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Thread: The Minstrel and the Witch

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    The Minstrel and the Witch

    You know, it isn’t easy being a witch. I mean, living in a gingerbread cottage might sound like a good idea, especially if you don’t mind a monotonous diet of children and aren’t too fussy about eating the offspring of peasants, but have you ever considered the maintenance involved? Every day is just a continuous round of sweet making, baking and icing, and as the oven’s on non stop, all the chocolate trimming melts into sticky brown puddles on the floor.

    And then, when you’ve enticed some snot-nosed brat inside, effecting the exchange of half-baked cake for a raw infant can be a bit tricky. There’s always the danger that some precocious little sod is going to push you into your own oven, and then what do you do?

    What I’m saying is there’s always two sides to a story and when you’ve been riding for weeks and you’re lost in a forest, a little hospitality goes a long way.

    *****

    “Cup of tea, deary?”

    I watched in fascination as my hostess poured steaming Darjeeling into a Wedgwood cup from a matching pot. Both were decorated with a suitably seasonal motif of spider webs and mystic runes. The cup was trimmed with a discrete black band around the lip. Despite the ambience, the sound of the liquid cheerfully slopping into the porcelain was extraordinarily soothing, the very mundanity of it overriding my initial dread at being confronted by a real live witch.

    “And then there’s the woodcutters.”

    The harridan fixed me with a beady eye and gave me a long hard look, as if she suspected that the colloquial term for my troubadour’s instrument meant that I habitually carried a well honed blade with a stout, hickory handle, concealed within its case. The hairs on her nasal wart bristled alarmingly.

    “You just can’t trust woodcutters,” she continued, “Always butting in when they’re least expected and decidedly unwelcome. The number of werewolves I’ve lost to bloody woodcutters you wouldn’t believe. One lump or two?”

    “Two please,” I said, trying to break free from the hypnotic trance the whine of her querulous voice induced.

    “But then,” she continued, “Living deep in an enchanted forest, like I do, it’s woodcutters what tends to be my best customers. Them and charcoal burners. Always popping in for an ointment for their chilblains in wintertime they are, or a love philtre in spring. Little devils.” She couldn’t resist a little cackle after this. “I suppose losing an occasional werewolf goes with the territory. If I was living in town my pets would get run over. As it is they gets their heads cut off by woodcutters. Milk dear?”

    At the mention of milk, a large, somnolent, black cat opened a lazy eye and yowled demandingly from its velvet cushion on the window seat.

    “Yes please,” I said, and she added a creamy splash to my beverage.

    “It’s that bloody Red Riding-Hood. Now there’s a girl who’s no better than she should be, and that’s a fact. Always tempting them she is, with her coy little ways and a basket full of fresh meat for granny. I could tell you a thing or two about her too! Now you’d have been right up her street. Always had a thing for musicians did Granny Riding-Hood, the strumpet! Would you like a little gingerbread with your tea dear?”

    She offered a fragrant slice on a plate and its aroma was irresistible. Suddenly I felt quite ravenously hungry. I reached out and took it. The witch beamed at me and her single tooth glinted mischievously in the firelight as I bit into the moist confection.

    “That’s right, deary, you tuck in. Plenty more where that came from,” she said, and I just caught her disparaging glance round her home before she returned her gaze to me.

    For some reason it made me feel a little uncomfortable. She was looking at me the way my mother had looked at the larder when she was trying to work out how long the provisions would last.

    She must have picked up on my unease because she suddenly changed tack and pointed to the spinning wheel in the corner.

    “Of course, the witching isn’t all bad,” she said. “Sometimes you get to mix with royalty and you can do some godmothering on the side. I don’t need much of an excuse to get stuck in to a good enchantment and princesses are suckers for spinning wheels. You can get up to all sorts of mischief with one of those, but you are in competition with the more cantankerous kind of Dwarf though. I mean, I just wants to give a prince a bit of a challenge, but Stilzkin’s a money-grubbing old git. I mean, I ask you, what’s spinning straw into gold going to do to the rural economy?”

    I had to agree that it probably wasn’t a good idea, long term. I washed down a mouthful of gingerbread with a sip of tea.

    “Nice brew?”

    “Yes, it’s very good,” I managed. I was finding it difficult to concentrate but I managed to bludgeon my senses into submission with a super-human effort of will. “I was just admiring your besom…”

    She interrupted me with a piercing shriek of laughter, “Cheeky devil, I haven’t heard a remark like that from a young man for many a year. Must be true what they say about minstrels, always an eye for the ladies, ay?”

    “Only the pretty ones.”

    She roared with laughter and I grinned sheepishly, wondering if I might be able to save my skin with flattery. Anything would be worth a try in order to escape from under her spell. Her calculating stare had disturbed me and she had a lean and hungry look. I wondered how far I’d get if I tried to run. Probably not far if her broomstick was a runner. I thought I’d better find out.

    “I see you go for the traditional look in broomsticks. Does it work?”

    “Well, I don’t have much call to use it these days but I like to take it for a spin now and then. When I was a gal it were different mind. I won the coven cup at four pines, five years running. I’ve got nothing to prove now though, but it wouldn’t do to turn up at a sabbat in a taxi even if they ran where I wanted to go. Blasted heaths and mountain tops ain’t what you’d call taxi terrain.”

    Obviously running wasn’t an option and tonight was All Hallows Eve. I had a sneaking suspicion that she’d really enjoy the thrill of a moonlit chase. It was time to turn on the charm and fight fire with fire, for music has a magic all of its own. I reached down and picked up my lute.

    “Would you like some music?”

    The witch smiled indulgently, the way a cat does when it plays with a mouse.

    “Why not?” she said, “They say it’s good for the soul, and there’ll be plenty abroad this evening.”

    I picked some gentle chords as I limbered up my fingers and then I eased into a love song from the Languedoc that I’d learned many years ago. I sang of courtly love, of queens and heroes, the trysts of peasants and shepherdesses beneath the autumn moon. I sang the song of the two magicians, which brought a smile to her face. Then I extemporised a love song to her, praising the sheen of her hair, the light in her eyes, the delicacy of her hands and the sweetness of her smile.

    And all the while I sang and played, she listened.

    In the candlelight her features softened into youth and the girl I described in my song watched me with her chin resting in her hands and a love-light in her ancient eyes. When at last the final note had faded into silence, she sighed and reached for the cup I’d drunk from. Within its dregs my fate was a book only she could read.

    She read it.

    “Well I’ll be buggered,” she exclaimed with genuine surprise.

    Perhaps, but not by me, I thought.

    Then she caught sight of her reflection in the window. It was full dark outside and the glass made a good mirror. Her skin was smooth and fair and her chin was quite fetchingly pointed. Her lips were full and soft and her eyes bright and sparkling. The tresses, which cascaded from beneath the brim of her pointy black hat, were lustrous as raven’s wings, while her nose was seriously cute and wartless. She stood up and did a twirl. No one in their right mind would have criticised her figure.

    “Hello stranger,” she said to herself, “Long time, no see.”

    I guessed this was the woman she’d always been, only my songs must have let her out. She looked at me and I don’t mind telling you that it was no chore looking right back, but I hadn’t quite bargained for what she said next.

    “Well, minstrel, I don’t know where you learned your craft for you’ve the touch of magic in your art. But if you think I’m going to let you go after this, you must be pixilated.”

    I must have looked alarmed because she sashayed over and sat on my lap, putting her arms round my neck.

    “Don’t worry, troubadour, I’m not going to eat you, well, maybe just the occasional nibble,” she giggled seductively as her lips opened on mine and illustrated her point with a demonstration. I must admit, I found it rather enjoyable. “Here’s the deal. You stay here with me for ever and sing to me, and I’ll give you a home you’ll never want to leave. How does that sound to you?”

    It sounded good then, just as it does now, and I’ve lost count of the years we’ve been together. But in all that time we’ve never told each other our real names. I think we’re both afraid of losing the magic.

    Of course, the cannibalistic diet takes some getting used to, but the woodland creatures are all her friends and she won’t countenance my hunting them for meat. Gingerbread and vegetables can get pretty boring after a while, so when we want meat there’s only one place to get it. The villagers breed like rabbits anyway. They can spare an occasional child and as we only take the stupid ones. It’s better for the bloodlines.

    In the end, everybody wins.
    Last edited by Hawkman; 10-31-2011 at 06:38 AM.

  2. #2
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Nice story for Halloween!

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    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    Bravo Hawk! A timely tale given Halloween and apart from mispelling losing with loosing, this has to be one of my favourite short stories. I think the way you combined those fairy tales of old was a great device and broadened the readers horizon.

    I'll save this to my favourites and freak some little snot nosed brat out that deserves it, especially if I ever grow a wart on the end of my nose!
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

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    Thanks Y/N, glad you enjoyed it.

    Hi Delta, Thanks for catching the typo which I've sorted. You don't really have to go to the trouble of actually growing a wart. Surely there's always a wart or two in the local joke shop. But there be an old country spell for wishing a wart on a body you don't like.

    Find someone with a wart and a fresh pea. Divide the pea in two and rub one half on the wart and write the name of the person you want the wart to go to on a piece of paper and wrap it round the other half of the pea. Then bury it in a graveyard beneath a full moon and the wart will dissapear and go to your victim. Good eh? Worth remembering.

    Don't eat too many kids, though. They subsist on a diet of burgers these days and you'll get fat.

    Live and be well - H

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    Registered User DieterM's Avatar
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    For once, things are going deadly low at work, and I thought why not sneak in and read a short piece instead of dozing off in front of the computer screen? And hell, did I enjoy myself here, Hawk! There are stories where I check out how many words are left to read after just one sentence. There are others where I get bored somewhere in the middle. And there are those, like yours, that make me go through till the end without pausing; and regretting after the last full stop that it isn't a full-blown novel. I really liked everything, the way you told the story, the underlying dark humour, the fairy-tale-scent. A neat and effective job you did here.
    "Im Arm der Liebe schliefen wir selig ein…" ("Liebesode" - Otto Erich Hartleben)
    New poetry collection available (Kindle and paperback)

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    Good stuff, Hawk. I think ginger is far better than pumpkim.

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    Dieter: Thanks very much and I'm glad you enjoyed it so much

    cafolini:

    I have to agree that spice is nice
    as nutmeg improves a pumkin slice
    but into the shell you should place a candle,
    it's best to avoid a spooky scandal.

    Thanks for reading. Live and be well - H

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    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hawkman View Post
    Thanks Y/N, glad you enjoyed it.

    Hi Delta, Thanks for catching the typo which I've sorted. You don't really have to go to the trouble of actually growing a wart. Surely there's always a wart or two in the local joke shop. But there be an old country spell for wishing a wart on a body you don't like.

    Find someone with a wart and a fresh pea. Divide the pea in two and rub one half on the wart and write the name of the person you want the wart to go to on a piece of paper and wrap it round the other half of the pea. Then bury it in a graveyard beneath a full moon and the wart will dissapear and go to your victim. Good eh? Worth remembering.

    Don't eat too many kids, though. They subsist on a diet of burgers these days and you'll get fat.

    Live and be well - H
    lol. Does it have to be a fresh pea or will tin or frozen ones do?
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

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    I dunnow, Delta, They didn't have tins or freezers back when the charm was devised. You could try dried, but you'd have to soak if first. If in doubt, use fresh

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    Seasonal bump

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    To be honest I favoured her original form, warts and all, before the transformation but I think says more about me than the story.

    I liked the way you handled the dialogue, I think most writers could learn from this piece, something of a master class. I think the trick is, if there is a trick, is to jump into the character as an actor jumps into a part before opening the mouth.

    Beware of sweet old Ladies. Nice to find a little gem.
    Cari.

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    *LOL* Lotssa fun Hawkie. Thanks for putting a smile on my face!

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    Great work , I enjoyed it.
    Thank you

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    Happy to see this on its latest go around, just in time for Samhain --an autumn event which in modern times has only one scary aspect: how to pronounce it correctly.

    Your tale is in the postmodern tradition of Donald Barthelme and Angela Carter and the humor is top-notch.

    Maybe I could take this opportunity to tell you about a similiar seasonal character, whom I encountered at an apple orchard just a week ago today. When we arrived at the apple store, a witch was stationed outside the second floor of one part of the store, apparently originally a barn with a hay loft. She was dressed in the traditional witch outfit, including pointy hat. My sister, a frequent customer to the establishment, i.d.'ed her as the Cider Witch. Evidently the Cider Witch used to reach into her cauldron for candy, which she'd toss down to the kids in the parking lot.

    No candy last Saturday -- perhaps because there were no kids at the time, or perhaps, as my sister suggested, at one time an errant piece of candy might have hit some child in the eye, spurring a lawsuit. In any event, at the stroke of -- not midnight, but 4 p.m. (still EDT),--the Cider Witch looked at her "witch-watch" and in the bat of a newt's eye, the cauldron was gone and so was she, with the hayloft door slammed shut.

    So maybe the witch didn't perform any magic, but she sure did a mean disappearing trick.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 11-01-2014 at 05:56 PM.

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    Thank you all for taking a moment to read this little tale from my archive. It has a few punctuation errors and a couple of repeated words which could stand substitution, but I can't edit it now . Never mind.

    Carousel: Well, each to his own, I guess Thanks for your complementary comments

    DAto: Many thanks, and I'm delighted that you enjoyed it. We aim to please...

    je: My pleasure and you're welcome

    Auntie: Hmmm. Not sure I'd acknowledge either of your two references as influences of mine. I think I might own up to Chaucer, Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, but I remain deeply suspicious of any mention of postmodernism in my writing. Leotard pretty much undermined literary postmodernism by acknowledging that intertextual referencing has been around since man first developed the ability to tell stories! Magic realism? Well, perhaps, but if so it's sort of steampunk magic realism, what with witches catching (or rather not catching) taxis to go to a sabbat! I should have put a Zeppelin in there lol. I guess there's an element of anachronism in me little tale Maybe it's a sort of supernatural neo noir with a dash of horror humour - lol.

    Glad to see that you've still got a witch or two in your neck of the woods, even if they are working to rule

    Thanks again to one and all.

    Live long and prosper - H

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