The tall, dry weeds rustled over our heads as we moved, slipping past trees and bushes and fences posts through the shrouding dark. A sweet wind blew its frosted breath down our collars, pinning our ear points to our skulls and encouraging our fingers to take refuge in the long, brown sleeves of our tunics.
“Do we have to do this tonight?” Pogo whispered.
I turned and took her hand.
“Yes,” I said. “You know we do. This will be our only chance, and we owe her this.”
Pogo’s dark eyes filled and she nodded. “Ok.” Then she grinned behind her tears. “Which one will we ask?”
I looked around. To our right stood an old, clapboard farmhouse, gray with age, but stalwart still. In the corner window a light glowed, glimmering through the long, black branches of a leafless oak.
“That one,” I said.
“He is very old,” Pogo said, her doubt plain in her voice. “Are you sure he will agree?”
“He has watched her grow up. He is watching her die. He will agree.”
We joined hands and crossed to the ancient sentinel. Clasping right hands, our left hands green and faintly glowing against the rough bark, we three made the knot. Together we sang.
The air around us swirled with the sudden flurry of snow and ice. The oak shivered and drew in upon himself, as if holding his breath for a long plunge under water, but he did not send his life force to melt our efforts. White crystal surged out from our finger tips. Fantastic traceries of gothic creatures revealed themselves in frosted arabesques, sculpted by song. Faster than thought, the ice raced up the trunk, out over the branches, weaving lace, leaping, dancing out to the tiniest limb and twig until an ice-castle stood before us – its branches like minarets soaring into the night sky, winking back hope and starlight.
We stood back and I put my arm around Pogo’s shoulders, cuddling her close as the weariness flooded over us.
“Will she see it, Nip? Will she greet the morning?”
I stared at the window through the glistening branches, peering across time as much as space and saw the woman who had been the girl who saved us. My smile was dipped in sorrow, but it survived.
“She will, and for as long as the ice lasts, so will she.”
I cupped my hand around hers and nodded. “Yes.”
Together we tottered across the winter crusted yard to the home the girl become woman had hollowed out for us. Hidden away, safe and secure. We pushed aside the flat door and slipped past the knotted, oval entrance, stepping into warmth. Behind us rose our gift: magic made life. We hoped it would be enough.