Amsterdam December 1531
For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession, and an abiding one…Heb 10:34
A few days later, Anna found an old sled standing against the back of the house, and she piled the three little ones onto it. With the well-wrapped nut cake tucked under her arm, she tramped through the snow towards Elizabeth’s house. She hadn’t delivered the cake before Christmas because Elizabeth had gone to visit her family for a few days, but the longer the cake cured, the better it would taste. On the arched, wooden bridge, she paused and showed the children the merry skaters flitting like colorful butterflies on the ice below. The children clapped and laughed, and begged to go on the ice.
“Maybe another day. Today we’re going to see your father, your little sister, and the others.” She packed the blankets around them and continued on her way. If Elizabeth didn’t mind, Anna might leave the children with her, and attend communion at the Oude Kerk. Elizabeth, of course, would not be going. If she had planned on going anywhere, it would be to a clandestine Anabaptist meeting.
As soon as she rounded the corner to Elizabeth’s house, something felt wrong. The shutters were closed in the middle of the day. The path in front of the door was untrampled--not so much as one boot-print marred the newly fallen snow. Anna stood staring at the wooden door, and a feeling of dread turned her feet to stone.
She peered up and down the street, but nobody was in sight. Putting one heavy foot in front of the other, she reached for the latch and found it unlocked. Shivering, she turned around. The children clambered off the sled in happy anticipation. Maybe Elizabeth and Claes had gone visiting friends and stayed for the night. The snow had covered their tracks. Yes, that’s exactly what had happened. The couple had many friends in the city, of course. And the meetings. They attended secret meetings with the Brethren, and often these were held at night. At night, as well as in the daytime, in hidden places.
The door opened with a creak loud enough to alert the whole street. Anna opened it part way, enough to stick her head inside. A choked scream escaped her throat. The house was completely upside down. The bed in the corner where Adriaen slept had been ripped apart, the straw strewn across the room. Pieces of pottery and ashes were scattered into every corner. And the baby’s basket! It was tipped onto its side as if someone had dumped the contents into the fire. At the bottom of the stairs, the table lay in splintered ruins.
Anna couldn’t shut the door fast enough. She swept up the children, deposited them on the sled, threw the blanket over them, and ran. Their bewildered little faces tore at her heart.
“Vader!” Trijntgen cried.
“Sorry, shatje, Vader isn’t home. Want to go on the ice now?”
“No! I want to see Vader!” Bettke and Dirk joined in with a chorus of wails. Anna’s tears froze on her cheeks. She staggered back the way she had come, pulling the sled-full of crying children behind her.
What had happened to her friends? Who ruined their house? Why would anyone destroy the inside of it? Even as she asked herself these questions, the answer was clear. Anna’s veins turned to ice, as the haunting nightmare returned. Red-hot flames burned through her mind. She tried to calm her racing heart, consoling herself that there were no flames, her friends and the babies had not burned. Not yet, anyways. But such senseless destruction. And for what? Anna no longer felt secure in this town, but was there anyplace to go that was safer? Running away from scenes of destruction didn’t last very long; trouble followed wherever she went.
By the time they came to the bridge, the children had changed their minds and clamored to watch the skaters. Anna wanted to go home and hide under the bed. Everyone she saw on the street could have betrayed her friends and helped wreck their house, yet nobody paid any attention to her.
She left the sled at the edge of the canal and helped the children dismount. Lifting Dirk onto her hip and asking the little girls to follow, they made their way down the steps and sat on a snowbank beside the ice. The steel blades of the skaters flashed by with dazzling speed, and Anna almost wished to join them. Though she’d probably end up flattened on the ice, like the young boy who slid to a stop in front of them. As the boy got up, he quickly checked up and down the ice. Nobody else was within hearing distance.
“Balthasar!” Anna exclaimed. “How are you doing?” She noted with concern the lad’s pinched face and thin body.
“I can’t stay long, but I have a message for you.” He scanned the ice again. “Adriaen, Claes and Elizabeth got away with the babies. Someone reported them, but the family was warned in time for them to grab all they could carry and run. The Court officers tore the house apart looking for any forbidden writings.”
A heavy weight lifted from Anna’s shoulders. Her friends had gotten away. Just then, a small man in drab brown doublet and hose came gliding in their direction. A flicker of fear crossed the boy’s face and he dashed away.
“Wait!” Anna called after him. “You forgot this parcel for your moeder!” She didn’t even know if he had a mother. In a swoop he circled back, and she thrust it into his hands. The nut cake would taste better to him than it would to her. He grinned and waved, then sped away after taking another backwards look at the approaching man.
It was Pieter, the servant of the officer that had arrested her and Maeyken! She gasped and buried her face in Dirk’s hood. Go away! Go away!
“Well, well. Who do I see here enjoying the view?” His raspy voice grated on her ears. She smelled sweat and horse manure before he even got within speaking distance. Did she have to answer?
“Adriaen and Claes are in prison,” the pointy-chinned man said with a smirk. “This time they will die.”
Before Anna could gather her wits to respond, the furtive little man skated away, the steel blades on his shoes slashing and scraping the ice, just as his words had slashed and scraped at her heart.
It was time to get home; she was too much of a public spectacle sitting there beside the ice. Anna collected the children, who protested at leaving so soon, but she soothed them by promising them more sweets when they got home. She needed to get away, now, out of sight of those who wished her harm. She wanted to believe Balthasar, but she was so confused. If he truly knew anything about the matter, he must be one of the Anabaptists.
Who was telling the truth? And which of the two even knew the truth?