“Sorceress! Heretic! Devil’s Consort! Witch!” accused the crowd.
With her head down as the people standing around hurled curses and insults, Ainslee tried to steady the rhythm of her heart. The tightness in her chest was beginning to make her faint, fear of her condemnation increasing at the unpredictability of the mob.
Dressed only in her night-clothes, having fallen to her knees as the village folk pushed and pulled at her, she was shoved to the resident parish.
Christianity was new to her village and those whom lived on the outskirts, like her and her clan they were not open to the idea of this one god. Though a crude building made like most of the thatch and moss houses, the parish was like walking into Rome with its golden crosses and foul incense.
The priest, Father Paddrig, was a portly man with rotten teeth, breath that would send a fiend fleeing, and had the presence of the Bog Man himself. He was sent from Ireland to redeem the masses in this heathen countryside, whether they required it or not.
Most of the village was too afraid to tell him that wasn’t their way, for he had threatened hellfire down upon them if they weren’t willing to convert. The gods they worshipped were all about nature and love. Hellfire was the last thing they wanted to mess with, though they had not the slightest idea of what it even was.
As Ainslee gained her footing the rioters forced her back to her knees. Bloodied and bruised she crawled toward the prayer benches, seeking refuge. Before she was abducted from the pond below her own thatch and moss abode, she had blessed and kissed her two little boys to sleep.
“Bring her forward, bring me the Whore of Babylon!” shouted Fr. Paddrig.
Hands rushed to seize her upper arms. Stunned at the intense pressure of the hold, she struggled and scratched. Ainslee knew it would make it worse, but in her heart she had reason to fight.
Her fatherless sons were bastards to the villagers and the church, yet beloved to her clan. While she carried both of her boys, going to the village to trade goods was difficult. She was called names for they knew she had no husband. Some would refuse her altogether. Niall was the oldest at seven years, and Bowie only five.
At seven her Niall was broad of shoulder, thin in the waist and hips, hair like a highland bull. His mouth was smart but only to those who warranted it. His mind like a sponge soaking up everything around him. Fearless to a fault he was her champion.
Bowie was her little lover. Arms always outstretched to claim her neck; he would smother her in butterfly kisses. Bowie had a pucker that would eventually drive the lasses wild, with eyelashes they would swoon over. He had the look of mischief with a hint of innocence that kept you guessing at which you would get. His tawny hair, big blue eyes, and crooked grin got him out of trouble more than she could count.
They were her heart, her world. She knew she would never see them grow to be the men she had taught them to be. They would never get to see the pride in her eyes as they took their wives in handfasting, had their bairn, or made lives for themselves. She would never get to introduce them to the man reputed as their father.
She told them stories of how they met, fell in love, and brought them into the world. Oh how she wished they could know their father, but it had to be this way for all their protection. She would be the village heretic, the devil’s consort, or even the Whore of Babylon, for all of them.
Their secret would die with her. She would not allow the village to harm what was hers, and what she loved, because of their ignorance of what has been for hundreds of years.