(advent) December 24

Thursday, December 24

“We haven’t forgotten anything, have we?” Brynna asked Paul, who chuckled and rolled his eyes.

“No, my love, we have not forgotten anything, and it’s not like we can’t come back,” he told her. “We’re not leaving forever. If nothing else, I sail in two weeks, so we have to be back for that. I think we can make it for two weeks.”

They were taking both Pavel’s sleigh, hitched to his black horses, and a smaller sleigh that Loki was hitched to. Schrodinger was sitting on the driver’s seat with Pavel, who had decided that he didn’t want anyone else driving his team, even though Drew had offered. But since they had presents as well, they decided to take both sleighs. Ella had opted to ride with her mother, both of them working on something knitted.

Then let’s go! Schrodinger said, and Pavel laughed.

“We’re going, we’re going!” he said, shaking the reins, and the horses took off towards the Gate.

They stopped at the little stone church on their way through the town, and Brynna introduced them to the jolly priest who came out to greet them.

“Father Brundell has run this congregation for the last three years,” she said, after they’d all shaken hands. “He does a dinner every Christmas Eve for those you don’t have families, especially the sailors who have to be away from home.”

“That’s wonderful!” Molly said, as Father Brundell accepted the basket from Brynna. They’d stuffed it not only with the sweet bread, but with extra helpings of mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts. “It’s hard being away from home on Christmas.”

“Indeed, but we try and make it a bit home-like,” Father Brundell told her, smiling broadly from under the knitted wool cap he had on his head. He was dressed in warm brown wool robes, with a red sash around his waist. Molly could hear the soft jingle of bells as he moved, and realized the sash had some small golden bells sewn to the edges.

We should get Father Christopher one of those! Schrodinger whispered to her.

Why, so he can’t sneak up on us? She whispered back on their personal mental channel. Like belling a cat?

Belling a cat? His mental voice was confused, and he looked at her, cocking his head to the side.

I’ll tell you that story later, Molly promised him.

“I’ll be happy to check the animals for you, and bless you for donating the eggs and milk,” Father Brundell was saying to Brynna and Paul. “You make our days brighter.”

“Well, considering some of the things we’ve done, we need to do all the good deeds we can,” Brynna joked, winking at her husband.

“You can’t fool me,” Father Brundell said, laughing. “You may be scamps, but you’ve got hearts of gold. But it’s cold, and you should be getting going. May the Gods bless your family, and your trip.”

“And you, Father!” Brynna called, as they started off towards the Gate again. There was a different tech on duty, and he took their coordinates and then went to the computer to start entering them, warming the Gate up. Molly looked at Drew as Pavel gave the coordinates.

“That’s not the Cove Gate,” she said, her forehead furrowing. “Where are we going?”

“To my mother’s house,” Pavel said, before Drew could answer. “She wanted to pick up a few things, and so did my grandmother. They’ve installed a Gate now, which I’d forgotten.”

So we get to see where you grew up? Schrodinger asked.

“Yes,” Pavel said. Then he sighed. “I’m not sure if I’m happy or not about this.”

Because of the memories? Schrodinger said, and Pavel nodded. Well, perhaps this can be the start of new memories? Because your grandfather won’t be there anymore, but we will. He nosed the pirate gently in the arm, careful not to jiggle the reins.

“Perhaps,” Pavel said, smiling down at him. Then the Gate flared to life, and the tech waved them forward onto the Road.

There was a buzz on the Roads that even Molly could feel as they traveled along, an almost frenetic energy that urged the horses forward. She turned and saw Loki keeping up with them, his shorter legs moving solidly as he trotted behind them.

It’s because it’s close to Christmas, Schrodinger said, and Molly saw his whiskers vibrating from more than just the wind of their passage. Everyone along the Roads is excited, and that just adds to the power of the Roads themselves. It makes the Roads fun to travel.

And a bit more dangerous, Drew said, since they were going fast enough that he didn’t want to speak out loud. This is always when the Roads seem to drift.

But you have a CrossCat with you, so it really doesn’t matter, Schrodinger said, and Molly laughed at the off-handed confidence in his mental voice. We can get to anywhere we need to.

I’d still rather not have the Road drift, thank you, Drew said, putting his arm around Molly. We’ve got to get back to the house before midnight, remember? We have guests!

Oh, right!

Luckily, the Road didn’t drift, and they emerged into a large building that resembled the one on Hrfafell, although this Gate station had goats rather than sheep milling around, and there were plenty of bushes growing that the goats were nibbling on, in addition to the grass. A large woman welcomed them with cheery greetings for Pavel and Ella, and then a surprised “Oh my goodness, is that BRYNNA?” for Pavel’s grandmother, who flushed.

“Bless my soul, it is!” the woman continued. “And Paul too! Welcome back!” She cocked her head at them. “You don’t remember me, do you?”

“I’m afraid not,” Brynna started, then peered closely at her. The woman was wearing a sweater and dungarees in the warmth of the Gate room, and her short curly hair looked as if she regularly ran her fingers through it. It was a slightly mad scientist look that meshed well with her dimpled grin and twinkling hazel eyes. “Is that little Cari?”

“It is indeed,” Cari said, laughing.

“Oh my, you were barely walking when I last saw you!” Brynna said, shaking her head. “And now you’re a Gate tech!”

“Engineer, actually, and have two little ones of my own,” Cari said proudly. “Are you staying?”

“No, not this time,” Pavel said, and Cari’s face fell. “But perhaps soon.”

“Da would love to see you,” she said to Brynna. “He’s actually in port for the holiday.”

“I think we’ll come back soon,” Brynna said, looking at Paul, who nodded. “After Christmas Day. There are a lot of old friends I’d like to see. Tell your Da so.”

“I will,” Cari promised, stepping back. “Blessed Christmas!”

“And to you!” Brynna called as the two sleighs pulled out of the Gate room.
Hfrafell had been a small town, but this town was larger than Molly had realized, with a port that actually rivaled the Cove’s. The docks were full of ships, and masts were gathered like a forest, bobbing gently on the waves that came in. There were clouds overhead, but no snow fell, and it was cold, but not overwhelmingly so. She snuggled deeper into the blankets and looked around as they moved through the streets, which were crowded with people.
Their progress was hampered more by the calls from old friends of both Pavel and Brynna, all of whom seemed to be out and about. And of course, once the call went up from one of them, others came out, and the air was soon full of greetings and exclamations.

“We’ll be back soon!” Brynna had to finally promise. “But we have to get to the house, and then off to another place for Christmas! But we will come back for a long visit!”

There were more shouts, but the crowd finally opened a way, and Pavel was able to move the sleigh through and out of the marketplace.

“Your grandmother is popular,” Drew observed, and Pavel nodded, looking slightly dazed.

“I had no idea,” the pirate admitted. “No one spoke of her, but now, I wonder how much of that was because no one wanted to upset my grandfather.” He sighed. “I wish I’d known, honestly. It might have made my life a bit easier.”

Now you know, though, Schrodinger told him. You can move forward.

“Yes, I can.” Pavel smiled down at the CrossCat. “And I will.”

The house they pulled up to was small, almost more of a cottage than a house, and it had no widow’s walk like Brynna’s and Paul’s house did. But as Ella climbed out and unlocked the door, Molly saw the look in her eyes: there was no doubt that the woman loved the place, and no matter what her son offered, Molly couldn’t see her giving the cottage up any time soon.

“Come in,” Ella said, turning back to them. “We have enough time for a cup of tea.”

“I can do that,” Molly offered, as they all climbed out of the sleighs and came in. The front door opened into a sitting room, and Molly could see the kitchen beyond. “That way, you can collect what you need.”

Ella nodded, and headed up the stairs. Molly went into the kitchen with Schrodinger and Drew on her heels, and between the three of them, they soon had a tray assembled with a large tea pot, enough mugs for everyone, the black tea that Ella preferred, and some cookies that Molly found in the pantry.
When they came back into the sitting room, they found Paul sitting on the sofa alone. “Pavel and Brynna are getting things,” he said in explanation. “I decided to wait here.”

“I don’t blame you,” Molly said, putting the tray down on the small coffee table in front of the sofa, and pouring him a cup of tea. “How long do you think they’ll be?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not sure what they were getting.”

Molly looked around the room. There was a large chair by the fireplace that had an ottoman in front of it, and a faded blanket was thrown over the back. It was slightly dusty, and she realized that must have been Willem’s chair.

“No one would dare sit there,” Paul said quietly, noticing what she was looking at. “Even before he got hurt. That was his favorite chair.”

“I can imagine,” she replied. Then they both started as Schrodinger deliberately jumped up into it, and curled up. Then he sneezed, and Molly laughed.

Time for new memories, Schrodinger said. It’s just a chair.

“Yes, yes it is,” Pavel agreed, coming in. He laid a small box down by the door, and then accepted a cup of tea and a cookie from Molly. “Although I have to say, it’s odd to see anyone but the old man in that chair. Maybe we should just get rid of it.”

“No,” his mother said firmly, when she came down the stairs and Pavel repeated his suggestion. “Your great-grandfather made that chair, and it’s still solid. Besides, I like to sit in it at night now.”

I can get up, Schrodinger offered, but Ella shook her head.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, taking what Molly guessed was her customary seat in an intricately-carved rocking chair. “This is fine as well.” She looked around. “Mother hasn’t rejoined us?”

“Not yet,” Pavel said, handing her a cup of tea. “I thought she was with you.”

“No, she went into Father’s room,” Ella said, frowning a little. “Should we check on her?”

“I’ll go,” Paul said, getting up. He left the room and went up the stairs.

While he was gone, Pavel looked around the room. “I never imagined I’d be sitting here enjoying myself,” he said quietly. “This was the room I hated the most when I was home.”

Because it was your grandfather’s favorite room? Schrodinger guessed.

“Yes,” Pavel said, looking at the fireplace, which was currently black and silent. “There was always a fire, even in the summer. He could never get warm again after his accident.”

“No, he couldn’t,” Ella agreed, also looking at the fireplace. “I haven’t lit a fire there since he died, you know.”

“Why not?” Molly asked.

“Because it didn’t seem necessary,” Ella said, shrugging. “The blanket is enough for me. And the fire is a lot of work.”

“Have you decided yet, Mother?” Pavel said. “Are you going to move in with me?”

“I don’t know,” Ella said. “Mother invited me to live with her too, but this is my home.” She looked around fondly.

“Living with either of us doesn’t mean you can’t come back, you know,” Pavel said.

“Perhaps.” She smiled at him. “I’m going to come back for a bit, at least. What would I do while you were at sea?”

“You could always come hang out at the bookstore,” Molly said, and

Schrodinger chimed in, We could keep you busy!

“I’m sure you could,” Ella laughed.

Brynna and Paul came down the stairs a few minutes later, and Molly saw the older woman’s eyes were red. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to come back into the house that she’d been thrown out of. To Molly’s relief, Pavel jumped up, concern in his eyes. “Are you okay, Grandmother?” he said, and she could hear the note of worry in his voice. A note that wouldn’t have been there even a few days ago.

“Yes, I’m okay,” she told him, smiling despite the sorrow in her eyes. “I just didn’t realize how hard it would be to come back here.” She looked at all of them. “Do you mind if we go to say goodbye to him before we leave?”

“Of course not,” Molly said. “We’ll all go, if you want.”

“That would be good.”

The little graveyard Pavel’s grandfather was buried in sat at the end of a narrow spit of land, and it obviously wasn’t the main cemetery for the town. There were only a few graves in it. The largest, and newest, was the one that Pavel led them to. On the front of the granite pillar, the words sharp and new, it said “Captain Willem Chekhov. Father, Grandfather, Captain. He has taken his final voyage.”

Brynna sank to her knees on the grave in front of the stone, her head bowed over her folded hands. “I’m so sorry, Willem,” she said softly, tears dripping down her cheeks again. “I hope now you’ve found peace at last.”

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