An Honourable Estate – The Prologue

Prologue

 

Mabel de Haigh paused on the edge of the market place.  Her bare feet were bloodied and torn and the snow-laden wind made her shiver as she limped forward, bareheaded and dressed only in her linen chemise.  In her hand she shielded a lighted taper, almost burnt down now.  The villagers who lined her path willed her on and gave her strength.  Although the penance for adultery was designed to be a humiliation, these people neither mocked nor jeered her as she passed, but the men averted their eyes from her unclothed body and the women whispered words of encouragement and sympathy.

At last she reached the stone cross and knelt before it to pray to God for the salvation of her soul.  She was an adulteress.  She freely admitted her sin to God, priest and man.  But she prayed that God would forgive her as easily as Father Gilbert, her confessor, and the people of Haigh who stood protectively around her.

“That is enough,” said Father Gilbert as she felt a warm cloak being placed around her shoulders and the hood raised to cover her hair which hung loose and unbraided.  “Come away now.”

She held up her hand in a silent plea for a few more moments of prayer.  Then she crossed herself, put out the taper and stumbled to her feet as arms grasped hers and supported her.  It was over now and she could go home, shriven, to have her feet bathed and bandaged and to recover from her long penitential walk.

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