Don’t Burn the Witch

As the crowd pushed forward and moved towards the small lake, I found myself irresistibly caught in the middle of a fast-moving current of very angry people. On the far shore was a small farm. It was where the witch lived.

Ever since she moved in there had been whispers of magic and mischief, and few people dared set foot on the eastern shore. Today would be different. The harvest had been really bad for two seasons in a row, and what else was there to blame but the wretched witch? And so ordinary people gathered in the streets, talked each other into a frenzy, and collectively decided to burn her. Shouting and cursing they made their way round the lake, towards her little cabin. She was waiting for them.

Standing tall in front of the furious mob, the old witch was an impressive sight. Long, white hair carefully combed back and flowing across her slim shoulders, eyes burning with blue defiance. For a while, it looked like she could hold the mob back with sheer power of will. But then the hesitation broke, the crowd rushed forward and she was stricken to the ground. They gathered wood and prepared to start a fire where the evil witch would soon be purified by flames. “Wait”, screamed a voice from within the crowd. To my surprise, I realized that the voice was coming from me.

“We must let her speak before she burns – what if we are making a terrible mistake!” There was a short moment of confusion and the witch was quick to seize it. “I ask only for one thing – the chance to prove my innocence.” The crowd was muttering and spluttering, but everyone knew that this was a fair thing to ask for. So they quickly decided to perform the proven test of tying her hands and feet with rope and throwing her into the water – if she floats she’s a witch and must burn, if she sinks she’s human (but unfortunately dead, since she’ll drown). Soon the witch was bound with thick rope around hand and feet, and there was no lack of volunteers for throwing her into the water. But suddenly something large came crushing through the bushes and the crowd parted to give way for a massive wild boar. It spoke1 to them and people fell back even more. The boar walked right up to the witch and stopped less than two feet away from her.

With a massive yawn, the boar opened its mouth to reveal razor-sharp tusks more than 7 inches long. Calmly, the witch put her hands in the boar’s mouth and used the tusks to cut off the rope binding her hands. She patted the boar on the head and it turned around and walked back into the forest. Needless to say, people were speechless, and there was no longer a need to test for witchness2.

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Although scared by the appearance of the huge boar, the crowd was ramping up their fear and anger again, and would probably have reignited the barbecue idea unless the following happened. The witch extended her arms with palms facing up, and lifted her gaze to the sky. Within seconds, two big black crows came into sight, flying towards her at breakneck speed, and then elegantly landing on her hands, one on each. They both held a silver coin in their beak, and carefully put it in the witch’s palms. It was an impressive sight, and everyone knows that crows and witches in combination are dangerous. Fear was now winning over anger, and a slow but steady stream of people were backing away and silently sneaking back towards their own homes.

The witch took one of the coins and threw it on the ground. “The one who picks up that coin will learn the magic of talking to wild boars”, she said. She threw the second coin to the ground. “The one who picks up that coin will learn the magic of talking to black crows”, she said. There was absolute silence, and if possible it grew even more silent when I made my way through the crowd and picked up both of the coins.

When I turned around a moment later, all people were gone. Whether they had managed to run away without me noticing or if the witch had somehow made them disappear, I do not know.

The witch was looking at me with curiosity. “So, are you ready to hear about the secret magic about talking to the wild boar?”, she asked. I nodded. “Alright then. What you and the others didn’t see was the little piglet that I’ve been feeding for three years. It’s not a wild boar at all, you see, it’s one of my own little pigs that has grown up to become a six-hundred pound puppy. It always comes to me looking for some snacks, that’s why it was talking and opening its mouth. The magic is simple – it’s a matter of incrementally building a relationship based on trust.”

I was a little disappointed. No curse, no spell, no real magic. I told her that, but she just smiled. “It gets worse. You all saw the big black crows coming down from the sky on my command. But none of you saw the two baby crows that were pushed out of the nest over there at the barn.” She pointed to a two-story barn. “I raised them, and trained them – unlike many other birds, crows have poor instincts and needs to learn from their parents; in this case, me. One of the games we’ve always played is that they are given a coin, fly away, and then bring it back to me. Try it, and you’ll see.”

Still holding the coins in my hands, I raised my arms, palms up. The crows came flying towards me and landed on my arms. Carefully they picked up the coins, looked at me with eyes beaming with intelligence, and flew away. I turned to face the witch again, only to find that she too had disappeared. A small letter was left on the ground, with a short message. All of this is now yours. Treat the animals3 well, take care of the farm, and never let the magic fade away. /Medusa

It wasn’t long before a rumor was spread in the city to the west that the witch had eaten a young woman and consumed her youth. Me? I’ve started to dye my hair white.

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