Bellarmine

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Nathaniel Bird’s hand shook with effort as he bent the final metal pin between finger and thumb, and dropped it onto the pile with the others. Twenty-five bent pins for the twenty-five cursed years his wife had walked God’s earth. He unhitched his breeches and angled his manhood into the cooking pot on the floor. A stream of hot urine shot out onto the curved metal, splashing back over his shins. He gritted his teeth against the pain of a thousand thorns ripping through his cock. When the agonising flood had dried to a trickle, he gave himself a shake and stared at the flaccid monstrosity in his hand. Covered in sores and reeking, this was the latest way that bitch had decided to hex him. It was punishment for his visits to the local brothel, of course.

But what did she expect? If his wife wouldn’t perform her sacred duties, what was a man to do?

If only he had seen the mark of Lucifer on her before they were wed. But she had been so beautiful, enchanting him with her evil ways, making him think she was sweet and virtuous. It was when she had disrobed on their wedding night that he saw it, under the flickering candle glow. On the skin on inside of her thigh was a brown crescent moon shape; the bite of the Devil himself. The things his new wife had done with him, and to him, that night had made him think that maybe, just maybe, living with a succubus might not be too bad. She brewed her own beer too. So Nathaniel Bird put the birthmark far from his mind.

Until she failed to bear him a child. After a year with no sign of any offspring, Nathaniel decided she needed more of his seed, so he started to force himself upon her daily. The more she fought, the more excited he got. But still no baby came. After two years of fruitless endeavours, Nathaniel tried a different course of action. He would beat the evil out of his wife. But still, no baby came.

What kind of woman does not fall after three years of marriage? Only a truly wicked one, spoiled by her unholy union with Satan.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

But if he killed his wife, that would mean admitting to the whole village that he had been laying with a demon. He could not stand the shame. So he decided he would play that Devil’s whore at her own game.

 

A length of shiny red ribbon and a scrap of rough leather lay on the table next to Nathaniel’s gutting knife. He hacked the ribbon into four; one for each of her limbs. Next, he carved the shape of a heart into the leather. Finally, he dragged the edge of the knife along the pad of his thumb, slicing almost down to the white. A fat glob of blood oozed out, and he let it drip into the pot. With his other hand he threw in the leather heart and the ribbons. He had paid a pretty penny for that bright scarlet, and he hoped it would be worth it. When he was happy with the amount of blood mingling in with his foamy urine, he wrapped his thumb tightly with a rag before placing the pot on the fire.

He would teach that witch a lesson.

Let her be the one who burned when she pissed.

Let her flesh be pierced with pins the next time she refused him his right.

Let her heart be seized the next time she tried casting a spell on him.

Let all her wicked ways come back to her ten-fold.

While he was waiting for the foul concoction to cook down, Nathaniel opened a bottle of his wife’s famous beer and took a swig of the delicious brew. It was supernaturally good. Another reason not to kill the bitch. He quickly finished that bottle, and another, and another. All the while, the stinking stew bubbled away in the iron pot. Just one more bottle, thought Nathaniel Bird, then back to the task at hand.

***

Elizabeth’s beer sold out early that day, so she pulled her cart back from the market slowly, dragging her feet with every step. If she had somewhere else to go, she would, but he would surely come and find her and drag her home anyway. As she walked, she thought back to her wedding day. How happy she had been, to be leaving the chaos of her family home. The eldest of twelve children, Elizabeth couldn’t wait to be lady of her own manor, even if it was only a two room shack on the edge of the next village. Her mother and her many aunts had given her lots of advice in the months leading up to her marriage to Nathaniel Bird, the most notable being to make him happy.

“Keep your husband happy, you keep yourself blessed, my girl,” one of the oldest aunts had told her.

“But how do I keep a man happy?” Elizabeth remembered asking. She laughed ruefully to herself as she lugged the cart over a fallen tree-trunk. Of course she knew about the union between man and wife. She couldn’t escape it sleeping in the same room as her mother and father, separated only by a thin curtain. An older cousin had taken Elizabeth to one side, and told her of secrets, dark and wet, of hidden places and ways to use her hands and mouth that made her face flush and her insides tingle.

As she rounded the final corner and saw smoke rising from the chimney of their house, Elizabeth’s insides tingled again, this time with fear. He was home already. She braced herself for whatever indignities lay in store for her as she gingerly pushed the front door open.

Pungent black smoke filled the room. The smell reminded her of the tannery. Through the dense cloud, Elizabeth could see Nathaniel slumped in his chair, surrounded by empty bottles. On the table in front of her snoring husband, the hideous pottery face of a bellarmine jar leered at her. Nathaniel called her a witch and a whore of Satan and a demon, and a hundred other frightening things while he beat her, but now Elizabeth knew he meant it. He really thought she was a witch.

Elizabeth had never seen a real bellarmine up close, so she tiptoed to the table to take a closer look. The bulging eyes of the clay face stared at her with spiteful hatred, and the mouth was open to reveal long, curved teeth. Known to some folk as witch-bottles, bellarmines were used to invert curses, sending pain, misfortune or even death to the witch responsible. Peering through the acrid smoke coming from the cooking pot, Elizabeth could see her husband had left the bottle unfilled. Sitting in the tarry residue at the bottom of the pot were a stack of pins, a curled up rag and some thin pieces of brown string.

Moving closer, Elizabeth brushed one of the discarded beer bottles with her foot. Nathaniel’s eyes flicked open, bloodshot and full of drunken rage. Without thinking, Elizabeth grabbed the clay jar by its long neck and swung it with all her strength into her husband’s face. The bulbous end of the bellarmine smashed into Nathaniel’s nose in a spray of shattered clay and blood. As his hand went up to his busted nose, Elizabeth’s hand went for the gutting knife and in one swift arc she sliced through the exposed part of his neck and across his wrist. Hot lifeblood splashed Elizabeth’s face. She dropped the knife, staggered backwards and watched as Nathaniel bled slowly to death.

She may have never made her husband happy, but at last, she felt truly blessed.

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