She was born here. Wrest from the earth on the whim of another she would learn to call Mother. From a young age, she was taught to serve the mistresses of the house and in turn they taught her how to wield the magic that had created her. To turn nothing into something, that was her gift, the gift of all who had made the dread house at the end of the gully their home. Their haven.
Once a year the ravine would flood. Overheard, she would hear the creak and drag of oars as the men of metal and silk travelled and traded. If they camped for the night, she would go up to the surface and listen to them eat and light fires. She’d watch the lonely ones fishing at the shore. Those were the ones that liked to tell stories, had to invent something to pass the time. They would speak of the rumours, the reverent ones would only speak of it in a whisper.
You ever heard of the swamp witch?
Those two words would go around and around in her head while they spoke of curses and sacrifices made in blood. Every year, different men, same story. The swamp witch. Look out for the swamp witch.
One day she worked up the courage to ask her mother what those words meant.
‘This isn’t a swamp, mother. And we are not witches.’
‘Men use words they don’t mean when they are afraid. They tell lies to protect themselves. To hide their shame, they turn us into myths.’ Her mother said, never taking her eyes off the thread she was holding.
‘Why should they be afraid of us? Why should they be ashamed?’
‘Because their ancestors did wicked things. And instead of hiding and dying, we lived. And for our courage, the gods granted us our gift. They made us the keepers of knowledge, the women that are unknowable.’
‘And what did the gods give to the men?’
‘The men turned from the gods. And for their arrogance the gods gave them fear. The gift the gods took away from the men of metal and silk is the ability to be at peace in their ignorance. Now their lives are filled with chaos. For they will always fear the unknown. Chase the unknown and then kill it.’
Suddenly her mother grabbed her, blood red lips inches from her mud dark face.
‘Promise you will not follow those men should they come for you. And promise never to give them our secrets. Promise!’
‘I promise, Mother.’
And at that moment, the thread snapped. The others in the house looked at the loom that had stopped weaving. Her mother let go of her, staring at the thread.
She didn’t know the significance of the moment at the time, but things were different after that.