Photograph by Lisa Shambrook (Please do not use)
Author: Lisa Shambrook
Dedication: With love to my family who humour my excitement at Christmas!
Gossamer threads hung, decorated with frozen diamonds, and beneath the lacy webs Winter rested her head on the stony floor. Swirls of vapour rose from her nostrils and tiny blue flames licked across her tongue. She sighed.
An amber glow suffused the sky with light, banishing the indigo skyline over the horizon, and the vista smouldered beneath an ethereal haze. Snow clothed the valleys, and ice clung to every rock and ridge. Icing-sugared trees blended the woods together, evergreens bathed in a blanket of white and leafless trees stood dipped in sherbet. A cotton-wool carpet covered the grass before the cave and red berries shone like rubies peeping through earth’s crystal mantle. Lakes shone like glass, and early-rising village folk danced across the sheets of ice.
Winter yawned, and those below who glanced up at the ridge watched billowing mist spiral down the precipice, collecting in pockets of cloud across the valley. Those early morning folk pulled their woolly hats down over their pink-tipped ears and shivered.
As dawn spread her fingers of light across the horizon, Winter smiled to herself. She recalled her preceding season’s hibernation, and the delight of the valley people as she’d arrived one late November day, bringing swathes of white and an energising, but bitter, wind. They’d hurried out of their houses, clothed in colours so bright, and the wondrous noise of joy had risen high into the echoing mountains. As she’d twirled and soared, she’d conjured blizzards, and flurries, and danced all day long. That night she’d flown across the inky sky frosting the skeletal forests and sifting snow atop everything in sight.
Now the dragon kept watch, and waited.
As the sun rose, she basked in its warmth then she stood and stretched. Her scales clattered as she shook herself and glitter showered the mountain, the breeze catching and swirling it across the hills and vales. Impatience flicked her tail and she shook out her wings. Huge wings, overlaid with intricate and elaborate frosted filigree, fanned and fluttered. Winter lifted her head, gazed across the land, and memories of solstice, the recent longest night, made her heart leap and a deep pink blush rippled across her body. Her smile grew and anticipation tingled. Just one more night and he’d be home.
Dusk fell and the sky turned as red as the holly berries before dipping behind the mountain range. Winter could barely contain her excitement, and she launched away from the cliff, floating across the sapphire sky. The dragon blew gently, clearing the clouds, leaving the sky full only of glittering stars. She glided silently past each house; her own smoke mingling with the spiralling plumes from chimneys everywhere. She watched children hang stockings on their bedposts or on the mantelpiece. She smiled at last minute gift wrapping, and inhaled the delicious fragrance of wood smoke, mulled wine and cinnamon. She drifted across the night breathing out fresh flurries of snow, and painting windows with the most delicate lattice curls of ice.
Stars glimmered as she retired back to her cave, and just once she thought she heard bells tinkling, but maybe it was the frost on her scales.
It was early, not even dawn had stirred, when bells did indeed chime and Winter woke. She snorted and her scales quivered as she moved swiftly from her bed of oak leaves to the mouth of her grotto. There on the snowy ridge, stood several reindeer, antlers draped with moss and holly, and Winter’s heart leaped.
The dragon danced in the snow, and the reindeer eyed her warily. More reindeer wandered, moving off into the forest, and from the woods came a deep chuckle. Winter moved forward, her heart pounding within her chest and a man stepped out of the trees.
Father Winter stood before her in one of his many guises, and she spread her wings whipping up a blizzard. The tempest flew about the stout man, snowflakes settled on his face and in his beard, coating his figure and turning him momentarily into a snowman.
Spirals of star-studded smoke wreathed the snow laden figure, and his reindeer took off into the sky. Smoke and fire fizzed and crackled, and Winter’s own ice blue flames sparked amid her roiling, swirling snowflakes. The smoky column intensified and coiled up into the sky and then in an explosion of snow and ice, and fireworks, a crimson dragon burst forth from the smoke.
His scales gleamed and his wings shuddered as he stepped forward and extended his flared nostrils to Winter, his mate.
Now free from Yuletide obligation, Father Winter returned to his favourite form. His eyes roamed across Winter, his breath caught and smoke eddied as he exhaled. As dawn whispered and church bells rang down in the valley, two dragons with wings the colours of mistletoe and holly berries, rose into the sky and the season of goodwill began.