JEHANNA DEFIES THE ELDERS
Soon the priest left Jehanna’s home and went back to the stone-walled church overlooking the sea. Meanwhile, the days passed with foul weather and thick fog and still there was no sight of the husbands returning from their venture over the waves.
Jehanna, as well as the other fisher-wives, grew increasingly anxious. Indeed their anxiety grew so great that a number of women appealed to the village Elders, asking if they might send for the priest of Orgham to see if he might divine a reason for their husbands’ strange delay. But the Elders did not trust the priest, for in his acts of charity and sacrifice, they perceived an influence beyond their own.
And so, one after one, they shook their aged heads and spoke thus to the number of ragged mothers and children assembled before them: “We shall not send for the priest but wait on the gods’ provision. It is through their blessings we have prospered. It will be our faith and our patience which will reward us. Take heart now, the lot of you, lest you frighten the children further and yourselves give into despair.”
Chastised and unhappy, the fisher-wives returned to their homes, there to wait for the return of the men and console their frightened, hungry children alone. Jehanna, too, held tightly the small hand of her child as they returned to their home on the edge of the village square, but when they had entered into the dim interior of the hut, her son yanked his hand from her grasp and fled to the warmth of their bed.
“Papa! I want Papa!” He wailed, great tears of grief falling from his eyes. “Make him come home!”
Jehanna’s heart ached to see her son distraught. Her hands clenched by her sides as she, too, fought against hot tears. In truth, more than sorrow, she felt wrath coiling like a viper ready to strike deep in her spirit. On the hearth, she caught sight of the wooden toy the priest had carved and wanted nothing more than to toss the small thing into the flames. The bittersweet memories of her own childhood were all that stayed her hands.
As she lingered near the hearth, her son’s wailing quieted to sobs, then snores as the exhaustion of the day came upon him. By that time, Jehanna had reached a decision. She would go back to the stone church and speak to the priest without the blessings of the Elders. It seemed to her they cared little for the pain of the wives and children of Reine.
While her child slumbered, Jehanna prepared some provision for her journey to the cliff overlooking the sea. She packed first any food she could spare for she remembered well how bare the priest’s larder had been, added flint for fire making, and wrapped them in a folded cloth inside a thick blanket. She dressed in her warmest clothing, with a covering of undyed wool for her hair, and then went to inquire of her neighbor the favor of watching over her child while she was gone.
Once the kindly old woman agreed, Jehanna thanked her and returned to her home to retrieve her bundle of supplies. Again, she caught sight of the toy by the hearth.
Her throat filled with emotion as she picked up the little carving and turned it gently in her hand. Memories of her childhood on the roads of Ilissen rose up like plumes of smoke. She saw again the woman who cared for her, her weathered face creased with age and hardship, rubbing her hands with oil to keep them from aching. She heard the lilting voices of the others while they sang and laughed long into the night. The woody smell of campfires mixing with the sweetness of riisa flowers, the nectar of the blooms forever dying her fingers red…
Jehanna stroked the graceful curve of the winged beast’s neck and went to place it beside her son where he lay in fitful sleep. After kissing her child’s head, Jehanna stepped away and gathered her bundle. She paused before crossing the threshold of her home, uttering her first prayer in many years.
“May the Lord of the dark, warm earth protect you with His flames, little one, that none come close to you that would do you harm.”
Then she was outside the hut, awash in the fiery glow of the sun as it began its long descent into the sea. With its ruddy light guiding her way, Jehanna passed through the village as quickly as she could without arousing attention. There were a few women still working – one was finishing the hem of a much-mended net, while another called her children in a meager evening meal. All the women she passed looked much the same, eyes downcast, their rounded shoulders heavy with the weight of missing husbands, brothers, or sons…
The refusal of the Elders to intervene on their behalf had taken its toll on them and seeing it so plainly made the embers of Jehanna’s wrath roar to life once more.
I will go to the priest for their sakes and for mine, she thought. And then the Elders will see. They will see that one cannot rely on Providence alone but must take fate in hand oneself.
When she exited the village and placed her feet at last upon the path to the church, Jehanna stepped lightly and quick. Her mind hummed in eager concentration on her task. Only one soul saw her passing and counted it strange – a sharp-eyed widow by the name of Taim. With interest, Taim watched Jehanna disappearing along the path and moved to follow her like a shadow in the falling dark.
To Be Continued…
Copyright © J.S. White