'Honour Maid' by JACQUELINE PYE

It’s the village festival in St Anselm, and young hearts are fluttering. The girls are hopeful but their admirers fear the worst.
The lord always chooses the Honour Maid, relishing the rights it brings him. He is fair of face and of means; many girls would pay the price for the Honour. But sometimes that price is higher than just one night in his bed.
Matilde is vomiting weeks after being crowned. With the freedom of all the village fare on offer, she takes little yet grows ever larger.
Two months before her time, the pains become vile, and the poor baby boy is stillborn from her young-teen body. Her parents weep, perhaps more for loss of the lord’s financial support than for Matilde who has years for childbearing. He has been generous to his Maids in the past.
According to custom, the carpenter gouges a hole in the trunk of an oak. The part-formed babe is wrapped in white linen and sealed in the tree while the preacher intones: St Anselm, take this infant in your name, to nourish the tree in its growth. Matilde is weak and leans on her father’s arm as the villagers drift away.
She does not recover well. She wanders through the night-time wood in her grubby shift, barefoot, listening for the cries of her son and sometimes, just sometimes, she hears them.


A longer version of this story was published online as one of the winners in a 1001 Words competition.

Comments

  1. Unsettling imagery, capped off by the hole in the tree:that'll stick around for a few days. Well done.

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