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In spite of his resolve, Tom couldn't help shivering slightly as he approached the Witch's house. There'd always been a Witch living in this cottage, a little way from the village, although Tom's brief glimpses of her suggested that this one couldn't have been here for long. She was young and pretty, not at all how he imagined a witch.
Whether or not she was good for the village depended on who you spoke to. Some people--usually the same ones who grumbled loudest about how young people had no respect these days, and how much better things were when they were young--would shake their heads and say that she was a mischief-worker and a bad influence, though even they didn't actually call her evil. Others would get a rather misty, far-off look in their eyes when she was mentioned, and would insist that she protected the village.
That morning, Tom had concocted what he considered a clever story that would allow him to slip off to the little cottage. "Jack asked me to go with him," he explained to his parents. "He insulted Master Edward yesterday, and now he's got to go and apologise, and he doesn't want to do it on his own, and he really, really wants me to go with him." Tom stopped, gasping for breath after spouting it all without a pause.
After a moment of silence, his mother merely raised her eyebrows and asked, "You're going to see the Witch, aren't you?"
Tom, who sometimes had the uncomfortable feeling his mother knew what he was thinking before he did himself, stammered and blushed a few seconds before finally admitting it. Instead of forbidding him to go, his mother and father exchanged a glance and smiled.
"Have fun, darling," said his mother, anaffectionately teasing tone in her voice.
No, it wasn't the Witch that frightened Tom, but where her cottage was located. Just a short distance across the meadow behind it, he could see the shadowed eaves of the Forbidden Forest. No-one ever went into the Forest, even when firewood was scarce.
Many of the tales told round the fire on winter evenings, the ones that made you creep closer to the light and the warmth, were about people who'd gone into the Forest and fallen into magical traps or been eaten by monsters. Tom had been dubious about this ever since, at the age of thirteen, it had occurred to him to wonder how these stories were known, when no-one ever came back. Still, it was a scary-looking place, and even with a meadow between himself and its edge, he was uneasy.
Coming round the side of the cottage, whose front-door faced away from the Forest, he stopped dead. The Witch sat by a large pond, gazing out over the countryside. Her long golden hair hung loose, and she wore only a loose robe tied at the waist by a girdle. It was the closest he'd ever been to her, and he realised she was even prettier than he'd thought. His cock told him it thought so too.