"What do you know of magic?" The old witch looked out with those dark eyes, stroking one of her many cats, a battle-scarred veteran that was itself idly slicing slivers of wood from the arm of the rocking chair. Maga shuffled her feet, her own kitten hiding in her hood.
"Don't speak," the old witch gave a gapped tooth smile. She raised one hand and reached out to the shelf that was within easy reach - and took down an old book, bound in dark cloth gone pale gray along the spine from sunlight. The spidery hand held it out to Maga, who took it carefully, not wanting to touch those fingers.
Maga's raven quill hovered over the journal. She hardly knew where to start.
There were the songs she had heard at night, when her grandmother sang away the imps of fever. The amulet that did not save her mother at childbirth with her little sister, which Maga had taken off the cold woman's neck and unrolled. Dances she had been taught in the thicket of the woods by the hairy boy with fangs.
In school, they had taught her to read - and she had read of magic. The High Witches, far up on the mountains, who called the storms and tolled the dead, whom even bishops fear. The Deep Witches that the salt miners found, dried and crusty, and brought up to burn. Dry accounts of the trials, with the old script that was hard to read, and the words she didn't always know and couldn't ask about, for fear that they would know what she read.
The other children made up stories and rhymes, but Maga didn't think much of them. The grown-up books she wasn't sure all had the truth, but they had less of fancy to them...most of the time. She could see a witch that didn't let the bread rise or the cow milk, or twist a piece of gold so no one dared spend it, or to dance out in one of the old places and talk to the things in the shadow there. So she put that in the book as well.
Maga bit her lip until the blood came to her tongue, cursing at every blotch and splatter of the ink, every uneven line. Worse than that, all the things that she thought of after she had written things down - connections she hadn't made, things she had left out. Yet she didn't want to try to scratch it out, tear up the page, start again. She only had the one journal after all, and the old witch was waiting.
"Is this the best you could do?" The pale fingers turned the pages. Maga chewed her cheeks. She didn't think the old witch really wanted an answer.
The cats had begun to circle her, sniffing at the coal-black kitten hidden in her hood. Troll cats and hairless elf cats with their tiger stripes, black cats and the one white dam that ruled them...
"A good start," the old witch snapped the book shut. "Now." She tossed the journal into the fire.
Maga gave a start, and all the cats hissed in unison, standing between her and the flame. The paper curled and blackened. Stupid warm tears ran down Maga's cheeks. It had taken her a week. Her wrist had swollen until it hurt, her fingers cramped, arm numb to the elbow, kitten crying in hunger...
The old witch held out another journal to her.
"Do it again."