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Unconditional Love… Perhaps

By @audrey_bos

Unconditional Love… Perhaps

By: Audrey Bos

(991 words)

As the moments pass, my corset begins to feel tighter and tighter. I take a step forward in the line of villagers, awaiting my sentence. It’s the time of Autumn again, and even the women are subjected to the prospect of punishment for past crimes.

“Name?” The woman in front of me shakily gives the man her name and he waves her on, finding nothing on her record.

“Name?”

My heart beats frantically in my chest.

“Miss, your name?”

“It’s Ma’am, actually.” I scoff, surely he knows my husband!

“I apologize Ma’am. Your name?”

“Elizabeth Baxter. Wife of Arthur Baxter of Kingsley.” Hiding my shaking hands behind my back, I dread the words that come next.

“Elizabeth Baxter, wife of Arthur Baxter of Kingsley, you have been accused of infidelity.” His face holds a straight expression as I feel my clammy hands clasped tightly behind my back and my hair being grabbed by the roots, tearing at the elegant plait.

“No!” I plead, feeling the blood rush from my head, leaving me dizzy. “This is a misunderstanding! You have to let me explain, please try to understand!” My screams attract attention, but I don’t stop until my beautiful face hits the hard ground of the cell that I’m thrown into.

My skirt billows around my as I sit up on the impenetrable floor and put my head in my hands. It’s all a cruel misinterpretation, really!

My mind is whisked back to that day, almost 3 months ago.

~

“Oliver, can you please collect some more wood, for the stove? Elizabeth and I are prepared to begin cooking.” Mary was my best friend. We had known each other since we were children, we saw each other get married, and we visit each other often, taking turns to cook for our husbands.

Oliver, along with Arthur walk out the door, leaving us women in comfortable silence. Mary hums as she works and I grin at her lovely tune.

“I really do love Arthur,” I say, leaning against the slightly warm oven to look out the window at our husbands working, dragging the wheelbarrows into town.

“Good thing you married him then!” Mary quits her tune to tell me, her back towards me, I can tell she’s smiling.

Hours later, the sun is almost set, the stove is cooling down and bones from our cooked and seasoned duck are scattered over platters on the table.

Although we are full and sleepy, Mary jumps up from the table in shock. “Dear Lord, I forgot that Alys wanted me to help her clear the vendor from the market tonight! It was her first day and I hate leaving her, I can’t believe I forgot!” Mary continues to babble as she hastily grabs a shawl, coat and hat before kissing Oliver and rushing out the door.

Quietly, the men pour more Ale and converse over production and trade as I clear the table and hum the same tune as Mary, several hours earlier.

After another glass of alcohol, I can feel Arthur’s hand on my waist and soft lips on my cheek. “I’m going home to sleep. The ships come in early tomorrow. Are you going to wait up for Mary?”

“Yes, I think I will.” I turn to kiss him. “I’ll meet you soon.”

He shuts the door quietly behind him, and I turn my back to the table once again. Continuing the same song, several moments later, I feel another hand on my waist, but it’s not Arthur, because he left, it’s not Mary, why would it be? Plus, this hand is a lot rougher.

“Elizabeth.” My name erupts from his lip in a lustful growl. “You know you are beautiful, yes?” I feel his lips on my neck and I survey my options. I could use my elbow, foot, head, but he must have sensed all my precautionary thoughts, because he quickly spins me and pins my hands between the wall and myself.

Before I have time to do anything his lips are hungrily covering mine, the disgusting taste of him filling my mouth, and I swear I’m trying to move away, but his hands are stilling my head and his body pins mine against the wall.

At that moment, the door swings open, and thank God, I’m saved, but that’s when I hear skin on skin as Arthur punches Oliver, and then another as his hand collides with my face.

After that, it took months to persuade him to even listen to my side of the story, let alone believe me, and I knew that as the criminal punishment came nearer, my name would be scored, and I would die for my ‘unholy sins’.

For 3 months, my best friend would refuse to talk to me, and the weird looks I’ve gained around town makes me realize this isn’t a secret incident.

~

The next morning, I’m pulled from the cell, my hands and feet bonded in stocks in the middle of town, pointed and laughed at by villagers.

Suddenly, Arthur is by my side, anger seeping through his eyes. “I really thought you loved me Elizabeth.”

“I thought you loved me! Why wouldn’t you even listen to my side! It was Oliver – I did not want what happened to me that night! You have to believe me!” Tears stream onto the dust.

But he simply walks away, leaving me with no choice but to look at the menacing Ballista that’s staring me down. The first tomato splatters across my face – ow. Another, and another, soon children are throwing stones, women and whispering and men stand around drinking Ale and laughing, including Arthur and Oliver. When I’m removed from the stocks and thrown back into the cell, I know that tomorrow, the gallows are next.

However, I smile to myself. They think my world will soon come to an end. But what they didn’t know was that my world ended almost 3 months ago.

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