Moira lifted her face to the sky and uttered a curse. Omnipresent clouds blocked the sun and threatened more rain. More cold rain. She shivered in her threadbare cloak. “Our old bones deserve better.”
She adjusted the sack over her shoulder, trying to find the least painful position for the bread and meat she traded for in the market. A twinge caused her to cry out and stumble in the tall grass beside the muddy cart path.
A group of village boys ran past, shouting and stomping in the puddles as they went, splashing Moira with mud.
“Mallacht mo chait ort.” She shook a gnarled fist at the troublemakers. “My cat’s curse upon yeh.”
Moira struggled to her feet and wiped the largest clods from her cloak. She resettled her sack, wincing at the familiar pain and glanced around. Three crones eyed her with interest from a bench until she pointed at them and spat. She cackled and turned away as the three old women crossed themselves.
“It’s the same every time we come to market,” she said to the empty air. “We should curse them all.” She stopped and tilted her head. A smile lifted the corner of her wrinkled mouth. “No, better not. We still need them.”
A cart swerved as it drew near, the horse shying despite the driver tugging the reins. He scowled as the cart pulled even with her. “Yer in the way.”
Moira hissed back. “Best pass on by, lest we send yeh away with more than yeh bargained for.”
She arrived home without further incident, closed the door and hung her cloak on a nail by the lintel. Once her few items were put away, she prodded the coals in the fireplace, adding a block of peat from her dwindling supply to raise the temperature in the small room. That done, she lowered herself into her chair. “Ahh… much better.”
A knock at the door roused Moira from her thoughts.
“Be gone,” she said. “We’ve no interest in the festival.”
A tentative female voice called. “But… I am expected, Cailleach. You told me to come.”
Ah… the lovestruck girl who wants a potion for her young lover, she recalled. Moira pushed herself from the chair and went to the cabinet containing her wares.
A louder knock at the door, and the girl’s voice, more confident now, said, “You said come. I am here.”
“A moment, child. This ‘old woman’ moves slowly.” Moira pulled the cabinet door open and rummaged among the bottles and jars until she located the crockery jar. She lifted the cheesecloth lid and sniffed at the contents. “Aye, still potent. Enough to bind his heart to hers.”
She shuffled to the door and opened it a crack. The girl stood on the threshold, her face visible within the folds of a hooded cloak.
Moira lifted the jar. “Do yeh have payment? For we do not feel charitable today.”
“Aye.” The girl removed a small pouch from the cloak’s pocket, extracted a silver coin and offered it to Moira. “Will this do?”
Moira squinted at the payment. She nodded, extended the jar to the girl and snatched the coin, shutting the door without another word.
The girl called through the door. “How does this work? Is it a spell? A potion? Do I drink it? Tell me, witch.”
Moira shook her head and spoke behind the closed door. “Stupid girl. Yeh asked for a love potion to win his heart. Why would yeh need to drink it?”
“Listen to Moira and do as we say. Add the contents to his soup or drink and remain near. For the magic works fast and he will give his heart to her his eyes first see. Do yeh ken?”
“I do and thank you.”
“Now, go and leave us alone. We must rest.”
Moira waited for footsteps to retreat before returning to her place by the warm fire. She eased onto the chair, drew a tattered quilt close and closed her eyes.
She slept. And the voice came again.
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