short story (7 min read)
The Sacred Night of Witches
by Thor Magnusson
Today is that sacred celebration, set three days before their Lord’s rebirth. All the witches from high or low would come out to play and the vast wilderness became our playground - fruit wine flowed freely, the dances were merry and there was plenty of naughty business that us witches so enjoy. Some years we’d even be honoured with a visit from the ‘Dark Noble’, a man who could conjure up repulsion and lust all within the same glare, his visits were fleeting but rarely forgotten. In the past, the event was orchestrated by our graceful leader Guorun the Silver Mane - a fetching figure, grey-haired yet blessed with a striking youthful face and cold steel eyes. She held our kind together, travelling the country and upholding the legacy, her trusty Crimson Wolf always at her side.
Yet times move on, no longer in the midst of our glory days when our kind was celebrated and respected by the masses. In the past, we were seen as guiding lights, the woman of wisdom they cherished and honoured. The fascination with the Kinshine changed everything - slowly but surely our kind became hunted, tortured and burned by those doing Aurora’s ‘good’ work.
Now the last of us that remain have immigrated to this miserable piece of land, the Brown Fields - a dusty and lifeless plain with only a handful of cabins and bitter hags that sit inside them, their only excitement found in planning what malicious acts to carry out next. Guorun has been missing for many a year, some thought dead, some thought exiled to the Ice Peaks in the North.
Ultimately our celebration has lost its joy, closer to the dreadful sensation of going to a funeral, yet by obligation, it is still carried out with the leftover of our kind. Those few that still live outside the realm (only by way of disguise) make the long journey to the bonfire spot, as do the isolated old bags that live on this forsaken dirt field - honestly it’s the only time I see this miserable bunch even though some live only several steps away from my abode.
I’ve always carried out the duty of setting up the bonfire and this time was no different - plenty of rat wheat, vanilla cuts and green spice sprinkled across the animal skulls in the centre, some dried wood to help keep the flames going on top. I managed to coax a simple-minded goat from outside to follow me back into the Realm, he would make a suitable gift for the blood sacrifice at the chime of night’s middle. He wasn’t an impressive specimen, in fact, he was fairly over the hill, but it was the thought that counted nowadays, most of these hags won’t even bother bringing anything along anymore.
Volva was the first to arrive, I wasn’t surprised, she didn’t hold much activity asides from this annual gathering but unfortunately, her company was about as welcome as a finger slicing session with a blunt dagger. She was a skinny, hairless character that felt about as comfortable with chatting with others as she did living underneath her own shrivelled skin. It wasn’t all her fault, the poor creature was born without any business downstairs or vessel to give birth, it was a dark cloud that followed her around ever since her beginnings, where she couldn’t be defined as man or woman but became stuck as an unhappy mix in between. I couldn’t hate her, she meant no harm yet her early arrival meant I was subjected to her constant attempts at reaching out and fascinating me with her herbal wild-bush remedies when all I wanted to do was get on with the preparations.
Thank Freya then that Venhilda the Mud Witch arrived soon after. She emerged from the borders of the Plush Wilds, dragged on a cart by her trusty Larson, her wild boar companion. She carried a belly and bosom almost as big as her heart, with a permanent smile and rose-tinted blubber that could cheer up even the coldest of dispositions. She spent her days in an oozy mud patch south of here that connected to the Plush Wilds. It was considered an open sanctuary for any wounded or sick creatures, where her motherly care would nurse them back to health. Larson also carried a satchel of fruits and sweet-root (oh, how Venilda loved her sweet-root). Her presence cheered things up as the sunset and a handful of other forgettable witches arrived.
Things didn’t really fill up until nightfall of course. Yet that inevitable moment came when the wind froze and the hairs on our pits stood up like we were sitting on a glacier, this only meant one thing - Mara was near. Slowly emerging out of the shadows, she always made for a pleasant sight - black messy hair forming a curtain around her face then two red eyes peaked through the mess, with the bonus of elongated claws for nails and dried bloodless skin for her complexion. The group sat tight-lipped until she finally and awkwardly took a seat. That witch and her late sister Brynhild, were a literal nightmare when paired together - feeding off the souls of children or sleeping innocents naive enough to leave their windows open after nightfall, they were about as pleasant to be around as a wooden stake and a flaming death sentence. Still, since Brynhild died in an embarrassingly messy manner, Mara hasn’t been as vicious as she once was, keeping to herself and speaking rarely at all. Anyhow Mara and I were never fans of each other (mostly due to a late friend of mine being behind her sister's death) but at least now with witches being a rare majority, we could at least tolerate each other's presences.
The gathering was fairly dull, not many brought gifts; old fruits and herb remedies, another starved and frail goat, some root-wine that tasted like week old faeces (oh, how I missed my friend Ingastina’s turnip-juice) and Mara’s raw vermin intestines snacks. It was a slightly depressing affair, the all-night celebrations of yesteryear were a thing long gone and here we were only growing older, bitter and unloved. We all sat around mostly in silence, chowing down on the sweet-root, the one enjoyable thing in this place. It was all a sad reminder that our rightful place among the tribes we cared for, sat a vast distance away, and we were just left with this dead patch of land.
The sole moment that got our blood pumping was an interruption by the Draken; the usually solitary creatures aimlessly grouped together, all attracted by the flames of the bonfire, they floated forward in a drowsy state hungry for souls. Those mindless bastards didn’t know what they got into to as a flaming ball from my staff tumbled several, then a piercing Scream Spell from Mara sent the rest scattering - they now know better than to approach a gang of witches in the Brown Fields. It was a strange moment that brought a new feeling - the loneliness melted away for a breath and the animosity was lost, our group was small, but it was one that was bound together. Yet the emotion was fleeting and quickly forgotten, and soon after the night winded down just as the bonfire's flames. Sure, we killed those two pathetic goats at the chime of night’s middle, but done out of routine and not ecstatic cheer, and soon the group shuffled off in their different directions, most tired and unenthused - just another passing that had passed.
I sat up that night thinking of the times of yesterday, and how little I looked forward to tomorrow, if only us witches could think as one, maybe things could turn brighter. Then I heard something in the distance of the night, far up high, almost a murmur. It came bouncing off the cold walls of the Ice Peaks, a noise that sounded like something distinct and from the past - could it be, the howl of a Crimson Wolf?