For a few days, Toadmila busied herself making all sorts of potions and poultices for her future customers. By the end of the following week, she had amassed a small collection of bottles and jars, containing anything from an instant cure for hiccups to liquid sunshine for curing frostbites. But no one came, not even Jane. For a while, she kept waiting, chopping away at her magical roots and herbs and stirring the simmering cauldron, as if a customer could walk through the door at any moment. But as the days turned into weeks, she realized that, to the average villager, fear and hatred of witchcraft were stronger than any need they might have.
When the first snowflakes began to fall, Toadmila bolted her front door and curled up by the fire, listening to the distant howling of wolves. In this weather, she expected no villagers to dare enter the forest.
But she was wrong. She had barely nodded off, lulled by the crackling of the fire, when there was a knock on the door. Toadmila jumped out of her chair. With one hand she straightened the creases of her robes, with the other she unbolted the door and threw it open. Outside, huddled up in a bundle of patched shawls and covered in snow, stood a small, wizened old woman.
“Good day,” Toadmila said, realizing halfway through the first word that she had lost track of time in her little nap, and no longer knew if it was morning or evening.
“Good day, child,” the old woman answered. “I'm looking for the witch. Is she home?”
“I'm the witch,” Toadmila said stiffly.
“Are you, now?” the old woman said, walking into the house and brushing heaps of glittering snow off her shoulders. “Jane did say you look young. Ah, yes, I see it now. You have the kind of nose that's expected. A little small, perhaps, but it will grow with age.”
Toadmila tried not to make a face. She knew all too well about her crooked nose, the kind of nose that was expected of a witch. She did her best to keep a professional face while inspecting the old woman.
“I'm Maggie. Maggie Magpie, folks call me,” the old woman said, hobbling closer to the fire. “Jane said you can help me.”
She reached out her trembling hands to warm them at the magical flames. Toadmila studied her carefully, adding up potions in her mind for the woman's ailments, and tallying the costs.
“I can give you something to make your blood flow better,” she said, “to keep your hands and feet from freezing. And there's a spell that will straighten your back, make it as good as when you were young. And I have something that can make your eyes see better again. And perhaps–”
“That's nice,” Maggie said. “That's nice, deary, but it's not what I came for. I have an ache... so bad, so painful...”
“Your joints,” Toadmila said hurriedly. “I have a potion that will make them good as new. And your bones, of course. Your bones ache in cold weather. I have a potion for that too.”
“Yes,” the old woman said. “My bones hurt a lot in bad weather. But I can live with that. I'm not here about my aching bones, I'm here about my aching heart. I want a child.”