CHAPTER 4A: Burning Witches and Moving Shadows
Under the shade of the night, William eased the door to his house open and crept in. He backtracked to the door and slowly shut it. The moment the door closed, light illuminated his surroundings and he followed its source.
At a table with a lantern by its side, Bapholin stood with its arms on its sides. “And the prodigal son returns. Where have you been?” it asked.
“I-I got robbed.” He affixed his gaze on the floor.
It rested its weight on one leg. “Robbed? Robbed means your belongings were taken. Why do you still have those?” It gestured on the supplies.
“I fought back.”
“Say that again,” he requested disbelievingly.
He placed the sack beside the beast. “I fought back,” he repeated with more force and power.
“Does fighting back you come home the next day?” It began to inspect the contents of the sack.
“Why’d you disappear all of a sudden?” he retorted.
“It’s good you ordered the beetroot, we’ve been running low,” the beast answered, continuing to rummage through.
Seeing the interrogation was dismissed, William retired on a chair, leaned back and then tensed again. “Is father asleep?”
“He hasn’t come home since yesterday,” answered Bapholin. “I am to return by his side at tomorrow’s dawn. You are supposed to behave yourself until he comes back. Well supposed to.”
A tremendous amount of relief washed over him and calmed his senses. He had feared that Radulf was waiting for him, and he had been beyond angry. He had not known what to say or how to explain things to him. He could not even explain it to himself.
Bapholin pulled out a scroll from a pile of books on the table. “Your reward,” it announced.
His brows knitted. He straightened his back and picked up the piece of parchment. His hands felt the rough and decrepit texture of the paper as if it would crumble at the slightest touch. “Is this…” His eyes darted to one sentence after the next, digesting the meaning of the words and symbols written on each line. He had it. He had something worth trying—worth starting.
“I don’t quite get what the big fuss is about,” stated Bapholin. “So I got you the incantation you wanted. It wasn’t at all that difficult.”
Ever since he was younger, he thought of his father to be a grand magician. A secret wizard that hid from the eyes of everyone. One morning as he came to, his father had been at the basement. And like any other day, he went to him to ask for his chores and errands to run, but instead he had found him with a corpse lying on the floor. He had spoken a language—words with extended vowels, meshed consonants and a lot of crackled noises of the tongue—and the dead came back to life. It was moving, talking and telling its secrets before its death. It had been like it had never died at all. At the sight of it, other people would had been yelling for fear and panic, but he was not. William knelt in-between steps of the staircase on his descent, and seemed to watch something magnificent, like turtle doves released into the air or a grand birthday celebration of one of the nobles’ sons. As his father conversed, prodding and inquiring on a million things—which he did not care for the details—he birthed a dream. A dream that someday he would be the one conversing with the dead. That he would be the one who would sow life back together again and ask its deepest, darkest secrets.
Ever since then, he would watch from afar at his father’s amazing works. He had seen him conjure an animal made of bones, let blood swirl and cover a wound, see through the eyes of a soul’s past and more. Of course, most of the times, Bapholin caught him lurking in the shadows trying to get a good look out of the next wondrous spell. If it had not been for the beast’s laziness, he had already been chained and whipped for eavesdropping.
And now after all those times he stood in the dark, wishing, dreaming, he could finally create magic—even just a bit of it. “What does this do exactly, Bapholin?” he asked.
“Simple protection spell,” answered the beast. “Easy to do and useful when you are or someone else is in danger. Not everyone can do it of course.”
The beast went to a pile of rags and lay on its belly. “No mere person can. But of course you can. You are the son of Radulf Howe, a powerful magician. In your veins lie the same powers. Ooohhh. Magician. Scary,” it yawned.
“I…can do this?”
“Why don’t you just give it a try? Tired with all the questions. I need my nap.”
His mind buzzed as his heart beat fast. It might not be the biggest and grandest spell there was, but it was definitely a start—a start towards the path of becoming a true magician.
William opened his mouth to ask another question but stopped instantly when a cadence of shouts and flickers of light distracted him. He crossed the room to the window and peeked. Across the hillside, a number of people had gathered at Joan Altier’s house, carrying torches and pitchforks. They were shouting words that were too far to comprehend.
“Looks like a riot. Maybe it’s another hanging,” said Bapholin appearing by the window sill.
William knew Joan Altier because of her chicken recipes and pies. A year before, when she moved into her home, she’d ask him to come over to taste her home made dishes, and he instantly loved them. From then on, when she’d make something new, he’d be invited and be taught how to remake it. Though she and his father were rough acquaintances that couldn’t stand each other, William made it a point to always visit her and offer his help for any errands a man would be best suited for.
“I have to go see what’s going on,” he said as he grabbed a cape from the hanger and left the house.
When he reached Joan’s home, she had rusting chains around her ankles and wrists, and the queen’s soldiers were dragging her through a tight angry crowd. Rotting vegetables and fruits flew from all angles, hitting her everywhere—in the face mostly.
“What’s happening?” asked William to no one in particular.
“The soldiers are rounding out Protestants,” said a man with freckles all over his face.
“Joan’s not a Protestant. She’s a devoted Catholic,” protested William. “She always goes to mass on Sundays.”
“Yeah, hear she is. But she’s a witch too.”
“A witch? Her?”
“A witch she is,” repeated the man. “Heard she put a charm on a nobleman. They’re keeping his name under. Must’ve been a nasty one.”
“Joan won’t do that. She would never…“ William saw the end destination where Joan would lead to: a caged carriage. Inside, three people with drooped and familiar faces stared back at him, the Ameries: Catherine and her parents. But what caught most of his attention was the fourth person who sat on the back with her arms around her knees. Elise. Her usual cheery demeanor had been snuffed out and was replaced with a heartbreaking blank gaze.
The man with the freckles was blabbering something else he had heard when William made his way around the hating mass and straight to the carriage. He was only a few feet away when a soldier blocked him and held a hand for him to stop.
“Not any closer,” the soldier warned.
“Let me talk to her,” pleaded William. “She didn’t do anything. She’s not a witch.”
“That is for the queen to decide, not you. Go back, boy.”
He put his face right next to the soldier. “The queen? The queen doesn’t know her. I know her. And she’s not a witch.”
“I said go back,” shouted the soldier.
“Aren’t you listening? I said she’s not a—“
The soldier shoved him back, drew his sword and pointed it at him. “Go back,” he said sternly.
Bapholin popped right next to the soldier and yawned, “I’d do as he says. He looks serious.”
William turned from the serious face of the soldier and his blade to Elise in the cage. She found him looking at her and forced a bright smile. I’m okay, she mouthed.
The carriage door opened as Joan was pushed inside with the rest of the criminals. When the door shut, the soldiers mounted their horses and began to move the carriage forward. The townsfolk followed behind with a slow, peaceful march, but with snarling and hateful faces nonetheless.