Amsterdam December 1531
All those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… 2 Timothy 3:12
After Adriaen had been recuperating for over a month, he was done with being coddled. He and Claes arrived at Anna’s house one day in mid December and chopped piles of wood for her fireplace, repaired windows, and plastered cracks in the stone walls, ensuring the house was as snug for the winter as possible. Anna bundled up in her warm cloak and hood and went outside into a crisp early winter day.
“Can I help pile wood?”
“This is men’s work,” Adriaen said. “You just leave it to us and stay inside where it’s warm.”
“I want to help.” She might be a woman, but she was strong enough to handle wood. Out of the corner of her eyes, she watched him work. Sweat beaded on his wide forehead as he chopped wood, and he rested frequently, leaning on his axe until he caught his breath.
Anna turned worried eyes towards the street. “Are you sure it’s safe for you to be outside in public?”
“In God, we are always safe,” Adriaen replied gently. His brown eyes sparkled almost like they had before his arrest, and only a few fine lines etching his forehead betrayed what he’d been through. His shoulders were as wide as ever and his back still straight. Anna tried not to stare at him. He was a recent widower, she reminded herself, and would be in mourning for a year. She had no right to be admiring him in this way. Not now, and probably never.
She helped pile the fragrant hickory wood until her back ached, and then some. Her hands were chafed and cold from handling the rough wood, but it was well worth it. By evening she had a pile of wood almost as high as the house, surely enough to keep the house warm for two winters.
She thanked the men with cups of hot cider and regretted seeing them leave. Had Adriaen minded being so close to his former home? It must have been painful to see the house he had shared with his beloved wife for five years, now confiscated and owned by the Court. The house stood empty and lonely, as if it too could not understand why love and laughter had been torn from it’s bosom. Anna missed Maeyken’s company dreadfully, and she could well imagine how sad Adriaen and the children must feel. Anna shook away the melancholy thoughts and forced herself to think of happier things.
In one more week, Christmas would be here. Anna baked a special nut cake to give to Elizabeth and Claes; the mulled wine she had added should keep it nice and moist. Spending a few of her diminishing store of coins, she bought some candied fruit for the children. She had saved a bit of money for candles for the church as well.
One evening, after darkness had fallen, with the kitchen lighted by the glow of candles, Anna gathered the children around the fire. “Kinder, have you ever heard the story of St. Nicholas?” she asked, smiling.
Trijntgen shook her head, her eyes shining. “Tell us a story, Anna!”
“Story! Story!” Bettke clapped her hands. Dirk looked from one to the other, then clapped and babbled in a tongue of his own.
“Tomorrow is the last Saturday of November,” Anna began, holding Dirk on her lap. The girls sat on stools at her feet. “It’s a special day, when a much-loved visitor will sail across the water in a boat to Amsterdam. His name is St. Nicholas, and he lives far away in Spain with his helper, Zwarte Pete, and his white horse. When he steps off the boat at the harbor, everyone will stop working and run to greet him.”
“Can we go?” Trijntgen interrupted.
“We shall see. St. Nicholas will ask all the children, ‘Have you been good little boys and girls this year?’ If they have been good, St. Nicholas will give them presents a few days later. If they have been bad, Zwarte Pete will put them in a sack and take them home to Spain for a year and teach them how to behave.” Anna smiled at the wide-eyed children. “But you will not have to worry about that. You are the best little children I have ever seen. So, in the evening, you shall set your shoes by the fireplace, or on the windowsill, and fill them with hay and carrots for St. Nicholas’ horse. Then I’ll help you sing some songs about Sinterklaas, as he is also called. In the night, Sinterklaas will ride his horse on the roofs of the houses. Zwarte Pete will climb down the chimney, or through the window, and leave presents for all the good children.”
“Oooh!” Trijntgen said. “Will Sinterklaas come here?”
“I am certain he will. On December the fifth, which is still seven sleeps away, we will set out your shoes at bedtime, and in the morning, we shall see what he has brought you.” The little girls giggled in anticipation, and Dirk joined them although he had no clue what they were giggling about.
The next morning, there was nothing for it but to bundle everyone up and go to the harbor to wait for St. Nicholas to arrive. Everyone else in the city must have had the same idea, since Dam Square was packed like salted herrings in a barrel. Spirits were high, and snatches of Sinterklaas songs wafted through the air. There was no sign of religious animosities today, which was a blessing. All eyes were glued to the sea, and finally, a white sail appeared on the horizon. Cheers and songs broke out, and continued until St. Nicholas stepped ashore, leading his white horse, waving and smiling to the crowd. His long red robe flowed down to his boots and fluttered in the wind as he made his way towards the inn. He asked every child he met along the street the usual question, “Have you been good this year?” Without fail, each one of them claimed they had been good. Zwarte Pete did not have to stuff any child into his sack.
When Sinterklaas on his white horse came prancing up merrily to Anna and the three children, he leaned over and asked Trijntgen, “Now, little maid, have you been a good child?”
Rosy-cheeked and sparkly-eyed, Trijntgen answered “Ja!” Anna forgot her anxieties, and her heart lifted to see the children so animated. It would give them something cheerful to think about for a long time to come.
On the eve of December the fifth, Anna helped the three of them set out their wooden shoes
in a row on the windowsill. They found some hay and a handful of carrots and filled their shoes, although half of their offerings landed beside the shoes. With giggles of anticipation, they snuggled down in front of the fire, hoping to catch Zwarte Pete in the act of exchanging their generous offerings for presents. Anna smiled a bittersweet smile, and a lump formed in her
throat. It had been so long since she was a happy child looking forward to Christmas, back when
her family was still together in body and in spirit, before the Anabaptist messengers had filled
her family’s heads with their heretical faith, which then led to their fiery deaths.
When the excited children finally settled down and went to sleep, Anna cleaned out the
little shoes and placed the candied fruit inside. With a sigh, she climbed into
her own bed, but for a long time she lay awake, too lonely to go to sleep.
During the night, the east wind dropped clouds of snow over the city, and in the morning, her citizens awoke to a glistening white landscape. After the glee of the children had subsided somewhat, and they had eaten a bit of candy, Anna bundled them up and took them outside to play in the snow. Afterwards, they gathered by the fireplace to drink warm milk and eat the Oliebollen she had made. The children asked for stories, and she obliged, over and over again. Anna did her best to make the children’s Christmas a happy one.
On the chilly morning of the seventh day of December, two days after Amsterdam’s Christmas, Anna again dressed the children in warm hooded cloaks, and they went to the busy marketplace to buy fresh vegetables for the stew. As always, it was crowded and noisy there, and she had difficulty keeping the children from being trampled.
What was all the commotion about today? Everyone streamed to the centre of the Dam square in great excitement. Curious, she allowed herself to be pushed along. When she got there, she desperately wished she had fought against the tide of people and gone home.
But it was too late now. Vomit rose in Anna’s throat. Thankfully the children were too short to see. She wanted to look away, but the grim spectre claimed her attention, just as it claimed that of everyone assembled. Mounted on poles around the square were heads. Heads with no bodies. Real human heads that had recently been attached to human bodies. A scream curdled in her throat as she counted nine of them. Nine heretics. A few even looked vaguely familiar. This is what happened to people for disobeying Charles V. When would people learn?
She must leave. Pushing and scratching, she fought her way through until people moved out of the way, dragging the children along as she inched her way through. Why did so many people want to see the horrible display? The whole city must have come out to see. It was the worst sort of entertainment one could ever hope for, though she knew even worse things had been done to traitors. Jan Jansen’s execution, for example. What had those nine men done to deserve their fate? Amsterdam was becoming just as frightening as Germany had been.
At long last she was on the outskirts of the crowd, panting and panicking. Her breath came in short gasps as she hurried across the bridge and along the deserted street. Elizabeth’s house was just around the corner, and she burst in the door without a knock. She pulled the children in after her and shut and bolted the door. Sagging against it, she tried to calm down.
“Anna! Have you seen a ghost?” Adriaen struggled to sit up in his rope bed in the corner. Nobody else was around.
“Father!” Trijntgen ran to her father’s side and climbed on the bed for a hug.
Anna stood against the door in mortification. Her feet had brought her here, as to a haven of comfort, but she hadn’t reckoned on Elizabeth’s absence.
“Something even worse.” Her voice came out in a croak. She looked meaningfully at the children. After they each claimed hugs from Adriaen, he sent them upstairs to play.
“Come and sit in the chair, Anna.” She complied, though her discomfiture made her feet heavy.
“Now, what happened?” he asked. He waited patiently while she tried to untangle her tongue.
“In the square…” Her voice trembled as bad as the rest of her, and she couldn’t continue.
“Just take your time. You will feel better if you tell me.” It was just as well he didn’t know that half the shivers came from sitting so close to him.
“There were heads…”
“Yes. Nine heads on poles.”
Adriaen blanched. “And you saw them?”
Anna nodded, unable to utter another word, as sobs shook her body. Somebody rattled at the door, and Anna jumped up.
“Who’s there?” she asked in a choked voice.
“The master of this house!” Claes said, obviously wondering who dared lock him out of his own home.
Anna unbolted the door with a bang, and Elizabeth and Claes entered with the two babies. Claes’ shoulders sagged, and his haggard face told Anna he had seen the same thing she had at the market. Elizabeth looked red-eyed and resigned.
“Jan Trypmaker and eight Brethren have been executed,” Claes reported. “Their heads are on display in the Dam square.”
“So it begins.” Adriaen said quietly. “Charles V means business.” Anna didn’t say anything about the other execution she had witnessed. It made her too dizzy and sick to even think about it.
“They won’t be the last, I’m sure. When Charles is on the rampage, the blood flows like rivers.” The two men sat quietly as they digested this news.
“None of us will be safe anymore in Amsterdam.” Claes’ face was sober. “And it’s not because of our city officials. It’s Charles’ men at the Court of Holland who are making trouble. Jan Hubrechts, one of our magistrates, even sent his maid to warn the Brethren when the Court officers were on their way here, giving us time to hide.”
“I’m not surprised. The councillors who are Sacramenten are in just as much danger from the Court as we are, even though they don’t have believer’s baptism.”
“Sacramenten?” Anna looked up, surprised. “You mean there’s more than one group of you heretics in Amsterdam?”
Adriaen winced. “We don’t think of ourselves as heretics, Anna. Jan Trypmaker, our leader, always urged us to peace and obedience to the government. We want to be obedient subjects as long as it doesn’t go against Scripture.”
“But you don’t like to be called Anabaptists either, do you?”
“That’s what the Catholics and the Reformers call us. But that’s not accurate. Our baptism as infants was no real baptism, so Anabaptist, or Re-baptiser, is an insult to us. We call ourselves the Brethren, the Doopsgesinde or the Bundsgenote.”
“How confusing. So how did Trypmaker get caught?” Her stomach churned when she recalled the gruesome warning of the blackening heads on those poles.
Claes stroked his ginger-colored beard with short, thick fingers. “He turned himself in to the authorities, probably because he wanted to spare the rest of us. He knew the Council would have no rest until they found him because he was a leader. They ‘questioned’ him until he revealed the names of eight others.”
“You mean they executed them right here in Amsterdam?” Anna shivered.
“No, our magistrates refused to do it, so the Court men took the prisoners back to The Hague and executed them there. But they brought the heads back to Amsterdam and put them on display as a warning.”
Tears pooled in his dark blue eyes. “Who will become our leader now?”
“We still have Jacob van Campen. Too bad Melchior Hoffman went back to Strasburg.” Adriaen said.
“Melchior Hoffman?” Claes scratched his head. “Sometimes I’m not sure what to think of his prophesies and revelations.”
Anna’s eyes widened. Surely these people would agree that true prophets should be listened to, and respected. “What kind of prophesies and revelations did he reveal?” Anna asked.
“He claims to have visions about the world ending in 1533. I wonder whether he really is the second Elijah?” Claes said. Anna shivered. She might as well have died with her family in the fire.
Adriaen shrugged. “Only God knows.”
Elizabeth returned from feeding the two babies in the bedroom. “Won’t you and the children stay and eat with us?”
“If it’s not too much trouble.” Anna was relieved not to be returning home alone right now. Her head was spinning with the implications of this incident, and spending time with Elizabeth was much more appealing. How much longer would they be safe in Amsterdam?