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condemned

The child had been condemned in September as a heretic, caught in a dalliance with a traveling spice merchant, and then she had made the mistake of not stating under oath that she believed her acts to be sinful. In fact, part of her hoped that the carnal act could have been more fully consummated before the bishop’s confessor happened by. Of course, she had been raised basically as an orphan, with no one to teach her the clear medieval rules of right and wrong.

Her punishment was made to fit the crime. She was once more stripped of all clothing and let loose in the forest, told never to return. The townspeople were told that this was God’s judgment and to avoid any “social intercourse” with her. They were also told that anyone who attempted to give her clothing of any type would be punished in an unspecified but no doubt severe manner. For the child the punishment was intended as a death sentence which avoided the unseemly spectacle of having someone so young burned at the stake. Surely she would perish when the snows came.

But deep in the forest she found a little cave which eluded the extremes of cold, and found some meager food in periodic forays into the snowy thickets. She then befriended a pack of wolves who kept her warm at night; watching them closely, she adopted some of their ways of getting food. In the late winter she was secretly taken in by a kindly stableman and his wife. They dared not give her clothing or put her up in their house. Instead, she slept in the loft of their barn, in a bed of hay over the sleeping horses and pigs. She bathed in the freezing waters of the nearby stream, but even so, due to her daily activities little sticks of hay and dirt were always strewn about in her long, black, thick hair, and in the pubic hair which had become especially abundant from exposure to the cold. She helped out with the stable and sometimes, at night, would ride her favorite horse around the fields.

It was on one such outing that she had been sighted, and word of the naked maiden on horseback spread throughout the village. The local bishop was unnerved when he heard. Had the child actually survived the winter? Was this divine intervention? Or had she been protected by the Devil? She would have to be summoned and questioned.

Word went out that the child’s presence was requested by the bishop. Safe passage was guaranteed for all who helped secure her presence. Remembering the earlier edict, no one dared give her clothes. But now she found herself in the center of town on this damp March morning in this year of our Lord 1328, dismounting from her horse, stepping barefoot onto the wet snow, in front of a crowd of townspeople. People further away looked out from towers and rooftops, but the fog lay thick on the snow and the best view was had by those in the square. They all craned their necks to catch a glimpse of this wild naked child, who had survived a winter outdoors without clothing, as she looked around uncertainly and then began with snow-encrusted bare feet up the many steps to the big church.

The bishop was waiting in his study, and it was truly an elemental confrontation as the prelate, burdened in his abundant black robes and warm shoes and stockings, saw the naked child in his doorway. Her small young breasts rode high on her chest, nipples hard and erect from the cold, her legs slightly apart, her arms at her sides, the arch of her back showing her superb physical condition. The dampness of cold fog was on her skin, which though streaked here and there with dirt, was clear and healthy; little droplets lay on the hair on her head and on her pubes. Her hands were rough and dirty from stablework, and her bare feet were rough also and muddy, with the stains of manure coming up between the toes. The child looked at the clothed, magisterial prelate with wonder and a little fear, while the bishop looked at the child, also, with wonder and a little fear, and a sinful awareness of lust . . .

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