This story is the result of a huge snowstorm closing down the schools in the area. Snow day! =D And then I realized that squires probably don't get snow days, which made me kind of sad. And thus, this story was born.
In this story, Jane is fourteen and Gunther is sixteen. They're both still squires.
Jane opened her door and was greeted by a blanket of snow covering the castle grounds. Her eyes widened and her mouth opened to form an "o". She stood unmoving in her doorway for a moment, watching the snow drift softly down and coat the ground.
Something flew past her head and hit the wall of her tower with a loud thwack! She jumped slightly, turned to see the remains of a snowball sliding down the stone. Turning back, she fixed Jester with a mock glare.
"Jester! I am not even out of my room yet!"
He stuck his tongue out. "I will take whatever advantage I can, Jane! Smithy and I will not lose to you and Rake again this year!"
Jane laughed and ran down the stairs to meet up with her friends. "I am afraid you do not have much of a choice. Rake and I always win."
Rake smiled, his hands shoved in his pockets.
Smithy threw an arm around Jester's shoulders. "This year, though, will be different. We shall pound you two into the deepest snowdrift until you beg for mercy."
"A knight never begs for mercy! You shall be the ones begging—as soon as the midday meal, I guarantee it!"
Jester stepped forward, hand outstretched. "A challenge it is, then. May the best team win."
Jane took his hand, shook it. "Right. We will."
As she spoke, Rake leapt forward and shoved a handful of snow down the back of Jester's shirt.
The court fool let out a very undignified shriek and arched his back. "Rake, how co-could you? It is cold!"
Rake chuckled softly, Jane snorted, and even Smithy laughed.
"What, never seen snow before? It happens every year."
Jane rolled her eyes. That arrogant, condescending voice could only belong to one person. She turned to face Gunther as he strolled into the practice yard. "Oh, stow it, Gunther. We are starting our first snowfall of the season snowball fight. It is something fun that friends do. Not that you would know anything about that."
Gunther glared at her, opened his mouth—probably to call her a biscuit weevil—when another voice broke in.
"Jane, Gunther, please report for your duties of the day."
She snapped her head up and looked at Sir Theodore with a mixture of surprise and disappointment on her face. "Duties, Sir Theodore?"
The older knight fixed her with a stare. "Yes, Jane. You are a squire, and training does not come to a halt just for the snow."
Gunther rolled his eyes. "How juvenile," he muttered, just loud enough for Jane to hear.
She shot him a glare.
"Gunther, you shall clear the snow off the battlements and the highly-travelled areas of the castle. You may dump the excess snow outside of the castle walls. Jane, after Gunther clears an area, you shall spread salt on the paths so that they do not freeze. The barrels of salt are in the forge."
"Yes, Sir Theodore." Gunther turned to the forge, where a shovel was waiting.
Jane echoed Gunther absentmindedly and looked back at her friends, a frown on her face. The three boys stood a few feet off, their shoulders slumped and a pile of snowballs lay forgotten at Jester's feet.
"Well, uh, that is that, I suppose." Jane could hear the disappointment in Jester's voice.
"Nonsense. Just because I cannot join you does not meant that you cannot have the snowball fight." She forced a smile on her face. The snowball fight had become a tradition with them years ago—she could not remember exactly when—and this would be the first year she'd have to miss.
The last two years, she had gotten lucky—Sir Theodore had been out of the castle for the first snowfall, and so she had escaped any assignments.
"Jane, are you sure? You do not mind?" Smithy's voice was hopeful, and she made herself nod.
"Of course not. Go on, I shall join you later."
The three boys ran off, already pelting each other with snowballs. Watching them go, she let out a sigh before shuffling through the snow toward the forge.
Gunther had already started shoveling snow into the barrow. As she walked past him, he dumped a pile of snow right in front of her feet.
Jane quickly backpedaled, sneered at him. "Oh, grow up, beef brain."
He didn't look at her, but she was positive that he was smiling.
Jane leaned up against the edge of the battlements, the bag of salt sitting at her feet. She could hear the boys yelling and laughing and having a good time, but she couldn't see them. Letting out a sigh, she glanced up at the sun.
"This is taking so long."
Gunther grunted. "Right. Because—" He heaved another load of snow over the top of the wall, wiped his face with his sleeve, and gave her a pointed look. "—you obviously have the hardest part of the job."
"That is not what I meant, Gunther. I just… I wanted to spend the day with my friends." Her eyes went wide and her head jerked around toward Gunther. "I did not mean—"
Gunther had already turned his back to her and returned to shoveling. "Forget it, frog rider."
Jane frowned, upset with herself. Sometimes it was easy to get along with Gunther. Up until she had opened her big mouth, he had actually been pretty pleasant. She shook her head. She didn't understand boys. Even Jester was a mystery sometimes, and he was her best human friend.
"Jane! Gunther! It is time for the midday meal!"
She glanced down, saw Pepper waving from the doorway. She waved back and started toward the stairs. "Come on, Gunther. Maybe Sir Theodore will let us take a short break after we eat."
Gunther leaned the shovel against the wall and followed Jane down to the yard. "I doubt it. He will probably tell us that we can rest after the job is finished. You know how he is."
She sighed. "You are right. At least we will have a chance to sit down and warm up."
The two walked into the kitchen. Rake, Smithy, and Jester were already collapsed at a table in front of the fireplace. The three barely moved, even when Jane walked over and plopped down next to Jester.
"Gunther and I shall be done with our duties in another hour or so," she announced.
Gunther sat at the end of the table and shot her a look that told her she was clearly fooling herself if she thought it would be that soon. She ignored him and instead smiled at Pepper for the bowl of steaming stew.
"Ugh… I am afraid I shall turn into a Jester-cicle and never thaw out. Jane, where is Dragon? I am sure that I would warm right up if I sat against him for a few minutes."
Jane smiled apologetically at her friend. "Sorry, Jester. Dragon does not care for the snow, and he usually stays in his cave for the first snowfall. Otherwise he would melt the snow without even meaning to, and then we would not have any snow left for snowballs."
"I do not think I would mind never seeing a snowball again," Smithy groaned.
Jane looked at her friends, disappointment creeping in on the magic of the day. "Then… You are finished for today?"
Rake, his spoon halfway to his mouth, answered. "I think I am done for the season. Summer cannot come soon enough. I shall spend the rest of the day helping Pepper prepare for the evening meal."
Jester and Smithy nodded their agreement. "Spending the rest of the day indoors sounds like a champion idea! There is nothing quite like being warm inside when it is cold outside!"
Jane dropped her gaze down to her stew. "Yes," she muttered. "Champion idea."
Jane kicked at the snow. The first snowfall of the season, and she didn't have a chance to enjoy it. Yes, Jester was right. There would be other snowfalls, there would be other snowball fights. But… The first one was special, it held some sort of magic.
And she had missed it.
She leaned against the wall, staring down at the snow-covered ground below, lit by the setting sun. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Gunther, taking out the last load of snow. She watched him for a moment before her eyes lit up with excitement. She ran down the stairs and across the practice yard, barely pausing at the gate to grab a handful of snow.
She slowed as she rounded the corner, attempted to imitate a leisurely stroll when she saw Gunther walking toward her pushing the barrow.
"Jane?" He looked confused. "What are you—?"
Whatever he was about to ask was lost when Jane threw the hastily-made snowball and it hit him in the face.
He spluttered, and Jane laughed as he tried to wipe the snow out of his eyes. "What—" His eyes narrowed and there was a brief pause as they both stared at each other, unmoving.
Then, without warning, both Jane and Gunther lunged for separate snow drifts and began packing snowballs as if their lives depended on it.
Jane was laughing so hard she couldn't breathe. Even so, she managed to plow right into Gunther, succeeding in knocking him into the snow. One hand was raised, clutching a lump of snow that vaguely resembled a snowball. The other pressed against Gunther's shoulder, effectively pinning him to the ground.
He could have pushed her off, but he was laughing himself to the point of breathlessness as well. His hands were empty, however, and he could do nothing but wait for the inevitable.
She sat on top of him, her snowball poised, ready to strike.
All of a sudden, the absurdity of the situation struck her. She was outside the castle walls, at dusk, having a snowball fight with Gunther. And he had very grey eyes. And he wasn't blinking.
Jane swallowed, suddenly acutely aware of how thirsty she was and how wet her clothes were. Her arm was beginning to ache, but she felt as though her whole body was frozen. Gunther's stare was unnerving her, but she simply couldn't look away. And so she stared at him, staring at her.
She licked her lips, hoping that would prompt her mind to come up with something, anything to say. Jane watched as Gunther's eyes caught the movement and dropped down. A stray thought made its way through her mind: I wonder if he will kiss me?
And to her surprise, the thought didn't horrify her.
"Jane…" His voice was soft, quiet. His eyes were looking into hers again, and she wondered why she had never noticed how gentle they were before. And she realized that for the first time since she could recall, Gunther's eyes weren't guarded.
"Huh?" Her voice was loud—too loud for the dusk, for the snow, for the moment.
They were both quiet a moment longer. Gunther's eyes flickered back down toward Jane's lips before reestablishing eye contact.
Another thought passed through Jane's mind: I wonder what it would be like to kiss Gunther Breech?
Her heart was beating faster and she absentmindedly wondered if he could hear it. She watched his eyes, more tender than she'd ever seen, slowly close. When they opened, it was accompanied by a wince of pain.
"Your knee is digging into my stomach."
"Oh." Jane shifted her weight and stood, refusing to admit that it was disappointment that she was feeling in the depths of her heart. "Sorry about that."
She offered Gunther her hand with a smile and, when he took it, helped pull him to his feet. Once he was standing, she pulled her hand from his and tried to brush the snow off her clothes. She couldn't define the feeling inside of her—it felt like regret and relief and sorrow and joy all rolled into one.
Glancing over at Gunther, she saw he was trying to brush the snow off himself as well. She laughed but, to her horror, it ended up sounding more like a giggle. Knights did not giggle.
Gunther glanced at her, and she noticed that his eyes were no longer the open book they had been just minutes ago. He was staring at her, studying her, and she had to say something.
"If you are as soaked as I am," she strove for a light, jesting tone, "then we might as well let the snow be. It will not do too much good to brush it off now."
He nodded. "You are right. I do not think I could be much wetter even if I fell into the river." He glanced down toward the village. "I need to go. My father will be wondering where I am."
"Right. I shall take the barrow back to the forge." Jane stepped past him and grabbed the wooden cart, which had been nearly buried during their snowball fight. She walked past Gunther without looking at him, determined to make it inside the castle without saying or doing anything foolish.
A hand on her arm stopped her in her tracks.
"Thank you, Jane."
She looked at him then, eyes wide with surprise. "For what?"
He gestured to the snow, a small smile on his face. "For this. I know you would have preferred to spend the day with your friends, but… I had a good time."
Jane returned the smile. "Gunther, today was a champion first snowfall of the season snowball fight." They were both quiet for a moment and she tried to think of something else to say.
"Jane!" The faint voice came from the castle, and Jane couldn't help but wrinkle her nose.
"Maggots. That is my mother. I should go."
Gunther nodded. "Right. Well, then, I shall see you tomorrow, Jane."
She nodded as well, not entirely sure of what else to do. "Right."
They parted then, Jane toward the castle gate and Gunther toward the village below. Before she entered the gate, she glanced over her shoulder. Gunther had his hands shoved in his pockets and had a lightness to his step that she couldn't recall seeing earlier. And if she wasn't mistaken, he was whistling.
And then she was inside and her mother was rushing over, talking faster than Jane could follow.
"Jane, where have you been? You missed the evening meal and… You are soaked! What have you been doing, Jane? I shall have to get Pepper to boil some hot water for a bath and I shall need to find you a change of clothes to wear while those dry out. What on earth were you doing outside the castle walls this close to dark, Jane?"
Jane realized, a little late, that the pause and the stare her mother had fixed her with meant that she was supposed to answer. She opened her mouth, started to answer. "I—"
She had had fun with Gunther. They had laughed and joked and been civil—well, as civil as possible while trying to pelt each other with snowballs. And then there was that moment, the single, brief moment when Jane thought that it would be nice if Gunther kissed her.
She wanted to hold on to that, to keep the magic and the memory to herself.
She glanced away from her mother and muttered, "I fell in a snowdrift." It wasn't exactly a lie. She had landed in a snowdrift, but only because Gunther had pushed her.
Her mother accepted it without question and propelled her toward her room, going on about something that the king had said during the evening meal. The words washed over Jane and she mostly ignored them, making noncommittal noises when her mother asked a question. Her thoughts were somewhere else completely.
Jane was practicing with her bow when Gunther and his father walked through the castle gate the next morning. The merchant's voice was loud and carried easily across the practice yard.
"—not only did you come home late last night, but soaked to the bone!"
She kept her eyes on the target, but froze, straining to hear what would come next.
"I told you, Father," Gunther mumbled, barely loud enough for Jane to hear, "I fell in a snowdrift."
A grin split Jane's face. It was a secret, then.
"You are holding the arrow wrong."
Jane started, glanced over. She hadn't even heard Gunther approach.
Her fellow squire stood next to her, stringing his longbow. "Here, like this," he said, demonstrating.
Jane nodded, silent, and readjusted her hold.
"There. Try that."
She released the arrow. It flew toward the target and hit just outside of the bull's eye.
"Champion shot, Jane."
She bit back a smile and grabbed another arrow.
It was a secret between friends.