(advent) December 18 – Tuesday

Don’t be surprised if there are several entries tonight.  I’m trying to catch up.

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“At least it’s good and cold today,” Molly said, as she helped Schrodinger put his coat on. “And it has been for the last week, so we don’t have to worry about falling through the ice.”

As if Indi would even open the skating cove if the ice wasn’t safe, Schrodinger said. Then he saw what else Molly had in her hands and started to back away. No! Absolutely not!

“It’s cold out!” Molly said. “Do you want frostbite on your pads?”

I’ve never had a problem, and I’ve been outside for all winter in the past, he retorted, still backing away. I’m not wearing booties!

“Jack has a set now,” Molly coaxed.

Jack is a dog! I am not, and I will not wear them!

Molly tried for the next five minutes to convince the CrossCat to put the woolen boots on, but he categorically refused, and she finally gave up, after warning him, “I don’t want to hear that your feet are cold!”

If my feet are cold, I’ll go sit beside the bonfire! Schrodinger shot back, and despite herself, Molly laughed.

“Fine, fine.” She tucked the woolen booties back into the mitten basket next to the front door, and grabbed the mittens her mother had knit her for the winter. “Are you ready to go?”

I’ve been ready.

She laughed again and they went out the front door. Pavel had stopped by earlier in the day as she and Schrodinger were assembling gingerbread houses for delivery, and invited them out to skate later that night. Given that she hadn’t skated yet this season, Molly had readily agreed.

Now, she and Schrodinger stepped out into a crystalline wonderland: one of those brilliant winter evenings when the air itself seemed to sparkle with ice, and the clouds hung low. The promise of snow danced on the stiff breeze as it swirled past them, hurrying down the sidewalk towards the sea.

As they stepped out into the cold, bells rang through the quiet street, announcing Pavel’s arrival. Molly took one look at the sleigh and laughed again. This time, Pavel had outdone himself.

The sleigh this time was black, and drawn by a black horse that tossed his head as the driver pulled him to a stop in front of them. He stamped one foot, obviously ready to run forever. The driver was in a black peacoat with a long red and green scarf wrapped tightly around his face. Pavel himself wore a black furred coat, belted in black and gold, with a black furred hat on his head. The sleigh held piles and piles of furs, which Molly and Schrodinger burrowed into happily.

“Where do you keep finding these?” Molly asked Pavel. “You can’t tell me you keep a fleet of sleighs.”

“Me? No.” Pavel winked at her. “But I have friends.”

“Do you?” she teased, and he winked at her again.

The driver shook his reins and the horse took off, happy to be moving. The bells jingled merrily as they sped along, heading out to the skating cove on the gentle Elizabeth River outside the town, named for Captain Carter’s favorite granddaughter.

Indi Sarabian and her husband ran the skating area every year, and every year they improved on the site. This year, they’d strung lights through the trees lining the inlet: white snowflake lights, which cast a gentle glow on the whole area.

Oh, I like these better than the floodlights! Schrodinger said, hooking his paws on the edge of the sleigh to boost himself up so he could see better. It looks like a snowglobe!

“It does!” Molly agreed, enchanted. “I hope they keep them!”

The sleigh drew up to the edge of the ice to let them out, drawing everyone’s attention, and Molly giggled, knowing both Pavel and Schrodinger were enjoying their grand entrance. The pirate captain and the CrossCat jumped out of the sleigh almost before it came to a stop, and Pavel pivoted in the snow to give Molly a hand out.

It was still bitterly cold, but the cove was protected from the wind by the trees. As they did every year, the Sarabians had built a big bonfire on the shore, and Schrodinger headed right over there. Molly and Pavel followed him.

The cove was free to skate on, and Indi had built a small stand where she sold hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and rented skates for those who needed. She waved to Molly and turned to say something to the small child standing beside her. As Molly and Pavel sat on one of the logs lining the edges of the cove to put their skates on, the child (Indi’s daughter Kara) brought out an old couch cushion and set it in the snow, within the warmth of the bonfire but far enough away from any stray sparks. She squealed with delight as Schrodinger hopped up on the cushion and stuck his cold nose onto her cheek in thanks.

“I see they know you here,” Pavel chuckled, standing up easily on his skates.

“It’s a small town. Everyone knows everyone,” Molly said, standing up as well. She’d gotten new skates for Christmas last year, and she, Drew and the others had gone skating until the ice had melted. But this year, there just hadn’t been time, it seemed.

She’d hoped she and Drew would have been able to go during his month off. But now, it was Pavel taking her hand and leading her out onto the ice. As they glided off into the cold night, Molly told herself her eyes were watering because of the cold.

Just the cold.

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“Thought I’d find you here.”

Drew didn’t look up from the saddle he was polishing. “It was too hot in the house.”

Old Man Winter grunted as he came further into the stable. “You could turn the heat down.”

“Or I could come out here,” Drew said, continuing to rub the leather oil into the saddle. “Which was easier. Besides, I was talking to Ember.”

Indeed, we were having quite the conversation. The dragon’s voice was dry. Quite stimulating.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to interrupt a conversation,” Old Man Winter said. “I’ll just go watch Molly and Pavel by myself.”

The cloth fell from his hand and the saddle clattered to the floor as Drew whirled around. “What?”

“Oh, that got your attention,” Old Man Winter said, scowling, but Drew saw an odd twinkle in his eyes. “Put that saddle away and come with me.”

Once he’d put the saddle and cleaning supplies away, Drew joined Old Man Winter in the main courtyard. Ember had joined them as well, to his surprise, walking easily on her healed leg.

I want to finally see Molly, she said. I’ve heard so much about her.

“How are we going to see her?” Drew asked Old Man Winter. “Are we going to the skating cove?”

“Can’t do that,” Old Man Winter grunted.

“Why not?”

“Because I’ve been there too much in the last couple of days,” the old man said. “Don’t want to screw the weather up too much.”

Drew looked at him, puzzled.

He really is Old Man Winter, Ember said. If he stays in one place for too long, it can coat the entire place in a very long, cold winter, and that isn’t always good. Why do you think he stays here?

“Oh.” There wasn’t much more to say to that. Then Drew frowned. “Why should you care? You don’t like the Cove or humanity anyways.”

“Still not right,” Old Man Winter said stiffly. “Now come on.” And he set off across the courtyard, towards what Drew had assumed was a garden. Drew was hard-pressed to keep up with him as he pushed through the wrought-iron gate and crunched through the snow.

No, not a garden. Drew saw instead it was a maze, created by snow-covered boxwood hedges. Luckily, Old Man Winter seemed to know exactly where he was going, and Drew only had to keep him in sight.

Ember was waiting for them in the center of the maze, having simply flown in. She sat in the snow next to a pool of oddly unfrozen water, which was apparently Old Man Winter’s destination.

“How is the water still liquid?” Drew asked, leaning over. Old Man Winter stuck an arm out and pushed him back.

“Not water,” the old man said. “Don’t fall in.”

“Then what is it?”

“Magic,” Old Man Winter said.

“Well, obviously,” Drew said. “Otherwise, it would be frozen.”

No, he means it’s liquid magic, Ember said. Literally.

“You can make liquid magic?” Drew stared at the pool in fascination. “What do you do with it?”

“Anything you can imagine,” Old Man Winter said, dipping one finger in. “But mostly we use it to look at things.”

Ice crystals spread from his finger, webbing across the pool’s surface, turning into a mirror of glass. Old Man Winter muttered something under his breath, and the mirror rippled, as if a breeze had rushed through. Drew leaned over again, watching as the picture came into view.

He recognized the skating cove immediately. Indi had strung lights in the trees this year, but the bonfire was the same, and he saw Schrodinger holding court on his cushion in the snow. There were couples and clumps of people out on the ice, but Drew’s eyes went unerringly to Molly and Pavel.

Molly’s long hair was loose and flying behind her as she and Pavel spun around the ice. He couldn’t hear her, but he could see she was laughing. Something akin to actual pain stabbed through him.

She is very pretty, Ember said, leaning over and looking as well. But there is sadness in her eyes.

“You can see that?” Drew said.

Can’t you?

And then he could. Even as she threw back her head and laughed again at something Pavel said, Drew could see the tension, and the worry in her body language.

Old Man Winter was watching too. “At least she’s having a bit of fun,” he said. “She needs to not work all the time. First time I’ve seen her not up to her elbows in flour.”

“She likes being up to her elbows in flour,” Drew said. “She even bakes on her off days.”

“Kitchen witches do that.”

As they watched, Pavel spun around and stopped in the ice. Drew recognized the ornament as soon as the pirate pulled it from his coat pocket: this one was silver and blue, icy colors, and had a small charm for the silver charm bracelet her mother had gotten her in the spring hanging from the top of the ornament. Molly’s eyes went wide as she took the ornament.

“Pretty,” Old Man Winter said, and Drew started. “Good choice.”

“Thank you.”

You’re getting soft, Old Man, Ember teased gently. Next thing we know, you’ll be buying her a charm yourself.

“Bah,” Old Man Winter said. “I wouldn’t bother. There are better ways to make her smile.” He reached down again and stuck his finger into the magic, whispering under his breath.

Drew watched, amused, as tiny snowflakes began to fall on the skating rink. Molly looked up at the sky and smiled.

“I think she knows it’s you,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Old Man Winter said, but there was a pleased smile on his face, and Drew knew that was a lie.

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