A witch’ tale

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Not all witches are equal, as they can choose among several specializations. My ancestor Uberta was a weaver-witch: she distributed enchantments right and left through the fabrics that she prepared with her hand-loom.

She used magic to heal, this is why I think it is imprecise to call her witch, but in our female branch of the family we have handed down the legend of Uberta as a woman who was porched at the extreme limit of ugliness, therefore it would have been even more imprecise to call her fairy.

In those days witches were tolerated as a necessary evil: their names spreaded from mouth to mouth when official medicine drooped down and gratitude gestures for their healings had to be as discreet as possible.

I cannot enumerate the countless wonders that Uberta worked: if so, I should tell you all wonders worked by all women, mothers and daughters of the endless human line that binds me to the beginning of the world. I will just tell you that if a delivery turned out more dangerous than usual or if a catarrah excess threatened to open the tomb doors, Uberta’s blankets and shawls adjusted the natural balances: children were born without crying and lungs opened like corollas at dawn. Then, my great-great-grandmother came back to her hut where the day after, on the doorstep, she found a pumpkin, a chicken, a basket full of eggs.

People accepted witches only if they made themself useful and if they did not tread on someone’s toes, otherwise… well, I suppose you know history.

Uberta always respected this unwritten law.

Except once.

He was a young knight who had just come back from the crusade. He brought on his body the scars made by moors and on his soul the gashes of memory. Uberta found him in the woods: he was coughing and screaming his nightmares while, at a distance, his horse was watching at that freakishy master. It was the daybreak of a mercyless winter: the knight was covered by sweat that already begun to frost. He did not open his eys, but he went on coughing and yelling as if he had a bonfire inside.

Uberta well knew that woods: she usually went there to pick up elves bones, that she transformed, by cutting and by filing, into little buttons for thaumaturgic porte-enfant. When she saw the knight kicking on the path, she did not loose time: she went to the old hollow oak; inside there was the blue spider who supplied her with the raw material for her fabrics. She had with him a brief discussion – few words that the majority of people ignores – and then she put one hand in the trunk: she took it back by holding a very thin glimmering silk thread. She lifted it above her head and then she let it float in the air. The thread, instead of falling, ate the spider’s sobber and grew, and became longer in a phosphorescent tangle that, after a graceful swishing, built in a fabric that was simply perfect.

When Uberta put that cover on the knight, he suddenly calmed down, as if someone had injected in his body a valerian extract.

He slept many hours while the witch kept watch. He opened his eyes when the owls were already awake.

Arg! What an abomination had your mother committed to give life to such a daughter?”

This was his chilvary! But Uberta, who, during the long wake hours, had admired his long gold-browni eyelashes and his egyptian-cut nose, did not get upset: after all, she already was used to similar comments.

My kind… sir! You should at least thank me, considering that I took care of you, instead of ignoring you to go on with my daily herbal collection.”

He noticed the cover in wich he was wrapped: very light and transparent, it could not be the result of a human work. Then she smiled and… yes, maybe love is written in the depths of the eternity and this is why we do not understand his language anymore.

Actually it did not take long before the knight felt in love with my great-great-grandmother. He started visiting the hub each day and the link that bound the two youngs became stronger and stronger. But love has a human origin component that is subdue to world filth.

The knight had a sister who was a very jealous lady. When she heard about the hidden relationship, the maids of honors lost each control over her hair, that grew fuzzier and fuzzier and rebelled to each treatment tryal.

Lady Ada, this was her name, attached to things and person like a sucker; her palms seemed to be sticky with some kind of misterious glue that no solvent could dissolve. And if she was deprived of something, or someone, she suffered as if the strap had skinned and left her with exposed flesh.

It was not difficult for her to separate the two lovers: it was sufficient to choose a war, one of the many ones that shaked those days, and let the brother be overwhelmed with his sense of duty. Lady Ada was equipped with a lot of words: she chose them with a devilish pedantry, and those crept into the victim and worked inside. In few weeks, her brother, exposed to those weapons made by air, became like the drawned corpse, with the tummy that move and jolted because of abscene business that go on under his skin. He could not resist.

He left without greating Uberta, who knew about him by reading her fabrics’ weft.

Years went by. Lady Ada managed to keep away her brother by sending him from a war to another with a facility that seemed even ridiculous: sometimes a woman doesn’t need magic to have hold on men.

Uberta went on with her usual life, her healings, her loneliness. She had refined her dexterity with the loom and her fabrics were more and more desired. But they were soaked wet with tears.

One day, Lady Ada’s maid appeared on her treshold.

My child is ten years old and he doesn’t talk yet. Please, give me something that can spare him a miserable life!”

Uberta opened a wooden case that was full with doodled covers: she chose one and gave it to the maid.

She watched her while she was going away and could not help shivering with a sort of disgust. Although she did not know, this was not a groundless feeling: actually lady Ada had sent her maid because she wanted one of the covers whose splendour the whole village praised, no matter if they were weaved by her former rival.

But as soon as the maid rested the cover on her shoulders, it melted in a myriad of tears.

The wrath explosion was dreadful and the maid had to put up with the cane while she tried to scream out her innocence. With the witch’ tears that dried on her body, lady Ada screamed obscenities and curses like one of her stable-boys. But minute after minute, while the wrath left her breathless, the words went out from her mouth in a way that was more and more incomprehensible.

First, vowels mingles, then consonants felt as dead: lady Ada, who used words as a feared and exceptional weapon, had now such a swollen tongue that she did not manage to close her mouth.

All visits and receptions at courts were cancelled. Lady Ada closed herself in an abandomned aisle of her palace. She received only her maid who served her and the surgeon who made up a complicate tubes system to let her eat through her nose without suffocating.

As a result, lady Ada forgot her brother, and the knight, not being hold away by her words and hustlings, came back to Uberta.

Had I been at the place of my great-great-grandmother, I would have left lady Ada becoming dry shut within her four walls, so that she could purge with silence all evil words that she had uttered. But Uberta had a soft heart and her man convinced her to heal his sister. Therefore she sent her a shawl. She had colored it with rainbow indigo and in the warp she weaved nightingale’s feathers that changed their shades with the day light.

Every face at the village turned when the maid who carried the masterpiece walked by; it was impossible to watch somewhere else, as eyes were drawn by the soft light that slipped from her hands.

Lady Ada, who at this point was thinking about cutting that abominable flesh piece that grew in her mouth, fell thunderstruck when she saw the present.

But here, despite the happy end seemed nearby, it got destroied by one of those overturnings that are so commong when a story is full of women.

Lady Ada refused both the shawl and the magic that it promised.

She pawed the ground like a foul beside the maid who wanted to put it on her shoulders, and at the end she throw it in the fireside. By burning, the shawl emitted a slight rose parfume.

Nobody knew the reasons of such a reaction. Some people said that she feared another spell; other people said that she did not accept any favour from the witch who had stolen her brother’s love.

I do not know. Anyway, witches or not, women ofter are incomprehensible. But there is one thing that we, the female branch of my family, have learned and that we hand down each other with our genetic code: men, boyfriends and husbands must strictly be only children.

(I translated this from a short story of mine that won a prize here in Italy and that was published in a little collection: sorry if English is often wrongly used..)

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