Eirlys, the Winter Fairy, swung her dainty feet to the floor and scrubbed autumn sleep from her eyes. A sleep well earned, she thought, recalling how she had spent the previous day flitting 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 cloudberries remained on stems awaiting her picking.
“Winter Solstice!” she said aloud, her voice melodious. “My powers will return to me now!”
She jumped to her feet, flung out her arms and twirled around her small chamber with joy. As the speed of her twirling increased, her nightgown billowed around her like the petals of a daisy. Her vision smeared into a kaleidoscope of bright colours. She felt her powers return, strengthening her resolve and determination. She twirled on and on until at long last the speed with which she turned carried her upward. She glanced at her crumpled bed below, opened her wings, and settled gracefully onto a carpet of woven swan down that covered the centre of the room.
Eirlys sighed contentedly, catching sight of herself in the shard of glass hung above a stack of match boxes that she had long ago stacked for use as a chest of drawers. The glass reflected her dishevelled appearance, and she released a giggle of pleasure.
“Winter Solstice waits for no one,” she said gleefully, “especially the Winter Fairy!” She glanced out her window admiring the glow of a rare full moon.
“I’d better hurry,” she said noting the moon’s position. “The Great Man of the Winter Solstice will be arriving at the cloudberry hive soon. I want to accompany Senior Sprite Winter during the final inspection.”
Eirlys dressed carefully, donning a gossamer dress made of delicate snowflakes and spider silk. She piled her long, silver locks into a crown, held in place with jewelled dew drops, then slipped her petite feet into grey felt slippers made for her long ago by a family of rabbits who lived in a den nearby. Satisfied that she appeared every inch the Winter Fairy, she donned a cloak of royal blue, a gift given to her by the night stars on her birth at the beginning of time.
The Winter Fairy fastened her cloak and stepped into the night. She peered at the orb of light that lit the land, and rose slowly, her wings stirring the crystals of night. Magic! she thought. My magic has returned, and tonight I will ride with the Great Man of the Winter Solstice.
Eirlys sped toward the cloudberry hive, flitting high above a land in winter slumber. As she approached the hive, she spotted her friend Winter standing next to a stack of baled cloudberry bars made of de-beaded berries and seasoned reindeer fat. His fists rested easily on his hips. An expression of pride seemed to tug on his lips as he supervised the work of his crews.
“Win!” she said as she fluttered to a soft landing beside him. “Are you ready for the final inspection?
“Hello, Eirlys,” he said, running his fingers through a mop of night blue locks. “I am. Everything should be ready. One last review before the Great Man arrives.”
“He should be here any time now,” Eirlys said. “He’s never late.”
Off to their left, a horn of delightful tinkling announced commencement of the final examination. Hive crews assembled next to their work and waited patiently. Together, Winter and Eirlys strolled along the line of baled cloudberry bars. Sprites and fairies eagerly awaited approval of their efforts.
As they approached the final bales, Winter paused, tugging at the strings of cedar bark that held the bars in place. The string sliced through the bars.
“The bars are too soft!” he said, his voice sounding anxious. “What’s happening?” He turned eyes full of worry toward Eirlys. “It must be too warm!”
Eirlys’ eyes widened with fear and astonishment.
“Oh my!” she said. “How can that be? I checked the temperature myself.” She squinted at Winter. “Were all the ingredients measured and prepared precisely?”
“Thanks to you, Eirlys, Winter Fairy, the great freeze will happen as it should.” He squeezed her hand gently. “And, because of your Christmas magic, the Great Man will deliver gifts to children around the world and, once again, they will not be disappointed.”
“Of course, they were!” Winter replied defensively. “Always!”
“Wait here,” Eirlys said. “I’ll check the other bales.”
Hurriedly, Eirlys flitted along the line of baled bars, tugging randomly at the cedar bark ties. Moments later, she re-appeared at Winter’s side.
“All of the bales are showing signs of softening and sagging,” she said, her voice full of despair.
“What are we to do?” Winter said.
“First,” Eirlys replied, “we must think!” She folded her arms across her chest, tapped her tiny foot and thought.
“There must be something to do,” Winter muttered, folding his arms and biting into his lower lip.
Eirlys sighed, raising her eyes to the night sky. Suddenly, her eyes widened with delight.
“It’s the moon!” she said. “We rarely see a full moon at this time of year. Its glow is too bright!”
“Well,” Winter said, his shoulders slouching, “I’d say we have a problem then.” He gazed at Eirlys, his eyes filling with tears. “Even you and the Great Man can’t change the moon.” He dropped to a stump and hid his face in his hands.
“You’re right, of course,” Eirlys said. “I can’t change the glow of a full moon . . . but-” She smiled a great dazzling fairy smile at her friend. “I can make it cold. I can form ice crystals and bind them into clouds that will shroud the bales from the moon’s glow!”
“We don’t have time!” Winter said, lamenting.
“We have not choice,” Eirlys said firmly. “Here, hold onto my cloak!”
No sooner had Winter accepted the garment and draped it over his arm, than Eirlys took to wing. She darted from one end of the baled line to the other. Back and forth, she flew. Up and down, fanning the night with her magical chill. Clouds of crystals encircled the bars. Crews of sprites and fairies flapped arms and wings to stave off the sudden frost, forcing it back toward the bales.
“Test the cedar strings now,” Eirlys said, shouting from above.
Winter raised his arm toward a sprite crew, encouraging their inspection. When they began dancing about, hugging each other and laughing joyfully, Winter tugged some strings himself.
“It’s working!” he said, his breath freezing as he spoke.
Eirlys grinned, landing next to him.
“I think this is going to be a long night,” she said, scrunching her face. “I’ll have to monitor the moonglow to ensure the bars don’t soften during our journey.”
“At least we discovered the problem and have a way to fix it!” Winter said.
Eirlys scowled, feeling fatigued by her recent efforts.
“You!” Winter said, sounding apologetic. “I mean . . . you did!”
Eirlys smiled kindly upon her old friend.
“No, Winter,” she said. “You’re correct. I may have discovered the problem, but we all fixed it. Unfortunately, it is down to me to continue the fix.” She pinched a finger-full of cloudberry bar and popped it into her mouth, savouring the special herbs that would keep the Great Man strong and alert throughout the night.
As if he read her thoughts, a faint sound of jingling bells shattered the din, announcing that Man’s immanent arrival. The shouting turned to silence momentarily, as sprites and fairies gazed with anticipation toward the horizon. When the chariot drew into sight, deafening cheers erupted.
“Thanks to you,” Winter said, holding Eirlys’ cloak toward her, “the Great Man of the Winter Solstice will not be disappointed. Snowflakes will fall; ice will form; and winds will swirl.”
He kissed her chastely on her cheek and she felt the hem of her gown begin to turn pink.
“Thanks to you, Eirlys, Winter Fairy, the great freeze will happen as it should.” He squeezed her hand gently. “And, because of your Christmas magic, the Great Man will deliver gifts to children around the world and, once again, they will not be disappointed.