Fantasy Adventure Sad

The Witch. Her Cottage. What Remained. Being Brave.

Her name was Urlwyn Pitch, and when she died, her body was stuffed into a lidless casket propped upright against a hawthorn tree outside her home. A gruesome practice, the macabre display deterred sympathizers and served to caution the remaining members of her coven. Shortly after, the townfolk of Taemorden raized her humble cottage using mauls, sledgehammers, and mining picks, in a collective toil meant to expunge the witch from their memory.

It was early morning, a day after Urlwyn’s demise when a light rain fell on what remained of her home. Streams of rainwater ran down the twisted, knotty trunk of the hawthorn tree to pool near the foot of the casket. Water, caught overhead by the hawthorn’s leaves, swelled, dripped, and splotched against Urlwyn’s dead skin. Falling droplets met the rubble and smashed wooden floorboards of the hovel, dripping down jagged, demolished edges, as a poppet, no more than seven inches tall, wormed herself out of the broken chimney.

Sabine was covered in soot and wore a frayed brown robe tied with a braided rope from which she spent a lifetime suspended in the chimney breast. Her matted, chestnut-colored hair once belonged to a human woman, and her round wooden head was carved to depict large, sullen eyes, widened in surprise. Flicks of eyebrows, a tiny shadow of a nose, and a tight-lipped mouth were painted to give her a wondrous yet frightened expression.

Clinging to the chimney’s rain-slicked bricks, she lowered herself to a felled wooden beam. Securing her rope to a protruding iron nail, she peered over the ledge.

“Help … please,” begged a quiet, weak voice from below.

Drawing slack to rappel from the edge of the beam, Sabine slid down to meet the floor where another poppet lay face-down, her left shoulder crushed and pinned by a stone.

Arriving at her side, Sabine found the poppet’s head turned awkwardly sideways as if her neck had been broken. Sewn into her human hair was a four-leaf trefoil of fine green yarn.

“Clover,” Sabine breathed, comforting her, and as she surveilled the damage, Clover moaned in pain, her life fading.

A healing poppet, Clover was much younger than Sabine; her hair was taken from a living child only six months earlier.

Glancing about her in the cavernous debris, Sabine caught sight of a metal spoon poking out of the wreckage. Scrambling to retrieve it, she embraced the spoon’s bowl and tugged hard to rip it free. Dragging the handle behind her, Sabine returned to plant the tip of the spoon under the rock pinning Clover. Grunting, Sabine pressed the handle to leverage the stone before twisting the spoon to turn the rock from Clover’s body. Releasing the handle, it fell with a thud.

When Sabine lifted Clover by her shoulders, Clover’s head lolled sickly to her side and faced the wrong direction.

“Help,” Clover murmured before falling silent.

Unraveling frayed threads in her rope to cut them with the sharp edge of a stone, Sabine made a harness and bound Clover’s neck and shoulders to a cross of wood splinters. Pulling at the cross, Sabine labored to drag Clover away from the wreckage.

Together, the poppets journeyed over boulders of crushed rock, cliffs of smashed furniture, canyons of brick, and plateaus of destroyed timber.

An hour later, the misty drizzle continued, and the street remained quiet and empty. Tugging at Clover in spurts, Sabine leaned her whole body forward to drag Clover along the earth, her braided rope trailing two feet behind. Leaving the cottage, they stumbled onto a walkway leading from the house to the street. 

Perched atop the casket, a raven twisted its head right and left to curiously watch the dolls enter the yard. Uncertain but hungry, the bird fluttered to the cobblestone path to join them. Walking apprehensively, it jerked its neck, following them with hesitant, furtive steps.

Sabine halted her rescue to reel in her rope’s slack and wheel it around her head to deter the corvid’s appetite.

Intent to avoid Sabine’s whip, the raven extended his wings, jumped back from its reach, and cawed, but stubbornly remained nonetheless.

“Away!” she cried, hurling the end of her rope at the bird to strike his breast. Spooked, the raven flapped and took to the air. He circled the cottage to land in higher branches of the hawthorn and continued to watch from there.

Straining, Sabine dragged Clover across the cobblestones and through a patch of mud to arrive under the casket. The soil there was dry, sheltered from the rain, and the coffin kept them from the raven’s hungry gaze. Exhausted, Sabine collapsed to embrace Clover, huddling close to share warmth and to reassure her she was safe.

Sabine awakened hearing the sound of hooves clip-clopping along the cobblestone road. Late morning, the rain had stopped, and a merchant’s wagon rolled by to take goods to the nearby market. Passing, men on the pilot’s bench hurled tomatoes at Urlwyn’s body, impacting the corpse with juicy squelches.

Clover was still unconscious. Knowing what to do, Sabine rose to her feet to inspect the road and tree limbs before running out to the cobblestone pathway.

Patiently waiting for his moment, the raven burst from the tree to come sailing after Sabine. He descended with rageful caws and opened his talons to snatch Sabine from the path. Sabine reeled, whipping the tail of her rope at the raven as he sped toward her, causing him to defer and lift out of his dive. He fluttered above the poppet, trying to close in, reaching with his claws. Rushing past the bird, Sabine crawled into a gap in what remained of the cottage’s wall to escape.

Later, Sabine emerged wheeling out a spindle of thread. She bore a pack of spare patch cloth on her back, and a thin, metallic needle was braced against her hip by her braided rope.

Once more into the breach, Sabine drew the needle like a sword when the raven approached and stabbed at the bird as he careened out of the sky. Pricked by the needle’s tip, the raven angrily cawed and flapped, hovering to grasp at Sabine. Using the needle, Sabine lunged to stab the creature again as he tried to snatch her. Thwarted for the last time, the raven veered off, banked right, and flew down the street toward the market.

Sabine joined Clover under the casket and set herself to work.

She drew Clover’s hair from her eyes and used a spare cloth to clean the mud off Clover's face and head.

She applied the raven's blood from the needle tip to give Clover rosy cheeks.

Going around the casket, Sabine collected seeds from the discarded tomatoes.

Wielding the needle, Sabine deftly mended Clover's arm and shoulder, restoring them to wholeness. With thread and extra fabric, using the splinters as new boning and the tomato seeds for extra bulk, she fashioned a shawl over a scrap of white lace to envelop Clover's shoulders to hide the arms of the cross.

Clover was startled when she woke to find a strange soot-covered poppet tending to her.

Weakly, Clover asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Sabine,” she said, mending the hem of Clover’s robes. She drew the needle and thread through with both hands and held the fabric down with her feet to tighten the stitch. 

“What is your duty?”

“I am a ward,” Sabine replied kindly. “I care for and protect others.”

“I am a healer,” Clover admitted. “I was made for a child.”

“I know,” Sabine nodded, mending a threadbare hole in Clover’s robe.

“Where are we?”

Sabine glanced at the pine casket above them and said, “We rest at the feet of our maker. She is gone, and we are alone.”

Clover looked up at Sabine and replied, “We have never met. How is it you know my name?”

Sabine caressed Clover’s forehead and touched the green peals in her hair. "Having spent my life in Urlwyn's chimney, I have heard her name her creations. Yours, little one, is not difficult to guess."

“Where is my charge?”

“When the girl you were made for got better, you were returned to our maker,” Sabine explained.

Clover’s eyes glanced away, worried. “I hope she is well.”

“She is,” Sabine said assuringly.

Dusting away caked mud on Clover’s clothes, Sabine judged her handiwork. “There.”

“My body, my neck is stiff,” Clover admitted, unsuccessfully trying to turn her head and roll her shoulders. “I cannot move my arms. I cannot feel my feet.”

“Yes,” Sabine admitted, fearing this moment. She gestured across the path to the cottage. “A consequence of the cataclysm. You were undone by a rock. I saved you. I brought you here.”

Clover’s eyes tried to follow Sabine though her head remained still. “But I cannot move.”

“Yes,” Sabine sighed. “Your neck was broken, Clover. You are paralyzed.”

Clover seemed confused. “What does that-”

“You will never be able to move again,” Sabine said, putting the steely needle away and rolling up her excess thread.

Clover’s eyes, although made of wood, appeared scared. “But my charge? My duty?”

Sabine sadly glanced at Clover, placed her hand on Clover’s arm, and nodded. “Yes, but I will help you find a new purpose. There is magic in you - magic meant for little girls - and I will help you find one.”

“How?” Clover asked pensively.

Sabine stood and peered out from behind the coffin to watch the street before taking the needle. She stuffed it between her hip and rope. Bending, Sabine lifted Clover’s cross to bring her out from behind the casket. Checking again to ensure the roadway was vacant, Sabine labored to drag Clover into the street.

“I will take you to where they are,” Sabine grunted, pulling Clover along the cobblestone street in front of the destroyed cottage.

Her vantage changed as they waddled down the road and Clover saw Urlwyn’s body in the casket as they moved farther away. “Our maker. Why are we leaving her?”

“She is no longer here, and this is no longer our home,” Sabine said, mindful of the sky, watching for that wretched raven.

“Goodbye, maker,” Clover whispered to Urlwyn’s corpse as they left.

The poppets left the witch’s cottage and moved slowly down the street. They were two waddling brown-robed forms with dry, unkempt hair, a bit of braided rope dragging behind. Clover’s body faced the opposite of Sabine’s, and, paralyzed, she could only watch as they passed buildings and trash.

Along the way, Sabine was careful to hug the walls and keep them away from curious eyes. Given the presence of the witch’s body, the road was vacant as travelers opted for alternative routes. Their absence worked in the poppet’s favor.

It took another half hour for them to clear two city blocks before coming to an alleyway adjacent to a busy market. Finding a discarded vegetable crate, Sabine overturned it and lifted its edge to bring her and Clover underneath.

Sabine slouched and panted, resting, as Clover, peering through the crate’s wood slats, could see market stands and people wandering past carrying baskets of goods while vendors rummaged through boxes and barrels.

“What is this place?” Clover asked Sabine curiously.

“It is a marketplace where-”

Just then, the crate stirred and was shoved into a wall, throwing Sabine and Clover to the ground. A sewer rat jostled the crate. It forced its muzzle between the slats to snap its teeth inches away from Sabine. It hissed and spat, and it scraped at the wood of the crate with its claws.

Withdrawing her needle, Sabine swiped at the creature’s nose to whip an arc of blood across a portion of the crate's interior. Squealing from the pain, the rat retreated deeper into the alleyway.

Laying Clover down, Sabine pushed on the crate to slide it closer to the alley entrance. Periodically, she would stop, drag Clover to the other side, and push the crate again. It took a while, but eventually, the crate’s surface caught the sunlight of the afternoon outside of the alley.

Lifting up the shadowed side of the crate that faced the alleyway, Sabine brought Clover out to lay her on the ground. Tying her rope under Clover’s cross and armpits, Sabine tested her knots and climbed the crate to its top. Once there, Sabine heaved and hoisted, carefully pulling Clover up the side of it.

When both were on top, Sabine positioned Clover so she was in the sunlight and leaned against the wall.

“You will wait here,” Sabine said. “I will be here, just below, in the crate.”

“But I can’t see you,” Clover said fearfully. Her eyes were adjusting to the sunlight. 

“I am here,” Sabine reassured her.

“I am afraid.”

“Don’t be, poppet,” Sabine said, tenderly caressing Clover’s hair.

Climbing down the side of the crate, Sabine carefully lifted it from the floor and crept underneath. Aware of Clover’s position relative to hers, the wall, and the alley, Sabine adjusted the crate to face more of the market. Although people wandered by, their gazes were more attentive to the stalls, their fellow companions, or sellers minding the market. Few barely noticed the pretty, rose-cheeked doll with frilly white lace and a green four-leaf clover in her hair, placed atop a trashy vegetable bin and propped against the wall.

“Sabine?” Clover called out, nervously watching the people as they walked by.

“Clover?” Sabine replied. “I am here, just below you.”

“When I am found-”

“-You’ll have a new charge,” Sabine interrupted, speaking to Clover from between the slats. “And a new home.”

“Will you come with me?”

Sabine glanced at her own dingy, sooty robes, and her long braid of rope. Her hands were smudgy, and grime covered her face and hair. “No.”

“Where will you go?”

Sabine turned to the alley. “I will find a home.”

Clover considered thoughtfully and asked, “A new space to look over? To protect?”

“Yes,” Sabine agreed. “That is my duty.”

Clover was quiet for a while as she watched the market customers go by. “I will miss you, Sabine. Thank you.”

Bracing the crate, Sabine lowered her head and nodded. “You are welcome. I will miss you, Clover. I-I will miss … hearing your voices, from behind the cottage chimney-”

“Mum!” cried a little girl, racing up to the crate to kneel in front of Clover. She was six and not a day older and wore a tattered, patchy dress that flowed around her feet. Long, greasy, unkempt hair spilled across her overjoyed face. “Look! A dolly!”

“Goodbye, Clover,” Sabine whispered, looking on at the girl tower over the crate as she picked up Clover, embraced her with genuine love and affection, stood, and turned toward her mother.

Alone in the crate, Sabine watched the girl hold Clover up so her mother could see. Unwilling to be bothered by her daughter’s newly discovered treasure, her mother waved her off to inspect a basket of bruised pears.

Clover’s heart swelled with purpose and love, held high in the little girl’s hands and backlit by the sun. And the girl pretended Clover could fly, imagining her magically drifting over the market stalls, dancing on rooftops, and singing a song she could only hear.

Under the crate, Sabine waited patiently for the girl and her mother to leave the market before collapsing against the wall, releasing her charge in an exhausted flop.

It took the rest of the afternoon for Sabine to settle with her feelings, and as dusk approached, and vendors boarded their market stalls, Sabine considered where she might go.

Leaving the safety of the crate, the poppet lingered to inspect the darkness, sensing where she was most needed. And withdrawing her needle, Sabine bravely marched into the alley in search of her next charge.

May 13, 2023 15:31

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Kathryn Menefee
02:48 Jun 25, 2023

Really enjoyed this--just the right amount of world building (esp the witch's death and the suggestion of the home they'd had with her before) and the poppets' characterizations and dialogue was on point.


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Martin Ross
17:01 May 27, 2023

Damn! You write as good dark as you do light! And to deal with existential darkness and light, good and evil as we perceive it, the impact any soul can have on another. You really do have a Ray Bradbury talent and spirit. Heart amid the darkness! “…propped upright against a hawthorn tree outside her home. A gruesome practice, the macabre display deterred sympathizers and served to caution the remaining members of her coven.“ Think I’ll see if the local funeral home could gimme one of those … Seriously, though, find an illustrator and do a ...


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E. B. Bullet
14:21 May 24, 2023

Ahhh this was such a joy to read! It really took me back to when fantastic yet little tales drew me in as a child, and I got lost in them. I got lost in this one, and it was fun! You stitched together the world nicely without giving too much and it made me want more. Loved the chemistry of the two dolls, even though it was understated and quick, it still felt sincere and magical. Your dialogue and story telling is super effective and immersive! I could see it in a videogame, building an interactive narrative. I do wonder though, is "with...


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Will Oyowe
20:48 May 23, 2023

I just want to say, first off, this is one of the best stories I've read this week. It is beautifully written and gripping. The worldbuilding was efficient. The descriptions are lovely. There's a gothic feel to it, which I really love. I love Clover and Sabine and their relationship. The idea of witch's Poppets made for children was interesting idea and original for me. Even though it's a short story, I can already feel the tenderness and love, relationship and the connection they had with Urlwyn!.(it is also mysterious I really want to kno...


Russell Mickler
21:03 May 23, 2023

Hey there, Will! > I just want to say, first off, this is one of the best stories I've read this week Well, hot dog! Thank you! I'm glad you liked it! > There's a gothic feel to it, which I really love. Thanks! "Dark Fantasy" is my preferred genre! > I can already feel the tenderness and love, relationship and > the connection they had with Urlwyn!.(it is also mysterious I > really want to know more!!) You know, I'm really glad you sensed that ... to the poppets, Urlwyn's a creator figure, like a mother, and the reader may have been...


Will Oyowe
21:15 May 23, 2023

Not surprised you liked dark fantasy; you have a real gift for writing it. I will certainly check out more of your work when I have time this week!


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Helen A Smith
20:02 May 21, 2023

Hi Russell The idea of these poppets helping children is so appealing. It was fitting that in spite of her limitations Clover found the perfect little girl, one who could help her too. A lovely story.


Russell Mickler
20:06 May 21, 2023

Hi there, Helen! Hey, thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it - grin, I felt like I had to overly-explain the term _poppet_ as US readers might not be familiar with it beyond Dickens, really, let alone their role in witchcraft! :) Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. R


Helen A Smith
20:24 May 21, 2023

Of course, it also an endearing term for someone you love, usually a child. There’s something sweet about the word.


Russell Mickler
20:27 May 21, 2023

grin - I absolutely agree :) R


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William Richards
20:14 May 20, 2023

I enjoyed the concept of this poppet going around helping poppet's in need and maybe other creatures


Russell Mickler
20:36 May 20, 2023

Yay! Hehe thank you for reading and commenting, William! I also like the idea of Sabine out as a caped crusader, helping people find a home :) R


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Mary Bendickson
04:51 May 15, 2023

Ah, pretty perfect pocket poppets putting forth patience and perseverance. Positively precious.


Irene Duchess
01:59 May 16, 2023

Try saying that five times fast. :D


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Lily Finch
16:43 May 13, 2023

Russell, you changed your picture and your style of writing for this story. I enjoyed this story about Sabine and Clover. Sabine's role in Clover's charge is to look over the little girl all six years old. This story was well described, flowed well, was greatly paced, and delivered a satisfying result. I thought this would be the case when it was disclosed that Clover had a broken neck and was paralyzed. Your diction and descriptions immerse the reader and are engaging. Some themes I thought of (I am sure there are more.) were: th...


Russell Mickler
18:21 May 13, 2023

Hi Lily, and thank you so much for reading! YEAH, this week seemed to be all about kids in school ... I really, er, don't WRITE about kids in school, so I was pleased to find this prompt offering a wee bit of magic in it. I'm glad you liked it :) Thank you - it needs a little more work and I'll edit it some more through the week. All the best! R


Lily Finch
20:15 May 13, 2023

I was shocked that the story's details did not have anything to do with halflings. LOL. LF6 D)


Russell Mickler
20:32 May 13, 2023

Laugh every now and again …. :)


Lily Finch
20:52 May 13, 2023



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