SWORD OF PEACE

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Chapter 3

Amsterdam, November 1531

…the Gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered…2 Tim 2:9

A swarthy officer with a drooping, red under-lip barged into the house, clanging a chain, without so much as a knock or a shout of warning. Anna gasped, recognizing him as the same man who had been arguing with the bookseller at the marketplace. The overpowering reek of sweat trailed in after him and dampened the under-arms of his blue and yellow slash-sleeved doublet. The smell mingled with that of horse manure, which was spattered on the striped hose stretching valiantly over his flabby legs. The officer was followed by his long-nosed little servant, who in contrast was clad in plain brown doublet and hose.

The terrified children quivered in the corner beside the hearth with Janneken the maid. Her face was as white, and her eyes as huge, as any of the children’s.

The heavy boots clomped straight to the bedroom, where their wisp of a victim lay pale and resigned in her bed. For a second the big man paused, his hairy hands opening and closing on the chain. He drew together his formidable eyebrows above cruel, hard eyes. “In the name of the Holy Roman Emperor, I hereby place you under arrest for heresy. Get dressed immediately.”

Anna rose like a great brown hawk from the chair beside the bed. “What do you think you are doing? This woman is weak from childbirth! She will die if you drag her off to prison!” Her whole body shook with rage and indignation. “Leave us in peace. This woman has done no wrong!” She clenched her fists as if ready to attack both men single-handedly.

The slap of a powerful palm smacked into her face. “Quiet, you ugly witch! We take no orders from women. Especially not those who defend heretics. Pieter, fetch another chain. This one’s going too.”

Anna clutched her swelling face with trembling hands, dazed and bewildered. “But I’m not a heretic. You can’t arrest me!” She glared at the constable’s unyielding face.

His flint gray eyes glittered like shards of granite. “Chain her hands too, Pieter.”

The servant was down on his knees attaching the cold chain to her ankle as the officer spoke. The burly constable was doing the same to Maeyken, having changed his mind about allowing her to dress. Anna watched helplessly as Maeyken submitted without protest to the man’s rough treatment. Not for Maeyken the heated protests of her indignant friend. Maeyken grabbed the baby and some extra swaddling from the bed as she was being prodded across the room. The pair of chains clanked loudly across the tile floor.

The children! Anna hoped Janneken had enough sense to take them out of sight, so they wouldn’t have to see this — though the girl was probably too scared and inexperienced to think of such measures. Sure enough, they were still clinging to each other in the corner by the hearthplace as they passed through the kitchen.

“Can you keep them safe until we come back?” Anna hissed, peering into the quailing maid’s eyes. Janneken nodded. A terrible wailing and crying arose from the corner, which chilled Anna to the bone. What would happen with the children? She knew she ought to direct them somewhere safe, but her mind was in a whirl and she could not think.

Outside, she searched the street with stricken eyes, desperate for rescue of some kind. Surely Adriaen and Simon would come along any minute. Yet inwardly she knew they would not come.

Up and down the street there was silence. All the inhabitants had vanished into their houses, though she sensed them peeking out from behind their curtains. Cowards! Did the cobbler then have no boots to mend today, and had the goldsmith perhaps run out of gold to work with? Anna clamped her teeth together so hard they could have bent out of shape.

Why didn’t someone come out and put a stop to this indignity? She knew as she fumed that it would only serve to the constable’s advantage if he could find more victims. Doubtless, the horse’s saddlebags held more sets of chains.

Anna kept anxious eyes on Maeyken as she stumbled along the street. Would she be able to keep up until they reached the town hall? If she had the freedom of her own hands, she could at least carry the baby. She opened her mouth to demand the bailiff to let her do this, then clamped her lips together. The quieter she stayed, the better for them both. She feared she had said too much already.

Fortunately, the Stadthaus was only two blocks away. A couple of times Maeyken nearly fell, and Anna worried she would drop the baby. The chains jangled and banged along behind them, the iron fetters chafing her ankles as she trudged along. The horse huffed along beside them, not understanding why he must keep to the slow pace of women. The sharp hooves landed far too close for comfort, Anna thought. And must the servant keep brandishing that mean-looking whip?

The sad procession kept on going past the shops. Anna looked straight ahead with her neck stiff and her back straight. She might be ugly Anna who had no husband, but a criminal she certainly was not. This constable must know that he had no business arresting her just because she happened to be in Maeyken’s house. On the other hand, Maeyken needed someone to care for her where they were going.

The twilight sun beamed into the town of Amsterdam this evening as the bell on top of the Stadthaus tower tolled the hour of vespers. The last chime still vibrated through the air when they stumbled onto the cobblestoned court of the Stadthaus. A stable boy came running up to collect the snorting horse, and the officer dismounted. Using the whip in his hand, he pointed the way past massive ornate columns supporting five imposing arches, above which the second-storey mullioned windows seemed to frown in disapproval. The square-faced tower loomed over the surrounding buildings, and high up on its square sides peeked several tiny windows.

The officer prodded the two women through the double oak doors, marched them down an arched stone corridor, and up a winding open stairway, passing several landings. Maeyken climbed slower with every step, white-faced and hollow-eyed. When they reached a small landing almost at the top of the tower, they were pushed through a plank door into a small austere room.

Maeyken staggered over to the bed and sank onto it, hanging her head as she panted and swayed with fatigue. Anna hurried to her side, grabbing the baby before the child fell to the stone floor. She wrapped her free arm around her friend while the officer stood in the doorway twitching the whip and glowering at his victims. The servant removed their chains and hung them on a peg on the wall.

The cell held one narrow, filthy-looking cot and not much else. Anna wrinkled her nose; the odor of the previous tenants hung heavily in the air, making her wish she could open the tiny window. But it was barred with iron rods, and too dirty from the dust of many years to let in much light.

“If you want to be present at your husband’s trial tomorrow,” the officer said, looking at Maeyken, as if he enjoyed passing on this cruel message, “tell the jailkeeper when he brings your bread in the morning.”

Maeyken fainted in Anna’s arms, and Anna laid her back on the bed as gently as she could. “Go away!” she cried, no longer caring what they might do to her. “Don’t you see you’ve done enough to this poor weak woman? And mind that you bring some warm blankets and some decent food tonight! She needs nourishment for the poor babe’s sake. Or do you mean to kill the baby too?” Anna trembled with rage and fear.

The two men took a step back and looked at each other in disbelief. “Let us depart,” the servant said, clutching at the officer’s sleeve. “This may be a witch.”

The officer jerked his arm away from the servant, and the two men hastened to leave, closing the heavy door behind them with a thud. The key turned in the lock with finality and doom.

Hours later, a bowl of steaming soup was thrust into the room along with a woollen blanket and a jug of stale water, the door opening only a crack, so they couldn’t see who brought it. Maeyken lay still and pale on the cot, shivering under the thin blanket. The baby’s thin wails echoed hollowly in the stony-walled room. Anna laid her down beside Maeyken, but she got little nourishment. She managed to feed her friend a few sips of the tasteless soup, ate a little of it herself, then decided she had better save the rest for the morning.

During the night, Maeyken tossed and turned and mumbled incoherently. Anna wet a corner of the baby’s extra swaddling and wiped her friend’s feverish face. Little Anneken fussed herself to sleep in Anna’s arms, frequently waking through the long night, her crying becoming gradually weaker. Anna fumbled in the dark and offered her little finger to the searching mouth, but this only worked for a minute or two. Frowning, Anna laid her down beside her feverish mother, then shook Maeyken awake.

“Maeyken!” She moaned and rolled over. Anna grabbed the baby and set her beside her mother on the other side. Hungrily the infant tried to feed, but soon she put her head back and wailed in shrill frustration. “Maeyken! Wake up!” Anna shook her again, more than a little uneasy when she touched her friend’s hot body. Holding the squalling baby in one arm, she managed to wet the cloth and wash her friend’s face.

If only she were at home she would send for the doctor, or at least brew some herbal tea. It was the longest night Anna had ever lived through, and she prayed without ceasing to Mary and every other saint she could think of, until morning came at last. She had not slept at all and Maeyken was clearly delirious. Folding some of the swaddling and laying it on the filthy floor, she made a nest of sorts for the baby, who now merely whimpered in her sleep.

Much as she dreaded seeing her captor again, it was the only hope she had of doing anything for Maeyken other than wiping her face with tepid water, and that too, was running low. For a long time, she held her best friend, whispering, “Maeyken, wake up! We love you. We need you. Your baby loves you. Adriaen loves you and so do Trijntgen and Bettke and Dirk.” Maeyken rolled her blue eyes as if trying to struggle out of the delirium that held her fast. She moaned, then slumped forward, her weight resting on Anna’s shoulder.

Anna tried not to think about the reason they were trapped in here at all. If Maeyken and Adriaen had not so foolishly let themselves be drawn to the treasonous Anabaptists they might all be at home, safe and comfortable. Now God was punishing them, and Anna wasn’t surprised. People who had to sneak about at night to preach must be hiding something.

She gazed down at the tiny bit of life, about the size of Adriaen’s two hands, and thought it extremely unjust that this tiny person must suffer because of her parents’ erroneous beliefs. If Anneken died, Anna crossed herself, no one would grieve more than she would. Why had she let herself become so attached to this innocent little one? She hugged the little bundle to her breast, and tears fell unheeded. She tried to rid herself of the thought that the devil had not yet been baptized out of the babe.

Sitting up straight, Anna eyed the jug of water on the floor. A little bit of water remained, and she could baptize the infant herself! If midwives could baptize in dire situations when no priest was available, she reasoned, then so could she. What would Maeyken say to that? Was it more important to obey the priests, or laymen? The answer was clear. It would be her secret. Anna bent and lifted the jug, sloshing the water inside. There was enough.

She held Anneken out in front of her, and three times she sprinkled a few drops of water on the infant’s head. It would have to do. “Anneken, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Anneken blinked her eyes, but continued to sleep. Anna held her close, satisfied that the baby was now blessed if the worst happened. Sitting on the edge of the cot at Maeyken’s feet, she bowed her head and prayed for Maeyken, for the baby and for herself. She vowed that if they all got out of this place alive, she would stop wishing for a husband and serve God only, all her remaining days. It seemed a small sacrifice to make.

Opening her eyes, she couldn’t decide whether the sun was shining or whether it was a grey day. It was hard to tell through the dingy window. Anna’s stomach growled. Eyeing the soup from the night before, she considered feeding some of it to Maeyken, except it had a grayish scum floating on top. Anna couldn’t feed her that, and she decided she wasn’t hungry either; moreover, fasting was good for the soul, and this was an excellent time to do so.

After what seemed like hours past sunrise, she heard the tread of heavy footsteps coming up the stairway. Anna didn’t know whether to be relieved or terrified. The key rattled in the lock. She shrank back onto the cot when the officer stepped through the door, wearing the same smelly clothes of the day before. He stared with hard eyes at the tiny form in Anna’s arms, then at the crumpled, limp figure on the cot.

“Get her up. You’re going for questioning now.”

Anna stared at him, her eyes bulging. “Get her up?” she sputtered. “I’ve been trying most of the night to wake her up! Don’t you know a deathly ill woman when you see her?”

The man narrowed his granite eyes. “You’re mighty bold for a witch, aren’t you? We’ll see how well you can defend yourself at the trial.”

Anna shivered involuntarily. The officer marched over to the cot and gave Maeyken a rough shake. He must have been convinced by her hot body and small moan that she truly was sick.

“Leave her, and come along now.” He reached for the ankle chain hanging from a peg and shook it, the sound sending another shiver down her back. She did not fancy being fettered like some animal going for slaughter, though that was possibly what she was.

“I don’t need to be chained. I won’t run away, I promise.” But the cold metal was already squeezing her ankle.

The chain clattered along behind her as she descended the long, winding stairway with difficulty, the officer tight at her back. He led her along the arched corridor, and into the main hall, a large square room with windows on three sides. A row of stern-faced, black-robed councillors sat on benches, and the clerk sat at a desk with a heavy book in front of him, his quill poised to record every word of the trial. The judge rose, rustling some official-looking papers. What was written on there to condemn her? Anna, with a guard on either side of her, held her head high as she stood facing the row of intimidating faces, determined to prove her innocence.

“Have you been re-baptized?” the hook-nosed, heavy-set judge asked her severely.

“No, Your Honor, I have not, nor do I intend to be.” He gave a small start of disbelief. His dark eyes bored into hers.

“Then kindly explain why you were keeping company with this seditious Anabaptist sect.” His eyes never left her face as she stammered out that she had been unaware until that very day that her neighbors had joined the Anabaptists, and she had gone to help with the new baby.

“A likely story. I think you know more you are telling.” He studied her face shrewdly. “So you won’t mind if we go ahead and bury alive your friend back in the cell who is feigning illness, trying to elude justice?”

Anna cried out, “NO, Your Honor! You can’t do that! She is truly ill and very weak. She needs to be at home in her own warm bed with wholesome food!” Her whole body shook. “I doubt the baby will live much longer. Is this what you intend to do…murder babies?” The judge’s face darkened. She had angered him with her outburst.

“Just tell us the name of the man who re-baptized her, who else was there and where they meet. Then you can all go home.” Anna stood there in shocked silence. Her head began to spin until she thought she would faint. Though she certainly was no Anabaptist, her stomach roiled at the thought of betraying anyone to a certain death.

“You must tell us what you know,” the judge ordered. “Unless you’re one of them, you will give us this information. Justice shall be served. You are already guilty because you did not report the baby.” He coughed delicately into his black sleeve. “We will get the information out of you one way or the other. Perhaps you would like to visit the questioning room?” Anna shook her head in horror. How had she gotten into this mess?

The judge spoke in a soft, wheedling voice. “You do want your friend to be able to go home today, don’t you? Do as we ask, and you shall be on your way within the hour.”

Anna trembled from head to foot in mighty temptation and anger. How dare they put her in such a trap? She considered what she knew and wished she knew nothing. Maeyken, with her trusting nature, had told Anna things which could end up costing them both their lives, as well as the life of her husband.

If Anna gave the judge Joachim’s name and the information that he was a leader, they would probably let her and Maeyken go. She thought of Maeyken lying feverish in the cold cell, and the poor babe, her namesake, who would die if she didn’t receive milk within an hour or two. She weighed this against the sure knowledge that Adriaen’s brother would be hounded to every corner of Christendom once they found out he was an Anabaptist preacher. And when—not if—they found him, he would be made to suffer cruelly and be executed painfully. But maybe Joachim could evade them for a little while longer.

“Wha…what do you want to know?” The councillors looked at each other, a glint of triumph in their eyes. The clerk bent to his black book, moving the quill in rapid strokes. A deep despair filled Anna’s heart. These men were ordained by God to administer justice to criminals, but this verdict wasn’t fair. Maeyken and Adriaen and his brother never hurt anyone, even if they did read the Bible and preach without the authority to do so. By his cunning, the judge had her in a trap, exactly where he wanted her to be.

“I will tell you, but only if you promise to take Maeyken home…on horseback, not walking,” Anna said, lifting her chin a trifle.

“So, you think to negotiate. Very well, you have my word.” The judge waited, like a dog expecting a juicy bone. Of course, Anna thought bitterly, releasing a dying woman was an easy trade for an Anabaptist preacher.

Anna tried to get the image of Adriaen’s handsome brother out of her head. Her mind froze. Mary, sweet Mother of Jesus, help me. Adriaen would hate her if she betrayed his brother. She would hate herself. Would God ever forgive her? She prayed Joachim was well on his way to another part of the country by now.

“Tell us who baptized Adriaen and Maeyken Geerts. And where this man is now,” the judge insisted.

Humiliated by their pleasure, she told them what she knew, which wasn’t much, but quite enough to set the hounds on the trail of someone she barely knew and had nothing against. She sagged, and the guards prodded her upright again. When they were satisfied that she knew no more they took her back to the cell and removed her chains.

Maeyken was still thrashing around on her cot. Anna wrapped her in the woollen blanket, not caring who it belonged to. She motioned to the guard who had escorted her back to the cell and he picked up Maeyken, slinging her over his shoulder like a bag of wheat. Anna winced. Picking up the featherlight bundle from the floor where she had left her, she frowned and followed him out. The baby’s veins showed bluish through the translucent skin, and her eyes looked sunken. She barely stirred as Anna settled her in her arms.

Outside in the sunshine, Anna blinked and took a deep breath of sweet, free air. A stable boy brought a saddled horse, leading him beneath the arched portico. Anna hovered nearby as the guard swung up Maeyken, then mounted the horse behind her.

“Do you know where she lives?” Anna ventured. The guard nodded curtly. Maeyken mumbled some unintelligible words, but she didn’t wake up. Anna stood in the shadows beside one of the ornately carved pillars, the babe in her arms, and watched Maeyken leave, wracked in indecision. Would the guard treat her friend with compassion? Anyone was better than that horrible officer, Anna thought. She needed to follow Maeyken home and take care of her, yet the baby would die if she didn’t get milk very soon. She strode to the corner and looked left and right. Which way? Maeyken or the baby? Who needed help the most? Breaking into a half-run, Anna made up her mind.

Elizabeth’s house was only a block away, and much as she hated abandoning Maeyken right now, she had to save the baby. She slipped down a narrow side alley between rows of tall, looming buildings and arrived shortly at a tidy little house tucked between two taller ones. She pushed open the door without knocking. A pleasant-faced young woman looked up from her work in surprise. Elizabeth sat in a chair by the window, knitting, and at her side on the floor was a woven basket with a small form inside. Anna had met Elizabeth only once before, a few weeks ago, when she had come here with Maeyken to see the new baby boy.

“Anna!” she gasped. She tossed her knitting aside and rose, holding out her arms. “What is this?” Anna’s tears fell, clouding her vision, as she crossed the room.

“Maeyken’s baby. She is…she was…!” Panting, she handed the infant to Elizabeth. “Help her!”

“Of course. You can tell me later.” Gently she unwrapped the fragile bundle and shook her head when she saw the wrinkled little face. “It may be too late, but I’ll do what I can.” She sat in her chair and held the baby close. Anneken sucked weakly, trying to draw forth nourishment, then fell asleep again.

“Elizabeth, do you know where Adriaen’s brother went after he left Amsterdam?” Anna asked in a strangled voice. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

“Why?”

“His life is in danger! I must send word to him. Could you ask your husband to find out where the Anabaptists hide and send them a message?” Anna crumpled the corner of her apron in agitation. Elizabeth shrugged, her brow furrowed. Anna couldn’t keep still another moment, and she turned to leave.

“I can’t stay. I must see to Maeyken, she’s very ill. Will you do what you can for the baby? I will come back later to check on her.”

Elizabeth nodded. “You do that. I want to hear what happened.”

Racing along the cobbled street, Anna hastened back to Maeyken’s side, stopping only at the apothecary for some Angelica root to help get the fever down.

Her friend lay dishevelled in her bed where the officer had deposited her, with the children and the maid gathered around her, crying and frightened. Anna sent the children and Janneken outside with kind but firm words, asking them to search for more firewood. They were not to worry. Anna would take care of their mother, and she would be fine in no time. She doubted her own words, but there was no need to alarm the children now.

Anna plumped Maeyken’s pillow, smoothed the sheets, and shifted her into a more comfortable position. She combed her friend’s tangled golden hair and placed a clean cap on her head, straightened her gown, and tucked the blankets around her. She crossed to the kitchen hearth and checked the stew pot. Thankfully, Janneken had some pea soup cooking above the fire. With a wooden spoon, Anna dipped out some of the fragrant liquid.

One spoonful at a time, she fed tiny sips into Maeyken’s mouth, and managed to give her some of the powdered Angelica root. When she had done everything she could think of to make her friend comfortable, Anna finally took the time to eat some soup herself. She tried not to gulp down the food.

And, she tried not to think about Adriaen and Simon lying in prison and what they might be enduring. She wondered how it happened that the two men became captives, though she presumed they had been surprised at an Anabaptist meeting. Gentle Simon with the Anabaptists? Why?

What was it that caused these people to gather in obscure hiding places to hear someone speak about the Bible? Did their preachers know something that the Catholic church didn’t? How could that be? The pope, the bishops and all clergy were ordained of God, and were these commoners saying that God made mistakes? Anna wished she had asked more questions of her parents, God bless them, but she had not wanted to hear a word about it. And she didn’t now, she only wanted to know what was so special about their meetings. Nothing, she told herself, could induce her to risk being arrested out in a field somewhere, and she hoped never to see the inside of a prison cell again.

Still, she wished these people no harm, even though she had been coerced into betraying one of them. At this very moment officers were out there, scouring the country, hunting for Joachim, intending to execute him, not for murder or theft, but for preaching against the doctrine of the state church. Of course, he was disobedient, but still she hoped they never found him. She was all for law and order, but she couldn’t help but feel the church was taking things to an extreme. First, they took her family in the most horrible way, and now they were after her only friends.

Was this another sin to confess, that she was questioning the actions of the church? Did that make her a heretic as well? She supposed not, since she regularly attended mass and confession. This covered a multitude of sins and was something she could do to prove that she was faithful. She would pray like never before, confess her sins to Father Hendricks, and do her penance for doubting the Holy Church. But could she walk away from her Anabaptist friends in their time of need?

She looked at Maeyken, who tossed and turned in her sleep, her cheeks flushed and hot. Tenderly, Anna arranged the blankets around her friend once more. She managed to coax a few more sips of broth between her lips, although most of it dribbled out again. Anna frowned. Was this her penance and her punishment from God for being jealous of Maeyken and her new baby? And her adorable husband, she admitted with shame. Must she lose her only friend, who had welcomed Anna so warmly to the neighborhood when she was alone and friendless? Perish the thought. Maeyken could not die on her.

“I’m so sorry, Maeyken,” she whispered. She smoothed Maeyken’s damp and tangled hair, alarmed at her increasingly hot skin. Should she fetch the doctor? Or the midwife? Anna dreaded bringing in someone who might ask too many questions, someone who would be obliged to report the situation. She filled the basin on the washstand with cool water and wiped Maeyken’s face and neck. The washcloth came away practically steaming.

She had promised to check on the baby, and she must go soon, or she would be out after dark. Sighing, she left the bedside. Inspecting the herbs hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen, she selected a bunch of mint leaves and crushed them, inhaling the refreshing fragrance. She made a poultice and wrapped it up in a cloth. The children stared at her, their eyes huge with worry. Anna’s heart melted at their innocent little faces.

“Janneken, can you sit with Maeyken for a minute?” The maid nodded timidly. “Take this poultice and hold it onto her forehead. It might help break the fever.” Anna took the two youngest children on her lap, snuggling their trusting little bodies close. Trijntgen huddled against her side.

“Where’s Vader? And the baby?” demanded Trijntgen, looking at Anna with worried blue eyes.

Vader has gone away for a little while, and the baby is with Elizabeth and her baby, Jorg,” Anna said. “Do you remember going to see them?”

Trijntgen nodded. “A bad man brought Mama home.” After a long pause, she asked the question Anna did not want to think about. “Will Mama die?”

Anna hesitated. She wished she knew the answer, and that she could truthfully say she would not. But there was so little anyone could do for childbed fever. And with the terrible happenings of the day before, it only added to her troubles.

“Trijntgen, only God knows this. You must be very brave and play quietly with your brother and sister. Perhaps when your mother is feeling better, you can see her. For now, Anna will be here to take care of you, no matter what happens.” The little girl seemed satisfied for the moment. Anna realized she was committing herself, but she felt she had no choice. The maid was young and inexperienced and there was no one else. She would do this for Maeyken, and because she loved the little family like her own. Even the father was a prince among men in her opinion, and she wished he were there to comfort them all.

“And now I must go and check on your baby sister. Elizabeth is looking after her while your mother is sick. Come, here is some bread for you to eat while I’m gone.”

Before Anna could change her mind, she checked on Maeyken once more, then sped down the street, racing against the gathering darkness. She was in a blur from lack of sleep, and fervently hoped the baby had revived. The houses loomed over her, shoulder to shoulder, with their jagged rooflines silhouetted against the purpling sky. The windows reflected the gloomy clouds, and shutters were being closed for the night. Anna arrived at Elizabeth’s house, out of breath and uneasy.

Elizabeth let her in with a smile, and showed her the two little bundles sharing the woven straw basket. Anna’s spirits lifted, and she was gratified to see Anneken alive and looking much better.

“How is she doing?”

“When she realized she was actually getting food, she perked up,” Elizabeth smiled. “She’s a strong baby.” Anna nearly sagged with relief, and she breathed a silent prayer of thankfulness to God for sparing the innocent child thus far. It was a miracle. She had been so afraid she might come to a scene of grief, and she would have dreaded going back to Maeyken’s with sad tidings.

“Can she stay a while longer?”

“Of course. Now, sit down on this stool by the fire and have some of this meat. You look like you’re ready to drop on the floor yourself.” Elizabeth handed Anna a plate of chicken wings, which she accepted with thanks. “Now, tell me what this is all about. What happened to Maeyken?”

Anna picked at the meat as she related the story, and Elizabeth’s brown eyes grew wider and wider. “So Adriaen and Simon are in prison, you say?” she asked, a ripple of concern on her forehead.

Anna nodded. “They haven’t come home yet. The magistrates were threatening to ‘question’ them. We know what that means.” The thought of Adriaen and Simon on the rack tore at her heart.

“Oh Elizabeth, I betrayed Adriaen’s brother! I wish I had never known about him being an Anabaptist.” She put her hands to her face and wept, tears dripping through her fingers. Elizabeth laid a comforting hand on Anna’s shaking shoulder.

“Yes. But then they may have tortured you if they didn’t believe you don’t know anything. Thank God you were spared that.” She stood at Anna’s side, deep in thought. “When Claes comes home I will ask him what to do. Thanks to you, Joachim had a head start. If it be Gods wil for him to escape, he will. Do not fear.”

“Well then, I will ask Mary, the mother of Jesus, to pray for me and for Joachim, in the hope that it is Gods wil to spare him.” Anna wiped away the tears with the back of her hand, and bent over the two sleeping babes. Elizabeth’s healthy boy looked twice as large as tiny Anneken. She smiled, her maternal, protective instincts coming to the fore as she studied her little namesake. It was incredible how much better the baby looked, with pink color in her soft rounded cheeks. Anna stood to leave, satisfied that Anneken was well taken care of. Elizabeth’s kitchen was fast becoming dark and Elizabeth was lighting candles by the time Anna left for home in the hastening twilight.

Maeyken was no better. Her breath came shallow and faint, and at first Anna thought she was not breathing at all. She tucked in the blankets and washed her face. Anxiety overwhelmed her, and she wished Adriaen was home. What else should she be doing to save his wife’s life? Would he want her to send for the doctor? The priest? Probably not a priest. Should she go light a candle in the church or ask the Virgin Mary to intercede? Somehow, she didn’t think it was what they would want. She had no idea what Anabaptists did when someone was deathly ill, but she’d bet it wasn’t that.

Anna was so tired, and she dropped in the chair by Maeyken’s bedside, folded her hands and laid her head beside her friend. Throughout the day she had prayed to Mary and to the saints to intercede for her, and now she also tried praying to God directly, just in case the Anabaptists were right, and He could hear her desperate prayers.

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