Life Without Life

Chapter 8:

It takes another week for the Baron to make his decision about Josette's proposition. On the eve of 11 January, the Sheriff descends down into the dungeonroom. The entire room falls silent as the Sheriff makes his way towards Emily-Elizabeth's cell. Not a smile upon his face, he unrolls a scroll in front of him.

"Emily-Elizabeth Berkeley, daughter of the deceased farmer, Joseph Berkeley, you are hearby sentenced to banishment from all of the lands of Nottinghamshire. You are to leave immediately from the castle grounds, collect all of your belongings, and exit through the East Woods."

It takes Emily-Elizabeth a few seconds to realize what has just been said. She is being banished! But she is to be free! Free from what, though? Free from this dank cell, free from this castle? She is happy yet she is enraged. She is able to see her dying sister one last time but at the same time she is at the realization that Josette has betrayed her.

The Sheriff unlocks her cell and Emily-Elizabeth walks past him, everything in a haze. She turns around to see that she is really leaving and it is not some figment of her wild imagination. No, she is leaving and returning to her sister.

She ascends the stairs, following close behind the Sheriff. The faster she leaves this dreary place, the farther away she can be from this horrible nightmare. The Sheriff opens the large iron door at the top of the stairs and holds it open for Emily-Elizabeth to step out. She had been in that cell for almost three months and now she is reentering the great hall where she once stood accused.

This time no one but the guards stand on duty and occasionally a servant would scurry across the hall to the servant's ward. Where is everybody? she thinks to herself as she is escorted out to the courtyard. She glances around by the stables and sees no one. Then, she sees it: the willow tree from her past!

"Sheriff," she asks, stopping to turn and face the orchard and the meadow, "is that willow tree wilting?"

"Nat, milady, it is not." Then he quickly adds, "It is probably the light of the moon's reflection."

"Aye, well I guess you are right," she says, walking behind the Sheriff.

She follows him to her own home in the village. God, it did feel good to be home. But now she wouldn't have any home to go back to. She opens the door and runs to her sister's side. Or any sister to come home to, she thinks to herself.

"Kathleen!" she says, seating herself on the bed next to her sick sister. Kathleen Marie begins to cry while her sister cradles her weak body.

"Emily, I missed you," she sobs, her voice low and choked with tears.

"Hush. You will lose the energy you need to get well."

"Emily-Elizabeth, can I talk to you for a moment?" Her brother, John Michael, speaks then, fear in his voice. Being the new "man-of-the-house", he always seemed to speak the way her father did. Even now, Emily-Elizabeth is looking at her brother and looking into her father's eyes. Slowing she gets up, never taking her eyes off the Sheriff standing in the doorway.

"What is it, John?" she asks, shakily.

"Emily, she is getting worse," he flatly replies.

"What do you mean getting worse? I thought she was getting better!" She tries to remain calm even though her head is spiraling.

"What I mean is that her fever is not breaking." Then he adds in a low whisper, "She probably will not make it through the remainder of the night."

"Are you telling me my sister is dying?!"

"Nay, I am saying that our sister is dying."

"John, I - - - I must tell you that we are to leave, immediately if we can." She turns away and looks hopefully into the Sheriff's cruel, brown eyes.

"Why must we leave, Emmy?" questions Thomas John from the other side of the room. (Funny how Thomas always seemed to appear when you least expected it.) He is seated opposite his sister on the bed, looking up at Emily-Elizabeth through big, teary, brown eyes. At the age of ten, he still knows how to get right to your heart.

Ignoring Thomas John completely, John Michael replies, "Emily, you are being banished, aren't you? I knew you could not have been trusted! It was Matthew, was it not?! You were caught with him, were you not?!"

Trying desperately to defend herself, Emily-Elizabeth protests, "No, John, I swear it! I only stole a couple of loaves of bread to get us through the winter months!"

The Sheriff overhears this and interrupts the conversation, "John, what is it that you know about this peasant girl and milord, Matthew?"

"John, please," Emily-Elizabeth pleads more to herself than to her brother.

"Wait a moment, Sheriff. Do you think I am talking about Matthew, the Baron's son? No, no, I am speaking of another brother of ours. Aye, poor soul that he was. He became an outcast in our family and Emily-Elizabeth was told by our father before he died to have nothing to do with him," he lies.

"As I recall, boy, there were only four children in this household when the last census was taken four years ago."

"Aye, but as I stated before, he was cast out of our home and Father refused to put him as one of his children."

"Very well. Collect your belongings and leave immediately! I will have my guards escort you there."

"But we can't leave our sister here!" shouts John Michael, unaware that Kathleen Marie and Thomas John are still in the room.


chapter 9