24th of Longnight, In the 645th Year of the Fifth Cycle (Y5C)
I am scared and cold and seriously questioning my life choices up to this point. Oh, I suppose I should introduce myself before I get to that, right? My name is Linden Greenbough. I am a witch.
Alright, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, men can be witches. There are literally dozens of us. No, we are not warlocks – that’s a nasty thing to call someone so don’t do it, lest you be turned into a toad! No, we probably won’t turn you into a toad. Probably.
Sorry if this seems conversational. I’m sure whoever is reading this has a book in front of them and is seeing these words on the pages but I’m actually talking into a mirrored black bowl. The words swirl and swim like little silver fish and then, when I’m done, I’ll just pour the water over the pages and the wordfish will settle in and make themselves right at home on the paper. It’s one of the first things they teach us in the coven. Sometimes I’ll just talk and talk and talk because I like to watch their little silver scales catch the moonlight.
Ms. Gristlebone, the coven’s resident hag, tells me I talk too much. Told me, I suppose. Past tense.
Anyway, I’m terrified. I feel like I just got into the coven and now I’m already going out into the world to choose which village I’ll live in for the rest of my life. How and why they expect a 17-year-old to make that big of a decision is beyond me but “That’s how it’s ALWAYS been done and that’s how it’ll always BE DONE!” That’s what Ms. Gristlebone told me when she shoved this scroll of village names in my hand, gave me a backpack, and pushed me out the door of her skullbone hut.
I’d also like to know whose bright idea it was to have new witches leave the coven in the back end of winter. I’ve been out here for a week and let me tell you, it is deeply unpleasant going to bed cold and waking up even colder every day. I feel like the magical fire I conjure doesn’t burn as hot as regular fire, and I never bothered to learn to start a normal fire. Spring better stop fooling around and show up soon. Hopefully my new home in Shorehaven will have a nice, big hearth and soft bed.
That’s the first village on my list. I’m to live there for at least one season to decide if it’s where I want to live. Forever. Without ever leaving. No pressure or anything. I don’t really know anything about it, other than that it is a fishing village on the shore of the Screaming Sea. Sounds pleasant. Don’t worry though – it turns out the screams are just from the constant, unending winds that buffet the place all day every day. I’m sure it’ll be fine.
2nd of Frostbreak, 646 Y5C
Oh Shorehaven. My expectations were so low I could’ve tripped over them and yet…
Alright, it isn’t completely terrible. It’s just a little…rough around the edges. Apparently Halia, the witch who lived here before me, didn’t like living in the town and wanted to be alone as often as possible. This…proclivity…lead her to build her house in a nigh-impossible-to-get-to location; a cliffside cave overlooking the bay. The only way to enter the cave is by a slick bit of rope hanging over the edge of the cliff and dangling down to a small mossy bit of rock in front of the entrance. From what Denneg tells me (he’s the de facto leader of this little hamlet), she led him to believe all witches liked their privacy and so he just assumed this would be fine with me.
But I must make do at least until I’m able to find a better place nearer to the village. Then again, maybe I don’t want to build something new if I’m going to leave come summer. Then again…maybe I’ll stay? I don’t know. I’m tired and I shouldn’t make decisions when I’m exhausted.
I’ve been here for a few days and I’m starting to settle in nicely. The cave may be a long way from the village but at least it’s roomy. So roomy, in fact, that I’ve walked the chasms and caverns and tunnels for hours and I haven’t found and end to it. I’ve started walling off a section a ways back because I’m fairly certain the voice I heard whispering in the darkness said something about “promises” and “blood hunger” and “in sleep he reigns” and frankly, I don’t want anything to do with any of that. A couple big rocks and a few tight wards over the whole mess and I’m feeling much more at home.
Well, I mean I would feel at home if I expected to stay here. I don’t. At least not here here. The village itself is nice and all the people I’ve met were kind and generous. At any rate, I’ve got a bed, a cookpot, a fire, and a small shelf to hold my materials. I don’t have much in the way of herbs and components but it seems Ms. Halia was a bit of a hoarder so I’ll have enough to see the village through until the weather turns warmer and I can go out gathering.
I think I’ll spend some time in the village proper tomorrow. Drum up some goodwill and introduce myself to the folks. For now, it’s off to bed.
14th of Frostbreak, 646 Y5C
I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last entry but this witch business is a lot busier than I expected! Apparently, the village has been without a witch for half a year and so all of the maladies and issues have just been…stockpiling…for all that time. I’ve had to help deliver a lamb, reset broken limbs, look at a wide, wide variety of warts and boils, and even evict a ghost from Jaron’s stable. Okay so it wasn’t a ghost so much as it was the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen in my life, but it was still scary.
There are a few people here my age (or close to it) but they think of me as some mystical wielder of the arcane and not a potential friend. Or a love interest. Not that I’m looking for a partner or anything. Or a friend, for that matter. It is lonely, though. The coven told me that witches didn’t usually marry and I think I’m beginning to understand why. Even if you had the time for a family, no one sees you as a regular person.
Not that I’ve been mistreated here! The people have been warm and welcoming – they’re the complete opposite of this place. The village is all cold, sharp rocks and hardscrabble living but the people are kind and open. It’s a real community. After all, if it weren’t a close group I doubt they would’ve been able to survive all this time without a witch around. I’ve been invited to dinner at a few different houses and it’s been good to get to know these people. Red the fisherman and his three daughters. Wix and Arda, the net menders. Thisilian the priest. They’ve all opened their homes to me and I just want to be worthy of their kindness.
23rd of Newbloom, 656 Y5C
It’s been a truly excellent day, dear reader. I was barely awake this morning when Macely, Red’s oldest daughter, came to share a discovery she made. Or, more accurately, was about to make. She’s only 12 or so (she’s not sure and her father doesn’t exactly remember) but is already nearing my height somehow. Hardly seems fair! Is it all the fish they eat? Sorry – back on topic. Macely lead me into a nearby forest that I’ve never been to and frankly had no desire to explore. It’s rumored to be the home of fey creatures and the coven was very explicit to tread lightly and speak carefully when dealing with the fey.
But as frightened and cautious as I was, Macely was every bit as excited to show me what she found…would find. You’ll see what I mean soon. Besides, she told me, if anything scary attacked I could probably just zap it or curse it or turn it into a frog. I really want to know where this whole frog rumor came from. Why not a bat or a caterpillar? Why is it always a frog? Again, sorry for the digression.
Macely said she had a dream about this place and that she wasn’t sure why it was important to show me, just that it was. It turns out she’d never actually been into this forest before but she’s learned to never question her dreams as they’ve always proven to be right. We walked for a while and I asked her more about her dreams. Apparently, she’s had prophetic dreams for as long as she could remember but her father didn’t like her talking about it, saying it was unnatural and something to be ashamed of. I told her this simply wasn’t true and that True Dreaming is one of the Great Gifts, just like Beast Speech, Spirit Binding, etc. I respect Red – he’s a good man and loves his family deeply – but I don’t like that sort of ignorance going unchallenged.
A few minutes into this conversation, Macely closed her eyes, smiled, and said, “They’re right over there.” In a wink, she ran from my side and disappeared behind a wall of thorns. I ran after her, ducking under limbs and leaping over grasping roots. Okay so really, I jogged, half tripping over unseen rocks and getting smacked in the face with thin, whip-like branches. I caught up to her in short order and saw what we had been searching for.
It was an entire twenty-foot square patch of Waralia’s Luck. Macely beamed at me and at the thumb-sized black berries squatting in their nests of equally thumb-sized purple thorns. “Is this good? Was it really important that I showed you this?”
Can you believe it! What a Gift! Right, I should probably explain why these berries are important. The juice from one berry is as strong as any healing potion, but when that same juice is fermented by someone with the proper skill and knowhow, they can truly become the stuff of miracles. Like…re-growing a lost limb, resurrecting the recently dead, you name it. Green Catanis, my herbalism instructor, told me that the plants are incredibly rare as they are only pollinated by pixies.
The pixies. Quickly, I bowed to the four cardinal directions and announced myself and Macely to the tenders of the berry patch, apologizing for crossing into their lands unannounced. Then, because I’m always prepared (okay, I’m always hungry), I reached into my pack to take out some serviceable gifts. Honey cakes. Candied orange rinds. A few bottles of beer. I really need to re-examine my diet. Macely looked confused so I explained that we were trespassing on fey lands. Further, she was about to meet some very particular, very powerful creatures so she needed to be on her best behavior. She nodded gravely, her eyes as big as apples.
If you’ve never seen a pixie, don’t think about the pictures in the books that show them as beautiful miniature women with delicate butterfly wings. Those are just pro-fey propaganda. Pixies are more…earthy. Like a cross between a hedgehog and a grasshopper…and a six-inch tall human. Also, there are wings. Too many wings for my taste, as long as I’m being honest.
At any rate, it was barely a minute before a contingent of five pixies buzzed over to where we stood, ignoring us completely while they examined the food and drink. They must have found them satisfactory because soon they were eating and drinking noisily, an occasional burp interrupting the chorus of slurping and chewing. Macely smiled at them and mouthed, “They’re amazing!” at me, not wanting to voice the words and risk disturbing them at their meal. I disagreed. They were nasty, brutish things with foul tempers and poor hygiene. But I didn’t want to spoil her excitement so I just smiled and nodded.
When they were finished, the biggest one flew up to my eyeline and bowed, signaling we were safe and free to speak.
“Witches, be welcome in this place. Your gifts were generous and appreciated. I am Mudbutter. Do you have need of us?”
I bowed and Macely followed suit. “I am Linden Greenbough the witch and this is Macely the, erm, True Dreamer.” Macely blanched at this naming but I continued. “She led me to this place after seeing it in a dream. Your garden is stunning, Mudbutter. You have so much that I could use, and I have things that may be of use to you. Perhaps we could come to an agreement?”
“Perhaps.” He rubbed his check with a clawed finger. “The girl…is she really a True Dreamer?”
Macely stared at her feet, embarrassed to have her secret so openly discussed. “Yes,” I said. “But she is untrained. She is tall for her age but not yet ready to go to the coven.”
“I’m to go to the coven?” Macely asked, confusion overriding her fear of the fey around her.
“We can discuss that later,” I said.
“Hmmm,” Mudbutter looked at me in a way only the fey can manage. I wasn’t sure if he was planning on the best way to cook and eat me or if he was going to ask me to join him forever as his consort. “We will give you…half a bushel of these berries every year. In exchange, we ask for the next baby born to the town and another baby every seven years thereafter.”
“No,” I said firmly, still smiling.
Mudbutter stared at me, inching closer to my nose with every passing second. “Alright, fine. No babies. Thought that might be a stretch. How’s about…we want a feast thrown for us every autumn. A real feast. Cakes and candy and stew and music. A true and proper feast to celebrate our generosity.”
I made a show of thinking over the terms. A feast? With the money these berries would bring the village, we could throw the pixies a feast every week if they so desired. “Deal,” I grinned and spit on the ground. Mudbutter did the same, signaling our pact was formed.
We left shortly after, promising to return with more cakes and ale as a show of good faith for the first delivery of berries. Macely was oddly quiet on the way back but as we stepped out of the forest, she couldn’t contain her curiosity.
“Back in the berry patch you said that I wasn’t ready to go to the coven, right?”
“Yes, I did say that. But honestly, I’m not sure if that’s true.”
“How will I know when I’m ready? And do I have to?” she said, her eyes suddenly filling with tears. “It’s just that…my dad, he’ll never allow it. And he needs help around the house and with my sisters. And if I become a witch I’ll have to move away and I’ll never see them again!” Macely’s last few words were more sobbed than spoken but I understood. I understood too well. I thought of my own parents. I missed them, and I often wondered if they thought of me. I hadn’t seen them in over five years, though I admit to scrying on them sometimes when my loneliness got to be too much to bear. It would just be brief, silent glimpses of them, sometimes eating. Sometimes working in the fields. Sometimes it would be just enough to help me satisfy my need for knowing they were okay. Sometimes it only made things worse.
“Macely, no one is going to force you to become a witch. It’s a deeply personal choice and only you can decide how you’ll spend your life. Not the coven. Not me. Not your father. Alright?” I patted her back and passed her a handkerchief. I’m not good with tears. Blood, broken bones, alchemical reagents. No problem at all. Not squeamish in the least. But tears?
Thankfully, Macely stopped crying then and gave me back my soggy handkerchief. “Please don’t tell my dad about the dreams. He thinks they stopped a year ago. Tell him…tell him we tended to a hurt deer.”
“I will do just that,” I said. And together we returned to the village, picking up our pace to make sure we were both safe in our homes before nightfall.
5th of Fledgefall, 656 Y5C
The days have become more predictable in their rhythm. I wake up, do my daily ablutions and eat, head to the village to help where I can, return by nightfall, scry or journal, eat again, and then sleep. It’s pleasant, in its own way. I soon have to decide if I will stay here or seek out another town to live in for the summer. I’m worried that I’ve grown too complacent with my life here in this short time. That I’m settling for a calm, passive life. I’m also worried that none of the next three villages will hold a candle to my life here and the people in it. Who’s to say the next place I end up in won’t be on some war-torn front or that the people will be deeply distrustful or distant? I wish I had Macely’s gift to just dream of the future and know what it holds.
She’s been avoiding me these past weeks since our talk in the forest. I’ve even asked if she wanted to go visit the pixies again but she’s declined every time, saying she’s too busy with this triviality or that menial task. She looks anxious. Perhaps she thinks I won’t keep my promise to her. She doesn’t have to worry, of course. A witch is only as good as their word.
I decided to spend this day clearing my head to better think about my future. I found a map Ms. Halia had tucked away in a small fissure and I’m curious to see where it leads. It looks like it’s somewhere a day’s walk or more into the hills around the village. A good trek is just what I need to figure out my next steps in life. Who knows, maybe the map leads to an old pirate treasure and I’ll be the world’s richest witch. Wow that’s hard to say out loud. Anyway, wish me luck!
10th of Fledgefall, 656 Y5C
Where to begin. I’m currently on the road again about two days outside of Shorehaven. I…gods. Let me start with my hike and we’ll go from there.
The walk was good and long, leading me up through the hills and valleys that surrounded the village. It was truly beautiful. The fields were a riot of blooms and birdsong, and the breeze was sweet and soft. The map was easy to follow – I’ll say this for Halia, she’s a better cartographer than I. So many paces to the old mill, another so many to the rock that looks like a dragon’s tail, etc., etc. At first, I was amazed at how accurate her drawings and measurements were…and then I realized that they were constantly changing, adjusting to where I was and how far off the path I’d diverted. I’m not sure how she wrought such a spell but I mean to find out. I thought maybe it would be a means of mapping the caves behind my home so that I could explore further without getting lost. Not that it matters now.
Eventually, after a day and a half, I arrived at my destination. On the map it looked like a doorway in the middle of the field, but when I saw what it actually was I was shocked and delighted. A travelstone! Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years ago, when magic was at its zenith, witches could travel across the world (and beyond!) with these portals. Only a few still exist, and none have been used in many lifetimes. This stone was carved like a pair of giant animal horns that formed an arch 20 feet above the ground. I ran my hands over the edges and couldn’t believe what I found – runes! The original runes of the travelstone had been preserved despite the centuries of weathering! As far as I know, this is the only example of these runes ever found, at least that are this intact.
I rushed back to Shorehaven to write a letter to the coven explaining what I found, wondering the whole time why Halia kept this to herself. I was looking forward to studying the place in greater depth. Perhaps the coven would even send out a partner witch to help explore and understand the travelstone. Another witch! Another person who understood what I understood, who would treat me as a peer – a friend – and not some outsider.
I was an hour outside of Shorehaven when I saw a crowd of men and women walking towards me. “You!” one of them shouted. It was Macely’s father, Red. “How dare you use your dark magic to trick my daughter!”
We were close enough now that I could see his eyes were red from crying and smell the booze on his breath. “Red, what are you talking about? Where’s Macely?”
He punched me then, at least I think it was a punch. Maybe an elbow or a headbutt. Either way, I fell to the ground, dazed. “You know damn well what I’m talking about, witch. Liar. Trickster!” He kicked me in the ribs, driving the wind from me. “You told her she was one of your kind. That her…dreams…were a blessing. And now she’s gone! My baby is gone and I’ll never see her again.” He sank to his knees and wept into his hands.
Red’s second oldest daughter, Kinnis, stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her father’s head. “She said she had a dream. She was standing outside a house made out of a massive skull. She was older in the dream and she was heading out to find a village of her own. She knew her dreams always come true so she knew she really was meant to be a witch. That’s what she said. And then, that night, she left.”
Denneg stepped out of the crowd and lifted me to my feet. “Son,” he said, “We’ve been kind to you. Treated you as one of our own. And we’re thankful for all you’ve done here. But I think it’s time you headed onto the next village.”
And just like that, it was decided for me. A life in Shorehaven was just not meant to be. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted a life in Shorehaven, but to have the opportunity to decide stripped away from me like that was not what I expected. I wanted to tell Macely’s father I was sorry, that I hadn’t intended for her to run off. I wanted to tell him that it was her decision and hers alone, and that her dreams were real, and that if she saw herself as a full witch, she certainly made the right choice in leaving. I wanted to hit him back. To curse him for hitting me. To tell him it was his own fool prejudices that drove his daughter from his home.
But instead I just looked down at him weeping on the grass, his daughter trying her best to console him, and felt the anger give way to pity.
“I understand,” I said to no one in particular, and headed home to gather my things. Before I left for good, I wrote a letter to the coven explaining what happened, where they could find the travelstone, and telling them I thought Macely would make a good witch one day. I tucked everything in my bags, tidied up a bit, and headed out, never once looking back to see the village that could have been my home.
It’s nearly summer now and my destination is still a week away at least. Glasprey’s Mill, it’s called, and that’s all I know about it. I think of Macely in the quiet of the evening as I’m trying to sleep. I think about the hags and crones of the coven instructing her on the tools and rituals of the trade, on how to calm restless spirits, on how to reach her full potential as a True Dreamer. I hope she is happy now or, if she can’t be happy, that she’s satisfied with the choices she’s made. I wonder if I’ll ever be.
Oh well. Onto Glasprey’s Mill. And if that doesn’t work, onto Bleakwood Pass. And last but not least, Joriksbridge. And if none of those are right for me, or if I’m not right for them, perhaps I’ll just keep walking. What would be the harm in that?