The bells rang through the night as the criminals rowed down the river flowing through the middle of the city. Four of them trying to escape from persecution: a young man in his twenties falsely accused of murder, a man in his thirties and a woman accused of being a witch who clutched a crying baby in her arms. The laws of this city came down hard on those who were different. If you broke the law, practised magic, or worst of all had red hair, you were an enemy to the state and deserved to die.
These people were making an escape from persecution. Someone may have seen them as the rapid sound of hoof beats could be heard in the distance gradually getting closer.
"We'll be spotted if it doesn't stop!" whispered the young man urgently to the woman, pushing the oars through the dark water.
The woman bent her head low over the sobbing baby. She practised magic and was now on the run. Her black hair hanging loosely over her face. Her gentle voice whispered soothing words to the tiny figure wrapped in blankets in her arms. As the boat neared the dock the older man stared around anxiously. Every move they made was dangerous. If they got caught...
As they landed at the dock, a hooded figure stepped out from the shadows carrying a long staff.
"We don't have much time." his voice was rushed and urgent, "Three silver coins for safe passage out of gransys."
Before they could offer up payment, there was a shrill whinny as about a dozen guards surrounded them. The baby cried even louder as they raised their swords. A jet black Friesian horse trotted in behind them with a robed figure astride its back.
"What do we have here?" the figure surveyed the trembling group, "Arrest these vermin and bring them to the courthouse."
Both men were seized but for a moment the woman was untouched. She turned away to conceal the baby in her arms.
"What's that you're hiding?" demanded one of the guards wrenching at her arm.
"Stolen goods." the figure pointed at the guard, "Take them."
"No!" screamed the woman breaking apart from the group and fleeing the scene.
The two men watched her go, their eyes shining with both sadness and admiration. They knew she would not get far.
Turning his horse round the rider galloped after her. Hooves pounded against the cobbled street. The woman ran through the twisting streets, trying as hard as she could to escape her pursuer. The bells continued to ring. Their chimes ringing in her ears yet surprisingly calming the tiny figure she carried. Eventually the streets opened up to the square in front of the cathedral. The cathedral stood out impressive against the other buildings. It's gothic towers reaching up to the starless sky.There was nowhere else to turn. She sprinted to the cathedral and banged on the front door as hard as she could.
"Please help us!" she cried, "Give us sanctuary! Please!"
The hooves sounded loudly behind her and a cold hand reached down taking hold of the blanket in her hand. As he tried to wrench it out of her grasp the desperate mother fought back. Suddenly the horse reared and the woman fell, striking her head off the stone steps and lying still.
The rider stared curiously at the blanket in his hands. It felt too heavy to be stolen goods. As part of the blanket fell back he saw a closed eye.
This was a baby.
As he pulled it back a bit further he recoiled in horror. A tiny strand of red hair glittered in the moonlight.
"You little demon." he gasped, "I should send you back where you belong."
Looking round he saw nothing. Kicking his horse forward he held it out at arms length. Maybe if he just dropped it...
"Stop!" yelled a voice.
He turned to see the archdeacon crouched over the young woman still lying on the steps.
"What have you done?" he asked sadly, "You would add this child's innocent blood to that already spilled?"
"My conscience is clear." he replied defiantly.
The archdeacon stared at him sternly.
"You are lying to yourself." he warned, "You have power in this city but you will be judged as equal."
A chilling dread filled the rider. His name was Edward Cleeves. He was a judge and minister in high position. But even he feared for his soul.
"Then I'll adopt the child. But it shall live here away where no one else can see."
The archdeacon seemed surprised, "But where?"
Cleeves glanced around then happened to gaze upwards, "The belltower will do."
He gazed down at the sleeping baby he now held in his arms. The moonlight illuminating its tiny face. He brushed a lock of black hair out of his eye as he studied it.
"Perhaps you will be useful to me." he whispered, "Your name will be Ezra, meaning demon. For that is what you are."