Word of Jerome’s disappearance spread. The kingdom of Navaria became uneasy as rumours of witchcraft at The Hand circulated.
“Natalya is no more a witch than I am. She would have no dealings with one either,” King Roman dismissed.
“Pay no mind, Your Majesty,” Doctor Hogran advised. “I’m afraid your brother wasn’t of sound mind. Falling to madness isn’t uncommon in your lineage.
The doctor’s comforting words were interrupted by Count Vasinov. Roman managed a smile in greeting to his cousin.
“Majesty,” said Vasinov soberly. “A member of your court has been arrested.”
“My court?” he enquired. “Whatever for?” The king worried that the rumours had forced the guards to The Hand.
“And who is this alleged witch?”
A shadow fell over the king’s face. ‘Have they taken Natalya?’ he wondered.
The doors were opened and General Drenisov came forward holding Perrin in custody. Perrin’s long face was expressionless.
“What is the meaning of this?” Roman demanded to know.
Drenisov kept his head held high.
“This man is a witch,” the young general stated for all present to hear. There was an audible gasp among the court. A woman close to Vasniov covered her mouth.
“You had better have damn good evidence to support that accusation, boy,” Roman snarled. “That man is a respected member of this court.”
Keeping a hand on the prisoners shoulder, Drenisov turned to two of his comrades who had followed behind him carrying a large wooden box between them. The box itself had no particular value. The laid the box before the king and flipped open the lid. Inside were severed limbs of young children, no older than seven years.
Roman grimaced. Vasinov stared into the box with a morbid fascination.
“You expect me to believe my most trusted adviser is responsible for this? Perrin has been in service to my family for generations.”
The rest of the court had been shocked into silence.
Drenisov replied, “I was appointed to flush out every last witch from this kingdom. I’m afraid that includes those close to, Your Majesty. My proof is the confession he made.” Drenisov slipped his hand inside the red jacket of the Navarian Guard he wore and produced a letter. He flicked it open and King Roman noticed Perrin’s signature at the bottom of the confession immediately.
The king addressed Perrin. “Surely you would deny this?”
Perrin shook his head but his face remained stoic. The lines around his lips and eyes had deepened. He had always been so full of life but now he looked old.
“I am a witch, Majesty. I am a murderer of children.”
Roman cried out. “No! I do not accept your confession. You are innocent!”
A cloud of emotion finally broke through Perrin’s stony exterior. “It doesn’t matter.”
Drenisov spoke up again. “The penalty for this is death by burning,” he reminded his audience.
“I’m well aware,” Roman growled. “I will not permit this man to be put to death.”
Count Vasinov laid a comforting hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “I know it isn’t an easy decision to make but someone must answer for the deaths of those children. You do the kingdom a disservice if you do not punish accordingly and the man has confessed.”
“Why would you do this?” Roman pleaded. Perrin said nothing. The king couldn’t allow his court to see him falling victim to his own emotions. “Take him away,” Roman ordered.
After Drenisov and his guards cleared the way chatter fell among the court again.
“An innocent man is being put to death,” stated the king to Vasinov.
“I didn’t hear him proclaim his innocence. The do say witches can disguise themselves and live among us,” Vasinov said matter of factly. “Something certainly caused Jerome to behave the way he did.”
Roman again thought of Natalya.
“My kingdom is infested by witches, the man I placed my full trust in is to be burned as one of them and my brother is missing in what can only be assumed is an absence of sanity. The woman I love can’t be by my side.”
Vasinov shook his head sympathetically.
“It’s all a great burden on you, Your Majesty.”
Roman agreed. “Maybe I will be the one insane before the end of it all.”
Vasinov laughed uncomfortable. “Let’s hope not.”
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