The next morning dawned bright and crisp. The storm had exhausted itself overnight leaving a startling blue sky with diamond crusted snow covering every surface. The trees looked as though they were covered in frosting, boughs hanging low from the weight of the snow. The roof of the wood shed and the cottage both were slathered in a generous dollop of icing as well. As the sun rose, it’s weak rays made the snow sparkle and glimmer, but it was no match for the chill of the frozen landscape.
Gretel woke early to hear Hansel stirring up the fire. He added kindling and logs to the hearth and coaxed a warming blaze to cut the chill that filled the cottage. He went about his familiar routine of setting a kettle to heat for tea and lighting the stove. Hansel stood, warming his hands by the small flame, and peered out the frosted window into the frozen forest.
Gretel wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and found her woolen slippers under her cot. She stood with her back to the fire for a bit, feeling the heat warm her from head to toe. As the kettle began to rattle, she met Hansel at the stove and pulled out yesterday’s biscuits to warm in the oven for breakfast. She greeted him with a smile, “Good morning.”
Hansel forced a smile in return and went back to staring out the window.
“Is everything alright?” Gretel asked. It wasn’t like Hansel to start the day with a frown. “I’m sure the horse is fine. You made sure she was well set last night after dinner.”
“No. I think Bree is fine. I was just worried ...” His voice trailed off as he glanced in Gretel’s direction. He cleared his throat and started again, “I think that storm might have been a bit of a surprise for some of the forest folk. It was early in the season for such a heavy snow. I’m just a little worried about some of our older neighbors. Maybe I’ll make some rounds this morning, check to see if anyone needs anything. Maybe check on, uh ...”
“Father?” Gretel felt the cold hardness creep into her heart, but Hansel’s look of concern made her pause. She truly didn’t wish any trouble on anyone, including her father, and it was just like Hansel to be concerned and willing to serve. Rather than bitter, she ought to be grateful for his kindness toward others. She looked him in the eyes and, calming her fluttering hands with her shawl, said, “You should check on him. I’ll ...” she swallowed hard, “I’ll pack some bread and preserves for you to take to him. And maybe some tea.”
Before Hansel could say anything, Gretel turned quickly and hurried to her cot. She busied herself with the bed clothes and blankets until she heard the quiet click of the front door closing behind her brother. Gretel felt all of her strength leave her and she dropped to the edge of her cot. She felt her eyes burn, but she was determined to not fall to pieces. She felt a strange eagerness to do this - for her father and for Hansel. A yearning mixed with anxiety that made her heart pound and her breathing quicken.
“You’d best get to this task before you change your mind. Or your heart,” she told herself.