Deep in the woods
On the map that I am holding, my dear, there is a large county, washed on one side by the sea, surrounded on the other by an ancient forest, filled with creatures of wondrous kinds.
Far to the north-west corner of that forest stands an old wooden cabin that, some people say, once belonged to a forest ranger.
Where is that ranger now, who knows? Maybe the crows know if they pecked his white bones. Maybe the ants know if they made his skull their home. There is no certain answer to what happened to the ranger; at least, nobody has come to tell yet. All we know is that many years ago he left his home one morning and never returned.
First, mice and rats took over his cabin, but they were gone when the last grain of barley was eaten and the last candle was nibbled down to crumbs. Then spiders and mites came to claim the property. After ten years had passed, a new strange visitor had arrived. А wicked witch named Priscilla wandered upon the cabin and found it to be comfortable enough to make it her new home.
Priscilla was not born wicked, but the appearance that she had inherited made her despised by people and, therefore, bitter. The regular folk feared and disliked her just because of the way she looked; that is why she settled deeply in the ancient forest, where human feet rarely stepped. She felt comfortable there, for the forest creatures had their own idea of beautiful and never mentioned that she was ugly.
Many would agree that Priscilla had a typical look of a witch: a long nose, bushy eyebrows, crooked fingers and sharp, greenish teeth. Her arms and legs were quite hairy; her hands were speckled with brown warts. Needless to say, Priscilla hated to see her reflection, whether it be in a lake or a bucket of fresh water. She was so frustrated, that she stopped washing her face, and the only mirror in her entire household was intended solely for scrying; which, my dear, is how witches see things lost or hidden while gazing into a mirror.
Nonetheless, Priscilla was both gifted and skilled a witch. She could cure headaches, banish lice and tapeworms, she could even make hair grow again on a bald head! Strangely, she was never able to get rid of her own nasty warts. No matter what spell or ointment she used to remove them, the warts always returned the next morning. She must have been cursed.
Priscilla shared her home with familiars: a cat named Philip, and a raven, whose name was Rochester. These two kept her company for years, but she longed for a bit of human attention. After all, she was human, too.
To the east of the ancient forest lay the village of Blackwoods. It was dark and gloomy, inhabited just by a few families of very unusual people. The Blackwoods folk were skilled craftsmen: mostly masons and carpenters. They lived in sturdy wooden houses painted black and rarely welcomed visitors. Not a very good-looking kind themselves, Blackwoodsters did not mind Priscilla’s appearance at all. The witch visited them comfortably from time to time for business: healing a broken bone here, fixing a joint there, getting new tools or furniture in exchange. But she was much more drawn to the regular people, who lived in the town of Bluebells, which was situated to the south of the forest, across a deep lake.
The witch enjoyed going to the Bluebells Saturday market, where she sold some of the herbs that she grew in her garden. Although the Bluebells folk were mostly scared of witches, Priscilla learned just the spell to trick them. It was called “The Charming Disguise Spell” in her spell book.
The Charming Disguise spell
Every Friday night Priscilla prepared herself for the Saturday market in Bluebells. She tied her garden herbs into bunches, put them into a large basket, lit black candles on her magic altar, and opened the spell book on her favorite page. Loudly reciting the incantations, Priscilla mixed horrible ingredients in her cauldron, rubbed her hands and face with toad blood and, when the potion was ready, she quickly drank it to the last drop and went to bed. Just to wake up as the loveliest old lady you could ever imagine!
For a whole day the spell helped Priscilla look like a charming grandma with beautiful locks of silver hair, shiny blue eyes, and a round chin. The spell even changed Priscilla’s dress, turning the worn-out purple fabric into white linen with red cherries printed on it. The pointy hat turned into a wonderful laced bonnet and her timeworn cloak became much more attractive, reliably hiding a peculiar necklace of chicken bones and cranberries. That was certainly a powerful enchantment!
There was only one thing that the spell could not transform. Priscilla’s hands always remained the same: scary-looking, with crooked fingers, long dirty nails, and those ugly brown warts. No matter how fresh were the hairy spiders that went into the cauldron, or how ripe were the goatberries, or how finely were the frog bones ground, the witch’s hands did not change. To hide her frightening witch hands from the people of Bluebells, Priscilla had to wear a pair of gloves when she went to the market.
Priscilla had to be extra-cautious while under the spell. If someone was to discover that she was a witch in disguise and accuse her of that, the spell would be broken and her true look would be revealed. A witch, whose disguise was undone, could never use the Charming Disguise Spell again, unless the accuser was sacrificed to the idol of shape shifting. That sounded very complicated and time-consuming, so Priscilla just tried very hard to be careful.
 Scrying is a practice of looking in a mirror in hope to find a message or a vision. Crystal balls are also used for scrying.
 Incantation: a magic spell created using words.
 Bonnet: a hat, usually tying under the chin and framing the face.
 Timeworn: damaged or made less attractive as a result of age or much use.
 Peculiar: odd, different of what is normal or expected.
 To accuse: claim that someone has done something wrong.
 To sacrifice: to offer or kill for the sake of a deity.