Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Witch's Son

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Witchs Son

In a strange house filled with pieces of uncast spells, the witch's son is hard at work on a fresh bit of magic. You tell us: what is this young man's story?

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This illustration, "The Witch's Son," is by artist Lauren Nichols. As always, we invite you to write your own story inspired by this image and post it in the comments.

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Witchs Son

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laurendavis
Lauren Davis

His mother never made it a secret that she wanted a daughter. She women were more magical, something about the moon and their blood. Tevan never understood that; there was plenty of blood running through his veins. Once she told him that he wasn't her child at all but a cat she had transformed into a boy so she'd have someone to do chores around the house. When he was eight, he turned himself into a cat to see what it felt like. His eyes never quite changed back. After that, whenever she was cross with him, his mother would squeeze his cheeks between her fingers and call him Mr. Whiskers.

When she was in better spirits, usually after a mug or two of dandelion wine, she would call Tevan to curl up beside her. She would stroke his hair and tell him the wild tales of her coven: how they drove away the lesser dragons of Denmouth by hanging wind chimes at the mouths of every cave in the region; how they stopped a withering plague in Benheim by burning the corpse of a murderer and scattering the ashes at the threshold of each home; how they guaranteed the Earl of Stottlebridge an heir, but asked for his eyesight in exchange. When he asked when he would get to join her magical adventures, she only laughed. "You might be a fine potion maker or an augur someday, boy, but you will never be a witch of my coven."

Each year on the spring equinox, she would leave him for a month to rejoin her coven and leave him with a list of components to acquire. He read cards for the hangman's daughter for a noose that had killed an innocent man. He made a toy cat that danced when you flicked its tail and traded it for a little girl's doll, made in her image by her mother. He sold potions that cleaned water and eased aches and pains, then bought cow skulls and good parchment and teacups that had been chipped in moments of anger. When his mother returned, she never asked if he had completed his list; she simply assumed the items would be there when she asked.

As the spring of his twelfth year approached, Tevan begged his mother to take him with her to her coven meeting. She frowned for a moment, then her hand shot toward him. Tevan shrank back, fearing she meant to grab his face. Instead she reached behind him, pulling a musty tome from the bookshelf. He trotted after her as she hauled the book to a nearby table, flipped it open, and jabbed her finger at a yellowed page. "My coven meets in a cabin in the Tearful Mountains," she told him, "surrounded by a circle of protection. No one may pass the circle unless they have summoned one of the ancient spirits of El-Ochre and bound that spirit to themselves." She pushed down on Tevan's shoulder and he dutifully sat as she tapped the page again. She said, "This is the summoning ritual for Loh. It should be simple enough even for a cat-boy to master."

Whenever Tevan wasn't working or sleeping, he was studying the ritual. He captured the green-winged sparrows he would need to sacrifice. He drew the binding symbols over and over until his hand ached. He dug up the body of one of his mother's dead cats and cleaned off its bones before reassembling the skeleton on his worktable.

He attempted the ritual three times that month that his mother was away, and was left with nothing but three dead sparrows. Over the course of the next year, he would try eight more times, refining his symbols each time, making his kills cleaner, but to no avail. Before his mother left again in the spring, he asked her watch she was doing wrong. She looked down at his workspace, crowded with chalk and death things, and smiled as she shook her head. "Perhaps you are not the witch you thought you were," she said.

After she left, Tevan read every book in the house on summoning. Late one night, as he prayed his last candle would hold, he discovered the problem: there was an error in the ritual his mother had shown him. Two of the symbols had been reversed, a simple transcription error. He bolted from his desk to try the ritual again and as soon as the sparrow's blood dripped onto the corrected symbols, the cat bones transformed into a living, breathing cat.

"Loh?" Tevan whispered, not quite believing his eyes.

The cat leaned back into a deep stretch. "There are some cobwebs to shake out of this body," it said, "but this will do."

Tevan swept the cat into his arms, ignoring its hiss of surprise. "You're really here!" Tevan cried. "Wait until Mother gets home."

Loh sank its claws into Tevan's shoulders, and the boy dropped the cat with a yelp. "I'm afraid we won't be able to do that, my boy."

Tevan sank to the floor, tucking his legs beneath his body. "Do what?"

"Wait," the cat said. It batted absently at the dead sparrow. "I'm Loh the Wanderer after all, and you're bound to me. We have to go, adventure, seek new places."

That's when Tevan felt it, the stirring in his heart. The house where he had spent his life felt suddenly too small. He reached for a bag and began to shovel in all of the components he had been collecting for his mother, the shell from across the Salted Sea, the rabbit snared by a virgin trap, the tea kettle from a midwife's home. By the time dawn streaked through the window, he was ready to go. Tevan paused before reaching for the doorknob. "Loh?" he asked. "Do you think that Mother knew there was a mistake in the summoning spell? Or did she mean to drive me from her home?"

"Does it matter?" Loh asked. "The effect is the same."

Tevan nodded and opened the door. He took one last look, realizing that this was the only place that he would ever call home, but home wasn't with Mother any more.