Friday, March 31, 2017

Chapter 10 – Saint Rosalba of Grimwood

 Toadmila's hand reached instinctively for the cup of tea, but she stopped halfway.
“If you've got a saint helping you, then why come to me?” she asked.
“Oh, she won't help me with John,” Jane answered smiling, as if that were obvious. “She's your patron saint.”
“There's a patron saint for witches?” Toadmila asked, raising one eyebrow. She was certain that witches were outside the influence of the Church.
“Oh, no, of course not. But you're the witch of Grimwood forest, and she's the patron saint of Grimwood forest.”
Toadmila did not seem convinced.
“Though I suppose she could be the patron saint of witches,” Jane added thoughtfully, “because she was a witch too, or at least people thought she was.”
Toadmila's hand clasped around the cup of tea with sudden determination.
“You don't know the story, do you?” Jane asked.
“I know very little about saints,” Toadmila admitted.
“Well, it was a long time ago. Hundreds of years ago. There was an old woman who lived in a hut in Grimwood forest. Her name was Rosalba, and she lived alone, and the people thought she was a witch, because she looked like one, and then she lived in the forest, and that's what witches do. And one year, there was a terrible drought, and the crops died. So the villagers thought that they'd been cursed, and they went to the which's hut and caught her and brought her to the village and dragged her by her hair to the crossroads that's at the center of the village, and asked her to renounce Satan and to lift the curse and to restore their crops. But she kept saying that she couldn't do it and that she wasn't a witch.
“Of course she wasn't a witch,” Toadmila cut in, taking the cup of tea to her lips. “She wouldn't have been caught by a bunch of villagers if she;d been a witch.”
“Well, you can't know that,” Jane said. “But she really wasn't a witch, because they burned her at the stake and she died and turned to ashes and the curse wasn't lifted at all, and the crops were still dying. And then the villagers went to her hut to find the source of the curse, and when they entered the hut, they found that it was filled with crucifixes and portraits of saints, and they realized that she'd lived her whole life as a God-fearing woman, and they prayed for forgiveness. And when they prayed, dark clouds covered the sky and lightning struck three times, and then it began to rain.”
Jane stopped and looked at Toadmila to see what effect the story was having on her. She seemed to expect some sort of wonder or even bewilderment, but Toadmila was placidly sipping her tea and could not be bothered to reward the storyteller with even the vaguest display of interest in the story.
“It rained for three weeks,” Jane went on, somewhat disheartened, “and the crops drowned entirely, but the drought ended, and so the priest said that this was the mark of Rosalba's forgiveness, and her first miracle.”
Jane stopped again and looked at Toadmila expectantly.
“I see,” Toadmila said, hoping that the girl wouldn't ask her what it was that she saw.
“That's why not a lot of people know about her,” Jane went on, “because you need three miracles to be a real saint, and she only has one. But there are plenty of saints who only achieved their miracles after death, so we believe in her. Here in Petticrop, we call her Saint Rosalba already, and we pray to her for protection when we come into the forest.
“The villagers killed her, and you expect her to protect you?” Toadmila asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Of course. That's what saints do.”

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