The Tree’s Gossip

“Perhaps it’s time to teach you summoning.”

This was completely out of nowhere, in the middle of lunch, a thin vegetable soup that Yarrow had spent almost the entire morning poking at. Yarrow nearly dropped her spoon; as it was, she could not contain herself from gaping at her teacher like an idiot.

“Summoning? As in, spirits? D-demons?”

“ ‘Demon’ is a very broad term,” the old woman said dryly. “And most of them look on it as an insult, so maybe pick another word to call ‘em by.”

“Alright. But — well — summoning!” Yarrow tried to collect her thoughts. The first truly witchy thing since she’d come up the mountain! “What — can I ask what brought this on?”

Nettle gave a gusty sigh. “Anthracite’s gone and stuck his beak in fey business. It’s only a matter of time until Her Royal Nibs decides to interfere aboveground. And that means getting backup from other places. You might as well learn it now, before you have to.”

It was gibberish, all of it, as far as Yarrow was concerned. But she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the eye, or however the saying went.

Especially since it looked like some of her questions might finally be answered.

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The Apprentice

Yarrow first met Anthracite as a mistake.

She was still getting used to answering to the name “Yarrow,” which was the first of her problems, because any witch worth her salt never answered to the name she was born with. Names were powerful things, more powerful than nail clippings or strands of hair. Only blood came close. If one of the long-leggedie-beasties of the forest got ahold of your real name, you could say goodbye to sense and wit and freedom.

Anthracite wasn’t just a long-leggedie-beastie, though, and more’s the pity: he was the crow-headed ferryman of the dead.

The second of Yarrow’s problems was connected to her first, and it was this — that she had only been a witch for three weeks. Where other young people in the village her age were taking on apprenticeships as chandlers, carpenters, spinsters, and blacksmiths, Yarrow had taken up an apprenticeship with the forest witch. She was an old woman, her hair pure gray and her face as wrinkled as a walnut, her clever fingers gnarled and spindly-long; and when she had knocked on the door and settled by the fire, Yarrow’s parents had taken the news … reasonably well, all things considered.

“Reasonably well” included such behaviors as turning pale (her mother), turning bright red (her father), making angry comments about how the witch ought to get out of the house before her hide got tanned (her mother), and pleas for the witch to reconsider (her father).

The witch Nettle had been undeterred. And Yarrow, after the initial shock of having someone tell her that she had the knack for magic, had been intrigued. It was the curiosity in her: once you got Yarrow by the curiosity, then she had you, and she’d not let go for love nor money ’til she found the answers to her questions.

(That was her third problem. But we’ll get to that shortly.)

Continue reading “The Apprentice”