A/N: All right, I know it's been a while... I find myself drifting towards original pieces rather than fanfic these days, but I'm doing my best not to neglect what I've started, either. I'm determined to finish this at some point.
The winter I speak of is, of course, that Long Winter which will surely be remembered in history for many years to come. It started as any other did, though, and as such hardly any of us saw it for what it was right at the start.
As was usual for me at the time, I had held off my wanderings to stay with my family for Christmas. It always made me restless and uneasy, but as Father Christmas always came fairly close to the start of winter, I felt I could endure it. Some years he came later than he did others, but it was always towards the beginning of the cold that held the waste in its stifling grasp. Since it was not terribly long after the snow and ice fell that he came, relatively speaking, I kept my restless nature in check for the sake of spending time with my family.
This winter, however, became an exception to the usual course of things.
Being on this end of things, after that all has ended, it is very easy to find out the effects of the Witch's spell were twofold - that it would always be winter, and that it would never be Christmas. You must understand what it looked like from our point of view, before we even knew anything had yet happened. The arrival of Father Christmas was as regular as the rising and setting of the sun. It was therefore odd not to see him when we expected him.
We all thought he was simply occupied elsewhere. Perhaps he'd decided to start his rounds in Archenland this year for a change. Or maybe even someplace further that we didn't even really know about. He had a lot of deliveries to make and they would take a while. Maybe we were just further down the list this time around. And so we waited.
Many of us had a similar reason for waiting so long before suspecting something was up. Christmas is a much loved time here, after all. A lot of us couldn't wait for it to come, for the joy and the cheer it always brought. Father Christmas's kind and friendly nature was infectious, and we couldn't help but associate it with the season as well.
But as for myself, I was rather different.
Though I am somewhat ashamed to admit it now, I grew impatient for rather selfish reasons. I was tired of waiting, and wanted to move on. I felt confined to the waste, tethered by my own loyalty to my family, and wanted out. And so as the days became weeks, and Father Christmas still had yet to be seen, I grew sullen and irritable. My patience wore thin as my time in the waste grew longer. Others wondered why Father Christmas had not come yet. I couldn't have cared less, I am sorry to say - I simply wanted him to come so I could get Christmas over and done with, and head out.
Time dragged on, however, and still he did not come.
In fact, the time for the thaw was drawing near, and nobody in Narnia had seen any sign of him.
This, then, is where I shall open my story.
I awoke one dreary gray day that resembled so many others in my now-usual melancholy dissatisfaction. My family spent their nights in a small cove hidden a little ways from a trickling stream that flowed out of Cauldron Pool. Plesantly out of the way, it provided enough solitude so that we could rest easy, but not so seculded that we could easily become secluded.
In the springtime it was a nice place to be. Flowers blossomed, the stream burbled as it lazily made its way along, and the sun gave plenty of warmth. In the winter, though, it was wretched, at least to my mind. Though secluded, the cove we stayed in did not do terribly much in the way of warmth, and the cheerful jabbering of the water ceased. Not a sign of green could be detected by the eye, only the long bony branches of trees stretching skyward like the fingers of a withered skeleton.
That morning I emerged from our sleeping place even surlier than was normal for me then. I didn't want to get out and face yet another dragging day of sameness, the bland white and stifiling weather that continued to keep me bound to the waste. But nor did I want to stay still all day long. That wouldn't have settled with me either. So, deciding between the lesser of two evils, I went out.
Once again I was greeted with the same view I'd seen for so long. I shivered a little, my hooves getting used to being buried in snow again. The chill that came as I became accustomed to standing in the layer that covered the ground was becoming all too familiar, and I was glad that the thaw was supposedly on its way. Trodding through the stuff a few paces, I wondered if there was anything I could do that might hurry spring along.
"Doubt it," I muttered to myself under my breath.
Everywhere I looked the same colorless scene met my eye. In a momentary bout of frustration, I kicked at the snow with a forehoof, letting out a derisive snort. After the small flurry had settled, a rather sorry-looking patch of grass stared back at me. Struggling to keep itself together, after being trodden on by unicorn hooves and buried under a layer of snow, but at least present. I found this both comforting and annoying at the same time - comforting that yes, there still was something under there, annoying in that I still had to dig for it.
Staring at the little patch for a moment, I willed it to grow bigger, for the thaw to hit and relieve me of the walls closing in around me, to give me my freedom back. Who cared if Christmas hadn't come yet, I was tired of waiting and once spring came I would be off and back to my content meanderings.
I gave another snort as I kicked again. "Come on already! I can't wait forever!"
"Wait for what?"
The curious little voice that had snuck up behind me made me whirl. All that met my line of vision was a little indigo horn tip. Glancing downward a little, I soon saw the rest of the horn, along with the young colt it was attached to. With a heavy sigh, I avoided the question for the moment with a simple, "Morning, Quam."
Aquamar, usually just Quam to the rest of us, was my younger brother and a whirlwind of questions. Never in the annoying sense, though. His curiosity was genuine, and he wondered about the little nuances of everything. He was a bright-eyed colt, in both a literal sense, with his dancing blue eyes, and a figurative one, his happy-go-lucky demeanor able to find something fun and pleasant in nearly everything. For example, though I was disgusted and frustrated with the cover of snow, he seemed to get enjoyment of sending a little spray of snow all about with his forehoof as he'd seen me do. He watched the flurry with an amused expression, then trotted closer to nudge my leg in an affectionate sort of greeting.
"Hullo Jasper. Pretty day, isn't it?"
I grimaced and forced out a noncomittal sort of noise in reply. Though we were quite obviously taking different sides to that statement, I couldn't bring myself to squelch his natural enthusiasm, either.
Quam grinned at me again, and pulled away in order to trot around in the snow. More like 'prance,' really, though that's generally not a term used on colts. We're not particularly fond of it at that age. Regardless, Quam managed to contain all the joy and energy and happiness I couldn't bring myself to even bother giving the impression of. We two were different, that was clear, and it took no more than our reaction to winter to prove it.
And yet still, despite our glaring differences at times, I loved him no less. He was my brother, and that was all there was to it. Yes, he admittedly made things difficult every now and then. But I suffered a bit of winter for my family's sake, and I was willing to suffer for his as well. So too did I know he would do the same for me, though I hoped it would never have to come to that.
He continued his happy frolicking for a bit, then came back over to me. "What's the matter, Jasper? Don't you think it's pretty?"
I couldn't keep up the pretense, even for his sake. "Quam... not really, no. I'm actually a little tired of it. I'm ready for spring. I've never really been much for winter."
Quam kicked again, sending a little flurry of snow about the both of us. "I kinda like it."
"Well, it's fun! Stuff you can't do any other time of year. Everything's all white and a little glittery and you can see the little bird tracks and everything. It's nice."
I snorted a bit. "Maybe. And also cold. And confining."
He was quiet, and nudged me again. "You wanna go again, don't you..."
"Yes. I do."
My brother ducked his head a little and shuffled a hoof in the snow, and I felt a pang of guilt. I did try to drop by to give him a visit or two every so often, but they were never for very long. Christmastide was the longest I ever kept around, and this time around I'd been home even longer. It was unusual for him, and he apparently wanted it to last.
With another sigh, I returned the nudge. "I'm just restless, Quam. You know I don't like to sit still. Though I do like spending time with you."
A little smile accompanied his reply. "That's good. I like it too."
He shivered a little.
Concerned older brother that I tended to be, I give him a firmer nudge in the general direction of the caverns. "You shouldn't be out for a long time, it's cold and you need to stay warm."
"Well what about you?"
"I'll be in later. I just can't stand being inside a lot."
"Well me either!"
He could be downright frustrating at times. Then again, I couldn't deny the fact maybe some of that tenacity had been picked up from his brother.
I opened my mouth to give him a firmer reply, but he beat me to it. "Still... it is really cold. Colder than last year. Not the same cold, either."
Now it was my turn to be curious. "What do you mean?"
Scrunching up his brow in thought, making little wrinkles around his horn, he tried to put his thoughts into words. "It's cold outside, but it gets cold inside too when you're out for a while. Not like last winter. It just feels different, that's all."
I jerked my head in what passes for a shrug among us equine sorts. "All the more reason for you to get where it's a bit warmer."
"Yeah, I guess."
He trudged off a few paces, then looked back. "You going to come in a bit later and tell me another story?"
One of Quam's favorite pastimes was to sit and listen to me talk about my travels. He'd done it a lot this winter, and I was quite out of stories to tell, though he insisted on hearing his favorites over and over and over. I wasn't terribly in the mood for it, but he'd used that hopeful tone of his that was too hard to deny.
With a happy whinny, he trotted back in.
When he was out of sight, I thought back on what he'd said. I hadn't really noticed much of a difference this winter, but that could have been because I always despised it. Was there really something deeper to this winter? I couldn't be sure. Nor, I am sorry to say, did I think my brother could have been either. I swiftly discounted it for the time being, chalking it up to his youthful perception that wasn't quite clear enough yet.
If only I'd thought to consider his words more carefully. Things might have turned out differently if I had.
"Such little things... and yet how important they seem later on."
The dryad simply nodded to the stallion's words, taking note of his last few statements. The unicorn, for his part, seemed stuck in another time. His expression was distant and his dark eyes clouded, lost in thought of memories.
Glancing over to her companion, the dryad ceased her writing. "You cannot dwell forever on what could have been, Jasper. It will do you no good."
He shook his mane in reply. "I know, I know. It still hurts, though. Quam... I should have treated him better. If I had, then maybe..."
She cut him off before he could take the thought further along its course. "You do not know that, Jasper. And how things are settled now is what you need to deal with."
Jasper winced, and plodded off a pace or two. The stallion was clearly having difficulties. Well, that was clear from the start. But perhaps now they were getting to be a little much.
The dryad set her pile of parchment aside and rose from her perch, moving over to rest a hand on the stallion. He stirred at the touch, and the fatigue in his eyes was more than enough to determine her course of action. Her voice was softer as she spoke.
"I know it still hurts. It would be difficult for anyone, and how much more when it is added on top of all you have had to face. But there is no sense questioning what could have been done. It only makes the present that much harder to accept."
She paused, and he nodded. Agreement. That was a first step.
"We do not have to get the whole story told in one day, Jasper. Perhaps it is time we took a rest."
Another nod, more firm this time, from the stallion. "I think that would be ideal."
Nodding in return, the dryad offered a faint smile. "We need not continue until you are ready. Take whatever time you need."