Once upon a time, there was a mountain witch who lived with her teenage grandson. They lived much closer to the forest than everyone else in town, but they were not isolated, and the grandson had many friends. Their main issue seemed to only be the fact that their chickens kept killing snakes. They were happy, but…
But the grandson’s shoes were almost constantly worn out, more than twice as often as everyone else’s were.
But the grandson was always tired.
But the grandson had become withdrawn, putting less effort into his friendships with a persistent flash of worry and fear in his eyes.
But, but, but. The list went on, until eventually the mountain witch decided to stay up late and get to the bottom of this herself.
That night, not long before dawn, the door creaked open. In walked her grandson, with all the fear and worry from the daytime stripped away. In fact, if she didn’t know better, the mountain witch might have said he was a completely different person.
But this was not the strangest thing the mountain witch had seen in her lifetime, so she simply raised an eyebrow and told him to explain what had been going on, not unkindly.
Maybe she had hoped to fix whatever the issue was. Maybe she just wanted to stop being in the dark. Whatever her reason was, she got her answer. And it was clear that she could not solve it with a mere potion.
When your grandson is bound to spend his nights in the Unseelie court, from the time he falls asleep until dawn, what exactly are you supposed to do?
Support him in any way you can, was the answer the mountain witch had settled on. She would never say it directly, but she worried for her grandson. Hushed conversations with the familiars of herself and her grandson raised red flags upon red flags, but it also raised the knowledge that confronting him would do nothing—if his own familiar, a reflection of his very self, cannot get through to him, why would anyone else be able to? When a magical being that might as well be a piece of your soul can’t make you see that you’re still a prisoner, no matter how enjoyable it is (or how enjoyable you tell yourself it is), is there anything to do other than hope the realization finally clicks one day?
So this is what the mountain witch did, day in and day out, for nearly two years, until-
A question: “Have you been to sleep?”
A silent answer: a face drained of colour.
Everything happened lightning-quick after that—secrets brought out into the open, a plan to fix everything, chaos and monsters, a new last-ditch plan, and then… uncertainty.
The uncertainty took the longest.
The grandson and his friends had taken off into the forest to confront the king, surrounded by other knights, but the mountain witch stayed behind. All she could do was keep an eye on the cat—if she stopped being a familiar all of a sudden, well… that would be one less thing to be uncertain about, the mountain witch supposed.
But the familiar stayed a familiar, and promptly ran around telling everyone involved in that night’s mess what the grandson’s plan had been and exactly how much self-sacrifice it involved. That in itself nearly gave the mountain witch a heart attack, but… she supposed it could wait, since it was clear that no self-sacrifice had actually occurred.
Once she was finally able to reunite with her grandson and his friends, she asked what had happened while they were gone.
The grandson, at long last a prisoner no more, gave her a shaky smile—one that matched how shaken up the night’s events had left him—and said, “Killed another snake.”