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  • Writer's pictureRitwik Raha

The Honey Witch

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

1317 A.D

Somewhere in Germany

It was a dark, grim day. The townsfolk had gathered in the Vehmgericht, the local court for the trial of the honey witch. She stood in the middle, a very fragile old woman, battered, bruised, and beaten within an inch of her life. Her feet and hands were riddled with heavy chains that bind horses or cattle. The mob that surrounded her, threw stones, curses, and even mud if they could find it.

The seat of justice called on the first witness as a veil of reluctant hush fell on the crowd. It was a local woodcutter who frequented the deeper parts of the woods. The honey witch shook her head vaguely whispering faint words. The judge paid her no heed as he addressed the witness.

“Now, tell us what you have seen about this woman.”

“ Yes Freistuhlen, ...uh my lord. Sometimes I take my axe here and go a little deep into the woods, for the older trees. And many a time just before it gets dark I hear unholy sounds. Now I am god fearing man and I carry the cross with me, but it's not wise to turn a blind eye to danger. So one day I followed the sounds deeper and deeper into the woods...and then...then I saw it..her. She was eating...children...sweet souls. She ate and danced around a great big flame and the was the sound of their bones and flesh cracking in that spit-roast...I ran away, for I had never seen anything so impure and hateful. I ran and I never looked back..”

The honey witch shifted again trying to straighten her hunched back. She murmured something again, a little louder this time.

“She ate our children”, someone from the crowd bellowed.

“ She poisoned our fields.”

“ She burned the happiness from this town.”

The crowd erupted in furious animosity. The guards of the court closed in on the woman. The witch shifted and turned and spoke again.

“ What does she have to say?”, one of the aldermen asked.

“Lies, all of it, lies”, the honey witch hissed out.

Little Margaret grew strange and quiet after the incident in the woods. She and her brother Hans were sent out to collect firewood. They had lost their way, wandering deep within the forest. As it grew darker they spotted a happy little cottage in a clearing. It smelled of pot roast and chocolate pudding. An old woman invited them in. Little did they know she planned to keep them as prisoners and eventually sell them or worse, eat them. The woman kept them, prisoner, for a week. In the end, little Margaret tricked her into the oven and freed herself and her brother Hans. The woman did not shriek or scream in pain. She looked at Little Margaret and smiled before the flames ate her. There was a cackle and a whisper-

‘My child, you will burn too.’

They ran and ran till they left the forest and found known faces. Her brother, Hans became the hero of the story. The kid who slayed the demon witch and saved her sister. Little Margaret did not mind. She was happy and safe to be back home. But the woman of the cottage haunted her dreams. The smiling face, the cackle, the whisper.

‘My child, you will burn too.’

The court grew chaotic with each passing moment, the mob bayed for the blood of the honey witch. She could barely stand anymore. Her face shrouded in matted white hair. Blood thickened at her temple. The aldermen and the judge called another witness, a plump little woman, who had recently lost both her children. She began her account, pausing regularly to sob and dry her eyes.

“ My lord, my son, and my daughter... I had sent them to fetch some firewood. They went into the forest. We are a poor house, my lord. The famine took our crops and our cattle. But our children... bless their souls, they keep us warm at night and bring joy to our lives. I sent them to fetch firewood my lord and they never came back. We looked for them everywhere, on the seventh day, my husband and I, we went deeper into the forest. We saw her cottage, the heathen house, that smelled of sin. But it wasn’t all. There were heads mounted on spikes. Little heads..bless them, their eyes plucked out and skin torn open. And I saw her, coming out the door. She is the Devil, she is...and she takes our children, tricks them with sweets and food and eats them whole.”

The crowd erupted once more. They threw pebbles at the accused. The honey witch sank to her feet, whispering to herself, and the world.

“Lies, all of them... Lies!”

Hans grew into a beautiful boy. Margaret however did not share the fortune of her brother. Her hunched back and twisted face were not features that were deemed beautiful or even pleasant. The boys made fun of her and even some of the older townsfolk laughed at her semblance. Margaret spent her days playing with little children and cooking for her family. Some days she would walk to the cottage where the old woman had kept them, prisoner. It was deserted now. She read the books from the shelves, filled with strange tales and obscure incantations. It was peaceful in that cottage. No taunting words, or jeering voices. Sometimes the air whispered to her and a faint cackle passed by.

‘My child, you will burn too.’

The Freistuhlen called upon the last witness, two children who had escaped from the witch. The little one who was a boy seemed afraid of the crowd, the girl kept looking at her father, the local hunter.

“Tell us, children, tell us what this woman did and how you escaped”

The boy spoke hesitantly, glancing at her sister before staring.

“ We went into the forest to collect wood and... and we got lost. We walked and walked and it got darker, and then and then we found this cottage... in the woods. She came out of it and took us in, she fed us well. There was pot roast and gingerbread and...”

“Yes, yes and what happened then?”, one of the aldermen asked impatiently.

“Nothing sir, she fed us and gave us sweets, and then she let us go”

The sister hushed her brother, pulling him sharply by his hand. She spoke calmly in a rehearsed voice.

“Forgive my brother, sire, he has lost his wits. That woman tried to kill us by pushing us into the oven.”

The honey witch hisses loudly over the roaring crowd. Her face swollen and twisted with pain.

“Liars, all of you...liars. I never hurt a single child or anyone. I lived alone in the woods and you hated me because I looked like a monster. But I am no monster, no no you are the real monsters, all of you... You leave your children in the woods to be eaten by beasts because you have no food. You murder your own children and burn your own houses because you have no food, and no money, and no love in your hearts.”

As they grew up, Margaret and Hans grew apart. When their parents died, Hans took the house for himself. He married a girl from the town. Margaret knew she had no place there and no one in the town would accept her. She went to live in the cottage of the old woman, hidden deep into the woods.

The books she had found there in her youth taught her many things. Eventually, she started casting spells. They were simple spells in the beginning, an apple for herself, a loaf of gingerbread.

The townsfolk despised her and thought she was devil incarnate. So she began hiding food in the woods. A box of chocolates for the children who came into the forests. A slice of ham for the woodcutter. A loaf of gingerbread for her brother. She knew she would never have children but she liked to watch the children as they enjoyed the food.

The mob had become feral as the aldermen discussed a suitable punishment for the accused with the Freistuhlen. The guards did not even bother to protect the woman from stones and bricks. She was bruised and battered, blood staining her grey tattered clothes.

“After closely investigating these terrible crimes”, spoke the judge as he picked up the sword that lay before him on the bench.

“And by the power vested in me by the Count, the law and the Church I hereby sentence this witch to her death. Since she is a terrible monster, capable of great deceit and monstrosity, she will not be burned or stoned as should be done to all witches. She will receive a proper Christian burial beneath the cross after she is washed of her sins with holy water. This shall indeed cleanse this satanic demon from the earth and purge this town of its sins.”

The crowd cheered and praised the judges and the aldermen and the count himself for upholding the law through his representatives. The guards heaved the woman from the floor. The sentence did not bother her, she looked around frantically searching for the children, the last witness. They were standing at a distance from the crowd with their father. The honey witch gathered whatever little strength she could find as she called to the father.

“Hans...Hans please, I never hurt them, I only gave them food. I never hurt your children.”

1939 A.D

Somewhere in Germany

The honey witch crawled out of her grave unsteadily. Life clung to her like a disease. She could not identify her surroundings. The trees had grown darker and the air was filled with smoke and ash. Heavy metal beasts flew in the skies.

She did not know how many years had passed or how many Counts had ruled the land while she slept.

“Are you escaping too?”

The honey witch turned to find two pairs of sunken eyeballs looking at her. It was a little boy and his sister, they looked like they had not eaten for days.

“ I am just passing through. What are your names, where is your family?”, the honey witch asked in reply.

The children did not speak. They simply stared at her. They were both wearing striped clothes, with a number on their chest.

“Do you want chocolates or sweets? I have gingerbread too.”

Silence punctuated the question. They did not move, the two siblings, they simply stared at her. The honey witch wondered if their parents had left them out to die or maybe a new Count.

“Why doesn't he speak?”, she finally asked the girl referring to her brother.

“We have escaped from the camp, German soldiers cut off his tongue and gassed him.”

The honey witch looked down at her grave and then at the skies where the metal beasts flew. Neither she spoke nor the children, only the air whispered and cackled softly.

‘My child, you will burn too.’

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