Life Without Life

Chapter 4:

Because of the parched Summer season, drought had occurred and the crops failed to grow in early Autumn. To make matters worse, the Baron placed a vexatious tariff on the lands. The townspeople were forced to give virtually everything they owned in order to pay this tax. Now that autumn has arrived, everyone is gathering the little belongings they have left in order to endure the upcoming winter.

Emily-Elizabeth cannot endure these conditions as well as the new taxes, and is compelled to swindle food in order to survive. It is not much, though-- a scrap of bread here, an apple there. As the colder weather comes, she is stealing two or three apples at a time and whole loaves of bread.

One day, while her brothers are working in the fields and her sister is at the bookshop, the Sheriff and two of the Baron's guards come knocking at her door.

"Who is it?" Emily-Elizabeth asks through the locked door.

"It's the sheriff! Open up the door immediately!" cries a foreboding voice from the opposite side of the door.

Emily-Elizabeth unlocks the door to her house and encounters the most dreaded and feared man of Nottinghamshire, the Sheriff.

Trying to be polite, Emily-Elizabeth asks, "Can I help you, Sheriff?"

"Is this the home of Emily-Elizabeth, the farmer's daughter?"

"Aye, Sheriff, it is. May I ask what for?"

"Emily-Elizabeth, you have been seen stealing bread from Jack, the baker, and apples from Mrs. Smiths' grocery stand. You are under arrest for the crime of theft. I will have to ask you to accompany us so that your sentence can be carried out," the sheriff says as he escorts her out the door and onto the dirt road.

"I do not understand. I have not stolen anything! I am not a thief!"

As she is being taken away by the sheriff's guards, Timothy scurries out of the Blacksmith's shop. "Emily-Elizabeth, where are you being taken?"

"Close your mouth, youthful sprite!" one of the guards remarks, shoving Timothy to the ground. "Keep walking!" he demands to Emily-Elizabeth.

They walk to the iron gate of the Castle of Nottinghamshire and halt. Two other guards, standing opposite them, open the gate. Emily-Elizabeth hears the massive gate thundering behind her and knows her fate has now been sealed. What about Thomas and John and Kathleen! her mind screams as she is brought before the Baron in the great hall. From the corner of her eye she notices the knights and their ladies scrutinizing her as she crosses the floor. When she approaches the Baron, she raises her head and is face to face with Matthew!

"What crime have you committed that you be set before me?" asks the Baron, not a smile upon his solemn face.

"She has been caught swindling from the marketplace, milord," the sheriff announces, kneeling in front of the Baron.

"This is nonsense! Sheriff, I do not have time to deal with such petty crimes as you set before me. I have lands to protect. Send her down to the dungeonroom to wait for the sentence!"

"Aye, milord. Come with me, peasant woman!" he says, seizing her arm and hauling her across the great hall and over to a flight of stairs.

"Sheriff, stop! Let me escort the peasant woman to the dungeonroom," Matthew says, crossing the threshold of the great hall.

The Sheriff gives Matthew a doubtful look but the Baron bids him to stop. "Sheriff, allow my son to escort the prisoner to the dungeonroom," says the Baron sternly.

"Aye, milord," he bows graciously.

Matthew strides over to Emily-Elizabeth, takes her arm from the sheriff, and leads her away. Without saying a word, they walk down a curved staircase leading into the dungeon room. Matthew brings her to a chamber at the far end of a long corridor and gently pushes her in.

"I am truly sorry I have to do this to you, Em," fastening the cell door as he speaks. "I just have one thing I ask: Why did you do it? Why did you have to steal from the marketplace?"

"Matthew, I swear to you, I was helpless. We had no food and we were practically starving- - -"

"That's no excuse! As the Baron's son I must see to it that order is kept on my father's lands. What you have done is a crime and the punishment is likely to be banishment from all of my father's lands."

"Please, Matthew, have mercy upon me! I only did what I had to do so I could survive to see you!"

"Emily, please, stop this! I am to be married within the next two months!"

"Matthew, what are you saying? Do you not love- - -"

"I am saying that it is probably for the best that you are to be banished! I must go! Adieu!" he says as he marches away.

"Matthew, please! Do not leave me here! I do not belong here!"


continue to chapter 5