Right and wrong are strange things. The people who think they are two categories, two big solid boxes where you can put things just so, they are far from the truth.
Right and wrong are more like two signs on either side of a large room where you place things as you can. There are some things everyone can agree on putting on one side or the other. And then there are those you can't decide on which side to put them, that you leave in the middle without knowing or wanting to think about it too much. There are some whose place you can't choose. A little more on the left, a little more on the right. There are some you fight over, that you push all the time, according to your own opinion. And then there are some that are so long, so large, that they could take up a good half of the room.
And the worst thing is there is only us to know where to put things. Somehow, even something everyone glorifies could be considered a crime in another world. Who are we to put words on what happened in the charming little village where, one day, Good Little Mary was born?
It was a long time ago now, in a place I couldn't exactly describe simply because it doesn't exist anymore. But at the time this story was happening, it was a small farming village snuggled at the foot of a steep mountain.
Life in this village was simple then. There were fields the farmers worked in, a tavern they drank in, a church they prayed in. The kids played in the woods during spring, in the river during summer, on the marketplace during autumn, and at home during winter. When they weren't playing, they were helping their parents or learning with the priest.
There was also an inn that welcomed merchants who sold what they couldn't grow around there. The innkeeper and his wife were lovely people, very nice, very faithful. At their place, the stables, the tables and the beds were always ready; the soup was warm and the bread was fresh. There was a cross on the wall and a Bible on the counter.
It's at this charming little inn ruled by hospitality and faith that one night, on a Christmas Eve, around midnight, a strange young woman arrived, escaping from the cold and heavy snow falling outside. She was a traveler. She wore a black dress and boots with satchels hanging from her belt. A cape covered her long curly hair. She had left her mule in the stables.
She was slightly surprised when she entered the inn not to find the inn keeper, despite several celebrators dozing away on a table by the fire. An old woman embroidering in an armchair saw her as she looked for the owner, and without interrupting her work she told her "Upstairs, my girl. Your man is upstairs. But do not bother him. His wife is giving birth to her first child."
The traveler knew about those things and decided she could help them. She thanked the old embroiderer, took off her cape which she hung on a coat rack, and climbed the stairs. The parturient's painful screams were enough to show her the way. She quickly found the bedroom, the largest in the inn. The inn keeper's wife, in the middle of labor, was lying down on an old sheet that had been spread on the floor in the candlelight and the glow of the fireplace, surrounded by her husband and a few girls that didn't seem to know what they were doing. The traveler entered the room and introduced herself, politely offering to help with the birth process. She was quickly allowed to.
It didn't take much longer, since the biggest part of the work had been done before she arrived. The traveler just made sure the baby was born safely, cut the cord, and cleaned the child in a tub of water brought by one of the new mother's friends. "It's a girl," she announced as she laid the crying baby down on her mother's chest.
"Mary," she said with an exhausted voice. "Her name is Mary."
"Like the Blessed Virgin," the inn keeper whispered, smiling, eyes shining with tears of joy.
He sat down next to his wife to kiss her and behold at ease his daughter who, having now found her mother's breast, had stopped crying and started sucking calmly, her eyes closed. The traveler and the other girls left without a sound, leaving the couple to their happiness, but not without receiving from them one last warm look of gratitude.
In a matter of minutes, the news was known throughout the entire inn. The people who could still stand on their feet opened a bottle of wine and drank in the child's honor. Someone started to play the vielle. They sang and danced around the tables. The clueless ones thought they were just celebrating Christmas and sang a hymn about the birth of the Christ.
Soon, one of the patrons thought it would be respectful to offer something to the newborn's family to congratulate them for the happy event. Everyone agreed enthusiastically and started looking for things to offer. The merchants had their own products; others had to think a little harder. The old embroiderer chose to offer her current work; a young shepherd sculpted a piece of wood into a little sheep; one of the new mother's friends made biscuits.
The traveler also wanted to offer the inn keeper's family a gift. She was poor and didn't have much to offer, and she didn't know what this family would like. She thought about the parents' love for their daughter and thought, "If they love her so much, they will wish to make sure she'll have a happy life. If I revealed to them the future of their daughter, they might be at peace about her."
The traveler was actually a young witch, but she wouldn't admit that to anyone. It was a very difficult time for witches, even the ones who did only good deeds for people. She settled inside a small empty bedroom as the other patrons celebrated and questioned her cards, pendulum and runes for a whole hour. Then, she spent the rest of the night composing prophetic verses because for some reason, nobody ever took prose prophecies seriously. Once she was satisfied with her work, she wrote the result on a small piece of parchment.
She walked back to the inn's entrance, and left her present on the counter. Then, as the sun had already risen, she decided to leave. She retrieved her mule from the stables and left the same way she had come.
Nobody saw her go, which is why, when the innkeeper and his wife, somehow a little better after the labor, walked down the stairs with their daughter to introduce her to the patrons, they were very surprised to find the parchment, seemingly having appeared out of thin air.
"Who left this on the counter?" the innkeeper asked around, attracting everyone's attention and curiosity. They all assured him they had never seen the object, and the innkeeper, slightly worried, resolved to read it out loud.
Little Mary was born and little will she be.
She will stay, longer than has anybody,
An innocent child, beautiful and pure,
A delicate rose for the world to admire
On which brambles of curiosity will unfurl
Watered by the knowledge of the world.
This angel who tonight fell down to us,
The guide of the village, a being aliferous,
Will bring us light, smiles and sun,
A piece of happiness for everyone.
But without wrong, right just feels numb:
Mary was born Mary, and Mary will become
The willing bearer of the village's sin,
Courtesy of the Devil, and for him, a son.
The guardian angel will welcome the demon
Inside the village as she would a loved one.
The witch should probably have anticipated the panic and terror that overtook the innkeeper, his wife, and his patrons, upon reading her prophecy. But staying up for the entire night, after a long and tiring journey, and also maybe the influence of wine, had blinded her from the danger God's followers would see in her prediction.
The innkeeper and his wife thought it was a curse someone had cast upon their daughter and hurriedly asked for someone to get the priest for them. The young shepherd was sent to find him at the church, and he brought him back an hour later, along with practically half of the village that had heard the news. Father Hugh, who was very respected by everyone, was welcomed by weary silence. He examined the parchment, then asked to see the cursed child. Mary was sleeping soundly in her mother's arms and whined slightly in her sleep as she was given to the churchman.
Father Hugh examined her for a long while, silent, and everyone held their breath waiting for his verdict. "I'm afraid the curse says the truth," he finally announced. "This child is doomed to attract sin and evil on her, and one day, a demon will come because of her."
The terrified villagers had no words. Mary's mother suddenly burst into tears, instinctively reaching out for her daughter held by the priest. Her husband held her tight to calm her down, but he was crying as well. "Father, I defer to your judgement. What should we do?" he asked, begging.
"The rest of the curse should not be forgotten," Father Hugh said. "This child is, to this day, a beacon of innocence and purity and will bring happiness to our village as she grows up. But, in order to make sure she will stay pure, we need to keep away from her, and from this place, any trace of sin, any evil that could attract the demon on her. In this way, she will live safe from the curse."
"How?" the villagers asked.
"We need," Father Hugh said, "to become examples of virtue ourselves, so she'll never have to be exposed to bad influences. We'll be good, sober, and hard-working, and we will pray to God to be safe from the curse cast upon this innocent child. So, when the demon comes, she will be untouched by any sort of sin, and we will be saved."
The villagers shared their thoughts and decided to follow Father Hugh's advice. Some, who didn't want to do it, chose to leave the village, scared of causing its demise, or scared of being accused for it. The children were carefully informed, so that they would follow the adults' example.
The already very faithful inn keeper and his wife redoubled their efforts in their faith. The villagers banished any kind of vice from their habits and made sure to be hardworking, sober and generous, never to bicker, never to fight, and to stay faithful, decent, and polite. The priest's masses and sermons had never been this popular. It was made certain that, as she grew up, Mary would stay innocent and pure and would know to stay away from sin and demons.
Thus it was in this village possessed by faith that the good little Mary, precious child of the innkeeper and his wife, and a prophecy everyone feared was born and raised.