The Beginning and The End
She looked at her hands – flesh blistering and bleeding. The raw pain she felt made her eyes sting, causing salty tears to streak down her face. A muffled whimpering was echoing off the walls of her deep cell. She soon realised it was coming from her.
“I will never confess.” She half whispered to herself, as she gathered the strength to steadily pick herself up.
She shuffled across the filthy floor, jingling the chains which bound her feet. A foreboding feeling came over her, as she made her way to the barred window which overlooked the town square. Shafts of light touch touched her vacuous face as she viewed the spectacle unfolding before her. The townspeople gathered in the square. Peddlers set up stalls selling sweet bread and ale, while others set up viewing stands in front of the pyre.
She raised her hand and gently touched her carelessly shaven head. The raven hair was no more. Her body repulsed at the thoughts of those men touching her. She wore her pain like a mask, but those emerald eyes still remained her most alluring feature. To this grand beauty they had put flames to the soles of her feet and palms of her hands. On the rack they had stretched her like toffee and whipped her naked back until it bled.
“No mater ”, she whispered, “I know where I go.”
Her thoughts were interrupted with the loud creaking sound of the cell door being unbolted and opened by the guards. In walked Father Toulouse carrying a well worn copy of the Malleus Maleficarum – the inquisitors bible – under one arm. In the other he carried a small black leather bag, much like the Parisian doctors carry.
“Bring me a small table and a stool.” he snapped at one of the guards, while narrowing his eyes in the direction of the woman.
“Do you wish to confess now Verity?”
“Confess to what?” she answered.
“You are a member of the Vaudois, are you not? You meet with other heathens and practice your rituals. You cavort with Satan, do you not? You perform your Sabbaths to honour him. Do you confess!”
“What are you trying to say, Father?” she said teasingly.
“That you’re a witch!” he shouted, the last word echoing off the damp walls.
“Oh! Such accusations!”
She began to laugh madly, her voice ringing out and scraping the cell.
“You sacrificed that child. You took the life right out of it and gave it to the Devil!”
With a sudden burst of anger Verity leapt forward and stood stock still, two feet from him, her eyes piercing his like a needle.
“I was trying to help Emlen give birth. Unfortunately the child was stillborn. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing anyone could have done.”
“Lies, all lies. You can’t be trusted. It is written in the Bible. The Apostle John was heard to say that women were the downfall of man.”
“Believe that, let it comfort you. John was a woman hater, the same as yourself. You want to oppress me because you fear me. You fear what I know.”
“How dare you speak such abominations to me! You are Satan’s spawn, so help me God you will be driven into the pits of hell where you belong.”
“Satan doesn’t exist, you created him along with your idealistic God. You think we are all born with original sin – how pathetic!”
“Curb your tongue witch. You will be thrust down into the eternal fires of hell soon enough. Many have witnessed your bewitching powers. We have signed documentation stating you practice the Black Arts. This alone can send you to your death, for heresy is against God’s law.
The cell door creaked open once again and the guard brought in the table and stool.
“Place them in the middle of the room.” ordered Father Toulouse.
Verity backed away and wrapped her arms around herself in a protective manner. Father Toulouse proceeded to empty the contents of his bag onto the table. He took out a box of matches, a yellow candle, a candle holder engraved with tiny dancing angels, a small brass bell and a Bible. His trembling hands lit the candle and placed it in the candle holder. He picked up the copy of the Malleus Maleficarum turned to a marked page and began to read out loud.
“We exclude Verity Lore from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church, and we judge her condemned to the eternal fires with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as she will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church.”
With that he closed the book, rang the bell once and extinguished the candle by thrusting it down onto the ground.
“Let God’s will be done.”
v v v
A short time after Father Toulouse had made his exit, some women from the village had come to her. They had bathed her in wintry water scented with frankincense and dressed her in an unsullied white robe which reached down to her toes.
All the while Verity thought of her impeding fate. She knew she was being prepared like wild pig for feasting. Verity didn’t fear death – that had never bothered her. Leaving her kindred – that had never bothered her either, as she knew they would see each other again – if not in this life, in the next. What bothered her was the exhibition she was being made into. People had obviously come to see the burning of a witch – no matter if the accused was innocent or guilty.
It grieved her to think of her family watching as they set her alight. Her body twisting and thrashing about with extreme agony. Afterwards the chosen ones would gather her ashes and cast them to the four winds, not enabling her to have a final resting place.
“Here take this and carry it in front of you while you make your way towards the pyre.” said one of the women.
Verity let her thoughts return from the scene playing in her mind and looked at what the woman held before her. It was a white, six pound candle.
“Is this supposed to invite death?” Verity said mockingly.
“You’re a marked woman now,” said the woman, as she gestured Verity to follow.
She was led out of her confining cell and up some squalid stairs until they reached the oak door. This door connected the prison cells to the church anteroom. Verity was then taken out of the dismal looking church and into the beaming light of day. Many had gathered. The town square was full of people pushing and elbowing each other to get a good view.
“Make your way to the pyre.” Another faceless woman said, as Verity was given a shove.
Verity swallowed her anguish. With her hands outstretched bearing the candle she gradually made her way to the foot of the pyre. The crowd oohed and ahhed as she passed. A few actually called out to her, protesting she confess to her guilt.
Father Toulouse appeared out of the dense crowd and took a place by her side. He nervously unrolled a piece of parchment he was holding and cleared his throat.
“Silence!” he yelled.
The crowd grew quiet in anticipation. Father Toulouse took a quick glance at the crowd before focusing his attention to what was written before him. He cleared his throat once more and announced:
“I Father Michael Toulouse by the mercy of God of the Roman Catholic Church, seeing that you Verity Lore, of Arras in the province of Southern France, has been accused before us of such heresy as worshiping Satan and committing such crimes as taking another’s life, manipulating elemental force, shape shifting, the conjuring of spirits, sorcery with intent to harm and bewitching people to do your will.
Wishing to make sure the charges made against you are true and whether you walk in darkness or light, I proceeded to inform myself by diligently examining the witnesses and questioning you, and by proceeding in every way I was bound by the canonical decrees.
Wishing to conclude your trial in a manner beyond doubt, I have diligently examined each circumstance and the material provided in the present case and I find you Verity Lore have been legally convicted of having been infected with the sin of heresy for so long a time, that you have said and committed crimes against the Holy Church, and are therefore legitimately convicted of the said heresy.
The Church of God has waited for you to repent and acknowledge your guilt, and you have refused and still refuse, so the Church’s grace and mercy can go no further. Therefore you must be an example to others and that they may be keep from all such heresies and that such crimes may not remain unpunished.
Hence, I Father Michael Toulouse on behalf of the Roman Catholic faith judge, declare and pronounce sentence that you Verity Lore standing her in our presence at the hour of midday on the 21st September 1688, in the town square of Arras are an impenitent heretic we deliver and abandon you to the sentence of death by fire to be carried out immediately.”
A sudden wave of shouts arose from the crowd, declaring their consent.
Verity scanned the crowd for familiar faces. None – all had abandoned her.
“I wish to speak!” she cried out.
“She wishes to confess,” one shouted.
“She wants to beg for forgiveness,” yelled another.
“Hear me out! Let me speak!” she screamed over the crowd.
“Very well,” said Father Toulouse turning towards Verity.
“You may have a few moments, but chose your words carefully as they will be your last.”
“Silence everyone!” he yelled, “I will let her speak one last time before you.”
Verity thought silently for a moment. She put the candle down on the cobbled stones and faced the crowd. She raised her arms pleadingly and took a deep breath.
“I stand here before you all, a condemned woman. Sentenced to die a hideous death – for what? For the crime of serving you and your families.”
A loud mumbling escaped from the crowd.
“I cured you when you were struck down with ills. I healed your broken bones and torn flesh. I listened when you spoke of your sorrows and heartbreaks and I in turn offered advice to mend them. I helped your mothers, wives and children birth comely babes. This is how you repay me – with accusations and lies. What has befallen you, that you wish to see me destroyed when the only thing I ever gave you was my love? I weep for you now because you do not know what you have done. The law of three will be upon you and I will not be able to deter what will come. The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end.”
“Father”, she said turning her attention to Father Toulouse.
“I pity you and I hope you find the peace which you are searching for. And to all of you, I bid farewell and may the gods have mercy on you.”
In the blink of an eye Verity ran up the pyre steps, grabbed the flint torch from the black hooded executioner and set the pyre alight. She discarded the torch and thrust herself into the flames. Screams erupted from the crowd as people ran in all directions pushing and shoving to get away. Father Toulouse was so shaken he clasped his hands in prayer as he fell to the ground.
Meanwhile Verity twisted and convulsed as the flames enveloped her. She let out a piercing cry…and then there was blackness.
In the distance a voice could be heard.
“Christine, Christine can you hear me? Christine, when I count to three you will travel back to the present time. You will open your eyes and find yourself in the safe and comfortable surroundings of my lounge room. You will remember what you have seen but you will not bring back any pain from that time.
One, two, three. Open your eyes now Christine. Can you hear me? Are you alright?”
“Um.…. yeah, I’m ok. Just feel a little shaken. Didn’t expect to see what I did.”
“I know, sometimes its hard going back, but that’s the only way you can figure out what baggage you’ve brought with you.”
“Well, I’ve seen it and I tell you what – I’m not going to forget it too soon!”
“You look like you need a cup of tea. If you get something into you, it’ll help you get grounded. Just relax and I’ll make you one. I won’t be too long.”
“The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end.” Christine half whispered to herself.
I would like to dedicate this story to the men, women and children whose innocent lives were taken during several inquisitions from 1231 – 1860. During these centuries of injustice many innocent people were persecuted for acts they did not commit. To our fallen brothers and sisters their memory lives on – for they live inside us.
(c) T. Georgitsis, 1998 (Appeared in a pagan anthology called “Beyond The Pillars” in 2013)