The Origin of the Winter Night's Rainbow

Like all good stories told in front of a blazing fire with a hot cup of cocoa, this one starts very traditionally, just like my grandsire told me. Once upon a time…

Not too far from here, down the road just a spell, there lives a clan of the faerie folk. Surprised? I know I was when I first learned of this, but they are there. The Folk just don't get out as much anymore. At the time of this story it was much different; the folk would wander all over the forests and hills, meeting with others of their kind and generally having a good time. This clan had the usual mix of faerie common to most clans; there were sylphs and sprites and pixies, coures and brownies and atomies and all the rest, including a nymph I'm told.

Now this clan was very important back then, and even now they're still given much honor. The clan elders were considered the wisest in the world and their festivities the finest in the traditions of the fey. Most of the clan's honor and fame came from figuring how to put the stars in the sky and make them stick. This story takes place just after the clan had put up the first constellations.

Now you might be wondering why this brought the clan so much respect. It was because of the moon you see. No one had figured out how to chase her out of her lair back then, so starlight was considered a real blessing; and it's pretty too. Because of all of this, two more leprechauns were sent to the clan halls to help the one already there. I can see by your eyes that this surprises you; and I felt the same way when I first heard the tale. The stars are pretty enough I admitted to my grandsire, but surely they didn't merit three leprechauns. But my grandsire, he just smiled and pointed out that beauty is reason enough to reward; and the fey don't think like us, so there's no point in judging.

What was that? No, I'll tell you how the clan put the stars up another night. I'm talking about how we get rainbows at night during the winter. So just sit there patiently and drink your cocoa, otherwise it's going to go cold.

Anyway, as I was saying, this clan had three leprechauns, who happened to be cousins. Their names were Alistair, McTavish, and Kelly. It was Kelly who had helped the clan elders figure out how to make the stars stick in the sky, so he was feeling a little proud by the time this story starts. Moreso, because his cousins had been sent to help him.

It was a bitter-cold night and the frost faeries were busy at work laying out their lacy finery across the grass and trees, turning the morning dew into a glittering, slippery cloak. Old Man Winter was getting restless and he was due to wake soon. The frost faeries wanted to make sure he woke to something he would find pleasing.

So the faeries danced under the new stars and that was when the accident happened. No one knows who did it. None of the little faeries would come forth to admit it after the fact. Some tried to blame it upon the littlest one, but there was no proof and that one had an alibi.

The morning before had been a particularly busy one. The clan was trying to get the world in order for Ma Nature and there were still a lot things to do, the new starlight not withstanding. To make matters worse, there was only so much daylight and it wasn't enough, it being fall. So everyone was hurrying about trying to finish their chores. When the sun finally set the folk threw themselves a party. That night Kelly had perhaps a bit much to drink and went outside to look at his handiwork. He later claimed that he wanted to make sure the stars would stay up while it was cold outside and that he had fallen asleep. That may be true, but the three empty bottles found near him the next morning were awfully suspicious.

When the folk went out to continue their chores the next morning they found the sleeping Kelly. His beard had been a striking red the previous evening but apparently the faeries hadn't seen the sleeping leprechaun in the dark, and had skated right over his beard, freezing it solid white. The other folk had a good laugh over this and woke Kelly up so he could enjoy the joke. I'm afraid he woke rather badly and before he really opened up his eyes, the leprechaun's beard shattered into a thousand and one pieces. They counted that when they picked it up off the ground. And there's no call for looking at me like that; it's true.

This sent the leprechaun into shock. Leprechauns are not as proud of their beards as dwarfs, but the little folk know the value of a good appearance. Kelly took it rather badly and it was a fearsome thing to see him in such a state. The little leprechaun howled and raged like a maddened ettercap. He screamed his curses to the farthest winds and threatened a thousand thousand sparks upon the frost faerie who had frozen his beard. So great was his anger, Kelly actually threatened to send the offending faerie and all its kin to the southernmost desert, there to live out its wretched existence skating across the burning sands. Perhaps he went a bit too far with that.

You see, with all this carrying on, Kelly woke up Old Man Winter. Now don't get me wrong. I like Old Man Winter. He does his job and he does it well; usually with no fuss. If you think about it, he has a difficult job; constantly creating new and different snowflakes, covering up Fall's mess, and maintaining a pretty constant friction-free surface for everyone. And rarely will anyone thank him; excepting his devout followers, the ski-bums, but I'm not sure that they count.

Look at it from Old Man Winter's point of view, how would you react if you were him? Here you have only four, maybe five months out of twelve to sleep, and some little, beardless faerie goes carrying on and on like that aforementioned crazed ettercap. You wake up a full six weeks early and you know by the time you can get back to sleep you'll have to get up anyway. Wouldn't you be a tad bit cranky?

Suffice to say, Old Man Winter was cranky. He woke up on the wrong side of the glacier and came blowing down out of the mountains with a vengeance. By day's end he had dumped quite a lot of snow and made sure it would to stay there till spring. Considering how busy everyone was following Mother Nature's plan, this did not make Old Man Winter or Kelly very popular that night. The entire fall schedule was thrown off, and the elders hadn't even finished planning the local winter festivities. But the faerie are a resilient lot, and when life gives them snow, they make snowballs. The mean ones make iceballs.

By the next week Old Man Winter had calmed down a bit. At least he wasn't storming about as when he had first awoke. However the sun still looked cold by the week's end. The frost faeries had passed the word along to everyone that the Old Man was sick and tired of working so hard and getting no appreciation. When even the leprechauns had so little consideration that they didn't care whether or not they woke up an old man who needed his sleep; well as far as he was concerned, Spring could go to Hell and Summer and Fall too for that matter. He was not about to be wakened like that ever again. Even if that meant he never went to sleep. He never was too sound in the reasoning department. It's the ice. Thinking makes it melt.

As you can probably guess, this decision did not sit well with anyone but the frost faeries and the ski-bums. It wasn't that the clan disliked winter, or that they liked any of the other seasons better. It was just that the clans had this schedule given to them by Ma Nature, and if it was going to be winter all year, that meant it was going to be dark all year. Starlight only worked so well. It was good for finding your way to your lover's bed at night, but not much else.

Where was Mother Nature? Well, Ma Nature was busy with some hush-hush project with Father Time. No one ever told me what it was, although this hamadryad once hinted that Ma Nature was distracting Time while her Court got things in order. Considering all this evolution versus creation nonsense, I think she was at least partially successful.

So here we have this clan of faerie under a tight deadline with not enough daylight to do everything. Sadly the clan blamed it all upon Kelly. The poor leprechaun soon found himself saddled with some of the longest and most tedious jobs. With the days being shorter, Kelly had to work twice as hard just to get done in time to go to sleep; so he could get up and start over again the next day. The longest job Kelly found himself responsible for was to paint each leaf on every tree. The fall schedule still had to be finished you see, even if it was now winter. Kelly was so busy with that job that he sometimes left almost half his color's out during the night, freezing them solid.

All of this work broke the hearts of Alistair and McTavish. Leprechauns have a natural aversion to work, and here was Kelly working twice as hard as any of the other faeries, just because he was partly responsible. It finally got so unbearable that the two cousins decided to do something about it all. For the rest of the fall, the two plotted and schemed and plotted some more. They had many ideas, some better than others, but none of them would work for one reason or another. Their most impressive idea was to declare war on Old Man Winter. For the better part of a fortnight the loyal leprechauns built a fortress of ice and snow. The walls were impenetrable and the ramparts were high and guarded by snowmen armed with snowballs. Sadly, this was a war in which nobody came. The mail service being what it was, Old Man Winter did not receive the declaration until the following summer. When he finally read it, the valley was snowed in for a week, until the two leprechauns surrendered. As it was, the snowmen refused to march, since defeating winter meant for a long, hot summer. The plan didn't have a snowball's chance. So to speak.

After that, Alistair and McTavish tried to make peace, since war wasn't getting anywhere. They decided to send a dozen roses to the Snow King. Unfortunately it wasn't the right time of year and no one, not even a leprechaun, could find a dozen roses.

That left only bribery. To their credit, Alistair and McTavish thought about using their pots of gold. Briefly. For almost a minute. They then thought about using Kelly's gold, but neither knew where it was hidden. No one else they knew had any gold they could get to either.

Eventually the pair decided there was nothing left to do. On the evening they came to realize that, the cousins gave a heartrending sigh of despair and decided to think about it in the morning. They both had rainbows to make for the following summer, and had only a few done. Before they could get into bed, Kelly walked in, carrying his half frozen paints and brushes, weary to the bone. The tired child of faerie dropped his paint cans to the floor and crawled into bed. He was asleep almost immediately.

Alistair and McTavish could only look at each other and sigh. Kelly was exhausted. Worn down, his indomitable leprechaun spirit was slowly being eroded by the harshness of his sentence. There was only one thing the two self respecting leprechauns could do at a time like this. They decided to paint Kelly up like one of the trees outside. It was sure to put more life into him.

No one is quite sure what happened next. In the fading light, McTavish tripped with the paints he was carrying. McTavish himself told me Alistair had pushed him. Alistair denies it, of course, and insists that McTavish tripped. Who am I to judge? It was a once in a lifetime event; twice in a lifetime if you're a leprechaun. However it occurred, McTavish tripped with the paints in hand. He tried to catch himself, but to no avail. The cans went flying and so did he; straight into the bundle of rainbows that he and Alistair had stored. Silence filled the room as the three paint cans rolled to a stop against the far wall. The rainbows were drenched with the rapidly thawing paints. McTavish didn't know what to say. Neither did Alistair or the now very-awake Kelly.

When the enormity of what had just occurred sunk in, there was a flurry of action only a leprechaun could appreciate. First there was the name-calling and then the accusations. Then there was another round of name-calling and a friendly wrestling match. Once all the traditional rites had been observed, with Kelly as the winner, the three kinfolk got to work salvaging what they could. Rainbows are not terribly difficult to make, but they require much time and they are somewhat expensive.

At first it seemed pretty hopeless. The faultless bands of color were now smeared beyond recognition and the perfect, finely made arches had disappeared. Shrugging, the leprechauns dragged the damaged rainbows outside. Not only to hide the evidence, you see, but also to dry the remnants out. They could always recycle them.

The rainbow racks had been taken down the past spring though, and because everyone was so busy no one had put them back up yet; so there was no place to hang the rainbows to dry. The three cousins decided to get help to dry the rainbows out. Alistair knew Sarina, the resident sylph. He had no problem with waking her up from a sound sleep and explaining that he needed her help. Sarina had only a slight problem being woken up; which is why the lightning strike missed.

Now, I've met Sarina and she's a sweet spirit. Once her temper was reined in she graciously agreed to help. A small time later, the sylph flew up into the heavens with the first of the damaged rainbows followed by a few frost faeries, who are a forgiving lot and never hold a grudge for long, even when it's completely justified. While the young sylph held the rainbow, the frost faeires tacked it to the night sky using the same process that was used with stars.

Like I said, Sarina is a sylph, and where a sylph flies there flies the wind. A sylph is the wind. The leprechauns had figured that this would help dry the rainbows and they were right. There was only one small problem. The tattered rainbow, although there was little bow left in it now, kept flapping about the sky; looking many times as if it was going to fly free. Sarina thought it was marvelous fun and kept dancing amongst the flapping curtain that used to be a rainbow and the frost faeries joined her.

The inventive leprechauns could only slap their hands to their foreheads. They knew they were caught then. Sure enough, it didn't take long for someone to notice the flapping lights high above in the sky. A blabbermouth, I'm not sure who it was, just had to go tell someone else and they told another person, until finally someone woke up the clan elders. As soon as the elders heard about the new lights, they paid a visit to the three leprechauns who were still standing upon the clan hill, watching the flapping rainbow.

To the cousin's surprise the elders were delighted. Here was the light source the clan needed to continue working while it was dark. All the three cousins could do was shake their heads with resignation. The three cousins were immediately instructed to make more of the lights and make sure that they got hung every night until the clan had caught up with its duties. With long sighs for the work ahead, the leprechauns agreed.

The happy ending though was that when Old Man Winter saw those dancing lights he was immediately enchanted. No one had ever done anything for him during the winter season like that. After all, rainbows were for all seasons, but Mother Nature rarely scheduled any while winter is in force. The lights put him in such a good mood, the Old Man decided to end winter on time. He briefly considered ending it early, but then he wouldn't get to see as many of the light displays.

So except for the leprechauns having to work more, it all ended up okay. We got the northern lights, also called the Aurora Borealis, after a woman Old Man Winter use to date, and winter ended on time. Additionally, because of the amount of time and paints it takes to make the northern lights, we have a few trees that get to stay green all winter long. Some dryads were a little put off by that, for they enjoy the makeovers. But they got over it ,settling down to make pine cones to pelt travelers with.

Now my cocoa is almost gone and the night is getting late. I've finished my tale which ends happily ever after. It's time for bed. Of course you could join me out on the porch and we can watch Sarina dance tonight, amongst the stars and through a rainbow of light.

The above text is copywrited to Brad Colver, 1997. It may be reproduced as long as the copywrite remains attached.

Questions and comments are welcome and may be directed to bradac at alaska dot net