The verdict was spoken with a solemn authority. A somber crowd had gathered to see the result of this trial, and the decision of the Holy Man.
A wooden stake stood in the center of the field, away from the dry underbrush of the forest. A perversion of true faith accepted by this small town on the outskirts of civilization and forgotten by progress.
Planks of wood were piled underneath, prepared for the bonfire. Kindling and any dry leaves to be found were stacked underneath, to make the fire burst into life speedily and end the threat.
Several men stood to the side of the pyre with torches, their vibrant flames crackling merrily in the darkness, sending sparks into the night sky like the short-lived twinkling of newborn stars. The men knew their cue, and waited for it.
A woman was tied to that wooden stake. Golden blonde waves of hair cascaded down slim shoulders, rippling in time with her limp struggles and reflecting the firelight back at the torches. Gone was her will to resist, gone the moment the nails were driven into her wrists and through her ankles, ropes held her in place.
Her life’s blood slowly dropped from the wounds, a puddle gathering beneath the planks.
“Please,” she rasped, her clear blue eyes looking towards her husband.
She swallowed, her throat as dry as a parchment found in the Egyptian tombs. “Please. I have done none of these things. I am innocent.”
A cold wind whipped up, tangling her pristine white robe around her legs. Bloodstains blossomed like flowers where the white came in contact with her ankles.
“She is not!” shouted her former lover. The man she’d thought soulbound to her much like she was to him. A bond that left nothing behind in her chest when it shattered, destroying all she’d ever thought important.
Without her accord, her eyes went to the the whore. Eyes so dark they might as well be black, straight brown hair that extended past her waist, her firm breasts and toned arms had swayed many men to her side, none ever able to see past the lies she wove.
“Traitor,” whispered the dying woman as her husband denounced her name and labeled her ‘witch.’
According to their laws, her belongings would go to her husband. Her home, her inheritance, all of it. The accusation of witch stripped away her name, her life, her future. He and the whore would live on as she died for their lies. Denounced as a witch while she’d lived a good life.
The other woman met her eyes. “Burn, bitch,” Adriana mouthed to her, lips quirked in a half-smile of triumph.
They have forsaken you, a voice whispered without sound.
The woman’s head jerked up, vision blurry with unshed tears searching for the source. All she could see of the crowd was dark, cloaked figures. Waiting for their moment to watch her die.
Forsaken you and named you dead, though you did them no harm.
She hissed at the voice. “What harm it is, to love your husband and expect the same in return.”
A silent ripple of laughter made her body shudder. The torchbearers knelt by the pyre to light the bonfire, lowering their flames one by one. No one else in the field reacted to the strange laughter, or that voice.
Her husband-- former husband, he was no lover of hers now-- ripped the last torch out of its bearer’s hands and glared at her. The obstacle in the way to bliss with his whore.
“Witch,” he spat out his lies. “Forcing me to love you and you alone all those years.”
With that final proclamation, he tossed the final torch onto the pile. This one landed beneath her pale feet, the loss of blood and light of the fire making them appear translucent. The flames burst into life all around the bottom of the stake, hungrily licking at her toes with burning tongues.
She groaned as her head lolled.
I will never lie to you, the voice came back, urgent as her time ran out. I promise you no salvation and no freedom, but give yourself to me and they will suffer. An eternity of torment to your betrayers. All it takes is one word, and one word alone.
The crowd drew back as the golden-haired woman leaned her head back and laughed, pure peals of laughter to be heard at the height of joy and not seconds before death. As the flames grew higher and began to char the meat from her bones, she shrieked with transcendent joy.
A thunderclap sounded from above, and a brilliance illuminated the skies in time with her laughter. The Holy Man cried out in pain as he beheld its splendour, collapsing to his knees and then falling into the ground. Two smoking craters were all that remained of his eyes.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” The golden woman writhed in ecstasy in the flames, her shrieks becoming a chant of surrender.
Her former husband stifled an oath, stumbling back from the smoking corpse of the Holy Man.
“What sorcery is this?” he whispered, one of the few that knew the farce the trial had been. The lies on which his new life was built upon.
“Witch! Witch!” The cry spread throughout the crowd as it undulated like a living creature. Forsaking the trial and execution, they began to run from the pyre in a mass exodus.
But it was too late for them.
The blinding brilliance in the sky gleamed like a supernova as it crescendoed and the heavens above opened, then it all came rushing down towards the woman. Her body became the eye of the storm as all the power was concentrated down on it. Her chant continued on throughout the tidal wave of light, as steady as a heartbeat.
Ripples of light converged around the crowd as they panicked and trampled, but it made no difference. There was no distance they could run that would put them out of reach, no escape from their fate. A torrent of fire rose into the air from the burning pyre as a tornado of wind concentrated itself down on the golden woman’s body.
A last exultant “YES! ” echoed around them as the light turned to dark. The woman’s blonde hair wreathed her body like flame as she floated into the air, arms held out and eyes closed, the only color on her tattered white dress the red of her blood, though now her skin was pristine and whole. Dark wings of shadow stretched from her slim shoulders.
Her eyes opened and they blazed a white-hot blue.
The sound of the trampling crowd was drowned out by a roar, and the world turned white.