The Greater Witch of St. Januarius Colony


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On a night with no moon on a date no one remembered a witch was sent to her pyre. The witch —who was called Joy-In-Sorrow— followed the beadle ahead of her without resistance. She ignored the mob shouting at her just as she had ignored the Witchfinders’ pleas, desperate to find whoever bewitched her. JS, as the witch was better known, allowed a smile to spread across her face as the stake came into view.

 

JS pressed her back to the wooden stake as the beadle tied her to it. From there she had perfect view of the angry mob, which had split to allow Witchfinder General Ames and her Court to pass through. But a view wasn’t needed to see the torch in General Ames’ hand. 

 

The General reached the base of the stake seconds after JS first spotted her, the Witchfinder Court quickly surrounding it. She would not ask questions or accept hopeful penance; the time for that ended days prior. Instead, she turned her back to JS and addressed the crowd:

 

“People of St. Januarius Colony! Before us today we have Mistress Joy-In-Sorrow, witch.” General Ames spat out the word “witch” like it was sour. “She has been charged on counts of witchcraft in the highest degree. She has signed her name in the Devil’s Book, and has been found guilty of bewitching Mistress Fulkes’ children. For these crimes, on ordinance of the St. Januarius Witchfinder Court, she will be punished!”

 

The mob began to roar as General Ames lit the bottom of the stake. Smoke rose above JS’ head as sparks began to ignite on her petticoat. It had just started, but the ceremony was already coming to an end. JS smiled again and screamed out to the crowd:

 

“I confess!”

 

With two simple words the crowd fell silent. The beadle kept his staff pointed at JS’ head, while a confused Ames turned to see the cause of the divigation.

 

“I was bewitched! Goodfolk of the colony, I am a witch, but a greater witch walks among the shadows! The Greater Witch forced me to commit such atrocities! And I tell you, with my last breath, you are all in danger. The Greater Witch is out for more.”

 

And with those final seven words the crowd fell into hysteria. The beadle ran to the people, shouting futile attempts to calm them. General Ames stormed up to JS, demanding to know the identity of the Greater Witch. But it was too late for questions or hopeful answers, as Joy-In-Sorrow had already fallen to the fire. 

+

It had been a week since JS was sent to the stakes. Her words were still fresh in the mind of General Ames, who was holding a meeting about it with her Court. 

 

“In order to stop the Greater Witch from further terrorizing our colony,” General Ames said with a grimness in her tone. “We shall send any and all suspected witches to the Penitentiary. Should any member of our colony bear strange markings, have fits of any kind, or show any other signs of bewitchment, they will be imprisoned immediately for the safety of the public.”

 

“Safety of the public.” repeated a Courtsman in a shrill voice. The voice belonged to Ames’ Second in Command: Witchfinder Major Hastings. Hastings found that he could gather public support simply by repeating what General Ames had to say, which served him well in his years at the Court.

 

Having heard General Ames’ speech and Major Hastings’ echo, the Court nodded amongst themselves in agreement. That is, with the exception of the beadle, who stood by the door of the meetinghouse. 

 

“Goodfolk of the Court, I bid you listen,” he started. “Surely we should wait for the arrival of the Greater Witch before imposing such drastic witchhunts. After all, we gave that woman a pyre, not a soapbox. There might not even be a Greater Witch to hunt after.”

 

General Ames’ face contorted with rage as the people of the Court held their breath. 

 

“I have heard people speak like that before,” Ames said through gritted teeth. “And they all turned up witches. Maybe you are the Greater Witch who plagues our colony!”

 

The beadle wanted to fight back, but his mouth was as silent as his head. He had said all that he needed to, and nothing more. The Court cheered as the Witchfinders escorted him out, the Witch’s Penitentiary in his near future. 

 

“Thank goodness we got rid of that wretched beadle.” Mr. Stoddard said from within the Court.

“Perhaps he really was the Greater Witch!” Ms. Twisse exclaimed. 

“We must continue these hunts throughout the colony!” said Mr. Hildersham.

“My children are safe at last.” whispered Ms. Fulkes.

+

It had been months since General Ames’ meeting with the Witchfinder Court. In dominion over the colony, she named Major Hastings the new beadle. Witchhunts were carried out daily in the name of catching the Greater Witch. Least noticeably but most prominently, the people of the Court began to call themselves Amists. 

 

One night, in a field where witches often congregated, a group of mutineers held a meeting.

“We live in constant fear of imprisonment! The Greater Witch is but a speck compared to the grip the Witchfinders hold us in!” shouted the leader: a young man who called himself Thackeray Egerrton. His every word sent his audience into a rallying cry, one that the Amists couldn’t hear no matter how loud they cheered.

 

“I think Governor Ames is a witch! In fact, I think she’s the Greater Witch!” cried a girl from the crowd. 

“She’s a witch, Abigail, she’s the biggest witch in the entire colony! And her Witchfinder Court is no better! Who’s with me?!”

Abigail Sibbes ran up to stand by Thackeray, who in turn stood before the unfolding rebellion.

“She’s a witch, so why don’t we prove it?!” Thackeray continued. “We’ll draw a mark upon her nose before Abigail says who really signed the Devil’s Book!”

 

Taken aback by the plan, Abigail remained silent while the rest of the Rebellion rallied into the night. She turned to Thackeray, who further agitated the crowd with chants, each one illustrating a new tomorrow. Abigail then sighed and smiled, supposing any plan worked lest it bring the downfall of General Ames. 

+

Thackeray approached the Governor’s Hall, where the beadles who kept order once resided and the Witchfinder Court now dwelt. Entering the old, rotting building was easy; Thackeray simply snuck through a broken back door that Major Hastings, in his incompetence, had yet to keep guarded. Finding the General’s chamber proved just as easy, and with a stick of charcoal, he drew a witch’s mark on the side of her nose. 

 

With the help of the shadows and the guards that Major Hastings didn’t appoint, Thackeray Egerrton snuck into the night, escaping the hands that held St. Januarius Colony in a death grip. 

And as dawn rose that morning the colony awoke to the feigned cries of Abigail Sibbes, who stood on the front courtyard of the Governor’s Hall. 

 

“I saw General Ames with the Devil! She took me to the fields and forced me to sign the Devil’s Book! And when it was done she told me that she was the one who bewitched Mistress Joy-In-Sorrow! She confessed to me, she is the Greater Witch!” 

 

By noontide that day over half the colony had seen General Ames with the Devil. Enraged at the colonists, the General held a meeting to clear her name, and in that moment the entire colony befell their eyes on the witch’s mark. Reluctantly, Major Hastings escorted General Ames to the Witch’s Penitentiary. 

Left without one to echo after, Governor Hastings was silent. His silence was only made louder as the Rebellion overtook the Governor’s Hall, leaving St. Januarius Colony without order. Hunts for the Greater Witch morphed into hunts for the Amists, their own sword used to pierce their heart.

+

From beyond the veil JS looked down upon St. Januarius Colony— or what remained of it. A smile spread across her face. The Greater Witch had only lived in her imagination, but failed to die with her. It lived in the angry clashes between Amists and the Rebellion, and it lived in hushed whispers from within the Penitentiary. It walked the cobblestone streets of St. Januarius Colony; not a solid figure but rather a conceptualization that gave reality to one.

13

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Image of Tom Reilly
Tom Reilly · ago
Great story!
Image of Kim Ricciardi
Kim Ricciardi · ago
I love witch stories. This brought me back to my visit to Salem MA. Well done. You have a great writing career ahead of you. I look forward to your collection of novels to come.