Millicent Van Der Walt
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there lived a middle-aged woman. She was reclusive and liked solitude, but had a kind heart, and never turned away from those who were in need. The cottage she lived in was made of raw stone, with mud building up the walls. A white watery paste was used to wash the outer rocks in colour. The roof was made of reed thatching that was trimmed neatly around the edges, and the windows were cut from cedar timber.
The woman had rich and fertile land surrounding her cottage and prided herself on the garden that grew there. A variety of delicate flowers, succulent fruits, crunchy vegetables, and potent herbs flourished in the garden. Each day the woman dedicated the daylight to tending to the earth, and each night she used the gifts of her labour to cook, grind and brew in the power of the moonlight.
She loved her way of life and the simplicity of it all. Her days were uninterrupted and she did as she pleased, until one fateful day. The sky was sending rain down akin to a religious flood. Lightning tore the sky in two and thunder sealed it back together. The woman was concerned about her garden and the soil eroding, leaving carved out rivers of mud in place of her beautiful plants. Fearing irreversible destruction, the woman grabbed a candle, some stones, and raven feathers and placed them a table. She cracked opened a window, letting a gale of wind and rain burst through. The chill of the storm and the sting of the rain hit her full in the face. Closing her eyes to the tempest, she held out a small wooden bowl and collected some water. After a struggle to close the window, the woman went back to the counter with the other ingredients and began the spell. Placing the feather before the candle and the stone upon the feather, she took some dry leaves that were hanging of the wall amongst various other herbs. She crushed the leaves and sprinkled them over the stone. She blew on the unlit candle and spoke the words:
‘I appease to the winds with the offer of ease to bring forth calmness.’
She then poured the rainwater around the candle in a circle, making sure to wet the feather, stone and leaves. Then she snapped her fingers to summon a flame and lit the candle’s wick.
Soon after the spell, there came a rapid pounding at the door. Intrigued, the woman went to answer her door, for even though the wind and rain had subsided to a downpour rather than the wrath of deities of the sky, the weather was still not suitable for making house calls. Sliding back the iron bar, the woman unlocked the door and opened it. A man and a heavily pregnant woman were standing in the doorway. The hair on their heads was plastered to their scalps and their bodies soaked through to the bone. The pregnant woman’s dress stuck to her rotund belly like a second skin, and she was shaking with fatigue.
‘Please old witch, we seek refuge from the storm and medicine for my wife.’ On cue the wife groaned and clutched at her belly. The old witch’s eye twitched slightly at the soggy man’s description, but she never turned away a soul in need.
‘Yes, please come in. Take a seat in the kitchen. I’ll fetch you both some blankets.’ The couple sat at the round table while the witch pulled two wool blankets out of a woven basket from under her bed. She wrapped one around the wife’s shoulders first and then handed the second to the husband. Before she went to sit with them, she filled a kettle of water and hung it over the fireplace to boil.
‘Now tell me, woman with child, what is it that is ailing you?’
‘I do not know, Hag of the Village, but for the past two days my innards have been feeling like fire, and my hunger seems untamable, and I wish I would be rid of this child already. Most of the year I have spent swollen, growing ever larger. I hobble wherever I go and my body protests against my every move. I hope this child is expelled from me soon,’ she whined. ‘Please Hag, fetch me something that’ll soothe this monster in my stomach.’ The witch was taken aback by how bluntly the woman had expressed her feelings of distaste of her own unborn child.
‘Oh, don’t you worry swollen woman, I have just the thing for you.’ The witch stood up and opened her pantry, which was overflowing with leafy greens, root vegetables still dusted with soil, and dried fruits, as well as some dense, hearty cakes. She plucked four purple flowers from the stem of a vegetable and put them in a baked clay cup. From the fireplace she grabbed the boiled kettle and poured the steaming water into the cup. After letting the flowers stew for a moment, she gave the water a stir and then handed it to the woman.
‘Drink this tea. It shall help soothe you and bring you ease.’ The pregnant woman snatched the cup from her hand and gulped down the tea like a feverish beggar.
‘This is wonderful! Old witch, what did you make this tea from?’
‘From the rapunzel flower. It is a vegetable I grow here in my garden and have found many uses for.’ She said the words proudly, always pleased to talk about her garden.
‘It is delicious. I must have more!’ From then until the child was born, the witch served her rapunzel tea every day and during these daily meeting the witch came to realise just how horrible the couple were. They complained constantly about the new burden that was to come and how they couldn’t wait for the child to start working. They were even more disappointed when the witch did a reading for them, telling them their child was to be a girl.
Never having any children of her own, the witch felt a pang of envy towards the couple. She could see how poorly they would treat this newborn babe, how harsh her life would be, the nights she would cry herself to sleep from starvation or beatings. That’s when an idea came to her, an impulse she had never experienced before. So far, the witch had been taking better care of this unborn creature than her own parents. The witch was starting to realise that she deserved this child more than her parents did. Then the witch had a wonderful idea.
On the night the woman went into labour, she called for the witch to aid her through the process. Many herbs and teas and potent ointments were ground, sipped and applied. The night was long, and the hours dragged along, but finally the child was born. It was one of the most magical things the witch had ever seen, and she quickly washed and bundled the baby up.
‘Hand me my child, witch. I wish to hold her.’ The woman’s hair was slick with sweat and her skin pale with exhaustion, not unlike the night the witch first met her. She was holding out her arms ready to take the child, but the witch had other plans.
‘No? What on earth do you mean? Hand me my child now witch! It is mine to do with as I please.’
‘No you pitiful, ungrateful hag. I know how this child’s life will play out if she is to stay and be raised by you. The hardship and suffering that will befall her by you and your husband’s abusive hands.’ The babe started crying and her wail filled the room. ‘The child is coming with me.’ She turned and walked out the door, her dress sweeping behind her.
‘Witch! Give me my baby!’ But she was already gone.
‘I shall take you far away little Rapunzel, where no one will ever be able to hurt you.’
Author: Millicent van der Walt is a fourth-year creative writing student at QUT. She has a passionate love for fantasy writing but is trying to break out of her comfort zone by exploring different genres.
Artist: SaBelle Pobjoy-Sherriff is a third year fine arts visual arts student. Her art practice uses narrative and mythology to create obscure illustrations and sculptures. Using acrylic paint and coloured pencils she creates vibrant worlds and creatures. Her current work focuses on the current climate crisis and the idea of corrupting escapism. You can find more on her Instagram @SaBelleeee.
Editors: Willow Ward and Hannah Vesey