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“Tonight, we will rid the world of another witch. Their magic, their unholy ways of making others do what they wish, their worshipping of Satan, will be abolished with them one at a time, so long as we have breath in our bodies to do so.” Rohm Herald looked out over his followers, men who believed as he did, that witches and their kind should not be allowed to be a part of this world. He turned to look at the witch on the stake behind him, at her face and then her belly, fat with no doubt Satan’s bastard no matter what she said to the contrary. Her lies had brought her here, and she would die knowing that he’d done all he could to bring her from the darkness this night. “Do you give yourself over to His word? Do you now forsake the lifestyle that you have lived, following the man with a forked tongue and black magic?”
For an answer, she spit in his face. He wished they were alone even now. He would wipe that smile from her face even as he cut her heart out. Rohm drew back his hand to slap her, to bloody her blasphemous lips once again.
“You do and you will never see your next child take its first breath. Mayhap you won’t anyway, if I can help it.” The words, spoken softly, felt as if she’d burned them into his head. “You will stop this foolishness, Rohm Michael Herald, or I will bring a curse down on you that will be felt generations down your line. So far removed from you that you will think I lie, that my magic has no meaning to you.”
“Are you saying that you be a witch?” She laughed then, her head thrown back in mirth that made his body tighten in fear and anger. “You will die this day, by fire, should you not tell me that you have no magic in you, that you do not practice the arts of witchcraft if you be one. Renounce now and I will spare you the death of fire.”
“I will die anyway, and you know that. You have it in your head that I will, and that will come to pass. Even my babe, your grandchild, is going to die with me because you care not to hear the truth of my words.” He did know that, but he would make her death quick, much quicker than that which was planned. “I am a witch.”
His congregation gasped at her words. Then when she laughed, the sound of it echoing over the vast field that they had been using for a year now to rid the world of women such as her, once again Rohm felt the stirring of fear settle over him.
Rohm had no choice in this now. She had made her decision and now she must die by it. Lifting the flame that had been handed to him by his second, his own son Michael, he turned to the men that had worked with him for so long. It was coming up on midnight, the bewitching hour, he’d been told; time to do his duty for the world.
“Tonight we bring to our fold Mary Wayne. She has been found guilty of being a witch; has admitted to us all here that she is what we feared, the child of Satan.” Mary laughed behind him and began speaking, her voice too low for him to understand her words. Raising his own voice, Rohm continued. “We burn the devil from her and his child within her. Then when it is done, and all is balanced in this world, we will give her body a proper burial and bless her for her life. For being a mere woman, she knows not what she has done.”
The sound of her words came to him then. She was cursing him, and those that were in the field beyond. When he turned to her again, the flame ready to set to the wood there, the moon was blotted out for a moment. He staggered back when two great beasts landed in the field with them. But as he made his way to them, thinking the beasts were there to eat them, a man appeared in the place of one of them, a woman by his side in place of the other. Rohm thought perhaps it was his mind playing tricks on him, or maybe the witch making him see things that were not there. The man and woman were close enough to make out now, and he nearly welcomed them.
As soon as the flame in his hand went out, the men that he could call upon fell to their knees, then to their backs as the man and woman walked by them. They had surely killed them, he thought. And would him as well. Soon it was just the four of them, Mary, the couple, and himself. Rohm felt his body tighten, his skin crawl, when he dared to think what this might mean. They too were witches, powerful ones that had come to murder him.
“Mary, you’ve gotten yourself into trouble again, haven’t you?” The witch called the man his lordship. “Rohm. I can see that you have not heeded the advice of others, and have perhaps bitten off a bit more than you can chew in this. You were told to stop killing the women that will not heel to your word. And that burning women at the stake isn’t the way things are done. Were you not?”
“She has claimed boldly to be a witch. Has admitted before my men that she is indeed a practitioner of the dark arts. In this, she has left me no choice but to do as my fellow believers wish and burn the devilry out of her.” Mary claimed that she had not. “I heard you. You said you were a witch.”
“She is a witch, but does not wholly practice the dark side of it.” Rohm backed up when the man, a great warrior, stepped up on the dais of stone set up for him to stand upon when Rohm himself was at his duties. He looked to be a man of great wealth and size. His body was lean, not an ounce of fat upon him, Rohm thought, not at all like he was. “But it’s not the reason that you’ve brought her here, is it? You’ve another agenda that has nothing to do with dark or white magic, but with her babe and your son. You should learn more about witchcraft and the people who use it if you plan to use it against them. Dark arts are—”
“Anthony, he cares not what they practice,” the woman said with an air of authority. “Nor does he care if she is indeed a witch or not. Others have not done as he told them, and he’s found reason, much like he has with Mary here, to have them killed. Mary has done nothing to him, save not telling him sooner that it is his own son who is the father of her unborn child. It is only happenstance that she is also a witch.” Anthony turned to the woman at his side and smiled at her. Rohm could almost taste their love for each other, feel it as if it were a warmed blanket that had been dried on the line in the yard. And it pissed him off. Women were not to show such emotions to a man, especially not in the public as this one was doing. He’d opened his mouth to call her a witch as well when she simply looked at him. His throat grew tight and he could not speak. But she could. “Come, the night grows cold and we have much to do this night.”
“So we do.” Anthony turned to the witch, and with a snap of his fingers she was down on her knees in front of the stranger. “Mary, I have a task for you should you like. If you’ve no wish, there will be no punishment and you will be well paid for your troubles this night.”
“He meant to kill me, my lord. I feel it my duty to end his life where he stands. I am here only because his son, Michael, could not keep his pecker in his pants when he has a wife of his own.” Anthony looked out over the field, and Rohm knew the exact moment that Anthony spied his son. “He will need to pay for what he has had done to me this night. I have no house, my books have been burned, and he has taken my coin as well.”
“Do not think to harm my son, sir. I know not who you are, but should you harm him, I will find you and make you pay.” Anthony looked at him then, and Rohm felt his body burn with the desire to run and never look back. “He is my only son. You will not harm him.”
“Nay, I will not harm him.” Rohm felt the air rush from his body then. But it was short lived as the man continued. “But he will not live to see his next child born, nor will you, I fear. You both have been found out, I think. His wife and your own lady wife know of the bastards that you have sired. There is a lot going on at your house this night.”
Rohm looked at Mary and could see her head bent, her body shaking with her laughter. When he reached for her, his knife in his hand before he could think how close the man was, Rohm decided that he would kill the witch himself. But his body grew hard till he could not even blink when the man told him to stop. The command in his voice, as hard as the stone he stood upon, held Rohm there. Then the man helped Mary up till the witch now stood near the woman and the man as he spoke.
“As I have mentioned, we’ve a task for you should you like to take it. It will be one of great importance to me and my family. It concerns the babe that you now carry.” Rohm watched as the woman touched her hand to Mary’s bastard child. Did they not know how unclean she was? Did she even care what she was doing? That inside of her grew a child that was made in sin? But he could no more speak to them than he could move. He could only watch in horror as they moved away and out of his reach.
This is not to be, he thought. He was in charge of clearing the world of such things as witches and other things that he did not understand. He cared not for what they had to say, but it was his duty, as a man of the cloth, to do this thing. For now, there was little to nothing he could do. But he would rise again, and soon. Rohm had lost this battle, but he would find her again.
As the midnight hour passed over, then the sun began to rise up and over the mountain, Rohm could finally begin to move. His body was sore, stiff from lack of movement. But his mind, his plans for the woman and man, and even Mary, had been plotted out. He would be ready for them; he would have his revenge in this.
He would find them. Even if he had to do so on his own, he would find them and kill them for what they’d done to him this night. When the men with him began to move, standing and looking bewildered, Rohm started barking out orders. He wanted this done, he wanted them dead. His next grandchild was due to be born in a matter of weeks.
“Find Mary, bring her back to me.”
No one questioned what had happened to her, where she had gone if not up in flames, but moved as if they were in a trance, their bodies as stiff and sore as his. But when one of the men called to him, told him that something had gone wrong, he knew with each step he took that his son, Michael, had died this night, and by the hand of, if not the witch, then the man and woman with her.
His son, the only living son of his loins, lay where he had dropped, his body fat with laziness, his face relaxed in death. Leaning over his child, he touched his fingers to his face and found him to be cold, as cold as the ground that would soon welcome him.
Rohm thought that nothing could have prepared him for the pain of it. It rolled over him in waves of anger, sorrow, and hate. The feeling in his heart blackened, killing whatever peace and good will he’d had there.
Rohm’s son had been born to him late in life, his wife having given him nine girls, all of them useless. She had gone to her own cold grave when she’d finally done her duty to him and given him a son. So happy he was with his namesake that Rohm never saw his wife die, leaving the room as soon as his child was given to him. Rohm couldn’t even say if she had been dead long when he’d taken his child to the church to be baptized, having him blessed in the event that something befell him too. He had wanted to take no chances with this boy. He thought that blessing him so soon after his birth would prevent him from being sickly and dying.
“Lord Herald, what should we do now?” He looked over at the wood piled high yet unburned by flame. The stake that he himself had cut down and put in the ground stood in testimony to the fact that he had failed. “Shall we take young Michael to the undertaker now?”
“Yes. And tell my eldest daughter….” He couldn’t remember her name, not that he would have tried had he even known it. “Tell her that I said to prepare a feast for his wake. When he is buried, it is then that we will find this woman and man and bring them here for their crimes against us. Mary will pay for my son and all the other sins that she has heaped upon my door.”
“Man and woman, Lord Herald?” He had no idea how to describe them, so sending them on their way to take care of his child, he moved to his dais and sat upon it. The words of the man and of the witch came back to him. He would not see the birth of his next grandchild.
Anthony wasn’t sure what to make of the woman that walked with them. She wasn’t rude really, but she was too blunt for his taste, then she would act as if she were wounded and stupid if you called her out about it. It was difficult to keep up with her conversation as well, which was flying from one thing to the next like something bouncing in a room. And he knew from what they’d been able to see in the future that she wasn’t to be trusted, not even with this task, but she would not have much say in what they needed of her. She need only to give birth, that was all. The rest would work itself out. When his own lady wife told him to stop his thoughts and behave, he thought that he’d been very good in not taking her backside with his hand and showing the witch how to behave.
Eve, the heart of his body, her own body heavy with their children, looked as beautiful to him as did the sun setting over his castle. But they had seen what their future would be and had decided to take care that things were prepared for their children, children that they’d never see or meet should things come to pass as they were shown to them. This woman, one of many, would help them in that. She wasn’t as good as the others nor as magical, but needed all the same. Mary was the first of their tasks to set into motion, and Anthony was worried that they’d made a mistake in her.
You know as well as I that we have not. And it is not the woman that we’re depending upon, but her child. He looked at Eve when she spoke to him through their link. Mary’s daughter, she will be the key to many doors that will open that will save our children.
I know that, my love, but I do not have to like her much. She need only to understand what she is to do and when to do it. I fear, as I can feel that you do as well, that she is not up for the task. I worry for her part in this. If she does not heed our warnings and stay where we put her, then she will die, and her child as well. She assured him that Mary would do well. I hope so. I should hate to think of her failing them in their hours of need.
His wife told him that she would not fail. There was little doubt that she was to have a babe and that it would be a daughter. The rest had already been set in motion, and she need only to live long enough to bear the child. Eve patted his hand, then turned back to Mary to tell her of what they needed.
“Mary, we know that you have magic, but not a great deal of it. You can cast spells that come to pass, but other than that, you have nothing more.” Mary opened her mouth, but his lovely mate only raised her hand to stay her words. “I will not listen to you puff yourself up, Mary. You know as well as I that I am telling you no falsehood. You might be able to fool others with your misguided attempts to be a great sorceress, but we both know you have no more power than this rock does. Now cease these lies once and for all.”
“‘Tis as I have said about his son, my lady. He took me over and over one day and I conceived his bastard. When I went to his father when he’d do nothing to support me, I was beaten again and brought before the group you found me with.”
They also knew this to be only partly true. Michael had taken Mary, anywhere that he could find a hard surface. But she had enjoyed their coupling as much as he had. It wasn’t until she was full of a child that she complained. That was when he’d hit her, knocked her away from him, and scorned the woman. After going to the man’s father, she was taken into the cell that had held her until she was to be burned like nothing more than meat upon a spit. Anthony thought that humans, for the most part, were an odd group of beings.
Anthony wished that he could take all the men in the world that would raise their hand to someone smaller and without means of protecting themselves and burn them. It would take a lot of his flame, he thought…there were that many horrid people in the world. But there were times, he also knew, that the women could be just as mean, just as cruel as any man could be. Sometimes, in his experience, more so. People in general, he had learned, were not willing to think before speaking when they felt an injustice had been done to them.
“We have need of your help, in the form of a female child…your child. Her magic is greater than your own and will need guidance in the world that we live in. If you do not listen to me, follow my direction, she will surely die and you will be burned at the stake that we have saved you from this night.” Mary rubbed her hand over the babe there but said nothing. “Anthony and I have a place for you to go. A place where you will be safe and kept from harm should you do as you are told. There will be help as well, for you and any children you should have after you have given us this help. You will have more than enough coin to keep you, and food enough to never feel the pangs of hunger again. All you have to do is keep the babe safe and to help her grow into her magic. If you wish to say no, then we will leave you to yourself and go about our business. But know this; you will die, soon, and by the flame that nearly licked at your feet this night, Mary Wayne.”
“I have no wish to die, my lady. But I’ve no way of keeping her safe, either, unless you do indeed help me. Even now he plots my death.” Anthony knew this to be true, but also knew that his son was now dead, as cold as the ground that he fell upon. Not from the hand of the woman here, but because his own lady wife had found out about the babe Mary carried and the others. She had poisoned him. “I cannot keep myself safe now, much less a child. You say I will have coin? Servants? Someone to cook for me?”
“Yes. We shall protect you.” Mary began shaking her head even as his lady wife spoke. “You know what we are, Mary. You have known this since you were a child at your own mother’s feet. A dragon can protect you like none can. And we shall.”
“My babe, she has a meaning to you? You wish to buy her from me? I will gladly birth her and sell her to you.” Eve shook her head; they would not lie to the woman, but they couldn’t tell her why they’d not take her from her mother. They might not give her all the truths of it, but they’d not lie to her. “Then you take her. Raise her as your own so that she’ll be safe, and I will live in this house you have given me for payment. With the servants, of course. I shan’t be able to keep a house like I need on my own.”
Anthony wanted to tell her no, that someone as selfish and greedy as her should be punished. To think that she’d sell her own flesh and blood for nothing more than a house. Anthony would no more do that than he would cut off his lovely wife’s head. He wished now that they’d never seen the future, especially the one in which they needed this woman’s help.
“We cannot take your child. And should you wish not to do this, there will be no coin, no servants, and no home to keep you safe. You must do as we tell you. The hour, it grows late, and the men are, as you said, plotting.” He and Eve moved forward, deeper into the forest where the house was, knowing in their hearts that they’d have to convince this woman no matter what. But they also needed to be firm in their dealings with her. “You will come with us now. We will protect you and the babe so long as you do as you are told. We’ve set up this place to be safe and ready for you, with people there to help you once you have given birth.”
It took them nearly an hour to get her settled in her new home. Anthony wanted to shift, show her how well they could protect as they said they would and be done with it all. But he knew that while she believed what they were, she would be terrified to see
him. As they walked along to a safe place to shift, he spoke to his lady. Yes, they had done what they had come to do, but there were still going to be repercussions for young Mary Wayne.
“You have not told her the whole of her life. Nor have you told her she must love both her children equally. She will not, and you know this.” Eve said that it would do her no good to do so. “Yes, but you know as well as I that she will misunderstand what we have put before her.”
“Yes. And that will be good for the child too. The second child will survive, not by her mother’s hand, but because she will be left to her own devices. She will learn and survive as a strong woman. There are others there that will make sure that she gets what she needs to live and be what we need her to be. What all of us need for her to be.” Anthony knew this as well. “I have managed to help the children, not once as we had planned, but with both the magical powers they will need. Especially the second born. Her immortality is set now; they both, provided that they are born, will live for a great many years.”
“They will live then? Despite their mother’s inability to see the clear picture?” She said they would. “My love, my life, I don’t know if I can do this. To think.... I cannot lose you like this. We have so much to give. And our children, we shan’t see them grow and become the men we hope for them to be.”
“I know this too. And it grieves me so that I will never touch their skin, see them smile. We must do this, Anthony. You know this as well as I. Because if we don’t do this, then all will be lost. As will our children.” He nodded, his heart heavy with what they knew was coming. “Anthony, our children, do you think them to be great men? Men that will think of us when this all comes to pass?”
“They will love us no matter what we have done for them. This, this will ensure that our line does not end, but more importantly, that a great many lives will go on as well.” She nodded and reached for his hand. Taking hers, he put his hand over her heart and told her that he loved her.
“And I you. And will beyond our deaths. You have been the reason for my heart beating, my blood pounding in my body since I first touched you.” He wanted to stop now, take her into his arms and hold her. But he could not. Things were in motion now, things that they could see coming, and if they did not act now, everything and everyone would be lost.