One for sorrow, two for joy…
…three for a girl, four for a boy. Five for silver, six for gold. Seven for a secret never to be told. The old rhyme echoed through Marrissa’s head, as she watched two magpies squabbling over a tawdry piece of glass. At last the bigger of the two triumphed and flapped off into the evening sky, his prize clutched in his beak.
The hedge witch turned away and headed in the direction of her cottage. As was her habit, she gathered plants and herbs from the hedgerows, as she traveled slowly along the dusty path. When she reached up to gather some leaves from the twisted, gnarled willow tree, a grimace crossed her face as pain lanced across her shoulder blades. The beating had been over a month ago, but it still hurt whenever she exerted herself. She wiped away the sweat that had gathered on her brow and limped onwards towards home, vowing that he would pay for the sorrow he had caused her.
Normally she only gathered plants and fruits that when blended in the correct way, would make medicinal tonics and healing balms for those who sought her help. But tonight was…different. An unholy joy filled her as she contemplated the destruction of her foe. He would pay – oh how he would pay!
The glow of the setting sun was warm upon her face and she closed her eyes, reveling in its soothing touch. The villagers would come back to her, pleading and begging for her remedies again. She would be queen, in their eyes, once more; the epitome of all a witch should be.
How much time had passed, since the warlock had stolen her patients, demeaned her and made her a hated outcast? Marrissa shook her head. It didn’t matter. His arrogance would soon be ground into the dust. His assertion that only a male knew how to cast proper spells was ridiculous, everyone knew that women made the best witches. She glanced up at a nearby tree where a murder of magpies had gathered. “Murder”, what an appropriate word, even more so since they were her special talisman.
She fingered the silver pendant, cast in the shape of a magpie , that hung about her slim neck. It had been made for her by the local blacksmith as thanks for seeing his wife safely through childbirth. Marrissa frowned. The same man had, along with the rest of the villagers, stoned her out of the hamlet, baying for her blood should she ever return.
Well he too would pay. For the past few days, he and his wife searched the surrounding fields and woods for their missing child. A sly smile oiled its way across the hedge witch’s face. They would never see their boy again. His soul and body fat had already been assimilated into a potion that was rumoured to bring great powers to its creator. The bottle rested atop the male witch’s mantlepiece, placed there by a wish and a thought, waiting to be discovered as it inevitably would.
Twilight had fallen by the time she reached the crest of the hill leading down into the village. When she saw the golden glow that suffused the darkening sky, Marissa paused and her smile widened into a grin. Even as the stench of burning flesh reached her nose, she gloried in her victory. They were burning the male, convinced of his guilt, no doubt, by the discovery of the potion and the child’s bones she’d hidden in the log pile behind the warlock’s home.
“Do not suffer a witch to live!” The words carried towards her like an arrow. Horror grabbed her by the throat with a cold hand. They were coming for her – for her! But why – why! Then realisation poured over her like lead. She thought she’d been so clever, so secret, in her plan but it had backfired. Not only had she convinced the villagers that the male witch was evil, she’d convinced them, by her actions, that all witches were so.
She turned to flee, but her injured shoulders allowed her no great speed. The light of burning torches, pounding feet, and baying voices drew ever nearer.
The murder of crows joined their caws and shrieks to the cacophony of vengeful voices that hunted the hedge witch down and the force of their vengeance bowled her from her feet.
As her life was ripped from her body, the last words Marrissa heard, were, “Do not suffer a witch to live!”
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