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by Jim Cairo
I have come into prison an innocent man, been tortured an innocent man, and must die an innocent man. It is said that whoever enters this witch prison will die as a witch, and indeed, no one here has not confessed or been tortured to the point where he has invented some lie out of his head.
The events of that night they came to take me are still clear, and if by some miracle I were allowed to live to see my grandchildren, not the slightest detail would expurge itself from my memory. In the darkness of my cell, I can still bring to my eyes the look of bewilderment on Father deMalvalains face as he read the charges and ordered me to surrender. The fear you expressed that night has proved to be well founded, and I harbor no illusions as to my ultimate fate. It is only for your sake that I have remained silent, but I fear that for my own peace I can no longer hold my tongue. I will tell you how it has gone with me.
I was led in chains into a cavernous room permeated with a stench of urine and decay. Soon after, a fat, balding man with frog-like face was marched into the room, where he began to pace jerkily to and fro on trembling knees, unable to remain silent, his already large eyes wide open in the half-startled, half-frightened stare of a cornered animal.
Why are you here? I asked.
The holy fathers say I am a witch and heretic. He was fighting desperately to hold back the tears. They would not burn someone who has committed no wrong, would they? They are obliged by their vows to treat everyone fairly. I trust them to do so. They know I try my best. One slip. They would not burn me for such a trifle. I heard little more of his hysterical ravings.
The days passed, perhaps twenty, perhaps thirty, people coming and going. Those of lower rank were questioned and tried without ceremony, but a catch such as I had to be treated with much show to prove the power still remaining in the hands of the Inquisition, for of late some have begun to doubt the existence of a Satanic conspiracy, and the Inquisitional power is beginning to falter.
When at last my turn came, Father deMalvalain and two strangers were present at the questioning. DeMalva-lain asked me, How have you come to be here?
Through falsehood, I answered.
Giles Lecaire, you are accused of witchcraft and heresy. You are a witch. Will you confess voluntarily? he asked. The consequences are severe and we have witnesses. Witnesses! The Father never was a convincing liar.
My conscience is pure. I answered with a smile, Is yours? I could see him squirm. I have no love for these power struggles legitimized by the followers of hate, and the Father was well aware of my thoughts.
The witnesses were brought before me. Vidoq and his son Claude, the one they call the simple, then Henriette deVaux, the gossip disallowed as a witness in the Jacques Bloiset trial, and last, Gauthier, who has always been jealous of my position. I asked that they be legally sworn in and examined, but this was refused and I could only laugh at the absurdity of the entire affair. Then came the most convincing argument. I was brought to a windowless room and seated against a wall, a guard on either side. The fat frog-faced man was dragged in, a look of terror in his eves, and strapped to an iron chair. I stared transfixed as the Master Executioner reached for a hardwood club, the mere sight of which sent the poor seated wretch into convulsions as he shouted and screamed for mercy. He was hit twice on the arms, his pleas for mercy changing to the howling cries of a trapped animal. The beating ended after the terror-stricken man heaved up the swill we are fed and through sobs spewed forth an endless confession of imaginary crimes and accomplices.
Soon after, I was taken to a high-vaulted room where the only natural light came through a thin slit high up among the stones of the north wall. Small-flamed, flickering can-dles cast their meager yellow rays about the room, forming an endless procession of dancing shadows that lent an aura of supernatural power to the charade. Many before me had been terrified into submission by the awe-inspiring scene. Even those of noble birth carry an unspoken fear and belief in the power of the Church, and for the first time I understood the sheep-like quality that makes most men live their lives in passive fear.
In the presence of three black-robed Dominicans, my hands were bound together and the thumbscrews applied to the nails of both thumbs so that blood spurted out and I lost the use of my hands.
Soon after, they stripped me and bound my hands behind my back. Then I was pulled up a ladder and eight times dropped to the stone floor below. I could hear their cries of knave and devil, but I could not answer their charges without great pain, so remained silent.
At last I was dragged back to the cell and implored to confess. The Master Executioner himself begged me to confess and invent something, whether it be true or not, for the Inquisition had declared me a heretic and would not be proved wrong. If by some trick of Satan you are innocent, you will be forgiven your lies by Christ to right the injustice. He paused as if to remember forgotten words. In His infinite mercy He has recognized that men might err, and will forgive those we wrongfully accuse. So you see, there is nothing to be gained by silence. One torture will follow the next until you confess to being a witch and a heretic. Why prolong the inevitable?
Each day was a repeat of the one before, torture following torture in an unbroken attempt to make me confess. Then, in a change of tactic, two guards carried me to the Inquisition chamber and deposited my immobile body on a backless chair.
Giles Lecaire, boomed the Master Inquisitor, you are charged with denial of Christ and the adoration of an idol, of communion with Satan and of heresy, of wearing a cord of heretical significance and searching for treasures within the Earth. Three shadowed faces, the Master Inquisitor and his two assistants, stared directly into my eyes, each as unmoving and devoid of emotion as the blocks of stone that formed my prison. Are you ready to confess?
I committed no crimes.
Come Lecaire, we have many witnesses and the tools of your guild. Confess and the flames will not claim your life. Fire. The clergy are enjoined from shedding blood, a religious law they take literally and overcome by burning their victims.
I wanted to tell them I saw through their farce, how the witnesses were peasant dogs fetching a stick on command to please their masters, and how my tools were the products of their own imaginations, but the gap between our minds was unbridgeable and all that came out was another protest of my innocence. The threats of damnation of my soul and further torture mean nothing to me and I am not frightened.
If you continue to be true to Satan, you will not be buried in consecrated ground. Your soul will be damned. Can you not see he has deserted you? He stood up and walked slowly, dramatically to my chair.
Your greatest weapons are useless, I whispered before he could speak. His carefully staged play had been thrown off course, and I could tell he was upset.
Your insistence and stubbornness before the designated vicars of our Lord has marked your fate.
I am ready to die.
Are you? The silence drew out. We are not unmerciful. Again the game changed. Confess now and your soul will yet be spared the Lake of Fire.
And my body?
A crime has been committed. His face was close to mine and I could smell the faint odor of wine. The man was of indeterminate age with sharp, angular features and dark brown, almost black eyes.
I will not save you from this murder, I said. A look of upset flashed briefly across his usually emotionless face.
Lecaire. One of the other Dominicans seated behind the oaken table had spoken, but I could not tell which. We believe your soul worth saving. You know your sins. You live with them each day. It is a mistake to believe you will not confess. You have failed in humility and discipline. Only a humble, disciplined mind can be pure and pious, and only a pure and pious man would have nothing to confess. You must humble yourself to be saved, and we are here to help you learn the lesson of humility.
The Master Inquisitor had returned to the protection of the heavy table before resuming his part in the play. Do you know how long you have been here?
Why do you think you were brought here?
Make me confess.
Giles, Giles, my son. His tone was a warm reproach. We brought you here to help you. To release you from Satans power. Can you not understand we are here to save you from yourself? His voice grew louder, taking on a dreamlike quality born of fanaticism. He believed the words he spoke. Those who first denounced me were after my wealth, their reward for finding a witch, but the Inquisitors truly believed what they preached - though I do not believe their masters in the clergy are so motivated.
Do not be fooled, Giles. The third Dominican at last spoke. No one who has gone astray is ever left the same. What happens to you now is forever. There is no escape, Giles. Not in this world or the next. Men are poor innocent creatures who must be watched over, as a shepherd watch-es his flock. The Church is a guardian of the weak, a dedicated, self-sacrificing body doing only what is necessary for the salvation of all mens souls.
We will break you. The other assistant Inquisitor spoke up. All pride will be banished. You will be beaten, flogged, and degraded. You will scream with pain, roll on the ground in your own waste, whimper for mercy, and divulge the names of your accomplices. By your silence you protect Satans plot to destroy innocent Christians, and we, as guardians of those Christians, must know who is involved.
When the soldiers first came I was scared, but only for a fleeting moment. I knew my fate was sealed, and no earthly power could save me from what was to come. Never will my will be broken and never will I confess what they want to hear, but even so, they have announced that I have confessed. Their lies have condemned me.
Now, my dearest daughter, here you have my story For these lies and inventions I must die, but the truth of why I must die lies beyond the knowledge of my accusers. I must die because a clergy driven mad by lust for earthly power is afraid of a creature of its own invention. To them every god worshipped outside of Christendom is simply their own Satan in disguise, and I doubt they will understand all that I have said, for they cannot see that they are his greatest servants. There is yet hope, for as long as they direct their destructive efforts toward eliminating a nonexistent enemy, those who choose to think their own mind and follow their own ways will survive. Have no fears that I will die in agony, for one of the jailers is a brother and has brought me a poison. By the time you read this, your father will be gone.
Keep this letter secret, my dearest child, or the jailer who brings you this will be beheaded, for it is forbidden to send letters. For your own safety, leave this country and make no attempt to claim my body. Your uncle Robert in Bristol has been sent word of my fate. Go to him. He will see that you are safe. Bless you, for your loving father, Giles Lecaire, will never see you again.
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