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 prayerbook 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.
At first, it appeared to be a trick of the setting sun. Where once it had been coloured by the crimson and gold of the flames, Rosalind’s body began to glow with a silvery light. As the fire caught the thin fabric of her skirts and climbed towards her waist, she did not scream, nor even whimper, but instead remained stoic while the cloth turned to ash and the flames pressed against her naked skin. The mill cast its tall shadow over the marketplace and, in the greying light, pink flesh took on gleaming silver lines.
The preacher’s voice rose in condemnation. “Only the devil,” he said, “could wield such fiendish power.” Within the flames, Rosalind laughed, and her breath was a spark of molten silver. She did not die. The silver was tempered by the fire, becoming ever brighter, and her form became fluid and blinding in the heat.
The mayor ordered water to be brought from the well, and the goldsmith’s son threw bucketful after bucketful, and eventually quenched the pyre’s flames. Rosalind stood in the circle of charred, sodden wood, and shone with icy heat as the jailer reached to bind her hands. As he touched her, he shouted, and his palms were blistering even as he washed the molten metal from his skin. The miller poured water over her head, but it turned to steam and rose, harmless, into the air.
When Rosalind walked through the ashes and away from the town, no one stood in her way.
In the meadow beside the mill, Leda awaited Rosalind with her hands twisted in a knot of concern. Rosalind threaded now-cool fingers through Leda’s hair, and pressed smooth silver lips against Leda’s warm cheek.
“I’m sorry,” Leda said, tracing the lines of Rosalind’s face with her fingers. “It was the only magic I knew that might keep you alive.”
Rosalind stilled Leda’s words with the palm of her hand. She wrapped icy arms around Leda’s waist and warmed plated lips with the heat of Leda’s mouth. The moon pushed the clouds aside and the young witch shone silver in Rosalind’s reflecting light.
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