The woman known as Yinna Claus in the recently-discovered Secret History of Mrs. Claus was the daughter of a warrior leader, The General.
She had no memories of her mother, who lost her life early but she could still hear the beautiful sound of her brother Yanhau playing the Chinese mandolin to her as a child. Yanhau, however, wanted to be a warrior and rise like their father, so he left their land to sail for the far distant island known as Australia, to lead a battle there.
So, every winter from the time she was a child, Yinna traveled with The General and his warriors, from their fortress castle in the northern part of China.
The General always chose to fight his battles just as the season of winter festival was starting. He chose this time of year because the fields of battle were just outside of the villages he planned to take over. The villages were easy to find in the dark night since they were aglow with candles and the villagers celebrating the festival would never expect it as a time when they would be taken over.
Without her mother and brother, Yinna was especially close to her father. It’s the reason she loved winter more than summer. In winter, she was able to spend many days laughing with him in a tent with the warrior encampment that was separated from fields of battle by a forest.
In the summer, however, Yinna had to work by herself in the fields of earth near the fortress, planting and watering tiny roots which, by harvest time, would grow into potatoes. Doing this didn’t interest Yinna very much.
Even though she knew what a potato tasted like and that it stopped hunger, she didn’t know what a potato looked like at first. Once, she pulled from the field of earth a root that was skinny and orange but it tasted sweet and made her eyes see better. She also pulled out a short and round and yellow root but it tasted spicy and made her eyes water. Another time, she pulled out a twisted-shaped root but it tasted hot and made her entire body strong. So Yinna learned what a potato was by first learning that carrots, onions and ginger were not potatoes.
At harvest time, Yinna dug up the potatoes and packed them into sacks. When they returned from battle, The General and his warriors needed the potatoes to stop hunger. By the time winter began, Yinna was carrying the sacks onto the caravan which they all rode on to the land just outside of forests, where they set up tent encampments.
Yinna so loved that it wasn’t long before she was soon having terrible dreams that harm had come to him. He tried to calm her, explaining that he led the loyal men of their region into battle because they needed more land so their people could grow more food.
Little Yinna would still worry, not just about The General and his warriors but also the villagers whose Winter Festivals would be invaded. Her father gave Yinna a way to help him and his warriors. He taught her how to take the potatoes she grew and make a soup that would stop the hunger they felt after battle. If she kept her focus on making the soup, he told her, it would also keep worry away.
To change the subject and make them both happy, The General sometimes put his big and heavy winter cape on Yinna. None of the warriors had a cape like The General’s.
His was extra heavy and warm because he was always at the front line where the whistle of cold winter wind almost pushed him down. It was the only one that was colored a bright red, so his warriors could always find The General if they needed him.
When Yinna wore her father’s cape, however, the hood always slid down her face, leaving only her mouth – which would then break into a broad smile and make him laugh. Yinna hated to see her father leave the tent encampment and go to the field of battle. All the same, she kept her promise to never leave their tent.
When The General and his warriors left camp in the dark winter night, Yinna stayed away from the field. When the sun rose in the morning, while The General and the warriors were away at the battle, Yinna would start a fire and pull out a giant black kettle to begin making soup from potatoes she brought from their village.
As soon as The General and his warriors would return to camp at dusk, they would grab a bowl and stand in a long line leading to the giant kettle. There, Yinna would ladle out her hot soup into their bowls and the potatoes would stop their hunger.
Year in, year out, as Yinna grew tall, she went every December with The General and his warriors to a tent encampment.
As always, they went out to the fields of battle in the dark night which they always found because of the nearby villages, glowing during the Winter Festival.
And, as always, when the sun rose the next morning, Yinna made a fire and pulled out the giant kettle to make the potato soup which stopped the warriors from hunger when they returned at dusk.
There then came to northern China another dark December night when The General in his heavy red cape and his loyal warriors again went to the field of battle. As always, the sun rose. The moment Yinna went out of the tent to begin making the fire and pulling out the giant kettle, however, she knew immediately that this morning was very different. The air itself told her so. Instead of the whistle of a cold winter wind, she heard the shrill of a freezing arctic blast.
Yinna began to worry but then remembered her father’s advice. If she kept her focus on making the soup, she would keep worry away. As the day went on, however, dusk began to fall, the arctic blast got shriller and shriller and The General and his warriors did not return as usual, giving Yinna a new worry.
Cold wind made the General and his warriors hungry but she knew that the freezing blast would leave them weak as well. Potato soup that stopped hunger would not be enough this time. Her soup needed something extra special. Not to make their eyesight better or make their eyes moisten, but to make their entire body strong.
As she shivered in the tent, Yinna was so cold she even wished it was summer. It made her think of that boring time when she tasted all those different roots in the field of earth which she had first thought were potatoes.
As it began to now rain, she remembered one of them made her body strong.
As dusk began to turn to night, she realized that the only field of earth nearby was the field of battle where she was forbidden to go by The General.
As the freezing arctic blasts now turned the rain into white icicles so sharp they began to shred her tent, she remembered that neither the skinny orange root nor the long green root gave strength.
And the very moment she decided to break her father’s rule and run to the field of earth where he and the warriors had battled, the white icicles and arctic blasts began to twist around into a fiercely-spinning white whirlwinds filled with the whitest snow she had ever seen, but strangely leaving open and safe for her to run.
Startled to witness this phenomena, Yinna suddenly remembered that, for her soup to give strength, it was the twisted-shaped root that she needed.
She ran from the tent and into the forest, dashing here and there, in between the powerful, swirling white tunnels of wind. By the time she reached the other side of the forest, the dark night had fallen. As she stood at the edge of the field of earth, she could see nothing but the distant glow of the Winter Festival in the nearby village.
And then, the freezing blasts of air sweeping the field of earth also began to twist and spin up into another whirlwind tunnel that was again so white that it shed a soft light upon it. In the far distance, she was able to see the red of The General’s extra heavy and warm cape. There was no movement beneath it – and Yinna’s heart sank.
As she began to make her way across the field, towards what she knew was now just a red cape, Yinna saw a sight she that made her stop every few steps.
She counted them, one by one. Two, ten, twenty, fifty, five hundred warrior men lay still there, their life taken by the freezing blasts. She had never believed they should use a field of earth for battle but she knew each one from the many times they raised their bowls for her soup, and loved them all. She would not forget even one. Slowly, through the dark night, she said goodbye to each warrior as she made her way to her father’s red cape.
It was morning by the time Yinna reached what remained of her father and with the sunlight she could see that he was but five feet from the entrance to the village. She didn’t care. She sat there all day, mourning her father and all the warriors and stayed until dusk started. Just then, however, the white twisting whirlwind began to unravel and spread snow and ice until the air itself seemed to freeze.
Yinna was numb with grief but she had to try to save herself from the air. So she gently removed The General’s cape and wrapped it around herself for warmth and quickly made her way into the village where the lights of the Winter Festival were still lit. She hoped they might be in the mood to help her, even though she was The General’s daughter.
When she entered, however, the entire village was deadly still. She stood there silently looking at its darkening streets, the snowy whirlwinds now entering behind her and racing down the narrow streets. Then she began to hear the faint sound of moaning and coughing. The village was not abandoned. She called out but no villager appeared.
She called out again. This time, a few windows of a few houses slowly opened and several villagers managed to weakly hang their heads low out the window.The moment they saw her, however, they shut their windows.
In a flash Yinna realized these were the few who were not so weak they could not even rise. And she knew she must do something or else the mysterious freezing whirlwinds would take the life from the villagers as it took the life from the warriors and The General. Spying the open door to one house, she slipped inside.
There she saw an elderly couple, both of whom had lost almost all of their strength, shivering in the freezing air, barely able to eat the loaves of bread at their bedside. They were dry and feverish. “Too much Yang,” Yinna said to herself.
When they saw the red cape of The General, however, they gasped in fear. Only when Yinna lowered her hood did they see that, although she may have been his daughter, she was her own person.
After calming them, she walked further inside, to the kitchen where a kettle as large as her own lay empty on ice cold embers. She walked to the back of the house and spotted a small, open door built into a stone wall.
It was a root cellar.
She descended into it. And she saw many bins with many different types of food, from potatoes, carrots and onions.
And then she saw just what she needed to help the villagers – ginger.
Ginger soup – that would give the villagers the strength they needed and stop the weakness they felt. And so Yinna got to work, chopping wood, bringing it into the kitchen and starting a fire and making as much ginger soup as quickly as she could.And while she hadn’t forgotten about her sad loss of her father and the warriors, making the soup made her feel better.
And when she carried the kettle to ladle the soup for the old couple, they grew strong almost immediately.
And then they began to make more ginger soup as Yinna took what remained in the first pot and began to walk down the street to ladle out for others, to give them strength. She knocked on doors. Nobody answered. She called out with the promise of strengthening ginger soup for them. Slowly, doors began to open but when they saw her red cape they closed the door in fear.
And even though it was freezing cold outside, Yinna would remove her cape first and a few villagers trusted her and let her in. She showed gratitude for their trust to let her help them. And as, one by one, a few of these villagers strengthened and hailed her way to their neighbors, Yinna was able to keep on her warm cape.
At each door, Yinna would ladle it out for villagers in the first few houses. One by one, their strength began to return. She did not get to but the tenth house, however, before she saw that the soup in her kettle had frozen completely solid. So many villagers were weakening fast. There were five hundred more who needed ginger for strength.
Making her way back to the home of the elderly couple, Yinna began to despair. Five hundred villagers might lose life to the cold if she didn’t find a way to get the ginger to them quickly.
Just the day before she had seen five hundred warriors lose their life to the cold because she could not get them ginger soup. Still, the freezing winds would freeze the ginger soup before she could get very far. And the longer she didn’t make soup, the more she fell into sadness about those five hundred warriors. She just could not forget them. As she entered the home of the elderly couple, she saw they were strong enough to begin baking bread again.
All of a sudden, everything swirled into one and Yinna smiled. She would save the villagers by bringing them ginger that would not freeze up. She would remember in a special way the five hundred warriors.
She would bake the bread into ginger, in the shape of each one of the five hundred men.
Yinna Claus ran into the kitchen and the elderly couple helped her in baking the very first batch of gingerbread men. All the rest of that day into night, she delivered the gingerbread men to the villagers and saved all their lives.
Soon, instead of fearing the sight of The General’s red cape, the villagers began to welcome the sight of it on Yinna, for she brought them strength. Instead of returning to her own home village, Yinna stayed in the place where she was loved for saving lives. Soon, word of her magic gingerbread men spread further out, village by village, house by house, person by person, one by one until the tale of the woman in the red cape who worked to save lives because just as many had been lost, reached the far reaches of the oceans.
Many years passed before another, even stranger Winter Festival began. Just as dusk fell there came a peculiar white illumination with a shade of red to it in the sky and a sound the villagers knew meant a dangerous snow whirlwind was approaching. They all retreated into their homes in fear.
It had been many, many years since Yinna had seen a white snow whirlwind, but she had never seen one in this color. Rather than fear the whirlwind, however, she remembered how strangely the one from many years before had allowed her to pass safely beside it.
This time, the whistle did not become a shrill. Instead, as this strange red and white was an old beautiful song she seemed to know. It settled down in the middle of the street. Yinna, however, stepped up to it.
And out from it emerged a man who looked into her eyes and handed her a familiar Chinese mandolin. This man had heard tales of Yinna all across the earth, of how she saved a life for every life that was lost. Her work was needed in so many places. Yet he was not there to ask her to do so. He had come to fulfill a wish.
Many years earlier, he had learned of warriors landing on a distant island and had come there to stop the intended battle, much like she had stopped hunger and weakness. It was there that he had met a man who was losing his life, but before he was gone he had asked the man to fulfill his one wish. The warrior had one beloved possession which reminded him of his sister; this man must find her and give her this object. The man had finally found her and now handed her the very Chinese mandolin which had belonged to Yanhau, the long-ago brother of Yinna. Now, the man must leave, to continue his own work.
Looking into his eyes while smiling in a way she had not since the days of her father, she asked the man, “Where is your home?”
“Everywhere,” he told her.
And with that, Yinna stepped with him back into the colored whirlwind and it began to spin faster and lift upwards, away into the sky.
The villagers never again saw Yinna. But each time they, and all people across the earth in need of strength in some form, eat a gingerbread man, they always remember her.
Characters and Stories in the Secret History of Mrs. Claus series are fully protected under copyright.
- The Secret History of Mrs. Claus: Introduction (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Lucy Claus of Italy and The Christmas Cookies: The Secret History of Mrs. Claus, Part II (carlanthonyonline.com)