Fear and Loathing in the Middle Ages

Her velvet maroon cape left a trail in the snow, but her feet did not. The villagers called her a witch, because they didn’t understand that the cape covered her tracks. They thought she floated on air; they wanted to knock her down. Amazing what stupid men will do.

The hoard of men came in the dead of night to raid her home, to take her life, and throw her body in the river.

But she was ready. She was waiting at the door with her hood drawn and cape covering the blade held by her side.

She didn’t need incantations: she wouldn’t rise the river to wash them away, or gather the clouds into a twister taking the town — not today. She had her sheer force of will; that would be plenty for weak-minded men such as them, plenty with room to spare.

The hoard of ingrates came rushing over the headstones of the graveyard, up the the grassy knoll, past the drooping willow trees and fence of hunted animals’ bones. The hoard abruptly stopped at the circle of salt surrounding her feet, spiral-like and unmoved by the thrashing wind.

“Witch! Witch, witch, witch,” they began to chant, pumping their empty fists in the air.

Smart men would have attempted to clobber her immediately, together.

Wise men wouldn’t have come at all.

“What is it you deem me guilty of?” She inquired directly. An eerie silence overcame the shouting; the wind stood still.

“Obvious ain’t it? Witchcraft! I bet if we threw you in the river you’d float like a ghost.“

“I would, but not for the reasons you think. But I suspect that regardless of what would happen, you’d see to it that my body never again emerged.

“That’s right!” A voice in the back of the hoard yelled.

“And you would assume that was the end of me, would you not?”

The men looked to each other, turning their heads left and right, confused, silent, and beginning to fear this woman.

She smiled, “My dear men, I would destroy your crops; I would send rainstorms to flood your homes and insects to spread disease among your families. I would return to the Earth, and from there my revenge would be all the sweeter.”

“You admit to your crimes then!” Another shouted. “Witch, witch, witch!” The hoard began to chant once more; the wind grew and shook the spines of the willow trees. The Woman thew back her hood and drew her sword.

“They will almost certainly leave with what they have come for,” she thought, “but I will take a few of them with me.”

They began surrounding her salt circle, then cautiously dismantling it with their boots. She held her sword before her body, before her face. And when they stepped inside, she swung. Crimson blood soaked her maroon cape (it had not always been maroon.) As she sliced through the men before her, the men behind her took that opportunity to kick, punch, and trample her. Before she could retract her blade, she found herself face down in the soil beneath the tread of their boots, stomping and cracking her limbs. A dying man beside her used the last of his energy to take her discarded sword and gauge it into her back, right between the third and fourth vertebrae, severing her spinal cord, and opening a wound where too much blood would escape.

The man wielding her blade collapsed. The remaining men dragged her body past the fence of hunted animals’ bones and the drooping willow trees, down the grassy knoll, over the flat headstones of the graveyard — where she would never rest and had no desire to — down into the river that was turning, gushing, open and welcoming her. Together they swung her body into the water. It submerged with a plop but bobbed up again. Remembering her haunted warning, the surviving men quickly returned
to their warm homes, loving families, and good up-standing reputations.

But their crops would never again reach for the sky. The next Spring, their homes would be taken by the same river that took the Woman’s body downstream. And their families would begin to wither and die as had all of their fields and flowers. But these men were too ignorant to regret not heeding the Woman’s words.

Yet she had been monitoring the soil and watching the patterns of rain and drought for a hundred seasons. She knew they had overused the land; she knew nature was bound to reclaim it. But they wouldn’t listen and even went so far as to proclaim her a witch for trying to alert them. She offered a final warning as her last offering upon the inevitability of her death.

Smart men would have listened to her.

Wise men would have already known.

These men chose violence to cover their fear. Instead of seeking a solution that could have saved them all, they made a woman into a witch, into an all-powerful villain to rally against. It was easier that way, and deadlier too.

In the river, the Woman’s body began to decompose. She went on to live in the bellies of fish. Many fish. More fish in the river than could ever be caught. Eventually, her bones sunk to the bottom and became the foundation for a future mountain, her hair washed to shore and was used to house baby birds. Her velvet maroon cape slowly-but-surely began to lose its color. With every rapid it traversed, the stitches of her robe tore until it fell apart altogether. The Woman wasn’t anywhere at all but in many places. She had known what would become of her long before the hoard of men ever came to her door. And when the river welcomed her body, it freed the rest of her as well.

“Maybe I am a witch after-all,” she thought watching her blood seep into the water. Untethering her cape, she used what energy she had left to spread her arms. And then she floated down the river.

*originally published on connerleecarey.com; part of my 365Poetry Project, #7. Join the Fam while you’re here.

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