It was a white-rimed January morn when the witchfinders came. Restrained by Puritan soldiers, Will could do naught but watch as they hanged his lovely young wife from the solitary oak. All Martha had done was to heal folk’s ailments with her fragrant herbs; helped mothers during difficult births.
He’d buried her after they’d gone, his tears mingling with the loosened earth. Denied the right to consecrated ground by the pompous priest, Martha slept beneath the herb garden she’d loved so much. Village folk crowded round, commiserations from some, tears flowing from many.
But amongst them a traitor lurked. Will was certain of it: how else would the soldiers have known where to pounce? Easily earned blood-money was stashed away from prying eyes somewhere in this village, and Will would not rest till he’d sniffed it out. The traitor would pay dearly for his betrayal. An ‘accident’ could easily be arranged…
For its part in the deed, Will reduced the oak to a stump, the traitorous John Arnold buried deep beside it. Though rotting now, the stump was still there, twenty years on. At his side, Martha smiled: she returned to comfort him every year on the first white-rimed January morn.
This is the second short piece of ‘flash’ I’ve written about the plight of women unfortunate enough to attract the attention of those obsessed with the need to rid the world of ‘witches’. I won’t go into the ideas revolving around witchcraft here. Suffice it to say that in many cultures in the past strong, independent women have often been viewed with suspicion. Any single or widowed woman able to run a household on her own, or skilled in herblore and its medicinal applications, would soon come to the attention of the witchfinders. If she also happened to have a black cat, her fate would be sealed.
In some cases grotesque forms of torture were used to make the woman confess to her sins (including the ‘ducking stool’) after which, she would be burnt alive at ‘the stake’ or hanged.
In my post from a few years ago, I added much more detail. Anyone interested in the topic can find it here.