despite the widespread woe and chaos that they have been credited with spreading, individual witches, unlike kings and conquerors, have not had their lives much chronicled by those scribes who have undertaken to record the histories of nations.
it may be doubted if a single witch has attained real fame, by name, in the history of humanity. the witch of endor, described in the first book of samuel, is not named other than as "the witch".
it is commonly believed that joan of arc was accused of being a witch and tried and executed for being so. in fact she was tried and condemned for the more unromantic crime of heresy.
those persons of an antiquarian bent who are interested enough, can, of course, find the names of actual persons condemned as witches and wizards in europe, in the british isles, and in north america, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
let us return, then, to our story in the fourth century of the christian era.
the three women whom the old soldier probus had encountered on the road to mother ariana's alehouse - were they, in fact, witches?
let us dispense with speculation and simply note that they, and a few others like them, were considered to be so by most of the inhabitants of the area, and that they considered themselves to be so, though they would never acknowledge this outright to any but each other.
if the authorities had not taken note of them, it was because there hardly were any authorities, as a citizen of today's world would understand the term.
barentius, who had constituted such authority as there was in the region, was quite indifferent to their existence, as were his sons (except as they might view the younger of them as pleasing specimens of femininity).
the devout asmeralda, however, was scandalized by their existence, and had she had the ear of a more complaisant governor, or of some powerful abbot or bishop, would have urged the utmost zeal to be employed in the investigation and prosecution of their suspected activities.
the youngest of the three women who had amused themselves by frightening poor probus, and whose melodious voice still echoed in his brain and sent a thrill of mingled terror and excitement through his simple martial soul, had a history which was no doubt repeated thousands or millions times over in all places and ages - the beautiful young woman of the peasant or beggar class who comes quickly to the attention of the males, young and old, of all classes - who excites the jealousy of women of her own class and the contempt of those of the higher class (and sometimes, the amusement of those of the very highest class) - who resists, briefly or not so briefly, sometimes spiritedly, not infrequently to the death - the casual but implacable cupidity of the siegneur -
who is then cast aside to the mockery of her former fellows and the horror (though very occasionally the compassion) of the pious - who is regarded as fallen and ruined by all - who then makes her way as best she can until vanishing into that darkness which awaits the peasant and the potentate alike.