art by M.S. Corley
The Silver Witch
by Tara Calaby
When the townspeople found Rosalind sitting astride the mayor's daughter with her skirts hoisted to her thighs and her bodice loosened at the chest, they knew she was a witch. She was feasting at her victim's lips, sucking the soul out of poor Leda's body as she lay, bent, in the shadow of the mill. The preacher was summoned and, although Leda protested, Rosalind was shackled and presented to the mayor for trial.
On the first day, three witnesses were called. The miller stood with flour on his shirt and stammered as he told the townspeople that Rosalind had been seen near his mill before. Once, he had watched her gathering flowers and, the next day, the crooked form of a bird's embryo had been found in the nearby grass. "And she never took a husband," he finished. Indeed, she had turned the miller down.
The preacher quoted from his prayer book and tugged at his clothing when he spoke. It had been months, he revealed, since Rosalind had last breached the chapel's doors. "Witches," he told them, "are not able to step on holy ground." The people gasped, but Rosalind stood, silent, and faced the preacher with a frozen jaw.
Leda's chastity and piety were lauded by the goldsmith's son, whom she had been betrothed to at the age of thirteen. Her fear of God could be seen in her unwillingness to be alone with him, for she obviously feared that the devil might tempt her to go astray. "She is innocent to the sins of the flesh," he vowed. "It is no wonder that a witch should covet the whiteness of her soul."
On the second day, Leda petitioned her father on bended knees. She clasped the hem of his woven coat and wept tears that streaked her pale cheeks with silver in the weak winter's light. He patted her head and praised her mercy and forgiveness. "You are a good woman," he said, "and will make an obedient and faithful wife. The witch will be punished for preying upon one so untouched by the hands of evil."
In desperation, Leda stood, and clutched the mayor's folded hands. "She did not prey upon me! I submitted willingly to her embrace."
The people gasped and flushed with fear, and the preacher muttered prayers into the collar of his shirt. Rosalind stayed silent but, when her eyes met Leda's, she shook her head. The mayor flinched, but stood to speak his part. "The witch speaks through my daughter's tongue! She must die, so that Leda may be freed!"
As Rosalind was led away, Leda fell to the ground and drew patterns in the dust at the mayor's feet.
The wood was damp, and the kindling sparked and sputtered in a light fall of snow. The townspeople clustered around the pyre, with the preacher in their midst. Leda was held upright at the mayor's side, and Rosalind's wrists were bound to the wood behind her back. Her eyes stung from the smoke and floating embers, but she did not weep as the slow flames warmed the soles of her boots.
The people fell silent as the fire rose. Leda closed her eyes against the sight and whispered words of desperation as she rested her cheek against her father's broad chest. Rosalind stood, eyes fixed, and waited to burn.