A Witch's TalebyWRJames©
I AM NOT SURE that you can hear me. I am not sure if you are still near to me, somewhere in the dark. I am not even sure that you are still alive. Last night, I heard you sobbing. The night before, I heard you scream when they came for you. Perhaps it was your screams, later on, that were punctuated by my own. Perhaps you cannot hear me, perhaps you will not comprehend the words that I am using. Perhaps you are not there at all. Still, I will continue to shout out my confession, to you and to the One God, as long as my voice persists. Would that I could write, but there is no vellum, no ink, no light. My arms are chained to the prison wall, spread above me. It is futile, futile. But, perhaps, if you can hear me, perhaps, if you can comprehend, my memory will live on for another year, another day, another hour. My time grows shorter now. I can hear the drums beating, the drunken peasants cheering. Even in this dungeon there is the sickening smell of burning flesh. They have already begun their festival day. Soon, perhaps, I may be served up for their amusement.
Are you astonished at how I address you? Are you amazed that a simple peasant girl should use such flowery language? Ah, but then, my mother was a very learned lady. She instructed me in reading, writing, Greek, Latin, the proper usage of our own crude tongue, and all the arts: mathematics, philosophy, medicine and rhetoric. She had a library, oh, such a library, of ancient, secret texts: Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Virgil, Ovid, all those worthy men and more, and Sappho, lovely Sappho, the sweet voice of the Goddess. All those lovely books, waiting to be read some day. They used them for kindling, when they burned her.
What they did to my mother was unspeakable, and yet, if we do not speak of it, how will we ever know, ever learn, ever stop that horror? So I will speak of things that should not be spoken, tell of things that should not be told, reveal the mysteries that must remain forever hidden. And you, hanging in the cell next to me, my unseen, unknown companion, you cannot run away from me, you cannot cover your ears. You can, perhaps, scream loudly enough to drown out my exposition. But, I pray you, do not be too hasty to condemn, too quick to turn away, too eager to avert your sensibilities from what I am about to say.
Let me begin, then, with my mother, for is that not how all of us begin? Well, I know, before that, before my birth, there must have been some dark deed, some act of love or passion, rape or seduction, or perhaps a ritual coupling. I never knew who my father was. Oh, there were men who came to my mother's bed, not the rude peasants from the village, not the crude swordsmen from the castle, but huge men, terrifying in dark hooded robes, terrifying even more when they shed those robes to reveal gaunt, pale bodies. They were tall, almost skeletally thin, with gigantic hands with nails like claws, and enormous phalli. Does it shock you that I should speak of them thus? What could shock either of us, after what has been done to us? Has not every crevice of your body been probed with flesh and iron, strained to the breaking point? Have they not poured their semen, their urine, their bile, into every cavity, have they not attempted to burst you with their passion and disdain? Can there be any secrets of our bodies that remain any source of pain or pleasure that has not been exposed? We have been rendered up as an entertainment to stoke or sate their dark desires. Soon, our broken bodies will be consumed in the pyre of their hypocritical self righteousness.
But I digress. They would send a messenger, these tall pale men, a crow, perhaps a raven, which descended with a black ribbon attached to its foot. My mother would detach the ribbon, replace it with a white one, and prepare herself for them. When they departed, there would be gold coins upon my mother's bed, coins with strange patterns, pentagons and cosmic eyes and inscriptions in a language that was neither Greek nor Latin. She would laugh bitterly at those coins, for she could not spend them in the village. So she secreted them away, in a jar kept hidden in the floor beneath her bed. I did not understand, if she could not spend the coins, why she continued her dark commerce.
Sometimes, when it had not rained for weeks, the elders from the village would come to visit us. She would summon a dove, calling in a special way, and tie a white ribbon around its leg. The next night, one of those gaunt, pale men would come, perhaps two or three of them, and the next morning my mother would be sobbing just as we now sob,. But then the rains would come.
Real coins she garnered as a midwife and a healer. She took me with her on her rounds and I saw many a tiny, wrinkled head emerge from between a peasant's thighs. She taught me the secret ways of roots and herbs, of bark and skin. She taught me how to fashion a poultice from moss, how to wash a wound with honey and urine from a donkey, how to seal flesh with fire and to cut it with stone. Iron she disdained; her blades were made with black obsidian, so sharp that they could slice through bone without resistance. Sometimes, when our larder was becoming emptier than usual, she would go into the village on an evening and return inebriated, singing, her clothing in disarray and with a bag full of the copper coins that would buy us foodstuffs for the winter.
I never celebrated birthdays. I would not even have known about the custom, had it not been mentioned in some of the tales that I read. My mother never spoke to me about my age. I asked her once and she refused to answer. After that, I never questioned her. I had friends, among the peasants, who seemed to be the same size, the same age as I. But their bodies began to swell into womanhood, and mine remained childlike, taller, perhaps, than any of the others, but not as rounded. Boys found my friends, and they would whisper, giggling, of what they had done, or attempted to do. It was no mystery to me. I had seen what those strange men did to my mother, and I was ready, more than ready, to part my flesh. But no boy came for me. My friends drifted away, no longer children. I withdrew then, to my mother's books and to her garden.
But once, one of the men who visited her, one of those strange, pale men, caught me watching him as he impaled my mother. He caught me with his eyes and I could not look away from him. He caught me with his eyes and I started to walk into that room. I was only wearing one garment; a shift made of roughly woven linen and I removed it. I stood there, naked, caught in his gaze. I wanted to see how he had buried himself in my mother's flesh, how she was stretched around him, strained as wide as those peasant women giving birth but I could not tear my eyes away from his. I walked forward and he touched me with one of those great, clawed fingers. It ran across my nipples, searching for some hint of breasts and I could feel them harden. It ran down lower, to the bottom of my belly, and I opened my legs for him in invitation. My mother screamed. In a blink, one of her very sharp knives was poised against his testicles. He laughed. "Soon enough." I remember those words now with a shudder. It was the first time I had ever heard one of those strange men speak. His voice was no more than a shrill whisper, like the rustling of dry leaves -- a tiny sound to emanate from such a huge body. "Soon enough. Will you observe us, little one?" I watched. I understood at last that it was not for coin that my mother invited those demons into her bed.
* * * * *
IT WAS THAT SUMMER that my education truly began. The priest in the village, that stupid, foolish man, claimed that we could fly, that we flew on broomsticks, or some such silliness. I am sure that some of us may have confessed to such a thing, under torture or the threat of torture, but it is not true. Our magic cannot defy the laws of the One God. But one night in midsummer, when the moon was full, the night air still and warm, we could shed our clothes, my mother and I. We could walk naked through the meadows, the damp flowers caressing our thighs. Oh, the pleasure to walk like that, to let the fertile Earth make love to us with her springtime bounty! Then, standing in the middle of the meadow, waist deep in the cool wet grass, my mother called, a silent call that she tried to teach me but I never learned, and the mares came, the night mares. Yes, there is such a thing -- great black horses, larger even than the ones that carry knights in armour, but not plodding like those stolid beasts -- terrifying in their speed and power. We rode the mares, clinging to their thick, knotted manes, not directing them, letting them go wherever they would take us. Did we fly? The meadows rushed by so swiftly, there was such a confusion of earth and sky, that it seemed like flying. Once, it seemed we leapt off of a tremendous height and floated above the valley, suspended by some unknown force until we reached the hilltop on the other side. But it could not have been. It must have been my fear and my exhilaration that made them seem like Pegasus.
It was only as the sky began to brighten, and the pace of our steeds began to slow, that I realized that we were far away from that meadow, naked, with no control over our destination. I felt a sudden, uncontrollable panic. At that very moment, my horse reared up and cast me off into the mud, and my mother jumped down to see if I had been injured. The horses fled then at the threat of dawn, galloping away as they called to us with shrill derision. My mother tried her silent summons, but to no avail. We were left alone on a muddy forest path as the summer sun announced its return. My mother sighed and grumbled that we would have to walk the rest of the way. I was filled with questions. The way to where? It had not occurred to me that our wild midnight ride might have some destination. Was it my doubt, or the arrival of daylight, that had spooked our steeds? After all, it would not seem proper for a night mare to be present in the day.
Then, just when all seemed lost, a unicorn appeared. Yes, I know that these are considered beasts of fable only. But there it was, as white and lovely as ever I saw in the illustrations in my mother's books. My mother gave me a look that was somewhat sceptical. Blushing, I approached the beast. It bowed its head and let me mount it. But it would not let my mother come too close. So we went on that way, my mother walking boldly through the woods, proud in the perfection of her body, like a Grecian goddess, and I trailing at a sufficient distance to shield my mount from her total lack of virginity.
It was only when the road began to climb that I comprehended our destination. The woods were so dense, the trees so enormous that they obscured the mountains that lay beyond. But suddenly we went around a bend and the woods were gone. There was no foliage at all except for a few patches of moss softening the rock. There, ahead of us, not far away, was a structure made of a stone that seemed to absorb all of the daylight around it.
I call it a structure, because I do not have a word to describe it as a building. A castle, perhaps. Our poor town had a little castle to guard it, one tower and a pitiful walled court barely large enough for all to crowd into in case of danger. It was, as my mother grumbled, a place to assemble to be raped and slaughtered. Every year, the swordsmen from the castle would run drills. The peasants would grab pitchforks or scythes, the women and children would huddle in the square. We would spend the night guarding against some imaginary enemy. It seemed quite clear that a band of a hundred armed men or less would overwhelm us.
But this was a structure of a different order altogether -- not cobbled out of brick and boulders from the river, but made of massive, cubical blocks of stone, each larger than I. They were unimaginably heavy and placed together so finely that there was no hint of space between them. I could not comprehend how those stones had been brought together to make those walls. When we came closer .... I am sure you have seen the cathedral to the One God that graces our miserable capital city, that building with a beauty that belies the depravity and hypocrisy of its occupants. Yes, you must have stared in wonder at the vast chamber of stone, the roof floating so far above. This hall was vaster still, so large that the eye could not comprehend how large it might be. Beyond, those great stone walls stretched forever, crawling up over the ridges of the mountains.
There was no moat. There were no guards on battlements, not even battlements where guards could have been. There was just a large, flat meadow -- a vast expanse that might have been green grass later in the season. The unicorn refused to step out onto that field. My mother went on ahead, impatiently. I started to dismount, but she stopped me. It was important, she assured me, that they see me seated upon the beast.
They? Who were they? Why would it matter if they saw me on the unicorn? If there were answers to be had, it would be at the other side of that forbidding meadow.
But getting across that broad, open stretch was going to be a problem. My mount showed no enthusiasm for moving forward. I gave the reluctant beast a little kick of encouragement and it took a tentative step or two onto the withered turf. It felt as if a storm was approaching, even though the sky was clear. Once, I had felt my skin tingle like that. My mother had screamed, and pulled me away, to watch a bolt of lightning strike the spot where I had been standing.
"Don't worry," my mother muttered. "If they were going to kill us, they probably would have done it by now."
Yes, I remember those exact words, especially her use of "probably," and my timid suggestion that perhaps they, whoever they were, had decided to save us for later. That merely blasting us on the meadow was too boring for them. I remember the laugh my mother gave. She wanted to hug me, to reassure me, but the unicorn would have none of it. It nearly bolted back into the heather when she approached it. So my mother got behind it and herded it closer to that strange, sinister citadel.
But we reached a point of impasse about halfway across that desolate field. The unicorn's loathing of my mother had reached a balance point with its fear of whatever lay in the center. My mother came closer and closer, careful to keep herself directly between the unicorn and the citadel -- finally, she was right upon us, almost touching the beast. Even that was not enough to make it achieve any further progress. It simply knelt down, with me still on it and refused to move.
It had been a long night, a long ride. We had not stopped to relieve ourselves. I was tired, trembling with fear. There was no end in sight. I had needed to urinate for a long time, a very long time, but there had been no opportunity. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was a loud, sinister snarl, a terrible noise that I only later realized was a burst of laugher. It was too much. There, in that open meadow, in view of my mother, in full view of the citadel, in full view of whoever had emitted that awful roar of derision, I lost control. I defiled the unicorn.
That was the last straw for the poor beast. It tossed me off and ran back into the shelter of the boulders. No amount of magic was ever going to make it return. I lay there, naked, on my back, in the mud that I had just created and the laughter came again. Except that it was shortened by the sound of a loud slap, then a scream of pain from my mother.
I had closed my eyes when things started to go wrong and I had kept them closed. Somehow, not seeing my own humiliation made it less humiliating. But now I opened them to see my mother rubbing her wrist, and one of them standing next to her, on guard, it would seem, to fend off the next attempt at a blow.
I should not have been surprised -- it was, of course, one of the huge, gaunt creatures who had followed the raven to my mother's bed. However, this one was not so large, no taller, really, than my mother. His attitude showed that he took her as a serious threat -- his nose was bloody, it would seem, from the result of the first blow that she had delivered.
"You have no right!" They both shouted the same thing, almost in unison.
"You have no right to laugh at us!" My mother got in the next word.
"You have no right to hit me," the boy, for such it was, replied. He rubbed his nose, then looked, startled, at the blood on his hand. He had not realized how much damage my mother had done to him.
"I have brought my daughter here for the festival, as I was summoned to do." My mother drew herself up so that she was a bit taller than he.
"For the festival." He did not seem so much a boy, now. Perhaps, like I, he was much older than his body would have indicated.
"You are late."
"Late?" My mother seemed perplexed. "Midsummer is tomorrow."
"Yes but there are preparations."
"The mares would not run before tonight."
"Perhaps. It has been a while since we have performed the ceremony. It is difficult to find someone who might be suitable." He frowned at me. "I fear that you have inconvenienced yourself for nothing."
"Not so!" My mother was indignant. "You saw that she rode the unicorn."
"Not into the temple square."
Now, you can imagine how I felt, lying in the mud of my own making, listening to this conversation. I had read somewhat of midsummer festivals and the role that virgins played in them.
"In any case," the boy added, "I have come to settle the matter."
"You?" My mother seemed very dubious. "They sent a boy?"
"Yes," he sneered, "a mere boy." He shed his cloak then, and it was obvious that he was nearing the end of his boyhood. He was erect, engorged, not as huge as his elders, but big enough, larger than any of the peasant boys.
"Just what do you mean to do?" It was I that asked the question.
"Why, my little one," he sneered. It was an odd choice of phrase. We were about of equal stature, he nearly as slender. "My little one, I am going to settle once and for all the question of your possible virginity."
"This is not proper!" My mother moved towards him and the air around her crackled. She gasped, and sat down abruptly on the hard, bristly dirt.
"Proper?" he sneered. "You have brought her here and you dare ask what might be proper? In any case, I will do nothing without your daughter's, do you have a name, my dear, consent."
"Fiona," I said, and my mother echoed the word consent at the same time.
"Fiona," the boy repeated, "ask your mother what is going to happen to you inside that temple."
There was a long silence. I thought about getting up. I thought about what I had seen my mother do. The boy had taken a few steps towards me, so close now that he was standing astride me, and I sat up, so close to him that he was almost brushing my lips with that improbably large erection. There was a little drop of fluid, just at the tip, and I could smell how it was chalky and sweet at the same time. I reached out my tongue and gave it a little lick, but another drop appeared almost at once. I licked off that one also.
"No!" my mother snarled. "Stop it! If you require satisfaction, I will provide it."
"Ask her," the boy repeated. But it was difficult to ask, at that point. He had put his hands on my head, very gently, and urged me closer to him. I was amazed how he could be hard and soft at the same time, like cushioned steel. My teeth parted to let him enter, but I let them scrape enough that he winced a bit as he slid back toward the base of my tongue.
"I do not know," my mother said, sparing me the effort of removing him from my mouth. "Do you?"
"See!" the boy was triumphant, "I'm doing her a favour." But then, just at that moment, he exploded up into the roof of my mouth.