The Burning Times
by Elizabeth Gerber
Rating: R (sex and violence)
Key Words: MulderTorture (ScullyTorture too), Character death, MSR (but IMO safe for all but the most knee-jerk noromos)
Spoilers: None at all!
Archive: Gossamer, MTA please do. Otherwise, just let me know first.
Summary: Turns out Mulder's fear of fire and Scully's discomfort with the unknown go back much, much further than we thought. Set in the British Isles in the fifteenth century. Alternate Universe/Past Lives
Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully et al belong to 1013, Chris Carter, and his cohorts. Having been born on 10/13 myself, I've decided honorary membership to their little club is my birthright. <g>
Feedback: Comments and constructive criticism are welcomed, hoped for, and replied to. Flames will be used to light yummy scented candles.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author's note: The real Burning Times was a period of hundreds of years during which millions (an estimated 9 million) European women and men were killed for suspicion of witchcraft. Sometimes, whole villages were burned for the causes of religious and secular power, including the emergence of a male-controlled medical profession. Eventually, it perpetuated itself by creating an industry centered on the torture and litigation of innocent people. If that isn't a hideous conspiracy I don't know what is. I've tried to be true to what I know of the period, and
I've done some research on cultural issues, but I'm not claiming to be Jack Finney here as far as historical accuracy goes. I like to think that the spirit of it is accurate, even if all the facts aren't. Some of the things I'm writing about are lost in the fires of history, so even well-researched books are logical conjecture and reconstruction strung together on all too few facts.
On a lighter note, my mental working title for this has been The Field Where I Fried. What can I say? I let this story lie dormant on my hard drive for quite a while, but I finally decided to edit it and send it out. There will be another brief author's note at the end of the story. I know! I'm sorry! I like to blab! <g>
"No one knew of a devil. Not until they bled it out of them." **
She was always most at home helping the ill, the hurt. It was her living and her life, her place in the workings of the village. Everyone knew that if you had a pain, or your child had a fever, or your horse was lame, you called on Diana the healer. *She'll move heaven and earth to ease you* the people said, but Diana knew that was partly false. Only the earth, she would tell anyone foolish enough to spout such things in front of her. The earth will heal you; it's all you need.
And they had named her after the goddess, of course. Her mother had told her the story a dozen times or more. She was born so white and glowing that they had named her after the lady of the moon. And certainly the moon was very beautiful, but it was far away, unreachable. The earth's beneath our feet, she knew that, and it gives us everything we need to live in happiness and health.
From earliest childhood, she'd been in love with the plants that grew close to the ground, unassumingly. The useful plants, her mother told her. She would walk along in the garden of their little house and find a leaf to her liking. She'd crumple it in her tiny hands, smell it, put it in her mouth. Though she learned right away that some of them tasted nasty, and her mother
warned her that they could do harm as well as good. But others were nice and minty or sweet, and she knew to stay away from berries unless her mother told her it was alright.
So she was fated to be a healer. Her sister read it her *stones* of all things, and Diana didn't argue with her. Diana knew that many people thought her sister would become an excellent
diviner, but she didn't really trust what the oracles said. She could say with no doubt that plantain would draw out a snake bite, and willow would cool a fever, but how her sister saw the future in a random design . . . Diana didn't understand it. But she could respect it and keep her mouth shut for the sake of peace.
She found she had to do the same thing around William, though she didn't mind it as much. He infuriated her, to be honest. Half the time she had to call on the coolness of the earth herself to
keep from kicking him off her doorstep so hard he'd land back in his schoolroom where he belonged. Goddess! he seemed designed purposely to make her swear at him one moment and
kiss him the next.
As she was fated for healing and herbcraft, so he was meant for learning and teaching. He remembered every line he'd ever read and nearly drove his few students to distraction expecting them to do the same. Of course, they didn't have half his brains but their father had the money for book-buying. William's employer was an ugly English lord of some sort sent over by the king to keep an eye on the peasants. He was thrilled to find a man who could even read in what he considered a backwards hamlet in the middle of hell. William cursed the man daily, but he knew that without this luck he would have had to leave for the city to earn his living with books. The city or the monastery, he didn't know which was worse.
Either would have taken him away from Diana, and without her the books meant nothing. On a night when the brats had been especially dense, and the words blurred in front of his eyes, he
needed to be able to slip over to her small warm house. The fragrance of whatever herb she was crushing or curing would hang redolent in the air, and when she was done with her work she would put out all the candles save one by her bed. With an enchanting smile on her face, she would take him by the hand and lead him out of the shadows.
Diana remembered the first time he had visited her in the night. They had been very young, not yet twenty. His father was the village's magistrate, and William was working with him.
Studying the history of law she supposed. Or the arts of intimidation more like. They'd met a few time in the commons, but she'd never stayed to talk to him. She'd heard things about him, that he was touched or something. Not quite right in any case. Not the kind of man she could see trusting. And even when she'd gone to his house to treat his mother for her nerves she hadn't spoken to him.
But then he knocked on her door one night. No, he said, his mother was fine, but could he speak to her? Diana had glanced back at her mother and then walked out into the garden with William. "What do you want, William?" she asked him. He heard the suspicions in her tone, and she immediately regretted it. His green eyes went gray and he looked down, as though he was ashamed. Perhaps he isn't anything like his father, Diana thought. "Why have you come to see me?" she asked again with a softer tone.
He looked up at her again, and she had to suppress a sigh at the look in his eyes. She'd never seen such pain in the eyes of a man. "I . . .I wanted to ask you, well, I heard . . .that
your family knew of the mysteries, the secrets," he said almost in a whisper. He was serious, she could see, but she still couldn't stop herself from snorting quietly at that.
"Mysteries, William? You'll want my sister for that," and she began to walk away.
"No, please," she heard him protest behind her. "Please, I need your help," and his voce almost broke at that. She heard the pain in his voice, and there was no way she could continue away
from him. Perhaps she could help him some way. "Diana, you know more about nature than anyone else here, I think."
She had to nod her head and smile at that. "I imagine I might, but it's hardly a mystery William. It's all in the five senses you were born with. That's all. Not secret, but simply waiting to be noticed."
"Have you heard of what happened to my sister, Diana?" His apparent change of topic confused her, but she tried to answer him thoughtfully.
"I believe your mother said that she'd died from a fever when she was small."
William snorted quietly this time, "Did you happen to ask her where the grave was?"
"Of course not! Her nerves are bad enough as it is, William. What would that accomplish?"
"My sister didn't die," he caught her surprised expression but continued. "My mother may tell you that old lie, but she knows in her heart as I do that it's not true."
"Then what happened to her?" Diana was beginning to get a bad feeling about this, a very bad feeling. There were a dozen possibilities, both frightening and sad, that occurred to her as she watched William prepare to continue. But none of them compared to what he finally said.
"I believe she was taken by fairies," he spoke it quietly and resolutely, but Diana could not contain herself.
"You really *are* daft, William! Fairies! I've never heard such a thing from a grown man!" He had to be kidding, she thought.
But apparently he wasn't. He'd been leaning against a tree, but he stood up to his full height and focused his gaze on her. "I'm sorry for wasting your time with such trash," he spoke bitterly, "I'll be on my way." And he strode purposely away from the small house. Still shocked from his pronouncement, Diana decided to follow him a bit. See if he went looking under toadstools perhaps.
As she was small and accustomed to the woods, she was able to follow close to him without him suspecting her presence. For a few hundred yards, until he thought he was out of sight she
supposed, he continued his brisk gait. But then suddenly he stopped, and Diana had to stop as well and breath as quietly as she could. She was terrified that he'd sensed her and stopped to confront her.
But he must have been too unaware to notice anything. Standing where he'd stopped, he took a deep breath and put his head down in his hands. With a hollow thud that masked her gasp, he
leaned back against a large oak tree. His breath catching, he slid down the length of the tree until he was sitting in the soft bed of leaves at its base. As surprised as she was to see his odd
behavior, young Diana was not prepared to hear his cries, his sniffles as he rocked himself against the thick oak.
She desperately wanted to go to him. Take him home and give him an infusion to calm him down. Tell him that she was sorry for mocking him, that she wanted to hear his story, the story
that had sent him out her way with questions about mysteries and fairies. But she knew that if she went to him now he would hate her for seeing his weakness. Stepping lightly over the
ground in her soft leather boots, Diana made her way home.
When she got back to her house that night, Diana's mother asked, "What was that about, Diana?" Diana didn't know what to say; should she tell her mother what he had said? Or, even worse, what she had said, what he had done?
Her confusion and hesitation were audible in her voice as she replied, "He came asking some strange questions. Some nonsense about fairies. I . . . think he's crazy or something." What she
wasn't prepared for was her mother's sharp look.
"There's more in this world than you know of, Diana. Don't presume that just because you've not laid eyes on something that it doesn't exist. There are strange things in that boy's eyes, but I don't think he's crazy." And with that she returned her attention to her needlework. Diana knew that she was excused, and that she'd disappointed her mother. She would have to find him and apologize to him if nothing else.
Her plan was to stop him when she saw him crossing in the square, but a week went by with no opportunity presenting itself. During the week, Diana began to feel worse and worse about how she'd responded to him, about what she'd seen after. The need to find him was strong, and finally one day they did cross paths. She spotted him walking towards her with his head down, his steps brisk. Maneuvering herself into his path, she tried to catch his eyes, but he seemed to never look up. "William." Nothing, no acknowledgement of her voice. And then her was passing her, and she grabbed his arm. "William," was all she said as she finally got a look in his eyes. They were shadowed and dark from lack of rest, and they were angry.
"Let me go," he mumbled quickly, but she only held tighter to his arm.
"William, please, I need to talk to you." This wasn't going anything as planned. She was just going to apologize and then leave, but it wasn't working out that way. "Please, I'm sorry for what I said. I," this was definitely not going the way she wanted it to, "I was wrong."
His gaze then lost some of its anger, softened, and she suddenly felt that her confession of guilt had been worth it. She dropped her hold on his arm, but he didn't step away. "Please, come for a walk with me." And he nodded slowly, and they walked off towards the cool and quiet of the woods.
After walking silently for a few minutes, they both sat down on a large fallen tree that was propped a couple feet off the ground by its root system. "I'm sure you think I'm crazy," began William in a flat voice, "but I'm not. At least, I don't think I am. I've seen things that have made me doubt everything I've been taught, by my father, by the church. When my sister was taken, I saw the futility of all my learning."
Reaching into his shirt, William drew out a narrow thong of soft leather with a charm attached. It was a thin, pointed gray stone with gleaming silver covering the upper part and forming the
clasp. "It's called a fairy knife. A piece of flint dipped in pure silver designed to protect against malevolent fairies." His eyes caught hers, begging her not to mock him. "I don't know if you remember, but last year a bard and his sister came through here. She knew, somehow, what had happened to my sister, saw it inside me. The bard taught me the songs he knew about the fairies, and on the night they left town his sister gave me this. I've never removed it since," he finished quietly, "or showed it to a living soul."
For a moment she simply sat next to him thinking over his words, her head watching the changing patterns of light on the forest floor. "Why do you think she was taken by fairies?" Diana began, still watching the ground. "If she truly didn't die of a fever, she could have been taken by a stranger, or wandered off and got lost--"
"No," he interrupted. "No, it was no man that took her." She looked up in surprise at his vehemence. His eyes were focused, but not on her. Gazing past her to some point in the distance, he continued, "We were walking alone one day, and we decided to go exploring in a cave. As we went further in, we began to see dim, dancing lights up ahead. We pressed on, and the next thing I knew I was back outside. It had been morning when we left home, but the light in the sky was dimming, and I had no idea where I'd been. Somehow, I stumbled home, and it wasn't until I got there that I realized I was alone. My father searched the cave, and he said he found nothing. No tracks, no candle drippings, no opening at the other end where we could have seen light from."
William breathed deeply and looked down, "The way he looked at me. He thought I did something to her. Something too awful to tell. I tried to tell him what I could remember, but he just shook his head and said, 'No, we'll have to say that she died. I can't have a scandal.' And so I could never talk to anyone, not even my mother and father. And my sister was gone as if she'd never been." The last sentence trailed off quietly into silence. He sat with his hands steadying him on the fallen tree and just breathed steadily.
Diana wasn't sure what to do, but she turned towards him. Putting one leg over the side, she straddled the tree, her skirts pulled tight over the surface between her knees. She reached one arm behind his shoulders, and drew him towards her. When he was tilted slightly, his body leaning into hers for support, she whispered into his ear, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." He closed his
eyes as though he was in pain and leaned into her a little more, accepting her comfort. After few quiet moments spent like this, he pulled back a little from her embrace and looked her in the eyes. The questions in his eyes were answered by hers, and he moved his long legs closer to her and swung one of them over the tree so that he could face her.
He closed his eyes and moved in towards her until his lips pressed against hers. For a moment he just stayed there, feeling her soft, full lips pushing lightly against his, and then he parted his mouth slightly in order to get closer. Her motions mirrored his own as he opened his lips farther, working closer, closer to her. And then he moved his tongue to hesitantly meet hers, and she breathed a quiet moan. Her hands came up behind his head pulling him in farther. His hands moved first to her arms where he felt their sleek muscles, their capable strength, and then across to her surprisingly delicate collarbones. While their mouths continued to move together, he explored those intriguing bony hollows before allowing his hands to smooth their way down
over small, firm breasts.
At the sensation of his hands moving over her nipples, she gasped in exhilarated surprise. Her hands, which had been slowly exploring his back slipped down to his hips and pulled him
towards her until they touched at every point, her chin resting warmly by his throat. He reached under her and motioned for her to wrap her legs around his waist. Her arms gripping him now
around his shoulders, he stood and swung his legs free of the tree they'd been on. Her legs still wrapped around him, he knelt on the soft forest floor and bent over to lay her down on her back.
Quickly sitting back up on his knees, he watched in mute joy as she undid her bodice and her skirt. Reaching one hand up towards him she popped open the catch on his pants and pulled
them down over his slim hips. Down to nothing but their long white shirts, they came together again, needing to touch each other. She pulled him down close, and as they moved together,
their bodies and souls merging, she knew that this too was fate. His breath expanded her lungs, and her blood ran in his veins. They were one.
It wasn't until they had dressed and gone that William realized he'd lost his cherished fairy knife. He went back to look for it the next day, but it was gone, not to be found. New love took the edge off his obsession with fairyland, so in the end he didn't worry too much about the loss.
Afterward, it just felt natural for Diana to take William back home with her. Her mother smiled approvingly and served them both dinner. William began to visit the small house most evenings,
sometimes bringing with him some fresh game to the delight of Diana's mother. Diana's sister and a young stone-mason from town completed the quintet, and they spent many rousing evenings by the fire regaling each other with stories and songs. The stone-mason by the name of John had quite a talent on the fiddle, and Lizzy could play the whistle. And of course William had his story collection in his mind along with the ballads the bard had taught him. Diana and her mother both had lovely voices, and they would sing back and forth.
"I wish you were in yonder tree, said the false knight on the road, " sang Margaret.
"A ladder underneath, said the wee boy and still he stood," continued Diana.
"The ladder'd surely break, said the false knight on the road."
"And you will surely fall, said the wee boy and still he stood."
And the women would all fall into laughter as the men stomped their feet for more. "Pick up your whistle and join them Lizzy," someone would cajole, either William or John, and the next verse would pick up after the last. Or John and Lizzy would play their instruments madly, each feeding off the other's rhythm, as William and Diana danced around them until they fell down out of breath in each other's arms.
John and Lizzy were planning a wedding for spring. John had built a place for them to live near the center of the village, and they would be happy. He had come into some money building a house for some Englishman who had come to live on the outskirts of the village. No one knew why the man and his family had come here, but there was no reason to be suspicious. The work was welcomed by many, including William who had begun to despair of what he should do. It had become clear to him that he didn't want to continue working with his father, the magistrate. William's father had always put up with William's desire for scholarship only as long as it didn't detract from his work. It seemed the only way to break away from the man and learn more was to leave. Leave the village for the city, or even a monastery, and leave Diana.
Soon after the Englishman had settled himself into his grand house, William was asked by his father to go meet with the man. William did so, and found himself with an offer of employment.
He would teach the Englishman's sons how to read and write in exchange for the money he needed to live separately from his father. Enough money, in fact, to buy books for himself as
well as set himself up nicely in a small house. William expected to have to fight his father on the issue, but his father didn't even seem surprised. He congratulated William on his new
opportunity and sent him off with a fare-thee-well. It was strange, but William was more interested in telling Diana and her mother. They had come to feel more like family then his own
Eventually, the workings of the village adapted to the new presence, and days went by quickly, only the seasonal festivals marking the passing of the years. John and Lizzy married and had a daughter named Janet. Everyone expected William and Diana to marry any day, but they never worried about it themselves. They were content to be friends and lovers. Diana's mother understood the situation better than most. When Janet was born, she took to spending half her time staying down by the village with her older daughter and half up the hill with Diana. Diana set the house up for her livelihood as an herbwife and midwife. Margaret was wonderful with the dying and the grieving, something that still unnerved Diana, so she helped out when her services were needed.
Margaret knew that the house up hill saw frequent visits from William, and she was glad of it for her daughter. They fought, certainly, but she thought they would come to an understanding in time. She had heard them squabble plenty of times, and it was never over anything serious. William would be angry because Diana refused to accept his ideas that to her were ridiculous. Diana would be furious and hurt because William hadn't come by for a while and could never be found when she looked for him. One day, Margaret was sure, Diana and William would become more forgiving of each other and then there would be another joining of hands.
In this way, many years passed by, and the families were as happy as anyone could expect to be. William watched Lizzy's daughter Janet grow into a tall, strong child, and every day she reminded him more of his sister. He still hoped to find her one day, though he knew most people thought him a fool for it. Sometimes, he would feel guilty that his time spent with Diana was a betrayal of his sister. There was no question that he had to keep teaching; without that position he could never have the resources to pursue the mysteries he sought to understand. But Diana--was she a beacon in the night, or a siren song?
So, unsure of which was the right course, he chose to take both. When the need to search was undeniable or when he had discovered a new clue, William would run off chasing possibilities, hoping that one day he would not return alone. These disappearances always made Diana furious, and she was often tempted to bar her door to him once and for all. But he would return to her after his quests, stand on her doorstep exhausted and hungry, scratched and bruised, quiet and distant, and always alone. What could she doe but patch him up and comfort him, feed him and share her bed for the night?
And still they had lovely nights when he seemed contented with his life in the present, with her and with himself. One lovely evening he showed up at her door with a bottle of honey wine in
his hand. She'd had a wonderful day; she'd attended a birthing that went beautifully with very little pain for mother or child. She'd left a perfectly healthy baby boy in his mother's arms and
come home to finish some projects she'd been working on. She had decided to treat herself with a little indulgence for once. It was late summer, and she knew where she could get a great
quantity of rose petals close to dropping from the bush. Diana had a weakness for the scent of roses, so she gathered them and brought them home. Resolving to dry half of the petals, she
steeped the rest of them in candle wax all day. She made a few tapers from that wax, intending to keep them for a very special evening.
When William arrived with the mead and a smile on his face, she knew that the candles wouldn't wait long to be used. "You look like you had a good day, " she gently teased him; it was rare to see him with such a happy disposition.
"Well, the children actually seemed to hear half of what I heard, for once. And then the old man invited me for a drink with him, privately. I've been there years now, and I'd barely seen
beyond the school room and the kitchen. He's not a bad man, Diana; I think we can trust him. Hey," he continued, raising the bottle, "he even let me take this with me as a gesture of good will. I think we can put it to good use."
She arched one eye-brow at him, but smiled nonetheless. This was too rare a moment to waste on squabbling over politics. "Well, I have a little gesture of good-will, but I don't think I want to
share it with *him*." With that she took the bottle of mead from him and set it down on the table. She took his cold hands in her warm ones and sat before the fire, pulling him down beside her.
"What kind of gesture did you have in mind, Diana?" he countered, not one to be thrown by her innuendoes.
"Oh, something like this," and she slid her hands up under his shirt while simultaneously moving in to kiss him on the lips. She felt with her mouth rather than heard his quick intake of air as she rubbed her soft thumbs in a circular motion over his nipples, teasing them into hardness. For a long moment, they lingered like that, her bent over him, him leaning back on his elbows. When
he didn't think he could stand it anymore, she broke the kiss.
He all but panted, "Well, I think that might win the man over, but I don't know that I could share graciously."
She tossed a crafty smirk at him, and began to stand up. "Hold that thought. I just need to get something for us." She grabbed a pair of her new candles from the cooling rack, quickly cut their wicks, and set them in holders. Nodding her head for William to follow, she proceeded into the bedroom and set a candle on either side of her small bed. She lit them both, and as soon as the wax began to melt, a strong, heady scent of roses permeated the room. Diana sat on the edge of the bed and beckoned him near with one white hand. He came quickly to her side and dropped to his knees in front of her. She bent down to kiss him again, her fingers working through the soft, dark hair at the base of his neck.
His hands worked frantically to pull open her bodice, and when he succeeded, he moved his lips away from hers. Laying his head sideways on her chest, he felt her warmth seep into him, he heard her heart beating quickly for him. With his hands around her small waist, he lifted her farther back on the bed. Instead of joining her up there, he stayed on his knees in front of her. He took his hands from her waist, and slid them down her legs. Under her skirt, her legs were small and shapely, strong and beautiful, perfect. Pushing up her skirt to see them with his eyes, instead of merely his hands, he drank in the creaminess of her skin, the soft red hair that shimmered all over her body.
Needing to experience her with all his senses, he ran his tongue long one perfect leg from ankle to thigh. Finding the soft flesh of her thighs, he kissed them as gently as you would a baby, just teasing her skin with his lips. He looked up to see her smiling, and he took that as his cue to go farther. Taking a small breath to sustain himself, he moved her legs apart so he could see all of her. He slid his tongue between her folds of flesh and felt himself surrounded by her--her sweet pungent taste, her heady scent, her velvety softness, the white iridescence of her skin, and the swift breathing coming from above.
Giving himself permission to explore her, he let his tongue find the places in her that would pleasure her most. When his tongue found the small nub of nerves, he heard her breath hitch in and then sigh out pleasantly. He continued at his glorious task until he felt her tense and then her passion break around him. When she finally lay still, he crawled up onto the bed, moving as languidly as a cat, sliding himself until he was lying along her. When she opened her eyes, he made a moment of delicious eye contact before her eyes strayed along the length of his body.
"Looks like you have little problem there, " she smiled, cocking her head down towards his tented pants. "I think I can take care of that for you." She sat up in the bed and got onto her knees. Kneeling over him, she quickly pulled off his pants and his shirt. Once she was done pulling off her own half-undone clothing, she swung one leg over him so than she spanned his width with her thighs. Free of his pants, his erection was all too obvious. Gently taking hold of his base, she moved herself to let him penetrate her.
She was wet and open from her previous attentions, and she sighed with contentment as he slid inside her, filling her up perfectly. His moans joined hers as she tightened her muscles and moved up and down on top of him. Bracing her hands on his shoulders, she bent forward over him while she was still moving above him. She thrust her tongue inside his mouth, and together they found a rhythm, a circle of giving and taking. She felt his chest shuddering under hers, and then he released. His spent passion flowed around them, and she sank down onto his body to rest. The fragrance of their exhilaration mixing with the thick, sweet scent of roses lulled them both to sleep.
Sleeping within Williams's arms, Diana dreamed that she had fallen asleep in a rose garden. In the garden, a patch of shade moved across her and she woke with a chill. Shivering, she pulled her green cloak around her and walked about the garden to see if she was alone. Spying a particularly beautiful rose, she plucked it. Hearing a sound behind her, she looked up, and when she looked back down she saw that she held nothing but a bunch of yarrow. A sad, familiar voice spoke behind her.
"Why pulls thou the rose, Diana,
Among the groves so green,
And all to kill the bonnie babe
That we got us between?"
William stood among the rose bushes, seeming unaffected by the thorns, but somehow it wasn't the William she knew. He was thinner, with longer hair, a wilder face; he looked untamed. "What are you talking about, William? Did we . . ."
He ignored her, turned his back to her, continued in his mournful tone.
"Oh, pleasant is the fairly land,
But an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a tithe to hell;
I am so fair and full of flesh,
I fear it be myself."
Diana woke with a start to find herself in her own rumpled bed, surrounded by the scent of the spent rose candles. She looked over to see William sitting on the edge of the bed, his back to her. For a moment, she allowed herself to appreciate the smooth strength of his back with the morning sun glowing off of it. Lifting a hand to softly caress his shoulder blade, she spoke his name, "William." He didn't reply, but she heard his breath hitch and saw the muscles on his back ripple.
She hadn't seen him cry since that day so long ago in the woods. Draping one end of the bed covers over him and the other over herself, she sat up next to him. "What is it?" she asked, pulling him closer to her for warmth and comfort. She was suddenly afraid. The foreboding tone of her dream combined with William's strange behavior was confusing her. Last night had been so wonderful; what was changed?
William composed himself slightly and finally spoke to her, "I'm sorry." He breathed deeply and moved one arm up around Diana's back, holding her as tightly as she held him. "I just woke up and realized what would happen to me if I lost you the way I lost my sister. I . . . need you. I trust you more than anyone, more than myself."
She leaned over and kissed him warmly on the side of his mouth. "I need you too, William, more than I ever thought I could." The darker aspects of her dream had left her, but she was left with one surety. "Actually, to be more accurate, we need you."
He looked at her quizzically, clearly not understanding. "We? You mean us?"
"No," she shook her head, smiling, and then placed a hand on her smooth white stomach. "Us," and she drew his gaze down to where her hand lay.
For a moment she thought he was going to pass out, but then the words came. "But . . .us? How? I mean . . .last night? How can you know?"
"I just know. I guess it's one of those mysteries you were asking about," she smirked at him gently. "I guess there are some things Lizzy got right," she continued mostly to herself.
"I don't know how you can know, but it's not the first time a woman has confused me beyond all understanding." He took a deep breath then, and seemed to grow taller, even sitting on the bed. "I could be this confused for the rest of my life. Diana, will you be my wife?"
"Oh, William, " she laughed, "my mother will be so happy!" She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, the sunlight bathing both of them in its glow.
Finally, their bliss had to end, for the day at least. Diana needed to check on some people who were getting over a fever, and William had to get to the school room before his students did. When William released his pupils for the day, he sought out his employer. There was some excitement in the household, as a messenger had come from England the night before. William was told that the nobleman was too busy to see him, but when the nobleman spotted William he briskly corralled the confused teacher into his private room.
"Sir, I wanted to speak with you, but I was told you had received a messenger from London. I have wonderful news."
"What would that be, William?"
"My Diana is with child, and she's agreed to marry me," William spoke proudly.
Williams's employer raised one eyebrow and spoke with little enthusiasm, "Indeed. What grand news. How many months with child is she?"
Lost in his bliss, William didn't notice the nobleman's less than thrilled reaction. "Well, sir, barely a day, I suppose."
"And she knows already? That's ridiculous."
"Well, sir, she told me we had got a child. I have no reason to doubt her; she's been midwife to most children around here the last several years."
"Yes, I've heard that, that she's the local cunning woman."
"Well, sir, she's a wonderful healer. Ask anyone in the village."
"And her medical training? How am I to suppose she's qualified to treat the ill?" The Englishman's questions were coming faster. William could see he was getting at something, but he was honestly at a loss as to what might be the problem.
"She learned it herself, I believe, with training from her mother."
"Her mother? Do you have any knowledge of her meeting with others? Other women? Perhaps she seems to have secrets?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I don't know what you're talking about. She meets with her mother and sister some evenings, but it's certainly not a secret." Still not understanding what was going on, William began to get very nervous. His heart was beating faster, and the room had taken on a slow, steady spin. The world was off balance.
"Her sister? Who is that?"
"Lizzy, the stonemason's wife."
"Her! I've heard things about her." The older man began to pace swiftly back and forth in front of William. "This messenger I've had from London tells me that these sorts of women are becoming dangerous, poisoning children, consorting with evil beings. Instructions have come directly from the King in this matter."
"Sir," William replied, his voice threatening to fail him, "Diana cured your Charlie when he was ill, do you not remember? Lizzy's a bit odd, but she's a good mother and wife."
"Yes, I'm sure," said the Englishman, clearly doubting William. "You be sure this woman hasn't bewitched you, young man. This bears very serious consideration, very serious thought on what actions are to be taken." And on that note the older man took his leave of William. Needing some time to think things though, William slipped back up the stairs to the comfort of the school room.
What had he done? "Oh, god," he thought, "what have I done?" Still not quite believing what his employer had said, had accused Diana of, William paced the length of the narrow school room. How could he explain to Diana that he hadn't known what he was saying would arouse suspicions? She was in this trouble because of him.
So it happened that night at twilight that William was still in the nobleman's house, standing in the window on the school room. The room was on the top floor of the house, and William had
always prized it for its view of most of the town. The houses appeared to be nestled among the trees comfortably, securely. But this night he spotted a column of dark smoke rising from one
house. "It's warm yet to have lit such a fire," he thought, and then he realized what house it was. The small stone house where Lizzy and her family lived was filled with fire.
Borrowing one of the nobleman's horses, William sped towards the burning building, but it was all for naught. Though the house was stone, the roof and furniture were wood. By the time
William arrived the roof had collapsed, and the stone walls were as hot as any oven. There was nothing to do for anyone who'd been inside. Below the crackling of the fire, William heard a low moan behind him.
The last light had left the sky, and the fire was burning itself out, so he lit a torch off the embers and went searching for the source of the sound. William found John, Lizzy's husband, crouched by a tree not far from the house. "John! What happened here?" he began until he got close enough to see the man he was speaking to. John wasn't burned, but his arms were covered in
blood which rushed from fresh gashes. He held a dagger in one hand, and it's blade shone red in the torch-light.
William rushed closer to the dying man. "John! What have you done? What have you--"
John whispered hoarsely, "I had no choice in this." With that he closed his eyes and sighed out a long breath, slumping to the ground. William gently extricated the dagger from the dead man's
hand and began to wipe it off until he stopped with a gasp. The color of the wood, the scratches on the blade . . . This was his father's, the magistrate's, knife. There was no doubt in his mind. "What happened here?" he thought, and as he stood up from John's body he found part of his answer.
Nailed to the tree was a piece of paper, an official warrant from the magistrate's office. "Let it be known," read the awful, official paper, "that those listed below have been condemned for WITCHCRAFT." And this very evening that English bastard had been asking him about his wife and her family. And now this night they were dead under the witchcraft laws. "These deaths are my fault," William thought to himself, and his next thought was, "Diana."
Remounting his borrowed horse, William raced the animal back up the hill to Diana's cottage. She opened the door to find him gasping for breath, covered in soot and bloodied. Pulling him
inside, she questioned him, "By the gods William, what have you gotten into? How do you get yourself into these things?" She was busy checking him for wounds, but as his silence continued
she was forced to look at his face. She saw his eyes and found emptiness there, a sorrow deeper than his usual guilt, and fear. Fear of her? Or for her? And a pleading, begging with her to what? Understand?
Finally he spoke, placing his hands on her arms, mindless of how filthy her was. "Please sit down Diana," he asked quietly, but forcefully.
"What is it William?"
"Please, please just sit down. Just sit down." He was begging now, and it frightened her more than anything else. Fear and suspicion grew in her eyes but she wouldn't back down.
"Tell me now William!" Her voice rose, "Tell me--"
"There was a fire," he began quietly, holding tighter to her arms. "John and Lizzy's house, I just came from there. I was too late." She looked at him, too shocked to speak. "The roof fell in. Whoever was inside . . .," he continued, trying desperately to help her understand without actually saying the words that would be inescapably final. She was refusing to comprehend, and he looked away for a moment.
When he looked back at her, tears were welling in his eyes. "I think someone made John do it. I found this nailed to a tree above where I found him." Struggling to control the shaking in his arms, he handed the warrant over to Diana.
And in that instant she understood. Her confused eyes hardened and went dark. "I'll kill them. I will kill them, and if you try to stop me, William, I'll kill you."
"Please, Diana, please, we can get away from this place. I have some money saved, and your skills will be welcome anywhere." His voice was cracking with desperation. "You, you could keep us alive in the woods until we found a place to go. There's no way to fight them and win."
But Diana would hear none of it. "Your father is behind this, and for all I know you are too. Why should I trust you, William? For all I know, this is all your fault," she hissed at him. Pulling on her cape, she ran out the door and jumped on the horse William borrowed. She was off towards town before William could stop her.
He caught up with her at the charred remains of John and Lizzy's house. The fire was mostly burned out, but it was still smoking and the acrid odor of burnt things hung heavily in the air. Diana was kneeling next to John's body.
He went to her cautiously, not sure of how she would react. She spoke before he could think of something to say. "I can't believe that he was the one to do this. I will not believe it. He was a good man; he loved them. My mother thought of him as a son. Oh, gods, my mother--," Diana broke off, truly realizing for the first time hat her mother had died in the little stone house as well.
William moved to comfort her, but she snapped, "Just stay away from me, please. Just stay away!" He walked away from her then to give her time to grieve in solitude. He left her the horse so she could return home more quickly when she was ready. Alone in the dark, Diana became alert to the sound of swiftly approaching horses. Three riders broke through into the clearing--the Englishman, the magistrate, and Joseph, the magistrate's deputy. The latter had been taken on by William's father, and the magistrate was clearly thrilled to have a deputy who would not talk back as William had.
Joseph dismounted his horse and moved close to Diana. William's father formally proclaimed, "You are under arrest for the crimes of horse theft and witchcraft." Joseph roughly tied her hands behind her and swung her up onto the magistrate's horse. At this William, who had heard the commotion and run back madly, rushed the deputy and punched him squarely in the jaw. "Give her to me! She's no criminal!" He hardly knew what he yelled in his desperation to get her back safely.
Thinking the deputy was down, William began to run towards Diana. He only got a few paces away before the heavy, blunt side of Joseph's sword met with the top of his head. As unconsciousness enveloped him, his only thought was, "no."
When William woke up on the cold stone floor of the jail, his first thought was that he had fallen down a well and was drowning. Swimming gradually towards consciousness, he saw Joseph standing over him, water bucket in hand. "Wake up you bastard or I'll douse you again," the broad young man growled. "We've got plans for you and your witch today. Can't be late."
William pulled himself painfully into a siting position and mumbled, "Go to hell," which earned him a swift kick to the stomach. Already reeling from a slight concussion, William turned on his side and retched. Joseph turned and left, slamming the door closed with a reverberating thud, leaving William to be sick alone. He kept heaving until he was too exhausted to continue and simply sat there trying to breath steadily.
As his mind cleared he realized that Diana was somewhere here, possibly in pain. He found himself able to get to his feet, but then he had to desperately grasp the wall to keep from falling back onto the floor. Once the world returned to focus and the hellish pounding in his head quieted, William began to search his surroundings for a way out. He'd played in this jail and a child and knew it well. He knew it was secure; that escape was impossible.
Finally, after William had been reduced to slowly pacing the tiny cell, Joseph was at the door again. "We have some entertainment planned for you," he sneered, and grabbed the prisoner by one arm, propelling him down the hall. William knew that he was being directed to a large room down the hall, the room his father had always preferred. Joseph shoved William though the door so that he landed on his hands and knees, then pulled the unsteady man up roughly and tied him to a chair that was built into the stone wall.
William's eyes were immediately drawn to Diana, who was tied hand and foot to a wooden chair in the center of the room. She was pale and her clothes were ripped some, but she appeared unhurt. Her expression was a mix of anger and fear, but she was relived to see William walk in, however unsteadily. "Diana, I'm so sorry," William began dejectedly. "Have they hurt you?"
"We had to wait until you woke up before we could start the fun," the magistrate's mocking voice carried from the room's entrance. "This is, after all, partially for your benefit."
"Why are you doing this? She's done nothing wrong. That horse--I saw the house aflame and borrowed the horse so I might get there in time to save them. I was much too late, but then you know that, don't you?" William tried to pierce through his father's shield of easy denial. "What is this about, father?"
"This is about showing you the error of your choices." The magistrate replied acidicly, "and about keeping the village safe from witches such as this. Orders have come from high above me, son. You'll see the truth in time."
"I fail to see what these proceedings have to do with the truth."
"We shall see." He turned to Joseph, who was waiting near Diana's chair with the grin of the cat who knows he will get the cream. "Let's prepare the witch for questioning, shall we?" Turning again to William, the magistrate's eyes hardened. "You shall witness every thing that happens here. This is your punishment for being bewitched by such a woman. You are my son, and I do
not wish you harmed. When this is done, you will leave this village and not return. If you fail to do this, William, you will be forcing my hand."
At a nod of the magistrate's head, Joseph reached to the ground and lifted a large earthenware jug. As he poured the contents over Diana's head she fought against the liquid, angling her head towards the floor, clamping her eyes and mouth closed. In his nose, William felt the sharp sting of nearly pure alcohol.
"No! What are you doing to her?" William pulled at his bounds but they were much too secure; his father had taught Joseph well.
Once the deputy had thoroughly doused Diana's hair in the alcohol, he retrieved a candle from a small table next to him and lit it in one of the torches lighting the room. The magistrate spoke, "Much of a witches evil power is in her hair. With this devilish ornament, the witch enchants men and performs dark magic. Your lovely red tresses, Diana, are clearly a mark of shame." With that, Joseph touched the lit candle to Diana's alcohol-soaked hair.
Her head went up in a huge, sudden flame, but she didn't scream. Her eyes first opened large and shocked, but then shut tight, clenching down on the pain. But there was screaming, screams that echoed around the large room. William was hysterical, once again pulling at the ropes that bound him. His wrists were bleeding now; he thought Diana was being burned to death in front of him. After what was truly only a few seconds, the deputy beat out the last of the flames with a rough cloth.
Diana's beautiful, shining red hair was completely gone, her head crowned with awful burns. Her eyes remained closed for another minute as she apparently steeled herself, but when she opened them she sought out William's panicked gaze. "I'm okay, William," she whispered hoarsely.
"Will you now submit to questioning, Diana?" The magistrate's question was clearly rhetorical.
Diana answered, "I will answer your questions as I can, sir. I can tell you only what I know."
"Yes, indeed. You will tell me all you know." The magistrate removed a written list from the pouch at his waist. "How long have you been a witch?"
"I don't know what you mean. What do you mean by witch? I think I am a good woman."
"Refusal to answer is interpreted as a request for further punishment. Joseph--" Joseph slipped a knotted rope around Diana's neck. Holding it in his large, rough lands, he began to twist it tightly around her neck. Her hands reached up to fight the rope, but it was no good. Her breath was closing off, and she started to panic. Just as her lungs were burning as sharply as her head did, the rope was relaxed enough to allow her to breathe.
She took deep, ragged breaths and once again sought out William's eyes. His eyes were large and scared, but he kept quiet. He had a feeling that any protest from him would only make things worse for her. The magistrate continued, "Why did you become a witch?"
"I cannot answer these questions! Why are you doing this?" The rope was once again tightened around her throat but she didn't fight this time. When she was finally released, she simply hung her head down and tried to breathe.
Pacing in front of his victim, the magistrate explained, "We have seen evidence of your witchery for years, Diana, but we have just learned the evil of those ways. You claim the ability to cure without training from a medical college or the sanction of the holy church. Your sister practiced unholy arts. I am sure you are guilty of many crimes hidden from us my your magical guile. Now, ANSWER ME, how did you become a witch and what happened on that occasion."
"If what you mean by witchcraft is my healing of the sick, I learned the uses of plants as a small child from my mother and by experimenting. I helped your wife without any medical college, sir."
The hard slap across her face came quickly and unexpectedly. "You will answer my questions and nothing more. Understand, witch? You say you learned the uses of plants? So, what animals have you bewitched to sickness or death? Why have you committed such acts?"
"I have never--" The rope tightened around her neck again, and this time her head was yanked back with it. The pressure felt like it would crush her through, and her lungs were empty, dry with no air. She felt the edges of everything, including the pain, go dull and gray, but she was not allowed such respite.
"Get over here Joseph!" She heard the magistrate yelling and the sound of shoes scuffling over stone. A hollow pounding, which she had thought was coming from within her own head, stopped. As she opened her eyes, and her vision cleared, he saw the two men with William. He was bent over limply, and there was blood on the wall behind him. The two law-men were moving him, securing him more tightly; what had happened became clear to her.
Unable to use his hands or feet to help her, he used his head, entirely too literally. He had banged his head backwards against the unforgiving stone wall until he passed out. He had bought her some time to rest and recover; since these proceedings were to be performed in front of him they would not continue until he was conscious again. She silently thanked him and slid into her own oblivion.
When she woke up she was cold. Her dress had been taken away, leaving her with only her thin under-dress. William was waking up too, finding himself surrounded with bales of hay that would prevent any repetition of his earlier behavior. He hadn't hurt himself bad enough, evidently. It was the same day, and they were preparing to go forward with Diana's "questioning" once more. When he saw her state of undress, he was suddenly terrified of what they might have done while he was blacked out.
The magistrate re-entered the room with Joseph behind him, and William couldn't stand the sight of them. "What have you done to her? Look at her! What have you done to her? She's with child, damn you, she's going to be my wife!"
"I think you should know by now, son, that things aren't going to quite work out that way. But relax, we've not done anything improper. Given her refusal to admit to her crimes, we were forced to search her for evidence."
"What evidence were you looking for, pray tell? This is obscene!"
"We found on various parts of her body several witch's marks. Clear evidence of her consorting with the devil. We found moles on her back and legs as well as a large mole on the side of her left breast, obviously the place favored by satan for his caresses."
"Moles? Are you insane, father?"
"The literature sent from London makes it clear that these are signs. Her denials mean nothing to us. You say she is with child. How can you know this child is your, William? She's an enchantress! This child may be the spawn of evil. You would father such a monstrosity?" The magistrate looked at his son with barely contained disgust. "We will continue with these proceedings."
William looked hopelessly over at Diana were she sat in her thin shift in the center of a cold room. She was the strongest woman he had ever seen, but even her strength was failing. The anger in her eyes had been obliterated by fear, and even the fear was giving way to weariness. How much more could she withstand?
The deputy resumed his place beside Diana, but he didn't take out the rope this time. He brought out two pairs of metal implements. One pair went on the floor, and her feet were placed inside, between two layers of thick iron. The other pair was attached to the arms of her chair, and her hands were sanwhiched between the pieces of metal. The magistrate resumed his place in front of Diana. Fixing her with a stare, he asked, "How do you call up the devil for your workings?"
She sighed tiredly, "I don't know what you want from me. I don't believe in any devil."
Joseph quickly kneeled by Diana's feet. Turning the screws on the top of the metal devices, he began to crush the delicate bones in her feet. Her control breaking, she screamed, her screams echoing around the stone-walled room. William couldn't help her, but he couldn't help himself either. He was pulling at his wrists and ankles, ripping open his skin, bleeding onto the damned hay. Joseph removed the pressure from Diana's feet, and her screams died away into weeping.
"Diana, Diana," the magistrate spoke softly. "It is in your power for this to stop. What I want from you is answers, but not the answers you have been giving me. I want to hear what you did and how you did it. And then this can stop, and you won't have to be in pain anymore."
She pulled her battered self together and stopped crying. "I've given you answers. I've told you the truth. Why won't you believe me? What do you want to hear?"
Joseph made a move to apply more pressure, but the magistrate held him off with a motion of his hand. He was frustrated with these proceedings, and his voice made that plain. "How can I trust the word of a witch, I ask you? You have given me lies about your innocence. I want to hear the truth of your evil actions, the details of your rituals with the devil! If you don't give me what I want, witch, I will make sure that when I finally let you die hell itself will be a respite!" These last words were spat out with such anger that the magistrate had to give himself a moment to catch his breath.
"Now, I will give you one more chance to tell me. How did you meet the devil? How do you call him up?"
She began to shake her head resignedly. "I still cannot answer. The only devil I've ever seen is that inside of men. And William watched the deputy reached over her to tighten the screws on her hands, her soft white hands that had held him, that had healed children, that had tended plants so skillfully. And this time her screams blotted out everything, they rose and filled the room with their horror. And they turned to words.
"Stop! Stop! I'll talk! I'll give you what you want. Just stop, stop this." Her words tapered off from screaming to a dull whisper as the screws were removed from her hands. She was crying again, but through her words, William could hear her confession. He dared not breathe.
"When I was thirteen, the devil came to me one night. He took me in the woods and gave me pleasure unlike any from a man." She breathed for a moment, looking in her torturer's eyes. He was happy; she was giving him what he wanted. "He told me that if I did his bidding, I could have powers beyond imagination. I was weak, so I agreed."
"Very good, Diana. Our lessons have taught you well. Now, how do you call him up?"
"I--I light a candle and call his name three times while walking in a circle."
"What is his name?"
"He has many names, I think, but I call him Dark Father."
"And what evil deed have you done for him?"
"I have not done many, sir. I am still learning his ways."
"I can accept that. What have you done already?"
"I have killed farm animals, sir. And, as you said, I have conceived this child."
"Yes, indeed. Now, tell me the names of other witches you know."
"I knew only my mother and sister, sir. And you have killed them already."
"And you know no others?"
"No, sir, I was not yet allowed to meet others. I was not fully initiated."
"This is acceptable. You have answered my questions and proven your guilt so that none can deny it. Joseph, return her to her cell." The magistrate waited until Diana was untied and out of the room before turning to his son. "You understand, William, that this was for your benefit." He proceeded to untie the ropes holding William down. "Now, do as I said and leave this place. I do not care to lay eyes on you again. Do as you will, but do not return, or you shall be treated no better than your witch."
Under his father's watchful eye, William slowly, unsteadily walked towards the door of the jail and out into the thick, cold night. He needed a plan, but he couldn't think. His mind was reeling, foggy and confused. He hadn't meant, they couldn't, how could they . . . He sank down the along the outer wall of the jail until he was curled upon the crisp, dewy grass. His mind was overloaded, and his head hurt from too many blows. Floating in the pain, he fell asleep.
When he woke up with a start, the moon was high overhead. A few hours had passed, and the jail was silent. William had to hope that his father and Joseph were asleep, and that Diana could be woken up. William quietly creeped around to the small window above the cell Diana was being kept in. The moonlight flowed into the small room, and he saw her sitting the corner. She looked tiny and broken, and she was not asleep. "Diana," he whispered to get her attention. She heard him and looked up.
"You don't have to whisper," she said quietly, "I can hear him snoring." She stood very carefully and painfully and limped over to the window. She looked so awful that he wanted, all over again, to kill everyone who had something to do with her pain. Including himself. Her hair was entirely gone, and her head was a mess of burns and blisters. Her neck was bruised and scraped and swollen. Her hands and feet were swollen and misshapen. Her face was drawn with pain, her eyes dark and sunken.
"I'm so sorry, Diana," he found himself crying, both for her and for himself.
"It's not your fault, William. You didn't do this to me," she spoke without passion. "They did this to me to make you believe." He looked up at her, not understanding. "You look for darkness out there, the fairies and whatnot, but the real mysteries are inside people. The real evil and the real darkness lives within us all. If you accept what they want you to believe, then they've won."
"I would never do that. I--I can't believe what they say, but I have to believe there is more than we know of."
"Keep talking like that, and you'll end up like me. I'm of no use to them now, except as a warning. I think they're going to kill me tomorrow."
"I won't let them."
"You can't stop them, that much should be clear to you. Go away from here, William, while you still can. I'm tired now, William, I'm going to sleep." She all but collapsed to the floor of her cell, a small white bundle propped by the wall.
"I don't know if I can do that. I love you, Diana."
"I love you too," she whispered, not moving from her position, "and I always, always will."
Morning was coming, and if he didn't get away from the jail soon he would be found. Stumbling away from the building with bleary eyes and weak legs, William quickly changed his path as a young girl stepped out in front of him. "William," called the small voice, and he looked up with a gasp.
"Janet! My god, my god, we thought you died with them. Where have you been?" The child looked well, she must have been taken care of by someone.
"My mother saw it," she spoke quietly, "She sent me away."
"Where? How?" he stuttered, "Do you need my help Janet?"
"No, Diana needs what help you can give. I am being cared for is all you must know." The young girl opened up a small folded package from the leather pouch tied to her waist. "My mother gave me instructions that I must give these to you. They are Deadly Nightshade berries."
"What?" William looked up, shocked.
"They'll ease her pain. And her passing, William."
He nodded slowly and looked again at the child. She couldn't have been more than seven, but her eyes were old already, and the look in them was fey, not entirely human. "You're a very brave girl, Janet." She nodded and looked back towards the forest, but he stopped her with a hand on her small arm. "Who is taking care of you?"
She looked up at him steadily. "They told me that if I went with them I could see my mother again one day."
"They?" William asked, helpless to stop himself.
Once again opening the purse on her waist, Janet drew out a small, shiny object on a black leather cord. "My fairy knife," William whispered to himself. Janet reached into the pouch one more time with her small hand and drew out another object, this one a small, round rock hanging on a rough jute cord. William took it from her quickly.
"This was my sister's," he spoke quietly. "She found the holed stone one day, and I helped her make it into a necklace," he looked at young Janet piercingly, "How did you get this?"
"She's safe, William. You will not see her again in this life, but one day you shall meet again. She never really belonged to you; she is one of them." And with that Janet faded back into the forest. William slipped both charms around his neck and tucked them under his shirt as he tried to figure out where to go next.
It would be a few hours before they would do anything with Diana. Preparations would have to be made, people gathered. William decided that it would be best for him to be seen leaving the village, so he set his steps onto the road leading north. His head still hurt a lot from the beating he'd taken at the hands of Joseph and the beating he'd given himself. The pain was making it hard to think about the plans that had to be made.
The pain, to him, was a punishment. His culpability in Diana's arrest and torture, her death probably, the deaths of Margaret, Lizzy and John was inescapable. He had lost his sister, and he would never see her again. He believed Janet's words absolutely. The weight of these deeds was crushing him, but he had to keep moving. Had to force his brain to think and devise a plan.
Finally, as the sun rose higher in the sky, he made his decision. There were few choices,as William saw it. He had no one, his father hand sent him away, and he would never find his sister. He believed that now. He might be able to find another teaching job, but he would have to leave the village. And who could he offer as a reference to support his claims of knowledge? The only choice left to him was joining a monastery. He respected the brothers for their learning, but after this he could have nothing to do with the church. He had seen what men would do for the love of their god. The love he had was for one woman, and she would be gone by nightfall.
So, his decision made, he had to head back to the village unseen. Checking to make sure there was no one on the road, he slipped off the road and into the forest. One of the gifts Diana had given him was an understanding of the woods. He doubled back towards the village, and took a shortcut that would lead him directly to the commons square. As he got close he knew that she had been right.
It was going to be a public execution of the most violent kind. Word had gone around that there was to be a burning; a witch had been captured, they said. No one knew who it was, but they had heard of these evil women. One year blended into the other in the life of the village; and this kind of excitement was not to be missed. Everyone was in the square that morning; even the shops closed.
Lurking at the edge of the trees, William could see this, and it made his plan that much easier. Staying under cover of the woods, he circled around until he was behind the blacksmith's shop. The door was open, of course, so he slipped inside swiftly to avoid being seen by anyone who might be arriving late in the square. Arming himself with a short sword and cloaking himself in a dark wool cape, William left the shop and moved along the edge of the crowd towards the jail.
She had not been brought out of the jail yet, but preparations were being made rapidly. A stake had been erected in front of the jail, and firewood was being arranged around it. The people who had gathered were either watching this process or talking about what was going to happen. William, hidden by his borrowed cloak, was able to walk around the crowd to the side window of Diana's cell without attracting any notice. He just had to hope that she was alone, and indeed she was. She looked much the same as she had earlier. She was once again sitting it the corner, but she seemed to be talking to herself. When William listened closer, he realized she was chanting something like a prayer. It sounded ancient and beautiful, and the way Diana sang it made it a dirge.
"Diana," he hissed, to get her attention.
Her head turned towards the unexpected voice. The sadness in her eyes cut William to the core, but he knew he couldn't save her, only help her. "What are you doing here still? Do you know what they're going to do? You have to leave, William, for your own sake."
"That's not important now. Please, I have something I have to give you." He stuck his hand through the iron bars of the tiny window and dropped the cloth package of berries down to where Diana could reach them. She crawled to the spot beneath the window where they fell and opened the pouch. From the surprise in her eyes, he could tell that she knew what they were. And what they were for.
"Where did you get these? How did you know?"
"They were given to me by Janet. Yes, Lizzy's daughter," he added at her questioning look. "Lizzy saw what was going to happen and sent her away. Instructed her to get these to me." Diana nodded, understanding. "I have to go now, before I'm discovered. I love you. I want to be with you forever."
"At this late hour, I have come to believe that my mother and sister were right. Fate moves in our lives, bringing us together and tearing us apart. I have to believe we will be together again. Now, leave, please. And don't let them catch you."
Blinking away tears, he reluctantly walked away from the small window. He blended back into the rear of the crowd, and the cloak hid more than his identity. His face shadowed by the deep hood, he let the tears fall down his pale, set face. Before long, he heard the crowd hush and looked up. Diana was being led out of the jail, her arms and ankles once again tied together with rough rope. From the blank, far-away look on her face, William was reassured that she had taken the berries. He only hoped that they would work; that she would feel no pain.
He waited for people to recognize her, realize that this "witch" was the woman who had tended them when they were ill, who had saved their lives even. Even as the deputy raised her onto a low platform and tied her nearly-limp body to the stake, no one raised a protest, and then William realized why. With her hair gone, her body broken, her spirit obliterated, she was unrecognizable. To them, she was just a stranger who was clearly a witch.
William tried to look away as they started the fire at Diana's feet. He was reassured by her lack of fear. She was awake, just barely, but she wasn't feeling anything. The new fire smoked as the flames tried to grow, and soon she was coughing. For a moment, he thought that her coughs would undo him. She was helpless to stop them, and her body wracked with each cough, but soon she stopped and hung still by her bounds. For a moment after she passed out, William could breath again. She wasn't in pain, and the fire was still below her feet.
But a breeze picked up in the square, and the flames ate the air hungrily. They rose from the logs and finally found what they had been searching for--the hem of her skirt. From that point it went quickly. The flames enveloped her, hiding her from view. The crowd, as well as the deputy and the magistrate, were fixed on the horrific site. William's moment had come.
Dropping his cloak and pulling out the short-sword that had been hidden underneath, he pushed through the crowd. Rushing the platform, he stabbed the deputy neatly in the chest and shoved him over. He could feel the heat radiating off of the burning figure, off of Diana, but he had to continue.
He raised his voice so that he could be heard above the fire and the murmurs of the crowd. "This woman you all burn today as a witch is Diana, the one who has healed you, tended your children, eased your pain. These are the men who lead you," he gestured toward the magistrate and others standing at the front of the crowd. William seemed to dare his father to intervene, but the man did not move. He simply stood there silently. "These are the men who invoke god to sanction murder. I cannot be one of them anymore."
With that, he hoisted his lanky frame onto the platform where Diana was now invisible through the raging flames. He drew one long breath and leapt into the fire, clasping his arms around what was left of the woman he loved. All anyone heard after that was his screams.
When the flames found Diana, she was already unconscious, almost dead. If she felt the burning at all, it was in a deep part of her mind incapable of voicing her pain. William, however, had no such barrier. He gave himself over to a live fire while fully awake. He felt it invade his body immediately. He breathed in the flames, and they scorched his lungs, silencing his horrific screams. His hair was gone in seconds. He could feel the fire eating at his skin, at his eyes. His last conscious though was that when this fire when out, his and Diana's bodies would be inseparable, indistinguishable. They would have to be buried in one grave.
The smoke from this pyre rose up through the crisp fall air. Twisting and curling past the rooftops, out of the village, beyond time. The audience to this grim spectacle couldn't look each other in the eye as they silently returned to their lives. Things would never be the same again.
Another Author's Note: Well, I hope that wasn't too upsetting. The torture I depicted here is a selection of the most mild techniques used. I just couldn't make myself write the more horrific stuff, but be aware that it happened. I mostly want to say here that the ideas of reincarnation in this story are just meant to be for the story. I do believe in reincarnation, but I certainly don't think that--Dead Again-style--we look the same from life to life. Goodness knows, I hope not. <g> I do think that there are people we're tied to from life to life, sort of like in Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Mulder and Scully clearly (to me) have this sort of tie. Though I don't particularly want them to get together on the show, I think they have had that kind of relationship with each other in the past. It kind of *informs* their interactions, in my view of things.
The lyrics of the ballad sung early in the story are from The False Knight on the Road. The words she heard him speak in her dream are from another ballad called Tam Lin. Both are very old, anonymous, and assumedly under public domain.
** Opening quote and much information on the torture used on accused witches comes from a wonderful website authored by Bugbear--http://www.odyssy.net/users/erica/wicca/crusade.htm. See that site for further disturbing information about the horrors of the past. It's also a good source for information about modern-day witchcraft if you are so inclined.
Please let me know what you thought! This is my fourth XF story, and my first over 10k.