by Simon Barnes
I was hungry.
So much so that one day at work I stole some leftovers from our daily banquet with the guests. I did not consider this is as a sin at the time. It was punishable by death in our village. No exceptions. But I had no choice: my sick wife Amelia, my rapidly dropping weight, the haughty looks on the guests in their finery rolling up in their carriages that were discretely taken away while said guests stamped the snow during one of the harshest winters in living memory.
Perfume. The flash of jewels.
And I was still hungry. The smell of roasting meat was making me dizzy.
“Charles! Why haven’t the horses been dressed down?” the yeoman suddenly shouted.
I rose out of my dizziness and snapped to attention. “I’ll find John, I sent him out to dress them down.” I threw on my cloak and began walking to the stables intending to make John’s life a misery for making this evening even more difficult. I had given the young man clear instructions and was somewhat angry. But soon after I stepped out into the bitter cold, calm came over me. The sun was disappearing and I had work to do - but the final dying play of shimmering crimson light on the snow, dancing over the snowflakes, slowed my steps. But apparently John needed to get his act together and I was mindful of the fact that I had stashed a sack full of a couple of pounds of meat and bread and cheese in a cupboard of the yeoman’s kitchen. I needed to get this done. Quickly.
But I couldn’t help myself from taking my time softly crunching over the virgin snow, now glowing blue in the twilight, as I made my way to the stables. Besides, I had a feeling John was on top of it.
He was. All the horses I glanced over were dressed down. Fresh hay and food. I was not surprised. John had an obsessive care about his horses. Unfortunately the yeoman had yet to see this. There was a certain fear in John’s eyes as I inspected the stables since it was the winter season. The yeoman was not known for his generosity and criticism was not a good thing for anyone employed by him. I had been told to tell people to leave for less. I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked him for his hard work.
“Make sure every horse is well taken care of tonight. And stay warm John.” Time was ticking.
I stepped back outside and saw something … unusual. A glow, a low green glow on the horizon. I had heard about such a thing from sailors who fished in the northern waters. Colours in the sky that bring tears to your eyes. I marveled ... then remembered the sack of food I needed to get back home. Amelia was barely able to hold down her food so I hoped something a little richer than the watery oats we could barely afford might keep her going further. I was also looking forward to a slice of meat. Selfish, yes. But I was hungry.
As I was walking back I was looking dead straight at the horizon. The glowing green horizon.
There were men outside the yeoman’s house. Unfamiliar at first, but as I got closer I knew one was the sheriff. His hat gave him away. And another five or six men, looking at me. The sheriff was holding something. The faint yellow light from the house behind him made it difficult to tell what it was. I got closer. Soft crunches on the snow.
He was holding a sack.
There is a story of a Spartan child who was so hungry he caught a wild fox. This was strictly forbidden, so when the child trainee warriors were asked to stand to attention he hid the contraband fox under his tunic. If caught the punishment would be severe. The fox started eating him alive. Gnawing. Eventually the child died from his injuries. But the child never cried out. He did what he needed to do. He became Spartan legend.
I stood still. I knew what was about to happen next. The sheriff threw the sack at me and shouted, “Eat!”
I stayed still, the sack lying in the snow near my feet. “EAT!” he shouted louder. Silence. More snow was gently drifting down, soft velvet feathers. Pillowed peace.
“That was your last meal thief!” were his last words to me. The sheriff turned his back and walked into the yeoman’s house. The other men remained and, after a pause, started to walk towards me. As they got closer I recognised one, illuminated in the silver moonlight. My old childhood friend David. A giant of a man and equally in heart. He was the first to reach me. Theother men were hanging back. David and I locked eyes.
“I will take care of Amelia,” he whispered. With that both he and I, with the rest of the men trailing behind, silently walked towards the church.
Our village did not have much to speak of, but we took pride in our old church. Especially its windows, stained glass with ancient patterns. The priest had recently died and without a replacement yet due the villagers had kept the candles burning until such a time another could be found. The light glowed from within the windows, casting an iridescent rainbow across the frosty ground outside. The very same ground where all faced justice. David gently put his hand on my shoulder and I knew it was time. I knelt. I prayed.
I did what I needed to do. For Amelia and I. We were hungry for life, for a chance at enjoying life. For enjoying life in all its colour.
As the last of my strength bled away, I finally managed to look up. My last thoughts were the colours.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Motes at Play in the Halls of Light'