She looked at her hands – flesh blistering and bleeding. The raw pain she felt made her eyes sting, causing salty tears to streak down her face. A muffled whimpering was echoing off the walls of her deep cell. She soon realised it was coming from her.
“I will never confess.” She half whispered to herself, as she gathered the strength to steadily pick herself up.
She shuffled across the filthy floor, jingling the chains which bound her feet. A foreboding feeling came over her, as she made her way to the barred window which overlooked the town square. Shafts of light touch touched her vacuous face as she viewed the spectacle unfolding before her. The townspeople gathered in the square. Peddlers set up stalls selling sweet bread and ale, while others set up viewing stands in front of the pyre.
She raised her hand and gently touched her carelessly shaven head. The raven hair was no more. Her body repulsed at the thoughts of those men touching her. She wore her pain like a mask, but those emerald eyes still remained her most alluring feature. To this grand beauty they had put flames to the soles of her feet and palms of her hands. On the rack they had stretched her like toffee and whipped her naked back until it bled.
“No mater ”, she whispered, “I know where I go.”
Her thoughts were interrupted with the loud creaking sound of the cell door being unbolted and opened by the guards. In walked Father Toulouse carrying a well worn copy of the Malleus Maleficarum – the inquisitors bible – under one arm. In the other he carried a small black leather bag, much like the Parisian doctors carry.
“Bring me a small table and a stool.” he snapped at one of the guards, while narrowing his eyes in the direction of the woman.
“Do you wish to confess now Verity?”
“Confess to what?” she answered.
“You are a member of the Vaudois, are you not? You meet with other heathens and practice your rituals. You cavort with Satan, do you not? You perform your Sabbaths to honour him. Do you confess!”
“What are you trying to say, Father?” she said teasingly.
“That you’re a witch!” he shouted, the last word echoing off the damp walls.
“Oh! Such accusations!”
She began to laugh madly, her voice ringing out and scraping the cell.
“You sacrificed that child. You took the life right out of it and gave it to the Devil!”
With a sudden burst of anger Verity leapt forward and stood stock still, two feet from him, her eyes piercing his like a needle.
“I was trying to help Emlen give birth. Unfortunately the child was stillborn. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing anyone could have done.”
“Lies, all lies. You can’t be trusted. It is written in the Bible. The Apostle John was heard to say that women were the downfall of man.”
“Believe that, let it comfort you. John was a woman hater, the same as yourself. You want to oppress me because you fear me. You fear what I know.”
“How dare you speak such abominations to me! You are Satan’s spawn, so help me God you will be driven into the pits of hell where you belong.”
“Satan doesn’t exist, you created him along with your idealistic God. You think we are all born with original sin – how pathetic!”
“Curb your tongue witch. You will be thrust down into the eternal fires of hell soon enough. Many have witnessed your bewitching powers. We have signed documentation stating you practice the Black Arts. This alone can send you to your death, for heresy is against God’s law.
The cell door creaked open once again and the guard brought in the table and stool.
“Place them in the middle of the room.” ordered Father Toulouse.
Verity backed away and wrapped her arms around herself in a protective manner. Father Toulouse proceeded to empty the contents of his bag onto the table. He took out a box of matches, a yellow candle, a candle holder engraved with tiny dancing angels, a small brass bell and a Bible. His trembling hands lit the candle and placed it in the candle holder. He picked up the copy of the Malleus Maleficarum turned to a marked page and began to read out loud.
“We exclude Verity Lore from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church, and we judge her condemned to the eternal fires with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as she will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church.”
With that he closed the book, rang the bell once and extinguished the candle by thrusting it down onto the ground.
“Let God’s will be done.”
(c) Tina Altman