Word Count 499
By Sharon Collins
The novices were as prickly as their newly shorn heads. The scabs forming on their scalps echoed those on their broken hearts. Isolated in the misery of memory, silent tears welled as six faces searched the failing light. While mourning doves cooed under the eaves, and the chapel bells sounded compline, a small miracle occurred… so unexpected in this place and at this time. “Demori! Je m’appelle Geneviève, and I remain!” whispered the tallest of the six ancient souls shivering in the gathering gloom, their frail bodies deemed too young to burn upon the pyres of Montsegur. Five of the six, united in full understanding of the whispered word, “Demori,” drew close. They tugged worn sandals from tender feet, sandals too costly to replace, were the only remnants of their old lives not forfeit in an effort to erase their identities. Wriggling thin fingers, each drew forth a single, green, laurel leaf from between the frayed layers of their leather soles. Holding them up in silent communion, one by one, they each repeated, “Demori.”
“Je ne comprende pas. I do not understand these leaves…this word…Demori…” trembled the sixth novice, Virginie, a wisp of a girl and the only one of the six not just arrived. Virginie had appeared ten years ago, a newborn, passed through the convent gate into the anonymous keeping of the sisters. The cloistered world within the walls was the only home she knew.
“Non, you do not understand now, ma petite, but you will,” assured Geneviève grinning with sudden comprehension. Pulling apart her other sandal she handed a second leaf to Virginie. During their nightmare escape, Père Jean had sheltered them under the low branches of the sacred Laurel tree growing at the foot of Montsegur. There he had instructed each of the others to select a single leaf for remembrance. Oddly, she had been instructed to select two. Now she knew why.
Hours later, unable to sleep herself, Geneviève lay, curled in the nest of her straw pallet staring at the full moon and letting her mind drift. Smiling, she thought of winsome Virginie and of all the wonderful secrets she would teach her. Always the student, she knew she was destined to become the teacher. Dear, brave Père Jean had told her so many times. ‘Virginie will be my first student, and Hèléne and Marie-Claude can help me in the teaching,’ she decided then and there. Each girl had excelled in the hurried classes taught by Geneviève’s Grand-mère, a Cathar Parfaite, in the final months of sanctuary atop Montsegur.
Remembering erased the smile from her face. She and her friends were not the only ones to escape the flames that awful March day, two months ago, Geneviève whispered a quick prayer for her other friend Catheline, L’Attendu, the Expected One. Together, she and the Treasure had been lowered down the sheer cliff walls of Montsegur hours before the dawn arrival of Père Jean at Grand-mère’s door and the end of the siege.