Despite Sylvie's protests that there needn't be any greens hung for Winter's End, she emerged from the cellar to find the main hall glistening with freshly cut magnolia branches and Michaelmas perched atop a ladder to string a cranberry garland from the central chandelier.
“Evening, Miss Sylvie.”
“Didn't I say all this was unnecessary?”
“Yes, Miss Sylvie.”
“And if you felt the need to decorate you should limit the... festiveness to a wreath on the front door?”
“I did that first, Miss Sylvie.”
She shook her head. Michaelmas was a fine butler, but a creation of habit and that meant there would be decorations for Winter's End whether she told him no or not, because Master Redden had been fond of hanging the greens. She could hope that as the years passed – much like Redden had – Michaelmas would move on to new traditions. As likely as a true end to winter at Winter's End.
“I don't suppose you had time to fix...”
“Dinner is in the study, as usual, Miss Sylvie.”
“Ah. Thank you.” She said it sharper than she meant, guilty over doubting him. Guiltier still for taking it out on him.
“You are welcome, Miss Sylvie.” His tone, she noted, was the same as always, unperturbed by her petty feelings. It came with the territory of being clockwork. He would continue to hang the greens before Solstice E'en until the end of time. He would never notice her sarcasm or anger or bitterness based merely on the pitch of her voice. And he would serve dinner just after sundown forever and ever or until she ceased to exist, whichever came first.
Sylvie pushed an unruly curl of hair back from her face and strode into the study. It was not that she hated the winter celebrations, by all remembrance she was indifferent to the magical holidays and always had been. But her body, though governed more completely by her will than when she was living, maintained patterns more closely associated with daylight and darkness. In the winter, when the days were short and the nights dragged on, she would rise at dusk cranky from too little rest and remain uncompromisingly awake until the sun crept above the horizon in the morning.