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Love Scenes From the Belvoir Cathedral

Short Fiction

By Julia MarsiglioPublished 2 years ago 11 min read
Image by Evgeniya Litovchenko on Canva Pro

1182 CE

"He said yes!" 

Agnes ran through the build-site laughing in disbelief. Her father had said yes. Thomas was only an apprentice and her father —the master-builder. She'd expected a "no" or at the very least a "not yet".

"He said yes!"

Thomas echoed Agnes, catching up to her and lifting her into his arms. The moment was jubilant. Agnes had never felt happiness quite like this. This was her moment. 

The sun was setting on the nascent cathedral, washing it in a golden hue perfect for the moment. Around them, builders were packing up their tools to head home for the evening.

Agnes had grown up in the long shadow of the limestone construction. She knew every turn and nook of the massive undertaking. It was home to her. 

"I want to be married here," she whispered to Thomas.

"It's not consecrated yet."

"Then we will consecrate it with our love!"

The builders had begun to construct the scaffolding required to erect the rib vaults, but much of the roof was still bare. As the workers trickled out of the cathedral and down towards the village, the midsummer twilight set in over the two lovers. Fireflies danced, and soon the cathedral was vaulted by the naked stars.

"I Agnes pledge myself to you, Thomas, in marriage. I will be your wife. I promise to love you every day of my life. I offer my heart to you, my spirit and my help. In all that you do, I will be your companion. This I swear before God and his holy Angels."

"I Thomas pledge myself to you, Agnes, in marriage. I will be your husband. I promise to love you for as long as I live. I will protect you and treat you with kindness and respect. I swear this to you with God and the Angels as my witness."

Agnes flung her arms around Thomas's neck, pulling herself up to kiss him. He leaned into the kiss, using his hands to brush her copper-coloured waves away from her face before exploring her body. 

Agnes pulled at his tunic as he unlaced her robe. She felt the excitement rising inside her. Desire boiled and overflowed. She was his and he hers. Nothing else mattered. 

Standing naked under the heavens, the lovers paused momentarily. This was the moment of consecration. Agnes held her breath. She could hear the singing of crickets in the background.

Suddenly a cicada screamed, breaking the relative silence. Agnes laughed and Thomas lovingly lifted her into his arms.

1356 CE

"Domine salva nos, perímus: ímpera, et fac Deus tranquillitátem."

The resinous scent of incense climbed the gilded dome as Father Edmund finished his evening vespers. Outside the frigid wind howled against limestone buttresses. It was the Monday following Epiphany, and Father Edmund looked forward to a warm cup of Brother Boris's barley tea with honey by the fire before bed. A simple pleasure.

As the last sombre bars of Latin echoed across the nave, Father Edmund thought he heard a commotion mustering in the distance.

"Strange", he muttered to himself as the sound of rowdy humans grew closer. The abbey and cathedral were removed from the town, and the night was cold.

Suddenly, one of the unwieldy oak doors lumbered open, and Father Edmund watched as a lone figure slipped past and collapsed just within the welcoming arches of the grand cathedral.

He muttered something barely audible before finding his voice and croaking, louder: "sanctuary! I claim sanctuary".

Father Edmund rushed against the wind and snow curling in through the open orifice, arriving just in time to stand between the penitent sinner and the mob.

Holding a crucifix above his head he mustered the most commanding tone he could, "what business do you have here on this holy night?"


"Thieving bastard!"

"He's a date with the gallows comin'!"

"Silence!" Father Edmund bellowed, finding his voice.

"This is God's house! And all who repent are welcome here. You will not pass the threshold of God's house to defile it with your bloodlust. I envoke the law of sanctuary!"

Father Edmund was acutely aware that his short stature and gentle demeanour were poor armour against the effervescent rabble, but he hoped that the commanding presence of the Cathedral would compensate. It had before.

The angry villagers did not dissipate as he had hoped. They pressed closer to the open door, their faces contorted and grotesque in the torchlight.

"John 8:7!" Father Edmund whispered to himself.

"Qui sine peccato est vestrum primus in illam lapidem mittat!"

The crowd murmured amongst themselves, exchanging furtive glances.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone! Him who Christ himself has chosen to shelter, you would cast aside? Shame. Shame on you!"

The sea was calming. Father Edmund heard the townspeople whisper among themselves and shuffle their feet. One by one, faces that had glared at him in defiance and righteous anger turned earthwards. The moment had passed. He would live.

As the echo of the door creaking shut resonated above him, Father Edmund turned to look at the man who had sought the arms of Christ in his hour of desperation. No, not a man; the figure was small. He lay prone on the floor, his hands clasped tightly over his brown curls. He could not be more than twelve or thirteen. Just a boy.

"It is over. They have gone."

Ever so slowly the boy unfastened his fists as he turned his hands around until his palms faced the heavens, revealing a single crust of bread and a mouldy rind of cheese.

Father Edmund felt hot tears burn his eyes at the sight of the starving boy, almost killed for his hunger but for the grace of God.

"Come little one. There is some venison stew waiting for you by the fire. It isn't much, but it is warm and fills the belly."

1831 CE

"Please!" Penelope begged, tears streaming down her face. Omar stood by her side but said nothing.

"The Church of England is very clear on this. We cannot marry you unless he accepts the grace of holy Baptism".

"And the law is very clear; if you don't marry us, our marriage means nothing. Our children will be bastards. We will be outcasts. My family will never see me again!"

Penelope spat out her words, her face reddening. She hated the Church with every fibre of her moral being. Bishop Collins embodied everything she despised about the institution. He remained so calm as he enabled such injustice. His condescension was as solid as the stone gargoyles who guarded the sanctuary.

The Bishop had refused to meet with them. It had been Penelope's idea to ambush him as he prepared for the Sunday service. Early parishioners were trickling in and observing the scene.

"You think you will be outcasts," the Bishop sneered as he turned his back to them and busied himself with directing alter boys. "You already are."

Penelope cried out and sunk to the ground in a heap of crinoline. Tears and snot flowed down her blotchy face as she gasped for breath between sobs. Omar pulled a silk handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket and kneeled beside her on the cold stone.

"Here my love".

She took the offering, drying her face and looking into Omar's steady brown eyes.

"Once, a long time ago, there was a young prince who lived in a magnificent castle with his father and four older brothers. Now the old king was paranoid, thinking in turn that each of his sons would usurp him. The young prince knew nothing of this of course. 

One day, the King decreed that anyone who kills an animal in the King's woods would be banished from the kingdom forever. That evening, the prince's eldest brother returned from his hunt with a prize stag, and the King banished him. The young prince, who loved to hunt, hung up his bow and obeyed the new law without contest.

The old king, drunk with power, made one law after another. Each law the young prince obeyed, but one by one each of his brothers faltered and was banished until it was only the young prince and the old king in a dreary grey palace. The prince was fastidious in following each of the rules his father had laid out, lest he suffered the same fate as his brothers.

One day, he came into the keep to find his father hunched over in his throne. 

He greeted his father, but his father turned from him saying, "I have decreed that all who speak to us before we speak, shall be banished immediately. Go now from this place and never come back, lest I decorate the parapets with your head!"

The young prince left and rode for five days and five nights. As the last night crept into morning, he came across a grand castle. Hoping to beg for a bit of gruel or cheese and some water, he rode up to the gate. 

No sooner did he arrive than the drawbridge came down, allowing him passage into the castle. It was a festive place, filled with merrymakers feasting and singing. As he approached the keep, he saw all four of his brothers, smiling and holding their arms outstretched to welcome him home."

Omar paused, taking Penelope's hand in his own. People were staring and whispering, but Penelope ignored them.

"You see my love, I've been on the outside for most of my life, and today I am inviting you in, not out. Let me take you home."

As the bells rang out beckoning the congregation in, Omar and Penelope slipped out and down the steps of the Cathedral, holding hands and smiling.

1963 CE

"Come with me".

"I can't".

Sister Cecilia felt the silence hang heavily over her and her companion. She watched as Sister Margaret Frances lit a votive candle before returning to her place on the pew. She looked forward, her eyes brimming with tears as she smoothed her grey habit over her knees with her hands.

When Sister Cecilia had first taken her vows at twenty-two, she had felt at home. In the early post-war years, she'd found great solace in being part of something bigger than herself. It had been a simple choice. The world needed service. More than that, she had needed it. 

A life should have a purpose, she'd thought. She'd found that here, but she'd found something unexpected too. Love.

More than anything she wanted Sister Margaret Frances to look at her. If she'd just look at her, maybe she'd say yes. 

They could leave this life together. The world was changing. There was a place for them out there; a place they'd found in their community before but lost. When Sister Elizabeth had left earlier this year, Sister Cecilia couldn't stop thinking about doing the same.

"Sisters all around the world are leaving".

"I know".

"Women are making a difference out there. They can be who they are and make a difference".

"I know".

"I have to go Peggy. I can't stay here. It's crushing me".

"I know".

"Say something".

"What do you want me to say?"

"Say you'll come with me".

"I can't say that Cece".

Both sisters held their breath. Sister Cecilia stared directly at Sister Margaret Frances, who turned her head away, looking towards the altar.

"You have to go Cece, but I have to stay".

"But I love you Peggy".

Sister Margaret Frances spun around, a new resolve evident in her eyes. She took both Sister Cecilia's hands in her own and spoke.

"I will always love you Cece. Always. Don't you ever doubt that. But this, this is my home." Sister Margaret Frances looked upwards, pinning her eyes on the vaulted ceiling.

"This is where I belong. I cannot change that any more than you can change the fact that it isn't where you belong anymore".

Sister Cecilia positioned herself beside Sister Margaret Frances and lay her head on her shoulder. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she looked out the stained glass window depicting the annunciation, trying to make out the blurry forms that passed on the street without.

The two sisters sat this way until it was time to gather for morning chores, and Sister Margaret Frances left.

2095 CE

"What was that?!" 

Eva started. She'd seen something dart into the circle of light made by their fire. 

"Just a field mouse," Ace reassured her. 

The couple had made camp in the ruins of an old gothic cathedral. It had been grand once. The autumn air was frigid, but the sky was clear, and the fire kept them warm. Eva was nervous. The area was a little more populated than she would have liked, and they'd already had a close call with bandits the night before.

"Do you think it's safer to put out the fire?" Eva queried. 

"Too cold."

Eva had been a chef before. In her thirties, she'd been the head chef at a popular London eatery, known for its fusion cuisine. Then the bombs hit. They'd been lucky. Everyone she worked with had been killed, but they'd been in Scotland for an extended weekend celebrating Ace's fortieth birthday. 

That was all ancient history now. They'd survived longer than most. Ace was all she had left in the world.

"Ace! What is that?" 

Eva heard what sounded like a sail unfurling followed by a high pitch squeal. Long ago Eva had belonged to the Greenwich Yacht Club.

"Just a common barn owl. Sounds like she got our mouse friend," Ace laughed.

He was right. Eva could hear a muffled hoot against the backdrop of her own beating heart.

"Just an owl," she muttered, trying to soothe her own nerves.

"Come here, Eva," Ace offered as he held out his arm to her, making space under the slightly damp wool blanket. 

Eva snuggled in. She could hear his heart beating steadily in his chest, and it calmed her some. Before long she began to doze off before falling fast asleep.

Eva woke with a start. The thick aroma of smoke hung heavy in the air. To the east, she could see a sliver of light crawling towards the star-studded sky. But something was wrong. She could feel it. Somebody was there.

Without moving, she took stock of the scene. Ace was asleep on the ground beside her. Their cooking gear was laid out between them and the smouldering embers of last night's fire. 

Eva sensed movement along the cathedral's south wall. Without hesitation, she lunged for the slender boning knife and turned to confront the shadow. Before she could blink, she held her knife against the pink flesh of a human throat.

"Please," the young girl gasped. 

"Show me your hands!" Eva demanded, adrenaline pounding against her head. 

They were empty. Eva took a step back and motioned for the girl to turn around. Holding the knifepoint to her back, just between her lower ribs, Eva patted her down, looking for weapons. 

Ace began to stir. When Eva was sure the girl was hiding nothing dangerous, she lowered the knife. 

"Sorry about that. You get it though. Can't be too careful if we want to survive, eh?"

The girl gulped and nodded. She was trembling. Eva thought to herself that she was about the age Aria would have been if she had survived. If only they had brought her to Scotland too, maybe she would have. No! She couldn't go there. Not now.

"Do you want some bread?" she asked the girl. "You're welcome to join us for breakfast. You can tell us your story, and we will tell you ours."

Ace coaxed the fire back to life, and the three survivors sat down for a bit of sustenance against the backdrop of the ruins of the Belvoir Cathedral and the first blush of dawn.

Short Story

About the Creator

Julia Marsiglio

Loss parent. Canadian poet. Fiction and nonfiction writer. Intersectional feminist. Writing on trauma, grief, mental health, marginalization, neurodivergence and more.

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