Moonlight, by J. Newell
May 1, 1632
I undid the tie on my bonnet, skipping through yellow reeds long enough to tickle my chin. There was a cool breeze in the air, promises of fall, that lifted tresses of my brown, waved hair. My mother had never let me cut it, so it fell near to my waist. The dead leaves crunched under my bare toes, dirt staining my feet black. I stood still for a moment, smiling, savoring the feel of the wind and the earth on my bare skin.
“Ellinor! Ellinor!” The call was insistent, harsh. Quickly, I tied back my bonnet, flung on my socks, and fitted on my shoes.
“Coming mum!” I yelled back as soon as I was presentable to her. I knew she would find my earth-stained feet, as I hadn’t had time to wash them in the creek, and then she would take the switch to my backside. Still, though, it had been worth it to feel the warmth of the earth seeping up into my bones.
June 22, 1634
All us younger girls were playing in the creek; it was one of the few times we were left off our chores to have some fun in the forest. Most of the girls, including my younger sister Jennet, stuck just a few toes in, but not me. I hiked up my periwinkle skirts and white apron to be as deep in the chill water as I can be. The other girls laughed and made fun — Jennet glanced back and forth between them and me, unsure of what to do — but it invigorated my mind and body. It was like I could tap into this energy the other girls could not. Every droplet of water that flowed past me, numbing my legs and hands, felt full of fire which ebbed into and out of my body.
The one time I mentioned this at home, my mother slapped me, told me the water was dead and to get such silly childish nonsense out of my head. I am a child, I wanted to say, but fearing the switch I kept my mouth shut. Still, I felt the fire every time I was in the water.
September 21, 1635
The moon was full. I snuck out of my room and up onto the roof to watch it rise over my small village and the forest beyond, spreading its light amongst the darkness of the trees. I felt no such light during that day at church when the minister had denounced the young women of our village for being too ambitious with our dreams of leaving. It was our duty to marry the men here and raise our children here so the village can prosper. Our duty to sew and cook and clean. To teach God’s holy word to our families and spread His holy light.
I didn’t believe his holy light existed.
The only holy light I knew was the light of the full moon. She spoke to me in my dreams sometimes. Told me I was destined for great things and to listen to her wisdom. The moon taught me more over the last few years than any schoolmaster, certainly more so than my mother. I learned that peppermint is good for the ails of the stomach and chamomile calms the heart. Rose hips help a blooming cold, while valerian root will put the restless to sleep. Most of these things she taught me through dreams, but some I learned for myself.
Yarrow was one of those. Not only did it help with fever, infertility, and toothache, but I learned that carrying a little in my pocket, prayed over under the light of the full moon, kept me safe. There was a day when I was walking back from market, my arms laden with crops and bread, when a horse reared right next to me. I was nearly caught between its hooves, but each and every blow seemed to just miss me and my load. Then, I looked into his eyes and down the hooves went. Under my gaze, the horse calmed. The coachman said I was blessed by God.
I don’t think that’s who blessed me.
I think I was blessed by the moon.
August 1st, 1639
I muttered words of prayer and blessing over the herbs I cut in the dark of the forest. There was but a sliver of moon, which was the best time to pull roots from the ground, wash them, and bless them. I’ve pulled valerian root, dandelion root, and echinacea root. I used the echinacea and valerian in a tea with rose hips and peppermint for flavor to ward off and cure the flu that was laying down people all over the village. The dandelion root, though, was just for me. Dried, roasted, and ground in my mortar and pestle, it would make an excellent tea to enhance the visions the Moon gives me.
They started as dreams where She would whisper truths in my ear, about the soon-to-be pregnant woman next door or the horse that was about to be taken lame or the storm coming. I would remember but a few of the whispers, but it was enough. Then, they became images I would see with my waking eyes. I looked at the house down the street and saw it burning. I gasped, near to calling out for help, before the image faded. That night there was a lamp left lit in the front room that was knocked over by a cat.
We woke to see the house burning.
My visions grew stronger. I saw myself gathering these herbs in this exact spot, which was unknown to me. Still, I wanted more.
Looking up through a gap in the forest canopy, I saw the sliver of moon that lit my way. The trees swayed in the gentle breeze, bringing with it the smell of oak and pine. I think I heard a tinkle of laughter on the wind. It made me smile, for I knew I was not alone out in the forest.
October 31, 1640
Using a thorn from a rose bush, I gouged my index finger, refusing to wince or gasp at the pain. I let the blood drop onto the forest floor and looked up at the full moon.
“On this night of the full moon,” I whispered, feeling the energy on the clearing around me buzz against my skin, “I come beneath the sacred light of my Goddess, full in her might. Hear me Old Ones, witch’s friends, for I come to make offerings.” I felt the woods around me fill with unseen eyes, listening. Watching. “Look now upon your devotee, following the Old Ways by moonlight and earth, I’ve felt your light, I hear your call, to my Goddess and you I give myself.”
There was a sudden wind around me and many voices whispering. I felt such a heavy warmth enter my body, so forceful that I fell backwards with its weight. Laying on the forest floor, a smile spread across my face as the Gods and Goddesses of my world welcomed me into their following.
December 21, 1640
“I saw you sneak into the forest on All Hallow’s Eve,” my sister Jennet hissed at me behind our prayer books. “What were you doing? You are too odd to be meeting a man — were you meeting the Devil?”
I ignored her and continued to sit silently as others prayed. I fought with my mother over going to church, but she won. Still, I refused to pray to a God whom I did not follow. Not that I’d had the courage to tell my mother such.
Whispers followed me as I walked out of the church as they always do. People never complained when my teas healed their ills, but there was strength in numbers I suppose. Still, there seemed to be an edge to the whispers today, one that put me ill at ease. Then, I overheard one of the whispers.
“Do you think the Holy Inquisitor is here for her?”
My blood turned cold. Witch hunters, I think, my heart suddenly hammering against my ribcage. I’d heard stories, of course, of witches being burned or hung by the neck, but I never thought they would make it out to our small, inconsequential Painswick.
I turned to follow the whispers and saw a man wearing a long black coat with a tall white collar and a black hat. He carried a wooden staff that taps the ground as he walks. His face was craggy with a nose that juts out, creating an odd shadow over his thin lips. A dark curly beard and curlier hair framed this severe face. For a moment, I swore he looked at me.
The moment passed and on he walked. I swallowed, trying to impart some moisture in my suddenly dry mouth.
December 27, 1640
Mrs. Brunswith next door had taken ill. I went over to give her one of my teas, but her husband looked at me with wide eyes, made excuses, and promptly slammed the door in my face.
They’ve never turned down my teas before.
February 1, 1641
I walked deep into the forest, holding up my skirts so they would avoid roots and branches. I knew I had to be careful with my witchcraft and honoring of the Gods and Goddesses, but it was Imbolc, the day we usher in the spring. In church we learned of the pagan festivals that had been celebrated by the heathens before they knew of Jesus Christ and His saving grace. It was said that on the day of Imbolc, the pagans would sacrifice a baby to bring the spring back and its blood would be used to fertilize the fields.
My Goddess showed me a different kind of celebration.
One night, I dreamt I walked through green hills, covered with small flowers pushing up through the melting snow. A woman appeared as I began my way up one of the hills. She smiled at me, placed a hand on my cheek, and beckoned me into a passageway I had not seen until just then. As we walked into the earth, I noticed her ears were slightly pointed and the green dress she wore did not touch the ground. Her hand was warm in mine, pushing an odd tingling sensation up into my arm. The tunnel became quite dark, but I was not afraid. I heard laughing first, then the tail end of a melody, whether sung or played I could not tell. Light from a bonfire danced on the walls as we rounded a corner, blocked and revealed by dancing forms.
The woman smiled at me and lead me into the circle of dancing creatures. Another grasped my hand and I was whirled in an unearthly dance, so quick I could not catch the movements of their feet. Then, with much surprise, I felt my feet leave the ground. We rose into the air, still twirling about the fire. If I had been in my physical body, I would have quickly become sick, but instead I laughed and sang and danced as if this world was my own.
When our feet returned to the ground, we sat together and food and drink was passed around. I went to take some bread and wine, but the woman-creature who led me here took them from my hand and shook her head. It was clear to me I was not to partake in the feast.
Once all were satisfied but myself, water from a well bucket was passed around. The woman-creature handed me a small bowl and poured me some water from the well. I heard a voice in my mind, though I did not see her lips move.
Take a sip and you will be blessed by the Sidhe. We are the Fair Folk, the Blessed, the Fairies of the Otherworld, and tonight you could be blessed by all the goodly intentioned among us. Choose not to drink, and the blessing will not become yours. Your life will not be eased by this blessing. You will gain knowledge, but hardship will not pass you by.
I stared into her deep green eyes for so long I thought I would become entranced by them. Without breaking her stare, I raised the bowl to my lips and drank until the water was gone. She smiled and blinked.
I found myself back in my bed, sheets of cotton scratching my bare shoulders, a rogue piece of straw from my mattress poking my leg. My room looked no different, but I knew my life would never be the same.
And so an hour ago I had gathered bread, cheese, and wine from the cupboards to bring as offering to my Goddess and the Sidhe. My mother would notice the wine missing, but would likely blame it on Jennet. It would not be the first time wine had gone missing and Jennet was to blame.
My stockings were already soaked through with wet from the lingering snow on the ground, but I knew the clearing I was headed for was near. A large pine was directly in front of me, and as I came around the other side, bobbles of light caught my eye. They flew ahead of me, just barely keeping in sight until I came to the clearing. There they danced for but a moment before blinking out.
I took my time building the stack for my fire. Many of the branches just outside of the clearing had remained dry, sheltered by the towering oaks and pines. The box of matches which usually sat on our hearth was in my pocket, and with only a few matches I coaxed a small fire into burning. In front of the fire I laid my offerings, whispering words to honor my Goddess and the Fair Folk and to invite them to share my fire. I began to dance, clumsily, with my soaked and numb feet tripping on rocks concealed by darkness. There was a spark that leapt from my fire into the air, floating on the light breeze before falling to the ground. Just as it was falling, it illuminated a pair of eyes, green and vivid. The sight made me stumble. There was laughter, and then the beginnings of a flute melody reaching my ears on the wind.
My feet warmed and moved faster, carried by the song I could hear clearly then, and for but a few moments, they left the ground and I was carried on the wind, like the spark from the fire. My skirts fluttered and swelled, my hair came loose of its braid, and I laughed. Then, ever so gently, I landed back on the ground. The music faded away and the warmth left my feet.
The smile didn’t leave my face the whole trudge home.
February 15, 1641
Mrs. Brunswith is ill once again.
I left my teas for flu in a basket on her porch with a note. Her husband was in town and I did not want to wake her. Besides, after I tried to bring her teas last she was sick and was turned away, I have not tried again.
I turned to walk back to my house, and in front of my eyes I see the Holy Inquisitor walking down the street, holding a ledger and quill in his hand. He walked at me, heading for the Brunswith’s door. My heart leapt straight into my ribcage and I moved to the side to let him pass, and then he disappeared as if he never was.
A vision. But why would the Holy Inquisitor visit the Brunswiths? Fear dropped into my belly. I prayed briefly to my Goddess to keep them safe from the witch hunts; I don’t think my heart could have born it if any one of them was put on trial as a witch and hanged.
February 20, 1641
There was a knock on the front door. My mother answered it and I heard her gasp from the room in which I was doing my sewing. Heavy booted footsteps came closer as the guest approached. It was the Holy Inquisitor. He asked if I was Ellinor the Healer. I said I was. My mother clenched the neck of her gown.
It seemed I had been accused of cursing Mrs. Brunswith. My mother denied it tooth and nail, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Jennet listening at the top of the stairs. The young girl had not liked me since she was small and I played at her cradle, unpopular as I became.
The Inquisitor asked where my healing powers came from. I said I learned which herbs did what through trial and error, and there was no witchcraft in that. He seemed placated, but his lined face gave nothing away.
With a heavy pause and a piercing glance, he bowed his head and took his leave.
Jennet was no longer at the top of the stairs. I supposed she must have gone out back while the Inquisitor was there.
They came for me at midnight. Ripped open my nightgown as I cried, screamed for mother, for Jennet, but she was the one who showed them where our room was. They were looking for something, they said for a mark Satan had left on my body when we had made our “pact.” I tried telling them I hadn’t made a deal with Satan, but they wouldn’t listen. They cut my hair down to the scalp to look for their mark, chunks of my never before cut hair falling to the ground. Nails dug into my skin as they flipped me over on my stomach. Hot tears leaked down my cheeks. Finally, it seemed they found what they were looking for; a mark I’d had on my backside since birth.
“Witch!” I heard Jennet screech. My mother was crying behind her.
“No!” I yelled, struggling for my life, for someone, anyone to listen. “It’s a birthmark! I’m not a witch! I’m not a witch!”
The lies fell from my lips like ice, my stomach contracting, my throat filling with bile.
They didn’t listen.
The Holy Inquisitor was never called. I never got a trial, the villagers didn’t see the need. The very people I cured with my herbs and my magick, the very reasons I gave my own blood that night, tied me up, closed me in a coffin and nailed it shut.
I can hear the dirt falling on the box right now. My hands are tied behind my back, forcing my shoulders into excruciating positions. Dust is filling the heavy air inside my coffin. I’ve stopped kicking, stopped screaming, stopped crying. Its getting darker. There’s salt on my cheeks where my tears dried, and the rope is chaffing my wrists raw. I know there’s no point in fighting, yet my fingers can’t stop from scrabbling and breaking my nails on the bottom of my wooden prison. Pain has worked its way into every joint in my body, even my knuckles. The blood on my knees, feet, elbows, and face from fighting entry into my box and violence against the inside of the box has finally dried, cracking against my skin as I shift.
The air is getting thicker. The edges of my consciousness are getting blurry and my breath comes in spurts. Against my will, sobs wrack their way back up my throat and new tears are birthed onto my cheeks. I’m dying. I can’t even hear the dirt falling onto my coffin anymore. Maybe they’re done.
I close my eyes against the tears and try to remember.
The yellow grass tickling my chin.
The cold water rushing around my legs.
The light of the moon on the trees.
The forest and all its hidden treasures.
I swear I see moonlight in my coffin…
J. Newell is an MFA candidate in fiction at Eastern Washington University. J. has a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Northern Arizona University, loves cats, and enjoys eating copious amounts of ice cream.