I hope you had a fantastic Christmas Day with loved ones, enjoyed watching them open the presents you had chosen and wrapped (and received some great presents too), and indulged a little (or a lot) in amazing food and drink. I am feeling blessed that I got to do all of that again this year, as every year - something I am conscious I never want to take for granted.
So now it's Boxing Day, a day for chilling out and relaxing after a hectic few days - unless you're heading out to the sales (good luck) or embarking on Christmas dinner round 2 (enjoy). I woke up this morning and found myself thinking about Toby Gentle, the main character in C.G. Hickling's Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin, and how he spends Boxing Day.
In the book, he has just spent Christmas Day with his new GAGs (Government Assigned Guardians) in the great Vallowen city of Bario's Gate - and it proves to be a very different day to the ones he has spent on Bluebell Farm with the Gentles. Toby gets overwhelmed and confused by it all, as I'm sure many children in foster care at this time of year experience. When he wakes up on Boxing Day, he is told that the family are going to the Sentinels' Bout - a McKinsey tradition. It's a boxing match of sorts, and a great visual chapter in the book. As a little treat, I thought I would include an extract in this post for you:
"... Toby studied the ticket Tyra had given him. It read Championship Bout: Odious Kemp vs. Vladislav Jiganov. Donny explained that there were some minor fights first, before the championship match – Wangdak vs. Cambrian and Ritter vs. Flanagan.
‘Is that the Jiganov?’ Toby asked Dash, ‘The puzzle maker?’
‘No, you mean his brother Yuri Jiganov – he’s over there,’ Dash pointed to the box opposite.
Crammed inside were three large people, a man in an expensive looking suit, a boy (in a matching suit) and a woman in a long fur coat. Below them, the crowd began to chant Knock his block off, Jiganov and Vlad the Bad. ‘No one seems to be cheering for the other one,’ Toby observed.
‘They wouldn’t be,’ Donny answered, ‘he’s a first rate scum bag – eats garlic sandwiches and raw onions like they’re apples!’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because he’s my Fitness instructor at Silverbells ... oh and he’ll be yours next week too!’
Toby turned his attention to the stage where Tyra Newland now stood resplendent in her purple suit. She opened out her arms as if she were going to embrace the whole room and the golden flecks in her eyes dazzled in the lights. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,’ Tyra’s voice boomed around the hall and the audience hushed immediately. ‘Happy Boxing Day!’ she shouted and the crowd exploded into cheers. ‘Welcome to the Ellora Hall for our annual Sentinels’ World Championship Bout!’ Another cheer erupted and Toby found himself clapping too. A bubble of excitement filled his belly.
‘Robert would love this –’ Toby found himself shouting to Dash across the din.
‘What?’ Dash shouted back. ‘Can’t hear you!’
‘Never mind.’ Toby mouthed. He hated how he couldn’t share this new world with his brothers and sisters back on Bluebell Farm and wondered what they would be doing at that moment. Had it only been two days? Tyra’s bellowing voice shook him from his thoughts.
‘Without further ado, let me introduce our first contest. Hailing from the mysterious peaks of the Tibetan mountains … fast as an arrow, strong as a lion … Tashia Wangdak!’
There was a clash of cymbals and then a woman in a golden jumpsuit cartwheeled down the aisle leading to the stage. As the audience screamed their appreciation, Wangdak performed graceful acrobatic moves, leaping and spinning and landing at last on the green canvas platform. She ended her routine by doing the splits.
‘Ooooh –’ the McKinsey box groaned.
‘And her opponent, from the ancient Inuit wastes of Northern America … his companions are bears and his neighbours are Ye’ti … it’s Ulva Cambrian!’ Tyra roared.
The lights flicked out to gasps from the audience and then a large moon-like orb hung in the air above the stage. A long and mournful howl pierced the nervous silence, and was answered by another howl just beneath the box. Soon it sounded as though an entire pack of wolves had filled the arena. Their calls made the hair on the back of Toby’s neck stand on end.
As the house lights came back on, another figure had appeared on the stage the other side of Tyra – a very large man dressed in skins and fur with eyes so red they seemed to shine. The crowd went wild. ‘Prepare to fight!’ Tyra shouted. Two smaller men, one in gold and one in skins, rushed onto the stage and wrapped the competitors’ fists in black strips of cloth. They squirted water into their mouths from leather bottles, looked them in the eye, and slapped their faces.
‘What are they doing?’ Toby asked Dash.
‘Psyching them up,’ he said, ‘getting them ready to fight!’
A bell rang and suddenly the fight began. Cambrian, the larger of the two, stood motionless in the middle of the stage, his huge muscled legs bent at the knees, and his fists covering his face. Wangdak, however, was moving around him in swift circles. She slung the first punch, but a forearm block from Cambrian deflected it easily. Then the big man lunged forward with a mighty swing, which missed as the Tibetan leapt over his head and landed behind him.
‘Ooooh –’ the crowd cried in appreciation.
But Cambrian spun – quicker than Toby thought his bulk would let him – and delivered a right hook on his opponent’s nose. A stream of blood splattered down onto the canvas and Toby winced. The fight continued with Wangdak’s elegant footwork and Cambrian’s power-packed swings until the bell rang again. The two fighters, exhausted and panting, collapsed onto corner stools and the two small men came back onto the stage to attend to them with towels and bottled water.
They fought two more rounds until Cambrian smacked Wangdak in the chin with a bone-crunching uppercut. She flew over the ropes and into the crowd. Cheers erupted around the room and Cambrian was hailed the winner. The lights went out for a second, a wolf howled, and when they came on again the winner had disappeared. ‘How does he do that?’ Toby gasped.
‘A little bit of snowcraft and a little bit of theatrics I expect,’ Pa replied. ‘Great isn’t it?’
‘Amazing!’ Toby couldn’t stop grinning.
Below them, a very tall man scrubbed the stage whilst Tyra addressed the crowd. Toby didn’t hear what she was saying because he couldn’t keep his eyes off the cleaner. He must have been at least seven feet tall and had an unmistakably blue tone to his skin. ‘Is that a Ye’ti?’ Toby asked Dash.
‘The cleaner on the stage … is he Ye’ti?’
‘Oh him – yeah. Their kind can’t get real jobs in the city, so they have to clean or pick rubbish up off the streets and stuff like that.’
‘Well look at them … great big lumbering things, aren’t they?’ Toby did look, but the Ye’ti didn’t seem lumbering to him. He was big, certainly, but he cleaned the stage quickly enough.
More theatrics ensued as Tyra announced the next fight. To tumultuous applause, Ritter rode in on the back of a huge black bear that promptly dissolved into a flurry of snow as he leapt down from its back. He was a handsome, rugged man wearing only a pair of dark blue jeans with blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Flanagan arrived with a troop of dancing leprechauns. They tap danced around the ring until they all jumped up as one, then exploded into a green cloud and disappeared – leaving Flanagan to dance solo for a few moments ..."
I hope you enjoyed reading that - and if you'd like to read more, the good news is Toby Gentle and the Winter Assassin is now available on Amazon at the discounted price of £1.99 / $2.99 for a limited time, a great excuse for some post-Christmas reading.
Happy Boxing Day everyone!