A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Another possibly 2-part story with a theme that resonates today


Life in the village could be hard and sometimes the powers that be made it harder. That was the case in Brickly, home for a dozen families, a miller and a priest. The nearest secular authority acting under the law of the king was situated miles away and barely knew of the existence of Brickly outside of the collection of taxes. But there were powers that be that controlled much of what went on there, all right.

There was a priest. Like many he had a smattering of Latin (which meant he could make gobbledegook sound convincing), knew the more important prayers and chants backwards and enjoyed a comfortable living because even the tithes from little more than a dozen households was enough to make him the richest man around.

He hadn’t been in his parish for long when he began to ponder on the activities of Martha Swinefest.

Besides being too old to be alive in times of poor diet, poor hygiene and constantly circulating disease, Martha had powers … or said she did.

They weren’t demonic powers. She was careful never to claim that, and in order to appear righteous she did what everyone else did and attended a church service whenever it was expected of her, usually on a Sunday morning. It would have seemed odd had she not attended, of course, because everyone had to. It was accepted as the law, and its enforcement was down to the Priest.

Martha would have been perfectly invisible (most people were despite the evidence many of the great unwashed provided to the olfactory systems of passers by when the river or stream was frozen over in winter) had it not been for her powers.

Her mother had possessed them, as had her grandmother and a whole procession of family females stretching back, she supposed to the beginning.

Maybe one of them was the biblical Eve! That was what she hoped, a desire based almost entirely on her fondness for apples.

She understood a great deal about nature. That was the simple truth behind her powers. She knew enough about plants and weeds and hedgerows to have a fair chance of healing a tiny minority of the sick, but if you can guarantee to heal only one out of a hundred it gives you more clout than if you can heal none. And she could heal more than a measly one percent. She knew stuff.

Stuff that the Priest didn’t know, and in his head the only power that could have any influence over the health of his parishioners was an invisible man in the sky, and a great deal of almost incomprehensible prayer. So when he was told of a sick child he prayed as hard as he could, and if he was lucky he got the right Latin words in the right order And anyway, such was his faith that he was convinced his communion with his deity would work. Meanwhile, loving parents sought the advice of Martha Swinefest, and if she could administer a drop of this or a cup of that to allay a fever or an infection then she would, and the problem would be almost miraculously solved. Then the priest would preach how his prayers had worked, how his god was a good god and a loving god, and Martha would simply go about her business unhindered.

Until that Priest became suspicious.

Until he learned through painstaking observation that his prayers seemed to do absolutely nothing at all whilst Martha’s liniments and medicines did it all.

And it simply had to stop.

If anyone was going to cure his parishioners it was going to be that invisible man in the sky. It had to be, or his whole position in society might well crumble. Faith, after all, can only go so far whereas grief often goes further.

He knew that economic forces usually worked, so he created a new tax. He had the power, after all. Priests had just about infinite powers when it came to control of their parishioners. They certainly wielded more influence than did the Lord of the Manor, and Brickly was too small to have one of those.

So he put a tax on, as he put it, any foul and growing plant or tree or weed that is used to falsely and heretically used to support Lucifer in his war against the true God, and the first person his agent called on was Martha Swinefest.

What nonsense is this?” she demanded in a quavering voice, evidence of her extreme age.

Sorry, Martha, and I knows you mean no harm, but the Priest says it’s an order from on high,” mumbled the agent, a local man who liked Martha and had a real cause to respect her medicines. His son, now in his teens and hale and hearty, had swallowed some linctus provided by her when he’d been a toddler, and recovered from a malady that had stolen the lives of several other youngsters in a fatal bout of coughing and vomiting.

And who on high is appointed as a judge over me?” demanded Martha, “and is it a sin to know stuff? Is it a sin to use that knowledge for the good? And why should the priest, who owns enough riches anyway, want to charge me for turning to leaf and plant and helping others?”

But it was no good. In those distant times faith in what the priest said was paramount, it was etched into the brains of infants until, when they were adult, it was irrefutable.

The priest had spoken. His word must be obeyed.

So Martha stopped her cures. She disposed of dried leaves and fragrant flowers that she used, and that just had to be that.

Word spread through Sherwood forest as quickly as word can spread anywhere, and those who heard it first and most often were the outlaws, who had their ears open for anything juicy or likely to be bothersome.

It was bound to happen,” murmured Friar Tuck. “I know of Martha Swinefest and she knows stuff, more than most wise women, and that’s a fact.”

And is that knowledge against the word of your God?” asked Robin, not exactly a religious man himself, at least not since he had seen the cruelties in battles of religious wars in the crusades.

In my opinion the good Lord provided herb and branch and leaf to help good souls like Martha, not to hinder her good work,” murmured the Friar.

Then something must be done,” decided Robin, “and, good Tuck, you are the very man to advise me, you and young Ruth over there, for you are of the faith.”

I will think about that,” muttered Friar Tuck, “I will think hard.”

But don’t take too long,” advised Robin. “for while we nod and chatter there may be people dying. It is true that Brickly is famed in the land hereabouts for the health of its people, and although some attribute that to the water the popular belief is that it’s down to Martha and her juices.”

And,” put in Marion, “it may be true that before too long we ourselves may need to turn to a wise woman for help in times of sickness, and what if there are none left? What if their help has all been privatised and is only in the hands of God?”

Which costs the poor more in extra tithes, and does less?” asked Robin. “Yes, we must go soon to Brickly and sort this one out, and hope the priest sees sense.”

The trouble is,” muttered the Friar, “he’s seen his sort of sense already, and profits from it.”


© Peter Rogerson 23.10.17

© 2017 Peter Rogerson

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on October 23, 2017
Last Updated on October 23, 2017
Tags: sickness, wise woman, herbs, weeds, plants, priest, faith


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 74 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..


A Chapter by Peter Rogerson