SWORD OF PEACE

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Chapter 17

On the Ship, February-March 1532

Let each of you not look only to his own interests…Philippians 2:4

The swaying ship set anchor in Harlingen after six days of smooth sailing. The sailors had not done them any harm, contrary to what Clement had led them to believe. In fact, once Anna even caught the burly captain on his knees, praying. His gruffness and roughness were only a ruse. But why?

Two of the sailors went ashore, presumably to arrange for the unloading of the cargo. Anna wondered if she was expected to help unload, and her back ached just thinking of lugging those heavy crates up the ladder.

She was standing on the deck, gazing across the blue waters of the sea, loving to watch the waves ripple ever onward to the ocean. If she were a man, she decided she would become a sailor and sail the high seas to foreign lands. But she would never dare say it out loud. No decent woman would admit to such a thing. A woman’s place was in the home, caring for her man. If she had no man, her duty was to go around helping those in need; old widows, orphans, the poor. Anna had no objection to doing this; however, it seemed unjust that if she made her true desires known, she would be held in contempt.

Of course, women were more evil than men, a fact proven ages ago in the garden of Eden when Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit. Ever since, women needed to be watched and restricted, preventing them from leading men into temptation and evil. God had made them weaker and more prone to falling into sin, and this is how it would be for all time.

Anna sighed. She must learn to be content with her lot in life, and if she was foolish enough to decline her first offer of marriage, she ought to stop complaining. Father Hendricks had pointed out her sin of discontent many times, and she had done countless penances on her knees for her unnatural desires. All the times she had spent in self-pity because she had no man, and now that a wonderful, kind man had proposed, she couldn’t accept. It was beyond ridiculous.

A commotion on the dock shook her out of her reverie. Her breath was snatched away when she saw the half dozen armoured soldiers on horseback. The flash of unsheathed swords glittered in the sunlight and reflected on the water. The two sailors from the ship were surrounded and cornered, though surprisingly they didn’t struggle or protest at their treatment. With shouts and jeers from the gathering crowd they were shackled and chained before Anna’s very eyes.

Now what? she thought in desperation. She might have known that criminals were running this ship. The captain praying was obviously a cover-up for some dishonest enterprise. She didn’t know if she should warn the captain or let events run their course. What was it to her if the whole gang was stuck into a dungeon?

But Hans! Hans who had already suffered torture! His poor branded cheeks were finally on the mend thanks to Cornelia’s skill with herbs. As soon as they caught sight of him, they would know he was a former criminal and his life would be ended with as little feeling as if he were a fly.

Anna rushed down to the hold where Hans was working with the cargo, getting the crates organized for lifting to the deck. “Hans! Hans!”

He looked up startled, his tranquil blue eyes questioning.

“Caspar and Franz have been arrested! You must hide!”

“Hide?” He looked at her blankly, unmoving, holding a crate in his beefy arms. “Where would I hide? If the dock police are suspicious of our boat, they will search it from top to bottom.”

Anna looked around wildly for a hiding place, but there was none. Suddenly Cornelia came careening down to the hold, her shawls in disarray and her skirts flapping.

“Get that crate emptied. NOW! You’re getting inside, and Anna and I will carry you to shore.”

Trust Cornelia to think of something, Anna thought.

“No, I can’t do that. This is secret cargo. If they see it, we’re all condemned.”

“Secret cargo! What kind of excuse is that? What is it, guns?”

Hans sighed. “I suppose I may as well tell you. These are crates of Bibles that we’re smuggling in for the Anabaptists. We are all Anabaptists on this ship.” Anna took a step back, astounded. No wonder Captain Clement had hesitated to take them on board. He had good reason to be selective about who he allowed on his ship. Something must have told him that they were Brethren, or at least sympathetic. Charles V could have no idea how many of these people were operating under his very nose.

“Get this crate up on the deck! These Bibles are going overboard, and you are getting in there,” Cornelia shrieked, pointing a bony finger at Hans.

“Cornelia, I am ready to meet my Master if I’m caught. They can do no more than God allows,” he said piously, already resigned to his awful fate.

“God may allow it, but I won’t.” Cornelia grabbed a hammer and began prying the wooden slats off the crate. “I have invested a lot of time and my whole store of yarrow root in you, and now you listen to me or I shall cast a spell on you.”

Anna smiled. “I thought you’d become an Anabaptist. I don’t think they use spells.”

Cornelia glared. “This is not the time for jesting. Help me get this off.”

Hans emerged from his trance, and gently pushed Cornelia aside as he hefted the heavy crate onto a muscular shoulder. “You win. It probably won’t work and I’m not sure you two can carry me, but we’ll try. Heaven help us if they pry open this crate.”

“They won’t.” Cornelia said, and Anna believed her. The woman had some powers which were unexplainable.

They were stuffing the last Bible in a sack as the first constable stepped onboard. Cornelia blocked his path as Anna tossed the sack overboard and Hans crawled into the crate. Jan came blinking and stumbling from his cabin, his eyes still heavy with sleep, just in time to see the constable shove Cornelia aside, causing her to fall onto the deck with a thump. The captain, hearing the disturbance, also came running from his cabin and stopped short when he saw the constable.

“Are you the captain of this ship?” the constable asked. Clement nodded.

“In the name of the Holy Roman Emperor, I shall hereby proceed to search this ship, from bow to stern. What is in that crate?” He pointed an imperious finger at the crate on the floor. Anna hardly dared to breathe as he stepped towards it. Other armed, hard-faced men were marching up the gangplank, dragging long chains.

“Leave my things alone, you miserable meddlers!” Cornelia scolded. She scrambled onto her feet and parked herself on the crate with a demented look on her face. The constable hesitated. Some of his men had already swarmed down below.

“Chief, come and behold this treasure!” they called jubilantly. “You won’t believe this.”

Reluctantly, he turned and headed for the hold. “Anna, hurry up!” Cornelia hissed. She picked up one end of the crate with the strength of two men and Anna grabbed the other end.

“Jan!” Anna gasped. “Come with us!”

“No. I will stay here and distract the soldiers if they come back up here. Run!”

Anna would have delayed, torn between distress at leaving Jan behind, and the urgency to escape with Hans while they could. Cornelia had no such qualms and tugged at her end of the crate until Anna was forced to follow. They half ran down the gangplank with their prize. The shouting crowd gaped at the sight of two women carrying cargo, but didn’t stop them.

“Make way! Make way!” Cornelia commanded, “Where is the town hall? This is an important order for the bailiff. Someone show us the way.” Half a dozen men stepped forth, offering to carry the crate, but Cornelia wouldn’t hear of it.

“I promised I’d deliver it myself. No, no I don’t need an escort. Only directions.” Someone pointed vaguely towards a street on the left, and they hurried towards it. Evidently, Cornelia’s face was hag-like enough that they didn’t try to cross her, and Anna was thankful for that. Everyone was more interested in seeing the ship’s crew arrested. Anna and Cornelia staggered down the first alley they came to, breathless and aching, and set down the awkward crate. Anna rubbed her back. Cornelia ripped off the loosely fastened cover and a battered Hans scuttled out.

“Now run!” Cornelia ordered. Hans got up, a little dazed, and looked to left and to right. Where in this strange city should he run to?

“The Lord will lead you. You believe that, don’t you?” Cornelia said. He stumbled away down the alley, and Anna and Cornelia watched him go. “May we meet again,” Anna called after him.

“I’ll find you somehow,” he tossed over his shoulder as he picked up speed. The farther away he got, the better.

“Now, let us go and see what we can do for the others.” Cornelia led the way back to the crowded dock and shoved her way through until they stood at water’s edge. Anna gulped when she saw the captain and his crew being led down the gangplank shackled two by two in chains. She couldn’t see Jan. Why hadn’t he followed them out of there?

She blanched when she spotted him at the rear of the line of prisoners, dragging a chain around his ankles. Her hands flew to her mouth, stifling the scream that nearly escaped. Cornelia grabbed Anna’s arm like a vise, but Anna barely noticed. Guilt settled in her gut and she felt sick, more so than she ever had on the ship. Jan would never survive long if they stuck him in one of their dank and dark dungeons. His face already looked appallingly white compared to the weathered faces of the seamen.

“Looks like Ole Dieter found himself some hearty galley slaves to sell to Spain.” A man chuckled cruelly from behind her in the shifting crowd. Anna stiffened in shock. She hadn’t thought of this possibility. Poor Jan. And poor sailors. Anna prayed they would spare Jan, since he obviously wouldn’t last more than a day on a galley ship. Cornelia had strengthened him with her potions, but he was not a robust man.

Cornelia turned to look at Anna, a fierce blaze in her black eyes. She tugged at Anna’s arm with a bony hand. “Let’s go,” she hissed.

“No!” Anna refused to budge. Jan was not going to disappear without her finding out where they were taking him. It was bad enough that they had abandoned him on the ship, without leaving him to an unknown fate. She had abandoned enough people, and she must free Jan somehow, and soon. She hadn’t even given him her answer to his proposal yet, and she hoped he wouldn’t be heartbroken when she refused. It seemed unlikely.

The authorities would be pleased when they discovered they had caught an Anabaptist teacher. If they had any mercy at all they would not torture an unhealthy man, but Anna realized this was clutching at straws. Of course they would question him closely, as well as the others. Anna wondered about the ship and its crew, curious to know if they were truly all Anabaptists. She supposed the authorities would sort them out, but that didn’t mean any of them would go free.

Captures. Questioning. Betrayal. Sentencing. Executing by fire, by the sword, by drowning, by languishing on cold dungeon floors with no food. Burning people along with their homes. She was sick and tired of it all. She wished she could go back to her family in Germany, back to her parents, her brothers and sister. Even now, she couldn’t bear to dwell on them and their horrific deaths for long. Or back to Simon the shopkeeper’s little house, back to her unexciting life, with Maeyken and Adriaen and their children living happily next door. Would she ever be able to settle down to a normal, peaceful life again?

She lifted her apron to wipe her eyes. The crowd shifted as the prisoners were hustled along towards the centre of town. Like a herd of dumb sheep, the horde followed the spectacle right up to the double oak doors of the Town Hall. How did so many people have time to gawk at these unfortunate souls? Some called out taunts and made fun of the captives, and others murmured sympathetic words. Shouldn’t everyone be at their work, instead of seeking entertainment in such bloodthirsty ways?

Anna watched as Jan disappeared from view, and into the clutches of men who would not listen to any opinion that disagreed with their own. They would pry and prod and wear down the defenders until their heads swam, then bring in a fresh batch of interrogators and question some more for hours on end until they managed to squeeze out the information they sought.

If they weren’t satisfied with the answers they were getting they would move their hapless prisoner to another room and rattle their terrifying equipment, trying to frighten a confession out of them. If the captives still wouldn’t talk, or if they had nothing to confess, they would be stripped and laid on the unrelenting table which had brought unspeakable pain to many souls before them. Their limbs would be stretched to ever increasing degrees, legs and arms pulled out of their sockets, causing terrible anguish until they released the words their captors sought.

Into mouths open and panting in agony, they would pour copious amounts of water in mock drownings, stopping on the verge of the sweet release of death, letting their victim recover to suffer all over again, if not today, then another day. Oh yes, Anna knew all this. The authorities back in Germany had made certain everyone understood what happened to heretics, as a grim warning to their subjects. Disloyalty and disobedience were not tolerated at all.

“Jan! Jan!” Anna called through the crowd, but nobody answered. She shoved and scrambled through the crowd, desperate now to get away, not caring where she went, so long as it was away from that wretched scene of the chained prisoners. Cornelia was left behind somewhere, but with her powers she would find Anna again. Anna ran, her long skirts hindering her until she grabbed them and pulled them up out of the way, not caring about the scandal she would cause if she was seen with uncovered ankles.

“Jan! Jan!” she sobbed silently, pushing her way headlong through the gaping crowd. “No! No! Not Jan!” She had to go somewhere quiet to plan for Jan’s release. But how?

Somehow, she found herself back at the docks, where the ship still swayed out in the water. She spotted a pile of sacks filled with wheat behind a warehouse, probably waiting to be shipped out. Crawling between two of them, she sank down in a miserable heap. She pulled up her knees, wrapped her arms around them, laid down her head, and wept like a baby.

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