When the little girl came to our town, no one knew what to make of her. Her dark complexion, brown skin and black hair, was so unlike us that we could only stare in wonder. She rode no horse, and had no companions. Her only possessions were her little knee-length frock and a small bag around her neck. She wore no shoes, and did not wince as she walked the beaten road. After our first initial shock, whispers arose with theories quicker than the wind arose with leaves.
The elderly people, from the generation who worshipped the Immortal Snifle, were convinced she was one of his Earth Angels. The next generation down, who had worshipped many Immortals, thought she was a dark angel, or a demon. The new adults of the town, who worshipped no Immortal, thought demons and angels were poppy-cock, and called her a witch. The younger apprentices were frightened of her, and the children were half-frightened and half-delighted of her. Us older apprentices, however, thought nothing of her at all. We were at the stage where we knew that strange things never happened, but were struggling with the varied beliefs of our elders. So we contented ourselves with joking about the ‘little sprite,’ though we didn’t believe she was any type of faerie.
By the time the little girl had traveled through town, opinions were firmly based. It was almost a disappointment when it seemed she wasn’t going to stay at all. But then she purchased a room at the smallest inn — which belonged to an elderly couple — and took a stroll about town. Although whispers followed her and her green eyes everywhere, no one was willing to talk to her. She didn’t seem to mind, but took everything in with those walnut-shaped eyes. Mothers drew children inside, and dogs growled — the useless things — but the cats (our rats of the town) were quite content to let her pet and scratch them. The purring could almost be heard by me across the street, where I sat watching the horse-shoes cool as my master hammered away at a new plough piece for farmer Willens. The cats tended to gather in front of the blacksmith shop anyhow, because they were used to the noise, and I often fed them parts of my meals. My two fellow apprentices started whispering about the quiet little girl — again — and finally I was tired of it.
“If you think she’s a witch,” I sighed, “go and ask her yourselves.”
They laughed at me, and in a moment had dared me to go and ask her. So I did. I left the horseshoes in their change and strolled out of the workshop.
The little girl did not look up when I approached, nor acknowledge me at all. Now, I had quite a reputation in town for being the most daring lad, so curious eyes followed and watched me, and a few windows opened.
“Hello, little girl,” I said bravely, “I have here a question to ask you.”
“If asking me question, I am listen.” Her voice was quiet and calm, though her speaking pattern strange, and she looked up from her cats. How funny, that even then I thought of them as her cats; how little I really suspected.
“What is your name?” I asked, blundering.
People began to trickle around, gaining courage now that I’d made the first move.
“That question all you ask I?” she said, eyes twinkling. “Then am, I, Vivesnesh.” She spoke the word in an old accent, and struggling to say it I pronounced it “Viv-nish?” for I did not have the quick tongue needed to say the almost-silent ‘es’. She smiled, her face a heart, and nodded. Caught in the wonder of her sudden adorableness, I for a moment forgot what I was there for. “Go on!” I heard one of my mates call.
In remembering I again squared my shoulders and said, “Vivesnesh, are you a witch?”
Now we had a full-fledged audience. The little girl slowly rose to her feet, her head coming to my chest and looking at me appraisingly. Then she grinned. I was completely taken-aback, and almost stepped away from her. The rest of the townsfolk were of the same mind.
“Answer his question, girl!” a voice — sounding suspiciously like the baker — from the crowd cried.
Vivesnesh turned towards the voice, and then spoke. “I not deny being witch — but — nor I say I am one. Before I tell which one is, you tell me what is wrong about being witch.”
“Poppy-cock, just tell us!” someone said. “Who cares about that?”
“Because if you are convincing enough in reasons against witches, then I shall not want be one at all. But if you are not convincing, then I shall be one just to spite you.”
This declaration was met with silence, but after a length Mary Enton — the old carpenter’s wife — stepped forward. “Witches hold Keys to the Hells of this world,” she said harshly, “and they, in darkness, strive to bring others into these fiery pits. Witches are evil.” Mummers of ascent went through the crowd, and I found myself being pushed back.
Vivesnesh shook her head, her grin not faltering. “Then definition you of witch is evil thing who which wears of ring keys around her waist?”
Mary grew red as a few scattered chitters arose, and opened her mouth again. “Witches are women — or girls — who behave strangely and seek to drive us from our ways,” someone tried.
“Your ways strange,” Vivesnesh said. “Paths you don’t really follows. You drive yourselves from your ways, why a witch do for you?”
This caused many angry mutters, but again a few laughs.
“Witches mingle in magic,” someone finally said, “and magic is evil in its corrupting ways.”
“Magic? Evil?” Vivesnesh said, her grin finally wearing down to a shadowy smile. “Why do you so say?”
“Things of abnormal degree are for the Immortals,” the person — Edme the tanner, I think — said, “for mortals to mingle in the abilities of the Immortals is in that the mortal is greedy for power.”
Vivesnesh appraised the tanner with a curious eye. “Reason, finally,” she said quietly, “and you have points. Truths many are your statements, but twisting truths. Those greedy for power are evil. But because one can something do, not means he sought to do it.”
“Even if you are born with the power, you are evil,” Edme insisted.
Vivesnesh bowed her head. “You make wonderful things,” she told him, “your skill is great. But you were born not with. Was it a crime for you to obtain and nurture yours skill?”
“Tanning is no magic,” Edme scowled.
Vivesnesh shook her head. “Ah. If were I give you sweets, you would make sick on them, and blame me for upset stomach.” Then she laughed, again startling us. “Silly people,” she said. “If the Immortals give you gifts, why no use them? Magic can be used for evil, but so can everything else! A cook can poison foods, or get people addicted them without notice. A candle-maker can make faulty candles cheat to his customers. A noble can order death at snap of a finger, but never have I heard of fire-burning for nobles.” Her statement was met with another silence, as people absorbed her words and tried to puzzle them out.
“Enough with this nonsense!” a guard commanded gruffly. “A witch is a witch. Burn her!” The chant almost started, but Vivesnesh was not finished.
“I never said was I witch,” she exclaimed quite calmly.
“You don’t deny it!” came a response.
“Because I couldn’t know I was,” she said sweetly, “because I might have been born with magic and know not. Any of you could have!”
Edme had said so, and even the pig-headed could see she was right.
“If you wish, test me for a witch,” Vivesnesh said cheerfully.
“Do you think you are a witch?” I asked.
She laughed. “No, I don’t! If but you treat all your strangers way this, I must easier make for them, or you would them burn!”
I finally laughed at her cleverness, but I was one of few who did. It looked like the little girl was in for a burning, but the couple who owned the small inn intervened.
“She has paid us to stay at our inn,” the husband said, “and we will keep our side of the bargain!”
“Shame on you, terrorizing this poor little one,” his wife scolded, taking Vivesnesh’s hand. The crowd did not bother them, and we did not see Vivesnesh until the morning, when she came by to pet the cats. People were afraid of her, so they stayed away, and our master forbade us to even look at her. My fellow apprentices joked about her some more. I joined in a little, but my mind kept wandering back to her gabble with the crowd. Who was Vivesnesh, really? When she made to leave, my master was too busy to notice, so I slipped away to her.
“Viv-nesh,” I called softly, “where are you going?”
“Another place,” she said, shrugging, “tell, more things, to.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
She smiled again. “Curiosity not always a virtue,” she said, echoing some of the few of my mother’s words I remembered.
“My father always said elusiveness is worse,” I challenged.
She shrugged. “I am Vivesnesh. Good-by, boy.”
“My name is Pietter,” I blurted.
She looked back at me. “Good-by, Pietter.”
I stared after her, thoughts running through my head. “Wait!” I finally called, running to catch up with her. She kept walking.
“I want to come with you,” I said quickly.
She stopped. “You what?” she asked, finally startled.
“My apprenticeship is almost over,” I said bravely, “and I have always wanted to go on an adventure.”
“Life is an adventure,” she said, “go home. The road no easier.”
“I don’t want easy, I want a challenge!” I cried.
She paused and bit her lip. “Oh, all right,” she sighed, “but you are never to complain.” “Of course not,” I said bravely, but that promise would be a hard one to keep, and it would be a long time before I understood why she so easily allowed my coming.