I was supposed to write something based on a nursery rhyme and I had no idea what to write about. But somehow I smashed a bunch of them together, and I thought I'd speculate on the origins of Jack Frost and the Snow Queen while I was at it. So I hope you like it. Because I have no idea what's going on.
The Children of Olden Years
The Wee Ones
Pudding in Half an Hour
Willie rapped on the window.
Jill rolled her eyes and snapped her book shut. What was he rapping on her window for? It wasn't like she needed him to anymore. Anyone who'd answered Willie's call and gone street-playing for as long as she had, no longer had need of sleep. Maybe she wished she did.
No, she just wished she could grow up. Or leave longevity behind and die already.
Jill turned the lantern down and opened the door. She had to deliver something tonight anyhow. And while the street-play was going on. She hated that she wanted to join the other kids. To jump rope. And eat pudding. And run around the mulberry bushes as if the mulberry patch were their castle and they were the adult royals who ruled instead of the wee ones who served.
Wee ones. Ha! As if some of them weren't older than their masters.
Outside, Willie's pale blue form zigzagged across the snowy, wet street. He knocked on all the houses although not everyone would be called to remain a child servant all their lives. Still, only those who were meant to be called would hear and answer.
Whoever was in charge of deciding fate ought to be overthrown.
Jill pinched her lips together and stuffed her hand in her skirt pocket. The letter was still there. Her mistress' lover lived clear across town. She wouldn't be going to the street-playing tonight; that's for sure. Around her, children opened their doors and rubbed their eyes groggily. Some squealed and chased each other around. One boy dumped snow down his brother's shirt. But they all made for the same place, as if some instinct led them to the street-play.
Jill passed one who was still crawling. They were being called rather young these days, weren't they? Nobody but those who were called could see the children street-playing. It was as if they lived in a different world at night. A world of their own, free from the duties adult masters put on them.
Well, except for her. Because Jill's mistress was thoughtless enough to give her a task in the middle of the night. The silly woman! Not even above fifteen yet. Jill gritted her teeth. Jill had lived thousands of years longer, and yet Miss Tasket had been called as an eternal adult so deference as one she received.
What had Miss Tasket seen? What did the call of adulthood sound like? Certainly, some fairy spirit hadn't called her to come play in the streets at night.
It was not fair! Jill had been born to adult masters. Why couldn't she have been one of them too? She wanted to stamp her feet and throw down the letter. But that would be childish. So she suppressed the impulse.
At least, Miss Tasket hadn't been called to be a royal. That would've been unbearable.
Her breath made puffs of smoke in the bright moonlight. But that was the only thing that told her how chilly it was. She took the letter out of her pocket to distract herself. She hadn't once noticed the lover's name.
The paper was dry and the greasy wax seal was an absurd green and yellow.
The music of the street-play grew louder as she came closer. Everyone would be there. Except for her.
To Tisket was written with frivolous curls at the end of each letter. Tisket. Tasket. What a fine pair they'd make.
She tried to ignore the music. She had to deliver this dumb letter to a dumb crush. If she hurried, she might catch the street-play before dawn. Her feet padded on the cobblestones. It seemed louder than the music. Much more definite and. . . not half as fun.
Oh, stop that! She was three thousand years old! She didn't have time for fun and games. She shouldn't care about--
"Jill girl!" Willie ran into her, or rather through her.
She turned to face him. He shivered. Apparently, spirits could feel cold.
"Sorry about that." He tried to keep his teeth from chattering. "I was about to make a second round to be sure I've gotten everyone." He glanced at the street-play by the town wall. "Aren't you going?"
"I've a message to deliver. Under orders."
Willie floated backward a bit and frowned. "You can't grow up. Doesn't your mistress know it? She can't deny you--"
"Well, I don't have to attend anymore to keep my childhood."
"Of course not. You passed that. . . I don't remember how many years ago. But you at least have to keep your strength up. After all, you can't sleep--"
"Doesn't she realize the street-play is vital to your energy? And--"
"I know, Wee Winkie!"
He winced at his other name.
She breathed. "I'm sorry."
"And I." Willie sighed. "You could disobey her. She can't hold you to it if you protest. Take it up with the royals. The new ones uphold the laws."
She glared at him. "You know how I feel about going to the palace."
"Uh. . . Oh!" He finally caught on. Certainly being eight thousand years immortal did make one's memory slip. Jill was glad she hadn't reached that yet. "Right, of course." Then he got that fatherly look which was strange coming from someone who looked four years old. "But she's sent you out for the past two nights. A third's too much. She doesn't feed you, I know it."
Jill lifted her eyes to the sky. The moonlight was as bright as the soaring sun. She loved the moon. Adults couldn't see her under the its light.
"Your nose is red. Aren't you cold?"
"I've not noticed."
"We've a halfpenny roll to share. Can't you stop for just a little while? And pudding shall be done within half an hour! You like pudding."
"Everyone likes pudding." She tried not to smile. Now that she actually listened to the music it drew her in. Closer. Calling her. Wanting her to dance.
"Come on then!" Willie fluttered around her.
Jill sighed. "Fine, but I can't stay all night."
She sneaked a peek at the palace spires. Maybe she could find someone who'd play royals with her, and she could be the queen.
Jill kept away from the fire even though other children danced around it. She huddled near the wall next to another girl. The roll was much too warm for her, so Jill offered it to the girl beside her. The girl devoured it right off. Jill ate a spoonful pudding.
She turned back to the girl. "Mary, right?"
The girl nodded.
A mere, but effortless guess. Half the girls here went by Mary.
"What've you got up to lately?"
The girl just shivered and blinked at her.
"What is it?"
"Is it colder here to you?"
Jill took another spoonful of pudding to think on her answer. What did she know of the cold? "Well," she said carefully, "I suppose it would be colder since we're not near the fire."
"You look familiar."
Jill squinted at the girl. Uh, oh. She was the servant of Miss Tasket's next door neighbor. The neighbor who always quarreled with Tasket.
"I don't see why." Jill tried not to snap. But her breath turned into a froth of fog.
The girl coughed and shivered. "You're the one!" She coughed again. "You froze my mistress' garden and she had me whipped!"
"I did not!"
"You did too!"
"I don't recall." And she really didn't.
"Well, I do! I'm the one who got the whipping."
"I-- I didn't mean to." Jill poked her spoon at the rest of her pudding. "If I did, I didn't know it."
"Just stay away from me." The girl moved off.
Jill wrinkled her nose. Who needs another Mary anyway?
Some kids stood off to the side. They shouted, "Higher! Higher! Faster! Faster!"
Oh, great. She shoved her way to the front of the group. Two tall candlesticks stood lit, and the kids had cleared a path. A track for Jack and a taller boy to run down.
Jack smirked from the starting line. The other boy spat an insult at him and crowd of kids crowed. Someone marked the two off, and they raced toward the candlesticks.
Jack couldn't get ahead of the taller boy, but when they reached the candlesticks, Jack nimbly took to the air. He cleared the flame at least by a foot. The other boy trampled through his candlestick by comparison.
The crowd cheered. Some kids snowballed the loser to beat the flames from his clothes. Jill pushed her way to Jack.
"What are you thinking?" She wouldn't let on that she was pleased at the other boy's obvious defeat. Nobody could beat Jack. "You know how bad off you were the last time you burnt yourself."
"Chill Jill." Jack then laughed. "Did you hear that? A rhyme and an irony all in one! I am good today." He put his hands on his hips and beamed.
Jill rolled her eyes. "Jack, seriously."
"We're eternal children and you call me to be serious?" He laughed again. "Please do, tell another!" He grinned at her like the starry-eyed child that he unfortunately was. Then he sprang up, caught her in his arms and laughed around in circles.
"Put me down!"
"Of course, your frosty majesty." He set her down and mocked a bow.
A couple tittering girls came over.
"Excuse me. My fans await." He stepped over to the girls, said something that made them giggle even more, then kissed them each on the nose. When he did, they turned silent. Their noses and cheeks turned red, and tears welled in their eyes. They still grinned at him though. He gave a jolly laugh and clapped one of them on the shoulder.
It was a silly game of the girls. It was said that Jack's touch [and Jill's if anyone cared to know] was so cold nearly no one could withstand it. Some of the wee girls had made a game wherein the winner was the one who didn't cry from the cold when he kissed her.
No one had ever won.
Jill crossed her arms when Jack walked back to her.
"And my work here is done." He grinned.
"Well, mine's not."
"Jill, you're face is all red." He took his scarf off. "You ought to be careful of the cold."
"And why should I?" She refused to let him wind his scarf around her neck. "It's not like I feel it."
Jack touched her face and spoke quieter, "That fall really did something to us, didn't it?"
She bit her lip. She didn't want to think about that.
"I want to go home." He sounded like a kid, and she wished she hadn't been thinking the same thing.
"But we can't. Home was three thousand years ago."
"I know, but. . ." He looked back at the palace.
She turned his chin to face her again. "They aren't there anymore. Remember?"
He winced. She shouldn't have said that. The war before the last was terrible. Worse off, their parents hadn't even known them.
She caught a tear of his with her finger before anyone notice it. He always acted so happy. Sometimes she thought he did it for her, because he had to be just as frustrated as she was. Wasn't he?
"I wish we could've been adults. Royals. Like them," she said.
"What if we ran off? We don't have to do what they say anymore. Nobody would have to tell us what to do."
Jack stepped back. "Jill, what are you thinking? If we leave, we become--" He shuddered. "Outcasts? Spirits of dismay."
"What are we now, Jack? Even among the wee ones."
"I try not to think about that."
"And if it's not the other wee ones, my mistress sends me in the night to deliver petty love notes." She showed him the letter. "And I refuse to deliver it tonight."
"Nice color coordination." Jack tapped the green and yellow seal. "Wait a second." He frowned. "That's the letter my mistress told me to steal tonight."
They stared at each other a moment.
"Well, take it." Jill shoved it toward him. "I already said I wouldn't deliver it."
"No." He stepped back so the letter fluttered to the ground. "I don't care about his crossed-love. And you'll get in trouble."
"You'll get in trouble too! Besides, I can always accuse my mistress for sending me on night duties."
"Then so can I."
Jill touched a hand to her forehead and leaned against the town wall. "Well, this is a fine mess. Setting up a brother and sister after each other."
"There ought to be some law against that."
"I suppose we can't very well blame them," Jack spoke quieter. "It's not as if they know we're siblings. I'm sure nobody remembers. It's been so long."
"Don't make allowances for them!"
"We're not supposed to remember either, you know."
Jill gritted her teeth. She glared at the letter on the ground. What did it matter? What did any of it matter?
"I don't care anymore!" She pushed past him and marched to the far corner of town.
"Where are you going?"
She turned back. "I can't stand it anymore, Jack. I going over the wall."
His jaw dropped.
She stared at the ground. "You don't have to come. Actually, don't. People like you, Jack. And you get along with them." She didn't want him to, but she said it anyhow. "You should stay. But I can't." She stepped closer to hug him. His arm rested limply on her back. He still wasn't believing this, was he?
She stepped into the darkest part of town. She swallowed. She was doing this. She had to. It was the only way out. She just wished that Jack would-- but no, that was selfish.
She jumped and jerked around.
Jack ran to her. "I'm, I'm coming."
"No. Jack. You'll do better--"
"No." He held his hand up. "I don't care about the others. They don't really see me. If you leave, then I will be alone."
She knew what he meant. He was the only home she had left, so maybe she was the only home he had left too.
They climbed the ladder on silent feet. Beneath their hands, frost cracked and spread down the rungs. The wall turned slick with ice when they stood atop it. Hand in hand, they stepped into the white woods. The moon shone bright as day, and the stars guided their way. To where, they did not know.
How many nursery rhymes did you spot? Have you joined Starting Sparks?