Nobody thought that was where it was supposed to go, and who’d had the audacity to put it there was a total mystery. The villagers gathered round, eyeing each other surreptitiously, trying to glean a clue as to who the culprit was; or what would be done about it, for it couldn’t stay there. It had been expressly forbidden by, Evan Glenroth, the lord of the manor at the meeting, and even before then. The whispers and outrage had started the minute Melanie had died.
Melanie had never fitted in with the villagers. She had always been different; from her waist long hair that was never tied back, to the boots that she wore all year round, even in the hottest of weathers; and gossip followed her wherever she went. Gossip that was often fuelled more by the fact that she was a single attractive woman, who spurned all men who showed an interest in her, and likewise didn’t make any friends at all; than by any evidence of wrong doing.
Melanie had acquired a working knowledge of all the plants in the surrounding countryside and their uses. Those who were thankful for her talents, because they had used one of her natural remedies to heal an ailment when they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, said it was because she dedicated her life to learning about plants or if pushed suggested she had a gift. Those of a less trusting disposition or who were trying to gain favour with Mr. Glenroth, said it was because she was a witch.
Whatever the truth was behind her abilities it didn’t alter the fact that nobody was prepared to cross the lord of the manor and speak up for her after her death; or so it had seemed until this morning.
The villagers continued to gaze down at the fresh mound of earth and the wooden cross that had the name Melanie carved into it. It was up against the stone wall in a disused corner of the graveyard but it was still on consecrated ground. Nobody spoke; it was as if they were afraid to say anything lest they should be suspected, though a few amongst the crowd did wonder why Father Morris hadn’t come out to investigate the gathering.
“Let me through,” barked a loud voice.
Evan Glenroth, his face turning purple with restrained anger looked at the grave.
“This is an outrage. Get some shovels and move it instantly,” he ordered.
“No.” A single word, spoken so quietly but it was said with such conviction that the authority it carried made itself felt around the crowd and everybody turned to look at the speaker.
There stood Father Morris; his robe brushing the ground, his hair untamed and blowing in the breeze. His usually gentle demeanour was at this moment tinged with a centre of hardness that few had ever witnessed before.
“What did you say?” Mr. Glenroth asked incredulously.
“Melanie is staying there. She is entitled to have a resting place within these walls and I have seen to it that her final wishes have been carried out,” Father Morris answered calmly.
“You put her there? How could you?” the villagers began shouting at the priest.
“She was a witch!” someone shouted.
“No she was not!” Father Morris replied crossly. “Shame on you all, accusing a woman with no evidence; was it not bad enough that you ruined her happiness whilst she was living, that you try and deny her peace in her death too?”
“She knew the ways of the witch, look at all the potions she made,” a small weasel like man said.
“And those potions saved many of you from suffering,” the priest pointed out. “Will you accuse the blacksmith of being the devil just because he works with fire all day?”
Quiet murmurings were his only reply although one or two of the villagers began to look uncomfortable.
“Why did she never attend church?” asked Evan, obviously determined to try to restore his authority.
“She was nervous about being inside crowded buildings, another reason she spent so long wandering the hills for plants. I ministered to her privately in her own home or she came after dark to pray alone when she knew the church would be empty,” Father Morris said with a sigh.
“Why did you not tell us before?” the lord of the manor’s voice was suspicious.
“Melanie did not wish her weakness to be revealed, she said you would accuse her of being unable to enter a church, thus adding to your theories that she was a witch; yes of course she knew what you called her,” he spat out as a few villagers gasped. “After her death you were so busy condemning her that you would not have listened to reason, even if spoken by your priest. So I gave her the service and burial she deserved. She is in this corner, not to keep you happy but because here is the space that she craved in life and none of you are going to take it away from her.”
The fierce expression on Father Morris’ face frightened some of his parishioners and made others admire him. Evan Glenroth turned without another word and stalked off back to his manor.
Father Morris sat up all night, worried in case anyone tried to dig the grave up. However the lack of sleep from the previous night, when he had conducted Melanie’s funeral and burial single handed, meant that he fell asleep just before dawn.
He woke up startled and afraid that damage had been done, but when he glanced at the grave he was gratified to see that not only was the grave intact, there was a small posy of wild flowers leaning against the cross.
Thank you for taking the time to read my short story - I hope you enjoyed it. feel free to leave a comment.