Many years ago, in a land far over the waves, there was a kingdom that feared dragons. Not just fire dragons, the ones hunted in many lands, but also water dragons, especially sea dragons, because it was a kingdom by the sea. This kingdom had lost most of the fire dragons and the freshwater dragons within its borders. They had a system, you see, for drawing dragons out -- first, find a village that has been raided by dragons before, and then find a woman to stake out near where you expect the dragon to come (trails to caves were good for fire dragons, while the top of a ridge near a lake was popular for lake dragons, but sometimes they just tied her up in the middle of a field). Young women were preferred, and early on they insisted on using high-born virgins (younger daughters of the kings, particularly), but one day they realized that dragons couldn't tell who a girl's parents were, or whether she was a virgin, and so they started using women from the jails. Still usually young, but not from such important families. In fact, the orphans were best -- no family to mourn afterwards, you see. Anyway, once the woman was put out as bait, the knights would wait in hiding for the dragon to appear, while their servants chanted the traditional call to the dragon. If a knight could arrange to kill a dragon himself, he would be acclaimed throughout the kingdom, but dragons were usually hunted in packs, because no one wanted to risk the dragon getting away. As I said, years and years and years of these hunts had depleted the fire dragon and lake dragon populations. Those that realized what was happening took wing and fled for other lands. And so, there came a time that if knights wanted to win acclaim by dragon hunting, they had to call sea dragons.
One day, in a village perched above the sea, a group of knights arrived on such a hunt. "Look," they said to one another, "what a wonderful place to call a dragon! We can put the bait down there on the strand, and the villagers can safely watch from the top of the cliffs to see our valor!" And so they went to the village elders and asked for permission to hunt there for a sea dragon. The elders, of course, said yes, because wise villagers didn't refuse many requests from large groups of armed men. "Thank you!" said the knights, as if the villagers had really had a choice. "Now, we'll need a young woman for bait. Do you have any in your jail?"
While wise villagers rarely refuse armed knights, they also try to avoid lying to them, and this village not only did not have any young women in its jail, it didn't even have a jail. "Oh," said the knights, "Then we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way." But which way did they choose? Did they ask for the granddaughter of the village head? Did they hold a lottery of all the women of the right age? Did they simply send one of their men out to grab the first likely-looking girl? In the end, they decided to hold a lottery and the village elders called everyone out to the cliffs for the drawing of the lots. One young woman was missing, however, the orphaned daughter of a traveler who had liked the village and had stayed to till the small plot of land his wife's father's family had tilled for generations. "Go, find her," the knights told their men, and so they dragged her out to the cliff to take part in the lottery. "Wait," said the elders. "This girl neglected to come to this assembly, and her parents are dead and cannot complain. Rather than risk our families, let's give her to the knights. For if we had a jail, certainly this offense would be reason for her to be in it." (That their messenger hadn't wanted to take the time to walk the narrow trail that led to where the girl had been tending her sheep, and so she hadn't known of the assembly, was not important.)
"Great!" said the knights. "We'll go ahead and set her up tonight and call the dragon just after dawn tomorrow!" And when the young woman complained, one of the knights hit her on her head, so that she was only able to remain standing because the knights' men were holding her up.
So, in the darkest point of night, when even the moon has gone to bed, she stood, tied fast to a stake, on the rocks of the shore, chilled but still so tired that she fell into a restless slumber. In her dream, she walked through halls of polished rock, some spots so highly polished that it was like looking into a mirror. She stopped to look at one such spot, bemused to see her face surrounded by the blue-gray-black of the rock. Another face appeared next to hers, and when she jumped back, she realized that there was someone standing behind her. This new face was hers, but black hair had faded to gray and the rounded-red cheeks had faded to thin skin stretched over high cheekbones. The gray head was festooned with gold and silver and bright sparkling stones, and a torque even more elaborate than those worn by the knights circled the aged neck. "Let me live, girl," the old woman with her face said. "What?" she said, vaguely aware that she was dreaming and wondering why she'd be dreaming of herself as an old woman. "You are responsible for my life as well as yours, girl. If the knights have their way, you will take me with you when you die, and I am opposed to that happening. Wake up and get on with our life!" The girl swallowed heavily. "How do I do that, pray tell? I'm injured, and cold, and tied to a stake! It's not like I can simply wish myself free!" Her older self smiled at her, a smile like the girl imaged a shark would smile. "Are you willing, child? To give me command of our body and our mind?" And the idea that there might be someway to survive the coming dawn was more powerful than her fear of this other self. "Yes," she said, and then the mirror-wall showed only one face, her face, but her lips curved with the old woman's smile, and throughout her mind she could feel walls that separated her from knowledge, except for one open door, through which she saw the strand, and the sea, and how to call the water and the creatures of the water to her. And then her other-self was gone, leaving her alone, tied to a stake, and absolutely sure that when the sea dragon came, he would carry her away with him.
And that, young dragon lords and ladies, is how your blessed grandmother, the Witch of the Sea, came into her power and came to live among us. Now, off to bed with you!