The next morning, Pippa was full of excitement. She barely remembered to brush her hair and teeth and was chowing on toast as she cared for her horses. Her pony, Mini Hump, tried to steal the toast from her and Pippa had to run around the stable and eat it quickly as the pony trotted after her. It was hard to do that and not laugh at the same time. She darted into the house and returned with toast for all three horses. She knew she spoiled them rotten, but sometimes, she just couldn’t help it!
“Marbel, Vesper said I need Marquees Humongous today,” she said. “You’re getting a day off.”
Marbel stomped his foot. After going around everywhere in the district yesterday, he jolly well hoped so!
Pippa made sure to give Marbel an extra pat before she saddled up Marquees. The huge mare seemed a bit shocked and looked up from munching on her hay. ‘Me?’ her face said.
“I know. I know,” Pippa said. “I don’t give you enough love.” She patted the horse’s side and waited for her to finish eating.
She put Marquees through her warmups before they headed out to find Vesper.
Vesper waved her down in the square. “Morning, Pippa! You ready to get to rocking out the square?”
Pippa was beginning to wonder if Vesper was a bit too obsessed with rock’n’roll. “Does that really require an answer?”
Vesper smirked. “Glad to see you brought Marquees. The first thing you need to do while you’re all rested is go get us a huge Christmas tree! Marquees will make that easier. She’s got a lot more muscle and endurance, and you’ll be able to drag the tree faster. Of course, before you can get the tree, you’re going to have to talk to the blacksmith to borrow an ax. If you don’t own one already.”
“No. No ax. I do have a pick ax.”
Vesper made an odd face. “Go talk to the blacksmith.”
The blacksmith blinked. “You again?”
“Me again!” Pippa smiled at him.
“Are you here to forge your pine needle?”
“Not right this minute. I need to get a Christmas tree for the square and for that, I need an ax!”
“Ax, ax, ax,” the blacksmith muttered. “Ah hah! Ax!” The blacksmith narrowed her eyes. “You might want to keep this. It’s an old one. Just sharpen it up on the stone over there and it’s yours.”
Pippa got off of Marquees and used the sharpening stone to sharpen the ax. She had to keep it level as the round stone turned and turned. Sparks flew off the ax blade, but soon it was done. She owned her own ax! Maybe she shouldn’t feel so gleeful about that.
“Oh, and while you’re out and about, get a bucket of feather ice for forging your pine needle.” The blacksmith shoved a bucket at her.
“Feather ice?” Pippa asked.
“You know, super thin ice that looks like feathers. You’ll need a whole bucketful.”
“But where am I to find it?” Pippa asked again, not quite daring to say that she’d never heard of feather ice.
The blacksmith looked at her as if she was crazy. “The ice gryphons shed it, of course.”
“Yeah, now that it’s cold and snowy on this side of the world instead on the mirror side, the ice gryphons like to come out and play. They shed feathers and, feather ice! Super cold, super durable, filled with magic, and perfect for forging a pine needle!”
Yes, the magic of this world made the people of Astranar crazy.
“They’ll be high up. You might need Mini Hump. Or you can run up yourself. Just look for them flying off the mountains. Now hurry up. You haven’t got all day!” She waggled the bucket.
Pippa grimaced at the bucket and took it. “Okay. I’ll be back later.”
“And don’t forget your feather ice!”
Pippa waved at her, secured both the ax and the bucket to the saddle and headed off into the forest. She needed to find the perfect pine tree for Christmas.
It didn’t take too long to find the perfect tree. It was huge and had branches that fell all the way to the ground. Maybe she should have brought a saw instead. Pippa hefted her ax and looked up at the tree. She swung it and swung and the tree slowly toppled over, away from her and Marquees.
Pippa blew out and patted Marquees on the rump. “Ohkay, now to rope this tree up,” she said. She managed a harness of sorts out of rope and tied the tree to the back of Marquees, wrapping the tree in rope too so she wouldn’t lose any branches.
Pippa bit her lip and looked at the place where the tree was. Vesper had told her that part of their job as magicians was to take care of the land. She couldn’t just cut down a tree and leave a stump. Pippa rubbed her hands together, held them over where the stump was, and closed her eyes, reaching for her magic.
When she opened them, a tiny pine tree stood where the former huge pine tree was. It was little more than stick with a few needles, but it was a pine tree. Pippa knelt down and grinned. “I did it!” she said and carefully patted the pine tree. “You take care now!” she said to it and with a tiny bit more magic made sure the tree would be nice and healthy.
She stood up and laughed. “I grew a pine tree!”
Marquees didn’t seem all that impressed. Pippa would have to tell Marbel. He’d be proud of her for remembering.
Pippa mounted Marquees and they lumbered off. Soon, Pippa could tell what Vesper meant. The tree was big and heavy and Marquees couldn’t manage more than a trot. She didn’t want to think what it would take a normal horse. Why Marbel would be getting so tired, they’d have to rest two to three times as often as Marquees did.
“Now that is what I call a Christmas tree!” Vesper said.
“And I planted a new one.”
“Good work!” Vesper said. “I didn’t even have to remind you!”
Between them, Vesper and Pippa managed to get the tree stand in place and then wrestle the huge tree into it. They undid the rope and checked all the branches.
“Yes, that’s a fine looking tree!” Vesper said. “Now, the first things that need to go on our tree are lights. They’re in the warehouse.”
Pippa groaned. “Can’t we use our Christmas magic?”
“Nope. This tree has to be the old fashioned way. It’s traditional or something.”
Pippa grimaced but went and fetched the lights. Of course, they were all tangled. She and Vesper spent over an hour tying one end to the horse and carefully stretching the lights out into long rows from one end of the street to the other. Marquees was more patient than Marbel and Pippa was glad to have her. She’d never hear the end of this with Marbel.
Well, of course because it was Candy Cane Lane, the Christmas tree lights were done in alternating spirals of red and blue white. And there were thousands of them to cover the tree and each line had to be checked.
But they ended up going around and around and around the Christmas tree. And Pippa had to squeal as they were turned on.
Vesper stepped back and crossed her arms, smiling in appreciation.
“Next! Christmas balls. Red, white, and tartan!” Vesper said.
Of course, the red balls were the biggest and they just weren’t red. They had a large black stripe in the middle like a belt and over the ‘belt’ was a large square of silver sequins with the middle cut out to be a ‘buckle.’ These were to form the biggest part of “bead swags” on the tree. To either side of them went white balls. Smaller still were balls of red and black buffalo check like Vesper’s shirt and hat. Then there were plain red balls to make the “apex” of the swags. Over and under the balls went rope lights in red and yellow-white.
But they weren’t done.
There were candy cane shaped ornaments and ones that looked like peppermint swirls in their wrappers to go on the tree next. Then at the top went a five pointed star made of lights that also looked like candy canes and peppermint swirls. The hooks of the candy canes made a flower pattern in the middle. And there were bigger lights where each of the candy canes met.
Good golly. That had been a lot of work.
Pippa stepped back from the tree. It looked amazing!
“You ready for more?”
Vesper had the gall to laugh at her. “We can do more tomorrow. But now you know how to make the trees. There are X amount of trees you can put up all over the district and earn coupons for. Here, take these seeds. They’re magical Christmas tree seeds. They’ll get you started. You can plant them on your farm to grow all the trees you need. As you cut them down, they’ll drop more seeds!”
Pippa made it a note to check her Christmas Achievement list.
Vesper took pity on her. “You look tuckered out. Hey, I hear that the lady is making cookies up at the castle. Maybe you can go see the cook and sneak some away.”
“Oh, thanks Vesper!” There, that was the perfect opportunity to see if the cook had any Christmas recipes.
“And it’s hot cocoa season!” Vesper said.
“I’ll see you later.”
“Yep, still lots to do. But we’re getting there!” Vesper said.
Pippa waved, mounted Marquees, and rode away humming “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
X–to be determined later to make sure coupons stay balanced