“It’s called hoarfrost,” Gwyneth said, scraping at the flakes between her lithe fingers. Fragile as cobweb, the clumped glob turned into powder at her touch, flitting through the garden air into oblivion.
“Whore’s frost? Is their ma’am a nightlady or summin?”
Gwyneth rolled her eyes. “Hoar. H-O-A-R. It means old, grey, white. The oldfolk thought the stuff looked like an old hag’s hair.”
Beatrice scratched at her moustachio, trying to look like she was in deep thought. If Gwyneth knew her twin--and she most certainly did--then she knew the girl wasn’t burning any brain cells. She was very likely thinking on roast pig and jammed tarts and spiced beers and boiled potatoes and most definitely not etymology. But like a good sister, Gwyneth suspended her disbelief for the sake of love. Just like she did about the girl’s unfortunate lip hair.
“Ah,” said Beatrice, smiling wide. “Cause she’s got the dandyruff. Makes sense.”
“Yes, sweet one, it’s the dandruff.” A wicked thought began pounding in her head, and before she knew it, Gwyneth was spilling lies. “Frost hasn’t always been white, Beat. You know that? No? Used to, back in 1603, I believe, frost was a brilliant gold color. Every morning men and women would wake up to a light dusting of gold, just lovely in the sunrise, and it was warm to the touch. But one day, Sir Edward Florent of Flora and his squire Peeping Joe from Boston went out and changed everything.”
“Am not. GOD’S HONEST TRUTH IN ALL CAPS AM NOT. If I’m lying then He can just backspace and erase me out of existence and right off this page.”
Beatrice wrinkled her brow so heavily that Gwyneth thought the poor girl was turning into an ogre. Her eyes crossed and Gwyneth had to fight every urge in her body to resist slapping her simple sister. Not everyone understands meta, Father had said one night after a rousing game of lawn croquet. They were in the den, sipping on cognac and eggnog, enjoying stimulating conversation and dabbling in the meanings of it all. Beatrice had tried to keep up, but as always, her sister was ever so slow and Gwyneth had soon lost her patience. It was then that Father requested her out in the vestibule for a private conversation.
“Go on, then,” Beatrice said, enchanted. They sat on their favorite bench, its wrought-iron sides twisting and spiraling in no discernible pattern. It was one of the few things that they shared an interest in. Gwyneth fingered the tiny gargoyles perched on the armrests, collecting her thoughts.
“Okay, but only because you’re my sister. So, Sir Edward and Peeping Joe set out on a grand quest to find a mystical fount, the Font of Cheese or somesuch name, not really sure. Anyway, this fount was supposed to give all who drank from it a boon of unimaginable proportions. Many had quested for the Font, but none had ever found it.
“They traveled long months, over hill and under water, through cave and desert, until finally they happened upon an oracle. This oracle pointed them in the direction of the Font but sternly warned them not to ask for a boon, but only drink from its waters. They promised, but their fingers were crossed, so it didn’t really count, but the oracle didn’t know this, so she let them go. Then, two hours later, they found it. The Font of Cheese.
“It was massive. A hundred times larger than Fathers fondue, sweet, golden water flowed everywhere. And there at its mouth stood the hag. Bent with age, fattened from cheese, and uglier than the toadfaced boy, the hag scowled a one-toothed grin at the riders. ‘What brings ye here,’ she asked.
“‘We’ve come for the Font,’ said Sir Edward. The hag nodded. Why else would they’ve come? She knew what they were after, but for traditions sake, she had to make sure they were telling the truth. Honesty and all that.
“‘Aye, and you’ve found it, but stay the night first and in the morn I shall take thee to it.’ So they agreed, both being wearied from the road. And that night the hag--”
“Aha!” Beatrice interrupted. “So she is a nightlady then!”
Gwyneth gave her twin a thump on the thigh. “I’ve already told you no. No, she’s a hag, and an ugly one at that. She was a lady of ill repute, so to speak, just not like that.”
Beatrice winked at some imaginary joke. “Okay, Gwyn. Okay.”
Gwyneth sighed. “Don’t call me that. My name’s Gwyneth, not Gwyn. Do you want me to finish this story or not? I can just stop there if you’d rather.”
“No, no, go on. Sorry.”
“Good.” Gwyneth coughed. “Anyway, that night, while the two men slept, the hag wove a spell over them, and when they awoke their vision was changed. Instead of seeing the old woman, a beautiful and nubile maiden stood before them. ‘Erm, who’re you?’ asked Peeping Joe, stretching out the ache from his joints.”
“‘I’m Ilia, sir, guardian of the Font of Cheese.’
“‘What about the other woman?’ inquired Sir Edward, donning his cloak.
“‘Other woman, sir? There’s just me.’
“The two knights looked at one another and then exploded in laughter. ‘Aye, sure,’ said Peeping Joe. ‘Now you’re a wagonload better than that old ugly hag that met us here last night, I say. Wonder where she got off to?’
“The maiden shrugged. ‘Would you care for some breakfast?’ The two men were in a hurry to get to the fount, and Sir Edward thanked her kindly, but refused.
“‘Our breakfast will be from the flow of the Font, if you don’t mind.’ said Sir Edward.
“And so Ilia led the two men up a winding trail and to the outflow. All the while, Peeping Joe continued to ridicule the hag from the previous night, claiming he’d suffered a night terror on her account. To his credit, Sir Edward remained silent. At the banks, Ilia moved off to the side and rummaged around through an Amish cedar chest that just so happened to be there. Finally, she withdrew two ceramic mugs. On one, the mighty house seal of Flora was emblazoned, a one legged chicken atop the shoulders of an angry werebear; on the other, as proud as its partner, was a single birthday candle painted in pinks and baby blues. Silently, Ilia gave each their respected cup and motioned for them to dip and drink their fill.
“The two men knelt and dipped. The golden water filled the mugs, and each man quaffed the liquid. All at once, the veil lifted from Sir Edward’s eyes and he saw the hag for who she really was. Peeping Joe, though, remained under her spell, for his rudeness in the morning had irked the witch. ‘And now you each have a boon,’ said the hag.
“‘Mine’s simple, m’lady,’ said Peeping Joe. ‘I’d ask to remain here with you for all eternity. Your radiance is as glorious as the sun, if I may be so bold, and I’d be content just to remain here and to hold.’
“Sir Edward glared at his squire, troubled by the man’s sudden rhapsody of poetry. Poetry was nothing to trifle with, Sir Edward thought, though he did not correct his squire. Ilia nodded, smiling that horrible one-toothed grin. ‘And you?’ she asked, turning to Sir Edward.
“‘I’ll have your head, witch!’ And in a flash his sword was in his hand, steel glinting like fire in the golden light of the water. Peeping Joe bellowed a Noooo! The ceramic cups shattered on the cobbles. Ilia cocked her head and snickered. Sir Edward flew through the air, slashing wide, tearing through the hag’s aged neck. Off rolled her head, grin still on the face.
“Peeping Joe stopped, suddenly confused, for the witches spell ended as her lifeblood spilled out. Water bubbled and churned, and in the quiet morning a faint whisper fell from the bodiless head.”
Gwyneth stopped. She could almost hear Beatrice’s heart pounding. She licked her lips, suddenly regretting her lack of foresight. In the wintry air, her lips would be chapped for certain. After a respectable moment, Gwyneth continued.
“‘Accursed. A cursssse. A cursssssseee.’ And then she died. Immediately, the Font of Cheese lost its radiance, and the head again transformed, only now to that of an even more beautiful maiden than before. Filled with remorse, Sir Edward turned to his heartbroken squire.
“‘You must go and tell the world this tale, Peeping Joe. The consequences of my actions will be most severe.’”
“‘And what about you?’ asked the squire.”
“Sir Edward held out his soiled longsword, staring at the black blood on the blade. ‘Me? I shall bear my burden until I die. The Font is mine, and I must guard it. Now go.’
“And so squire Peeping Joe of Boston fled from the Font. The waters were white and silver now, their gold color long gone. He rode all day and night, stopping only when he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. And when he awoke the next morning, the frost was white.”
The two girls sat in silence for a second. Gwyneth smiled at her fancy. Beatrice was frowning, rubbing at her moustachio again. “Who was the nightlady?”
“Ah, see, Beat, now hers is a tragedy. She was once the fairest maiden in all the world, but a small-minded and heavy-handed stepfather put a curse on her, changing her from ideal to hideous. She ran away from home and lived alone all her years. Eventually she learned she, too, could do magicks, but by then she’d forgotten what her true face looked like.”
The Ten O’Clock Gong reverberated above, deep and sonorous. Beatrice shot up like she’d been struck by lightning. “Brunch, sister! I wonder if we’ll have poached eggs and marmalade pecans?”
“I don’t--” but Beatrice was already zooming down the hedgerow, moving as fast as her pudgy legs would carry her. Gwyneth yawned, rolled her eyes, and took off in pursuit.
An attempt at humor, plus a fun myth for your weekend.