*The young maid stole through the cottage door,
And blushed as she sought the Plant of Power;
“Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light,
I must gather the mystic St. John’s Wort tonight,
The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide,
If the coming year shall make me a bride.”
*A Pagan song of midsummer; Eliza Cook’s Journal
Emerging through the door to her own cottage, in sweet tones Antoinette Debaraz gaily voiced her own song of Midsummer celebration. Now a maiden of eighteen years, her heart was light and filled with the promise of dreams to be fulfilled. Taking to a pathway, she felt no urgency as she made her way along the familiar trail. Often she would pause to gather herbs of interest, or to simply visit with the creatures of the forest.
As this was to be a special night in her young life, a night of marvelous events, there was a skipping spring to her stride as she made her way to the appointed meeting place. With her novice year of service complete, the advent of dusk would see her initiated into the coven of sisters. Upon commencement of the ceremony, the reigning priestess of the Sisters of Melusine would scourge, purify and then welcome her with the sacred kisses. At the conclusion of which she would be fully vested in the practice of forest witchcraft and privy to every secret enchantment the group had to share.
As for the coven, they were overjoyed to receive the maiden into their company. It was not a secret to them that more so than any other, including the matron crone herself, Antoinette was of a talent born. Familiar with a great many herbs and how to combine them, even without benefit of formal training the girl had already possessed remarkable instincts and a reputation as an accomplished healer. Upon introduction to the finer points of the art, she’d rapidly proven herself masterful in synthesizing the details of every art. Readily she memorized the words and motions required in divination, the gestures and intensity of focus needed in the performance of rituals. So adept was she at the craft, that already the others held hope she would one day ascend to the station of high priestess.
Her understanding of the web of dependence between living things and their relationship with the unseen world was certainly precocious. This was made manifest by her creativity in the design of incantation. Her talent exceeded the efforts of most artificers who’d labored before her and it was believed by her mentor, that if there was one among them who could unite the scattered and frightened witches of France into an organized coalition, it would be Antoinette.
Much like me, it was by choice that the girl remained a recluse of the wilderness and since the time of our first meeting, it had became a practice of mine to pay occasional visits to the girl. Being ever in her debt and gifted with her friendship, I would leave her with packages of venison and useful items that resulted from my hunts. Sometimes we would talk and she would tell me of the power and properties of certain plants. Thus her youthful mastery of many crafts was already plain even unto me, a man mostly ignorant of magical byways.
With those things that I brought to her and the bounty of her gardens, it was none the less necessary at times for her to make her way into the city. Being a girl of exceeding beauty and intelligence, it might surprise some that Antoinette would prefer to live alone. She was however, a being of such bright spirit that she did not suffer from loneliness and only at need did she brave the congested streets of Malzieu. When the necessity did arise she was not prone to tarry, for all too often she would encounter vulgar men avid to lust after her.
Falling under the spell of her natural allure and bountiful charms, without pity these men would press her for her favor. Without pause they would badger the girl in hopes of winning the coveted prize of her virginity. Being a maiden of chastity and innocent in the ways of carnality, Antoinette would spurn their unsolicited advances. Too often her rejection of them resulted in rousing not only the anger of would-be suitors, but an insidious spitefulness. Unrelenting, their bold persistence would sometimes escalate to ruder forms of attention.
Though earnestly alarmed by the attention, she was never seen to use spells in her defense against them, even those times when it became necessary for her to physically fight her way free. So it happened that upon one such occasion, Françoise Boulet, a farmer and keeper of sheep, came also to the marketplace in the company of his wife, Claudette. As Françoise was a man of simple education and poor at conversation, his wife would relish these opportunities to visit with her friends in the city and share in their gossip. While going about his business however, Françoise happened to spy the girl in distress. Cornered on the street by a pair of uncouth men, she was struggling to break free of them as they went about tugging at her clothing.
To Françoise it appeared the men were daring enough to assault her on the open street in the broad light of day. Feeling their actions an insult to common decency, Boulet approached the scene, took up one of the men by the collar and seat of his pants then tossed the ruffian rudely onto his face in the dirt. The second offender was so taken aback by the action that he decided to flee before receiving a similar scolding.
In gratitude, Antoinette gave to Françoise a brief and innocent embrace before hurrying away. Observing the incident however, Claudette became instantly furious. Sharing her dismay with friends Renee and Elizabeth, these same two women reported to have witnessed their own husbands fawning after the girl. Feeding upon one another’s resentment of masculine betrayal and distrust of Antoinette’s youthful glow, all three expressed extreme displeasure at their men being bewitched by the maiden’s comely appearance. Born of a common jealousy, in secret they united in a liaison of intent.