The young woman standing in front of the witch was shaking, tears welling in her eyes. "Please, it's my father, he's sick... I need your help as soon as you can..."
Matilda looked down her long nose at the cowering woman in front of her doorway, who now had tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.
Of course she was going to help her, she just had to keep up the 'hard-to-please' game so she got paid reasonably.
"What will you offer in return for my assistance?" Matilda said in an icy voice. "Nothing good in this world is free. The ingredient I have for this cure is very rare, so the payment must be valuable."
The woman, looking down at her feet, spoke quietly, still shaking. "I don't- I don't have much money. We've spent it all on treatments, but they... they haven't helped."
"Money isn't the only form of wealth. Is there anything else you could trade?"
"I'm sure we could part with one of our horses or cows-"
"I have no need for animals," Matilda responded. "And don't bother me with family heirlooms, either. They are often only of sentimental value."
The poor woman looked up, her pale face shining with tears in the moonlight. She knew what she had to do, but had been hoping she wouldn't have to. It was her last option.
Far across the town, in a much more pleasant section of the magical forest, a young man knocked on the door of a charming little cottage.
He fidgeted and paced until the door swung open to reveal a plump little woman holding a mixing bowl full of a shimmering substance.
"Good evening, dear. What can I help you with?" said the woman, beaming up at him from under her squashed black witch's hat covering most of her wispy white hair, which was pulled into a bun.
The young man rubbed the back of his neck as he told her: "I need your help to get into a school."
"You'll have to be more specific, dear," responded Anise, the witch, stirring her wooden spoon around in the bowl of sparkles.
"Well, you see, the private entry test is tomorrow, and I've studied all I can, but I just know I'm going to mess something up. I tend to panic in situations like that."
Anise looked at the man closely. She could immediately tell that he was a rather anxious person.
"It's just- the regular instructor who does the exams is very ill, so there'll be a substitute, and I don't know them very well, so I'm quite worried. My family has been in hard times recently, and this is my one chance to get a path to a good job and support them." He ran his hands through his hair, clearly flustered.
"Of course, dear. Let me whip something up." She turned and entered the cottage back through the open door. Hesitating, the young man hung back, but Anise gestured for him to follow.
Inside, he waited in the living room while she worked in the kitchen. A chunky orange-and-white cat wove its body between his legs, purring loudly.
Before the young man knew it, the witch was back with a basket in her hand.
"Under this cloth you will find what you need to stay calm the day of your exam. Have it for breakfast, but eat nothing else, or it will be weakened. Don't worry, it's quite filling."
"Thank you. Now, I suppose, we come to the matter of payment?"
Anise nodded. "I accept any form of payment. As long as it is valuable to the customer, it is valuable to me."
What the young man said next was very foolish. It was a ridiculous offer, but he was so grateful, and he didn't know that once an offer had been made, the witch had to accept. It was by her rules.
In two different houses, each as different as their inhabitants, the two witches stood, looking at their two customers. Both customers were desperate, but for very different reasons.
And both made an offer in that desperation which caused more trouble than they could have imagined.
As the bright moon, casting spooky, mysterious light on one house and friendly, pleasant light on the other, sailed through the sea of stars and sky, the two young customers made their offer.
"I will give you my firstborn child."
Thank you so much for reading! If you want to read the second chapter, make sure to like this post! I will publish the next chapter as soon as this hits 10 likes. I really hope you enjoyed this, since I'm very excited about it! I plan to keep this going for a while, so if you enjoyed it, you're in luck! -Solstice :)