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.”
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.
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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