The Poet and His Muse : Prelude to a Nightmare

It was the crushing that woke her. She opened her eyes. She couldn’t breathe.

She pushed out against the weight but in vain. She tried to wriggle out from underneath it. But this time she couldn’t. For the dark matched her every move silently and carefully.

She opened her eyes wider. She tried to look around. All was pitch black, an empty void. A small quiet note of panic began to echo within her.

She willed herself fully awake. Yet she still couldn’t move. She tried to stretch herself out. But her body refused. It pushed in on her. Beyond the edges of her skin, she felt nothing. She couldn’t feel the bed she was lying on.

She was floating in emptiness. She made herself draw breath. But none came. She strained to listen for her heartbeat but it was silent.

A light glowed near her. Her phone? She reached out. Nothing happened. Her hands refused orders.

“Is anyone there?” She thought but couldn’t say the words. She reached out in her mind, but her thoughts were swallowed up by the darkness. She could only move her eyes. She looked around. There was nothing beyond her bed. She was suspended in the void.

Beyond the bed, she could discern more light. She tried to make sense of the unreality. Perhaps the ceiling fan is turning and casting shadows on the walls, she thought. As she watched, the shadows began to change.

She saw faces. Faces she had never seen ever before. Faces from another time. Inhuman grotesque twisted faces. Grey purple eyes leered and laughed at her in triumph. Mouths showed twisted and broken teeth. All swirled around her in a seething cloud of smoke.

Slowly the silent panic became deathly fear. Now she couldn’t move at all. She became more and more scared. The faces grew closer jeering and laughing at her. Then she heard the names they spoke of her. “Witch, traitor, whore…” Words she couldn’t understand. Words from another language and time.

Then she fell into the dream.

The faces faded into a light. Red, yellow, blue light that shimmered around her. She was standing in a fire. Then she felt the heat. Worse than heatstroke. This time she would be boiled away.

Then the dream spoke to her.

In the distance, I felt them approach. Four of them I discerned. Four to take me to my fate. So they thought. I knew.

I first heard the pad of their tread. I then heard the dull clank of sword on mail. I knew that sound. As a lady in waiting always knows.

Today the sounds were so clear. Like raindrops each falling as thunder. Then they stopped. They were here.

The rattle of metal. Keys fitted to the lock. The door yanked open.

Two guards entered. They stopped stock still. I didn’t move either. Then I knew.

I held up my palms pale and white. They then saw me.

Quick as night, both moved either side of me and pinned my arms. The one on my right took both arms and fastened them. He growled and cursed, “Traitorous witch.” To them I was both but to myself neither.

Then they took my elbows and led me forward. One in front on my left and the one behind on my right. I was pushed and pulled through the door.

As I turned the two outside guards grabbed my elbows. I was marched along the passage I didn’t know towards the steps I knew well.

I stumbled forward up and then through a door and into the light.

Oh the light! How I missed it!

Its power was fire through me and more. I was filled with peace and hope and joy and love. As I was led along the parapet I could see the clouds rising from the valley below. It would bring cold but I trust not cold for me.

I fell naturally into the rhythm of the guards as they walked. It felt as if I was comforting them in their hapless duty. We marched along the wall and then turned and entered the keep.

Here was familiar territory if only for an instant. Memories of the times I had spent here filled me. I recalled my duty and the love that had stolen into my life. I remembered the vow we had made and how our hope had risen only to be stilled. Yet it would rise again. I knew it.

I was being brought for judgement and sentence. Perhaps in this world but certainly not of the next.

It was a small knot of people hardly enough for a small repast. A priest, an overseer or judge and the executioners.

Ah yes and the priest. A small man, bowed and beaten and too bruised by life. I had always sensed his unbelief. A vocation so riven by doubt. He had been mostly silent when he had visited me. He had not even proffered his name to me. Today he muttered his Latin incantations and stretched his hands hopefully to pray for my soul.

I felt his pain and sadness wash over me. I too reached out to comfort him. As I did I felt power leave me. He drew back in shock and surprise.

He went back to his prayers. He asked if I wanted to confess my sins. I shook my head. I needed no shriving today. He asked me if I had anything to say.

I stood up. The coverlet fell from my shoulders. I spoke and the words were ready.

”Place me like a seal upon your heart, for love is stronger than death,its jealousy as unyielding as the grave, it burns like blazing fire.”

I heard an audible gasp. I saw the witnesses draw back as if I was the plague itself.

I heard the final order and my name, Margaret Barclay. I heard the executioner accede.

The guards freed me and I was led forward.

Then the executioners tied me to the stake.

The kindling drily crackled as they laid it around me. Then they piled the logs around me. I could feel the bark like a rough embrace. The dry wood still had a faint crisp tang of pine. From a growing distance I saw men leap forward with torches.

They leant down to light the fire. The flames started to leap around me. I felt the heat and the light and the sound and the smell.

And then their faces.

And then their expression changed. The flames remained. For I had left.

Now the dream left her, Elisabeth slept.

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