One minute I was standing at the stove in my house cooking dinner for my husband and myself, and the next moment there was a rabble outside my door with sticks and ropes. I knew they were calling for me, because my name was Rachael. I looked around for my husband James, and he was nowhere to be seen. Wait – he had just been with me in the house getting ready for our supper. Where did he go?
I knew I should be afraid, but I knew it was a dream and every other time I had been afraid at this point before – it didn’t help, so just like I had learned when these nightmares were more frequent – I just went with it. They did all the stuff they normally did in the dream. They accused me of being a witch because my garden grew even in the winter. They accused me of cavorting with the devil, because I was able to use herbs to help cure simple maladies. They accused me of bringing demons into our village because they supposedly heard “voices” that were not our own coming from our house at night. They never took into account that James had wanted to be a thespian, so we would write little plays and act out the parts. No – that was too much to consider for these feeble little minds. Once they had me outside the door of the house, and backed up against it - just like every other time in every other dream, I spoke.
“Careen, when your son Jeremy was on death’s door last winter – who was it who helped you to brew a tea that loosened up the blockage in his chest so he could breathe again?” I looked directly into her eyes as she lowered them away from me. “Sebastian, who was able to draw the infection out of your arm when the doctor told you that he was going to have to cut it off to save your life?” He instinctively grabbed his left arm, and just like Careen, his eyes lowered away from mine. It occurs to me now, that my conversing with them in the crowd may have sealed our fates.
“You are in league with the demons!” That was Reverend Orland. He had arrived just a mere month before to tend to the Lord’s “Lost and Uneducated Flock”, as he so despicably called those of us in the village. “How else could you have been married all these years and never have borne a child? The evil inside you has left you barren and fruitless!” I wouldn’t even give him rejoinder by telling him I was currently with child. It was none of his business. “She has signed a pact with the evil forces of the devil I tell you! Our village must be purged of this witch and her evil!”
When I was a child having this dream, I never understood most of the words. Later, when I was a teen – I understood them all too well. Now they just seemed to roll off my back since my unconscious self knew that it was only a dream. OK, it was “the” dream, but still it would be over soon. Nothing new to see here, so I delve back into the dream.
“You are all so willing to see evil where there is none! You’ve all come to me at one point or another for my help. I’ve tended to your sick. My husband James has helped most of you build your homes! For the love of the gods, you’ve known James and I all our lives!” I knew that was the wrong thing to say as soon as it passed my lips, and yet I said it every time. “This man who now holds sway over your lives is an outsider to our village! He’s only been here a few fēowertyne niht. He doesn’t know us. He isn’t one of us.”
“There! The proof that she doesn’t believe in the one true god! Proof that she has committed blasphemy against our one true lord! What more proof do you need?”
And just like every other time I’ve dreamed this, they rushed me, tied a rope around my waist and wrists, and lead me to the makeshift “church”, a village construct that we had all built together years ago to commune with each other. This is where the reverend brought me. I was unceremoniously taken into the basement where they locked me in one of the storerooms. I heard him go back up the stairs, and the cellar door was closed loudly behind him. I heard a batten go into place. Until the end of the dream – this is the only point where I cringe.
Again, in fast forward the dream rambles through a long and arduous process of torture and being told over and over to confess my allegiance with the devil. The floors are damp, and sleeping on them gives me a cough. The food is slop. I hear other screams at various times, it would appear that the Reverend has decided that I can’t be the only one made an example of – so he’s brought in Careen, James and Sebastian to add to his sadistic power play. Once he has his new playthings, he doesn’t bother much with me anymore, just to come by and snicker, telling me that I can end their pain by confessing to my demonic nature. Then he strolls the streets informing the villagers that I will not confess to save my confederates, we will all burn together. No one in the village will cross him.
Careen’s son Jeremy stops by my barred window now and then to give me scraps of meat. He is a mere child of nine; he has no clue why his mother has been taken and why he can’t go see her. She appears to be in one of the inner rooms with no window. I think the Reverend’s planned me to have a window, hoping the villagers would come by and stone me, save him some work. Instead, they come by during the middle of the night when they are sure he is asleep – bringing me news, letters and food. By now, my belly is extending, the villagers know I am with child – but not my fellow captives. I believe this is why the Reverend has stopped parading me through the basement – so they wouldn’t know that one of his initial accusations toward me is false.
As time went by, or weeks maybe, could have been months, the dream would be in fast forward so much… I no longer would hear James screaming or whimpering. My heart ached knowing that maybe they had killed him. I could still hear the anguished cries of Sebastian and Careen. I wondered if they had blamed this all on me. But it was clear that they had given some sort of testimony to the Reverend – since he was standing with them by his side that first night. Soon it became only Careen’s voice I would hear. Sebastian, I knew was gone. Not in “out” of the dungeon – but as in “from life”. Jeremy (who looked like he had aged ten years in the last few weeks) stopped by one night to tell me that they “removed” Sebastian’s arm, the one that I had cured, and he’d lost an incredible amount of blood before they had burned the stump of his arm to make the bleeding stop. The reason he knew this was because the Reverend had forced Jeremy to help dig the grave, and they just threw the body (sans arm), into the pit they had dug.
I had asked Jeremy at one point if he thought I had done something wrong for this to have happened. He told me that if his mother never came home – he would be the one to care for his siblings, and therefore it was only right and just that I had saved his life the previous winter. I believed he would grow up to be a fine man, and I also believed I would not be around to see it. He had matured so much since this happened; I was saddened for that too. He was too young to be so wise. I had also asked him about James, if there was a grave for him too. Jeremy said that no one had seen James since he had been taken away months ago. And now I had a time frame of how long I had been here. Months…
He also asked me at some point if I thought I would live to see my child born. I had no answer for him. If Jeremy’s time frame was right that Jeremy, I should be into my last trimester of my gestation. I didn’t have a clue anymore – time had become nothing to me. I spent my time with my back against the cold wall, humming or singing softly while I stroked the exterior of the child growing within me. And then, my time came.
I had been just waking up when I heard the key in the lock. The Reverend was smiling down at me. “Get up witch”. It had been days since I had heard another voice inside my prison – and this voice was full of evil and doom. I struggled to my feet. Without the benefit of a larger space to walk around in, my leg muscles had been getting smaller and weaker. That wouldn’t be a problem soon…
“It is time for you to be judged, and I judge you are a witch and must meet the fate of all evil. You shall be purged with fire.”
“You can see that your proclamation I was in league with the devil and that it had prevented me from bearing a child was wrong. How will you explain that to the crowds? How will you justify your initial accusations of me old man?”
“You are a foolish and foul tongued demoness.” He gripped my arm with his left hand, shoving me up against the cell wall, and with a swift swing of his right arm, planted a short-bladed sword in my stomach. I could feel the searing pain as he dragged it from right to left, gutting me for all intents and purposes. As I fell to the ground, gasping in pain, he pounced upon me. Inserting his hands into my belly and pulling the child out. I felt my insides ripping, burning, agonizing pain everywhere within my mind, soul and body. I didn’t even have the strength to scream – there were only moans.
He turned and rushed out of the cell, still holding what would have been my girl child. The cell door remained open – he didn’t have a fear of my being able to leave. Within minutes, two matronly women, who I would only describe as “nuns” in today’s terminology, entered, and pulling me up by my hair, bound my belly tightly with swaths of cloth. There were titanic amounts of blood everywhere. They kept swaddling me. In the course of maybe half an hour, they finished and each grabbed an arm and began to drag me to the stairwell. With one in front, walking up the stairs backwards holding my arms at the wrist and pulling, the other was behind me pushing me up. It was slow going, but they managed to do it.
They got me out of the “church” which was now adorned with the Christian paraphernalia of the zealous, I knew this was the last time I would see it. This place where we gathered for village meetings and celebratory events had been befouled by the evil of the shepherds of the lost lambs (who were never really lost until they had been shepherded). My idyllic life was about to come to an end, and to tell you the truth – that was absolutely fine with me. I wondered if James was alive still. I wondered if Careen was out of her misery. I wondered if the pain of the fire would be as horrendous as the pain I had just been forced to endure. And then I saw it. The pyre they had built two stories high, with a platform just in front of it. There on the platform, holding up the now mutilated body of my child, stood the reverend in his glory – preaching to the crowd how I had “mated with the demons” and given birth to this “abomination” just an hour before the judgement had come down to burn me.
My village – my people – the ones I had helped, cured, cared for… dare I say loved? They looked at me as if I was the evil incarnate that this sick and demented man before them was. I couldn’t bare it, I closed my eyes tightly.
I was grateful it would be over soon. I was pulled up the makeshift stairs to the platform as the reverend droned on about my sins against humanity. And drone he did. On and on. Finally speaking the words everyone was waiting for him to speak, “By the authority given to me by the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, let her be burned with this abomination she gave birth to!” The crowd, my friends, cheered.
I was dragged backward to the stake standing up through the pyre, and still with my eyes closed, felt the leather of the bindings as they tied me at the neck, wrists behind my back and at the ankles to it. For maybe the first time in my life, I prayed. I prayed to the spirits of the earth, the stars, the air around me – I prayed that it be over quickly. But I would not meet death as a coward. I opened my eyes, and as the evil gleam of the reverend’s eyes looked into mine one final time – I spit into his face. He slapped me across the face as I grinned at him. “May you rot in the hell you proclaim to be saving me from. You are a liar and a charlatan. You’ve cursed this whole village with your evil taint. Mark my words!”
“Your own husband gave witness against you, witch. He told the tribunal of how you bewitched him a field and lay with him to seal your deal with the demon lord. Know that he is the one who insisted we purge the earth of your demonic presence.”
And that was what broke my spirit. I felt the tears finally well up inside my eyes, and as I looked past the reverend and the crowd – I saw James mounted upon my stead wiping his eyes, before he brought the horse a full gallop, leaving me and our life behind. I just stared outward. Not meeting the eyes of any of my contemporaries, not wanting to show any fear. One of the reverend’s underlings handed him a lit torch, and he dropped it onto the pyre.
I felt the flames licking at the bottom of my dress. As I stood, fearing the pain that was about to come – something new caught my eye beyond the crowd. There, where James had just ridden past the scene – was yet another mounted rider. One with a hood over his head, the wisps of blond hair flowing out around the edges of the hood by his cheeks. I realized as soon as I saw him, he and the crossbow across his back would be my salvation. His eyes met mine, even in the dream they were clear as a bell. They were the color of the angry ocean. I watched him as he pulled the crossbow from its resting place on his back and placed a bolt into the flight groove. I watched as he steadied the stock against his shoulder, making sure that his hand was comfortable on the foregrip. I could see him looking down the barrel and imagined his right eye looking straight through the riser onto Reverend Orland. I still believed that he was aiming for the reverend. I saw him raise his eye from sighting, and saw him nod at me, sadness in his eye. I smiled at him and nodded back as I realized it wasn’t the reverend that the bolt was meant for: it was me. In the fraction of a second that the though had come into my head - just that quickly, as fast as that realization – the bolt sprung from his bow, straight into my heart. My pain was ended, but in the last few seconds of that dream, I knew the Inquisition would bring pain to many across the continent, that village was going to be one of the first to befall to the victimization of what these men of the cloth were to bring upon the world.