Come now, gather around. Behold, such a saddening tale.
Come now, gather around. Leave not behind your handkerchief; it may keep you well.
One time, long, long ago- there lived a young witch in the land. Ah, yes, she came to love a young prince, so the story goes.
It started with a boy. I am a priestess. I can know no love. I am chaste. For life. But I still loved. I loved him. He is like a prince. But this prince did not see the impossible love of a chaste priestess. He saw the love of a girl I knew from the town meetings- reddish hair, beautiful eyes. She always caught his eye. And I watched as he followed her, time and time again.
"No need for a magic to stop time, no spell can achieve what I feel! Love, bounding through every hour, joy lighting new days.
Those were the happy, blissful times. My days were filled with thoughts about her, my love, and about marriage and life. I knew I loved her, and it felt good. It was joy, pure joy, lighting the dark mornings walking to the schoolhouse and warming my frozen nose after I finished outdoor chores. Those were the happiest days in my life.
Tied me tight to a cross, I look longing at the sky.
How I will die is the only question. It is not a matter of will I die. It is a matter of how it will happen. Will I be burned alive? Will I lose my breath at this harsh angle? Will I be struck down to end the pain, by some merciful, divine intervention? I look up, hoping to be struck down lest the agony continue. The sky is so pretty... I cannot help but cry. If only I could be there... and not here. There, free as anything. Free and safe and loved.
"Penitence for your crime! Penitence and you life!"
"She is a witch! A witch! She must be killed!"
"If I pray, who will hear? I am drowning in their cheers!"
I cast my eyes up to the heavens, wishing I could pray, pray for the end, pray for the peaceful silence called death. But who would hear the prayers of an accused witch? I am alone in the world. Even my friends, my lover, my family- everyone cheers for my death.
"Penitence for your crimes, penitence and your life!"
Those are the words uttered by every mouth, chanted by the overexcited crowd waiting for a death. She is the center of the attention of all. The entire town has gathered here to watch her die a painful, disgraced death. They have gathered to watch a witch pay penitence for her crimes against the town- crimes of witchcraft. They have gathered to watch her pay penitence- and her life.
"If my love was just a curse, then I have only tears to shed. Devotion turned to dusty tombs."
They said if she died, the spell would end. I could be free to love another. So I light the match, tears filling my eyes. They said the love would end. So I let my devotion to her, my devotion to this witch, die, shriveling up, burying it under the heavy tomb of despair.
"Penitence for your crimes, penitence and your life!"
She will die! She will die and the prince will be mine. But will he choose me? If he does, could I escape from my sins towards this girl, towards God? Will I ever escape my position? The prince lights the match.
"Let it light, let it burn out bright and with it all your spite. Feel now the weight of death and soon..."
Even over the cheers and jeers, I can hear the flicker of a match lighting up. They are going to kill me now. If my death satisfies your blood-lust, let the blood spill. Let that flame burn, let it burn my life away. As long as your spite gets killed with me, I will be ready to die. God's arms will be open to me.
"Come now, open your eyes. Look up to the flames in the sky. Come now, do not forget those embers are the final judge."
I watch in horror as the flames reach the girl's feet. She screams as the pain reaches her. I know not of her agony or suffering, all I know is to look up. The fire is so pretty, dancing against the evening air. So deadly, burning a girl alive. Even if she deserves it, it is painful. I send my silent plea, begging the Lord to help her soul. Those embers, the ashes that she will become, will be the final act of someone's crimes, but also of her fate. So they will decide in the way of the Lord where she ends up.
"One time, long long ago, there lived a young witch in the land. Ah, yes, she came to trick a young prince, so the story goes... 'She kept all the magic out of sight, how else to achieve what you feel?' Love, burning the final hour."
She has tricked me. My feelings must be a spell cast upon me by this girl. My love for her will die with her. It will burn away with her ashes. God's very servant, the priestess, has told me so. This is the way it was meant to be. So as I watch, waiting for the emotion to fade. My mind leaps back to the day, in the alleyway. She had called my name, and I looked. There she was, with her priestess' robes fluttering in the wind, holding out a scrap for me to see. Have you seen this witch? she asked me, holding out the page... with my lover's face on it. I nodded mutely. Witch... my mind had said. No way... but it was true. Because who's to call a priestess a liar? My love would have to die soon. And since I was the closest to her, I would have to do it.
"She'll light a new day."
I cry out, suddenly. My words are not solid, just sounds of pain. The prince tries to comfort me. I am beyond comfort. I have done this!, I want to scream at him. It is my fault- my fault alone- that she is dying! I bite my tongue. It is not something I may say, or I too will be killed. And her death will have been in vain. No, I say silently. Her death will be a new beginning, those flames will burn, lighting a new day.
"Hear the witch crying louder as she's tied up to her eyes. Penitence for her crimes, penitence and her life. Right before she shouted curses that may take away a life. Virtue you couldn't keep turned to vice..."
The ropes are tied tighter, making up for slack from her squirming. She cries, tears seeping into her cuts and scrapes. This made her cry harder. She called out undefinable words, sometimes ranting angrily, sometimes weeping bitterly. But according to law, she is paying the price for witchcraft. There's no way our system is wrong. And according to our system, she is guilty. And according to the laws about the system, she is to be killed. Burned. Even the virtuous young girl we all once knew could become a witch, who else could? She could use her virtue as a vice to plead innocent no longer.
"If my love was just a curse then I have only tears to shed."
I know my love for him was real. I know I wanted to have a meaningful relationship. He was the only one I could ever love for real. If this love I felt for him... if it was only meant to cause me pain, then I couldn't be happy anyway. Would I have been with him and been in pain because of this seemingly cursed love, or been without him and been miserable because, of course, I am without him and a lover wants nothing but to be with the one they love? No happiness or fullness comes from such a thing. So that must be why I am here.
"We will do what we must, let it all turn to dust. Let it light, let it burn out bright- we only do what's right! No hand to help her find her way."
Our tradition could not be wrong. By heavens, it is the way we do things! If someone is guilty, proven or otherwise, they must be killed. That is the way our ancestors did things. That is the way we will do things. Killing her doesn't make us guilty. We only kill those who must be killed. We only do what God has told us. No, God is with us. It is not likely He is in her favor, the guilty. It isn't murder if God favors us. God will not save her now.
"Can't believe all these fools I see! You fed them dirty lies!"
The burning sears my body in half. I scream out in agony. Pain courses through me. As my vision clears, just for a second, I see the priestess, holding tight to... my prince! I cry out. "NO! He's MINE! You- can't-" words catch in my throat as the smoke fills my breath. I start to cough, sputtering out choking sounds and words I myself can't even understand. I can't believe it. She set me up! And I'm going to die, in front of him. He will watch me die, as she holds him, whispering words of false hope in his ear. False words against me. He must think I actually am a witch. If someone important says something about another, you believe it. If a priestess tells you that candlelight is evil, or that sugar is deadly, the town will toss the candles into the ocean, or the sugar into the fire. And all it took was my own death to make me realize the corruption that lies in those we look up to.
"Penitence for your crimes! Penitence and your life!"
As I watch my handiwork, I feel a surge of... of something terrible. It is... guilt. The pain... the pain... it is like I am roped onto that wooden cross with her, burning, stretched out, choking right along with her... but on the inside. My gut twists up as I watch the flesh on her feet turn pink, then red, then start to wrinkle, then blister and peel, then melt, literally melt, off of her bones. Then the heat moves up. I see her dress, soaked so it would shrivel and smoke but not burn off of her body. I see her chopped hair, shaming her last few hours of life. Each ugly sight... it stabs at my heart. She didn't deserve this. I hold power as priestess. I hold the power to dictate the public feelings of each citizen here. With one word, I could convince a jury that the town's most well-behaved, innocent young girl was a witch. But... I have hurt everyone around me. I've done terrible things... killing an innocent girl so this boy on my arm may be on my arm, and not hers. Her "penitence", as the crowd keeps cheering, is nothing more than my selfishness, tacked onto her. My hate, and incorrect public judgment, on her head. I have killed her to save myself.
"Searing flames rising higher as the sun begins to die. Feel now the weight of death and soon..."
I have long lost the ability to see. My eyes fill with tears, trying in vain to keep smoke out. Coughing is doing nothing. Smoke fills the world. Pain is all this world is to me now. Pain... agony... suffering. The light of the day begins to fade. Sound begins to drown out. My legs begin to feel cooler, like the flames were finally being quenched. I feel heavy, like something is pushing me towards the ground, towards the flame. Am... am I dying? It seems relief. That death is finally coming to collect me. I thank God. I Thank Him for slowly stopping the pain... and from the unjust hatred in the world. Soon, I tell myself. Soon I will die, soon I will end this pain. Soon... I will be as free as a bird... or an angel.
"No need for a magic to stop time; no spell could achieve what they felt. Love, bounding through every hour, joy lights a new day..."
They were in love. My prince loved her. She loved him back. I now see it- not as a burden, but as their fate. It was designed in the grand scheme of things that he would end up with her, and I would end up with none. That is the fate we have... and I have destroyed it. I fold my hands over my cross necklace. Lord , what have I done? My cheeks are soon soaked and my fists clenched. have subjected her to a fate worse than even the death she is suffering.
"Tied me tight to a cross, I look longing at the sky."
Maybe He hasn't come for me yet, I think to myself as another wave of pain erupts from my chest. My legs- are they gone? I dare not look down. For even if I could see clearly, I might not recognize my body. Even if I were to be found innocent, I would never be the same. Even as I was tied up, I had held onto the slight hope that I would somehow survive this, but that hope has vanished now. The reality sets in like like the conflagration that erupted around me. I feel like all I am now is a large mass of raging hot, acidic pain. It burns... so hot I can't move my feet. My toes aren't there, yet they burn hot as flames themselves. My chest is tight, like the ropes they covered me in have multiplied their strength. I still manage to scream, to howl like a wild wolf. I no longer cry out names and words; now I cry out sounds of my agony. Coughing, screaming, thrashing- what I have been reduced to now.
"Penitence for your crimes! Penitence and you life."
I cannot bear it any longer. I pull away from my prince. My feet start to move. My hair blows out in the cold wind and the dark swallows my vision. But I still run. I fall to my knees, holding tight to my rosary. "God!" I scream out. "God, take this away! Take this away, make it so it never happened, that I didn't kill someone, that I haven't done this awful thing!" I break down in sobs. I hear someone behind me. They are telling me it' s not my fault, that it's only hers, for sinning against the Lord, that I am only doing what's right. But I cry harder still, for that is not my case. I have killed her, for no reason. I am a killer. A killer. A murderer no better than those who killed the holy Son of God. "I am a killer," I whisper, over and over. "A killer..." and it all fades to black.
"If I pray, who will hear? I am drowning in their cheers."
The roar of pain in my ears does little to drown out the cries of the crowd. They are telling me that I am paying penitence for my life of crime. And I hate it. I have no life of crime. I may not be Jehovah, sinless and perfect, but I lived no life of crime. I am suffocated by smoke, drowned in cries of hate, and melting in a pool of pure heat. I can literally feel my life starting to dissolve. I welcome the feeling with open arms.
"Devotion turned to dusty tombs."
We all know that this girl is guilty. Her devotion to God is clearly gone, reduced to the ashes she will soon become. So we kill her, and we hate her every second of it. Hate her for what she is. Hate her for what she was accused of, because she must be guilty. So we hate her. And we burn her at the stake.
"If my love was just a curse then I have only tears to shed."
I know not of the reason this happened. All I know is the pain I feel. Inside- from betrayal. Outside- from flames of death. And the tears I shed onto the flames, though they won't put out the fire that is consuming me, outside to in- they give me comfort, letting me know that the world isn't all fire and heat and death and curses of hate. There is love- and even if that love is the curse, causing the tears I shed now- it is still love. Love my prince, I ask her silently. I talk silently to the one who promised my death, stole my life and hurt my family just to take my love. Take care of him. Love him as best you can in my absence. I forgive her suddenly. I feel no hate. Hate is what tied me up here, it will not come with me as I leave here.
"Penitence for your crimes, penitence and you life!"
The last bit of life is starting to leave her. She coughs with less ferocity. Her legs are reduced to charred blackness. She isn't crying as loudly. She is dying. She is going to pay her penitence any time now. Any time now.
"Let it light, let it burn out bright and choke on all your spite!"
I smile. Maybe just on the inside, but I still smile. I smile at the hatred. You think you have one this battle, I tell it. But this, this isn't you winning. This is me, sacrificing myself to end you. This is the reason I am to die. My death will make them see. They will see that they were wrong. The flames they lit in hatred will be the flames that burn that hatred. Burn the hatred as they burned me. It will burn out bright and they will choke on the hatred that caused me to die, and it will cease to exist. They will learn from me. And I will be glad to die for that.
"No gods to help her find her way..."
I am brought by my own feet, brought back to the scene of the death. The crowd babbles about her. I hear one person tell another, God will not help her find her way to Heaven. She will be punished in that way too. But it is I, not she, that God will not help. My sins are covered by her death, and now God won't help me. And I deserve that.
But the beauty of forgiveness is it knows no bounds. The moment I feel it... she has forgiven me. She knows. Somehow, she knows it was me, and I am forgiven. Tears leak from my eyes. I cry to God, thanking Him, telling Him that I am indeed so, so sorry for what I have done. And I know He has forgiven me too.
Like a flame burning bloody red and tearing in the sky
"Penitence for your crime! Penitence and your life!"
The young witch's very last breath... it's near. She will die any second now. She will pay her penitence- the ultimate price- her very life.
"Take these tears, tell their story and please don't forget to cry."
I ask nothing of those who hear my story, except that you tell it. Tell it in your own way. Just make sure that you share what I know now with those you tell it to. The strongest emotion is forgiveness. The most important thing we could ever do is forgive. We all mess up. The priestess did. She is forgiven, by me and God. Nobody can't mess up. So we all need forgiveness. It is the only thing stronger than the guilt, hate and spite. Love- in the form of forgiveness. It conquers all.
Accuser & Prince
"Feel now the weight of death and lies."
Accuser: I watch in teary-eyed shock as what I had never expected to happen- happens. She cries out one last time. And the ashes below her, they start to stir. As if they had heard her cry and were responding to it. Stirring and clumping, forming shapes. They rise up suddenly, and take on the form of wings. The wrap around the girl, like the Lord protecting her, taking her home. She is suddenly in the air. The wings carry her like an angel, tinted black with the hatred I killed her with. Those ashes are my hatred, and they have tainted this angel black as hate itself. But that doesn't stop her forgiveness from giving her wings and flying her up to the starry heavens, where she belongs.
Prince: My love does not fade with her. She dies and I still love her. It must have been real. So real. And I have forsaken her life because I hadn't the strength to say I didn't believe someone important. Will she ever forgive me?
My answer comes in the form of ashes. An ashy feather. A feather, crafted by the hatred-filled embers of her death. But I see past the blackness. I see that the feather carried her up. It was crafted by her forgiveness. And yet she had some to spare, a feather to spare. It is for me- forgiveness. The greatest gift of all.