by Carolyn Ward

‘Fallen woman, your God has forsaken you,’ hissed the Bishop.

She bit her lip beneath the hood, and the manacles rattled as her thin wrists shook.

She pictured Matthew. In another life, another time; maybe they could have married. She imagined a fat smiling baby and her heart pounded in her ears.

‘None fall so far as a sinful nun,’ he went on, scorn in his deep voice. 

She bit back a sob. How had it come to this?

‘He will be punished too,’ said the Bishop. ‘If he prays enough, he will be forgiven.’

Forgiven? she thought bitterly. 

She wondered for a moment about a Bishop who forgave men yet punished women. She felt fierceness within. ‘I love you, Matthew!’ she shouted. Her words were muffled by the hood but rang clearly in her heart.

The Bishop heard. He propelled her forwards, and pushed her against a cold stone wall. She breathed ancient dust.

‘You have a choice,’ said the Bishop. ‘Hole, or none?’

She swallowed. A hole left amid the stones would allow her to see out, and even be passed food and water. With care from the nuns, she could survive within the wall for months, gently weakening. 

With no hole, she would be walled into pure darkness, and destined to die in days without water. A standing grave, her bones destined to become part of the nunnery forever.

‘No hole,’ she whispered.

‘May God have mercy upon your soul.’ He tore off her hood.

‘And may He never forgive you!’ she suddenly screamed back at him. 

The stonemason rapidly assembled the wall around her. He reached in and gently stroked her hair. ‘Bless you, miss,’ he muttered, his old eyes sad.

Three days passed quickly, and then Matthew took her in his arms.