Thursday, 6 December 2012

Toil and Trouble

Phew! I managed to complete my Writing History Fiction assignment just in time.
This was one of the most stressful assignments I've had to do since being at university; the third year is really getting to me. Luckily, I'm ahead of the game with my ECP so that's not something I have to worry about right now.
Anyway, this piece was so stressful because writing historical fiction is surprisingly difficult (and probably not helped by the poor organisation of the module). I had never thought about it before, but there is so much research involved, and then the fact that it is in the past is very restricting - there are so many things you have to be wary of, like how people talk, what they use, what they wear, you know, everything! It didn't help that I set mine so far in the past; the 17th Century was definitely a bad idea. I had a work-shopping session with my friends and they picked out a lot things, like bad sentences, spelling errors, boring parts, lack of setting. It just sounded like my whole piece was rubbish. It was helpful, but also a little disheartening. I felt like nothing I had written was very good.
I was ready to throw in the towel and give up.
I didn't though, and I worked very hard on it. Now it's done. I can breathe again. And in the end, after all that, I actually kind of like my piece. It's the beginning of a longer novel about witchcraft and superstitions in the 1600's. And I've just realised how fitting the title is, I did have a lot of toil and trouble of this piece. I am so unintentionally clever!

So give it a read. (it's not as bad as I've made it out to be!)

Toil and Trouble

‘That if any pson or persons after the saide Feaste of Saint Michaell the Archangell next comeing, shall use practise or exercsise any Invocation or Conjuration of any evill and spirit, or shall consult covenant with entertaine employ feede or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or pupose ; or take any dead man woman or child out of his her or theire grave or any other place where the dead body resteth, or the skin, bone or any other parte of any dead person, to be imployed or used in any manner of Witchecrafte, Sorcerie, Charme or Inchantment ; or shall use practise or exercise any Witchcrafte Sorcerie, Charme or Incantment wherebie any pson shall be killed destroyed wasted consumed pined or lamed in his or her bodie, or any parte therof.’
An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and Dealing with Evil and Wicked Spirits, 1604

Lancaster, England
20th August 1612
The wind blew violently through the trees as Isabel caught her first glimpse of the gallows. She stood as straight as her bonds would allow her. It did not matter what they said. She knew she was innocent.
December 1608
Fire crackled in the hearth. Inviting light licked the sides of the stone walls and chased shadows away. The rabbit roasting on the hot broach filled the room with delicious scents that even the fullest belly would not be able to resist. Isabel savoured the smell of freshly cooked food and the warmth on her legs. That winter had been unforgiving and she had no money for food, or any of the herbs for her remedies. Despite wearing her thickest woollen petticoat and shift, the cold air bit at her limbs. Rubbing her legs with stiff arms, she sighed with pleasure as Mary fretted around her.
‘You know you should not be here, Isabel,’ she said, her voice rising high with panic.
                Isabel looked over to her goddaughter. Mary’s slight figure and silken hair were reason for her many admirers in Windel. But to Isabel it was the beauty of her face that made her so lovely. Mary had inherited her mother’s dark eyes and rosy lips, a pairing that never ceased to trap men of all ages under her spell. Now, however, Mary’s brows met in the middle and her eyes darted to the door. She sat in her chair, stood, paced around the room, and then sat again. She repeated this motion four times until Isabel finally spoke.
                 ‘My dear, he won’t be back until nightfall. Cease your worry.’ Isabel rose and rested her hands on Mary’s tense shoulders. Her body was rigid for a moment before she curled into Isabel’s comforting arms.
                ‘He’ll be back soon, and then it will start once more.’
Isabel smoothed her goddaughter’s hair and sang softly to her:

‘And I was lost and
In her spell
I floated high
Before I fell
Into love
We lay
In the shade
Of the trees
Entranced by her I
Gave my all
Entranced by her I gave.’

Once Isabel had finished singing Mary looked up at her. She opened her mouth to speak but Isabel would never find out what she was going to say. The door flew open suddenly. Isabel and Mary turned as one to face the man in the door-place.  Cold air rushed in and the fire flickered dangerously in the hearth.
‘Peter,’ Mary began, but he did not look at her. His bleary eyes focused slowly on Isabel and she knew what was going to happen. The dark, sour stains down the front of his linen shirt that could be seen through his unbuttoned coat, the shaking hands, and bloodshot eyes made Isabel’s stomach turn. He was drunk.
‘It is true then, the devil woman has been visiting my own home whilst I have been away,’ he said, each word slurred into the next.
‘No, Peter, it’s not –’ Mary started, as she hurried to take his snow covered hat and coat.
‘Out!’ he interrupted her, pointing one fat finger at Isabel. ‘Get out of my house.’
His face was reddened with rage and too many days of drinking ale. Mary faltered, one hand holding limply onto his hat. The smell of burning rabbit filled the air as Peter stared down at Isabel. Rearranging her skirts, Isabel climbed to her feet and faced him, taking care not to breathe in the sour stench of sweat and alcohol. Peter swayed on his feet.
‘You should rest, you drunken lout, or you will be ill tomorrow,’ Isabel snapped.
‘What? Are you threatening me?’
‘No, I’m – ’
‘Get out,’ he interrupted again. ‘Get out, you witch.’
Mary gasped but Isabel was prepared for the slander. She straightened as much as her aching bones would allow, refusing to show any pain.
‘I was just leaving, Chaddock.’ They faced each other, eye to eye, barely breathing, before Peter spat at her. The thick, brown drop landed on her shoe. Isabel pulled back her lips in distaste. Sneering, Peter stumbled over to a chair by the fire and started poking at the ruined rabbit. Mary stared down at Isabel’s feet; the hat now lay forgotten on the floor. With a pained look she motioned towards the door.
‘I am sorry,’ she mouthed.  Grabbing her cloak, Isabel gave her a silent nod in reply. There was no ill feeling between them; Isabel knew that her goddaughter was trapped. Opening the door, Isabel let another blast of cold air rush around the room. This time the fire went out.
‘You blew out my fire. Witch! Witch!’ Peter screamed, leaping from his chair. Mary let out a breath of surprise. Hurriedly, she grabbed at Peter, trying to pull him back down into his chair, to hush him. Isabel threw Mary a grateful look before sweeping out the door, her skirts and cape swirling around her. The door closed with a bang. Out in the street many people had gathered.  They whispered behind their hands, their eyes wide.
‘I heard witch,’ one man said.
‘Who’s the witch?’ asked another.
As they saw Isabel their faces paled. Margaret Lyon crossed herself. Jane Wilkinson grabbed her children’s hands and dragged them away, their feet slipping in the snow. Isabel walked boldly down the cobbled street. The villagers of Windel may whisper about witches and black magic but all were too frightened to face Isabel Robey and accuse her so brazenly. They would bide their time. They would condemn her in the end.


The following weeks were bitter cold and terrible storms overwhelmed the village. Trees were stripped naked and torn from their roots, the rivers had frozen over, becoming slick and perilous, and houses were buried deep under mounds of snow. This disastrous weather caused Isabel difficulties in finding the herbs she needed. She could no longer sell her remedies to the villagers, though most were now wary of her cures.  The pains in her bones were growing worse. Her back was stooped and she limped heavily on her left leg. She yearned for a fire and a tender piece of meat to cook. But she could not collect the fire wood herself, and her riches were too few – she could not afford any pigeon or fish. Stale bread and water, melted from the snow, were all she could have. Starving and pained her heart grew weary. Isabel pined for the comfort of her goddaughter. Ever since the brute, Chaddock, had accused her of witchcraft she had steered clear of him and Mary but she could bare it no longer. On good days, when the wind wasn’t so cold and snow fell lightly, she would walk the streets of Windel desperate to catch a glimpse of her.
One morning, when the sun had only just risen, she wandered down to Saint Helen’s chapel, the frost biting at her toes. Her grey hair whipped around her face refusing to stay in place under her coif. Few villagers were out and Isabel was grateful. Their whispers and stares affected her more than she cared to admit. She had reached the iron gates of the chapel when Mary appeared before her.
‘Oh, Mary, dear, I have been so worried.’
Isabel made to hug her, but she moved quickly out of her reach. A piercing pain struck Isabel’s chest, and she found it hard to breathe. She looked upon her goddaughter with confusion. Mary was drawn and her skin a sickly pallor. Her eyes were downcast and even though she tried to hide them with her sleeves, Isabel saw the marks that covered her pale arms.
‘It is nothing,’ Mary hastily said, noticing Isabel’s gaze.
‘Nothing?’ Isabel started, reaching out for her once more.
‘Yes, nothing. Isabel, I’ve come to warn you. If Peter ever sees you near me again he will not be pleased. He will be dangerous.’
Isabel wanted to argue but seeing the fear in her goddaughter’s eyes stopped her.
‘But I can help you,’ Isabel said and she finally grabbed Mary’s hand in her own.
‘I do not need help. I am his wife and it is my duty.’ She said it strongly, but Isabel saw her lips tremble. Pulling her hand out of Isabel’s grasp broke the bond that they had shared. With a sad smile Mary turned and walked down the road, away from Isabel. She did not look back. Isabel watched as she disappeared into the swirling snow.


Returning home, Mary met with Peter pacing in the kitchen. He stopped and turned on her, eyes flashing. The strong smell of ale burned at her nostrils. He grabbed her shoulders fiercely.
‘Did you tell her?’ he asked, spittle flying from his mouth. His fingertips pressed into the soft flesh of her arms and Mary knew she would have more marks tomorrow.
‘I told her,’ she cried out. ‘I told her!’
This seemed to satisfy Peter and he let her go. She collapsed onto the dirty tiled floor. Tears prickled at her eyes. She had just warned off her closest friend and ally. She was alone.
‘Pour me some ale,’ her husband ordered as he lowered himself into a chair by the fire. Brushing down her skirts Mary clambered to her feet. Her hands shook as she reached for the cask of ale and tankard. Tears slipped down her cheeks and she could not help the small sob escape from her lips. Across the room, Peter’s head turned.
‘Is there a problem?’ he spoke slowly. Mary shook her head, eyes on the floor. ‘Are you crying because of that crone?’
She shook her head again. Peter was up and next to her. Strong hands forced her chin up. His large, heavily-lined face loomed in front of hers, eyes narrowed. A dirty nailed finger wiped away a tear as it rolled down her cheek, a gesture of mock kindness. His hands caressed her cheek and along her jaw, then down her throat. The hair on the back of her neck prickled. Suddenly, his hands tightened around her neck. The tankard dropped to the floor with a crash.
‘Do you love her more than me?’ he growled. The blood pounded in her head and she fought for breath. ‘Do you?’ He gripped her neck further.
‘N-no,’ she choked out. Her vision was fading when he finally released her. She fell to her knees. Before she could catch her breath, Peter yanked her to her feet again and dragged her to their bedchamber. She clawed at his hands pathetically. If he wanted her there was nothing she could do to stop him. With cruel strength he threw her onto their bed. He was on her in moments, pulling at the ties of her apron. She struggled beneath him, becoming tangled in the folds of their bed-clothes. Pinning her down with his legs, he lifted her petticoats and shift. With one hand he held her arms above her head as he reached down between their bodies to untie his breeches. Mary lay limp, looking past Peter, staring at the ceiling, willing herself to be somewhere else. She closed her eyes and waited for the moment.
And waited.
Slowly she opened her eyes. Peter was still above her, body frozen, his head bent to one side. His lips pulled back into a feral snarl, his eyes filled with hate.
‘My neck,’ he groaned, ‘it has gone stark. I cannot move it.’ He crawled off her, his neck stuck at an odd angle. Mary looked down upon her husband lying on the floor groping at his neck, relief washing over her.
‘This is that witch’s doing! She’s worked her sorcery upon me,’ Peter cried out. ‘I’ll kill her.’

A quick rap at the door surprised Isabel. No one ever visited her house. Her heart skipped a beat. Perhaps it was Mary. Hurriedly, she put away her mortar and pestle, careful not to spill any of the Herb Bennet. She straightened her dress and opened the door. Snowflakes drifted in on the breeze. Isabel’s heart dropped. It was not Mary. It was a strange man she had seen before in the village; he claimed to be a wise-man. He had oily grey hair with a long beard. His body was hidden beneath a thick, black travelling cloak. A yellow-toothed grin stretched across his narrow face.
‘Isabel Robey, my name is James Glover,’ he said politely. He made to enter the house but Isabel blocked him. His smile faltered but he continued. ‘Mister Chaddock has asked for my aid, he says you have bewitched him.’
Isabel snorted. ‘That oaf deserves everything he gets, but his grievances are not by my doing.’ She made to close the door, but Glover stuck his boot in.
‘Isabel, the village calls upon me as the wise-man to sort out their problems.’
‘I know what you say you are,’ she said, but he ignored her.
‘They understand my ways, the use of my charms to help their families and livestock against any ills. But they do not understand you.’
‘I am not a witch, Glover. I have my remedies and that is all.’
‘That is not what they say in the village. Many are wary of you, some frightened. But soon they will grow angry and reckless, especially if Chaddock has his way.’
Isabel was not scared of Chaddock, or of anything he may do to her. It was Mary that she was fearful for. She nodded to Glover.
‘I am not a witch, and I did not harm Chaddock, but I shall watch myself.’
‘I am glad,’ he said as he gave her a hard stare. ‘Be careful Isabel Robey, our magic is a treacherous gift.’ He added, before walking down the hill to Windel.
                Isabel closed the door and leant against it, her chest tight.
Peter Chaddock would not rest until she was dead.


                 Mary visited her five days later.
                 Isabel’s aches had become too sore for her to leave her one-roomed house; she huddled beneath heavy woollen blankets by a meagre fire, desperate for warmth. Her stomach growled loudly and she wondered when she had last had anything other than mouldy bread. There was a knock at the door but Isabel did not move. If it was a villager asking for help she would be of no use, and she did not want to see James Glover again. She had given up hope on seeing Mary. There was creaking as the door handle was twisted. Eyes wide, Isabel watched as the door opened. The miserable fire flickered in the wind. Mary stood in the door-place, a frown marring her beautiful features. She saw Isabel lying on the floor and gasped.
                ‘Isabel, oh, Isabel. Please be well,’ she cried as she ran to her. Isabel welcomed her goddaughter’s embrace. Tears ran down her gaunt face.
                ‘Mary dear, I am fine, if not a little chilled.’
                ‘Oh, sorry,’ Mary said and quickly closed the door. Together they sat on the floor by the fire and Isabel felt warmer than she had in many days. She cried more when she saw Mary had brought slices of salted meat with freshly baked bread, and a flask of ale. Eating greedily she listened as Mary told her of Chaddock’s pained neck and how they called upon the wise-man, Glover. He had said Isabel was no witch and if Chaddock were to pray he would be better within the week. He had awoken that morning with full health.
                ‘He was in such a fine mood, he did not mind my leaving. Though I did not say it was to meet you,’ she said with a sly wink.
                Isabel finished off the bread and took a swig of ale. While Mary had been talking Isabel had been looking for the marks on her goddaughter’s arms. They were there, but faded. What scared her were the angry purple ones on Mary’s slender neck. Isabel smiled at Mary but could only think of how she was going to punish Peter Chaddock.
A pained neck would be the least of his grievances when she was done.

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