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Meyns, the Witch II

All of a sudden Meyns’ her legs give way and for a moment it seems as if she's going to stumble off the scaffold and into the crowd. But one of the soldiers leaps forward and catches her, puts his arm around her waist and keeps her upright. She's only half conscious now. Still, she's answering the priest's prayer, mumbling her responses while the man frantically waves his crucifix in front of her face. As if there's any evil left in this woman to drive out. Apparently the mayor feels the same for he shouts at the priest to make haste with this needless ritual. Akke sees how the priest quickly finishes his prayer while Meyns is being chained to the stake. Then they pour lamp oil over her, a favour given to Meyns by the magistrates, done at her neighbours' request and expense. This will quicken the fire and shorten her suffering. The neighbours' initial request to be allowed to wetten the firewood had however been denied. "The fire will kill her, not the smoke," the magistrates had told them. "Cleansing fire to save what is left of her blackened soul."

 

When the fire is lit the crowd becomes more unruly. "Fly away, witch!" someone shouts. "Yeah, fly away. You can borrow my broom if you want!" People laugh. Then the bells of the New Church toll three times and to everybody's amazement Meyns lifts her face to heaven and starts to pray. She's praying the none, the prayer belonging to the fourth hour in the afternoon:

 

"O God, come to my aid.

             O Lord, make haste to help me.

Glory be to the father and to the Son

             and to the Holy Spirit,

As it was in the beginning,

              is now, and ever shall be,

              world without end.

Amen."

 

Then she starts singing a hymn, as is usual after the prayer. The crowd is stunned and some of the onlookers kneel down in prayer. Akke feels the tears running down her face as she can hear Meyns' singing turn into a slow wail. Soft at first, but then louder and louder till the wailing turns into screaming. People are fainting in the crowd. The mayor, seated in front of the scaffold, averts his face and holds a handkerchief in front of his mouth to fight the smoke and the stench of burning flesh. His wife is next to him, her eyes closed and her hands over her ears to not hear the screaming. Then, through the puffs of smoke Akke sees him again. He’s walking from the front of the crowd towards the scaffold. A soldier wants to stop him but one cold look from the young man stuns him in his way. He passes the soldier and walks straight to the mayor. The mayor, red-faced and coughing, seems to hesitate for a moment but then shakes his hand. He’s obviously uncomfortable with this encounter and Akke sees how the mayor’s other hand is cradling the heavy purse he has on his belt. In the meantime the young man is observing the inferno, a smile playing on his lips.


At that moment Akke understands everything and she knows now what she has to do... and she starts running.


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