Being a witch sucks. Oh, sure, there are advantages, but they're usually outweighed by their disadvantages. I don't have to work for my food, mostly because I don't actually eat. I don't have to put up with nosy neighbors, because I'm supposed to make them think I'm an evil, nasty, warty-nosed hag. I get to live in a wonderful house, but bits of it constantly get damaged, destroyed, befouled, or even eaten. And as wonderful as the smell of gingerbread is, eventually it gets rather boring. Give me a nice mint once in a while, or something. My sister and her partners -- my parents about had a fit when they discovered the three girls were more than roommates! -- live in a house made out of a nice tree, and they can change the smell of it anytime they want. Better yet, all they have to do is raise this brat of a princess who got cursed by a wicked witch. Keep her away from spindles for a few years and everything is good.
Me, I get to live right on the edge of Mundania, and help the mundanes out a little. You see, they really like to get their jollies, but none of them actually seem to remember to use a condom, no matter how often we explain to them how helpful it is. It's not like a bit of sheep's gut is that expensive, either, Roman soldiers could tell you that much! No, they're just stupid and lazy, and don't plan ahead for things like famines and droughts. So someone has to help them out a little, preferably while reminding them that magic is a powerful, dangerous force that should be respected, while not teaching them to actually fear it. If the mundanes ever came to fear magic, that would feed the power of the Unseelie Fae. I don't think anybody, except the Unseelie themselves, would care for that. So long as humans are aware of, and respect magic, that power will instead go to the Seelie Fae, a much more desirable conclusion. Though I may be a bit biased, being a member of the Seelie Court after all.
Which, of course, is why I'm here. In a Gingerbread House, deep in the woods they kick their brats out into whenever they can't feed 'em. It smells good, and the smell travels a long, long way, but only kids can smell it. I have to feed them, since it's 'not their fault' their parents are idiots who don't understand anything about avoiding excess population. What I don't have to do is invite their parents in for a chat. My sisters can do that.
Oh great, here some of them come again. Sighing, I pull my best dress on. Honestly, I'd prefer to finish my bath but noooooooo, they have to come right in the middle of it. Trooping down the stairs, I get a bit careless and my glasses fly off my head and crash to the floor. I flinch at the twinkling sound of the glass shattering, and refrain from cursing the children. It's not their fault, after all. Well, maybe it is but if my sisters found out I'd cursed them... Those goodie-two-shoes! I just about sigh every time I think about them and their overly-nice ways. We're Seelie Fae, not angels, or saints!
I twirl my finger over the mess, once, twice, thrice. While I can't actually see it, with each twirl the mess shivers and slides, until with the third twirl it picks up into a small whirlwind which I quickly shoe off towards the waste bin in the kitchen. Running over to my study, I quickly dash off a request to a dwarven friend of mine for some replacement glasses. No doubt he'll want something in return, but hopefully he'll get the glasses for me quick. With a tap of my wand, the letter folds itself up and whisks out a window.
"What's that?" I hear a boy ask, surprised.
"What's what, Hansel?" a girl asks.
"I thought I saw something, Gretel," the boy answers her. "It flew off, so I guess it was just a bird."
I laugh. My letter, a bird? I must not be the only person with bad eyesight around here! Still, the cracking and grinding noise makes it clear they're eating my house. I sigh. They must be famished if they're just chowing down on a gingerbread house standing in the middle of nowhere, surely they'd have the sense to stay away otherwise, good smell or not.
Which probably means they either got lost in the woods, or there is another famine going on. Or both, of course; they wouldn't be the first children deliberately lost in the woods. I march to the front of the house, putting on my most stern, potent expression.
"Hello children," I croon as I walk out the front door, glancing around for them. I can't see anything anymore, but I can hear them off to the left. "Ah, hello," I smile as I peek around the corner, careful not to actually step off the porch. "Are you eating my house? You must be hungry, come in, come in! Let me fatten you up a bit!"
They seem to hesitate, almost as if they think I'm going to hurt them or something. Honestly, where do they get these ideas. "I'm hardly going to help fatten you up if you stay out there," I glare at them. I put a bit of my magic into the glare, compelling them to stumble towards me. Poor things must be exhausted, but if I leave the house I lose most of my power, and I'm going to need lots of power for the days ahead. I march them into the dining room, where the boy promptly collapses into a chair. I glance at him, and then smell something disturbing. "Is that blood?"
"I'm sorry ma'am, but we've been walking all day, and my brother's shoes-" Gretel begins to explain.
"No need to explain," I smile, careful to show every single one of my teeth in an effort to reassure her. "Are your feet hurt too?"
"No ma'am," the girl shakes her head.
"Oh, so polite," I grin. "Your mother raised you well."
"Thank you," the girl answered dispiritedly. I mark that for future reference, promising myself to do some research before I let these two go home. If she doesn't like her mother, something is probably wrong there. Hopefully it's something easily fixed.
"Now, let me see your feet," I tell the boy. Kneeling down in front of him, I pull his shoe and stocking off his right foot and lift it up. Without my glasses I have a hard time seeing, but I lean in as close as I can and can just barely make out the terrible, oozing sores covering his foot. I dip my tongue into the mess, tasting it to confirm my suspicions. It tastes absolutely horrid, but my magic confirms my sudden worries. I glance over at his sister, carefully plastering a grin over my face. "Nothing I can't treat," I reassure her. "Just a few weeks and he'll be right as rain!"
I feel my way up his foot, looking for the signs that will tell me more. "You're a bony boy!" I comment in surprise as my hands work their way up his leg. The swelling is there, barely, but it's not as bad as I'd feared, and as I feel my way up his leg it doesn't look like any of the lymph nodes are inflamed. "Yes, I'll be able to heal you up just fine," I reassure myself. I'd caught it early enough that all he really needed was a decent bandage, soaked in a special potion. Now, what is it that human mothers always like to say... ah that was it. "Yes, in a few weeks you'll be good enough to eat!"
The two stiffen up and share glances as I put the foot back down. "For now, stay there," I order the boy, then push his chair up to the table. "Girl, follow me."
She sits there as I walk away, and I sigh. "I'm blind, not deaf, girl," I scold her. "I need your help if I'm going to be feeding both of you." I turn around and she still doesn't move, so I feed a bit more of my magic into my glare, making her get up. After I'd already complimented her on her manners, no less! Ungrateful brat!
"You'll find vegetables in the pantry over there," I point at my chilling cupboard. "There are knives there and you can use the counter there. Chop some potatoes, carrots, onions, other things that will go nicely in a stew. Oh, and when you're done there is a fire laid in the oven, just light it. There's some flint and tinder on the top of the oven." I walk to the back door as she thankfully does what she's ordered. At least she isn't completely spoiled. I frown as I realize I may have simply caught her by surprise earlier.
Well, you can't put the eggs back into their shell after you've cracked them, or however the saying goes. I'll have to ask the girl what the right way to say that one is, I suspect I've managed to mangle it. Standing on my back step, I kneel down and whistle.
"Yes, Ginger?" a goblin steps out of the forest at my call. I frown at him, not quite certain it was Gridbad.
"I need some meat, something good for a stew," I order him.
"That'll cost ya," the creature grins.
"Business, not pleasure," I remind him, suddenly certain. "I don't pay. I'm covered under the Accords."
Gridbad pouts. "Fine, I'll be back shortly."
"Don't rush on my account," I sigh. "I know you enjoy a good hunt."
I can't see it, but I can hear in his voice how broadly he must be grinning as he acknowledges my order. I stand up, nodding to the dark blur that is all I can see of the forest beyond my yard, and then walk through the house to my still room. "One part dew from a rose, one part tears from a newt's eye, and three parts uric acid," I quickly mix the necessary ingredients, thankful I'd memorized the recipe for this particular potion. "Bring to a boil," I place the contents of the pot onto a burner and wait. "Next, add three drops of the solution to ten parts chilled water taken from-. Oh dear," I walk back out into the kitchen and grab a pitcher of previously boiled water from my cooling cupboard. I carefully measure out the necessary amount of water before adding the three drops of solution. It was from my well, not a muddy river, but as muddy as my well had been running lately it should be good enough. If it wasn't, I had plenty of time to try a different recipe out. In a burst of inspiration, I add a few sprigs of mint to the water and set it to boil again. Even if the water wasn't muddy enough, mint was a perfect additive to this recipe!
It would take a while for the water to come to a boil, so I go ahead and check the back porch. As I'd hoped, Gridbad had brought a nice, healthy buck back already. "Creature of forest, child of the wood, I thank you for your sacrifice," I kneel down and arrange the deer in a slightly more dignified position. "Thank you for the food you will provide and the health you will bring. You will not be forgotten."
I crane my head over my shoulder. "Girl, come out here!"
Leaning forward, I muffle a curse as I take a much closer look at the beast's neck. The girl gasps behind me, and I straighten up. "The beast has been bled out already, child, can you dress the meat?"
"Yes," she nods her head nervously.
"Good," I nod firmly. "Do so while I go deal with your brother."
She seems to fight with herself before moving to do as I've ordered. As I walk away, I take a deep breath, making certain to pull all my my stray magic back. Sighing, I remind myself to apologize later. The two glances I'd given her in rapid order had left a few traces of my power in her, making her virtually my slave. I really do try to be more polite than that!
I take the potion off the burner, and after straining it drop a few bandages into the liquid. Grabbing a small vial filled with distilled alcohol and a few extra bandages, I cart the entire collection off to the dining room. The boy is still sitting at my table, and I nod pleasantly. "Take your other shoe off if you would be so kind," I tell him. He turns around in the chair before leaning over with his back to me, and I sigh. Not exactly rude, but not the best manners, either. As he turns back around, I kneel down in front of him.
"This may sting a bit," I warn him before applying the cleansing liquid to a cloth. "Actually, it will sting quite a bit, but distilled spirits are a powerful healing agent."
"Oh?" the boy asks, and I nod.
"Yes. Not just any drink, mind you, but if you set a powerful drink out to freeze, a liquid will collect at the top which is a potent, and effective, disinfectant," I remind myself that while a large part of my job is to educate, using terms he couldn't understand wouldn't help anyone. "Which is to say, it will help keep your wound from turning bad."
"Ouch!" he yelps as I begin wiping the cloth along his feet.
"I know it hurts," I apologize, "but you need to stay still. If I don't do this, your wounds could turn bad. I'm sure you understand what that means."
"If the wound turns rotten, they have to cut the limb off," the boy nods unhappily.
I flinch. "Well, we'll just have to keep that from happening!" And if at all possible, get some healers who understand what the hell they're doing to teach his village the proper way to treat infected wounds! Mundanes!
"Now this may be a bit hot," I tell him as I finish wiping his feet down with the cloth. Pulling the wet bandages from the pot, I begin to wrap them around his feet. He twitches and starts to giggle. "That tickles!" he complains, then his feet began flexing. "And it makes my feet itch!"
"Good," I nod, "that's how you know they're healing!"
Already I could feel the swelling, which he probably hadn't even noticed, go down in his ankles. And I had to restart several times as the potion helped reduced the swelling in his feet as well. "I bet you feel much better by now," I comment as I finally finish wrapping his feet with the wet bandages.
"Yes, thank you ma'am," he nodded.
"Good, good," I nod, then proceed to cover up the wet bandages with larger, dry ones. "Don't remove these bandages for any reason, not for at least a day," I warn him. "After that the potion should have done its work, and you can take them off."
He nods, and I set his feet back down. "Try to stay off your feet," I add. "They'll heal quicker that way."
He nods, and I wander back into the kitchen. The girl is still cutting the buck up, but she has enough meat for the stew. I reach out and touch her, as if to get her attention, and focus on the word 'mother'.
The first thing to cross my mind is the word bitch! And the second, third, and fourth thing, actually. Bad enough to deliberately 'lose' the children in the woods when you're really starving. To coerce your husband into doing so just because times were hard, and food might become too scarce? Bitch! "Good job with the meat, go ahead and start the stew if you would be so kind."
The girl nods, and gathers up the meat chunks to toss them into the waiting stew pot. As she's doing that, I pull out some waiting dough and start kneading it. Thanks to my magic, that wasn't really necessary, but it gave me an obvious activity while I used my magic to reach out. Using the image I plucked from the child's mind, I reach out to touch her father. Sure, his wife was coercing him, but why had he given in?
As soon as my mind brushes against his, I start cursing again. Two-faced, treacherous, lying, Unseelie bitch! I recognize the taint that drifts across his mind, clogging his thoughts and binding his will to hers. She must not have realized I was in the area, or she would never have dared anything like this.
I trot outside, and whistle, three times in rapid succession. The light seemed to fade, and the woods grew still. "Seelie, Unseelie, one who has been banished has been found. Morrigan the thrice cursed lives in the mortal village outside this forest."
The light came back, and the noise as well, but there was something different about it now. Even a mortal should be able to sense that difference, a sense of purpose and power. By this time tomorrow, the bitch would be dead. I nod, and walk back into the house. "Girl, check to see if the oven is ready for the bread."
"How?" she asks, opening the over. "It looks hot."
"Bend over, look inside, wave your hand in it," I sigh. How could she not know that much?
"I don't understand," she whined. Whined! I hate the sound of whining children.
"Oh fine," I snarl as I stomp across the room. Whining grates on my ears, and anything was better than listening to that. "You open the oven up, and you lean forward. One method is to-"
Then she kicked me in the ass. I scream in surprise as she knocks me forward, and then my face makes contact with the red hot iron grill inside. I could have cared less about the red hot aspect; I was in the center of my power, and heat didn't bother me. But fae creatures -- which most assuredly includes witches -- cannot stand the touch of iron. It burns, burns just like red hot iron would burn a mortal.
And then she was sealing up the specially formed ceramic door behind me. I manage to get my already smoldering clothes between me and the iron grille, then spend some magic to dump the heat out of the oven. Now my clothes wouldn't burn up before I could get out, but as I wriggle around, screaming in agony every time bare flesh brushes across the iron grille, the girl manages to get a chair or a broom or something lodged up against the inside of the oven.
I try to whistle, but the oven is just to cramped, and I can't get my fingers to my mouth. I'm forced to just wait for someone to rescue me. How incredibly, unbearably embarrassing! The only thing that could make this worse is if some mortal tale-teller gets a hold of the story, and turns me into the villain of the piece! I listen to the children root around the house, and force myself to stay quiet. If the girl really wants to kill me, she can probably find some way to manage it. I'd replaced the oven door with the ceramic cover, but it was so expensive I hadn't been able to replace everything that way. The burning on my face reminds me of how stupid that was. Sure, I can avoid touching the few iron objects I keep around the house on accident, but if some ungrateful brat wants to they could probably kill me with them.
Dammit, if only I could meet her eye for a few seconds, but this cramped oven just wouldn't let me twist around to manage that, even if I could get her to come to the door! I'm forced to listen as they search the house, finding the gold and jewels I kept hidden around the house and looting it. Thankfully, mundanes can barely even sense magic, so there was no way they were going to steal my real wealth. Unfortunately, with the iron grill so close trying to use any large amount of magic would be a very, very bad idea. Fae magic goes even worse with iron than fae flesh.
Finally they leave, and I settle in for a nap. There's one advantage to being fae; we can sleep really easily when we need to, for however long we need too. Years could pass by in an instant if we're forced to sit and wait, or in this case almost exactly four and a half hours.
"Well, well, well," Gridbad gloats from outside of the oven. "What do we have here?" He opens the oven up, and helps me out.
I sigh. "The girl tricked me and locked me up in there," I complain. "Do you know if they got home safely?"
He smirks. "Don't worry, business has been taken care of. My brother is dealing with their step-mother, and my sister is making sure they find their way home, treasure and all." I frown. The way he said 'business' almost sounded like... "But letting you out of the oven?" he gloats. "That's not business. That's just pure, neighborhood courtesy." He licks his lips lasciviously, "Which, unless I'm mistaken, does require repayment."
Oh, damn. I guess there is a worse fate than being turned into the villain of the piece. I really do not like goblins. At all. Much less in my bed! If those two ever show up at my door again, I swear, I'll turn them over to the Unseelie!