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Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 3


  Just before they reached their flat, Lord Poole asked them if they wanted to step through another doorway, into what he described as a shrine to a local saint, Margaret Clitherow. A secret chapel, he said.

  “This vacation is already way too educational,” Rob muttered to Miranda. He stepped up into the shrine’s doorway and instantly backed out again. Too small a room — he didn’t need to say it. Even Lord Poole seemed to understand.

  “You okay out here, buddy?” Their father grasped Rob’s arm, and Rob nodded. The rest of the group filed past him into a small, wood-paneled room. But it wasn’t that small, Miranda thought. In fact, it was bigger than Rob’s bedroom in the flat. She couldn’t believe he was using his claustrophobia as an excuse to get out of what he had instantly decided was a boring tourist stop. She made a mental note to call him out on this later.

  Aside from the not-so-smallness of the room, there wasn’t anything too surprising or unusual in the shrine. Not that Miranda had ever visited a shrine before. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected to see. It was just a quiet space, dimly lit, with a plain altar and paneled walls. They all sat along a creaky bench in the back row while Lord Poole — whispering, though nobody else was there — told them the story of St. Margaret Clitherow.

  “She was the wife of a butcher here in the Shambles,” he said, “during the reign of Elizabeth I. She married very young — younger than you are now, Miranda — and she converted to Catholicism while she was still a teenager.”

  Miranda grimaced at the thought of getting married that young. She couldn’t imagine anyone she knew at school doing something so adult.

  “The religion was outlawed then,” Lord Poole went on, “and it was very dangerous to be harboring priests, as she was, and allowing them to conduct mass in her home. She was imprisoned several times, and finally the authorities had enough of her. This was 1586, a very volatile and nervous time in Elizabeth’s reign.”

  “Catholic plots against the queen,” nodded Jeff. “Not a good time for Margaret Clitherow to be caught smuggling priests.”

  “What’s this about peine forte et dure?” Miranda pointed to a typed biography of the saint, posted on the wall next to the bench.

  “Strong and hard punishment,” said Lord Poole, and Miranda noticed her parents exchange uneasy looks. “Margaret Clitherow chose to remain mute at her trial, refusing to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Wouldn’t say a word, possibly to avoid implicating her husband — he wasn’t a Catholic. Possibly to ensure her children and servants wouldn’t be called as witnesses against her. And the penalty for this was a very cruel punishment, peine forte et dure. Devised in medieval England, despite the French name, to persuade prisoners to speak. Or to kill them, of course.”

  “Used once during the Salem witch trials as well,” said Jeff quietly, looking down.

  “Margaret was taken to Ouse Bridge,” continued Lord Poole, “and made to lie on the ground. A sharp rock, the size of a fist, was placed under her back, and a large door was laid on top of her. And then, one by one, rocks were piled onto the door. Sometimes this process took a long time — hours, even days. But they were merciful with Margaret, and piled all the weight on quickly. She only took fifteen minutes to die.”

  “Well — we should be thinking about getting back.” Peggy stood up, flashing a significant look at Jeff.

  “So — she suffocated?” Miranda asked Lord Poole quickly. There wasn’t any point in hearing such a sad and creepy story, she thought, unless you got all the details. And after what she’d seen with her own eyes, nothing much could disturb her anymore.

  “Crushed to death,” Lord Poole whispered, leaning close. As he stood up, he murmured, “Ribs break, then you start bleeding. And your organs …”

  “So now she’s a saint,” Jeff mused in the loud summing-up voice he used in the lectures Miranda had attended. “With a shrine in the house where she hid the priests.”

  “Well …” Lord Poole began, but Peggy interrupted him, worrying aloud about Rob waiting outside in the cold, and then apologizing to Lord Poole. “No, no — you’re quite right,” he said. “We should be on our way. Plenty of time for history.”

  They all walked slowly up the snow-dusted Shambles, Rob telling his parents about two people who’d walked by dressed up as reindeer. Miranda and Lord Poole ambled along behind them. She couldn’t stop thinking about Margaret Clitherow’s decision to remain silent, even though it meant such a terrible punishment.

  “Some people say,” Lord Poole confided, his voice low, “that they experience some kind of serene presence in Margaret Clitherow’s shrine. That they sense her spirit.”

  Miranda hadn’t felt anything when they were in the shrine — nothing but pity, anyway, for Margaret and the barbarous way she had to die. But no ghostly presence, either serene or creepy. Maybe Miranda could see ghosts only in Iowa. That would make this week much more bearable, she thought, if York’s centuries of ghosts were completely invisible to her.

  They stopped outside their flat, and Jeff asked Lord Poole about arrangements for the following week. Rob wandered over to a store on the other side of the Shambles, a few houses down, and stood gazing in the window. It was one of those places — lame, in Miranda’s opinion — where you could get your photo taken in medieval garb, outfitted like the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood. Her mother was sure to suggest they go there and get dressed up like extras from The Other Boleyn Girl for some corny sepia-tone family picture.

  Rob stood with his hands in his pockets, oblivious to the couple in matching fleeces who were staggering out of the store, laughing uproariously about whatever photo they’d just been posing for.

  Oblivious even to the woman who seemed to emerge out of nowhere — from the window, though that wasn’t possible — and appeared to hover there just above the pavement, looking directly at Miranda.

  Miranda was transfixed, so surprised by this strange sight that she was holding her breath. How did this woman materialize so suddenly? She hadn’t stepped out of the shop, like the laughing couple: She’d floated into the street. Her face was sweet and angular, and her dark hair hung over her shoulders. All she wore was a loose, off-white sack of a garment, like some kind of coarse nightgown. It was torn across the chest, streaked with dark stains. Dark stains like blood.

  Even though the night was cold, and her pale arms were bare, the woman was smiling. She reached out her hand, and a sharp, tingling cold passed through Miranda — an electric jolt of ice. Miranda’s heart was beating fast now: She knew what this meant. She remembered the wintry breeze that was Jenna’s hand, brushing over her hair one last time. The icy fingers reaching up from the river in Iowa, sending surges of cold up her leg. Rob and everyone else in the street couldn’t feel these cold darts. They couldn’t feel or see the woman in white at all. She was a ghost.

  “Time to go in, Verandah,” her father was saying, using his old pet name for her. Saying it in public, in front of strangers, was strictly forbidden, and usually she would have scowled at him or at least rolled her eyes. But tonight Miranda didn’t move — couldn’t move. This was what it meant, she thought, when people talked about being frozen to the spot. She felt like an ice sculpture. This ghost didn’t scare her the way the woman in the river had scared her, but that didn’t mean Miranda felt calm. The ghosts in England could see her, just like the ghosts in Iowa. But what did they want?

  “Ah!” said Lord Poole, walking over to stand next to her. She could sense his presence rather than see him, because she couldn’t take her eyes off the apparition. “You and your brother have good instincts.”

  Miranda opened her mouth to speak, but only a stifled squeak came out.

  “That’s the thing I was about to tell you in the shrine,” said Lord Poole. “The irony of it. The shrine, you see — they got it wrong. The Clitherows never lived in that house. The house where Margaret Clitherow lived is the one you’re looking at right now.”

  “So all the people who say they’
ve felt her presence in the shrine were … deluded?” Jeff was standing on the other side of Miranda now, laughing. Miranda reached out a hand, each finger seized by bracing cold. The woman in white was close enough to touch, but Miranda’s hand passed through her. The woman was as insubstantial as air.

  “Well, you never know,” said Lord Poole. “It may be that —”

  “What was she wearing?” Miranda interrupted, disoriented by the sound of her own voice, high-pitched and breathless. “Margaret — when she died?”

  “Er … her shift, I imagine.” Lord Poole sounded bemused.

  “That’s a sort of all-purpose undergarment,” her father explained. “Like a petticoat, say.”

  “A nightgown?” The woman in white smiled at her, and Miranda’s entire body surged with an icy liquid jet.

  “That kind of thing, yes.”

  The ribs broken first: That was what Lord Poole had said. The blood on her shift — was that from the smashed ribs?

  Everyone was saying good night now, and the woman in white was fading rather than walking away, her sweet smile evaporating into the night. In a moment she was gone. Miranda blinked, trying to focus her eyes, the cold jets seeping from her body. Maybe she was so tired she was hallucinating.

  People strolled by, talking and laughing; some wandered over to the shop window to look at the absurd staged photographs. They wanted to pretend to live in the good old days, Miranda thought. Not so good for some people.

  “Well, Miranda.” Lord Poole was standing in front of her now, smiling. “At least you know the right place to look for her ghost now.”

  It might have been her imagination, but Miranda could have sworn Lord Poole was giving her a long look.

  “Do ghosts only come out at night?” Rob asked, scratching his head like a sleepy child.

  “Not always,” said Lord Poole, and then he seemed to change his mind. He gave a formal little bow and took a step back. “I mean, I really have no idea. I’ve never seen one myself. At least, I don’t think I’ve seen one. Who can say who’s a ghost and who’s real?”

  He looked at Miranda and smiled, but she didn’t smile back. She was thinking about how many ghosts she might have seen without realizing it. The farmer at the crossroads had looked completely alive. It was only his wound that gave him away — that and the fact that Jeff obviously couldn’t see him at all. Maybe half the people walking down the Shambles right now were ghosts. Miranda wasn’t sure. As Lord Poole said, how could she possibly tell?

  CHAPTER THREE

  So, what are our plans for today?” Peggy asked. It was Saturday morning. She stood at the kitchen sink, squirting orange dishwashing liquid into the frying pan.

  “Finish reading Northanger Abbey,” said Miranda, pointing at the book lying facedown on the dining room table. She felt exhausted, and the sighting of St. Margaret Clitherow last night had unnerved her. If more ghosts were lying in wait for her out on the streets of York, Miranda wasn’t in any hurry to see them.

  “Watch English soccer on TV,” said Rob, his mouth full of scrambled eggs.

  Peggy gave an exaggerated sigh.

  “Guess again,” she said, drying her hands on a dish towel.

  “Today and tomorrow are the only days your mother has free.” In an armchair by the window, Jeff was struggling with what looked like dozens of newspaper sections, bought first thing that morning, when he ventured out in the drizzle for groceries. The snow was gone, but the sky was the color of lead.

  “You and Mom go out, then,” Rob suggested. He was sitting at the table, his duvet wrapped around his middle like some kind of inflated sarong. Miranda could barely squeeze past him to take her own plate back to the compact kitchen. “Have some quality adult time. Like a date night, but during the day.”

  “We thought we’d all do some fun things together,” Peggy said. “As a family.”

  “It’s phrases like ‘fun things’ that make me want to go back to bed,” said Rob, taking swift, greedy bites of a toasted English muffin. He waved its remains in Miranda’s direction, gesturing at the toaster. He wanted another one, she guessed, and he wanted her to make it for him.

  As if, she mouthed at him.

  “Where’s your sense of adventure?” called their father, wrestling with another newspaper section. “You’ve got all week to mope around alone, acting like disaffected youths. Today and tomorrow we’re all going to do things your mother and I want to do.”

  “So — no fun at all,” Miranda muttered. She poured herself another glass of orange juice and slid the carton back into the fridge before Rob noticed and demanded she pour him one as well.

  “We’ve got a lot to fit in,” her mother said, breezily ignoring any signs of mutiny. “Your father wants to go to Micklegate Bar …”

  “Where the heads of traitors were impaled on spikes,” Jeff said, oblivious to Peggy’s pained expression.

  “And there are several churches I want to see, including one nearby called Holy Trinity — someone in the orchestra told me about it.”

  “And Clifford’s Tower, which is that medieval castle keep on top of the grassy knoll you and I saw yesterday, Rob.” Jeff picked up one of his newspapers and various inserts slithered out onto the carpet.

  “And Bettys Tea Rooms, for a traditional Yorkshire afternoon tea. Someone told me there’s a cute branch called Little Bettys right on Stonegate.”

  “Let the games begin,” drawled Rob, scowling at Miranda. She’d toasted herself another English muffin and was eating it, standing up at the kitchen counter.

  “It’s starting to rain again,” she pointed out. Through the small kitchen window, all she could see were slick rooftops. “Maybe we should stay in.”

  “And they say we never take them anywhere,” Jeff remarked drily to Peggy. They both looked pained, Miranda thought, despite their determination to act all cheery. They were right, she had to admit. There’d be plenty of time this week for lying around. Two days of family activities, however dull, would make her parents happy.

  “But could we do some shopping today?” Miranda couldn’t resist asking. The stores here had to be better than the ones in Iowa. Cami, whose aunt lived in London, had told her she had to go to H&M and Topshop at least.

  “Sounds like a deal,” said her father, jumping to his feet and managing to dislodge the stack of newspaper sections he’d piled onto the coffee table. Like it or not, thought Miranda, family fun was under way. For her parents’ sake, she’d make an effort. Even if she’d much rather be snuggled up in bed with her book, lost in another place and time — somewhere far away from a city of tourist sites, and tea shops, and ghosts.

  Saturday was market day in York. The cobbled square they could see from Rob’s bedroom window, with its market stalls under green-and-white striped awnings, was thronged with shoppers. Mostly, people were buying food — glistening fresh fish banked on shores of ice, or paper bags bulging with vegetables, or pungent cheeses — but there were clothes on sale as well, like winter socks and woolen scarves, and the flower seller was doing a big trade in vibrant pots of purple heather.

  The real action, Miranda discovered, was on pedestrian-only Coney Street, which curved to follow the river. This was fashion central, the store windows decorated with tinsel and baubles, and crammed with sassy party dresses — the kind, Miranda thought, that she wouldn’t mind buying but would never wear. Holiday parties did not feature big in her plans this year. Her mother tried to talk her into a gilt-edged minidress, and Miranda finally opted for a black beaded cardigan and some high-heeled suede ankle boots that would make her look about ten feet tall. Jenna would approve, she thought. Not of the cardigan, maybe, because Jenna thought Miranda wore too much black, but she’d have liked the boots. “Embrace the height, sister,” she used to tell Miranda. “Celebrate those stilt legs of yours.” Going shopping without Jenna felt weird and wrong. Too normal, in a way, when nothing should be normal anymore.

  It was hard not to get swept up in the buzz of it all,
though. York wasn’t that much bigger than the college town where they lived, but it was somewhere new for Miranda, and the streets were much livelier than the small grid of student bars, diners, and half-empty stores back home. Even her father, hardly the world’s most enthusiastic shopper, seemed to be reveling in the good-natured bustle: He had to be dragged away from a rack of CDs (“Look, Peggy — they still have record stores here!”) when everyone else, weighed down with plastic shopping bags, was ready to go back to the flat.

  After they dropped off the bags, they stopped in King’s Square to watch a juggler — dressed as a jester — juggle bowling pins in the air.

  “Beyond corny,” Miranda muttered to Rob, taking a giant step away from her father: He was embarrassing them, as usual, by taking too many photographs. The bare trees shivered in the breeze; people in the small crowd were stamping their feet to keep warm. Peggy wriggled onto the end of a long bench seat, and Rob and Miranda managed to get a spot near the man roasting chestnuts on an open brazier.

  Right away, Miranda spotted something more interesting than the juggler. Just a few feet away, a surly group of Goth kids huddled close enough to the brazier to catch some of the warmth of its fire. Jugglers she could see any day in the pedestrian mall back home, but genuine English Goths were a more unusual sight in Iowa.

  All of them, guys and girls, wore the same heavy workman’s boots, and they were all in black, of course. Some of them were smoking, the lit embers of the cigarettes the only spot of color against their dark clothes and wan faces.

  “Oi — Nick!” shouted one of the guys, and Miranda followed his gaze. On the far side of the square, stomping toward Petergate, was another youth-in-black, raising a pale hand when he saw his friends. Miranda realized, with a strange thrill of recognition, that she’d seen him before. He was the guy who’d been lurking in the doorway of the boarded-up house in the Shambles.

  He started walking over, weaving through the crowd. The panels of his long leather coat flapped like bat wings, and Miranda wondered why he didn’t fasten it, when the day was so cold. As he got closer, she noticed he was half carrying, half dragging some kind of trash bag. And as he got closer, he spotted her looking.