Type of Short Story: Novella
Summary: Lavender is a boy. He knows it, but no one else seems to--until he goes to the witch. She understands, and her magic can give him what he needs, but she demands payment: he must accompany her and her son on a dangerous journey, across the mountains to another country. He is willing to do anything for the body he's always longed for, but he does not know how the journey will change him.
It had rained during the day, and the grass was damp; his skirt dragged in it and picked up water, so he wrapped it around his fist, uncomfortable. He could smell the faint, sweet scent of night flowers. They grew elsewhere in his village, but nowhere so thickly and abundantly as here, by the witch’s cave.
He found the entrance and stood there for a moment, gathering his courage. Then a voice issued from inside: “What is your name?” the witch demanded.
He stopped short, only at the mouth of the cave, and squinted into the blackness. There was just enough light that he could see the roiling smoke that filled it; how did she know he was here? Nevertheless, he cleared his throat and said, in the high-pitched voice that he hated, “Lavender.”
The witch laughed, sounding truly mirthful. “Strange name you have given yourself, boy. Well, come in, do not waste your time and mine standing about outside.”
Disbelieving, he stepped forward, into the smoke. “How did you—” He stopped suddenly, confused, when he came through the smoke and found that it was only a wall or curtain, and the inside of the cave was well-lit with lanterns, draped with curtains and well furnished. The witch sat on a wide wooden chair. She was nothing like what he had expected: so far from a crone, she was only a few years older than he; her hair was bound up about her head, and she was dressed neatly and modestly in a full skirt, a shift, and a tightly-laced bodice. Only her feet were scandalously bare. It was hard to believe that the cracked voice had come from this lovely young woman. The laugh, though, he thought fit her.
She smiled to see him, seeming to mock his confusion, or his surprise. “How did I know that you are a boy? Am I not a witch, and see what is in men’s hearts, and women’s too?” He only nodded, his throat too dry to fully respond.
“Your name,” she continued, “is not Lavender. The name I have seen for you is Journey.”
The name seemed to shake him from his head to his toes. He had not chosen a new name for himself; he had not had the courage. And the name was not one that was inherently masculine, like some he had toyed with—Valiant, Moon, Jaguar. But this name fit him so neatly and perfectly that he knew he could never answer to any other, from this moment on. He fell to his knees, still shaking. “I thank you, lady, for that name.”
“It is a gift, given freely,” said the witch, and her smile deepened. “But tell me what you would of me. I know you came here not only for a name.”
He lifted his head and clutched his skirt, wanting to wipe the sweat from his brow, but not wanting to appear disrespectful. “Lady, they say you are capable of all manner of transformations—animal to man, or man to animal, or even plant to animal…”
“My name is not ‘lady,’ but ‘Cicatrix,” she said. “They say many things of me, but this one is true.”
He swallowed. “Then please tell me, are you able to turn me truly from girl to boy?”
She stood from her chair and circled around him where he knelt on the floor, as though evaluating him. “I am,” she said at last. “But you will not be able to return to the life you had, and there is always a price.”
He nodded, staring at the spot of floor in front of him, where lay a rug worked in strange red-and-white patterns. He tried hard not to stare at her feet. “I have no need to return to my life. It is not a happy life. I will pay any price you wish—surely you knew that?”
She laughed again, and the sound was beautiful. “I knew, yes, that your need was great. But it is not for me to choose for you whether you will pay my price. Are you ready to hear it?”
“You must escort me to Atash.”
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