A Child For The Marquisa

The old witch stirred the small cauldron, waiting for that last change in viscosity. When the mixture thickened from honey-smooth to molasses-sticky, it would be ready. Too long on the fire would take it to caramel-stiff, and that would make the next step much more difficult.

Which is why an old witch is the best witch, she thought. It takes an experienced hand to make this kind of thing work.

She'd long since given up referring to herself as a healer, or herbalist, wise woman, naturalist, or any other less occult term. Over the years, it had become apparent that a witch's magic carried more power than an herbalist's extractive. Brought a higher price, too, which made for a more comfortable life for an old witch.

A moment more... a moment more... she upended the bottle of the special elixir. With a practiced hand, she whipped the babymaker liquor into the syrup and whisked the cauldron off the fire. The cauldron went into a pan of hot gravel she had at the ready, so it would cool slowly, as it should.

Now, to make the almond cakes and prepare the bergamot and anise tea. The Marquisa would arrive at midnight.

Three months ago, in a dun traveling cloak that fooled no one, the Marquisa came with a long, complicated story. It had taken almost four hours for the old witch to get her to say out loud what had been apparent from the first ten minutes. Her Ladyship was under pressure to produce an heir. A male heir was preferred, but a girl would do. The problems were, for the most part, the usual ones: the Marquis was a poxy, flaccid old man who had spent his energies too profligately in the days of his youth. He blamed his wife for his shortcomings and threatened dark deeds if she did not somehow bring the situation to an acceptable state. To save her reputation, position, even her life, the Marquisa had come to the witch.

The questions had followed a course as usual as the situation. Was a lover possible? One to put an egg in the nest that the Marquis could claim as his own? Oh, no, that was impossible, for the Marquis was a jealous, angry man. If he had been reasonable and realistic, she would not be in such danger. For her to take a lover would mean death for her and her entire family. The Marquisa knew herself well enough to know that she could never keep such a dread secret, nor could she allow herself to have anyone else know such a thing about the baby. Think of the blackmail risk!

It took much talk, much artful theater and several exchanges of gold and small jewels for the witch to admit that she could help. There was a potion that would make the Marquisa pregnant without a lover, either of the marriage bed or of the sylvan bower. Arduous to make and far from certain, the witch led the Marquisa into insisting upon it being attempted.

Which attempt was to be made tonight.

A knock at the door brought the Marquisa in, alone in her plain cloak. The poor young woman was so anxious and fearful, her hands trembling despite her courtly composure. To set her at ease, the witch laid out tray of almond cakes, sticky-sweet after having been soaked in the carefully cooled syrup. In her agitated state, the Marquisa ate four of them as the witch told a long, complicated tale of the soul-endangering magic they were about to undertake. On and on she droned, watching the Marquisa eat the cakes and sip the tea. After an hour, all was ready.

The witch set down her own untouched cake. With a gentle but firm hand, she had the glassy-eyed Marquisa stand. She led her into the back room where the bed was waiting. It took her old fingers some time to undo the buttons of the Marquisa's gown, but the loops and ribbons of her underdresses came apart more easily. When she was naked, the witch had her lie abed. There she lay, slowly blinking in the warm, dim room.

The witch left the house and went to the stable to fetch her waiting sons. Freshly bathed and scrubbed from hair to fingernails with the Marquisa's own soap, they were both eager to begin their part of the night's magic. She bade them go in. With both young men ready for the work ahead, the witch had no doubt that they would each do their best to place an egg in the Marquis' nest.

In the morning, the Marquisa's head and stomache would be aching so badly, all other considerations would pass unnoticed. If her ribbons were retied in an unfamiliar manner and a button left undone, she would no more remember it than she would remember anything else about this night. Even under the Marquis' most severe browbeating inquisition, she might confess to the use of witch magic, but she would deny absolutely that she had lain with any man but her husband.

The witch settled herself into the rocking chair she'd had the boys bring out to the stables. She began to count the gold the Marquisa had brought with her, balancing it against the lists of supplies she anticipated needing. After tonight, her reputation of magic would be such that she would be busy, indeed.

16 comments:

  1. How clever! And I'm sure the boys were happy to help… for a change.

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    1. This isn't the first time they've made this particular magic potion do its stuff.

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  2. I thought she was brewing a plot twist. This all seems very good for business.

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    1. Repeat customers are the basis of any successful enterprise...

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  3. I can't decide if I feel sorry for the Marquisa, or glad that she would genuinely think she hadn't been unfaithful.

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    1. It's a tricky balance, giving someone what they want without giving them what they don't.

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  4. Oh my. This is well-written, but ultimately, the witch is a witch. She pimped her sons to gang-rape a drugged woman. Is this the origin of roofies?

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    1. Doesn't have to be roofies per se -- any immobilising drug will do.

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    2. It's not the usual "fairy dust and rainbow juice" kind of magic, is it?

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  5. The writing is good, but you might want to put a trigger warning at the top.

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    1. Correction: PLEASE put a trigger warning at the top. Because it does trigger.

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    2. This is an interesting point, which I've been thinking about. I've never put trigger warnings on my work because I can't predict how people will react to it.

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  6. Oh my. Poor woman. Well I guess that's preferable to possible death.

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    1. If all works as it should, the only traces of this night of "magic" will be the memories of the witch and her sons. And they will never talk.

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