(advent) Wednesday, December 12

Nelson sat in a corner of the Harbormaster’s Hall, a cup of strong coffee cradled in his callused hands, and brooded. The large hall was light and airy most of the time, but the weather had turned grey and forbidding, and his corner in particular was gloomy. Not that he minded – to him, the entire world was gloomy, and had been for a very long time, and he had resisted any efforts to pull him out.

Not that the Cove wasn’t trying. His scowl was usually enough to keep anyone away, but apparently the people in this town didn’t know that a scowl meant leave him alone. Even here, there was a person coming towards the table, a cup in his hand.

“Mind if I join you?” the stranger asked.

“Yes,” Nelson said curtly. “I’m not interested in company.”

“You’re in the wrong town then, my friend,” the other man said, sitting down across from him. He was tall and slender, with long white hair that fell in drifts over his shoulders. His plaid shirt and blue jeans were plain cotton, and sat easily on his rangy frame. The very tips of his pointed ears poked through his hair. “Or maybe you’re in the right one, to change your mind.”

“My mind doesn’t need changing,” Nelson said shortly. “It’s fine.”

“You know how many people I’ve heard say that?” the stranger laughed.

“No, and I’ve no wish to.” Nelson lifted his cup and drank. “I wish to be left alone.”

“Do you? Then why are you here, instead of at home?”

“Hard to be at home when you don’t have one anymore.” Nelson scowled again.

The stranger’s face transformed, his good humor metamorphosing into concern. “You are homeless? Then you must join me at my home! This is not a season to be homeless!”

“I have a room to return to,” Nelson said, and wondered why he was talking this much. “I do not need your charity.”

“Hardly charity,” the stranger said. “Are you certain?”

In answer, Nelson downed the rest of his coffee and rose. “Yes,” he said, and strode away before the man could say anything else. He had no wish to continue the conversation.

<><>

Father Christopher raised his mug to his lips, his eyes wary. “I’m not sure about this, Molly.”

“Trust me, Father,” Molly said. “I think you’ll like it.”

“I always trust you,” he said, and sipped the tea she’d poured into his cup. His eyes widened. “What is this?”

“It’s a new spiced herbal tea that Yava sent me, and it’s supposed to help soothe the lungs,” Molly said. “I remember how much you coughed last year, and thought it might help us to get ahead of it this year. Pneumonia is not fun.”

“No,” he agreed.

She pushed a small tin over to him. “You’ll want to do one mug of this before bed, steeped for 10 minutes in hot water. If your throat is bothering you, add a bit of honey. NOT whiskey.”

“Perish the thought,” he said piously, then winked at her.

Molly was going to respond when Kaylee, Lily, and Gideon came in, followed by Jack and Schrodinger. “No Zoey and Aurora?” she said instead.

“She wasn’t in school,” Lily said. “Ms. Temple said she was sick.”

I can confirm, Schrodinger said. I went and checked – Aurora said she was running a fever and doing a lot of sleeping.

“Poor Zoey!” Molly said. “I’ll send over a care package for the family later today.” She looked at them. “Well, did you want to do the calendar now?”

“I’m fascinated by this,” Father Christopher said, joining them in front of the tapestry. “The Snow Queen and Jack have outdone themselves this year!”

“Kitten, who are we helping today?” Gideon asked.

The little cat, who had been frolicking in the snow in the back garden, now trotted into a glassed-in room that was full of tropical plants. He shook himself, shedding snowflakes that melted almost immediately in what was obviously warm air.

“What kind of room is that?” Kaylee asked, her eyes wide.

“The Victorians called it a conservatory,” Father Christopher told her. “Now, you would call it a sun room.”

“It looks like the Gate Room at the Station,” Lily said. “You know, with all the grass and plants, and the glass ceiling.”

It does! Schrodinger said. I love how it’s green all year round in there.

“Me too,” Molly agreed.

The conservatory was a riot of colors, as flowers bloomed all over the place. Molly saw orchids and poinsettias, lilies and iris, as well as plants she couldn’t name. The taller plants had white lights twined around them, and there was a wreath on one door, the one that led back into the house. As they watched, the little cat stopped at a basket that held gardening gloves, snips, and other paraphernalia. He tugged out the gloves, and flipped over a hat that they’d been hiding. The familiar smoke drifted up and turned into letters: “Brighten the world with color. It goes so well with the snow!”

Kaylee cocked her head to one side. “Are we coloring then, today, kitten?”

In answer, the smoke seeped from the calendar and began to whirl around them before dropping something into their hands.

“Gloves?” Kaylee said. “What does that have to do with coloring the world?” She looked at the others. Gideon had a hat, and both Jack and Schrodinger had scarves. Lily had a basket with a bright ribbon on the top of it.

“Well, well, well,” Father Christopher said, looking at their prizes. “Do you know, that looks exactly like the baskets I have back at the church for the poor. Would you like to help me put them together?”

“That will definitely brighten the world,” Lily said. “We’d love to help!”

<><>

“You know, it’s been too quiet.”

Jade looked up from the book she’d been reading when Jack spoke. They were seated in their private living room, which had a large fireplace and comfortable chairs, as well as several magical statues and devices scattered about the room. Jack had been leaning over their scrying pool, a golden bowl set in a tripod that came up to his waist. Now he straightened up, shaking his head.

“Quiet is not a bad thing,” Jade said, setting a velvet bookmark on her page.

“I think it might be, given the circumstances this year,” he replied. “Did you know Percy’s ship pulled into port yesterday?”

“Yes, the Harbormaster told me.” She closed the book and looked over at him. “But he’s not a threat.”

“No, but it’s one more thing,” Jack said, shaking his head. “I just wish I knew who had taken the Advent calendar. It’s bugging me.”

She stood up and went over to him, slipping an arm around his waist and looking into the shimmering silver magic in the bowl. “I know, my love. All will be revealed in good time, though. We have to trust the Eidolon.”

“Do we?” He put his chin on the top of her head.

“Well, do you have another idea?” she replied.

“Not yet,” Jack admitted. He sighed. “I just don’t like feeling that I’m not in control.”

“Trust the Eidolon,” Jade said again. “This Eidolon has never steered us wrong.”

“That we know of,” Jack said.

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