Issuu on Google+

r o b i n m o r t h e b u r n i n g

MELVILLE HOUSE BROOKLYN

LONDON

g a n t i m e


t h e

b u r n i n g

t i m e

Š2006 Robin Morgan Cover design by Christopher King Cover image: Š Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS From Life of Ludovic of France at the Purgatory of Saint Patrick, 14th century Book design by David Konopka First Melville House Printing: 2006 Melville House Publishing 145 Plymouth Street Brooklyn, NY 11201 www.mhpbooks.com ISBN: 978-1-933633-00-8 Manufactured in the United States of America 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.


BURNING TIME (final)*

1/18/06

4:28 PM

Page 13

31 october 1324

a ll ha llow s ’ ev e 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—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.

13


BURNING TIME (final)*

1/18/06

4:28 PM

Page 14

robin morgan

Well, His Eminence might not have believed them, but he 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. Good lads, 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

14


BURNING TIME (final)*

1/18/06

4:28 PM

Page 15

31 october 1324

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.

15


BURNING TIME (final)*

1/18/06

4:28 PM

Page 16

robin morgan

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 spoke. 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,” It roared, “You need search for Me no longer. You have met the One you seek.”

16


The Burning Time