Eirlys, the Winter Fairy, tromped along the wild mouse path, the soft mud sinking under her feather weight, leaving tiny footprints that dried in the afternoon sun.
Eirlys hated autumn weather. It was so indecisive. One day it was sunny and warm, with a slight under-chill. The next day it was foggy, misty, drizzly, rainy, cloudy, dark, or any combination of conditions she deemed boring. She could hardly wait for the Winter Solstice, two days hence. Then her true powers would be returned to her.
Distracted by her brooding thoughts, Eirlys was surprised to realize that she had found her way to the river. It was running high and fast with the last of summer’s melted snow. That will settle soon, she thought. Winter’s grasp will end the rushing water and turn it to ice. Then nothing will flow from the mountains and the river’s rage will vanish.
The Winter Fairy gazed toward the clear sky, pale blue and dotted with fluffy clouds. She raised her fist and shouted “You’ll not last long! Two more days and I will rule!”
As if acknowledging her pending control, the breeze began to gust, forcing deciduous trees to release the last of the leaves that had clung to bare branches. She felt the chill intensify. Ominous gray clouds swept toward billowing white ones, devouring them. The darkened sky roiled, threatening rain and sleet.
“Not yet!” Eirlys shouted again. “Hold your icy dew! In two days hence, I shall release your fury. Anything before then contravenes the Solstice Laws!”
The wind swirled around her ankles, billowing her pale blue gown until it sparkled white. She raised her arms high and wide, embracing the promised cold that was to come.
“Bide your time,” she screamed above the gale. “I’ll command you soon enough.”
In the next moment, the wind and cloud gave way to chilled sunshine. Eirlys glanced over her shoulder and witnessed the last crimson maple leaf glide to its earthy death. The blustering winds had eased her angst. She turned away from the raging river and marched along the mouse path again.
At the foot of a gnarled oak tree, between two ancient roots, Eirlys pushed aside a door of black-blue slate and entered her home. For the next while, she busied herself with meal preparations and tidied her lair. With work concluded, she ate her modest meal and retired for the evening.
That night, her dreams were filled with winter wonder and hope.
“One more day!” Eirlys said the following morning, swinging her dainty feet to the floor. “I’ll check the river again today. It’s current should be slowing.”
Throughout the day, she flitted through the forest, ensuring that the last animals were secure in their dens, that those birds who should have flown south were away, that the deciduous leaves were shed, that the coniferous cones were buried beneath decaying leaves, and that only cloud berries remained on stems awaiting her picking.
She hastened toward the cloudberry field and commanded the fruit into her cart. Field mice drew the cart to the fairy hive, where the berries were de-beaded and folded into reindeer fat seasoned with herbs, cooled and sliced into bars. The bars were then baled with strings of cedar bark and placed in baskets.
“Win,” Eirlys called across the hive to her long-time friend, “will the bars be ready by the time Great Man of Winter Solstice arrives?”
“Eirlys!” Winter replied hastening to her side. “Of course, the bars will be ready on time. They always are, yet every year you ask. Do you doubt our integrity; our loyalty; our commitment?”
The hem of Eirlys’ gown turned pink, as she blushed at his jibing.
“I apologize, Win,” she said. “You never fail. I doubt you not.”
Winter waved his arm inviting her to inspect the baled cloudberry bars and followed one step behind her. She turned toward him beaming.
“Win, they smell heavenly,” she said. “The Great Man will love them. They are the only nourishment he takes during his flight, aside from cookies and cocoa and the assortment of treats left by the children. Only our bars provide the fuel he needs to last the long night. Without their special ingredients, he’d surely fall asleep from all of that sugar!” She giggled with joy and clapped her tiny hands.
“The baskets will be waiting in the usual place,” Winter said, “when he comes to collect you.”
Eirlys felt herself pinking again, but she did not resist the opportunity to place a chaste kiss on Winter’s cheek.
“And I will be waiting with them,” she said. “The bars are important. Without them to keep him strong, the gifts will not be delivered, and the children will be disappointed!”
“And you,” Winter said. “Without you by his side, snowflakes won’t fall, and ice won’t form. Without you, the great freeze will not happen. The winds won’t swirl. Worse yet, Christmas magic won’t exist.”