James was snoring, fast asleep when the carriage jolted him from his seat in a sudden, unplanned stop. Pain throbbed at his head and backside both of which connected with the hard interior of a cheap carriage, the seat was the only comfortable spot and even then it fell like sitting on bare wood.
He cursed enthusiastically for a few moments rubbing the back of his head, he got up slowly taking extra care in his ascent in case the carriage spirited back to life.
The carriage door swung open the sounds of people, other carriages and animals invading the space.
“Sir we must make the rest of the journey on foot as there is a commotion and we are running late,” the coachman said quickly.
“I wonder whose fault it is that we are late,” James thought tiredly.
He stepped out of the carriage into thick sludge that climbed up his black leather boots. He grimaced glancing up to see the constant stream of people temporarily diverging to move around the carriage and converging again in front of him. Some were leading cattle trying to avoid them getting squashed or trapped, there were shouts of advertisement from sellers in the street holding out tattered roses, some were washing dirty clothes outside their windows oblivious to the people they were spilling water onto. However there were excited whispers spreading through the crowd and the majority of them seemed to be heading to the main square.
“What is happening?” James shouted to the coachman.
“Witches,” the coachman replied.
They squeezed through the crowd that smelled strongly of rain and mud. People stared at him as he wormed his way through. His hand went to his face where his fingertips felt the wedge of rough tissue that dissected the right side of his face. The stares from the people in a new city always unsettled him like the scar was being inflicted upon his face all over again. However he just scowled at everyone, the scar helped with that as it twisted the right corner of his mouth downwards.
“I can’t miss the witch hunt,” James said urgently to the coachman who seemed to dismiss him entirely and kept moving forward. "Does he have no idea how important this is to me?" he thought, stomping through the mud. This was his first chance to be part of this he was a witch-hunter after all. The scar helped the hatred for the fiends settle deep within his bones yet he was smart with his hatred unlike most ministers of justice he knew the different between an actual witch and just some unfortunate peasant.
The whole street opened up into a large square allowing James some extra space. There was a wooden, makeshift stage with a line of five women on it with minsters on either side watching them and the crowd. The crowd was lively and took to throwing half-rotten cabbages and carrots at the women. It hit the woman on the middle-left, splattering rotten mush in her hair.
James went along the perimeter to get closer to the stage.
“Here are the women accused of conforming to the dark arts,” a loud voice rang out. James looked up to see a thin man dressed in brown robes, white hair sprouted from the middle of his head down to his shoulders, he had a large, wrinkled forehead, eyes pinched close together, a large ball-like nose reddened at the end, his wide lips resembled two pale, fat worms breaking apart and settling together again to say his lines.
“Their souls are in jeopardy and have possibly been lost to evil already,” the man said dramatically, getting gasps from the crowd.
A guard blocked James from getting onto the stage.
“You can’t interfere,” the guard growled, his hands gripped around the hilt of a sword.
“My name is James Freeborn and I am the new witch hunter,” James said, watching as the information sunk into the guard’s brain. The guard turned to a minster whispering and pointing at James.
The minister’s large green eyes locked onto him and a smile contorted his features, he beckoned for James to come forward.
“You made it just in time sir,” he said quietly, not taking his eyes from the stage. The minister on stage was still talking about justice.
“Trouble with the carriage had made me late,” James said, surveying the row of women. “Is it my counsel you seek?”
“Yes, the townsfolk are thirsty for justice as you may already know the streets are running red with blood and witchcraft is the cause,” the man spat out the statement. "This is just the start of the cleansing but we need your help, there still witches hiding."
“Hence why you called me here,” he replied, and climbed further onto the stage.
“Where are you going?” the minister demanded, reaching out to grab him but James was too fast and had already advanced to centre-stage.
The main minister who he had first glimpsed stuttered his words, his eyebrows raised in confusion and the crowd also murmured their confusion
“Hello Sir I do not mean to interrupt but I would like to introduce myself,” James said as confidently as he could make his voice sound. His palms felt sweaty and he was very conscious of the stares. He faced the crowd. “I am the witch hunter James Freeborn and I have survived an encounter with one of these fiends when I was a young man. The witch made her mark upon my face as you can clearly see. All these women are innocent apart from one, for I know the difference.”
James walked along the row of women; two were fairly young and looked to be sisters as they shared the same oval face shape and hazel eyes, a thin old woman whose lined face was puffy from tears, another had a work-roughened face and black, wiry hair splattered in brown mush. He stopped at the final woman around his age, most would think her plain and insignificant. Her gaze shifted slightly, the mouth resisting the urge to twist into a snarl.
“This one is the only true witch in this line-up,” he announced, pointing to the woman who started to screech and struggled against her restraints. Her eyes darkened so they were almost completely black. The other women moved away crying and scared of being tainted by the evil. The crowd had moved away from the stage yet too entertained by the spectacle to leave. The sky darkened above with black clouds appearing out of nowhere roaring loudly. The whole crowd appeared frightened by the display but James remained unfazed by it. The witch was too weak to pull off any true magic for this was simply a parlour trick.
He went up to the main minister who seemed to be in a state of shock going by the wide-eyed look.
“I think sir my work has been done for today,” James said, departing from the stage without another word.