Jack and Jill: The Thieves Price
Escrito por Ella I.
Jack and Jill
Went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Rats skittered back into the protective shadows as dawn’s first light broke over the horizon, falling in gentle golden rays across the gabled rooftops of the village in the foothills of a great mountain range far above. In one particular alley in the said town, dawn was not as gentle as it was elsewhere.
This dawn came with a sharp kick to the ribs from a thin young girl, her face smeared with dirt and grime, her dress just as dirty and her blonde hair a snarled mess. “Jack, you idiot, get up! It’s time!” she yelled, her voice ringing in the confined space. Her brother rolled over on the this mattress of old flour sacks they had been sleeping on. He muttered something under his breath, and flipped the girl a rude gesture. His twin snorted and kicked him again. “Up!” she ordered. “The fountain! Now’s the moment! It’ll be gone if we wait to long.”
This comment brought Jack into full consciousness. The boy sat up. He looked the same as his sister, albeit with trousers instead of a dress. His short honey-blonde hair stuck out in every direction, and his brown eyes sparkled with barely contained mischief. Jack stood, looking down at his sister. It annoyed the girl greatly that he should be taller than her, even though she was the firstborn, if only by a few minutes.
Jill sighed. “Come on, Jack. Where’s the pail?” He shrugged. “Dunno.”
“Idiot.” Jill retorted hotly, and strode into the shadows at the back of the alley, snatching up a slightly rusty old tin pail. A length of moldering rope hung from the handle, the loose end frayed where Jack had sawed away at it with his knife, but the knot still firmly tied at the other end, despite the ropes age. It had been easily stolen from Old Man Thomas’s well. He never used the old thing, and the water down in the old well was stagnant and undrinkable anyway. Jill, ignoring her brother, strode off down the alley. Jack raced after her, until they walked side by side again in the faint morning light. “Jill, how can you be so sure that the fountain is up there?”
“I’m not.” she said, swinging the bucket at her side. The rope thumped wetly against the metal.
“Then why are we doing this? Especially at this hour?” Jack asked.
“I already told you, Jack! Remember a few years ago when that kid, Corren or something, claimed that he saw a magical glow just over the ridge?”
“You said that it was nonsense, and probably just sunlight reflecting off of something, or a Sun Dragon that had crashed.”
“Times change. We need to find that fountain.” Jill said, her face reddening. Jack grinned. “So, now you think that Corren saw the glow from the fountain?”
“Yes. And Old Man Thomas said that he saw a courtyard that glowed with an ethereal light on top of that ridge.” Jill said, stopping in her tracks to glare at Jack, crossing her arms.
“He’s old, Jill.” Jack said, looking down at his twin.
“So? His eyes work.”
“That’s beyond the point.” Jack stated, looking a little concerned.
“We need to find that fountain!” Jill exclaimed, throwing up her hands. “It’s life or death, Jack. Our lives are at stake! They’re after us, and you know it. We need to get this to them, and then maybe-”
“Maybe what?” Jack broke in. “Maybe they’ll forgive us if we repay our debt? And pay it back late as well. You know the Chimaera Lord. He’d never-”
“Shush.” Jill said suddenly, clamping a hand over her brother’s mouth. “You’ll wake up the whole town the way you’re going on.”
“And you weren’t just as loud.” Jack muttered sulkily. But he didn’t protest as Jill pulled him on down the winding cobblestone streets of the town. The girl had him wrapped around her little finger.
The siblings trudged on down the road, their bare feet slapping on the cold, hard, cobblestones. The sun crept higher and higher on the horizon, making Jill even tenser than usual. They saw only a couple of people during their walk. The shepherd boy was bringing his flocks up farther into the mountains to graze. The baker had his windows open, and the tantalizing scent of fresh-baked bread was drifting out onto the streets. And still the twins walked. They didn’t stop, even to let the sheep pass. They just plowed through the hordes of animals, earning them some choice words from the tired boy who was herding the sheep.
The sun rose ever higher.
Soon Jack and Jill gave up the slow walk that they had been entertaining and they began to run. It was a race against the sun. Soon the cobbled main road gave way to a wide, plain dirt path, and even that grew slimmer and slimmer, until finally it dwindled into wagon ruts in the earth. The earth began to slant upwards, the fairly flat landscape morphing into the foothills of the great mountain range whose peaks stretched high into the sky far above them. The town looked small and lonely on the vast terrain behind them. Jill sighed. “The sun is so high up now. What if we miss it? Maybe we should turn back.”
Jack’s eyes took on a steely edge. “You dragged me all the way out here to find a legend. You staked everything on a deal with the Chimaera Lord, that involves said legend just so that we can repay that old debt that everyone had forgotten about until you brought it up again. We are going to find this, Jill. You can’t give up now, and let him get his hands on us.”
Jill set her jaw. “Right. You’re right.” She took a breath. “Let’s uphold our deal with the Chimaera.”
And they began the upwards slog.
Soon the crest of the hill was reached. Most of the valley in which the town sat stretched out below them. Jack sighed gently. “Jill. There’s nothing here.”
Jill’s eyes were hard, and her face stony. “There has to be. Where is that - Oh.” she smacked herself in the forehead. “Over the ridge and down a ways. It will be here.” Her smile and sudden return of confidence was infectious, and Jack let himself reveal a grudging flicker of a smile.
Jill turned away from the scenic view, and hurried away down the opposite side of the hill. Jack followed. And it was his turn to be surprised.
The valley on the other side of the hill should not have been there. It was improbable. And yet it was. It should only have been a faint dip in the mountainside, and yet a valley that reached down so deep that a stream ran through the center revealed itself as Jack and Jill hiked down the side of the steep hill. The grass was too green and fresh for the beginning of spring, and as lush as if it were midsummer. Bright flowers grew in abundance in the valley, in violet and white and yellow buds. Jill raced down the hillside, and knelt in the grass, picking a daffodil and sniffing it delightedly. She stood slowly, reluctant to march on, but she did. She turned and beckoned her brother on. Jack was reluctant to go further into the strange, obviously magical valley, and Jill was obliged to race up and tug him on.
They walked down together. Jill leaned down and picked a single clover flower, it’s purple and white petals seeming to glow in the dawn. She tucked it gently into her brothers hands. “It’s got to be magic. These are summer flowers, growing right next to the crocuses! The fountain has to be nearby.”
Jack looked a little scared. “This is so odd. This place… Jill, it doesn’t feel right.”
“We’re losing sunlight.” It was true. The sun was still rising. Time stops for no mortal, no matter where on earth they may be. Jill’s head snapped up. “Jack! Do you see that?”
He stopped. He did see it. A warm glow, brighter than the sunrise and as friendly as a fire on a cold winter’s night shone just on the other side of the magical valley. The pair began to run again, hurtling over the stream and up the opposite side of the valley. Jack dropped the clover, and Jill her daffodil in their hurry. They were rewarded for their trouble.
At the crest of the ridge, gleaming in the sun, was a tiled courtyard, crumbling walls ringing the square. And in the center was the twins goal.
The Fountain of Youth.
It’s three glass tiers shone in the sun, the rays of our bright star hitting it directly. The glass was tinted with colors so delicate that it seemed as if a rain would wash them away or blur them together like watercolor paints. The largest basin, at the bottom, had the faintest tinting of violet. The second was tinted a pale spring green, and the final, smallest basin was the same delicate shade of purple as the first. At the top, water spurting from it, was a glass oval with a hole at the top, from which the stream of oddly silvery water was pouring. Holding it all together was a spear of glass as clear as ice. The same clear glass formed a pool that caught the magical water as it fell.
Jill laughed out loud. “It’s true! Old Thomas isn’t as crazy as they say! The fountain! Jack, we found it! We can pay the Chimaera what he wants. We’ll be free.”
“The bucket, Jill.” By some miracle, Jill had kept the rusty pail firmly clasped in her fist all throughout the walk through the valley. She smiled, and Jack nodded solemnly. “Time?” He asked.
“Sure.” Jill responded. “Let’s pay our debt.” Together, they stepped over the threshold of the courtyard.
Instantly the tiles under their feet trembled. Jack yelped, and Jill stepped back as words imprinted themselves in the clay, clear as crystal.
BEWARE THE THIEVES PRICE.
Jill shivered. “The Thieves Price?”
Jack shrugged. “Safeguards, maybe? We’re thieves, Jill. We’ve done jobs with more magical guards than you can count, and we made it out okay.”
“Except for that job over in-”
“Except for that one.” Jack interrupted. “The point is, we can do this.”
Jill made a face. “I hate motivational speeches.”
“I gathered. Come on.” Jack took another step towards the fountain, and again the tiles rippled.
I WARNED YOU.
THIEVES WHO DARE STEAL FROM MY FOUNTAIN SHALL PAY.
Jack hesitated. Jill stepped up behind him, her eyes skimming over the words. She stepped forwards, and the words vanished. Well, all but one short sentence.
I WARNED YOU.
Jill clutched the handle of her pail so tight that her knuckles whitened. Jack stepped up, and the words vanished. Three more steps to the fountain… Two… One… None.
Jill sat on the edge of the fountain’s base, setting her precious pail on the ground, and touched the edge of the lowest tier, the purple glass cool and smooth under her fingers. It was larger closer up. The second, green, tier was at Jack’s eye level. He reached out and ran his fingers over the fluting on that tier, beautiful scroll designs that weren’t evident from any further away. Jack stepped away. “We should get the water for the Chimaera and go.” Jill nodded absently and stood. She lifted the pail, and, with shaking hands, dipped it into the silvery pond drawing at least half a pailful of water.
The water erupted. Jill screamed, and Jack stumbled backwards and fell, as a column of water swirled in the fountain, glowing with watery light. Jill had her eyes closed tight, whimpering. Jack rappeled himself up off the hard tiles of the ruined courtyard. The voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, and clear, woman’s voice, resonating with anger and power.
“Who DARES?” the voice boomed, echoing around the foothills. “Who would steal from my waters, taint them with metal? What foolish mortal would dare step foot onto sacred ground and attempt to drink from the Faerie's Well? The Fountain of Youth?” Jill, it seemed, was the foolish mortal. “I - I would.” she stammered, as the column of water solidified into the form of the most beautiful and most terrifying woman she had ever laid eyes on.
The water nymph was tall, with flowing ebony hair framing her pale face in black waves. Her eyes were just as dark, like the deepest depths of the sea. Her skin was the color of the fountain’s water itself, clear and silvery. Her dress was the same silvery color with hints of purple and a deep neckline in green. Her face was regal, with finely wrought, delicate features. Her dark eyes blazed with anger and hatred for the mortal children who had come to her and stolen from her waters. “I,” she hissed, “Am the Keeper of the fountain. I am the one who blesses these waters. I make sure that no one but the Faerie Council ever obtain drink from my fountain. The mortals fear me. No mortal has ever stepped foot in my courtyard, lest they wish to join my court.” Her laugh was even worse than her anger. With a start, Jill noticed that faces swam in the folds of her dress. Beautiful faces. Young women, young men, mortal all. “Yes, girl. My court!” the nymph called. “Thieves who have paid the price.”
Jack felt ill as he saw the faces in the fabric as well. “My Lady,” he tried, but the naiad only laughed. “There is no way out of it, mortal boy. Once you have entered my courtyard, you are already mine by law, and if you have stolen and drunk my water, then the bargain is made even more binding, with no way out. Come, mortals, come now. Life is short, but with me you will be immortal. Join my court, thieves!” The nymphs eyes danced with sly laughter, her mouth twisted into a cruel, cunning smile, baring sharply pointed teeth. Jill stepped back, clutching her half-full bucket to her chest. “Wait, please!” she stammered, slowly moving away from the nymph and her fountain. The nymph spread her arms wide, her pointed teeth bared in that awful smile. “No mercy. I have no mercy for thieves.”
Jack snapped his fingers, a realisation coming to him. “But the water isn’t for us!” He shouted. Instantly, the loud rushing and tumbling of water in the fountain faded slightly. It was still there, mind you, but not as deafening. The nymph cocked her regal head, her dark hair tumbling down her back. “The water isn’t for us!” Jack repeated, strength returning to his voice.
“That’s right!” Jill chimed. “It’s for our master.”
“And who might that be? Name him, thieves.” the water nymph hissed, her hands clenched.
“The Chimaera Lord!” Jill cried. “The Prince of Thieves, the Bandit King!” The watery form of the woman in the purple dress recoiled, her eyes narrow with suspicion and shock. “No. It’s impossible. He should have died…”
“We know.” Jack said shortly. “He has been finding as many sources of magic that can revert him to his youthful state as he can. That’s why we set off to find you, my Lady. So that we can, ah, repay our debts to him, by retrieving his youth.”
“Prettier words have never been spoken in my courtyard.” The nymph hissed. Was it just the twin’s wishful thinking, or was there a hint of a thaw to her cold words? “However, the price must be paid by someone. Whether you pay it, though… That man spited me long ago.” She laced her fingers together, her tall form sinking down as she knelt in the basin of the fountain to be at eye level with the children. Her cold eyes flickered with malice, but not towards the pair. “You shall be my messengers, children. Give the Chimaera the water, let him feel the curse that any thief that steals from me must feel and don't forget to send him my… Love.” She emphasised love with a sarcastic note. “But if you dare drink the water, you too shall pay the Thieves Price. I warned you. Remember that.” The nymph laughed wickedly, and rose again. “Now, leave this place.” Her voice rang with anger once more. Jill stepped back, ready to turn and leave. Jack, however, looked puzzled. “But-”
Jill’s heart almost stopped as the unnaturally tall woman stepped from her fountain, her bare feet leaving wet footprints on the tile. Her pointed teeth gleamed. She ignored Jill for the moment and stepped slowly, deliberately towards Jack. With a wave of her hand, the winds picked up. The nymph stroked Jack’s cheek with her elegant fingers. The boy was too frozen with fear to even respond to the contact.
No one saw the blow coming. One second Jack was standing there, his feet firmly rooted to the tile. The next, he was rolling away down the slope, a wicked looking wound etched across his brow. “I said, LEAVE.” The nymph snarled. Then she turned to Jill, and the poor girl stumbled back, fear flooding her veins. She cursed herself for not responding sooner, not fleeing when she had the chance.
But it was too late. The nymph was already at her side, and then Jill was tumbling down the steep hillside, after her brother. The pail, with it’s moldy rope, had disappeared, and in its place was a crystal vial, firmly corked, the silvery water from the legendary Fountain of Youth sloshing safely inside of it.
"Repay my lover, mortals, repay your debt. Or else." The nymphs last words to the siblings echoed off the mountains.
Jill clutched the precious bottle to her chest, and prayed that it wouldn’t shatter before she delivered it to her master, the Chimaera Lord.