The Witch and the Traveler

In the Hills of the Sun, a cat-eyed witch once received a visitor. She had been gathering herbs for her stew, in which several luckless ptarmigans and a rabbit were already simmering, and was wondering whether to break out the last of her peppercorns, when she heard a knocking at the door.

“Come in,” said the witch absently. “Would you like something to eat?”

“I would be much obliged for some breakfast,” said the visitor, “but I have nothing to offer you.”

The witch looked up at the visitor, a tawny woman with her hair in a crown of braids held in place with hairpins decorated by feather tufts, and a talon-curved knife hanging at her belt. She wore a scratched pair of spectacles and her boots looked as though they were one day’s travel from falling off her feet, but her cloak was very fine, and its hood was lined with soft white down. “Don’t trouble yourself about that,” the witch said. “Have a seat?”

The traveler shook the snow off her boots and wiped them before coming in, then sat, polite as you please. “I had heard that there is a witch in the Hills who likes to eat visitors for breakfast,” she said, quirking an eyebrow.

“People say the unkindest things about people they don’t know,” the witch remarked, ladling the traveler a hearty bowl of stew with rice and a mug of hot citron tea. “What I would like to know is, why would you come to the hut of a witch suspected of consuming her visitors?”

The traveler smiled. “Perhaps it’s occurred to me that such a witch might grow lonely for companionship.”

“Presumptuous,” the witch said, not unsmiling. She set down a platter of sliced bread and a little dish of salted butter, then sat to nibble at one of the slices herself. “What would someone like you know of the ways of witches?”

“I know that in the Hills of the Sun there is no such thing as breakfast,” the traveler said, “because there is no night, and thus no one ever sleeps, either. It must grow tiresome, long days that stretch ever longer, with no one for company but the birds.”

“The birds are perfectly delicious company,” the witch said. “And their bonesong is welcome when I need to do some cleaning.” She looked meaningfully at the drumstick the traveler was gnawing on.

The traveler raised an eyebrow. “Even birds eat birds,” she said, and there was something of the raptor’s hunger in her eye. “Still, it would be remiss for the queen of the birds not to seek to spare some few of her subjects.”

“I’ll make you a bargain, then,” the witch said. “Come visit me once a year, so that I have someone to practice my cooking on, and I will turn my attentions to the rabbits and voles instead. Unless you are also here on their behalf?”

“Hardly,” said the queen of the birds. “The rabbits and voles can fend for themselves. Besides, they, too, make an excellent breakfast.”

For cyphomandra. Prompt: breakfast.