(advent) December 5

Tuesday, December 5

“Too bad Molly and Drew didn’t want to come for pizza,” Lily said, picking up another piece from the tray in the middle of the table. “They’re missing out.”

Drew said he wanted to have some time alone with Molly, since he doesn’t get that often, Schrodinger said. Especially since he’s going to be working crazy hours this season. So they don’t want us to bring them anything.

They were seated at Giovanni’s Pizza, the best pizza place in the Cove, filling up before they went skating. Lily and Kaylee’s mom Corrinne and Gideon’s mom Kiaya had volunteered to pick them up, and Drew and Molly were going to meet them at the small cove on the Elizabeth River where everyone went and skated.

“I wonder who else will be there?” Zoey said eagerly. “It’s a perfect evening for skating!”

It was. There had been snow squalls early in the morning, spreading a new layer of white fluff on the ground, but then the sea breezes had blown the clouds away, and as the sun set, brilliant stars twinkled in the clear night sky. It was cold, but there was always a bonfire going at the skating cove, and Aurora had remembered to bring the magical tent that Pavel had brought her.

Kaylee opened her mouth to say something, but then the bell over the door rang, and they all saw who was coming in.

“Old Man Winter!” she called, scrambling up to stand on her chair and waving her arms, narrowly missing hitting her sister on the head in her excitement. “Come join us!”

“Kaylee, sit down!” Corrinne said sternly. “You’re going to fall over!”

“No, I’m not,” Kaylee insisted, but sat down again. “I’m just excited!”

“I don’t know why,” her mother said, shaking her head. “It’s not like you don’t see him at least once a month.”

“He’s my FAVORITE,” Kaylee explained. “I NEED to see him all the time! And I haven’t seen him in WEEKS!”

You aren’t built to see him all the time, Jack said. You’d freeze.

Indeed, as the old winter spirit came over to them, the air temperature dropped, although not as much as it once might have. “Are you out alone?” he said in a mock-growl, glowering at them all. “And causing mischief?”

“Always!” Gideon said, while at the same time, Zoey said, “No, of course not!”

“Why not?” Old Man Winter demanded, trying hard not to smile.

“Because it’s Christmas, and we need to be good for Santa to come!” Kaylee said. “Even though it’s hard!”

Old Man Winter laughed at that. “Well, that’s the truth,” he allowed, pulling up a chair and settling in. “What are you doing today?”

Skating! Schrodinger said, and indicated the pizza box in front of him. After we have our favorite pizza.

“Is that…” Old Man Winter reached eagerly for a piece. “You and I are in agreement, Schrodinger. This is the ultimate pizza.”

Corrinne shuddered. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone put cranberries on a pizza,” she said. “I’m glad you can help him eat it.”

“It’s an acquired taste,” Old Man Winter agreed.

“What are you doing here?” Lily asked. “We haven’t seen you around recently!”

“I’ve been very busy,” the old spirit said, and Schrodinger watched some emotions flicker quickly across his mobile face. “The Snow Queen and Jack Frost are hosting guests this Christmas, and I’ve had to help with that. They are sorry they couldn’t do an Advent calendar for you this year. Since they didn’t need me this evening, I thought I’d sneak out and see my favorite folks.”

Molly and Drew will be joining us at the skating cove, Schrodinger said. Will you come along too?

“I would love to!” Old Man Winter said.

“We decided to do our own Advent calendar this year,” Lily said, and the others nodded their heads. “We’re helping around the Cove!”

Old Man Winter finished his mouthful and looked around at them. “What a good idea! Tell me all about it!”

The rest of the pizza disappeared as they went over their plans for the rest of the month. By the time they were done, he was looking impressed.

“I wish some of the Snow Queen’s guests had half the imagination and cooperation you guys have!” he said, shaking his head. “You could teach them some things about working out problems.”

Is that why she’s so busy? Jack asked, cocking his head. There are problems?

“Can we help?” Zoey added.

“I wish,” Old Man Winter said. “Do you guys know about the Parliament of the Realms?”

They rule the Roads, Schrodinger said instantly. Any treaties regarding the Roads and Gates must be ratified by them, and they work kind of like Earth’s United Nations.

“Except they agree on even less than the United Nations do,” Old Man Winter said, and sighed. “Well, the Parliament has to vote on the Treaty of the Roads in a few months, and there are arguments over who should be allowed to vote and who shouldn’t. There are a lot of old enemies who are using this chance to bring up old feuds and the Snow Queen and Jack Frost are trying to make sure nothing happens to stop the ratification of the Treaty.”

“What would happen if the Treaty wasn’t ratified?” Gideon asked.

“In the short run?” Old Man Winter leaned back and thought. “There’d be some stoppages until the Gate Stations were sorted out.” When they looked blankly at him, he said, “The Gates themselves are owned by the Parliament, but the Stations belong to the Realm that they are situated in. Right now, they’re considered neutral ground by everyone. If the Treaty isn’t ratified, the Stations wouldn’t be neutral anymore. They could restrict who could come through their Gates, and where they could go.”

“Or charge taxes,” Kiaya added, joining in the conversation for the first time. “Making everything more expensive.”

Old Man Winter nodded. “In the long run, it would turn the Roads into private highways. I can remember what it was like before the Parliament was created – it wasn’t good. The Snow Queen wants to remind the most contentious members that the benefits of working together are more than the benefits of going it on their own.”

“The Snow Queen should bring them all in to the Bookstore and let Molly sort them out,” Kaylee said, wiping her mouth with her napkin and missing most of the tomato sauce on her face. “Molly would make them work together.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Old Man Winter said. “I just wonder how much damage they would do to the Cove before she got them into shape.” He looked at all of them. “Do you want to take the sledge to the skating cove? My reindeer could use some exercise.”

“We’ll take the car and meet you there,” Corrinne said, after a glance at Kiaya.

“Tell Giovanni to put this on my tab,” Old Man Winter said. “And we’ll see you there!”

They hurried to get their coats, gloves, and hats, then followed him out into the crisp night air. Outside the pizza parlor, looking right at home amid the other sleighs and cars, was Old Man Winter’s sledge.

It was a large wooden sledge, with raised sides that cradled a veritable mountain of animal hides, blankets, and furs to keep them warm. Old Man Winter stood at the back and picked up the reins. In front of the sledge stood two massive reindeer, shaggy coats dotted with snowflakes, ivy and holly twined in their antlers. They all piled into the body of the sledge, although Kaylee looked pleadingly at Old Man Winter.

“Please, can’t I help drive?” she wheedled. “It’s not far!”

Usually, he didn’t let her, since it got very cold (the reindeer ran very fast) but this time, since they weren’t going on the Roads, Old Man Winter gave in. “As long as you think you’ll be warm enough!”

“Yay!” Kaylee shouted, and scrambled to the back of the sledge. Old Man Winter Winter set her in front of him (so she couldn’t fall out, Schrodinger noticed) and handed her the long leather reins. “You guys ready?”

Ready! Jack said, giving a long bay. Let’s go!

“Go!” Kaylee said, shaking the reins, and the big reindeer jumped forward.

“Don’t forget to tell them where to go!” Old Man Winter reminded her.

“Oh, right! Take us to the skating cove!” Kaylee called.

The reindeer tossed their heads in acknowledgement, their harness bells jingling merrily, and turned slightly.

The Elizabeth River, named for the daughter of Carter’s Cove’s founder, wound its way along the northern border of the town. The gentlest of the three rivers that emptied into the Cove, it made multiple coves and swimming holes on its way to the ocean, most of which froze to glassy perfection in the winter. The largest of these was near the farm of Indi Sarabian, and every winter, she and her family created the Skating Pond.

It was a large cove, with a rock outcropping in the center and snowflake lights strung through the trees to bath the entire area in a soft white glow. Indi had a large bonfire that people could warm themselves by, bracketed by wooden benches that her family had built. A small wooden hut sold hot chocolate and hot cider, as well as renting skates for those who didn’t have them. Indi also had a sound system that played Christmas carols during the system. And there was an improvement every year.

This year, as the sledge came to a halt on the edge of the clearing, Schrodinger saw that Indi had expanded the hut. The original wooden building with the generator behind it was still there, manned by one of Indi’s sons, but next to it was a larger hut, with another generator behind it. After piling out of the sledge, Schrodinger went over to the new hut, intrigued.

“Hi Schrodinger!” Indi said cheerfully, leaning over the clean counter top. “What do you think of the new set-up?”

It’s lovely! he said, sniffing. Are you selling food now?

“Just burgers and hot dogs,” Indi said. “We’re so busy now that I don’t want to add anymore. I’d have to hire people! And then I’d have to pay them!”

Both she and Schrodinger laughed at that. Indi had a small tribe of children that helped her and her husband at the Skating Pond, and while she publicly said she never paid them, everyone knew that was how the kids made their pocket money in the winter.

You should look into keeping this open in the summer, Schrodinger said, as the others joined them. I bet the swimming would be just as popular.

“The bottom is a bit too rocky, sadly,” said Indi regretfully. “But maybe a fishing hole. I don’t want to change the bottom, because the fishing is good.” She looked over the group. “You guys hungry?”

“We just had pizza,” Gideon said, a little regretfully. “It smells good though!”

“Maybe next time,” Kiaya said, as she and Corrinne came over, followed by Molly and Drew. All the adults were carrying skates. “Now that we know there’s food here, I don’t see why we couldn’t! You should have announced this on the radio!”

“Hudson was supposed to, but I think he forgot,” Indi said, grinning. “Eh, we’ll just spread by word of mouth.” She looked at the animals. “Do you guys want the sled today?”

I’ll take the cushion by the fire, Jack said, and looked at Schrodinger and Aurora. But you guys like it.

We do! Aurora said, bouncing.

<><>

“You’re hiding from your guests.”

The warm, gentle voice broke the silence, causing her to look up from the small pool of magic that shimmered in the soft glow of the mage lights that ringed her scrying room. “And they aren’t even all here yet,” the Snow Queen replied, and Jack Frost, the autumn spirit, heard the fatigue in her voice. “I can’t wait until all ten of them descend.”

He crossed the room to where she sat on the edge of the pool and looked down. In the liquid magic, the image of the Skating Cove shimmered, and he could almost smell the snow and ice wafting up. The scene had been zoomed in to where Lily, Kaylee, Gideon, and Zoey were pushing Schrodinger and Aurora in the sled, with Molly and Drew behind them. “I’d rather be there with them,” Jack Frost said honestly. “We have so much fun with them.”

“Agreed,” Jade, the Snow Queen, leaned against him as his arm went around her shoulders. “They make this my favorite season. The innocence and joy they have. I wish we could have done a calendar for them this year.”

“Pavel says they’re doing their own,” Jack Frost said. “Helping out around the Cove where they can.”

“Of course they are.” Jade smiled down at the laughing children. “We’ve learned so much from them. It feels almost sinful to use them.”

“Sinful?” Jack Frost shook his head. “Not at all. You aren’t making them do anything they don’t already want to do. You’re just exposing certain people who need to remember how to work together to some folks who do it well.” He kissed the top of her silken hair. “And I for one can’t wait to see it.”

“As long as it works.” Jade took one last look at the happy faces and then with one wave of her hand banished the image. She stood up, adjusting her gown. “Well, let’s go meet the newest arrivals.”

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