The Weapon Salve
She can see the house now in the first grey light of dawn. She grew up here, spent so many years of her childhood here. It stands imposing, tall and forbidding. She walks around the side, unwilling to climb the steps to the front door, like a stranger, unwanted, unwelcome. The garden opens out at the back to vistas and statues, dropping to a small lake in the distance. In her mind she hears the tinkling of ice in crystal glasses, the laughter of women.
She opens the back door. The dogs, still asleep in their baskets take no notice of her, as if she has no substance to stimulate their senses into awakening. She walks past them into the house. She hesitates for a moment, uncertain whether or not to climb the broad wooden staircase to her old bedroom, but then decides to cross the hallway to her father’s study.
Red brocade and leather, it smells of cigar smoke, musty books and self importance. The trappings of a wealthy man. She switches on a desk lamp and sits down in her father’s chair. She finds herself adopting his posture, elbows on desk, and quickly corrects herself. She slouches back and looks around. Where could it be, she wonders. She scans the book shelves covering the whole wall behind her, but it is not there. She pulls open a drawer on her left and breathes deeply. Here it is.
Old, precious, bound in vellum, the pages are heavy parchment, brown with age. She goes straight to the back of the book, to the section on remedies. She pages past a cure for “Ye Griping of ye Guts”, past a concoction against “The King’s Evil”, until she finds what she is looking for: “The Weapon Salve”. She knew it was there.
She tucks the book under her arm and makes her way back through the darkened house. On a whim she walks down the three steps that drop below the staircase and pushes open the door.
The child looks up at her from the dark room and puts a finger on her lips, telling her to be quiet. Then she beckons her to follow. Suddenly she knows this place; a dormitory, beds in a row, women lying silently in rows. Bars on the windows. Moonlight shining through.
She steps back quickly and closes the door. The child stays locked inside.
She goes to the landing and looks out of the tall windows. She sees a middle aged woman below her in the cobbled driveway. The woman looks up at the house, then turns her back and walks away.
It is dusk as she walks away from the house. All dead, all gone, she thinks. But the book, she has the book. The weapon salve, to heal the wounds.
The Weapon Salve – an envoi of sorts
Take a raven’s eye, and a piece of the liver of a man who has been hanged. Place them on a piece of rusty bacon and leave them in the sun for a few days. Rub the grease that drips therefrom into the wound morning and night.
I’m going to keep going
Put my finger on the sore place
Scratching, scratching, niggling
till it hurts
Battle, war, wounds self-inflicted
The reek of dust and blood and gore
of cannon smoke and terrified horses
The charnel smell of death
The weapon salve
to soften and heal
Gently, gently now spread it
onto the cuts and bruises
Smooth it in so that it penetrates
under the skin
Deep into the flesh
The wounded flesh