Saturday, December 20
“Is this really necessary? You think he’d do something tonight?” Molly asked Pavel, as he opened the front door to the farmhouse and peered out into the dark yard. The lights on the trees glowed in the clear night; if only there was snow, she thought fleetingly, it would be picture-perfect.
“Absolutely,” the pirate replied, looking back at her with an unusually serious expression on his face. “If I were him, I’d be counting on the fact that you think he wouldn’t dare try anything when the Snow Queen in the Cove.”
“But he can’t come in now,” Molly protested weakly. “Jade will be in the Cove.”
“Caliban can’t come into the Cove, but the banishment doesn’t affect his servants,” Pavel reminded her. “He can sit back in Stumpleton and pull the strings. That’s why we’re coming with you.”
Molly couldn’t argue with that logic, even though her gut said that nothing was going to happen. She wasn’t a fighter – she was a kitchen witch, and if Pavel said it was possible, she’d defer to him. At least he and his men had cleaned up amazingly.
“So where did you all get the tuxedos?” she said instead, reaching out to straighten his bow tie. He and the three sailors with him had shown up in tuxedos and tails, with dark red bow ties and cummerbunds, which incidentally looked amazing next to her pale wine-colored dress. Drew’s vest was the same dark red, so she would have quite the escort.
“You have a lovely rental shop here in town, and they were nice enough to match us to what Drew rented,” he said. “So we didn’t clash.”
“Pirates with fashion sense. I approve.”
“My dear girl, they revoke your pirate license if you don’t have fashion sense,” Pavel said, winking at her. “It’s a requirement, you know.”
“I had no idea,” Molly said, chuckling. She turned as Drew and Schrodinger joined them. The CrossCat’s tie matched the others, and he had actually agreed to wear a tuxedo coat this year, not just the tie. “You both look so handsome,” she said, leaning down to stroke Schrodinger’s head. “I’m going to be the proudest girl there.”
“Well, we had to make sure we lived up to your glory,” Drew said, looking at her admiringly, and Molly blushed. This year, they’d all decided to go in vintage costumes, so instead of a tie, Drew had a white cravat, and white spats over his black shoes. Molly had found a lovely evening gown, with small puffed sleeves and pale wine-colored lace over the front, and her dark hair was swept up, piled in curls on the top of her head, threaded through with a ribbon that matched her dress. She had a small black velvet capelet that complete her outfit, and her mother had loaned her a cameo that she’d threaded onto more of the wine ribbon and tied at her throat.
“Your carriage awaits, my lady,” Pavel said, bowing her out the door.
The large carriage rumbled along the road towards the Ball, and Molly snuggled up next to Drew, Schrodinger on her other side. Despite her worries, Molly realized she was happy. Her family was together, she was going to spend a wonderful night dancing with all her friends, and it seemed as if the Snow Queen was going to be okay.
“Have you seen Jack today?” she asked Pavel.
“No, actually,” Pavel said, leaning back against his seat. His white teeth gleamed in the dimness as he grinned. “Shockingly, he didn’t come back to the ship last night. I assume he stayed with the Snow Queen.”
The ride was uneventful, and the driver pulled the carriage skillfully up to the path into the ballroom. As she stepped down, Molly breathed out and realized that it was cold – not snowing, but there was a definite bite in the air, more than there had been all season. Which had to be a good sign, right?
I think so, Schrodinger said, hopping down beside her, his tail twitching. It might mean she’s feeling better.
“Or that Old Man Winter is with her,” Drew said, taking Molly’s arm and escorting her down the path. Two of Pavel’s sailors walked in front of them, and Pavel and Goldie followed Schrodinger, bringing up the rear.
The path emptied out into the Snow Queen’s ball room, the one that appeared ever year on this spot. Molly and Drew stepped onto the marble floor, and she peered around, looking for her friends. She spotted Sue in a lovely tea-length dress of cream and blue and waved.
“There they are, come on!”
She pulled Drew and Schrodinger over to Sue as Lai, in an amazing floor-length emerald gown that shimmered in the light, and Noemi, in pale pink covered in lace, joined them. Steve, Mike and Luke had tuxes and cravats like Drew’s.
“This was a great idea,” Sue said, accepting a glass of champagne from Luke. “We definitely have to come up with another theme for next year.”
“Agreed,” Molly said, stifling the thought that there might not be a next year. There would be. The alternative was unthinkable.
Pavel brought over champagne for her and Drew, and when she looked at him, shook his head. The guest of honor hadn’t showed up yet, apparently.
Old Man Winter was there, though, standing near the throne that the Snow Queen usually watched the ball from. Molly touched Drew’s arm and murmured to him that she was going to talk to the spirit, then walked over to him.
“You look lovely tonight,” Old Man Winter said, his weathered face breaking into a welcoming smile as he saw her. She hugged him.
“You look very handsome,” Molly told him, admiring the tuxedo. He’d even trimmed his beard, so the long white hairs looked like shining snow instead of straggling everywhere, like normal. His vest was silver-grey and covered with tiny silver snowflakes, and his cufflinks were silver snowflakes as well. “How is Jade?”
“Better today,” he said. “She’s not fully back to health, but bringing Jack in was a good call.”
“Has she…?” Molly hesitated, not sure if she was allowed to ask this question yet.
“No,” Old Man Winter said, shaking his head. “She hasn’t made that decision yet. But I do know that she and Jack talked for a very long time yesterday. He slept in one of the guest rooms in the castle last night, and this afternoon, Jade looked more like her old self than she has in a while.” He looked out over the rapidly-filling ball room. “I didn’t know for a bit if she’d even make it tonight. But she will.”
“When will they be here?” Molly asked.
“Soon. She was finishing up a few things when I left.” Old Man Winter patted her arm. “Enjoy yourself tonight, Molly. You’ve earned this night. And save a dance for me?”
“Of course.” Molly smiled up at him, and then went back to Drew and the others.
After about twenty minutes, the room had filled with happy people, talking and exchanging holiday greetings. Molly waved at her brother and sister-in-law, who joined them.
“No Peter and Donna?” Molly asked, and Corrine shook her head.
“They took Lily and Jack for a sleepover with Zoey,” she said. “Donna was a little superstitious about going this year.”
“Well, you can’t really blame them,” Drew said, and Molly nodded. Donna and Peter Allard’s house had burned down during the last Snow Queen’s ball. “And this means you didn’t have to pay a sitter this year!”
“True,” Nathan said, then he chuckled. “Although you should have heard the howls when Lily and Zoey found out that they couldn’t go this year.”
Yeah, I felt a little guilty about that, Schrodinger admitted, hanging his head a little. But not enough to stay home.
They all laughed at that, and then there was a ringing bell, and everyone turned to the throne. Old Man Winter had been joined by Jack Frost, looking very handsome in a dark green morning coat and black pants, with shining black boots. There was a spray of autumn leaves on his lapel, and Molly thought he looked calmer than he had before. Then the door behind the throne opened, and she turned all her attention to the Snow Queen.
If Molly hadn’t been in the room the day before, seeing how bad her friend had been, she’d have had a hard time believing anything was wrong. Jade was radiant, smiling at everyone as she walked slowly to her throne. Her floor-length dress was pure white and shimmered as she moved. Her long hair fell about her shoulders, and there were snowflakes woven in her curls. Her coronet was more snowflakes, icy and light and glowing faintly. She was enchanting , as always.
She reached her throne; Old Man Winter and Jack each took one of her hands and lowered her to the seat. Then the Snow Queen looked out over the assembled crowd and said, “Welcome, my friends. I’m so glad to see all of you! Please, enjoy yourselves tonight!” She raised a hand and gestured to the band, who started the first waltz.
Drew held a hand out to Molly, who handed her champagne glass to Sue and allowed him to wheel her out on the floor. Old Man Winter was right. She’d earned this night. Laying her head against Drew’s shoulder, she let him and the music lead her away.
Molly couldn’t remember dancing so much – she seemed to go from partner to partner, hardly resting at all between songs before she was out on the floor again. Finally, she had to plead exhaustion in order to get a drink.
While she and Schrodinger sat on the side, Jack came over. “Do you mind if I join you two?” he asked.
“As long as I don’t have to dance, no,” Molly said, moving over a little on the bench she was seated on to give him some room.
“No dancing,” Jack agreed, sitting down. He looked out over the crowd. “It’s funny, how big this has grown. Did you know I was at the first ball?”
Really? Schrodinger said, his ears pricking up. What was it like?
“Not like this,” Jack said, smiling. “The very first ball was held during the height of the siege on the Cove, and was to actually set up the wards that protect you. We had everyone we could find, to dance, while the five of us cast the spells needed to weave the protections together.”
Why did you need them to dance? Schrodinger asked, curious.
“It raised more power,” Jack said. “And really, we needed all the power we could get.” He shook his head. “I never realized she kept this going.”
“It’s tradition,” Molly told him. “Of course it’s gone on.”
“Which explains why the protections are still so strong,” he said. “The dancing every year renews it.”
Would it last without her? Schrodinger asked softly.
“I don’t know,” Jack said. “I’m hoping we don’t ever find out.”
“How’s that going?” Molly asked. “Old Man Winter said you guys had a long talk yesterday.”
“We did.” Jack was still watching the dancers whirl past them. Molly and Schrodinger waited. Finally, he said, “It’s not going to be solved with one conversation, no matter how long, guys. I did some terrible things. And she’s right not to trust me yet.”
“But she’s willing to give you a chance,” Molly said, touching him lightly on the arm. “That’s more than she was going to do. It’s progress.”
Jack covered her hand with his and smiled at her. “Yes, it is. And I have you two to thank for it.”
You did the work, Schrodinger said. We just provided the teaching.
“You’re good teachers.” Jack squeezed Molly’s hand and stood up. “Now, I think I’m going to see if I can get a dance with her, before the end of the night.”
Molly and Schrodinger watched him weave his way across the floor and lean over to say something to the Snow Queen. She smiled up at him, and gave him her hand, allowing him to lead her out on to the dance floor. Dancers moved out of their way as they began a slow turn around the room, and the band moved into a stately waltz.
“They look good together,” Drew said in Molly’s ear, coming up behind her and slipping his arms around her. She leaned back against him and nodded.
“They do.” They watched the two spirits dance, so wrapped up in each other that Molly didn’t think they realized that they had the floor to themselves. Jack murmured something to her at one point, and she laughed, a silvery sound that danced through the room.
Finally, the final dance, the Cinderella dance, was announced. Molly removed her right shoe and threw it into the pile with all the other women’s shoes, then went back to the bench where Schrodinger was waiting. As always, the gentlemen went in and picked a shoe, then looked for the lady who it belonged to. Even the Snow Queen had a shoe in the pile.
“I think this belongs to you, yes?”
Molly grinned and nodded, accepting her pale heel from Pavel and slipping it on her foot before she stood up. The pirate whirled her out onto the floor and into the crowd.
“You have done a great thing, Molly,” Pavel said, and nodded to Jack, who passed them with Lai in his arms. She was laughing at something he said, and rather than looking put upon, or studiously polite, Jack looked like he was enjoying himself. “I would have never thought I would see that.”
“I didn’t do it, really,” she said. “Like Schrodinger said earlier, Jack did the real work himself. I just provided the way.”
“You are a good navigator – one I wouldn’t mind having on my ship,” Pavel said. He nodded over her shoulder and turned Molly so she could see Jade dancing with her brother Nathan. “She already looks recovered.”
“I doubt she is, but I wonder if this is renewing her as well as the wards,” Molly said. When Pavel quirked an eyebrow at her curiously, she explained what Jack had told her and Schrodinger earlier. “So if this renews the wards, and she’s tied into the wards, wouldn’t it renew her too, a bit?”
“It makes sense to me,” Pavel agreed. “There is much I don’t know about the spirits we associate with.”
Molly gave him a skeptical look. “I think you know a lot more than you are letting on, my friend. You just don’t want to reveal all your cards.”
Pavel didn’t say anything to that, but he did give her a wink.
At the end of the dance, Nathan returned the Snow Queen to her throne, and she smiled up at him in thanks. Then she turned to the crowd.
“Thank you, my friends. Once more, you have brightened my day by sharing this ball with me.” Jade smiled at all of them. “Merry Christmas, and may we meet again soon!”