Sue Vincewnt’s prompt this week is
Cow Lane bridge is barely remarked on these days. A few walkers might occasionally comment on its age and the pretty patterns the lichen makes on the stones but it doesn’t stay long in the memory. Those with guidebooks, perhaps, might note that Cromwell’s New Model Army was held up here for four days by a small party of Royalists. Others might mention that the bridge was said to have inspired Shakespeare in the setting of a scene in A Midsummer’s Night Dream involving Puck and Titania that scholars have long debated whether it provides compelling evidence of the Bard’s homosexuality.
People don’t spend much time, though, taking pictures. The banks are overgrown and the river deeply silted where once it flowed strongly. The smell, from the brackish pools discourage those who might pause.
And then there is that feeling; a sombre cloud that envelopes the visitor, sucking any joy out of their mood. Some feel they are being watched, others than something bad might have happened; they pause then shake their heads and go.
They are not wrong, though. An old man sits in the shadows of the far arch, away from the path and watches. Mostly he dozes, knowing they’ll go soon enough. But there is the occasional one with a thicker skin or less than a normal level of sensitivity. For them he might drop a stone in the water, or rub two together, maybe whisper into the arches as he fans the ghostly echo. None are immune to the irrational; it’s buried deep within everyone’s psyche.
And he knows, if it comes to it, if nothing else works, then he can show himself. Pull himself out into the light. That will send them away. For he has promised to guard his love, lying deep beneath the sticky mud, from prying eyes and their indifferent inquiries. 500 years he’s stood guard on her final resting place and nothing will stop him for another 500, and another, for however long it takes. After all it is his fault, his stupidity that led to her taking her life that bitter day, after she thought he’d left her, abandoned her to the callous abusive grasp of her father, the Earl.
No one knew where she’d gone but he; no one knew why, but he; no one understood what caused him to kill the Earl, but he; and no one could fathom why, as he waited by the scaffold he smiled, but he.
The gods said he must pay a penance: protect his lady, they said, until every trace of her solid form has eroded and then they can be together.
He understood, or he thought he did. But gods are capricious. They knew the silt would preserve and protect; they knew she would not decompose while she lay buried and undisturbed; they knew that the very protection he gave her prolonged his punishment.
So he sits, in all weathers, doing whatever it takes until he can join her in the hereafter and meanwhile the gods, perched on the parapet of the bridge, watch and laugh.