The little mandrake walked.
It dragged itself away from the dancing circle of feet, rose up on bowed legs and awkwardly rotated newly formed hips. It swung tiny shoulders and fists with every step. Crows watched the expressionless, bloody face as it stomped towards the town in pre-dawn darkness. The black birds understood the little creature’s purposeless purpose because they were tugged by similar forces.
A knife sharpener, pulling his grinding wheel on a cart, overtook the mandrake, but was unable to see it. The man hoped to find a place in the market, and also hoped to meet the witches who sold cataract ointments. Focused on his own poverty and the curse of rapidly diminishing eyesight, the knife sharpener lurched past the little creature, assuming the strange, soft footfalls that he heard were from the pads of a nearby farm dog. In fact, he could hear one of those animals now, whining and cringing, straining against its tether. And there was a goat bleating, with the terrified sounds that usually meant a wolf was nearby.
The little mandrake walked.
Snatches of songs and incantations rose in the cold air only to be subsumed by crackling fires and straining wagon wheels as the market town shook itself awake. The knife sharpener pulled and the mandrake walked, both drawn toward those fresh noises.
At the edge of the village square, familiar sounds were wrapped in familiar smells, straw and manure, and earth clinging to vegetable husks.
“Here, father,” a young woman said as she touched the knife sharpener’s arm, guiding him towards her stall. “I was hoping to see you today.”
“I was hoping to see anything today,” the man said, “but I am often disappointed.” He heard the sound of ivory handles rubbing against each other as the young witch unrolled a velvet bundle. He knew that each handle gripped a long thin blade, worn to razor thinness from use and his own expert honing. The young witch took good care of her tools.
Then, suddenly, a cackle of surprise: “What have you brought with you?” The young witch’s breath was full of lavender and cloves and malice.
“Nothing,” said the blind man, “I have brought nothing but my great wheel.”
But the little mandrake was now entering the square, trudging in the knife-sharpener’s wake, a diminished shadow.
“I see a bloody puppet. How extraordinary!”
“I have no control over your visions, but if you do see something, it’s not my creation. I only sharpen knives; I don’t whittle the wood.” His white eyes flicked restlessly from side to side. “Perhaps your sisters have been busy.”
The little mandrake walked past the young witch’s stall. Tiny fists swung in front of his belly with each naked step. The creature was almost trampled by a donkey who squealed and started within the harness traces of its cart.
But the little mandrake walked to the far side of the square, somehow untouched by the hammering, lading, roiling activity. Then the creature paused in front of an ornate doorway, the beautiful house where the young Alcalde lived. The little mandrake’s chest heaved and his head tilted upwards. He crawled up seven steps on his round knees to the threshold, then curled into a purplish ball and slept.
The knife sharpener tested a blade with his calloused thumb, the market heaved like a living thing and the young witch laughed.
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