It seems I am to be a witch. Or rather, it seems I am one already. I certainly could not have predicted this. I'm told I have a choice, that I can refuse if I wish to, that I can simply walk out the door and never look back…
Where would I go? I have nowhere else to be. Perhaps this is what I've been looking for. Perhaps I have finally found a place where I can truly belong. It seems so unlikely, so strange, and yet…perhaps if I force myself to believe it, I can will it into truth. Perhaps I have at last found a home.
I'm told I should record my life and work in these pages, that this is what witches do. I'm not sure how to begin. I suppose I might start by telling how I came to this place. It is a simple story: I was in the forest; it was dark; it was raining; I was lost. Perhaps it is wrong to say I was lost, as that implies that I had some destination in mind, when in reality my only goal was to find somewhere reasonably warm and dry where I could shelter for the night, or at least until the rain had stopped. I was cold, wet, and miserable and growing more so as the night went on. The full moon was bright enough that some of its light reached me through the clouds and the leaves, but it was still dark enough that I kept tripping on roots and walking into trees. When I found myself lying in the mud for what felt like the hundredth time, I couldn't quite find the strength to get back up again. I managed to sit up, but standing seemed to require more effort than I was capable of. I was so exhausted that it took me a moment to realize that the surface I was leaning against was too smooth and flat to be a tree. I ran my hands along it, hardly daring to believe…it was a wall. I stumbled to my feet. Surely a wall must be part of a house, surely a house must have…a door! Had I been less desperate, less miserable, I would have knocked, of course. As it was, I simply grabbed the handle, wrenched open the door, and threw myself inside. I suppose it was lucky, then, that the house was empty. It was just a hut really, only one room with just a few pieces of furniture, everything covered in a thick layer of dust. There was, however, a fireplace and - miraculously - a stack of dry firewood. I started a fire easily, though I had never been good at it and though my fingers were stiff from the cold. Had I been less tired, I might have found it strange. I might have wondered at the dim light in the cabin, which seemed to have no source. I might have been unnerved and forced myself back into the rain. As it was, I simply curled up on the floor in front of the fire and fell asleep.
The fire was long dead by the time I awoke, but I was no longer cold. I was even almost dry. I pried open the shudders and the room was filled with mid-morning light. I looked around the place where I had spent the night. It was clearly abandoned. As I had nowhere else to be, I decided to explore, though, frankly, there didn't seem to be much to see. One side of the room was taken up by a simple but solid wooden table with a bench on either side, while the other side contained only a bed and a large trunk. The wood of the bed frame had rotted until it had snapped in the middle, and the mattress stunk of mould. The trunk was locked. The wall opposite the door had no windows and no furniture leaning against it. It was entirely lined with shelves, and these shelves were filled with all sorts of curious things: jars and bottles filled with various substances - powders, liquids, dried herbs, jellies, pickled…things - some labelled, some familiar, some completely unidentifiable; bunches of dried herbs and flowers; small, finely carved wooden boxes filled with exotic spices; various animal horns and bones; goblets, bowls and other dishes, most of clay, but some of glass or metal or materials I did not recognize; and six large leather bound books. I was drawn to the books, as I always am. Three of them were handwritten, filled with notes and sketches and diagrams, all rather difficult to read. The other three were printed, and therefore much more legible. The titles sent shivers down my spine: Identification and Properties of Common Plants, Stones and Animal Parts; Simple Spells and Potions; and Methods of Scrying and Divining.
These were a witch's books. This was a witch's home. Dread rose in my throat until I thought I might be sick. Magic had caused me enough trouble already; I wanted nothing more to do with it. I rushed to the door and was about to swing it open and flee when I was pulled up short by a knock on the door. I froze. I held my breath, staring at the door, hoping that I had imagined the sound. There was another knock. What should I do?
"I know you're in there," a voice said. "You'd better open the door."
I sighed. What could I do? I opened the door.
An old woman stood there, her bright blue eyes boring into me as though she could see into my soul and was not terribly impressed. She looked me up and down.
"So you're the new witch?" She said. "Well, you don't look like much, but who am I to judge? Let's get you settled in, shall we?"
She pushed passed me and marched to the table, dropping a large parcel onto it with a sigh of relief and then lowering herself onto the bench with a groan. I stayed at the door, frozen to the spot. We stared at each other in silence for a moment.
"Well?" she said impatiently. "Are you going to give me crick in my neck from staring up at you, or are you going to sit down?"
I closed the door and half-stumbled to the table.
"I'm sorry," I said. "There must be some mistake. I'm not a witch. I thought this house was abandoned, I just came in for the night to shelter from the rain. I'll leave, immediately -"
"Nonsense." The old woman cut me off. "You found this house because it let you find it, and it would not have let you find it unless you were its witch."
There was a moments silence as I tried to make sense of this statement. I couldn't.
"What do you mean 'it let me find it'? And what do you mean 'its witch'?"
She sighed. "You're not from this kingdom, are you?"
"Of course I am." I said, a bit offended. "I've lived in Erendiel all my life."
"We're not in Erendiel. We're in Valrick."
I began to feel that this conversation was spiralling far out of my control.
"I think I know what country I'm in." I said with as much firmness as I could manage - which wasn't much, unfortunately.
"One forest looks much like another in the dark and the rain," the old woman said. "Take a look outside and see if you're still so sure."
I walked to the door, opened it, and looked outside. She was right. The trees, the grass, the birdsong, all were slightly different than what I was used to. This was not the same forest I had started out in. I walked back to the table and collapsed onto the bench.
"I don't understand." I said. "How could I travel across two kingdoms in a single night without even knowing it?"
The old woman sighed. "Listen, girl - what's your name?"
"You don't have to tell me your real name if you don't want to, but I have to call you something." She said, rather impatiently.
I thought for a moment. "Triniel. You can call me Triniel."
"Triniel." She repeated. "Townsfolk call me Grandmother Witch, but as you are a fellow witch, you may call me by name, which is Lineris. This area has been without a witch for over six years, Triniel. I imagine it was getting tired of waiting for a suitable candidate to just wander in, so it decided to go and find someone. It found you in Erendiel and brought you here to the Deepwood of Valrick, to be its witch and serve its people."
"I've been taken captive…by a forest?" I said.
"By a piece of a forest, yes. There are twelve witches in the Deepwood, each serving their own witchdom. And you're not a captive. You can leave whenever you like, although the witchdom wouldn't have taken you if it hadn't sensed that you wanted to leave."
Well, I couldn't deny that. I had wanted to get out of Erendiel. I had wanted a new life…but a life as a witch?
"Why would it choose me? I don't know how to be a witch. I don't know anything about…about any of it. I'm not…I'm nobody."
"Good," Lineris said curtly. "If you're nobody, there's nothing to prevent you from being a witch. Here's your chance to be somebody." She pushed the package she had been carrying toward me. "The other witches of the Deepwood will be visiting you in the next month or so to introduce themselves and present you with your welcome gifts. Here's mine." I carefully unwrapped the brown cloth to reveal a small, plain but sturdy cauldron. "You'll want to get yourself another one in town of course," Lineris continued. "You should always have at least two pots: one for potions and one for food. Never confuse the two! You do not want magical residue in your soup, believe me." Having dispensed her no-doubt excellent advice, she stood up and started for the door.
"Wait!" I said. "You're leaving already! I don't…what do I do now?"
"Well, the townsfolk will have seen the smoke from your chimney by now and will know there's a new witch in residence. You may be getting your first customers soon, so I suggest you start studying!" Lineris replied shortly, nodding towards the books on the shelf. "The handwritten ones are the notebooks of the previous witch. There's also a blank one that's for you. You'll be expected to keep detailed accounts of your experiments and of any spells or potions you invent, as well as a journal of your day-to-day affairs."
"There's no blank book." I said. "I was just looking at them before you came in, and they're all filled in."
I looked on the shelf, and sure enough there was now a seventh book, its pages blank and the inside cover inscribed with the words "Here are Recorded the Works and Days of the Witch Triniel."
"But…" I said. "I just made up that name. How could it possibly…"
I turned around, but the old witch had vanished. I sighed and carried the book to the table. I sat down and looked around for something to write with, and was startled to see a sharpened quill and inkpot on the table in front of me. They had definitely not been there a moment ago. I sighed again, took up the quill, dipped it in ink, and began to write.