Salt of Judas
by Eric James Stone
Osbert Peale did not paint portraits when he sat on his stool beside the Avon. He
painted Tewkesbury Abbey or one of the footbridges over the river. Sometimes he
portrayed the boatmen on the water or passersby on land, but those people were
merely parts of the landscape. Only in his narrow rented room above the butcher's
did he paint portraits, and those he never showed to anyone for fear they would
Every portrait was of Her. He'd begun to paint Her portrait even before he
discovered that Her name was Amelia. He said that delightful name occasionally
to himself as he drew in charcoal the curve of Her neck or used the painting knife
to soften the glow of Her cheek. But in his mind She remained most often Her.
And though he often whispered -- to himself -- that he loved Her, he knew that a
wealthy landowner's daughter like Her would never love a humble artist like him.
As he sat beside the river, palette in one hand and knife in the other, creating
landscapes in oil, he always watched for Her, since She often strolled along the
footpath with Her companions. On occasion She would stop and look at his work
in progress, and Osbert would then find it difficult to breathe as he painted with
trembling hand. But except in his imagination She had never spoken to him, nor
he to Her. His love for Her was a secret he kept from all the world.
He was using the blending knife to darken the shadows of an overcast sky on his
canvas when a deep voice came from behind him.
"I understand you paint portraits."
Osbert turned his head to look up at the stranger. The man was bald as an egg, and
under the darkening sky his skin seemed Lead White with a touch of Ultramarine
Blue. He wore a red vest -- Cadmium Red darkened perhaps by Burnt Sienna --
over a white silk shirt, black breeches and white stockings. The buckles on his
shoes glinted gold even without direct sunlight. Although Osbert had been in
Tewkesbury less than a year, he thought he knew everyone of consequence in the
town. This man must be a wealthy traveler, perhaps brought here by the
convergence of the Avon and the Severn rivers.
"You are mistaken, sir. I am only a landscape painter."
The stranger nodded slowly. "Where do you buy your oils?"
"From Barber the apothecary. He has a shop on Church Street."
"From now on, you will buy them from me." The stranger spoke as if stating an
"But Barber has always--"
"Barber has sold his shop to me. I am the new apothecary."
"Oh." Osbert did not know what else to say. Barber had been a friendly fellow,
quite unlike this brusque man. But possibly the new apothecary would become
more amiable in time.
"Soon you will want to bring life to your portraits. Come to me then." The
apothecary turned and strode away.
"I don't paint portraits," Osbert called after him, but the bald head made no
In the dim morning light that came through his one small window, Osbert looked
at the latest portrait of Her. She was tilting Her head inquisitively, and Her lips
were pursed slightly, as if She were about to ask a question.
"You wish to know my name, milady? I am Osbert Peale, at your service. Or
perhaps you wonder what it is I will be painting today? I believe I shall attempt
once more to capture the spirit of Tewkesbury Abbey.
"Or do you merely wish to inquire whether I think it will rain? Yes, that must be
it, for the weather will do quite well as a subject of conversation with someone
when you have nothing else in common."
He fell silent. This piece was his best, seeming to catch a moment before motion
rather than an eternal pose.
Soon you will want to bring life to your portraits. Come to me then.
What had the apothecary meant? Could he have known of Osbert's secret
What would it be like to touch Her, to feel the softness of Her skin? Osbert
reached out and gently stroked Her face. His fingers came away wet with paint.
The wooden sign showing a mortar and pestle still hung over the door, but
someone had painted over the name Barber and replaced it with Dyer. Osbert
hesitated before opening the door and walking into the shop.
"Ah, the young artist." The bald man rose from his seat behind the counter,
ducking his head to avoid various bottles that hung from the ceiling beams. "I
knew you would come."
"I need linseed oil."
"That is all you wish?"
"Yes." A sudden sweat broke out on Osbert's brow, though the air was cool in the
The apothecary rummaged around under the counter, clinking bottles together.
"How is your portrait work progressing?"
"I paint landscapes."
"So you said. So you said." The apothecary rose from behind the counter and
held out a corked bottle. "I'll put it on your account. Barber said you paid him
monthly without fail. I like a man who keeps his bargains."
"Thank you." Osbert took the bottle and quickly exited. Once he was sure the
man could not see him through the shop windows, he shuddered in relief. He
didn't like the way those dark eyes seemed to look past his own.
As days became shorter and the weather cooler, Osbert saw Her less frequently on
Her walks. And since there were fewer daylight hours for painting landscapes, he
spent more time in his cramped room painting portraits by the light of an oil lamp.
Often he would paint through the night: a portrait of Her smiling coyly or laughing
or merely looking to the horizon.
Over the past three nights he had experimented with painting a sequence of small
portraits capturing different positions as Her head turned until Her eyes seemed to
look into his. Now as he looked from one painting to the next in order, it was
almost as if She moved. Almost.
Soon you will want to bring life to your portraits. Come to me then.
Three times he walked past the apothecary's door before he went inside.
"Ah, the young artist." The apothecary rose to his feet. "More linseed oil? Some
White Lead, perhaps?"
"What did you mean?"
The apothecary raised a dark eyebrow. "I am surprised, however, that you are
running low on supplies so soon, since the weather is not generally fit for painting
Osbert pointed his index finger at the man. "You said I should come to you if I
wanted to give life to my portraits. What did you mean?"
The apothecary nodded. "Now you are ready."
"Ready for what?"
"Ready to give life to your work. Are you a religious man, Master Peale?"
Osbert blinked. "I . . . I'm a God-fearing man, if that's what you mean."
"God-fearing. A good word." The apothecary smiled, his teeth gleaming in the
dark shop. "I, too, am God-fearing, you could say."
"Enough of this. What do you know of my painting portraits? What do you mean
by 'give life'?"
"You paint portraits of a young lady, perhaps? Someone you desire, but who
remains forever beyond your reach?"
Osbert couldn't think what to say. The apothecary seemed to know him
"You paint her portrait till you know her face better than your own. But you do
not know her voice, her touch. She is no more alive to you than a stone." He
tapped the stone pestle on the counter. "But there are . . . other arts beyond the art
"You practice the arts of witchcraft," Osbert said in astonished realization. He
knew he should denounce the apothecary to the Church immediately, but curiosity
"Those who fear its power may call it witchcraft. It is nothing more than
knowledge, and knowledge is neither good nor evil. 'Tis the use that makes it so."
"Yet you talk of giving life to the creations of men. Surely that is blasphemy, as
only God can create life."
The apothecary smiled again. "You are wise for one so young. But I speak not of
creating life, but of giving it. Tell me, what is it that makes a man live?"
Osbert pressed his lips together as he thought. "The spirit -- the soul."
"And if a painting had a soul?"
"But how is that possible? A soul comes from God, and He would not give one to
a mere painting."
"There are heathen tribes who believe that a painting steals the soul of the person
portrayed. That is not true -- to steal someone's soul into a painting requires the
application of magics far beyond their primitive superstitions." The apothecary
waved a hand dismissively, then pointed at Osbert. "However, you have a soul. If
you are willing to give up part of yours to make the painting live, that is within my
Osbert stepped back. "You want me to give you part of my soul? So you can drag
me down to damnation piece by piece?"
"No, you would not give it to me. You would give it to the painting, give life to
Though the response allayed Osbert's suspicions somewhat, he asked, "And what
benefit do you receive from this, then, that you would risk hanging as a witch?"
"What benefit? You would pay me, of course."
"I'm not wealthy. I have but twenty pounds a year bequeathed by my uncle. It is
enough to live on, but painting is my one luxury." Osbert hoped someday to paint
well enough to sell his work, but that day was still to come.
"I will not charge much. The ingredients I require are not costly, excepting the
salt. Shall we say, eight shillings?"
Almost half a pound. But to have Her speak to him, to be able to touch Her would
be worth that price. "How do I know I will get my money's worth?"
"You are a man who fulfills his bargains; so am I. I will add the cost to your bill.
If you are not satisfied, you can merely refuse to pay."
With such an offer, how could the apothecary possibly swindle him? What
suspicions could remain? "How is it done?"
"We will need to cut off a piece of your soul and grind it to a powder you can mix
with your paint. Then whatever portrait you paint will be given life."
"The soul is immaterial. How can it be cut or ground?"
The apothecary sighed. "Not everything the Church teaches you is to be believed.
The soul is not immaterial; it is a material more refined, more pure than base
matter. That is how it can occupy the same space as your body. The trick is to get
part of the soul to separate itself from the body, so it can be removed without
harming the flesh."
The apothecary turned and reached for a metal saltcellar on the top shelf behind
him. "Salt is a symbol of purity because it prevents corruption. That's why it's
used for protection against evil spirits. The purity of salt has power."
"But the salt I have here is not common salt. During the Last Supper, Judas
Iscariot knocked over a dish of salt. That salt became cursed for all eternity. And
I have some of it here."
Skepticism returned to Osbert's mind. "I cannot believe you have the very same
salt that was at the Last Supper?"
"It matters not what you believe. The power of the salt is real." The apothecary
smiled. "But you are a clever young man to see that this is not the very same salt.
The spilt salt was collected by one who recognized its power. And when that
cursed salt is mixed with uncursed salt, the curse spreads. As it says in the Bible,
'If the salt has lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?' So this is known as
the Salt of Judas or Traitor's Salt. The grains may not be the same, but the curse
Osbert stared in fascination at the saltcellar. "What does the curse do?"
"As normal salt is repellent to an evil spirit, Salt of Judas is repellent to a good
spirit, only far stronger in its effects. Place your left hand on the counter here,
fingers spread apart."
Osbert did as he was told.
The apothecary reached out and gripped Osbert's wrist with fingers hard and cold
as iron. "This will be painful, but no real harm will come to you."
"Painful?" Osbert almost tried to pull his arm back, but the apothecary's grip held
"It will not last long." The apothecary sprinkled salt onto Osbert's little finger.
Osbert's knees buckled as he felt fire spread across his hand and into his forearm.
He exhaled a choking scream, then found himself unable to draw breath. The
apothecary's icy fingers tightened on his wrist. His vision blurred with tears, but
he thought he saw a wavering tendril of fire rise from the knuckle of his little
"There it is." The apothecary's voice was calm. He had put down the saltcellar
and now held a pair of shears. Deftly he snipped the tendril of fire just above the
knuckle. The tendril writhed on the counter, leaving scorch marks where it
touched. "Looks very much like a salted slug, does it not?"
Still unable to breathe, Osbert tried to yank his hand away, but the apothecary did
not let go.
"Oh, yes. The pain." The apothecary pulled Osbert's hand several inches away
from the tendril, then poured some water from a bottle onto Osbert's little finger.
"Holy water, to wash away the salt. The pain should subside." He finally let go of
Clasping at his finger to make certain it was still there, Osbert realized the pain
was easing. He was able to breathe again, and he took several deep breaths to
steady himself before shouting, "What did you do to me?"
"Just what I said I would. I sprinkled Salt of Judas on part of your body to force
your soul out of that part, allowing me to clip it off." The apothecary used tongs
to pick up the tendril of soul and drop it in the mortar. He added some dried
leaves, which burst into flames. "The salt also corrupted it enough that we can see
it and even touch it." He took a pestle and began pounding it in the mortar.
"There are many who say that the curse on the Salt of Judas is the curse of Hell
itself, and that the pain you felt is what a damned soul will feel for all eternity, but
I don't know that is so."
"You have damned me." His vision dimmed as despair filled his heart. "I have
been touched by the curse of Judas."
The apothecary laughed. "You are a good man, Osbert Peale. If your soul were
not good, the Salt of Judas would not cause you pain." The apothecary looked in
the mortar, ground the mixture a little more, then removed the pestle. "Now, take
He tilted the mortar and poured an ash-white powder onto a sheet of paper, which
he expertly folded. "--mix it with linseed oil, then blend it with the paint on your
Osbert looked at the packet but made no move to take it.
"Come now. Are you going to waste all the pain you've suffered? Take it."
Osbert slowly reached out his hand.
The gray light of dawn diffused from the window, blending with the yellow from
the oil lamp. Still wet, a portrait of Her stood lifeless on the easel. On his palette,
still unused, was some of the soul-paint.
Osbert feared it would not work. And he feared it would. The events of the night
before were becoming confused in his mind. Was the apothecary a charlatan or a
puissant witch? Osbert rubbed the little finger of his left hand. It had felt a little
numb during the night, then prickly, but seemed almost normal now. Perhaps it
was getting accustomed to missing its soul.
He took his blender and dipped it in the translucent soul-paint, then carefully
began applying it to her face. Now that he had started, he worked feverishly until
there was none of the substance left on his palette.
On the canvas, nothing had changed: Her eyes still looked to the distance, Her
serious expression remained frozen in oils. The pain, the fright, his work -- all
were for naught. Osbert threw down his palette and painting knife, then stretched
himself out in exhaustion upon his cot.
He would deal with the fraudulent apothecary later.
When he woke up, the first thing he saw was Her smile.
A week later -- seven portraits later -- Osbert hurried into the apothecary shop
and closed the door. "I need to make more soul-paint. And it needs to be
"Soul-paint? Apropos." The apothecary's teeth glinted in his smile. "Run out
already, have you?"
"She smiles at me. She gazes into my eyes. But She doesn't talk, and when I try
to touch Her, I can sense Her movement but She still feels like paint."
Nodding, the apothecary said, "Yes, a higher concentration is needed to give the
portrait more vitality. But that would require a larger portion of your soul. Are
you willing to give it?"
The pain hadn't been too much to endure, had it? And it had been over quickly,
had it not? "How much would I need?"
The apothecary bobbed his head back and forth in thought. "For talking and
touching, let me see . . . . Perhaps, to be on the safe side, we should take the whole
Osbert clenched his left hand into a fist, then opened it again, looking at it
carefully. "Will it make a difference to my hand, not having a soul? My finger
felt strange that first night."
"Oh, my dear boy! Is that what you thought?" The apothecary laughed. "You do
not have a soulless finger, nor will you have a soulless hand. The rest of your soul
extends to fill the empty parts. It is the same with fat men -- they do not have
more of a soul than thin men; their souls just stretch to fill their bulk."
Osbert's relief at this explanation made him realize how much he had feared
having a part of his body without a soul. He rolled up his sleeve and put his left
hand down on the counter.
Three days later his tongue was still sore from having bitten it during the agony of
the salt on his hand, but he was otherwise recovered from the ordeal. Nonetheless,
now that he had a sufficient supply of the soul-paint, he was glad he would not
need to go through that again.
Osbert glanced at a portrait he had finished the previous week. Her face smiled at
him, and Her eyelashes fluttered demurely. But that portrait was imperfect,
He would create a new portrait. This would be his best work, perfectly capturing
Her eyes, Her hair, the flush of Her cheek. And this one would speak to him.
"Back again, my young friend?" The apothecary rose to greet him.
"Her portrait has stopped talking to me. She still smiles, but the earlier ones no
longer smile. They are utterly lifeless!" Osbert gripped the edge of the counter.
Running a palm over the smooth dome of his head, the apothecary said,
"Interesting. The ground-up soul must be gradually escaping the paint."
"How do I stop it?"
"It is returning to its natural state. I do not think it can be stopped."
Osbert looked at his hand. "Is it coming back into me?"
"I doubt that. You voluntarily surrendered it, so it no longer pertains to you."
"What can be done? I need Her."
With an appraising eye, the apothecary looked him up and down. "Perhaps an
arm? Just from the elbow down? We'll have to do it piece by piece, though, to fit
in the mortar."
The banging on the door roused Osbert from sleep. The afternoon daylight cutting
into the room hurt his eyes. He stumbled to the door and opened it a crack.
It was his landlord, the butcher. "Peale, I'm giving you till Saturday to come up
with two months' rent, or you'll have to leave."
Desperate confusion swirled in Osbert's mind. He was two months late with rent?
"You'll get the money. It's just that my mother's sister is ill, and the leech-- "
"I thought you said it was your father's sister."
Had he said that? "This is a difficult time. Illness sweeping through my family's
village." He coughed. Why did his chest hurt so?
The butcher took a step back. "You don't look well yourself."
"I'm fine. You'll get your money. Just give me some time."
"Hmph." The butcher turned and went down the stairs.
Osbert sat down on his cot.
"You seem ill, my love." Her voice was melodious, and Osbert felt better just
"I'm just tired, is all." He lay back and closed his eyes. Late with the rent? Lying
to his landlord? What was wrong with him?
He felt Her palm on his forehead. "You're burning up. It's a fever. You need
A fever? The apothecary could help. Yes, he must go to the apothecary.
He staggered down the stairs and out onto the street. He was exhausted by the
time he reached the apothecary shop, and once inside he allowed himself to sink to
He awoke in a strange room, surrounded by portraits of Her. One of them smiled
at him as he sat up.
"Where am I?" he asked Her.
Her shoulders shrugged slightly, but She did not answer.
Osbert walked unsteadily to the door, opened it and looked out. The scents of the
apothecary shop met him. "Hallo?" he called out.
"Ah, you are recovered at last," said the apothecary from below. "We were quite
worried about you."
"The young lady of your portraits and I. Gave us quite a scare, you did."
"What am I doing here? What are my paintings doing here?"
"When you fell ill, you came to me. I then discovered that you were unable to pay
the rent for your prior room, so I had everything brought here."
A fog seemed to lift from his mind. He walked down the stairs to confront the
apothecary. "That was your fault. I couldn't pay the rent because I spent all my
money on soul-paint."
"It does no good to blame me. It was all by your choice. How was I to know you
were spending too much?"
Still weak in his legs, Osbert sat down on the floor.
"But you have no worries now, my boy. You can stay here with me, as I can spare
"Thank you." Did he really want to stay here? Where else could he go? Then he
remembered Her. "The portraits! She didn't talk to me, She only smiled."
"Yes, it's been too long. The power of your soul-paint is fading."
"I need more."
The apothecary smiled. "You are sure? Your soul is stretched so thin I estimate
we'd need to take both legs now to have enough."
"Yes, I'm sure." She'd help nurse him back to health, so he owed it to Her to
bring Her back to life.
The apothecary reached up for the saltcellar.
"I think I would like to see one of your landscapes," She said one morning.
"You used to paint landscapes, did you not? I should very much like to see one.
You have such a talent for painting."
"Then see one you shall. I'll go out and paint one today."
She smiled brightly. "Just for me?"
"Just for you."
He scraped an old canvas, removing one of Her lifeless portraits. After gathering
his paints, he went downstairs.
"Going somewhere?" asked the apothecary, who was putting on his coat to leave.
"I'm going to paint a landscape."
The apothecary frowned. "Are you sure that's wise? The spring weather is rather
damp, and you are still weak. There is illness about - I am going to treat someone
"It's for Her. She wants to see a landscape."
"Ah, well if she wants it, how can you refuse? Just don't stay out too long."
He sat on his stool on the bank of the Avon. The canvas before him held only a
half-hearted charcoal sketch. It had been so long since he had done a landscape
that nothing seemed right.
"Trouble painting?" A man's voice came from behind him.
Osbert turned to see an elderly monk from the abbey. "Yes, I'm afraid I'm
somewhat out of practice."
The monk nodded. "I recall having seen you painting many a day last year, but
not in recent months."
"I've been ill."
The silence stretched. Osbert raised his charcoal to the canvas, then brought it
back down. He turned to look at the monk again. "Is it a sin to paint a portrait of .
. . of a young lady?"
The monk raised his eyebrows. "I've never been asked that before."
"The Muslim believes all images of people are prohibited. And I've read of
primitive tribes that believe an image can trap the soul of the person portrayed.
But portraiture in itself is not against the laws of Christ."
Osbert nodded gratefully, though the talk of souls trapped in images came
uncomfortably close to his secret.
"But this young lady whose portrait you paint - is there perhaps more to it than
that? Is that what troubles you?"
Suddenly Osbert no longer wanted to talk to this monk. He stood up. "I've been
outside too long. I must get back. My health, you understand."
The monk nodded. "May God speed your recovery."
In the middle of the night Osbert awoke to pounding on the door of the shop. He
heard the apothecary call out that he was coming.
"I wonder who is ill tonight." Her voice was concerned.
"I'll find out," he said. Rising from his bed, he opened the door and crept out to
sit on the stairs and eavesdrop.
A man was speaking, an edge of desperation in his voice. "- grows ever weaker.
It's as if the very life were being drained from her body."
The apothecary's voice was sympathetic. "I don't know what else is to be done
but help her sleep better. This illness is beyond my power to aid."
"I don't understand it. My daughter was always a picture of health, until last
"It is most mysterious."
"Is there nothing in your books? Please, you must help my Amelia. I'll pay
whatever you ask."
"I am sorry," said the apothecary. "Take this powder to ease her rest. That is all I
Osbert barely heard the door of the shop shut. His mind was awhirl. Amelia.
Was this coincidence? No. His portraits of Her were somehow harming the real
young woman, drawing the life out of her. He tried to reject the thought, but he
remembered the primitive belief the monk had mentioned about images trapping
the soul of the person portrayed. The apothecary had mentioned it, too, Osbert
recalled now. It had to be true - he was the cause of Amelia's suffering.
He rose to his feet and descended the stairs. The apothecary was sitting in his
chair behind the counter. On seeing Osbert, he rose to his feet.
Clenching his fists, Osbert said, "What have you done to Amelia?"
"I've done nothing to the young lady."
"It's me, isn't it? My portraits are stealing pieces of her soul."
"You imagine things, dear boy. Go back to bed and get some rest." The
apothecary didn't look him in the eye.
"How do I set things right?"
The apothecary sighed. "You can't. By painting her image with the soul-paint,
you have robbed that girl of most of her soul, binding it permanently away from
her. She will die shortly, and it is your obsession that has killed her."
What could Osbert do? "I'll destroy the paintings. Burn them all."
"Ignorant child. You are dealing with magics of the soul. Mere flames cannot
break such bindings."
Osbert lunged forward and grabbed at the apothecary, who broke the grip with
ease and pushed him to the floor.
Tears of hopelessness welled in his eyes, then began to flow down his cheeks.
"Dear God, what have I done?"
The apothecary laughed. "Yes, now you call out to Him. Far too late, of course."
Wiping at the tears on his face, Osbert realized he was damned. Step by step, he
had brought ruin upon himself and Amelia.
And then as he licked at his lips, he tasted his tears. Salt. The Salt of Judas.
He rose to his feet. The apothecary had moved to the doorway and was bolting it
shut. Osbert climbed up on the counter and grabbed the saltcellar from the top
shelf behind it. The apothecary spotted him as he climbed down from the counter.
"What are you doing? Give that back!" The apothecary's voice was angry.
Osbert ran up the stairs to his room, locked the door and pulled off his nightshirt.
"Stop!" yelled the apothecary from below.
Ordinary flames might not burn the paintings and release the pieces of Amelia's
soul, but perhaps the magical fire of his burning soul could. He hurriedly piled the
portraits of Amelia in the middle of the room as the apothecary banged on the
door. He could hear the voice of the portraits asking what he was doing.
Lying back on the portraits, he unscrewed the top of the saltcellar and spilled the
salt upon his chest.
His body spasmed as gouts of pale fire spread from his chest. The pain twisted his
mind and all reason fled. All that remained was the desire to destroy the portraits.
Flames surrounded him and then all went dark.
As he returned to consciousness, he felt a burning sensation over most of his body.
The scent of smoke filled his nostrils. This must be hell, his eternal destiny. As
he opened his eyes, though, he saw the old monk leaning over him, not a devil.
"He's awake," said the monk to someone outside Osbert's view. "Be still, young
man. That you are alive is a miracle, though you have some burns on your body
from the fire."
Osbert tried to speak, but at first could not find a voice in his dry throat. Finally
he managed to whisper, "Where am I?"
"The infirmary at Tewksbury Abbey. Be still."
"Where is the apothecary?"
The monk shook his head. "He must have been consumed by the fire. We did not
find his body."
Osbert found it hard to believe the apothecary was truly dead. "And my
"They are destroyed. The entire building burned to ashes; there is nothing left.
But you must rest. Go back to sleep."
Propped up on his bed in the infirmary, Osbert drank the broth that was supposed
to restore his strength. It was no use, he knew - his strength was gone because he
had given up most of his soul, not because of his injuries.
The one real comfort he had was that Amelia still lived, and was said to be
recovering slowly. At least her death was not on his conscience.
The old monk arrived and sat on a stool by Osbert's bed. "I have something for
you." He reached into a sack and brought out the saltcellar.
Osbert nearly spilled his broth. "Where did you get that?" he whispered.
"You were clutching it when we found you. It is a symbol of the miracle that
Saved? He could not be saved. "What do you mean?"
"After the fire burned out, no one thought anybody could have survived. But then
you were found in the midst of the ashes, still alive, with a pile of salt on your
chest and this saltcellar in your hand." The monk smiled. "I know salt is a
preservative, but I didn't think it had quite so much power."
"That salt had magical properties." For what evil fate had the Salt of Judas saved
The monk laughed. "It is but ordinary salt." He opened up the saltcellar, dipped
his finger in, and dabbed some crystals on his tongue. "See?"
Osbert held his breath for a moment, but nothing happened to the monk. "It
cannot be. I saw it. The apothecary . . ."
The monk raised an eyebrow. "The apothecary claimed it was magical salt? I had
my suspicions the man was a fraud."
"He was no fraud. At least, not the way you think." What purpose was there in
hiding the truth? Osbert felt as if a burden lifted from his shoulders as he quietly
began to tell the monk what he had done.
"So I tried to release Amelia's soul by burning the paintings with the magical fire,
and that's the last thing I remember before I awoke after the fire," Osbert finished.
During Osbert's narration, the monk had not interrupted, although he had frowned
at several points. Now the monk leaned forward and stared into Osbert's eyes.
After a few seconds, he said, "You do not appear to be either a madman or a liar,
and I cannot see why you would concoct such a tale. I believe you."
"Thank you." It was a relief to be believed. Osbert looked at the saltcellar still
gripped in the monk's hands. "But I still don't understand why the Salt of Judas
didn't burn you when you touched it. What happened to the curse?"
The monk looked up to the ceiling of the infirmary. Osbert followed his gaze, but
he could see nothing.
The monk looked back down to Osbert. "The salt lost its savour through an act of
betrayal. Perhaps it took an act of sacrifice to let it be salted again."
The canvas before him was nearly complete. The image of Tewkesbury Abbey
was ethereal, wreathed in morning mist, though the actual mist had vanished hours
ago. Osbert paused as he carefully considered where to add a little more shadow.
"You paint very well," said a voice over his shoulder.
He knew before turning that it was Amelia. She had recently begun taking walks
again as she had recovered from her illness, and he had seen her every few days
over the past month. But this was the first time she had spoken to him.
"Thank you, Miss." He turned back to the canvas.
"Perhaps one day you could paint a portrait of me," Amelia said.
"I only paint landscapes."