Prologue - The Way Things Are
Heaven queen, carry me
Away from all pain
All the same take me away
We're dead to the world
Nightwish - Dead To The World
"Burn the witch!"
"Send her back to hell!"
The chants burned my ears, although they were not aimed at me. The chilling insults seemed to tear through the night air, ripping me apart with every syllable. I watched silently as the flames wound around the screaming woman, scorching the ropes that bound her. The more she screamed, the more people seemed to cheer. I wanted to tear my eyes away, but I dared not. The tears streamed down my face and I had to bit my lip so that I did not scream at them to stop. Because I could stop this. I could end her suffering, but at what cost? She would be recaptured, and I would be tied up next to her. It wasn't worth the risk. At least that's what they told me. Suddenly, I felt a warm hand wrap around my own. I turned to look at its owner, but I did not recognise her face, which was just as tear-stained as my own.
"We must remain strong together," she said, briefly glancing at me. I smiled and squeezed her hand. There were more people like me here tonight. 'Freaks'.You could instanly tell who they were. They were the silent ones, the ones who did not mock and jeer at the woman's pleas. We all shared the same'gift'. The same curse.
I first discovered that I had the ability to communicate with the dead when I was two years old. My father owned his own land and ran a farm. My mother remained home all day and cared for me, her only child. At first I did not understand why no-one else could see these people; the animals could. But I soon learned to keep quiet about my ability. My father would tell us about dozens of women who were arrested every week on suspicion of witchcraft. I did not know what this was until I grew up. Of course, all of the women were innocent. All it took was erratic behaviour or lunacy to earn you an evening tied to the stake. That was at first. Now, even the slightest physical defect would cause fingers to be pointed in your direction.
My father passed away when I was six years old. A heart attack, he told me. Yes, he told me. Although my father died over ten years ago, I still converse with him regularly. He told me of what I was. A mediator...or so I thought back then. I 'moved on' from his death quite easily because, to me, he wasn't gone. For my mother, moving on was more difficult. She would cry herself to sleep at night and she would burst into tears during the day. My father used to lie next to her in bed when she cried, but she never knew he was there. The gentle, comforting words that he whispered to her brought tears to my eyes. Because I was the only one who could hear them. She could not cope with the farm on her own, so she sold the land to a neighbouring farmer and bought a house for us both. That was when she met Andrew. Andrew (or Andy as everyone close to him called him) was a close friend of the governer. He owned the second largest house in the area, after the governers. He was an architect, I belive it is called. He designed the governer's house, the most elaborate building in miles, and even built a good part of it himself. He met my mother one day while she was gathering food. They fell in love almost instantly and married within a few months. Andy had lost his own wife to an illness many years ago, leaving him to raise his three sons alone. David, Jacob and Bradley were their names. Or David, Jake and Brad to those close to them. David was the youngest, Jake the oldest. Brad wasphysically myage, although he had a lot of catching-up to do mentally. I would by lying if I told you that I did not like them, because I did. But it seemed strange to share a house, even one as big as Andy's, with other children, let alone boys. But they weren't the worst part of moving.
Andy's house was directly next to the governer's, and so we saw him and his two sons regularly. His name was Rick Slater. I do not know his full first name. His wife, Nancy, and my mother became close friends; Nancy grew up on a farm, so they had a lot of common ground. The governer and his wife weren't a problem. It was their sons. Or son. Jack and Paul, their names were. Jack was eight years old, and Paul was seventeen; two months older than me. Paul was very handsome, I must say. I was completely surprised when I discovered that he was not yet married. That was before I got to know him.
Somehow he knew about me. About who, or what, I was. Because he was also a mediator, or a shifter, as he preferred to be known. He knew a lot about people like us. He taught me a lot. I was able to do things that I had never dreamed of. But I would rather havelived withoutthe knowledge of what I truly was if it meant that I had never met Paul Slater. He was obsessed with me. He claimed to be in love, but the only thing he felt for me was lust. It came as no surprise when he attempted to kiss me. It ended with a slap and an exchange of harsh words, but it did not dampen his efforts. I was releived when he had to leave. I do no know where he went, only that his father took him abroad on 'business'. That was two months ago. But Paul's absence did nothing to drive out the stupid idea that our mothers had that we would be perfect together. No way was I marrying that boy, no matter how much my mother cried or begged. I would only marry for love, even if that meant waiting forever. But I could never love a man in my new class. They were all too full of themselves. And I could never marry a man of a lower class because it would be frowned upon. I had a dowry fixed on me now. A dowry. Back when I was a farmer's daughter, the only thing I had fixed on me was the permanent smell of cattle. But now, I swanned around in figure-hugging silk dresses and floaty skirts and basques with a dowry hanging over me like some uncurable disease.
By all rights, I should not be in the village. My mother preferred it when I remained in the house, helping her with the chores that were too delicate to leave to the servants. But I liked to wander the village. It was where I grew up, back when my father was alive and it was not frowned upon when I fought with my best friend in the mud. The village wasn't safe, I knew that. But to tell the truth, nowhere was anymore. And there was no truly safe place for a woman. Not with those damned witchfinders everywhere. Backchat one of them and you will find youself thrown in a cage quicker than you can say 'hocus pocus'.
But dangerous or not, even the governer visited the village occasionally when there was to be a 'burning'. He believed the stories that those witchfinders told him. He believed that all who performed witchcraft ought to be put to death.
It was hard to forget his hatred for these women when you were watching their innocent lives being stolen away from them. The woman next to me dropped my hand and walked out of the crowd, obviously having seen enough. I, however, remained until the woman's screams died with her. I forced myself to watch as a reminder as to what would happen should I make a stand against this atrocity. As the crowd dissipated and the fire was doused, the few citizens who bore my burden descended upon the charred figure. I did not. I couldn't. My punishment was through, and I needed to return to the governer's mansion before they wondered where I was. I pulled up the hood of my cloak once more and turned to leave. I knew my way around this village well. I knew almost every face,what they did and where they lived. I was greeted by the blacksmith, Henry Roland as I passed. The poor man looked weary. He did not get much sleep, even after he hired an apprentice. Although, I guess 'hired' is the wrong word. 'Took under his wing' would be more appropriate. The poor boy, whoever he was, was a runaway. I should not call him a boy, as he is apparantly older than me. I had never seen him with my own eyes, but the girls talked about him constantly. Apparantly he was quite the looker. And he was, if the group of girls whos horses were constantly 'losing' shoes, were anything to go by. He was a great help at first, according to Mr. Roland, helping with the horses. The life he had ran away from was one of a rancher. His father bred horses and made himself wealthy doing so, so the apprentice was a 'dab hand' with the horses. But soon after that, the demand for weaponry grew, so Mr. Roland had to tackle more orders. His poor wife must be lonely.
Forgetting about the blacksmith, I jumped into the back of a carriage.
"The governer's mansion, please," I told the driver, lowering my hood. As the horses began to pull the carriage up the hill to where the houses of the rich stood, I rubbed my face with the back of my hand. It came away black. Great, my mother is going to kill me. I opened my cloak to look at my dress which had, very surprisingly, remained clean. Which was more than I can say for my shoes. They should have been a light pink - not exactly my favourite colour, but I didn't have much choice - but were currently borderlining ona brownish green.
The journey up to my residence was short. I was there within five minutes, two of which were spent pausing for another horse and carriage to pass by. I paid the driver after he helped me down from the carriage and then followed the stone path to my house.
Our house - or mansion - was fairly gothic in style; losts of arches and intricate designs carved into the posts. The colour was reminiscent of Tudor architecture, as was the sloping roof and panelled windows. The house was three-storeys high, and my bedroom was on the second floor. My mother and Andy slept on the top floor, so it was easy for me to sneak out at night. But tonight there was to be no sneaking. Nancy Slater had been talking to my mother when I left, and when I returned, they were both deep in conversation. Their conversation, however, was interrupted when I pushed open the lounge door.
"My goodness, Susannah, what happened to your clothes?" My mother exclaimed when her eyesfell on me. She stood up and hurried over to me. "Where have you been?" I attempted to push her hands away, all to no avail. She continued to scrub at my face until she resigned to the fact that only soap and a good scrub in the bath was going to shift the layers of dirt that caked my face.
"There was a burning," I told her. This admission caused her expression to darken. "I went down to the village and got caught up in the crowd." She shook her head in disbelief as she placed a few napkins onto the couch so that I would not mess it up. I knew that she disapproved of the witchfinders, but like all women, she could not speak out against them. She had once told me 'just be thankful that you lead a sheltered life. No harm can come to you whilst you are under the governer's crae'. But I wasn't thankful. Because here, I had to more careful about my gifts.
I did not sit down with my mother and Mrs. Slater becauseI knew that they would most likely attempt to talk me into marrying Paul. Instead, I made my way to my room. My room has a window which is on the front of the house, allowing me to see the whole village stretched out below. The view was the best in the house, better even than my mother and Andy's view. But when I openeed my bedroom door, ready to enjoy this view as I changed into a robe, I saw that my room was already occupied. The visitor was a female, not much older than myself. She wore a fairlysimple dress. Although it was simple, it was by no means cheap. When she heard me enter the room, her head snapped in my direction, allowing me to see thehelplessness in her eyes.
"Please," she spoke, her voice as soft as my silk robe. "Help me. You are the mediator?" I nodded. I did not bother to correct her. Relief washed over her face and she walked over to me, causing me to realise that she wore no shoes. I drew my gaze further up and observed her attire.Herdress was sleeveless with a small'V' neckline (though it did no go so far down to show her cleavage) and was cardinal in colour. A small, string-likepiece of material was tied around her waist, pulling the dress in.Around her neck hung a ruby and necklace. Whoever this girl is, she was rich before her death.
Yes, her death. The otherworldly glow that this stranger emanated signalled that she was not a member of the living.
"Hello," I greeted, not wanting to sound rude. She smiled at me, obviously aware of who - or, more aptly, what - I am.
"I was wondering if you could help me," she said. I braced myself for what was coming. If she wanted me to break into her house and give something to someone, I was not going to comply. It was one thing, breaking into a peasant's house, but to break into a wealthy person's house? That was suicide.
"I don't know how to say this, but...I feel that I am lost," she said. I blinked at her, unable to understand what she had just said. She must have noticed this, because she elaborated. "I died a week or so ago. And I am not bound to the place I died. I have nowhere to go, and no means of moving on. I do not know what to do." I smiled. These were the best cases; the ones that didn't involve physical action.
"Well, let's start with how you died," I said, seating myself on my bed.
"Well...I was executed," she explained. "So to speak. My father wantd me to marry this rich boy, but I was in love with someone else. He wasn't rich, so my father disapproved. But I would not marry this other boy, so he eventually relented. But the rich boy was not happy; he told the witchfinders that I had bewitched my father into allowing me to marry a peasant. They caught me and I was burnt at the stake. The boy...my lover killed him before leaving town. I followed him here, but he could not see me and he moved on to the next town.I just...I don't know what to do now. Shouldn't I be in Heaven?" I flashed her a friendly smile.
"It doesn't work like that," I told her. "You obviously have some unfinished business and you will remain here until it is completed."
"I know what it is," she sobbed. "But there is nothing anyone can do about it. Not without putting themselves in danger. After all, the death of a 'witch' can never be avenged."
I had never wanted to help someone as much as I wanted to help this girl right now. But she was right; there was nothing anyone could do. She would remain here until the witch trials stopped. Until no more women were drowned or burned. So, I told her that she could stay in my room for the time being on the condition that she did not move anything, touch anyone,or in any way make her presence known.
"What is your name?" I asked at long last.
"Marianne," she told me.
"I am Susannah."
I woke up early the next morning. It was a Monday, so Andy had already left and my mother was rushing around, trying to get David ready for school.
"Susannah, will you take David down to the village?" She asked, brushing some invisible dust from his clothes. "I am run off my feet here." I groaned, much to my mother's disapproval, and grabbed my stepbrother by the arm. He was thirteen years old, surely he could make his own way to school. But obviously not, otherwise I would be in my room, talking to Marianne rather than in the back of a carriage, talking to David.
Thankfully, he never talked about anything worth listening to, so I could stare out of the carriage window, admiring the view as the carriage wound its way down the track, towards the village.
David's school was a large building in the 'good' area of the village. This is the area where the rich set up their businesses and the poor are frowned upon. On the edge of this area was a church. I am not a religious girl, although my mother tells me that I should be, but I spend most of my spare time in the church. And it was the church that I made my way towards once the driver was paid and David was safely inside the school.
The church looked more like a cathedral; gothic architecture, stone statues of all its former leaders, stained glass windows the size of elephants. Inside, it was constructed of stone and marble, save for the wooden benches. My shoes clacked against the cold stone as I walked up the aisle, towards the altar. The confessional was to the left of the altar, hidden away in a corner. As I walked towards it, I felt the eyes of the praying people on me. There was maybe half a dozen of them. But their stares did not affect me. I glided over to the box, the sound of my shoes against the ground changing as the floor turned to marble. I pulled open the ornate wooden door and slid inside, seating myself comfortable speaking.
"Forgive me father for I have sinned," I spoke. I did not have a confession, nor did I have any right to be in there, being a devout agnostic. I was simply speaking to see who was on the other side of the metal grill. The priest sighed and I knew instantly that it was the man I wished to speak to.
"Susannah, what is it now?" Father Dominic is a mediator. He shares my 'gift'. He is an oldish man, between the ages of fifty and sixty, although he seems younger than his age.
"Another ghost approached me," I told him. I could hear him turn to face me.
"Another...? What did they want?" He asked, his voice shaking as he spoke. He did not like me talking about the ghosts that I see. He fears that I will one day be caught and executed, like so many other innocent women.
"Her name is Marianne. She wanted a place to stay, so I allowed her to stay with me until this whole 'witch' thing blows over," I told him. "She was burned at the stake and that is why she remains here." I heard him sigh in frustraion.
"Susannah, these apparitions are not pets," he said. I laughed. I knew that. But I felt sorry for them. And I guess I allowed Marianne to stay because of all the times I watched women die for sins they had not commited. I told him this only for him to sigh yet again.
"Susannah, those that are responsible for these atrocities will pay for their sins. If not in this life, then in the next. It is not your job to make them suffer." Yes, but I would have fun doing it. I did not tell him this. "Is that all?"
"Then you better go. There may be others with the need to confess."
As I pushed the door open, I realised that the church was almost empty now. From where I stood, I could only see a woman kneeling behind a bench a little way down the room. So I made my way slowly and quietly down the aisle once more, looking not infront of me, but at my feet as I walked. I did not see the man coming. I did not even know he was there until I walked right into him.
"Lo siento, senorita," he said, grabbing my arm so that I didn't fall. I giggled at how stupid I had been. "I was not looking where-" He broke off in mid-sentence and I was forced to look up into his eyes. For some strange reason, every inch of my body seemed to freeze. As I looked up into his dark, brown eyes, I felt myself falling, and not because he had let go of me; his grip on my arm remained tight, as did mine on his. I could not decipher the look in his eyes as they surveyed my face. He remained silent, and seemed to be astonished. I knew the feeling. Something seemed to click inside of me when our eyes met. I could not speak, my voice seemed to catch in my throat. I took in every detail; his perfectly-chisled features (carved by the hands of angels, I would say if I was religious), his beautiful brown eyes, his olive complexion and his thick, black hair. Oh how I wanted to reach up and run my fingers through it. But that would not be appropriate. He blinked and steadied me, but did not let go of my arm.
"I am sorry," he said. I believe that he said this before. I don't know...whatever language it was that he spoke, I did not speak it. "I just..." But he trailed off again as his eyes met mine. His fingers trailed down my arm as he lowered his hand, and I could feel the calluseson his fingers. But his touch was by no means rough. In fact, it left a trail of warmth, and a feeling I could not describe, down my arm. I apologised to him for not watching my step.
"It's alright, Miss," he said, smiling. His teeth were almost perfect; he was obviously well off to have teeth like that. Most of the peasant's teeth were either yellow or had dropped out. But his were a dazzling white. "I was not watching my step, either." His eyes lingered on my face a moment longer, before he tore them away. I flashed him a smile that was nowhere near as heart-melting as his and brushed past him. I could feel his eyes on my back as I left, and I couldn't help smiling to myself. Whoever he was, we had just shared a moment. A moment, I was sure, that we would never share again. Oh, how wrong I was.
AN - I don't even know if anyone is going to read this, but it's an idea that has been stuck in my head for ages and if I didn't post it, it was threatening to drive me insane, lol. The rating may change later...it's going to get pretty dark. Especially when Paul comes into it ;). Basically, all of the characters from the book will be in it...Suze, Jesse, Paul, Father Dom, Suze's mom, Andy, Jake, Brad, David, Suze's dad, etc. And a few new characters. As far as a setting goes, I haven't commited myself to a time period...the witch trials of England were in the earlier part of last millenium, but I'm borrowing details from other time periods, so...it's kind of my own time period. Anyway, I hope you liked the first chapter...if you did, review and I shall write more :). Trials and Tribulations will take priority over this as far as updates go, but I will try and alternate :)
Disclaimer - The characters belong to Meg Cabot...the story belongs to me.