CHAPTER 11- GOODBYE TO ST. ANNE
She ran through the rain, her face and arms aching from the sky’s lashing. Once her foot disappeared into a quagmire, and she sank three feet, screaming and scrabbling for solid ground. She pulled herself out again and half ran half staggered back to the cottage to where Doctor Toureil sat in the doorway, his face buried in his hands.
He looked up at her approach, and there were tears in his eyes. Great, kind tears.
For a second they simply stared at each other, the old weeping man and the tiny girl, caked in mud, her red hair plastered black to her face, her green eyes stained bloodshot red.
The Doctor simply shook his head.
But Marie did not cry. It was only when she saw Sariel, standing over the Doctor with a look of utter dejection in her eyes that a harsh, hideous scream escaped from the girl’s throat, the sound someone would make on being stabbed.
Her father was dead. And his soul had been beyond saving.
She thought of her father being carried off by Rashgiel, that odious, hideous, evil…in his clutches forever…it was too much to take. What kind of justice was this? God knew, he must know, how her father had loved her, how they had murmured quietly to each other in the warmth of a yellow fire, how they had belched a symphony every mealtime.
God knew all this, God knew all this and still her father would go to Hell
And a terrible raged filled her, started in her heart and was pumped into every vein, terrible and white hot, swelling her up until it overflowed from her mouth in a torrent, she roared, roared against Rashgiel, roared against Sariel, roared against God, against her father, against Toureil, against the rain, and had she but the lungs this little girl would have roared the world to nothing. And Toureil tried to hold her, to comfort her but she kicked and screamed and ran into the house, heard Toureil behind her call out “The door! Close the door!” but too late she saw her father and she knew he was dead because it was not her father on the bed but some weird sculpture of hair and flesh in his image it was so still and she screamed in fright when she saw it, took a step backwards, knocked against a chair and ran into her room.
Although it was now mid-morning, the room was no lighter than when she had woken up.
Before her lay her bed, the sheets in shred, torn up to make bandages for the corpse next door.
She lay on the bed, wrapping the shreds around her, and shivered herself to sleep.
When she awoke, it was to the sound of men removing her father’s body from the house. She slowly realised that she was not alone in the room.
“Get out.” Said Marie quietly.
The angel reached out her hand and touched her shoulder. It was as light as air.
“You’re freezing.” said Sariel “There.”
Marie felt warm all over, as if she was standing in summer sunshine.
“How do you do that?” she said, dully.
The angel shrugged. “It’s pretty easy.”
“You can make me warm? Can you make me cold?”
“If you wanted.”
“Could you make me not miss him anymore?” Marie asked.
Sariel looked away.
“Yes.” she said “I could take away all memory of him. I could make it so you didn’t even know he was gone. But would you want me to?”
Marie said nothing for a while. Finally, she shook her head.
Sariel stroked her hair gently “And that makes you a remarkable girl.”
“Why couldn’t you save him?” Marie asked.
“Because he was never mine to save.” the angel replied.
“And now he’s…what’s going to happen to him?”
“Why not? Why not?!”
“Because Marie…because you don’t want to know. Marie, I wish I could comfort you. I wish I could tell you that everything will be alright in the end. But I can’t.”
“Lie to me.” Marie pleaded.
“Please. Please, please lie to me. Sariel, please.”
Sariel opened her mouth and tried to force the words, but couldn’t. She was of the elohim, and could no more lie than a nightingale could croak. She simply looked at Marie pityingly.
“Am I mad?” Marie asked eventually.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because no else can see you.” said Marie simply.
“Ah. Yes, well that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Most people can’t see us.”
“Why can I?”
“Because you are a Temporal, Marie. You are one of the Temporal Adepts. You don’t see the world like the others. And you are capable of things you wouldn‘t even be able to imagine now. A door is about to open for you Marie. And do you know what‘s behind that door?”
“What?” Marie whispered.
“Everything.” said Sariel “You will be so free.”
As Marie stared into Sariel’s eyes she realised that there was no end to them, her blue eyes were like the sky, stretching away into infinity. And she began to feel very light headed, and swooned.
Sariel caught her, which was like being caught by a cloud, and laid her to rest on the bed.
And before she drifted off, the angel whispered in her ear.
“They’ll be coming for you soon, Marie. Your life is about to begin.”
It was the day after Luke’s funeral that Doctor Toureil sat down with Pére Legére to discuss Marie’s future.
“He had no family?” the priest asked. He was roughly the same age as the doctor, but whereas Lawrence had aged outward, Pére Legére had seemed to have aged up, and was as thin and tall as a heron.
“I heard tell of a brother.” said Toureil “But I wouldn’t know where to begin tracking him down.”.
“Hmmmmmm…” the thin priest sucked his teeth and scratched his rasp-like chin as if pondering a particularly perplexing article of dogma.
“Her mother’s family, God rest her soul?”
“My, my.” the priest remarked “Such a lack of family is almost suspicious. You would think they did it merely to spite us.”
Toureil, for whom the loss of his dearest friend was still extremely raw, growled at the cleric’s acerbic attempt at humour “Marie, father. What is to be done with Marie?”
“Well. It is obvious to all but the blind that you were the closest thing Luke had to family, and that the girl loves you. You would be the obvious choice to care for her.”
Toureil, although he knew the priest would say this, actually managed to feel shocked and indignant.
“Be sensible father! he spluttered “Take in a child at my age? I could be dead by next year!”
“There is not a man alive who cannot say the same, save those condemned to death for an earlier date.” the priest replied.
“It’s out of the question. I love the girl dearly , but Luke made it very clear to me before he died. Marie is not to stay in St Anne.”
“Indeed?” the priest arched an eyebrow quizzically “And why not?”
“Because, father. The man who killed the father swore vengeance on the child.”
“Monstrous!” the priest exclaimed “To declare vendetta on a child, a girl no less…who is this man? Why would he bear Luke Dashonde such animosity?”
Toureil realised he had overstepped his bounds. Even in death, Lawrence felt obliged to keep Luke’s true profession secret, and his reputation intact.
“Tell me, father” he said cautiously “How did Luke make a living?”
The priest looked shifty and squirmed in his seat.
“Why. He was a farmer. Of course.”
“Of course!” Toureil blustered. “Of course. Of course he was.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Wait.” said Toureil “Are you saying that because you think he was a farmer, or because you know?”
“You know. Or do you? Do you know?”
“I…I…” the priest stammered.
“If you know, tell me.” said Toureil.
“I can’t tell you unless I know that you know!” said Legére, clearly distraught.
“I do know!”
“Then tell me so that I know that you know!”
“I can’t unless I know that you know!”
“I do know!”
“What?! Tell me!”
“Luke was the village hangman!” Toureil paused “You knew that, yes?”
“Yes.” said Pére Legére.
The two breathed a sigh of relief.
“So how did you know?” Toureil asked.
“There is a thing called confession.” said the priest sternly “Some of my parishioners avail of it.”
“Any day now, I promise. In any case.” said Toureil, as if the whole rigmarole had never occurred “This man, Thomas Hieronimo, was the son of one of the men Luke executed, and the boy swore that he would kill Toureil and his daughter into the bargain.”
“Luke made me swear that I would get her out of the village, get her somewhere far away. But I have no idea where she could go. Can…”
Toureil stopped, and he and the priest looked at the doorway, where a young girl had apparently materialised out of thin air. She was tall, and perhaps a year older than Marie. Her hair was quite short, thick and jet black, and her face was thin and sallow. It was her eyes that caused both men to pause.
Like Marie’s they were green, but a green so light it was almost golden.
“Good day.” she said “I have come for Marie Dashonde.”
“And who are you?” Doctor Toureil spluttered.
The girl glanced at him in a manner that was almost pitying.
“What does that matter?” she asked “I have come to bring her to live with her aunt.”
“Aunt?” said Pére Legére “We were of the belief that young Marie had no living relatives.”
The girl did not answer, but instead produced several sheaves of official looking paper. The priest leafed through them worriedly.
“What does it say?” the Doctor asked.
“I am not entirely sure.” said the priest “But it all looks terribly official looking.”
“Who sent you, girl?” Toureil asked.
“My mistress is Madame Mariana de Babilu. She is Marie’s aunt, on her mother’s side. Upon hearing of her brother-in-law‘s tragic death, she has sent me to bring her niece home to her care.”
“Is that so? You know, Luke never mentioned a sister-in-law to me.” said Lawrence.
“Do you have a sister-in-law?” the girl asked.
“What? Yes I do.”
“And did you ever mention her to Luke?” she asked innocently.
Lawrence had to admit that she had a point.
Doctor Toureil cast a sceptical eye to the priest, who simply looked at the papers and shrugged as if to say “Well, it looks alright to me.”
“Would you mind waiting here a moment?” he asked the girl.
“Certainly.” was the reply.
They stood outside the front of the house.
“Hmm.” Toureil muttered aloud “She’s rich in any case, this Madame de Babilu. Look there.”
He gestured to where two magnificent horses and a fine carriage waited on the road. The driver, a thin, sallow faced man, seemed to be asleep at the reins, his hat casting his face into shadow.
The priest nodded, but said nothing.
“Well?” Toureil asked “What do we think?”
“Well.” said Legére after a pause “What do you think?”
Toureil swore under his breath “I don’t know! It’s fishy as hell. Luke never mentioned the woman.”
“Perhaps they were not on good terms? If, as is apparent, she is a lady of means, she may have objected to his marriage with her sister. Luke was not a wealthy man after all.”
“I suppose.” said Toureil dubiously.
“Or to look at it another way.” said the priest “We have been racking our brains trying to think of a way to get Marie out of the village and provided for. And suddenly, this girl shows up out of thin air offering to take Marie out of the village and provide for her.”
“I know. You’re saying it’s too convenient.” said Toureil.
“What? No, no. I am saying that we have been offered a solution to all our problems and we should take it.”
“You’re not exactly a sceptical man, are you father?”
“Scepticism is not considered a desirable quality in my line of work. Besides, what reason do we have to doubt her?”
When he put it that way, Toureil had to admit that he did not have a ready answer.
“I don’t know Father. I have no reason to suspect her. But saving your grace, I shall suspect her all the same.”
The girl in question was still standing in the kitchen. As she took in the table and chairs, the well-cooked hearth and the old humble cabinet she was stricken with a sense of great sadness. This had once been a home. This had been a real family home, a place where people loved each other dearly. A place where people had come back to after long journeys, stood in the doorway, and simply enjoyed for a moment the sweet sense of return. And she felt sad because that was something she had never known, and because it was gone now from this place. Luke was gone, and the home had been mortally wounded. It would limp along for awhile, and when Marie was gone it would simply lie still and die. And the home would become a house, a bare, simple, lifeless structure. As a person dies and becomes bones and carrion, so the home would lose all life and become nothing more than wood and stone.
She stopped and turned as she heard a door open behind her.
Marie and the girl regarded each other for a few seconds.
“Who are you?” Marie asked huskily.
“Isabella.” said the girl “Hello Marie.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Sit down.” said Isabella.
“Because you’re about to fall over. Here.”
She took Marie by the arm and sat her down on one of the chairs. She laid the back of her hand on Marie’s cheek.
“When was the last time you ate?” she asked.
“Don’t remember.” Marie mumbled.
“You look like hell.”
Isabella went to the cupboard and began taking out vegetables.
“What are you doing?”
“Making you some soup. You’re never going to last the journey.”
“What journey?” Marie asked “There’s no journey.”
“Yes there is. I’m here to take you to your aunt. She’s going to be looking after you from now on.”
“I don’t have an aunt.”
“Yes, you do. I work for her, I should know.”
“Well so should I if she’s my aunt. How come I‘ve never met her?”
“She was busy.”
“For nine years.”
“Yes. She was busy for nine years.”
“Busy doing what?”
“Nothing, she’s rich. Where’s your pot?”
“It’s right there.”
“Look where I’m pointing.”
“Alright, alright. I see it.”
“What’s your name again?” Marie asked.
“Are you always this bad a liar, Isabella?”
Isabella looked over her shoulder and gave a little half-smile.
“Are you always this much of a dolor en el asno?”
“I asked first.” said Marie.
“No. I’m normally a much better liar.”
“Then no, I’m not.” said Marie stonily “My father just died.”
“Well, that would make anyone cranky.” Isabella said.
Marie swung at her. Isabella caught the blow without even trying. Marie strained but she was as strong as iron. Marie kicked her in the shin. A grimace of pain creased Isabella’s face and for a second her eyes blazed. Then, slowly, her grip tightened around Marie’s wrist. Tighter, and tighter until the hand had turned bone white. Marie took in deep breaths, refusing to betray any sign of pain. Then, just when she felt she would have to cry out in pain, Isabella released.
“Where‘s your water jar?” she asked.
“Over there.” Marie answered, rubbing her wrist “I don’t know if there’s enough left in it.”
“No, we‘re alright. Aren’t you going to ask where we’re going?”
“No. Because I’m not leaving this house.”
“Yes you are.”
“What makes you so sure?”
Isabella glanced at the door to Luke‘s room “Because that’s the room your father died in.”
Marie studied her coldly.
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“I’ll go you one better.” said Isabella “Ask me how I know that a few years ago, you were sitting by a wall with your friends. You heard a terrible noise and you all hid. You watched as they brought a man past. They were shouting and spitting at him. They took him to the town square. Ask me how I know that you watched a man in a black mask string him up by the neck until he was dead. Ask me how I know that you couldn’t sleep for days and you went into a fever and almost died. Ask me how I know that you found a black mask under the bed and realised who your father really was. Or more importantly, ask me how I know that the man your father hung had a son, and it was him who killed your father that night. And ask me how I know that if you don’t get out of this place he will kill you too.”
Marie felt numb.
“How do you know?” she whispered.
“Because my mistress told me. She said that someone came to her and told her about you.”
“Who?” asked Marie.
Isabella shrugged one shoulder.
“I dunno. She didn’t say. But she said that if you didn’t want to come, I should say four words.”
Isabella looked uncomfortable. She didn’t like saying things she didn’t understand.
“She said “Tell her: The Door is Opening.” ”
Marie felt the floor slipping under her feet. The walls seemed to sag. She was real. She was actually real. The angel had not been a dream, or if she was, then her dreams had flesh, and were walking among the living.
“What is that smell?” said Doctor Toureil asked.
“Soup sir, would you like some?” Isabella offered politely.
“I will, if there is enough to go around.” he answered. Seeing Isabella and Marie together put him at ease somewhat. A bond, or at least a rapport had formed between them, which rehabilitated Isabella somewhat in Toureil’s eyes.
The three of them sat in a not uncomfortable silence, eating their soup. It was still early morning, and a truly beautiful day, bright and fresh. A blackbird was singing fit to burst in the cherry tree outside.
And Marie felt something inside her grow a little stronger. She turned to look at Toureil.
“Lawrence?” she said.
“Yes petite?” the old man answered.
“I love you.” she said simply.
The doctor nodded sadly “But you have to go.”
Marie nodded, and her eyes were like forest lakes.
There was nothing else to say. The old man let the tears come and opened his arms.
She rushed to fill the space and he held her close, and kissed her hair.
And so the day of departure came. She said her goodbyes to Olivia, Sylvie and Bernadette (the only one she would actually miss.)
“Come back when you have a minute.” Bernadette told her “Come back when we’re both grown up, and we’ll see if we recognise each other.”
Then Marie got into the carriage with Isabella, who gave a command in Spanish. The rider cracked the whip, and Marie watched the backdrop of her life slide past, her cottage, the meadow where she had seen the rabbit, the stone bridge where her father had fought his last battle, the forge, the town square where Robért Hieronimo had met his grisly end, the house on the hill where Monsieur Nogaret had made his lair for so many years, the wall where she had spent so many carefree (and sometimes care-filled) days with the three girls and then she was suddenly in alien country, looking at fields that were not her fields, trees that were unknown to her and the village of her birth was nothing more than a grain of dust over her shoulder, a speck on the line where the sky met the earth.