2nd Place Winner for the PDG Short Story Contest - Round 1
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She was not what people thought. For years she had been chased out of towns, fear and hated, shunned. Knowing that she was the fifth woman in her family lineage to suffer this way did not make it any less painful. Or any easier to accept.
I may be a witch, Iris Hazelhurst thought, but that doesn't make me a monster.
The women of the Hazelhurst family had passed down their Craft to the singular daughter born to each generation. They were taught all aspects of being a witch, all the methods of longevity, and how to stay on the fringes of society where it was safest. The daughter was given no choice – it was tradition that must be honored.
Iris's mother Astrid had ushered her daughter into the only way of life she knew. Existence had been blissful, if somewhat isolated and lonely. Then, when Iris was fourteen, they had been discovered, their peaceful solitude destroyed overnight. And her tender mother...
Iris felt the prickle of tears behind her eyes at that terrible recollection, and squeezed her eyes shut to chase away grief. It had been long ago, and she couldn't afford to be overly emotional tonight.
Not on what was to be the most important night of her life so far.
Iris had turned thirty this year, and the time had come for her to pass the teachings on. But that meant the witch would need a man, and the usual method was by magic. For one turning of the moon the chosen male would be devoted to her, would be whatever Iris wanted or needed. This was the way that Astrid had conceived Iris, the same way all Hazelhurst women had. If her mother were still alive she would expect her daughter to do the same. Men were only to be used to gift a daughter to the witch who desired one, then forgotten.
The potion was bubbling in the cauldron Iris kept just outside the entrance to her humble home. Her abode was cradled in the arms of two mountain ridges and surrounded by forest, shielding it from the world outside. She felt safe here, and alone.
It was that growing sense of loneliness that had moved her to consider having a daughter. Then the thought had turned to determination as a plan formed, and she knew what to do.
She had already cast the ritual that would draw a man of worth there. He would arrive a midnight – All Hallow's Eve. Iris knew that it was the most auspicious time of the year to conceive and had carefully timed her spell. She also knew that when he showed up he would be disoriented, confused. The potion must be administered quickly to prevent him from 'waking'.
The reception area was a small clearing with a fire-pit at its center, meticulously decorated with the trappings of the season. Iris had spent a week making everything just so, and was pleased with the final result. The blazing fire cast the area in a warm orange light that she found calming and familiar.
A rustling in the foliage outside the reach of firelight spurred Iris into action. She scrambled over to the carved wooden box where glass vials of varying size were nestled in magenta velvet. It, along with a matching chest that held all her herbs and components, were Hazelhurst heirlooms. They were created by her Great Great Great Grandmother Zinnia, and were her most cherished possessions.
Opening the box, Iris gingerly lifted out the slender glass vial that she had preselected for the potion. She carried it to her cauldron and poured some of the chartreuse liquid into the vessel.
And just in time. A young man stumbled into the circle of light. His eyes were wide and bleary, an expression of mystification on his tanned face. Dark hair had come loose from its tie, falling crazily around his strong jaw. His clothing, and the bow on his back, gave him away as a hunter.
He came to Iris and sat, staring off into nothing. Any minute the spell would wane, the potion had to be in him before that happened. Looking him over confirmed that he was a fine male specimen – she could find no obvious flaws.
Why was she hesitating?
It felt wrong. Now that the moment had come Iris realized that this was not what she wanted. Not this way. She didn't want a donor.
She wanted love.
It was stupid and childish. Her mother would have been mortified, but it was the truth. Iris could not bring herself to use him. What a monumental mistake she had made! A man was inside her sanctum sanctorum, and he would be himself again any second! If he didn't persecute her immediately then he would certainly tell others of her. And they would come for the witch. They always did.
“Where am I?” The sound of a perplexed masculine voice shocked Iris, panic and bile rising up into her throat. Memories of past abuses turned her blood to ice and sent her scurrying away. Behind her retreat she could hear the man getting up.
Iris felt trapped, curled against the wall at her back. Pulling her knees in tight to her chest, she wrapped her arms around them and bowed her head, willing him not to see her. It didn't work.
“Hello? I don't know how I got here... Do you live here?”
She drew into herself as far as possible, trembling.
“Madam, are you alright? I live out here too. I didn't know anyone else did. What is your name?”
His voice was gentle. Careful.
“Please don't be afraid,” he knelt down in front of her, “my name is Wolfwood. What's yours?”
Tentatively the witch lifted her head just enough to peer up at him.
He was smiling softly at her, nothing but kindness and curiosity in his bright green eyes.
“My name is Iris.”
(Word Count: 1000)