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A Saint’s Final Moments
The young woman kneels near her window on the unmerciful stone floor. Her bed, a stale nest of rat-infested hay, is matted and damp from the rainwater that seeped in the night before. Her own hair resembles the hay: stringy and unkempt, hacked short with a knife for convenience. She can’t remember the last time she bathed; her skin, caked with grime, is rough as the stone she crouches upon. None of this ugliness worries her, however, for although her eyes are bagged and bloodshot, a determined light shines from within: she has done the bidding of her Lord, and in His eyes she is beautiful.
She glances up and gazes out the window. How many others have taken their final views of the world here? The sky is a brilliant blazing azure, the sun a glorious orb, contrary to the dark corridors and scowling gargoyles that make up the fortress in which the young woman is held. She watches as a bird soars under the backdrop of blue. Soon I will be as free as you, little bird.
She smiles slightly, bows her head, and begins to pray. Ignoring the jeers of the crude male guards outside her cell door, ignoring the scars of battle that linger upon her body, she prays. Father, I know my time on this earth is nearly finished. I have done as You wished: led an army to protect my people with You as my guide. I know that I am safe in Your hands, and that You will protect me now as You have for these past years. My only plea is that You watch over my country. O please Lord, watch over my country!
Her prayer is interrupted by the rusty clank of a key turning in the iron lock. Into the cell hobbles an elderly friar with a wrinkled face and kind eyes. He reaches a hand out towards the young woman. “Come, child.” The guards cower into the shadows.
The friar ties her hands with rough twine and leads her up a staircase, around bends and past other guards. The only light in this dreadful place slants in from arrow slits in the walls and flickers from the occasional torch. Soon the two- the young woman in man’s clothing and the hobbling friar- reach a splintery door. Sunlight glows from the cracks that penetrate it. The man pauses.
The friar turns and looks up at her, his eyes filled with sadness. “Child.....I am a prisoner, as are you. I am sorry.”
He swiftly slips the door open. The door to the young woman’s death. Light spills into the dank passageway.
She sees the people crowded around. Sees the children of God craning their necks to witness the heretic’s final moments. Sees the platform they have erected for her, the straw gathered at its base, the pole rising from its center.
“Move along now, move along.”
The spear prods her back, urging her on. She holds her head high and keeps her eyes focused forwards, towards the platform as she moves at a steady lope through the crowd. The people stare silently. Here and there she catches a sliver of whisper.
“So very young.”
“Such a pretty girl.”
“That’s the pagan?”
Still she keeps walking, walking.
The young woman clambers to the platform. She stands, the pole pressing into her back, as someone binds her to it. Her eyes flicker across the audience; a fitting crowd for such a play.
Lord give me strength.
“A cross!” she cries to the priest who has stepped up to pray for her. “Bring me a cross!”
The people gathered below begin to murmur. “A cross, a cross?”
“Here!” a young soldier holds up a wooden one.
The priest begins his prayers. She lifts her eyes to the sky.
They tie the cross to a long stick and raise it in front of her from somewhere below.
She hears the strike of flint on steel.
Hears the sound of crackling brush.
Sees only the cross and the blue, blue sky.