The Witch's Oath
By Karl Dandenell 
The old witch Enid tugged at her ear. “Come again?”
“I want to be a witch,” Codi repeated.
“Harrumph. Boys can’t be witches. Simple as that.”
“I don’t feel like a boy,” Codi said. “Never have, to be honest.”
Enid grabbed his face with one wrinkled hand. “There may not be any whiskers there, but you’ll be a man soon enough. And men can’t be witches, either.”
He pushed her away. “Why not?”
“Because men make war and death, and women make life. And some women, like me, make magic, which is harder than swinging a sword or nursing babies any day.” She leaned back and crossed her arms. 
“I’ve learned things,” Codi said, after a minute. “Women’s things.”
“Do tell.” The witch cleaned her pipe with a dirty nail, then began filling its bowl.
“That’s hangman’s weed,” he said, pointing at a jar. “And that’s mercy blossom.”
“So, you know a few plants.” She struck a match and drew the flame into her pipe. “Doesn’t make you witch material.”
He thought for a moment, looking for knowledge and courage both. “I know the best way to guard a secret is to tell a raven while you cross your fingers.”
She laughed. “Which hand?”
“Which hand crosses the fingers?”
“The right,” Codi said. “Right for oaths and left for lies.”
Now, Enid inspected him more closely. “Who taught you all that?”
“My mam, Fiona.” 
“Ah, you have her eyes. She was a quick learner, Fiona. And too quick to run off with the first handsome hunter who came through the forest.” She sighed. 
Codi supposed his Da might have been handsome once. Now his face was hard and mean, much like the animals he tracked.
“Fiona wasn’t a fool,” continued Enid. “She should have known better than to send me a son instead of a daughter. You’ve wasted your journey, little man.”
“What about your oath?” said Codi.
“Mam said that you swore a blood oath to train her first born.”
“First born daughter,” corrected the witch.
“I’m her only child,” said Codi, his words tumbling out. “And when she lost two babies, she cried so much that I said I could be her daughter. And I wanted to, truly.” He recounted how his mother would take him into the forest to find herbs and to listen for secrets in the wind. “It may be women’s work, but I’ve learned it all.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “And Da says I have no gift for snares and skinning boar, so if it made me happy, I might as well be a witch.”
“Oh child,” said Enid, “What can I do? I swore an oath, but you’re a boy.”
“What if I wasn’t?” said Codi.
“Well, that would make a difference.” The witch puffed on her pipe and thought. “Come here.” She placed hands on his breastbone for a moment. “Well, pinch my nose.” 
“What is it?”
“You have a girl’s heart. The rest of you is just, well, confused.”
Codi felt warmth under the witch’s hands. “Can you do something about it?”
“I think so.” Enid grinned a toothy grin. “Though it won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight.” She opened a chest and began rummaging about. “In the meantime, promise me one thing.”
The witch turned and fixed him with a stare. “Promise me you won’t run away with the first hunter you meet.”
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The Witch's Oath © 2022 Karl Dandenell