"It is rather unnatural for me to be here right now, but there are not natural times," the farmer said with a grim countenance. "I have come to you because I am going to die."
The witch leaned forward, surveying her guest. He was not unlike the other men who regularly came to her for advice, with simple clothes that were slightly torn and ragged but still adequate, tanned skin from his outdoor labour, and strong calloused hands from his work in the field. "And why do you believe that?"
"I have seen omens," the farmer replied. "My crops, you see, which I constantly tend to ensure their prosperity, that were grown on the same field that had grown many plentiful harvests in the past, have failed without reason. And last week I went down to the paddock where I keep my cows to find them all lying on the ground, strewn about, as they would have been standing before their lives were taken so suddenly and with no discernable cause. My farm is dead. And it is all in preparation for when I will join it."
The witch frowned. "I do not understand. Bouts of misfortune are not unheard of. What makes you sure that they are precedents for your own death?"
"There is more. Yesterday I heard someone throwing rocks at my house. However, when I went to look for the culprit I found that the rocks were coming from the sky, and when I went out later to inspect the damage. I found that they had turned into water. And then that night, I went to light a fire, but found that my coal, though completely dry and ordinary, would not burn. This, all of this, can only leads to one thing. I will die by water, and it will happen in three days time."
The witch raised her eyebrows, her curiosity aroused. "Why three days time?"
The farmer sighed. "In three days it will be time for me to check the fish traps I set in the river. The river is currently swollen, almost to the point of bursting its banks, and in three days time I will go to check my traps, lose my footing, fall in, and drown."
"And you wish for my help?"
"I cannot argue against what the Fates have decided, but I wish for an explanation. Why is it that I must die at this time? Can you tell me?"
The witch hesitated, deep in thought. Finally, she said, "The Fates are mysterious and if your death has been decided then it does no good to question them, but only if your death has been decided. There is still a chance for you." The farmer leaned closer, listening attentively. "I can prepare something for you, something that will tell you for certain whether of not your death is inevitable." She stood up from the chair. "Wait here. I shall be back soon."
The witch disappeared into the backroom of her cottage, returning several minutes later with a small stone bowl of a strange substance the likes of which the farmer had never seen before, and a glass phial with a thick clear liquid. She handed both to the farmer. "Place the bowl on the windowsill of a room that you do not enter as much as the others. Do it today and do not set your eyes upon the liquid for three days. And this," she held up the phial, "you must drink before you sleep on the third night. In the early hours of the morning before you believe you will die, one of the Fates will visit you in your dreams. You will wake straight after. Go to see the bowl, if the liquid is dull, you will die that day. If it is shining, then you will live. Take it, and see."
* * *
Three days later the witch was in the backroom when she heard a knock. She smiled to herself, knowing who it would be as she went to open the door.
"I did exactly what you said," the smiling farmer exclaimed, not even giving himself time to move from the doorway. "I had the dream of the Fate, well, I did not remember it, but I woke up so I knew I must have had it. And the liquid was shining! And then today, I was checking the traps when I lost my footing. I almost fell in, but then I remembered that I would live, and managed to pull through. I am afraid I cannot stay today, I just wanted to come here to thank you and to apologise for ever doubting your magic."
The witch waved as the farmer walked away, then closed the door with a wistful look.
Magic. That was just what people called the unknown. She had travelled much in her life, and had been extremely surprised to have her wisdom mistaken for sorcery upon her return to her home town. In the distant lands, she had learnt that the same field, planted on year after year, would naturally loose its prosperity and fail to support more crops. She had heard of the strange phenomenon of a clear gas called methane bursting from the ground to mysteriously suffocate any living thing close by. She had witnessed the rare occurrence of hail, and knew of the substance called graphite which did not burn but was commonly mistaken for coal. Her spells and potions were nothing special, just a liquid she had acquired from far away with the odd property of glowing in the dark, and a drug which would knock someone out for several hours only to have them wake up as alert and vigilant as if they had been sleeping.
A sigh escaped her lips as she made her way to the backroom where she kept her assortment of exotic substances. There was no reason to doubt her magic. She did not have magic. Magic is just what you believe.