On cue, the first snowflakes started mixing with the raindrops, and within minutes, a heavy snow began to fall. We were still sitting in our places when the faery troop meandered back to the camp, chased home by the sud-den inclemency. Winter sometimes came early to our part of the country, but usually we did not get a snowfall until after Christmas. As the squall blew in, I wondered for the first time whether Christmas had passed altogether, or perhaps at least Thanksgiving had slipped by, and most certainly Halloween was gone. I thought of my family, still looking for me every day in the woods. Perhaps they thought me dead, which made me feel sorry and wish that word could be sent concerning my welfare.
At home, Mom would be unpacking boxes of decorations, putting out the stable and the manger, running garland up the stair rail. The past Christ-mas, my father took me out to chop down a small fir tree for the house, and I wondered if he was sad now, without me to help him choose the right one. I even missed my little sisters. Were they walking and talking and dreaming of Santa Claus, wondering what had become of me?
"What day is it?" I asked Luchóg as he changed into warmer clothes.
He licked his finger and held it into the wind. "Tuesday?"
"No, I mean what day of the year? What day of the month?"
"I have no idea. Judging by the signs, could be late November, early December. But memory is a tricky thing and unreliable when it comes to time or weather."
Christmas had not passed after all. I resolved to watch the days from then on and to celebrate the season in an appropriate fashion, even if the rest of them did not care about holidays and such things.
"Do you know where I can get a paper and a pencil?"
He struggled into his boots. "Now, what would you want them things for?"
"I want to make a calendar."
"A calendar? Why, you would need a store of paper and any number of pencils to keep a calendar out here. Ill teach you how to watch the sun in the sky and take notice of the living things. Youll know time enough by them."
"But what if I want to draw a picture or write someone a note?"
Luchóg zipped up his jacket. "Write? To whom? Most of us have forgot-ten how to write entirely, and those that havent, didnt learn in the first place. It is better to have your say and not be putting down in more or less a perma-nent way what youre thinking or feeling. That way lies danger, little trea-sure."
"But I do like to draw pictures."
We started across the ring, where Smaolach and Igel stood like two tall trees, conferring. Because Luchóg was the smallest of us all, he had trouble keeping up with me. Bouncing along at my side, he continued his disserta-tion.
"So, youre an artist, are ye? No pencil and paper? Do you know that the artists of old made their own paper and pens? Out of animal skin and bird feathers. And ink from soot and spit. They did, and further back still, they scratched on stones. Ill teach you how to leave your mark, and get you that paper if you want, but in due time."
When we reached the leader, Igel clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Youve earned my trust, Aniday. Listen and heed these two."
Luchóg, Smaolach, and I set off into the woods, and I looked back to wave goodbye. The other faeries sat together in bunches, huddled against the cold, and let the snow coat them, mad and exposed stoics.
I was thrilled at being out of that camp, but my companions did their best to control my curiosity. They let me stumble about on the trails for a time before my clumsiness flushed a covey of doves from their rest. The birds exploded into the air, all pipes and feathers. Smaolach put a finger to his lips, and I took the hint. Copying their movements, I became nearly as graceful, and we walked so quietly that I could hear the snowfall over the sound of our footsteps. Silence has its own allure and grace, heightening all the senses, espe-cially hearing. A twig would snap in the distance and instantly Smaolach and Luchóg would cock their heads in the direction of the sound and identify its cause. They showed me the hidden things silence revealed: a pheasant craning its neck to spy on us from a thicket, a crow hopping from branch to branch, a raccoon snoring in its den. Before the daylight completely faded, we tramped through the wet grounds to the mucky bank of the river. Along the waters edge ice crystals grew, and listening closely, we heard the crack of freezing. A single duck paddled further down the river, and each snowflake hissed as it hit the waters surface. The sunlight faded like a whisper and vanished.