When the Devil puts his price tag on your head, you know you have to call upon some very special friends to help you stay alive. Welcome to the world of Emma. Thrown from relative obscurity into a time of being hunted, our young protagonist must transition from modern day to peasant life with difficult choices and a need to adapt. Life on the run takes trust and belief in the power of others, on a vastly changing stage. Emma Plant’s first novel throws the reader into a place where reality is no longer three dimensional. Descriptions of fairies, witches, gnomes and demons paint a picture for anyone who may wish a glimpse beyond the veil. Her characters live in the reader’s imagination beyond the final page, with the promise of a sequel, and potential trilogy in the offing. This new-age fantasy story will appeal to young adults through to senior years and is a page-turner from start to finish.
The wind was blowing strong around the house, sending all the yellow leaves against the walls. I was hypnotized by the dance, so powerful and apparently chaotic, yet so delicate and harmonious. Each leaf falling in its own perfect time, creating a masterpiece of art on the ground. Nature had always fascinated me, everything had a reason, if hidden to men’s eyes.
My thoughts were always on him. Where was he? Why was he not back yet?
I had just finished fetching wood, ready to cut it as soon as the wind would cease. Ella was looking after the fireplace and dinner, Ben after the animals. I closed my shawl even more tightly around my shoulders as the wind hit the house and surrounded it with a low howl. Life was so simple there. Being afraid was part of the daily routine, but it was a different anguish: we just had to follow Mother Nature’s rhythm and hope that she would always be in a good mood with us. Like a boss/employee relationship. My boss was the same. Sometime before, I had been working in an office. I was actually pretty high up and I was making a very good career. Never in my life would I have thought that I would have ended up here.
It all started almost two years ago.
“How did you become a witch, Abela?”
She remained in silence for quite a while, staring at the flames in the fireplace through her glass full with red wine. I thought she didn’t hear me, or maybe that she didn’t want to talk about it.
She then spoke, talking to somebody far away, to an invisible audience. Her voice was feeble, almost a whisper, so I quietly moved to the armchair near hers.
“Almost 300 years have gone by, yet I remember it so clearly...
My family and I were living in a beautiful part of Cumbria, only a few miles from Penrith—in those years famous for its tailors, coopers and saddlers. My father was a merchant and managed to get rich through the trades with India, so we lived in a very beautiful, elegant house in the countryside.
That day he had decided to send my brother Tobias to the village, to talk to the abbot about his christening, what he had to do before getting baptised. I wasn’t required to accompany him, but I pleaded with my father to let me go. After all, there was still the idea of me becoming a cloistered nun, since my eldest sisters were all married or engaged, and I was almost 19. I did have interested parties, but none had caught my eyes yet, and I was happy that none had asked my father for my hand. I was quite pleasant on the eyes, yet I recognized that men were rather scared by my directness and quick mind. If you then add the fact that my long hair was as red as embers, I believe you got the picture, in an era in which basically every woman was accused of witchcraft at least once in her life. I was still safe, although I noticed the suspicious gazes the people in the village gave me, especially women, but none of them ever said anything until then, since my family was high in the church ranks. Anyhow, that morning I left with Tobias, my younger brother.
Walking through the countryside always gave me a cheerful happiness, but that morning I felt something else. Nowadays I can say it was…lust. I felt as if I had had a sensual dream the previous night, and my mind was still lost in it, despite not recollecting what had happened. My body was aching and thirsty to be touched. To be touched by the man in my dream. My breasts felt bigger and fuller. I felt ashamed yet happy, the feeling of having my own man made me feel protected, and finally gave me a purpose, although I did not know who that man was and I had only dreamed of him, I thought.
I enjoyed the walk with my brother because he was so different when we were alone: around our father it seemed he had to show his masculinity and roughness, show him that he could be the man of the house, so to say. Yet when we were alone he was a great companion, funny and open minded. For that reason, I managed to be always quite open with him, but I did not tell him anything about the probable dream or about my feelings. “You seem so happy today, Abela,” he noticed. I justified my giddiness as being caused by the sunny day, after a long period of rain and fog.
To go to the abbey we had to walk through the village and, although nobody had ever said anything to me, I was not eager to meet the inhabitants, their expressions clearer than words. So I kept my eyes low and hid my long wild hair under a scarf I always had with me. We walked fast. Tobias had to run after me. “It’s fine, sister. If anybody tries to disrespect you they will have to deal with me,” he said in a comforting way. I lifted my head to thank him, and there I saw him. He was behind other people, yet I noticed him immediately. Everything else around us disappeared. The most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on. I immediately knew I had dreamed of him the night before. I didn’t stop walking, although the man was staring at me, moving through the crowds of vendors, children, dogs.
My brother looked in the same direction my astonished eyes were pointing. “What is wrong Abela?” he asked in panic.
“The man, don’t you see him?”
He took my arm and we both stopped. As soon as I diverted my look from him, the man disappeared. I dragged Tobias towards the area. I was curious, fascinated, and didn’t want to lose the mysterious appearance. My brother just kept saying my name until he stopped our strange hunt with a “That’s enough now, sister! You are acting crazy!”
Only then I stopped and focused my thoughts. The man I had dreamed of was gone, nowhere to be found. I could have spotted him anywhere, since he was wearing a purple capotain and fine clothing, way different than the villagers surrounding him. I looked around, my hair now dancing like flames in the wind, attracting everyone’s attention. My brother dragged me away, towards the abbey, followed by the residents’ murmurs.
“What did you see?” asked Tobias.
I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t want him to think I was crazy.
“I thought I saw my friend Judith,” I lied.
We arrived at the wooden doors of the abbey, our knocking on the thick panel barely audible. We waited for the guard to open up, since we were outside the visiting hours. It was then that my body started to dance from the inside again, I still remember it so clearly...”
Abela remained silent for a few minutes, her words were so enchanting that when she stopped talking I almost fell off my armchair. She then went back to her narration:
“I felt him there, the mysterious man, so I turned my head quickly, expecting to see him behind me, yet there was nothing, only a fresh breeze blowing through my hair. “Abela…” carried the wind. “Abela…” in my head. At first I thought it was somebody from behind the door, but the voice was all around me, and so mellow.
“Did you hear?” I asked my brother.
“Yes, somebody is coming”
“No, I meant the voice calling me”. Tobias stared at me with an inquisitive look. The exact look I had feared for my entire life.
“I must be tired and hungry, all this fresh air is making me dizzy,” I quickly added. The problem is that I was really feeling dizzy, tormented by the sensual voice calling me.
As soon as the abbey’s door opened, I jumped inside the courtyard. Finally the voice stopped, and the silence of the religious ground caught us in its embrace. We walked through the little garden, filled with roses and lavender, one apple tree in the middle, then we proceeded under the cloister and entered the waiting area in front of the abbot’s office. As soon as we were left alone, Tobias grabbed my hand and, worry in his eyes, asked me if I could wait to eat until after the visit to the abbot.
“Yes, don’t worry, and please forgive me for my behaviour, I don’t know what was going on. I am fine now.”
Then the door opened and the abbot’s secretary called Tobias. As he saw me following my brother, the overly thin man stopped me. “I am afraid this is a matter that has to be discussed only between the two interested parties.” Tobias hesitated but I hinted that everything was fine and that I would wait for him there, in the shadow. As soon as I was left alone, the untold events came rushing through my head again, filling my mind with the images of the beautiful man, of lascivious encounters, of my hair loose in the sunlight, of fire, of the flowers on the way to the village, of the wind, of my body aching to see him again.
I started to tremble, scared about the inexplicable situation, considering talking to somebody at the abbey about it. But immediately another even more frightening thought swirled in my mind: I would have been accused of witchcraft, if not the same day, surely soon after, when my story would have gone from mouth to mouth, changed to please the twisted and bored minds of the villagers. No, I couldn’t have talked to them. Maybe my mother would have understood.
The shadow and the stone bench on which I was sitting were getting too cold so I decided to walk towards one of the benches near a window carved into the thick walls of the abbey. I sat on the stone, warm from the sunlight, and admired the scenery outside the walls. The long grass, moving like a golden ocean under the fresh breeze, the village resting under the soft hill, the brown and green fields, the white and black clouds of birds flying right above ground. Right in the middle of the field in front of me was a scarecrow. Strange position for it, since the field was covered only in golden blades of grass, no bird would have eaten those. Then the scarecrow moved, and I realized that it was not a scarecrow but a real person. He was holding a stick, resting both his arms on it and wearing a purple capotain.
Electricity ran through my body and my sight became black. One part of me wanted to run out, to the stranger, and satisfy my curiosity, the other part shook in fear, knowing exactly what was happening. The devil was looking for me.”