The town of Coventry sits high on a plateau in the Northern Mountains, beneath the majestic Snowblind Peak. Situated near the mid-point of a long and treacherous mountain pass, the village is host to a constant supply of wayfarers. The several hundred residents who call Coventry home might hunt and even farm during the summer, but most will spend their time bartering with travelers for food and clothing. Come winter, such necessities will be worth their weight in gold.
And yet, even in the darkest night of the harshest winter, the eyes of the village children twinkle with giddy delight. For they know of a mystic secret native to only their town. That on every twenty-fourth night of the last month of the year, a very magical event will occur…
In truth, the village of Coventry first gained its name from a monastery that once stood high near the summit of Snowblind Peak. Home to a seclusionist sect of clerics, this monastery would send a caravan down to the village every week or two.
The most beloved of those from the monastery was one Father Nicholas, who was well-known for his love of children. Short, somewhat fat, and always dressed in his red cleric’s tunic, Father Nicholas could never pass a child without giving them a candy, some fruit, or even a simple toy he’d crafted himself. His heart was eternally good and generous.
Some of the local legends surrounding Father Nicholas border on the fanciful. One tale, so it goes, tells of a particularly-harsh winter, where many had run out of food. One villainous butcher decided to lure three boys into his shop, where he dismembered them and placed their pieces in a pot, intending to sell them as ham. Fortunately, his god informed Father Nicholas of the evil deed, and the man was apprehended. However, Father Nicholas also said a prayer over the remains of the poor urchins, and they rose, whole and resurrected, from the pot.
Sadly, Father Nicholas was taken before his time.
One night, on the twenty-fourth day of the last month of the year, a fell blizzard engulfed the town of Coventry. Ice crystals stung like needles, sleet left marks like claws along the walls, and many swore they could hear unearthly shrieks and murmurings upon the wind.
Then, from out of the storm, new shapes appeared–horrible, twisted, and hungering. Flinging the adults aside with infernal strength, these fiends scrabbled after the wailing children, catching them up and stuffing them inside blood-soaked sacks.
But if there was to be salvation, it would not be from the monastery. A sudden and horrible earthquake unleashed an avalanche from the top of Snowblind Peak. Washing down over the stone mountain face, it completely buried both the monastery and obliterated all traces of the mountain path. The townsfolk wailed when they realized the fate of those inside.
And yet, just when all hope seemed lost, a new figure burst from the blizzard winds, riding a fiery chariot pulled by flying mares. Father Nicholas’s mighty voice rang out again above the din, and the fiends cowered in fear.
You might find this village a bit much to chew;
For I guard these children, and I’ll finish you!
My fist’s in your face like a big cannon ball!
So dash away, dash away, dash away all!
(Some versions of this story insist the Father used words that were less chaste. Whatever the truth of the matter, the winds instantly broke on his command.)
There was some idle speculation on this new Father Nicholas. Perhaps it was his soul, carrying on his love and generosity after death. Perhaps it was even the gods themselves, honoring his memory with an angel of protection. But no one argues that not a single misfortune has befallen their town since the day he first appeared. And on every twenty-fourth night of the last month of the year, on the sad anniversary of Father Nicholas’s death, his merry spirit can still be seen making its way through the sky…seated in a sleigh pulled by flying horses and shouting well-wishes to those below.
And the next morning, every child will awaken to fruit, candy, and small toys in their stockings.