Juliet crept quietly into the cover of brush and then turned for a last look at her house. A horde of villagers was hammering on her front door, several carrying torches to stave the late night shadows. Praying that her enchantment would keep the mob at her house long enough for her to escape Juliet moved as quickly as she could into the woods, impeded slightly by her seven-month pregnant belly. She wound her way expertly through the undergrowth, hiding her tracks where she could to buy herself more time. This sudden revolt had surprised her. Juliet was the village doctor and midwife, and she traded her medicines for her living. She had been present at the birth of nearly every young child in the village and had saved more than one life with her cures. There was no valid reason for this unexpected rebellion. A loud noise behind her jerked Juliet from her wondering. The crowd had apparently discovered that she was no longer in the house. A disorderedly pounding of feet could be heard behind her along with raucous voices, swiftly drawing nearer. There was nothing for it, if she stood any chance of escape Juliet would have to run for it. Lifting her skirts free of her feet, Juliet broke into a sprint. She took the clearest possible trails so nothing could hinder her pace but always the clamor behind her drew nigh. The extra weight she bore made her breathing labored and she felt her strength beginning to wane. Suddenly she slid to a stop. A broad river loomed in front of her, nearly twice a stone's throw across. Normally it was a shallow stream but this time of year the mountain snows began to melt and flooded the riverbed. Not only was it incredibly wide but also fast and frigid. There was no way she would be able to wade across and there were no bridges for miles in either direction. There she is! The harsh bellow made Juliet spin around. The crowd had appeared through the trees and was rushing towards her. The foremost man, a blacksmith whom Juliet had cured of hives only a week prior, held a torch aloft in one hand and with the other hand pointed at her with all the authority of Fate itself. What cause have you to pursue me so? Juliet cried. We have come to arrest you on orders from Reverend Atsons, the blacksmith replied. He gestured at the crowd and they began to form a semi-circle around Juliet, backing her against the river's edge. You shan't take me!Ó Juliet screamed. Like a cornered beast she lashed out and a sudden gust of wind barraged the villagers, extinguishing all the torches and knocking several men to the ground. Stand down, witch! the blacksmith yelled, dropping his useless torch. Two men seized Juliet's arms and another began to bind her hands with rope. Juliet, instead of struggling, closed her eyes and began murmuring to herself in a coarse language. Silence her you imbeciles, before she hexes us all! the blacksmith shouted, the fear in his voice only too evident. Juliet opened her eyes and looked up at him in silence and she saw him quiver in fright. Then one of the men cracked her across the back of the head with his torch and she collapsed unconscious. Juliet was awoken by a sharp slap to the face and she gasped at the abrupt return to consciousness. Every muscle in her body was aching horribly. She could feel a thick wooden stake behind her back and her arms were tied tightly around this. Coarse ropes bound her to the stake at the neck, waist, hips, and calves, and a piece of cloth had been stuffed into her mouth and secured with another strip of rope. Witch, said a coarse voice and Juliet forced her eyes to focus. She was standing on a platform in front of what seemed to be the entire village. On a raised pedestal facing her stood the blacksmith who had captured her, the local clergyman, and, in the very center, Reverend Atsons, a priest from a neighboring town who had come to examine the town's government and church systems. Witch, Reverend Atsons repeated, do you know why you are here before us?Ó Juliet shook her head slowly, trying not to display the pain on her face as the wound on the back of her head throbbed and the ropes round her neck tore at her skin. You are brought here to face the punishment of the charges against you, Reverend Atsons said pompously. Juliet Carthot, you have been charged with the crimes of adultery and witchcraft. It is too late for you to deny these charges as you used your black magic on several of these people this night and the proof of your adultery is only too clear. There was a great rush of muttering among the crowd. You are, however, in the mercy of the Lord, given a chance to redeem yourself. Will you now, with this village and the Lord as your witness, repent for your sins and beg forgiveness from the Father Almighty? A defiant grimace on her face, Juliet shook her head, feeling the ropes saw through her skin as a warm stream of blood coursed down her neck. Wild murmuring erupted in the gathered mass and it took several long minutes before the reverend could restore calm. You refuse to atone for your sins and seek forgiveness? Reverend Atsons asked. Juliet nodded very clearly. Then I declare that you must now be punished for your sins. For the high crimes of adultery and witchcraft you, Juliet Carthot, shall be this night burned at the stake and sent to your place in the eternal fires of Hell. A great cry rose from the crowd and several men moved forward with armfuls of straw and heaped them beneath her feet. Through the whole ordeal Juliet maintained perfect eye contact with Reverend Atsons, who returned her gaze calmly, a hidden smile playing around his lips. When the men had finished they all backed away and another man mounted the platform, a flaming torch held in his hand. Reverend Atsons lifted both of his hands high with his arms spread wide, the flawless symbol of forgiveness. May God have mercy on your soul! The man with the torch slowly began lowering it towards the straw. No! For the first time Juliet's eyes left the reverend's face. Unnoticed in all the other action, a man had elbowed his way to the front of the crowd and now clambered onto the stage. Swiftly he charged at the man who held the torch and threw him bodily to the dirt below. Then he straightened and came towards Juliet. It's the mayor, the crowd members began hissing to each other. That's Mayor Wilkins. What is he doing? Timothy Wilkins? It's the mayor. Don't worry, my love, the mayor whispered to Juliet. I'll have us out of this. I promise, I will not leave you to this punishment. Then he turned to face the crowd. What do you people think you are doing? This woman is a convicted felon, Reverend Atsons bellowed angrily. She does not deny these charges and she must accept justice for her sins. Her sins? Mayor Wilkins asked, aghast. What sins has this woman committed? I never knew that curing the sick and seeing that children are born into this world safely were crimes. No, but using witchcraft and being taken out of wedlock are, Reverend Atsons replied harshly. Now stand aside before you are charged with contempt of court. No, the mayor stated plainly. I will go nowhere. And I will most certainly not stand aside and let you unjustly murder this woman. How could you people convict this woman to die while she carries a child in her stomach? How can you be so heartless as to sentence an innocent unborn to death? A quiet mutter rose among the villagers. That child must die just as its mother must, Reverend Atsons proclaimed. It is a child conceived in unholy seduction and borne of dark witchcraft. Something so wicked should not be allowed on this earth! A few angry cries burst from the crowd at this statement. Juliet yelled to Mayor Wilkins through her gag and he turned to her quickly. Understanding instantly Timothy Wilkins untied the rope around her mouth and removed the cloth. Please, I beg of you, Juliet cried out, addressing the crowd, do not harm my child. I will accept whatever punish you can burden upon me, but let it wait until my child is born and then let my child be raised elsewhere where it will be safe. Punish me as you will but do not harm my child. Silence that witch before she poisons your minds! the reverend screamed but few acknowledged him. No, Juliet, you mustn't, Timothy said in horror, tears in his eyes. Then turning back to the crowd he shouted, I am willing to accept the punishments for Juliet so that she might live to bear her child. Take me in her stead. The charges against her are also mine. I am learned in the magic of nature and the child she bears is mine as well. Gasps of horror exploded from the villagers. Timothy, this is useless, Juliet said sadly. Then she declaimed to the mass, My fight is a losing one. Let my story stand forever, set in stone, as a monument to the injustices of the world. Always remember that I and my child were never given the chance to experience lives of completeness. Timothy turned quickly to Juliet. No, he begged, reaching toward her with a hand. The people of the village will never forget what they saw that moment. Before them stood two people carved of stone, Juliet Carthot tied to a stone pillar and her feet resting on a pile of straw and Timothy Wilkins standing before her, one stony hand connected to her cheek. Juliet's face was upturned, a look of resigned sadness etched into her features and the mayor's expression was that of the purest devotion. On the floor of the platform next to the other two statues lay another figure, accidentally caught in the spell. Reverend Atsons lay on his stomach with a stone torch held in his outstretched hand. The tip of the frozen fire rested in the straw and a single tongue of flame was curling around Juliet's ankle. A truly terrifying grin covered the reverend's marble features as he watched for all eternity the fire with a maniac greed carved in his eyes. From that day on the statues stood forever in the square of the village and became a talking point of the elders and children alike as everyone tried to decide who was the real felon.
Set in Stone
September 1, 2007