Burn – by Anon
The room was dark.
I huddled on the ground, shivering. The stone-cold chill seeped through my tattered shift to my bones. It was uncomfortable, but I clung to it – any shred of thought that could keep me from remembering the mockery of a trial. My trial.
Dark. Hard. Cold. Tears streamed from my eyes, and I struggled to bite back my sobs of terror. I didn’t want to die.
How long had it been since they had locked me in, since my prison door gave its dull thud of finality? It was the last time that I would hear that thud. The next time the door was opened, I would not hear it close.
My hands clenched into fists against the ground, against the cold. To die…. I was going to die.
I jumped, stopping my scream with my fist. Footsteps in the distance. Was it time already? The footsteps faded.
I balled up into the corner of the room again.
Time skittered and jolted its erratic race – lunging at points, ponderously slow at others. Each time I heard a soft series of pounding, I would lurch up from my position again, terror bursting out of me…only to stare wide-eyed into the silent darkness, before huddling into a ball again.
I closed my eyes, willing the darkness to disappear – my eyes clenched so tightly that for a brief moment, the darkness gleamed red, and I glimpsed his face….
The sight only served to bring a fresh wave of tears. Dear, sweet Will, whom I would never see again….
Footsteps again. I tensed, but did not lurch up this time, bidding myself not to move.
This time, they did not fade. The footsteps grew louder, more purposeful. I froze at the harsh chiming of keys, a jarring of metal against padlock.
First padlock – a dissonant clatter…the second….
The door was flung open. I blinked, wincing against the sudden burst of light.
“Up you get.” The voice was rough, framed with a cacophony of raucous laughter in the distance. I shrank away as the footsteps thundered close, the guard leering over me.
“Come now, pretty girl. It’s burning day.” Flecks of spit flew from his mouth onto my face. I tried not to look at him – all to no avail – as his hardened palm and thick, knobbly fingers grabbed me by the arm, yanking me to my feet.
I stumbled my way out of the room as he dragged me into the corridor, strangely numb to the jeers that surrounded me, the jeers of his companions. It seemed as if my mind had been stripped of all thought, just as the flames that would soon engulf my body strip me of life.
The corridors grew warmer with every turn, but I hardly noticed. My shivering grew more pronounced. Finally, there was the crash of doors being unbarred and screeched open. Sunlight cut through my closed eyes, and I unwillingly opened my eyes to see the courtyard.
A small throng stood there at the sides – all those who had presided over my trial and sentence. And in the centre of the courtyard stood the scaffold; on top of it a pile of brushwood, and the stake.
She stood there, her face cold and emotionless as she watched me being dragged up the wooden steps. There was no need for her to say anything. Gwen’s eyes merely shifted toward the stake, the command in them enough for the guard and his companion behind him to proceed. Each of them grabbed hold of one of my arms, forcing them above my head as they shoved me roughly against the wooden stake. I struggled – faintly, vainly – there was no way that I could have fought them off, weakened from days without food and the fear that I somehow, barely, forced myself to hide.
There was the clanking of metal against metal, my arms nearly yanked out of their sockets – a grunt and a heave – and I was bound, my wrists chained securely above my head. I tried to tug at them feebly; the metal cut into my hands. The guard backed away from me to stand at the corner as his companion knelt to secure my ankles to the base of the stake. The chains were ice cold from the morning chill, untouched by the sun. When it was done, the companion too stepped away, lumbering down the steps toward someone in the throng, the one who held the torch….
I flinched at the sound of Gwen’s voice. She did not raise it, yet everyone in the courtyard heard every word she spoke. “Now here before you, is my friend, whom I have told you of for so long. Here also is the girl, who stole my former lover….”
Boos and hisses were scattered across the crowd.
“…and finally, she has given us the honour of her presence, that we may see exactly what it was that drew William from our circle….”
William. Will, I thought desperately, trying not to think of the way he had died trying to protect me, trying to remember the features of his face, the feel of his hand against mine….
The crowd was angry now, the atmosphere rising to fever pitch. I looked away and toward the ground, when I felt smooth, strong fingers grasp my chin, yanking my face to the side. Gwen studied my face without passion, and her fingers tightened as I tried to pull from her.
“Hayley,” she said, her voice soft, like silk. I didn’t answer. She was playing with me – that much was obvious. I would not give her the satisfaction she wanted. “How happy I am to see you…”
Her eyes flicked up to my wrists and down to my ankles. “…but then, you could be a little more presentable, couldn’t you?”
Her fingers trailed down my heaving throat to stop at the neckline of my shift. Something flickered in her eyes, and with a sharp wrench, she tore my shift away from me. The seam gave way with a whisper that scraped against my ears.
I flinched, clenching my eyes shut as the fabric slithered down my body to a puddle at my feet, exposing me for all the world to see. The morning cold slapped against my naked body, and I tried to keep myself from writhing against it. From all around us came the sound of ragged laughter.
I bit my lip, and allowed my eyes to open – only a bit. Gwen was now smiling, the triumph evident in her eyes. Her hand now rested on top of my heart, and she slid it over to fondle my breast…pinching my nipple.
My hands clenched into fists. The laughter only grew louder.
Pleased, Gwen continued her exploration of my naked body, reaching for my other breast, the taut muscles of my stomach…to the small of my back, then reaching behind to trace my buttocks. She paused again at my waist, and her touch lightened, trailing like a feather…before she took one small step forward, and plunged her hand up between my legs.
I did not scream – biting it back just in time – but I could not stop the gasp or the tears that burst from my eyes, my face screwing up in agony as her hand dug into me, the fingers probing, squeezing, pervading…. I couldn’t even see the guard who stood paces from us, doubling over in his mirth. The laughter was its most raucous yet, and finally, when I thought I would die of humiliation right then and there, Gwen stepped back, lifting her hand to her mouth to lick.
I slumped against the stake, crying, trying to stifle my sobs, my breasts heaving of their own volition. I did not see Gwen beckon with her other hand. The guard stepped up to me again, reaching for the pile of brushwood. He flung it unceremoniously at my feet, the myriad of branches cutting my legs. When the pile came up to my knees, he paused, and then knelt to lick the area between my legs. My hands seized, my body jerked, and the tears came more forcefully.
Burn me! I begged them in my mind. Please…let it end, let me die….
Finally, the guard stepped away, and one of the men in the courtyard below strode forward, still wheezing with laughter, lifting up the lit and burning torch. Gwen took it from his hand, holding it high over the pile of brushwood as she walked slowly toward me. Her eyes crinkled in welcome anticipation.
And then she let the torch fall.