The Dew Pond
Wiltshire Chalk Downs – August 1646
“Devil take it!” Margary staggered;
her chalk caked skirts caught underfoot in the dark. Alas, the slippery
was against her and she tumbled head over heels into the dew pond.
She choked on foetid water, her
hands tangling in water weeds and slime. Laughter rang out through the
“All of a ruckle again, eh?” Hannah
extended a hand so pale it appeared spectral. That was nothing new for
Dartnell, whose chalk white colouring and red flecked eyes pegged her
changeling since she first drew breath. She smirked as Margary
squelched to her
feet. “It’s no fault of mine if you can’t keep your feet, Margary
Cripps - and
under a full moon too, it’s bright as day.”
“That’s the problem, everything
looks white under this light.”
“First time I’ve blended in then.
Stir your stumps, we’ve got snares to check and not long to do it.”
Margary’s hair dripped slime when
she shook her head. Meanwhile Hannah’s snowy tresses sprang loose from
bonnet, giving her the air less a shepherd’s daughter than a sprite of
the sodden skirts that entangled her feet, Margary scrabbled in the
fingers wriggled in the mud like bait worms, before closing upon
hard. It was still in her grasp when she hauled herself to her feet,
with filth and duckweed.
A shriek rent the air.
“A hare! Quick.” Hannah grinned
fierce as a fox and darted off, leaving Margary to tramp along behind.
dragged along the hill fold, ignoring fox screams whilst she wiped pond
from her salvaged prize. It sat heavy in her palm, two clasped hands
by a heart, all glinting in the moonlight.
gasped, staring at more gold than she had seen since the parson melted
king’s altar cross.
“Margary, you waiting for the
“Be there dreckly.” Slipped her
treasure into her pocket, Margary followed.
was crouched, checking the twisted wire they had lain two nights prior.
straightened, her lips snarling in disgust.
“Not so much as a coney. Let’s check
Margary nodded, following in
Hannah’s wake across the moon drenched grass. Here and there a fox
but their snares remained empty.
pre-dawn when Margary slipped home and a scrambling from the garden
eye. There sat a hare, its fur black as midnight. The creature met her
never blinking until Margary darted inside.
“Mine, it be mine, it can never be yorn!”
of black hair filled the freezing water, playing through Margary’s
ensnaring her limbs. She struggled, opened her mouth to scream, only
for it to
fill with the taste of rot.
he be mine! He gave it me!”
face thrust into Margary’s own. Bulging eyes, their dark centres
red, glared into her own. Blue lips parted, giving vent to a wail that
through the waters between them, redolent with fear and rage. The head
back, revealing a neck disfigured with bruises, black and purple finger
blotched and bloated as they reached to crush the caved in windpipe.
gave them me! He gave it me, it be mine, it can never be yorn!”
No lollygagging girl!”
Margary jerked bolt upright under
“On my way, Mam.” Margary forced her
breathing to slow, even though ice water pounded through her veins.
Early morning it may be, but the
broiling heat already rendered the loft airless. Sweat poured from
whilst she groped for her gown of the night before, the mud encrusting
dried enough for her to brush off. Her heart sank at the prospect of
russet in this heat, but her head provided no alternative.
When she emerged into the garden the
sun’s heat hit her like a body blow. The air hung blanket heavy over
thick with the drunken buzzing of bees.
With Mam already busy weeding the
beans, Margary hauled a bucket free of the wasp-ridden early fallers
apple tree. They wouldn’t be missed by the look of their ripening
cider of which should pay enough to get them through the winter.
herself. Four years of soldiers marching through, stealing all they
had taught her the danger of hanging her hopes on that. In the
awaited feeding in the piggery at the back of the garden, her curling
twitching with impatience.
When Margary emptied the slops into
her trough Polly grunted, but showed little other signs of
preferring to devote herself to lining her sty with yet more straw. She
restlessly about her task, milk glistening on her swollen teats.
Sunday at the latest I’ll be bound.
“God’s grace to all.” Hannah strode
down the lane, a wide brimmed hat shielding her white skin and
eyes. Margary waved, feeling ruddy heat squeeze into her face from
bound inch of her flesh.
“God’s grace.” Mam called, “what
brings you down to the village so early? Your folks all well, I trust?”
“Yes Goody Cripps, but Ma said you’d
be needing more than prayers to deliver Goody Alder’s latest and what
Polly here due soon too she sent me with these.” Hannah rooted around
in a pack
from her back, extracting a package wafting the pungent scent of tansy
“How thoughtful.” Ma’s smile faded
as her eyes slid past the garden. “Goody Sexton, is there something I
Hannah whirled. The wizened Goody
Sexton stood in the lane; crossed fingers pointed directly at her.
repressed a grin at the crone’s discomfiture but said nothing as her
raised her chin and handed her packet to Mam.
“Send her my thanks.” Mam riffled
through the packet’s contents. She frowned. “Juniper?”
“Sarah Lacock’s been looking peaky
since she was walking out with Jonny Wilton and what with him gone to
Gloucester for an apprentice now…” Hannah giggled whilst Margary’s Mam
“Thank ee Hannah. Care to catch your
breath before you climb back up to the Downs?”
Hannah shook her head. “I’ve got a
bundle o’ washing to get done in the stream afore I go back though.”
of shade and cool water filled Margary’s mind.
“We’ve got quite a pile ourselves,
I’ll come long wi’ you if you like.”
frowned, but Margary bolted to gather laundry before she had a chance
As the two girls tramped down the
lane, Margary fought against wilting in the growing heat. Beside her
pulled the brim of her hat down as low as it would go, her eyes set
The first children’s mutters were
easily lost amongst the cricket’s song, although Hannah’s face
were not lost on her. When the first flint clattered into her skirts
whirled, pack and all, to grab two small children mid-flight.
“God curse the pair of ‘ee! Don’t
‘ee know the devil hungers for brattles souls?”
She gave the boys a shake before
releasing them to flee. Claps and a laugh rang through the leaden air.
“You keep a tart tongue yet, Mistress
Dartnell.” Rob Amor sauntered towards them, a handsome sight with his
flashing and black hair neatly cut under his ears. Margary’s mouth
dried as she
looked up into his face, colour flooding her face.
“Away wi ye, young Sergeant.” Hannah
stuck her tongue out, then simpered up at Rob. “I can answer insults
any way I
“No doubt,” Rob sobered. “But it
might not be wise to threaten Satan’s wrath, not with Master Hopkins
“The witch finder?” Margary asked,
ignoring Hannah’s glare. “We thought he was rooting out the devil’s
Oxford now the King’s brought to heel.”
“He was, but the county justices
decided we needed his services here,” Rob made a face, then turned to
“Either way, it’s as well for good folk to be a little careful,
tongues being what they are.”
Hannah nodded, a smile flashing
across her face as their eyes met. Margary shifted from foot to foot.
“Mistresses.” Rob doffed his hat and left
followed his progress through lowered eyes, then tramped on under the
relentless sun, collapsing on the riverbank when they finally arrived.
and alder sprang up all around, shading them in the cooler air around
the packs full of clothes and linens took until the sun was well past
which time Margary’s arms were numb with pounding She lowered herself
on to a
smooth looking rock, her hands thrust into the pockets of her gown.
what’s that?” She leaned over to peer at a trinket which glinted gold
Margary drew it from the gown pocket. Hannah gasped as the exquisitely
hands and heart flashed in the dappled light. Margary shivered at the
the girl from her nightmare flashing through her mind. She shook her
fearful dreams replaced by reminders of the slender thread keeping her
from starvation this winter. Just one storm, a murrain or another
soldiers storming through the village and . . . she shoved the clasp
dredged it up from the dew pond last night. Worth a dunking, eh?”
warmed Margary at Hannah’s silent pout.
washing now gathered, the girls scrambled up the bank. It was only when
turned back that her veins froze and her breath caught in her throat.
the bank of the stream, a black hare sat in the hedgerow, its eyes
“Mine, it be mine, it can never be yorn!”
hair snagged around Margary’s throat, blinding her as putrid water
nose and throat. Margary screamed, only for her cries to be drowned by
spectre before her.
It be mine!”
The girl’s eyes blazed red, her mouth
gaped as another hare’s shriek rang out. The waters between them pulsed
gave it me! Give it back lest it cost you all that it cost me!”
The world splintered. Jagged scars
seared vivid white across a black night. Margary shot upright on her
her ears ringing with the echo of the thunderclap.
Squeals of terror erupted from the
garden. Lightning flashed. Answering thunder slammed through the air.
charged outside, her head ringing whilst smoke burned her throat.
Sheets of rain lashed down, whilst
the split apple tree crackled with flame, spitting sparks into the
They spread like glowing poison over a garden so parched that the rain
little to restrain flames that feasted upon crops Margary had tended
Screams from Polly’s sty cut through
farrowing, I can’t move her with all this!” Mam screamed through the
Margary coughed, fighting to
breathe, but she lunged towards her mother.
Flames reared around them, famished
fingers groping for sustenance whilst rain sheeted through the air.
away from Mam’s grip, pulling her off her feet. Margary struggled to
to sink knee deep in the sty filth.
The world split into shards, all
zigzagging across the sky. Margary was thrown from her feet, slamming
through the back wall of the sty. Her head rang from the after effects
lightning strike which finally silenced Polly, leaving leaping flames
The stench of charred flesh still
befouled the air come morning, combining with smoke fumes to render
nearly impossible. By the mercy of god, the fire hadn’t reached their
Margary’s heart sank at the blasted remains of the garden.
charcoal remains of the apple tree lay strewn about ashes that should
the family over the winter. Unable to raise her eyes to the ruined
the pig sty, Margary swallowed her sobs, ignoring the burning lump that
blocked her throat.
Her mind raced, but nothing they
could sell would bring enough to replace what the storm had destroyed.
Mam moaned from the blackened porch
where she lay on a pallet. Margary hurried to attend to her, wincing
gold clasp thumped against her thigh.
Make that one thing worth selling, if it
stays safe until michaelmas market.
suffused her veins as the pond hag swam before her eyes. She shuddered,
Mam moaned again.
Margary sat down upon the pallet,
unwinding the linen bandage that bound her mother’s arm. Mam gritted
but Margary pursed her lips, then tugged at the linen where it stuck to
wound. Mam yelped.
“You should learn to wield a gentler
hand my girl. Hannah can show you when she gets here.” She sighed when
settled upon Margary, then gasped at the sight of her seared arm.
“I’ll be careful, but we’ve got to
get your bindings changed.”
Mam cracked a smile.
“Don’t teach me to suck eggs Margary
Cripps, I’ve been tending worse than this since I barely came up to
“Then hold still while I clean it.”
Margary reached into the bucket at her feet and fished out a clean
“Ah, but that looks sore. Can I
help?” Hannah hurried through the ashes of the garden. Mam’s lips
“I’ve lived through worse, mi’
love.” She jerked against Margary’s attempt to bind her arm.
“Here, let me.” Hannah’s white hands
brushed Margary’s aside, to a sigh of relief from Mam. Margary bit her
Hannah’s answering smile.
“To think one wild night could cause
all this.” Hannah shook her head.
Aside from an occasional raindrop
glistening under the now bluebell sky, there was nothing outside the
property to indicate anything amiss. The neighbours’ gardens grew in
abundance, tended by families reluctant to look upon their neighbour’s
“I know it's not much, but I thought
you could use this.” Hannah drew a bundle from her cloak.
Margary’s breath stopped. Hannah
gripped a dead hare by the ears, swinging it in mid-air between them.
was a perfect midnight black, marred only by bloodied foam at the mouth
“Odd looking thing, but that won’t
matter once it’s in the pot. Here, you alright?”
Margary nodded, stuttering thanks
through a parched mouth. She bit back a scream when the golden clasp in
pocket jabbed into her thigh.
“Margie?” Hannah’s expression
demanded an explanation. Margary hesitated, but Mam lay in a deep
leaned forward, apprising Hannah of everything that had happened since
night on the Downs.
“Well, this thing isn’t going
anywhere,” Hannah strung the poached hare up over the hearth. “You
it back.” Her eyes dropped to the bulge in Margary’s pocket, glittering
sudden interest. “Or if you’re scared to go up there, I could always…”
“Thank ‘ee, no,” Margary clutched at
the clasp, visions of a selling price fit to see the Cripps through the
filling her head. “This be my muckle.”
Hannah glowered then directed a
brilliant smile over Margary’s shoulder.
if it ain’t Rob Amor, quite the swaggering sargeant this morning.” She
smoothing down her cloak.
flushed through every inch of Margary’s face. She scrambled to her
painfully aware of a gown smeared with ash, mud and blood.
thank ‘ee Mistress Dartnell, but I’m just here to pay my respects to
Cripps'. Who’d a thought such a storm could ruin just one property.”
blush deepened, but she managed to flash a smile at Rob. He doffed his
one?” Hannah’s sharp tone cut across the garden, even caused the closer
neighbours to stare.
got tongues wagging all over the village, not to mention…” Rob stared
stranger at the end of the lane. The man’s tall hat and buff coat could
belonged to any well-to-do farmer, but Margary knew the local
sight. She turned back to Rob, who chewed on his lip.
Hopkins,” he explained, then paused as Goody Sexton hurried past, not
to hide the fingers she crossed in Hannah’s direction.
Dartnell, may I accompany you home?” Rob offered Hannah his hand,
Margary bit her lip against a jab to her heart. Not a glance did Rob
Margary Cripps as he and Hannah left, all under the watchful eyes of
to gird her loins to examine the wrecked pig pen. Flies swarmed over
lifeless corpse, as if drunk upon the smell of sun addled flesh. It
of the afternoon to bury her, by which time Mam shook with fever.
once the sun went down did Margary sit down, looking out over a village
silver in the moonlight. Then shadows rippled and a dark shape hopped
the ash field of the Cripp’s garden.
grabbed at a nearby hoe, rage pulsing through her veins as she advanced
the hare that sat cleaning its ears by the gate. She swung at it. The
retreated, its black fur stark against the moon drenched earth. She swung again,
this time bringing the
blade down upon the its head.
scream ripped through the night, but no body lay upon the ash. No trace
blood befouled the hoe. Margary raced back to the house, only to stare
midnight hare Hannah had gifted her earlier, still hanging by its neck
the hearth. Its flesh had softened under fur well on its way to being
normal for a corpse that had spent the day hanging over a fire. Margary
swallowed, then her leaden feet drew her to a restless sleep at the
the lady of the dew pond.
Margary emerged onto the porch the
following morning to sunlight that stabbed her eyes from high in the
rays scorched all before them, but proved insufficient to banish the
that bathed her skin.
“Margie, that you?” Mam wheezed, her
voice barely carrying from her pallet. Margary shivered.
“Well, quick, quick then. This won’t
wait for slugabeds.”
Beside Mam Rob stood with one arm
draped around Hannah’s shoulders, his smile was radiant enough to send
Margary’s heart plummeting. He doffed his hat, whilst Hannah kept her
demurely downcast, her mouth curled up into a shy smile.
“Ah Hannah, no need to get all
bashful, the world will know come Sunday anyway.” Laughed Mam.
Margary held her breath, the world
swimming around her.
“True enough. If my future
mam-in-law has her way, the news will be all over the Downlands by
squeezed Hannah’s shoulders whilst Margary struggled not to vomit.
“I spoke to Hannah’s Da,” Rob
continued. Following which Hannah did me the honour of agreeing to
“Ain’t you going to wish ‘em joy?”
Asked Mam through a fit of coughing. “Not every day your best friend
betrothed.” Margary forced the corners of her mouth upwards.
“Of course, I’m happy for you both,”
she managed, ignoring Hannah’s sharp look. A flush invaded Margary’s
silence fell, tightening like fiddle strings in the sweltering heat.
“Well, duty calls me to the muster
this morning.” Rob sounded like he was miles away. “I fear I must leave
betrothed under your protection Goody Cripps until I can escort her
Margary fought not to slap either
Hannah or her Mam as a cheery guffaw emerged from the pallet.
“Always a pleasure Sargaent Amor,
now away wi’ ye. Won’t do to be gettin’ tardy to your duties just when
looking to wed.”
“My thoughts precisely. Ladies.” Rob
bowed, then caught Hannah’s hand and brought it to his lips.
A knot of neighbours loitering upon
the lane scattered, revealing Master Hopkins smoking his pipe under the
of an oak tree. As Rob approached, he doffed his hat, whilst departing
neighbours murmured congratulations. Sidelong glares swept over Hannah
went back to their business, marked contrasts with the sympathetic
reserved for Rob. Despite the hollow in her chest, Margary did her best
The weakness in her mother’s limbs
shocked Margary as the girls set about tending her. Mam had collapsed
the pallet, her skin searing hot. A grim look from Hannah sent a chill
Margary as they unwound the bindings protecting her burnt arm.
The smell hit Margary first,
twisting her stomach so she fought to keep down what little food it
Hannah gasped, Margary swallowed bile, cold sweat breaking out at the
angry tendrils spreading from the festering wound.
“What happened to your Downland
poultices? According to Mam they couldn’t fail.” How fear could propel
of rage Margary had no idea, but such was the case.
drew a ragged breath, but Mam cried out before she could launch a
gritted her teeth, helping Hannah
clean the rotting burn, ending by running a white hand down Mam’s
sighed, but the rotten odour remained.
She glowered into the house, where
Hannah’s black hare hung lifeless, then back to the lane. A small group
neighbours slipped Hannah crossed fingers, whilst behind them Master
leant against his tree trunk, missing nothing.
“Did you dump that trinket in the
end?” Hannah perched by Mam, her bright eyes settling upon Margary who
forcing a snarl behind her teeth.
“Not yet, why?” She narrowed her
eyes at the twitching corner of Hannah’s mouth.
“Well,” Hannah twisted her hands
together, rose pink staining her white cheeks. “Wha’ with it being a
an’ me and Rob being intended now . . .”
Margary’s rage exploded with her
with enough force to set her ears to ringing. An image of Rob flashed
“A love token?” Margary hissed. “And
how will that help Mam if we need to pay an apothecary? And what about
winter comes, do you think I’ll risk starving because you’ve ‘mazed a
Hannah shot to her feet; her fists
clenched. “Better that than a jealous lump pining for a man who never
her twice. Envy is Satan’s work Margary Cripps!”
broke from their work to stare. Mam stirred on her pallet, muttering
Margary couldn’t catch. Rage ripped through her anew when Hannah
took her hand.
“Be easy Goody Cripps, all will be
Margary’s throat closed as Mam
quieted, giving Hannah time to slip off the porch and onto the lane.
from the village, ignoring the villagers who followed her passing with
eyes and the occasional spit gobbet launched at her path.
Silence rang in Margary’s ears,
whilst her eyes told her only of an ash strewn garden and her
The golden glasp jabbed unto her flesh, which recoiled at the reminder
existence. She bit her lip, made to return to the house, then froze as
light glinted off the dead eyes of Hannah’s hare. She spun back, heart
pounding, to the sight of a black hare among the ashes of the garden,
her gaze while it washed its midnight ears.
Her every muscle froze whilst her
brain tumbled. Hannah’s hare, caught in the traps Hannah had set when
had found the clasp. When out with Hannah, whose attention to Mam had
accomplished . . .
looked down, wincing at the rot stains on her mother’s dressings. She
swallowed, her eyes sweeping across the wreck of her family’s winter
parched lanes, the neighbours whose sidelong stares gave no doubt as to
opinion. In the lane beyond her garden Master Hopkins stood straight
tree, his pipe belching smoke and his eyes boring into her. Margary
trinket, then marched to meet him.
The village buzzed when Hannah
failed to visit the next morning. Margary ignored them and tended to
wincing at her pain filled wails. It was doubtful Mam grasped Hannah’s
either way her complaints subsided into fitful sleep once her bandages
changed. Margary was clearing up the mess, fighting her rising gorge at
smell, when Goody Sexton leaned over the garden fence. Hannah had been
dawn, was now languishing in the gaol.
“But don’t ‘ee fret,” Goody Sexton
grinned. “Master Hopkins has wrung the truth from more cunning witches
Hannah Dartnell, mark my words.”
Another burst of putrid wound hit
Margary, twisting her stomach. She managed a smile for the departing
Sexton. Even this faded when Rob marched past in a company of other
his face turned steadfastly away.
Despite Margary’s desperate hopes
Goody Sexton proved a poor prophet. After three days Hannah’s had yet
confess, but black hares haunted her days, whilst the pond hag rendered
impossible. Mam appeared worse, veering from incoherence to
with a fever that burned ever higher. She barely woke when Margary
bandages and even then, whispered Hannah’s name.
“Margary, quick! They be swimming
the Dartnell witch!” Goody Sexton waved and hurried along the lane,
neighbours at her heels.
By the mood of the crowd when she joined
them Margary might have believed they were headed to a fair. Excited
jostling bodies headed up to the Downs, although where they meant to go
could not at first figure. It wasn’t until they cleared a fold in the
Margary’s insides hollow out and fill the ice water.
The Dew Pond glittered in the
morning sun, cheerful as the crowd that shoved for a spot stood close
banks. A few children even climbed the willow on the far bank to claim
view of the promised proceedings.
By the tree a group of soldiers
worked upon a wooden platform which stretched from the bank to the
of the pond, filling the air with hammering. Together with the crowd’s
the work sounds almost drowned out a drumbeat coming from the main
getting nearer with every beat.
drumbeat drew closer until the procession it heralded halted by the
The workmen retreated, revealing two columns of mounted soldiers
Master Hopkins, his face thrown into shadow by the brim of his hat.
wrung sweat slicked hands together as he stepped to one side.
swept the crowd. Hannah hung between two soldiers whose grasp appeared
the only thing keeping her upright as her feet trailed twisted and blue
behind her in the chalk. Her once white hair, now befouled with who
filth, tumbled to her waist, shielding her bowed head. Not an inch of
exposed by Hannah’s soiled shift remained its natural white, was
by welts and bruises in a patchwork of purple and red. The crowd
Master Hopkins stepped on to the platform. Silence fell.
be known that Hannah Dartnell, having refused to confess to witchcraft,
hereby committed to the Lord’s judgement.” Hopkins ushered the guards
They dragged Hannah to the edge of the platform, her thumbs tied to her
less time than it took for Margary to draw breath.
water abhors corruptions, so it rejects the devil’s own. Should it
Mistress Dartnell so she floats upon its surface her guilt will be
Hopkins snapped his fingers and Hannah’s guards kicked her into the
shock as she hit the water jolted through Margary as if she were
herself. White spray dissipated into the black water, leaving it to
Hannah’s sinking form. The pond stilled, a picture of serenity in the
broke from the mounted soldiers and slammed into the water with such
Margary feared for his neck. He resurfaced once, twice, both times to
Villagers nearest the bank waded into the water, dredging it with hooks
hoes. Margary’s chest burnt, but she couldn’t suck the thickened air
lungs. Even Master Hopkins stared at the water, biting his lip so hard
slid down his chin.
burst through the surface, a white bundle in his arms. Margary’s heart
only for her relief to curdle as he set about cutting the motionless
bonds on the bank.
waters accepted Mistress Hannah Dartnell. She is innocent to
Master Hopkins’s clenched teeth were visible to Margary from the other
dead, Master Hopkins.” Rob’s head snapped around, eyes blazing. A
grabbed his shoulder, outwardly in consolation but his fingers dug into
flesh, forcing him back to the ground. Rob subsided, taking Hannah in
his sobs echoing around the silent crowd.
Margary stood motionless; eyes
locked upon the water. Sounds drifted by here and there. Rob’s curses
into her face, the murmurings of neighbours now reluctant to approach
passed by like the gathering clouds above her head.
The pond remained glass smooth, its
waters dark under the leaden sky. Only Margary’s treasure drew her
from it, dragging against her gown until she feared it would tear the
Part of her longed to hurl the thing into the water, but her arms
by her sides. How long she stood there Margary couldn’t say, but it was
shadow that finally flickered in the corner of her eye.
Two hares, one black, one white sat
silent by the water. Across the pond the two creatures observed her,
glinting, whilst Margary stifled a scream when her eyes met the
ones of the new white hare.
Her heart slammed into her chest so
hard Margary feared it would burst. She turned, forcing her feet to
obey her as
she fled back to the village.
She raced faster than she had ever
done in her life, stumbling into brambles, mud and even a stream as she
By the time she staggered on to the porch her gown was torn and muddied
knees, whilst her nut-brown hair hung in shanks.
Her appearance may have set her
neighbours to twittering, although none met her eyes. Only Mam, who lay
and stinking on her pallet, failed to notice it. Margary gritted her
remembering at the last second not to draw a chestful of the stench
arm into her lungs. Instead, she concentrated on cutting away the
bandage, a task that made her gag even more than the sight of the
“Hannah?” The name was slurred and
whispered in so weak a voice Mam had to repeat it twice before Margary
Resentment drew tears from her eyes, but she turned to cleaning the
yelped, twisted against Margary’s ministrations.
“I need Hannah, where’s Hannah?” Mam
spat at Margary. Margary bent over her until her eyes were inches away
Mam’s pain clouded orbs.
“Hannah’s gone Mam. You hear me?”
Margary bared her teeth, ignoring the triumph that ran through her when
shrank back. “There’s just me. You remember? Your daughter? No one else
take care of you now. So you can put up with it or wallow in your own
Mam subsided with a wail. Margary
nodded, waiting until Mam’s eyes closed before rebinding her wound,
spread black tendrils almost to her shoulder. So large was the
that it was nearly dark by the time all of it was bound in clean linen
Margary could dose her with willowbark.
Margary’s was not surprised when
Mam’s mouth remained closed at her first attempt to pour the liquid
“Mam?” Margary shook her shoulder.
Nothing. She forced her eyes down to her mother’s chest. Not so much as
flutter could she detect, her pulse was still.
squeezed her eyes shut. It hurt unbearably to swallow, or indeed
the burning lump in her throat. She slumped over her mother’s corpse,
rain drops began to fall and thunder rumbled far away.
By nightfall rain scythed down in
sheets, turning the lane into a gurgling stream. Mam’s body was safely
cover, leaving Margary able to do little and feel even less. Instead,
dry-eyed across the quagmire that the garden had become.
She drew the golden clasp from the
folds of her dress, examining the perfect hands, holding on to one
an eternal embrace. Margary choked back a laugh. The Lord knew eternity
lasted long for the black-haired hag in the pond. She glanced at her
around the garden, then back toward the clasp.
As if in answer to this thought a
movement from the garden caught her eye. Two hares, one black, one
around the garden, their fur impervious to the rain.
Margary screamed. She hurled the
clasp at the black hare, but it just dodged before darting to the far
the garden, its companion at its heels. They turned, staring back as if
Margary to come after them.
“Devil take you both!” Margary
charged into the garden. By the time she retrieved the clasp rain
hair to her face, whilst her boots and gown were so soaked each step
struggle. Nevertheless, Margaret waded through the mud of her garden,
clasp in her outstretched hand as she strained towards the waiting
They scampered down the lane, then
up the hill when Margary advanced upon them. The animals danced
slick grass and slimy mud wallows then up on to the Downs, always just
Margary’s reach. She yelled curses into the storm as she gave chase but
continued, dancing inexorably into the hills.
through the storm, it wasn’t until her boots struck wood that Margary
where they led her.
paused on the edge of the wooden platform suspended over the Dew Pond.
tried to stop, but her feet skidded on the rain swept boards, dropping
her backside. The animals leapt into the water seconds before the
lurched. Margary shrieked, only for the sound to be drowned by the
the cold water knocked the air out of Margary’s lungs. She kicked, only
feet to catch, dragging her down. Margary struggled; her chest burned
pull on her feet strengthened. Her head spun; voices whispered through
“Mine, it be mine, it will never be yorn!”
“Envy be Satan’s work, Margary Cripps!”
and white flashed before her face. White hands like Hannah’s held her
night hag’s bloated face swam before her eyes. Margary opened her mouth
scream, only for water to pour into her throat, filling her chest. Her
Hannah’s red-flecked eyes danced before her face. Then sound died
Margary’s world to fade into nothingness with it.
The day after the storm broke warm
and muggy. Sticky though it was, the shepherds sighed with relief at
drought’s breaking, although some shuddered when they passed the dew
“Well, will ye look at that.” The
leader pointed ahead.
“Well, I never. Not seen hares that
brazen afore.” The oldest of the group crossed his fingers. “Come on,
not get to pasture theirselves.”
The other men exchanged glances,
then followed suit. On the brow of the hell three hares, one black, one
and one nut brown chased one another in circles in the dawn light.
© 2023 E.V. Wallace
Bio: "Although born and raised in
rural Wiltshire, I am
currently an Edinburgh-based aspirant author, working on novels and
short stories in the folk horror, fantasy, and historical fantasy
genres. I write whenever I can in, between working for the University
of Edinburgh, looking after my son, husband and humous-loving cat."
Website: E.V. Wallace's
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