Water splashed down the sides of the bucket as it cleared the well’s edge. Rebecca was reaching out to grab for her pail when she heard it. Raised voices from towards town square were rising in volume. At this hour? Locking the winch, Rebecca left the side of the well and started heading back towards the house.
The property had been in her husband’s family for generations, a source of pride and honor in a village as small as theirs. When Lance’s father had died and left him the farm, it marked the passing from one generation of McCormick’s to another, an event equally mourned and celebrated by their neighbors and peers. The McCormick farm provided the village with the vegetables they ate and the wheat the bread makers used to ply their trade. They were perceived as the backbone of the village and treated with respect.
As she neared the house, her son Frederick came rushing out the door and stopped suddenly when he saw her. “Mother, come quick. They have father!” Rebecca grabbed her son by the hand and together they ran as fast as their feet could carry them towards the village square. She knew this day was coming, but never could she have prepared for it.
Rebecca had married Lance when she was but fourteen. It had been a marriage of convenience. Her father had used words like “obligation” and “duty” when describing her arranged marriage to the eldest, male McCormick, and she had not fought it. She remembered her mother’s face the day of the wedding. She had not realized it at the time, but as she’d grown older and had children of her own it had made more sense to her. The tears her mother had shed were not of pride as she had once believed.
Luckily for Rebecca, Lance had been a wonderful and caring husband. She had nightmares about what the future would hold for her, but Lance had been quick to allay those fears. In her wildest dreams she could not have hoped for someone to be more honest, considerate, and supportive. He respected her opinions, admitted his own mistakes and took responsibility for his actions. He included her in decisions and truly viewed her as his equal. It had not taken long for their love to blossom and after a few years of learning each other, Rebecca found herself with child.
When the village learned of the impending birth, they celebrated like never before. The women pampered Rebecca, treating her like royalty. She got advice from her elders on how best to care for the child, what to eat, how to dress. The healers and herbalists in town provided her with medicines and methods to help aid with the pain of childbirth. Every night felt like a party, a celebration of life. When the women would come to the house to fawn over her, Lance would stay out of the way, chuckling to himself. When it would seem to be too much and she grew exasperated with all the attention, it was as if Lance could read her mind and would come up with some excuse to get her away.
One morning while Rebecca had been preparing breakfast, she felt a sharp pain. At first she thought nothing of it, perhaps the baby had just moved into an uncomfortable position. Then it came again, and again, and grew constant. She knew from the time that had passed that she was not due for the child to enter into the world. The pain grew unbearable and she began calling out for Lance, but he was away working the farmland. It felt as if her insides were being ripped apart.
When she came to she was lying in bed staring up at the ceiling. Her entire body hurt, but she managed to turn her gaze to the side of the bed, where Lance was on his knees, praying. Behind him, standing in the doorway was the midwife, the town healer, and a Priest of Lane. The three were discussing something amongst themselves, whispering in a concerned fashion. The Priest looked up and said something, but in her delirium she could not make it out. Lance immediately opened his eyes and looked at her, tears streaming down his cheeks. Relief overcame him as he jumped forward, caressing her cheek with the back of his hand. He looked back to the three in the doorway and said something, but she was still having trouble making out anything that was being said. The three of them hurried over towards the bed as the dark overtook Rebecca once again.
She did not know how long she was out, but when next she awoke it was dark and the room was dimly lit by candlelight. Lance had not left her bedside, but the others had gone. Slowly, Rebecca lifted her arm and placed her hand on her husband’s. Lance looked up to her, the rims of his eyes red and dry, no tears remaining in him.
“The baby…” she tried to speak but she wasn’t sure if it came out intelligible.
“Try not to speak, my love. Rest, just rest.” He squeezed her hand again and then dipped his head in prayer. She passed out again to him praying, “Dark divide us, Light provide for us. Evil strain us, Good succor us. By the depths are we broken, by the heights are we sustained. Forever shall we be creatures of Heaven, and may Lane shine down upon us in his wisdom.”
Rebecca had a difficult time swallowing. “Why do you pray, husband? What is happening?” As she stared at him her eyelids grew heavy, and his prayer began again.
It was the pain that woke her this time… and all she could see was red. There was red on the sheets, red on her hands, red on the midwife, and red on Lance. “Well?” she heard a familiar man’s voice say.
“It was a boy, sir.” It was Lance’s sobbing that she lost consciousness to. As it went dark, she thought she could hear him swearing the profane between breaths.
When next she had awoken, she was alone in the bedroom. She instantly knew that she was alone even before the memories came flooding back. There was no one inside her anymore. She mourned the loss, she still mourned the loss. Eventually she had the strength to get back on her feet and get back to a daily routine. It brought her some semblance of peace to keep busy, to be a productive person again. Nothing was going to replace the loss of child, but life went on and she was needed.
At first Lance would not speak to her. Some nights she would awaken to find him not in bed beside her. She would get up and walk through the house as quietly as she could, but she would find him always in the same place, crying in the nursery, holding the blanket that was to be their son’s. It was a night not three months later that she deemed the turning point in their lives. She had finally gathered the courage to say something to him while he wept, “There was nothing to be done, Lance. Lane took…
“Don’t you dare say that to me!” he screamed. He stood and turned to her with a violent stare. “Yes, he took him! My son! Where was he? Why did He not save my boy?!”
“Lance… you blaspheme, in our own house…” she began to say as her own sobs broke up her voice.
“I do not blaspheme, it is HE who abandoned US! For that, I do not forgive!” Lance stormed past her, and she could hear the front door slam as he left, for what she feared was for good.
Rebecca could hear the gravel kicking up behind her as she ran with Frederick. Their farm was on the outskirts of the village, but it would only take them mere minutes to get to the source of the yelling. As they rounded the corner on the main road through town, she could see men hauling ropes, lifting into place her greatest fear.
“Mother, the gallows! We must hurry!” Frederick was young, but he had his father’s strength and speed, and like a stallion he took off ahead of her. By Lane, please protect us.
Lance spent days away from home, but eventually he returned. They rebuilt their lives together, struggling to keep the anguish of their loss at bay. She cherished her times with her husband, but Lance never seemed the same. He was distant at times, lost in thought. Having conversations with him was difficult as she never felt she had his entire attention. Something was broken inside him, and she was determined to fix it.
Years later, Rebecca found herself once again with child. While she was nervous about the outcome, this time everything went as it should. As they welcomed their daughter into the world, Rebecca had hoped that this would be the moment that would return her husband to her, but it was not to be. Sure he was a devoted father, spoiling their daughter at every opportunity, but it was not the same. The light she had seen him still had not returned, and she feared he was lost to her forever.
Another child, another lost hope. Their middle child, Frederick, had been an unforeseen blessing. When he was but an infant, she thought to once again broach the subject that had seemingly broken their lives. “Lane has blessed us with a son to inherit the family business when it comes time for us to leave this world. Are you not grateful for his blessing now?” He had been perched over the bassinet, playing with the cooing child. He rose with the same anger, the same violent stare he had directed towards her that night in the nursery. “You dare mention that name in this house again, and it will be the last night you spend under its roof.”
It was not until Lance left for a meeting of town officials in a new settlement off to the east that she started to notice change within him. He came back talking about this man he met, and how he spoke of all these new ideas and how they had changed his life. He would leave the family for weeks at a time, going off to work for this man. He never mentioned his name, he never mentioned what the meetings were about, but when he came back he was not the same man she married.
As she caught up to Frederick he was pushing his way through the crowd. The gallows had been erected, and the noose hung from above. The crowd was calling out in anger, throwing rotten food and items towards the platform. She grabbed onto the back of Frederick’s shirt as he plowed his way through. As they broke through the front of the crowd, she saw them. There stood a dozen men, clad in gleaming plate mail. Swords hung at their hips in scabbards, and their helmets hid all but their eyes.
She had been walking down that same street when she finally knew what had changed in her husband. She was carrying their third child, Frederick was barely speaking in complete sentences, and their eldest daughter, Genevieve, walked on ahead of them. A podium had been placed directly in the middle of the square, and standing on it was Lance. He was yelling out to the crowd that had gathered around him. They were captivated by the words that came from him.
It was at that moment that she heard the words that would damn him forever. He spoke out against Lane, calling him a coward and a liar. He called the Church an “institution of lies” that diminished their own significance. Yet some of what he said made sense, and there was nothing inherently evil in his words. He promoted the individual and the power of belief. He called upon people to spread their dogma no further than themselves and their neighbors. Lane was unnecessary and there was no need to look further than the people standing next to them. A chant that Lance had led went up from the crowd. “I am my own!” After every denouncement of Lane, “I am my own!”
For years Lance would split his time between working the farm and preaching to the people in their village and those surrounding. For every neighbor that called him a despicable heretic, there was another who encouraged him and referred to his sermons as a “breath of fresh air.”
The men in their armor stood at attention, undeterred by the restlessness of the crowd. Two men in clergy robes led a man with a burlap sack over his head towards the gallows. She need not see his face to know who he was.
At the birth of their second daughter, Lance had been happier than she had seen him in many a year. As he held their daughter, their silhouettes shining on the wall beside her bed, he could hear him whispering to her. “You are coming into a world of new strength, of new purpose. You are more than any God, more than any man. You are the bringer of a life.”
Behind the stage she saw two armored men arguing. The younger one was visibly agitated, screaming at the top of his lungs at the elder officer. The younger man ran his fingers through his hair and ignored the older man’s pleas. He came up on the clergymen holding Lance captive and forcibly moved them aside, grabbing Lance by his wrists. “I will do this, as is my mission. I wish none of this blood to be on your hands,” she could barely hear him over the crowd. The ranking Paladin was oddly upset about what was occurring, but he went forward with it. Rebecca watched as the Paladin led the man towards his death.
“Why do you do this to us, Lance? We are your family and you have put us in the middle of your religious war!” Rebecca yelled at him once while cleaning up after a family dinner. He smiled at her, “because this is truth, my love. Just because we do not like it does not make it any less so.”
The Paladin brought him up and ripped the burlap sack off Lance’s head, and the fervor of the crowd grew louder with each passing moment. He raised his hand to silence the crowd and called out. “People of Gahn, hear me! I am Paladin Adanin, emissary of High Priest Malthais and the Church of Lane! I come to serve sentence on the heretic you know as Lance McCormick! In the name of Lane, I commit that… justice.” The Paladin paused, a look of pure disgust on his face. “Justice… shall be done.”
“Are you angry with me?” asked Lance one morning. “Are you angry with me for finding the truth? We are our own, my love. I am my own.”
The Paladin yelled, “Lance McCormick, you have been found guilty of heresy and the defamation of our Lord! Do you have any last words!?” Lance held his head up high as the crowd grew silent. As one, many voices called out, “I am my own!” “I AM MY OWN!”
I AM MY OWN!
Rebecca carried Frederick back towards the farm house. He had cried himself to sleep on her shoulder as she slowly made her way home. The crowd had made a pathway for her as she left the gallows, whispering as they stared at the remains of their broken family. As she made her way home, Genevieve stood in the doorway holding the youngest member of their clan, still but a toddler. “What do we do now, mother?”
Rebecca nodded her head towards the door, “We survive.”