The Coalwives part 3

She began to dream, her fingers twisting restlessly around the hem of the quilt.  Somewhere far off in the green hills walked six women, their bodies coated, cloaked, and veiled.  They said not a word, merely marched towards a scar in the green hills where a great tree had fallen and been partly buried.  The women approached, and like midwives attending a birth, they crouched around it.

Aislinn’s dreaming mind knew it was black night, but as she looked around, it was as bright as day, though no shadows fell.  The women soundlessly crowded around the tree, and began scraping away the loamy earth with gloved hands.

Aislinn peered over their shoulders, wondering why the wind flapping the edgings of her best nightgown did not chill her.  The women’s movements were steady and unhurried, not to be rushed.  She danced slightly, burning with curiosity.

One of the women looked up, her face shielded by the brim of a crisp white bonnet.  She rocked heavily to her feet, blocking Aislinn’s view.  She was larger than the rest, and Aislinn could see rich blue puffs of tobacco smoke rolling from a pipe.  A jewel-bright eye winked, and the dark-swathed woman shook a soil-daubed finger, shooing her back.

Behind her, the other women rose with something huge and dark cradled in their swaddled arms. Aislinn drifted after them in the wake of the pipe’s smoke.

They trekked swiftly over the rolling hills, across a land of and high rocks, then across a desert of red sands. That gave way to a deep green forest that made Aislinn feel as if she were a tiny insect walking on the bottom of a deep green pond.

Aislinn looked around. Her nose told her naught, and her bare feet felt neither cold, nor a forest’s floor. She laughed aloud, feeling foolish for not having realized what was happening. “I dream.”  She laughed. “I only dream.”

The dark-cloaked woman beside her blew out a stream of pipe smoke, but said nothing. She stopped at a rise in the path, drew her pipe from her mouth, and pointed ahead.

Aislinn turned to look, and found herself standing in the village square, facing the steps of the church. The five other women approached with their burden, and laid a great dirt-crusted stump on the porch of the church.

“Is this then me husband?” Aislinn approached the porch.  The ladies swirled away, making no more noise than a winter leaf. “I suppose you took what I said to heart.”

Their leader’s eyes twinkled and Aislinn nodded.  “But you do have the right of it milady.  A betrothal, no matter how strange, must always be announced from the steps of the Church, even if there’s none to listen.” She climbed the stairs.

“Before the steps of the Most Holy, and the eyes of the village of Dartenny, I Aislinn Macleod and…”  She looked at the odd form lying beside her. “And my betrothed hereby announce our intentions to marry and be joined as one in the eyes of the Holy Church.”

The Coalie-Queen waved her pipe at the town square.  Aislinn raised her head, and could feel the distant dawn waiting to be born to full day. She closed her eyes, to concentrate better on her announcement.

“The wedding is at daybreak, and since me parents are dead, shall be celebrated in me own home.”  She opened her eyes, and in the moonlight, saw the square fill with wispy forms.

She squinted at them, thinking the dead had risen to witness her betrothal.  But as she looked, she recognized one face here, and another there, all of them very much of the living. One pale face even yawned, impatient to be back in bed and snoring. “I am seeing the townsfolks’ souls gone walking in their dreams!”  She whispered in awe, drinking in the fey sight.

The dreaming souls parted, and a slightly more corporeal form made its way to the Church’s steps. Aislinn supposed that since Father Dennis worked with souls all day, his should be a bit more developed. Besides, she mused, she couldn’t imagine such a plump man’s soul not reflecting its’ owner’s corpulent form somewhat.

The priest bowed before her, and did a blessing over her, and over the stump at her side, accepting her announcement. She stared up at his round face, trying to find words to explain the strange sight of her betrothed.  The priest smiled at her, and his face began to widen even more, and then to give off a shining silvery light.

Aislinn woke in her bed, the fading moon staring her full in the face. “I’d think that I had gone mad, but more like the rest of the world’s beat me to it.” She grumbled, rose, and rolled out of bed to wash her face in the basin.

She was just putting a good knot in her bodice strings when a knock sounded on her front door. “Wait now, hold you!”  She called.  She plaited up her thick copper hair as quickly as she could and pushed open the bedroom door, only to freeze with one foot in the air.

On the floor, in the middle of her well-kept front room, lay a huge stump, large enough for a well sized man to have curled up in.  A whiff of clean, healthy earth and peat touched her nose, and she breathed in the scent deeply, noting just a touch of something else, sweet and musky beneath the loamy smell.

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