The Cackle of an Old Crone
by Sandra V. Dias
The first time Eleth practiced magic and brought down disaster, like accidentally disrobing a whole town, the people had laughed about it for days. Once they got over their sense of modesty, that is.
Accidentally bringing a drought upon them was not as funny, judging from the glares and occasional muttered insults people threw at her as she passed. Turns out dying crops and the imminent threat of starvation was no laughing matter.
“Why’d you do it?” the blacksmith asked as she slinked past, head drooping and shoulders hunched.
Eleth threw him a sheepish expression. “I didn’t mean to. It was an accident.”
“You know you’re not supposed to do magic.”
Immediately the cloud that floated over her head at the mention of her ban on using magic appeared, earning a wistful sigh from rain-starved observers.
“But it chafes, Sern. I can feel it bubbling inside me. I’m the only one in town who isn’t allowed!”
He shook his head. “Well, now you’ve brought about the end of us all! Just so you wouldn’t get an itch!”
“If I could use my magic one more time, I know I could fix it.”
“NO!” everyone around her shouted, from the baker’s wife to Sern. Even Sern’s dog howled at her words.
Eleth turned away. That was it, then. The town was doomed.
“What were you trying to do anyway, Eleth? There has to be a good reason.”
Of all the people she wanted to witness this, Weimm was not one of them. The town’s heartthrob, Eleth was sure she’d been in love with him since the day she could mispronounce his name, even before she’d learned “mama.”
A blush stained her cheeks. She couldn’t very well tell Weimm, who was even being considered for an apprenticeship with the King’s Head Mage, that she’d tried imbuing a faulty love spell with her own magic. A spell meant for him.
How was she to know the old crone in the distant cottage with the missing teeth and whispered rumors of dark magic wasn’t precisely authentic?
Eleth’s mother used to threaten her with the old crone when she wouldn’t behave. The old crone made it easy when she wore dilapidated robes that always smelled of garlic and sported a giant wart that was whispered to be fake. The seamstress told everyone at the pub she saw it fall off once and the old crone press it back on.
Genuine wart or not, she’d seemed capable of helping Eleth. She could still remember the old crone’s instructions.
“Just recite the spell under your breath, say his name three times, and press a kiss to his lips.”
“Oh, just that? All I have to do is hit him over the head hard enough to befuddle him so I can kiss him. By a blacksmith’s steel, if I could kiss him now, why would I be here?”
The old crone had only smiled wisely. “You’ll manage. I have confidence in you.”
Any fuzzy feelings from her declaration were quickly dashed when she added, “Hand over the coins.”
Maybe it wouldn’t have gone so horribly wrong if she’d kissed his mouth instead of his chin. But then, who knew pretending to be drunk to stagger into his lips wouldn’t really work? Or that it would earn her the reputation of being the town drunk? Well, one of the town’s drunks.
She was startled out of her reverie by a polite cough from Weimm.
“Um, I swear it was the wart! It mesmerized me!”
“I mean, I was trying to make the rain fall sooner so we’d have more plentiful crops?” Her words fell into the pitch of a question at the end.
Weimm frowned at her. “I’m not sure I entirely believe you, Eleth.” He stepped uncomfortably close and made his voice lower so that it was intended for her ears only, despite the avidly watching crowd. “What really happened?”
“I tried a love spell on you.”
“Seriously, Eleth, this is not the time for jokes.”
He was close enough that she could see the gray flecks in his blue eyes.
“Ok, the truth. Ready?” A nod from him. “Right. I tried a love spell on you.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“As a drought.”
He reeled back, stunned. Eleth found she couldn’t breathe anymore. Would suffocation be less unpleasant than slow starvation?
“Why would you do that?” His voice was soft.
Eleth let her breathe out in a whoosh. “I-I just did, okay? I guess I like you or something. Or maybe, maybe it was an evil plot against the town. Yeah, that was it! You’re not going to send me to the King’s dungeon, are you?”
Weimm sighed. “You’re the village idiot.”
Eleth bristled. “And you’re crueler than the dungeon guards. Never mind, why would I like you anyway? Just because you’re nice, talented, and ridiculously attractive is no foundation for an infatuation.”
His shoulders were shaking. She’d made him cry? Instant remorse squeezed her stomach.
“I didn’t mean it, Weimm!”
When his chuckles reached an audible level, Eleth gasped. “Why are you laughing?”
One moment she was a short distance from him, and the next he’d pulled her into a tight hug. “Oh, Eleth, you’re so dense sometimes.”
“Okay, okay, I get it. Not the sharpest tool in the blacksmith’s shop.”
He pulled back enough to look down at her face. “You’re so silly, Eleth. I’ve loved you since I could say your name. Or really ‘Reth.’ Never mind, the point is, we belong together, and you never needed a spell.”
Eleth gaped at him. “Reslg.”
“Sorry, lost my ability for speech. Back now. I meant, ‘Really?’”
In response he pressed his lips against hers. She melted against him, almost missing the cool rain that touched her heated cheeks.
They broke the kiss, staring up at the sky in shock as rain poured down on them. In the distance, Eleth would swear she heard the cackle of an old crone.
Sandra V. Dias started writing when she was a little girl and learned how to spell her name, though she hopes her writing has improved since then. She lives in Texas with her ridiculously adorable giant lab. When she's not writing, she reads obsessively, plays with her dog, works, draws, daydreams, and dances.
What inspires you to write and keep writing?
I'm in love with stories, whether it's in books or movies, so writing immerses me in a story in which I can control what happens. If my characters behave and don't take the story elsewhere, that is. Writing is my own personal entertainment system, and actually better than a big screen TV!