By the end of Mass on Sunday, Jane had decided that asking the witch for help had been a terrible idea. First, she'd been scolded for getting home late. The witch had taken her to the edge of thee forest to keep her safe from whatever evil spirits lurked among the trees, but she'd had to face her parents alone, and her mother had slapped her so badly that her cheeks still hurt. Then, she'd had to walk to church in these clothes that didn't feel like her clothes, even though they looked like her old clothes. Even her sisters had kept their distance from her, as if they suspected something. Everyone, every single villager, had stared at her all morning, and, to top it off, the priest had decided to give a sermon about vanity. The sermon was in Latin, as usual, so no one understood a thing, but the priest had specifically announced the subject before he began, and she as certain that he was looking at her and at her pale skin and soft, shiny hair when he uttered the word vanity.
The whole day had been so mortifying that it was only after Mass, when everyone had left, that she realized she hadn't talked to john at all. She'd got half-way home when this thought struck her, and she turned swiftly on her heels, hoping she could catch up to him. And as she stopped to turn, he bumped right into her.
“You smell like you fell in Aunty Rachel's pot of jam,” he said with a bright grin, wasting no time on greetings.
“Well, you smell like you fell into a pile of dung,” she retorted.
“Guess you can talk after all,” he answered, his grin even wider. “Last year you wouldn't say a word to me. All year long.”
“I'd made a vow of silence,” Jane said, pouting.
“And there I thought you just couldn't stand me.”
She looked up at him to see if he was joking, but he'd turned to look away. For a while, he seemed entirely absorbed in studying the thatching of a nearby house.
“So, what was the vow for?” he asked, still not looking at her.
“I'm not going to tell you that.”
“I guess you really don't like me.”
He finally looked at her again, and their eyes met. For a moment, she couldn't think. Then she remembered the witch's words: “Say something nice.”
“You're... so... tall...” she managed to say. She hoped that counted as nice.
“Yeah, not like when I was five years old and you were throwing mud pies at me and calling me midget. I'm taller than you now.”
He stood on his toes and leaned over her to demonstrate just how much taller he was. Jane took a step back and frowned.
“You did fall into a pile of dung,” she said. “You stink!”
“Maybe I did. Or maybe I just haul the stuff all day. Dung keeps the crops going. Someone needs to take it to the fields.”
“I know a lake... with hot water...” Jane said slowly. She was certain she wasn't supposed to tell him about this. “You could have a bath.”
“A lake.. with hot water...”
John was making visible efforts to get his head around the idea.
“In the forest,” Jane said. “I can take you there.”
“Won't you get in trouble?” he asked.
“Already got in trouble,” she answered, trying to make it look like it wasn't a big deal, and blushing up to her ears. “Last night. I went there with a friend. A girl.”
She didn't say “a witch”. It didn't feel like a good idea.
John gave her a long look.
“Hot water?' he asked.
She nodded, relieved that he wasn't asking about her friend.
“Well, if you don't mind getting in trouble...” he said. He looked down and kicked the dust at his feet. “I'll bet it's not really hot.”
“It is,” she insisted.
“If you make me go all the way into the forest and it's not really a hot lake, it will cost you.”
Jane turned on her heels. She was too angry to be nice, too angry to care about the spell.
“Just follow me, and you'll see for yourself,” she said stiffly.
“If it's not hot, I'll want something for my efforts,” he warned. “I'll want a kiss.”
Jane didn't turn to look at him, and she didn't turn to see if he was following her. She led the way to the lake, praying silently that it had turned cold overnight.