Witchy doings on a chill October night...
|“You will do nicely,” said the witch. She and her impish familiars stood bathed in moonlight at the garden’s edge, her full attention upon me.|
I was voiceless, rooted to the spot where I stood, and had nowhere to run even if I could escape. Autumn had claimed the foliage of the few trees and shrubs on the outskirts of this lonely little farm.
The imps accompanying the witch seemed skittish, clustering around the witch’s bare feet and had to be swatted away by her walking stick as she paced slowly around me. “Yes, perfect,” she murmured, coming to a stop once more. “How is it I’ve lived in this valley all these years and never seen you?”
How indeed? I had no idea how old the witch was, but I myself had lived in the valley for many seasons. The legend of her powers was known to me, whispered as it was among the farm folk. More than once I even caught the hint of an incantation or her laughter upon the wind. But this chill October night was the first time I had actually seen her in her full eldritch glory. Regrettably, she had also seen me. Her glittering, red-slitted eyes studied me for another moment before she nodded her satisfaction and turned to bark a command at the imps. They lolloped off across the hillside, toward her cottage.
Smoke from the farmhouse’s chimney curled into the sky to be swept away by the rising wind. The farm’s family would be asleep, and would not stir from their home this deep in the night. Not with that harvest moon riding the sky and the ancient song of the valley’s wolves on the rise. There was no help for me from that quarter.
Without warning the witch slammed her slender walking stick into the earth where it ignited like a torch, its orange flames blending their light with that of the moon. Though no larger than the clawed hand of the witch, the fire fully illuminated the entire garden…and me. I felt all the eyes of the Unseen were upon me.
The imps came bounding back down the valley, and dread stirred in my heart as I saw they carried between them an object wrapped in heavy oilcloth. It was rectangular, a little longer than the blazing walking stick, and I had no doubt it would play a part in whatever plan the witch had for me. She saw her returning servants and reached out for their burden with an “AHHH…” that might have come from the throat of a serpent. The imps quickly relinquished the item and began gathering dry, brittle straw from the nearby garden.
The howls of the wolves rose in volume, for midnight was nigh. The rising wind blew the witch’s ragged robe about, revealing how gaunt she was. Her skin was appallingly green, glistening like that of a bog toad. But there was no denying her physical strength as she tugged her prize free of its wrapping. As I had feared, her imps had brought her an enchanted longsword.
The enchantment was plain enough in the blade, which shifted hues as oil will on water. A massive ruby was set in the pommel, cut to resemble the eye of I dared not guess what creature. The entire weapon sang of dark magic and secrets best left undisturbed, and the witch handled it as easily as she might have handled her walking stick. She turned toward me, holding the sword point down, and regarded me gravely with her reptilian eyes.
“My best instrument, to create my finest masterpiece,” she intoned as she raised the sword high. “The night never forgets!”
The sword’s blade burst into flames, but the witch brought it down so swiftly that I had no time for terror. A single stroke, quicker than a bat’s wingbeat, and the deed was done. The witch held her now-extinguished sword in one hand, and my severed limb in another. I braced myself for the pain and the horrific sight of my life leaking from the wound, but experienced only a soothing warmth, almost like that of the sun. The witch gave me a nod.
“The sword’s enchantment healed you,” she told me, “and I shall take this as well. I will plant it at my cottage, as thanks for your sacrifice.” Bending to the earth, she picked up a single acorn that had fallen. With a knife from her dress pocket, she trimmed the smaller twigs from my “sacrifice” until all she had was a simple staff, thicker and longer than her walking stick.
In the meantime, the imps had busied themselves binding the straw they had collected into a single bundle which they tied with twine. As the witch set to work binding this to the limb she’d taken from me, I understood my place in her night’s work for the first time. I was relieved that no unspeakable rites were to be performed in the shade of my boughs, but I was also faintly amused by my own preconceptions. I had had no say in my “sacrifice”, but a part of me would live on right beside the valley’s legendary witch…and another part of me would fly with her from this night onward.
The witch barked another command at her imps, who gathered her implements and scurried off toward her cottage once more. Then with a gleeful cackle she sprang aboard her new broomstick which rose obediently into the windy October dark. “Many thanks, Mother Oak! Happy Halloween!” cried she. And with that she swept away into the night sky trailing a witchy cry of jubilation.
In the farmhouse, I felt the sleeping family stir. No doubt they experienced a moment’s qualm as the Unseen winked at them from their dreams. Then the moment passed, the howls died away as the wolves moved on, and the silence of an autumn night returned.