Friday, December 9
Lily normally enjoyed school, but today, the clock seemed to move at half-speed all day. She spent most of her afternoon staring out the window, watching the wind blow the swings and hearing the whisper of the promise of freedom. The weekend seemed so far away.
Finally, however, the last bell rang, releasing her from the school for two whole days, and Lily raced out to meet Jack, Schrodinger, Kaylee, and Gideon, who were waiting with Pavel to take them all to his house.
And his grandmother.
Even though they had only met Brynna last year, when she and her daughter were reunited with her grandson after his grandfather’s death, Kaylee and Lily had come to adore the feisty sea captain, who still traveled with her own ship when she wasn’t out with Pavel. Her husband Paul lived in the Cove now; he and Ella, Pavel’s mother, kept the large house the two captains had bought while Pavel and Brynna wandered the Realms using the Sea Roads. To hear that she’d come home in time for Christmas had been a wonderful gift, especially since Brynna had promised that perhaps in the summer, Lily and Zoey could travel with her. Without Kaylee.
“Pavel, did you get the castle?” she asked as she joined them.
“Of course I did,” the pirate responded, not looking offended at her question. “How could I forget it, since Molly and Schrodinger had it waiting for me?” He waved his hand at the sleigh, which had a large box lashed tightly to the back. The reinforced black box was more than big enough to keep the castle safe. “Mother and Brynna can’t wait to see it.”
They all piled into the sleigh, and his driver shook the reins, sending the horses off with a smart slap on their withers. The house that Pavel had bought was down by the waterfront, of course, and this was Gideon’s first trip to the harbor portion of Carter’s Cove. Kaylee, Jack, and Schrodinger were telling him all about the ships, and Pavel’s ship, and Lily couldn’t help but remember the first advent calendar, when they were introducing Zoey to the Cove. That seems to be the theme, she thought. Someone new comes to the Cove, and we show them the magic. I just wish Zoey was here to help us.
Then again, next year, think of the fun we will have! And I can tell her that tonight, when I write in my journal. She touched the spot in her bag where her little notebook sat. She and Zoey had decided to do a second Christmas Day in February, when they were reunited, and Lily knew what she was going to give her friend. The notebook, of course. That way, Zoey will still have a Carter’s Cove Christmas.
She caught Schrodinger looking at her strangely, and smiled at him.
Are you okay? He nosed her a little. You’re thinking very hard.
I’m good, she assured him. Just trying to remember it all for Zoey.
Is she having fun in Pennsylvania?
Yes, but she misses everyone. Lily sighed. She says there’s not really magic there.
Tell her to look harder. There’s magic everywhere.
And then they were pulling into the driveway in front of Pavel’s grand house. It was one of the old captain’s houses that had survived nearly two centuries of winter storms on the Maine coast: built of solid stone, complete with a widow’s walk at the top, where countless captain’s wives had waited for their husbands to return from their voyages. This particular house had a large front porch, where Ella and Paul had put out rocking chairs and several small tables. This past summer, Lily, Kaylee, and Zoey had spent countless days there, playing checkers with Paul and helping Ella string peas from the garden behind the house. Next to her own grandparents’ house, it was one of Lily’s favorite places.
Now, there was a light dusting of snow on the front porch, and no one was sitting in the rocking chairs. But as they all piled out of the sled, the front door opened, and there was Ella, all smiles in her green and yellow striped apron, her dark hair (streaked with silver strands that glistened in the sunlight) wrapped in braids around her head. “My darlings!” she cried, opening her arms wide as they piled out. “I’m so happy to see you!”
“Grandma Ella!” Kaylee shouted gleefully as she ran over to her. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too, Kaylee!” Ella told her, snuggling the little girl close. “Are you ready to help us decorate today?”
“Yes!” Kaylee said, and then reached out and grabbed Gideon’s hand. “This is my friend Gideon! It’s his first Christmas in the Cove, and he’s helping us with the Advent calendar!”
“Hello, Gideon, nice to meet you,” Ella said, offering him a hand. He shook it solemnly, and then smiled at her when she smiled at him. “Are you having fun this year?”
“Oh yes!” he said, nodding. “This has been the best Christmas, and it isn’t even Christmas Eve yet!”
Ella started to answer, and then she caught sight of the castle as Pavel lifted it out of the locked box at the back of the sleigh.
Isn’t it amazing? Schrodinger said, sitting on the porch. His mental voice was just a bit smug.
“Yes,” Ella said. “The Snow Queen’s magic never fails to amaze me.” She stood up and moved everyone to the side, so that her son could take the castle into the house. The others followed him, shedding their coats in the hallway before they joined him in the living room.
He set the structure on the low table in the middle of the room, and they all clustered around it. “There are windows, and the numbers are by the windows,” Lily said, as they started looking for the little number 9. “When we find the right one, the window opens and shows us a scene.”
“How wonderful,” Ella said, and looked up as her mother and stepfather came in from the kitchen. Lily had smelled something spicy and sweet as she’d come in, and more of the same smells came wafting in with Brynna and Paul.
It was easy to see that Ella was Brynna’s daughter, even though Brynna’s hair was now solid grey, and the weather lines on her face were deeper. But they shared the same smile (Pavel’s smile, Lily realized, although it was one of the few physical features he had inherited from the women in his family), and radiated the same calm certainty. If ever there were people who were rocks in her world, Lily thought, these women were two of them.
Paul was taller than Brynna, but just as weather-worn; fitting, since he had been her first mate for years before he’d decided to retire. Now, he was happiest keeping house, and since he and Brynna had sold their cottage and moved to Carter’s Cove, he had fit into the community well, using the skills he’d mastered on board the ship as a carpenter to make some of the finest furniture Lily had ever seen.
“Brynna! Paul! Come help us find the 9!” Kaylee said, waving them over.
“Wow, look at this!” Brynna said, coming and kneeling down next to Lily, who moved to make room for her. “Did this truly come from the Snow Queen?”
“And Jack Frost,” Lily said, nodding. “It’s their castle.”
And there’s the nine! Schrodinger said triumphantly, stabbing a paw out. Right here!
It had been hiding on the very front of the castle gate, in a small window above the gate. He touched one claw to it, and the window opened.
It was a small, narrow room, as befitting a small, narrow window. Inside, there was piles and piles of greenery, and Lily could almost smell the piney aroma rising from them. In the midst of the greens were two small people, gnomes perhaps, who were busy braiding the boughs together into a long, massive plait. The braid was being fed out of another window, and through the open window, they could see others hanging the completed garland around the inner courtyard.
There were pine needles everywhere as the gnomes worked, and one of them sailed out of the window and into Pavel’s living room. It transformed into a long curl of ribbon with green writing on it and landed on the table next to the castle.
Decorations are the spice of life. Make someone smile today! Schrodinger read.
“Well, having you here and letting me spoil you all makes me smile,” Ella said. “And the fact that you’re going to help make this house decorated for Christmas is even better!”
“What are we doing?” Lily asked her. “Did you bring ornaments from your old home?”
“Some,” Ella said, and sighed. Then she brightened. “But Paul and Mother brought some too, and we’ve gotten more here. So we have plenty!”
“Indeed,” Paul said. “Pavel and I are going to bring them down now, and you guys can help the ladies decide where everything is going.” He winked at them. “There’s even a garland, although not quite as elaborate as the Snow Queen’s.”
“Not yet, anyways,” Brynna said. “Wait until we’re done.” She looked at her husband. “Bring that box down first, and we can get working on that, while you bring the other ones down.”
“It’s going on the porch, right?” he said. “Why don’t I bring it out there, and you can be decorating it while it’s up?”
She gave him a smile. “And this is why you made such a good first mate. Are you sure you won’t come back out on the ship with me next time?”
“Sorry, dearest, but if I did that, who would make the furniture I’ve been commissioned to do?” He kissed her lightly on the cheek and then he and Pavel went out of the room.
Brynna laughed and looked at the rest of them. “Okay, if we’re decorating outside first, we’ll need to stay warm! Let’s get our coats and everything back on, and we can decide how this garland will go.”
The box that Paul and Pavel brought out was huge, and Lily’s eyes weren’t the only ones that widened. It was actually a massive sea chest, and as Brynna threw the lid back, the combined smells of pine and salt wafted up into the cold air. Inside, coiled like a giant snake of green, was a braided garland.
“What is it?” Gideon asked.
“It’s the garland that Paul and I put together when we were first married,” Brynna told them. “There was a wise woman on our ship who married us, and she cast a spell that as long as we were together, the garland would never fade. It’s an integral part of our decorations. I’m happy that it will finally have a home here.”
“What do you mean?” Lily asked her. “Didn’t it have a home before?”
She saw Brynna start to say something, and then the older woman paused, looked at Schrodinger, and then smiled down at Lily. “Of course it did,” she said. “But now, it’s a permanent home. Paul and I aren’t going to live anywhere but the Cove.”
Somehow, Lily knew that wasn’t what she had been going to say, and wondered what Brynna had been about to tell her. She looked at Schrodinger, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully. What aren’t you telling us?
He didn’t answer her, which meant he was keeping secrets. Again. But what kind of secrets was he keeping around Christmas? That was a mystery that she found herself really wanting to figure out.
“So how do you want to do this, Mother?” Ella asked, pulling Lily’s attention back to the present.
Brynna was surveying the porch, looking at the area and then back to the garland, chewing her lower lip thoughtfully. “Well, I think honestly, I want to wrap it around the railings,” she said finally. “We can run it from one end to the other, and have Pavel and Paul help up put it up around the entrance. And that way, we can show off the bows that I have to go on it.”
So that’s what they did. The garland was not as heavy as Lily had originally suspected – most of the weight was in the trunk itself, which Brynna told them was enchanted as well, to protect the garland from the sea when it was on the ship. Paul came out with a short ladder, and carefully hung the greenery up and over the entrance.
Underneath the garland was a small sailcloth bag. Brynna opened it and pulled out some stunning bows that she handed to the children to attach at intervals along the garland. Lily fingered the one she was handed, feeling the silky softness of the ribbon and marveling at the colors. The bows were in watercolor shades of blue and green and white, shot through with silver and gold threads. “Where did you get these?” she asked Brynna, as she used the small copper wire on the back to affix the bow to the railing.
“The wise woman who married us gave me the ribbons, and my cook made the bows,” Brynna told her. “Aren’t they lovely?”
Stunning, Schrodinger agreed. But there’s more needed. He backed up and looked at the front porch. Lights, I think.
“Lights? Like these?” Paul asked, coming out with an armful of what looked like ship’s lanterns. These particular lanterns, however, had blue and green glass in them, instead of clear ones, and were small, barely the size of a can of soda.
Perfect! The CrossCat agreed.
Once the lights had been set at intervals along the edge of the porch, and Paul had showed them how to turn them on (they were an ingenious little magical gadget, with a crystal inside that glowed when you blew on it), Lily had to agree that the unorthodox decorations made the front of the house look amazing in the setting sun. Once the front yard was dark, it would look spectacular.
“The rest of the decorations are in the living room,” Paul said, ushering them back inside. “But first, I think the stew is ready!”
Is that what I’m smelling? Jack asked eagerly. Stew?
“Indeed,” Paul said, beaming. “It’s a fish stew from my native lands. I hope you like it!”
May I join you?
The voice was low, not threatening, but Caliban recognized it immediately, even before he looked up and saw the emerald green eyes of the Librarian looking calmly at him. The great CrossCat stood in front of him as he sat on a bench, not moving to jump up next to him until he nodded.
You’ve been doing some walking, she noted, picking up one paw and washing it delicately. And some thinking?
“Yes,” he said, not bothering to reply mentally. The park was empty except for them, not surprising, considering it was snowing rather heavily at the moment. He still had no idea what Realm he was in, and found he didn’t much care. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.”
“What I want,” he said, stretching out his legs and looking at his boots. “And where I want to go.” He pulled the little brown leaf with its edging of silver frost on it from his coat pocket and regarded it. “And if I want to deal with this.”
What do you mean?
“Well, it’s obvious who sent it,” Caliban said, tracing the edge of the leaf with one gloved fingertip. Even after several days in his pocket, it hadn’t crumbled or melted, proof of its magical origin. “But I can’t figure out why he or she would want to see me. Unless it’s to hand me back to my father.”
The Librarian stopped her washing and looked squarely at him. And is that the only reason you can think of?
“At the moment,” he said, returning the leaf to his pocket. “I might think of more later.”
What if I told you I knew who sent it?
Caliban considered that for a moment, watching the snow fall through the trees that surrounded the park, falling in and melting in the little stream that still burbled merrily over ice-coated rocks. “Who else would, though?” he asked her. “What point would there be?”
Perhaps someone wanted to point out to you that there are other things in life other than power, she said. Things like friendship, love, happiness. She paused, and added, Change.
He pulled the leaf out again and looked at it, wondering how much Jack Frost had had to change in order to win the Snow Queen’s heart.
He thought he would have to give up everything he was, the Librarian said, also looking at the leaf. And yet, in the end, he found that having her there made him whole again. Isn’t that what you’ve been looking for? Something to make you whole?
“I don’t know,” he said honestly, looking over at her for the first time. “I thought I did, and when I left Nadine’s, I was sure that I wanted to go and find them, ask them why they were tormenting me by sending this. But then I got out on the Roads, traveling as someone ordinary, and you know, I rather enjoy it.”
“No one knows who I am,” he said, leaning back and putting the leaf into his pocket again. “I’ve never really been anywhere where no one knows who I am. It’s always been pomp and ceremony, and people bowing and scraping and plotting against me.” He waved a hand at the empty park. “Caliban the prince could have never stolen a moment like this, with no one in sight, and knowing that there is no one hovering in the background, watching and waiting for me to need something. It’s so…” he paused, looking for the right word.
Refreshing? She suggested, and he nodded.
“Yes. I’m dependent on myself, and the small bit of money in my purse. When that is gone, I shall have to think of something else, but that’s okay.” Caliban shook his head. “You’re the first person who has recognized me since I left Nadine’s.”
She gave him a feline smile. In all honesty, Caliban, I have been watching you since you broke out of your father’s prison.
He wasn’t all that surprised. “Why?”
Because prison wasn’t the right place for you anymore, she said. I realize your father may not agree with me, but that is because he is not objective enough. You’ve been punishing yourself for your brother’s death for years, even if you didn’t let anyone else see. I have seen. She jumped down from the bench and started off, pausing only to look back at him and say, Perhaps whoever sent you that leaf meant for you to start looking forward, instead of back. To look to the future, and what you want to do with your life, rather than living it in the shadow of past misdeeds.
“Can misdeeds like that ever be forgiven, though?” Caliban said wistfully. “Ever?”
Almost everything can be forgiven, the Librarian said. Then she walked off and vanished into the falling snow.
Caliban sat there for a long time, looking out into his past and wondering if that were true.
And what he was going to do next.
>Activity: Put up a garland or wreath and decorate it. Greenery takes all sorts of lovely decorations well!