Excerpt: ‘She Was Left As a Warning’

She was left as a warning. The bridge was not to be crossed again. She lay at the center of the long cracked stone, a still-lit lantern flickering beside her, her white dress as pristine as it was when she left home the day before. If anyone else had passed her, they might have thought her asleep, the pale pink glow of life still hung about her cheeks. If anyone else had passed… But they didn’t. Another three days passed before she was discovered, lantern still fiercely burning. Another three days before the bridge was even approached closely enough for her angelic form to be noticed. The traders, carrying furs and fabrics, raised the alarm.

Her death, the daughter of the mayor, was a striking blow to the community. She was brought home on top of the furs and fabrics in the traders’ cart, lantern left behind. The trees across the bridge shook with the sudden force of wind and the traders looked back, convinced someone was watching. They left the scene quickly, cart clattering over the dirt road back toward the village. The gate was opened once again for them, and they were greeted with grief and alarm as they reached the steps of the city’s community hall. She was carried up the steps on a blanket of grey rabbit fur and laid down at the mayor’s feet. The crowd that had gathered upon the spreading of such news watched in quiet and expectant shock.

The mayor demanded an explanation, frozen on the spot as he stared down at his lost daughter. The traders glanced at one another, each waiting for the other to speak. The younger, a soul of merely twenty-four years, stepped forward.

“We found her on the bridge,” the trader said and gestured back down the dirt path from which they came. A woman, with the harshness of the world and the love of a full life etched on her face, pushed her way through the whispering crowd, but stopped when she reached the steps. Her hands covered her first sob as she fell to her knees, shaking her head and practically collapsing onto the steps before her. This sudden outpouring of grief from the mayor’s wife, a woman known for her strength and composure, woke the hitherto quieted emotions of the crowd surrounding her. Their anger, confusion, grief, and fear pressed forward onto the traders, the shoulders of the sobbing mother, and the mayor, consumed by disbelief.