Everyone knew there was a witch in the forest. No one spoke of her in polite company, but there was hardly a person in town who hadn’t used her services. Young people went to her for love potions (that she watered down for everyone’s health and safety). She also supplied remedies for the curse of youthful skin conditions (reported to be highly effective). Young women consulted her to prevent getting in a family way, and men went to her to help them get the pillar to stand (if you take my meaning).
In a more conservative town, the local vicar would have made an effort to burn the witch, or drown her, or send her packing at the very least, but this was not that sort of town. Indeed, it was whispered that the vicar, Mr. Terrance, had been seen entering the forest near her home. If anyone thought to tell the Bishop, they thought too that poor Mr. Terrance deserved a little fun in his life.
The witch — whose name, by the way, was Agatha — was a handy woman in her 30s with bright eyes and an infectious laugh. In a more tolerant time, she would have had many friends and an active social life. But with our societal mores, certain things are frowned upon — inviting witches to dinner or even tea is simply not done.
So while it was a lonelier existence than Agatha would have liked, she had few complaints. Not many people are born with magical gifts, and even though hers were in a small way, people sought her out for her skills. Her small menagerie of familiars were her company and comfort in otherwise solitude.
And so it was that Agatha lived in her forest, doing what she loved, and (she prided herself) doing it well.
Until she was betrayed.
Mr. Terrance came running through the forest well after midnight. The familiars sensed his approach and agitation, and woke Agatha. She lit a candle, threw a shawl around her shoulders and stirred up the coals to heat water for tea.
Mr. Terrance declined the proffered cup of tea as he caught his breath. “I’ve had a letter from the Bishop. He’s coming to investigate reports of witchcraft in the area. Agatha, you must leave. He’ll be here tomorrow.”
Agatha stood, shocked, still holding the cup of tea. The familiars were in uproar. Fox (a cat) hissed and circled Agatha’s legs. Sammi (a fox) yipped and jumped to the window as if to look out for the Bishop. And Shelly the Raven (a raven) cawed and clicked and flapped her wings in distress.
“Hush!” Agatha shouted over the din. “Everyone, calm down. Mr. Terrance, take a seat. Are you sure you won’t have the tea? No? Then I will.” She added a little whiskey instead of sugar and sat down in front of the fire.
“Someone in town must have told the Bishop,” she said.
“Who would have done such a thing? You’ve done this town more good than the doctor — even he counts on you for his own medical advice.”
Agatha shrugged giving the vicar a sad smile. “Some people ask me for more than simple remedies, Terry. Some people ask for real magic, and not all of it good. I have to say No, and that has made someone very angry.”
“You can figure out who it was, can’t you? You have crystal balls and…things, right?”
Agatha chuckled. “Yes, I can find out who betrayed me, but right now I must tear down my little house and hide deeper in the forest.”
Agatha stood, ready and determined. “Thank you, Terry, for the warning. But you’d best get back into town before someone accuses you of dabbling in witchcraft.”
“I’m sorry, Agatha,” Mr. Terrance said. “Please be careful.”
It took a little time to pack, but when you’re a witch, tearing down a building is really quite easy. Still, it was sad to see her home fall and the pieces scatter until there was no sign that anything but grass had ever stood in its place. Shelly the Raven flew into a tree overhead to keep watch as the others walked deeper into the forest.
Agatha set up camp in a small cave, and while the Bishop and his men searched, her familiars kept watch. They all amused themselves by telling silly stories (although cat tales are always at someone’s expense).
None of the townsfolk would aid the search, so the Bishop gave up after little more than a week. But before she went back to her old homestead, she took some time to scry for the person who betrayed her.
“Hmmph,” she said when she discovered the culprit: Gordon Hopper, a bully of a man who wanted something to ‘encourage’ a young woman to be his mistress. She remembered seeing his quiet rage when she declined his money and refused his request.
So Agatha sent Shelly the Raven to deliver a note to Mr. Terrance. And Mr. Terrance sent a note back. Happy with his reply, Agatha set to rebuilding her little home and refining her craft.
The following Sunday, Mr. Terrance’s parishioners were surprised to see a familiar face in church. They were more surprised to see that she sang every hymn from memory, and that she had an angelic voice.
Mr. Terrance gave a rousing sermon. And if he seemed to direct the entire homily at Mr. Hopper, no one else seemed to notice.
Now, it’s not for me to say whether or not Agatha and Mr. Terrance are courting. But I know for a fact that her social calendar has certainly improved. She’s the most sought-after dinner guest in the county, and I’m happy to say that she’ll be here tonight — I’ll be happy to introduce you.
What was that? Don’t worry! I’m terrible with names, too. My name is Shelly.
Claudia Wair is an American technical writer and editor by day and a fiction writer by night. Her story, ‘The Mother,’ was a finalist in the Fall Fiction War. She’s completing a collection of short stories. You can find her on Twitter @CWTellsTales