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The Priestess and the Laundry Maid


The Priestess and the Laundry Maid
by Maureen Bowden

Edith, Priestess of the Goddess, was dying. I would miss her. Nobody pays any attention to a laundry maid, but Edith visited me often at my living quarters in the palace basement, and she never came empty-handed.

Her last visit was five nights ago. She knocked on my door at an hour when most respectable palace inhabitants were sleeping. “May I come in, Nia?”

“Yes,” I called. “What have you brought me?”

She entered, and placed a box of cream cakes on my table. “I filched them from the kitchen when Cook wasn't looking, and I brought this to wash them down.” From beneath her cloak she produced a bottle of nettle wine, fermented by Harold, the blacksmith. I knew he also satisfied her other needs, but we didn’t discuss that. It was her business, not mine.

She placed the wine beside the stolen confectionery and eased herself into my most comfortable chair. “My old bones are aching tonight,” she said.

I fetched two glasses, a plate for the cakes, and a jar of shellfish grease. “This is for you,” I said. “Rub it into the places that hurt.”

“Thank you. I have something else for you.” She delved into one of her gown’s many pockets and produced a small bottle. “Secretion from sheep’s wool,” she said. “Let me see your hands.”

I stretched them out on the table. My skin was pitted and sore from hours of scrubbing and contact with slabs of rough soap. She massaged the oil into my fingers and palms. “That feels good,” I said. “Now let's crack open Harold’s offering while you tell me about your day.”

She told me of the latest problems people had brought her, and of their expectations that the goddess they called The Shining One would solve them. 

“What did you tell them?”

"That with her help they would find the strength to face any problem.” She took a gulp of nettle wine and refilled her glass. “I explained that we all carry a spark of divinity within us. It is the better part of our nature and we should strive to be true to it.”

“In other words,” I said, “apply common sense and kindness to any situation.”

She sighed. “Yes, and if everyone did that they'd have no need for a goddess.”

I munched a mouthful of cake, “Then you and your successors would be out of a job.”

She laughed. “It will be a while yet before they grow up and learn to manage on their own. For the foreseeable future they need their goddess to point them in the right direction.”

“And someone to blame for all their ailments and dark days.”

“True, but also to give them hope for brighter days ahead.” She took another sip of wine. “Speaking of successors, it's time for me to name mine. My life is coming to an end.”

I knew she was right and the prospect of losing her friendship saddened me, but I didn't wish the conversation to take on a sombre tone. “Is Harold taking bets on who you’ll choose?”

“Of course he is. I'd expect nothing less.”

“Who does he see as the front runners?”

“The three most accomplished acolytes. Astrid, Lucinda and Charis.”

“Ah, yes,” I said. “The pretty one, the clever one and the funny one.”

“You miss nothing, Nia.” She leant across the table to replenish my glass.

I placed my hand across the rim. “No, thank you. I have to be awake and alert early tomorrow to deal with the laundry. We don't all have the luxury of lying in bed nursing a hangover.”

We sat in companionable silence while she finished the wine and I devoured the cakes.

It was past midnight when she rose unsteadily to her feet. I helped her to climb the stairs and make her way back to her chambers. After I settled her in bed I crept to the kitchen and stole a bottle of ginger ale. I left it, with a glass, on her bedside table. It would help to cure her headache when she woke.

I hadn’t seen her since.

Two days ago the palace was buzzing with the news that Edith, Priestess of the Goddess was unwell, her doctor was attending her, and she was receiving visits from no one except the acolytes.

I pushed my dirty laundry trolley along the corridor that led to her chambers, and stopped for a rest beside the goddess’s shrine. The Shining One’s statue depicted an impossibly beautiful woman in a gold painted robe, waves of raven hair flowing around her shoulders, and her arms outstretched in a benevolent gesture to humankind. Through the window alongside the shrine I saw Harold’s three front runners strolling across the lawn, deep in conversation. Lucinda, the clever one, glanced up, and for a moment we looked into each other's eyes.

I continued my journey down the corridor, and as I drew near Edith's chambers the door opened. Harold looked both ways before stepping out. His eyes were red and swollen. He saw me, and his voice trembled. “I shouldn't be here.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” I said, “and yes, you should.”

“So should you. She’s waiting for you.” He turned, and walked slowly away.

I stepped inside. She smiled. I sat on her bed and clasped her hand. “You've made your choice,” I said.

“Yes. Lucinda will serve you well, my goddess, as I have tried to do.”

“Nobody could have served me better than you, my friend.”

“Will you give me your blessing before I die?”

I placed my fingers on her eyelids, kissed her brow, and blessed her as her soul departed.

* * *

Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had 123 stories and poems accepted by paying markets, she was nominated for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 Alban Lake published and anthology of her stories, entitled ‘Whispers of Magic’. She loves her family and friends, rock ‘n’ roll, Shakespeare and cats.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories? From people and places in this weird world of ours. It takes only a little tweaking to turn it into a fantasy realm.

What inspires you to write and keep writing? The prospect of entertaining people, making them laugh, making them think, or simply providing them with a little escapism. We all need that sometimes.

What advice do you have for other writers? Watch and listen to real life people. Make your characters act and speak like them. Make sure every word is the best one you can choose, and enjoy yourself.

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