One For Sorrow
by Sinead Monroe
“Dear Lord, Father of All. We pray that tonight you will guide those souls who are lost, home. We hope, Oh Father, that those who sinned are granted forgiveness for their wickedness.”
As the congregation bowed their heads, Emelie stared at the bald Venerable who spoke. His fingers, fat slug-like appendages covered in gold, were knitted together in contrite prayer and, ignoring the objecting calls from the crows that lined the church rafters, he continued his litany.
One by one, the townsfolk received their blessings and cakes. Emelie grimaced as Fendrel’s clammy fingers grasped her own.
“Emelie De Bolbec, tonight we will pray for your mother and her salvation.” His voice crawled across her skin like a thousand spiders. “At the Chapter-House when the crows leave. Now go.”
The crows of Arbury slept, and Emelie stepped through the gardens to the empty church. Rows of candles and carved pumpkins lined the path; a sea of happy, grinning soul lanterns whose eyes flickered in the night.
Zig-zagging her way to the Venerable, she swallowed and prepared herself for the long night of prayer.
“Perhaps tonight your mother will find freedom and her way home, Emelie.”
She held her tongue, recalling her mother’s screams and begs for forgiveness as Fendrel held her chained in the disused church storerooms.
A witch, he had called her. A daughter of darkness, and yet not once did he denounce her to the town council. Instead, for months, he watched with an unhappy Emelie at his side. I’ll release her, he promised. Once she admits her crimes and renounces her evil ways. Others would demand her life, Emelie, but not I.
Emelie watched her mother change: her sparkling eyes dulled, her dark black hair turned to grey, and her begs for freedom became curses. She finally swore revenge on her captors, and the following day, she was gone.
“She was never a witch,” Emelie murmured as she knelt at his feet and kissed the purple-stoned ring of his office. This is how he liked her when they prayed for her mother: compliant and pious. As if to ease his conscience.
“Sandrine was a witch,” he replied, lighting scented sticks and looking down at her. “I saw the mark.”
“Those marks…” She paused, unable to hold his gaze. “…were made by me. I liked the patterns.” And as an afterthought that she hoped would buy her salvation she added, “I was only a child.”
He dragged her to her feet, digging his fingers into her arm. “What did you say?” The candlelight distorted his face into something cruel and dark. “You? You drew the mark? Where did you see it? What possessed you to do so? I should have known it was you. Bastard child of evil. Lying temptress,” he screamed, slapping her across the face over and over again until her lip burst and the skin of her cheek split.
I should have said something years ago, she thought. I’m sorry, mama. It should have been me in those chains.
He dragged her by her hair, down the stairs to the storerooms.
“No, please, Venerable, no. I didn’t mean anything by it. I saw the marks in the woods, they were pretty. Please, I’m sorry.”
He didn’t listen, and instead locked her into the shackles and left.
There was no light, and Emelie curled herself up in the arms of darkness, praying to her mother for forgiveness.
The hours merged into one painful, hazy cloud, and the soft calls of the Arbury crows grew louder, but it was the scream of a man that pierced her into consciousness. Opening her swollen eyes, a lonesome crow dropped a silver key at her feet. She unlocked her chains and ran for freedom, confused and uneasy at her unusual savior. As she reached the pumpkins, she stilled; they no longer smiled, and instead they frowned with hollow, disappointed eyes. Her attention was drawn to one empty space where a lantern had sat the night before. Now a crow filled the space, its gaze on her and a purple-stoned ring in its mouth.
Her face burned and throbbed as the crisp morning air licked at her wounds. She didn’t stop running until the town thinned and her home could be seen through the trees. Her door was open and, armed with a tree branch, she prepared herself.
But there was no-one. Only a small mark on the kitchen floor. Just like the one she had drawn as a child.
About the author :
Sinead Monroe can often be found with her head both simultaneously in a book and in the clouds. Having studied Maths at Aberystwyth University, she found that her interest in numbers was quickly replaced with an interest in words, and so she started to write short stories. Some of these are published. Most are not. She is working on her first novel.