(advent) December 7

 

Thursday, December 7

Normally at 1 pm, all four children would have been in school, but instead, they were at CrossWinds Books, waiting impatiently for their ride to the Snow Queen’s palace, and taking bets on who it was who was going to pick them up.

“I’ll bet it’s Old Man Winter,” Kaylee said confidently. “In his sledge. And he’s going to let me drive.”

“I doubt it,” her sister said dryly. “Letting you drive to the skating cove is one thing. He won’t let you drive it on the Roads. Besides, I’ll bet it’s Pavel coming to get us.”

“He will too!” Kaylee flared.

It doesn’t matter, Jack said, inserting himself between the two of them. Maybe it won’t be either of them.

“Who else could it be?” Gideon asked.

She has other servants, Schrodinger said. Maybe she’ll send one of them instead. Or Ember.

Ooh, Ember! That would be cool! Aurora said, dancing a little.

“But how could Ember get us?” Zoey said. “She can’t drive anything, can she?”

She’s a dragon, Aurora said. She can do probably anything.

That’s true, Schrodinger said.

They were dressed in what Aunt Margie had termed their Sunday best. Lily, Kaylee, and Zoey were in pretty dresses and warm leggings, with bows in their hair (Zoey’s on her braids, Lily and Kaylee with theirs on headbands). Gideon was in grey, with pressed pants and a neat vest, a bow tie, and a crisp white shirt. He even had a trilby on his head, with a band that matched his bow tie. Schrodinger and Jack wore their bow ties as well, and Aurora had a bow on her collar. Molly thought they all looked adorable.

She was standing by the front of the store, talking to DC as they waited for their ride. The senior clerk, her long hair pulled back in a ponytail that had several jingle bells hanging from it, was a little envious of the planned trip.

“I wish I could have used the excuse for tea with the Snow Queen to get out of school when I was their age,” she said, as she restocked gift cards by her register. “Sadly, that’s not an option in a non-Crossroads town.”

“It wasn’t an option for me, either, and I grew up here,” Molly said. “We just have to accept that they move in rarified circles.”

“Truth,” DC said, and glanced out the window. Her eyes widened. “I think your ride is here.”

Molly looked out as well, her mouth dropping open in amazement. She personally had been expecting Pavel in his black sleigh with its matched black mares. That was NOT what had just pulled to a stop outside the bookstore.

“Well,” she said finally. “I guess we know how the Snow Queen travels when she wants to make an entrance.”

The carriage was pulled by four snow-white deer, not muscular reindeer like the ones that pulled Old Man Winter’s sledge, but ethereal creatures that looked as if they’d been spun from starlight. Their antlers were of the palest ivory, and had holly and ivy twined among the branches. Snowflakes and jingle bells adorned their pale blue harnesses, and their hooves looked as if they were shod in silver.

The carriage they pulled was no less breathtaking. It was all white and silver, with icy blue and warm gold accents all over the snowflake-emblazoned panels. An elegant driver, dressed in a crisp white suit and top hat, sat up front and held the reins in white-gloved hands. Beside him sat a groom or footman, similarly attired but without the top hat, who jumped down as soon as the carriage came to a stop and hurried towards the front door.

“I feel a little underdressed suddenly,” Molly murmured to DC, looking at the uniformed men.

“No kidding.”

The footman opened the door, paused to catch his breath, and then said solemnly, “Her Exquisite Majesty, The Snow Queen, current Leader of the Parliament of Realms, extends her greetings to her dearest friends and requests they join her for an informal tea.”

“If this is informal, the dinner is going to be stunning,” Molly said under her breath, then turned and gestured to her companions, who were all staring wide-eyed at the footman. “Come on, guys, our ride is here.”

The inside of the carriage was just as impressive: full of luxuriously cushioned seats and white fur blankets. Molly almost missed the fact that there was someone else in the carriage until Kaylee said, “Are you visiting the Snow Queen too? What are you?”

These questions were directed at a diminutive person so huddled in blankets that Molly saw a pair of intense violet eyes in a dark face, and a bit of long, dark hair.

“Don’t expect an answer,” came an acid voice from the opposite corner. The carriage was so large that there was actually room for a table in the center. “Not an intelligent once, anyways. Turians aren’t known for their intelligence and two questions in a row probably confused it.”

The speaker was a woman – at least, Molly thought she was. She was tall, taller even than Steve, who was a good six and a half feet tall, but she was painfully thin and angular. Her arms and legs appeared exceedingly long and spindly, almost segmented, and she was busy knitting something. Despite the chill, she wore a simple grey robe and soft grey slippers. The robe was hooded, and Molly could not see any hair, but her eyes were bright green. Were it not for the pursed set of her thin lips and her harsh words, she would have seemed elegant.

Kaylee frowned at her. “That’s not nice,” she said. “I wasn’t asking you.”

The owner of the violet eyes had also turned to look at the tall woman. Now, a faintly bell-like sound emerged from the pile of blankets. “You know, Yesira, you would be more effective if you didn’t air your opinions all the time. They stink almost as much as the dump you come from.”

Yesira sniffed. “Is that the best you can do, Palys? How long did it take you to come up with it? The entire trip?”

“It gave me something to amuse myself while I wasn’t planning how to vote you off the Parliament,” Palys said.

Schrodinger had been looking back and forth at the two. Now, he looked up at Molly and said very quietly, on their personal link, I think I understand why Jade has been so stressed.

               Agreed.

Kaylee, however, was not as circumspect as Schrodinger. She looked at both of the creatures and said, “You both have such bad manners! Santa is going to leave you nothing but reindeer poop and coal!” Then she flung herself angrily down next to Gideon and crossed her arms across her chest.

The rest of the trip was spent in awkward silence, although Molly was sure there was a telepathic conversation between her charges. Yesira concentrated on her knitting (and what she was knitting was completely alien to Molly), and Palys was still snuggled deep within her pile of blankets. Molly pulled out her cell phone and pulled up her ideas for the dinner to go over them again.

When the deer stopped again, it was in front of the shimmering white marble castle that the Snow Queen and her consort Jack Frost called home. The footman opened the door with a flourish, and Yesira stood up immediately, pushing her way to the front.

“The High Priestess Yesira, Disciple of the Summer Druid, of Elderpost,” the footman announced as she swept by him.

The pile of blankets sniffed. “Pretentious twit.” Then the blankets fell, and a small brown creature, dressed in what looked like a cloak of green growing leaves, descended from the carriage.

“Palys, envoy of Greenyard Meadows, beloved of the Turian peoples!”

Molly shook her head. “I wonder what titles we get?” she said, and grinned at the children.

Kaylee was still scowling after the other two. “I don’t want a title,” she said. “They make you stupid and grumpy.”

“Shush!” Gideon said. “You don’t want Santa to hear that!” He gave her a hug. “Don’t be angry at them, Kaylee. They don’t understand. Come on, the Snow Queen is waiting!”

Gideon’s hugs were powerful in their own right, and the scowl fell from Kaylee’s face. She hugged him back, and then they all got out of the carriage.

Yesira and Palys were nowhere to be seen, but Jack Frost was waiting there to greet them (the footman having stayed silent, mercifully). “My friends! How good to see you!” he said, hurrying down the stairs. “Jade and I are so glad you could come!”

“We’re here to save you!” Kaylee said, flinging herself into his arms.

Jack Frost laughed. “From all the rotten Parliament members?” he teased. “I wish. They’re almost insufferable.”

“We met two of them already,” Lily said, frowning. “Are the others better?”

“Hardly,” Jack said, his eyes dancing. “I hope you can help us remind them what the season is about.”

“Are we going to meet the rest of them today?” Molly asked him, as he led them up the stairs and into the great hall.

“No, they’re not invited to the tea party,” Jack said, and then laughed when she breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Although I have a feeling you might meet some of them sooner, rather than later.”

Molly looked at him, but he refused to say any more and just showed them into a cozy room that held a low table full of food and tea, and a large black CrossCat seated on a chair.

Librarian! Schrodinger said, bounding forward. I didn’t know you were going to be here!

               Where else would I be? The Librarian said, leaning over to touch her nose to his. I am a member of the Parliament, after all.

               But not one that needs to be convinced, surely? Schrodinger looked at her closely.

Hardly. I am here to help Jade keep the peace.

The Librarian, besides being Schrodinger’s great-great-grandmother, was the de facto leader of the CrossCats in his den, which was one of several in his Realm. Molly wasn’t quite clear on the way CrossCat politics worked, but it was clear that the Librarian was revered by all of them.

Once they were all seated around the Librarian, another door opened and the Snow Queen herself came in. It was obvious that she had been greeting other guests: Jade wore a massive silver and diamond crown on her head, cushioned by long braids of her pale hair, and her gown was ablaze with shimmering snowflakes. As the door closed, they got a glimpse of this perfection before she waved a hand and her outfit changed. Gone was the crown and gown; in its place was a simple dark green dress with a snowflake motif around the edge of the skirt. No coronet at all, although she kept the braids in her hair.

“Thank goodness that is over!” Jade said, dropping gracefully into a chair next to Zoey. “No more stuffy guests today!” She smiled at them. “Just good friends. I’m so glad you all could come!”

“Us too!” Lily said.

“Yeah, this is way better than school!” Zoey added.

Kaylee nodded, but she was strangely quiet. The Snow Queen looked at her.

“I see you met some of my guests,” Jade said gently. “And you were not impressed, were you, Kaylee?”

“They were rude, and we’re supposed to be nice to each other at Christmas!” Kaylee said. “And they were rude in front of us!”

“That’s part of why they’re here,” Jade said. “I’m hoping that the Cove will show them the right way to live.”

“They should come to my house,” Kaylee said, reaching for a sandwich. “My dad would teach them manners.”

Or the tea shop, Schrodinger added. Let Aunt Margie deal with them.

Molly, who had her teacup at her mouth, nearly choked on her tea at that.

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