by Alex S. Johnson
Rising from her bath, Bellamorte took a moment to regard herself in the oval silver and jewel-framed mirror that stood in the east-facing corner of the tiny hut in the woods. Beside the fireplace hung the copper basin in which she’d heated the water.
Vanity, her good stepmother had called it. Self-regard, a sin for which the consequences were death. Yet, good as she was, Clarissa allowed it nevertheless.
She was convinced, bless her dear soul, that Bellamorte would eventually see the error of her ways and accept the true Savior.
Amazingly enough, all it took was a blush and a bowed head, simple words of a contrition she would never feel, for Clarissa to believe that her stepdaughter was headed down the true path. Give her time, and she would come around to righteousness.
Righteousness, yes. For Bellamorte, this was her fine 18-year-old figure, droplets of water glistening in the firelight. Miniature echoes of her full breasts, womanly hips and dark thatch. Her waist-length, straight raven hair. Subtly Asiatic eyes.
Her younger sister, Donella, had not been as understanding. Donella clung to her prayerbook and her Bible like talismans. She lectured and read aloud from the volumes the village priest had given her.
Probably for a stiff price, smirked Bellamorte.
But Donella had been dealt with. Sternly, but more mercifully than she deserved. Bellamorte would never stoop to the cruelty of the priest and his kind.
She stoked the fire again with the poker and threw in a sprinkle of the rust-red powder from the pearl-colored sachet.
The fire snapped and sparkled. For a moment, a face appeared in a burst of grey smoke: the Lady of the Castle.
Her face was white as snow and her lips a rich scarlet. Long dark ringlets gathered on her shoulders.
Her eyes: terrible and beautiful at the same time, like the sweet tongues of Hell.
Fair Lady, I will be with thee soon.
Thoroughly toweling herself off, Bellamorte scooped a handful of the unguent–a clear gel that smelled of burning leaves, blood and opium–and carefully applied it, first to her forehead, then her shoulder blades, her breasts, and further south.
Her skin tingled, and at first a strawberry rash burst from the places she had touched. Then the rash receded and the slow bloom of ecstasy traveled in two directions: up her spine and down her flesh.
Deeper down. Crosswise.
Acorus vulgare, Verspertillionis sanguinem, Solanum somniferum, boiled together in oil. Indian Hemp and stramonium. To bind it, the blood and fat of night birds.
Then the charm was firm and good.
Outside the virgin snow spread across the countryside. Stars like diamonds studded the night sky. The moon was pregnant and about to give birth.
Bellamorte reached for the dress, a magnificent creation in violet: shot silk, with a ruffled collar, lacy puffed sleeves, low-cut decolletage, silver hem. She rolled the white silk stockings over her knees. Then the burgundy shoes.
The hut was ever so quiet.
Ever so peaceful.
And she looked and smelled and felt like Magic.
But she was losing time. The Lady was very strict about her new appointments, and Bellamorte did not wish to disappoint.
Gathering together her offerings of love, Bellamorte placed them in the wicker basket and covered it with a blue cloth. She plucked the half-eaten apple from the rude wooden shelf her grandfather had built and took a big bite. The sugar rushed through her bloodstream like living flame.
Now she would go.
She spun before the fire, counterclockwise, stamping out the rhythms of the Rede on the tamped earthen floor.
Bellamorte took one last look around the cottage. Her sister, stepmother and father, still as statues on the hay-stuffed cots. Three gifts for the Lady.
She pulled the thick woolen shawl around her shoulders and poked her head out the doorway, through the apron of cured leather.
Sniffed the air, the clean early-morning scent of nothing.
And bid farewell to the hut in the forest forever.