This is the ninety-first chapter in a continuing fictional series. To see past chapters please check my older posts.
They all came together fashionably late. Twenty minutes after the party started, the pavilion was a mix of movement and noise as nearly all the members of the Court milled about. Obviously absent were Richard and Olivia, but otherwise, I couldn’t think of a single person that wasn’t present. Even Metcalf and Kirill were standing just inside the open doors chatting.
Everyone had been told to dress warm, and that the activity involved snow, but until I stood on the brick rim of the fire pit, quieted them, and explained our activity, none but my friends had known what exactly we were doing. The minute the word “snowman” came out of my mouth I saw looks of skepticism scattered throughout the group, but as I continued, a good number of smiles appeared too. I gave them three minutes to form teams, after which Winston rang a bell, signaling our time had begun.
Pierre, Raymond, Anna, and I were a team. At first most people were a bit hesitant, but when Pierre, followed closely by Anna, charged into the snow declaring he’d make the best snowman Lochlind had ever seen, others followed and soon we were all up to our knees in the white powder. I was thankful for Pierre’s contagious enthusiasm.
“Anna, you start on the second ball,” Pierre directed, as our snowman’s body grew. “Raymond, come help me. Princess, help Anna. Make sure it’s round, not lumpy. And big.”
Anna was already forming the core of the second ball, a grin on her face. I tromped over and we began to roll it through the snow creating a sinuous path that crisscrossed many others. We didn’t notice we were on a collision course with another team until Anna ran right into a young Lord, and they both fell into the snow. Anna laughed freely as they struggled up.
“I don’t know when the last time I built a snowman was,” the Lord’s female partner, said as she and I helped our companions. He was laughing too, and brushed the snow that collected in his hair onto her neck. She squealed and tried to run away, which was impossible in the knee deep snow. He chased her, momentarily abandoning the large snowball that was to become part of their snowman.
Anna was still laughing and brushing off snow, when she noticed my obvious tension. ”My Lady, relax. Look around. Everyone is having a good time. They are all laughing. You did it. It’s a success. Now just enjoy it.”
She was right. I watched the Court members pushing through the snow, their faces red and eyes bright. No one was scowling or whispering meanly. One group had managed to make a truly colossal base for their snowman, but it appeared too big to move and the five of them were attempting to push it into place. One slipped and the others pulled him up laughing together. A couple of girls ran to the fire and held their hands over the flame, talking excitedly together, before running off to join their team again. One couple grabbed some cider and held it under their noses as they watched their three team members starting on their snowman’s head. Everyone was having a good time.
I shivered with the cold. “Maybe you should spend a few minutes by the fire,” Raymond said from behind me.
I jumped, startled by his presence. “Raymond. I didn’t know you were there!”
“Anna seems pretty focused on creating the perfect middle to our snowman,” Raymond said. “I thought I’d keep an eye on you.” I tromped over to the fire with Raymond and held up my gloved hands. Pierre had done a good job. The gloves and coat were thick, waterproof and warm. And the coat was long enough to keep even the upper part of my thighs insulated from the cold, but I still had that un-shakable shiver under my skin.
“Anna says I succeeded,” I commented to Raymond, as the warmth penetrated my clothing but went no farther than my skin. “She says I should just have fun.”
“It appears you have,” Raymond agreed. “I was eleven the last time I made a snowman. I doubted I would even remember how.”
I looked up at him and smiled. “Well then I guess we better both try to have a little fun. It’s been a long time.”
“It has.” He smiled back.
We hurried back over to Pierre, who was treating this snowman as a masterpiece that had not yet been created. He had sent Anna back out to make the middle snowball bigger, while he worked on sculpting the base into the perfect ball shape. Quickly he sent Raymond and me off to form the head with the warning, “Don’t disappoint me Princess.”
I laughed at his words and realized how good it felt. As we built our head and circled back around toward Pierre, we caught up to Anna, who grinned mischievously and held her finger up to her mouth indicating she expected a conspiratorial silence from us. Then she clumsily snuck up behind the incredibly focused Pierre with a hand full of snow and dropped it down his neck. He yelped, drawing everyone’s eye, and tried to catch Anna, but she was already stumbling back toward us laughing so hard she could hardly stand. Pierre looked determined to catch her, but when she reached me she jumped behind me, and used me to block Pierre’s counter attack.
“Don’t get me involved in this,” I said pulling away, so Anna ran to her snowball and held it up. Pierre stopped his pursuit so as not to compromise our snowman’s abdomen.
“You better watch your back, Anna,” he threatened. “Raymond, come help me place the middle ball on.” A hint of a smile appeared on Raymond’s face as he took the ball from Anna and brought it to Pierre. I realized I was smiling broadly, standing over the soon-to-be head.
Anna stood next to me. “Raymond needs to loosen up,” she commented.
“He’s just trying to stay alert,” I said.
“He’s worried. About you, as always,” She said. Then she leaned down and made a small tight snowball. She handed it to me and said, “You can throw a knife and shoot a gun with perfect aim. Let’s see how you do with a snowball.”
I hesitated, but the ball was already in my hands, I was already calculating the distance to Raymond’s back—about 20 feet. Anna nudged me and smiled. I wound up and let it fly, a laugh bursting out at the exact moment of impact squarely in-between Raymond’s shoulder blades. Anna let out a whoop as Raymond turned in surprise. I found I was laughing so hard I had to hold onto Anna’s shoulder so I didn’t fall over, but that didn’t stop me from noticing, the competitive gleam that was born in Raymond’s eye. It only took him an instant to scoop up a snowball of his own.
“Duck!” I shouted toppling both Anna and I into the snow just as Raymond’s snowball sailed over me. I wasn’t the only one with good aim, but I successfully dodged. Unfortunately, the young man just a few feet behind me was not so lucky.
He looked down at his snow-covered leg and then looked up at Anna and I, and Raymond and Pierre behind us. “I demand revenge,” the girl on his team yelled and launched a snowball into the air. I’m not sure what she was aiming at, but she hit another team’s snowman. They retaliated. A snowball from I- don’t-know-where suddenly hit me in the center of my back. I felt its sting against my scars, and as I gasped in an icy breath, everyone froze watching me for my reaction.
I looked at Anna and winked, before leaning over as if in pain, while secretly packing a snowball myself. Slowly I stood up. “This is WAR!” I yelled and threw my snowball in-between a couple of the other girls.
Anna whooped and threw a snowball of her own before making another. Gleeful chaos broke out and snowballs flew everywhere. “Princess come on. We’ve got to take cover!” We ran to our snowman and tried to duck behind it. I reached down and made another snowball and threw it without aiming. Raymond launched another behind us. He turned, a smile on his face, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Another snowball narrowly missed my face and I ducked.
The snowball fight lasted until Winston rang the bell indicating we all had ten more minutes before the competition concluded. This caused a round of yells and squeals as everyone abandoned the snowy war in order to complete their forgotten snow creatures. Pierre became a true tyrant as he ordered us to sacrifice our own articles of clothing to adorn our snowman in the remaining minutes before the time ran out. We were poor servants, since we could barely stand, we were laughing so hard. Somehow he still managed to finish just as Winston rang the final bell, and our snowman was complete with mittened hands, scarf, hat, and a face made of rocks and sticks.
Everyone congregated around the fire, and someone handed me cider. Every single person was covered in snow and it was noisy; a mix of boisterous conversations bounced around the circle. I caught Winston’s eye, and he smiled kindly. When we had begun it had still been light but now the sky was a deep purple blue and the first bright stars were beginning to appear. The castle lights radiated into the night, and the fire danced high casting ever changing shadows across the group. I bumped into someone and turned to realize it was Raymond. His eyes twinkled in a way I’d never seen them before. It was probably the reflection of the fire.
“You have snow all over your head,” He said loudly over the din.
I had sacrificed my hat to our snowman. “So do you,” I called back. The cider was warm in my hands, and Raymond’s expression made me want to smile for some reason. Someone else came and grabbed my arm pulling me away to tell me about a snowball battle that had almost toppled their snowman completely. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kirill and Metcalf together walking along the stomped down paths the twisted between snowmen. The snowmen themselves looked like a disorganized mismatched patrol of oddly fat soldiers.
It only took a few minutes for the King’s advisors to make their choice, and the party quieted to hear their decision: the tallest snowman built by three young Lords won. The announcement was met by cheers and boos alike before the conversations diverged and the chaos continued. As the clear night sky turned pitch black, the temperature dropped fiercely, but it was another hour before the first few guests began to leave and the fire, all the wood having been used, dwindled. I kept near the fire, trying to stay warm, but the cold was stinging. When the last guests finally strolled away, I hurried inside and up to my room and took a hot bath before climbing into bed, sure that tonight, as successful as the evening had been, and as tired as I was, I’d sleep all night.