Petrosinella, the Perfect Witch's Daughter
Once upon a time there was a witch who longed for a child. Like most witches, she favoured designer babies, so she sought out the seed of a legendary parsley. She planted it in her garden and grew it under the light of the moon for nine months until it was as tall as a tree and, when it had matured, she said to it:
“Parsley plant, small and sweet, I ask you to give me the perfect witch’s daughter. I want her to be beautiful, wicked, and cunning as a Fae; shameless, intelligent, and bubbling with self-confidence. Make her a master of magic – no! The master of magic.”
And on and on she went, piling on high demands without so much as a blush.
Now, the problem with asking plants to produce babies for you is that they’re rather murky on the details of human society. This fine parsley was the sovereign of all parsley, and it was wise enough to deduce from the young lovers copulating under the witch’s wall late at night that there were generally two types of body that a human could have. As the witch had never specified which type she wished for, and it knew nothing of the stigma carried by each, it figured that she didn’t care and patted itself on the back for delivering a solid match for one of them.
Imagine the witch’s surprise when the parsley delivered into her arms what she thought was a baby boy!
But a boy is better than no child, she felt, and was pleased nonetheless. Her name was to be Petrosinella, and she was more than any witch could have dreamed of. She had hair as dark as an enchanted forest, eyes that sparkled like spell-fire, and the most charming little parsley-shaped birthmark on her shoulder. From the moment she entered school, she astounded her teachers, mastering the basics in a year and surpassing her tutors in the next. The praise and awards piled in, and all the other witches and their children turned green with envy.
The witch was incredibly proud of her “son”. Petrosinella, on the other hand, thought that her mother was quite stupid. It was not unusual for witches to have short hair, and the robes worn by witches and wizards differed little, but the girl could only conclude based on her mother’s language that the witch did not understand the fundamental differences between boys and girls.
“Don’t worry, mother,” Petrosinella would often tell her, “Soon your most wicked daughter will grow up and take care of you, and you won’t have to bumble around by yourself anymore.”
And the witch thought that Petrosinella was making a bad joke and would laugh along to humour her.
When Petrosinella turned twelve, it was time for her and her peers to take their first qualifying exam to be recognised as little witches and wizards. Despite many attempts to correct her along the way, the witch brought Petrosinella to the hall for wizard testing.
But when the girl was put before the great scrying crystal, the spirit inside scowled and said: “Who brought this girl here? Only boys can be wizards!”
The witch was so humiliated, she was nearly in tears! Petrosinella, who wasn’t surprised in the slightest, quickly took her mother out of the hall and patted her hand.
“It’s fashionable right now for the boys to wear their hair long, so it’s no surprise that you mistook them for girls. Let’s go quickly to the witch exam and forget about it. By the end of the week, I’ll make sure that no one even remembers this – so don’t cry, dear mother.”
But the witch could only think to blame Petrosinella.
“This is because you keep making those stupid jokes about being a girl! If you behaved more like a boy, the invigilator wouldn’t have turned you away.”
Petrosinella tried to defend herself and explain that she really was a girl, but it only made the witch angrier. To punish her, she created a tower beside their house and flung the girl into the highest room at the top, where there was only one big window and one door leading in and out. She cast every anti-levitation spell she could think of over the air around the tower and, over the door, she said:
“No boy or man will ever open you!”
She told Petrosinella that, until she came to her senses and admitted that she was a boy, she would be kept there forever and ever. Then, to lessen her shame, she made up a story that Petrosinella was really the child of a poor couple she had caught stealing parsley from her garden. She had taken the baby in exchange and raised her as her own but, now that Petrosinella had crossed the line, she was locking her away for her own good. The neighbours nodded along, all too happy to see her daughter go.
Poor Petrosinella cried and cried, calling for her mother to come back and be sensible, but she never did. At last, she picked herself from the floor and dried her tears.
“Fine, but you brought it on yourself! Mother, the day that you betrayed me will be the last happy day of your life.”
She crossed the room and opened the door easily. “Really, how stupid can you be? You won’t be able to live without me, you doddering old thing.”
And so Petrosinella was unleashed upon the town behind her mother’s back. With a tracking spell to tell her where her mother was at all times, she was always back in her room when she came home, begging pitifully to be released. She even grew her hair as long as the tower and, every few days, she would complain bitterly to the witch about the need for a hairdresser.
The witch could never imagine how her daughter ran wild each time she turned her back. With a click of her fingers, that heavy hair levitated like air and Petrosinella waltzed among the houses and helped herself to the library.
Of course, the petty townsfolk were quick to tell on the girl. This neighbour or that would catch the witch at market and blab all about her adventures. But the witch would return to find Petrosinella sitting by her dresser, miserably combing through her ball-and-chain locks, and the very idea would be ridiculous again. Besides, Petrosinella would remind her that that neighbour had been sullen about her garden having less blooms than hers that year, or that they had a daughter that Petrosinella had outshone in potion class.
And when her self-satisfied mother turned her attention away, that neighbour would find that their pantry had become infested with eight-hundred ant mounds, that their chickens had been set free as frost-breathing velociraptors, and that their sugar had been replaced with self-igniting gunpowder.
It wasn’t long before Petrosinella’s mother was the most hated woman in town.
Seven years passed, and Petrosinella grew more beautiful and more wicked than even the parsley could have predicted.
At the same time, the Princess Adelina was suffering her own plight in a distant land. Although famously talented and beautiful, she had always been plagued with a desire for women. She admired almost every lady who came to court, following them around like a devoted puppy; but, when they inevitably threw themselves at her older brother instead, her heart would be shattered and her tears as constant as a river flow.
On her nineteenth birthday, sick of watching her pine in vain, her father said to her, “You’re old enough to be married now, but you’ll never live happily like this. Go and get a cure from the witch, and I’ll find you a good husband to settle down with.”
Petrosinella’s mother had passed through his land when she was young, so the king knew her by name and sent the princess to her right away.
But when Adelina passed under the tower beside the witch’s home, long strands of silky hair blew across her path, and she raised her eyes to see Petrosinella lounging in the window frame. One wink from her wicked eye stole the breath from her lungs.
“Hello, fair traveller,” called Petrosinella, “What business do you have in this house?”
Adelina was giddy just to be spoken to. “I’ve come seeking a cure from the witch who lives here,” she said, and she explained her situation.
“That’s quite the problem. Too bad that you won’t find a solution from my old mother – she’s been going senile for years.”
The princess tried hard to be disappointed.
“Why don’t you let me take care of it instead?” said Petrosinella, leaning out so that her long locks blew around the princess like a curtain. “I’m a woman of many talents.”
“What cure would you suggest, my Lady?”
Petrosinella smiled suggestively. “They say that the best cure for a craving is a little bit of what you fancy. Come tonight, dressed as a man, and let yourself up to my room. The door won’t stand in your way.”
And the princess did just that. She visited every night for three months and left just before dawn, still clinging to the doorframe for one – two – three last kisses before she went. You would think that all those nightly activities would tire a lady out and keep her tame in the day – but then Petrosinella was no lady, but a witch’s daughter.
Her enemies, who never could learn their lesson, watched over these visits with bitter glee. This time, they gathered a great deal of evidence and several witnesses to take before the witch, and they let the witch’s next-door neighbour (the only one to have kept a good reputation with her mother) do the talking.
“Look, good neighbour, how your child is shaming you!” the neighbour said. “Every night she has some unknown man sneaking into her room. Everyone in town knows about it except you.”
The witch flushed red down to her bones. She ran to Petrosinella in a rage.
“How dare you sneak in a lover under my roof, you brat!”
Petrosinella, who was brushing her hair, gave her the most innocent and wronged expression any liar could muster. “How could I bring a man in here, mother? Your magic is steadfast.”
But the witch couldn’t be swayed this time. She brought out the evidence that the townsfolk had given her and thrust it in her face.
“Tell me how you get him in, you evil child!”
“Very well!” cried Petrosinella, shedding tears to make herself look pitiful. “The truth is that I let him use my hair as a ladder to climb in through the window.”
The witch believed her, because she saw no way that her spells could fail. She ordered the town to hunt out the man she’d been seeing. They searched so viciously, the frightened princess took off back home.
As for Petrosinella’s legendary locks, she seized the nearest scissors and cut them off. This suited Petrosinella very well, as she favoured short hair, but, in frustration, the witch gave her a proud glare and spoke these words over the door and window:
“Only a master witch can pass through you!”
This time, Petrosinella let her mask slip. She cursed and cried, telling her mother that she was a woman too cruel for this world, that she was a disgrace to mothers everywhere, that she was prouder to be the daughter of a parsley. For all her power, she had never been allowed to gain her witch’s license. She counted her mother’s smug steps until she was gone. Then, with tears in her eyes, she tugged the door open and threw herself at the barrier–
Only to catch herself on the bannister just before she fell down the stairs. She paused for a moment.
“What good is all that magic if you don’t have the brain to use it?” cackled Petrosinella triumphantly, as if she had always known that she would escape. “An inferior witch like you should be careful sleeping at night, now that I’m your enemy!”
After that, the town was hit by a great parsley-sparing famine. The cows became doves that flew away, the grain became sea glass and, each night, swarms of undead filled the streets, croaking for Petrosinella to be freed. Every seven days, an angel of death appeared and carried off someone’s granny.
Petrosinella’s cure worked wonders on Princess Adelina. When she returned to court, she found that the women were as uninteresting as the men, and no number of tight bodices or perfumed fans could catch her eye.
Instead, she ached day and night for the woman in the tower. She relived their meetings in her dreams and turned away her food in the morning.
The king knew that it would be impossible to marry her off in this state.
“Daughter, you must go back to the witch and ask her to cure your restlessness. I cannot secure your happiness when you turn your nose up at every potential match that I bring you.”
So Adelina was put back on her horse and sent riding across the many countries that separated them.
This time, she deliberately slowed and lingered by Petrosinella’s window. When her lover poked her head out and spotted her, the gentle smile that bloomed across her face sent the princess’ heart racing like kelpies across the sea.
“Have you come for another witch’s touch?” asked Petrosinella with a smirk.
“Yes – I’m afraid I wasn’t completely cured.” She smiled sheepishly. “There’s still one woman who fills my every waking thought.”
“I must have given you the wrong dosage,” the witch said with a wink. “Book a room for us in the inn down the street and I’ll top you up. Make sure you disguise yourself as a merchant man, and make your real rooms somewhere else.”
So the princess ran off to arrange everything and, as promised, Petrosinella joined her that night. Another month of bliss passed.
But the townsfolk wanted Petrosinella’s head more than ever before. They not only gathered real evidence and bribed the innkeeper to back them up, but brewed together a stomach-churning list of slander. When they went to Petrosinella’s mother, it was to tell her that her child had been prostituting herself to a merchant and his friends in exchange for cheap silks and jewellery.
“It’s true!” cried the innkeeper when she was pushed forward. “I saw it all with my own eyes. The things Petrosinella did, just for some imitation gems…” She drew her shawl tightly around her with a shudder. “If I were that child’s mother, I’d die of the shame.”
Her mother trembled with rage. She ordered the crowd to find the men and tear their organs out, while she flew off home. Of course, Petrosinella was in her room when she kicked the door in. She looked up with a cool gaze as the older witch snatched up her silk robes of night-weaving – conned from a demon six months ago when she caught him sneaking around the cemetery.
“Look at all these ill-gotten gains!” she shrieked, shaking them at her. “I’ve been told what you did to get these! All this book-cake-ee and sixty-four-ing…”
Petrosinella raised her brows at the neighbours’ imagination. “I suppose they need something to touch themselves to at night.”
“Don’t mutter to yourself! This is the last time you ever embarrass me, Petrosinella.”
But no spells were shouted over the exits. The next morning, Petrosinella was woken from her beauty nap by the sound of her mother boasting to the next-door neighbour. She peeked out the window to find the two standing right beneath it.
“That will be the last time he ever goes walk-about,” her mother declared chattily. “I’ve used the strongest magic that I have. The curse that I’ve put on him won’t let him leave the room without three magic acorns, and I’ve put those acorns above a beam in the kitchen. No matter what he tries, he’ll never get them!”
The young witch scoffed to herself. “Unlike you, I have brains as well as looks.”
Before long, Adelina was awoken by the town’s frantic search for the merchant man. It chilled her blood to see a coven of witches and wizards falling over themselves in waves, shrieking for “his” bloody demise but, this time, she refused to leave.
Instead, she laid low for a week, feigning a complete lack of knowledge. When all was peaceful and quiet again, she crept to Petrosinella’s tower under the cover of twilight and tossed a pebble against the barrier.
The brilliant witch had been waiting for her and came to the window right away.
“Back so soon?” she joked.
Adelina grinned. “I’m afraid the treatment didn’t help at all. I’m pining for that woman so much, I think I’ll die if I have to leave her.”
Petrosinella tutted. “You have a bad case. I’ll have to prescribe a lifetime’s supply. If you can spring me loose, I’ll come away and marry you, but I warn you that it will be dangerous…”
“I’ll face anything for you.”
The princess listened carefully to Petrosinella’s plan. The next day, she entered deep into the nearby forest and collected as many acorns as she could, climbing into the trees to collect both the best and the stunted. These she wrapped tightly in cloth, to keep them from making noise, and hid in a bag that she could tie under her skirts.
The day after, dressed as no one but herself, she paid a visit to Petrosinella’s mother. Just as instructed, she told the witch that she had been diagnosed with suspected infertility and had come to ask for a cure. The money was given, the old witch withdrew to brew the needed potion, and Adelina ran quickly to the kitchen and searched out the acorns in the beams.
She replaced these with three nearly identical acorns from her pile and returned to her waiting place long before the potion was finished.
That night, she tossed the stolen goods to Petrosinella.
“Now it’s up to me to take care of mother. Wait for me at the old mill just outside of town.”
When the sun rose, Petrosinella pushed open the door and went down to the kitchen, where she found her mother eating breakfast. The old witch was so shocked, she nearly choked on her porridge.
“How did you escape!?”
“You left the door open last night. Look, dear mother, we’ve been quarrelling for so long. What’s the point?”
“Have you finally come to your senses?” asked the old witch, bright with hope.
Petrosinella perfectly concealed her scorn. “Never mind any of that. Isn’t it cruel for a mother and child to be estranged so bitterly over a mere misunderstanding?”
Her mother stuck up her nose. “You’ve made me the laughingstock of the town.”
“Those other people have such small minds and are far below the two of us,” spoke the young witch honestly. She took her mother’s hand in her own, lowering herself so that they could see eye-to-eye. “A mother and a child’s love should be stronger than all external forces. Let’s stop fighting, and I’ll give you a life more comfortable than any queen.”
The old witch’s resolve wavered. Although her bitterness had long clouded her judgement, her love for her child was genuine, albeit buried by the evil that had grown within her. Petrosinella’s words almost drilled a hole back to her true heart.
But the memory of her peers laughing and sneering at her flooded her mind again, and her heart became obsidian.
“You know your mother loves you, you silly boy. But, if you loved your mother, you wouldn’t do these things to me.” She shook her hand off. “You’ll stay in that tower until you give this nonsense up.”
Petrosinella let her disappointment show.
“Very well, mother. But at least spend one day with me like this, for old time’s sake. Let me play the fiddle for you.”
The old witch was confused, as she had never seen her daughter so much as pick up a violin before. Still, she trusted that she must have practised at some point and had one somewhere, somehow. Consenting, she waited at the table while Petrosinella withdrew “to collect it”.
And while she waited, unaware, Petrosinella struck her with the deepest sleeping magic known to magic-kind and fled.
The spell didn’t last as long as intended. When the neighbours saw Petrosinella fleeing the town, they went at once to her mother and were shocked to find her fast asleep. Although the curse was strong, the whole town pooled their magic together to lift it.
"Poor neighbour," they said, "your evil child has attacked you and eloped."
The witch really was humiliated to tears.
"Don't cry!" urged the daughter of a witch who lived on the edge of town. "I saw Petrosinella getting on a horse with the princess who was staying here. They went East."
So the witch took her fastest broomstick and chased them. The young lovers had a long head start, but soon she was tailing them.
"Drat, it's mother! If she were a little smarter, she would have stayed in dreamland…"
"What do we do!?" cried Adelina, whose blood froze to hear the witch was upon them.
"Leave it to me. Until now, I've gone easy on her because she's my mother. It's high time that I remind her of the difference between the two of us."
Adelina urged the horse to run for its life while Petrosinella fished the three acorns from her pocket. She had already undone the spell that tied her to them, but they still contained her mother's power.
"I won't even break a sweat taking you down."
With a quick manipulation of the energy inside, Petrosinella dropped the first acorn on the ground behind them, and it instantly became a towering Cerberus. Like a heat-seeking missile, the great beast caught the scent of its source magic and salivated for it, launching itself at her mother to devour her.
But Petrosinella had underestimated her mother. She saw the beast coming and tossed it a magic-charged fireball, as big as herself. The stupid creature gobbled it up at once and exploded.
"Damn…" murmured Petrosinella. "Is that what your genes do to a person? Glad I’m adopted."
Unperturbed, she threw down the second acorn. It became a terrible hissing hydra, with more teeth than its mouths could fit, acid blood flowing through its veins, and each limb and head ready to grow back in an instant four times what was cut off. It stretched its limitless necks to swallow the old witch.
Petrosinella's mother refused to give up. She transformed herself into a mighty dragon, using vicious fire breath to incinerate the hydra from afar.
"Finally taking your true form? Alright - you can have this."
This time, Petrosinella filled the acorn with her own power before throwing it down. It became an ancient water dragon, ten times as large and fearsome as her mother could ever hope to be, and every square of it was a screaming, fatal riptide.
Her mother had no time to stop and use magic. Her fire did nothing. Shrieking, she just managed to turn tail and flee the monster as it tried to close its jaws on her.
She shrieked fearfully all the way back over the hills, begging the neighbours to save her. None could. The water dragon’s ferocious currents ripped buildings apart and uprooted gardens, sweeping away every brick and pebble. The tower, the inn, the school, the farms – all were lifted piece by piece and carried off, their screaming populace bundled up with them.
In a few minutes, the hill was as empty as if there had never been a town built there. Only a sole, brightly blooming parsley was left behind.
Petrosinella and Adelina rode home to her kingdom, laughing. The princess demanded a huge fanfare as she hopped off the horse and presented her lover to her father.
"Look, father – I have found my happiness! The beautiful Petrosinella has agreed to be my wife."
The king had a great deal to say to that but, as he caught the witch’s eye, he swallowed it down and congratulated them. The wedding was organised right away, with no expense spared. Everyone complimented the brides and welcomed Petrosinella into the royal family – sweating on the inside.
However, it wasn’t long before the brilliant witch won the people over for real. She was so fashionable, she set the trends every season; she easily outwitted any politician and cut through red tape; and, when the kingdom’s enemies rose against them, she ended the battle in a flash with no blood spilled.
She was so fiercely worshipped that the king abdicated and the prince surrendered all claim to the throne. Slowly, one by one, the surrounding kingdoms turned themselves over to her. Those few foolish kings who tried to resist were thrown to her by their own people and promptly turned to ash.
Petrosinella’s rise to Supreme Empress was as smooth as cream. Wherever she went, other witches and wicked things fled or grovelled at her feet. Without the screen of nostalgia and familiarity to blind them, they knew with one glance what the townsfolk couldn’t grasp even after two decades:
Even a god couldn’t defeat a perfect witch’s daughter.