Whilst Zelda was completing her preparations, Rika, Wol and the wildcats met with Belle. She presented them with four balls of yarn, ready wound and tied with festive ribbon. At first glance, they had a certain gayety to them, and they seemed different from the usual items the fayre displayed which showcased the natural elements from the woodland.
There was a rich crimson, a holly green which on close inspection had a hint of gold, a very bright white with noticeable flecks of silver, and a vibrant gingerbread shade. Belle explained that she and the others had been working with the people from the course, the ones who had dyed the wool for Rika’s birthday gift. Rika ran her hands over the yarn then passed it to Mia and Zorro. The wildcats examined it closely, then it was Wol’s turn.
The four of them exchanged glances and Rika took Belle’s hands in hers. "You have worked hard on these" she told her, "we can see you have bought new ideas to the fayre and Yarningale, which is good if we are to keep ideas fresh and encourage new and young blood to craft. Can you tell us about the people you have been working with? Where they source their fleeces? How they make and store their dyes? How they finish these balls that have metallic or glitter finishes?"
Belle looked at her and then glanced away. "Well" she began, "I told them before we agreed our contract that we only use fleeces from animals where they are well looked after and that our dyes come from natural sources. I didn't mention Wol and the Alchemists as we wouldn't be able to do that on a larger scale".
Wol let out a long breath. He had been worried that damaging mixes could have been added. Belle continued "They dry the plants for dyes in advance and store them in powder form as they can dye more yarn at once in the big vats. That's ok isn't it?" she asked the wildcats.
Zorro was chuntering crossly away under his breath. Mia threw him an exasperated glance and answered Belle carefully: "Of course you can dry the flowers and grind them to powder form in advance. We don't, because we still paw dye. However, Belle, I don't think these are pure dyes and I can detect an essence that may be harmful. I'm not sure what it is, but I would worry if adhesive has been added without proper control to set the dye, it could be harmful to wildlife".
Suddenly Stripe the mouse appeared, out of breath. "Sorry to interrupt", he gasped. "We got into the factory that Belle and the fairies had the contract with. They were using ends of fleeces woven together to turn into balls but they won't be even all the way through. Even worse was that they had Hoggi Hedgehog and his family working there. They were making them roll up and pierce glitter bits with their spines then they were adding glue to the wool and Hoggi had to roll the glitter into the wool"
They all went silent. Hoggi and a lot of hedgehog families had moved away from Yarningale talking of new opportunities. This must have been those they spoke of. Stripe carried on: "The only way they could clean their spines afterwards was to roll in the river shallows. All the glue and bits of glitter was washing downstream." Wol thought of the Beaver kit they had not been able to cure, he must have been poisoned by the contaminated water.
Belle let out a frightened sob "We didn't know”, she cried. “They were so nice when we met them and said they would help us make more money". "Don't you know yet" said Rika, "crafters don't do this for money. As long as we have enough to live on and pay our suppliers in a fair way, we are happy. This work is a labour of love".
Lila appeared trotting silently around the trees. "They've gone." she said, "The factory is abandoned." She told them the red foxes had gone up to clean the factory properly. "I've told them the Alchemists will dilute anything harmful left" she told Wol. "I hope that was alright?". Wol nodded and with a beat of his wings and an angry screech set off to oversee the clean-up.
The wildcats told Belle they would need to dispose of the yarn, it couldn't be sold. Kindly they added that they would help her with her more vibrant colours after Christmas, but that they would need to use traditional dyes.
Rika stood up: "Come with me" she said to Belle, "we need to talk to the Beaver family".
Some time later, Rika and Belle joined the others just before the Fayre opened. The space was magical indeed. A light frost coated the area which made the greenery sparkle. As promised, the fireflies danced among the branches like Christmas lights. Stalls selling cinnamon and saffron buns along with warm mulled punch scented the air. Zelda had changed into her favourite dress and over the knee socks and looked very festive. "Where have you been?" she asked Belle noticing her red eyes with suspicion. "Your stall isn't ready and we're about to open". Rika cleared her throat looking at both girls. "We won't have the fairy stall" said Belle, "there was a problem with the wool".
Zelda opened her mouth to question Belle further but the sadness on the fairy's face stopped her. Instead, Zelda said: "Why don't you and the others put the hats and scarf sets I've made on your stall?" Tita said that she had a few extra bags they could use to fill the spaces too. "We can have a chat tomorrow about what happened to your wonderful wool" said Zelda slightly ominously. Rika raised the eyes heavenwards. She supposed the girl was trying.
Everyone pulled together and soon the empty stall looked suitably festive with various donated goods. With broad Cheshire Cat style grins Mia and Zorro rang the Cat Bells that declared the first Christmas Fayre open. As humans, woodland folk and magical creatures excitedly entered the Fayre, the residents of Yarningale looked at each other with joy. Lessons had been learnt and there would be more to come. But for now, all that was left was to match everyone with the crafty supplies they needed - even if they didn't know it yet - and to wish everyone a Very Happy Yarningale Christmas.