The following is the story of a Witch. A Witch of charm and knowledge, who experienced love and loss. A Witch who found herself enthralled and enchanted by the words that were spoken and written. The following is the story of a Witch, and what was said about her, to her, and by her.
In the dark of the room, a woman sat starring into the dying fire to when a small child tugged at the hem of her dress.
“What are you thinking of?” The small child asked her. For a moment, the woman did not respond. Then she did.
I’ve been remembering [her] of late, and the wisdom she had. I’m thinking now that mayhap she was no witch at all, but just a woman with more knowledge than perhaps we are comfortable with. Mayhap wisdom like [her]’s is only another side of truth, if truth be like a gem, cut on several sides to let the full light through. This truth holds me close, rocking me like a child in a mother’s arm. It binds me in its love as death swallows me into its grasp.
The mind flows from the vein as well as years.
She told me that once. As well as that the mind is a prism. The light refracts through it and turns fractures into rainbows. And light will always banish the dark. But, light too can be a curse. It can illuminate things no one should ever have to witness. And where miracles are forged in the heart, not every flower belongs in a garden. Only she had not said prism at first.
“You never said that… You said the mind is a prison.”
“Ah yes. Well, it is both.”
It’s nights like this that have me remembering those moments and the final advice that she gave me as she lamented in the dark of the night. And her words now would hold more power than they had ever held before. It is that advice that has stayed with me.
“Yours isn’t the gift of the Fae. They would never give up a child with your abilities to mere mortals. Gifts come at a cost, but curses come for free. That’s the real power of art, I think. Not to chide but to provoke challenge. Otherwise why bother? Words aren’t meant to be stiff, unchanging things. To grow a song, you must plant a note.“
“Writing never helped a soul do a thing.” I disagreed. [My] appetite to write was countermanded by a dread of being read and recognized.
“Except, maybe, to think. ” She chastised me. “Reading is a dangerous pastime. There is great power in stories. Writing stories [are] a kind of magic too. And that is the curse. What is the foe that can’t be defeated by magic? The truth.
“I want to tell you so many lies. I’m heartless, but I’m not cruel. Ask me no questions and I’ll spell you no lies. Hide your ledgers. Hide your thoughts. For knowledge is currency. It can be traded and it can be banked, and more secretly than money. Secrets are just another way people lie to one another. [And] while it may be your nature to lie, it is in my nature to control the truth.”
“Why do I have the feeling that you and ‘the truth’ have only a passing acquaintance? ” I had laughed.
“A fool can be anything; that doesn’t make her right.” She winked.
“Never underestimate a fool. I already know all your secrets.” I was certain of it. She had taught me well enough. For a moment there was silence.
“Wisdom is not the understanding of mystery,” she said to herself, not for the first time. “Wisdom is accepting that mystery is beyond understanding. That’s what makes it mystery. This is why you shouldn’t fall in love, it blinds you. The people you love are the ones you hurt you the most. If you wish to be truly free, you must love no one. But of course if you take that path you may also find that in the end you’re unloved. Love is wicked distraction. The wickedness of men is that their power breeds stupidity and blindness.”
“And of women?” I asked
“Women are weaker, but their weakness is full of cunning and an equally rigid moral certainty. Since their arena is smaller, their capacity for real damage is less alarming. Though being more intimate they are the more treacherous.” She answered. “But, women are goddesses… They birth and shape the dreamers of the world.”
“Have you ever been in love?”
She pondered it a moment before she continued. “Once upon a time, in a castle carved of stone, a girl plotted murder.”
“I hate[d] him so much that sometimes when I look[ed] at him, I [could] hardly breathe. He did not trust me, nor I him. Until the day we could take it no longer and he said ‘It’s you I love. I spent much of my life guarding my heart. I guarded it so well that I could behave as though I didn’t have one at all. Even now, it is a shabby, worm-eaten, and scabrous thing. But it is yours. It was yours before I could admit it, and yours it shall ever remain.” She told me about their life together and the dreams of lives she had with him. They were all short lives. She’d just wanted to spend more of hers with him. She wished for true love. And perhaps, after all, she did. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t a particularly good story… The rising action did nothing for the climax, it all fell short at the resolution. After he died, I have not been able to tell stories the same.
“He was a king and I was a queen and all kings must die.
“How did he die?”
“He was beheaded.”
“How do you know? Have you ever been beheaded?” It was a joke but it did not feel as one, as the room’s air changed around us. “Death is no easy thing… There is always the missing. But the dead never leave us. We carry them because they remind us that we are not alone. No sense in battling tears. We all weep. Sometimes it’s best to let them fall. Death waits on black wings… Only some one who care for nothing would never be afraid.
“Be faithful for the faithless are alone in death, blind and terrified – Gods are nothing without fools to believe in them. – What is the point of a god whose people know nothing about him? Whose followers cannot call upon him by his own name? … It’s like worshipping a ghost.” She paused for a moment. “There is only one god to remember. People sing of her. You wouldn’t guess it, being you — but they do. There’s a musical noise around her name; there are things people remember, and pass on.”
“What is her name?”
“Sorrow, for that is all she brings.” She was silent for a moment. As if the world was whispering to her. What was it saying to her? Nothing in words — [I’d] been listening to the wrong thing. It didn’t speak to her through its hush. It spoke to her through its presence. It was saying to her: I exist, so what does that say to you? Was she to be taken seriously, or was she merely a blow-away dandelion seed, caught on the wrong side of the wind? If she could see the [my] face, [I feel the Witch] might know. [But,] she did not listen; or she listened but to something else, to something inside her. [I believe it to be a] sound without melody – like dream music, remembered for its effect, but not for its harmonic distresses and recoveries.
In her distress, I tried to bring her a happier thought. “Can you tell me about the libraries?”
“Were you not a keeper of the books before you cultivated your gift? You’re the one who says books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them.“
“I was. And they do. I watched them, for all the girls who found themselves in books. The old stories drew dragons the way jewels drew me. No dragon could resist one told aloud. Remember, my child. Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly. In books you always have to have a sword fight in a big, dramatic place. And when you shout the whole room echoes… You always need a good echo. Books are like flypaper — memories cling to the printed page better than anything else. [Books give us] other worlds to explore. We’re not always born to the right one, are we?
“And thus, these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voices. They sang when starlight streamed through the library’s windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. They were dangerous. Beyond ordinary. Something dark writhed around whatever they touched. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque — but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because where there was darkness, there was also so much light.“
“But not all light is good.”
“Wrong takes and awful long time to be proven, in my experience. To the grim poor there need be no pour quoi tale about where evil arises; it just arises; it always is. One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her — is it ever the right choice? Does the devil struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? It is at the very least a question of definitions. Not everyone is born a witch or a saint. Not everyone is born talented, or crooked, or blessed; some are born definite in no particular at all. We are a fountain of shimmering contradictions, most of us. Beautiful in the concept, if we’re lucky, but frequently tedious or regrettable as we flesh ourselves out. And many of us, are very, very, bad.”
“I’m not,” [I] said. “I’m good.“
“People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us. It’s the people who claim that they’re good, or anyway better than the rest of us, that you have to be weary of. Deep fate is always run from behind the curtain, from which we are asked to divert our attention. That is why the hate you give little infants fucks everybody… what society give us as youth, it bites [us] in the ass when we [grow up]. Get it? That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us.
“And it’s what makes life tedious. The tedious never die; that’s what makes them tedious. Everyone lives but us. Remember that child. History waits to be written, and this family has a part to play in it. Where I come from, family is a matter of the heart, not blood ties. Family means something different with us because it has to. It’s not about blood. It’s not even about who we like. It’s about who [were] willing to protect. I know it’s not entirely your fault that you are mentally unbalanced and infected with these delusions of grandeur, [but] pity only gets you so many concessions, and you used yours up.“
“That you are going to lose your only family. Hands up. Show me what you can do.”
My skills were not bad, but they were not her. They were not the luscious life and vivid dreams, that our family were known for.
“Well, the family always was bright, and brightness, as you know, decays brilliantly. Madness is the most shining anyway.”
“I’m not mad.”
She gave me a soft smile. “No, but I am.”
I went to call her name and she stopped me.
“My behavior is not your responsibility. Do not forget. Imperfections reveal true beauty. Now give me your hands. We will shape the story together. I want to take our time. We decide together. We decide for us.“
“As you wish. “I said but I thought, Oh, this is going to be fun.
Thus the final lesson began. We shaped the words into the air. Dirt and sand, all across the land; the currents are ours, you see. No god, no soldier, no emperor, no king, can take my current from me. Flow on, my friends, flow on with me; together we flow as one. No god, no soldier, no emperor, no king, can erode what we have done.
“Lean the way I lean. Don’t fight me. A precise strike that gets blocked is worse than a sloppy one that connects. None of them will ever be able to control the way we feel. Our minds and hearts are our own. That is our power. Never forget it. Art is not one great act of creation, but small ones… All you see, in the end, is what I want you to see.“
“I am never going to do this well.” How could I become the storyteller? [I] was thinking of white paper and dark ink, and the difficulty and danger of scoring a page with lines of ink, to make it sing, if it could. If [I] could make it. Ink and parchment flowed through [my] veins.
“It isn’t whether you do it well or ill, it’s that you do it all.” And before me she created the most masterful of stories. But…
“Well?” [I asked.]
“Well what?” [She] answered.
“Where’s the rest…?”
“Who said the end was written yet?”
“Mark my words, I will have all your secrets or you will die.”
“I thought you already knew them all.” Her laugh left me at a loss.
“I don’t want you to die.”
“Everyone’s dying sweetheart.” She smiled softly. “Forget [me], forget us all, it makes no difference now, but don’t forget that we loved it when we were alive. And for you? Its the age of daring… It’s the only time [you] have. [You] must live in the present. [You] are young and alive.
“Memory is part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our heart pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work, too: it keeps us who we are.“
“But without you I am alone. I am small, and unable to be what you are. What am I to do?”
“Small, maybe. Definitely not insignificant… Everyone knows who you are. And that’s why a name is important. It defines you. [Be] as friendly as a half-starved rattlesnake. The world of tellers is but a game. And we are merely pieces to tell the stories.”
“I’m going to be the deadliest piece on the board. Like you. I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.“
She gave a small laugh. “The odd thing about ambition is this: You can acquire it like a fever, but it is not so easy to shed. Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to. Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.
“Because we’re all stumbling through darkness, really. None of us knows where we’re heading. Not in the bigger picture anyway. Safe ended a long time ago. These things do not happen in dreams, dear girl… They happen only in nightmares. But hoping, is how the impossible can be possible after all.
“Do you remember what [I] said about fear? She said fear was the faith in the enemy. If you dwell all the time on what makes you afraid, your own fear sucks the strength out of you.
“You’re acting as if fate and freedom are opposites… they’re partners in the dance of life. Always circling each other, touching and then coming apart again, both made more beautiful by the existence of the other. This is what fate means: to be opposite, to be opposite to everything and nothing else but opposite and always opposite. Fate is the ability to see the choices people will likely make. It doesn’t rob freedom. Every choice brings wisdom in its wake. If you got to have the wisdom first, it wouldn’t be a choice — just a policy. You have a hundred possible futures, my love. Nothing is written in the stars. Not these stars, nor any others. No one controls your destiny.
” Its only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed. All souls are hostages to their human envelopes, but souls must decay and suffer at such indignity, don’t you agree? Decay comes in many forms, but mostly love and fear. Love and fear do strange things to the soul. And for that, you must see.”
“I see nothing all the time.”
“Not nothing. Everything. Eyes can tell us everything. Listen to those eyes as if they’re the most fascinating storytellers you’ve ever met. They are a map of the world. An Augury of the future. A negotiation between warring states. And we all have to play the cards we’re dealt. But real life [has] surprises. Real life [has] Dragons.
“It’s not the world that’s cruel… It’s the people in it. When the times are a crucible, when the air is full of crisis… those who are the most themselves are the victims. I never use the words humanist or humanitarian, as it seems to me that to be human is to be capable of the most heinous crimes in nature.
“Life ain’t the movies, mate. Heroes? Usually get killed right off. It’s the cowards who make it all the way to the end. Because silence is the coward’s favorite tool. But as it turns out, the criminals on the streets aren’t half as bad as the ones living in mansions… There are corners of the world too dark to see, and there are edges that are sharper than they appear, ready to snag the unwary. There are those who do not fear the things they should, and there are those who would bargain with the devil herself for the sake of their greed.
“History is written by the victors… but the truth has a way of revealing itself. The flood will come, fast and without warning, because the ground is not accustomed to it. And therefore it is not worth fearing. And that is where we strike with stories. Give them fire… Give them fear. Rage is a moment. Regret is forever. So, never send a hero to do a monster’s job. If a monster takes a life, what kind of creature refuses to save one?“
“I’m not sure.”
“I’m not either. Thus you must become a monster to fight the monsters and worse. A monster who will save everyone. Its not about becoming deadly, or having a meaningful life. It’s about the words. The story. That is what matters.”
“But I don’t want to be a monster.”
“A spider is only a monster to a fly. Its not the size of the blade, but the wit of he who wields it that determines a battle. No one gets stronger all at once. It happens in pieces, and the hurts with the deepest roots take the longest to heal.“
There was a chime from the clock that told me that it was time for me to go. But I did not want to. I felt that she could see the dread on my face for she asked. “Are you alright?”
“I am.” But I was not.
“No you are not. To be all right implies an impossible phase. We hope for mostly right on the best of our days.“
“I don’t want you to die.”
“I hate that you are dying.”
She was silent once more. There is a strength in silence. A sort of resilience that told more of a story than many words could. “There was much to hate in this world, and too much to love. Hatred will only lead you astray. Sometimes love is the stronger choice. Reap what you sow or burn the field down, the choice is yours. When you act in anger, you have already lost your battle. We must taste the bitter before we can appreciate the sweet.“
“I am coming unraveled. I am coming undone.” I cried.
“Take your dream and hold on to it. After all, by child. What is the point of life if you don’t believe in anything? Never let anyone make you feel ordinary. Your heart can never truly be lost. You must simply choose to see where it is leading you. And you make your choice, between your heart or bending to the will of other. I’ve found that it’s hard to stand for anything when you’re on your knees. We are story tellers. A fox does not wait for an invitation, he waits for an opening. A dragon knows nothing of invitations. She roosts where she pleases. Strength cannot always roar. Valor does not always shine“
The clock chimed once more.
“It is time for you to go. So I’ll leave you with one more gift.” And from her hands came infinity, in the way of shadows. Stories on stories. Truths on truths. The world at my fingertips.
“I never knew there were so many ways to say goodbye.” I looked to it in awe.
“Nay, little one, this is not the end… In fact, I fear this is only the beginning. But now it is time for me to rest and for you to go.”
“Wa-ait! Will I ever see you again?”
“Again and again and again. If you know where to look for [me].”
And as I walked from the room, I heard her whisper. In anguish and in love. “By you, I am forever undone.“
For I was not only losing her, but she was losing me. Our bond was not those of stories, for I had never seen them written that way. She was mine and I was hers. I had changed her life as much as she had ever, and could ever change mine.
“Don’t forget what I have said.”
“I have heard every word you’ve ever said to me. Every honeyed, silver-tongued word.”
When I left. I never saw her again.
But I could not become a monster, even to this day. I became what I was, but I was not sure it was a monster. For… I was not gone. I was still me. When asked what would [I be when she grew up? [I] whispered the answer. “Gone.” Every time. And still her words haunted me: You feel remorse, which means you are not gone. With each monstrous act, I felt remorse. Had I not failed?
For that was the fate of a storyteller. To disappear when the words came. To be a Witch, and to disappear. For no one cared about us, they cared for our stories. [She] raised me to fight monsters… It took me too long to understand that the real monster was [her].
And even now, when I think back to it. I hated all her lessons and the curse that she gave me. But it is my power. And it is this power that I accept.
“And of the Witch? In the life of a Witch, there is no after, in the ever after of a Witch, there is no happily; in the story of a Witch, there is no afterword. Of the part that is beyond the life story, beyond the story of the life, there is — alas, or perhaps thank mercy — no telling. She was dead, dead and gone, and all that was left of her was the carapace of her reputation for malice.“
“But what happened? Did she really die?”
‘ “… well she was gone.”
“Is that the same thing?”
“Who can say?”
“So you can disappear and not be dead?“
Wasn’t that the point of stories?
“Did she ever come out?” The child asked.
In case it wasn’t clear. Anything in italics is a quote from some book. This is a story created using quotes from all the books I read in 2019. AKA How many Wicked Quotes can I throw at you before it is tired? Which is also to say that Wicked was my most quotable book of the year, in many ways. This was far longer than I anticipated and took me forever to do, but I hope you liked it. I did my best and I know it’s not perfect. I tried to make it as cohesive as possible, without seeming like it was a big mess (it was. This took me more than a day of work to do). But it was, and is, a fun way to remember the year. Maybe next year I’ll be more ready.
Books used in order of the quote being stated:
The Hunting of the Last Dragon . Children of Blood and Bone . Everless . Winter Glass . Bright Star . Spindle Fire . Before the Broken Star . Ninth House . Winter Glass . Bright Star . Beyond the Darkened Shore . Spindle Fire . Wicked . A Lion Among Men . Heart of Thorns . Boy, Snow, Bird . Wicked . The Killing Moon . Son of a Witch . Out of Oz . The Priory of the Orange Tree . Inkheart . Spellslinger . The Wicked King . Wicked Saints . Wicked . Wicked Saints . A Burnable Book . Heart of Thorns. These Rebel Waves . The Caged Queen . Charmcaster . The Last Namsara . Son of a Witch . The Killing Moon . Heart of Thorns . The Cruel Prince . Queen of Nothing . Queen of Nothing . The Merciful Crow . Winter Glass . A Burnable Book . Stormcaster . The Lost Queen . Three . The Lost Queen . Ninth House . Keepers: Tribulation . The Killing Moon . The Beautiful . Children of Blood and Bone . Girls of Paper and Fire . Son of a Witch . State of Sorrow . Out of Oz . Wicked . Inkheart. Sorcery or Thorns . The Last Namsara .Inkheart . Nocturna . Inkheart . Sorcery of Thorns . The Beautiful . Sorcery of Thorns . Wicked . Wicked. Son of a Witch. Wicked . Wicked . Out of Oz . The Hate U Give . The Hate U Give . Out of Oz . Wicked . A Lion Among Men . The Shadowed Sun . The Foxhole Court . The Raven King . Wicked . The Beautiful . As She Ascends . When She Reigns . The Princess Bride . Shadow of the Conqueror . These Rebel Waves . Article 5 . Children of Blood and Bone . Wicked . Sorcery of Thorns . Girls of Paper and Fire . Son of a Witch . Wicked . Stolen . The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo . Son of a Witch . Wicked . Heartless . Son of a Witch . Incarnate . The Hate U Give . Onyx & Ivory . All the King’s Men . Girls of Paper and Fire . The Cruel Prince . The Wicked King . The Seven Husbands of Eveyln Hugo . Spindle Fire . Children of Blood and Bone . Heartless . Heartless . Children of Blood and Bone . Heartless . Heartless . The Bone Charmer . Forever . The Bone Charmer . Out of Oz . The Bone Charmer . Wicked . Ninth House . Wicked . The Priory of the Orange Tree . Heartless . Spellslinger . Queenslayer . We Rule the Night . The Foxhole Court . Wicked . Wicked . Children of Blood and Bone . Sorcery for Beginners . Onyz & Ivory Sorcery of Thorns . Spindle . Spellslinger . A Thousand Nights . The Priory of the Orange Tree . The Merciful Crow . The Beautiful . Savage. The Beautiful . Savage . Burned . As She Ascends . Heartless . Before She Ignites . Wicked . Heart of Thorns . The Raven King . The Merciful Crow . The Beautiful . The Cruel Prince . Sorcery of Thorns . The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo . Bright Star . Saint’s Blood . Nocturna . Nocturna . Children of Blood and Bone . Linger . The Lost Queen . The Looking Glass Wars . The Darkest Part of the Forest . Out of Oz . Winter Glass . Children of Blood and Bone . Wicked . Son of a Witch . Wicked