She came on that night with snow-driven winds, whether fairy or spirit none could say. The wind shrieked as if the Furies were accusing us. From fear and unknown guilt we inhabitants of the town behind our barred doors vainly seeking sleep, our prohibited solace, remaind awake. The gods had deserted us or condemned us, or could not hear our prayers above the wind.
We found her in the forum come morning. She stood motionless as a statue, rigid as an ancient Korê idol, and white -- horribly white, whiter even than the snow, her hair, her skin, her bloodless lips and her eyes lacking pupils. Even her peasants' dress was white, and motionlessly scorned the wind. The whiteness was almost complete, but for a hideous blemish destroying it. Her throat was bruised and blue, a mute witness to a murderer's hand.
Long and sliently we stared, but she made not a movement. The chill of the air penetrated our bones and the ice oppressed our hearts. The whole world was silent, lest any sound should anger her. One by one both my soldiers and the villagers with their eyes asked my advice, so that with pretended courage I addressed her. "Who," I asked trembling, "O goddess, are you?" Yet she remained quiet and made not a movement. And so after a long silence, "Who," I asked terrified, "O goddess, are you?" And again she gave me a lasting silence instead of a response. "I pray you," I said half-dead with fear, "o Goddess, says something to us. Who are you? Wherefore have you come into the village?" She replied in a single word, which all of us in the village, both soldiers and peasants, in the forum and even in the tents of the encampment and the peasants' huts, heard not with our ears but with our very souls. "Murder," she said. After which she was silent for a year.
Upon hearing this word we understood immediately. She came to punish us.
I will omit every name lest history remember us, the damned, but the account of the crime I will commit to paper to admonish, by this horror, our descendents. Know that I am the prefect of a legion on the far border of the empire. If only glory had not tempted me into the enemies lands! In some barbarian village we were wont to set up winter quarters; the barbarians were civilised to us and friendly. Many of their men indeed joined the legion, and many of their women became soldiers' wives. The village is unimportant; very few merchants used to stop over here, and none indeed any more, as you will soon understand. But enough about us; on to the awful tale.
Eleven years ago the fiercest of winters almost buried the village under snow. The unseasonable weather detained with us a delegation sent from Rome for several weeks. On the last night of their stay ruin invaded the village.
The night was cold and windy, and it snowed again heavily. But above the wind we heard a racket in the forum. No one, however, dared to go out into the cold. There was an escape, and through both the camp and the village a feminine voice cried for help. No one, however, cared to go out into the snow. A wailing at last was heard in the forum. When it was cut off, however, we went to sleep.
The emmissaries had left at dawn, and that morning we found a corpse in the forum. It was one of the maidens from the village, a barbarian and an orphan, strangled in the snow. Now forever will that blood-specked mouth be silent, which once before many had sought to kiss but for whom none had left the heat of their own beds to rescue.
Quickly, incautiosly, and without rites was she buried and we tried to forget. But all happiness had fled the village.
And then she came, or came back rather, with a storm one night a year later. We wondered, as I said, but soon then we knew, nevertheless from shame and horror we said nothing. And she stood, immobile, always in the forum, the empress of our silence. We could not move her, nor did we see her move, nor did she allow the snow to subside. We prayed to her, and urged, and implored, even threatened; motionless she replied with silence.
The winter lasted, and lasted, and the snow never started to melt. The crops didn't grow, the hunters fed us with ill-omened birds, the merchants avoided us who were starving. No one had sufficient strength to flee. We were all bound together by the crime.
And once in every year she ordered up a storm whose wind recalled to mind her screams. And in the morning she said one word, which we all heard, and which shattered the soul with its violence. We wept or we shouted, or madly prayed, yet we could not ever avoid it. Our mournful quiet was broken as once a year she said, "Murder."
But in the tenth year in the accustomed storm an emmisary returned. In the snowy night he had lost his way and unknowingly attained our village. Having asked for help he was bound by my soldiers and brought before me. In the morning I summoned the whole village, or rather all in the village who had survived the decade of famine. Before our murdered goddess we stood, the murderer placed in the snow between us. We waited heedless of the cold until pale dawn had lit the village.
Then we saw a miracle -- the goddess's right hand moved. She pointed at the emmissary, and --another miracle-- spoke. Not with our souls but our ears did we now hear her voice. The same word--or was it a command--she pronounced. Her mouth, twisted by fury shrieked at us, "Murder!"
At once, and with one mind, we set upon the emmissary. Armed only with anger before our lady we tore him, still alive, limb from limb. Not a sinew remained untorn, not a bone nor member intact. We avengers destroyed his whole body, so that not a part remained which appeared human. We turned the forum into a field of gore. When the madness has receeded, I looked back at her; but she had disappeared.