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Topic Subject: Sepia Joust VI- Whodunnit? Submissions Scroll
posted 16 September 2012 04:02 EDT (US)   
There is a flurry of flags and armor at the end of the lists. What is that? The king arrives, with knights in flashy livery surrounding him. The colors do battle with each other as eagerly as the knights within their embrace will soon do on the field of battle. Yet the emotions aroused by the clash of colors are ones of joy and anticipation, not fear and dread.

The king dismounts before the crowd and bows once more before climbing to his throne. That wooden chair, chased with gold, stands centered among the crowd, with a beautiful view of where the contestants shall soon be battling for honor and glory. He waves once more to his loyal subjects then raises his scepter.

"I hereby declare this joust to be opened," he cries, amid growing cheers from his people. "Those wishing to enter may bring their entrants to this stadium between now and the Ides of October, when the lists will close and the Voting for Victor shall begin."

The crowd erupted in a clamorous applause of approval as the king sat heavily upon his throne. He moved no more, though his head did hang as the entrants took the field. Those closest to the king wore concern upon their brow as they struggled to maintain the illusion to the people that the king was well. But he was not. Something had happened, something foul.

Let the joust begin.


|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
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Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
posted 28 September 2012 00:51 EDT (US)     1 / 1  

The Witch of Whiteport

by Terikel Grayhair

Nothing ever happened in Whiteport.

The tiny village began its life as a monastery crowning a forbiddingly steep rock cliff upon the northern Yorkshire coast. The monks there grew grain in the fertile soil revealed from the clearing of the thick forest, and from the grain they made bread with which to feed themselves in an appropriately humble manner. Excess grain was traded to passing merchants, and the rest went to the brewing of beer which was likewise sold to merchants or passing travelers. There was a break in the cliff, a wrinkle of the otherwise high, flat earth just north of the monastery, where over time people came and settled, transforming the low-lying break into a small village. Strong easterly winds came, and with them high waves, which reduced the tiny village to a shadow of itself. The survivors learned from this, and rebuilt their village a bit further up the break and fortified their homes from the sea with an earthwork to keep away the high waters. One family, led by their patriarch Albus Summersby, built a watchtower upon the northern side of the valley, across the tiny town from the monastery, and began on the fertile topland a thriving farmstead.

The village grew slowly over the next few centuries, and the breakwater served to shield a small harbor. Whiteport now had a port. The monastery thrived and grew, since the village was not a rich one with the lands above claimed by either the monks or the family of the tower, only the oldest sons inherited their father’s lands. That left the other sons to seek their way through life as either a monk, or sign on as a seaman or soldier, or head south to a new life. Most chose to become monks or sailors, thus the population below remained steady while the monks above became more numerous.

Then good King Henry VIII abolished the monasteries in merry England. This led to no great upheavals and clashes, though several did contest this king’s will, requiring the army to evict the monks by force. But not here in Whiteport. True to the sleepy nature of the village below, the monks meekly surrendered their lands to the King and departed. Lord Geoffrey of Chivington was installed as the mesne lord of the new liberty, and the twenty four heads of the households of the village below were named Burgesses, and their perchs made hereditary, and themselves tenants of the king.

The Summersby family lands, being outside the perches and monastery lands, were not incorporated into the small town but continued their existence outside of it, as yeoman farmers. That is not to say that their farmstead and tower had not changed with the times- they had. The old wooden tower had been clad in stone to serve as a keep sometime in the past, and now served as the kernel of a new castle. Deep, stone-clad earthen defenses impervious to cannon fire now surrounded the old tower, and housed the brick house of the lord within. The wooden chapel of old St Nicolas had been rechristened sometime recently to the Chapel of St George, but the new priest had yet to replace the statue of Nicolas with that of George.

Nothing ever happened in Whiteport, was the saying. It was true for most of its seven hundred years of existence. The Vikings left it alone, Scottish raiders ignored it, the Spanish avoided it, and even the upheavals of the War of the Roses did not tarnish its history. The monks departed meekly; the mesne lord was installed without so much as the batting of an eye. Well, the saying was not quite true. A witch was burned at the stake about fifteen years ago. Witches in general were uncommon, so having one found and convicted in a place like Whiteport was most uncommon. But beside that, nothing ever happened.

So when the Dutch VOC merchant ship de Valk sailed into the port one breezy, rainy afternoon in the autumn of 1627, it made quite an impression on the townspeople. They braved the weather and rushed to the single quay to view the strange ship, noticing its six gunports on the lower deck and two swivelguns on the top deck, where the black muzzles of another four cannon could be seen surveying the town. The Burgesses, being the only ones in town empowered to treat with merchants, made their way through the gathering crowd to greet the captain, while other men ran to the castle on the north cliff to tell the lord of the ship’s arrival.

The Captain of de Valk stood at the head of his gangplank and motioned for silence. He was a striking man, from the flat crown of his navy blue feathered hat to the glistening shine of his polished knee-high black boots. His black hair hung in pressed curls to his shoulders, and his facial hair was shorn in the Van Dyke goatee that was so popular abroad of late. His embroidered navy blue coat was open to reveal white silk ruffles on his collar, and his belt buckle was a single square of gold that caught the eye and riveted it so that the two pistols thrust behind that belt- and the silver-hilted cutlass hanging from it- seemed more decoration than weapons of war.

The crowd hushed as the captain raised his hands for silence.

“I am Kapiteyn Jan de Winter of the VOC ship de Valk,” he announced. “The storm yesterday broke through our vessel and destroyed the barrels containing our fresh water and some grain, as well as tainting some other food supplies. With whom do I treat to obtain new barrels, fresh water, and maybe a resupply?”

“That would be the mesne Lord William,” one of the pudgier men said as he waddled closer. “Tis he who grants the rights of armed men to visit our port. Though we Burgesses,” he added, gesturing to a few other men who were clad better than the majority of the mob, “have been granted the rights to barter with merchants. What is your cargo, Kapiteyn?”

“We have a load of black ebony from Africa,” he said, to the immediate disappointment of the Burgesses, who cared not for exotic woods when there was so much good English oak not a half-hour’s walk from the town. Interest picked up, though, as he continued. “Some porcelain from faraway China, a keg of rum, some bolts of cloth, a few crates of tea…”

He could tell from the growing frowns of the Burgesses that none of his wares interested them. Smiling slightly, he added, “And a few small crates of nutmeg and cloves from the Malukas, and a box of peppercorns from India.”

That was what the Burgesses wanted. Spices! A small furor erupted between the Burgesses at the mention, and they began arguing among themselves as to who may barter first. De Winter turned the negotiations over to his navigator and second-in-command, and returned to his quarters until informed of the arrival of the lord’s squire, who led him and an aide to the stone keep on the northern hill.

The Captain and his aide were ushered into the presence of Lord William of Whiteport. The hall was a dark affair, a poorly-lit chamber made of the same native oak wood as the rest of the home. It was varnished but otherwise left untreated to turn dark with the coating of fine soot the hearth threw out and with the passage of time itself. There were two padded leather chairs before the hearth, which once bore a weapon of some sort mounted upon pegs but now wore the livery of the Chivington family as a garish dress across an otherwise spartan stone hearth.

William himself was lounging in one of the chairs, nursing a tankard of ale. He rose when the party entered, displaying himself to be a large man of about fifty eight years- twice that of his seaborne visitor. He had a shock of black hair that was shot with gray and a full beard of the same, worn in the full-face English model. He was as large of chest as his visitor, but whereas the Captain was broad of shoulder and narrow of waist and hip, William was both broad and thick like a barrel. That thickness increased through his abdomen instead of narrowing as did the maritime officer, but his long limbs were clad as richly. He eyed the Captain with a surly eye as he took in the thick velvet of the man’s coat and the large square buckle of gold.

“I am Kapiteyn Jan de Winter,” the Dutch Captain said upon approaching his host. He held his right hand out as a gesture of peace.

“William, Lord of Whiteport,” he said in a deep voice, introducing himself. He took the man’s hand in his own, shook once, then released. After a second glance, he asked, “Do I know you?”

“I do not think so,” de Winter replied evenly. For if you did, you would be running yammering and jabbering only to be found cowering under your bed with a Bible in one hand and a crucifix in the other. Yet his voice betrayed nothing of the thought hiding under his hat. “Have you ever been around the Cape of Good Hope? Perhaps we have crossed paths in the Orient somewhere?”

William shook his head. “Never been out of this shire, to be honest. Not even when I was on military duty.”

De Winter nodded. He hooked his thumbs in his belt. “You were told why we came, no?”

“You come with cannons and guns and wish to trade in my town. Why should I allow that?”

“The storm destroyed our supplies,” the kapiteyn corrected. “We wish to replenish. The Law of the Sea allows ships in distress to seek safe harbor in the nearest port.”

“Still, you come armed,” William repeated. “Even to here in my hall, you bear arms.”

“I am the captain of a European vessel that travels in Asian waters,” de Winter informed. “There are many pirates about who would love to capture a Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie merchant, thus we go armed as a matter of survival.”

“It is a nice cutlass,” the lord admitted. “I do not recognize the design. Is it Asian?”

“Swedish, actually,” de Winter replied. “I picked it up in my travels before I joined the VOC.”

De Winter unbuckled the cutlass, handed it to his aide, and sat. The chair was comfortable, much more so than he had expected. He took off his hat and placed it on the table beside him, where a servant came to remove it to a nearby rack and replace it with a goblet of red wine. The seaman noted that and nodded his thanks and approval.

William was more interested in the blaze of white hair stretching across the left forehead of his visitor. Angry red wrinkles could be seen creeping from under the edge.

“Assegai, when putting in for water in Southern Africa,” the captain said when he noticed what had grabbed his lord’s attention. It was the same with almost everyone he had met when he removed his hat. The scar, and the white hair growing from it. “We drove off the attack, but not without loss. A few inches to the right and I would have visited Saint Petrus myself that day.”

“Forgive me,” William said.

Never, thought de Winter, but again did not let it show. The Englishman did not notice.

“Whiteport sees seldom visitors,” he explained, “and more seldom ships other than its own fishing boat. I am afraid my manners have atrophied from lack of use.”

“No offense taken,” de Winter replied, though he did shift the subject. “You have a very pretty town, Lord William. This house, it is well-sited and well-built, and the monastery on the hill across the valley of the town shines as if of polished marble. I would love to hear the history of this town.”

William laughed. “There is not much to tell, It grew in the shadow of the monks, then the monks left. Nothing ever happens in Whiteport.”

“My lord tells the truth of it,” laughed a female voice from the doorway. An elegant woman clad in a dress of fine, pale flaxen entered. She was a remarkable ensemble of paradoxes. Her body retained the youthful, lithe form of a young woman, though she was nearing the end of her fertility. Her face, with its high cheekbones and large eyes, reminded one of an adolescent, yet the wrinkles forming at the corners of her eyes spoke of the approach of middle age. Her blonde hair was curled in the latest fashion, yet held in place by an obsolete bronze pin. Her dress was as stylish as anything worn in the court of London or Amsterdam, yet was of plain linen. She spoke in a high, clear voice that was lined with a timbre of deep darkness. She came further to the hearth as both men rose.

“My wife, Abigail, daughter of Alfred of Chivington,” William said by way of introduction. He turned from his guest to his wife. “Kapiteyn Jan de Winter, of the merchant ship de Valk, which is anchored below.”

“Enchanted,” lied de Winter, as he took her hand and pressed his lips to it. He avoided eye contact in doing so, as the scent of the woman before him suddenly caused him hesitation. He rose slowly, hoping she did not notice, and added with a pique, “Your words say your husband’s tale of no events in a boring town is true, yet your tone says otherwise. Interesting.”

“No no,” she laughed. “His words are indeed true. Whiteport has been relegated to the backwoods of boredom since its founding seven centuries ago. It was a hundred years ago that anything approaching exciting ever happened- the eviction of the monks. Many monks elsewhere had to be physically evicted or bribed heavily with pensions and gratuities, but not the monks of Whiteport. The king said go, and they went.”

“How utterly boring,” de Winter agreed.

Abigail graced him with a small laugh and a smile, then turned to her husband. “I came to inform you that dinner will be soon ready. Shall the captain and his man be joining us?”

William looked again at the man with the large golden buckle and nodded. “The Captain will dine with us. Have Louis prepare a meal for his aide- he can dine with our own servants.”

“As my lord commands,” Abigail replied with a bow.

De Winter rose as the lady retreated, then resumed his seat. He turned to his host. “May I ask what is to be served this evening?”

“Mutton,” William replied. When his guest appeared confused at the word, he added, “Lamb. Roasted.”

De Winter nodded. “And to wash it down?”

William cracked a rare smile at the phrase. Bloody foreigners always pick up the low-down phrases first.. “Ale. Like the lamb, it too comes from my estate.”

“Ah.” De Winter gestured to his aide. “Send Anton to fetch a cask of wine from my stock,” he commanded. When the man questioned which one, he added, “De kleine tonnetje wyn die wy hebben van de fransman genomen. En zeg tegen Arjan dat alles moet voor morgenavond klaar staan.

“French wine?” asked William. His expression changed from one of boredom to one of intrigue. It was the only thing out of the captain’s mouth he understood.

“Aye, my lord. A small cask, well worth the value of such a fine meal,” de Winter replied.

“I have not had French wine in ages,” William said, sitting upright. “Trade dried up with the wars, you know, and Whiteport has never been very rich. Off the beaten path, too, so seldom do any merchants come here for more than grain and grain products.”

“Then tonight we shall drain the cask dry,” De Winter said with a broad, toothy smile.

“French wine, Swedish sword, Assegai scars, and Oriental spice,” muttered William in envy and curiosity. “You have traveled far and wide. You must have some tale to tell yourself. I would fain hear of thy exploits.”

“As would I,” said Lady Abigail as she joined her husband with his guest. “The furthest I have ever traveled was to Lincoln, and then as a young girl. As William and I cannot afford to experience the joys of travel ourselves, we would dearly love to hear the tales of those who have.”

“Much of my life has been traveling from once place to another,” de Winter said in a resigned voice. “Life at sea is constant wet and cold, except in the tropics where it is wet and warm. And so boring, just the ship, and the sea, and trying to get back to land. It is a dangerous place, the Sea, if one does not have it in one’s blood.”

“You seem to have it in your blood,” Abigail said sweetly. “A captain already, at your age?”

De Winter looked away as if hiding a slight blush. “I have been washed overboard into the Arctic Sea during a powerful winter storm and survived. I have been stuck in the Doldrums, when the wind died and only the slight current of the ocean carried us out. Men go mad there, milady, but I stayed sane. I have stayed alive as only one of three men on deck when a giant wave larger than your castle swept over our ship and threatened to capsize her. I am lucky, milady, nothing more. I but follow God’s Will.”

“Sounds to me like you were rather unlucky,” William muttered.

“In the extreme,” De Winter happily agreed. “And consider this, lord and lady- I have been at sea for but seven of the last fifteen years!”

“Oh, do tell!” Abigail said with a glint of excitement sparkling in her eye.

William joined her in this, “What of the other years?”

“My first voyage ended being washed overboard in the Arctic storm,” de Winter told. “I swore then that I would never go to sea again.” He looked down at himself, then back up. “But as you can see, I broke that vow. But not immediately. I journeyed to Leyden and once there I decided to stay on terra firma forever. My mother was a fine weaver- excellent really, and I had watched her often as a lad. So I thought I could weave, and with Leyden being the weaving capital of Holland and all of Europe, I thought I could make a living. So I plied the trade for a few months, then realized my mother was a far better weaver than her son would ever be. So I had to find a new line of work.”

“Back to the sea?”

“To battle,” de Winter said. “There were rumors of troubles in Germany and Bohemia- religious trouble. The Calvinist princes of Bohemia were rebelling against the Catholic crackdown. Mercenaries of all faiths began recruiting. I became interested because I knew how muskets and pistols worked, and how to wield a sword. But mostly I went because Bohemia was as far from the sea as I could ever get.”

“Did you fight for the Calvinists, or for the Catholics?” William wanted to know.

“The princes paid better, but the Hapsburg had the better troops,” the captain replied honestly. “I was a good fighter, but had no money, having lost almost everything in the Arctic and the rest on my failed loom. So I joined whoever would buy my gear and pay the better wages.”

“And?” William had not yet heard the answer.

“And thus I ended up in the army of the Graf von Thurn, a Bohemian nobleman. We fought the Roman Catholic army at Lomnice, and drove them from the field where fifteen hundred of their own lay dead. I think we lost about four score. After that, we joined von Manstein in the siege of Pilsen. We took the city a week later, and forced them to pay a veritable fortune to avoid being sacked!”

Both lord and lady appeared shocked at the revelry in his recounting. De Winter paid it no mind as he continued on. “The Hapsburgs paid us back at Sablat in June of ’19, however. The Count of Bucquoy who was driven away at Lomnice now drove von Manstein away at Sablat. Von Thurn went to stand before Vienna and challenge the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II to vacate the throne of Bohemia. Our lads won again at Wisternitz in August, which would be our last victory.”

“Ferdinand kicked your asses good,” William said with emphatic power. “White Mountain. Am I correct?”

De Winter nodded. “He among others. Tilly foxed us good. He kept the Imperial Army back, and led off with Catholic and Spanish forces. We trashed those boys good with our horsemen, but their own came and drove ours away. Then when our general turned us to fight the Spanish, he forgot about the Imperials, who closed. Two volleys later, companies of our side began peeling off. It was more a big skirmish than a true battle. But regardless, they crushed our entire army, and with it the revolt.”

“You were lucky to escape with your life,” William said. “I heard many Protestant prisoners were butchered, and the rest sold into slavery.”

“As was to be my fate as well,” the captain said bitterly. “But as I said, I was lucky. With the help of an Englishman- I had learned English from your Calvinists during my time in Leyden. I think half of them sailed off to the New World while I was fighting at White Mountain. Anyway, this Englishman was captured along with about four thousand of us. He and I escaped. That was when I realized life was far more dangerous upon land than it was at sea. So I repealed my vow and returned to the sea. And here I am.”

The chief maid knocked at the doorway and said simply, “Dinner is served.”

After the dinner, the host and hostess retired back to the hall, while the guest received his cask from the ship. De Winter returned to the hall where he found his chair filled with the delightful form of Lady Abigail. Another chair was brought forth by to servants and placed opposite the hearth where it as flanked by both lord and lady. Servants brought forth small tables for their goblets, and filled said goblets from the carafe, which itself was filled from the cask.

“I thank you for your hospitality,” he said to the lord, then added as he swung his countenance toward the lady, “and for the fine company.” He lifted his goblet in toast, then sipped with a slight grimace as William drained his goblet in a single draught.

“Before the dinner, I had regaled ye with tales of my exploits, at your request,” de Winter announced. “And was told in turn that nothing ever happens in Whiteport. This I find odd in the extreme- every place I have ever visited has some sort of local legend, local curiosity or something of which the people can talk. People love to talk, and I love to listen. I have heard tales of battle, tales of romance, of myth and legend. Every place has a tale- I would know what the people here speak of.”

“Sheepshit, beerfarts, and fish stink,” William muttered. “That’s all Whiteport has- sheep, a single fisher boat, and a brewery in the monastery.”

“Monastery?” de Winter asked with sudden interest. “I had thought the English monasteries all dissolved?”

“We call it that,” William corrected hastily, “as that is what it once was. To distinguish it from my holdings here on this side, or in the town proper.”

Abigail flinched as if hit in the forehead with a thrown tomato, then broke in as a sudden burst of memory filled her mind. “There was the Witch,” she said. “Not much of an event, really, but the tale does hold that local flavor our guest would so like to sample.”

She turned to de Winter. “It was about fifteen years ago now. A woman was caught casting a spell of sickness, was tried in an ecclesiastic tribunal, convicted, and burned at the stake. Actually, the monks leaving so peacefully and cheaply generated more interest.”

De Winter sat forward. “To the contrary, my lady,” he said quickly. “Monks are devoted to God, and men of peace. It is more interesting that other monks fought the eviction, than that they complied. But a witch…. Witches are rare indeed, especially ones of power. To have caught here a witch- a practicing witch- defies the odds. She was powerful, no?”

“Have you ever encountered a witch, Captain?” she asked, suddenly interested herself.

De Winter nodded. “I have fought witch-doctors and shamans in the darkest depths of Africa, and wizards in the Orient. Charlatans the lot of them, yet powerful in the minds of men. My captain laughed at their powers, then had us shoot them with our muskets. I tell you this, my lord and lady, no magic can withstand a lead bullet.”

“Your captain?” William seized upon the mention. “Are you not the captain of de Valk?”

De Winter smiled. “I am. But I was not always the captain. Like many in the VOC, the Dutch East Indies Trading Company, I served first in the crew.”

“Have you been a captain long?” asked the lady. Her interest fell abruptly at his admission to have served in the crew. Obviously a peasant risen high, not the nobleman she had originally thought him to be.

“Just over four months,” de Winter admitted. “Our previous Captain, Martin Lob, died off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope returning from the Malukas. A ship cannot sail without a captain, so I was promoted. I had been a gunner’s mate who had worked his way up to Navigator. When Kapiteyn Lob succumbed to sickness, I was elected by the ship’s officers to Captain. Admiral van Zant approved the promotion when we put into port at Vlissingen.”

The tale cast a shadow over the chamber. To de Winter, it was simple- these stuck-up English noblemen thought their birth into a noble house made them somehow better than men who made themselves noble and rich by their accomplishments. He was beneath them, a man born to ignoble parents who somehow defied God’s Will to rise to richdom and title.

He knew better, though. So did William.

“The Witch?” he asked. He strongly wished to turn the conversation to the much more interesting tale of demonic powers wielded by unholy women- especially one caught in the act.

Abigail lifted her goblet with a hint of a smile. She was still a good looking woman despite her paradoxes of happiness and sadness, of truth and hidden deception, of faithfulness and desire, of age and youth. This handsome, lowborn captain was half her husband’s age but just as ruggedly attractive. Her mind knew her prime had passed to interest such a strong buck, but her body did not. She was forty years of age and had yet to bear her husband a child. Her ability to do so would soon end, and her husband spent most evenings in his cups or wandering the estate, returning too late to do anything about creating an heir. If her husband would not father her child, then maybe this captain could be persuaded to lend a hand to keep the Chivingtons of Whiteport continue their line…

It was a fantasy, though. She knew the Dutch as Calvinists who had broken away from Catholic Spain, and this man had fought in the Calvinist armies against Catholic Imperials. He must be a fanatic. He would not risk his immortal soul for a dalliance with a noblewoman, even if he were so inclined. She herself was attracted, but compelled by law, custom, and her marriage to hold her urges locked away. She sighed slightly, using the opportunity to gather her recollections of the witch. Her carnal desires, heightened by the recollection of the tale she would tell, found release through the telling of the tale in great detail.

“So, the tale of the Great Witch of Whiteport,” she began. . .

******* ******* ******* ******* ******* ******* *******

It was in the warmest evening in the month of September, fifteen years ago this very day. Old Widow Summersby once lived in this very house, across from the holy, sanctified lands of the Monastery of Saint Jerome upon the cliff opposite. In the very sight of the Lord’s Lands she lived, and where her husband Anthony’s remains were buried when he finally lost his battle with sickness. Widow Summersby was Scottish, and purported to be as Christian as the monks themselves, but she was in fact a pagan witch.

Anthony had been a navigator aboard the Drummond, a British East Indies Trading ship. It is said that he contracted a deadly fever on his last voyage, one that forced him from the ship and back into his ancestral home. It is said that he had died of the fever, or would have, had his Scottish wife not begged the Devil for his soul. She sold her own, that her husband may have a semblance of life. Even her son, little John, a boy of only seven years, was rumored to have been offered in trade, though those rumors have never been substantiated. The Devil did take her soul as offered, and put a glint of life into her husband’s body for the three years for which she had bargained. After three years the light went out, and Anthony as buried as a good Christian man at St Jerome’s.

A year later, Widow Summersby laid her eye upon a strapping young man, and again turned to the Devil. She was no comely woman to attract such a man, being both ten years older and a good sight plainer. Nay, Widow Summersby could not win that man’s heart on her on looks and charm alone. She needed aid in capturing the man’s heart- infernal aid, the kind only received from the Devil himself, who can make the ugly beautiful and the sinful appear blessed. But the Devil does not do favors, even for his witches. There is always a price, and the price is always dear. She had already sold her soul to gain poor Anthony three years as a zombie; she had little else to give, yet she received aid indeed from the Devil. The price was the sacrifice of her own son. Her own flesh and blood! Yet the sacrifice could not be immediate, or the townsfolk would know of her crime, and the lad was still an innocent watched over by angels. No, she married, lived as a full woman for another year, and when the lad was twelve or so years of age, the bill came due.

Her son disappeared- stolen away by the Devil as payment for the affections of her new husband. The poor lad probably burns still, down in Hell, for his mother’s sins. Her crops failed- the Good Lord would not reward such evilness with prosperity. Then her new husband began showing signs of sickness, the same which had felled her Anthony. He became haggard, withdrawn, and tired. People noticed. And talked. It was the Evil Eye. Others felt it as well- especially the family of Lord Alfred, which had been at odds with the Summersby family over a border dispute. His daughter was tormented by nightmares of a witch cursing her, and was sent away to a holy temple far to the south. His son was found dead in his bed, the victim of sorcery. How else could one explain the death of such a young and good man?

De Winter followed her gaze to the portraits lining the walls to either side of the hearth. There, to the left of the hearth, was the likeness of Alfred, to the right his son Richard. The likenesses were eerily similar- both had high cheekbones, long snooty noses, van Dyke goatees, and a lozenge-shaped birthmark on the right cheek just before the ear. It was as if the artist had painted the same man at twenty five then again thirty years later. The younger man did indeed appear to be a good man.

It was Father Paul who saw the signs, and he who found the Witch. Witchcraft leaves traces, you see, and those trained by the Papists in Rome know how to see those signs. He followed the tell-tale traces of spent energy from our home across the valley to the Summersby mansion, and using the Holy Bible as a shield, entered the den of evil to find the Witch behind alembics and glass tubes, brewing yet another potion to increase her powers.

“Hrmph,” grunted de Winter. “It is not often a witch is caught so flagrantly pursuing her evil aims.”

“She claimed to be brewing a potion to cure her husband,” Abigail scoffed, “but anyone who had seen her poor husband knew better. She was brewing potions and poison, with which she had caused the death of my brother and her first husband, and was trying to do the same to her second.”

She was dragged to the center of town, her witch’s tools with her. There, before the statue of Saint Martin adorning the square, Father Paul accused her of witchcraft and showed the hastily-assembled jury the evidence. He displayed with righteous pride the glass tubes and their vile content, to the shocked gasps of those gathered. He examined the witch’s body for further proofs. He had her stripped naked. We were shocked to see her body- for her black garments hung baggily about her, giving us the illusion that she was fat and decrepit. Yet her body was as lithe as my own, though her breasts had begun to sag. Father Paul then pored over every inch of her exposed flesh to seek the diabolical mark. Yet the Witch was clever- not a blemish showed upon that alabaster skin. Even when she was shaved of every hair like Bald Agnes of Holyrood, not a mark could be discovered where the Devil had kissed her. Yet she was not so very clever- Father Paul found an invisible mark, made by the Devil to brand his servant. She had thought to outwit the righteous by blinding the faithful with her fishbelly white complexion, but one cannot deceive the Lord nor his servants.

Now she showed true fear, the poor woman. Her Devil had abandoned her to her fate, eager to collect her sold soul. This too was proof of her witchcraft, for those without sin know that the Lord will not suffer them to perish. Only the wicked, without His divine strength at their side, show fear of the mortal flesh. Thus the second proof was established.

The third proof was easy- the instruments captured with her. These were glass tubes and alembics, distilling flasks and such for the brewing of potions. These were incontrovertible- they could be used for no other purpose than sorcery. Thus the third and final proof necessary for condemnation was a fact. Widow Summersby was proven to be a witch.

She proclaimed her innocence of course, but in the face of these findings, her words were but the hollow bleatings of a forlorn sheep.

She had been poisoning her man, creating potions with which to send her spirit to torment those with whom she had trifles, and dealing with the Devil to sow mischief and mayhem into this good Christian community. She had already slain Lord Alfred’s heir, Lord Richard, and banished Lord Alfred’s daughter with her curses. The lord himself was losing the ability to walk due to her spells. His legs were turning to useless lead. Several months after the trial, he finally died of the spell stealing his life.

Her husband, bless his soul, refused to believe the charges. He demanded a trial by ordeal, that his wife may prove her purity, despite the damning evidence found by Father Paul. Thus it was decided, and the Witch was to be given an ordeal by fire. If she could grasp the red-hot iron ingot and carry it nine paces without injury, it would be proved without a doubt that she was not a witch. This would be her one chance to avoid the death demanded by King James of witches- our merciful God would not allow the innocent and pure to be harmed, thus he would protect her.

But the Widow Summersby rejected this ordeal, as did the townspeople. Her reasoning was as one would expect- she would be crippled at best, sentenced to death at worst. She knew God would not protect a witch. The townspeople rejected for another reason entirely: Hell is flames and fire and brimstone- the Devil would protect her, not the Lord, and the town would be left with a witch among them. Her husband, still under her thrall by the ensorcelment placed upon him, demanded yet another trial, one to which the townspeople could not object. An ordeal by water.

King James had written in his
Daemonologie about this, and the judge, the Burgesse Henry, was a learned man. It was said that water is a far better medium to test for witches due to several unique properties. Water is pure- it rejects the impure and guilty. Witches can take flight upon broomsticks- thus they are of uncommon little density and will float. And water is used in baptism- which witches reject and are thus rejected in turn. Three good and sound reasons, to match the three proofs.

The witch was to be tied with her left thumb to her right foot, and her right thumb to her left foot. She was then thrown into the harbor. She disappeared briefly beneath the surface, as her loving husband rejoiced- but then bobbed back to the surface and floated to the delight of the priest. Burgess Henry had been shocked at her sinking at first, but was proven correct in his suspicions when she returned gasping to the surface- with both hands freed by infernal means of their bindings. Since the Devil intervened, the witch was bound again and thrown once again into the chilly waters. Again, she bobbed to the surface gasping for breath.

Father Paul, who had opposed the ordeal by water as the practice was condemned by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England, stood in awed shock. The sight filled him with dread, and he shivered in fear. Never before in his life had he seen such blatant deviltry as this horrid woman bobbing back to the surface to foul the fresh air with the proof of her witchcraft.

“Was she put to the ordeal clothed, or naked?” de Winter asked.

“Clothed, of course,” Abigail retorted indignantly. “There would be women and children at the ordeal. Father Paul would subject none but himself to the uncouth sight of a naked witch. Why do you ask?”

Because wet clothes can trap air to create buoyancy, de Winter thought, but did not say. He had used that very property himself, to stay afloat in the icy Norwegian Sea.

“I see,” he concluded. “Please continue.”

The trial was over, but there remained much good work to do. Father Paul needed her to confess in order to save her immortal soul. Her body and life were already forfeit, but a confession and repentance could grant her soul entrance to God’s Kingdom. Burgess Henry, the judge, need her to name her apprentices and fellow witches. And her husband needed her to demand another ordeal- one which could prove her innocence. Yet to all these needs the Witch of Whiteport displayed nothing but contempt. She refused to say a word more..

Had she had sexual intercourse with the Devil or one of his demons? Where did she hold her Witches Sabbath? Who among the faithful were also witches in hiding? The answers to these and many other questions went with her to the grave.

Abigail paused briefly, openly distressed yet equally aroused by this tale. Was her distress caused by the evil of which she must tell, or by the rising desires in her body? It was hard to tell.

De Winter motioned his aide to refill the lady’s goblet. He threw a hard glance at the woman, whose curls were already beginning to unravel with the rising heat of her quickening heart.

“I do swear, my lady, that this is a most uncommon tale,” he said sharply. “I have followed many witch trials in my days, and never have I heard of this one. Truly amazing!”

“Do you call my wife a liar, captain?” grumbled William belligerently. The unspoken accusation seemed to bring him from his semi-slumber state. “I can vouch for the veracity of her words.”

“Not at all,” de Winter replied easily. “The tale she tells fits well with what I have seen and experienced. I question not the veracity of her words. I am simply amazed that a trial with such tangible evidence has not been a topic of discussion far and wide.”

“It was a local matter,” Abigail said defensively, despite the absence of accusation. “Whiteport is a tiny village, and we do not often speak of it. Besides, it was in the year of the Twelve Pendle Witches, which were tried and executed in west Lancashire. Twelve well-publicized witches trump a single one out on the outskirts of a poor county.”

“Ah, that explains it,” de Winter said with a soft nod. “Twelve witches discovered and tried in a large county would indeed overshadow a single witch in a tiny village. Do continue, lady Abigail,” he asked gently. “One cannot come so far into a tale and refuse to tell its climactic resolution.”

“You seem to have an undue interest in witches and witchcraft,” William muttered brutally and surly. The drink must be going to his head- his mood was turning most foul.

“I have been involved in a witch trial in Norway,” de Winter said. “Six years ago, in Vardø, ironically the very place near where I had been washed overboard. A horrid business, which ended when the eleven witches each had been strangled before their bodies burned in bonfires. They had admitted to flying to the Frozen Islands of Spitsbergen, and once there, enjoying a Witches’ Sabbath. They drank blood, and each initiated and enjoyed sexual relations with at least three demons and the Devil himself. In return, they were granted powers of weather and wind, which they then used to cause a great storm which wrecked the village of their accusers. An evil coven, most foul.”

William scoffed at the tale. “They were liars, and unlucky to boot.”

De Winter shrugged. “The storm was real- it was that storm which washed me overboard and nearly wrecked our ship. It was indeed an unnatural storm. It had to be the work of the Devil. And a few years before, in Finspånga in Sweden, nine more were uncovered. And in Germany, when you English were tied up dealing with the Spanish Armada, three hundred sixty witches were executed in the area around Trier alone. Witches are real, Lord William.”

“I do not doubt that,” William replied. “We have had witches in England as well. The Pendle Witches of Lancashire, of which Lady Abigail spoke. The same year there were five more witches hanged in Northampton. Eight years ago a coven of three were hanged in Lincoln. Some claim witches fled from the north, where the Scots had a wildly-successful witch-hunt in 1597, six years after a prior wide-spread hunt. Hundreds were convicted and executed. We know witches are real. We have seen enough of their blood boil and flesh turn to char to know the truth of the matter.”

De Winter nodded gracefully. “I do not question that, Lord William, but I would hear the end of the Witch of Whiteport.”

Lady Abigail sipped elegantly from her goblet and nodded with a longing glance to the captain. “Our guest is correct, my lord. We must not leave a witch unfound, or her tale untold.”

“I do not want to hear this again,” William said, rising. “I am off to bed.” And with that, he stumbled out of the hall and up the stairs to his bed.

“He really does have a taste for French wines,” de Winter said with a smile as the lord disappeared. “He had almost the whole cask himself.”

“The captain does have more aboard his ship, does he not?” she replied with a twinkle in her eye, to his nod. “Then he has not totally drained you of wine.”

“The Witch, milady. Please continue.”

Abigail sipped from her on goblet and sighed breathily. She dismissed the servants for the night, and de Winter did the same for his aide. The young man topped off his captain’s goblet one last time after doing the same for the lady, then disappeared into the shadows.

“The Witch?”

There was no escaping this tale for endeavors more pleasant. Abigail sat back, resigned. “Of course.”

Father Paul pressed the witch, but she refused. Good King James, our sovereign, set out the rules regarding witches, taken from the Pope’s own decree that questioning a witch be not fettered by any limits or restraints. The witch was questioned endlessly, for twenty days, wearing a witch’s bridle with its cold metal prongs holding her tongue and cheeks in their firm grip. Sleep and food were withheld, lest she regain her powers. Thumbscrews and the whip yielded nothing but grunts. The Witch was strong; she would not break. Thus there was no recourse for the good Christians of Whiteport to do aught than obey the Holy Bible-
suffer not a witch among thee.

Thus it was so for the people of Whiteport. The witch refused to repent, refused to confess, and refused all aid and succor. She was vile, a servant of the Devil, and thus was made to pay the price of infidelity to the Good Lord. A stake was erected outside of town, that her evil might not spread when consumed. Heaps of twigs and branches were collected from the forest and piled around. Then the Witch was tied to the stake. She was given one last chance to repent and avoid this fate. Father Paul pleaded with her to save her soul, but the Witch refused.

So it was with a heavy heart that her husband was called forth, to prove his own goodness in rejecting the evil witch he had married in a final and incontrovertible act. He was directed to light the pyre, which he did. The flames rose, the Witch screamed, and the smoke billowed. The screaming lasted for what seemed like hours, but could only have been minutes. Such a chilling sound, that blood-curdling howling, but at last the smoke quenched her voice and the fire consumed her body. The Witch was dead and gone, and the village was once again

“She was burned alive, and not hung first as with other witches?” De Winter asked in awe. “That is a continental custom! The English, I was told, merely hang their witches then cast their bodies into rivers or such.”

“Father Paul would give her every chance to repent,” Abigail said quietly. The telling of the tale seemed to drain her, while at the same time, excite her. The paradox again. “He was prepared to dive into the flames himself to cut her bonds should she confess and name her fellow witches, but she was a stubborn one. She refused to let other than pain pass her lips.”

De Winter nodded in understanding. “I see.”

A long, awkward moment passed, before de Winter looked up and into her eyes. He cocked his head to the side in query, then bit his bottom lip as if a coquette. “This tale puzzles me, milady. In fact, you puzzle me.”

This caught her interest and fixed it in place. “How so?”

“I see in you a woman of many conflicting properties. A living paradox, if you will. I see a woman of obviously noble blood- it shows in your features, mannerisms, and likeness to the portraits above us, yet those same features, mannerisms, and utter lack of likeness of your husband to those paintings scream commoner to me. You have the slender and graceful figure of a young woman, yet the crow’s feet of a woman whose hair is about to turn gray. You tell this tale with obvious pain and sorrow, as if I have forced you to recount an evil affair against your will, yet you mention such detail and tell it with a strong undercurrent of pride and relish. You made it seem as if these events happened to you and your husband, as if this was your tale, and not that of the witch” He opened his arms wide in submission. “Either that, or milady has much more skill in the telling of tales than does a simple sea captain like myself.”

Abigail blushed. “A bit of both, I assume. Your English is accented and somewhat plain- one can tell you learned it from Pilgrims fleeing the Crown- and thy tale was told in this foreign language. My English was learned in the court of my noble father, and through tutors and noble conversation with my peers. It is only natural that my tale be better told than that of thee.”

“Thou does speak of a bit of both, yet reveal only the one.”

Abigail leaned forward, inviting de Winter to do the same. She spoke in a conspiratorial whisper once he leaned forward to join her. “I was in that tale, as was Lord William. Lord Alfred was my father, Richard my brother. And William, poor William, was the yeoman Widow Summersby ensorcelled. He had burned his own wife, and in doing so broke the spell binding his heart to hers. He was free, though he now drinks almost every night in an effort to drown his grief and her memory. The witch holds him tight, even when she is in Hell and he here above. How else does one explain our lack of children? God has not blessed us with any, in all our years. I fear it is because my husband’s blood is tainted by the witch. He had touched her, and held her as a man does a woman. Her evil has tainted him, and because of that, my father’s proud and noble house will die out.”

“French wine and English ale,” de Winter whispered in reply. He had sipped a moderate quantity during the course of the evening, and noted with approval that the lady had done the same. She had still consumed more than he, but her husband had drunk as if the four-gallon cask was water. “Especially when taken quantities as large as this evening, can also prevent the appearance of children. Methinks thou does give this witch too much credit, and the alcohol too little.”

“Wine, ale, and grief can all affect another thing that must happen in order for children to appear,” she retorted bitterly. “And that too has not been done in years.”

Her candor at the subject shocked the captain into sitting upright in his chair. She too sat quickly upright, in response to his shock, and tried quickly to excuse the comment. But a single word from the captain allayed her fear, and then she realized his shock was upon that one word, and not the rest.


She nodded, leaning forward slowly to gauge his response. He too leaned forward. “We were as young lovers when we first met,” she whispered cattily, with a girlish giggle. “Impudent, vulgar. It was delicious! Nightly, and sometimes daily as well. He had always favored a drink, but as time passed he favors the drink more and more and me less and less. One cannot father children when one sleeps in a keg and one’s wife in her bed.”

“Truth,” replied de Winter. In vino veritas- in wine there is truth. An old Latin saying, and she has had enough of the wine to become both tipsy and talkative. And apparently both aroused and forthcoming as well. Her next comment confirmed this.

“So I take it the Kapiteyn has no wife back in Holland awaiting his return? You mentioned your promotion from the ranks- and common sailors cannot usually afford the expenses of married life.”

The logic was inescapabale. “No, milady, I am not wed.”

She placed a hand gently upon his knee. “Abigail, Kapiteyn, Not milady. The servants are to bed, and your aide to his quarters. We are alone here, you and I, the only ones neither asleep nor so drunk that it would require earthquakes spewing fire and brimstone to waken.”

De Winter grinned. He was once a Calvinist soldier, and always a God-fearing man, but he was also a seaman back from a voyage to the far side of the world, with enough wine in him to wave caution and custom aside, and Abigail was still a good-looking woman indeed.

“I had the servants make up the guest chamber furthest from the main bedroom for your quarters,” she said breathily. “We should not be disturbed until well after the sun rises.”

“It is indeed late, mil… Abigail,” the Dutchman said. He rose, removing her hand from his knee but not releasing it. Instead, he held on to it to help her to rise as well. She did not resist his touch, instead leaning into it.

“This way,” she said, leading him past the stairs toward the corridor beyond. They reached the door at the end, which opened to reveal a chamberpot, a small table holding a bowl and a carafe of water, a chair, and a rather large bed. Another table beside the bed held a small lantern, which provided the sole light remaining lit in the manse.

Abigail entered and drew him into the room. She closed the door with her left as her right hand removed the pin restraining her hair. Blonde curls fell out of their hold to frame her face in flaxen waves. The effect was astonishing. No longer was she an aging noblewoman projecting haughtiness from under an austere stare. She was once again a lusty youth romping through fields of wheat on her way to pick berries in the forest.

This was not a part of the plan, the Dutchman thought, with alarm racing through his body to tremble his hands. This is sin. Lead us not into temptation, the Good Book says. Be strong, resist the Devil.

Other thoughts came as well. Memories of the shipboard burial of Kapiteyn Lob. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

Tonight the Lord giveth. Tomorrow he shall taketh away. Besides,
de Winter thought, he was but a man, and Abigail more than just a woman.

“The servants rise with the sun,” she whispered as she pressed herself into him. “I am yours until then.”

Breakfast was a simple affair. The maids served the lady and the guest, then carried a tray of food to the captain’s aide. William did not attend. De Winter acquired his seal on a letter enabling him to dock and to trade for what he needed through Lady Chivington, and dispatched his aide to the ship to begin the process of replenishing.

“And what does the Captain plan for this day?” she asked sweetly and properly, though the tone turned decidedly lustful once the servants were out of the room.

De Winter thought for a moment. “My officers can handle the replenishment, so I expect a tour of the town is in order. I would dearly love to visit the town church, and pray for forgiveness for any transgressions.”

“There is absolutely nothing needing forgiveness,” Abigail said lowly. “Gratitude would be more in order to be given than forgiveness.”

He blushed at the remark. She had gotten very little sleep, he even less. She had been very eager and grateful indeed.

“You came to our keep through the main road, yes?” she asked. “Then you have seen the town already. Twenty four houses, one town hall, and the harbormaster’s shack.”

De Winter was taken aback. “No church?”

The lady grinned and pointed to the old monastery. “The church there is the only one Whiteport has ever needed. The town has always been too poor to afford buying another house for God. And why bother, when he has a grand one just a short walk up the hill?”

The logic did not escape the Dutchman. “That is true. God does not need a second, poorer house so close to such a large and lavish cathedral. I would like to tour that old monastery, if I may. It must have a fascinating architecture and grand windows, even if the town itself does not.”

“Of course,” Lady Abigail agreed. “I grew up there.” To the captain’s expression of surprise, she added, “My great-grandfather made it his lord’s hall when the monks left. I know it well.”

The wheat in the fields was ready for harvesting. Men were working with scythes to separate the grain from the straw, while others used threshes to expel the grain from the chaff. The lady and her guest walked through the field towards the monastery buildings following a beaten path used by the field hands. Abigail let her hand run along the border, letting the velvety feel of the grain brush her fingers as they walked.

“I love the feel of wheat against my skin,” she said happily. “I used to sneak away from my tutors to walk in the fields.”

De Winter nodded in agreement. The color of the wheat matched her hair. “As do I. Though there is not much wheat growing upon the sea, and the sea is in my blood- as much as I dislike that notion.”

Abigail laughed. “A captain who does not like the sea,” she giggled. “You must appreciate the irony, captain.”

De Winter grinned. “I do. I owe the sea much. Yet my heart is upon the land, despite the blood. Your heart appears to be tied to these lands here, yet you live across the valley. Thus you must know the feeling as well.”

She sobered a bit. “We lived there until my father died, not long after the trial of the Witch who slew my dear brother. I was to wed William, who inherited the keep from his wife. We lived first in the keep, then when Father died, we moved to the Lord’s Hall here for a few months. But it was too much for me. He decided the old monastery was unlucky- both men in my family died there- and noticed my tears when I passed their chambers, or their chairs at the head table, or their coats hanging still in the foyer. He felt the change of residence back to his keep a remedy. He was right.”

“He cares deeply for you,” de Winter admitted. “And yet he locks you away in that dark tower, while here the light lives in every stalk. I take it he is a good man, despite his faults, and one of which your father and brother would have been proud.”

Abigail snorted. “Father hated him, and only agreed to his proposal for marriage because he saw it as a way to unite our lands. Even as my husband, though, he refused to let William in the house, though I may come and go as I pleased. Richard, on the other hand, may have taken a liking to him had they met. He was a good soul.”

“Those two look alike,” de Winter remembered. “Strange that they are so alike in appearance, but so different in demeanor. That happens, especially in noble families.” He looked to his hostess, and cocked his head in curiosity. “I noticed the lozenge-shaped birthmark upon the paintings of your brother and father, and grandfather. Yet you do not bear such a mark- though your features share much with their likenesses.”

Abigail looked to her feet. “The birthmark is only passed down the male line. Neither I nor my aunt in Lincoln, nor her aunt in Maidstone have such a mark.”

De Winter nodded solemnly. “I see.”

The monastery was before them. Beyond the walls were two rows of modern farm buildings flanking the long, medieval quarters where once monks lived and studied in silence. That atmosphere of silence was pervasive; the two felt its cold and quiet bite even now. Until the bell of the church rang.

De Winter looked up at the church which dominated the inner portion of the grounds. It’s tower rose like a white monolith above the low, simple quarters. It was of marble that had yet to be darkened by lichens or algae, each buttress and wall crenellated to appeal even more to the eye. The tall, narrow windows set into the stone were of stained glass, each depicting a scene from the Bible in grandiose style and exceptional detail.

He made to enter. A bearded, bald man in a brown tunic and coarse black trousers stopped him.

“You may not enter our church so armed,” he said, pointing to the pistols and cutlass the captain habitually wore. “It is an affront to God to bear arms in His house.”

De Winter nodded gracefully, and unbuckled his belt to set his weapons down upon the steps. The man nodded and gestured with an open hand toward the door. The captain thanked him, then held out his hand for Abigail.

“The lady must remain here, sir,” the bald man asserted. “Such are the rules here,” he added.

“Then I need not enter,” de Winter replied. “I see no point without my hostess, who can tell me the history of the altar, and the artists who created your fine windows, or the biographies of those buried in the floor.”

“As you wish,” the bald man said.

The captain re-armed himself while Abigail told him of those things. It was a short tale. Then she pulled him to where there was a view of the room where the abbot once resided, telling of how her grandfather had transformed the once-spartan quarters into a lavish hall with money gained as a privateer as they continued onward.

“So you have the sea in your blood as well,” De Winter noticed. “Your ancestor was a pirate!”

“Privateer,” she corrected with a smile. They were far outside the compound now, and seemingly had the fields to themselves. The men had disappeared at the toning of the bell, obviously a call to the midday meal. The two were now in a small circle of beaten wheat, where the men had just begun before being called. She sat down among the threshed stalks, then lay back with an inviting smile.

“My lady, this is most public!” De Winter objected, to her expanding smile.

“They will not be back from eating for at least an hour,” she grinned lazily. “And there will be a second tolling of the bell to inform them to return- and to inform us of their imminent arrival. Come, Captain, do not leave me here unsatisfied amid this small circle of soft straw.”

The woman’s appetite for fornication was astounding, de Winter thought. On the floor of the circle, she was invisible to all but the top of the church tower, where only God could see them. This seemed to excite the woman, and increase her desire for a sinful repetition of the night before. But the Dutchman as resolute in his horror and remained standing.

“You did not seem this prudish last night,” Abigail moaned.

“You are insatiable,” the Captain muttered.

The woman smiled and retorted, “You sated me quite well last night.”

The Captain stiffened. “And yet this afternoon you want more. Evidently last night was not enough.”

“It is never enough,” she said huskily, and drew his hand down to her breast. “Though my body can be sated for a time. Come, my captain, slake my thirst for your body you wakened. You cannot deny feeding the yearning you yourself created.”

De Winter stood resolute, but the stiffening of the nipple under his finger began to eat his resolve. A parting gift, he decided. One last moment of pleasure before it all ends. I owe her that. With that thought, he too sank below the level of the grain.

A distant explosion ripped the peaceful afterglow, a moment before the bells chimed to announce the end of the midday meal. The two clothed themselves quickly but thoroughly, then rushed toward the keep. They were met by a small party of Dutch sailors bearing a stretcher.

“Arjan! What is the meaning of this?”

The First Officer reported to his captain. “Kapiteyn, your cabin boy has injured himself. Severely, I must add.”

“And our surgeon?” the Captain asked.

“The Ship’s Surgeon can do nothing more for him,” the First Officer replied with regret dripping from his words. “He needs a priest now, not a doctor.”

“Father Paul is our priest,” Abigail interjected. “He is inland, visiting his bishop. I shall send for him at once.”

De Winter nodded, then added as he looked down upon the bandaged head of his cabin boy. “It looks bad, milady. I do not think he should be moved much further. May we set him in the chapel here?”

“Of course,” she said swiftly. “The outer door is locked while Father Paul is away, but there is a family entrance to it through the main hall.”

De Winter turned to Arjan and gave the directions to his officer. He concluded with a deep sigh. “Send someone back to the ship. We will require some fortitude, Arjan. Strong drink. The brandewyn should do well.”

The First Officer nodded. “And for the lady? The jenever, or the uisce beatha?”

De Winter stood rigid and taut for a moment before replying. “The brandy should suit her as well.”

Arjan’s face froze in horror, then resumed its typical bland expression. “As the kapiteyn orders.”

De Winter then led the stretcher-bearers inside as Arjan returned to the ship. Abigail strode ahead, finding a servant and dispatching him to fetch father Paul in all haste before guiding the men to the chapel. She herself waited in the main hall until the Dutchman returned.

William had joined her. “Bad business, this. I am sorry for your loss.”

De Winter nodded. Why, I detected something very close to sincerity in that! Well done, William! “It was the lad’s own fault. I have told him many times: Wim, empty the damned pistol before trying to clean it. But he never listens, and this time he paid for it. Foolish boy.”

William scowled. “I would not have let the boy near firearms, were he that careless. But I will not condemn you for actions aboard your own ship. Please, have a seat,” he added, gesturing bluntly to one of the open chairs. He himself plopped down in the other. “Abigail sent for our priest. With Godspeed he may be here by nightfall, midnight at the latest. He is a devout one, that priest, and would never let a man appear before Saint Peter without the Rites if he could help it, bishop’s summons or not.”

Interesting thought the captain. “I do hope he hurries.”

“The Captain sent for some strong drink,” Abigail said, noting the longing glance of her husband to the empty decanter still adorning the table from the night before.

This perked the lord somewhat up. “Strong drink?” he asked, “like port wine?”

“Stronger,” the Dutchman replied. “We have an assortment onboard. Kapiteyn Lob was fond of a shotglass or two in the evening before he turned in. He left us a few flasks of brandewyn, genever, and some uisce beatha

Uisce beatha? Never heard of that stuff. The jenever either, but brandy, well, I’d recognize that in any tongue.”

Uisce beatha is an Irish brew he picked up from some Genovese traders he met off the coast of Africa,” de Winter informed him. “The Church of Rome calls it acqua vitae, the water of life. Here it is known as usquebath, while we in the Lowlands call it simply whisky. Very harsh and brutal on the palate. Jenever is distilled grain malt flavored with thrashed juniper berries. Not bad, but not what you deserve. Thus I selected the brandy for you and your lady, lord.”

William nodded heartily and smacked his lips. “You made the right choice, Captain.”

I know.

The captain yawned and rose. “I must see to my man, lord,” he explained, then departed to the chapel where his young cabin boy lay, surrounded by his stretcher-bearers. He would return later, as night fell and darkened the chapel by no longer permitting the sun’s light to illuminate the interior through the stained glass windows, summoned from the candle-lit pews by the arrival of his First Officer and the cask of brandy. De Winter took the man’s report and the crystal glasses he brought, then dismissed him.

“Brandy,” he said, filling the glasses and handing them to his hosts. “A Dutch specialty, though the French are proving quite good at making this as well.”

He knocked his glass back, and gestured to William to do the same, while allowing the lady to sip hers.

“Ah, that restores the spirit!” he exclaimed. He refilled the glass of William, then his own, and sipped. It was going to be another long, hard night, but he needed the boost of the brandy to settle his rising anticipation.

Father Paul rushed into the main hall a scarce hour later. He was a tall and thin man, who once boasted a set of stringy muscles over his otherwise bony frame years ago. Now that muscle had faded, leaving his a walking skeleton with a chest-length beard.

De Winter rose at the man’s entrance.

“Father Paul, I presume?” His voice revealed nothing, no hint of recognition or clue as to what was about to occur.

The priest turned to the guest. “I am,” he replied in a gravelly bass voice. He noticed the captain for the first time, and took a second look. “Do I know you?”

William laughed. “I said the same thing upon meeting him. Father Paul, this is Kapiteyn de Winter, of the Dutch ship de Valk, which is currently occupying our quay. His cabin boy shot himself, badly enough to need your services in lieu of those of the surgeon.”

“Right,” said the priest. “No man shall stand before Saint Peter without the Last Rites if I can help it. Is he in the chapel?”

“I will escort you,” de Winter said as he nodded. And did, as far as the door, where he paused to let the priest continue on in alone.

A few minutes later came a scream, and two of the stretcher-bearers carried Father Paul back into the main hall. The priest was bleeding from his midsection, and his head was hanging low. Lady Abigail screamed at the blood, and stood in horror. The Dutch sailors dumped the bleeding priest in her empty chair.

“A bit premature, but I can hardly blame the lad,” De Winter said flatly, unruffled at the sight. “Lord William, I would advise you to drain your glass, then refill it and drain it once again. Quickly.”

The lord was aghast at the state of the priest. He would most definitely not listen to such an absurd advice under these circumstances, and said so: “Why would I want to do that?”

“Because it will deaden the pain,” the captain informed him as he drew one of his pistols. He then cocked the weapon, took careful aim, and shot Lord William through the knee.

The surprised lord howled in both shock and pain. The pistol shot brought the other two stretcher-bearers and the ‘wounded’ lad from the chapel. They were now armed with cutlasses and short muskets- evidently hidden under the lad whose wound was obviously less than mortal. The four men rushed through the chamber and out again, on their way to securing the gates and servants..

He called over his cabin boy, who wielded a bloody knife and a cutlass, to stand behind him. All three English saw now the ruse for what it was- the musket shot which supposedly shot the boy’s cheek off was a signal to the Captain, while the bandaged boy himself was a means to enter men and arms into the keep.

De Winter drew his second pistol and waved it like a scepter. “Lord William of Whiteport, you are the King’s Mesne Lord of this parish. Yet in this matter, you are not the fief lord of the King. Lady Abigail is the daughter of the previous lord, which makes her as a female likewise unsuitable for that post. Father Paul, being a priest, is likewise excluded. I am the Master of my ship- the judge and jury in legal matters aboard, which makes me the nearest to a proper legal prosecutor and judge in these parts.”

William was pressing his hands onto the large hole in his knee in a futile attempt to staunch the flow of blood. “You are a foreigner, de Winter,” he hissed. “You have no legal standing here. Monster!”

De Winter yawned then pointed his pistol at the lord’s chest. “I have more standing here than does yourself,” de Winter replied evenly. “Hell, this lad here has more standing than do you. I was planning on revealing the charges and evidence in the form of a tale, but I am too tired after a sleepless night and active day. You may figure where the tale is going and attempt to kill or disable me before I finish, for which my constant yawning and lack of concentration may provide an opportunity. Thus I disabled you in self-preservation, and to let my men know the time was right and all defendants present. I would much rather have you whole and hale for the executions at midnight.”

The priest sighed and the lord gasped.

De Winter shrugged. “This is a Captain’s Mast, a trial if you will. The lord stands accused of several violations of law- both the King’s law and the Law of God. As does the priest. You, Lady Abigail, have provided the court with much of the evidence and testimony needed to seal their fate. The rest I discovered myself. My lady, if you please, have a seat in the chair I so recently vacated. This may take a while.”

“What is this about?” wailed William. It was most pathetic, the big man brought low by a small lead ball through an extremity. De Winter did not even bat an eye at the man’s agony.

He yawned again, longer this time. “Mary Summersby.”

“The Witch?” both lord and lady exclaimed in surprise. The priest was silent, though he heard the name and winced. He seemed resigned, and knew Judgment was coming.

“So you named her,” de Winter replied. “The good Catholic priest here prosecuted her upon the testimony of you, Lady Abigail, who claimed to be beset by witchery. So said you last night after dinner. Your lord verified your words, every one of them. Father Paul accused, prosecuted, and tortured her, and Lord William, her husband at the time, had her tortured more and ended up lighting the pyre that burned her alive himself. So said you, and so agreed he.”

“She was a Devil’s Witch!” Father Paul gasped. “I caught her brewing potions myself!”

De Winter threw his hands up in surrender. “If brewing potions was against God’s Will, Father, then why are there priests in Rome right now brewing those very potions for the Pope?”

The priest looked aghast at the Dutchman, who merely nodded and yawned again.

“A man does not change much between the ages of thirty and fifty. A little more paunch, a few wrinkles, a little higher forehead, or a bit of balding, but the face remains essentially the same,” de Winter said as if at a university lecture. “But he changes tremendously between the ages of ten and thirty. You men both asked if you knew me. You do not know me now, but you knew me twenty years ago. You, William of Whiteport, sold me to a Scottish merchant captain as an indentured servant to spend my days in the New World. You, Father Paul, escorted me to that Captain and signed the indenture papers. Neither of you followed up on that, did you? You forgot me as soon as I was sold, and split the profits of the misdeed between ye.”

Both men’s eyes shot wide open.

“I see you begin to understand,” de Winter continued. “You sold me to that Scot, who sold me for a much larger profit to a Scottish regiment going to Sweden. I was a slave, not an indentured servant, to a Scots Major. His batboy, and punching bag when he was drunk- which he usually was. I grew strong under his punches, and returned a few. That got me a whipping, but my courage in standing up to him bought some freedom. I was replaced as batman by a tame Swedish noble lad and sent to the battalion as a private, where I was trained as a soldier- pike and sword, but also with muskets. I escaped them three years later by running north, where I was picked up by a passing Dutch merchant. They Dutchified my given name, and found my family name laughable ironic. For surviving the freezing water, they named me De Winter.”

“John Summersby!” Abigail gasped.

“In the flesh,” de Winter replied with a bow. “I was not sacrificed to the Devil as legend has it. I was sold to Scotch demons by Paul here at William’s behest, after I had observed the two of you enjoying carnal delights in the fields by the forest.”

He turned the pistol to cover the dying priest. “You handled the sale, priest. And you knew of their affair. William committed adultery with Abigail. Her fornication is a mortal sin which can imperil the soul, but his Adultery is a Cardinal sin which condemns one to Hell. You, a Catholic priest, knew this, but turned a blind eye to it.”

The priest made a half-hearted effort to rebut, but gave it up.

“How do I know you a Catholic priest?” Summersby asked for the priest. “I had my cabin boy placed in the far corner, which means you must cross the altar to approach him, no matter from which door you entered. You bent your knee and crossed yourself in doing so. Only Catholics do that, confirming your true faith.”


“I spent longer than I would wish among the Catholics of Spain and Austria after White Mountain,” Summersby answered. “Many of our fellow Protestant prisoners were murdered by the priests in order to save their immortal souls. I count myself lucky that Edwins and I slew the priest sent to take our confessions and made our escape. That gesture, of holy men bending their knee and crossing themselves before ordering the hewing off our fellow’s heads I found horribly contradictory. You are Catholic, against the Law of King Henry VIII. And a slaver of freeborns, also against the King’s Law. And a priest who ignores cardinal sins, against God’s Will. And a murderer, against the will of both God and King.”

“I never murdered anybody,” the priest gasped.

“You murdered my mother!” Summersby screamed. “In collusion with William, based on words of Abigail. And she was not your first, either.”

“She was a witch,” the priest retorted. “I admit I had my doubts at first, but the proof was incontrovertible. Anthony, her first husband, had died of some horrible fever. William here came to me when he noticed the same symptoms that had plagued Anthony appearing in his own body. He confessed his suspicions, which I then investigated as any good priest would. I caught Mary Summersby red-handed in the act of witchcraft, working her evil before an array of evil tubes and beakers.”

“You mean the ones in the hidden room behind the bookcase?” Summersby asked politely.

“How do you know of that?” William hissed. His face was white as a sheet, despite the normal ruddiness of his features.

“I grew up here,” Summersby reminded him. He yawned again. “I must apologize for this incessant yawning. As I said before, I had no sleep and the hour is late. I spent many long hours last night servicing your wife like a bitch in heat and screwing her silly, and after she returned to her own bed, I used the rest of the time to explore my old home. I found some interesting things.”

William glared cruelly at his wife, who bolted upright in abject horror at the callous revelation so off-handedly delivered.

The Captain paused to take a deep breath and enjoy the effects on them both of his words. It helped to clear his head of the dragging weight of sleeplessness for the moment. “You really should clean up after yourself, William. My father’s scientific equipment was still there where my mother had left it, except for a few missing beakers and alembics. I assume these were used in her trial as tools of my mother’s witchery? Of course they were. The remainder of the equipment, however, was coated with a dark ichor.”

“Demon’s Blood!” Paul roared. The shock of his stabbing was wearing off, but de Winter had seen enough wounds in battle to know the priest’s returning strength was temporary. He would regain some vigor before the inevitable internal loss of blood would weaken him, and then he would decline and die. He wanted this farce to be finished before it got that far. He had no intention of letting the priest die so easily.

“Poison,” Summersby corrected. “Think back, you idiot. The beakers at the trial. They were crusted in white, were they not? White, like angel dust, not dark ichor.”

Paul winced at the truth. He remembered.

“My father was afflicted with malaria and a jungle fever,” Summersby recounted. “He had awful bouts, which I am sure you remember. He was a navigator on a trading ship, if you recall, and had traveled both far and wide. Among his journeys, he came across a remedy for his ailment. The Incas, conquered by the Spanish, had a tree, the bark of which could be dried and powdered, and from that powder a white salt could be extracted. By infusing this salt with water, this holy bark could provide relief from fever and arthritis.”

“Deviltry!” hissed the priest.

“Deviltry my ass,” Summersby replied. “The chinchona tree, found only in the Inca lands, is a naturally occurring species. Its bark, when processed as said above, relieves the symptoms. You should know this priest- your brothers in Italia are brewing that exact medicine. They hope to perfect the recipe and present it to your Pope within five years. My father spent most of his fortune acquiring the bark for his medicine, which he then made himself. And when after an exceptionally strong bout of ague where he almost died having run out of medicine, he taught my mother to make it.”

Paul groaned. He saw where this was heading.

“William came into my mother’s life after my father died,” Summersby continued. “He won her heart, though she was older by a decade than was he. He was a charming man despite the Devil inside him. And when he began showing the symptoms of the very disease which had killed my father, my mother began making the medicine to cure him.”

Paul collapsed and folded as if made of paper. If this man’s words were true, and they seemed to be, then he had cursed and let be burned an innocent woman.

The pistol wavered then centered on William. “You have never left the county, by your own admission. You cannot catch either marsh fever or the ague in this county, but can in the marshy fens of East Anglia, where you have never been. And your cannot catch jungle fever anywhere in Britain or even all of Europe. Thus you were not sick with those ailments, and never were. You faked them, then let Father Paul know of my father’s laboratory to do the rest. You knew the good padre here would investigate, and that Mary Summersby would be making medicine for your ailment, and thus be caught in the act. You sentenced my mother to torture and death for the crime of loving you.”

Abigail recoiled away from her husband’s side. She was beginning to see him for the monstrous ogre he really was.

“There was never any talk of torture,” William mumbled. “Father Paul came up with that bit himself.”

“Oh, you thought she would simply be hanged?” Summersby inquired.

William nodded. “Them other witches, there were all hanged. I thought she would be too- quick and painless.” He did not deny his part in the crime, nor his conspiracy to commit murder through judicial means.

De Winter shot him through the other knee. “That’s for lying at trial, Lord William, even a drumhead one like this. I remind you that this is a court, and I am its judge and prosecutor. You heard Lady Abigail testify last night that you demanded the ordeal by fire, then the ordeal by water, and then lit the pyre yourself.”

William collapsed in pain at the second impact of a bullet through his limbs. Summersby calmly reloaded both pistols at the small table while continuing his examination of the evidence. “You must have known that those accused of witchcraft were put to the question in ways most horrid and painful. You know that there was a papal bull- that’s a writ from the Pope- that removed any rights and limitations in questioning those accused of witchcraft? The Pope thought it such a heinous act that hunting down and exterminating witches required- not allowed, but required- the use of any means available- to include torture. And you also knew- or Paul would know- that the bull in question as one of the many that both Henry and James put into the Churches of England and Scotland.”

“I thought she would confess,” William said, repeating his defense. “I set it up so that she would be caught in the act. There would be no torture if she confessed, which she must do given the circumstance.”

“You have no more knees remaining unharmed,” Summersby reminded him. “So shall I start on your danglies? You demanded the ordeal by fire, and convinced everyone including Abigail that you were doing so to prove her innocence. Do you know how painful an ordeal by fire is? I have witnessed several such. The accused is always horribly burned and maimed. And seldom has anyone been acquitted by such. My mother would probably have been among the few who could withstand such a burning- she was a proud Scots Presbyterian, and a stubborn mule to boot. But not even her strong will can command her burns to heal within the three days allotted to accused witches. And then you demanded an ordeal by water. Threw her bound and trussed into the harbor.”

“She floated!” Paul shouted. Already his voice was fading- a sign the Captain would have to bring this to a quick end or let the man die in less agony than intended. “The pure water repelled her! Twice!”

“I know,” Summersby said with a nod. “The first time she slipped her bonds- the fisherman you ordered to bind her did a poor job. The second time your threw her in her thick, wet clothing trapped air inside it, giving her an unnatural buoyancy- a common enough event in those instances people clad in wet clothes are immersed a second time. I also remember hearing that on neither of the two inundations had my mother a rope tied to her as in other ordeals. You know, the life-line in case the accused sinks? You would not want to drown an innocent, would you?” he scoffed. “Of course not, not you. But William wanted her dead, by legal means, so that he could inherit.”

To the accusing glance of the lord, he added, “Your fisherman told me about the ropes. We found the Whiteport fishing vessel four days ago. Once I learned from which port they hailed, I interrogated the crew. They should have arrived in London yesterday, to deliver my letter to your king’s ministers concerning this affair.”

“You will have started a war between Holland and England,” William muttered. “You would not dare, no matter how much you wish this vengeance!”

“I would not dare sign it Jan de Winter, Kapiteyn of the VOC de Valk,” Summersby agreed. “But I would definitely dare sign such a letter John Summersby, yeoman of Yorkshire. Not that they would do anything about it- you are the lord here, having murdered my mother to marry Abigail, and murdered her father to inherit his lands.”

“What!” exploded the lord.

“The ichor,” de Winter reminded him. “The ones coating the equipment my father used to make his medicine. His medicine was a white powder we mixed with sweetened water. What coated the equipment was dark and syrupy, a brown brew left out for years. My guess would be hemlock, due to the once-liquid form, odor, bitter taste, the quick passing of the man who ingested it, and the symptoms he displayed while dying.”

“You murdered my father!” Abigail wailed. She had no doubt it was murder. “Did you also poison my brother- who loved you?”

“He would do anything to inherit wealth,” de Winter agreed. “He seduced my widowed mother to inherit our wealth, but was surprised to find most of it gone. Chinchona bark is expensive, you know. That is why he turned from her so quickly to you.”

“Your mother was a stubborn old cow, and hardbitten to boot. She would not part with a single penny, despite my attentions. She got what she deserved, pretending to be rich while hardly having two shillings to rub together.” With that outburst, William signed his own death warrant.

“Had you been plowing the fields instead of Abigail, you might have earned more than a few shillings,” de Winter replied blatantly. “Our crops had never failed when tended. Until you took over the fields. Money should be earned, William. You wanted it handed to you, which was why you became so interested in Abigail.”

Abigail stood shocked. Apparently she believed William wanted her for her beauty, charm, and willingness to let him use her magnificent body. “So my part in this sordid affair was purely monetary? Was I but a conduit to the wealth of my family?”

“On the surface, yes,” Summersby reminded her. “With your father and brother dead and the laws being what they are, your husband would inherit the estate. William intended to be that husband. More, you gave him the idea of how to rid himself of her. You claimed to have been bewitched. A lie, which led to murder.”

“My words had nothing to do with murder!” she cried.

“They provided the catalyst for Paul and William to concoct their own evil brew. You are a lusty woman, Abigail, and always were. What a terrible adolescence you must have had, with such carnal urges coursing through your body and no worthy bachelor in the shire to relieve them. You were over twenty when I was sold into slavery- and yet unwed. You were a sexual predator on the prowl to relieve Nature’s Urge, and William here a treasure-hunter with the morals of an alley cat. He picked you like a fair plum- easily, too, due to your lusty demeanor. You look at yourself and see a beautiful, well-figured woman with enough libido to satisfy any man. He looked at you and saw a good-looking, willing twat with a rich but weak-hearted father and a foppish brother who lived on the edge with a penchant to drink. A perfect set-up for him. Thus he seduced you. In those days, with your desires, he had to be neither ruggedly handsome, dashingly elegant, or nobly sophisticated. He need just be a man with no shame and a hard penis to pluck you. You wanted sex, which he could provide, and he wanted money, which you could provide.”

“You make me out to be a slattern!” she spat bitterly.

“It is just as natural for a woman to want to couple as it is for a man,” de Winter retorted evenly. “Had it not been for the desires, Mankind would have ceased to exist ages ago. So you are lusty. So what? The Church may frown upon that, but I do not. We Dutch are rather liberal when it comes to sex, and in being liberal, we can recognize nymphomania for what it is. So can any other learned man, if he identifies the symptoms and looks beyond the Devil as their source. Especially one versed in the works of Petrus Forestus. Is this not correct, Father Paul?”

She grunted, fear now showing in her eyes. But Summersby granted her a brief reprieve by turning to the priest.

“William has already pleaded Guilty,” he said. “Now I will examine you, priest. It took me the better part of several years to piece it together, and most of yesterday to confirm it. Do you care to tell the lady why you supported her husband in his crimes? You, a man of God, willingly participated in enslaving a freeborn English yeoman, willfully ignored or even encouraged William’s adultery and Abigail’s fornication. You helped William condemn my mother to a terrifying death. Why would a good priest do this? Tell her. Or shall I do so. Confession frees the soul as your kind says, Father, so decide wisely. My cutlass has yet to taste blood. I could flagellate you with its scabbard.”

That caught the priest’s attention. That word. De Winter knew and his piercing gaze intensified as it bore into the priest.

The resistance that had been building since the revelation of Mary Summbersby innocence collapsed abruptly.

“The monastery,” he said, surrendering to the captain’s glare.

“You do see that she does not understand? The simple woman,” Summersby pointed out. He coaxed a more thorough confession by adding, “You think of her as a vagina looking to be filled, little more. She sees nothing further than her desires and for with what can fulfill them. So you began treating for her affliction, knowing both its causes and a bit of alchemy.”

Abigail blanched in horror as the priest sat up in renewed interest.

“It is ironic that the room given you here in the keep was the very room which served as my bedroom,” Summersby enlightened him. “When I was searching last night, I went in. The chapel was locked form the outside; I knew you were not home. The room seemed quite small, though, even adapting for the fact that I was quite young when I was last there. So I found it had been modified. By going through the closet I found a secret laboratory, along with the beakers and alembics missing from my father’s collection. Trophies from the trial? I’ll bet they were. And you, knowing a bit of alchemy or having studied it, decided to use this confiscated equipment to refine the medicine you had killed Sir Richard with.

“He killed Richard?” asked Abigail.

“He did, though did not mean to do so,” the captain. “He had discovered to his dismay the cause of your hypersexuality, and was determined to cure that as well. The copious amounts of potash I found in his secret chamber confirm that he is still at it. This is the reason Lord William here cannot gain or sustain an erection. Saltpeter- produced from potash- will do that to a man, especially when mixed in his beer.”

William glared daggers at the priest. “You have been dosing me?”

The priest nodded. “Your lust would reawaken that of your wife, lord. To treat her affliction, I had to administer a medicine to reduce her libido and another to you to avoid the opportunity. And it was working, damn you, until last night.”

“When I served you and the lady wine,” De Winter said with regret. “I did not know of the lady’s treatment, or that the sulfites in the wine would interact with her medicine and render it as water. I did not suspect anything concerning wine until I found the two bottles hidden under the altar. So for that, I apologize, my lady, for taking advantage of your condition. Still, when investigating the cause of William’s dwindling desire, I discovered the murder of your brother.”

“Richard had a fever,” Abigail said in shock. “Father told me so when I returned from Maidstone.”

“He lied,” de Winter said. “Probably to spare you. Richard died of heart failure, caused by too much concentrated saltpeter. You take excellent notes, Father Paul. You identified the mistake with Richard, and refined your solutions to apply them to William. The proof of your good work lies in the fact that William’s heart still works though his penis does not.”

Another sigh from the priest; an admission.

“Tell me, Father, and tell Abigail here as well, what is it that made you think you could control a bull like William? Or was it coincidence, or was it part of a larger plan formed by the conflux of so many variables that it could not fail?”

“I stumbled upon William’s Dark Secret one day while inland attending my flock,” the priest said. “He was no yeoman, nor of noble blood, nor even a commoner in good standing. He was a highwayman, wanted for robbery. So said the bailiff searching for him. I sent the man north to Newcastle, then began watching over William until I could catch him in an embarrassing position. Once a thief, always a thief. And I did catch him, only he had given up robbery of coins for the taking of feminine virtue.”

“He means he spied upon you two fornicating in the fields near the woods, and seized his chance,” Summersby interpreted for her. “He then thought up this whole thing which would see everyone satisfied and proper, at the cost of a single, unpopular Scots woman whose holding blocked his plan. As he will now explain.”

Paul hung his head. “King Henry had stolen the monasteries from the Church, and like with your great-grandfather, gave the church lands to his supporters or allowed the landed gentry to buy the properties. Your grandfather’s father turned the Monastery of Saint Jerome into his personal castle, and although he lived chaste and good according to God’s laws, neither you nor your brother did.”

“So the good father here concocted the plan in which William would inherit from my mother, then marry you to put a claim on the monastery,” de Winter explained.

“Richard was a foolish, brazen fop with little brains and a thirst for wine his father could not afford. He would not survive long once his father passed. Thus within a few short years, William would own both this keep and the monastery,” the Catholic concluded. “He would repay my aid in his acquisition by moving his residence to his first keep and return the monastery in secret to the Church.”

“That midday bell was calling the brothers to prayer, not lunch,” de Winter reminded her. “Those are not migrant farmers or simple field hands. They are monks, without cassocks. The timing of the bells was the proof needed. Midday meals seldom last longer than a half hour, while we settled your urges for over an hour and were at the gates here well before the bells returned them to their fields.”

“You copulated with my wife today as well, you fiend?” William bellowed.

“Shut up, murderer,” de Winter replied offhandedly. “She is a good looking wench; one you often ignored in lieu of ale. And as proven so far, one of unnatural lust. Fornication is but a mortal sin. She committed Adultery this day, a cardinal sin, but since she was previously the fornicator and you the adulterer, I shall overlook both transgressions as a matter of fairness as you shall overlook our rutting. Father, you are looking weak now, please continue before you lose consciousness.”

“Richard’s death was an accident, an overdose,” Paul admitted, “but I shed no tear at his demise. Your father’s death was sooner than I expected or wanted, but it cleared the way for William to inherit sooner, and for the monks to return Saint Jerome’s to the state of God’s Church as it was intended to be. I assumed their deaths were God’s Will, and omens that my actions were blessed.”

“Coincidence. All of which he set in motion before their deaths. He needed to remove my mother in order to make room for you,” de Winter snarled, “in order to set his plan in motion. Sacrifices for the greater good, I expect you to say next.”

“One woman’s reputation, versus granting a sanctuary for many of God’s Men and returning Life to this dying village?” Paul retorted. “I had thought she would go peacefully, or at least be hounded out, at most exiled. I had never thought she would be killed, or burned as she was, until I saw her float in the ordeal by water. Even had I known,” he spat viciously, “I would have done it. As you say, sacrifices must be made for the greater good.”

“That is why I had my cabin boy stab you through the gullet,” de Winter said with revulsion in his voice. “For the greater good. Purging the world of one who preyed upon it is always better for those remaining. Do you care to tell the lady here how you slipped the hemlock William brewed into Lord Alfred’s wine, or did you think William sent the man who hated him untainted wine?”

Paul looked shocked at this revelation, which was quite a feat considering the sordid revelations of the evening. “I had nothing to do with his death! I knew he was due soon to appear before the Lord, but that was an estimate based upon his poor health.”

“Alfred’s poor health was a result of the poison William brewed,” de Winter pointed out. “William was not loved in that house, so would have little chance to poison Lord Alfred onsite. But you, priest, you would be giving the services at the cathedral, and then private services in the chapel here. You have access to both places, and William the poison. He created, you delivered.”

The Captain turned to the woman, whose face was now a mask of horror.

“Be thankful that you drink only water, lady Abigail, or he and your husband might have poisoned you as well. Your husband because of your expanding lusts and his diminishing ability to even attempt to sate them, while the priest would do so to abolish his own sin.”

Abigail ceased her fidgeting and stared at the Captain. De Winter put his pistols upon the table and knelt beside the stunned woman. “You have suffered nearly as much as had I, my lady. These fiends took from me my mother and my inheritance, and your family and inheritance from you. Paul killed your brother by accident, Abigail, but he did try to cure you. He recognized your nymphomania for what it was- a disease of the mind, not the Devil within.”

There was a knock at the door. The cabin boy, watching the scene went to answer it. He reported to his captain. “All is ready.”

“Burgesse Henry as well? Jenever or Brandewyn?”

The man shrugged. “You ordered brandewyn for these, but jenever for the other Burgesses so Arjan took him aboard ship for you to decide later. The rest are being moved into the square now. Claus has the scourges ready. Ten a piece to the Burgesses, as ordered.”

“What is this about now?” wailed William.

Wim turned to his captain, who nodded. “It no longer matters now. Tell him.”

“The Captain has been assembling evidence for years now,” the boy stated. “He would talk with every Englishman we encountered in every port. These last two days have proven the most fruitful. This afternoon he delivered his sentence though liquor. Whisky- or water of life, for acquittal. If he ordered jenever, made from a distillation flavored with thrashed juniper, we were to simply castigate though twenty lashes with the cat-o-nine tails scourge..”

“And brandewyn?”

“Burned wine,” the lad replied steadily. “You can guess.”

Abigail gasped. She turned with pleading eyes to de Winter. “You ordered your men to bring me brandewyn as well! How could you, Jan? How could you make love to me twice, then cast me into the flames? You cannot say I have not pleased you! Your own words- mortal sin- grant forgiveness with penance, and you forgave us those cardinal sins!”

De Winter turned away from the pleading woman. It was something he ought not to have done. No sooner were his eyes away than she leapt out of her chair to sweep up the pistols the captain had left on the table. She cocked them both in an expert motion.

“I shall not die in this keep,” she declared. “I too have lived here a long time, John Summersby. I know of its secret chambers, and hidden laboratories, and of its secret exit.”

“If you shoot, my men will charge in and slay you instantly,” Summersby replied coldly.

“I do not think so, lover,” she replied. “You shot William the first time as a signal. The second time because he lied- and none of your men came charging in then. If they hear a shot, they will think it you doing the shooting.”

She began walking backward, toward the hearth. She did indeed know about the passageway behind it.

“It is too bad, Jan,” Abigail said as she reached the hearth. “You awakened the Beast in me kept too long dormant by the priest’s medicines. That beast now needs to be fed; you could have fed me for years. We could have been good to each other. Very good.”

“No, we could not,” de Winter replied evenly. “Not with what you told me this afternoon. That dropped the pieces into place. I could never love a woman who seduced her own brother and then slept with him often enough to get pregnant by him.”

“He was the only one of noble birth around,” Abigail said with a shrug. “And I had my needs. He did not mind. But you have it a bit backwards, Jan. It was he who seduced me. I was a virgin until his touch. He created the beast in me that needs to be sated.”

“And when you discovered you were pregnant, you warmed up to William here, who bit your hook and allowed himself to be pulled in like a trout. Paul’s idea?”

She nodded. “He was the one who sent me to my great-aunt in Maidstone before my pregnancy showed, and who suggested William as an alternative. I did not know he was going to make that choice for me by murdering my brother.”

“Just like he did not know you murdered your father to hasten the return of the monks,” Summersby retorted.

Abigail shrugged. “William brews a poor poison. So I hastened it along a bit. How very clever of you to figure that out.”

“Paul’s reaction to the accusation was genuine- he did not do it. William had no opportunity, leaving you. So I made a guess, which you just confirmed,” de Winter replied.

“How did you know of Maidstone?” the woman asked. “You are all going to die, so you might as well tell me.”

“Say hello to Wim, my cabin boy,” de Winter said sternly. “He was born in Maidstone about fifteen years ago. When he was twelve, he was sent to sea. He was a midshipman, ironically aboard the Drummond, which you know was reported lost at sea. It was indeed- it had attacked de Valk and came out the worse. We captured the ship and sold its cargo and most of its crew to Moorish corsairs, but I claimed the midshipman as my own. I named him Wim, after his father. Wim is a Dutch contraction for William. Had I known then the full extent of the situation, I would have named him Richard.”

Abigail’s eyes flew open in surprise. Then she aimed the pistol at the captain’s chest. “We could have had it so good together, Jan.”

And she pulled the trigger. The gun fired, casting a rather large cloud of gunsmoke into the chamber. A loud thump was heard. The smoke cleared to show Abigail Captain de Winter sitting in the chair into which he had fallen, with the cabin boy standing behind him, raising a pistol he had hidden.

“In the leg,” said the captain.

The boy’s pistol fired. So did the second pistol Abigail had taken from the table. The double-clap of shots rang the ears of all in the hall. Abigail shrieked and fell hard. De Winter stood up and ran to her, dragging her to lay with a shattered hip before her husband. She screamed as she tried to stand, but instead drove the fractured bones of her thigh into her pelvis.

“I said leg,” he scolded the lad. “You need more practice.”

“I do,” the cabin boy admitted grimly. “I was aiming for her black heart.”

“How could I have missed?” Abigail moaned. “You were three paces before me.”

De Winter threw her the lead balls with which he only pretended to reload his pistols, then scooped up his empty pistols and thrust them back into his belt. He looked to his cabin boy, who had shed the bandage enshrouding his head and cheek. There, before the right ear, was the lozenge-shaped birthmark passed only down the male line, From Geoffrey to James, James to Henry, Henry to Alfred, Alfred to Richard, and now Richard to Wim.

“Your house, your call,” the Captain said to his cabin boy.

“She tried to shoot my captain, and then myself. She admitted to murdering my grandfather and conspiring to murder your innocent mother. Brandewyn it is, sir.”

“So be it,” de Winter decreed. He gestured to his men, who had burst in soon after the triple shots. They dragged the wounded and dying into the chapel. They then barred the door securely, and braced it with the furniture so that it would take healthy men hours to escape. The three inside, stabbed and shot through the knees and hip, would have no chance at all.

Outside the Captain and his cabin boy were handed burning torches. With a nod, both men tossed the torches into the waiting piles of oil-soaked wood and branches heaped against the wooden walls of the chapel. The wood ignited, flames licked high, and inside screams were heard as the doomed suddenly understood their fate was real, and coming now. They were sentenced to suffer the same horrible death they had given Mary Summersby.

Wim watched the flames engulf the building, then penetrate inside. The heat was immense, searing his face and arms even from across the small keep. Yet he did not flinch, even though the screams were louder and stronger and more desperate, until at last the roof collapsed into the firestorm and all sound other than the crackling of fire was no longer to be heard.

“Were we right to judge them so harshly?” the boy asked of his Captain. Staring into the coals and flames where three people just died at his hand was giving him a bit of perspective.

“Judgment is in God’s Hands, Wim my lad,” John Summersby replied seriously, then added with a small laugh, ”We are just making sure they get to him in a timely manner.”


|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 10-15-2012 @ 12:07 PM).]

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