tagSci-Fi & FantasyWitch-Hunter General

Witch-Hunter General

byxelliebabex©

Authors note: Here is my Halloween story for 2014, hope you enjoy.

*

The self-proclaimed Witch-Hunter General, Matthew Hopkins, rode into the small village of Mistlea expecting to see the church flock greet his arrival with rabid anticipation and old hags already in custody. His reputation since hanging a coven of twenty-three witches at Manningtree for devil worship had grown with each village he cleansed of witch-craft on his path through the eastern counties. Instead, he was greeted by a lone monk, not even a priest, and escorted to a small chapel on the out-skirts of town.

"You don't expect a man of my eminence to stay in this hovel do you?" Matthew said looking around at the monk's cell he had been led to. The monk, Caspian, looked around furtively and motioned the man closer.

"You shouldn't have come here. It's not safe for you. The people of this town respect their wise woman. Even if you could find her they would not let you hang her," the monk whispered. "They tolerate me, even come to the chapel now and then to talk of the gospel but attendance is sporadic."

"I was invited to this town, where is the priest?" Matthew demanded.

"There is no priest in the village of Mistlea," Caspian looked confused, "You could not have been invited here by a priest."

Matthew narrowed his eyes, every town had a priest no matter how loosely the term was used, he would ordain this monk himself if he had to. "Who do they pay their church taxes to?" Matthew demanded.

"There is no church here to pay taxes for," the monk explained mildly sensing the trouble that was about to erupt. "Perhaps your skills would be better put to use in the richer counties north of here. The people of this town are poor and beholden to no Lord of the land."

"How is it you come to be here then," Matthew did not believe anything the monk had told him thus far.

"It is the work of a missionary to try to convert the pagans, not judge and execute them for their primitive ways," he stood straighter knowing his words would inflame the man he stood before. He would rather that though than undo the small inroads he had made with population of the remote community.

"A missionary should welcome us as allies of the church," Matthew stated. "Perhaps your soul is in jeopardy from the witches that dwell in the dark forests here," he accused.

"My soul is in the hands of the one true god, he watches over me and keeps my soul from being tainted by pagan tenet," Caspian showed a gentle smile. "I'm at peace know I serve my god whole-heartedly. It is you who may be in jeopardy should you choose to judge the women of this village."

Matthew grabbed the monk by his cowl and brought their faces close together with an evil sneer, "I will not be threatened in a house of God."

"It was no threat, my lord, merely a warning. By now the wise woman of this village and her followers will know of your arrival and watch for your departure," Caspian continued to speak in a calm tone infuriating Matthew even more.

"Who is this wise woman?" he growled in a low, harsh voice barely masking his rage.

"I do not know. For obvious reasons, we do not cross paths and the townspeople protect her like no other from all foreigners," Caspian admitted.

Matthew threw the monk aside like a rag doll and stalked from the small cell of the hovel and out into the fresh air of the village. He found his men still standing in line waiting for him trying to calm their unusually skittish horses. The villagers had not been welcoming, no refreshment or entertainment had been offered to his men.

"Hear me people of Mistlea, your very souls are in jeopardy! You flout the laws of our church and king and this cannot be abided by any god fearing man. I will return for the feast of All Hallows in ten days and bring with me a priest who will hear your confessions and absolve any who seek to find the right path to heaven's glory. Those that continue to protect the witch and her worship of the devil will be put to the trial. Listen to the monk, pitiful excuse that he is, it is your only way to salvation," Matthew intoned loudly. He then mounted his horse and rode from the small village followed by his men.

Caspian stood in the doorway to his home and looked sadly out at the villagers who shook their heads and laughed at the arrogance of the man as he rode away. He knew it would take a miracle to save them now and he walked back inside to the crude altar he had created and began to pray.

"Do not worry for us, Caspian," Selene's soft voice said from behind him startling Caspian from his prayers. "You have but one God, and we have many who will protect us."

"I believe my God is the only God," Caspian said simply.

"Is that what the noisy man believes?" she asked curiously.

"Yes," Caspian admitted, "I choose to believe in a god of love and understanding rather than a god of vengeance and might however."

"This is why it is better to have many, so you are sure you are praying to the right one," Selene laughed. "For every good there is bad, for every action a reaction. The loud man will find his actions will have consequences he is not prepared for. We have a god of benevolence and wisdom but also a goddess of vengeance and spite."

Caspian tilted his head as he regarded Selene. She was one of the few villagers who sought out his company on occasion. She looked no older than two score years but at times she spoke with a wisdom far beyond that and the simple life she appeared to live here. He wondered at those times as he did now if she was somehow related to the wise woman of the village.

"I will pray to my God that Matthew does not return and we do not have to worry about his actions or the consequences," Caspian eventually said.

"And I shall pray to all of my Gods and Goddesses to make your God listen to you," she laughed and skipped out of his home, leaving him staring after her as usual after one of her spontaneous visits. Nearing his thirtieth year, he judged that he could not have been much older than the young woman but at times like this she made him feel ancient. His knees shot through with pain as he stood from his kneeling position at the crude altar and he pressed his fists into his aching back. He decided to go for a walk through the forest and contemplate the majesty of God's creation. It had always given him energy and made him feel revitalised since coming to this village and he felt he sorely needed that right now.

*****

Matthew and his men rode hard through the day and into the night to reach the small castle of Astraea. He had been surprised and disappointed to learn that the ruler of the surrounding lands was a Lady and not a Lord. Even while married it remained the Lady not the Lord that held tight to the reins of power as had her mother before her and the women of the preceding generations had.

His decision to continue on his path down through the eastern counties to the wild southern tip of the country had seemed almost a natural progression in his mind. He dreamed of increasing his wealth and fame by conducting witch hunts with the backing of the church and the Lords of the lands as he travelled. Here in the south it would seem his dream was to be thwarted at every turn by the witches themselves.

Lady Rhea had welcomed Matthew and his men into her home, she had offered shelter, sustenance and entertainment for the night but refused to listen to any of his appeals until the next day. Exhausted from a long day of riding and frustrated by having his plans thwarted at every turn, Matthew ate and drank too much at the banquet prepared in their honour. His frustration eventually turned to anger and he sent his most trusted of men in search of a woman who could soothe him.

When he retired to his room sometime later he found a well-dressed courtesan of middle years, she had been gagged and her wrists bound behind her back. She looked at him with eyes that were flirtatiously excited rather than frightened, but that would change he smiled smugly to himself.

"My man explained what would be required when you agreed to this tryst?" he asked unbuckling his belt. He knew his man would have gone to some lengths to ensure the woman knew all too well the arts of sadomasochism. For most courtesans, it was a way into the wealthier bedrooms of the ruling classes.

"What a wicked witch you are then," Matthew pulled the belt from his pants letting it whistle through the air as he raised it and lashed out at the woman. Fully clothed it did not have an impact or sound he desired, but the woman stood and took the weight of the belt lash without moving. He sneered at her and lashed out again with full force making her take a half step back before recovering.

She hadn't made a sound as yet and had a look of need in her eyes infuriating him further. Matthew moved closer and unbuttoned the tight bodice of her dress enough to roughly pull her breasts free of its confines. They were large and far from firm, but the remaining structure of the bodice pushed the soft, pliable flesh up and out toward him, the erect nipples showing her arousal. He rested the belt on his shoulder and pinched her nipples between thumb and forefinger pulling on them roughly and twisting until he received a small muffled whimper, it was the first sound she made but it was enough for now.

He let go of her and stepped back lifting the belt once more from his shoulder and flicking it out at the unprotected mounds of flesh until they were red-lined and swollen. Tears ran down the woman's face to accompany the soft cries he rejoiced in and he felt his arousal grow.

"Harlots and witches, women are the devils toys sent to tempt man from the path of truth and enlightenment," he snarled at her. "I know you seek to unman me, but it is not I that will fall at your feet, it is you that will fall at mine!" He grabbed her by the hair and hurled her toward the bed where she stumbled and fell face down over the mattress.

Lifting her skirt up over her head, he began to flay her buttocks. Only stopping when the flesh before his eyes began to show signs of tearing, he cared not for the woman only the sounds she made and the body she gave up so willingly for gold.

Matthew stood between her legs and wrapped his fist around his enraged cock pulling it from his trousers. It took only minutes before under his own ministrations long ropey strands of cum began spurt out and cover the woman's inflamed cheeks.

Pulling her up by the hair, he dragged the woman to the door reefing it open. "I am done," he announced to his man, "fuck her and pay her well," his voice held the disdain he felt not only for her but all women. He pushed her out and slammed the door shut stalking back to his bed.

Matthew fell into a fitful sleep his dreams plagued by visions of the faces of those women he had sent to their deaths for witchcraft and devil worship. What woke him in the end though, was the voice of the monk he had met in the village of Mistlea warning him that his own soul was in jeopardy.

*****

Days later Caspian noticed a flurry of activity around the village. The village did not have a lot of farming land around it, the villagers instead cultivated the forest and reaped its rewards preferring to trade twice a year with the nearest town for the things they needed. So it was to his surprise that different sorts of foods began appearing from small kitchen gardens and the depths of the forest.

Wooden effigies began to appear as well to stand on the green in the centre of town. Caspian despaired that a pagan ritual was about to begin and guarding his soul he stayed bound to his small home rather than mingle with the villagers.

He had ventured out to improve his stores by a short walk through the forest, looking for the last of the autumn berries and edible leaves. He tried not to worry about how he would make it through winter believing his God would provide for him. He had managed to care for two bee hives near his home and could always use that honey and make a candle if needed, but it was an arduous process.

In his time there the villagers had been good to him and he wrestled with his conscience as he walked through the forest about cutting himself off from their rituals and celebrations. Deep in thought he had wandered further into the forest than usual and after tripping over an exposed root he looked around in confusion.

"Are you lost, Caspian?" a familiar girl's voice asked him.

"Yes, I believe I am," he answered good-naturedly.

"Then I will show you the way, do not worry so," Selene appeared from behind a tree and walked toward him. "You worry far too much Caspian. It is the season for remembering the joys of life and celebrating those that have come and gone before us."

"There is a feast that I celebrate that honours people who died in the name of my God," Caspian said thoughtfully. "All Hallows Day comes in just a few days."

"The day the noisy man plans to return to our village," Selene stated a fact. "I know of this day, it is for celebrating the life of people who have gone before us but only those few whose names are honoured in your books. We celebrate all who have gone before us, no one man is better than another when their bones dwell side by side within the earth."

"The deeds of their lives make them remarkable," Caspian explained.

"Is not the blacksmith who cares not only for his family but for the whole village as remarkable as a man who reads from the book you love so much?" Selene countered.

"It is for those who knew and loved him to remember the blacksmith. The feast of All Hallows is used by the church to celebrate men who have done great deeds in the eyes of my God," Caspian was thoughtful as the young girl's word made him consider his own carefully.

"Then you will join us for our celebration and remember those you have loved," Selene said simply, once again making a statement rather than issuing an invitation. The idea of joining in with a pagan ritual was abhorrent to him, but he said nothing as they walked back through the forest in comfortable silence.

Caspian had begun to think about his family, his memories of a tall man and frail woman distant in his mind as they left him at the monastery to be educated and lead what they said would be a better life than the one he had been born to. He had been gifted in the learning of letters and words and had fared much better than other boys who had been given to the life of a monk and education.

A particularly gentle scribe with a slow smile and soft voice had taken him as an apprentice in his early years and taught him that to do God's work was to be accepting of all creatures. The lion and the mouse had just as much purpose on the earth as the horse and cow. He now saw clearly that these village people were the useful hard working beasts and that men like corrupt lords and self-proclaimed prophets like Matthew Hopkins were the lions. Each had their purpose in God's eyes and he worried about what would become of their souls.

"Always so worried, Caspian," Selene looked at him critically. "Do not fret so. Those we have loved will come to our aid when we need them most. Now is the time to rejoice in life, not concern yourself with its ending." She stopped and plucked some berries from a bush he had not seen on the path. "I have plucked these berries from the source of their sustenance but will they end their life now?"

Caspian stopped and stared at her not understanding the question.

"These berries," she explained, "Have life. Just because I pluck them does not mean the end. Their life becomes part of mine now." She popped them into her mouth and chewed making appreciative noises. "I will remember them and the joy I had in eating them but they are now part of my life." She gathered more placing them into Caspian's small basket as he watched her thinking about her words. "It is the same with all life. When a person or a living creature dies and goes back to the mother earth, we remember them for the joy they brought us, but do they not feed the living now? They become part of us and the world around us." Selene looked at him as if asking a small child an obvious question.

As always when he spoke to Selene, he became quiet and introspective. His educated mind railed at her words, but his heart could feel the rightness of them. Having gathered the berries they walked on and he eventually spoke, "What of the soul of living creatures, their spirit?"

"Do you not feel their spirit within you? Within the forest?" Selene asked. Caspian shook his head wondering how he could better explain the concept of a soul to the young woman when she added, "The spirits are here, in what the creator has made."

"The creator, we have that in common," he mused feeling hopeful that they could find something to tie village life to his God.

"Mother nature, the greatest goddess, takes from the earth to create anew. It is a circle not an ending and the spirits of the people who have gone before us live with us, in everything around us, as long as we honour and celebrate them," she smiled believing he finally understood but he shook his head and laughed realising his optimism was misplaced.

*****

Matthew had not slept with any real restfulness for days. The faces of the women he had hung or burned floated through his mind and his ears rang with their curses upon his soul. He had kept the courtesan of his first night in the castle of Lady Rhea close at hand, and had become increasingly violent, taking his frustrations and strange dreams out on the woman who seemed to revel in his darkness.

The township surrounding the castle brought him no joy in his witch-hunt and his men began to become too at ease with the whores and ale houses available to them. Matthew had poured over maps of the surrounding country-side. The small villages that dotted the wild countryside were far ranging and he had planned to make an example of the people of Mistlea before moving further south and across the moors. As he waited and planned and searched the township for any signs of witchcraft, a feeling of foreboding dogged his steps, along with the restless nights of vivid dreams. Each morning as he woke he would curse the village of Mistlea and the infuriating monk as the cause of his misfortune.

Unable to wait longer, Matthew and his men set out on the eve of the feast of All Hallows bound for the village. Matthew did not take a priest with him, he wanted no witnesses to exactly how he would rid the country and himself of the evil that dwelt there. Having convinced himself that it was witchcraft that haunted his dreams and influenced the debauchery of his men. He was now on a crusade to make the world right again. The monk who dwelt there and whose words haunted him the most would be the first to confess and die at Matthews's hand.

He smiled grimly as he rode buoyed up by the prospect of being free of the curse of witchcraft. He glanced over his shoulder at the courtesan whore he had made ride with them that morning. She had become a constant presence in his world over the days he had remained in the castle, returning time and again for the violence he lavished on her. Dressed now in the concealing habit of a nun, he would use her to seduce the monk and show him to be a charlatan and witch lover. His trial would be swift, his execution would not be.

As they entered the forest a woman appeared in the path before them and just as quickly left the trail darting into the trees at the side of the well-worn trail. Believing it to be one of the wise woman's followers or the woman herself Matthew sent a man after her and called a brief halt in their journey. After some time in which Matthew grew increasingly impatient he sent two more men in to follow and find their missing brother. It was only minutes later that the two men reappeared and approached Matthew talking quietly.

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