You sit by your cozy fireplace warming your bony, liver spotted hands. Your black cat Daisy is purring on your lap, enjoying the warmth as much as you do. There are no one else living in the house besides you and Daisy. You once had a husband but that was when you were young and beautiful. He sadly died in the war, many years ago. Since then you have been alone, besides the company of a cat now and then. Even cats die of old age so you’ve had to replace them once in a while.
You suddenly hear a loud knock on the door. You make a deep sigh. You know you have said to the villagers that they can always stop by with their ailments, but you are getting a little bit tired by the fact, that they have taken it literally. You are not that young and energized anymore. The person outside starts knocking harder on the door.
“All right, all right. Calm down. I’ll be there in a second.” You force yourself out of your old chair and walk slowly towards the door. You are not able to make it to the door, before the person outside starts hammering his fists against it. You unlock the door with a sour face. “Yes, what is it that is so important that you come here in the dead of night. Knocking down an old woman's door?”
Richard who is the unofficial leader of the little hamlet, some kilometers away from where you are living, is standing outside your house. He is in his mid-thirties with grey streaks of hair in his long beard and temples. He usually has a smile on his cheerful face, but this time he does not.
Richard has been coming to your house with his and his families’ ailments since he was a child. But this time, all of the villagers from the hamlet are with him. The villagers stand in a semicircle behind him with their various farmer’s tools and torches. They all have tense expressions on their faces, like something terrible is about to happen. It does not seem that they come with good intentions to your little hut.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.” You slowly shake your head mumbling “for shame.” Then you yell it, for the whole crowd to hear it. "For shame!"
Richard is not daring to look you in the eye but starts mumbling something.
“Louder boy so I can hear you. My ears don’t work so well anymore!”
“We have come to put you up for trial for witchcraft,” says Richard a little louder.
“You whore of the devil,” yells one of the villagers whose wife you have helped giving birth three successful times.
You hear a condescending murmur rise from the gathered villagers. “Yes,” yells a woman. “You will pay for your heresy, witch!” Then most of the villagers start yelling “witch” and “burn her." It takes Richard a couple of minutes to calm the crowd.
“We will do nothing before we have put her to trial,” yells Richard. “That is the Christian way!”
“Trial," yells someone in the crowd. “The Christian way!” yells another.
“What am I accused of have been doing?” is your response, as you try to comprehend what is going on.
“Do not try to pretend your innocence, witch!” says a man whom you have never seen before. The man is wearing a fine red tunic and a fur coat over his fleshy body. You guess that he is some kind of merchant. “You kidnapped her at the sabbath of Satan!”
You scuff at the man. “And when was this sabbath of Satan?”
“Yesterday. When you kidnapped my daughter in the dead of night,” says the merchant while pointing an accusing finger at you.
You take a look at the righteous faces of the merchant and the villagers. You can also see by the look on Richards face, that it is going to be quite difficult to get out of this one. You have no idea about who this merchant is or the fact that his daughter has gone missing. You have spent the last couple of nights like you have done for many years, alone in your cottage with Daisy. Your head is reeling by the sudden grip of fear. You might get burned tonight! You have like everyone else, heard the stories of especially women getting burned at the stake, but you have never thought that the townspeople would turn on you or anyone else.
A villager pushes past you and walks straight into your cottage, coming out after a minute. "She is not here."
"Of course, she is not here you dalcop! I am an old lady. I didn’t walk several kilometers to kidnap a little girl and then bring her back here!"
"Maybe you used magic!" yells another villager.
The dreadful realization is starting to dawn on you. You are getting nowhere with these people. You have to make the decision of whether you want to confront the crowd, maybe you can talk some sense into them. Or you can try and see if you can make it to where your old horse is sleeping, out on the field. It is only around twenty meters away, from where you are standing and there are no villagers in your way.
1 Try and make your escape or 2 Confront them of the lunacy of it all
“Ok, I come with you." You make a deep sigh. “I just need to get something over here and then I’ll come with you to your stupid trial.”
“Really?” asks Richard hopefully. It seems like he didn’t think that it would be this easy, to get you to come with them.
“Sure Richard.” You start shuffling towards your horse. “I just need to go get this thing over here. I’ll be right back.” You have almost reached your horse when you hear someone in the crowd yelling, “Hey! She is trying to get away!”
A gasp of surprise runs through the crowd and someone yells “She is using witchcraft. Get her!”
You barely get to your horse before something heavy hits you on the back of your head.
You wake up to a terrible headache and you have trouble focusing with your eyes. You notice that your hands have been tied to your back and there is also a rope around your neck. The other end of the rope has been thrown over a thick branch of the tree you are standing next to. The village people are standing in a circle around you with their tools and torches. Some of them are looking scared but others have a more animalistic expression. Richard takes a couple of steps forward into the circle, addressing the crowd. “You all saw how she tried to use her treacherous, heretic ways on us! We don’t even need to have a trial. She tried to escape and that is enough evidence to us and to God!"
The crowd cheers gleefully. Richard nods to the two men holding the other end of the rope. You are just about to protest when you feel yourself being hoisted up in the air, by the neck! You try and get your hands free but it is impossible.
The last thing you hear is Richard promising a large fire to purge your remains of your wickedness.
You look flatly at the crowd. "Where is the evidence?"
Uneasy silence falls over the gathered people as they look at each other for answers. It doesn’t seem like they have really thought it through.
"Well?" You look daringly at Richard.
He slowly meets your eye. "The priest from the neighboring village has told us of many ways to find out if the devil is nigh. He said that one of the ways is to torture the witch to confession."
You really hope that none of them have the guts to do that. For now, you have to play high stakes on their insecurity as their humanity is clearly gone. You just praise yourself lucky, that there isn't any experienced witch hunter or priest in the village. If the mob had a self-assured person to follow, you would already be burning by now.
You force yourself to remain calm, even though it is very difficult for you. "Have you even bothered searching for her?"
"Of course we have you stupid hag!" yells the merchant.
"It is true," says Richard. "We have searched down by the river, the fields and even the forest! She is nowhere to be seen!"
"It means you took her, witch!" screams one of the women, whom you have helped with more forced abortions than you care to remember. You ignore the woman, your mind racing to find a way to get out of this predicament alive.
Before you get time to say anything, two of the younger men suddenly steel themselves and walk towards you. "You are coming with us witch! We will make you confess!"
You have to make a quick decision. You can either try to scare the two villagers away, trying to take advantage of their superstition or you can try and stall them to think of anything you might be able to use to save your life!
1 Try and scare them or 2 try and think of something else
"Get back or I'll curse you!" You make a deep snorting sound and spit a gob of phlegm towards the two townsmen. One of them squeals in such a high pitch that he sounds like a woman. The other one is frozen to the spot by fear. It seems like it might work! You slowly walk towards where your horse is tethered, looking wild eyed at the gawking villagers. They seem very surprised that you actually took the role of being a witch.
"If any of you follows me I... I'll piss the fluid of Satan on your faces!" The crowd is almost in shambles now. Some are running away, while others drop to their knees, grabbing the crosses hanging from their neck and pray for the lord all mighty to save them.
You finally get your horse free of its tether and then proceed to climb the low fence, to be able to get high enough to climb over the horses back. You are still a pretty good horseman even though it will be painful to ride without a saddle. But that is pain far more favorable than being burned alive!
"If any of you mongrels follow me. I'll curse you and your children thrice fold and get all of my witch sisters to fly down and snatch your children and snatch your livestock as well!"
"No please," squeals one of the farmers. "Not my cows! Please don’t take my cows!"
And with that, you turn around and ride into the dark night.
Your thoughts are racing for something, anything which might help you avoid being burned. All the villagers have been seeking your counseling for physical, mental and social problems. You have a lot of dirt on all of them but always made it a moral principal of keeping it a secret. You don't care much for these principals anymore, now that they have all come to accuse you of being a witch and burn you for it!
You are too lost in thought to notice that the two villagers have reached you and grab your arms! They force your scrawny body effortlessly to the ground. All of a sudden you remember something. Something one of the villagers told you a few months back. Something which you almost broke your vow for, to tell the other villagers.
"Put a sack over her head," yells Richard. "So she won't be able to cast any spells with her eyes."
"No wait. Wait!" You scream as loud as you can. "I think I know where she is! Please wait!"
"It's too late for you, witch!" yells one of the men who is holding you down. Everything goes dark as the other man pulls a sack over your head. You try to scream. To tell everyone what you know and what might be able to save your life but the sack makes you unable to speak properly. You finally give up, hoping that the sack will be pulled off before you get burned at the stake.
You feel branches and stones scrape against your back, as you are being dragged across the cold, hard earth. You are unable to see anything but you can hear a lot of commotion from the villagers. A loud argument suddenly erupts but you are not sure between who and what the cause for the argument is.
You feel the sack being withdrawn from your head. The argument is still going on, but now you are able to see that it is the merchant and Richard against some of the other villagers.
"Let's just burn her and get it over with!" snarls a pockmarked farmer.
The fat merchant grabs the farmer by the neck of his woolen coat. "Are you crazy, man?! She might be the only one who knows where my daughter is!"
"Well, she might already have been casting spells on all of us. Sending us on our way to hell," gasps the farmer. His feet are barely touching the ground.
Richard puts a calming but firm hand on the merchant's broad shoulder. "I know how you feel. Let's see if we can find a compromise that puts everyone at ease."
The merchant releases his grip on the gasping villager, as everyone's attention focuses on Richard. "What if we decide, that the accused gets one minute to tell where the girl is. If she speaks more than one minute, we burn her and if she tells where the girl is and she isn't there, we'll burn her." Richard looks at the nodding crowd. "Finally, if she is somewhere conspicuous, witch-like place, she'll burn even more."
The crowd cheers happily while the merchant slowly nods his agreement, looking hopefully at you.
What you remember is one of the villagers named Alfred, who came to you with troubled thoughts of having "unnatural and sinful interests in the young girls in the village." You didn’t say anything as Alfred were already married and you were afraid to cause more harm by saying it than keeping it to yourself. You also had your vow to uphold, but this seems to be your last chance.
You have to decide whether you want to accuse Alfred of having kidnapped the girl or if you will take the fall yourself, not involving anyone else. It would be an even bigger tragedy if more people got falsely accused of being witches. On the other hand, you sure don't want to die for someone else's mistakes.
1 Decide to accuse Alfred or 2 Take the fall yourself
You decide that it is better to take the fall yourself. There is no need in involving anyone else in this hell on earth. Besides you have no real proof that Alfred has done anything and it is your word against his. The villagers might torture you for accusing Alfred before you are being burned. You try to swallow but your throat is very dry. "I don’t know where she is. Please be quick and get it over with." You see the sadness and disappointment in the merchant's eyes before the sack gets pulled over your head again. Your hands are getting bound and you just lie there, waiting for the villagers to decide how to burn you. In the end they find it most practical and God worshipping if they just throw you into your cottage and torch the place.
You suddenly feel yourself being hauled off the ground and thrown unceremoniously unto the hard floor of your cottage. Daisy quickly runs over to you and starts rubbing herself against you, purring happily.
"Quickly, shut the door! We have to burn her familiar as well!" yells one of the farmers. The door is immediately slammed shut.
You hear commotion outside as the villagers agitates each other to burn your hut with their torches. Some of them even start singing a psalm.
It doesn't take long before you feel the heat from the burning building. The voices from the villagers are slowly getting drowned by the loud crackling fire. The flames have already surrounded the building and are soon eating away at your thatched roof. Smoke is filling the room making it harder to see and to breathe. You press your chin against your only friend.
"I'm sorry Daisy."
"Alfred has her!"
A murmur goes through the crowd. The villagers look at you and then they turn their attention on Alfred. He is the villager who put the sack over your head and was also one of the loudest agitators to get you burned. Alfred looks like all the other farmers in his woolen tunic and leather shoes. It is his eyes that set him apart. They are very light blue, almost like they are frosted. They would be beautiful indeed, if it wasn’t for his menacing stare. Alfred always has his eyelids wide open, which give him an intense, almost daemonic expression.
Alfred quickly takes a step back. "This is madness! Do you really believe an old hag above me?"
"Of course not," says one of the villagers. "Let's just burn her!"
Most of the villagers cheer at that.
"Wait a second," says the merchant. "We promised to give her a chance to redeem herself. To prove her innocence. What would you do if it was your children!?"
"That is correct," says Richard. "That is the Christian way."
The villagers slowly consent to the idea of listening to what you have to say, even though Alfred is protesting loudly.
You need to make the best of the situation. You know that your chances are slim no matter what. Everyone looks expectantly at you to make the choice of what happens next.
You have to decide whether you want to tell everyone here what Alfred told you in privacy or if you want to try and persuade the villagers to go investigate Alfred's property to see if the girl might be there.
1 Demand that the villagers go search Alfreds house or 2 Tell everybody what Alfred told you
"Alfred likes little girls!" You look hard at the crowd. Everyone listens intently on what you have to say and a few even dare themselves to look you in the eye. You notice that Alfred appears to be worried. Maybe it has something to do with the fact, that he might die because of the villagers' superstition but you think there is something more substantial that weighs him down, guilt.
"This is true. I swear it. You all have come to me with ailments and trouble of the body and the soul. Alfred was no exception!" You turn your head and look straight at the merchant. "Isn't it worth a try?"
There is utter silence for a long time but then one of the villagers yells "horseshit," followed by a roar of anger from the crowd.
It seems like you have peaked not only the merchant's but also Richard's interest, but their voices are drowned out by the peasant's angry yelling. You immediately get the sack over your head again and feel your body being dragged over the cold earth, getting more and more bruised as you make your way back to the village, being dragged by your feet.
You suddenly get thrown down on the ground lying there for a long time shaking from fear and the cold. You can hear the villagers argue loudly on how best to make a fire to burn you on. The sack gets ripped off of your head after what feels like many hours. You look with horror at the makeshift fire which they have built. As you are being lead to the wooden pole in the middle of the makeshift fire you get eye contact with Alfred. Maybe it is just your imagination, but it seems like his smile is telling you, that you were right all along. You start to scream your innocence as the villagers start lighting the fire and the flames begin licking at your feet. But there is no one to help you. The villagers just stand and watch you burn.
You look the merchant straight in the eye. "I know where your daughter is!"
"Lies!" yells someone in the crowd.
You keep your eyes locked with the hopeful merchant. "It is no lie as God is my witness!"
"Where is she?!" yells the merchant expectantly taking a step forward.
"I will not say it. I will show it to you!"
The merchant squints his eyes. "This better not be a lie."
"It's not," you say flatly. "Take me to the village and I show you where she is."
An expectant murmur goes through the crowd. "Don't believe in her wicked ways," yells Alfred. "Let's just burn her and get this over with!"
A couple of the villagers agree and start yelling about getting you burned at the stake. But you have peaked the interest of the vast majority of the crowd, especially the merchant.
Richard takes a step forward telling everybody to calm down. "We will give her this final chance to redeem herself and prove her innocence. "That is the right way to do it."
Alfred tries to object some more, persuading the others to just burn you now. But there is no one standing with him anymore. It seems like the villagers are quite happy about being able to find the girl. At least there are still some decency left in them that the will to find a little girl overshadows their need to see somebody burn.
It feels like it takes forever walking the few kilometers back to the village, but you try to enjoy it as much as possible as it might be your last couple of hours alive. When you get to the little clearing in the middle of the village which you call the town square, you point your finger at Alfred's house. You look at the merchant. "She is in there Sir. I promise."
Alfred squeals with frustration lunging forward towards you. Richard and another villager has to intercept Alfred and hold him back so he doesn't get to you.
"What is wrong with you, man!?" yells Richard. "Calm down! You have nothing to fear, if the girl is not in your house."
That seems to put Alfred at some ease. He slowly backs away from you, standing at the edge of the town square. You quickly lose interest in him and instead focus on the villagers and the merchant who walks into Alfred's house and start searching it.
It feels like it takes forever but then someone suddenly yells with a voice filled with surprise. "We found her!"
Neither you nor the villagers outside the house can believe your ears. But then the merchant appears with a girl no more than five years in his arms, both crying as fiercely as if they were being whipped. There is complete silence from the crowd for a couple of seconds as everybody watch the joyous reunion.
"How did you know?" demands Richard. You quickly tell the story of what Alfred had confessed to you. You look expectantly at the crowd but they seem to be slowly turning their anger away from you and towards Alfred.
"Where is that son of a bitch?" roars the merchant as he draws his sword. "I'll have his head on a pike!"
You look around but Alfred is nowhere to be seen. It seems that he has run away. "He won't get far!" yells Richard. "Find him!"
And with that, you shortly find yourself standing alone in the square. It seems like everyone has forgotten about you. You can't believe how lucky you have been. You slowly walk back towards your cottage hoping that the villagers will soon find Alfred. You also hope that this will be the first and last time that the superstitious villagers will accuse you or anyone else of witch craft. Sadly, you are not so sure.