This is a tale of three witches who lived long ago. One was young and fair, one of middle years, the third so old her teeth no longer sat inside her mouth. They were weavers by profession, but their fame lay in the greatness of their patience and the apathy of their care for humankind.
But perhaps they were not so apathetic as one might think. Perhaps they were only waiting, waiting to perform a last act. One known only by means of a story.
It began with a girl. Eldra. A fair village lass of humble beginnings who caught the eye of a prince. So in love with Eldra was the prince, that he carried her off on his horse one afternoon, to the delight of gossiping tongues in the village and the horror and sorrow of her mother.
Though Eldra’s mother had creases round her eyes and though each step she took caused great pain, she followed the prince in hopes of gaining her daughter’s freedom. But her steps were as slow as the prince’s horse’s were fast, and the mother fell quickly behind.
Kneeling in the dust, she prayed that her daughter be spared her fate.
As the mother rose from her knees, three women suddenly appeared before her, young, old, and middling of years. One spun thread at a wheel, one weaved a large tapestry at a loom, and the last held a pair of shears and, on occasion, cut. Around their feet lay large candles lit as though they had only moments ago been elsewhere, for in the sunlight of midday the flames held no necessity. As they performed their domestic tasks, their aura was that of strength and something more than magic. And so the mother told them what she had set out to do.
‘Yes, yes, I see,’ said one of them, though she did not look at Eldra’s mother. Rather, she looked toward the tapestry she wove and studied it intently.
‘There is little that can be done, I think,’ said another, spinning the thread as a matter of routine.
‘Not little,’ said the third, the sun’s light glinting off her shears, as her eyes roved over the mother’s creased face. ‘But not pleasant.’
‘Can you do nothing?’ asked the mother, her face suddenly weary.
‘We can,’ said the first, her voice slowing as her eyes passed off the tapestry onto the desperate face.
‘But it could cost,’ said the second, her hands stilling at her wheel, her voice considering.
‘A great price,’ said the third, her shears closing round air, her gaze piercing.
‘I’ll give anything,’ the mother pleaded.
‘Anything?’ said the first, her eyes suddenly wide.
‘She is sincere,’ said the second, her mouth round in awe.
‘Never have we seen the like,’ said the third, her eyes narrow. And then she gave a sharp nod.
‘And yet, your offer is fruitless, for you can do nothing,’ they spoke in unison.
But as they spoke, their feet moved out from under them, each hitting a candle just so, and as the candles fell, their flames licked at the wood of the spindle, the cloth in the loom. And in that instant, the young one and woman of middle years disappeared.
Only the old woman sat, the shears in her hands, as she watched the work burn.
Reaching into the pile of flames, she pulled forth a single charred thread, and bent it.
In moments, the mother saw her daughter riding toward them on horseback.
The mother looked at the old woman, who had risen from her seat.
‘How can I thank you?’ the mother said.
‘There is no need,’ said the old woman. ‘Too long have heroes tried to make us act for their welfare. We have long waited to receive a selfless request and knew what we would do should such a time arrive.’
With that, she too was gone. And with her, the last act of fate.