Village of Fire  

by Eline




in which we meet the village and Emily.

The village had stood unvisited and forgotten by all but the residents in the shadow of the great cliff for over eight decades. The houses were in an excellent state of repair, lovingly maintained by the families living within, but the acres of farmland surrounding the village had long since dwindled to just a few small fields. Beyond the fields was the bramble- and bracken-covered land of the old farms, with a single large farmhouse still standing, but long abandoned, on the far edge. Bounding all of this was a wide, slow river; the village stood within a bend of the river, so it was surrounded on one side by the cliff and on the other three sides by the river. On the far bank of the river was a thick forest, which had many years ago reclaimed the old road that had once connected the village with the outside world. Nobody could quite remember when the bridge collapsed, or maybe it never had, but nobody really cared. Only the village children ever went as far as the old farmhouse, and they were always scolded for doing so upon their return. A few of the older children had never returned. Some of the adult residents, forgetting their own childhood excursions to the riverside, supposed that they had been drowned, or had found a crossing and taken it. If anyone had ever escaped into the outside world, none had ever returned with proof. The village was truly forgotten.

In a small square in the centre of the village stood a statue of a man on a horse. He held a long sword, pointing away to the west, the direction in which the river flowed, and presumably towards the sea. There had once been a brass plate screwed to the plinth, but it had been removed at some point, so nobody knew who the man was. At some other point in the village's history, someone had tied a noose around the man's neck, and the other end of the long rope was tied to the very tip of the church steeple. Nobody used the church these days; the ancient priest had died and passed his job onto his grandson, but one night the grandson turned the iron key in the lock, and was heading towards the inn when a rock fell mysteriously from the sky, and killed him outright. Nobody bothered to replace him, and the great wooden doors to the church had remained locked, just as he had left them that night. The key was chained to a post marking the place he had fallen. His body was the last one to be buried in the small churchyard; his was the only funeral to be held in total silence, as the only person who knew the words was the priest they were burying. That was fifteen years ago; nobody had died since then, not even the village elders, but the plan was to cremate the next corpse in the blacksmith's furnace.

One cold spring morning, Emily sat on the bench that served as the village's meeting place, eating a pear and watching a small brown-feathered bird walking sideways along the rope, towards the head of the statue. It seemed to be staring directly at her; Emily imagined that she and the bird were involved in some duel of wits; the first to look away would be the loser. Unfortunately, Emily turned out to be the loser, as a loud sound from within the church drew her attention. She didn't notice the bird flying away.





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