Saturday, 12 March 2011
A very long time ago there was a woman who was forced by poverty and cruelty to cast her little daughter out into a dark wood. You may imagine the terrible feelings of the mother, but imagine the even more terrible feelings of the little girl. All her mother could give her daughter was an old horseshoe and the advice to beware all men for too many were worse than wolves. To be polite where she could and to stay among the honest trees, for if they could not help her at least they would not hurt her.
The little girl went off then into the woods with her old horseshoe that her mama had told her to keep for the faeries would get at her otherwise. The little girl found blackberries to eat and though some were bitter, many were sweet. She gathered many and also picked some mushrooms that her mother had once fed her. These she kept for later and gathered up also some hazelnuts, carefully for their shells were like small green hedgehogs and pricked at her fingers.
Now, although her mother did not know it, there lived in the forest a witch of some bitterness and rage. She was not one of those wicked witches, but rather had been brought to her bitterness a hard life and as such had also become crosspatched. Her hair was wild and long and dark like treacle. Her eyes were dark blue like two sapphires and her skin was pale as porcelain from staying in the shade of the trees all the time. She had never had a child of her own and never known kindness. Being a witch, she was often condemned by the assumptions of others who did not know her yet believed they had a right to judge her. So she shunned all human society and kept to herself. She had built with her magic a charming little house in the woods with a tower so that she might defend herself in the event of needing to.
When she heard the whispering in the trees, she learned of the little girl and said haughtily,
"I shall tend my garden and let her tend her own."
The little girl came along and seeing the witch in her garden she paused. Remembering her mother's advice, she said politely,
"Good day to you mistress. I am all alone in the world, for my mother fell in with a man who beats her and for fear of him, she sent me into the trees. I have some blackberries and hazelnuts and mushrooms that I gathered, would you like some?"
The witch was astonished at being so politely addressed. Part of her heart melted, but catching herself in time she replied,
"I am a witch little girl and everyone hates a witch."
The little girl was highly impressed for she had never met a witch before.
"Should I hate a witch, mistress? My poor mama is hated and she is not a witch. Her man hates me and I'm not a witch. Still, if you will allow me to stay with you, I shall do all that I may to help and share the little food I have," she said.
The witch considered this and frowned, but agreed. So the little girl stayed with the witch and kept house for her as best she could. After a week, the witch had lost her frown and after two weeks she had come to speak to the little girl quite gently. After a month she came to love the little girl and to treat her as if she were her own daughter. She began to teach the little girl what she knew of hedge-witchery and how to gather honey and make pots to gather it in. She taught the little girl how to weave and though this was hard for the little girl, the witch was patient and kind.
It happened that autumn, that teazels grew in the witches garden and she asked the little girl to uproot them for they were of no use to her. The little girl asked her if she might keep them if she could find a use for them and the witch smiled and agreed. That evening, after they had eaten, the witch lay down on her couch with her head on the little girl's lap and began to sing softly. The little girl took the teazels and gently began to comb out the tangles in the witch's long dark hair. So soothing was this that after a while the witch closed her eyes and began to relax. Thinking that she was asleep, the little girl began to talk to the room. She spoke to the fireplace and the chairs complimenting them on their kindness. She spoke to the woven carpet on the floor and thanked it for keeping their feet warm. She finally began to speak to herself and wished her mother was with the witch and herself.
"For I do miss my mama even though the witch has been like a mama to me. Mama is not quite as beautiful as the witch, but nobody would dare beat the witch. I wish my mama was a witch, then nobody would beat her either."
The witch said nothing, but began to think. Still the little girl combed the witch's hair with the teazel and hummed a little tune. Without knowing it, she was humming a tune full of hedge-magic and the teazel began to comb the witch's hair so that it became sleek and smooth and as beautiful as the witch herself. What is more, the little girl's love flowed through the teazel which slowly combed out the witch's bitterness until the witch opened her eyes and sat up. Turning around to the little girl then, she embraced her and held her close, weeping at the cruelty of a man who had made a mother abandon her daughter to the woods.
"Only have a little faith in me my love," she said adding, "I never asked you your name, but for what you have done for me, let me call you Teazel."
Teazel was so astonished that she threw the teazel head that she had been combing the witch's hair with into the fire. It cracked and popped with the bitterness and sent a curl of black smoke up the chimney until the faint sweet scent of honey filled the room. She hugged the witch and told her that she loved the witch very much. This made the witch weep the more, so moved was she by the little girl's sincerity. She picked up young Teazel then and put her to bed. She kissed the child and assured her that all would be as well as it could be.
Teazel thanked her and fell asleep directly while the witch sat on the edge of the bed caressing the girl's soft face as she thought. The following morning, Teazel awoke to find a note on the kitchen table asking her to clean up the house and make up the lumber room into a bedroom. Then to prepare lunch and weed the garden, 'with the exception of the teazels, which have a use for you'. Teazel ate her breakfast and set to work with a will. She used no magic for she wanted to please the witch and besides one should only use magic when there is no other way. It is not wise to use power simply because one can and Teazel knew it.
The witch meanwhile had disguised herself. She had bound up her long, dark tresses and covered them up. She had cut herself a Blackthorn staff and went through the wood to the town. There, at the edge of the wood she looked upon it with distaste.
Everywhere was cruelty and poverty and little enough humanity. Only the brutality that the people's Papercoin god had brought them to. Everyone struggled with each other for coins and notes. Those that had much money wanted to hold onto it; those that had little wanted to gain more of it. The witch wrinkled her nose and stepped onto the road that led into the slums.
By a large housing estate, she saw a thin, weed of a woman covered in bruises and stained with her own tears. Yet for all the tears and bruises, she saw that there was something of Teazel about the woman and something of the woman in her beloved Teazel. She stopped by the woman and gave her bread with blackberries and bid her eat. The woman looked up at her and then took the food and gratefully ate.
"There was once a woman who was forced by poverty and cruelty to cast her little daughter out into a dark wood," the witch said quietly.
The woman burst into tears and sobbed heavily remembering her own little girl.
"I once did the same and I hope she fares better than I," she wailed.
The witch described Teazel and the woman nodded and said that was her little girl and asked if the witch had seen her. Was she safe? Was she living?
The witch assured her that the little girl, or Teazel as she called her was both safe and alive. She raised up the young woman and told her,
"I am a witch whom your daughter had no fear of and was polite and kind to. She took away my bitterness with her love and now I have come to bring you to her," the witch told her.
The young woman suddenly gave a little cry, for they had heard a shouting and threatening yells coming towards them. The witch bid her be assured that nobody would harm her and led her away. They went along the road out of town and into the wood where suddenly it seemed as if the air was cleaner and better. Before long they arrived at the witch's house and there in the garden was young Teazel weeding. Seeing her mama with the witch, she stood and ran to hug them both. There in the wood, like the plants she had a use for, young Teazel grew tall and straight but without spikiness. She lived there with her mother and the witch and when they grew old she worked about the house for them both.