Sunday, December 11
“Schrodinger, what are you doing?”
DC looked over at the CrossCat, who was sitting on the floor in front of the big front window he and the others had decorated. Beyond the cheerful scene, snow was falling in a steady, deliberate pattern. It had started the night before, and showed no signs of stopping in the near future.
I’m wondering how we’re going to get to the nursing home, Schrodinger said finally, turning towards her. That’s really not going to stop soon, and I don’t think anyone is going to want to drive. Molly said something about asking Pavel to take us in the sleigh, but he’s so busy. He turned back to the window. But I don’t want to disappoint anyone either. Being responsible is hard sometimes.
“Being responsible is hard all the time,” DC agreed. “But I wouldn’t worry too much about how you’re going to get to the nursing home.”
“Because you have a lot of luck,” she said. “And it’s Christmas. Weren’t you the one telling me that anything is possible at Christmas?”
He perked up. That’s true! I’ll go and remind the others.
They needed the reminder. Lily, Zoey, Kaylee, and Gideon were all seated at a table, looking glumly into mugs of hot chocolate, while Aurora and Jack shared one of the pet beds by the wood stove. They had packed up a bunch of stuff from the magic craft table when they’d gotten in earlier, courtesy of Nathan Barrett’s 4×4, at Molly’s urging.
DC reminded me that this is Christmas, Schrodinger said now, hopping up on to a chair next to Gideon. And anything is possible at Christmas. Remember, Zoey?
Zoey nodded. “That is true! We got our house back!”
“And you helped Molly defeat the Eidolon in Old Man Winter!” Lily added, brightening. “That’s true! What’s a little bit of snow?”
“Technically, it’s about twelve inches, which isn’t a little bit,” Gideon said. “But that’s okay. We can deal with that.”
Kaylee threw a napkin at him. “You’re so literal!”
There was a jingling of bells as the front door opened, distracting them. They all turned to see who had braved the storm.
“What a lovely day out!” Old Man Winter boomed, his face wreathed in a large grin and snowflakes in his beard. With him were two distinctly unhappy-looking people wrapped in heavy cloaks. “Are you guys ready to go to the nursing home?”
“With you? YES!” Kaylee crowed, launching herself at him. “Did you bring the sledge? And the reindeer? Can I drive again?”
Old Man Winter laughed. “Yes, with me. Yes, I brought the sledge and the reindeer, but no, I think I’ll drive today. It’s a little too snowy out for you.”
She pouted. “Why?”
“Because you haven’t enough arm strength, darling,” he said, sweeping her up in his arms. “Don’t worry. When you turn 16, I’ll give you your own sledge and reindeer.”
Schrodinger wondered how Nathan and Corrinne would react to that, but didn’t say anything. He was more interested to see who Old Man Winter had brought with him.
The cloaks hid a lot of their features, but he was relatively sure they were newcomers. One was taller than the other, but neither were overly tall or short. Nor did he see any additional appendages. He jumped down off his chair and approached them. Welcome to CrossWinds Books, he said politely. Would you like some tea to warm up before we head back out?
“A CrossCat?” A deep female voice came from the depths of the taller being’s hood, and a gloved hand pushed the hood back to reveal a wrinkled face with amazingly brilliant green eyes. “Upon my soul, it really is a CrossCat. Perhaps this place is civilized after all.” She bowed to him. “Joyous Greetings, Traveler. May your Roads be smooth.”
Joyous Greetings, Schrodinger replied, bowing himself. May your Travels be easy.
She beamed at him, obviously pleased at the ritual greeting. “I am Matriarch Daisia, and I would love a cup of tea.”
I am Schrodinger Barrett, and please, come sit down. He looked at the other figure. Would you like tea too?
The gloved hand that pushed back the furred cloak looked as big as Old Man Winter’s, for all the being was shorter by nearly two and a half feet. “Tea?” the bearded man rumbled thoughtfully. “I do not think I have heard of this before.” His words were strangely accented, although they were clear enough. “What is tea?”
“I think you will like it, Crossas,” Old Man Winter said, leading them over to the table next to the others. “Especially Molly’s Christmas Tea. It will appeal to your sweet tooth.”
As if by magic, Molly appeared at the doorway to the kitchen, a plate of cookies in her hands. “And I’m assuming you’ll want some as well, Old Man?” she said, setting the cookies on the table. “I made the lemon-thyme shortbread you like.”
He reached eagerly for one. “You need to try these too, Crossax,” he said, handing the man one. The wedges looked ridiculously tiny in their big hands. “And the sugar cookies. And then you need to set up a delivery order with Molly,” and he nodded at her, “who is the best baker in all the Realms.”
Molly blushed. “Hardly.” She offered a hand to Daisia, who shook it promptly, and then Crossax, who peered at it before taking it carefully. “Welcome to Carter’s Cove, Matriarch, Chieftain. I’m Molly McIntyre, and I run the tea shop. Please, do warm up before you go out again.”
“A kitchen witch! How lovely!” Daisia smiled at Molly, and Schrodinger decided he liked her. Then again, anyone who liked Molly was good in his book. “What kind of herbal teas do you have, my dear?”
“I’ve got a rather large amount,” Molly said. “Would you like to come and look?”
The Matriarch followed her into the kitchen while Crossax looked warily at the chairs.
“You can sit,” Old Man Winter assured him, taking a chair himself. “They’re very sturdy. I’ve never broken one.”
The big man sat down and shrugged out of his cloak. Underneath, he wore a business suit that reminded Schrodinger of the grey suit Old Man Winter often wore in the Cove, although he did not look as uncomfortable as the winter spirit had been the first time he’d worn it. The suit was tailored around the very large muscles, and to his delight, Schrodinger noticed that his tie had crossed battle axes and Scottie dogs on it.
“I love your tie!” Lily said at the same time, leaning forward. “That’s awesome!”
Crossax beamed at her. “Thank you! This was a gift from my granddaughter. She had it made especially for this trip.” He pulled the tie out so the others could see it better. “I have three Scottie dogs at home, named Horus, Ramses, and Ben.”
“Ben?” Kaylee said.
“Yes, my granddaughter named him.” Crossax’s laugh rumbled out from his belly. “I was going to name him Osiris, to round out the gods, but she insisted. I don’t know why she likes the name Ben either.” He looked around at them. “And who are all of you?”
“Oh, my apologies, Crossax.” Old Man Winter shook his head and introduced them all.
The chieftain nodded. “I hear you are going to help teach us to work together,” he said. “I wish you good luck, but I do not think you will succeed.”
Why not? Jack said, picking up his head. You and the Matriarch seem to be very nice.
“We are,” Daisia agreed, coming back out. “And we get along with each other.” She gave Crossax a smile. “But even we have issues with some of our…” She paused, apparently looking for the right word. “Companions,” she finished, sitting back down.
“Truth,” Crossax said, picking up a frosted sugar cookie. “While I have no issues with Matriarch Daisia, the same cannot be said for Lady Avala, who seems to believe that the only way to keep her seat is to block every measure I suggest.” He scowled.
“In her defense, you do the same thing to her,” Daisia said, as Molly came back out with tea mugs. “And I do it to Nahand, and fully admit that sometimes it’s just to spoil his day.” She shook her head. “We are old dogs, you and I. Can we learn new tricks?”
As another old dog, absolutely, Jack said dryly. Age is no excuse.
Daisia looked at his greying muzzle. “But it’s harder to learn,” she said.
“That just means it’s worth it,” Kaylee told her. She was still sitting on Old Man Winter’s lap. “That’s what Mommy always says.” Then, as Schrodinger looked over at her, she added, “We’re going to help you! That’s what today is about.”
Lily was frowning a bit, and Zoey, who was very attuned to her best friend’s moods, nudged her. “What’s wrong, Lily?” The words came out in a sudden silence, louder than Schrodinger thought Zoey had meant to say it.
Lily flushed a bit as everyone looked at her. “It’s nothing,” she mumbled.
Lily? Schrodinger reached out with a soft paw. You can tell us. Or just me, if you want.
She struggled and then blurted out, “But why didn’t the Snow Queen send you out with the people you couldn’t work with today? I mean, what good does it do to come out with someone you agree with, if you are trying to learn to work with people that you don’t agree with?”
Schrodinger had wondered the same thing. Now , they all turned to their visitors.
“Actually, we volunteered,” Daisia said. “Neither of us had ever been to the Cove.”
“Also, we were intrigued by your Advent calendar,” Crossax added. “We do not celebrate like this in either of our Realms, but I for one think my granddaughter would enjoy it. “ He looked at Old Man Winter and said, “And truthfully? I wanted to meet the people who unfroze Old Man Winter’s heart. That was truly an amazing thing, long overdue in the Realms.”
“And it keeps me thinking that perhaps you know something we don’t,” Daisia finished.
“You mean like how to be nice to people?” Zoey said.
Not just people, Schrodinger guessed. People we may not like very much. Or may not like us. Right?
Daisia nodded. “Exactly so.”
“The snow is letting up a little,” DC said from the front counter. “Looks like you might want to leave now.”
They all scrambled into their winter clothing and hurried outside to Old Man Winter’s great sledge. Molly followed them and handed up a basket.
“For your snack later,” she said, grinning. “Decorating is hungry work!”
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