Ocasional armchair sociologist, burgeoning writer, amateur occultist. Posting daily flash fiction of ~400 words since 2012 and commenting on society since these year markers stopped making sense in the '80s
Below her balcony, Elizabeth watched the peasants revolt against their lawful ruler. There was a certain directness to the way they perceived good and evil. A binary system even. If Protestant then evil. If Catholic then good. She envied the simplicity of their understanding. Especially since its corollaries accused Catholics who did evil of merely not truly being Catholic.
She would never be able to return to such naïveté. That point had passed perhaps as early as the murder of her mother when she was two years of age. Or perhaps she had been born into a world that could never allow for such an unvariegated perspective on philosophy and politics. Even her dear sister could grasp that, even though she thought it a weakness rather than a strength.
And it was a matter of politics. In this age beyond any other, religion was inextricably linked with politics, so entwined as to be never broken again. Her father, although driven in part by ego, had cast the glove in the arena, forever making religion a tool of government as for so long government had been the tool of religion. The reciprocity didn’t please her, it merely complicated politics beyond all reason.
She turned to her principal secretary and crumpled the parchment in her fist. “I have put up with insurrection and strife in my kingdom for too long, Sir Walsingham. For sixteen years I have stood with the Church against me, with all of Christendom embattled in my very land, I have been called a servant of crime, a fake and a heretic. But these words mean nothing without deeds behind them. And now you tell me that my dearest sister has been behind the attempts on my life?”
“It is my sorrow to admit the fact. The proof lies in my report.” To his credit, Walsingham did look regretful, but perhaps he too understood the consequences of the death of a royal.
“Very well then.” Elizabeth took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Opening them again, she felt the weight of her rule on her shoulders. “Then in the words of my father, off with her head.”
Venom coated the inside of the chalice with a golden glow. The high priestess rotated the chalice so that the venom covered the surface evenly. Passing it to her handmaidens, she raised her hands in benediction as the maidens carefully filled the chalice with consecrated wine. They passed it among themselves before it made its way around the circle of junior priestesses, then to the outer circle of acolytes.
She watched as each took a sip then passed it to the adjacent sister. The chalice rounded the outer circle and went to the novices. Tonight Winter Solstice marked the recurrence of the ritual. On the darkest night of the year, the priestesses and all the faithful of the goddess’ temple would drink from the cup. The ritual cursed some, blessed others, and rarely, a new priestess was chosen. The high number of novices spoke to the people’s devotion to the goddess despite the dangers of the venom. Half or less of the novices survived this night to become acolytes.
The chalice was warm in her hands, passed from the chilly heights of the priestess at the altar through a hundred hands or more. She tipped the chalice to her lips, drinking the smallest sip from the dregs that remained. A sip, no more. She had been warned and would obey.
The novice next to her jostled her arm as she reached for the cup. She swallowed reflexively as the metal hit her teeth. Her grip loosened on the chalice and the overzealous novice lunged for it. The cold liquid cascaded down her throat and she clasped her hands to her neck. Her frantic gaze caught the eyes of the novices next to her and she watched the woman take a sip and pass the chalice, a small inexplicable smirk crossing her lips.
The cold hit her stomach and she doubled over as the cramps radiated through her. The stone floor caught her almost gently as her robes fell around her. The swish of fabric followed her ears, drowning out the shouts and screams that accompanied her fall.
On the floor, someone turned her over and tried to pour something into her mouth. She shook her head languidly and her gaze caught on the altar. A blue glow radiated from the high priestess, whose face was still turned to the goddess. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
When the Allegheny Courthouse still housed the city jail, the connecting point between the two was called the Bridge of Sighs, made to imitate the original bridge in Italy. Nowadays, prisoners are transported from the new jail, only a few blocks away, to the basement of the courthouse; one must still cross the bridge in order to be housed in the bullpen while awaiting a hearing. It’s a long fucking walk.