Audra could hear Belinda giggling as she approached the Rare Book Library. Honestly, did those two ever stop? It was like formula for a young adult novel with them. Audra was terrified at any moment that Edward was going to jump on the nearest sofa and declare that he had carved Belinda's name into his chest. Belinda seemed to be more level-headed, though, and would probably take that all in stride. Plus she was outrageously wealthy and could probably have Edward "disappeared" if it all got to be too much.
Maybe Audra was jaded, or just simply jealous. After all, the most "love" she received tonight was when Micah rang her landline as she was walking out the door to the library. She had ignored it though. She was trying to put an end to obvious booty calls from Micah. She was trying to quit him altogether and for the most part it was working, as long as she stayed busy. Very very busy.
Apropos of nothing, Audra's little "sister" Song Le had advised her sometime ago that the best way to get over a man was to get under a new one, which - coming from such a conservative woman - was equal parts horrifying and hilarious. But the saying did have some truth to it. Audra would have to keep her radar out for an equally jaded man who could ease her aching spirit...
"Hiya Audra! What took you so long?" Edward broke his gaze from Belinda as Audra hefted the unbelievably heavy oak door aside and bounced up to help her. "Anyway, take my chair, I need to sharpen my pencil."
"Is that some sort of clever euphemism?" wondered Audra.
"No," laughed Belinda,"he really is just using pencils. He thinks it's more authentic than pens or something. Everybody searches for their college experience in their own way, I guess."
"Ain't that the truth" muttered Audra, it was her night for one-liners obviously. "So, what have you uncovered so far, Victorian detectives?"
"Well, as you know, our assignment was to research the solitary nature of the English gentlemen of the 1820s; his work ethic, his opportunities for marriage as a function of his becoming gainfully employed. It was different than today. Women made prudent choices based on class expectations and financial forecasting. For men, it was a sincere achievement to convince a woman to marry him based on his merits as a provider. It was far more realistic and a greater indicator of success than today's love matches.
"Hmmm," said Audra. Her mind was on Micah. Faced with purely economic conditioning, would she choose him? The answer was yes, unequivably yes, entirely due to his wealth and privilege. For some reason that made her stomach turn. It was hot to have an affair with someone who was hot, redundant phrasing aside, but to be tied to him forever was a different story...it was his infidelity that made her judge him harshly and see him as weak. His privilege made him slightly less capable in her eyes. What a little hypocrite she was! Obviously, it would be different if she were starving, opium-addicted waif...
..."and how much time men spent apart from women. There was no real co-mingling, or 'cross-pollination' of the sexes. The risk of losing what was available in the hopes that something better might eventually come along forced an entirely different set of decision-making skills."
I can relate, thought Audra.
But she didn't think it for long because at that moment Edward came flying down the corridor and slammed a book down on the table. Dust flew up causing everyone to cough and sputter. Edward was lit from within but still maintained his sage exterior.
"Hey! Look what I found!" said, brandishing his pencil and turn a page of the heavy thick book. The first few pages where a soft moss green, it took a minute to realize, it was actually a delicate type of mold.
"Oh! It's rotting!" exclaimed Belinda.
"That's right," nodded Edward, ever the scholar. "It's vellum, or sheep skin, and it has not been well-preserved."
"What the hell are you touching it for, then?" asked Audra. They were absolutely going to get in trouble for this. "And where did you get it?"
"I ...found it. There are cabinets back there. Some are unlocked." Edward squirmed under the scrutiny. He was lying. He had picked the lock. It was a problem he had, fairly compulsive. But he was keeping a lid on it. That and the fires...he hadn't started one in ages. "But actually check it out because it's not in English, it's in Latin. Or rather, it's an old English translation of a Latin court record. A
"What?" both girls in unison.
Edward, speaking in his most professorial tone and foreshadowing the great scholar he would eventually become, began: "Follow me, folks, this isn't hard. It's a book, a 'modern' translation -for the time- of a much older tribunal held in...," Edward squinted and peered flipping the first few pages back and forth, creating cracks in the dry binding. "...what is now
by three priests ...and overseen by a cardinal. It's a court case, see? Here it
has the allegations made by the prosecuting priests and responses from the
accused and evidence from various witnesses, mostly peasant folk."
"How are you reading this?" Audra wondered aloud.
"Um well, I've just been practicing." No, that wasn't true. Edward had been here before. He had actually been in every building and every room in the entire campus. When his insomnia kept him up at night, he found it relaxing to explore his environment. The various keys and lock picking equipment he had accumulated over the years came in helpful but he didn't always need it. People had a way of not seeing him. And he had a way of using that to his advantage. Specifically in the Rare Book Library, he had been through all these books before. This was just the most interesting one and the one he most wanted to show (and show off!) to Belinda. He loved sharing stuff with her. He felt so smart around her. They were so different and they had so much to teach each other.
"But that's not the best part-"
"What's the best part?” Audra asked dryly. Edward ignored that and Belinda smiled at him.
"The best part is that they seem to be talking about possession... by the devil... and an exorcism..."
"...Or rather, what to do when the exorcism doesn't work."
The room seemed to still around them. This was fairly off-putting. Audra felt a small chill go up her spine and began to wonder about her walk home. Maybe she should ask Belinda and Edward to walk with her... it was dumb to take risks on campus.
The question hung in the air.
Finally: "What do you do when the exorcism doesn't work", Belinda whispered flatly, not a question.
"It seems the accused was a ...let me see... a woman. No surprise there, heh."
Silence from Audra. Rolled eyes from Belinda. Edward could be annoying.
"Ahem, yes, ...'found to be possessed but various attempts at ridding her of the demon were wholly unsuccessful', so...
"So?" Audra now. Both these girls were hanging off his every word and he was seriously enjoying it. Edward was flipping through pages quite quickly now. There were vast tracts of biblical passages that had been inscribed in colour plates, not faded with age. Vibrant greens and golds, iridescent blues seemed to jump from the page even in the low light of the Rare Book Library. There were images of various rituals, priests holding talismans to the foreheads of the masses, doves and angels framing the corners of the pages, shapes of the cross with crucified bodies upon them - no, impaled bodies on single trunks of wood, completely gruesome - there were even pencil marks in the margins, proof that someone had been here before.
"She was bricked up in the tower of her castle and passed food through a small hole" Edward said finally.
"The tower of her castle. She must have been rich, nobility?"
"Yes, it would seem so." Edward, the wise man.
"So, to recap," Belinda said. "The Vatican in Rome thought enough of this situation to send three priests and a cardinal to a small backwater in Hungary on the word of some peasant folk that a woman - a castle-dwelling noble woman - was possessed by the Devil and all the conventional methods of devil-removing were not effective. And their solution was to brick her up in the Hungarian equivalent of the
. I can see why
the Victorian gentleman would enjoy this book." They all laughed. Tower
"Well, yes, but..." Edward began again.
"But what?" asked Audra.
"She was accused of murder. Actually, torture, murder and something that reads exsanguinatore maximus per virginus dolore ... 'full bloodletting of sorrowful virgins'..."
"Holy moly," breathed Audra.
"But no, that is not what it says. The English translator makes it clear that is not what the Hungarian word really means, at least not colloquially among these peasant folk. Apparently these Hungarian farmers were fairly coherent Third-Wave feminists because, while they did have a word for virgin, that is not the word they are using. They had another word for a young woman. A word meaning she had never had an orgasm. In their culture, fertility was a function of whether or not a man could give his woman an orgasm. No orgasm, no babies, at least as far a local folk knowledge goes. The Hungarians weren't accusing her of killing virgins, as in women who had never had sex as some of these victims were very married women, it means the woman had never had an orgasm. And the accused could somehow smell it. These were the women she killed. These were the maidens whom she bathed in their blood!"
Then the lights went out.