A campfire burns like sin, crackling spitting embers onto the cold grave soil. I am huddled in witch rags of brown rough cloth, pale and starved, making pottage soup over this treacherous flame, in the midst of harrowing woods, in a little hollow by a small boulder which I use to reflect heat, sitting between stone and fire. I am a witch, of course I am, but one who was never accepted by her village, and so lives a castaway dream.
The night is bitter winter, November bordering on December, and suddenly the shadows on the cliff face dance like bodies burning. I see witches at stakes, I see witches at Sabbats, I see witches carousing with demons. I watch the nighttime play with trepidation, knowing the calling card of the Witchfather if ever I saw Black Sam, Black Sam, Black Sam.
The sparks begin to form wisps of women and tango together in gypsy skirts. Red eyes form out of the fire, and suddenly standing burning in the roaring campfire is the Witchfather, deer skulled, antlers raising up like swords piercing the sky, an old wood staff with a ruby at the helm, a cowl, robe, and hood pulled over him to obscure the blazes in his eye, and bone hands offering me a leather grimoire.
“It’s been a while, witch daughter,” he rasps, a bone voice, and I shudder at the eldritch horror of it as tentacles of darkness writhe over the flame, a Lovecraftian appendage reaching out to caress my cheek and wipe away a small tear. “Why are you in these woods, alone?”
“Ma and pa died in the plague, and my village cast me out thinking me a Plague Mary,” I whisper, beginning to cry. “They said I had brought a curse to their village, a witch and fey enchantress that breathes misfortune wherever she goes.”
“Tell me, witch daughter,” Black Sam murmurs like a snake rattle, “would you come with me and be my bride? This world is full of sorrow, but in my realm, in my kingdom of darkness, we drink fine red wine, eat red meat, and live bloody and true. I would make you my bride, witch daughter, if only you shall give me some pottage.”
I terror at the thought. “What use have you for a bride, oh Black Sam,” I say through sobs, clutching my tattered white skirts to my bruised legs and crying more. “You may have all the pottage you like, but I cannot promise it will be very good… I have not had the heart to cook well in ages, and sleeping out here in the woods is draining the life from me. I will not last the night.”
“True, you are more bones than flesh, your skin anemic like lead powder, and your heart full of remorse.” He shapeshifts into a man with ebon hair, pale flesh, red cats eyes and still the same terrifying robe, but his voice is low and base, a man’s, not bone, not wind, not a rood. I offer him a dull wooden bowl with cracks full of the wild herb stew I have brewed, and I sigh as he takes it, his talons black. “But you are ever, eternally beautiful, witch daughter. All you need is love, a home, a kingdom to call your own, a broom to ride, and a sorcerer king to wipe your sorrows away. Let me make you my bride, if the pottage is true.”
He pulls a hollowed bone spoon from his pockets and samples the pottage, his fangs agleam in the fire and moonlight. “Ah, divine, made with witchcraft true,” he whispers like a siphon, then smiles fully like a serpent. “Simple yet as powerful as a rich man’s steak. Pottage is worth a birthright, after all.”
“Like Jason and Esau…” I murmur, timidly collecting my skirts and going across to the other side of the fire to lean into Black Sam’s arms. He puts a veiled arm around me and squeezes tight. This small display of affection sets off a dam in my chest, and tears waterfall out.
“When I found you in the woods at twelve, and you claimed me, Witchfather, I did not know this path would be so heartless, cruel, and hard. I should have been a cook. I should have been a wife. I should have been a wetnurse. Anything, anything but witch!”
“You will cook my food. You will be my wife. You will nurse our children, cambions they may be, but sure to grow like Agrat bat Mahalath and Merlin alike. You are strong, you are kind, and you love like nature does, mistress of mine the Goddess is. You are as much Goddess as I am God, and your village may deny you, but I will only love you fiercely, with all my black magic.”
He kisses me then, with black pepper lips, and his roving tongue stakes out a claim in my mouth. It is full of passion, and I return it with vigor, I am so hungry, so starved and ill, but the edge of death awakens a deep need in me, and so I kiss Black Sam, and soon we are undressed, and making love like two ghosts in the night. I cry out to the hills and hollows as I come like rain, and afterwards, spent in his pale arms, against his muscled chest, I cry more, but he licks my tears away like white wine, wraps me up in his cloak.
And we fade into the night, into the Underworld, become one with the hills and harrows.
And I am made Queen.
“You don’t have far to go girl -“
“You don’t have