Jill came home late that night. It had been the best of days for her. Jack's smile kept a giddy feeling in her heart as she sang while washing up. She'd never met such an amusing boy. His character was truly that of someone filled with joy.
After all her troubles and woes, she never knew she could smile so much being so near the graves.
Unknown to Jill, Jack went home where his mother blamed him for the missing firewood. She blamed him for the unswept floors and blamed him for his sister's cold. She threatened him with all sorts of punishments while he tirelessly worked through the night to catch up on his chores.
The following day began much as the previous, but by noon he went up the hill again, and sure enough, Jill was sitting there, parchment in hand, scribbling away furiously.
Jack was amazed that she could write.
Jill would tell him stories and he'd offer helpful adventures for her characters, and together they would laugh, and her laugh filled a place in him, and his laugh set her free.
Months went on like this and soon the nights grew cooler and the chill in the air made sitting on the hill hard to do, so Jack suggested they go down to the field and light a small fire.
Jill was elated at such an idea, for she wanted very much to sit with Jack by the fire. She wanted to warm her chilled hands and watch the flames dance for them. She wanted the feeling to seep all the way through into her soul.
Jack busied himself with making a small and efficient fire, for he was good at such things, and he and Jill sat around the flames and warmed their hands and feet.
She laughed often at his riddles and she shared stories of phantoms and boggarts and will o'the wisps.
That night, when Jill arrived home, she had the happiest of feelings in her breast. Her body could scarcely contain her glee. However, Jack got a good beating, no dinner, and another sleepless night. He'd been silently suffering for months, but didn't want to see the happiness fade from Jill's eyes. Poor Jill had lost her mother and siblings, and her father was away often hunting, so for her, there was little joy in her life aside from what he could provide for her. He loved her smile.
On the day of the first big snow, Jack took a long sliver of bark to the top of the hill and set it down with a look of mischief, "Want to ride this down the hill with me, Jill?"
"Oh Jack, that looks dangerous!"
"No, it will be fine. I have rope here, we can tie it on and hold on this way." He instructed her on what to do and she smiled with joy.
Jill grabbed a small pointed piece of bark that's shape reminded her of a crown and held it up to his forehead, "Look Jack, you shall be the King, and I your Queen. We are the Winter King and Queen, and this shall be our sleigh. We shall ride off to feed the poor children and save the elderly from frost!"
Jack laughed and agreed and with one hand held onto the ropes, and with the other held to his crown, and together he and Jill gave a push off, and down, down, down they went until the bark slid from beneath them. Their laughter followed them down the hill as they rolled into each other in a fit of giggles.
"Oh Jack, your crown is broken! What shall we do, King Jack?" She asked.
Jack rolled over and grabbed her hand, "I've no need of a crown as long as I have my Queen."
Many months would pass as these two played and learned and grew, but as they grew, Jill's stories called to her more and more, and her need to write them became overwhelming.
Jack often found her in the woods now, hidden near the rocks, writing away on any scrap of parchment she could find, until at length she began writing on the rocks themselves.
Jack became strong and many a girl fancied his attentions, and on Harvest Day the year he turned fifteen, he met Mary by the bales of hay. Her sunny eyes and alluring glances drew him closer. She taunted him in ways no one had ever done, and soon he learned the ways of love amongst the hay and her honey hair.
Mary went with Jack everywhere, and soon told all the town how she would marry him. Jack was still shy, but he sure did enjoy Mary.
The forest became the only solace for Jill when her father took ill. Her trees, her rocks, her words; this became her home. She came out for a town feast just before the weather turned dreadfully cold and saw Jack with his honey haired shadow. Miss Mary seemed rather pleased with her attentions and Jill looked down at her drab skirts and felt homely.
She turned to leave, but Billy stopped her with his hand on her shoulder, "Jill, I hear you're writing stories in the forest. Think you could show me sometime? My aunt is teaching me to read, see she's been in London, and wants me to learn such things. May I come and try?"
Jill only nodded and quickly ran away from Billy and his kindness, but her running would only be for the night, for soon Billy would be coming every day to her woods, and soon every day would turn into all winter and spring, and by summer his kisses had filled her stories, too, and he read them back to her and would blush.
Together they made for a shy couple, but she no longer only spent her days in the forest, for now she spent them with him and his family, too.
On the Eve of the Festival of Fires, Jill came early to the fields to make hers and struggled with starting it. She sat dejectedly by the sad little pile of unlit sticks until a shadow appeared above her. She glanced up to find Jack, "Oh....Jack."
"Jill, you're doing it wrong, here, let me show you." Jack helped her start a small efficient fire, and showed her the best way to place the logs.
"Thank you, Jack."
"Good to see you, Jill."
Soon, the field was full of couples lighting fires, and Mary called Jack away and Billy called Jill away, and the little fire burned still.
Jack and Mary made a large fire as Mary threw lovers herbs upon the flames and flowers and dried bushes and a whole barrel of things she had set aside to use for homage to the Goddess. Their fire burned scorching and tall and smoke rose clear up to the moon.
Billy made a brilliant fire and set the sticks standing tall so the flames would curl upward. Jill placed a few things here and there on the flames and Billy added hay and logs and all manner of things he'd been saving, until their fire burned bright and hot.
By dawn, the fires had burned themselves out, and Jill was tired, and wished to leave. Billy wished to make love in the forest to finish their celebrations, and Jill declined, wishing to save such things for their nuptial night. Billy was angry and hurt and stormed away kicking the remnants of their fire. He left Jill feeling worthless and unwanted and she knelt in the cold grass missing her mother.
Mary and Jack had long since escaped to the woods where Mary used her wiles and left him breathless, only to announce as the first rays of the sun were seen that she could not love him nor marry him after all. She told him she was to marry a merchant's son in a town closer to the coast, and therefore must leave him now. Jack's heart broke and he begged her to stay, but Mary left him where he cried bitterly until anger overcame him and he marched back to the field to throw dirt over their fire.
Then, he saw Jill.
She was hunched over near a small bit of smoke still rising steadily upward. He came closer and sat down and instinctively put his arm around her shoulders, "What happened, Jill?"
She wiped her eyes, "Billy left. Said he wanted to have me, but I want to save myself, and he just left....left."
"Don't cry, Jill. Mary left me, too. After she had me, that is. Left for another man."
"Oh Jack, poor dear!" She threw her arms about his neck and his encircled her frame, and they stayed that way until she sat back and looked at him with a long look he didn't understand.
"Jack, you see how everyone's fires have burnt out?"
Jack looked around, "All but this one."
"Do you know who's fire this is?"
"Yours and Billy's?"
Jill shook her head and warmed her hands by the warmth as she responded, "This is our fire. It's still burning."
"That's because I know how to build a good fire, Jill."
Jill just smiled, "That's right, Jack, you do. Would you like to learn how to read?"
Jack smiled, "I'd like that a lot, you can teach me?"
"I'm a good teacher."
Jack gave a mischievous grin, "I can teach you a few things, too, Jill."
She laughed, "Only if," she reached down and grabbed a blade of grass she began weaving with other blades, until at last, she had a wreath she placed on his head, "you wear this. We shan't teach each other anything unless we are King and Queen."
He smiled and stood up, "OK, off to the woods then, my Queen. Oh, should we put the fire out?"
"Of course not. It's burnt this long, why put it out?" She grabbed his hand and they ran towards the forest.
By Elizabeth Azpurua