by Lynne Handy
Jehanne drove the sheep to the meadow and leaned against her crook, watching the animals graze. They seemed inclined to stay in place, and her eyes wandered to the hanging tree, only a few yards away. A year ago, a child-killer dangled naked from the tree, felt his neck snap, and may or may not have known his seed seeped into the earth. But Jehanne had seen and wondered if a mandrake had taken root. Hurrying to the tree, she thrust her crook into the dew-soft soil and found a knobby-headed root with twisted arms and legs, which resembled a drawing of a mandrake she’d seen in the midwife’s leech book. As she yanked it out, it shrieked, and she gave it a goodly smack, lest its screams frighten the sheep.
Holy Mother Church condemned manikin-like roots and prescribed methods for killing them: stomping them with iron boots and piercing them with cow bones, to name only a few. Preferring folk magic to Church doctrine, many villagers in Jehanne’s day attached magical properties to mandrake roots, sprinkled them with holy water, and treated them like pets. Joan of Arc, during her torment, wore a mandrake root around her neck.
Jehanne wasn’t sure what to do with the gnarly thing, so human-like with arms and legs and bristly-haired head. Then it shrieked again, a cry so shrill it caused the sheep to jump. At once, she cut off its head with her knife, licking the hallucinogenic seepage from its neck. Immediately, her head spun and she set off toward the foothills, thinking them her mother. Some saw her wandering there, a shepherdess in a crimson flax gown and sturdy boots, and then she was seen no more.
Retired librarian Lynne Handy lives in North Aurora, Illinois, where she enjoys nature, and writes poems and short stories. She’s a member of the St. Charles Writers Group, Chicago Writer’s Association, and Kentucky State Poetry Society. Her work has been published in several literary journals. Reach her at lynnehandy.com.