The old shaman sat around the campfire with the village’s daughters, a larger bonfire burning a few paces away. “Grandmamma, you always tell us such sad stories,” shyly chirped a one. “Please tell us one with a happy ending.”
The shaman sat for a moment, the bones and furs of her cloak nestling around her shoulders. “Well, child, every story has both kinds of endings if you think about it, because there is always a new beginning. Did I ever tell you, ‘everyone died and the world exploded, the end? No I have not.”
“But someone usually dies.”
Seeing that the young maiden was innocently stubborn, the woman said, “Very well. I’ll start with the ending: ‘He kissed her, and knew that he had found the love of his life, and stayed with her until his dying days.’
“Oh, that’s lovely. But Grandmamma, I don’t want to be rude, but it is a little boring.”
“Then may I tell the story my way?” The girl nodded.
Many years ago, not from this place, the home we were forced to in exile, I knew a little girl. She was a scrubby little girl, a bit pudgy, because she would sneak the treats from the inns and pubs and hoard them in an old crate she found. One leg was a little longer than the other, so when she walked, not straight and true, but like a crab, always adjusting her course but veering off to the side. She had the oddest habit of sitting in the tunnels and alleyways setting small vermin on fire: bugs, rats, and scavenger birds. It would have been cruel except that they were nasty vermin, and she struck them down so fast they could not have felt much pain. She had a gift for fire. I don’t recall what had become of her parents—these were chaotic times, and the records of so many races coming together were tossed, mixed, and some destroyed.
But from what I know, this girl, she was different from the start. She seemed to have oldness in her. It was in the fall when we noticed the change in her. Her chubby figure shifted, and began to fill in more areas as a beautiful young lady, and she grew straight and tall, with feline posture and an aloof and alluring face. Now, as far as chubbiness goes, which often happens to young girls and boys, they replace their baby fat with muscle and strength. But this transformation—something about seemed deceitful. There was magic in it, and the kind of magic that demands a price.
Now mind you, this is not just some story, girls. I saw this with my own eyes. The shaman shifted in her robes. The rumors began when Friqke, or the Ash-Witch as she is now called, was accused of seducing the bishop’s boy. They were the same age, but were caught in the back of the stables doing things that only, well, and it was shameful. Other things happened, and she became the primary suspect. The final straw was when she was a maiden, not much older than you are now, and she was caught dancing with a demon in the moonlight, not far from the sources of our most sacred lights. I felt she needed some guidance, a friendship, but the superstitious ones forced her to fend for herself, away from all of us. The last I heard if you listen very carefully, you can still see that demon looking for her. If you go into to the woods at night, alone, he will mistake you for her, and dance with you on your grave.
The shaman chuckled.
“Where is the kiss, Grandmamma?”
“That is what the demon does to you as he loves you to death.”
The girls, at first looked terrified, then rolled their eyes disrepectfully. “What really happened, Grandmamma?”