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Authors: Jennifer Horsman

A Kiss in the Night

BOOK: A Kiss in the Night
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A Kiss In The Night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

France 1513

Three ropes bound Linness of Sauvage to the pole, one at her shoulders, one at her waist, and one at her feet. The kindling sticks formed a small mountain below her.

She looked across the courtyard to see Bishop Comte de Berry. The man, with his one hideously white blind eye, stared up to the heavens. A crimson cap covered his balding head, matching the long rich robes that draped his stocky frame, all of the finery splashed with mud now and pressed against his frame by a goodly breeze. His hands held the parchment where the edict was writ. She and two others had been condemned by the ecclesiastic court to burn at the stake. A half dozen priests and monks followed behind him. Two of the brown-robed monks held torches, while one held the torture-saving noose. They had all witnessed her short trial.

"How did you know Mistress Pram's third child was breeched?"

"I am a seer. I have the sight."

"From Satan! The Bible says —"

"Nay." She shook her head, horrified at the charge. "‘Tis from heaven. I have seen angels and heaven. Like our Lord Christ, I only help the poor and common folk—"

"For avarice!"

She lied. "Only what folks can pay!"

"Deceit and treachery..."

The girl was possessed...

Linness stared at the noose. If you confessed your crime and begged for God's forgiveness, they would snap your neck before the flames licked at your skin. She dropped her head to the small mountain of kindling sticks at her feet before lifting her gaze to heaven.

Save me, Mary, I am not strong!

Twice as many knights as priests followed behind the imperial man. They were knights of the bishop's guard, the Jesuit priests, here to fight the advancing menace of the archpriest once and for all. More knights manned the feeble battlements that surrounded the abbey walls. Beyond the walls, the burning village of Sauvage created a bright red glow in the night sky. Thick smoke filled the air as the people wailed against this senseless loss. The outlawed army—made up of fifty demons wearing men's skins—had demanded the bishop's coffers and treasures, or promised death to everyone and everything with a heart. The foolish bishop had refused. He had sent word to faraway Gaillard, and Rouergue, begging the lords of these places for knights to fight the archpriest who had terrified the French countryside for two years now and had eluded even the royal knights of Francis, the King of France.

As he waited for these knights he thought to pacify the peasants and God by a sacrifice of the burning of the unfaithful in return for His mercy. Fingers had quickly turned to her, fingers had always pointed at her.

The common folks fanned in a perfect half circle behind the priests and knights. Some shouted curses up at the condemned. Others cried hysterically that the world had ended and the apocalypse had begun, while most of the poor chanted prayers that begged for salvation.

Outside the wooden stakes of the abbey walls, black smoke poured from the burning village nestled along the hillside and billowed into the sky above. The outlawed brigandine army shot flaming arrows over the battlements. They were close. Screams sounded in the distance. A baby wailed furiously, trying to escape the safety of her mother's arms as she knelt in prayer. The smell of fire filled the creatures with fear: the hounds bayed angrily, tugging at their ropes in the kennel, horses neighed and kicked helplessly, and the pigs, with their eerily humanlike screams, called out from the pen. Two goats raced across the courtyard, searching for an exit.

The bishop and his priests stood before the old woman first. She, too, was tied to the pole, kindling sticks piled beneath her bare feet. The gray hair formed a perfect halo about her head; her old, dark eyes were blank and unseeing with the ignorance of the truly mad. Unaware of what was happening to her, she smiled down at the audience of priests, who appeared as black and brown silhouettes against the gray sky. She nodded at the familiar faces among them, mumbling bits and pieces of the rosary that she remembered.

Linness knew the old woman well; everyone in the Sauvage valley knew her. Old mad Mistress Grilldue. She had been born in the year Mercury crossed Venus in the twelfth month, an auspicious sign borne out by her sixty-odd years of a rich life, but one fated to end in violence. The many times Linness had told the old woman's fortune, she had never told of the tragic death she had foreseen. She had never mentioned the ropes or the flames. And what bitter irony that she never saw herself in this picture.

Long ago, when Mistress Grilldue had been in the first blush of her beauty, she had caught the eye of the late Charles de St. Pol, a minor land baron of Sauvage. She had given him a cherished daughter and he had given her a sturdy stone house on the hillside and all the land to the river Her grief, upon witnessing her daughter's death, was too great to fit in her heart; it spilled into her mind and had made her go mad. The poor, witless common folks were easy prey for the church's voracious appetite for land. After convening for less than five minutes, the court decided her madness was demonic possession and her punishment was death at the stake.

Linness had shaken her head when she heard how the bishop had proclaimed that if the church rid the Sauvage valley of the unfaithful, God would send an avenging army of righteous knights to reach them in time and beat back the outlawed army at the abbey gates. Such a foolish old cock! Prancing about in his fine crimson robes, screeching about the devil and damnation with nary a word about heaven and hope and our dear Mother Mary…

Yet now the old woman's eyes, feverish from the light of the fire, focused on the bishop's crimson robes as he called up to her, "Do you renounce your pact with Satan and accept Christ as your Lord and Master, and Savior of all sinners?"

The old woman looked to the darkening sky and coughed.

The bishop repeated the words as if it were a question of deafness. "Do you renounce…"

The crowd shifted nervously, waiting for her "aye." A terrified, squawking chicken flew into the midst of the people, causing a shuffle as they attempted to shoo away the bird. A man grabbed it and snapped its neck.

Linness felt it as if it were the snap of her own slender bones. As if she had suddenly woken in a nightmare played in the light of day. Her heart pounded wildly against this destiny.

She did not want to die! She was too young! She wanted to live!

In her mind's eye she saw the life she had yet to live. She was unmarried still, a virgin. She had never felt a man's lips on her mouth or his flesh in her womb. She had never seen her child's face or felt a mother's love. A hundred as yet unlived events came to her: she had never worn silk, walked in Notre Dame, tasted an orange, played a harp, or sat at a royal feast…

Linness watched in horror as the bishop motioned to the priest who held the deadly torch. The priest dropped the torch to the sticks. Red flames washed up the pile of sticks. "Mistress Grilldue! Mistress, please to God! Look at me!"

The old woman's weary eyes turned to Linness and found something familiar in those silvery depths. "Say aye!" Linness cried to her. “Aye!"

Mistress Grilldue suddenly gasped in fright as the flames consumed the mountain of wood beneath her feet, and leapt up toward the pole. Her weathered gray head pressed back against the pole in alarm. Her eyes went wild with panic.

"Merciful Mother Mary, save her!" Linness screamed again, "Say aye!"

Shocked, as if waking from a long sleep, the old woman nodded, and in a weak whisper at last said, "Aye..."

Relief swept through the crowd; nearly everyone dropped to the knees with praise to God. The bishop motioned to the priest holding the noose at the end of a long pole, who slipped the rope around the old woman's head. A guard stepped forward and laid hands on the pole. The two men jerked the noose upwards and the old body convulsed at the instant painless death.

Linness collapsed with relief,

From over the wall, a flaming arrow landed on the stables and set the thatched roof on fire. People screamed in terror before three men rushed into the burning building to free the trapped animals. Two dogs and a horse raced out. Another hound raced out with yelps and whimpers as two more horses followed. A line of men and women formed to pass buckets from the well. The nearby fence of the pigpen also caught flames and a kitchen servant rushed round to open the gate for the crying pigs, which rushed screaming into the courtyard.

A great crash came from outside. For the first time fear showed on the bishop's face. He stared ahead at the burning body of the old woman, as if he realized that the burnt bodies would not be enough to save the abbey.

The gates would have to be opened soon. The outlawed army would sweep inside and slaughter everyone and everything. Horses might be spared if the men could stop their blood madness. Most often they couldn't. The bishop's head would be the prize.

The bishop was going to serve his own blood-lust first. He looked at his second victim, turning his blind eye away from the face of his death in order to see another's. The old Jew, known as Saul, was the finest boot maker in the whole valley. Linness knew the old man well, too. His short, curly hair, still black and unmarked by gray, gave him a much younger appearance. His beard touched his naked chest. Only a loincloth covered his thin frame. Red welts from the lash of a whip marked his chest. He did not mind renouncing his faith, for he had done so many times before to save his life, but the court had had to torture him repeatedly to get his confession of collusion with Satan.

She and Saul had been friends since she was twelve, shortly after she had settled here at the Sauvage valley. She had sought his skill for her first pair of lady's slippers. A red pair, the fashionable kind with the toes curled up in a loop. How she had loved those slippers. He had made them, laughing at her foolishness when she bemoaned the fact that they made her large feet look even larger. They had often broken bread together after that. He was a simple, good, and kind man who had suffered enough in his life, God knew. Enough. His wife, his sister, and a brother-in-law had died on the stake after being indicted by the Spanish Inquisition. And he had fled to the safer shores of France. Only to finally face the same death here now.

Anger suddenly overwhelmed her fear.

Merciful Mother, stop this madman!
"As God is my witness," she began, but stopped as the stable roof collapsed. Flames shot up thirty feet from the burning stables.

"Open the gates!"

The shout came from a man in the water line. Fire licked the sides of the building as the walls began to collapse. The man dropped the bucket and fell to his knees, shouting, "We are doomed!"

Screams sounded from all round. More people dropped to their knees. Guards turned to the gate and back to the bishop, awaiting his orders. The fire leaped to the stone wall of the abbey keep, scorching it. Red sparks flew about in the breeze, landing at last on the roof of the gatehouse.

"'Tis the Armageddon come at last!'

"The Antichrist is among us!'The bishop ignored the pandemonium, the pleas, everything but his purpose.

Linness cried at the sad resignation on Saul's face as the bishop commanded him to renounce his God and religion in the name of all that was holy. Saul did, nodding with a loud "Aye!"

Linness squeezed her eyes shut as the noose slipped over his head and his neck was snapped.

"Mother Mary…who art in heaven…" She gasped each word as hot tears fell down her cheeks, brought from the sting of smoke. She could not breathe. For one wild moment she thought she was on fire already. She fought furiously with her binds. “Save me! Oh, please save me! I am too young to die, too filled with life yet. I want to live to know a man and bear his child! Please let me live to have a child! I promise to use my sight for profit no more; as long as I shall live, I shall use it only to serve God. This I swear!"

A strange tingling shot through her limbs. She opened her eyes to see the noose in front of her face. She shook her head frantically, sending the long plait of dark hair swinging wildly over her breasts. She cast her gaze to Saul, hanging lifelessly from the pole as flames spread up and over him. The air filled with the sick scent of burnt flesh. She cried out as Saul disappeared in the smoke.

BOOK: A Kiss in the Night
2.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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