In a cottage on the cliffs beside the sea lived a witch. She brewed potions, wrote spell books, and helped cure the sick. One day, she became very sick. Everyone marched in a line to her cottage and gave her presents of soup, herbs, and hand-made gifts in hopes that she would quickly recover.
The witch was very happy that so many people cared about her, but she knew she would not get better. So, she decided she would give away her books, her potions, and her cures to the nearby village. When people came to give her gifts, soup, and herbs, she made sure each person left with a gift, until only one person was left. He didn’t have a gift for her, and her home was empty of gifts.
“Little boy, what would you like? I have nothing left to give away, but I still have my magic.”
The little boy walked to her and smiled. “I want to live here with you, and help you get better.”
“Isn’t there anything else you would like?” She asked him in a weak and tired voice.
“Nothing else.” The boy replied.
She could not turn him away. He only asked for one thing, and she was afraid to give it to him. “Where are your parents?”
“They died a long time ago, when I was a baby. I was going to be born dead, and my father told you to give his life to me. My mother died during childbirth to make me strong. I lived with the family in the church until now.”
The witch remembered his birth, and began to cry. “You may stay as long as you like. My house is yours now.”
The little boy began to feed her soup, and she taught him how to use potions to heal, and she got better, because his hands did not shake like hers did.
Christophe closed the book and looked at his small daughter, Mercy, in the bed. She slept so quickly, before he finished the story. He leaned down and kissed her head. “Good night,” he whispered as he walked out of her bedroom. Herbs hung in bunches from the rafters of the ancient home, expanded through the generations to hold a family that was sometimes large, and sometimes small. The current generation was tiny, with only father and daughter. Mercy’s mother died of illness shortly after she was born.
With a sigh, Christophe walked to the framed image of the woman who gave him the priceless gift of a daughter. She was tall and proud, with a long nose and deep blue eyes, like the ocean below the high, promontory cliffs on a calm day.
He smiled at fond memories of a summer romance and a snowy winter wedding, filled with loved ones. His brothers and sisters were all there, and her small family was present. All of their friends attended, as well, and the banquet after was filled with love and life.
Christophe paused as he recalled the strange ritual that happened right after every marriage in his family.
An old woman, who none recognized, always approached and asked a question in the middle of the banquet, in front of all. Her question was eerie and left everyone with a strange sense of unease, until she blessed the happy couple.
“If your first child is doomed, will you give your lives for him?” The old woman asked. Of course, Christophe and Ruby said they would without question, and the ancient woman smiled and spoke again. “May your marriage be happy, and your children healthy.”
After that, the party awkwardly resumed. Eventually, the woman disappeared, and nobody noticed her absence among the partying throng, and only Ruby and Christophe recalled her presence.
Christophe sighed regretfully and placed the framed photo back onto the mantle. He closed his eyes as he thought back to the night his wife died. Their daughter, little Mercy, had been ill for a long time before his wife became sick. An unfamiliar woman came in and cared for both for a time. She banished Christophe for the entire night. Come morning, Mercy ran from the house. She was fully whole and cheerful. The strange woman emerged. She looked exhausted, and her expression was bittersweet. “I was only able to save your daughter, lord.”
Her words shocked Christophe with their bluntness. “Thank you for saving Mercy.” he managed. “And thank you for efforts to save my wife, also.” He remembered how long he cried, and how Mercy’s gentle love pulled him from his depression.
Now, his debts from his education were piling up. He was getting loans from his family just to keep up with payments and support his daughter. He had to work three jobs, barely slept, and got one day a week to spend with his daughter. How he cherished Sundays! Sadly, his was about to end. Christophe walked to his easy chair and sat with a grunt. He placed one hand over his eyes. How would his daughter fare without a home? He saw no easy solution.
A knock came from the door, and he rose. “I wonder who’s coming way out here so early?” he murmured as he opened the door. It was the same stranger who saved his daughter’s life just a few years ago. He recognized the dark, curled hair and her warm smile. She smelled of barely-familiar spices. Her short figure was strangely endearing. “Ah, hello again.” He greeted in surprise. “Can I help you? Please, come in.” He held the door open for her. “Would you like some tea?”
The woman smiled. “That sounds lovely. I’m looking for a place to stay, and I’m willing to work to pay for it. I heard rumors of your hardships, and decided to ask if you would like someone to help care for Mercy and keep the house clean while you work.”
Another mouth to feed would be difficult to manage, but… “Yeah. That sounds very nice. I can set up my sister’s old room for you, if you like. It creaks a bit, but it’s the second warmest in the house, come winter.”
“Thank you. That’s very generous.” Her smile gave Christophe some relief.
Originally, he intended to politely decline her. Why did he say yes? He couldn’t figure it out. He quickly found, as they chatted over tea, that he didn’t mind. Certainly, he might need to pay more for food, but his daughter would not be alone after school, and the strange woman was kind and had good humor.
Perhaps this arrangement would not be so bad, after all.