They met in silence. It had to be silent. There was safety in silence. The first to the circle that night was Mary. It was in her basement so she made sure everything was in its place before they started. Even in this task she said not a word. The house above her was empty but the wall outside of her house were open to the world and the world had ears and ears were attached to mouths that whispered into other ears and that’s how you ended up at the end of a noose.
A small black cauldron sat in the middle of the room. The fire would be low and slow as it was every time they met. Too big a flame made too much light and drew too much attention. She drew the necessary lines emanating from the fat little black pot. Six marks. Six spots for six sisters. Not sisters in birth but sisters in craft. She worked tediously. Without their words in place everything else would need to be flawless.
When the work was done she returned upstairs, making sure to never spend too much time hidden while the sun was still up. She went outside and to her daily duties. The chickens would be feed. The weeds would be picked. The linens would be washed. All things would be made to appear normal. Appearances must be maintained so suspicions would not arise.
As the evening came she made her way inside, her father would be home soon and supper would need to be finished. Suspicions must not arise. A copper pot bubbled the beige broth with carrots and greens. Their supper was meager but it would suffice. Tonight’s meal was special. Valerian root was mixed throughout to ensure her father would be fast asleep and stay asleep.
He arrived from the fields and went to wash as the table was set. Before their meal they prayed to God. His God. Not hers. A shamed prayer whispered out of fear and blind obedience to a cruel overseer. Not a prayers said to the ever loving ever present Mother. With her head bowed and her eyes shut she imagined the face her father would make if he knew what thoughts filled her head as he made his daily prayers.
After dinner he made her read from the bible while he lulled off in his seat. When the sleep got too strong for him he announced that it was time for bed. Dutifully she obeyed him. She went to her sparse pallet and he to his on the other side of the one room house they shared. He turned down the oil lamp till it snuffed out and all that was left was the glow from the still burning fireplace. She looked out the open window. The moon’s placement told her it was time.
Quiet as a mouse she rose from her bed and made her way to the door. She had used the fat rendered from their supper to grease the hinges in the door to keep them from giving her away.
In the night it was peaceful, this was where God was. Not in some stuffy church accessible to the chosen few but in the everywhere all around. Open to all. She breathed in the brisk night air as the wind stirred up her nightgown and sent gooseflesh all over her body. She moved around the squat square house to the flats that hid the entrance to her private cellar beneath the house.
She was quite proud of it. With her sisters they had managed to hollow out a significant space for their craft. Using local timber to support the above floor the ground had been stomped flat and smoothed over with clay from the riverbed. They had also taken pitch and mixed it with peat to make a mixture to cover the spaces between the floorboards to keep those above to see below. While it was not large enough to stand it was enough for them to kneel and that was all they needed.
She gathered kindling and began surrounding the small iron cauldron. It was not as efficient as she would like but it was what they could manage. Next was to light the fire. She couldn’t risk bringing a candle across the open so it was up to her.
Mary picked up a splinter of dry hay. She held in her closed together fists and closed her eyes. She pushed her mind beyond the constraints of mortality and stretched into the ether. All the energy in the world and beyond was connected to each other. Fire was just a matter of heat. A matter of bringing enough energy into the hay. With her knees grounded and her body compact she focused everything in her possession into the palms of her hand. Not demanding or tricking the nature of the universe just asking for understanding, a nod in her direction with her body as a conduit. Her hands were warming despite the chill of her subterranean lair. A flutter of light danced over her and she opened her eyes. Burning in the palm of her right hand was a soft blue light surrounding the withering black string that the hay had become. She closed her eyes again and thanked all the forces that gave her this gift and laid it into the smallest of kindling where it took off and turned into a steady orange flame.
There was a sound. A single hash mark next to the one she made before moving the board and coming into the space. It was Elizabeth. The first sister. The Millers daughter. She crawled on her hands and knees into their space. Having come from further away, she was better dressed than Mary. She was wrapped in a simple black hooded cloak that was torn and frayed at the bottom from regular use. Once near the warmth of the altar she shucked the robe and revealed a simple dressing gown nearly identical to Mary’s. Elizabeth nodded to Mary and pulled from one arm of her gown a small tightly wound bunch of dried herbs. Elizabeth knew their names and their purpose, Mary was ignorant to their significance. Elizabeth placed the herbs on the hard ground beside the iron pot. When she was done, Elizabeth remained on her knees and held her eyes shut in meditation.
Very few moments passed and the softest sound came from the joined planks hiding the entrance to their space. It was a third hash. Then the softer sound of a delicate finger drawing a circle around the three marks finishing the sigil and setting their work. Constance, being smaller than the other two had only to hunch over to fit into their space. When she was in the moved the joined planks back to their original place thus concealing their practice. She turned to her sisters with the slightest smile and moved her travelling cloak off her shoulders to fall to the ground revealing her naked form. Constance, being the reverends daughter was more prone to acting out and she had always told the other two that she felt more natural and more in touch with the spiritual world when she was bare. She then brought up her fist which had been held closed the whole time and opened it to reveal rich black earth. It was dirt from a grave. A fresh one. With the cold season in its strength there was no shortage of death. It was considered a sin to take from the dead so the three knew it was just the kind of task Constance would relish. Her bitterness towards her father manifested itself in her devotion for their work.
With their coven complete, the ritual could begin. All of them had made ready their plans weeks before to make sure that everything they would do that night could and would be done in silence. Each of them made eye contact with each other, side to side glances as they kneeled around the now smoking hot iron pot. The other two girls looked to Elizabeth. Hers was first; she took the bundled herbs and brought them to her lips and mouthed the words she wouldn’t speak. Breath escaped her mouth barely audible to herself. When she was finished speaking into the herbs she placed them gently into the pot. Some of the leaves cracking and singeing in the heat.
Next was Constance. She held the palmful of dirt low in her lap while she mouthed her part. Soft puffs of air disappearing in the air before they could reach any ear. When she was done she closed his fist around the dirt and brought it to her face. Then with a flash she threw it into the pot. The motion rocked the pot for only a moment before it settled back down.
Then both sets of eyes turned to Mary. She took an athame she had sculpted from a dead horse’s rib bone and raised it to cover her eyes. Her part of the incantation was mouthed like the two before her and she brought the blade down and pointed it above her left breast. She brought it close enough to break skin and made a quick slash and drew her own blood. At the end of the slash she held the knife, using her focus to maintain the spells power and to keep herself from reacting to the cut. Warm red blood covered the polished white surface of the athame and when there was enough she moved the blade carefully above the black pot.
Every eye watched as the blood lowered to the tip formed a small bubble before dropping into the pot. It made a sickening hiss and the smell was immediate. Rust and earth. The three girls then joined hands and then took in deep breaths and blew into the now fading fire breathing new life into it. With each exhale the flames grew bigger and more robust. They stopped simultaneously and the fire continued; its high licking flames ensuring the spell had set.
Mary took a readied soft cloth heavy with a salve and covered the cut to hide any trace of it. They each nodded at each other and got ready to head back out into the world. By the time they got to the fresh air each girl was dressed as she was before she went in and they silently made their way back to their respective houses. Mary went into her house across the room from her father and went to sleep with the light of a full moon casting wild lights through the holes in the roof.
In the morning well after the robins’ first song, Mary woke to the sun’s warmth all around the small house. She sat up and looked over to her father was still lying there. She knew better than to call to him. He wouldn’t wake. She rose to her feet and walked over casually to him. When she was within striking distance she placed her right foot on his shoulder and rolled him over onto his back. His face drained of color his eyes fixed shut and a thick black tongue poking out of his dead mouth. The spell had worked and she was a free woman.
A wide smile spread over her face. She would need to relish as much as she could privately before staging the grand theatrics when she ran into the village proper heralding her father’s untimely death.