February 22, 2021

A Hedge of Rampion, By Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

Editor's Note:  Rarely understood are those that follow their own path. Perspective is everything in a tale, and Kiyomi Appleton Gaines' story offers a different view on a classic. Enjoy!

I never meant to be a witch. You should know that from the start. You don't notice at first, and by the time you realize what you are, it's too late.

I never wanted to be a mother. I always assumed it would happen one way or another. When you're young, you never imagine your life will look very different from others. Yet I was different even then. Odd. We married so young in those days, and I didn't want to marry just any man. Silly as they were, once girls were Mistress Baker or Goodwife Smith, they were no longer children. Girls my age started becoming mothers before we even knew what it was to be women.

I didn't want that. I didn't want any of those things. My father, resentful of my lingering, said I must earn my keep, so I tended the midwife and learned from her how to ease pains and treat minor ailments. I never kept a garden well. Strange, since that is what I am now best known for. But I know a little of plants and children, birthing and dying. And living.

I was old for a bride when I married my tinker. He came through with tales of distant places, and I dared to ask why I couldn't have that life too? Eventually, we settled in a place, a village not so different from this one. He offered services making repairs and traveled out every few months to bring goods from elsewhere. I had my garden and my knowledge of herbs, and so we made our way. The women there did not trust me, though, I with no small ones clutching at skirt and breast. They still came to me for those other things, to soothe a headache or a sour stomach, to heal a wound. But they did not trust me, and I knew what might come, and then knew that it would. I urged my husband to leave, but he didn't believe the threat in those evil looks. I left before their fears became dangerous.

I met my tinker again later. Our little home was burned, and he was chased out after me. He returned to tinkering. I went to another place.

The people came, though how they knew I could help, I don't know. I charged them nothing, hoping for goodwill, hoping to be left alone. You will understand my dismay when one evening I found a man digging in my garden, stealing ramps.

I grabbed a rake and brandished it, demanded his account.

He startled and had the grace to look ashamed. "Please, mistress," he said, "it's my wife. There's a little one coming. She says she must have ramps, or she'll die."

"And you can find them nowhere else but my garden?" I asked.

He looked down at his little pile of plants, "None like these, mistress."

I lowered the rake. I would have to spend the next day repairing my garden, but I did not want to take to the road again. "Take them and begone then, if she'll die," I snapped at him. "And don't let me find you stealing from me again."

He scrambled to his feet, mumbling apologies and gratitude, and left. He returned a few days later bearing a hen and begged more of my vegetables. I kept the woman in ramps for months.

You think you know what comes next, but you're wrong.

They brought the child to me whenever it became ill, and I did what I could. It was a sickly baby. I wanted nothing to do with it. If it did not thrive, who would they blame? But they begged me to help, so what could I do?

When she was a little older, she took a fever. I put her in a cot by the fire and tended her. For days I sat by that little cot. Her parents visited often at first, then less so. The fever passed, but she was still weak when her parents told me they had "happy news" once more. She was not their first nor only child. That isn't to say they didn't care for her. They just stopped coming. I called her my little Rampion, for the ramps that had brought us together. I taught her everything I could, and she grew up.

I did not keep her prisoner. I wanted to protect her. I didn't want her to be stuck in the life I had fled, nor did I want her to pursue my path, which had produced its own dangers. I wanted something better for her. When I learned a young nobleman would be passing through the town, I took her there and put her in his way, again and again, for the duration of his stay. That was my mistake. When he left, she said he would never have gone without her, that he loved her, that I had trapped her. It was some few months later, when her condition was just showing, that she ran away.

I searched for her. I went to the town. I begged at the castle for any hint of her. I went to the tinkers. I would not stray far or for long from my home in case she came back, but I asked them to look for her. They found her, with her child. When she came back to me, she was frail and sick, and never recovered. I laid her in the garden, and let the ramps go to flower over her. And I have raised her daughter, whom I have called like her mother, my Rapunzel.

I own my mistakes, Sister, I will not see them repeated. She must be safe, warm, educated. I know well what you do to ones like me, who are odd, we witches. Yet here is my confession. Do with me as you will, only take her as a novice.

Kiyomi Appleton Gaines loves folklore and fairy tales for what they teach us about what it means to be human.  Her writing can be found at workofheartkag.wordpress.com.  She lives in New Orleans with her husband, a one-eyed cat, and a snake.

Cover Design: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
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6 comments:

Elizabeth Caulfield Felt said...

I love this take on the traditional tale! Witches get such a bad rap!

Kelly Jarvis said...

A lovely look from a new perspective!

HulderMN said...

Beautiful new view of this ancient tale, with a real and welcome sympathetic view of what it means to be witch and mother. ❤❤

Mike Neis said...

I like how the persona is a misfit. They always seem to get into trouble.

Lynden Wade said...

What a beautiful, sad story. The ending was surprising but actually made a lot of sense. Great reworking of the traditional tale, and I love seeing stories featuring older women positively.

Angelika said...

So well told and so lyrical, as always.

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