There once was a determined young witch named Chloe who dreamed of being a great sorceress. As shimmering spells of love, beauty, and desire and mystic spells of death and immortality were coveted most, Chloe was certain she would be sought after. As her mother lay dying, she handed Chloe a silver coin.
“I have taught you all that I can,” she said. “Take this silver coin to Sherriah. There you will find my sisters, your three aunts, who are witches, and they will help you.”
Dressed in sackcloth, Chloe set out for Sherriah. Before long, she met an astonishingly beautiful young woman with golden hair and bottomless blue eyes. As they were headed in the same direction, they decided to travel together. At nightfall, Chloe cast a simple spell and started a fire. She shared her plans to become a great sorceress.
“I have learned to start a fire and make flowers bloom out of season,” she said, “but to be a great sorceress, I must learn the spells of love and desire and beauty and immortality.”
“Beauty is everything,” said the beautiful golden-haired woman, her azure eyes sparkling in the firelight.
“Look at me! I have been throughout the county, and I am certain I am the most beautiful woman to be found. Beauty is the spell you should learn.”
Then, reaching inside the folds of her golden frock, she handed Chloe a simple white clay statue.
“But, if you would be tempted to learn immortality, you will need this,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Chloe, taking the statue. Then, tucking it away inside her belongings, they fell asleep.
The next morning the stranger was gone leaving Chloe to travel the rest of the dark, dismal path alone. She arrived in Sherriah before dusk and went directly to her first aunt’s home. Upon knocking, she was greeted by a fat woman with twinkling eyes and a generous smile.
“I have been expecting you child,” she said happily and ushered Chloe inside a heart-shaped cabin smelling of baked goods. “Have a treat while I prepare.”
“What spell have you to teach me?” asked Chloe, munching on a heart-shaped chocolate cookie.
“I have only one spell to teach,” said her aunt in a voice filled with love. “Use it wisely and only for others.”
Then she went into another room and returned minutes later with a new iron kettle, a rose, a four-leaf clover, and one single thorn. With a wave of her hand, the first aunt started a fire under the kettle and then added each ingredient as she spoke:
“This is my spell for love: ‘A new kettle, not yet worn with use, a rose, a thorn, and a clover, for love will bloom each day anew with a little luck, but will also be piercing and painful at times.’”
They practiced until dawn, and after resting, Chloe prepared to visit her second aunt.
“Do you have something for me, child?” asked her aunt.
Remembering the silver coin, Chloe passed it on. Her aunt, in turn, gave Chloe a gold coin.
“When you reach my third sister, give her nothing except the coin given to you,” she said. Chloe agreed, and with this warning, they said farewell.
After a time, Chloe arrived at the home of her second aunt. Upon knocking, she was greeted by a tall woman with hair the color of fire and a precocious smile.
“I have been expecting you, child,” she said teasingly, and Chloe entered a small house smelling of perfume and incense, and everything inside was as red as its owner’s hair.
“Light a candle while I prepare.”
“What spell have you to teach me?” Chloe asked as she busied herself, lighting the room.
“I have only one spell to teach,” said the second aunt in a low, breathy voice filled with cunning and intrigue. “Use it wisely and only for others.”
Then she went into another room and reappeared with a kettle – gray from overuse, a wild mushroom, a knife, and a cup of water. With a nod of her head, a fire started under the kettle, and the second aunt added each ingredient as she spoke:
“This is my spell for desire: ‘Tho’ desire is as old as time, it is still fueled by love and passion, and tho’ passion can drive you to the brink of madness and murder, its fire may still be quenched with the waters of tranquility.’”
They practiced until dawn, and Chloe prepared to visit her third aunt. When the second aunt inquired after the gold coin, Chloe received a black coin in return and, with it, another warning.
“When you reach my third sister, give her nothing more than this coin I give to you.” Chloe agreed. With this final warning, they said farewell.
By and by, Chloe arrived at the home of her third aunt. This time she was greeted by a wretched, bony woman clothed in a black cape. She was wraith-like in form and although her face was hidden behind a dark hood, she attempted to smile – but could not.
“I have been expecting you — child,” she said. Then, stepping aside, she made way for Chloe to enter. Her thin, claw-like fingers held open the door, and Chloe could see that the cabin was immaculate, without chairs nor a table, nor any furnishings. Only a fire breathed in the hearth, and a dirty broom rested near the door.
“Before you speak,” she said, in a cold, dry voice as brittle as her body, “I have only one spell to teach. Use it wisely and only for others.”
Now, this third aunt brought forth from another room a kettle so old that the metal was worn thin from use, a raven’s wing, a human eye, and the wing of a snow-white dove. She merely looked at the kettle, and a fire kindled beneath it. She added each ingredient as she spoke:
“This is my spell for death: ‘As life wears on, all are blessed with sight to see right from wrong; still poor choices are often made. And when death comes to carry us away on dark wings, peace may still be found for those we leave behind.’”
They practiced until dusk, and as Chloe lay down to rest, she noticed small porcelain figurines atop the mantle over the hearth. She hadn’t noticed them before and decided to inquire about them at dawn.
That morning, Chloe surrendered the black coin as payment.
“The spells I have learned will make me a better witch,” she said, “but I wish to be the greatest sorceress in the land. To do that, I must learn the spells for beauty and immortality.”
“You are an impatient child,” growled the third aunt. “The spells you have learned will make you the greatest sorceress in the land — if you use them wisely. Beauty and immortality are but two sides of a wicked coin, my dear.”
Disheartened, Chloe gathered her belongings. “Before I leave, blessed Aunt,” said Chloe, “tell me about the porcelain statues.”
“Aaahhhh,” said the old woman, “they are the payment for the spell of immortality. It is taught only to those who can afford the price.”
Chloe could not see the dead black eyes watching her behind the hood.
“But I have given away everything of value that I own,” Chloe said, dismayed.
“Then child,” said the third aunt, her weary old voice softening, “speak no more of it.”
Suddenly, Chloe remembered the plain white statue given to her by the beautiful woman.
“Wait! I have something!” said Chloe. Digging frantically through her belongings, she presented the statue to her third aunt. The two warnings returned to her on the wind but passed unheeded as Chloe pressed on.
“This is all I have,” she said. “Is it enough? Please! I really want this!”
“Where did you get that?” said the third aunt, surprised.
Chloe was beside herself with excitement.
“A woman gave it to me. She believed herself to be the most beautiful woman in the county. But, once I learn the spells of beauty and immortality, I will be the most beautiful woman in the world. Forever.”
Nodding, the old woman took the statue.
“Now,” Chloe demanded, “teach me immortality.” She pointed to the clay statue. “It’s as good as the rest of yours. And you might as well because I’m not leaving until you do.”
“Very well,” said the third aunt.
Standing in the center of the room, Chloe watched as her aunt rolled the simple clay figure back and forth between her skeletal fingers and sang:
Life is given just this once
Death come quickly, if so inclined
One will prevail as righteousness
The other will last for all time.
Once, twice, three times, she sang until suddenly, Chloe began to feel very weak. She stood helpless as her own hands shriveled; even so, her aunt’s bony hands grew plump with flesh.
Chloe’s brown hair turned gray and brittle; even so, her aunt’s hair became a beautiful golden color. Then as Chloe’s face wrinkled and withered, from behind the dark hood emerged the beautiful face of the young woman in the golden frock. It was the last thing Chloe saw before collapsing into a heap of ashes on the floor. Then the beautiful young woman placed the now porcelain figurine onto the mantle with the others.
“Foolish girl,” she said in a voice full of youthful vanity, “I have traveled the county, and I am quite certain that I am the most beautiful woman to be found.”
As the young woman took the broom and swept the ashes out and into the woods, a porcelain likeness of Chloe watched in muted silence. The beautiful young woman sang:
Ask what thou wouldst
Take it and no more
But be careful and knowest
What thou asks for.