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Michael Simms: The Witch’s Tower (excerpt)

~ the first two pages of a bound manuscript composed by the philosopher Linnaeus of Iskar in the reign of Ottolo the Befuddled; the rest of the manuscript being illegible having been damaged by water

Tatatungia, the greatest witch of her age, practiced neither white nor black magic, for she’d moved beyond such distinctions and had a vision that revealed the essence. She’d come to understand that all things are one thing, that most of what we think of as the world is actually empty space with tiny particles she called wu vibrating at a speed beyond our comprehension, colliding, entangling and breaking loose, and we experience this never-ending activity of wu as objects and as motion. But nothing we see is as it appears to be. The tree, the bird in the tree, the breeze moving the branches, the light by which we see the tree, and even our minds by which we perceive these objects do not exist. Nothing is real in the way we believe it to be. Everything we know or think we know is created by a Great Mind that is and is not a mind that holds everything in a dream.

When Tatatungia told her students of this vision, they grew excited and went home to tell their families that their wise and esteemed teacher claimed there was no certainty in the world; therefore, they no longer had to obey their strict fathers. The rebellion of the daughters enraged the fathers, and they called a council to denounce the teachings of Tatatungia. If there was no good or bad, right or wrong, they asked, then what will stop the evil impulses that reside in a man’s soul? What will stop a man from killing his neighbor? Or a woman from sleeping with her son? Or a daughter from wandering off? It is the ancient laws that make living together possible, the men argued. Tatatungia claimed that life itself is a dream, so did it not follow that nothing matters? Could it be true that even a mother’s love for her infant is nothing but a trick of light? Tatatungia had let go of certainty itself, and the beliefs and traditions that made life possible no longer carried authority. The council of elders, of which Tatatungia had never been a member because she was a woman, cautioned the witch that by convincing the young women that nothing could be known, she may have unlocked the gates of Chaos itself.

When Tatatungia disagreed with the council, claiming she brought light, not darkness to the people, it was said she was unrepentant, and she was banished from the village where she was born. And thus, Tatatungia began wandering. Leaving the high dry plains of her people, she walked through the mountains, foraging roots, leaves, seeds and berries like a wild animal. When she crossed paths with fellow travelers, she ate what she was offered and fasted when she was not. After years of wandering, Tatatungia came to a broad, fast-running river full of fish. She called the river Iskar, which means in the first language, she-who-is-water, and beside the river she made her home. 

During her time in the mountains, the witch had watched how the wind moved through trees, how the sun rose and set, and how animals lived on the earth. In this way, she made a study of aging and of death itself, and she knew she could live as long as she wished in this narrow valley protected from the wind. As for the dragon Tyrmiss she knew lived in the mountains, she doubted the creature would even notice her as long as she kept her dreams to herself.

Tatatungia built a small stone tower, a keep, and there she amused herself by considering the animals of the valley. She wanted to know what made one animal different than another. What gives the fish gills and the bird wings? Why do rams eat grass and wolves eat lambs? As the centuries passed, she eventually came to understand that the difference between one animal and another is very slight, merely a minor variation in wu which could be controlled through the judicious application of herbs in combination with music. 

She began to experiment in the transformation of animals. She gave a fly the wings of a moth and a flea the strength of an ant. Then she learned to transform larger animals, creating whole new species, flying cats and walking fish. Deer that could burrow in the ground and wolves that ate only apples. Eventually, the meadow, the forest and the river were teeming with her inventions, her favorite being Narrra the gentle ewe who spoke many languages.

After centuries of living alone with her work and her extraordinary animals, Tatatungia had her first visitor. A tall confident woman showed up at the door of the tower. She introduced herself as Faba, known as Windstorm, and said she’d been carrying out experiments with the weather, and having wandered far from home, she was hungry. Tatatungia invited her into the tower, had her sit at the table, and placed bowls of seeds and berries in front of her, but refrained from offering her meat since the enchanted animals of this valley were the witch’s friends. She watched Faba’s slim fingers pick up seeds and berries one at a time, as a blue jay would with its beak. Faba was the most beautiful creature Tatatungia had ever seen, with hair as full of lightning as a stormcloud and skin so translucent she was blue. Watching her eat, Tatatungia realized how lonely she’d been these many years.

Copyright 2023 Michael Simms. From the novel Windkeep to be released in January 2024 by Madville.

Michael Simms, poet and novelist, is the founder and editor of Vox Populi and the founder and editor emeritus of Autumn House Press. He is the author of The Green Mage, the first volume of THE TALON TRILOGY available in paper, ebook and audio book editions.

Castle ruins in Ireland

10 comments on “Michael Simms: The Witch’s Tower (excerpt)

  1. louisehawes
    April 1, 2023

    Thank you, Michael, for the chance to live, if too briefly, in an alternative reality that nourishes our deepest good, our best dreams.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rose Mary Boehm
    April 1, 2023

    Beautifully written, full of truths and imagination, enchanting. I definitely want to know more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      April 1, 2023

      The first novel in the trilogy The Green Mage was released last week. The second Windkeep will appear in January 2024, and the third The Blessed Isle later that year.


  3. Loranneke
    April 1, 2023

    This is what I so appreciate with good writing — one enters a world never explored or see before wit complete trust! And that, JUST through the quality of tone & syntax…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      April 1, 2023

      Oh, thank you so much, Laure-Anne. You are such a precise and imaginative writer.


  4. John Zheng
    April 1, 2023

    Full of Daoism. All that can be seen isn’t permanent. Loneliness is lonelilessness. Enjoyed the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      April 1, 2023

      Thanks, John. Yes, Dao and Physics have many overlaps.




  5. Saleh Razzouk
    April 1, 2023

    It looks to me a poetic piece. Yes, the language is sweet. Images are unique enough.
    I noticed this in an article i had written in a daily newspaper some 40 years ago. The American narrative is so dispersed and varied. But a gothic revival era is continuing maybe to shed a light on the dark inner selves, and this was accompanied by less serious writings like romantic novels and horror stories. It is another interpretation of very ancient principal, The Catharises.

    Liked by 1 person

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