The bells

The only sound in the pre-dawn dark was the uneven drag of her footsteps on the ice-hard ground and the ragged huff of her breath as she kept to her punishing pace. Then the soft ring of the monastery bell rang through the frozen air, carrying the long distance across the woods. She stopped and waited, anxiously counting, desperately hoping it was just a call to prayer.

It rang a second time, and a third. A fourth.

At seven, she started to re-wrap the scarf around her face and bowed her head back into the wind.



And it rang on.

At 13 she knew, and all she could do was grasp her walking stick anew and keep going. Step, thump, drag. Step, thump, drag. Step, thump, drag. All she could do was walk and pray for a warm dawn to erase the tracks of her passage. Walk, and pray, and commend to a quick death the souls of those who, even now, were doomed to the inquisitors chair for their unwitting part in her escape.

The pack bounced gently on her back with each tortuous step and reminded her, as she ran the prayer beads through fingers numb with cold and exhaustion, of all that relied on her.

And through the gloom the bells kept ringing.