Light. There was light.
Guy could see it without even opening his eyes, for instead of an inky blackness behind his eyelids, there was a reddish brown. And he could once again feel softness around him. Very, very slowly, hardly daring to believe it to be true, Guy opened his eyes.
Yes! He was in Locksley Manor, in his own bed. And there was daylight streaming through the curtains. Guy glanced sat up slowly, still not entirely convinced that it was all over.
"Are there any more spirits lingering? Show yourself!" With one movement, Guy pulled back his bed-curtain and glanced warily about. Seeing no one, he remembered the Ghost of Vaisey's words: "One...two...three."
It was finished, then. Guy wasn't sure whether to leap to his feet and dance around or fall back onto his bed in relieved exhaustion. In the end, he did neither. He rose to his feet and went to stand by the window, drawing back the curtains and letting in the full light of the morning, which reflected brightly off of the new-fallen snow. Peasants walked up and down the tiny dirt path, calling out in greeting to one another in the street. Looking upon them, it suddenly occurred to Guy that he no longer did so with disdain-instead, he felt an overwhelming desire to share in their joy. Throwing open the window, Guy called out to two young lads who were passing by near his house.
"You there! What day is it?"
The boys stopped and stared at him, eyes wide.
"D'ya hear that?" asked one of the other. "Sir Guy's gone mad!"
"I heard that, and I'll have you know that I have not gone mad! Now answer me!" Guy caught himself, and cleared his throat. "I mean, would you please be so kind as to tell me the date?"
The second boy smiled broadly. "Why, it's Christmas Day, it is!"
Guy's mind immediately went back to the moment when the Much-Ghost had asked him to give his interpretation of the meaning of Christmas. Remembering his own response that it was "just some silly holiday," Guy winced at how selfish it sounded. Could there, in the midst of all of his guilt and remorse, be found the tiniest shards of hope for redemption? Mustering up his courage, Guy asked of the boys,
"And what is it that makes this day different from all the rest? Why do the people who normally stay hidden walk about the streets with such joy today?"
The boy who had informed him of the identity of the day took it upon himself to answer this question as well.
"Because Christmas is the one day of the year that everyone loves their neighbor, and the world and its people are at peace."
The boy's companion looked at him and shook his head incredulously. "Where do you get this stuff, Philip?"
But Guy had found in the young lad's words the promise that he had hoped so fervently to be true. What he had seen in his visions was genuine, then, and not just some creation of an overstressed mind. Everything-the outlaws' toast, Robin's mixed emotions, and most importantly the forgiveness that had been in Marian's eyes, had been real. Guy raised his eyes to heaven and knew that she was up there somewhere, looking at him right now and smiling. And he had to do something to deserve that smile. He would do it.
With newfound hope, Guy called out once more to the boys on the street. "Wait!" Though they had begun to move away by this time, they turned to face him once more. A slight annoyance showed on the companion's visage, but young Philip's face was alight.
"Thank you, young man. Your words have put joy and peace in the heart of a man very much in need of them." Guy cracked an awkward smile. It must have looked slightly horrifying to the poor boy, he thought, but Philip returned the gesture anyway.
"Merry Christmas, Sir Guy!" He finally gave in to the tugging of his companion on his coat-sleeve and turned to leave.
"Merry Christmas!" The words tasted odd coming from Guy's mouth, but at the same time, they felt good on his lips. He watched the two small forms walk away for a moment, and the world seemed as still as a frozen pond yet as perfect as untrodden snow. He was snapped from his reverie when he remembered that if he was going to earn his forgiveness, he had a great many amends to make, and not much time to do it.
He pulled out the chest that he kept beneath his bedside table that held the vast majority of his personal funds. Once, he had showed a similar chest to Marian in an attempt to assure her that he could provide for her when they married. Later, disguised as the Night Watchman, Marian had robbed him of that money to provide for the poor, and he had unwittingly almost killed her for it. How ironic, he thought, not without bitterness, that she almost died stealing my money to give to the poor, and here I am about to give it voluntarily after I've killed her.
Guy froze almost in mid-thought. Never before, he realized, had he found it so easy to address that matter in his mind. He had always thought of it as "the event" or "his worst sin", as though somehow not calling the murder by its actual name would somehow make it nonexistent. But it felt better, he realized, to be frank with himself. It was as though in giving his actions and crimes an identity, he was able to begin to forgive himself for them. For he knew now that Marian forgave him, and that fact in itself gave Guy the strength to take that first step in doing the same.
But he had an agenda to keep to. Reaching into the money chest, Guy removed several handfuls of coins and deposited them into a purse which he looped into his belt. He would come back for the rest later. He hurried to the stables and had his stallion tacked up and ready to ride within minutes.
The gallop to Nottingham felt good. The winter wind was frigid as it rushed in his ears, and occasionally he would feel a cold splash as his horse ran through snow drifts and kicked up some of the fluffy white stuff. But to Guy, the snow felt like a cleanser, the pure whiteness of it washing away his stains and his sins. And the speed was exhilarating. As Guy urged the horse on, faster and faster, he felt his heart rise with more joy than he had felt in a very long time.
He pulled up to a trot as he reached the gates of Nottingham town. After had he bid the stunned guards an emphatic "Merry Christmas!" and tossed them each a copper for their troubles, Guy started in on the street-beggars. At first, he contemplated just reaching into his purse and throwing out coins left and right for the peasants to pick up. But then he remembered the events of the previous day, which had resulted in a spooked horse and nearly resulted in both a dead peasant boy and a dead Guy, and decided to take a more personal approach. Pressing the reins of his horse into one hand of a street boy and some coins into the other with the promise of more when he returned, Guy set off on his campaign. For nearly an hour he traversed the alleyways, giving out coins and personally wishing the money's recipients a Merry Christmas. He even shook their hands, though he had to hide a grimace of disgust the first few times. Dirt and grime really were not Guy's favorite things in the world, but seeing as he now felt very clean inside, he supposed he could get used to them.
When he passed the butcher's shop, a new idea suddenly struck him. He fingered the layer of gold coins that remained in his purse and, after contemplating it for a moment, figured he had enough. He knocked on the door of the little house that was attached to the shop.
The butcher seemed shocked, if not mildly annoyed, to see Guy standing on his doorstep on Christmas morning.
"Merry Christmas, Sheriff...how can I help you?"
"Merry Christmas, my friend!" Those words were beginning to slide more and more easily off of Guy's lips. "I hope you can help me-I have a bit of an odd request."
As he explained his idea, the butcher's expression became increasingly incredulous, both at the change in Guy's demeanor and the volume of money he was about to make. When Guy finished, the butcher nodded vigorously as he received the entirety of the remaining contents of Guy's purse.
The people of Locksley would be even happier, if possible, than the butcher that Christmas. For later that day, a delivery boy bearing a large portion meat of some form would show up on each and every doorstep, with no name or message attached. They would assume that the generous gift came from Robin Hood, but as he would deny it in the days to come, they could only speculate. But regardless of who had purchased it, every family in Locksley would sit down to their largest feast in many long years, and have plenty left over for the cold winter days to come.
His purse completely empty and his business with the butcher completed, Guy retrieved his mount and proceeded to the castle. After handing the horse off to the frightened stableboy, who (oddly, thought Guy) seemed to grown even more terrified when Guy apologized for not having money for a tip and promised him an extra large gratuity next time, Guy set off for the lowest level of the castle. As he finished his descent and stood at the mouth of the corridor that opened into the dark and desolate space that was the dungeon, his nerves suddenly overtook him. After the horrors that he had caused his little sister, the years of pain he had put her through and then provided no comfort to soothe her wounds when she had sought it, he did not think that he had it within himself to face her. But then he remembered the little girl weeping in the corner, her lips upon the silver wolf's head, and knew that he was already a forgiven man, if only he could bring himself to accept that forgiveness. With that thought in his mind, Guy rushed to the door of his sister's cell with a cry.
"Isabella!" At the sound of her name, she turned from where she lay on the barely intact wooden plank and regarded him, eyes rimmed red from crying now wide with a mixture of hope and disbelief.
"Guy?" she whispered in a voice hoarse from crying the night through.
"Jailor! Open this door, and get these shackles off of my sister!" The order implied such immediacy that the jailor, though confused, did not question it. As soon as she was free from the chains that bound her to the dungeon wall, the sobbing Isabella rushed into her brother's arms, and all of Guy's lingering fears that she would still be cold toward him were dissolved.
"Isabella, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..." He could do nothing but repeat his apology over and over again, stroking her tangled hair as his shoulder became wet with her tears. They knelt on the cold floor of the dungeon, oblivious to the curious and disbelieving eyes of the remaining prisoners. How long they stayed in that position, Guy could not know, but finally the force of both of their emotions calmed and Isabella was able to say the words that Guy knew to be true but needed so desperately to hear anyway.
"I forgive you, my brother."
"For everything?" He grasped her shoulders and pushed her away from his body so that he could look into her eyes. All he could see in them was relief and love; the hatred due him from the years of hurt and fear he had caused her had been nullified for the love of family.
"Yes. For everything." Guy allowed her to slide back into his embrace once more, and sighed shakily.
"Thank you. I've changed, Isabella. I can't really explain why, but we'll be a family now, this I promise you." At the poignancy of his words, she pulled away of her own accord this time. "You can come and stay with me at Locksley Manor, and I'll protect you from Thornton should he come looking for you. You'll have everything you need."
"Guy...thank you." Isabella gave a small, incredulous laugh. "And in return, I promise not to associate with outlaws anymore."
Her brother smiled ironically. "I think I shall be guilty of associating with outlaws before the day is out."
She regarded him curiously. "What do you mean?"
"I cannot explain now, but you'll find out soon enough." Guy turned to a guard. "Get my sister upstairs and see that she is given whatever she needs-food, drink, a bath, fresh clothes. Then have a carriage take her and her belongings to Locksley Manor." The guard nodded, and after a slight hesitation, Guy thanked him. It felt odd, thanking an employee, but he supposed that they were people with feelings, too. How different his perception of the world was, now that he had had his supernatural experience!
After reassuring Isabella that they would be together by nightfall at the latest and wishing her a long overdue Merry Christmas, Guy set off once more for Locksley Manor. When he got to his bedchamber, he once more examined the contents of his chest of money. This was not the money that he had extorted and forced out of people as a part of his profession, nor was it to be delivered to Prince John. This was what Guy had worked his whole life for. When their parents died, he and Isabella had been left with nothing. Since then, Guy had committed countless sins to get to the position of wealth and power he now held. First, he had sold Isabella into a marriage that was more of a slavery. Then, he had gone to work for Vaisey, who had brainwashed his young mind and deteriorated his morals. Guy had learned quickly that to survive in this world meant to look out for yourself. It had taken him until now to learn that to live in this world meant to look out for others.
Marian had been a lone flower in the desolate wasteland that was Guy's life. For awhile, she had been all that sustained him-the hope that she would one day realize that he could give her what she needed. After the moment of anger in which he had ripped that beautiful flower from the ground, Guy's sustenance had become his ambition. He kept telling himself that he would be happy if he could get to the uppermost rungs of the ladder of success and wealth. He was truly a self-made man, or so he had thought. Now he realized that it had been Marian, not himself, who had really shaped the parts of him that were worth keeping. To hell with Prince John and his taxes! Guy no longer needed the power and wealth that the prince had promised him, for he now had something that made his heart feel lighter and more fulfilled than those selfish pursuits ever could have.
After a moment's hesitation, Guy reached into his drawer and removed the intricate silver cloak link that he had last seen being auctioned off to a castle guard, and pocketed it. Then, grunting under the physical strain, he lifted the heavy chest and all of its contents and, with painful slowness, lugged it down the stairs, out the front door, and into the stables. There, he hitched his stallion to a two-wheeled cart, hoisted the chest onto it, and set off in the direction of Sherwood Forest, hoping that his plan would work.
It did. He had been walking for less than a half hour when the sound of an arrow singing past and then thudding into the wooden chest met Guy's ears. He turned to find himself at the mercy of two knocked arrows, two swords, and one very imposing-looking quarterstaff.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't the infamous Guy of Gisborne. Look lads, we've got ourselves a real Christmas present here-the Sheriff of Nottingham himself, walking alone and unguarded through the forest with a chest of money!"
"Robin, I'm telling you, this has to be some sort of trap." Allan's bow remained trained in Guy's direction, but the leather-clad man could hear the nervousness and underlying frustration at not being listened to in his whisper.
"Allan's right, Master." Much, too, sounded worried.
"All right then, Gisborne. What are you playing at?" Robin took a step closer so that the tip of his arrow was but inches from Guy's face.
Guy raised an eyebrow. "Playing at?"
"There's absolutely no way you're stupid enough to walk through Sherwood Forest alone with a chest of money. Unless..." With one swift and unstoppable movement, Robin slid sideways past Guy and threw open the lid of the chest. The glint of gold coins met their eyes, and the other outlaws glanced around for any sign that they might be surrounded by soldiers.
"It's not even a decoy." Robin was incredulous. "Really Gisborne, what were you thinking?"
Guy shrugged. "I suppose I was assuming you outlaws would take the holiday off."
Robin threw back his head and laughed heartily. "The holiday off? Did you hear that, lads?" He addressed Guy again. "Well, I've got news for you, my friend. Charity and good will never take a holiday."
"Well, it's a good thing they don't. Because then I would have had a wasted trip through the forest. It was uncertain enough that you lot would actually come out of the woodwork to ambush me. This could so easily have been a trap. You know, you really ought to listen to your men more often, Hood." Guy nodded slightly in Allan's direction. In response, his former lackey tightened his bowstring and narrowed his eyes, not in the least bit convinced that he and the other outlaws were not in danger.
Robin was confused now, as well, a fact made obvious by his sudden territorial display.
"Get out of my forest, Gisborne."
Guy raised an eyebrow. "What? You mean you don't want my money?"
"Oh, we're taking the money all right. We're taking the money, and then you're leaving."
"It's not that simple, Hood."
"Oh, really? Well I can make it that simple just by releasing my bowstring."
"At least listen to what I have to say." Guy's voice raised a bit in volume, signaling his immense frustration.
To his surprise, Robin lowered his bow rested its tip on the ground. Tuck dropped his sword arm as well, his face a picture of curiosity. The rest of the Gang, however, remained battle-ready.
"All right, then." The leader of the outlaws sounded amused. "Let's hear it."
Guy glanced around him, feeling the mockery of Robin's glare more acutely than he did the hostility of those of three of his companions. "I know I've done some awful things in my life, one in particular..."
Robin snorted. Guy scowled.
"Will you let me speak?"
The archer glowered at him for a moment before motioning with his hand for Guy to continue.
"Recently, very recently, actually, I have had my eyes opened to both the causes and the consequences of my sins, and I have come out of it a changed man. How I could have lived in such close proximity to poverty all of these years and not allowed myself to be affected by its horrors, I do not know. But I have been affected now, and I have realized that the furthering of humanity is of far greater importance than the furthering of my political status or monetary security."
All five outlaws had lowered their weapons by this time and were gazing at Guy with utter amazement. Robin was the first to recover himself, suspicion lacing his features.
"And why should I believe you, Gisborne?" His voice dropped to a low hiss. "You murdered Marian."
Guy swallowed. He had expected this, but the sudden anger in Robin's eyes unnerved him nonetheless.
"You toasted me last night." The words were a quick and desperate bid for survival. The anger vanished and was replaced with shock, which made itself plain on all of the outlaws' faces. It was Tuck who spoke this time.
"How do you know this? The location of our camp is secret!"
Guy shook his head. "How I know isn't important, and even if I did tell you, you wouldn't believe me anyway. But I heard everything you said, Tuck, about every man having both good and bad within him, and it being up to him to choose which he displays. This is me, choosing to let the part of me that is a decent man overtake the malignancy, for the first time in my adult life!" He turned to Robin. "And what you said, about wishing that I would realize my sins and repent-I am! What you wished for has come true. I will no longer torment the peasants of Nottinghamshire, and this money is for you to assist them with. You'll know better what to do with it than I. It is not taxes like what you removed from the castle yesterday-these are my personal funds, which I worked for many long years. The methods which I employed to obtain them now stain my hands, and I feel no longer worthy to keep the money. I am asking you, Robin Hood, to ease my conscience by using this money, as well as what you took from the castle yesterday, to aide the poor."
There was a silence in the forest which lasted a very long time. After nearly half a minute, Guy was surprised to hear Little John break the silence.
"This, I cannot believe."
"Master, surely not... I mean, you don't actually believe him, do you?" Much was positively dumbstruck.
"I think he's gone bloody mental, Robin." That came from Allan. Guy winced inwardly. He had known that his drastic change in morals would not be readily accepted by the outlaws, but he had hoped that he would get some sympathy from Allan, at least. But then he remembered (or foretold, he though ironically) the moment deep in the forest during which Much had been on the receiving end of Allan's guilt- and self-doubt-infused tirade. On a hunch, Guy turned to look at the young thief and to his great relief saw in his eyes, beneath the doubt and the fear, the smallest glimmer of hope.
"I don't expect you to believe me Hood, and I certainly don't count on you forgiving me. You can just take the money, if you like, and I'll be on my way."
Guy made to unbuckle his stallion from his harness and lead him away back to Locksley, but Robin's voice stopped him.
"Don't think you will have my forgiveness, Gisborne. The pain you caused me can never be righted."
"I know." Guy felt the same way about the pain that he had caused himself, but the promise the previous night had brought him was that he would slowly become able to live with it. Pondering this, he was surprised to hear Robin's voice again.
"I may not be able to forgive you, the mere vengeful man that I am, but I think she would have." Now it was Guy's turn to stare in utter disbelief. "Marian always saw the good in others, and gave of herself to bring out that good. And in the honor of her memory, I can find it within myself to at least believe you. And it goes against everything I stand for to turn down a gift directed at the poor. So, thank you, Guy of Gisborne, and I say with honesty that I am glad that my toast last night has come true so soon."
The two mortal enemies stared at each other for a moment, coming to a mutual understanding without words. Then Robin called out to his men.
"Right then, lads, let's see exactly what sort of funds we're dealing with here!"
He went to the chest and began to rummage through the money, judging the approximate value and determining the best way to distribute it. He was joined in a moment by Much, Little John, and Tuck. Allan, stationed at the farthest point from the cart, approached more slowly, but Guy cut him off.
The young thief looked up at him hesitantly, nervously. He's afraid of me, Guy realized with a sinking feeling. He's afraid that I'm still angry with him for betraying me and running away. He's afraid I'll hurt him again. His mind flitted back once again to his visions of the future. "I'll give that sniveling little traitor what he deserves!" Guy shuddered at the harshness of his own words. I suppose I can't blame him for being frightened.
"Allan, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry."
The younger man looked suspicious and confused. "Sorry? For what?"
"For putting you in a situation that forced you to choose between your friends and your life. No man deserves to have his loyalties called into question that way. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't all your fault."
Allan's guard was still up, but Guy could see a flash of pain across those bright blue eyes as he remembered the torture chamber and the feeling of being utterly alone of his own accord. He has more chains wrapped and locked around his heart than Vaisey's ghost had trailing from his torture devices, thought Guy with dismay. But he could see that he was making headway, albeit ever so slowly, and so continued.
"And I want you to know that I don't hold your running away from Portsmouth against you." He gestured at the four outlaws gathered around the chest of money. "A lot of needy people are going to have their first real Christmas in a long time because Robin Hood is alive, and that very well might not have proved true if you hadn't gone back for him and the others."
Allan shook his head. "It wouldn't have mattered. The mercenaries attacked anyway." He closed his eyes for a moment, regret written on his features, and Guy wondered if maybe he'd turned over the wrong stone. Allan was regressing back into that trap of self-mistrust and feeling worthless, and Guy had to say something quickly to pull him back out. Hesitantly, he reached out and laid his hand on the outlaw's shoulder. Allan's eyes widened with fear at the unprecedented act and he made as if to step backward, but then he seemed to catch the earnestness on Guy's face and stopped.
"But that's not the point, Allan. The point is, you went back for them with the full intention of saving them. I didn't deserve to have someone like you working for me. You should have been doing what you're doing now all along, helping other people. Good people, who deserve it. Not me." Now Guy was regressing. He sighed and shook his head, frustrated at himself for not being able to say what he needed to, what he knew would help Allan. Never, he thought, had someone needed something from him the way Allan did at this moment. Or at least, if they had, Guy had been too blind to see it. But when he looked at the outlaw, something in his expression prompted Guy to keep going.
"Allan, we've both looked into ourselves and saw the evil there. We lived it, we suffered for it, and so did the people we loved. That's what unites us, in a way." The blue gaze darkened, but Guy gently squeezed where his hand still rested on Allan's shoulder. "But there's something that makes us different, as well, something more important. And that's the fact that you were able to rise above that evil. I...admire you for that, and I hope that you'll accept my apology." Guy found that he had nothing more to say, and so he dropped his hands down by his sides and waited for a response.
The experienced liar's eyes searched Guy's for any trace of falsehood, and then slowly lit up with belief-both in Guy's words and in himself.
"I'm not bein' funny, but you really have changed, haven't you?"
Guy nodded. "I hope you can believe and forgive me."
Allan swallowed. "I'm not used to dolin' out forgiveness, mate. I'm usually the one askin' for it."
"Well, I'm in no place to judge whether you do it exactly right the first time." Guy managed a chuckle and felt a great sense of accomplishment when he saw Allan smile.
"No, I don't suppose you are." And then he laughed, as well.
The gesture seeming appropriate in that moment, Guy uncertainly reached out his hand. When Allan accepted it to shake it, Guy observed a newfound confidence on his features and knew that he was once step closer to righting his wrongs. Just then, he remembered a small detail that he'd nearly forgotten in the rush of his first day as a new person. He reached into his pocket, withdrew the silver cloak link, and held it out to a surprised Allan.
"This is for you. Merry Christmas, Allan."
The puzzled but happy thief accepted the trinket, turning it over analytically in his hands.
"'S nice. Thanks! But...why?"
Guy wracked his brain for an explanation that wouldn't give away the true origins of his reasoning. He had just now regained Allan's trust-he didn't want to frighten the lad with his supernatural tales.
"I just...thought you might like it, that's all. And recently I've been...pondering...some things that could become of this particular cloak link and...let's just say I don't think you're the worst thing that could happen to it." Guy winced inwardly at the image of the pretty piece in Lucky George's grubby hands, and was glad that he had chosen to do what he had with it.
"Allan! Are you going to help us carry the chest back to camp or not?" Much sounded annoyed that his friend was getting out of the physical labor. Allan flashed Guy one final grin before trotting over to where the rest of the outlaws were securing the chest's lid in preparation for pulling the cart by hand back to their camp.
Robin turned and nodded to Guy. "We've got to properly count this money before we can distribute it, to make sure it's given out fairly. I hope you can understand why must ask you to leave before we head back to our camp."
Guy nodded. "The location of the camp is secret, I know. Right then. Merry Christmas, Hood and...you lot." His grin was taunting yet light-hearted as he mounted his stallion bareback.
"What will you do, now that you can't pay Prince John?" Robin's voice held less concern than curiosity, but Guy appreciated the sentiment nonetheless.
"Tonight, I will go home and celebrate Christmas with my sister. In the future...that remains to be seen, but I know that whatever it is, I will be happy doing it. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Gisborne." Robin's voice was soft and thoughtful, but Guy did not miss the farewell as he turned his horse around cantered off down the path.
As he left the trees far behind him, Guy felt a sense of peace come over him that he had never experienced before. All his life he had had unfinished business-there was always more money to be made or more people to impress. Now that the money and chances of power were gone, all rational thought told Guy that he should feel as if he had even more to do, more to make up. But for the first time, he felt as though what he had needed to do that day had been accomplished, and all that was left was to spend the evening catching up on many lost years with Isabella. And as he moved in time with the horse's gait through the snow, Guy thought he caught a glimpse, just for a moment, of a dark-haired girl on a bay horse at his side, the animals' strides matching. Her joyous laughter remained ringing in his ears long after the image had faded.
Guy's stallion had had enough. Never mind yesterday's escapades-small children threatening to trip him, being whipped and galloped nonstop all the way from Nottingham to Locksley, and then fed before even being cooled out or brushed. No, today had been far worse. His master had found it necessary to joyride him all the way to and from Nottingham. Never mind his joy! And that wasn't even the worst of it! No, then he had been hitched to a cart like some pack-animal. The insult of it all! And here he was, pinning his ears for his rider to see his discontent, but he wasn't paying a shred of attention. He would not tolerate this sort of treatment a moment longer.
The mud puddle was perfectly placed. It appeared out of nowhere like an oasis in the desert. Just as he passed it, the stallion threw his back legs over his head, sending Guy of Gisborne rear-first into the sloshy mess.
There. Served him right. Let him find his own way home. With a satisfied snort, the horse trotted off in search of any grass which might still be peeking through the snow.