Welcome to the Advent Calendar Story Train, where you can read through 24 stories under the theme The Gift. Thank you for reading today's story. The next one will be available to read on December 17th, titled "A Christmas Wish". The link will be active tomorrow when the post goes live.
If you missed yesterday's you can go and read it here.
Israni pulled apart the shoji doors of her two-storey Japanese Minka house and absorbed the sight of thick virgin snow covering the vast garden which had been thriving with vibrant colours just yesterday. Like every year, first snow fall came without fail under the cover of night to present itself in its beauty and glory at first light.
She bent down to slip on her straw boots, her long black silky hair fell over her shoulder and brushed the wooden deck. Today was the first day of winter and Israni was well-prepared for the long season in which she thrived in. She may not have the helpful hands of her daughter, Chinatsu again this year, but that was alright. A Goddess’ work never stopped.
Every step she took turned the snow beneath her feet to ice, the tiny spikes on the bottom of her boots, gripping the solid surface for support. She gracefully descended the wooden steps of her home to the vast courtyard of white, making headway for the largest tree in the centre, a Sakura willow untouched by snow, gleaming with power and position. The mortal prayer tree.
With the days creeping closer to winter, the buds had slowly begun to open as whispered pleas and requests were uttered from human lips for her gracious support in the toughest season of the year. Now the tree had fully bloomed, each flower glowing with reverence and beauty and she would nurture each one.
Israni waved a hand, summoning her winter spirit friends, wisps of willing souls who had long lost their way in the afterlife whom she had taken under her wing. The spirits, once human being, took the form of animals they would one day be reincarnated into in their second life.
“Dear ones, it’s time to get to work.” Israni smiled at them softly, “we have a lot of prayers to answer.”
A variety of heads bowed, a stag, wolf, deer, fox, cat, dog, mouse, snake, crane. Many gracious creatures with warm hearts in her cold climate domain. Another smile tugged at her mouth as the memory of a very young Chinatsu seeing the spirits for the first time and gleefully playing with two of the hare spirits.
Israni raised her head and gently handled one of the willow strands, reading the devotions carefully. As she did, she called out the first order to the spirits. “The southern village families are having trouble obtaining coal for their fires, please deliver the stocks with haste. And give every household ten kabocha squash, bags of rice, potatoes and beans.”
There was a shuffling of crunching snow behind her as the spirits scattered to collect the items from storage to journey to the mortal realm. Israni was already on the second branch reading from top to bottom before giving the next order. “Crane, Wolf, a little boy has lost his sight and his will to live. South of his home, you will find a bag of abandoned puppies by the river, bring them to him and his family, they will be his eyes, lifelong companions, and restoration of hope.”
“Bear, Stag, the eastern pond has frozen, three elderly families do not have the tools to break it to fish, break the ice, and take my warming stones to keep the area free from frost.”
Over eighty orders later, Israni went to her field and harvested her cultivated vegetables and crops with the help of the squirrels as the spirits rushed back and forth to fulfil all the prayers as efficiently as possible. A pile of offerings had been brought by some spirits from the shrine, sentimental objects and coins from the mortals who worshipped her. It warmed her heart to know she was thought of, but she didn’t need their possessions. Their faith alone was a gift.
A quiet mew from behind had Israni turning to smile at the cat spirit who carried a pouch in its mouth. She gestured it forward. “What do you have?”
The cat dropped the silk pouch into her palm, the scent of lavender and lemon teased her nose before three small pink lotus sweets tumbled out. She blinked in surprise. She hadn’t made sweets like these since Chinatsu had been a child.
“Where did you get these?” She asked the spirit softly, petting the purring feline. The cat prowled away slowly back on the path towards the house, looking over its shoulder to beckon her to follow.
Israni picked up her woven baskets full of squash, rice stalks, spring onion and potatoes. There was an extra eager stride in her step up the pathway, her heart pounding with curiosity when the spirits stop working to bow as she passed.
Her eyes flickered to the shoji doors and there in the doorway stood Chinatsu wearing a white and pink haori. Israni froze in place, the baskets falling from her grasp, wondering if she was really seeing her after all these years. Duty and distance had separated them for too long but seeing her child, healthy, in person, it brought tears to her eyes and had Israni’s legs moving fast.
There was no greater gift than holding her daughter close to her again, feeling the strength in her arms, the warmth from her body or the lotus fragrance on her coat. There were no words needed to express the love between a mother and child, and none were spoken as they embraced.
Israni pulled away at the feel of Chinatsu’s swollen belly, awash with sudden joy and anticipation. Chinatsu’s graceful smile and stroke of her stomach had her mother’s eyes welling with happy tears.
“Your grandson, Kōsetsu.” Chinatsu announced proudly placing Israni’s hand on her baby bump. “Due this winter.”
“Snow fall.” Israni’s tears fell as she recognised the meaning in his name. And with that, she thanked the gods for granting her the greatest blessing in all her years as the Goddess of Abundance.
The strongest tree in her heart and home. Her family.
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