You stood up. All eyes turned your direction, but you were sick of the pointless discussion. Someone had to make a move, and sooner rather than later. Time was closing in and although no one wanted to say it, each member of your "backwards little" village knew it had to be you. So you didn’t look at your sister in the corner who you knew would be in tears, nor at your mother whose eyes probably filled with a mixture of grief, pride and resolve, and you definitely didn't glance over at your brother who would look a breath away from clobbering you. You didn't look at any of them, you had made your decision, and you wouldn't give them the chance to change it. Yet now, suitcase in hand, you head to the station and wish that you had looked at their faces, wish that you had imprinted them over every crack and crevice of your brain because maybe then you would remember why you chose to do this, but you didn’t. So instead you focused on the blur of various shades of green as the train zipped through the forest into the city.
The train ride was short - too short. Truly it could’ve taken years and it still wouldn’t have been enough. Nevertheless, you lifted your head; you had a story to sell and a show to put on. You stepped off the train resisting the urge to shield your eyes from the harsh sunlight. Let them see, you thought, and they did. A ripple went through the bustling crowd, heads turned, whispers started and fingers not so discreetly pointed. “It’s her,” they murmured to each other, “Look! It’s really her”. Mouths were hidden behind hands like that really helped to mute the sound, but the sense of accomplishment had settled over you, you knew you chose well. From the flower twisted crown to your dark blue flowing dress, down to your bare feet - you looked the part. They would believe, yet you just had to make sure. The crowd held their breath as you stopped to open your specially chosen worn leather suitcase, ensuring the odd array of contents was adequately displayed. Herbs in glass bottles, dead insects dried in old pickle jars, beads, jewels and old trinkets each villager had lined up to give you as they said their heartfelt teary goodbyes. You dug through until you found the one you wanted, stretching out the moment for as long as you could. Then bending down to her eye level you give the small ring of amethyst to the curious child who ventured too near to the witch. That should do it. The child stared for a while and you let her as you tilted your head slightly towards the sun, making sure you caught the light just right. Let them see, you thought again. Then the child stepped forward and the crowd visibly bristled. You ignored them, slipping the ring onto the child’s finger, “for protection,” your voice steady and wise like you truly held all the secrets of the universe. You assumed the child would have been too afraid to respond, but to your delight she opened her mouth quietly reciting the nursery rhyme. It could not have been more perfect. The child’s voice was soft and featherlight, easily whisked away in the afternoon breeze, but you knew that the crowd had paused, straining to hear every word she said. You smiled a real smile, you did well. They believed.
The sea runs through your veins
The wind sings its lullabies in your ears
Your eyes the colour of the sun
And the earth tells you secrets from the grave
You chuckled, you never liked the sea, you were always more of a forest girl and the wind only ever howled at you, no sweet lullabies - that would have come in handy sometimes. Your eyes were golden though, when the sunlight hit them just right, but generally there were more of a dull caramel. Not that it mattered, people always see what they want to see. As for the secrets, you only had the one, and no, it wasn't from the grave but you would happily take it there.
The city was nothing like your village, large grey stone buildings, well paved gravel underfoot and a plethora of shops with throngs of people relentlessly flitting in and out. Not a tree in sight. The people stared and whispered as you passed. You smirked and waved and outright laughed when they scurried away or changed directions. They wanted to be as far away from you as possible, but that was fine, it was what you expected. Luckily, you quickly realised that witch or not, these people would never turn down a sale, so you bought as many fancy treats from a cute purple bakery as you pleased. It was an indulgence and you had to bite your tongue to avoid sputtering at the price, but you earned it. Plus it wasn’t like you could take the money back to the village, they gave it to you to squander as you wished, so you did and you would be lying if you said you didn't enjoy it.
When they finally came for you at sunset, you thought it was fitting. The day was lovely and you got to end it with the charming, beautiful blends of reds, oranges and pinks as the sun lowered itself across the horizon. The earth’s final gift to you. As you walked willingly to the pyre, hands cuffed behind your back, iron shackled at your feet, you are content; your "backwards little" village will be safe and sound for at least another generation. They would have no more reason to burn it to the ground. Your sister will get to marry the butcher’s son, your mother will still be able to grow the best wheat in the country, and your brother will become the lead hunter. That "backwards little" village will continue to prosper as it always did, with or without you. Every year on your birthday the whole village will gather and light a candle around your favourite oak tree in the forest and sing your favourite song in honour of your selfless sacrifice. That’s not so terrible, you think. You know it means that you will not be forgotten for some time to come, and in this way you will get to live on.