(advent) December 25 – Merry Christmas

The reindeer leapt forward through the snow, seemingly tireless. Molly, Drew and Schrodinger were snuggled in the back, under a mountain of furs, protected from the wind by the tall figure of Old Man Winter. Drew and Schrodinger had succumbed to sleep at some point during the long ride, but Molly couldn’t, despite her fatigue. She simply sat, warm in the pile of furs, watching the terrain (what little she could see of it) slide by.

They had been traveling for hours. Realms flashed by them; she was certain they had taken several Roads, and where they would end up, only Old Man Winter knew. She wondered if he was still trying to make his decision, or if he was planning on kidnapping them. Maybe that’s it, she thought dully. He’s decided to destroy the Cove and the Gate, but he wants us safe. Why? Who knows.

The sledge shifted on the snow, and she slid down a bit deeper into the furs, ending up lying on her back. Above her, the sky was dark and clear, despite the snowflakes swirling around them. Stars sparkled, brilliant fireflies of ice and light against a black velvet backdrop. Would she ever see the familiar stars above the Cove again?

Her eyes slowly closed, fatigue finally winning against fear. Molly fell into darkness, lulled to sleep by the hissing of the sledge through the snow.

It was the absence of that hissing that woke her. The sledge had finally come to a halt, and she realized blearily that Old Man Winter was gone. Molly struggled to sit up, trying to shake the cotton wool from her head and see where he was.

She was almost free of the furs when she saw him. The eastern sky was beginning to shade from black to dark blue; soon the sun would be coming up, in rose and gold flames. Old Man Winter stood at the edge of a cliff, looking out and down on something. Molly slipped from the sledge and walked over to join him.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, when he didn’t say anything. There wasn’t much else she could say.

He grunted, and continued to look down. She followed his gaze, and saw the entire Cove laid out before her, still sleeping in the predawn light. The Christmas lights, normally turned off during the darkest hours of the night, were on for Christmas eve, and the Cove sparkled with brilliantly-colored light.

Still Old Man Winter said nothing, so he and Molly watched the sun creep up over the Eastern horizon, watched the stars dim and blink out one by one. In silence.

Drew joined her, then Schrodinger, still in silence. The four of them watched the sun rise over Carter’s Cove.

“Well?” Drew said finally, his arms around Molly. “Are you going to do it?”

“Do what?” Old Man Winter asked irritably.

Are you going to destroy the Cove’s Gate? Schrodinger asked.

Old Man Winter continued to look down at the Cove without answering.

“Are you?” Molly said softly. “Are we really so horrible that you have to do this?”

Then finally, Old Man Winter spoke.

“No,” he said. “No, I think I was wrong about the Cove, and wrong about the people who inhabit it.”

He held his hands out before him, and snow danced over his palm, spinning around and around. One soft breath, and the snow spread out over the Cove, a final dusting of sugar sparkling in the light of the rising sun. Then Old Man Winter turned to them and motioned back to the sledge. “Come on,” he said. “You have presents to open.”

The ride back to Molly’s parents’ house was quiet, but unlike the ride from before, this one was full of quiet joy, not despair. Molly leaned back against Drew, letting the wind blow her sleepiness away. There would be time to sleep later.

As they drew up to the house, Molly wondered if Lily was already up. It was early, but not early enough for Jack, the half blue-tick hound, to not notice the reindeer. He tore out of the house, baying joyfully, and Lily, rubbing sleep from her eyes, followed.

She saw the reindeer and her little eyes widened. “Santa?” she breathed.

Old Man Winter smiled down at her, but didn’t get down off the sledge. Drew and Schrodinger jumped out to intercept the youngster before she ran into the snow in her bare feet, but as Molly got off the sledge, Old Man Winter put a hand on her shoulder. Surprised, she turned back to him.

“Merry Christmas, Molly,” Old Man Winter said, and held out his hand. The snow danced and spun over his palm, and as she watched, it solidified into glass. Within the globe, she saw a miniature version of the Cove, Christmas lights glimmering and snow glittering. He handed the globe to her and smiled.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, and stepped back from the sledge, holding the globe.

The reindeer reared and took off in a spray of white. Molly stood and watched until they were out of sight. Then she turned around to see Drew, holding Lily, with Schrodinger and Jack next to him.

“Merry Christmas,” she said. “Welcome home.”

Drew smiled. “Welcome home.”

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