4, 5, 6
copyright Myrrh Sagrada © 2004
Day's End and A Life's Beginning
ehind them the one remaining bright slice of the darkening western
horizon faded quickly from crimson to black as the trio made their
way along the footworn path toward town. Vespers rang out clear
in the distance and, as if in response, the children left the path
and hastened directly over the hill. "Take care on the rocks,"
Celeste called, "and assure Madame Bûche I am coming!"
She watched the light of their lantern sway and bounce as the children
clambered to the top of the rise.
The midwife prodded her donkey to a quick
trot, reckoning to enter Axat only slightly later than the children.
The many leather pouches she had slung across the beast's back jostled
in rhythm with his movements, their various mysterious contents
producing trembling timbres according to weight and shape and sounding
like a collection of old skin rattles.
Celeste settled into a tolerable position
on the donkey and over the ensuing jouncing half-league sang and
prayed to herself, invoking the assistance of the supernatural in
her coming task.
cresting the final hill, Jehan and Marguerite paused for breath.
They were close enough now to look down into Axat, perched on the
next ridge. A dense shadow cast by the encircling stone wall crept
through the town from west to east, blanketing all except the bell
tower of the central church, which rose out of the heavy darkness
like a great moonlit arrow to pierce the night sky.
Marguerite knew the heartbeat she felt rushing
in her ears was not just because of the run. She was eager to be
involved in the birthing process, and her excitement was mounting.
Gone was the cold, frightened child folded up before the hearth.
In her place atop the hill now stood a keen and lively spirit
an apprentice healer filled with the seductive anticipation of infusing
a fragile new soul with strength against fortune and uncertainty,
to assist it in accepting the blessed burden of life. Marguerite
was already imagining the newborn growing into a smiling, burbling
baby. The family would be grateful to her and to her mother. Perhaps
Madame Bûche would even allow Marguerite to help look after
this little one.
Jehan and Marguerite watched the town a
moment longer. Scant yellow lights wavered across upper-floor windows
as some residents, yet preparing to sleep, passed from room to room
carrying the last candle of the day. A few small fire pots still
glowed orange at the intersections of lanes. The children knew they
would soon be extinguished, when couvre-feu was called.
"Come!" said Jehan, and ran off
down the hill, Marguerite in pursuit.
As they approached the town walls the children
called to the gatekeeper, who earlier had allowed Jehan out on his
urgent errand. He opened to them and they raced through calling
back, "The midwife follows!" They left the old watchman
peering into the dark, scanning the landscape for Celeste's arrival.
Marguerite scrambled after Jehan through
murky, narrow streets, grateful it was night and glaring townsfolk
were all inside. She gathered her skirts to keep them from dragging
in the mud and offal, and more than once lost purchase on some of
the slicker cobbled stones.
The children passed by the market street,
its air still heavy with a familiar odd harmony of odors: the redolence
of decay-tinged fruits and vegetables, the rank of newly butchered
meats, the savory sweetness of herbs, the acrid fume of freshly
tanned leather and the biting after-scent of fired metals.
Finally the children reached their goal.
As they approached the door of the woodwright's shop, a sharp cry
from within the house pierced the night air. Jehan seized Marguerite's
hand and led her into and through the darkened ground-floor shop.
Freshly worked wood was one of her favorite
smells, and Marguerite couldn't help but breathe deeply as wood
fragments crackled under her feet. Jehan glanced back at her apologetically;
he had neglected to sweep the shop these three days of his father's
absence. Upon reaching the stairs in the rear, the pair hurried
up into the family's living quarters.
Marguerite had never been inside Jehan's
home, and now slowed her pace, surprised by the size and beauty
of these rooms hung with tapestry and displaying lustrous, exquisitely
crafted furnishings. In one room the table at which the family took
evening meals was pushed against the far wall, leaving considerable
open space in the center. Marguerite reckoned this room to be bigger
than her mother's entire cottage. Numerous carved stools stood against
walls, leafy vines of wood winding about their sturdy legs and snaking
up to embrace the delicately curving plateaux of their seats. Several
small tables were artfully placed about, the carving of their limbs
matching that of the chairs. Each was covered with a cloth of embroidered
white linen, upon which a candle stood in a gracefully wrought silver
receptacle. One table displayed in addition a large leather-bound
book lying propped open, a green silk marker draped languidly down
its center. Marguerite crept up to it, drawn to the shining gold,
deep crimson and vibrant blue of its illuminated pages. It was a
Bible, but not like her mother's small Bible. It reminded her of
the Holy Book Brother Auguste had shown her last spring as they
sat beneath the cherry tree just outside the walls of the abbey
garden. She was reaching up to touch it when Jehan burst back into
the room and seized her by the hand to lead her to his distressed
the bed, glistening with sweat, Madame Bûche grimaced and
moaned, one arm firm upon the underside of her big hard belly, the
other flung up and behind her head...