A/N: I was inspired to write this piece while doing some research on witchcraft in pre-Reformation Europe (outside of Spain). I haven't decided whether or not to continue this story, so consider it a possible two-shot. This story is AU, but the characters are largely the same. Eric is still a vampire, and Sookie is still a human with the gift of telepathy. This story contains references to sexual violence and methods of medieval torture. It is therefore rated M for mature themes. However, I would not consider it out and out descriptive or necessarily triggering. At any rate, read with these things in mind.-AAV
The Angel of Death
I awakened for breakfast upon the first chime of the morning bells. I love to hear their sound echo upon the walls of my cell, so I often wait for a few moments in silence, just before the first bell rings. It was late in the old year, and the sun would not be up for many hours yet. Still, I slid out from under the warm quilt my sisters had given me and pressed my feet into my slippers. I stretched out the kinks in my back and shoulders, soreness from a life spent dozing when I might be spreading the Word. I pulled back my door and retrieved the stout pitcher of fresh well water for my morning toilette. The water was icy, and I splashed my face quickly so as to avoid touching it too much. I finished my bathing lickety-split and reached into the closet for my clothes. For a moment, I ran my fingers over the white broadcloth habit, admiring the needlework of the hem, the seams. I had sewn this gown myself, and that skill brought glory to the Lord. I smiled and said a little prayer of thanks before wiggling out of my nightgown and into my day clothes. I covered my hair and put on my shoes. I tucked my rosary into my pocket, and stepped out of the room toward the hall for breakfast.
It was the year 1522, and I was a young sister with the Dominican Order, an order of nuns with the church of Saint-Jaques, in Paris, France. I'd lived in the church for most of my life, from the time when my parents had died tragically in an accident. My brother and I had both been given to the church at the request of our late parents. I had come to love the simple life immediately, but my brother Jason ran away, never to be seen again. Sometimes I miss him, but the Lord keeps me strong. Outside the convent, the world was changing. When walking through the halls or tending the garden, I would often hear our Reverend Mother talking about the future of our Order, or the coming of the Inquisition, or the movement of heretics into our great city. It was a strange and wondrous time to be in Paris, and never once did I regret it.
I sat down among my sisters at our breakfast table and bent my head to listen to the lectio divina before our meal was served. Joy filled me, and any memories or thoughts of my brother drifted out of me as the Word spread through every part of my body and soul. When the passage was finished, we gave our thanks, and began to talk. I turned to my Sister Julia and smiled brightly.
"I read the most amazing book yesterday," I beamed. I broke a piece of baguette and placed it upon my plate.
"Oh really?" She giggled with interest.
"Yes," I smiled. "It was by the Blessed Alain de la Roche, and it described the fifteen sacred promises of the rosary."
"Oh yes, I've seen that book in the library. I am anxious to read it."
"It is quite beautiful. I meditated on my studies long after I had finished in the garden. I think I will do extra rosaries during my evening prayers."
"I might join you in that, Sister!"
We ate the remainder of our breakfast in silence, and I ruminated on the promise of faithful children until I rose to clean my plate and move to the chapel for Lauds. The day in the life of a nun is a long one, full of study and work and prayer, but this is the life we have been given. I sat quietly on one of the straight-backed pews in the middle of the chapel and listened quietly to the Benedictus. I kept my eyes closed and my mind open, in order to make myself ready for the Words of God, should he see fit to give them to me. Underneath the voice of Father Lawrence reading the Gospel, I heard another voice. I shut my eyes tighter to concentrate, to hear the voice of the angels or the saints, whomever wished to speak to me.
Lord, how I long to die and at last come to be your true wife. I am done with this world and all that it has brought me. By your blessing, please bring me home. I looked up, opening my eyes suddenly. Sister Eleanor's voice was echoing in my head, and I could still hear her longing to move on from this Earthly existence. I bit my lip and tried not to hear it. Surely it was my imagination. Surely I had just not had enough sleep. I shook my head and refocused on the reading of the scripture. Only the Devil could cause you to do sure improper things, and I was a child of God.
When we had finished our Lauds and Mass, I hurried to do my chores in solitude. I sat in the kitchen peeling potatoes and carrots for supper, and as I did so, I hummed quietly to block out the noise of thoughts. There were few women in the kitchen, and so it was easy to avoid hearing them. Still, every time I remembered the thoughts of Sister Eleanor, I nearly dropped my work. How was it possible to hear thoughts? Was this the work of God that I had waited for? I shuddered and prayed that it was not. Sister Margaret hurried into the kitchen with her apron pulled up around her face. I caught a quick glimpse at her cheeks, buried in her hands and skirt. She looked as though she'd been crying. I tried to hum louder, but I was too intrigued, curious as to her despair. God, why have you forsaken me? Please tell me what I have done! I blinked and dropped the potato, half-peeled, into the bucket. I covered my ears. This was not happening! It was not!
I followed Sister Margaret out of the kitchen and down the hall to her cell. She had left her door open, and I could see through the open crack that she was prostrate in front of her small altar to the Blessed Virgin. She was crying desperately, and I sank into the room and shut the door behind me.
"Sister, what is it?" I asked her quietly. I touched her shaking shoulder and she jumped.
"It's nothing, Sister Sookie," she whimpered. Still, she continued to weep.
"You can confide in me, Sister Margaret," I frowned. I pushed her rosary into her hands and she clutched it tightly. "We can confide in each other, and in our Lord."
"I cannot tell you," she whimpered. I pulled her close, wrapping my arms around her shoulders, and tucked her head against my bosom. She cried until my habit was damp with her tears, and together, we prayed for salvation and love. All the while, she thought only of how God had left her, and that she was a weak and foolish girl. I didn't ask what she meant. I couldn't let her know I'd heard her.
After our midday meal of stew, I returned to my cell alone. I knelt upon the floor while my sisters were laying down to rest, and I clasped my hands tightly together. I bowed my head at first, and then changed my mind. If I lifted my eyes to the Lord, he might hear me better. I needed to be heard now.
"Lord," I whispered. "Please tell me why I have been given this ability, to hear the thoughts of my sisters, to know what is in their hearts. Please, Lord, I beg of you. Give me some sign that this was your purpose. I want to help them, to give them my love and my friendship. I am afraid, Lord. I am afraid." I clutched my rosary and began to pray, over and over again. I fell asleep upon my knees, and awakened to the light touch of a knock upon my door. It was time to rise again, to complete the day. I wasn't even close to ready.
I spent the latter half of my workday in the garden, digging in the dirt and pulling weeds from around our vegetables and herbs. Pain throbbed in my temples and around my eyes as I struggled to keep voices from invading my head. Sister Margaret appeared lost in her own thoughts as she knelt beside our dairy cow, and Sister Eleanor had taken on a similar dazed look while she plucked late apples from the boughs of our tree. I got up slowly as the bells began to sound for the end of the day. My knees cracked and groaned after sitting in the same spot for hours on end. I felt weary and sick when I walked to the chapel amongst my sisters and found a pew to sit in.
In the evening, we were joined by the community, and our pews filled with the devout members of our congregation. Our order sat upon pews in the balcony so that more seats would be available to Parisians. I enjoyed watching them file in, tired from a long day and ready to give their voices and faith to God. I recognized many of their faces, and I smiled down at those of them that looked up at us. The service began as people continued to fill seats. Among the latecomers was a man I had not seen before. He had long blond hair that fell loose around his back and shoulders. It was much longer than what I knew to be the fashion, and yet he seemed to wear the style with pride. He was obviously a man of wealth, but he was not ostentatious. His doublet was dark violet, and the black jerkin over it was black with slashed sleeves so that the doublet peeked through. The ensemble had a high neck and jeweled buttons. His skirts were full and embroidered along the hem, and his hose and heeled shoes were black to match. The darkness of his ensemble, paired with the thick fur wrap on his shoulders made him look mysterious. And yet, the white golden hair gave him the appearance of an angel. He lifted his eyes to me, and I was shocked by the brightness of his sharp blue eyes. He smiled at me, genuinely, and I felt my headache and illness lifting. I felt Sister Julia pinch my arm, and I quickly turned my attention to the hymnal as we stood to lift our voices in song.
"Do you know him?" Sister Julia whispered in my ear as the reading of the Scripture began. I turned my attention briefly back to the man, who had come to sit in the last pew near the entrance doors. He crossed one leg over the other, and seemed to keep his attention on the reading.
"I've never seen him before." I replied. I couldn't seem to take my eyes from him. When I stared at him, I could not feel the thoughts of my sisters trying to invade my head. I could not hear anything at all, not even my own heart beating. It was like a blessing from the Lord.
"He looks to be quite wealthy, don't you think?"
"Yes, I think he must be." I nodded.
"We should ask some of the other Sisters if they have seen him or know who he is,"
"Hm, maybe," I agreed. I wasn't listening to her anymore, though. I was concentrating solely on the man. He seemed to feel me staring and lifted his eyes to regard me again. I saw his mouth widen slightly into a grin. I couldn't help but smile sheepishly back at him.
At the end of Vespers, I hurried down the balcony steps to greet our guest before he had a chance to leave. I was due at the supper table, but I could not let the angelic-like visitor leave as mysteriously as he had come. I scrambled to a halt in front of him as he turned to rise from his seat. I clasped my hands under my habit and tugged on my rosary for support. I had so rarely engaged in conversation with men, and this man, in particular, made me nervous. As soon as I opened my mouth, though, I could be nothing but the frank and honest Sookie I have always been.
"My name is Sister Sookie. Thank you for coming to our church this evening. I have never seen you before. May I ask who you are?"
"I am Eric Northman," he nodded and bowed his head to me. I was a tiny dwarf of a thing when he stood. He seemed to touch the tips of the cathedral ceilings, and I hovered near the slate floor. I curtsied slightly and awkwardly.
"I hope you return and worship with us again, Sir. We do love to have familiar faces in our congregation. That was how I noticed that you stuck out."
"Am I that obvious?" He chuckled, a deep and melodious sound that made my heart flutter.
"You are, Sir," I whispered, unable to find my voice.
"Perhaps when I return, I may see you again, Sister," he smiled. I bit the inside of my lip and hoped that I would have the chance to speak to him again. I loved the curious sound of his voice, dark as it was, with a slight accent that was decidedly un-French.
"Please know that you are welcome here, Sir." I nodded again and smiled, then quickly made my exit toward the dining hall. I turned to look over my shoulder to watch him exit, but he was still standing beside the pew, looking at me. A sensation of calm washed over me, and I turned back on my path.
The dining hall was alive with voices following our service, and I came to sit between my sisters Margaret and Julia. Sister Julia wanted to hear all about our blond-haired stranger, but Sister Margaret was deep in thought, her eyes watery and glinting with candlelight. I stretched my hand out across hers and stroked her fingers gently. She looked up at me and embraced my shoulders. Then she got up from the table and excused herself. I watched her leave, then got up to follow her. Sister Eleanor caught me by the wrist as I left. She shook her head and nodded me back in the direction of our meal.
"I will go to her, Sister Sookie," she frowned. I looked down at her hand on my wrist and felt the great throbbing in my head return almost immediately. I stopped struggling against whatever her thoughts were trying to tell me, and I opened up to her. Her mind was a fluttering bird in a cage, and it seemed to poke at me with its beak. These things that we have gone through are the same. We are forsaken by the Lord, and we have sinned. We will give our penance and beg for his forgiveness. What have we done but be women, weak-willed and unable to protect ourselves? We can no longer serve in this place, wrecked as we are. What will we do? What will become of us, whores and harlots? I stared at her in horror and she dropped my hand. The stream of thoughts stopped up a little, and only a trickle of her thoughts continued across the bed of my mind. I longed to stretch out for her again, but she quickly rushed out of the room to follow Sister Margaret.
"Is Sister Eleanor okay?" Sister Julia asked me as soon as I sat down to my meal of potatoes and carrots with a small portion of salted meat.
"I don't know," I sighed. I looked down at my plate and realized I was not hungry. I felt bad for wasting the food, so I forced it down. My limbs and head felt heavy, as though the man in the back of the church had never relieved me of my burden.
"All will be well, Sister," Julia assured me. She patted my hand. It felt as though each touch was a spark from a flint stone, and I quickly pulled away. I pushed my chair away from the table and excused myself from our meal. I stumbled through the halls to the courtyard, and then to the outhouse. I fell to my knees and vomited, retching up all that I had eaten only minutes before. Tears rolled down my face, and I let them fall. I crawled out of the small shack again and knelt upon the grass, staining my habit green and brown. I stared up at the darkening sky.
"God," I wept, clutching my hands together until my knuckles were white. "Why have you given me this terrible curse? Why must I hear the voices of my sisters? I cannot do anything for them. I cannot help them. God, I beg of you. Help me in my hour of need. I am your devoted daughter. Help me, I pray."
My night was a restless one and I awakened violently while the night was still upon us. I could hear rustling in the hall beyond my cell, and I got up from my bed to look out of the bars upon the door. I watched Sister Madeline streak by in her nightgown, her fists covering her face. After a few minutes, Father Henry ran past. His robes flew out behind him, and I assumed he was going to comfort Sister Madeline. I sighed and went back to bed, confused by the activity at so late an hour. I fell into a deep slumber, and I saw the face of Eric Northman glowing as though crowned by a halo. He filled me with relief and joy, and I woke up to the morning bells with a song in my heart.
I spent the day looking forward to evening mass, but at midday prayers, I watched Father Henry take Sister Madeline aside. Sister Madeline was a young woman, not much older than I. She had only taken her final vows a few months earlier, and she was still very new to the order. Her pretty face, usually marked by rosy pink cheeks and a small pink mouth, was stony and gray. She looked as though she had seen a ghost, or as if she knew someone who had recently died. My heart went out to her, and with it went my mind. I seemed to open my thoughts to her as though my arms were reaching out to embrace her. I found the tap into her emotions easily. Don't touch me. Don't talk to me. Please Lord, keep him away from me. God, how I want to escape this place. I have never felt so alone and lost among my sisters, and my family! Please God, take me away from here. I let my eyes jump from my sister to Father Henry. His hands were folded beneath his white robes, and his beady eyes were bright and distinctly jovial. The two of them stood together in stark contrast.
At evening vespers, I joined my sisters in the balcony over our congregation. The devout rushed into the pews and took to their knees to respect the sign of the cross. I waited patiently for our angelic newcomer, and my heart strained against my chest when he walked into the church and lifted his eyes to me. He did not make the sign of the cross before he took his seat, I noticed. Not a single part of me cared. He nodded at me, smiled genuinely, and filled me with that same radiating calmness that had possessed me on the previous night. When our service ended, I hurried down the stairs again to greet him.
"Are you an angel?" I asked him outright, remembering my dream. He laughed mightily, and I felt the vibrations of his voice like the ringing of the morning bells.
"No, Sister, I am not an angel," he shook his head.
"You have a power over me that only my Lord has," I whispered nervously.
"You are an unusual woman, Sister, and an even more unusual nun." His hand stretched out and touched my cheek. His skin was cold, like the bark of a shaded tree, and yet, his touch spread warmth through every part of me.
"Please, Sir, I am married to our Lord, Jesus Christ." I responded automatically, and his hand fell away. Instant regret surged through me, and I ached to reach for his hand.
"Forgive me, Sister," he nodded solemnly. His eyes flicked away from mine and returned again.
"I do not believe you," I said. "You say that you are not an angel, but you must be. I cannot explain the way you make me feel in any other way."
"It is better for you to believe what you wish then to know the truth, Sister." He reached out and touched my face again, and this time I did not disregard the touch. The calmness that stretched from him like fingers was incredible, as though I could feel the Grace of God upon my skin. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to my forehead. My insides clenched tightly like fists. I was breathless, and I gasped for air.
"Goodnight, Sister," he murmured. "I will visit you again."
"Where have you been?" Sister Mary admonished me as I scrambled into the kitchen to help with the preparation of supper. I tied my apron quickly around my waist and removed the stew from the fire.
"I was speaking to one of our parishioners," I said quickly. I began ladling the soup into bowls, and another Sister gathered the bowls up so they could be taken to the table.
"While it is good to discuss faith with our congregation, Sister Sookie, you must remember to keep up with your chores," Sister Mary frowned.
"Yes Sister Mary," I nodded. My mind was elsewhere. I had felt the lips of a man upon my skin, and I had enjoyed the touch more than any thing or experience I had ever had. My flesh seemed to sing with joy, and my heart fluttered so much that I thought it had grown butterfly wings. I spilled a little of the stew upon my apron and hardly noticed it. At the table, I gulped down my meal and rushed from the table so that I could be alone.
Perhaps this angel was my sign from God, my sign that all would be well with this new gift the Lord had bestowed upon me. After all, I had dreamed of this man, glowing like a heavenly visitor. He had come into the church and listened to the sermon and spoke the prayers. He could not be a visitor of the Devil. He seemed to know how to soothe me, and even though he did not admit that he was an angel, he had to be a servant of the Lord. He just had to be! I hurried out of my cell to the room of Sister Madeline, and knocked upon the door. The Reverend Mother came walking down the hallway and I bowed to her.
"Sister Madeline is in confinement," the Reverend Mother frowned, touching my shoulder. I bowed and nodded.
"Will she be allowed to return to us soon?" I asked quietly.
"She has asked for seclusion, Sister Sookie. I do not know when she will ask to return to the common prayer."
"My heart is with her," I frowned.
"She will be in our thoughts and prayers, Sister."
I turned away from Sister Madeline's door and returned to my own. Sister Julia came hurriedly down the hall of the convent and bumped into me as I reached for the door to my cell. She was panting from her run, and she pushed me inside my room, then shut the door behind us.
"What is it?" I asked her.
"Sister Madeline is in confinement!" She squeaked.
"I know. I went to visit with her, and the Reverend Mother told me."
"Well, she isn't the only one! Sister Eleanor and Sister Margaret are in confinement as well!"
"What?" I stared at her incredulously. "Why?"
"I don't know! I only know that they're there, and that they asked for seclusion!"
"That's awfully strange," I frowned. I remembered their thoughts, how upset they had been.
"I have to go. I will see you tomorrow, Sister Sookie! Sleep well!" Sister Julia hugged me and ran out of the room. I watched her go, and I felt heavy. Why had so many of our sisters removed themselves from common prayer? They had seemed so saddened, hurt by something I did not understand. I sat down on the edge of my bed and prayed in silence.
I woke up to the sound of rattling against my cell door. The room was dark, and I had been asleep for hours. My body was tired from slumping against the wall of my cell rather than the straw mattress of my cot. The door sprang open suddenly and Father Henry stepped into my room. I could see the shadow of his face in the sliver of moonlight that peeked through my small rectangular window. His robes rustled against his legs as he walked over to me. I got up off the mattress, thinking perhaps he might be in need of my assistance.
"Father, it is quite late," I whispered in the darkness.
"So beautiful, such a young beautiful girl," he hissed. His hands dove out from under his robe and snatched at my wrists. I yelped and he let go of me to cover my mouth. His thoughts flew into me, and I could not have pushed them out if I tried. Everything was a spiral, like a heavy summer storm. I heard him admit to things I didn't understand, want things I couldn't express or explain. They all sounded horrible and wrong, and I fought against him. His massive body shoved me up against the wall and threw up the skirts of my habit.
"No!" I cried. "I won't let you!"
"Shush!" He growled at me. He sounded like a monster, a demon, not the Father of our Order. I squirmed and kicked at him. More of his thoughts flew into me. I was being assaulted from every direction and I couldn't think straight. I prayed for my angel, for God to deliver me from this place, but no answer came.
"I'm the Virgin bride of Christ!" I screamed. "You can't do this to me!" I clawed at his face and robes. I ripped the cross from his neck and it clattered to the floor.
"Shut up, you stupid little bitch!"
"You! You did this to Sister Madeline! You did this to Sister Eleanor and Sister Margaret! You tortured them and hurt them! You forced their silence by telling them they would be cast out of the church!" I could barely separate his thoughts out into any kind of coherency, but I managed a little bit. "You told them you were Christ on Earth! You enjoyed their pain! You are a blasphemer!"
"How do you know these things, girl? Have you spoken to Sister Madeline?"
"No, I haven't. My sisters are in seclusion! God has spoken to me!" I was spitting at him, screaming, tears rolling down my face. My skin was hot and cold to the touch. He'd hit my cheek so many times that it was swelling and pained.
"God has spoken to you, or you have consorted with the Devil and brought him into your bed? You whore!" He grabbed me suddenly by the arm and dragged me from my cell. My feet skidded and slid along the stone floor, and I was glad I hadn't removed my slippers. I yanked at his hold on me, but I couldn't escape. My wails awakened half the convent, and he threw me onto the floor in the midst of the chapel. My sisters assembled in their nightgowns and the Reverend Mother addressed Father Henry.
"What is the meaning of this?" She roared in that scary way she has.
"This girl is a consort to the Devil! She pretends to read the inner most thoughts of her sisters, to wreck havoc upon their minds, to alter their prayers! She has tried to do this thing to me tonight! She called me into her cell and attempted to seduce me!"
"I didn't, Reverend Mother, I swear!" I wept. I pushed myself to my feet and grabbed onto the nearest pew for support. "I was sleeping and Father Henry came into my room! He was trying to hurt me!"
"What about your sisters in seclusion, Sister Sookie? Have you read their thoughts? Have you plagued their minds? Do you know why they are in seclusion?"
"I haven't… I haven't plagued their minds!" I whimpered.
"Do you know why they are in seclusion, Sister Sookie?" The Reverend Mother yelled at me, bringing her hand down and slapping me across my bruised cheek.
"I do," I admitted. I could not lie.
"And how do you admit to this knowledge?"
"God has given me the gift to help my sisters, to know their thoughts," I murmured in all honesty.
"That is sacrilege. You do not know the workings of the Lord. He does not come to you and give you gifts. The Devil comes to you and gives you gifts, to sway you away from the Lord, our God. Have you consorted with the Devil? Has he made you his bride?"
"No, Reverend Mother! No!"
"You are a liar! You admit to reading the thoughts of your sisters! Only the Devil can read our thoughts and poison our minds! You are a witch! After all that we have done for you, you repay our kindness with evil. You are the spitting image of your no-account brother! Father Henry, bring the guards. Get her out of here this instant, before she can do any more harm!"
A parade of military men came to the church and grabbed me by the arms. I fought with every bit of strength, but a small woman is no match for the Royal Guard. I was heaved into the back of a cart with four other women, all of them chained and in their night clothes. I dropped onto my knees on the straw and wept anew. I stared over the edge of the cart at the empty night. Half-hidden in the darkness, I saw a man, dressed almost entirely in black. His white gold hair fell loose over his shoulders. He wiped his mouth with his forearm and watched me. His brows creased together with concern. When he drew his arm away, I saw that his mouth was dark red, as though he'd been drinking the richest kind of wine. He was my angel, and he would keep me safe.
I was dropped unceremoniously upon the floor of a prison cell, my habit stripped away and replaced with a dirty and moth-eaten night gown. I shivered upon the floor, surrounded by other women in similar states of disarray, but upon looking at them, I realized that I was the only nun among them. These women were whores or work women, maids or country folk. Two of them were branded for being caught as prostitutes, and another had been marked as a slave. I shuddered in a corner off on my own and tucked my braid of unshorn hair into the back of my night clothes. I closed my eyes in prayer, and I begged for my angel to come. Morning came with only the dull slapping of my church bells and the rustling of hungry prisoners. I placed my hands under a drip of water from the sinking ceiling to wash my face. I clasped my hands in prayer, and I felt the unmistakable headache of keeping the thoughts around me at bay. Whether or not God had given me this gift, I could not use it now. I could barely keep myself straight, let alone give comfort to anyone else. I remembered my angel, his kiss, his voice.
"Get up," a man grunted. I opened my eyes just as a hand wrenched me to my feet and dragged me from the cell. A few of the women I'd slept with got to their feet and scrambled to the bars to stretch their hands out to me. I clasped them as I was yanked away.
The prison was a massive place, all gloomy stone walls and dripping ceilings. The halls echoed with the screams of the tortured, and I knew their collective thoughts were those of escape and release and death. I prayed to God to grant them peace, and then I was tossed among them. My night clothes were removed and I was standing stark naked in a room full of men, priests and guards. I covered myself as best I could and turned my head away in shame.
"You have slept with the Devil. You have consorted with Satan and made him your Master. You have used his magic to plague the sisters of Saint Dominic. You have seduced a priest into your bed. You are a witch." The priest, a Franciscan by the look of him, read from a parchment. When he was finished, he rolled up the list and tucked it into his robes.
"No!" I cried. "I am innocent! I am only a nun, a child of God!"
"You will confess. If you confess to your crimes, you may be pardoned by the King. If you do not confess, you will be judged by the Church, the King, and the Lord, our God. Then, you will be put to death."
"I'm not a witch! I am a nun!" I cried. Hands fell upon me again and threw me against a wooden stockade. My wrists and neck were laid upon a carved slab of wood, and closed over with a second, similarly carved section. I was forced to lie exposed, and my knees shook with fear. Tears fell down my face.
"You are a witch! Confess!" The priest roared at me, and the whip came down. It sang through the air and cracked before striking my flesh. My skin burned and I cried out, more from the shock than the pain. I knew the pain was coming, and I didn't doubt it would be horrible. I bit my lip to keep from making any other noise.
"Confess, you stupid girl!" The whip came down again, faster and harder than before. My flesh depressed under the strip of leather and swelled up again when it fell away. There was a rhythm to the whipping, five lashes and a second break so that the priest could urge me to confess while my thoughts tried to collect themselves. The Franciscan was enjoying the torture, enjoying the revelation of my naked body. He was rejoicing in my pain.
"We will not stop until you confess," he growled, almost begging me not to speak up. His eyebrows turned down so his face looked like a demon's, and his eyes sparkled in the dim firelight. If ever there were Hell on Earth, this might have been it.
I would not speak, would not confess, and when the moon finally rose, I was thrown back into my cell with the remainder of the accused. Blood rolled down my back, and every part of me was pins and needles. I remembered my brother, Jason, once whipped for disobedience when we were children. I had helped Sister Mary put cold cloths on his bloody skin. There were no such amenities in prison.
"Come," whispered a small voice. I looked up to see one of my cellmates hold out her hand to me. Her face was sweet and elderly, her voice raspy and quiet. I crawled to her and placed my shaking hand in hers. "What is your name?"
"Sookie," I replied with a shaking, unsteady voice. I wiped tears from my eyes with the back of my dirty hand. My wrists were bruised and cut.
"I'm Angela, and this is Mary Ann," the old woman said, pointed to a short-haired, sad looking woman next to her. Mary Ann had the brand of prostitution on her breast.
"How did you come to be here?" I shivered. I pressed a hand on Mary Ann's wrist and she looked down at my fingers. She was raped, and then accused of witchcraft by the rapist's wife. Though I was in pain, I pulled her into my arms and hugged her tightly.
"I am a widow, and some of the cows in our village stopped producing milk and then died. I was accused of witchcraft, of trying to hurt their livelihoods." Angela sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "The Lord teaches us to forgive those that mean to hurt us. They know not what they do."
"I was a nun," I sighed quietly.
"You are still a nun, child," Angela smiled. She pulled my hands into hers. Her skin was rough like a chicken's plucked flesh, and her kind smile reminded me of the Reverend Mother. "Do not let them break you down. They believe they are doing the work of the Lord, but confessing only gives them power over your soul."
"I couldn't confess. I could never lie." I sighed. Angela tucked me against her shoulder while the silent Mary Ann tended to my wounds with the damp hem of her night clothes. We huddled together in a triangle of comfort throughout the night, lifting our voices in prayer.
They retrieved me in the morning, as light touched the edge of the window, and I heard the strangled beating of my bells. I looked into the sweet faces of my new friends, my sisters, and I walked proudly to the site of my suffering. For the second day in a row, I heard the haunted screams of the tortured, the cries of the unfortunate. I opened my heart to their thoughts and I hoped God would hear them through me. I hoped He would give them peace, as I longed to give them peace.
"Are you ready to confess?" The priest asked me. His lips curved into a lurid sneering smile. I shook my head.
"I am not guilty of heresy. I believe in the Holy Mother Church. Are you ready to enjoy my suffering?"
"I do not enjoy suffering, witch. I enjoy penance." He lied easily, as though he had been lying all his life. Rough hands removed my clothes, but I no longer felt the shame of my nakedness. I was secure in my beliefs, in my strength and my conviction. I was tossed onto a table and tied down. Splinters tore at the wounds on my back. Slices of wood were strapped around my legs, with wedges shoved between my bound shins. I looked down at the new method of my destruction, and I swallowed the lump of fear in my throat. I stared up at the damp ceiling and I remembered my angel, Eric Northman. He would recover me from this place. I could die here if I knew I would not be buried here.
"Your sisters and your priest have told us of your wickedness, witch! You have only to confess your sins and these tortures will end! Repent!"
"I am not guilty." I replied through clenched teeth. A great mallet came down and beat upon one of the wedges of wood. It dropped down between the tightly tied wooden frames and sent jabbing pains up my legs. I wanted to scream, to cry, to relieve my pain with sound, but I couldn't give in.
"Repent! Confess your sins! You have lain with the Devil!"
"I am innocent." I grunted. The mallet came down again. I bit back my screams. Eric's arms wrapped around me, and his lips brushed against my forehead. He was hovering over me, filling me with calm love.
"You have placed the Devil's influence on your sisters!" The mallet came down a third time. I couldn't hold back a wail of pain. The sound of breaking bones echoed in my head. Tears stung my eyes.
"Eric," I whimpered.
"Confess! Repent! You have seduced a priest, you filthy whore!" Again the hammer, and again my screams of pain bounced from the walls and filled the room. They were almost inhuman, and I would have doubted they had come from me if I had not known it to be true. My voice was hoarse when they unstrapped me. My legs felt more than agony, more than pain. I looked down and regretted it instantly. Every inch of skin below my knees was black and purple, smeared with blood. I retched and bile filled my mouth. I swallowed it down again with great effort.
My torturers dragged me by my arms from the room, my legs dangling uselessly behind me, my knees scraping the stone floor. Beyond the great doors into the enclosed courtyard of the prison, I could hear the cold November rain hitting the slate. I was yanked outside, into the twilight, under the heavy storm clouds. I was tied to the pillory, balanced on my broken legs, hanging by my arms. The fresh rain stung my wounds, and yet I felt the grace of God in each drop. I lifted my head to the sky and drank the plentiful water. The whip was merciless on my wet skin.
"Repent! If you do not, you will burn in the morning!" The priest cried into the night. I could see hellfire in his eyes.
"I am not guilty." I said as calmly as I could.
"We will not kill you before we burn you, witch! You will suffocate and you will burn and you will die! You are not a martyr! God has cast you off!"
"He hasn't." The rumbling voice of my angel filled my ears, and I looked to where the whip had ceased falling. I heard a loud crack, a stumble, and a scream. I could not see them die, but I knew it to be true. The tortured woman inside me rejoiced.
"Eric," I whispered through my tears. The chains of the pillory fell away. I thought I would crumple to the ground, but instead my tired body melted into the outstretched arms of my golden-haired savior.
"Sookie," he murmured apologetically. He lifted me as gently as he could manage, but even my bitten lip could not prevent me from crying. We seemed to rise into the air, and I let my eyes fall closed. Every part of me was filled with exhaustion.
"You are an angel. You really are."
"Sookie," Eric whispered near my ear. I opened my eyes suddenly. Pain spread through me like a grass field on fire. I couldn't hold back the scream even if I had realized I was providing it. My agonized voice bounced from every corner of a small room with covered windows. My angel did not back away. He did not shush me nor scold me.
"The pain will be over soon, Sookie," he said. His fingers stroked my hair from my face. He lightly kissed my forehead. I realized he was lying next to me, and my broken body was tucked into his arm. He'd placed me atop a mattress, the softest mattress I had ever felt. I wished that I could enjoy it more. The massive bed had a canopy of brocade draperies that matched the heavy curtains over the windows.
"If I die, will you bury me at the convent?" I asked him. I realized my voice was strangely soft, that it hurt to speak. I decided to avoid doing it too much.
"You will not die, Sookie." He sounded certain, and because he was an angel, I figured he would know when I was to die. I took his word for it. I looked up at his face. His eyes were full of an emotion I did not recognize, and his pale pink lips were pursed. He lifted his free arm to his mouth. "Close your eyes, Sookie, and open your mouth."
"Why?" I asked. For the first time, I noticed that my lips were dry and sore. I licked them with my tongue, but that only made them hurt more.
"I need to make you well again, so that you do not die. Do as I say, Sookie."
"I'm afraid," I whispered.
"I'm afraid too, Sookie. I'm afraid of losing you. I do not know why, but I am drawn to you. Yield to me, Sookie. Close your eyes."
At last, I obeyed him. Something in his voice, in his manner, and in his strained patience made me want to listen. I remained afraid, worried about what he would do to me, about what manner of healing involved my blind obedience. My lips wobbled nervously as I opened my mouth. I heard a crunching sound and his wrist brushed my chin. Hot, heavy liquid touched my tongue. It tasted the way rusting iron smelled, and even though I was weak, I fought against him.
"Yield to me, Sookie," Eric breathed. The arm supporting my shoulders squeezed me gently. The taste of the liquid changed, from rust to wine. I drank from the source as though I had an unquenched thirst, as though I'd been without water for weeks. Eric dragged his arm away by force, and I felt his mouth upon my skin again. He was even colder now.
"You need to rest, Sookie," Eric said. He removed his arm from under my shoulders, and though I still felt the pain of movement, I did not feel it enough to voice it. How strange, I thought. It was the miracle of my angel.
"Will you not stay with me?" I pleaded. Eric only smiled. He tucked the excess blankets around my naked body.
"I must eat, and you must sleep. I will return before the sun rises." With that, he stepped from the room and shut the door. The lock clicked. I stared at the heavy curtains and traced their patterns with my eyes until I fell asleep. I dreamed of the shining halo around my angel's white-gold head. He was the picture of heavenly beauty.