The house sit in the middle of the woods looking out of place and yet there something about it that made it seem like it had always been there.
Vines and climbing flowers covered the white stone walls whilst weeds grew out of the cracks in the brown roof tiles. Flowers grew at the doors and windows, masking holes and dirt. The trees surrounding made the house look like it was playing hide and seek. The sun just got through to the house and made dapples of light and shadow on the walls and windows.
They called her a witch, a crazy animal lady, a mad woman, someone to void because she wasn’t ‘one of us.’ The children teased each other to go visit her house, maybe knock on the door. The teenagers threw things at her, broke into her house, spread dirty rumours about her. The adults ignored her, muttered about her to their neighbours, shunned her from their society.
I knew different though. She wasn’t some crazy old hippy, hermit lady or a witch making potions and casting curses. She wasn’t mean or in league with daemons nor was she an outcast of society or someone to be feared and hated.
She was a nun, Sister Benedicta.
I visited her about once or twice or a month after we had first met and she had saved my life when I had been ten years old. It had been a stupid dare by my older step-sister and I had eaten poisonous berries. My step-sister had left me there in the woods, being sick and crippled by stomach cramps.
Sister Benedicta or Benny as she liked to be called, heard me crying and thought me a sick animal. I was too ill to escape her and far too sick to worry about her killing me and cooking me in a pot.
She nursed me back to health and told me her stories.
‘But why does everyone make stuff up about you? They fear and hate you but they are nothing like what they said,’ I had asked.
‘Because when I first came here to spread the word of God and help the sick, a man fell in love with me. I rejected him because I was all ready married to God. He spread rumours about me. Called me a witch and made everyone question my nature,’ Benny replied.
‘Was there nothing you could do?’ I asked.
‘No. He was a Lord and everyone knew his power and they trusted him. He was handsome and could have any woman he wanted. Not being able to have me, made him bitter. The villagers cast me out and I found this abandoned woodman’s cottage and made it my own.’
‘And the Lord?’ I questioned.
‘I don’t know. Who rules this land now, Child?’
I told her and with a nod, Sister Benedicta said, ‘that must be his son then.’
‘If he’s gone, why don’t you come out and tell everyone that you are a nun?’ I suggested.
Benny shook her head, ‘I’m too old for that and I am happy enough to end my days like this soon.’
‘The perhaps, I can do something….’
‘Bring me food when you can and books, paper and ink, perhaps wool to knit with and cloth to sew.’
Ten years later, I was still bring things to Sister Benedicta. I was married with two children and had a little farm to run. I brought Benny whatever was in season, wood for her fire in the cold months and crafts to fill her days with.
I tried to get her to move in with me and my family but she refused.
‘I like to be with nature. I like to pray in quietness. Your farm sounds so pleasant but also so busy. I would only be in the way. I’m better here, living out my days until God calls me home.’
‘As long as you are happy.’
‘I forever am.’