Extra! Extra! Extra!
I’m going to be the happiest princess in the world! As long as the prince doesn’t find out my secret . . .
I know your secret, my pretty!
Oh, no! The evil vizier!
If you don’t do as I say, I’ll tell the prince your secret – that you’re not really a princess, you’re . . . a witch!
. . . huh? That’s not my secret.
My secret that I can never reveal to anyone is . . . that I can’t drive in cars on Saturdays!
What a boring secret! I think I’ll just tell the prince you’re a witch anyway.
Hey, not fair!
The pile of wood seems to fill Rebecca’s vision, and she shuts her eyes. Don’t think about it, she tells herself, rather desperately, and casts about for anything else to think about, anything at all.
Do you think a prince is coming to rescue you?
Someone had asked her this, but she can’t think who. She didn’t grow up with that kind of story, and none of the tormenters who surround her in this place would ever think of a prince appearing to save Rebecca the Jewess of York.
Her lips move in a silent response: God will raise me up a deliverer if he chooses. She’s sure of it now, she’s certainly had this conversation already – not to anyone living that she knows, but last night, in – was it a dream?
If the prince comes to rescue you, the boy had said then – such a strange boy, she remembers now, dressed in armor like Ivanhoe’s, darker-skinned than her Andalusian cousins but with such strange white hair – then you’re a princess. If nobody comes, then you’re a witch.
I would never claim to be a princess, she’d retorted fiercely (and she clings to the memory of that fierceness now; please, let her remain so fierce now, please!) and whether or not anyone comes, I am no witch. If no champion comes I will die innocent as I lived.
The boy had shaken his head. They’ll all know you’re a witch, you see, he’d said. That’s the story that they’ll make true.
And she’d repeated: I will know I am innocent. I will know I am no witch. For that truth, I will fight, as long as breath remains in my body.
The boy had fallen silent for a while, pacing along beside her. They had seemed to be in the Templar’s stronghold that held her imprisoned, walking along the corridors. Do you see her? the boy had asked, and abruptly she had. What her mind had perceived, a second ago, as only an incomprehensible blur of light became a fire, a burning fire atop a pile of wood, and at the center of it –
She must have gasped, she thinks. She doesn’t think she’d asked a question, but the boy had answered her anyway: She’s a witch.
No, Rebecca had said. Her hands had been clasped, tightly, to keep them from trembling, or perhaps from grabbing the white-haired boy who walked beside her and shaking him to make him understand. She was used to self-control, but the importance of poise was harder to remember with death looking over her shoulder. She’s a child! What could she have possibly done?
She stole a prince from all the women of the world, the boy had told her, sounding inexpressibly sad, and she had thought – or perhaps she is only thinking now - of Brian de Bois-Guilbert, who wept for her fate, but insisted there was nothing he could do to change it, not unless she would steal him from his home and his duties as he’d once attempted to steal her. So weak and afraid, though he thought himself strong, and this boy was the same.
But no, she must have been thinking about Brian then, too, because she’d said: I have some experience with those who the world calls princes, and those who the world calls witches. I would stake my life that she is no witch. Put out the fire – bring her down!
I can’t, he’d repeated, no note of impatience, only helpless, infuriating sorrow. You who are so proud, you may not be able to understand. But she knows that she’s a witch, and so she will burn forever.
No! Rebecca had cried, and she’d run towards the flames – foolishly, perhaps, she thinks now. Foolish to think she could save anyone else, within hours of her own execution. But her finger rubs over a new, secret weight on her finger, the seal turned inward for safekeeping.
Soon, probably, it will burn with the rest of her. But for now, she remembers the boy, catching her hand and pulling her back, surprisingly strong for all his slightness. Thank you for your courage, he’d said. Please take this. If you keep your pride, even after tomorrow, then perhaps this ring will lead you here again.
Whatever she has been made to believe, that girl is no witch, she thinks now to herself, and I am no witch. I will survive. God will send me a champion, I who am unable to champion myself today, and tomorrow I will give my thanks by championing her.
She becomes aware that the herald has come to speak to her at last – asking if she expects (a prince) anyone to come fight for her – and jerks her head up, as fiercely as she can. “Say to the Grand Master,” she snaps, pitching her voice to carry, “that I maintain my innocence, and do not yield me as justly condemned, lest I become guilty of mine own blood. Say to him, that I challenge such delay as his forms will permit, to see if God, whose opportunity is in man's extremity, will raise me up a deliverer; and when such uttermost space is passed, may His holy will be done!"