Authors: Robin Morgan
Tags: #General Fiction
DRY YOUR SMILE
THE MER CHILD
THE HANDMAIDEN OF THE HOLY MAN
S CHILD: A MEMOIR
THE WORD OF A WOMAN
THE DEMON LOVER: THE ROOTS OF TERRORISM
THE ANATOMY OF FREEDOM
GOING TOO FAR
A HOT JANUARY: POEMS
UPSTAIRS IN THE GARDEN: SELECTED AND NEW POEMS
LADY OF THE BEASTS
COMPILED, EDITED, AND INTRODUCED
SISTERHOOD IS FOREVER
SISTERHOOD IS GLOBAL
SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL
THE NEW WOMAN (CO-ED.)
THE BURNING TIME
©2006 Robin Morgan
Cover design by Christopher King
Cover image: © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS
Life of Ludovic of France at the Purgatory of
, 14th century
First Melville House Printing: 2006
Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
FOR DEBORAH ANN LIGHT,
FOR VERONICA MORGENSTERN,
was not when you wanted to be out of doors—bolted doors. Not even in your own yard. Certainly not on the heath or the roads, surely not in the worst storm in memory, and especially not in the deliberate pursuit of witches and demonic spirits.
The commander had only fifty lads, lacking even a full complement, since the Bishop had split up his troops, sending men-at-arms in all four directions to follow every road out of Kilkenny. Worse, His Eminence had personally ordered him and the three sub-commanders to batter down doors along the way, interrogate everyone, and do whatever was necessary to elicit information about any—
—passing travelers. A man of discipline, the commander had masked his shame at how much terror he and his men had caused this night. It would be some time before he would be able to erase the memory of such fear, raw on the faces of peasants and innkeepers along the route to Wexford, as they knelt before him and wept, pleading that truly they had seen no one, heard nothing.
Well, His Eminence might not have believed them, but
did. The roads were deserted. The sole upright shapes he and his men passed had turned out to be ghostly tree spines bowing in obedience to the storm’s wrath.
He spat, craning his neck to peer back at his troops through the sputtering light of the torchbearers’ beacons. They, like him, were soaked to the bone with freezing rain. At least he and his two lieutenants sat astride, but the other poor bastards had been trudging through this maelstrom that pelted them with hailstones and sleeted the roads until the troops slipped and fell, cursing, while the horses skidded sideways, shrilling as they scrambled to regain footing on the muddy ice. And now they faced a steep hill road ahead.
, the commander thought, grateful the gale’s whine buffered him from their grumbling,
but sent on a hopeless search
. No one, certainly no woman, dare move through such a night. Unless witches really could fly.
Dimly, he heard a rhythm, and all his senses sprang alert. Hooves. Distant hooves. The pounding grew louder, more distinct. Then he spied the outline of a lone horse galloping through the fog, down the hill road toward him and his men.
He ordered a halt as the animal’s shape drew nearer and pulled up on an outcropping of rock above them. He never took his eyes from it, as gradually his footsoldiers came up
behind and clustered around their leader. The torchbearers’ spitting brands gleamed yellow through the fog, reflecting on the men’s spear-points and swiftly drawn swords. But as the commander and his troops squinted upward, the flares began forming strange fogged aureoles of light. A spectral form emerged from them, floating through the mist.
It sat astride the horse with an air of unchallengeable authority, as if enthroned. A heavy black cape denoting rank and wealth billowed from the shoulders of the Rider. Yet the figure’s face was veiled by a curtain of rain, its hair drenched by the storm to the colour of shadow.
But with the next stab of lightning, the commander started in terror, as did his men, many of them dropping their weapons, falling to their knees, and crossing themselves.
The flash imprinted on their gaze a sight they would never be able to forget. The lightning had exposed, like a reflection, the head of the Rider. It glowed in the light, inhumanly large. It was crowned by two sharp, bright, upcurving horns.
The commander’s thoughts skittered and spun wildly.
This is a tale to tell for years—if I live to tell it
. He managed to keep his seat and stay his horse from rearing, but his entire body shook as it never had before, even in battle, and he could feel the tremors of the terrified animal beneath him.
Motionless, the apparition shimmered at them, waiting.
The commander knew he must address this creature. He opened his lips. He worked his jaw. But no words came. He felt his voice shrivel into a knot of panic in his throat.
Then it no longer mattered, because all his questions were answered at once.
It called out to them with a ringing voice, in a tone of absolute command. Phrases clipped with contempt came riding over the storm’s howl with the majesty of lightning itself.
“Merry Meet, this Samhain Sabbat,”
“You need search for Me no longer. You have met the One you seek.”
, such defiant green! At the bleak heart of winter, this brazen, shameless green! No wonder they call it the Emerald Island, he thought, peering through light fog at the emerging coastline, verdant even in January, though as veined with snow as a gemstone faceted with light.
St. George’s Channel had finally calmed, so Richard de Ledrede was now able to hazard a stroll abovedeck, his corpulence bundled in a sable cloak. Rather pleasant, this, to lean at the ship’s rail breathing in the salt air and enjoying the vista—better than having to stagger up from his cabin again and again to drape vomitously over the side and retch. It had been tortuous, this journey—intensifying in chill, damp, and discomfort as he’d moved northward, leaving behind the sunny south of France, braving English Channel squalls, riding through sleet on the frozen fields of England, enduring the Bristol Channel’s heaves, traversing the neck of Wales to the port of Anerystwyth, and now at last nearing harbor at Wexford—but only after an Irish Sea crossing so choppy
that his normally ruddy complexion had turned its own shade of pale green. But it was almost over. He had survived again.
Soon he would be back—well, not home, but on terra firma in Kilkenny Town, answerable only to himself, the Papal Emissary to Ireland, the supreme authority of the Roman Catholic Church in his own bishopric of Ossary. Soon he could relish the comforts of a floor that stayed beneath his feet, a blazing hearth, decent food and wine—at least as decent as might be imported into this benighted bog of a country. Though only for a while.
Sic transit misera
. How long, he wondered, must he tolerate Ireland this time, before winning permanent release and restoration to the Papal Court?
. He sighed. Then, distracted by shouts, he turned to watch the scurry of seamen and cabin boys as they worked sails and ropes in preparation for dropping anchor. Across the deck, a slender young man in a black cassock was pacing slowly, reading his breviary. Glancing up, he saw his superior gazing at him, and he smiled.
The Bishop did not smile back. Young Father Brendan Canice had been making himself unbearably useful since Anerystwyth: never cold, never seasick, a walking abomination of good cheer with odiously bouncing black curls and eyes so blue one might wince from the brightness. Summoned from Kells to attend upon the Bishop, Father Brendan had left his post at the ancient center of Irish learning and traveled to Wales to meet the senior prelate’s
retinue, that they might journey the remainder of the route back to Kilkenny Town together. Not that Bishop Richard de Ledrede had invited his presence. Some bureaucrat in Avignon had decided
him that this young scholar, already gaining note for expertise in Celtic history and tradition, would be a valuable advisor to his work as the Pope’s emissary to Ireland. Consequently, the crossing was to have been spent tutoring the Bishop on Irish customs. But communication had been seldom and abrupt, limited to exchanges about the Bishop’s intestinal crisis, as the gallingly healthy Father Brendan repeatedly aided his superior in lurching from cabin to ship’s rail. Now the Bishop sighed again and beckoned to his traveling companion, who swiftly crossed the deck to stand before him.
the young man said, genuflecting, “
Benedicite, filio meo, et cum spiritu tu
,” he replied, proffering his hand. The young priest kissed his ring.
Nonne convalescis, domine? Intervenione tuas devotiones?
. But English, please, Father Brendan. Latin unites our Church family throughout the world, but in conversation I prefer French, though my native tongue will do. Yes, I feel better—though there seems to be less of me,” he mused, glancing down at his rotund body, “and no, you do not disturb my devotions—though perhaps I disturb yours?” He glanced at the young priest’s breviary.
“No, my lord. I was simply offering spontaneous prayers of thanksgiving. I have been awake since before dawn, my soul ringing like hammered gold—that eager am I to see Eire again!”
“Nonsense. You have been away for only a fortnight. And you certainly have seemed content—never even
seasick. Somewhat unmannerly, that.”
“Yes, my lord,” the young priest grinned, “My apologies. T’is an island nation, don’t you know—rich with rivers, too—so we grow up on the water. As for my homesickness, I have traveled little, yet no matter where I venture, t’is a Kilkenny man I am—from the seat of your own bishopric, my lord—the finest place on the blessed earth.”
“Well, lad, perhaps you shall miraculously convince me to share your affection for Ireland. But it will be quite a challenge. I can tell you candidly that I have already suffered over a year in your disagreeable country.”