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Withered Roses: An Inquisition Trial Story

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The fall in Louvain has been cold and wet.

Anna felt a chill when she stepped outside into the morning mist. She gently rubbed her hands together, took up the broom by the thick oaken door and began dusting away the dying leaves that fell last night on the doorsteps of the small book shop, a heritage from her deceased parents that she took good care of.

The barmaid by the tavern across the street recognized her and called her name. Anna smiled back and waved. Her full name is Sophie-Anne but she prefers Anna, simply.

After the usual morning ritual, Anna left the book shop, made a few stops at the marketplace, bought a pair of delicate amber earrings, some candles and sweets alike, then headed to the other side of the city to see her half sister Sylvie.

Crossing the desolate city square, she noticed the newly put wooden post that stood at the square centre for everyone’s eyes. The leftover of a human head was impaled on the spearhead end of the post, its flesh ripped off the fractured skull. A few pieces of what seemed to be some broken leg bones scattered at the feet of the wooden post.

The crows clearly took advantage of it.

Anna knew that there was a gathering a few days ago, a mass execution rather. The unfortunate was probably among the ones executed earlier on the wheel, since the rest of the condemned perished in flames. The remains of their ashes were still marking the shoes of those who stepped on the dirt where the pyre used to stand.

Anna felt a shiver travelling through her body. Not wanting to linger any further, she kept on walking, trying to wave her thoughts away.

It was the year of the Lord 1568. Exactly two years ago from this date, the grand crusading army of the Order began laying siege to the free city state of Louvain. It had been two years of despair, hardship, fear, anger and tears, and then came an uncertain relief, as the city state finally gave in before the might of the besieging forces. Having exhausted all means, the elected council surrendered the city of Louvain under strict terms to the hands of the Order.

Since then, Louvain has become a place that Anna felt she no longer knew. Things have changed, for the worse. The city was oppressed. People feared for their lives and those who failed to embrace the teachings of the Order were mercilessly prosecuted.

While struggling to survive, Anna found her consolation in Sylvie, her only kin now, whom she held dearer than herself. Sylvie just turned eighteen this year and has already blossomed into a bright young woman: attractive, brilliant, daring, curious and always optimistic, just like their father.

Anna unknowingly smiled as she thought about her younger sister. Having lost her mother at birth, Anna’s father remarried her step mother, a caring gentle young woman who gave birth to Sylvie soon after. They led a happy life together until the siege took away both their parents. Since then, they had to rely on each other.

At one point, Anna moved out of their old house to maintain the book shop in order to earn their livings, whilst Sylvie stayed home and made some money writing letters for the locals.

Soon Anna arrived at the modest two-storey building where she calls home. No one seemed to be inside. Reaching out to her keys, she noticed the lock on the door was broken.

Thinking back to the bloody exhibit she saw earlier, a sudden feeling of panic gripped her.
“Sylvie…” Anna cried out desperately, she was seized by fear that her sister might have fallen into the hands of the Tribunal, who orchestrated the public execution earlier.
Before she could think of anything else, Anna heard noises approaching, sounds of horseshoe against cobble. Then a group of horsemen appeared from the nearby street and surrounded her. Anna wanted to flee but her legs wouldn't listen.

Like wolves descending on their prey, two armed soldiers dismounted and approached Anna with shackles and ropes hanging from their belts. Then a sinister man dressed in black robe, apparently leading the group, called her name.

“Sophie-Anne De Lorne.” His voice was stone cold.

Anna wasn't able to utter a sound, her eyes widened with fear.

“By order of the magistratum and grand inquisitorial tribunal of Louvain, you are hereby arrested for the charge of heresy and crimes against the Order.”

Chapter one

The pulley squeaked as the ropes glided through for another notch, pulling the denuded body further up from the floor. The twisted joints made a loud cracking sound, along with a painful jerk through the trembling body. Screams filled the chamber, echoing with the hideous instruments that decorated the walls.

Azio looked at the miserable scene with uninterested eyes.

“Weights.” Azio said indifferently.

The hooded assistant picked up a block of stone, tied it to the ankles of the sufferer with thick ropes and abruptly dropped it to the floor.
The victim let out a horrible shriek.
“You certainly sing well, little sparrow.” a man in robes standing by the tortured body said in a mocking tone. He then made a gesture to the torturer, who took up another weight and added to the ankle.

The excruciating pain didn’t truly begin until the tied wrists were further holstered up and two men on each side began pushing on the waist, swinging the victim like a pendulum, tearing the ligaments into pieces. The lungs trapped inside the twisted and stretched body were so compressed that the person could barely push out a deep sigh.

Overseeing the proceedings, Azio found it hard to focus despite the brutalities taking place in front of his eyes.

Whistling whips peeled the skin of the bare back and belly. For no less than a quarter of an hourglass, the prisoner was kept in the air before being lowered, just to allow the ease of adding a third weight.

The trial of the rope is but one of the many methods that the inquisitorial tribunal used to assist “la Question”. An unsophisticated yet clever choice to convince someone to repent, someone like the young woman suffering in front of him.

Azio watched her feet fiddling frankly in search of the floor. They just lowered her enough so that her toes could reach the dirty earth below, still a painful pause, but far better than the constant tearing of her shoulders.

The woman looked very young in Azio's eyes, or immature rather. The traits of her face were carved with feminine beauty and elegance. Thin nose ridge, cherries lips and pure green eyes. Her graceful body glittered with sweat, the fine shape of the delicate members exaggerated with tension of the ropes.

One cannot deny the heretic’s attractiveness, but the devil is known to seduce man with forms of irresistible female beauty.

Azio could very well let her stand on the spiked board instead, for hours if he felt appropriate, to force the devil to step forth from inside her body, but there’s no need to cause more harm if she refutes the evil and embraces the teachings.

“I...confess...every..thing…...my...crimes…..” Said the prisoner in a dying voice.
“Good, my child. Now tell me what crimes you would admit to.” Said the man in robe wearing a wide smile, while the torturer pulled up the ropes again, just enough to renew her pain.
The prisoner coughed blood. Azio made a sign to lower her.
Despite her weakness, she managed to slur a few audible words. The script immediately took note and recorded them in the trial scripts.

Ironically, contrary to the common folk’s belief, the Order has long denied the existence of true sorcery and pagan magic. Thus, no one could be formally accused of witchcraft, although on the flip side, either practicing or believing in witchcraft would be considered heresy in nature and sentenceable with capital punishment.

It goes without saying that some presiding inquisitors might take advantage of this to manipulate the suspect into making such a confession, thus signing their own death sentence. Azio was no exception, but at the end of the day he didn’t like to play with words.

Azio liked more direct methods.

Before being appointed as an inquisitor, he had been a prominent civil prosecutor in Mediolanum, and a torturer, a master in his trade. Azio understands the delicacy of the human body, male or female, the art of exploiting its weakness through its sensitive parts, and the skill of causing excruciating pain without killing the prey.
As for the rest, the guilt will speak for its own. And so will she.

Azio saw the blood dripping from the cuts on the girl’s lips. She bid them hard to resist agony and the strength of her young body aided her stubbornness.
Foolish youth.
Nevertheless, an easy prey. Azio thought so quietly.

“Your accomplices…..fellows who taught you the art of the witchery and practice with you.” The interrogator pressed on with questions. “Was your sister, Sophie-Anne De Lorne involved in this?”

The girl seemed confused at first, but then the sharp points driven into her breast brought her back to her senses. A henchman pinched and squeezed the nipple till it erected, then drove the tip of a rusted needle through its tip, burying the sharp end into the tender flesh. With a sharp twist, drips of blood flew from the edge down the chest. The needle was then pulled out, leaving a gushing hole behind. Despite the girl’s pleads and wild cries, a needle of greater size was introduced again through the penetrating wound.

“Good, then what are the whereabouts of the books of heresy?”
A heated iron point followed that question. As the smoking point sank into the bare chest, the shock of the burn nearly drove the victim to the edge of madness. Her muscles contracted like that of a frightened animal. Words failed to describe her desperate scream. It took the strength of three men to contain her young body that fought her captors so ferociously, as if she suffered none of the earlier torment.

Then Azio ordered the men to stop. He didn’t want to pressure the prey and kill her in her agitations. Time is on Azio's side. It would be easier and much more entertaining to gauge the torment, to slowly drain away the victim’s strength.
As the torturers untied and carried the fainted prisoner away from the interrogation chamber, Azio watched silently and thought over the scheme he had in his mind with a grim smile.
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Chapter two

The day after Louvain’s surrender, a victory parade took place.

Citizens watched the victors marching into the streets, with their shining armour, sharp swords and a grim smile on their face as the new lords of the bitter crowd. Anna was among that crowd. The parade reminded her of the fate of another besieged city state.

Antwerp. No survivors. Its inhabitants, young and old, women and children, all met their death by torments. No life was spared. The cryings, the pain and the ashes of the dead filled the dry throats of a bloodthirsty army.
This time, Louvain paid enough to spare the souls within its walls, at least for the moment. Life will be harder, but at least it is better than death, so believed by many.

Some fled before the end of the siege. Anna too, thought about fleeing, but then she had nowhere safe to go. Louvain was among the last few city states willing to harbour people who didn’t want to embrace the teachings of the Order, people like her parents, people like herself.

Anna also couldn’t leave the book shop that her parents left her with. Her father was an aristocrat who, early in his life, took an interest in the old world: studies in mathematics and astronomy, ancient scripts, essays and parchment that whispered wisdom from even beyond the times of Romans and Greeks. His first wife, Anna’s mother, a scholar herself from Milan helped him enormously in his endeavors when she was alive, despite living in a near bankrupted state.

Studying the old ways had been a costly obsession. When the works of her father attracted the suspicious eyes of Order, he fled from the south to Louvain and lost right to his estate, but he was able to carry on with the aid of subsidiaries. By the end of his life, together her parents have accumulated a vast collection of various pieces from the past, a priceless gift in Anna's eyes.

Anna’s family hasn’t been a particularly powerful or wealthy family, but because of their intellectual endeavours, some were willing to subsidize handsomely, but very few dared or cared after the Order took the city.

Since the fall of the city, Anna received several offers for her heritage, at prices that were handsome enough to buy her way out of danger, but Anna refused. She feared whose hands her parents' lifetime hard work might fall into. Instead, she felt a responsibility to stay, to protect the collection of rare pieces and the knowledge that they behold, knowledge that is regarded as utterly worthless in the eyes of the conquerors, who see no other truth than in the verses of the Order’s teachings.

Plus, all these times, the city endured, and that gave hope to many, including her. A false hope that ended up trapping her in the city. By strict order of the magistratum militum, no inhabitant of Louvain were to be allowed to leave the city wall without permission. The Order saw heretics among the conquered, and thus made sure no word of heresy spreads outside the walls.

Murderers. Anna murmured. She stood silently among the spectators, her fists clenched. A year into the siege, disease broke out in the city and mercilessly took her parents’ lives. Some say the besiegers poisoned the water, some saw dead rotting bodies secretly smuggled inside the walls. Either way, people perished. Nothing could be done against the man made plague.

Anna felt a crying urge to do something, she had to do something, even if it’s her flesh against steel. But just as she was stepping out, a young boy beside her was pushed by the crowd and fell on the path of the marching troops. Almost instinctively, Anna dashed to the boy while a horseshoe fell barely an inch away from them.

Anna looked up. Sitting on a horse, a man with black hair and amber eyes was looking down at her with an intense gaze. His horse almost trampled them, but he stopped it in time.

In no time, the foot soldiers behind the man rushed out with their halberd and musket. Anna closed her eyes and threw herself over the boy. She thought they would beat her to death, but instead, no blow came. The man on the horse stopped the soldiers and they dragged them away from the parade.

The conquerors kept her captive for a day. They asked her some questions, to which she faithfully answered. Then by the end of the day, she was released with no further harm.

Sylvie was there waiting for her. She almost fainted from fear when she first knew and has waited there the whole day.

Anna didn’t know what to think of the gesture of the man. She didn’t wish and didn't need for any mercy, not from the cold-blooded enemies. She’d rather die a death of defiance. Yet, he let her live.
And the most perplexing thing for her, his eyes. Golden amber, quietly glowing in the depth, the pair of eyes that she saw in every dream and that she dreamed of seeing again.

He had her mother’s eyes.

Chapter three

Anna knew they would come to her.

Just as her father, she adhered to the way of a natural philosopher, a worshiper of the Old Gods as people call her breed. In the old days, the book shop used to be a saloon for discussion and gatherings, a true cross road of knowledge and brilliant minds. She was brought up admiring the temples of Athen, the hills of Syracuse and the great library's ruins in Alexandria. She was fascinated by the mysticism, the rituals and the history behind.

It has been no secret that the De Lorne weren’t faithful followers of the Order. Although it mattered little in the past, now things have become much different.

In the suspicious eyes of the inquisition, the book shop is filled with forbidden scripts, heretic thoughts, devilish teachings. Its very existence is a sin that needs to be purged. Anna exhausted all means to protect and preserve the great works, but there was only so much she could do. And in doing so, she had been putting her life at stake.
He who protects heresy must be a heresy himself.

Anna was fully aware of it, but she could never mentally prepare herself for the worst. Besides, who could ever be.
Like any other, she was afraid of death, and of the fore-running torture, slow and painful, although she would be ready to suffer both as a sacrifice to her belief, her parents' belief, she thought so at least .
Her only concern, however, was Sylvie. Anna couldn’t risk her younger sister that she held dearer than anything, but people are no longer willing to offer the De Lorne asylum, not under the threat of being prosecuted.

The rope around Anna’s neck was so tight that she could barely breathe. Shackles on her wrists broke her skin. The soldiers then pushed her into a small prison cart, one that secretly waited in the corner of a dead alley. After a few turns, the cart took the captive to the old Guild of Commerce, now housing the grand inquisitorial tribunal.
The guards took Anna, walked her into the underground complex that was conveniently transformed into dungeons. They stripped her clothes and belongings, and gave her nothing but a ragged dress to cover her body.

Shackles and chains equal to her weight were put on her wrists, ankles and neck, then a solid wooden belt was cuffed on her waist. Anna almost cried out in pain. She could barely lift a toe under the heavy weight of her restraint, yet the guards mocked her and ordered her to walk, hitting her in the back with blunt end of halberd, blow after blow. At the end of the hallway, the guards pushed her down a few stairs into a cellar, plunged her into complete darkness.

Anna soon realized that she wasn’t alone. Some other prisoners, young and old, men and women were all chained and laying in the darkness. Some were quietly sobbing, some others cried out in their misery. Anna didn’t dare to ask whether they just survived torture, or worse still, lost their fingers to the rats who bid and fed on human flesh.
There was no food, nor any fresh water. The air smelled of rotten corpse. Anna felt dizzy and gradually lost track of time. She woke up when the guards reappeared again and dragged her out of the dungeon. They took off her chains so at least she could walk and tied her hands behind her back with ropes.

It was a long walk to ordeal. Anna felt her legs shaking uncontrollably. She heard stories, accounts of how they broke people, mind and body, bit by bit.
Anna quietly recited a silent prayer to herself, gathered her strength before being introduced by the guards to the grand tribunal.
The trial was held in a large vacant chamber, a long table at the end was occupied by a band of fanatics and murderers. One of the inquisitorial judges spoke.

“Sophie-Anne De Lorne.”

Anna stared at the man who called her name and remained unmoved. She couldn’t see his full face, but he seemed somehow familiar.
“You are hereby charged with heresy and crimes against the Order. Do you confess that you have sinned as such?”
“By the grace of the Lord, I admit that I am guilty of all the charges.” Anna said in a clear firm voice. She has already made up her mind at this time.

Noises broke out among the crowd of judges. The inquisitor raised his eyebrows. He wasn’t the only one who found the statement of the suspect oddly bold.
“Very well. Since you have admitted your crimes, you could be granted mercy by the Order. If you would denounce your accomplices, the tribunal will consider an execution by hanging of the neck.” A swift death is highest form of mercy given by the Inquisition.

Anna looked up.

“I denounce all of you to be my accomplices, you all have murdered innocents with such cruelty that the devil himself would pale. You claim to seek truth, but you have done nothing but lying to yourselves and others. Your cups have been filled by blood and gold coins.” Anna paused for a moment to let her words sink in.
“Your greed, your twisted desire will be your downfall. One day, the Old Gods shall resurrect from your ashes. They shall give the people the wisdom and freedom that they long deserve.”

Anna saw the anger and disbelief in the eyes of the tribunal judges. If she were to die a painful death, at least she would not give her tormentors their satisfaction.

A discussion ensued at the table, followed by a moment of intense silence.
“Take her to the chamber.” said the grand inquisitor, who stood up and left with his entourage.
Anna closed her eyes and submitted herself to the guards, who led her into a grand hall with ropes and chains dangling from the high ceiling. A large veil separated the hall into two parts and she found herself standing beside a pile of nameless instruments of horror.

Anna’s body shivered. She had the courage to defy the tribunal, but she was still a young woman made of human flesh.
“Show her the tools.” said a cold voice from the table in the corner of the hall, Anna recognized the voice of the inquisitor who spoke to her earlier.

A hooded man approached Anna and took her in front of a bench on which laid an exhibit of pliers, hooks, thumbscrews and iron boots. With the aid of an assistant, the two men patiently showed the utilities of each tool, in details of how they should be wielded to inflict pain.

Anna tried her best to hold herself together. She began to regret her defiance earlier, as the tribunal will retaliate their injury.
They never forgive.
But then, at this point, she had nothing to lose.
“Strip her.”
The apprentice stepped in front of Anna and tore off her top, exposing her chest.

Anna looked away. Her cheeks blushed, but she knew that soon this will be her last concern when they begin to ruthlessly mutilate her body.
With the other man holding her shoulders, the torture master secured a wooden press on her chest, its embedded metal teeth biting into her soft breasts. Anna let out a small cry, then closed her eyes, mentally bracing the atrocious ordeal ahead.

Just as the screws were about to make its first turn, a sharp piercing cry came from behind the large veil.

Anna’s blood froze.

She looked around with fear and confusion, while the inquisitor grinned back at her maliciously.
“Ah, just in time.”
With the help of ropes, the veil that separated the hall was lifted, revealing the scene behind.
Anna almost fainted at the sight.

A young woman was sitting on a wooden bench, her body secured by metal cuffs, ankles tightly clamped in stocks. A grizzling brazier spitting waves of unbearable heat below her bare feet, her soles littered with cuts and dried blood.

Anna was brought closer, so that she could recognize the delicate traits of the victim's face, all twisted in agony, traits that she knew so well. Thin nose ridge, lips like cherries and smiling green eyes.
Sylvie’s eyes.

Tears flowed down Anna's cheek silently, clouding her view.
The tormentors just woke the young woman from her coma to taste the renewed pain.
The tribunal knows well the way of revenge.
No pain is beyond the one of seeing your dearest kin tormented in front of your own eyes, again and again.
Just in time, the torturer threw a board over the brazier to allow the physician to examine the progress on the patient.
“How many times has she fainted?” Asked the inquisitor.
“Two times, Sire.” Said the physician as he was examining her wounds.
“Can we carry on with the Question of the suspect?”
“Most certainly, Sire.”

The inquisitor nodded to his henchmen.
A flask filled with lard was brought by the assistant. Using a sponge, the master diligently smeared the substances on the open wounds and dead flesh.
The skilled tormentors of the inquisitorial tribunal have observed that application of oil in-between heat intensifies the action of fire and multiplies the suffering.
The screen was removed.

The blazing brazier, renewed with fresh coals, was brought closer. The effect was excruciating.

The delicate skin began to blanch and chap.

The melting lard penetrated the wounds, tenderizing the exposed flesh and sensitive nerves.
Sylvie let out a terrifying scream of pain and despair.

In the middle of the sufferings, she saw Anna.


Chapter Four

Azio only had a faint memory of his mother. An image of a young woman, or a ghost rather, that he would occasionally dream of.
She left him when he was about five, barely old enough to remember her face, and a few fragments of memory. Some of them warm and happy, some not so much.

He never truly found out the reason why she left.

Or perhaps he did, but he didn’t know what to believe or if he should believe in anything at all.

As boring as things were, it began with an arranged marriage. She came from Milan, gorgeous and curious, married young to his father, a typical middle class man of the law in Rome, quiet and religious, strict to his family and indifferent to others, rarely showed emotions. Overall, a perfect recipe for an unhappy marriage.

But this wasn’t all of it.

At one point, people started to say things about her, strange things.
Things like she was possessed by the evil spirit, and that she worshipped devilish monsters. Some said she locked herself up at night to perform mystic rituals, some saw her extracting poisons from strange plants, making potions. Many believed she was in fact a terrifying sorceress in disguise.
Azio’s father didn’t care much about these whispers at first, considering that he was but an ordinary Lombardi with no family reputation to protect, but too much gossip risked staining his professional reputation, so he talked to his wife, unfortunately in vain.
Then one day, the witch disappeared.

Azio had very little recollection of the exact circumstances. No one really knew how she left. As for her mystery and secrets, he knew for facts that his mother was interested in ancient herbology, she also liked collecting and studying old tales. He saw her works later. Although both endeavours seemed suspicious in the eyes of the common folks and the authority.

Azio would like to think that she fled some obscure crimes, or simply embraced heresy like many said, which explained why she never came back. Since then, people carelessly called him the son of the devil and treated him as such. Azio resented it wholeheartedly, for which he suffered an internal scar that never truly healed.

Later Azio studied medicine and law in Rome. His fascination with the human body ironically helped his career as a civil prosecutor, and then, he came to Louvain as a newly appointed inquisitor, to eradicate the devil’s advocates and to restore faith among the good people.
Azio always had mixed feelings about her mother. Deep inside, he has never forgiven her selfishness and resented everything about her, including her devilish interests. He felt she was a complete stranger that he could not relate to.

Even in terms of physical traits, he saw no resemblance of himself to his mother in portrait.

Except her eyes.

Clear amber, smiling, glittering with light, that he unluckily inherited.

Strangely enough, the young woman standing in front of him at this very moment, she who dared defy the tribunal and of whom he ordered the arrest, had the mirror image of his mother’s eyes.
Devil hides itself in these golden iris, as many said.

Azio gazed hard into the eyes of the accused, wondering if there might indeed be a root of evilness in there.
Or could it be a pure coincidence that she, by the name of Sophie-Anne De Lorne, was gifted with so many graceful traits that he could distinctly recognize, and that she seemed to have inherited more than he did from his mother?

Azio thought quietly, while the chamber master gave another turn of the thumbscrew to facilitate the persuasion of the defendant.
The body of the young woman tremored. Blood leaked from her nails.

Then another turn. The accused broke down in tears, begging, not for herself, but for the life of her sister. Azio knew there was little need for excessive violence or clever rethorics in this case. It sufficed to offer the defendant a tiny taste of what her cherished sister went through to make her submit.

He saw no more pride nor defiance in Sophie-Anne, and he was inches away from melting her defense.

Following the inquisitor’s order, the henchmen seized the accused by her hair and forced her to kneel down before her sister.

A pot of sea salt, all in its crude shape, was brought to the younger woman’s feet.
The master torturer tended the wounds with care.
While the rough edges of the grains pushed and carved into the texture of the unprotected flesh, desperate shrieks of pain escaped the victim’s cracked lips.

“She might be crippled, but she might live, if you follow the right path.” Azio interjected conveniently.
Sophie-Anne nodded frantically.
“I require you to renounce your faith publicly, and in denouncing your belief, you will offer, as an example to all, all works of heresy as deemed by the Order in your possession and urge the tribunal to put them to the flames.“

Azio made an intentional pause.
“Including every piece of parchment that you have hidden.”

He then observed with muse the tides of emotions that went through the accused.

Fear, anger, hatred, regret, despair, agony, all collided and intertwined.
But this was no time to ponder.

The torturer held out a small toe and took a firm bite with the beak of heated pliers, parting with the torn flesh, calcifying the delicate bones and tendons.
Even the cruelest person had to admit that it was a true ordeal to watch such misery.

“You can end her sufferings. If you choose wisely. “ Azio pressed on, before the tormentor proceeded to the next, ruthlessly ripping and breaking.
It went without saying that this was particularly persuasive.

In tears of deep remorse, the accused not only confessed her sins, but also confided to the tribunal all the manuscripts, books and other pieces that she had carefully hidden.
Azio felt an immense sense of satisfaction.

One achieves little by purging two heretics on top of another hundred, as others continue to emerge from the shadow.
Corruption will not cease to spread unless the inquisition strikes at its heart by seizing the source of the ungodly teachings, and if the head of the herd repents, the rest of the pack will turn on their own, if not with the Order’s proper guidance.

The De Lorne was well known for their prodigious collection of heretic works. Making an example of them should serve well both purposes.
It would be a fine time for a public trial and mass execution, a symbol of triumph by the Order and a fest for the faithfuls.

Azio couldn’t deny himself a smile of victory. He had planned well.

Looking at the two prisoners in their lamentable state, Azio whispered quietly to himself.

“Such a pity.”


Chapter Five

Words spread in the city that the inquisitorial tribunal will be hosting an Auto-da-fé, a grand spectacle of trial and execution to entertain citizens of Louvain.

One hundred and thirty-nine heretics were to be executed in the public square in front of the old city council in celebration of the Lord’s triumph.

In preparation of the event, a grand stage was constructed in haste to allow spectators to appreciate the full splendor of the executions.

Rumours had it that among the heretics were a pair of twin witches, powerful sorceress of the old world, an incarnation of Venus mirroring her extraordinary beauty. Some said they had been secretly making poisons that caused the plague during the siege, others said they were followers of Satan and fed on children’s fresh liver and old man’s brain. Regardless of the amount of truth in the hearsay, the public interest was undoubtedly stirred.

On the day of the Auto-da-fé, people came from all corners.

Citizens, local peasants, tradesmen, lords and ladies of prominent statue, all attended with unprecedented enthusiasm. Some even traveled days from neighboring provinces.

The streets to the public square were filled. The city was once again bustling, just like in the height of its old days.

It seemed that the people of Louvain found their new carnival.

The event didn’t officially begin until the eleventh sound of the bell of the inquisition palace. As the high tribunal and councillors took their seats, The condemned were marched out in a single file.
They were all dressed in rags, bare feet, bearing a sign of cross in their arms, their sinful body burnt by sulfur that impregnated their crude robe. A group of monks shepherded them on the way, wielding the whips in their hands, hitting mercilessly on the bodies of the guilty. Those who were too weak to walk were brought out in carts, while the executioners tended their bare chest with canes and pliers for the enjoyment of the crowd.

People fought to come forward to the front row, trampling each other, stepping on the bodies of the fallen.

It wasn't that long ago when the same crowd watched the crusading army marching into their city. It was fair to say that they now shared no less fanaticism and craved for greater cruelty.
Anna was taken out in a one man cage covered by black curtain. She was kept in the same cage for ten days and now could barely walk. The guards dragged her up the stairs to the centre of the stage, where everyone could see and hear.

The crowd agitated when the alleged sorceress was led before the tribunal, her graceful innocence and beauty were no less than mesmerizing. Ordinary men could barely contain their admiration.
Anna struggled to stand. She was wearing a grey flax robe, hiding the shackles on her waist and the chains that went down to her ankles. As she walked up the stage, she saw blood. A few headless bodies laid on the floor, their heads in a pile. It was the appetite before the main course.

“Sophie-Anne De Lorne.”
The grand inquisitor pronounced the name of the accused in a harsh and menacing voice.
“Kneel before the judgement of the Lord, repent and your soul shall be pardoned.”
Anna lowered her head in submission and kneeled down like a docile sheep.
“I repent.” Said Anna in a clear calm voice.
“Very good, now, you shall make public of your sins and show your remorse, then through mercy of our Lord you may come back to the arms of the Order.”
“I confess all my ungodly sins.” Anna said softly. “I have been a heretic and a sorceress by birth. During my sinful life, I have cheated the honest and seduced the innocents. I distorted truth and fostered lies, while sheltering and preaching the Devil’s teachings. I admit that I have murdered, poisoned and corrupted countless, including my own kin.”
Inhaling deeply into her chest, Anna looked up to the members of the tribunal.
“By the mercy of our Lord, I thank you for enlightening me and saving my soul from falling out of our Lord’s grace. Today, I renounce my heretic belief to embrace the true faith, and I offer you all the ungodly works that I have possessed and I urge you to clean them by flame.”
There was no emotion in Anna’s voice, nor could one tell any sign of grief or bitterness in her eyes.
The grand inquisitor nodded satisfactorily.
He raised his right hand and pointed to the front of the stage. Three carts full of books and manuscripts were wheeled in, unloaded and the contents thrown into a tall pile.

There were all that Anna’s parents lived for.

“Forgive me papa.” Anna whispered softly to herself. She then turned to the grand inquisitor and said her plead in a soft and sincere voice.
“As a sinner, I offer myself to the eternal flame, but I beg your mercy and forgiveness, to spare the life of my sister, whom I have misguided into heresy. Her innocence shall prevail as she was shown the way of light by the tribunal.”

It was her hope that her sacrifice shall save Sylvie from a cruel capital punishment.

“You have done well my child. Your sister shall be granted a pardon.”
Anna broke out in tears, kissing the cross that was held out in front of her to express her infinite gratitude. Shouts and exclamation broke out in the crowd in celebration of the Order’s triumph over the heretic.

As the proceeding took end, the guards led Anna to the other end of the stage, chained her to a pole, while awaiting her execution with the others.
Then the voice resumed.

“According to the law of the state, the tribunal shall hear out the accused before pronouncing the sentence.”
At the cue, the guards carried another young woman onto the stage. Her body was completely covered in black drape, her wrists and chest chained to a chair. Her face graced with extraordinary beauty.

“Sylvie de Lorne. Stand for the trial!” Said the grand inquisitor imposingly.
Half conscious, the young woman raised her head to brace the view of the crowd. A wave of exclamation ensued. The young witch was no less attractive than her older sister.
The accused made an attempt to stand on her brutalized feet, but barely held herself for a second before falling into the arms of the guards.

Anna watched her sister’s trial with widened eyes. She had been kept apart from Sylvie since she made promise to confess publicly. She never knew that Sylvie would be brought to the public trial as well.

Anna wanted to call her sister, but the guards had forced a wooden block into her mouth to prevent her from speaking.

She could barely recognize Sylvie. Her skin was pale from her torment and imprisonment, her feeble body was on the verge of collapse, her eyes were completely void of life.
The grand inquisitor spoke again.

“Do you confess your sin, as a heretic and believer of witchcraft, and that you have committed crimes against the innocents and the Holy Order.”
“I have sinned.” Sylvie said it in a whisper. She was too weak to speak up, a monk recited her words in a loud and clear voice so people could hear the witch’s confession.
“I have indeed practiced witchcraft, and by the curses of the black magic, harmed the innocents. I have schemed to overthrow the Order and corrupted others to work against the way of the Lord.”
Sylvie paused for a short moment, catching her breath.
“But I do not regret my doings, and there’s no such thing as repent, for I have sinned as the daughter of the devil, and to my death shall I remain his faithful servant.”
Having finished her words, she spit hard on the cross that was shown to her.
The crowd boiled, crying in rage, begging for her punishment.
“Damned servant of hell! Let her taste the steel and fire in abundance.”

The guards took Sylvie and dragged her to the centre of the stage, where the executioners were waiting with impatience.

Anna was stupefied. She watched the proceeding with such horror and disbelief that she couldn't even utter a sound. She wasn’t able to grasp what just happened, nor could she imagine what was about to happen.

Anna’s heart sank when she saw the executioner took his young prey, stripped her cloth and placed her tortured body on a standing wooden cross.
The henchman took up a heated iron cup and brought it in front of the young woman’s bare chest.
Sylvie showed no sign of fear.
The cup was applied firmly against the left breast. The brave girl watched the burning iron melting into her chest and let out a terrifying cry. A searing sound and foul smell escaped into the air, people at the front row almost suffocated.
When the iron was finally removed, only a hideous form of burnt flesh was left, remnant of what was once a young woman’s graceful breast. A torturer rushed to the accused, holding a vial of sulfur below her nose to prevent her from fainting.

“Do you repent?”
Said the grand inquisitor in his stone cold voice.
Sylvie looked at her tormentors and slowly shook her head.
“Executioners, proceed with your duty.”

A pair of heated pliers were taken out of the brazier. A torturer showed it first to all the spectators and then walked up to the victim’s right breast, gently touching her nipple with its smoking tip. The burn caused a sharp hysterical shriek.
The crowd broke out in mocking laughter.
Encouraged by his audience, the henchman then proceeded with a few more burns on the girl’s delicate body, which earned him another round of applause. For the final touch, the master executioner took up a freshly heated pair of pincers, using its curved beaks to pinch the nipple, pulling it up and slowly tore it off.

The young woman cried out like a wounded animal, her muscles cramped, her body fought frantically against her restraints. It was such an intimidating scene that the crowd fell completely silent.
Then a smoking pot was brought up the stage, the executioner took a spoonful of thick lead and poured the boiling metal over Sylvie’s right breast, searing off the oozing wounds.
Anna almost fainted at the sight of Sylvie’s ordeal. She felt a weakness in her legs and slid down the pole like a stringless doll. Tears wetted her dress.
It took quite a while for the torturer to revive the accused. When Sylvie finally came back to her senses, she broke down into an uncontrollable sob, her body shaking like a dry leaf in autumn’s wind.

“Repent to spare yourself the ordeal ahead!”
Said the grand inquisitor grimly.
Still sobbing, the young woman seemed to be completely oblivious of her surroundings, detaching herself from the present world, offering no reply but tears to her prosecutors.
Taking no pity of his victim, the master executioner untied Sylvie from the cross and made her kneel before a large wooden trunk. Her hands were laid out and the wrists were secured by leather belts.
Picking a random finger, the torturer locked a pair of scissors against the knuckle and with a firm move, severed the finger off her hand.
Sylvie’s face turned pale, her mouth wide open, but no sound escaped her lips. She was too weak to moan her pain.
The torturer took the broken finger and threw it into the crowd. People fought ferociously to take its possession. The man who caught it at the end held up his prize as if it was a precious gift from the king.
The next finger was thrown to the dogs, and the cruel proceeding continued until only a pair of thumbs was left.
The master executioner then placed Sylvie back on the chair and strapped her bruised feet on the trunk. By now, her toes were so swollen that the unprotected flesh almost adhered together. The torturer took a sharp knife and cut through the melted flesh, while the pincers broke the tiny bones in the toes and twisted them off with ease.

Sylvie suffered silently, like a true martyr in the old days, suspicious whispers started to raise among the spectators. The monk supervising the ordeal took the occasion to declare that the devil had been protecting the witch, rendering her indifferent to pain.
To prove so, the torturer took up an axe, wielding it twice in the air before landing the blade on the ankle of the sorceress.
Whether due to his bad luck or lack of experience, the axe went through merely half way and the blade was stuck on the cleaved bone.
It took two men’s strength to pull the axe out, while Sylvie only let out a barely audible sigh. The chaos and intensity of the scene stirred agitation in the crowd.
The torturer became visibly nervous and the second strike landed side way. Piece of bones and flesh splashed on the stage. Suddenly the tortured girl sat up and stared frankly at her half severed member.

A horrifying outcry escaped from the bottom of her lungs.
The public square froze. People shivered at the desperate sound of devil.
The master executioner was the first to act. He took over the axe and with a clean swing, cut off the dangling ankle.
Blood flew out in abundance. The torturer rushed to the brazier to fetch the heated iron to sear off the wounds.
Before then, the victim has long lost consciousness.

Chapter Six

Azio had a reserved seat among the members of the inquisitorial tribunal, one conveniently facing the grand stage of Auto-da-fe, but he preferred a closer view.

Standing at the corner of the stage in black robe, Azio felt and lived the vivid sufferings of the condemned. The repelling smells of fresh blood and burned flesh excited him.

Azio orchestrated the execution so that the crowd could touch, feel and experience the pain of the dying victim.

The image of the twin sisters’ excruciating torments would be branded into the witnesses’ minds, and in time became ingrained into the city’s memory, if not rewritten into horror stories, told at bedtime to scare the innocent children.
Only then, heretical thoughts will lose its fertile ground for growing.
Azio was quite pleased with his plan. A thorough purge of Louvain. Those who defy the true faith will be exterminated, body and mind.
The De Lorne sisters’ example would mark the beginning of the end.

Innocent, naive, easily manipulated.

It almost seemed ironic how the two young women were willing to sacrifice for each other. It sufficed for Azio to tell the younger sister that only one of them might live, and if she had the courage to condemn herself, her sister might be sentenced only as an accomplice, avoiding the death charge.
The girl gladly accepted.

Azio had concerns that Sylvie de Lorne might die in the middle of her sufferings, but the girl was strong enough to resist, both physically and mentally. Azio also knew that the experienced executioner usually won't allow his prey to be relieved prematurely, not before the final act of the trial was carried out anyway.

Thus, the wounds on the mutilated body of the accused were carefully tended. Meanwhile, a few guards were sent to stack dry branch and combustibles onto the pile of books and manuscripts.
Then a fire was lit.
Black choking smoke raised from the pile, ashes of parchment and pieces of burned paper danced and swirled in the hot wave of heat.

The torturer tied the young woman onto the end of a long wooden pole that sat on a seesaw. Then with great care and calculation, the master executioner lowered her into the flames.
A few seconds sufficed to lay a web of blisters on the victim’s legs. The executioner lifted her out of the pyre just enough so that she could catch her breath, then lowered her deeper into fire.
A few repetitions, no more than a few seconds each time, resulted in horrible burns marks on the body. Thick fluids leaked from ruptured blisters, drifting through cracked and blackened skin. The remaining thumbs were almost tore off her hands by the cord that attached her to the pole.

The executioner lifted the sufferer onto the stage, tied new ropes on her arms and poured cold water over her head to keep his victim awake while preventing her hairs from catching on fire.
The ordeal then proceeded with unparalleled cruelty. After another few more rounds of agony, the skilled tormentors lifted her and dipped her in cold water to cool her body. Then a mix of lard and sulfur was applied on her thighs and back.

The combustible was immediately lit as she was put through the flames again. Fire engulfed her legs and bare back. The girl made a few futile attempts to escape the burn, twisting and shaking her body in an impossible way.

The scene was atrocious.

Azio saw the crowd wavering, clearly intimidated. He felt pleased that the goal of his plan was met.

He turned his look to Sophie-Anne. Two guards were holding her, pulling her hair to force her to watch her sister’s trial.

Azio wondered how she might feel, watching her dearest sister being mutilated and roasted alive with her parents’ lifetime precious works that she risked her life to protect.
He could not imagine anything that could surpass this level of cruelty.

The victim was found to be barely alive when lifted again onto the stage. The executioner allowed her to recover, and then smeared substances on her chest and into her private parts. Meanwhile, henchmen renewed dry branches and other combustible to the pile.
The pyre was again at rage. As soon as the fire licked the sulfur, her whole body was lit. Fire was spitting from between her thighs. The victim cried in a hoarse choking voice. At the same time, the executioner let go of pole, dropping her into the burning stacks.

Either by magic or through her dying strength, the girl suddenly jumped up out of the flames and almost fell off of the pyre. The guards rushed to the witch and pushed her broken body back with their long halberds. The girl made another jump and then fell into the fire.
Silence ensued.

It felt like an eternity, before a hail was heard somewhere in the crowd. Then loud cheerings broke out among the spectators, celebrating the execution of an evil sorceress.
Azio looked down on the public square with a silent smile.

To be continued


Powerfully and brutally written. I do think perhaps we don't get as much of Sylvie as we should given her relevance, though.

A good example of the difference in defiance before and after, to. But I do wonder how things will end for Anna - and why you published the story almost but not quite complete. Do you not quite know how it should end either?


Powerfully and brutally written. I do think perhaps we don't get as much of Sylvie as we should given her relevance, though.

A good example of the difference in defiance before and after, to. But I do wonder how things will end for Anna - and why you published the story almost but not quite complete. Do you not quite know how it should end either?

Thanks for your reply! I agree that Sylvie deserves a chapter of her own which I intent to write. I have a few different endings in mind and the story is only at its half way. Anna will for sure go through some additional cruel ordeals and interrogations.


what a terrific story, can't wait to read more....
Usually with the witch hunt stories few details about the burning at the stake are given but here, Waow...... congratulations
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