CHAPTER 4B: Burning Witches and Moving Shadows
At the town square, the people had spread out and circled the high platform where the executions were to be held. William searched for a priest but only found two executioners with a black cloth over their heads. Then he remembered they were hanging Protestants and witches, neither of which was worth a vigil or a prayer.
Catherine Amerie was first to be led up the platform by a soldier of the queen. She wore a plain white dress, obviously from the night’s sleep, obviously fitting for her death sentence. Her plain face had tears running down her cheeks. With each drop, the soldier moved her until they made it to the first post. He passed the rope on her head, carelessly brushing her ruffled hair and wet face. It slipped down to her neck and held her intact.
Her father followed next, stepping wobbly on the staircase up the platform. His head was down; his bony face showed no signs of expression, just crackling movements at the sides of his teeth. The soldier ushered him to the second post, yanking his chains forward. When they were there, the chains started shaking. It wasn’t because the soldier was taking them off; it was because Mr. Amerie’s was shivering involuntarily on his knees, hands and teeth. And yet from all the show his body’s displaying, his face didn’t unravel a single emotion—fear, despair, panic—nothing.
Third to follow was the mother. The tightness of the bun in her head made the roots of her hair almost seem invisible. It showed the veins of her head and increased the sharpness of the woman’s face. She was a woman of faith. A woman of God. And she believed that after this life, she and her family would safely be in the arms of God. She believed it was a necessary sacrifice, to pave a time when Protestantism shall return to the country.
As the soldier bound the mother’s neck to the rope, William grew perplexed. His insides stirred with bubbling acid and bile. He wanted to throw up. Though he didn’t acknowledge the coming of death, he felt fear. Fear for the family. Fear for their deaths. He knew, by law, they should be punished. Like his father would when he committed mistakes. But the punishment didn’t feel like it suited them. Like it had been too grand, too big for the crime of simply practicing a religion—doing something that queen didn’t like. It then cleared in his head. It wasn’t fear at all. It was injustice. The reason they were being hanged were wrong.
By feel, he whispered, “Death wasn’t supposed to be forced. It should be granted.” At his last word, a small part of the crowd gasped.
The family of three: the mother, father and their daughter, lay hanging on a rope from three posts with their feet over air. A minute had passed as their bodies slackened; their faces grew blank; their eyes empty; and their souls, driven away.
A soldier began cutting the ropes down. When a body dropped on the ground, another soldier checked the corpse’s mouth and noses, to see if they were still breathing. The soldier waved an okay signal to the parents, but shook his head on Catherine’s body. She had survived.
When the crowd saw the signal, William held his breath.
“They should have just let her hang longer,” someone growled.
“She’s a protestant,” breathed another. “They want to.”
The executioner held onto Catherine’s hair and dragged her from where the platforms were to the makeshift bonfire that had been started even before the townspeople had arrived. The second executioner handed a bolo to the first while carrying one for himself. They positioned themselves at Catherine’s head and feet. The first pulled Catherine’s left arm up and hacked her armpit. He continued swinging the bolo until the bone was completely off and the arm was free, tossing it to the fire. Afterwards he went for the left leg. The second executioner pressed the tip of the bolo in her chest and created a cut from her breasts down to her naval. When the insides were free, he hacked an organ off and tossed it to the fire as well. They continued on and on until there was nothing left of her to burn.
Back at the platform, new ropes were tied to the beams of the posts, ready to cease another life.
The riot of the townspeople gathered closely at the plaza. Now that the Protestants were dead, they howled in excitement for the real show: the death of the witches. But at a corner alley, not far from where the platform was raised, Isabelle prepared in her tights, strapping her rapier and dagger around her waist.
“And the plan is?” asked Paolo, stepping next to Isabelle. He tested and stretched his longbow with his armguard on his right.
“Same as before,” answered Isabelle. “We wait for the Cloak. Go in. Take the settler and retreat.”
“And leave everyone wond’ring why suddenly the lady has vanished before their eyes?”
“She is a witch. She is expected to do something marvelous.”
“Isabelle, don’t stray from the objective,” sounded Mikael with a deep tone. “Remember, I can only call the ones nearby. If they happen to be more than a dozen, it is out of my hands.”
“I know, brother. You don’t have to remind me.” She pulled her hair back and tied it with a blue lace.
“Then I won’t remind you again, that the settler is your target. If anybody else gets in the way, you cannot and will not save them.”
“I know already. We’ve already done this tens of times.”
“Then why do I have the need to keep reminding you every time we do this?” Mikael clutched his lute closer to him and strapped it around his shoulder.
“Because I’m a young girl and young girls usually are rebellious and wouldn’t take no for an answer?” Isabelle grinned.
“Now cousin I think you have yourself mistaken for a boy, not a lady,” suggested Paolo.
“A Telios woman. Not an English one.”
“Hmmm…that actually makes more sense.”
“You two, get ready,” sternly ordered Mikael. “I’m about to start.” He pressed his fingertips on the head of the lute, raised his other hand up and brought it down to the strings…