In a place not far from here, there was once a young witch, who easily bedazzled people with her eyes and entranced them with subtle words, but when she grew angry she could make men tremble in their boots.
As time went by, the witch grew older but her face seemed frozen in a state of ageless youth. This astounded ordinary people, who soon became convinced of her other-worldly powers.
It was widely rumoured that the witch reared snakes in her yard: great and small ones, brown serpents, green and black ones, some speckled, some with gems on their heads, others with fearsome fangs and the deadliest venom.
She nourished them, wrote long tracts devoted to them, and sang to them. To protect them, she fashioned powerful words into rhyming spells of song, and wrote secret letters with ominous silences in places where words should be.
As time passed the people grew more afraid of the witch and her snakes that soon entered every nook and cranny from low to high. Beady-eyed, they lurked with flicking tongues in every shadow and crevice in the land.
The snakes began to multiply and grow more powerful, but in time they also grew weary of the never-ending demands of the aging witch, who still had them under a weak and waning spell.
So, a great horde of snakes gathered to discuss the rules of the sorceress. They agreed that she was too powerful a spell-maker to kill outright, so they came up with a plan to ambush her.
They would surround her house and lay in the bushes to prevent her from reaching the berries, fruits and herbs in the field on which she lives, and that she uses for her mind-bending spells.
But the witch sensed the plot of the wily old serpents that lay in wait outside her home, so under a blanket of silence she reared a new snake, but more fierce and venomous than any other.
She spoke over the young serpent the most wicked words, loaded with insults and vengeful curses until the snake — small as it was — hissed angrily, and showed its fangs and its quivering forked tongue.
In that moment, the witch snatched it by its young neck and cast it through the open window and into the world, where the fearful little viper soon began to bite and attack anything in sight.
So it was that the mad little snake, with what appeared to be a ruby red star on its head, attacked the old sleeping serpents that lay in the bushes outside the witch’s house, until the last survivors were bunched up in a tree.
Now when the rude snake slithered back into the house triumphantly, he raised his head with the glowing ruby red star on it and said to the witch: “Sss… see that tree. All my enemies are in that tree, go and burn it down.”
But the witch hesitated. She feared the serpents outside, but more so the loss of her treasured coin. Who would pay for her spellbinding words if the snakes no longer kept them in a state of permanent fear and terror?
She didn’t really want to destroy the big old snakes that dominated the land, she just wanted to bring them under her rule. But its eyes turned red with rage and in one swift move the little snake bit deep into her hand.
The witch fell back. She looked with horror at her hand swelling up and the fingers — with which she’d crafted so many reality-altering spells — as they turned green, grew stiff and turned blackish.
“But why did you attack me?” she cried. “I’ve taken such good care of you. I raised you from an egg and nourished you. Why? Why?” she wailed as the words in her throat began to dry up.
“I’m a snake, you stupid witch,” the little serpent sneered as he slithered off towards the door, leaving her paralysed by the toxic venom that coursed through her veins like red-hot lava.
She was unable to pronounce another word or scribble a single mind-altering spell. She was done for. As it slid towards the door, she could feel the life-force draining from her limbs, but the snake turned back to take one last look.
In that moonlit moment, the witch saw a glint of sublime arrogance, a pure undisguised lust for power in its eyes. Somehow she recognised herself in this serpent, and felt a strange glow of maternal pride.
She knew then that her evil minion would continue her work by causing suffering and confusion in the hearts of men. Her wicked works and her blanket of complicit silence were intact.
Her favourite, the fiery-tongued serpent with the red star on its head, would rally more snakes to its cause and so the transformation of society into a world fit for vipers will happen quicker, she thought as she lay there.
Soon the great darkness in and around her grew heavy. With these thoughts of her progeny out in the world, the old witch wrapped herself in the blanket of perfect silence that she had kept for so many years — and raging against the dying of the light, she slipped and fell into that good night.