“That witch will be hanged today in front of the whole city,” Fay said and kissed James lightly on the lips. “You have done a great justice.”
“Well I do try,” James replied. “Will your father be there today?”
Fay nodded “He is probably at the hanging post already, and will not accidently walk in on us if that is what you are implying?”
James smiled slightly. “You are the daughter of the minister and I am a stranger in this town. He would hardly approve of me sleeping with his only daughter.”
She laughed. “He will hardly noticed anything has happened between us James.” She moved away dressed in her silk night gown with her blond hair tumbling over one shoulder. She sat in the flower patterned window seat.
He got up and reached over to his crumpled clothes on the floor.
“I must get ready, they may expect me to watch the hanging.”
Fay pulled the curtain slightly open, squinting in the morning light that drifted through the gap. She looked into the city square.
“I thought there was only one real witch they were hanging,” she said, glancing back to James.
“What do you mean?” he asked, pulling on the leather boots. He went over to the window and pulled the curtain fully open. He saw a hanging post and all five women beside it. Were his eyes deceiving him? It was only yesterday he saved the innocent women. His heart pounded at this horrible spectacle. He withdrew and grabbed his jacket that was slung over a chair.
“Where are you going?” she asked, standing up. She tied the sash around the nightgown.
“There’s been some sort of mistake,” James replied frantically, rushing out of the door. He clambered down the stairs and went outside. He marched up across the square to the minister, the one with large, green eyes. He was dressed in thick furs and looked positively chilled. James shivered in the morning air where the dew was still half-crystallised.
“Good morning Mr Freeborn,” he said, greeting James with a cheerful smile. “How was your first night here?”
“Morning Mr Ragner, yes I slept very well,” James replied impatiently. He rubbed his hands together to try to bring feeling back into his numb, cold fingers. “Sir I do not understand why the other women have not been released, I showed you the true witch didn’t I?”
The corners of Mr Ragner’s cheerful smile drooped, he glanced round to check no one was nearby and in a low voice replied “Yes and we are very thankful, but your little show yesterday has only served to fuel the people’s lack of trust in their justice system.”
“I- I don’t understand,” James stammered
Mr Ragner’s eyes darkened. “We have to show the people they can trust us and to do that there are sacrifices. Although the witch hunter identified the true witch we were too late to save the other souls that were already tainted by the evil, in order to save them we must pray and give them up to the lord through an honourable death.”
“There’s nothing honourable about their deaths!” James said, barely keeping himself from shouting. “We should stop this, hang the real witch and let the others go.”
“You do not understand what is at stake,” Mr Ragner replied. “The people are panicking, they want to see results and the right results. Showing that we are hunting these witches down and wiping them from this Earth is a good thing.”
He gestured to the hanging post where the rope was swaying in the breeze.
“Today is an example of one of our victories and some witch hunter will not deny that. The witchcraft murders need to be answered for,” Mr Ragner said all this with a promise. He moved in close his green eyes piercing into James’ own. “You will go along with this or I will have to consider the possibility of you, yourself being involved in the dark arts, trying to protect these witches. So I put this question to you, are you a man of god or one of the devil’s servants?”
“A man of god,” James answered. He watch Mr Ragner’s face twitch into a smug smile.
“Good, let’s keep it that way.” The minister walked away to watch the public execution but James could not command his legs to follow. He felt helpless and guilty like he had killed the innocent women himself.
James could not look into the minister’s eyes for too long without seeing dead eyes staring back and blaming him for the miscarriage of justice. He swallowed a bitter drink and kept quiet. They were all in the minister Gartner’s grand house in one of the drawing rooms that had a dull grey, blue and gold colour scheme. The only impressive thing was silverware.
“James, I have not had chance to welcome you officially to our city,” the minister Gartner’s voice boomed. He clasped a hand on James’ shoulder. Already there fumes of strong alcohol escaping his mouth and James held his breath.
“Your daughter certainly welcomed me to the city sir,” he thought, remembering Fay’s soft lips against his and the golden shimmer in her hair. He wanted to be back in her arms, to reverse time and get rid of this awful guilt gnawing his insides.
“Welcome my boy,” Gartner said. He grinned at the other men and back at James. “Please tell us how you knew who the witch was? What is your secret?”
James tried to force a smile on to his face. “I don’t know really having survived an encounter with a real witch I just know the little things about them that makes them a witch. The less obvious details.”
“How did it happened the scar,” another minister asked loudly. Tipping his glass in James’ direction.
“Urmmm… it is not that interesting,” James said.
“Go on tell us the story,” Gartner insisted.
James moved away from him still keeping up an imitation of a smile.
“Well I was going to be a blacksmith and at the time I was an apprentice.”
He could almost smell the burning metal in the air and the scorching heat against his back as he worked.
“I went out to the town to gather supplies or something and I came back. Nothing was out of the place until I saw blood on the floor like pools of blood. My heart began to beat faster and I followed the blood.
“I saw the witch there… she was standing over my father who had his mouth ripped open like he was screaming and she was covered in his blood. I could not move like I was hypnotised by his corpse and her appearance for she was beautiful. Yet when she turned her eyes to me they were made of fiery red flames.
“I ran but it was useless, she caught me and I remember her hand tightening around my throat feeling like she was going to crush my windpipe. She was sadistic you could tell she got satisfaction from inflicting pain but that was not what scared me, it was her eyes. Gone were the red flames and instead these black demonic eyes were staring into me, revealing a demon. The rest of it was a blur-".
James touched his scar and wandered to a seat. He sat down lost in his memories until Gartner cleared his throat. It brought James back to his story.
“There was horrible pain and the feeling of a blade cutting into my face. I can hear her cackling ringing in my ears. That is the last thing that happened until I woke up in my neighbour’s house scarred for life.”
James went quiet and stared at the table noticing the splintered wood surface and the small web of cracks near the corner.
“That’s quite a tale,” Mr Ragner said, filling in the quiet atmosphere. “You are a lucky man Mr Freeborn, we should toast.” He picked up a glass. “To eradicating evil from this Earth.”
“To eradicate evil,” the others repeated, raising their glasses as well.
James murmured along and drained his glass quickly. He saw Mr Ragner glaring at him, warning him to not question them ever again.