IT CAME AS only a small disappointment and no surprise at all to the witch when her son announced he would set off on an adventure. “I will become a great hero, if only I can find some monsters to defeat,” he said, sixteen and still green as a sapling. “May I please have a lunch for the journey?”
Certain traditions refuse to be set aside lightly. The witch had been careful to pick a suitable location to build a typical cottage. In an oak forest, the trees all draped in moss, the cottage looked like something abandoned and forgotten since its first completed day. Far enough from any village that it took good, honest effort to reach it, the cottage attracted only the truly desperate.
The witch dealt in desperation: the unhappily married and the terminally ill and the ancestrally cursed. The witch maintained a decent reputation for indecent deeds. She got a child by illegitimate means and raised him with the intention of passing along her ways. It was very much the ordinary way of doing things.
Tradition, however, knows well to fear the willfulness of youth, for nothing in all the world has felled it faster than a green and wild dreamer. Despite her best efforts, the witch’s son had no mind for magic. He sooner tried to balance stacks of grimoires on his head than read them. Lessons in the uses of herbs ended with the plants trampled by his ever-running feet. He scared birds and beasts away with his battle cries and waving wooden sword. He refused to see or hear, touch or smell, so busy searching for the world he missed it entirely.
The witch knew he would not be deterred, and he was too proud to take the protections she could offer. While he talked himself breathless about the adventures in store, the witch packed him food for many days, clothing, her best and sharpest knife, flint and tinder: all the things he would need and would not think to bring. In the deepest, most lint-padded corner of the pack, she buried a charm.
“He is a fool,” she whispered over it, voice drown out by her son’s chatter, “but he is mine. Keep him safe. Let him go unnoticed where he may, let those who would do him harm keep their distance, let any who attack him be made weak.” The witch sent her son off with a full belly, a kiss, and that blessing, as much protection as any mother may grant.
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