Mother was both less and more than expected. The cruel, warty visage, framed by thick brutish black hair did not in any way match the calm melodic voice that whispered comfort and guidance as she burrowed deep into the Puksfole. Mother was huge and powerful and absolutely dominant. There was no discussion or debate in her world. Iris was valued for some reason, but not loved. It became clear to her that Mother had plans. Iris was trained, shown how to get by in the Puksfole. She was tested and quizzed. She was shown how to hurt things and to eat them. She lost all interest in plant based foods. Flesh in all its many forms would make her stronger. Mother showed her visions of settlements, of villages, towns and cities. She talked about the habits of men. She was coached regarding her place in the world — a world so different from the Pollard “estate”. It was clear that Mother did not like pretty or even plain looking women, her waspish hands had a life of their own. Quick pinches, razor-like snicks and pokes so often targeting the face… Iris stayed hooded. She stayed dirty. She hunched and she cultivated a feigned cough and hoarse voice. She did chores and she gathered. She met Mother’s friends, as cruel as she but smarter in their questions and their probings. They talked about her coming birth. It was to be special. They healed facial wounds and scars and chided Mother for damaging the canvas. Salves and creams were applied to her entire body, But most carefully to her face and her hands. Bitter potions and rank tinctures were forced into her. She was a piglet being carefully tended. It was a year long process, and she lost her her sense of taste. Her skin thickened. Her birthday approached. There was debate. Kept from her at first but it soon became clear that there was concern about her “soul” and that the ceremony might go awry if care was not given to strengthen it as well. A child of Tarheshamine, initiated in haste. A fat woman reeking of odd fumes and her mouth stained from the chewing of root was brought into the coven. A cursory attempt half heartedly supported by Mother who clearly resented the effort. Something answered her first tentative prayers. Something eager and full of need. Something that spoke of power and freedom. Seeds thrown to soil in haste took root. Iris found purpose and an answer to her life of privation. As the fat witch stumbled away from the cave on the eve of her birth. Iris followed and made her first sacrifice and took her first of many presents — the beautifully wrought symbol of her true master. Mother smiled when she saw it.
7 hags attended her birthday party. There was no cake, no presents, no games. She had watched these things take place in the homes of the wealthy. The pampered soft children. The doting parents. Mother took great delight in showing her such things when she scryed the smoke or the stagnant bog water. She would croak that Iris was not made for such things. She was not good enough for them. There were songs and chants at her party. The rhythmic sexual undulations of a Coven of 7. And then the curious eyes and thin smile of an 8th. No life in these eyes. No warmth in that smile. Nor for that matter from any of the desiccated forms that loomed through the smoke as Iris’s mind sputtered: a candle snuffed by their foul breath.