BY PATRICIA VON HOLSTEIN-RATHLOU
Copyright is held by the author.
HER TATTERED, bloodstained, grey skirt dragged over the worn oak doorstep as the woman was hustled into the Kirk by two burly soldiers. The plain white plastered walls, dark hewn pews and the six glass windows had always made the Kirk a simple and comforting place to worship the Lord. Sunlight was streaming through the windows, like ribbons from God as if he was looking in on her. Although God was no where to be found that day.
Tripping over the torn hem of the blood-stained skirt, when stepping over the door sill, the woman threw out her hands to break the fall. Hitting the floor, a sharp pain shot up to her shoulders, just like the agony she’d felt from the long thin knife of the pricker stabbing her again, and again on his quest to find the devil’s mark.
Roughly, jerked to her feet, she grasped the soft sleeve of a soldier’s woollen jacket. The strong arm was comforting for a moment. Meeting his gaze, there was a split second of pity. Then fear reappeared.
Usually the Kirk was filled with the low murmurs of prayers or silence when the minister preached. However, today the air was so charged with fear and anger that it hummed like a swarm of bees. Stumbling down the aisle the woman felt sweat trickling down her spine and forehead, and the sting when it reached her eyes. Tears and snot dripped down her face.
However, the congregation was dressed in their Sunday best clothes as if this was a special celebration and from their point of view destroying one of Satan’s minions covered it. Tweed shawls, grey skirts, tartan scarves for the women and work jackets, patched trousers that had been recently brushed clean for the men and the magistrates with their long black robes and three-cornered hats, past her in a blur.
Nonetheless, the small children stood out, dressed exactly like their elders but hiding behind their mother’s skirts just like scared baby rabbits afraid of the evil eye.
At first there was a quiet hush, as the woman in the tattered, bloodstained skirt hobbled down the aisle, then an intake of breath just before the taunts were hurled. Snickers, hoots, yells and curses flowed like a torrent after a thunderstorm. The atmosphere was charged with rage, hate and revenge. Witch, whore, fornicator stormed down on her.
Death stalked this simple Scottish Kirk.
Death manipulated the magistrates, the jurors, the elders and her jealous accuser.
From the doorway of the Kirk to the prisoner’s box, Death had followed, pushed, and shoved the woman towards its goal.
The sunlight had gone; no more hopeful beams of light. Thunder was rumbling and heavy raindrops pounded the tin roof as if someone wanted in. It would soon be over.
With a look of resignation, the woman yielded to her fate. Her conviction for witchcraft was inevitable. This familiar spectacle had been played out in many Kirks across Scotland.
She stood tall in the prisoner’s box, gripping the rough wooden railing as hard as she could, her knuckles as white as snow, as if she was trying to it snap like a twig. She was angry and frightened at the same time.
Slowly turning to the right, her gaze fell upon the old wrinkled magistrate sitting below the pulpit, who had just sentenced her to death by the stake. Even so, she raised her eyes to the towering, well dressed gentleman looming behind the old magistrate. Beelzebub’s pale, white chiselled hand resting on the old man’s shoulder.