A past-life regression scene (medieval) from Hippies …
Jazmine closed her eyes and began to disappear into the tan acid. Her hips ached. And the joints in her fingers. Bagpipes and bone flutes, tumblers in procession past the front arches of the small church. The circus people were making as much noise as possible to attract an audience, and annoyed geese scattered at the pipes and timbrels, flapping themselves in half-flight to the patchwork warren of rutted alleys and streets spreading out on either side of the church. Jazmine was tempted to smirk at these itinerant performers. “Damned be all these gypsy tramps,” she was thinking. She felt an arthritic pain shoot through her left hip. “So this is what it feels like to be an old woman,” she thought, as she faded into the avatar of a hobbling crone. She eased her aching bulk onto a small, rough-hewed stone wall. “Damn their money-grubbing ways.” A few townspeople gathered about the square as the gypsies circled: artisans in bright tunics and hose, monks in plain brown robes, housewives with gowns and shawls and white caps tied in the back. The traveling circus had caught wind of the Lord Bishop’s visit and smelled a chance to get what copper coins and bartered goods they could from visiting curiosity-seekers and from proud locals, whose native severity was known to yield to a more festive spirit on such occasions. Whether they deserved the old woman’s damnation for thus seeking a ration of daily bread we will leave for the philosophers to decide.
“Ach! Christ’s blood!” said the crone, and she cackled out in laughter. “We’s all the same, aye. Gypsies, Christian, heathens. We draw people in to visit our pretty church so we can take their money in our shops; the gypsy ragamuffins come to take our geld.”
As she rubbed her crusty feet, one at a time, a box turtle wandered through a breach in the stone from the dry grass behind. It plodded along but stopped to look at her skeptically. She kicked it with surprising force for an arthritic, and it landed upside down on its shell, spinning for a moment like a coin. “And damn all the devil’s vermin too.”
This wholesome exercise with the turtle seemed to give her strength. She stood, pulled a twig of oregano, pinched and put it into her pocket, and began hauling herself, hip by hip, past the timber-framed houses thatched with straw and heather. “Aye, hell is for saints and sinner alike. All be damned is justice served. Aye, but what’s this?”
She stopped suddenly and looked diagonally across the square. Jeremiah – Rebecca’s Jeremiah, William’s apprentice – loitered by the irregular limestone blocks of the church’s wall, near the rounded arch of a heavy wooden side door. The crone peered closely and kept up her muttering.
“Aye, I know thy craft. But my boy, my only son, William, is too good for thee. Thou’st so smart with that Rebecca, so cheery, but I know the game. You two’s can be quiet and sneak and talk. Aye, but others can sneak too. And listen. I can hear the demons, Jeremiah and Rebecca. I heard thy devil words, thy will to get rid of William – she the orphan wench that William took in when her curséd father was beat to death. Aye, beat to death fairly for a witch. And now the wench to plot with Herr Brighteyes against my William.”
She crinkled up her voice in mockery. “‘We’ll be free of him tomorrow,’ says he. ‘But what of the Mohametman boy,’ says she. But wait!”
A brown-skinned boy, barely a teenager, had joined Jeremiah at the side of the church. Draped over his small frame was an absurdly rich gown of black and purple, finely trimmed in gold with geometric patterns. Sandals filled smooth, beautiful brown feet. That he was engaged in some secret discourse with Jeremiah was beyond question.
“So that’s the Mohametman to do the trick. A lamb, he appears. Aye, but my William shall not be anyone’s lamb.”
The old woman hitched in closer. She pulled the oregano from her pocket, along with seven scalded black beans she had placed there earlier, and rubbed them vigorously together between her hands to make herself invisible, as local lore would have it. She crept still closer. Jeremiah looked flustered. “In a few hours,” she heard the Mohametman boy say. “After the Lord Bishop’s audience with the Burgermeister.” She was all ears, but her bean-scalding technique must have fallen short, because she was startled by a princely horseman on her heels who apparently found her quite visible.
“Hold thy course, woman,” commanded the horseman. It was Darian, the son of the Lord Bishop, in his own noble dress on a chestnut mare.
“What is thy name, woman?”
“Don’t fool with me. Thy proper name.”
“Guda is my given name m’lord, but all call me Gammer these twenty years past ‘a child-rearing. The other old ladies is Gammer Elsa and Gammer Kate and such, but Gammer Guda is too much for the tongue, your honor. My old man used to say, ‘Christ’s blood, Guda, if ever in thy …’”
Darian cut her off. “Dare you taunt the Lord Bishop’s son with such a blasphemous oath! I should whip thee here and now for thy insolence.” He cracked his whip to emphasize the point.
“Oh, Jesus, m’lord, I mean no insolence. The Lord Bishop is a gentleman, to be sure. As fine a gentleman as that rascal before him, in faith …”
“Hold thy tongue! That man hard by at the church wall just now. Thou wert watching him. Is he of thy household?”
“No kin of mine, m’lord. I wouldn’t claim such a bright-eyed demon for all …”
“What business has he with my father’s boy?”
“How call you him a bright-eyed demon? What knowst thou of him?”
Guda could see that she had revealed too much already. But there was nothing to do but go on.
“Know him!! God’s wounds, m’lord, how should I know him? One can tell by his looks he’s a clever one, m’lord. Lord Jesus bless me if I know such a creature. My old man …” At this second reference to her long late husband – for husband he was in all things but the law – she made the sign of the cross to impress her inquisitor. “My old man used to say when Old Nick gets in a body …”
“God damn thy old man! May he rot in hell!” exclaimed Darian, perturbed by the crone’s loquacity and perhaps exercising with his own oath a right reserved for his rank.
The chestnut mare gave a quick, sudden snort, startling Guda a second time. She staggered but continued.
“Oh, Jesus, m’lord, she’s a pretty one, she …”
Darian wheeled away, unable to withstand the chatter, and in his wake, Guda saw that the Mohametman boy had parted, and Jeremiah had made it just a few steps before Rebecca herself had joined him.
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