Chapter 1- The Warlock’s Curse
The village was illuminated by a faint red light, as the thunderous rain clattered down. It was late at night. The dark sky, however, had a scarlet glow to it. It looked as if the sun had just disappeared down the horizon. The village of Salem but hadn’t seen a sunset or a sunrise in three days. Heavy rain obscured any light that escaped the clouds in the day.
The North River overflowed with water. It would soon flood if the continuous rain didn’t stop. It had become difficult to walk even a short distance in the muddy streets. The rain never stopped for more than an hour.
It seemed as if a Thunderbird soared through Salem raining tears.
In one of the village households, young Myldred walked into the kitchen with a basket in her arms full of little glass jars. She had just finished labeling the dried herbs that her mother had concocted.
The small kitchen was lit dimly with candles. Glass jars and vials filled up the wooden shelves pushed against the walls. Various books were stacked up on the shelves too.
Myldred put away the jars on one of the racks by the window, carefully aligning them in a straight line. She noticed splatters of muddy water on the shelves and all over the floor. The kitchen window was slightly open. Ambrose must’ve forgotten to close it. He was always careless like that. She took a rag wiped the water off. Their mother would be furious if the rain ruined her potions and family scriptures.
She closed the kitchen window and looked at the rain. The glass reflected a pale face and dark hair. As she looked on, her dark blue eyes now mimicked the downpour. Myldred could only see the candlelit windows of the nearby houses.
She sighed as the last of her chores for the day were finished. She was exhausted from the day.
She wished she could chat with her brother for a bit before going to bed like they used to. But Ambrose was already asleep. He was always tired and never had much time for anything since he started working at the bookbinders.
She hated that they had to work so hard. They were still so young. She had just turned 17 last winter, and Ambrose was only a year older.
She assisted her mother with her Apothecary shop during the day. In the evenings, her mother taught her medicine. She had to read books on Herbalism and Alchemy and learn all the ways of brewing the perfect potion. She remembered how she used to be eager to read those books as a child. Now she despised it. Ambrose was lucky to have found work in the village and be free of mother’s lessons.
Taking off her apron, she turned to go to bed. She saw her mother kneeled in front of the fireplace. The dying embers illuminated her face, and her red hair framed her sharp cheekbones. Myldred placed a dry log in the fire as it almost died out. She looked at her mother, whose face looked pale.
Ursula's spirits had been down since Giles Corey's public execution three days ago. She had done everything she could in the last five months to save her friend Martha and her husband, Giles. They had been accused of sorcery by the Puritans.
Ursula was rather bold in her forsaking of the Puritans. They believed that the Church needed to rid of The Roman Catholic ways. They strictly prohibited practices not rooted in the Holy Bible. They had started accusing the villagers of sorcery. They claimed that the people they arrested were possessed.
Ursula was outspoken in her belief that the accusations against the practice of witchcraft were alleged. Myldred had always known her mother to be piety and devoted. Perhaps it was the reason she refused to believe in the evil crafts.
Unlike his wife, Giles Corey had denied all accusations and refused to plead in court. Consequently, his punishment was to have pressed to death. His execution took place publically in the village square. He was crushed beneath boulders until his body gave up. He didn't accept the accusations until his last breath.
Myldred remembered how he kept saying “more weight” again and again in protest. Hundreds of people had gathered to watch the execution. Never had they witnessed such a cruel death sentence. The villagers still believed that the man was guilty. Word was around that he had cursed the village of Salem as he died.
Perhaps this thunderstorm was a result of the wizard’s curse. It surely was bringing bad luck to the village of Salem. The over logged water was destroying the crops and, the grain storages were submerged.
The Puritans had captured more than a hundred people since February. They declared them witches. Some hanged to death, some shackled in chains, and imprisoned waiting for trial in court. Martha was one of the prisoners.
She was old, probably in her sixties. Myldred had always known her as kind. Thinking of Martha's sufferings made her sad. Even a last opportunity to meet her husband was not in her fate. Myl wondered if she had even given the information of his death.
Looking at her mother, sit eerily still worried her.
“Is something wrong, mother?" she asked.
Her mother did not respond.
"Mother," she raised her voice.
It was enough to get Ursula out of her trance.
“What is wrong?”
“Your father hasn’t been home for supper. He had been to the Church to plead for Martha’s release.”
Ursula was worried about Jonathan. Something must be wrong if he hadn’t come back home for this long. She prayed the Puritans hadn’t accused him of witchcraft too. It was no secret that the Puritans hated the counted few villagers who defended the accused witches. To keep the protests quiet, they falsely accused and arrested the defenders.
Myl could see the worry in her mother’s eyes, although Myl herself couldn’t care less about Jonathan. Her mother and Jonathan were married for five years. They had been living under the same roof since. But neither Myl nor her brother Ambrose was much fond of their stepfather. They had always found him peculiar.
“Should I raise Ambrose then?” Myl asked for her mother’s sake.
"You needn't Myl, just come and sit here with me," her mother said.
Myl sat by her mother, and they waited for John. Moments passed by, and the loud clattering sounds on the rooftop finally stopped. The candles had started blowing off one by one as they waited. The sky began to get darker as the church bell struck three times.
At midnight they finally heard the door open, and John walked in. Myl could see his broad figure from where she sat. He was wet from the rain. Water dripped from his coat to the wooden floor, the droplets sounding eerie in the silence. Ursula told Myl to get tea for him.
Something about her mother’s voice made her hurry to the kitchen. She lit the stove after a few unsuccessful attempts and set the kettle. John took his coat and boots off at the door and set them aside with his umbrella. He walked into the sitting room and took the wooden chair by the fire.
"Why are you so late"? Ursula asked, concerned as she kindled the fire logs.
John looked grim. He sat quiet for a minute as if lost in thought.
"Martha was hung," he said at last.
The shock on Ursula’s face was prevalent at hearing this. She stood motionless and ice white for a moment. Her brows and forehead wrinkled as tears escaped her sharp eyes. Martha had always been a well-wisher for the family. She was almost like a motherly figure to Ursula. Myl stood in the corner, motionless. Her heart ached as she looked at her mother, but she hadn’t any idea what to do. She was never good at comforting people. She thought it best the stay put and let her mother be.
Myl has known Martha her whole life; she had always been kind to her and Ambrose. Myl knew in her heart that Martha was a good woman. She could not believe how an old lady could be guilty of something evil as such.
John told them about the trial in the evening. The Putnam child Ann had testified against her along with her friend Mercy Lewis. The girls accused her of taking possession of their minds and making them do evil work. Mercy claimed that Mary had been talking to the devil Satan himself and had been doing his bidding. Ann accused her of cursing her little pet canary. After these testimonies, the court was convinced, and then there was no turning back.
These accusations seemed ridiculous to Myl. Of course, the court would believe in any wild stories told even by kids. The court was desperate to make executions.
They were just little girls and certainly repeating words. The court must've handsomely rewarded the Putnam and Lewis family for their help.
The hanging of Martha Corey would've been an achievement for the Puritans. The downfall of a respected and wealthy woman as such Martha must’ve granted the Protestants more confidence. That would scare the villagers. The laws of The Church will be accepted more strictly.
Martha was also known to encourage people to protest against the Puritans. Now they had one less barrier. The witch hunt was sure to escalate now.
Hearing the clamor in the kitchen, Ambrose had woken up. He stood near the stairs for a moment, with his sleepy eyes contemplating what had happened. Seeing his mother cry, Ambrose rushed to her and held her. He was always quick at caring for the ones he loved.
There was silence in the room for a long time. The family mourned, each in their way. The kettle on the stove hissed and rattled, but nobody cared for tea anymore. Myl sat on the kitchen floor in a corner, unable to look at her mother. The thunders could be heard again, along with the stormy winds.
Hours passed like that, and nobody spoke a word. It would be dawn soon, but what would it matter. They knew they weren't going to see the sun even today.
There was a loud knock at the door, and it sounded urgent. Myl didn’t want to get up. She had grown far too comfortable in the corner, listening to the rain. Their kitchen faintly smelled of rosemary, which comforted her. Her mother rarely used rosemary for her medicines. She wondered what she had been doing with it. She gave Ambrose a look. He understood his sister and got up to get the door.
As Ambrose opened the door, a fluster of rain got in. His clothes got wet, and he felt a chill. A girl was standing at the door, her slender figure silhouetted. She was heavily cloaked to shield herself against the rain. The long blond hair that fell from under her hood was as soaked as her cloak. Those locks seemed too familiar to Ambrose. He felt a warmth in his stomach.
The girl came in and lifted her hood. It was Priscilla; Ambrose had known it from her stance.
Looking at her innocent face gave him a moment of happiness in the gloomy day. Priscilla, however, looked worried, and she shivered, not of cold but fear.
“What brings you here at this time, Pris? And what has got you so worried?”
Hearing Priscilla’s name Myl immediately ran to the lobby. Priscilla was the baker’s daughter. Myldred and Priscilla have been friends since they were kids. Myl hurried to take Priscilla’s wet cloak off and gave her something to dry herself.
"I need to see your mother right now, Myl," Priscilla said urgently.
“She’s in here.” Myl led her friend to where her mother sat. John had tea in his hand, a cup laid on the table that certainly her mother had refused.
"Ursula, I am in dire need of your help. My mother has caught The Fever. I need a remedy for her!"
The villagers had been getting sick since the accused wizard had died. A fever that made the infected lose their sense and act out of character. That gave the Puritans more solid proof to arrest people. The villagers believed this outbreak to be a result of the wizard’s curse too.
It seemed strange to Myl that Priscilla's mother was sick. She had been to the baker's shop last afternoon with her mother, and Pym had shown no symptoms. The patients always showed some rather peculiar signs before the fever hit them.
"But how is this possible, your mother had been entirely fine yesterday," Ursula voiced Myl's thoughts.
"I don't know, just give me a remedy," Priscilla said in a rushed voice.
Hearing the worry in her voice, Ursula told Myl to crush up some dried ginger, moonseeds, and basil and to boil the powder up in clove oil and a pepper solution. Myl headed to the herb rack to get the ingredients. Ambrose helped her.
"Not the regular potion Ursula, it will do no good. Give me one of the enchanted ones". She whispered those last words out, trying to keep a straight face. Her voice broke as she spoke. Priscilla always got shaky when she was nervous.
Myl sensed something was wrong. Enchanted was a dangerous word to be spoken in 1962, Salem. None of the villagers knew about her mother's special remedies. The medicines were possibly not enchanted. She used some special herbs regarding which only she knew. The knowledge of these herbs was passed along to her mother throughout generations. She only talked about it with Myl and Ambrose when she taught them to brew up potions. Not even her husband knew about it.
"What enchanted potion, Pris? What are you talking about?" Ursula asked as if she hadn't any idea about what Priscilla was saying.
Pricilla went quiet at this question, and she sat at the supper table. She spoke nothing as her eyes welled up. It was as if she was contemplating something. Like, a dilemma ate her up.
"I am sorry," she said, "Last month when I had the smallpox, your remedy cured me within days as if it was a miracle. The neighbors must’ve noticed this. They went to the Puritans, accusing my family of using witchcraft to treat me. Last night they barged into our home and captured my mother. They asked me how I healed so soon. I had no choice but to tell them that you treated me.”
“The Puritans were crossed with you and your husband for protesting against the trials. They found a way to accuse you. They sent me here to ask you for one of your special potions so they could prove you practice witchcraft to brew up your medicines.”
She paused to catch her breath. She had begun sobbing now. "I'm sorry I have no choice, if you don't give me a potion, Ursula, they will send my mother to Prison and hang her, declaring her a witch."
Ursula knew it had been a mistake giving Priscilla the remedy last month. But how Myl had begged her to cure Priscilla fast, how could she have denied her daughter.
"This was bound to happen." Her husband banged his palm on the kitchen counter, speaking for the first time in a long while. He angrily looked at Ursula. He held her arm and said in a decided voice, "You need to leave Ursula; the Puritans won’t back off until they capture you. You need to leave with the children.”
Ursula looked blank.
"What about you, John? I cannot possibly leave you here to die."
"I will find a way out, don't worry about me. You need to leave now. The Puritans must be heading here."
"Leave," he repeated, "there is little time."
Ursula told Myldred and Ambrose to grab the things that they needed the most. The children were quick to respond. Without wasting any time, they grabbed things and packed them up in bags of their own.
They were ready to leave within moments. Ursula only carried a big heavy metal box in her bag. Neither Myldred nor Ambrose had seen that box in their house. She also wrapped up some bread and cheese in a cloth and filled a flask with water.
John handed them each a cloak.
Myl put the dark blue cloak and rain boots on. She had tied up her long dark hair in a braid so that it doesn't get wet. Ursula handed a bottle filled with a silvery green liquid to Priscilla. She could give it to the Puritans to get her mother released. Ambrose held his sister’s arms as their mother led them to the back door.
The sky was a bit lighter as dawn approached. The neighborhood looked gloomy. It was hard to see more than a few meters ahead in the rain. It was muddy outside, hard to even slowly walk.
The thick raindrops seemed heavy as the rain hit them. The water was ice-cold. Somehow they walked to the edge of the woods. They had no idea how long it took them to get there. Ursula thought it was best to hide for a while before they could leave for the town. She led them to a clearing in the woods barely visible in the heavy rain.
Everything happened so fast Myldred could not think straight. Her mind was busy thinking of all the ways they could get out of the village safely and save their mother. Ambrose worried about Priscilla and his stepfather as they walked farther from Salem. They did not know of Salem, but their lives unquestionably were now cursed.
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