Another thud shook the roof. Lillian jumped and spilled scalding tea on her knee.
“If that horse does not settle down in one minute—” Mam popped her pricked finger into her mouth, clutching Lillian’s torn shirt with the other.
“It’s a winter horse, Mam. It doesn’t know how to stand still.”
“Tell me again why you agreed to watch a winter horse on this night, of all nights.”
Lillian stared into the fire, avoiding Mam’s glare. “He was injured. He couldn’t stay at the stables alone. Peter was desperate.”
A bang. The plaster ceiling shook, dust filtering down.
Mam shot to her feet. “That’s too much. Get out there and calm him. I won’t have this roof down on my head on Christmas Eve.”
Lillian set her tea on the floor and rose slowly. “I don’t know how to calm him.”
“You should have thought of that before you took him in. Or up, as the case may be.” Mam spun and stormed into the kitchen.
Bundled in her cloak, Lillian cracked the door and a wintry gust took her breath away. A wild, lonely call filled her ears. The poor horse.
She shut the door on the warm cabin and waded through drifts until she could see the white creature poised on the roof. He looked too big for his perch, his wings shadowing it on either side. The only sign of his injury was his front left paw, curled under him.
At the sight of her, he snuffed and shivered his wings, sending a sparkling cloud of snow over her. The moon emerged from a cloud and his white coat glimmered, the shadows beneath him deepening.
“Hey boy,” Lillian murmured, inching closer. Her heart pattered, but her awe was overcoming her fear of the massive creature. He reared back as she placed one foot on the rung of the ladder, his paws effortlessly gripping the icy roof.
“It’s all right.” What had Peter said? A winter horse can always tell when you admire them. “You’re beautiful, boy.”
He stilled, dipping his long snout. Lillian climbed a rung, and he didn’t move. By the time she’d reached the top, he’d moved within reach. His coat gleamed so brightly it almost hurt her eyes, but she couldn’t look away. Slowly, she reached out. He sat, straddling the roof like it was a comfortable bed. She held her breath as one finger brushed his icy forehead. Cool magic swept through her, like a delicious hint of snow on a hot summer day.
Distant tinkling bells. Lillian settled next to the winter horse, weaving her fingers through his white mane. A gleaming shape appeared across the night sky, lit by the moon. Seven winter horses, their massive wings pulling a sleigh behind them. It was too far to see, but Lillian knew a man in red held the reins, and a boy with two dimples and curly brown locks sat in the back, watching their cargo. She imagined he glanced her way and saw her tiny shadow next to the horse on the roof.
“Merry Christmas, Peter,” she whispered.