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.