(advent) December 14

Sunday, December 14

Molly glanced around the room, making sure everything was in order. The armchairs had been moved aside to make room for the large white chair, almost a throne, covered in ivy and red ribbons, that would very shortly be claimed by Santa himself. Schrodinger, Lily, Jack and Zoey were down in the tea room, finishing up their letters to the great man himself and chattering excitedly. Or at least, that’s where they were supposed to be. Which is why Molly was surprised to turn around and see them all standing behind her, holding their letters in their hands.

“What’s up?” she said, frowning at their expressions. They ranged from outrage (on Lily and Zoey) to worry (on Schrodinger). “Did someone say something to you? Were you being too loud?”

“No,” Lily said defiantly. “We weren’t.”

“Then what’s wrong? Are you done with your letters?”

“No,” Zoey said, shaking her head and making her purple bows on the ends of her braids dance with anger. “But there was a man that told us to…”

Caliban’s servant is back, Schrodinger said to Molly, cutting Zoey off. And he wants to see you. He wasn’t polite about it this time.

“Does he, now?” Anger blossomed up in Molly. “I wonder why.”

Because his master is angry? Schrodinger guessed. I can’t think Caliban is happy with us at this point.

“He hasn’t begun to see how unhappy I can make him,” Molly snapped, then remembered the two little girls looking at her wonderingly. “Stay up here and finish up, guys. I’ll take care of our unwanted guest.”

She made sure that the four of them were set up at the table that was set up along one wall, and that they had everything they needed, before she went downstairs. If Caliban’s servant couldn’t be polite, then he could bloody well wait for her.

Finally, Molly took one last look around, then went down the stairs to the main floor. Caliban’s man wasn’t in the tea room; to her annoyance, he was lounging in her kitchen. “What do you want?” she said abruptly.

“My master has a message for you,” he said, standing up from the stool he’d been sitting on, and setting down the tea ball he’d been holding in one hand.

“I don’t really care what your master wants,” Molly informed him. “You are not allowed in this kitchen.” She stepped to one side and pointed into the tea room. “Out. Now.”

He raised one eyebrow at her. “Are you sure you want to do this? This message isn’t for public consumption.”

“I said out. Now.” Molly glared at him. “You are not welcome in my kitchen.”

“That seems fairly clear,” said a new voice, as Jack and Pavel stepped out from the pantry. “I’d leave now,” the pirate added, as Jack scowled. “Molly can get physical when she gets angry, and you’re making her angry.”

“And what can a simple kitchen witch do to me?” the servant scoffed.

“Have you ever had scalding tea thrown at you?” Jack asked. “It’s not pleasant. Besides, if you make her angry, you make me angry, and I’m perfectly fine with sending you back to your master in pieces.” He looked over at Molly. “We’ll keep the blood to a minimum.”

“I’d appreciate it,” she said. “I hate cleaning it up.”

The servant looked from one to the other, his bravado deflating like a punctured balloon. “I will go,” he said finally. “But after I give my master’s message.”

“I’m listening,” Molly said, crossing her arms over her chest. “What does Caliban have to say?”

“That you should have stayed out of this,” the servant said. “That now that you have decided to defy my master, so you will pay for your disobedience.”

“Disobedience?” Molly all but hissed the word, and her fingers curled around her elbows. “Disobedience? What does he think I am, some prize dog that he can order around?” She stalked over to the servant and said very softly, “Tell Caliban that if I see him in my Cove again, I’ll make him wish he’d never heard of me.”

“You and what army?” scoffed the servant, but he shrank back from her.

“You don’t want to see her army,” Pavel told him, and for once, there was no humor in the pirate’s voice. “Trust me. And neither does your master.”

The servant ducked around Molly and scurried out. After a moment, she took the tea ball that he’d been playing with and flung it viciously into the trash.

“Molly? Is everything okay?” DC stuck her head around the door frame, her hazel eyes wide. “Did that guy actually come in here? I told him to wait in the tea room!”

“I’m fine,” Molly assured her, forcing herself to calm down. It wasn’t DC’s fault, after all. “He won’t be back.”

“Good.” DC nodded to Jack and Pavel, then went back out front, calling back, “Don’t forget that Santa will be here soon!”

“Santa is coming here today?” Jack asked, blinking at the sudden change in subject. “Why?”

“He’s coming to collect the letters upstairs,” Molly told him, going over to the stove and pouring herself a cup of tea water. Then she concentrated briefly, and smiled as the filled tea ball settled into the mug. She didn’t use her powers like that very often, but she had too much energy right now, and it needed to go somewhere. Otherwise, she’d be burning anything she tried to cook for the next day.

She turned and looked at the two. “Thank you for coming in when you did,” she said, holding up the mug in a silent question. Both of them shook their heads. “It was fortuitous.”

“It was planned,” Jack told her. “I assume you know what Schrodinger brought us yesterday.”

Molly nodded. The CrossCat had filled her and Drew in when they’d come back to the bookstore, and Drew had had to hold her back from rushing off to wreak her own vengeance on the summer spirit. “Thank you for taking care of it,” she said now. “What would it have done?”

“Influenced you,” Jack said. “Subtly, but he would have poisoned your mind, and made you his. Old Man Winter said he’d tried the same with Jade.”

“Which is how you knew how to destroy it?” she guessed.

Jack shook his head. “I’ve seen him use it before. I was expecting it.”

“Did you think that maybe you might have mentioned it to me, then?” Molly heard the edge creep back into her voice. “So that I could be on the look out for it?”

The fall spirit started to answer, then stopped. “I didn’t think of it,” he admitted. “I should have, though. I’m sorry.”

The apology knocked the wind from her sails. “You are?”

“Yes,” Jack said, then looked slyly at her up through his downcast lashes. “I’ll deny it if you tell anyone, though.”

That made her laugh, and chased away the last bit of her anger. “I assumed so.”

“You’ll have to be careful now, though, Molly,” Pavel said, coming over to her. “Caliban doesn’t take lightly to being stood up to.”

“Which means what?” she asked warily.

“Which means we,” and Pavel nodded at Jack, “would feel better if you’d let us set some guards here and at the farm. Just to make sure Caliban doesn’t try to…” He hesitated, and looked over at Jack.

“Caliban might kidnap you or Schrodinger to force Jade to let him in to her lands,” Jack said, and Molly blanched. “We won’t let him.”

“What kind of guards?” she asked, and one small part of her brain screamed that she was having to even think about it.

“Me,” Jack said. “And some of Pavel’s men, but mostly me.” He looked determined. “If you don’t mind. I just feel bad that I pulled you into this.”

Molly looked at him, then at Pavel. “Do you really think he’d try that?”

Pavel nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“Then I guess I have a guest,” Molly said, sighing. “Well, at least Schrodinger will be able to sleep again.” She looked over at Jack. “He stayed up as late as he could last night, to make sure we were safe.”

“He’s a loyal friend,” Jack said. “Tonight, he will be able to sleep.”

Molly just wondered if she could.

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