This cannot stand!"
Luna smiled. She'd of course heard the legend many times, as had her sister. The Princesses probably knew it better than Gunnar himself did, as they'd lived through the evolution of the legend, and heard variations around the world and through the years. But Gunnar liked to tell stories.
Putting on a mock affront of her own, Luna responded. "My dear Gunnar, we knew we could never do the story justice, and so we waited until they could hear it from a great Caribou storyteller such as yourself."
"Gunnar thinks Moonpony may be trying flatter him."
"And would such flattery be working?"
"It better not be!" said a new voice, entering the great room from a side hall. "At least if he knows what's good for him!"
"Helga," Celestia said, smiling and walking to greet Gunnar's wife. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
"You as well, Princess," Helga then turned to Luna, "and Princess," then to Twilight, "and... Princess?"
"Oh, yes," Celestia said. "Allow me to introduce Princess Twilight Sparkle."
Twilight stepped forward and bowed. "A joy to finally meet you, umm... Highness?"
Helga chuckled. "Just 'Helga' will be fine, deary."
"All friends, ja?" Gunnar said. "Drop silly title business. You ponies have too many 'Princess' anyway."
Laughing gently, Twilight said, "Yeah, it is getting a bit confusing. Cadance and I have actually been meaning to talk to you about that, Celestia. Remind me when we get home."
Celestia quirked an eyebrow at that, but filed away her questions for later like Twilight suggested.
Luna stepped over to Helga, giving her a hug. "It's good to see you again, Helga."
"You too, Luna," Helga said, returning the hug, then stepping back to look at the three fillies. "And I assume you three must be the infamous 'Cutie Mark Crusaders' Gunnar has told me about?"
"Uh, yes ma'am," Apple Bloom said. "That's us. My name's Apple Bloom, and these are mah friends Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle."
Helga smiled at the three. "Gunnar's told me quite some tall tales about the three of you. I thought he'd just gotten into the applejack again, until Luna and Celestia confirmed it."
"Applejack?" Apple Bloom said. "What's this got to do with mah sister?"
Helga looked confused, and Twilight stepped in. "Umm, no, she means the beverage."
"There's a drink called applejack?"
"Ja," Gunnar said. "Is most excellent drink! Like cider, but more fire!"
"Really?" Apple Bloom said, excited. "What's in it? Can I try some?"
"I... I don't think that'd be a good idea," Twilight said.
"Well, you know how there's different kinds of cider?"
"Yeah, we got all kinds on the farm."
"Well, some cider is only for grown ups because it makes ponies act a bit silly when they drink too much of it and—"
Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. "I ain't a little kid anymore, Twilight. Ah know what alcohol is. I just didn't know there was a kind called applejack."
Gunnar burst into laughter, and slapped Twilight on the back. "Is danger with little ones," he said conspiratorially, "they turn into big ones before you know what happen, ja?"
Twilight blushed, and overcompensated in her recovery. "Well, yes then, there is a type called that. Applejack is a liquor made by freeze distilling hard cider, removing the water, and thus increasing the alcohol concentration several fold."
Apple Bloom smirked. "Haha... mah sister is named after booze! Gonna have so much fun with that when ah get home." Sweetie and Scootaloo smiled as well, easily imagining how annoyed Applejack would be.
Gunnar looked at his wife. "See, I warn, these three fillies big trouble. Clever, clever ponies. No wonder it take three alicorn escort just for field trip."
"Yes dear, I'm sure that's exactly why the Princesses are here."
"Yet, so clever, and not know Kol-Klor!"
"Your story can wait until after dinner, dear. Let's let our guests get settled. The kids will love to hear you tell the story again too, and they should be home by then."
"Yes," Celestia said. "I wouldn't mind a chance to clean up after that long train ride."
"Come," Helga said. "I'll show you all to your rooms."
Being the High Chieftain, Gunnar had a rather large long-house in the center of Trottholm, and the guest accommodations were abundant. Helga showed the adults to their individual rooms, and then took the Crusaders down a small side hall.
"I hope this room is okay for you," she said. "Luna told me you three might prefer to share a room, and I know my own two always love to borrow the bunk rooms when they have friends stay the night, but if you'd rather have normal guest rooms, we can do that too."
The three fillies looked at the room, and saw it contained beds for six ponies, stacked three high against each wall. Unlike most bunk beds they'd seen before though, these were sized for adult caribou or ponies, meaning the top bunk was nearly a dozen feet off the ground. Combined with the ladders and rails, it made the entire room look almost like a jungle gym.
"Awesome!" Scootaloo said, flying up to the top bunk. "I've never seen a bed so high up in a ground house before!"
"Yeah," Sweetie Belle said, teleporting to the other top bunk. "Almost reminds me of being on the porch at the top of Rupert.
Apple Bloom, still on the ground, looked up at Helga. "Yeah," she said, smiling at the antics of her friends. At least they weren't jumping on the beds yet, she thought. "I think we'll be fine here."
"Well, the bathroom is back down the hall where I showed you. We've got water straight from the hot springs, so just look for the door with the steam if you forget. Dinner will be in about an hour."
"Thank you, ma'am!" Apple Bloom said, then nodded toward her friends, who now were jumping on the beds. "I'll try and keep 'em corralled a bit too."
Helga chuckled as she left.
"Girls!" Twilight called a third time. "Dinner!"
The three Crusaders had been hard at work. They'd moved the two stacks of beds together, making a single tower in the center of the high-ceilinged bunk room. From that, they'd draped blankets and other linens, resulting in a reasonable facsimile of a castle keep. From there, there'd been attempts at building cushion catapults, and other upholstery-based siege weapons. When they finally heard Twilight though, the thought of dinner quickly took over, and all battle plans were abandoned. The three quickly scurried out the door and to the main hall.
"Ah, there they are," Helga said, as the fillies entered to find a table set with a massive meal. "Means our two are now the tardy ones. I told them to be home early, but they never listen."
There was a rush of cold wind as a door was opened at the far end of the hall.
"Ah, speaking of..." Helga said, standing to go meet her children at the door. The ponies remaining at the table couldn't help but overhear the conversation. "No, no, Blitzen, how many times do I have to tell you, shake the snow off outside!"
"Sorry," Blitzen said, reluctantly.
"And Donner, go scrape your hooves off again. You're tracking snow everywhere."
Sweetie Belle leaned over to whisper to the other two Crusaders. "She sounds just as persnickety as Rarity."
Helga finished getting her kids inside, then ushered them toward the table. "Yes, well... Now that everypony is here, allow me to introduce my two forgetful children." She nudged the two forward in front of the Princesses. "The eldest is my daughter, Donner. And the soaking wet one is my son, Blitzen."
"Donner, Blitzen," Helga continued. "This is Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and Princess Twilight Sparkle."
"Umm... hello," Donner said quietly, hanging her head to avoid eye contact with anypony.
"Hiya!" Blitzen said, his eyes darting around to everypony in the room, before stopping on the Crusaders at the far end of the table. "Who're you?"
The three trotted around the table and introduced themselves.
"Awesome!" Blitzen said. "We hardly ever get visitors with kids my age."
"Ja," Gunnar said. "Is true. Most visitors diplomats. Not bring kids to cold, far side of world from homes."
"Yeah," Blitzen said. "Last time was like years ago. Some zebra had her son with her. He was cool enough I guess, but he always talked funny and didn't really like the snow much. Do you guys like building snow forts?"
"Yeah, we love forts!" Scootaloo said, "You should see the one we built already!"
Sweetie elbowed her. Technically, they were guests in what amounted to a Caribou palace. She wasn't exactly sure how the adults would feel about their "redecorating."
"What?" Scootaloo said. "It's awesome! He should see it."
"Nevermind," Sweetie said, realizing the adults weren't asking questions.
"Okay children," Helga said. "You can all go out and play tomorrow. For now, it's time to sit down and enjoy the feast."
Looking at the table, the Crusaders had assumed a lot more must be joining, rather than just Gunnar and his family. There was enough food to feed a small army they thought. But it was good, and so no need to complain. As the meal wound down though, and there were still mountains of food left, Twilight stood, and offered to help in starting to put the leftovers away and clear the table.
"No no," Gunnar said, mouth still full of bread. "Feast must stay."
"I'm... not sure I understand." Twilight said.
Gunnar finished chewing, took a drink of wine, then tried again. "Is Winter's Eve tradition. Feast must be left overnight, plenty food, distract Kol-Klor if fire go out."
While Luna and Celestia understood, Twilight and the Crusaders were all a bit confused. Twilight tilted her head, her confusion the most obvious.
"Yes yes, I forget you not know story," Gunnar said. "You hear now? Is good time, no?"
"You guys haven't heard the story of Kol-Klor?" Blitzen said, eyes wide. "Oh, dad tells it best. You gotta hear it!"
"Ha ha," Gunnar laughed. "Is good, have son who like hear your stories, ja? What about you, my dearest daughter. You like hear story?"
"Umm," Donner said, her voice still meek. "It's... well it's not my favorite. It's sort of scary."
"Nonsense!" Gunnar said. "Is good story, with good ending. Good guys win, no?"
"Yes, but... the stuff before that. It's not very nice."
Gunnar turned to the fillies. "What about you? Want to hear Caribou legend of Kol-Klor, or you not like scary story too?"
"I'm not scared of any story!" Scootaloo said with confidence, though in the back of her mind was the memory of a particular camping trip some years prior.
"I do like hearin' stories." Apple Bloom said. "Can't say I favor the scary ones, but don't mind 'em either I suppose."
Blitzen then turned to Sweetie Belle. "What about you? You scared like my sister?"
Sweetie was taken aback by the sudden attention. The caribou was really enthusiastic, and seemed to have focused a lot of that enthusiasm on her throughout the meal. She wasn't sure why, but for some reason, she didn't want to disappoint him. "Umm, okay, sure!"
"Donner, you stay for story?" Gunnar said, his tone softer now. "I make less scary this time if you want stay."
Donner looked up at her father. "Really?"
"Yes, if you want stay. I want you like story too. Take out more scary bits if you want."
"Okay... I guess I'll stay."
"Good good!" Gunnar said. "Is perfect, all foals hear story on Winter's Eve, as should be."
Helga stood up. "No offense dear, but I've heard this one enough times. I'm going to get started with the dishes."
"Luna and I shall help," Celestia said, standing as well. "Give us girls a chance to catch up while you entertain the foals."
Twilight looked back and forth between Gunnar and Celestia. She didn't want to be rude and avoid helping, but she wanted to hear the story as well, even if it was meant for foals.
Celestia saw the hesitation, and, smiling, provided an out. "Twilight, would you mind helping Gunnar keep an eye on our young charges?"
"Oh," Twilight said. "Umm, of course!"
"Okay, so..." Gunnar began, shifting into his favorite persona of storyteller.
Once upon a time... is how you ponies start stories, yes? Well, yes, long ago, there was big war. Griffins and Caribou fought over land in north. War was ugly, bitter. But great warriors on both sides. Also, not so great warriors.
One warrior, he griffin general. Good at war, but not good at... not good in heart. He betray his side for gold. Other griffins find out though. Fight long, bloody battle, hunt him down.
They take betrayer, take him to judgment, take him to interrogate. He not talk though. But other griffins determined, must make him talk. They start with small things. With poking, with needles, with knives. General still not talk. They move to bigger things. It... it get ugly. Still not talk though. They cut off beak, they pull out feathers, they pull out fur. He spit in faces. They burn him. Fur, feathers, never grow back. They cut off wings, make hideous. Still no talk. Interrogators give up, roll betrayer in tar, light on fire, toss over wall of keep to die.
Some say he die there, buried in snow. Others say no, make deal with evil, keep life, and wander into snow on own. Nopony know for sure. But no one see for all spring. No one see in summer, or fall. But next winter, on longest night, all those who interrogate found dead in morning. Bodies burned to char, pieces missing. No sign of intruder, save black claw marks on wall and floors.
That how Kol-Klor born, or as pony words say, "Cinder Claws." But Kol-Klor still hunger, evil not finished with only revenge. Kol-Klor returns to snow and tundra, hides and sleeps under ice until next year, when on longest night, rises again. Now, looking for hunt, looking for prey. Goes to village, uses evil magic to keep all asleep. Next day, foals missing. In one house, warm caps, other clothes, hung by fire to dry. Those of missing foal, now filled with charcoal. Parents look closer at coal, find is burned flesh of missing foal. Parents sad, very sad, but no one believe. In old times, winter harsh, many foals lost in storm, in snow, in nights. Say parents make excuse. Foal just lost. Happen all the time. Is sad, but is known.
Later years go by, Kol-Klor take foals from other villages, all over world. No one notice pattern at first, no one know how he move. But he careless, some start to see. Make glimpses, see shape on roof, see face in snow. Dots connected, stories grow. The legend of Kol-Klor begins.
A hideous creature, deformed, burned. They see shape on roof, wears blood soaked fur and skin of foals. Must, only way stay warm. Own scarred skin bare, no fur, no feathers to keep warm. Beak missing, no eat food like normal, must char, must cook and swallow whole. Claws burned too, charred, twisted. But that not why called Kol-Klor. No, is because how he get foals. Kol-Klor clever, with wings missing, he climb down chimney, through soot and cinder. Claws covered in ash, leave marks.
When get in home, dark magic keep parents asleep. Kol-Klor take foals, some he kill, roast in own fireplace, leave burn bones in stockings and caps by fire. Others, he take with him. Lost wings, can't fly, so force foals to carry him. If young one can't fly, then kills and wears skin. Some say see Caribou in reins, pulling sled in sky. Caribou once called reindeer by griffin as insult in old wars. When see caribou in reins, pull sled now, is horrible sight for these.
You understand? Is bad, bad stuff this Kol-Klor does. Then one day, family wake up, see claw marks leaving chimney. Much worry, run to foal. Foal safe, sleeping still. Thankful, return downstairs, find food from feast, left out on counter, all missing. Grateful parents, tell others. Food distract Kol-Klor.
Word spread. Fire most important on Winter's Eve. Must not let go out, keep Kol-Klor from entering through chimney. Also, leave out feast. If fire do go out, he eat that, not children. Then, if foals still there in morning, is cause for celebration, is cause for gifts and joy. If not though... is coal in stockings. Is very sad, coal. Gunnar knows ponies think joke. Is bad child? Let fire go out, forgot leave cookies? Then find coal in cap by fire for being naughty, ha ha. No, is worse. Let fire go out, forget feast? Find charred bones of child himself in cap.
Caribou all learn importance of fire, of feast left out. Sightings of Kol-Klor continue, but is fatter, is slower. Feasts make creature slow, only catches most foolish now. Doesn't fit in some chimneys. But some foals still caught. Some say many reindeer now pull sled. Take eight caribou slaves, pull fat creature in blood-soaked fur. Say why taken not escape? Why they no leave when Kol-Klor sleeps?
Then foals found dead one year in spring, in tundra far from village. Finders remember, was foals taken by Kol-Klor. Many guesses made. Most say evil storms, evil magics, make taken ones lost. Kol-Klor sleeps, but in blizzard, in tundra, foals not know way home. Die lost in storm. Is sad, know foals escape evil, only die in snow.
But story not end there. No, is not proper story without hero. And hero come in form of Caribou foal. This foal, not like others. Had proper name, but lost to time. Other foals all call him Röd Näsa. That's "Red Nose" in pony. This is teasing name, is mocking. Ponies, when do magic, you have horns glow. Caribou, our magic is antlers. But not Red Nose. His magic strange, make nose glow red when use. Is weird though, so is mocked as foal, called Röd Näsa instead of actual name.
Red Nose have good parents, know well fire and feast. But something go wrong. Red Nose wake up Winter's Eve, hear noise. He go downstairs, find door open, fire out. Some animal stole food for feast too. Red Nose struggle to light fire, but is wet, covered in snow. Fire won't light. Then he see soot fall down chimney. Is Kol-Klor.
Red Nose yell, but evil magic keep others asleep. He try to fight, but Kol-Klor strong, take Red Nose, tell him pull sleigh or he kill. Red Nose agree. Find others in reins, already taken. They pull through night, Kol-Klor look for chimney where no smoke. Find few, search long time, all night. Finally land at one, stop on roof, Kol-Klor order wait, he go eat.
While wait, Red Nose talk to other foals, most scared, too scared talk. He see two he know. These two, siblings. Called Donner and Blitzen, used to laugh at Red Nose, call him names. But now is serious, they at least ignore fear, can talk. Red nose have plan, he know Kol-Klor sleep soon, when sun come up. He tell others, keep Kol-Klor lost, keep from finding other victims. Maybe escape at dawn, if not, at least stop others getting eaten.
Plan works, Kol-Klor not take anymore foals that night. Dawn come, order captives head into wilderness. Over tundra, magic evil storm come up, winds swirl everywhere, lose sight of all. Kol-Klor give directions, continue in storm. Caribou confused, lost, no know even up from down.
Kol-Klor finally say set down. Storm still big. His furs, already fresh, his belly, already full. He digs cave in snow, buries self for next year. Goes deep, not be found while sleep. Not wake for year. Not worry about Caribou. Know storm make lost, all freeze, die, none ever find him while sleep.
But Kol-Klor not count on Red Nose though. No, Red Nose have special talent. Always knows where at. Did not know talent before, but, like ponies find mark, Caribou too find talent when is most needed. We have other name for Red Nose now, we have hero name. Today, Red Nose called "The Navigator." But he not know is special talent then, just feel he know way home. Red Nose convince others follow him. Most not believe he know way, or say is wrong way. Flying in storm, many lost, decide take own way. Donner and Blitzen trust though, believe in Red Nose, follow.
Belief is right, Red Nose find way out of storm, find way home. Parents of Donner and Blitzen, so glad, find lost foals returned. Had found claw marks at morning, seen fires out, had known children lost for good. Red Nose own parents, same way. Too much joy, too happy. First foals ever escape Kol-Klor.
That alone, happy ending. That alone, earn hero name, Navigator. But Red Nose do one better. He tell fellows, he tell village... he tell them he navigate back. He know where Kol-Klor sleep. He find again, warriors follow. Take evil where sleeps.
Adults not believe. Kol-Klor not seen by them. Say foals just lost in storm, make up story. Parents believe, but few else. But Donner and Blitzen, they say true. Other foals believe stories, see Red Nose now friends with ones that used to tease. Know too, own friends taken. Older foals make plans, take axes from woodsheds, take knives from kitchens, hide shields in snow forts.
Icy night, early spring, few months later. Dozen foals, led by Navigator march out of town. Go north, into tundra. Glints of steel sparkle under moonlight. Red Nose skill hold true. Find spot, but look like rest of snow. How know right spot? But Donner, Blitzen, they trust, start digging. Others join. Finally hit softness. Find Kol-Klor, sleeping deep. His clothes, soaked blood, frozen stiff. Pull from snow. Not sure if he alive. Then see breath. Like bear, sleep through winter, only breathe very slow. Foals all gather round, look at hideous creature, at evil. Then axe get raised, and work begin.
When finished, nothing left of Kol-Klor. Is chopped in tiny bits. Some say he wake as it start, some say many screams. Foals return to village, soaked with blood. They not say. Just say job done. Say do what parents not. Parents finally believe. Other parents, lost foals before, glad for revenge. Parents give axes, tell own children is good to protect others.
Now Caribou all give foal axe when reach certain age. Tell them protect others, be worthy. Be like Navigator, like Donner, like Blitzen. Be Caribou!
Gunnar finished the story by thumping his hoof on the table to accentuate the final sentence.
"Is good story, no?" he said.
"It's certainly... interesting," Twilight said. "I assume your own children are named for the two in the story?"
"Ja. Named for faithful friends of Navigator. Named for Caribou who believed."
"Thanks for leaving out the scarier parts," Donner said. "It didn't sound so bad this time."
Gunnar smiled at this daughter. "Good to hear!"
"I thought it was great!" Scootaloo said. "It's got a lot more actions than the Hearth's Warming story."
"What'd you think?" Blitzen asked, face uncomfortably close to Sweetie Belle.
"Well," she said. "It's an interesting legend."
"Yeah!" Blitzen said, his excitement still high. "I can't wait to get my own axe!"
"Gifts are in morning," Gunnar said. "If you not get coal in stocking."
"Awww, but that's forever away. I'm not even close to tired."
"How about you kids all go play for a bit," Helga said, coming back into the room. "Let us grown ups have some time to talk about grown up things?"
Apple Bloom was about to object again that they weren't kids anymore, and could participate in adult conversations, but the thought was quickly ruined by Scootaloo. "Yeah, we've got this awesome fort we built. We can have cushion wars!" Apple Bloom couldn't stay upset for long though. After all, they did have a pretty cool fort to show off.
"So, what happened to your foot?" Blitzen asked Sweetie, as they headed down the hallway with the other youngsters. "I mean, I hope you don't mind me asking. Mom always said it's rude to point out things like that, so I didn't want to say anything during dinner, but I've never seen a pony with a metal leg before."
Sweetie shook her head at the word count. She suspected this kid could give Pinkie Pie a run for her money when it came to run-on sentences. "Uh, no, I don't mind you asking."
"So, what's up with that then?"
"Heh, well. It's kind of a long story. To start with, I'm not a normal pony. I'm actually—"
"Woah!" Blitzen cut her off as they entered the bunk room and he saw the massive fort they'd constructed. "That's awesome." He ran and jumped onto the first level, then quickly scrambled up the ladder to the top. Sweetie, still standing in the doorway, realized he could probably challenge Pinkie for shortest attention span too.
The ponies and caribou spent the rest of the evening playing various games of conquest, target practice, and tag with the fort and through the other halls. Eventually though, both Twilight and Helga insisted it really was bed time, and forced the youngsters to dismantle the fort and return it to something at least resembling beds. As any parent knows, this sort of things is difficult at the best of times, but was easier this one day of the year, when the lure of presents in the morning made even the most hyperactive of foals eager to fall asleep.
"Presents!" shouted Blitzen, leaping out of bed the moment his eyes opened and galloping to the main hall.
It took another twenty minutes for him to wake up the rest of the household, the adults grumbling about it far more than the foals. Eventually though, everypony was assembled near the fire in the main hall.
Gunnar smiled, despite the lack of sleep showing in his eyes. The eagerness of his son was infectious.
"If you promise, sit quiet for rest," Gunnar said to his son, "then I let you open one first."
"I promise!" Blitzen quickly said.
Gunnar moved to the pile of wrapped presents, and selected one, giving it to his son. Blitzen tore into it, removing the paper with the speed only a child on Winter's Morn could possess.
"An axe!" Blitzen cried, holding up his present. "I knew it!"
"Is not just axe," Gunnar said. "Remember that. Is symbol. Is now your job protect others. Protect weak, help keep all safe. Promise me?"
Nodding rapidly, Blitzen said, "I promise!"
"Also, no chopping trees in yard, ja?"
"But nothing," Helga said. "You heard your father. Now hear your mother. I don't want you doing anything with that axe without asking first, okay?"
Blitzen hung his head, but nodded. "Yes, mother."
"Good." Gunnar took another gift, and went to his daughter. She was the older sibling, and traditionally, she should have gotten an axe first, or at least at the same time. The small package Gunnar gave her could not hold anything near the size of an axe however.
Unwrapping it, Donner found that the present was a book. Opening it and leafing through it, she saw it was a botany catalog, describing thousands of species of flowers, trees, grasses, and other plants. She'd fallen in love with botany a few years prior, and read everything she could in the libraries. But they didn't let her take any of the books into the field, and the librarians always frowned anytime she tried to bring dirty and pollen-covered plants into the library.
She ran and hugged her father. "Oh thank you! I was so worried you were going to give me an axe."
"That is your axe," Gunnar said, returning the hug, then looking his daughter in the eyes. "Not all weapons steel. Sharp mind often times more important than sharp blade. You learn, always keep learning. Learn help others with knowledge. Learn make world better. Maybe one day, enough sharp minds, world not need sharp axes."
Donner smiled, hugging her father again, then sitting down to leaf through the book further.
"Now, who next?" Gunnar said, enjoying his role as gift-giver as he selected another package. "Yes, Scootaloo."
"What?" Scootaloo said. "For me?"
"Ja, of course. Rude if not have gift for guest, no?"
"I umm... but I didn't bring any for you."
Celestia chuckled. "It's okay, Scootaloo. Luna and I brought enough gifts to go around. You weren't expected to bring anything."
"Oh, I guess that's okay then," Scootaloo said, reaching for the box, having no idea what it could be. After she'd opened it though, she still had no idea.
"Is sunstone," Gunnar explained. "Hold in sunlight, it break light, make rainbow. According to legend, is what Bifrost is made from."
Scootaloo held the vaguely translucent stone up to the light. Sure enough, a rainbow pattern appeared and shifted when she twisted it to different angles.
"I hope is good gift," Gunnar continued. "Was not sure what to select, but was reminded of brother in law story, about you cracking sky."
"It's great," Scootaloo said. "Thank you!"
Gunnar grabbed another package. "Now for Apple Bloom. You, I had no idea. Tree great story, not so great gift I could think of. So I cheat, ask Sunpony for advice." Gunnar looked at Celestia, who just shook her head and smiled as Apple Bloom started to unwrap her gift. "So, she say you like dragonstone you saw in Canterlot. Say you ask many question on how work, how use, how far, and other smartpony questions."
"No way!" Apple Bloom said. "A dragonstone? For me?"
"Ja, of course for you. But is... What smart ones call it? Is 'beta model', yes. Is large, but work same."
"Wow, thank ya so much!" Apple Bloom said. "What channels does it do?"
"Gunnar is Chieftain. That mean he get to leave detail to smart ponies like you, ja? Not have to know what 'channel' even is."
"I'm sure we can weave in whatever extra channels it might need," Twilight said.
Apple Bloom nodded. There was an entire team of unicorns in Canterlot that had been working to develop the old caribou dragon stones into modern communication devices. It wouldn't be too hard to get extra spell channels woven in if they were missing.
"Now, one more filly," Gunnar said, reaching for the next present.
"I'll take this one, dear," Helga said, putting her hoof gently on top of his, and taking the gift from him to present to Sweetie Belle.
Sweetie Belle took the box and unwrapped it, extracting a small trellis with three crystal bells hanging from it.
"Wow, it's beautiful," Sweetie said, admiring the craftsponyship.
"It's called a trebelle," Helga said. "I heard about your beautiful voice, and remembered seeing one of these years ago when I was little and a famous singer was visiting. The bells are enchanted."
"What's the enchantment do?"
"The bells have a spell on them to resonate with a nearby voice. Each is tuned to a different pitch, so one singer can effectively provide her own multi-part harmony."
"Give it a try!" Scootaloo said.
Sweetie looked uncertain.
"Go ahead, dear," Helga urged. "It's meant to be used."
Sweetie Belle took a few deep breaths while she thought of a song to try. Deciding on a classic winter carol, she opened her mouth and began to sing. True to its promise, the trebelle seemed to multiply her voice, filling the entire hall with a sound closer to that of a full choir than that of a single pony. The others sat transfixed, even those that had heard Sweetie sing multiple times before.
When she finished, there was a long silence, and just the soft crackling of the fire to be heard. Then Gunnar spoke up. "Ah ha! It is Winter's Morn Miracle! Finally, something discovered, make Blitzen sit still for more than five second!"
"Awww, daaddd..." Blitzen moaned, as Gunnar stood and ruffled his head fur with a hoof, before turning toward the table. "Wait, where are you going, dad? There's still more presents!"
"Foals all have present. Is good enough. Grown ups get presents later. Right now, Gunnar need breakfast!"
"Sunpony need breakfast too!" Celestia said, aping Gunnar's accent as she stood to join him. Twilight's eyes went wide at the potential insult she'd just heard. She looked at Luna, to make sure she wasn't the only one. Luna just winked though. "Moonpony need food badly," she said, before following the others to the table. Twilight's jaw dropped, and she stood there, dumbfounded to hear both Princesses openly mocking their host.
Gunnar though, he simply laughed and laughed. "Ho ho ho!"