“This is Maddalena who came to live with the Order when I was young,” Auri said, nodding, “it’s been a long time since I have heard her name or thought about her. But this is she.”
We shifted in our seats toward Auri.
“There was a fire in the woods one night close to the prioria,” Auri said, “the brothers ran to it, hoping to smother flames before the entire forest caught fire. I had never seen a fire like that, nor such chaos with brothers running about, shouting to one another. As we were beating eruptions of flames that seemed to spring from nowhere and everywhere, we saw her - walking out of the smoke like an apparition. She ran from the flames as if being chased by a demon. Black smoke curled around her ankles and in her hair.”
“But if it was in the woods at night, how did you see black smoke?” Nana asked.
“A sudden storm full of lightning lit the woods where we stood,” Auri said, “brighter than a full moon but brief. I recoiled as the strikes came closer, my eyes feeling the pain of the light too bright too suddenly. But even in those moments before my eyes closed, I could see the smoke - thick tendrils like the roots of a tree grasping at her.”
“I do not think it was smoke,” Isobeau said, “but the Shadows.”
“The same that chased us when I first came from the library fire?” I asked, keeping my voice to a whisper so as not to interrupt Auri.
“Rain followed the lightning. Rivers poured from the sky and quenched the fire. As quickly as the storm came, it was gone. I remember standing there shivering from being soaked through,” Auri said, “watching as two of my brothers came to the woman’s aid, pulling her away from the smoke. The ugly black wisps pulled back as might hands touching a hot stove. Wide-eyed, shaking, fear written on her face.
“She must have been in shock,” I said. Auri nodded.
“We made a place for her in one of our rooms, taking turns to watch over her as she slept making sure no harm came to her from smoke nor lightning nor any demon that might have followed her. But none were present while we were with her. In the days to follow, we gave her privacy though we took turns delivering her meals, trying to gain her trust so that she might tell us about herself and her unusual arrival.”
“So what did she say? Did she talk about how she got there?” I asked, “because her story sounds so much like mine.”
“She would only thank the brother who brought her food, and only from behind her closed door,” Auri said, “what food we brought was hardly eaten.”
“That doesn’t sound unusual for people who turn up at your door,” Nana said.
“True, many come to us in need of physical or spiritual healing,” Auri said, “but we had so little information to go on about this woman. We became concerned for her well being. One day, Brother Ezekiel thought to offer her a kindness by washing the clothing she had worn that first night. Up to that time, we had simply hung her clothing in an outer room until she wanted it. As my brother was about to launder her things, an object fell out of a pocket.”
“Was it a photo like mine?” I asked. May be there was another photo - something, anything - that might provide me with more information about her or about my situation.
“No. It was a small framed portraiture. It was delicately painted and had a gilded frame,” Auri said, “Brother Ezekiel called me to take it back to her. When I knocked on her door, she opened it a little and snatched it from my hand, slamming the door shut. I stood, shocked, not knowing what to do.&rdq...