Photography and text by
SABRINA L. GREENE PHOTOGRAPHY
“I hope they’re home,” Eliza whispered to herself as she walked down the mountain’s well-worn path to the drover’s road ahead. The light was fading into embers above the tree canopy on the north side of the ridge, but she wasn’t worried. The sun’s last rays would guide her to the witch’s home on the valley floor. Clutching her shawl tighter around her, she quickened her steps.
An hour later, she saw the large white house on the next hill. It was massive and sprawled across the lawn, just like her sister told her it would be. Eliza paused and murmured to herself, “You’ve come this far. There is no need to stop now.”
She crept to the door and softly knocked. She didn’t hear anything, and just as she was about to turn away, the door opened. The woman standing there was dressed in some of the most stunning fabrics Eliza had ever seen. Her gown was jet black, just like her hair, but the blue framed in the middle of her corset was what struck Eliza the most.
It was the color of the rolling mountain ranges encompassing the valley, reminding her of the Balsam ridge she had descended from. The woman curtly nodded her head and stepped aside to let Eliza in without saying a word. Swallowing hard and mustering courage to shroud her heart, she took a deep breath and walked across the threshold; after all, she was here for Larkin.
Eliza played with the tattered edges of her late grandmother’s shawl, feeling embarrassed by how simple her clothing looked. This woman was clothed in such finery! Feeling intimidated but determined, she looked at the mysterious woman and asked, “Are you Anna?”
“No, but she is here. What business do you have with her?” “I require a love charm,” she said. At least she sounded confident, even if she didn’t quite feel it yet.
“And who told you that we provide such baubles?” the woman snapped. “You should get back up on the ridge you came from, foolish girl.” The woman turned to open the door and usher her back into the encroaching darkness.
Practically shouting, Eliza said, “My sister Rena did!”
Turning, the woman replied, “Rena? From up on the Balsams?”
“Yes, she said that you could help me and that I should ask for Anna.”
“You must be Sylvia’s youngest daughter then. Hmmm.” She walked past Eliza, and the scent of herbs and lemon filled her nose. Eliza had not seen a lemon in almost two years and her mouth watered. How could this woman afford lemons?
“Come on, then!” The woman’s stern voice broke through Eliza’s thoughts and beckoned her forward. The floors creaked as they turned down a hall, and darkness seeped through the floorboards and cracks like a palpable smoke. Yet she could see candlelight flickering in the room at the end of the hall and hear people laughing. Her heart began to race, and she wondered if the woman could hear it.
The woman opened the door, and the sound of laughter barraged her already fragile senses. Motioning to a blond young woman, she said, “Anna, here is another one.” Then she moved behind a table full of more things than Eliza had once seen in the general store in Waynesville when she was eight.
Her mother had taken her and her sister to the booming logging town to buy a mirror. Eliza had never heard of a mirror before, but neighbors talked about them. When they made it to the general store, Sylvia gave her a penny and sent her to the candy counter. When she walked up to the glass containers, she was mesmerized by the vibrant colors. There were so many hues that she didn’t know existed until they presented themselves to her at that moment. Each piece shone in the window and glittered as light danced across its surface. It reminded Eliza of the multicolor quartz stones she would find in the streambed on hot summer days.
“This one will do,” her mother had said across the store, and the man behind the counter began to wrap something up in paper. Rena was giggling and standing on her tiptoes.
“I guess every young girl needs a mirror to admire herself with, don’t they?” the clerk asked. “How old are you?”
“Thirteen. I just turned thirteen last week!” Rena replied.
“Well, enjoy it. Would you like me to put this on your husband’s account?” he asked Sylvia as he pulled out his ledger.
“No, I will pay for it now.” And she handed the clerk her change purse full of coins. To Eliza, it seemed like he took forever to count them all.
“There you are, three cents back to you,” the man said as he pushed the coins back to her mother.
“Go ahead and let Eliza choose three more pieces of candy, please.”
Walking to the counter where Eliza stood, he said, “I would be delighted to.” He showed her the side of the counter she could choose from, and she considered each piece as if they were rare treasures.
That evening as they climbed back up the mountain trail to their farmstead, Eliza listened to her mother and Rena chatting. “Rena, don’t have this out when your father is home. Do you hear me? I have been saving for it a long time from my needlework earnings. And we’re lucky he went to visit his ailing aunt this week.”
“Yes, Mama, I know.” Rena was bubbling over with excitement. “Do you think I’ll be able to see my true love with this? I just need to lean over the well and hold it up to see his reflection, right?”
“Perhaps,” her mother said dismissively. But Eliza saw her smile as Rena ran ahead, singing the ballad about Sweet William and his lover to the treetops.
“Mama, what’s a mirror?” Eliza had asked when she slowed down to let her catch up.
“It’s a tool you can use to see yourself like the reflection you see in a bowl of water, but only clearer.”
Puzzled, she asked, “How will Rena see her lover if it only shows a reflection?” Laughing to herself, Sylvia said, “I will show you when you turn thirteen, Eliza, I promise.”
That had been eleven years ago, but Sylvia had died of pneumonia the following winter.
Glancing up above the hearth now, Eliza noticed a mirror there too, but it was larger than the one her sister had held in her hands years ago. She shook herself to shed the memory before looking at the new woman standing in front of her.
“Are you cold?” the pale-haired woman asked. This must be Anna, Eliza thought. She wore a blood-red coat and dress with a spiderweb of black over the bustle.
“No, just a little nervous, I guess.” Anna smiled, turned, and looked over her shoulder to another woman with long red hair and said, “What do you see, Morgan?”
Morgan laughed with a voice that sounded like tinkling bells drifting on the wind. “A water nymph crying by a stream. Her raven-haired warrior comes from the west to escort her journey above the falls with a wild potato in his hand.”
“Ladies! Can’t you see you are scaring her?” The voice came from the corner of the room, and Eliza jumped. “Stop being so peculiar and find out why she is here.” Eliza had forgotten that Rena said four witches lived in this house. “Come here and have a seat. Would you like something to eat or drink?”
Sitting on the settee, she relaxed in this witch’s presence. Her dress was as purple as the wild violets that showed their faces at the beginning of each spring. Laying her book down, she said, “I’m Sybil. What’s your name?”
“It’s Eliza, after my grandmother.”
“Well, Eliza, why have you come down to visit us tonight? Oh wait, Morgan, fetch her some tea from the kettle in the kitchen.” Morgan stood and left the room.
“I have come for help, you see. It’s about a man.”
It’s always about a man,” Anna scoffed.
Sybil glared at her but motioned for Eliza to continue.
“His name is Larkin, and he says he loves me, but …” she trailed off, unsure of what to say next. “He hasn’t asked to marry me. He loves me just fine! We often meet near the base of Watterrock Knob.” Stammering, she continued, unable to stop the flow of words, “I mean, I have hinted, and he has too, but I’m tired of waiting! He is my true love, so I just need a charm to help him along.”
“How long have you been waiting?” Sybil asked.
“About a year and a half.”
Anna interjected, “Larkin? The only Larkin I know of is the one who works in the logging camp up in Sunburst.”
“That’s him! Larkin Davies! Their camp has moved closer to the Balsams now, so we get to share each other’s company more often.”
Anna turned to look at the dark-haired woman who had let Eliza in. “Do you know him?” “I know enough,” she said.
Morgan re-entered and handed Eliza a cup of tea that smelled like wildflowers and honey. The scent immediately calmed her nerves. “So you need a love charm to woo him into matrimony?”
“If you don’t mind, I can pay!” Eliza said. “My sister Rena told me how much you would need.”
“Rena!” Anna exclaimed. “Why, Morgan, how did I miss it? She looks like a younger version of her sister, doesn’t she? Except for her coal-black hair.”
Morgan stared, and Eliza was unsettled by how unearthly still she was sitting. Her eyes were piercing, as if they could see straight to her soul. Blinking slowly, Morgan replied, “Yes, she does.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Anna said, grabbing a candle. “Sybil, I am sure you can look through your books and find the appropriate spell, hmmm? Oh, and by the way, this is Deborah.” Anna patted Deborah’s shoulder, and she glanced up briefly from the herbs she had been crushing in a bowl, then returned to her work.
The room came alive with the witches moving about, gathering herbs and colored bottles, talking about what would make the best charm for Larkin. Eliza sat drinking tea and found herself getting giddy as she watched them work. Warmth tingled in her toes and spread up her legs, then covered her like a cocoon. Once in a while, she’d glance up at the mirror and she swore she could see its surface ripple, but she wasn’t sure.
Someone gently shook her shoulder a while later, and Eliza opened her eyes. She hadn’t even realized that she had fallen asleep. “Did you rest well?” Sybil asked.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know I had fallen asleep!” Eliza blushed, thinking that they must think her rude.
Morgan glanced her way and said,“Not rude. It was the tea.”
“Oh, thank you, that is the best I have rested in a long time.” Anna handed her a small bundle wrapped in a handkerchief as she sat up.
“Wear it at all times under your dress. Once a month, take it out under the full moon’s light and feed it three drops of your blood. Then say, ‘New moon, new moon, come unto me. And tell me who my true love is to be.’”
“Okay, I can do that,” Eliza said.
Sybil came into the room and handed her a small basket. “It’s just some bread, cheese, and a piece of fried chicken to nibble at on your way home.” The sun peeked above the ridges and light spilled into the room.
“Thank you! Anna, can I put this on now?”
“No, wait until the moon is full this weekend, and remember to do what I said each month to keep it charged.” She smiled and helped Eliza to her feet.
All four escorted her to the door, and Eliza waved to each as she started back toward the Balsams. When Eliza crossed the first hill, they all went back inside except Deborah, who prayed a blessing over the girl. Entering the room where they had all spent the night, Deborah heard Anna say, “She doesn’t even know he is married. Someday I am going to hunt down that fool and end him.”
“Patience is wisdom,” Sybil mused.
“How long before she finds out?” Deborah asked Morgan.
Morgan stared out across the mountains. “According to the fae, about three moons, I believe. Her heart will break, and her familiar will awaken. He will be of your people, you know.”
“And of the Wild Potato Clan, I gather.
The keepers of the land.” Deborah smiled.
Sybil said, “Her ancestors are great, and she will learn the old ways just like your ancestors and mine, Morgan.” Turning, she asked, “ You didn’t actually give her a love charm did you, Anna?’
“Of course not!” she exclaimed. “I gave her a charm of protection that the Morrigan blessed herself. I even used the last bits of highland moss from the old country I had left.”
Morgan quietly whispered, “She will return when the time is right. Her roots run deep in both the ways.”
“Fae and what? I thought Sylvia only had the fae blood,” Sybil asked.
“She had Cherokee too and did not know it. Not even Rena knows.” She sighed contentedly. “Oh yes, the fae will call her to us first, then he will come.”
Deborah’s smile widened. “Yes, her true love will come, and he will be of my people. I am thankful she will need their guidance as well.” Quietly, she took a jar to the stream to capture some of the water Eliza had walked through for her scrying bowl. This way, when Eliza’s awakening was near, the water sprites could call out for her return.
Photography/Story: Sabrina L. Greene Photography | sabrinalgreene.com
Models: Anna Sorrells, Debbie Whichard, Sybil Todd, Morgan Ferguson
Costume/Gown Designer: Sybil Todd of White Knight Cosplay (@whiteknightcosplay), Assistant: Dakota Todd
Hair/Makeup Team: Fab Flawless Hair and Makeup Artistry (@fab_flawless_makeup_artistry), Assistant: Alyssa Brewer
Venue: Authentic late 1800s home owned by Debbie Whichard, soon to be called The Farm at Sweet Basil Life and open to the public.