Leave-taking

a wren on a branch

This is a story told in tiny feathers, swirling on bare floorboards . . .

Before the people of the seaside village came to listen to her stories, the Pilgrim Woman swept the Garret. She sang loudly as she swept and the songs spilled out of the lancet windows of the Chapel in the Sands.

One evening, a boy asked, ‘How do you sing so loud when you are so small?’ She smiled. She knew many others wondered at the same thing. When the place was clean, she answered them with this story:

In the middle of a court, a tiny woman dug her fingernails into her palms until blood flowed. Not one sound came from her lips. She stared at her accusers, chin high, arms thrust down in stiff wings.

‘Admit it – you are a witch,’ said one.

‘We can be lenient with those who confess,’ said another.

Blooded dripped onto the floor. One anxious servant made a move to clear it up.

‘Leave it,’ snapped the first accuser. ‘Let it stand testimony to her depravity.’

Witnesses nodded at that.

The woman turned her head slowly. She made a level, horseshoe sweep of the room. Not one person who saw her dark, unblinking eyes doubted she would remember them.

A few turned away. Some blustered. Others bent their heads. Some wept silently. But many glared or spat. Frowns outranked looks of pity in that hot room.

The second accuser nodded at a guard.

‘Restrain her,’ he said. ‘For her own good.’

The guard tied the woman’s hands behind her spine. Blood continued to drip slowly down the back of her mud-hemmed skirt.

She held her head a fraction higher, looking up through the ceiling. Her gaze passed through oak beams, elm floorboards in the room above, and the stone-slated roof beyond. Out went her mind to the clear skies above her beloved fells.

‘Speak, woman – confess your sins and be forgiven. Name those who led you astray and much can be done in the name of mercy.’ The second accuser’s tone was kindly, encouraging.

The woman let herself soar alongside the skylarks and said nothing.

‘Speak, damn you!’ The first accuser broke the silence.

‘I will not damn my soul to save this body, sir,’ she said. She shook and fell on the spot in an empty tangle of cloth.

A wren leapt onto a windowsill. It trilled, voice loud and defiant, tail cocked. Then, before anyone could catch it, it flew out of the courtroom and up into the holy hills.

Wren image by Jan Meeus on Unsplash

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