Flash. The storm begins. Old women cross their hands and aim them to the sky. Old men lower their tools, their hats, their heads. Mothers find their children and lead them to canopied safety while their wide eyes watch as the young and strong begin their work.
Crack – of both thunder and wood. The men work without a word, repeating the motions they have seen. The action is imprinted at birth. Almost.
Finally, the stage is built. The rough wooden structure needs to last one night. One night in the storm, in the violent winds and rains, it needs to last. Crude torches are lit by the elderly as the darkness rolls in, and the wait starts.
And they watch, across the lands, as the storm intensifies. The seas cough foam behind them as the water smashes the rocks, the trees bend their crowns, and the lightning strikes the ground at their toes.
The quiet wait continues until the sky cracks so loud the young jump.
In a flash, crack, a hiss of smoke from the earth, she appears.
The old give her no name. The young find her beautiful.
She’s dressed in a purple dress. It billows around her unfazed by the wind and rain. It is alive as much as she clearly is, immune to the harsh soak. She walks slow. She walks to the crowd, standing, soaking in the rain.
In the hearts of each living soul watching her, beats worry. Their darkest secrets, twisting and turning in their limbs, create a horrible desire to run. Some break, falling to their knees, and scream their sins. This time even breaks a child who begs for forgiveness over a broken toy.
But she pays them only a passing a glance, as if only to say it isn’t their turn.
She stands no taller than most. Her eyes are blind. She blinks slowly, the wind and rain don’t touch the moon-glow pale skin. Her hair is as black as midnight, draping across her back almost like a cape of the night. Her sightless eyes cross over each person. They can feel something staring deep into them.
Women at their knees, she places her hand on their heads. Men confess with avoided eyes, she shakes her head.
She stops at a woman who hasn’t faltered. Her eyes have been downcast since she stepped into the storm.
“Take mine hand.”
Lightning cracks the sky, thunder trembles the ground, and the women walk, hand in hand, to the alter built for this night.
It was nothing more than passing rumors, that the small woman, now walking slow, her eyes still downcast, had committed such crimes. Rumors of infidelity, of poison… but nothing more than rumors.
But the accused and the arbiter know the truth.
Together they reach the alter. The accused walks up first, she looks behind her, friends, family, neighbors, all watching in silence. The cries of confession have ceased. Her arbiter gently refocuses her gaze with her hand softly sliding under her chin.
The accused kneels.
The rumors are truths.
She laid with the husband of another, a husband not of her own, nor was he her own choosing. It was marriage of convenience that caused her misery. She envied the life of his wife, a woman who worked no hard labor, who bore children of passions, who had time to maintain the face of a treasured doll. With hand, clawed in misery, she reached out for what she had, to turn her jealously into poison.
Simple gestures, bringing water to the working men, caught his eye. She woke mornings to comb the harshness from her hair, to apply the stolen paints to her face, to weave the morning fruits into treats, then present them to her target.
It was far too simple. Next was sweetened wine, far too sweet to know how much one was drinking. With defenses lowered, what she thought she desired was all hers.
However, sheet tangled between legs, heaving breaths, she did not feel fulfilled. She needed more. And her passionate lover? He felt regret. He cannot continue this, he tells her, after many nights. His wife was with child again. How could he continue this? She is his one love.
He should not have let her get closer.
Nobody would question dinner for a woman, loved by all, stomach swollen with child, could have been tainted.
Even from the woman he scorned.
She looks back on her actions as her arbiter lifts her hands to the sky. She did not regret mixing the poisoned liver of a fish into the soup served to her lover’s wife. She did not regret the tiny smile she had at the funeral for their child. She did not regret the love she received from her lover when he could not look upon his wife’s depressed actions no longer.
She did not falter in her resolve when his wife was found in a noose of her own making.
The sky cracked, and in her arbiter’s hand, the method of her repentance. A gnarled cane of lightning now rested on her head.
She almost smiled again. She knew her time had come. She looked into the sightless eyes of her executioner, closed them, and waited.
The platform trembled as the skies howled. Lightning struck at the feet of the onlooking crowd. Rain swirled in the wind, soaking everything to the core.
“Purge thyself of fears.”
The lightning grew closer, and finally, struck the end of the staff. In a brilliant flash, the two women are consumed by it’s brightness, and then, are gone.
The rain calms and begins to slow as the crowd begins to dissipate. Some go with torches and light the small platform ablaze as the day begins, the funeral pyre bringing in the morrow in near silence, a hopeful message to others.
The storm has passed, and now, they wait for the next.