Their village was a place of tradition. Not just weddings and singing to ward off dragons, but holidays as well. The New Year was a time of celebration, and the village was decorated with evergreen branches and colorful garlands. The sparkling white snow on the ground made everything look even more festive.
It was beautiful, but Igor couldn’t seem to enjoy it. At this time of year, his thoughts turned dark. It used to be at the holidays he would think to the future and wonder what the next year had in store. Now, when he thought about that, he could only imagine that bad things would come. Nothing had seemed right since the dragon took Mira, and he was on tenterhooks waiting for something else to happen. It had been a bad winter already, and the stores were running low. It would be a hungry end to the year.
Igor was dwelling on that as he headed out to the dock to greet an incoming ship. The fishermen had been out, hoping to catch something for the New Year's feast in a few days. It was a chilly day, with snow flying, and Igor shivered as he strode up the dock.
As the fishermen disembarked, Igor immediately knew that their mission had been unsuccessful. The captain, an older man with a scraggly grey beard, shook his head. “I’m sorry, Igor. We only caught a few fish. Not enough to feed the whole village.”
As he spoke, the wind picked up again, and Igor shivered against the snow blowing in his face. It would storm tonight, and the fishermen wouldn’t be able to go out again before the feast. He just shook his head, not sure what to do.
“But we did get this,” the captain said, pointing up at the large evergreen tree several fishermen were carrying down to he dock. “Saw it standing along the coast. Thought it would do for the town square.”
Igor sighed. “Fine, we’ll set it up. Maybe it’ll lift everyone’s spirits.” He smiled, but he had his doubts. A pretty tree wasn’t going to solve anyone’s problems.
Mira rarely thought of where she grew up. She was too happy with Arman, exploring the world and building a home. As the New Year approached, however, she found herself wondering how everyone was doing. She used to love this time of year, with the decorations, gifts, and good cheer. She especially loved the celebrations on the last day of the year, all the dancing and feasting. As content as she was with Arman, she did sometimes miss having a large crowd of people to socialize with.
She suspected that one day they might have a larger family on the island. Not just the children she and Arman hoped to have, but others who they had met on their travels, who needed a safe place to go for whatever reason.
As they traveled, they had seen celebrations of all different kinds. Mira had learned about holidays all over the world. But she knew that it wasn’t a happy time for everyone, either. No matter where they went, there were lonely people. And one day she dreamed of opening up the island to them.
At the moment, however, it was still the two of them. She and Arman were back home, curled up in their room under a blanket, with the fire burning. They both had mugs of tea brought from their most recent travels.
“You seem quiet today,” Arman observed. “Are you still tired from the journey?”Mira smiled and shook head head, looking away from the flickering flames and back at Arman. “To be honest…I can’t help being a little nostalgic this time of year. I’ve been wondering how they’re doing at the village.” She didn’t call it home anymore, but it was difficult to leave everything behind. If she was honest, she worried about them—or at least about the girls like her, and anyone else who didn’t have a choice about their life.
“When I was a child, my father used to make me something special for this holiday,” she continued. “One year it was a little wooden dragon. That was my favorite.” She felt a rush of longing that surprised her. She didn’t want to go back, but she did miss the naivety she had felt then.
Arman grinned. “My father used to do something similar,” he said, and Mira sat up, attentive because she rarely heard him speak of his father. “We picked out the biggest tree in the forest and decorated it, and on the first day of the new year, he would put presents underneath it for me. Sometimes it was things he made, or things he found around the island. Those are some of my best memories with him.”
“We had a tree too!” Mira exclaimed. It was funny how something in their childhoods could have been so alike, even with how differently they had been raised. “One in the town square. I used to make garlands to decorate it.”
“You know, we should pick out a tree to decorate ourselves. It will be fun,” Arman suggested.
Mira’s expression turned serious again, and she got up, beginning to pace in front of the fire. “We should, I just know that not everyone will be able to enjoy it the way we will. It’s going to be a bad winter.” Despite the pervasive fog hiding the rest of the world from the island, they had seen enough in their travels to know what to expect. “I know!” She went still again, turning to Arman with a mischievous look. “I have an idea. Let me tell you…”
Igor managed to hide his worries for the rest of the season, putting on a brave face while he celebrated with his family and friends. There were the usual jokes about whether or not he would find a new bride in the coming year, and he danced with all of the girls who asked at the New Year’s eve celebration, not telling any of them how he was too afraid to ask anyone else to marry him. He ate the sparse feast, complimenting the cooks even though they didn’t have much to work with. He stayed up late, and was still tossing and turning long after the night had turned into the new year.
He got out of bed and walked to the window, pulling his blanket over his shoulders. It was freezing cold and it had started snowing again. His feet ached from the dancing he hadn’t enjoyed. It was already shaping up to be a bad new year.
As he looked outside, studying the new fallen snow, he thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye. His gaze darted up to the sky, and he swore there was a large shape flying from the air, but it was gone in a moment. Maybe the lack of sleep was making him see things. He went back to bed, and managed to fall into a fitful doze until the morning.
Shouts and cheers woke him. “Come see! There’s something under the tree!” His younger sister called to him, running past his room.
“What is everyone going on about?” Igor demanded, still feeling grumpy. He grabbed his coat and shoved his boots on, following his family outside. A crowd had gathered back at the town square where they had been celebrating last night. Igor’s eyes widened at the sight that greeted him. For a second, he thought the huge evergreen tree in the center of the square was on fire, and that was why everyone was yelling. But then he realized that the flames were candles, carefully placed among the branches as decoration.
It was beautiful, but the candles weren’t the most exciting thing about the tree. There were dozens of packages at the base of the tree, things that hadn’t been there the night before. The children had already started in on them, tearing the packages open to reveal toys and candy. That wasn’t what caught Igor’s attention the most, however. Among the treats were barrels of beer and wine, crates of smoked fish and meat, and loaves of baked bread. Everything they would need to be fed for the winter. Not all of it was familiar, and many of the packages had unfamiliar words on them, as if the items came from a distant, magical land.
“It was an elf!” One of the children said. “I saw him leaving the presents with a sleigh!” The boy sounded so self-assured. Igor laughed. But he remembered seeing something last night, too. Not a sleigh, although maybe something flying through the air at a distance might be mistaken for that.
“Happy New Year, Mira,” Igor said to himself, looking out to the sea. It seemed that the dragon hadn’t forgotten them after all.