06 November 2009

Curse of the Other World, part six


By the time they had all made their way to the drinks tent, navigating the huddle of people who thought standing and chatting around or in front of the bar and blocking everyone else's access was an acceptable social practice, and then fought their way back out of the tent, the re-enactors were taking their positions for the first of the day's events.

'This should be interesting,' said Howard. She hooked her thumb into one of the belt loops on her jeans and sipped beer from a flimsy plastic cup.

'What are they doing?' asked Peter.

'The trial of Mary Jennings. Apparently she was head of a local witch cult, and also the cousin of a local Earl or something.'

The trio found a spot amongst the small crowd where they could get a good view of the performance and settled in to watch as a middle-aged woman in faux medieval finery was dragged kicking and screaming into to a mock courtroom made from plywood daubed with cheap paint. A fat man in black robes sat behind a dais and scowled at the woman as she passed.

The clerk of the court rose. 'Silence! This court is now in session. Lord Havelock presiding.'

Sarah leaned over and whispered in Peter's ear. 'I don't think that's how it goes.'

'I know,' Peter whispered back. 'But cut them some slack. The guy's clearly nervous.'

The clerk reeled off a list of the defendant's supposed crimes, emphasising words he obviously felt were heinous or would make the poor woman seem more vicious and cruel than she otherwise may. Sarah found her mind wandering, the amateur actor's performance not enthusing her. Her knees ached and there was a deep pain in her right thigh; like someone was trying to cut their way out of the muscle with a needle. She rubbed her leg absent-mindedly while waiting for the man to finish talking.

The defendant spoke only to confirm her name, and did so in a meek voice. Sarah thought she was meant to feel pity for her at this point but found herself unable to do so. The fight had clearly long gone from the woman, leaving her a pathetic shell. Sarah had no time for people who just gave up, or those who encouraged others to do so. She felt an urge to grab the stupid woman by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, all the while screaming “for goodness' sake woman, pull yourself together!”

'Look at her,' she whispered to Peter. 'She's not even bothering to fight these wankers.'

'She's going to be put to death,' said Peter. 'Have some sympathy.'

'If she's going to die, she literally has nothing to lose by fighting, does she?'

'You really have no sense of empathy, do you?' asked Peter.

The question took Sarah aback. It was not something she had ever thought about.

'Of course I do,' she said. 'Everyone does.'

Peter shook his head. 'Not everyone.'

Sarah shrugged. What did it matter? Feeling sorry would not bring the woman back to life after three hundred years. She turned her attention back to the performance.

The prosecution was quizzing a man about what he had seen Mrs Jennings and her friends doing in the Eshford Woods during the previous winter. The man, was clearly not the sharpest tack in the box and was dressed in the shabbiest clothes Sarah had ever seen; only one stage up from cutting a hole in a potato sack and using it as a robe. He explained how he had not actually seen Mrs Jennings because each of the participants in some obscene dance, which he described in lewd detail and would have demonstrated if not told by the Judge to remain seated, had been wearing deep hoods.

'This is a farce,' Sarah muttered. 'How this ever passed for justice, I'll never know.'

'It's not for us to judge the standards of another age,' said a woman behind and to Sarah's right.

Sarah turned and gave the woman a pitiful glance. 'Like hell it's not. It's our duty as human beings to show up these worthless scum for what they are. Why should they decide what's right and wrong? They don't know the first thing about it!'

Peter put a hand on her shoulder. 'Sarah, please calm down.'

She shrugged his hand away and walked off. He followed close behind.

'What's wrong with you today?' he asked. 'Everything started out so well. What happened?'

I'm in pain, I feel sick and I'm not in the mood to be reminded just how many bigoted scum infect this country, she thought. That's what's wrong.

'I'm just not in the mood for this,' she said. 'Seeing how pathetic little bullies can just get away with such horrible things really doesn't sound like entertainment to me.'

Peter put his arm around her shoulders and walked her back to her car. 'Come on,' he said. 'Let's get you home.'

'What about you? I thought you wanted to see the show.'

'I'll come back later, maybe.'

Sarah looked over at Peter. He smiled the warm, ever-forgiving smile he seemed to reserve for those occasions where she had done something incredibly stupid, or when she had hurt his feeling but he did not want to let on. She knew anyway, of course. She always knew, and if she was honest that was sometimes her aim, but not this time. This time she was just riled because of the pain and sickness mixed with the stupidity of what was being performed.

'I'm sorry, Peter,' she said. 'Go and enjoy the show. I'll get us another drink and see you back there.'

'Only if you're sure you want to stay,' he said.

She kissed him on the cheek. His wiry stubble felt more scratchy than usual against her skin.

'I'm sure,' she said, and meant it for once.

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