A Special Post — A Short Story– “The Princess of Winterberry”

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Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash

“The Princess of Winterberry”
by Kelly F. Barr

It’s strange how I’d never noticed her before. I mean, I’d seen her but never really paid attention. Now it seemed I couldn’t look at anything else—anyone else. Not after what she’d told me. And she had proof—a copy of a page from her mom’s diary, or at least the woman she’d always known as her mother.

“You were kidnapped as a toddler?”

She nodded. Her emerald eyes met my gray-blue ones. “You don’t suppose I’m … I could be the missing princess of Winterberry, do you?”

I had to cough to stifle the chuckle that almost erupted from my throat. She was serious. I paused and really looked at her. In the past, the only thing I found attractive about her were her eyes. They were large and emerald green. Other than that, I’d found her plain.

Today, however, I noticed her nose was perfectly straight and she had high cheekbones. Her long hair, the color of goldenrod, hung in waves past her shoulders. It’s the first time I ever saw her with it down. She usually tied it back in a ponytail. Her pink bow-shaped lips stood out from her flawless cream-colored complexion. She wasn’t plain after all. She was … beautiful.

“Ashley, just because you found out that you were kidnapped, don’t you think it’s far-fetched to jump to the conclusion that you are the princess?”

“Why do you automatically assume I couldn’t be?” Her eyes flashed and she raised her chin.

I’d never seen her like this before. She had always been meek, quiet, and mostly kept to herself. She had surprised me when she sat down across from me here in Josiah’s Tavern.

“You hope you are … don’t you?”

She made a huffing noise. “Why do you keep responding to my questions with questions?” She leaned toward me. “Brock, don’t you think it would make sense? I don’t look anything like Hannah, the raven-haired woman with dark brown eyes and Zeke, the brown-haired man with golden brown eyes that raised me. Maybe that’s why they treat me more like a servant than a daughter—making me scrub the floors and windows, cook, and wash the dishes, bake the bread and churn the butter, beat the rugs, and hang the clothing out to air.”

“So how did you get away today? And what about the other days I’ve seen you in the market or walking through a field? Seems to me they give you plenty of freedom.”

“I may do as I please when my work’s all done, and as I like to spend time alone, I’ve learned to get my work done quickly so I can wander where I please. Will you come with me to Winterberry Castle?”

My lower jaw dropped, but I quickly regained my composure. “You’re planning on going to the castle?”

“Well, how will I know if I’m the lost princess unless someone from the castle sees me and recognizes me?”

“First, I’ll ask my mother to tell me what she knows about the missing princess. If I find enough information that points to the possibility of you being the princess … I’ll take you to the castle.”

“I’ll give you three days.”

“Ashley, why did you come to me about this? What makes you trust me?”

“Brock, you’re the only person who’s ever been nice to me.”

“I hardly noticed you.”

“Oh come on, Brock. I’ve seen you sneak glances at me when I’ve walked by in the market place. I felt your eyes on my back as I walked through a field. I know you were in a tree above me … watching over me … every time I’ve sat by the creek, and I know you’ve often followed me to be sure I arrived home safely.”

My face flushed. I hoped she didn’t notice. I wouldn’t admit to those things, even though they were true. I wouldn’t have her thinking I was interested in her. It’s just … I always found her … enchanting somehow.

“I think you must’ve mistaken someone else for me. Maybe Robin Rhoads is the one’s been doing all those things.”

She rose to her feet, came around the table, and stood next to me.

“It’s all right Brock. I like that you watch over me. It makes me feel, kind of … special, and safe.”

She leaned down, gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and sashayed out the tavern door as my face burned with heat and my heart beat loud in my chest.

_______________________________________________________________________

Three days later I found Ashley waiting outside the tavern for me. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the side of the building.

“Well, what have you found out?”

“You’re the right age to be the princess. My mother said her sixteenth birthday is just two weeks away. She said that Queen Miranda of Winterberry has emerald eyes and goldenrod hair.”

Ashley slipped her fingers through a handful of her hair.

“My mother also said the princess was born with a birthmark on her inner right thigh, the shape of a crescent moon.”

Ashley began to hitch up her skirt.

“Ashley, not here. Not in front of me.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. It’s only my leg.”

She held her skirt at the top of her thigh, revealing her entire shapely leg. She turned it out so that the light could shine on her inner thigh, and there… There was a reddish tan birthmark in the shape of a crescent moon.

Without a thought, I dropped to one knee before her, placed my left hand upon her thigh, and brushed my thumb across the birthmark. A tingling sensation shot through my fingers and up my arm.

Ashley pulled her leg back and dropped her skirt. She looked at me through wide eyes and she was breathing heavy causing her chest to rise and fall. I wondered if she’d felt the tingling too.

“You have to take me to the castle. Tomorrow. I’ll meet you by the creek in the early afternoon.”

I nodded and, with a swirl of her skirt, she was gone.

I tossed and turned all through the night, an ache in my heart. The next morning I plodded through my work, my every thought on Ashley—Ashley, the girl I had come to realize I am in love with. The girl I am no longer worthy of. She is a princess, and I am just a peasant … a farmer who lives in Winterburgh village and gives one-third of his crops to the lords that manage the village for the King and Queen of Winterberry—Ashley’s parents.

When my work was finished, I trudged to the creek. Ashley was already there, her eyes alight with excitement. She placed her hand in mine, and again the tingling shot up my arm, stronger than the evening before.

“I’m ready to go.” She smiled at me.

I gave her hand a gentle squeeze and rubbed my thumb over the back of it. I longed to fall on my knees and beg her to stay with me. To continue living as the daughter of the village cobbler and his wife. To … marry … me, but I could not. If she was indeed the princess, she deserved so much more.

“Brock, how could I have been right under the king’s and queen’s noses all these years and they not know it? Didn’t they send knights to look through the village for their missing child? It seems that would’ve been the first course of action.”

“They did, but your father and mother, I mean, Zeke and Hannah had taken you far away. They didn’t return to Winterburgh for four years. By then, the king and queen had given up and done their grieving, and were living their lives the best they could without their child. You were six years old when I first met you.”

“And you were ten. You must’ve thought me a bother as I followed you around.”

“I never saw you as a bother. You were always sweet.”

“Oh my…” Ashley stopped, her free hand covering her mouth.

We stood looking at Castle Winterberry.

A tear slid down Ashley’s cheek.

“Ashley, are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“Oh Brock, could I really belong in a place like that? It will be a whole different life. Will I still be … me?”

She turned to look at me and I saw fear in her eyes.

“Yes, your life will be different, but Ashley, you will always be you.” I lifted her hand to my mouth and kissed the back of it. “Just promise you will never forget me.” I dropped her hand.

“Don’t be silly, Brock. How could I ever forget you?” She turned and started toward the castle, then turned back to me. “You’ve been my guardian angel for years. That’s why you had to come with me.”

“Ashley, I can’t stay at the castle with you. It will become someone else’s job to protect you now.”

“I … I can’t go without you.”

Then she was in my arms, clinging to me as she wept into my shoulder.

I smoothed her hair. “Sh, sh. It will be all right. This is your destiny, Ashley. You were meant to be the Princess of Winterberry. Soon you’ll find…” I swallowed around the lump in my throat, tried to clear it. “Soon you’ll find … your prince.” A knife pierced my heart at the thought of someone else holding her, loving her. But she could not be mine.

I released her, took a step back from her, and brushed the tears from her face. I began walking toward the castle and soon she was walking beside me once again. We walked the rest of the way in silence.

At the castle gate, I spoke quietly to one of the castle guards, who then escorted us to the castle door.

A tall gentleman bid us entrance and led us down a long hallway. We stopped before a set of double doors. The tall man opened the doors and motioned for Ashley and I to enter.

We entered a room where, seated on two chairs were a grand gentleman with hair the color of sand and eyes the same blue as the sky on a sunny day. Next to him sat a very regal woman.

Ashley looked at the woman and gasped. Her fingers touched her own hair. The woman’s hair was the same goldenrod color.

The woman rose and stepped toward Ashley, looked into her eyes and touched her hair. Tears began to pool in the woman’s eyes—eyes the same emerald color as Ashley’s. “Could it be?” She spoke so soft, it was a mere whisper. Her eyes moved to Ashley’s skirt. “Would you mind? Could I see the inside of your right thigh?”

Ashley nodded and lifted her skirt. The queen fell to her knees and examined Ashley’s inner thigh. She took her thumb and rubbed the crescent moon much more vigorously than I had.

Ashley winced.

The queen rose to her feet. “I’m sorry dear, but I had to be sure the mark was real.” Then she wrapped Ashley in her arms and wept. After what seemed a long time, she held Ashley at arm’s length and smiled through her tears. “It’s you. It’s really you … my daughter! You’ve come home!” Then she hugged Ashley again and both were crying.

The king moved to join them, and wrapped both of them in his arms. “After all these years, we are a family again.” Then he noticed me for the first time. “Young man, however did you find her, and how did you know she was our Arabella?”

“She actually figured it out, Your Majesty. She found a page in the diary of the woman she thought was her mother telling how they had kidnapped her when she was quite young. She knew of the missing princess and spoke with me about her suspicion. I asked my mother what she knew of the missing princess and my mother told me the story and gave me a description which I shared with Ashley … I mean, Arabella. She found she had the birthmark, and asked me to come to the castle with her.”

He smiled at me and shook my hand. “Now that Princess Arabella has come home, we must celebrate her safe return. Next week, for her sixteenth birthday we will have a ball where she will have the chance to be introduced to all the eligible knights in the land. Surely, you must attend the ball.”

_______________________________________________________________________

The king, true to his word, sent a royal invitation for me to attend the ball. How could I attend and watch Ashley … Arabella dance with all the eligible knights as they vied for her hand? But I could not resist a chance to see her one last time.

I washed and dressed in my finest clothes and walked to the castle. I paused before the door. Surely I would draw attention being the poorest dressed man in the room. People would wonder what business I had there. I took a deep breath and knocked.

The same gentleman bid me entrance and led me to a large ballroom with crystal candle chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A small symphony orchestra sat in one corner, playing soft music while knights and ladies dressed in beautiful clothing mingled. I stepped inside and hurried to a place along one wall, hoping not to be noticed. I would simply watch. It would have to be enough—just to see the princess once again.

There was a grand staircase at the back of the room. It led to a balcony of sorts and my breath caught in my throat as Ashley appeared on the balcony and moved to the top of the stairs. She glided down the staircase, dressed in a green gown with gold trim, long white gloves on her hands and up her forearms, a gold necklace with sparkling emeralds and diamonds hung at her throat and matching earrings dangled from her ears. Her goldenrod hair was piled atop her head but several tendrils hung down by her face to touch her collarbone. She was exquisite. She had truly been transformed from the seemingly unremarkable Ashley, who had stolen my heart, to an enchanting princess—Princess Arabella.

I shrank back against the wall, hoping she wouldn’t see me. I didn’t come to ruin her evening, and she deserved one of the knights, who eagerly awaited her, near the bottom of the stairs. I could give her … nothing.

I slipped to the refreshment table as the dancing began and Princess Arabella was whisked onto the dance floor by a tall, handsome man with dark brown hair. I downed a glass of punch and grabbed another then slipped back to my place against the wall.

I watched as the princess danced with man after man. She smiled at each of them, but her body held tension and her eyes seemed to search the room frequently. I stuck to the shadows willing those searching eyes not to find me.

Then one of the gentlemen escorted the princess to the refreshment table and handed her a glass of punch. She responded politely and with a smile, then set her eyes to searching the room once more.

That’s when it happened—her eyes met mine and I could not look away. My heart thudded in my chest and I thought the whole room must hear it. Ashley set the glass of punch down and moved toward me. I stood frozen in place, though my head told me to leave.

“Brock, you’re here. Why are you hiding here by the wall? I’ve been looking for you. You must dance with me.”

“Ashley … uh, I mean, Arabella … uh, I mean, My Lady, I am not worthy to dance with you. I should not be here. There are many worthy gentlemen who wait to dance with you. I should go.”

The princess reached out and took my hand in one of her gloved ones. “You must dance with me. I insist.” The corners of her lips twitched and her emerald eyes sparkled.

She pulled me to the dance floor, as my feet didn’t seem to be able to move of their own accord. The music began and she placed my hand on her waist, held my other hand and raised it to shoulder level, and placed her free hand on my opposite shoulder. We danced. I don’t know how I managed to move as I felt stiff, but somehow we glided across the floor and Ashley relaxed. The rest of the people seemed to melt away.

“Will you ask for my hand?” She searched my eyes.

“I … I am not worthy. I have … nothing … nothing to offer you. You are a princess. I am a peasant.” I lowered my gaze.

She placed a gloved finger under my chin and lifted my head so that my eyes, once again, looked into hers.

“But we have a bond. Our hearts belong to one another—they have for a long time. I love you and I know you love me. Princess or not, maybe that is why I was kidnapped and raised in the village.”

I looked at her with raised brows.

“To meet the man intended for me. Had I been raised in this castle, we may have never met.”

“But…” She placed a gloved finger on my lips, and we danced through open glass doors I hadn’t noticed before. We were on a veranda overlooking the courtyard.

“Brock…” She placed a hand on my chest—over my heart, and stepped close to me, so close I felt the breath of her next words on my lips. “I may be a princess, but my heart will always belong to you, and I will live in a castle or on a peasant farm. None of this…” She moved an arm in an arc from her waist outward, indicating the castle. “…means anything to me without you.”

I searched her eyes and all I saw was love—a strong burning love directed toward me. “Oh Ashley.” My lips found hers and I kissed her deep and long as I had yearned to do for over a week.

When the kiss ended, we remained in each other’s arms until someone cleared their throat. We turned to find the king and queen looking at us. I quickly released Ashley.

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesties. I … I’m sorry. I should not have come. I have … overstepped my bounds. I will take my leave now.” I took a step, but a gloved hand reached out and grabbed me.

“No!” Ashley’s voice sounded strangled. She looked to her parents. “Please. I know he’s not a knight, but my heart belongs to him. Please. He is the one I choose.” Tears glistened in her eyes.

I stood frozen to my spot, fear filling every part of me.

The king and queen looked at one another, then at Ashley, then at me. Their look was not disapproving. They looked at one another once again, and the queen nodded to the king.

The king looked at me and said, “Well, young man, are you prepared to accept my daughter’s hand in marriage?”

My lower jaw dropped. I couldn’t speak for a few moments. Then, “But, Your Majesty, I am a peasant farmer. I have nothing to offer her.”

“Oh but you do. You offer her the most important things in life, things that cannot be bought and paid for—love, faithfulness, loyalty—your heart—yourself. We could not ask for anything better for our daughter, the Princess of Winterberry.”

Big News!

I’m sorry if you came looking for a Flash Fiction Friday post here today, but I just couldn’t wait to share my “Big News”. Flash Fiction Friday will return again next Friday.

The photo below is the cover reveal of a book that holds thirty-three personal stories of God’s provision for the writers’ lives, and I am one of the thirty-three writers who has a story inside!

The following was taken from CrossRiver’s website, explaining a bit more about them and this book:

God’sPromisesHoldTrue

For us here at CrossRiver and for many of our authors, it has been a challenging year. Our mission is To glorify God by providing high-quality books and materials that ignite an individual’s relationship with God and inspires them to lead lives that honor Him.

Satan doesn’t want God to be glorified, so the enemy strikes where he can. Psalm 34:19 NLT tells us:

The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.

God’s promises hold true. He is faithful. We can trust him.

However, we all need encouragement now and then. To that end, in November CrossRiver is releasing our newest anthology, Abba’s Promise: 33 Stories of God’s Pledge to Provide.

Why 33 stories? Because in biblical numerology 33 means promise, and that’s what this book is all about.

From our smallest to biggest need, God has promised to provide. And Hebrews 10:23 NLT tells us, “God can be trusted to keep His promise.” His promises anchor our hope. Additionally, our personal testimony is a powerful weapon against Satan. “They overcame him… by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11 KJV).

From the provision of finances to His guiding presence to angelic protection, Abba’s Promise offers you 33 stories filled with hope and encouragement for today.

Debra Butterfield is an editor for CrossRiver and it was a pleasure working with her to get my story into this lovely anthology. You can read more about her at the CrossRiver website.

You can preorder this book of encouraging stories for just $9.99 (plus shipping and handling) at:

http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/abbas-promise/gallery/bookstore/

Anyone who knows me and would like me to sign your copy, I would be happy to do so.

Unlikely Saviour

Hello Everyone,

Here is a Christmas short story I wrote.  I hope you will enjoy it, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Unlikely Saviour

by Kelly F. Barr

It was 1858 when Thomas and Catherin O’Connell and their four children made the long, challenging journey from Kentucky to Missouri. They had arrived in the United States from Ireland just seven years before. Thomas hoped to get some good land in Missouri to start a farm.

As soon as they arrived in Missouri, he followed the other men to the land office and stood in line waiting and silently praying that he would get some good land. When he finally stood in front of the land officer, he said, “Could I please purchase a few acres near the river?”

That land costs $2.50 per acre. How many acres would you like?”

Thomas lowered his head and swallowed hard. “What do you have that’s cheaper?”

The land officer folded his arms across his chest. “We have land on the interior of the Ozarks for 12 1/2 cents an acre. That’s the cheapest you’ll get.”

I’ll take four acres of land on the interior, please.” He paid for the land and received a deed with a map of where to find his land. He left the land office, shoulders drooping.

How did you do, Thomas?”

Oh, Catherin, darlin’, we got four acres, but I heard some of the men talking as I was coming out of the office, and it’s going to be very hard work. The good land was more than we could afford. The land we got is on the interior of the Ozarks and is rough land.”

Well, we’ve never had anything easy and we’re used to hard work. At least Henry, Charles, and Frank are big and strong enough to be of help.”

He kissed Catherin on the cheek. “You’re always the encourager. Let’s go see our land.”

By the time they arrived at their land, little Rose was asleep in the wagon. Thomas and the three boys built a makeshift lean-to and a fire. While Catherin set to preparing their supper over the fire, Thomas carried Rose and laid her in the lean-to where Catherin could be nearby. Then he and the boys marked off where they would begin to build the house.

By the time they had finished supper, it was dark and they all bedded down for the night.

Thomas was up with the sun and he roused the boys. They began to build the house while Catherin prepared breakfast. Two year old Rose helped Catherine with simple things throughout the days while Thomas and the boys worked on the house, but mostly, she played in the sunshine and watched the squirrels and birds.

After two weeks the little house was finally finished, and Catherin was happy to live in a permanent structure. She even enjoyed unpacking her dishes and pots and pans to set up her kitchen, and Rose had fun trying to sweep the floor.

Catherin’s eyes filled with tears as she watched Thomas and the boys, so physically tired from spending two weeks building the house, tread out to begin cultivating the field. She thanked the Lord that they would be sleeping in real beds tonight. She hoped they would feel much more rested tomorrow morning.

The soil was very gritty and it required arduous work to get crops to grow. As they farmed the land over the next three years, they found that Indian corn and wheat seemed to grow best in the difficult soil. At the end of the third year, the farm finally started showing a small profit.

* * * * *

Last year Catherin gave birth to another little girl. Little Margaret had just turned a year old last week. Rose, at the age of five, helped Catherin with the housework and caring for little Margaret.

Today, Frank, the youngest of the boys at ten years of age, was as excited as Rose. The family headed into the woods to choose a pine tree to bring home to decorate for Christmas, which was just a week away. The chores were all finished and they had to find a tree quickly because it would be getting dark in about an hour.

As the family walked through the woods inspecting every pine tree they saw, Rose found a pine tree she really liked. She wandered nearer to get a closer look. It was tall and slender. She watched a couple of little birds flitting around the top of the tree. When the little birds flew away, she turned around to look for her family, but they weren’t there. She ran back to where she had last been with them, but they had moved on.

Da, Mam!” Rose called for her parents.

Henry, Charles!” She tried calling for her older brothers.

No one called back. She stood still listening.

Da, Mam, where are you?”

She knew not to wander because her family might come back to look for her when they realized she was missing, but the sun had already started sinking in the sky and it was getting dark in the woods. She tried not to be scared, but she couldn’t help it. She sat down at the base of an oak tree and cried.

The darkness grew and it began to get cold. She pulled her ragged little coat tighter around her and put the collar up around her neck.

Please, God, help my family find me soon.”

As the hours passed, she began to hear the scary night sounds of the woods: the hoot of an owl, the distant howl of a wolf.

Please, God, don’t let a hungry wolf or bear come this way tonight.”

She fought to keep her eyes open, but sleep soon overtook her.

While she slept, a large animal came and lay down beside her, lending its body warmth to keep her warm. She snuggled closer to the animal and slept on.

When she awoke, it was still really dark all around her. She realized there was an animal lying against her. She reached out and touched it with her hand. It rubbed its head against her.

Where did you come from, Kitty?”

The animal stood up, and Rose got up and grabbed a handful of the animal’s thick fur. “Please don’t leave me, Kitty. I don’t like being alone in these dark woods.”

The animal rubbed against her and began to walk. She clung to its thick fur and walked with it. “Can you lead me home?”

The animal walked slowly enough for Rose to keep up.

After a while, Rose said, “I’m getting tired, Kitty. Can we rest soon?”

The animal continued to walk.

After a few more minutes, Rose saw a cabin with a light in the window. It wasn’t her house. The animal nudged her toward the cabin.

You want me to go to the cabin door and knock?”

The animal nudged her with its nose.

Rose said, “Wait here for me, okay?”

She hesitantly walked up onto the little porch and gently knocked on the door. After a few minutes, she knocked a little harder and the door opened. A plump, white haired woman looked down at her.

My goodness, child, where did you come from?”

I got lost from my family in the woods last night when we were looking for a Christmas tree.”

You mean to tell me, you’ve been out in the woods on this cold night wearing that threadbare coat? Well, you just come right in here and warm yourself by the fire. I’ll have breakfast on the table in just a few minutes, and Shane will be in from the barn soon.” She ushered Rose to a chair by the fire as she talked. Then, as she moved toward the kitchen, the back door opened and in came the biggest man Rose had ever seen.

Shane, we’ve got ourselves a guest for breakfast. She’s sittin’ by the fire.”

Rose’s eyes grew wide and she shrank back into the chair as Shane approached.

Aw, now there’s nothin’ to be afraid of. I may be big, but I wouldn’t hurt you, child. What’s your name?”

Rose O’Connell.”

Lands sake, you the little ‘un belongs to Thomas O’Connell lives just outside the woods on the interior of these Ozarks?”

Rose nodded her head.

Shane reached over and gently patted her hand. “Don’t you worry none. I’ll get you home after breakfast. How did you find our place?”

The big kitty brought me here.”

Big kitty? What big kitty?”

I don’t know, but it kept me warm last night and brought me here this morning.”

Shane rubbed his chin and walked over to his wife in the kitchen.

He spoke quietly and Rose strained to hear what he said.

Nora, did she tell you a big kitty brought her here?”

No, dear, but I didn’t ask how she got here. I do know that she’s been out in the woods alone all night. Seems she wandered away from her family when they were looking for a Christmas tree.”

Well, do you think she’s right in the head?”

Course she is. She’s just a young’un with a vivid imagination who just came through what was probably the scariest night of her life.”

Nora put the food on the table, walked over and led Rose to the table for breakfast.

Rose didn’t know what she had said wrong, but she could tell that talking about the big kitty bothered the man, Shane, so she didn’t mention it again.

After breakfast, Shane said, “Well, little Rose, I’ll go get the wagon ready and take you back home.”

Rose smiled at him.

After he had gone out the door, she asked Nora, “Will you come along to take me home too?”

Nora smiled at the pretty little girl with curly red hair and a sprinkling of freckles. “Course I will. It’s just a short ride.”

When Nora and Rose went out to get in the wagon, Rose looked around for the big kitty. She didn’t see him until the wagon began to move. Then she spotted it just behind the tree line. He was following the wagon.

When the wagon pulled up in front of her house, she saw the big kitty hide behind some bushes and brambles near the tree line on the edge of their property. She climbed down from the wagon and whispered, “Thank you, Kitty.”

Before Shane, Nora and Rose reached the front door, Rose’s Mam came running from the house.

Oh, Rose. We were so worried. Where were you?”

I’m sorry, Mam. I was watching some little birds at the top of the Christmas tree, and when I turned around, you and Da and Henry, Charles, Frank, and Margaret were gone.”

Rose!” Da and the boys exclaimed when they saw her, and little Margaret toddled over to her.

Shane, how did you find my daughter?” Thomas asked.

She showed up at our cabin early this morning. She said a big kitty had kept her warm in the woods during the night and led her to our place in the morning.”

A big kitty?”

Aye, that’s what I thought too. We don’t have large wild cats around here, except for the rare mountain lion, but that cat would be a danger to such a young’un.”

I’m sure she’s mistaken. Probably imagined it because of being scared in the woods alone at night.”

That’s what my Nora said too.”

Thomas and Catherin invited Shane and Nora in for coffee, but they politely declined. So Thomas and Catherin thanked them for bringing Rose home safely, and Shane and Nora climbed back into their wagon.

* * * * *

The O’Connell family went inside and Thomas pulled Rose upon his lap.

Now, my little Rose, won’t you tell me about this big kitty you said helped you?”

Yes, Da. He was big and his head was really hairy. The rest of his body wasn’t so hairy. I couldn’t grab the hair anywhere on his body, except around his head. He kept me warm by lying against me as I slept. He was gentle and tall. I had to lift my arm to hold onto the hair around his head, and he led me to Mr. Shane and Nora’s house. Then he nudged me with his nose to show me that he wanted me to go to their door.”

Now, Rose, you know the difference between the truth and a lie, right?”

Oh, yes, Da, and I promise, I am telling the truth.”

Da set Rose down on the floor, scratched his head, shook it, and went out the back door. In just a moment he was back looking a bit dazed.

Thomas, what is it now?” Catherine asked.

I just saw it.”

Saw what?”

I saw that big kitty of little Rose’s. At least I saw its back end with its long sleek tail with the tuft of hair on the end as it walked deeper into the woods. But, we don’t have those kinds of cats around here.”

What kind of cat was it, Thomas?”

A lion.”

Oh, Thomas, you must be mistaken.”

I know what I saw Catherin.”

Well, come over to the fire and let’s place the crib on the mantle now that our little Rose is home again.”

Thomas took Catherin’s hand and they joined the children near the fire. Henry had the crib setting on the table waiting. Each of the children placed pieces of the crib on the mantle: the boys placed the shepherds and wise men, little Margaret placed the sheep and oxen, Mam and Da placed Mary and Joseph and then Mam handed the baby Jesus to Rose.

Rose held the figure gently in her hand and looked at the babe for a long time. Then she kissed him and said, “Thank you, Jesus.”

What are you thanking the baby Jesus for?” Frank wanted to know.

For bringing me home safely.”

I thought you said it was a big kitty.”

It was, but Jesus was inside the big kitty. That’s why the kitty didn’t hurt me.”

Catherin smiled, tears glistening in her eyes and began to sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. The rest of the family joined her as Rose placed the baby Jesus in the crib upon the mantle.