Wednesday found Molly elbow deep in marzipan for a second day. She spent the morning meticulously painting every part of the fireplace and the Yule log that lay in the grate, then set it aside to dry as she boxed up cookies. Then she started making scones and tea breads.
While she worked, her mind went back over the previous day. Pavel had ended up taking them all to see the tree-lighting ceremony at the Harbour, and then they had spent nearly an hour riding around the Cove in his black sleigh, pulled by a black horse, looking at all the lights. Christmas lights were a matter of pride in the town: everyone tried to see what they could do to set the snow aglow with different colors, and Molly had enjoyed the trip just as much as the others. But even then, she’d wondered.
Who would want to steal an Advent calendar? The thought raced around her head as she mixed up cranberry orange tea bread batter and poured it into the small pans she had bought to sell them in. And why?
There had been threats to the Cove before, of course, most before she had been born. But she remembered Old Man Winter’s first year in the Cove, when he’d been bent on destroying it, thanks to the Eidolon that had taken over his soul. And Caliban, who had also been prey to an Eidolon. But Old Man Winter was a dear friend now, and Caliban had become Perry, and was currently off sailing somewhere, content to be just a sailor, not a prince.
Could the Eidolon have found someone else to try and sabotage the Cove?
That thought chilled her. Molly had no idea why this particular Eidolon hated Carter’s Cove, but it was because of it that the Snow Queen, Caliban, Jack Frost, and Herse had first set protections on the town. For a while, it had only needed to be charged by the Snow Queen’s Ball, held the last Saturday night before Christmas, but as the Cove had grown, so had the amount of magic needed to recharge the wards. The Advent calendar had seemed the perfect way to do that. But had it been hacked?
Molly looked over at the calendar. The little cat wasn’t actually asleep, which was odd; instead, he was sitting on the bed, taking a leisurely bath. And to her surprise, there was someone else in the calendar. She left the island and went over to the calendar, peering intently.
Seated in a chair in front of the fire in the third room of the attic, holding a steaming mug of something, was an older figure. Their back was towards Molly, so she wasn’t sure what sex they were, but the hands cupping the mug were lined and gnarled, with just a single golden band on the left hand.
Molly put her hand on the calendar. “Where did you come from?” she murmured.
The figure shifted slightly, and to her surprise, a voice said, “Why don’t you come and have a seat?”
The air around her blurred and shifted, wrapping her in the same pine and cinnamon-scented smoke that had become this calendar’s trademark. When it cleared, Molly found herself standing in the attic room, seated in another easy chair in front of the fire, a mug of her favorite Christmas tea in her hands.
“How did you do that?” she asked, looking over at the figure. Now that she could see facial features, she thought it might be a woman, but she wasn’t sure.
“It’s not hard,” the figure replied, their voice smooth and sexless. They wore a long robe of deep green velvet, edged with gold and silver leaves, and the face was as lined as the hands holding the mug. “Simple magic. I thought it might be time for a talk, Molly.”
Deep green eyes, nearly the same color as the robe, were turned in her direction. Strangely, Molly felt no fear, no worry. Whoever this person was, they weren’t a threat.
“No, I’m not a threat.” The person chuckled. “I can promise you that.”
“Who are you?” Molly asked. “Where did you come from?”
“Here and there,” the person answered.
“But who are you?” Molly said.
Another chuckle. “So many questions. You may call me Basilissa.”
“Is that your name?”
“One of them,” Basilissa said, sipping their tea. “It is the name I use today.” They looked over at Molly. “You are worried about the calendar, and what it may do to your town and friends.”
“You seem to know a lot about me,” Molly said cautiously. She still hadn’t sipped her tea, despite the appealing smell coming from the mug.
“I do,” Basilissa agreed. “The tea will not hurt you, Molly. I give you my word.” The gentle certainty in their tone set her mind at ease.
“Thank you.” Molly sipped the tea. “Why did you invite me here?”
“I wanted the chance to talk to you,” Basilissa said. “And this seemed the most expedient way.”
There was a sound of gentle footsteps coming up the stairs, and in a moment, the little cat that had been bathing below trotted into the room. He came over to Molly, who realized he was about the size of Schrodinger, and laid his head on her knee. His fur was soft and warm, and his purr vibrated through her.
“What did you want to talk about?” Molly asked, stroking the cat’s head. If it weren’t for the fact that she knew she was sitting in a room that didn’t actually exist, it would have been very comfortable.
“Tell me about the Cove.”
Molly blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Just what I said,” Basilissa said. “Tell me about the Cove.”
As if those words had released her, Molly began to talk about her home town: the characters that made the town up, the way magic seemed to live in the air, the farm and the bookstore and all the things that made Carter Cove home to her.
“You love your town very much,” Basilissa said when she’d finally run out of things to say. “That pleases me.”
“Why did you want to know that?” Molly asked. “And did you steal the Advent calendar from the Snow Queen?”
“I like learning things,” Basilissa said simply. “Knowledge is something everyone should try and get.” They stood up and stretched, then turned to Molly. “I did not steal the calendar, but I did add to it, Molly. For good reasons, I assure you.”
“That is for me to know for now,” the being said. “But let me say this: your town is in no danger from me.” They hesitated, as if considering further words, then looked down at her. “I thank you for your hospitality, Molly. It’s time to go back, though.”
Molly blinked, and she was back in her kitchen, a mug of tea in her hand, standing in front of the advent calendar. The little cat was sleeping in the bed that he had been on before, and there was no one in the attic room.
“Was it all a dream?” she said out loud, looking at the cup of tea in her hand. She didn’t remember the mug, or making it, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t.
The cat didn’t answer her.
“What do you think we’ll be doing today?” Kaylee said, as she and Gideon followed Lily and Zoey through the wintery streets. It wasn’t snowing today, but the sun wasn’t out; a grey cloud cover hung low over their heads, and the wind that blew in off the ocean smelled of salt.
“Something inside,” Gideon said decisively. “Because it’s a yucky day out.”
“It is,” Kaylee agreed. “But you know, it’s still prettier than anywhere else.”
“Oh yes,” Gideon said. “I don’t want to live anywhere else.”
“It’s a magical place, to be sure.”
That voice hadn’t been familiar, and Kaylee and Gideon stopped to look around to see who had spoken. They saw a large wagon, hitched to two massive reindeer, but instead of Old Man Winter, this person was a woman, her face half-hidden by the wool hat on her head. “Who are you?” Kaylee asked. “And are these your reindeer?”
“Sure, and they are,” the woman said, chuckling. “My name’s Kris, and I’ve just come to this lovely town. What are your names?”
Lily and Zoey had heard the new voice and come back, and now Lily said, “I’m Lily Barrett, and this is my sister Kaylee, and our friends Zoey Allen and Gideon Fable. And this is Jack and Aurora.”
Both dogs were sniffing at the reindeer, who lowered their heads to nuzzle them.
“Did you get your reindeer from Old Man Winter?” Gideon asked. “He has reindeer like this.”
Kris laughed. “Not hardly! His reindeer are magical indeed. Mine are regular reindeer who pull my poor cart.”
“Are you moving here?” Kaylee said, looking at the piles of belongings in the back of the cart.
“I am!” Kris beamed at them. “My old friend Brynna said it would be a good place to settle down, and she was right!”
“You know Brynna? Do you know Pavel?” Zoey asked excitedly. “We love both of them!”
“They’re very good people,” Kris said, nodding. “Perhaps we’ll see each other at their house, as I’m staying with them until my home is built.”
“Built?” Gideon blinked. “Is that what is going in on the empty lot past the sledding hill? A home?”
“Among other things,” Kris said. “And now, I’ve got to be moving on.” She clucked at the reindeer, who began to move forward. She waved at the children, who waved back. “Sure, and I’ll see you soon!”
“We need to tell Molly about her!” Zoey said, and the others nodded.
They burst into the kitchen at the bookstore, shouting, “Molly, Molly, we made a new friend!”
“Who?” she asked, grinning down at them. She’d been frosting snowmen cookies, and Kaylee saw that she had a smear of red on one side of her face. She must have absently rubbed her hand against her cheek.
“Her name’s Kris, and she has reindeer,” Gideon said. “Like Old Man Winter’s but she said they weren’t magical.”
“But they were HUGE!” Kaylee added. “And friendly!”
“And she’s friends with Brynna and Pavel,” Lily said.
“She said she was staying with them until her house was built,” Zoey said. “She’s building a house and something else in that empty lot that we found on the first day!”
“Wow, you guys had an adventure already!” Molly said, handing them each a cookie. “I wonder how the calendar will top that!”
“Let’s find out!” Gideon said, and they all clustered around the calendar.
The little cat woke up and stretched, then trotted into the next room.
This room was a bathroom, with a large old-fashioned claw-footed tub and a large sink. There was a curtain that probably hid the toilet. The cat jumped up and into the tub.
“I hope there’s no water in there!” Zoey giggled.
Why? I like baths, Schrodinger said.
But it wasn’t water droplets that splashed up from the tub, but smoke, rising up to form the words, “Let’s make this place festive!” As the smoke fell on the tub and sink, garlands seemed to wrap up and around, bringing holiday cheer even in to the smallest corner. Then the smoke came arrowing out of the calendar and zipped by them out of the kitchen.
They followed it out to the front of the store, where DC was waiting. Then the smoke formed into new letters: “Can you do the same?”
“We can!” Gideon said. “DC, are you decorating the windows?”
“I am!” the clerk said, grinning at them all. “Did you guys want to help me?”
“Oh yes!” They all nodded eagerly.
“Well, Ruth gave us all this stuff,” DC said. “Let’s see what we can do!”
- (advent) Tuesday, December 4
- (advent) Thursday, December 6