(advent) – December 2nd, a little late in the day

I don’t even have my Christmas tree up.  But I went ghost-hunting last night and house-hunting today, and so I’m a little behind.  Story of my life.

But!  Here we go!  Day 2!

<><><><><><><>

“Saint Michael’s Church, Father Christopher speaking.”

The priest’s deep voice rumbled through the speaker, easily heard even over the occasional static, and Drew smiled. “Hello, Father. Did you get it?”

“Drew! Yes, Luke dropped it off earlier this morning.” In the background, Drew could faintly hear the sounds of an organ. He must have called during choir practice. “It’s lovely. Where did you find them?”

“I went and talked with Catherine Taylor at the Tin Shop to see if she could get them,” Drew said, leaning back against the wall of the cabin he was sharing with the other tech and the Gate engineer. “She suggested this new artisan she’d found – an old woman who did these beautiful little beaded bottles. I went to her studio, meaning to ask how much the bottles were, and she was working on this amazing ornament.”

“They’re spectacular,” Father Christopher marveled. “And the idea is wonderful.”

“Thank you.” Drew snuck a look out the opposite window. The sun had just come up here – his time sense hadn’t quite kicked in yet, but he thought it was about noon back at the Cove. “I know she’s had a rough couple of months, and this just seemed the best way to remind her how happy she can be.”

“You’re a good man, Drew.” The priest’s voice softened. “When are you coming home?”

Drew sighed. Not soon enough. “We’re scheduled to be done tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “That’s why I agreed to do this. Mac promised me the rest of the month off.”

“And how does it look?”

“Let me get up and I’ll tell you.”

Getting to the door was a bit of an adventure – they’d just dumped their gear before heading out to the Gate to start fixing it, and they’d come back after the sun had gone down. Drew wound his way through the piles of equipment, clothing and coolers to the door, opened it and stepped outside. The air was cold, but not as cold as Carter’s Cove, and scented with the heavy, heady smell of pine. The sky was a deep, clear blue, with a large orange sun, bigger than the Earth’s sun, hovering over the tops of the trees. Drew inhaled, drawing in the air. No taste of rain.

“The forecast looks good,” he said. “I’m hoping we can get home early tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll pray you have no issues,” Father Christopher said.

“We could use all the prayers we can get,” Drew said

<><>

“Molly?”

Oh god, just go away, Molly thought, as she leaned against the counter in the pantry, where she was trying to figure out what she had the ingredients and the brain cells to actually do. For some reason, she was out of sorts and cranky, and it was translating into her cooking. There were already two batches of burned cookies in the trash, and she was running out of patience.

She heard Aunt Margie stuck her head around the edge of the door to the kitchen. “Molly?” she repeated. “Where are you?”

Molly sighed, counting to ten before she called out, “I’m in the pantry!”

“Are you busy?”

No, I’m hiding in the pantry napping, she thought irritably. Actually, the thought of a nap was more appealing than normal, which meant she was probably getting sick. Just what I need.

“I’m getting together some things for cookies,” Molly replied. She looked up at the shelves and grabbed a couple of canisters. “Hang on and I’ll be out.”

When she came out of the pantry, Aunt Margie and, to her surprise, Father Christopher were waiting for her. Molly set the canisters down. “Tea?” she asked, already reaching back to turn on the burner that her favorite kettle sat on. There had been talk of installing a hot water tap over the summer, but Molly had vetoed that idea. Her battered kettle had been inherited from her grandmother, and it was big enough to fill most of the tea pots in the small cafe.

“I won’t say no,” Father Christopher said, smiling his gentle smile. He took a seat at the counter, setting his leather messenger bag on the floor at his feet. “I heard you got tea in yesterday.”

“I did.” Molly smiled back, unable to resist the priest’s charm. She looked at her aunt. “Did you want some too?”

“Tea sounds lovely.” Aunt Margie sank onto the other stool with a sigh. “Is it really only December Second? I’ll never last the season.”

“You say that every year,” Molly told her, going and getting two more mugs and her large tea pot. Her own mug was still on the island, holding the dregs of her last cup of tea. She pulled out her personal tea chest and set it in the middle of the island, then went to the kitchen door and looked out to see where Schrodinger was.

The CrossCat was asleep in his bed by the wood stove, curled up with his current favorite toy, a stuffed pirate turtle with one patch over his eye. Drew had given him the turtle, which had promptly been named Scurvy, and Schrodinger had insisted it live at the tea shop. Molly contemplated waking him up, but then decided he looked too comfortable and quietly closed the door again.

“Schrodinger still sleeping?” Aunt Margie said.

“Yes, and he looks too comfortable to wake up,” Molly said. “He got far too wound up chasing Lily and Jack around earlier.” She looked at Father Christopher. “So, Father, to what do I owe this visit? Besides the fact that you heard I had new tea in.”

“That’s not enough?” The priest gave her a look of innocent astonishment that she didn’t believe for an instant.

“Not really, no.” The kettle started to whistle and Molly pulled it off the burner, pouring into each of their mugs. Then she pulled a new tea bag out of her personal favorite, the Christmas tea, and set it to steep. Then she looked over at him and her Aunt. “What’s up?”

“I’m just here for the tea,” Aunt Margie said. “And a chance to be off my feet for a few minutes.”

Molly looked at Father Christopher again, one eyebrow raised.

“You know, I used to not have to be interrogated when I came in,” he said.

She just raised the other eyebrow, and he sighed.

“Fine, fine.” He reached down and opened the messenger bag. Her eyes widened at the large, flat package he pulled out. “As you suspected, I have something for you.”

“Considering you were in on the scheme last year, I think I’m justified,” Molly retorted, taking the wrapped gift from him. It was lighter than it looked.

The Christmas ornament on the front of the package was purple today, with tiny gold beads at the junction. It matched the gold and purple fleur-de-lys shimmery wrapping paper and the gold ribbon. The red envelope looked wan against the shine.

The card inside read, “You’ve gotten so sad, but music makes you smile. Will you go singing with me?”

Molly set the card and ornament aside and carefully unwrapped the package. Inside was a book of Christmas carols. She blinked.

“Well, well, well, now you have no excuse not to come out to the church next Thursday night,” Father Christopher said, a twinkle in his blue eyes.

“And what’s next Thursday?” Molly asked him.

“We’re doing our first carol sing,” he said. “8 pm.”

<><>

He stood at the edge of the clearing, hidden in the shadows of the towering pine trees, watching the men work on the wooden structure rising from the middle of the stone circle. Never really understood why they think they need the circle, he thought acidly. Dumb humans. Barely understand how to use their technologies unless they can use it to kill each other.

The tall blond tech stood in the middle of the arch, his arms extended above his head, fingers splayed. If the man watching cared to, he could have seen the tendrils of magic snaking out from his fingertips, probing into the mechanisms of the arch. The Gates were a marvel of technology and magic, requiring their engineers and technicians to be magically adept in seeing the path of the Roads that connected the various Realms. Of course, not everyone needed to use Gates to access the Roads. Yet another reason why humans needed to be confined to their home world, in his opinion.

A low hum filled the air as the two other men laid their hands on the sides of the arch, adding Power to the Gate. The Gate Tech in the middle continued to move his fingers as if playing an invisible stringed instrument, tugging various magical threads to manipulate the innards of the Gate.

The hum changed tone as he worked, and the man in the shadows grudgingly admired the tech’s artistry. This was someone who actually understood the delicate balance of forces within the Gate. Rare for this forsaken species. Far too rare. It was humans like these he would actually mourn for.

For one moment, he considered not destroying their Gates. Not leaving them cut off from the rest of the Realms. There were those who had asked him to hold his hand, not follow through. They said the humans could learn. They reminded him that every race had started out barbaric, had grown into wisdom. And they were right.

To a point.

The humans had had time. Too much time. And rather than learn temperance, rather than grow into wisdom, they had perfected the art of war. They had grown skilled in the various ways of killing one another, of destroying the world they’d been born into. He had watched them for years, watched the death of hope and love and faith, feeling his heart die along with the innocence of the race. No, he was right. They had had time to change. And they had – from people into monsters.

There were enough monsters in the Realms.

Old Man Winter turned away from the Gate clearing, striding further in the shadows of the pine forest, his face a mass of thunderclouds and rain, anger and sorrow warring in his eyes. It wasn’t his fault they had to be cut off. It was theirs.

It didn’t make the decision any less painful.

 

4 thoughts on “(advent) – December 2nd, a little late in the day

    1. Val Post author

      I’ll just say that you’ll have to see, Mom. It’s going to be a bit different, but not as different as, say, my Horseman stories.

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