I kneel beside a sluggish stream and bring out a kitchen knife. Sawing, cutting as close to my scalp as I dare, I drop the golden locks and let them eddy away.
Mother always said one should bury or burn hair clippings lest birds steal the strands to make their nests—an unlucky thing I surmised, though I never asked why.
I have no time to go splashing after shorn curls now. The birds may have them. If their motives are dark or prove unlucky, well I am used to darkness and ill fortune.
I slip through the forest, carefully quietly. I stop to listen for the sound of hoof beats or
jangling tack. My husband knows where I am going. He could find it blind. I cannot let him stop me again.
I pull up the hood of my cloak, bunching the fabric tight beneath my chin. A golden lock slides between the hood and my cheek, like a vine searching for sunlight. I push it back as I realize I’m getting close.
Just over the rise…there. The cottage is gone, burnt by my husband’s men years ago, but I recognize the yard and the yew tree, evergreen and welcoming, its twisted branches scraping the ground. A Yew’s red berries are not deadly, but only if one remembers not to bite into or swallow the seeds. Mother taught me that.
Behind the charred remains of the house, I know I will find the garden, its humps and furrows following prim, straight lines beneath the grass and brambles. Perhaps herbs and vegetables still grow there, though wild and tangled without my mother’s hand to guide them rightly.
How proud of it she was, even after she fled the city and there were no neighbors to covet the abundance. She demanded my admiration instead. “Aren’t they lovely, dear?” she would ask.
“See this rampion? How perfectly it curls? How green its leaves? What would one give? What would one promise for a lettuce such as this?”
She nodded and smiled, having received the answer she wanted. As she moved down the rows, her long, slender fingers plucked away blemished leaves and any insects that dared invade the bounty.
But my refuge is farther on yet, and not easily found by most, camouflaged by ancient trees and my mother’s enchantments. I must keep going.
Mother’s voice, which I have not heard in so long, whispers to my heart. “Closer now. Not far. Go quickly, daughter!”
Then I hear them, my husband and his men. They come at a slow trot, wheeling between the trees, calling to one another, laughing. They have seen me and know it will be no work catching a woman on foot. It is a sardonic, teasing chase.
I run, fleeing to the tower. As I run a song forms inside me. I sing to the tower—a song older than words, ancient as thought and as wild as the dream of freedom.
I sing for a life away. Yes, away from the vile, vicious courtiers and sly, jealous ladies who report on my every move.
I sing for freedom from the repugnant alchemists. Their interest in my tears, which had healed my husband’s thorn-pierced eyes, led them to small tortures against me. All disguised as accidents: a trodden-upon toe, a tripped servant girl holding boiling broth, a pinch, a slap, a favorite kitten found drowned in a bucket. Once I realized the truth they would have had to flay me alive to squeeze another drop from my eyes.
I run from the man who once claimed to love me. But I was not enchanting enough for long. Though he spent hours curled naked in my magical hair as if it and not my body held my soul.
I want away from a life imprisoned, constricted by expectations and ironclad conventions—the rules and obligations that bind a queen.
Now. the song—its power thrums through my body. Vibrating, racing, driving me forward. The song reaches its crescendo as my palms touch the sun-warmed stones of home. It meets my mother’s enchantments. And roars. My feet leave the ground. Rushing upward upon a fierce surge of magic, I regain the tower.
Home. I run my hands over the worn, dusty, familiar furniture. I clasp a ragged book to my chest. Inside I will find love notes and instructions scribbled on the margins in my mother’s hand. She thought of me always, as a true mother should.
If only I had not been so blinded by restlessness, rebellion and love, I could have seen my mother’s gift for what it was, sanctuary—protection from the many cruelties of the world
My husband calls to me from below and I rush to the window much as I did those many years ago, but there is no golden stair for him to climb, nor will there ever be again. A shearing with the kitchen knife will become my daily ablution, I swear it.
I’m amused at his bewilderment, “Did you think a witch’s daughter was not privy to her mother’s secrets?”
He is angry and shouts a threat.
“Bring your siege engines and your under-miners, husband. My mother’s power has joined mine. You will not gain entry here again.”
I turn my back on the window and begin setting the room to rights. I start by stacking the first books I want to read near a comfortable chair. What is not here already I can conjure or will forage once my husband gives up his siege.
I am the queen, but only now sovereign of myself.