I was sewing the strings of the rabbit heart so carelessly, that I did not notice when I laced my own thumb through the fabric. Into the sticks of the doll, blood pooled and the white feather rapidly drunk the red into it, rendering it useless. White, it had to be WHITE for the innocence of the babe… white, a hundred curses, I would need another dove. Maybe a goose? No, a dove to abort.
In my left ear, the voice of the singing girl child continues, and it soothes me as I rummage through my collection of magical components. A focusing stone clatters to the ground, as if it trying to leap off the table would mean I’d let it escape.
You won’t be going back to the river, stone, you’ll be crushed and drunk by a maiden.
I will return to the river, the stubborn rock replies.
Of course, it talks back to me, it’s a naughty river stone, I think to myself, as I scoop it back into my pocket and silence its voice.
On the table, the maple leaves rustle urgently beneath my fingers, wanting to be rolled into a crown for the Summer King. I rummage further, past leaf and fur and feeling for the dried, soft tips of the dead birds’ feathers. If my eyes had the strength of my youth, this would be a lot easier.
There, the child sings, beneath the tusk of the boar, and accordingly, my nail brushes it.
Yes, thank you child.
With the new, white feather strung into place and no blood to distract the spell, I start again to hum the song of Death and I feel its magic pouring out of me. The words will soar through the night and travel to the belly of Sara, pious and young, and loosen the embrace of her womb to the babe. My vision varies between my home and her bedroom, a cottage near the town square where her family lives. Father, mother, brother, and grandfather.
I see her sleeping and a handprint on her wall glows with life. The outline of the mans hand glows with the ghost of his seed, and I realise the Mother is showing me he continues to visit her in the night, even when she carries his child.
Louder, I sing to the Mother the song of mortality and trade, life for life and I feel as Sara feels for a moment. Her deep, rhythmic, sleeping breaths fill me as I stand in my home, singing death.
Inside, her walls will tremble, and the cord will tighten and the babe will struggle.
Between her legs, blood seeps as fluid builds, rushing onto the sheets. Now, the babe twists.
Wakening now, the pain burns and leaks at the same time as she confusedly reaches for something to help her see the sticky moisture in the darkness and the babe wrenches free. She is so young; she has only felt him enter her in the silence of the night and now something that feels a similar size is trying to slide out.
Now, her hips rise as my voice soars, fire, and fury through the night, involuntarily thrusting and arching as the babe passes through the mesh of life and death so easily, too easily.
Then I hear the scream as sound mixes, her fear, and my song. Life is traded, given over to my hungry Moon Mother and Sara, a child herself, delivers with a wet sound. Between her bloodstained legs there lies a dead baby boy.
He is red headed like Grand Sergeant Jarvis, the only man whose hair burns like the sun, the only one to have lain with Sara, his grandchild. A lying hypocrite tasked with enforcing the laws of man by day, while at night he seeks the flesh of his own kin and tells her she is beautiful for allowing him to caress her. The connection to Sara is broken but I feel with lingering disbelief that she blames herself for his violation of her innocent body. When he was between her legs, the atrocity of his attention made her feel special. I feel ill.
My vision returns to my home, but the handprint of his seed on her bedroom wall remains in my mind.
No more do I sing, nor does breathe the child of incest and they should thank me, but I know they won’t.
No, they won’t, replies the child on my shoulder. They don’t appreciate us, she hisses.
No, they don’t, I feel, as I roll my head, the magic heat leaving me with a headache as always, and I almost blindly reach out for the jug to put out the fire. When the channelled energy leaves I am old again, feeling every moment of my life in a diaspora of pain throughout my body.
I pour the jug out, almost unseeing as the exhaustion hits me, with the last traces of Mother’s power leaving my wretched old body and my damned ancient knees almost give way. I reach for my cot and throw myself at it.
I fixed it, I think, as the sleep begins to take me, and with a whisper the child reminds me that I left the branches of the charm on the bowl, over the fire on a dish instead of burning it.
Burn it, the child urges.
Too tired, I groggily think.
Damn you Magatha, you burn it now, you fool.
Sleep, my brain replies, as the last of the traces of the spell leave my cottage, along with my waking awareness.
The next morning, I did not awaken until they threw the water on me, and I realised I was bound to a chair and could not move.
It seemed the village was in my hovel, but then I realised I was in a God-fearing house when I saw the image of the Jesus man on a painting next to a cross. There were also a lot of rows of benches, and I realised the fools had taken me to their meeting hall. I tried to speak but there was a gag between my remaining teeth and all I could do was drool like a mastiff.
“The witch awakens! Not a word from you, foul witch, or we’ll string you up without a trial!”
I heard someone speaking next to me, but my left side is age-blind and the rope around my neck meant I could barely turn my head. It was one of the Mary’s, the one with the harelip because her mother was a liar.
“This is so awful,” I heard her weep. Weeping! Like I meant something to her. She looked down at me and I felt in a rush that she pitied me. What had I done to inspire these feelings? Maybe she was kinder than I gave her credit for being. Her lips were trembling and she burbled in a thick voice, “Gentle sirs, please spare her, she is so old and confused. Just leave her alone, please, she is no witch.”
She placed a cold, small hand on my shoulder and I saw she had bitten her nails to almost nothing and had gnawed some of the skin away. “Mercy, have mercy for the poor old dear.”
“FOOL!” The deep male voice from ahead of me boomed and I saw Stephan the Just loom into my failing vision looking like a fat woman in his robe and wig. “Move her away, the witch must have none standing by her, now MOVE her I say.” His voice boomed as if projecting a spell to the treetops and I was envious of his volume, his youthful power. Such power and vitality was wasted on zealots but the crowd around him loved it. Their collective energy screamed with enough power to summon a forest fire, but it was being lost as they misdirected it to me, the fools.
Mary was suddenly wrenched away and something hard and wooden was slapped against my shoulder, which flowered instantly into a dark rose of sharp pain down my whole right side. My head lolled forward for a moment, and I watched my feet come into focus and then become dark blurs again. Ha, I thought, I’d fallen asleep with my shoes on, yet again.
“Magatha Thorpencroft, you are accused of the crime of witchcraft.” Stephan the Just boomed, hand raised as he read from something. I could barely see him ahead of me, but he had on my table a few of my things, like my precious boar tusk and a pelt I had skinned. A hand pulled down my gag and with it, a mouthful of drool dripped down. “Do you have a reply to this charge, daughter of Satan?”
“That’s MY tusk, I’ll be needing it when this is done,” I replied.
For a moment, there was no reply, and then Stephan the Just exploded in a bluster of noise and pomposity. “She does not deny it! She wishes the return of her…. her TOOLS of the DEVIL! Did you all hear that?!”
Around me, murmured assent rumbled from the company of fools they had gathered. If I could turn and see in focus, I knew I would see all the hypocrites gathered: Will Wheeler, married but cheating with his best friend Phillip. I would see Mary-Martha Grantly, who steals things from the homes of her neighbours and then burns them in her fire. Maybe I would even see little Simon Porter, only seven, who has a fascination with breaking the necks of small animals.
These are the people brought to judge me, what a joke.
My mind’s eye throbbed for a moment as a Vision was granted. I saw the silver moon of the Mother appearing before me, like a pool or a window and I saw my feet hanging. The shoes I had gone to bed wearing were hanging in the air, like the rest of me, and it would happen later this day. Well, if that was to be, it was the will of the Mother, and as the vision faded the child’s voice said all will be well.
I repeated it softly, no more than a whisper, but I realised my mistake a second later.
They did not hear my, “All will be well”, but they panicked at the spell I might have cast. I heard someone collapse. It was a woman who gasped and as she fell, Thomas Welling tried to catch her by the breasts. My sighted eyes did not see, but the sight of the Mother granted me a snippet of the future, like light reflecting in water. His hands touch her breasts more in the future, and they would need to hide their forbidden love that started today, as she fainted.
There is panic and from behind, someone pulls my hair and takes advantage of my upturned chin to pull rope across my mouth. If I had more teeth I could bite it, it was so tight, but instead it itched and pulled against my mostly bare, red gums. My mouth filled with saliva but the rope was too large, too dry for spit to soften it.
“Take her away, take her now, before she hexes us again!”
“Someone please help, she’s fainted!”
“Magatha Thorpencroft, I sentence you to be hung by your neck until you are dead. If you have one, may God have mercy on your soul.”
The voices of the villagers suddenly intermingled with my own internal whispers as their thoughts also came to me, as they sometimes do.
Another hanging! How exciting!
Ah, better stand to the side, I do not know why the damn sight of a woman hanging hardens me, but none will notice.
Why does father cheer when we’re going to hang the witch? Is magic real?
Ridiculous behaviour from these ridiculous people, but a small part of me was amused that they had taken so long to find me, the real witch, among so many they had hung before me. Like Elizabeth Greely, whose only crime was being so beautiful that all the women in the town hated her. Or like Constance Doyle-Frig, who was too simple to realise her sister was setting up accusers so she could be an only child. Poor, simple fools.
In the seconds since the announcement that I would die, my hands and feet had been untied and we were moving. I was carried along by my blurry captors, who smelt like donkey shit and practically threw me like a bag of flour. A whole procession of gasping idiots was parading towards the gallows they had erected in the town square. I realised they meant to hang me immediately, no time in a cell or to talk to Father Markely, just the noose. Unless they removed the gag, they’d never know I saved them all.
Well, saved is an exaggeration, came the voice of the Mother. It HAD to be done, she reminded me, as I was dragged along. The future vision I was granted showed a time without the child, but also with, and left it to me to choose.
If Sara had given birth to the incestuous child of her own grandfather, the town would have been in turmoil. Her father would have left and with it, the last miller we have. The people would have strung up Grand Sergeant Jarvis for lying with his grandchild, and he would never have a chance to pass on his lands to his nephew Percival, the only clever man in the village. Percival would then never build the shining, tube with the magic eye to see the stars, a contraption with glass that the Mother had shown me, a thick rod that makes stars larger in the eyes of those who use it. The Mother willed and wanted the cylinder of unimaginable genius, it would show the face of the moon to the world. It would bring dangerous knowledge and tempt humans into flying into the blackness beyond, where magic comes from.
These events would not happen if not for me, and of course, for the loss of one child.
There was no sense of proportion, no chance of an apology, and as I walked up the wooden steps, I hoped the Mother had kind parents in mind for my soul’s next birth.
I listen, and amidst the chaos I hear some blather being repeated. It was something about punishing my wicked soul and divine justice, as they remind themselves how righteous they are for my obvious sin. At the same time, they pray their hidden sins are never revealed.
I did not accept a hood to be placed over my face, but I realised that the blurred sea of villager’s faces would be the last things I see with these tired old eyes. I sighed and tried to cough but the rope just burned, gagging me. An off-colour joke is shouted, I can tell more from tone than the words, as they begin to secure the noose. The crowd laughs despite the fact I am soon to die. Of course, I am a wicked daughter of Satan, so that makes it all honourable and divine.
I have never thought of the Mother’s magic as coming from Satan, I think to myself, and it is one of my last thoughts before my feet are kicked away from something. All the weight of my weary body is suddenly pushed into my thin, old throat. I am too heavy for myself.
Death is black, like I’m returning to the womb with its warmth and lack of light.
In 100 years, when a girl-child is born to a fisherman and his wife by the sea, the parents will wonder how their first born came to be holding the tusk of a boar, small, shiny and curved. Was it the first thing she grasped as she was taken from her mother’s passage and laid tenderly at her breast? Or is there the chance, no matter how slight, that the excessive pain and bleeding that came with this girl, happened because she was born holding it?