The Lone Visitor
Still strapped in the judge’s chair, Ahndrew takes a fist to the stomach. He wants to vomit, but a violent cough is all that escapes. Blood trickles from his ear where Hammund has slapped him repeatedly with the leather gloves. A persistent ringing muffles the Solicitor’s questions.
“Please stop,” Ahndrew whimpers under his heavy breathing. “Please, I didn’t kill her.” Another slap from Hammund.
The crowd quiets as Gernant raises his arms and clears his throat, “The trial of Ahndrew Effrant is concluded. Does anyone have anything to say on his behalf?”
A pause and some murmuring from the crowd produces nothing. Not one person steps forward to his defense. Town’s folk he has known his entire life.
“Then at this time, no evidence has been presented to prove this waste’s innocence. The banishing to Grey Bird’s Pass shall continue.”
Ahndrew’s face is swollen and is as bright as a ripened tomato. Through the sweat and tears clouding his vision, he makes out two blurs walking toward him with a rod producing an orange glow at one end. There is no hesitation, just the hot brand being pressed into his chest. The sharp pain and smell of burnt fabric and flesh make him choke and cough interrupting his screams. When it’s over, a bird remains.
No treatment of Ahndrew has been kind, and the return to his cell is just as unpleasant as the whole experience so far. Just a few more cuts and bruises to add to the fresh brand on his chest. It would tell anyone who found him outside of Grey Bird’s Pass that he was a criminal, and what to do to him. Only no one has ever escaped from there.
The only window in his cell is eight feet high, and is shorter than it is wide, running the length of one of the cage’s walls. A pile of waste lays in one corner of the cell that the previous occupants had the decency to keep in one place. Ahndrew continued the trend when necessary.
The cell is in its own chamber. A single wooden bench sits against the wall well out of arm’s reach of the cage. On the same wall, a heavy door with no window is the only way in and out of the cell chamber.
The cell's cold stone floor is a welcome relief for his face when he finds himself face-down after the executioners toss him in. The chill penetrates his fiery cheeks, bringing him some much needed relief. This small pleasure lifts his spirits, even if only a little. After the guards leave, he wonders how long he'll be there before they return.
They haven't fed him at all since they arrested him. And now his stomach is beginning to feel it. A long grumble, then a sharp pain, like a cramp or a stitch, nagging at him. At times his stomach calms down, but it is short lasting. And with no one coming or going, time has been impossible to tell. And then Willem came and stood next to the chamber’s door outside his cell.
“Willem?” Ahndrew asks confusingly. He straightens himself up pulling himself from a light sleep. “What’s next for me now?”
“They take you to Grey Bird’s Pass,” Willem solemnly replies.
“I mean, what are you doing here? I thought—“
“You’re my friend Ahndrew,” Willem answers, more like a parent.
“Well, can you—“ Ahndrew timidly starts to ask.
“No I can’t,” Willem sadly replies. “Did you kill her? And Elias?”
“No, no I didn’t.” Ahndrew says eagerly. He isn’t sure why Willem is here, but he crawls quickly across the floor on his hands and knees to the bars near him. “You’ve known me… us, for so long. How could you think I would do something, or anything like that?”
Willem takes two steps to the bench and sits. He wants to believe his friend, but the trial’s decision should not be questioned. He knows it’s more of a public beating and is meant to invoke fear, but it’s supposed to represent the truth.
“What happened then Ahndrew?” His question is warm and calm, but Ahndrew reacts in fear.
“I… I can’t…” he stutters. He looks around the room, up at the window, then slowly back to Willem. “I can’t say it. Curses!” Ahndrew shakes the cage, then bows his head and stares at the floor. He lets go of the bars to see his trembling hands.
“I want to understand Ahndrew. What happened to my friend and his family? That spectacle out there, as much as I am a part of it, I don’t always agree with it. But I must do it—“
“—to keep my family safe,” they say in unison. They must have said that phrase more times than they could count every week in church and in prayers often recited outside of church.
“For family.” Willem pleads.
Ahndrew grips the bars again and looks up at Willem, eyes tearing up again, an out pour of sadness and fear. And with a whisper, “Magik.” Willem’s jaw drops just a bit to open his mouth. He stands and paces quickly to the door and puts an ear to it. There is no sound from the other side. He walks back to Ahndrew and kneels next to him.
“Don’t speak it!” Willem says in a low voice. “Why didn’t you tell someone?”
Ahndrew’s tears fall again. So much has happened in such a short amount of time. Torn between what he should and shouldn’t say. For all his life, he never would have guessed or even dreamed he would have found himself in this predicament. A farmer, born and raised. He’s always been proud of it. Yet here he sits, a broken man.
“Tell them what? About magik?” Ahndrew whispers again.
“You mustn't say it!” Willem exclaims, keeping his low tone.
Ahndrew gestures to himself, “I tell you, I didn’t know it was going to happen. And all this?” Ahndrew gestures to the cell and points to the outside, “This still would have happened to me even if I did tell someone. Worse! I may not be a great educated man, but I know how this town governs itself. I remember the woman that was burned alive… Aleia. She wasn’t a witch any more than I am a murderer.” Willem knows it to be true too. “I kept quiet to avoid that fate.”
“I’m so sorry, Ahndrew.” Willem expresses sadly placing a hand on Ahndrew’s griping the bar.
Ahndrew looks up at Willem when the memory of his own tragedy comes rushing back, the day forever burned in his mind. He knows someone needs to know, so he recounts the day to the only friend he has left.