Salem, Massachusetts—1692. A plague of witches and dark magic has descended upon the village of Salem. When a court of Oyer and Terminer is called by the governor to bring the guilty to trial, Judge Jacob Blackthorne and the Reverend Cotton Mather are are tasked with discovering the cause for all of this evil.
The trouble is, Jacob Blackthorne is part of the problem. Fifteen years ago, he was seduced by a witch named Abigail Colman. One night in the woods outside of Salem Village, she shared her secret with him—the power of the Sangreal—a magical elixir that forestalls the natural process of death… for a price.
Now cursed with near-eternal youth and the loss of his soul, Jacob prays that he can yet find a path to salvation. Instead, he uncovers a conspiracy dating back to Biblical times.
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“With To Suffer a Witch, Christopher Treagus has created a dark fantasy masterpiece. An emotional gauntlet full of brooding atmosphere and prose as sharp as a razor, this is one you don’t want to miss!” — Brian Keene, author, The Rising, City of the Dead and The Conqueror Worms
“Treagus depicts another time and place with his characterization of Salem in the 1600s. The subject matter makes To Suffer a Witch unique, as the language and actions of the people cast in the story are as though you are a witness to those days. Treagus provides many insights into how people lived in that time as his main character, Jacob Blackthorne, reveals how his depravity caused him to fall into the clutches of a witch and become cursed forever. His journey to regain his soul delves into the dark and sordid world of witchcraft, yet justice is served to reaffirm the perception of good surpassing evil.” — The Quill Review
Judge Hathorne’s shadow was cast long and dark over the prostrate woman kneeling before him. It seemed to take on a life of its own as he shifted his weight toward her. Abigail Colman shivered and coughed beneath its suffocating embrace. “Answer the question, woman!” Hathorne’s hollow voice echoed through the chamber. His mouth was a stern scowl. “Or must we put you to the torch?”
Despite the threats, the woman did not speak. As her silence lingered, the wind could be heard howling outside. The wooden beams of the ceiling cracked as though under the pressure of invisible feet. Judge Hathorne and his council noticeably shifted in their chairs.
The young Reverend James Bayley rolled a pair of wide eyes toward the planks overhead. “This is the work of the Devil!” he whispered nervously under his breath.
Judge Hathorne passed him a stern look of disapproval. “Thou shalt not give undue credit to the Devil,” he warned. “Be patient, young Sir, until we know for certain what we have here.”
Chastised, Bayley held his tongue. But that did not stop his eyes from wandering to the creaking beams every time the wind whipped by. Yet every other eye was upon the shaking woman, who was hunched over on the stone floor. Her clothes were in tatters, barely covering her skin. That which had surely been soft and lily-white was now awash with dark red stains, filled with welts and bruises. Her hair, once a flowing, luscious mane, hung in wet, stringy clumps, obscuring her face.
“Answer me, witch!’ Hathorne’s cold tone broke through the stillness, reverberating against the chamber walls. His shadow seemed to tremble with the words.
Abigail cringed as if stricken. It was all she could do to hold back the tears that threatened at the corners of her eyes.
“Did you have a contract with the Devil?!”
The woman’s resolve did not last long. As if the shadow in which she was enveloped were wringing the tears from her, Abigail began to sob. “Why won’t you just leave me alone!” she cried.
But the magistrate had no compassion. “You have been accused, child,” he stated. “We need not your confession. But speak to us, and perhaps God shall forgive you in the hereafter.”
Abigail visibly shuddered. Her muscles tightened and her fingers curled into fists. Her entire body went taut beneath the tatters. “Who has accused me of such?” she spoke through gritted teeth. There was a sudden fire of defiance now kindled deep inside. Her eyes glared fiercely at the gathered men.
The three councilors looked from one to the other. The chief magistrate’s gaze was as hard as ever, cutting into the woman like flint. Bayley was clearly nervous, but the third caught his uncertain gaze and nodded.
“We have the testimony of the boy,” the Magistrate Jonathan Corwin said, his deep baritone resonating within the barren room as if he had spoken for an assembled crowd. “We need nothing further from her.”
“The boy?” Abigail’s lips mouthed silently. She turned her head to look behind her. A cold stare of glass had come into her eyes, broken only for a moment by the hint of pain.
“So that’s it, then?” Bayley asked, clearly eager to end this ordeal. He couldn’t help but cast a glance at the beams above as the wind cracked again and a new onslaught of rain was added to the din.
But Hathorne was ever persistent. “There is one more thing,” he said, directing his ice-cold stare once more upon the woman. “This is very important.” Hathorne’s shadow spread itself further across the room as he leaned closer toward the shuddering girl. “Did the boy assist you in any manner, Goody Colman? Did Jacob Blackthorne join you in your Sabbath with Satan?”
There was a silence of the kind where no words are spoken, though the air remains thick with tension. It lingered like a heavy fog upon the room. Candles flickered, threatening to die out. The burgeoning storm thundered outside. The cry of the wind was like the moans of lost, angry dead as the boards of the ceiling and walls continued to crack and creak. Abigail cast a glance behind her. In her eyes was no longer the hint of pain or sorrow, but cold, cruel accusation. Yet just as swiftly as she had turned, she moved her vision back toward the looming council.
“No,” she answered at last. Her tone was flat and emotionless. “The boy was not there. I acted alone in my ‘contract with Satan.’ He had no part of it.”
It seemed as though the room itself released a sigh of relief. The rain did not pound so menacingly, and the wind dulled to a gentle breeze.
“Then there you have it.” Hathorne scowled. “Take her to Gallows Hill!”
Judge Corwin nodded and moved to the task, for the quicker it was done the better. Reverend Bayley fell in step beside him. They marched in unison like a funeral progression.
Hathorne cast a grim gaze upon the woman that reflected like a dark mirror within every wrinkle of his old countenance. “May the Lord have mercy on your soul,” he said with a sneer, then hammered his gavel to the desk.
“No.” Abigail’s own voice was a whisper. “May your lord have mercy on yours,” she said, though this was not directed to the magistrate, nor to her willing executioners. Once again, she cast her gaze behind. Abigail’s dark eyes were an indiscernible mask, but in her voice, she had said it all.
I still remember it well; the way she looked, what she said. The indifference that had washed across her features as the men dragged her from the chamber. Not another look or word of accusation passed through her eyes, nor across her lips. Not a look of anguish or pain. That was not necessary. For I knew that the very spark of her life had already flickered out.
I alone had extinguished the flame that had been Abigail Colman.
Yet what was I to do? Had I not given testimony, they would have come for me, as well… though perhaps that would have been a mercy. For certainly all I have done since that day has only confounded my own sins. But it was with Abigail that my great enduring trial first began. It was she who set me on the path that would consume my existence—and eventually damn my soul.
Abigail Colman, though a witch, had caught my interest. I was infatuated with her long, dark hair and her beautiful brown eyes that were so full of mystery and mischief all at once. Perhaps I should have known better. But in my youth I was unwary and careless. I was not so wise to the ways of the world as I am today. I still recall with vivid clarity the day my life became embroiled in this infernal mystery. We were together in the forests outside of Salem Village. The trees were tall and thick with leaves. We did not have to travel far to be secluded from prying eyes.
“I want to show you something,” Abigail said as she gently took my hand. “A secret,” she continued with a wink. Willingly I followed, already lost to her charms. She had revealed her carnal pleasures to me, and my soul was hers. There was nothing she could ask of me that I would refuse.
Oh, such was the nature of my fall!
We found a clearing and she spread herself among the leaves. I took the invitation readily and descended into her arms. When it was over, we built a fire and huddled about it for warmth. Abigail leaned in to me and kissed my ear. Her breath was as hot as her body, close against me.
“Jacob,” she whispered at my neck. “It is time that I show you my secret…”
I smiled impishly. “I think I have already seen your secret,” I replied, and she cast me with a reproachful look. But this quickly faded as I reached for her again.
“Not that!” Abigail cried, moving out of my grasp. She was naked beneath the moonlight. Her white skin glistened like porcelain. So delicate. So fragile. I could not have imagined allowing any harm to fall upon her, so enthralled was I by her beauty. I watched as Abigail leaned over, rummaging through her belongings—admiring the curves of her body, the soft swell of her breasts, the round of her hips, the firmness of her thighs. All that was her womanly shape. I felt myself stir for her again.
In a moment, Abigail completed her search. She held before me a goblet made of silver that bore an ancient look. It was tarnished at the edges and dirt encrusted the designs upon its surface, but I noticed as she held it up to the moonlight that a number of runes were etched upon it. In the center was embedded a six-pronged star. The emblem of David.
“This”—Abigail’s eyes beamed with pride as she spoke—“is the secret I wished to share with you, my love.” She handed me the cup and returned her attention to her parcel, rummaging other artifacts from its depths. I held the goblet in my hands and slowly began to turn it about. The moon was full that night, so I could see quite well the designs upon its exterior. “Do not worry. It will not harm you to look at,” Abigail told me. I could not speak in reply, for already a sickness was growing deep within the pit of my stomach.
The image upon its center was, indeed, the star of King David as I first suspected, but the runes along the edges barely seemed to go with the icon. They were written in an old form of Latin, but I could read them well enough. “Sanguinas,” “Aeternus,” “Vitas,” and “Lamia” were the first I recognized, before I wished to see no more. The queasy feeling in my stomach intensified and my entire body grew cold—despite my proximity to the fire. The darkness that surrounded us was suddenly an all-encompassing cloak. I began to feel as though I would suffocate within it.
“Jacob, what’s the matter?” Abigail inquired once she had foraged the supplies for which she sought. “You seem to have gone pale.”
I tried to force a smile. I did not want her to see the fear that was creeping into my soul. I put on the best mask of nonchalance I could, though to this day I have no idea how well it succeeded. “What’s this for?” I asked. I think there was a quiver in my voice.
Abigail favored my concern with a smile—both alluring and mischievous. “You’ll see,” she said, retrieving the goblet from my grasp. It could have been the way the moon fell across her, or my later recollection of that night could have conjured up imaginations that were not there, but I would swear that I had seen a most decidedly wicked gleam come into her eyes. A shiver crossed my spine.
“Sit now, Jacob, and relax,” Abigail said. She moved closer to the fire. I did as I was beckoned, and she began to arrange the things she had gathered. “You have no doubt heard the legends of the Sangreal?” She placed the goblet in front of her, filling it with herbs and other unmentionables of whose identity I would rather not know. I feared a greater darkness was drawing near. Not of night, but of the Ancient Enemy. It was all I could do to keep my voice from shaking as I spoke.
“Yes. I have,” I responded rather distractedly. “The Holy Grail. It’s the cup that Christ drank from at the Last Supper. The very same that Joseph of Arimathea used to catch His blood after the Crucifixion when he was stabbed upon the cross…”
Abigail shook her head. She moved close to me and raised a finger to my lips to silence my tongue. “No, Jacob,” she whispered. Her voice was like a gentle lullaby. “I don’t want to hear your Christian rhetoric. Tell me what you think, not our Puritan elders.”
I was silent for a moment, unsure what to say. That all-too-familiar darkness was ever so close. I wanted to scream at her, to chastise her for what I thought she was about to do… but she was too near to me. One look into those dark eyes and my will crumbled. “Well, I suppose the Grail romances speak of the Grail family,” I began again. She was like a snake, gently charming its prey into submission. I was reminded of the Serpent of Eden and his sway over Eve. “There is a chivalric secret order that guards… But surely you don’t mean to tell me that this is it? The Holy Grail. Here in Salem?” I had to laugh to ease my nervousness. “That’s not possible. Legend says it was lost after the Templars fell…”
Abigail pulled away from me. She was shaking her head again, and I felt the sting of her reproach. “For all your learning, Jacob, you do not truly know anything,” she said, returning her attention to the cup.
My heart ached. Tears stung my eyes. I sensed the darkness lurking ever nearer, yet I was far more afraid of losing respect in her eyes. “What do you mean, Abby?” I wanted to cry. But then she turned to me again and smiled. It seemed as though the dawn had suddenly come, sending the night and all its creeping darkness retreating back to the void.
“Do you trust me?” she asked thoughtfully. Again the mischievous glint returned to her eye. My instincts were to run, to accuse her for what she was, to tell her, No. I most certainly do not trust you! But I had not the strength. For I was already bewitched. Vaguely, I think, I nodded my head. I felt the darkness close in even further with the action.
“This is nothing like you think it is,” Abigail said as she moved toward me. She held the cup in both hands, like a precious gift. “The Sangreal, it is immortality! Life ever after, Jacob. But here on Earth. Not some mythical reward that may never come!”
“Abigail!” I was shocked. How could she speak such blasphemy? “You don’t know what you are saying!” I cried, and moved away from her.
“No, Jacob. Don’t go,” she cooed, reaching out for me. Her eyes were wide, feigning innocence. She had hold of my leg. I wanted to struggle, but found that I could not. Under the power of her gaze, I did not seem to be able to move. It was as if I were turned to stone before the mythical Medusa herself. “I want to share this with you,” Abigail spoke in her sweetest voice, an allure I had never been able to resist. “My secret. I want it to be ours.”
Part of me wanted to relent to her charm. To allow her to have power over me, to give in to her entreaties. After all, what is more intimate than something shared between two people? But for once my resolve held. “But, Abby, this is wrong!” I protested. She looked stricken.
“Why?” Abigail was suddenly indignant. She removed her hand from my thigh, not to release it, but as if she suddenly couldn’t stand to be touching me. “Because the church says so? Are you really so foolish, Jacob, that you can’t think for yourself? That you can’t accept that there are things beyond your religious doctrine?”
“I can accept this,” I replied, trying my best to make my resolve firm. “There are, indeed, things that exist beyond our doctrine. But they are wicked things, Abigail, and should not be trifled with by the likes of you or I!”
There was a sudden scornful look that crossed her features. “You sound just like them!” Abigail spat.
“Abigail! This is blasphemy!” I cried. “You’re talking heresy!”
This time, though, the girl laughed—but it was a bitter, hollow sound. “Do you even know the meaning of those words, Jacob? Or are you just repeating what other people tell you?”
There seemed to be true venom in her voice; I could not respond immediately. “Abby, there are things our society is formed upon,” I tried to explain, though I sensed it would be of no avail. “We must live according to the wishes of God.”
“That’s assuming he’s there at all!” I think the woman muttered, though I couldn’t be quite sure, as she had turned her back to me.
“Abigail!” I reproached. My voice was thick with horror. “Don’t say such things! Someone might hear you!”
“And what will they do? Burn me at the stake?” Abigail retorted.
“Abigail!” I said again, but my voice was not as firm as I would have liked. Perhaps, though, this was for the best, for Abigail’s stance lightened.
“All I am saying, Jacob,” she went on, taking a seat upon the ground, “is that I have seen things that don’t conform to the theological philosophy that we have been taught. And I, for one, cannot accept that this is all there is.”
I took the opportunity to sit back by her side. “But how can you deny His teachings?” I wanted to know. I feared the darkness was close to the surface, as if lurking beneath the waters of a placid pool, waiting its chance to strike. I could feel it as though it were breathing dank, fetid breath down my neck. In response to my statement, Abigail’s face crumpled in consternation. She thought on it for a moment, then took my hand in hers.
“Jacob, if you knew what I knew, you might think differently, too,” she said sympathetically. “I’ve learned things… I’ve seen things… And I can no longer blindly accept the teachings of the old guard.” She looked meaningfully into my eyes. “Jacob, my love. I want to share these things with you,” she said with such earnestness that I felt my heart melt. “No… I need to share these things with you.”
Again, the looming darkness was like a suffocating void. I felt as though I were at the threshold of a great precipice, about to take that fatal plunge, the one last step that would send me spiraling into a place of no return. Even then, like Adam, like Lucifer himself, I knew that my Fall was about to begin. I knew that to accept her invitation would be to eternally damn my soul. Whatever path she had taken had lured her away from the one true God. I could not allow myself to falter as had she. “I’m not sure,” I murmured. I could not look at her.
“Come on, Jacob,” she said. Abigail was so close I could feel her warmth, taste her scent. “I just want to show you… Then you can make up your own mind. If, after hearing what I know, of your own free will you still wish to follow your father’s outdated beliefs… then I will not pressure you again. This is a new world, Jacob. In just a few decades we will come upon a new century. It’s time to put away the old ways and start anew.”
But I was already shaking my head. Though my resolve may have been low, my conviction of faith was still high. I knew which path was that of the Righteous, and which led only to folly—regardless of whether I had the strength to choose them wisely. “You speak with the tongue of a heretic!” I whispered, as if saying it too loud would make it all the more true. I stared in disbelief at the girl who had been my lover. “First you question the existence of the Lord. You speak against His wisdom, and now you talk of Free Will? Do you then stand in defiance of God and the destiny He has made for you? It is only for Him to choose our ultimate fate. It has been predestined since before we were born. You cannot stand against that!”
I expected her to revolt against me. But to my surprise, Abigail only smiled. That familiar mischievous twinkle alighted in her eyes. “If you believe the scriptures and in that of predestination,” she spoke slyly, “then how do you know it is not God’s plan that we would come to this passing?”
I thought about this for a moment. As, indeed, I have almost every day of my existence since. The only response then, just as it is now, was a sigh of resignation. “That is, I must admit, a possibility,” I breathed as though it pained me. “It is entirely likely for our lot in life to be among the damned. But if this is so, it is God’s Will and we cannot revile Him for it. Nor can we ignore His existence or grace!”
Again Abigail smiled. And it was as cunning as it was cold. “Perhaps then we are meant to share in this secret.” She touched my thigh. Her caress was already beginning to ignite me. Yet I shook my head and pulled away.
“I don’t want to be a sinner!” I cried in a hoarse whisper. The darkness, I think, had finally descended. I could feel it like a cold vise upon my heart. Abigail, however, was ever persistent.
“I’ve got news for you, boy,” she toyed with me, drawing near and favoring me with an intimate touch. “You already are! Or what do you think we have been doing?”
I had no response. My defenses were at their weakest, and I could not withstand her advances. Abigail moved against me. Her flesh was warm despite its exposure to the chill night air. Its surface was soft, still with the firmness of youth. Her nipples were hard and erect, and I could not resist the lure of her femininity. She began by kissing at my neck, my shoulders, and my throat. Her lips were soft, like rose petals upon my skin. Lord, help me, I gave in to this caress. When she reached for my member and slid it inside her, I did not protest. The darkness that had been haunting me all night finally descended—but I no longer cared.
We were into it, then. Our bodies merged as though in a mad dash for completion and gratification. I felt her fingers claw into my back, scratching through the flesh. I felt wet, sticky blood begin to flow as the pain seared like fire through my body. When she was done with this, Abigail bit into my neck.
The pain was like nothing I had ever felt before as her teeth pierced my skin. My mind went blank, though I was vaguely aware of being locked inside a lover’s embrace. Thrills and shivers contorted my body, and the blood ran hot from my open veins. I became suddenly very fatigued and my consciousness waned.
When I opened my eyes the moon no longer lingered directly above us, but had begun its slow descent toward the west. The stars were bright overhead and I imagined that they were angels looming from on high, a silent witness to my sin. I made to move and discovered that I was still quite weak. My neck throbbed. I reached toward the wound, then stopped. For I suddenly did not wish to feel what damage may have been done there.
I rose to my elbows as best I could and looked groggily about. Not too far away, hunkered over the last remaining embers of the fire, sat Abigail Colman. I watched her as she went about her business, unaware of my stirring. Her back was illuminated by the slowly sinking moon, while her front glowed a faint orange in the embers. She was kneeling before something I could not at first make out, but upon closer scrutiny realized was the silver chalice. As Abigail leaned over it, she drew figures in the air. A soft whisper that I had mistaken as the wisp of the wind now came to me as a slow, rhythmic chant. I soon discovered that this was not a chant at all, but some kind of incantation.
“Oh my God!” I expelled, but had no voice to make it more than a barely heard whisper. I tried to rise further, but I was still too weak. I could only watch in horror as Abigail lifted her wrist to her teeth—the very same teeth that had rent my flesh—and tore open her own vein. Blood flowed quickly, and she positioned the chalice beneath the gaping wound.
“Whosoever shall drink of my blood, hath eternal life…” I think I heard her whisper, but I passed out again and would never be quite certain.
* * * *
When I next came to, I found myself propped up against a rock. My cloak was covering me and I could see from the sky that dawn was nearly at hand. Abigail sat beside me, gently combing my hair. She, too, was covered with her own cloak. When she noticed my stirring, she looked over and smiled. It was the sweetest thing I had ever seen, and I began to think that the horrors I had witnessed in the middle of the night may have been only a nightmare.
“You’re awake. That’s good,” Abigail said. Her voice was like a child’s. I relaxed a little. “I was worried about you for a while.”
I think I smiled. Though very weak, I reached out to caress her cheek. She took my hand in hers, then gently kissed it. Her eyes looked into mine from beneath long lashes. I found it hard to believe that I had ever harbored ill thoughts in regard to her.
“You don’t look so well,” Abigail continued in her sweetest tone. “Here. Drink this…”
She picked something up and handed it to me. I was still groggy, but very, very thirsty. I took the cup and brought it to my lips. The liquid inside was thick and warm. It had the pleasant aroma of spices and a dark musky flavor that 1 wasn’t at first able to recognize. I found suddenly that I was famished. This strange brew seemed to be the perfect elixir to all of what ailed me. I drank it quite readily until there was nothing left. With a sly smile, Abigail took the cup from me and softly kissed my lips.
“I love you, Jacob,” she said, then moved away, gathering up her belongings beside the ashes of the previous night’s fire.
At first I felt very content after I drank from the goblet. Then I felt refreshed. It only took a few moments for me to realize that I was in fact feeling quite well. My former fatigue had suddenly and completely gone. I felt better than I had for months. Yet that familiar darkness echoed in the back of my mind. “What was in that?” I suddenly found myself asking, though I was very wary of the answer, not entirely certain I wanted to know.
Abigail looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, then returned to her chore.
But I was worried about it. Memories of what I had believed to be the previous night’s dark dream were swiftly coming back to me. And I feared that they were all too real. “Abby!” I said sternly. “What have you done to me?” I had meant to accuse, but she did not seem to be listening. She was caught up in her own activities.
“Jacob, how old do you think I am?” Abigail suddenly inquired. This stopped me cold. She must not have heard my tone. Or perhaps this was simply a ploy to divert. If that were the case, it worked beautifully.
“What?” I think I murmured. This time Abigail turned to look at me. That familiar smile played upon her lips—only this time it seemed less mischievous. It was almost shy, as if she were self-conscious about my response.
“You heard me,” was the only enigmatic answer she would give. Her eyes were half covered with her lids so that I could not read the expression within and was left to my own devices to attempt to determine her game.
I at first did not know how to answer. It did not seem to make much sense to me that she would ask this particular question at this time. I had assumed her to be roughly my age, but it occurred to me that I had never thought to inquire. It also occurred to me then that I might not want to know.
“I’m not sure.” I shook my head, then ventured, “I had earnestly believed you to be of age.”
This time when Abigail looked at me she laughed. It was a girlish giggle that warmed my heart as much as it terrified it. Her eyes were bright, seeming to shine like starlight in the fading night sky. “No, Jacob. It’s nothing like that,” she said, then moved closer. She took my hand. The look in her eyes as she gazed into mine was one of earnestness and importance. I knew instantly that I wasn’t going to like this.
“Jacob, my darling dear,” she began. I could feel the very blood left in my veins turn to ice. “I told you that things are not quite as you think they are…” She licked her lips for moisture. The act was suddenly as monstrous to me as it was seductive. “I was born December 24, in the year 1569. When I was sixteen years of age my parents sent me to Roanoke Island on the Outer Coast of Virginia. Members of the colony discovered the secret of the Sangreal—and for that, your god destroyed them.”
It was my turn to laugh. To scoff, rather. I pulled my hand away from hers and rose to my feet. “This is preposterous!” I sneered. “You don’t really expect me to believe this, do you, Abigail?”
She sat on the ground where I had left her. Both hands were in her lap, and her head was slightly downcast. “I was hoping you would,” she replied in a meek voice. She did not lift her eyes to look at me. I stood there for a moment in silence. I must have been dumbfounded.
“You mean you are telling me you are more than a hundred years old and still look like that?” I scoffed. “Abigail, if that were true you should be dead!”
She nodded her head. “Indeed, Jacob,” she replied. “I am eternally young. This is what we learned from the Sangreal. As long as I continue to invoke the spell and drink from the cup, I will not grow old… and neither shall you!”
I was about to accuse her for what I now knew her to be. But her words stopped my heart. “What do you mean?” My voice was a harsh whisper. Something quivered within, like in the bark of a frightened puppy.
Abigail turned her eyes toward me, though she did not otherwise move. “You, too, have tasted this nectar, Jacob,” she informed. Her tone was flat, carrying no hint of her true feelings. “You shall remain young as I. But if you ever stop drinking… the years shall catch up to you. And not many bodies can live through such a shock.”
There was a silence as thick as though in death that fell between us. I could not let it linger. To do so would invite that swinging arm, complete with scythe and sickle. “Why have you done this to me?” I gasped.
Abigail rose and moved forward. But I would have none of that. I backed away.
“I did this because I love you, Jacob,” the witch was saying. The lies I had for so long believed fell easily from her lips. “I wanted us to be together.”
“No!” I cried, turning abruptly away. “I cannot believe this! God would not let such a thing be!”
Abigail laughed. It was not unsympathetic, though perhaps bitter in nature. “I told you, Jacob… God does not exist!” she stated. “At least not the way you think He does!”
I was continually astounded by her blasphemies. If there was, indeed, any truth to her claim that she had been at Roanoke, how ever could she have managed to live this long without drawing down His wrath?
Unless, of course, she had made a pact with the Devil.
It seemed to me that this possibility was becoming more and more probable all the time. I shook my head. “How can you say such things?”
Abigail fixed me with a stare of ice. I could feel the passion of her anger focus upon me, as if in that moment I had become the personification of all her anguish. “Because when I was a child, I saw what your God did at Roanoke Island!” She spoke as though a thick bile welled in her throat. “To my people… my family. We had uncovered the secret of the Sangreal—this elixir of life—and He sent His servants to claim the lives of all for the actions of but a few. So that this thing would not become known. So much for your Savior!”
I swallowed. She was passionate in her convictions. I had to wonder what those people had done to deserve God’s wrath. What was the secret of this Sangreal that the Lord did not want known? “There are things that men are not meant to know,” I replied slowly. “The Lord justly punishes those who transgress. Eve was cast from the Garden for disobeying His words. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for sinning against God. It is His way. It is not our place to question or judge His actions.”
Abigail looked at me with a bitterness that made me squirm. She shook her head. “You don’t understand, Jacob.” She was almost near tears; I could tell it took all she had to keep them at bay. “Your Christ is not who you think He is.”
“The Scriptures say—” I began, but the witch never let me finish.
“Enough with your Scriptures!” Abigail screamed at me. Her eyes flickered between intense rage and utter anguish. The thought occurred to me that she did not want to believe this. Something had changed her mind. “You can spout off every page of your damned Holy Bible, but it won’t make any difference to me!” she went on. “It’s the foundation that’s rotted away. The words mean nothing!”
“Abby, how can you…” I moved to go to her, out of some impulse I still don’t understand, wanting to comfort her despite all that had happened. But she warded me away with her hand.
“Don’t, Jacob!” she hissed. “I don’t want to hear it anymore! What’s done is done. And you can’t change it!”
I opened my mouth to speak anyway, but found that I had nothing more to say. “Abigail.” I made my voice stern when I eventually found the words. “If what you have told me is at all true, there is no way I can support it. And if it is a falsehood… intended for some poor attempt at a joke, it has failed and you would do well to admit this to me now so we will have no more of it.”
I awaited her response, hoped for her to say the words that would end this nightmare. But even as I stood there in anticipation, I knew the dark truth of it. There would be nothing forthcoming from her lips.
“I’m sorry, Jacob,” Abigail breathed at last. Her voice was only barely above a whisper, and her eyes were cast to the ground. “I had wanted you to understand. To know who I am. But I can see you are not ready for it.”
I shook my head. “No, Abigail,” I corrected her. “I won’t have it. Not now. Not ever. I shall not turn away from the Lord.”
There was a genuine sadness in her eyes as she gazed upon me. If I did not know better, I would have sworn I saw tears nearly breaking the surface. “I do admire your conviction,” Abigail spoke in a soft, faraway voice. “I only wish your God were more deserving of it.”
And with that, I really did have nothing more to say to the woman. I turned and began to gather what few belongings I still had strewn about the clearing. The sun was dawning, and I could feel its heat penetrate my skin. It was a most pleasant sensation. Yet I did not wish to linger within it—not with that witch about!
It was only as I was acquiring my last bits of clothing that I noticed the marks upon my arms. Long red scars that had at one time been deep scratches, only now they looked like they were several weeks old, rather than just a few hours. Impulsively I touched my neck where I recalled Abigail biting me. The wound was still there. I could feel the indentation where her teeth had broken the skin. But instead of leaving behind a torn and broken hole, it now seemed that it was patched up with young, healing skin.
I shuddered. Could it be that she spoke the truth about the mage spell upon the chalice? Could it really bring an eternal youth to whomever drank of its contents? And if this were true, what of the other things of which she spoke? Could this truly be the Grail of legend?
Inwardly I shook my head. None of this truly mattered. Even if Abigail’s words were true, God must have had a reason for destroying that colony. With portents such as her incantation upon the cup, I would not at all be surprised. For a witch was still a witch. And God’s actions were always just, even if mere mortal men such as we could not understand His workings. Who among us could claim to know the Will of God?
I saw her out of the corner of my eye. Abigail had begun to gather her own articles, as well, but she moved very slowly. She watched as I touched the wound on my neck, and there was a flicker of knowing upon her lips. I couldn’t help but wonder at what she had really done to me. As she packed, she would occasionally glance in my direction, though she pretended not to. Indeed, we both pretended not to see each other. Despite what we had been to one another, there was now a gulf between us… and it could not be crossed.
She was a woman fallen from grace, and I… I was a devout follower of our Religion. Or at least I had been, before this witch led me astray. Now that my eyes were open, however, I would not—could not—falter again. I determined that Abigail and I would not see each other more.
At last I departed from her company. I felt her eyes upon me as I walked away, but I would not turn to look back. Perhaps I was afraid that if I did, I would lose my will. Or perhaps I wanted to remember her as she had been—before I knew her for what she truly was. I still cannot say which.
I felt no remorse at the time for leaving her, only a stalwart conviction, for she was a heretic. I could not allow myself to feel compassion toward her. The Great Society that our fathers had created when they came to this new land would not allow it. Who was I to go against our traditions? Who was I to stand against God? Better to excise her like a cancer than to allow her wicked spore to fester on my soul.
I had no remorse then, and I still don’t. If I did feel any regret at all, it would not be for giving the testimony that damned her to Gallows Hill, but that I did not turn myself in, as well. As the Lord commands: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
What choice did I have?