When Hob the baker’s son whispers that the cows speak to him, I tell him to stay far away from Madam Thistle and that bloody tavern of hers. It’s not right.
He’s not been right for days. It’s to be expected; his wife’s having their third and it’s not been smooth sailing according to him. I tell him to pray, but mostly because I don’t want to broach the subject any more than he does. Me and Maggie are expecting our first, and the last thing we want is any bad luck.
“A stone, Mik,” he gasps, “a stone… red as anythin’, right there in the middle of the milk pail…”
Can’t understand the man. Too much mead and too many humours, I decide. I offer him some leeches, you know, draw the bad blood out. He shakes his head and says they tell him they’re suffocating.
I avoid him for a bit, but a few days later I’m out in the field and every man and his wife are running down into the square. Curious, I follow, and Hob’s there, writhing. Everyone’s gathered around him, and there’s some kids hovering, pebbles in hand.
He’s brick red and screaming, screaming as if he’s been set alight. There’s some crows circling, and I swear they’re laughing; their cries mingle with the kids’ braying as I prop Hob up and drag him off. There’s blood down his chest where he’s smashed his face into the ground.
I clean him up, and hand him over to the farthest inn I can find, one where the news hasn’t yet reached. God, I’ve never seen a grown man cry like that before. He kept looking at me, not really looking, because his eyes weren’t right. They were all funny, all dead-looking. He kept saying ‘red’ but it wasn’t really the word, more a long, agonising groan.
I’ll be taking him to the church-house tomorrow to speak to Father. Goodness knows where his wife’s got to. Or their little ones. He sobbed that they’ve left him, but I just can’t believe that. I give a bit more to the beggar outside the inn today as penance. Lord protect me from whatever’s rattling on inside his head.
I eat my last meal quietly. The dog keeps giving me looks. Strange creatures they are; my old man reckons they know exactly what’s going on. I sleep soundly, waking up alone as I suppose Maggie’s gone to milk the cow. Don’t know why she won’t let me do it, it’s not long until the kid’ll be born and all that bending can’t be doing her any good. The dog licks my hand, reminds me gently that Maggie’ll be wanting eggs again for breakfast. I stumble into the chicken coop, and listen to them all chastise me for waking them.
I feel my hand curl around the eggs, and jump back. Nestled among them is a warm red stone, red like the setting sun, red like old blood.
“Not a good sign, that,” sighs a fat hen to my right.
Eleanor Silk has previously been published in literary journal Strukturris, and is currently working on her first fantasy novel. Most days she can be found knitting, baking and blogging.