by Tracy Fells
When it was time for her confinement the women took possession of his wife. Amongst his estate workers and the village menfolk, he asked God for a son, a longed-for heir, forcefully declaring his prayers out loud in the manor’s church. Alone, he knelt before the silver cross, hidden securely behind the oak-paneled walls, with hands clenched, silently begging St Margaret to safely deliver the mother, with or without a living child.
From the moment she had felt that first quickening, he sought comfort in his family’s religion. Still a girl herself, with such small hands and a waist to match, he feared the birth would tear her apart. In passion she roared like a lioness, but from her chambers now echoed the shrieks of a wounded animal. He first learned of St Margaret’s fate from his own mother, a fireside story told with frightening relish. How a dragon had gobbled up the saint, but in disgust quickly regurgitated her — his favourite part of the tale — because of the crucifix she carried. Henceforth, all women prayed for their babies to be spat out as easily as St Margaret from the dragon’s belly. Or they had prayed, in the times when saints and relics were freely cherished.
With eyes closed, his fingers felt for the letters etched into the amulet, a treasure worth more than its golden weight. Recited forwards or backwards, the Latin text read the same, which he chanted like a spell. The acorn shaped amulet was worn smooth by the touch of forgotten women, he could feel the indents of their desperation. In his hands it was a symbolic token; in hers it could be salvation.
The midwives scowled when he entered the birthing sanctum, his presence unwanted. Thomas was a dangerous man; he truly believed in his faith, and he loved his young wife. He risked everything, including all of their lives, with his lovesick heresy. The fetid air of a torturous night drenched the girl and her bedclothes. The women whispered that it wouldn’t be much longer, that her pain would end with either the birth, or her death. Whatever came first would be a blessing.
He pushed them away to slip the amulet into her damp hand, where it took on her shape. Forwards or backwards, the prayer’s forbidden power would save his wife. He kissed her slender fingers as they curled around his own.
Tracy Fells is a flash and micro fiction addict with over 100 short stories published online and in print journals. Her novella-in-flash Hairy On The Inside is now available from Ad Hoc Fiction. She tweets as @theliterarypig.
Photograph of Reliquary Pendant of the Holy Thorn, Asset number 31630001; Museum number 1902,0210.1, © The Trustees of the British Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).