The Tithe for Broken Dreams

The witches brewed the cauldron of dreams only twice a year—once at each solstice. People came from all over the world to add their spit to the powerful potion in hopes that their dreams would come true by the next solstice.

My wealthy father made the pilgrimage every time. He never shared with us what his dreams were, but clearly they never came true, since he kept going back.

Or maybe they did, and that’s why we always went back? Because one wish was never enough?

My little sister and I had to go with him that year. It was the year after mother died. It had been a horrible winter, and once the doctor assured father there was nothing more to do for her, he stopped paying for her care. I had done all I could, with the help of mother’s maid, who had also been let go, but in the end, she passed while father was on the road to the winter solstice cauldron.

And instead of skipping the summer solstice, or paying someone to care for us while he went, or even leaving us to our own devices for a week, he dragged us along. The journey took three days over bumpy roads in the sweltering carriage. At least it wasn’t winter. I preferred the sweat and dust to the cold and snow.

Father’s carriage had arrived a few hours before ours—he’d gone ahead in his sleek new carriage while we rode with his tithe for the witches in the old one—and as we stepped out, he pulled me roughly aside.

“Melinda, keep Luna quiet and out of sight, all right? I need to speak to some people before I make my way to the cauldron. Business never ceases.”

He left me a few coins to buy treats for Luna at one of the market stalls. I bought her a pinwheel and a few hard candies, which we sucked on while we watched the crowds.

There was an air of celebration in the market. It was the final day of the festival, which had lasted a whole week as people arrived. Vendors set up their booths and sold colorful wares, from fabrics to food. Luna stared longingly at the things she couldn’t have while I watched with wistful awe as street performers whisked past us.

A short-statured figure with a hideous witch mask caught my attention. It waved a stick with streamers coming off the end at me, and beckoned me to follow. I shook my head and smiled shyly. As much as I wanted to join the parade, I was stuck watching Luna.

But when I turned to check on my sister, she was gone.

Cold tendrils of dread settled into my stomach. Father would be furious. I didn’t dare ponder what he’d do to me for losing her. I swallowed my hard candy and looked around frantically. If I could find her before he returned from the cauldron, he’d never have to know.

I checked under the stall we’d been perched next to, then behind, and then came back around, calling her name. I knew she’d never hear me over the din, but I didn’t know what else to do. I glanced up at the parade again, and saw her little figure disappearing among the performers.

The figure with the witch mask held her hand, pulling her along. The figure glanced back at me, beckoning me to follow. I glanced over my shoulder to our carriage. Father was still gone. Probably would be for awhile yet.

Without any further hesitation, I dashed after them.

The parade threaded through the market, past all of the vendors. Food smells made my stomach growl, but the colorful clothing, costumes, and trinkets dazzled me. The last pretty thing I had gotten had been from my mother, years before she had gotten sick. Father didn’t like to waste money on his children. We were fed and clothed to the minimum standard, educated as girls should be and nothing beyond—despite my desire to learn to read—and were left to our own devices as far as entertainment. I had handled most of my toys with care as a child, so Luna had plenty to play with, but I rarely received anything more than the trinkets the household staff were able to afford in their pittance.

Even mother had had a very conservative allowance, but she saved it all for us girls, treating us to gifts every time father left for the cauldron of dreams.

But mother was gone, and so was most of the household staff now. I didn’t know if father’s business was failing or if he had grown that much greedier. The result was the same. Luna and I were left with a callous matron who taught us to cook and sew, and an ancient housekeeper who instructed us to do most of the household chores ourselves.

Distracted by the vendors, I lost track of Luna again, but I had faith that if I followed the parade to the end, I would be reunited with her. So I let the jostling of the performers swoop me along, until I realized that we had reached the long line for the witches’ cauldron.

The performers sang and danced for the people in line. I still could not find my sister in all of the chaos. At one point, I spied my father near the front of the line. I hid from him, knowing that if he saw me, I would be in trouble, but also knowing my time to find my sister and return to the carriage was running out.

One by one, the performers completed their shows and moved off. Each time I expected that Luna would be revealed as the crowd thinned. But still she hid from me, whether intentionally or, I was beginning to fear, against her will.

The line for the cauldron grew short, as well. The piles of tithes near the cauldron had grown, and there were riches there I could never have fathomed. Surely it was more than even my father had ever had, maybe over the course of his entire life. I stood spellbound by the glittering gold and gems. Even a handful of that could make my life easier.

Is that what it cost to spit into the cauldron? No wonder Father had grown so stingy. All of his money had gone to the witches. He had nothing left for us.

“You, girl, no cutting in line,” an angry voice behind me yelled. Several other angry mutters followed.

I started and looked about. I was alone, very near the front of the line, exposed to the pilgrims who were waiting. I looked ahead, and saw my father at the very front of the line. He was turning my way to see what the commotion was about.

I darted off to the side and took cover behind a small shed of sorts. I panted heavily, knowing that whether Father had seen me or not, I was doomed. Time was up. I had lost my sister. The only thing that had mattered to me. Would father sell me next? Would he add me to the pile of riches at the base of the cauldron next year when he couldn’t afford the tithe?

I jerked my head up when I heard a familiar giggle.

“Luna!” I cried as I spied her disappearing behind another building ahead of me.

I chased after her, but when I got around the corner, she was gone.

“Luna,” I groaned, inching my way forward, trying to see where she could have gotten to.

She giggled again, and I ran. When I came around another corner, I stood face to face with that hideous witch mask. I gasped and fell backward.

It wasn’t a mask. Before me stood the three witches, their giant cauldron bubbling behind them. Luna sat at the base of the cauldron on an enormous toadstool, liking icing from some treat off of her fingers, pinwheel discarded at her side.

“Melly!” she cried with a happy giggle. “The witches fed me pastries. They’ll give you one, too!”

I narrowed my eyes and looked to the witches, who were watching me. “What do you want?”

The witches cackled in unison.

“A smart one, she is.”

“Would make a lovely slave, she would.”

“A trade, a trade! For the cauldron of dreams!”

“What are you saying, hags,” I demanded, afraid now as I struggled to make sense of what was happening.

“Dear child doesn’t know.”

“Dear child would never know.”

“Dear child suspected all along,” the one who had lured me in said as she stepped forward, eying me shrewdly.

I closed my eyes as the realization fell. “My father. He has no more money. We are his tithe.” We were doomed. My father had forsaken us—sold us to the witches.

“Ah, ah, not both. Just one. He has offered us the little one, for he finds you to be more useful.”

“The little one will be delicious.”

The one who lured me stepped even closer. “But you would be more useful to us than her,” she said, gesturing to Luna.

Luna was sitting on the toadstool, sucking her fingers now. I didn’t think she understood what was happening, but she could clearly sense something was wrong, now.

I looked up to the cauldron. I couldn’t look at Luna. I didn’t know if I was brave enough to do what needed to be done.

“How does the cauldron work?” I asked quietly. “The pilgrims pay to add their spit? And what? Their dreams come true?”

The witches cackled in unison.

“They pay to spit, yes indeed.”

“But the price they pay is rarely what they bring.”

The shrewd one of the three narrowed her eyes at me. “They must also sacrifice one dream to achieve another.”

I wondered about that for a moment while they all three rubbed their hands together. Two of them began to converge on Luna, while the third edged closer to me.

I wondered about the things we had lost. Our staff, our house, our education, our mother. All sacrifices my father had made for his business?

But what about my dreams? Luna’s? I did not know what my sister dreamed for, but I had dreamed for a happy family. For a mother and a father. A sister that I could play with instead of care for. A nana that loved me like her own.

I could sacrifice that dream. I would sacrifice that dream for my sister’s freedom. For my freedom. But I did not have the ability to pay the tithe.

Or did I?

“Wait!” I shouted, and they all froze.

“I would like to pay the tithe.”

Three faces lit up with glee.

“She betrays her sister!”

“Oh lovely day! We shall have a delicious pie tonight!”

“Wait, my sisters. Wait to hear what she tithes.”

“I tithe my father, president of his company, sole holder of his estate, and all of his remaining monies.”

All three witches froze, and before they could react, I dashed forward, past them, and leaped over Luna’s head. I grabbed the edge of the cauldron and hoisted myself up.

I came face to face with my father, who was about to spit into the cauldron across from me. Startled by my appearance, he hesitated. I worked spit into my dry mouth, and just as he came to his senses, I spat into the brew.


I do not know who cried out, whether it was the witches or my father or all four together, but I didn’t stop to see. I dropped to the ground next to Luna, took her under my arm, and we fled from the clearing as the witches swarmed forward to take my father.

Luna and I stowed away in the back of some rich man’s carriage, empty of its cargo now that his tithe had been paid to the witches. We would hide there that night, then sneak out at the first village he stopped at, where we would try to start fresh.

Luna dozed against me, and I tried not to clutch her so hard that I’d wake her. I wouldn’t know for sure that my dream would come true until the winter solstice. I had to hope that it would. After all, I had paid the tithe and sacrificed my dream. But, until then, as long as Luna and I were free, I would live each day as if my dream of freedom had come true.

This story was inspired by the title Cauldron of Dreams. Go read the original! It’s even more beautiful and chilling than mine.


Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

1 Trackback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.