It was raining in Lancaster on September 3rd 1555, and Jane Ask loved the earthy smell that it coaxed out of the soil.
She wiped away the sheen of rainwater from her forehead with the back of her hand and set her small basket of nettles down by the front door. Later she would dry out the leaves and reduce them to a powder; the substance worked wonders on small wounds which refused to stop bleeding.
Jane had always been something of an herbalist. Growing up with only a father, and two older brothers from his first marriage, she had spent the majority of her childhood outdoors. Now practically a spinster at the age of twenty-two, she knew the Lancashire countryside as though it were the dearest friend, and for years now its other residents had come to her for aid. She knew which plants could heal or, if nothing were to be done, could simply ward off the pain.
She sniffed, wiping a drop of cold rainwater off the end of her nose, and looked across her herb garden at Sally. Sally was her cow, a lazy and placid creature that ate more than her bodyweight in grass each day. Jane often made a little extra money by selling her milk.
She was munching now, staring right back at her human caretaker. Jane sighed through her wry smile, hands on her hips, and raised an eyebrow.
"Don't look at me like that; I'm coming for you next," she mused, giving an involuntary shiver as a drop of rain crept beneath her collar and slid down her back.
Sally merely stared back, unimpressed, and made no attempt to move herself closer. Sighing again, Jane lifted up her skirts and rolled her eyes. There was a bucket and stool waiting around the back of the house, and she wasn't about to let a bit of rain prevent her from filling it.
"Come here you great, useless thing," Jane huffed, boots sinking into the wet soil as she attempted to cross the meagre patch of garden without falling over. With an exaggerated slop cold mud sprayed her cheek, and Jane growled.
She wiped it away with the back of her hand, smearing it down to her jaw, and tried again. By the time she reached Sally she was soaked to the bone, light brown hair plastered to her skull, and smiling; there was no doubt in her mind that she looked like a drowned rat, and life in the Lancashire hills would have grown old fast if she hadn't learned to laugh at herself.
It was just as she latched onto Sally and began to lead the lazy creature towards the back of her home that she heard the footsteps.
Frowning, she let go of the cow and trudged through the mud towards the dirt path before her garden. Raindrops caught on her eyelashes, and she wiped them away with an irritated hand so as to catch a glimpse of whoever was ascending the lonely hill to her house.
She rarely received customers on wet days like this one; nobody wanted to trek up an uneven hill during a downpour unless the case was fairly severe. But Jane was merely trying to kid herself, for she knew those footsteps; several metallic feet treading mercilessly upon the countryside.
Her green eyes caught sight of four armoured guards and her stomach dropped like a cold weight.
Colour drained from her face and she pointedly turned away from them, as though pretending that she was completely unaware of their existence would make them continue on past her home.
But why would they? She thought to herself as she headed towards her front door. I'm the only person around here for miles. Where else could they be going? She felt the sudden urge to throw up her breakfast and opened the door with fumbling fingers, knocking over her basket of nettles with a careless foot.
Once she was inside, sodden back pressed against the wood, she didn't give herself time to relish in the dryness before she hurried to the table and picked two books off its surface. Jane practically ran through to the hearth, heart beating in her ears while she tried to listen for the footsteps, and lifted the old, thinning rug in front of the fireplace. A well placed nudge with her toes lifted a loose floorboard, and she deposited the books safely inside.
Jane had only been nineteen years old when Mary I claimed the English throne in the summer of 1553, and announced her intention of cleansing her realm of its heretics. Since then being a Protestant in England had become difficult; being a Protestant in the North of England even more so, as it was the people in the North who had remained loyal to what they called 'the true religion'.
And just this year, she thought while her hands pressed the loose board back into place, she made a martyr out of poor John Rogers.
John Rogers. Mary's first Protestant martyr who was burnt at the stake in February. The news had shaken Jane to the core; Mary had begun her heretical rampage.
Now, somehow, somebody had discovered her.
Fighting against a second wave of nausea she placed the rug carefully back in its place just as the first kick hit her door. Her breath caught in her throat, bottom lip trembling, and she slowly rose from her bent position to face the door.
She would not cry. She must not cry. Her tears would only send her to her pyre.
With a second kick her door flew open and she flinched. The four guards marched towards her, spears erect, and surrounded her with practised ease.
She defiantly raised her chin, met the captain's eye with her steady, green gaze and replied:
The affirmative, apparently, was all they needed. Two of them grabbed her arms, pinching the skin beneath her sleeves, while the other two took up a position in front and behind her. They asked no more questions as they yanked her from her home and back out into the rain.
Behind Jane's trembling form a black cat watched from its position on the fencepost; lithe tail flicking and yellow eyes narrowing. When Jane disappeared from sight the creature sauntered off, leaving Sally to chew her grass alone.
Fingal Allerdice was a man of many words and many more smiles.
The third of four boys, he was raised in a happy Scottish town by happy parents. It was no surprise that Fingal grew up so happy.
For Fingal, Scotland was a country of myth and legend; he was raised on tall tales of heroes, princesses and giants, and even now held each of those stories close to his heart. He never quite left his childhood behind. So he followed in his uncle's footsteps and became a tutor.
Since he was a young boy he had loved the ability to read something for himself; to absorb the words until they sank into his very soul and became yet another link in his chain of being.
He believed, wholeheartedly, that any Scotsman, Englishman or Welshman had the right to read God's word for himself. Enticed by the words of Martin Luther, Fingal abandoned Catholicism.
He left Scotland for London during the late summer of 1551, when he was just twenty-one years old, during the time when Edward VI still sat upon the throne of England and Protestants were welcome in his realm.
He spent four happy years in the capital until he heard of the fate of John Rogers. Mary's forceful scavenge for heretics left Fingal and many of his friends fearful of their own fates. Unwilling to give up his newfound faith and return to the old ways, the Scotsman elected to move again.
Although the North was practically brimming with Catholics, it was the North that Fingal chose to move to; he would be amongst people who would gladly turn him into the authorities if they discovered his beliefs, but first they would have to try and discover them. As far as he was concerned, the further he was from the Queen herself the better.
So, with a bright smile and a positive prayer, Fingal climbed into a coach on September 8th 1555, and headed for his new life in Lancaster.
"Do you not understand, Miss Ask, that witchcraft is the devil's work?"
"I-I do understand, sir."
"Then why," the inquisitor snapped, slamming his hands on the heavy table between them where her own hands lay. Jane jumped with a small cry, "would you practise such heathen work?"
"I-I've never- I'm not
I'm not a witch, sir." She replied, keeping her voice as steady as possible as she timidly raised her head to meet his eye.
I am a Protestant, she thought, while Grimes tried and failed to out stare her, but I'm not about to admit to that. My father and his father and his father's father were Protestants before me. Would you dig up their corpses and burn them beside me?
Behind her she could hear a slow and steady drip from the corner, and tried not to think too much on what it was. If she listened very carefully, she could hear the odd scuttle of rats.
She tried not to listen very carefully at all.
She had been kept as a prisoner within the walls of Lancaster Castle for five days. In that time she had learned little of her supposed crime, and only today had been pulled from her cell to face a questioning from the inquisitor. He was a thin and shrewd man, whose hair was as greasy as it was grey. The ends of his scrawny arms sported a pair of surprisingly soft hands; merely an indicator of his lack of any hard labour throughout his life. Jane had guessed as much.
Her stomach was in knots, having been sustained on only water and stale bread since her arrest. Every now and then a pungent odour crept into her nostrils, and her shame grew each time she realised it was her own, dungeon ridden stench.
"Lies. Heathen lies!" The inquisitor spat, thrusting his face close to hers and spraying her with spittle. Jane pressed her lips together into a thin line and swallowed thickly, her eyes never leaving the inquisitor's as he backed away from the table. "The charges against you are overwhelming, Miss Ask. Admit your guilt, and you shall receive a-"
"What charges?" She interrupted, green eyes narrowed and fingers clenched; her fingernails dug into her palms, and she nervously glanced at the vice in place around her thumbs.
The inquisitor's nostrils flared, and he stalked towards her.
"Many of your neighbours have borne witness to your misdeeds, Miss Ask! I have heard of your plant picking and your potion brewing; of the black cat on your property which you have do your bidding; of the many things you are able to get away with while living alone on that hill!" With each accusation he tightened the thumbscrew; eyes alight with the satisfaction of causing another human being discomfort.
Jane tried to ignore the instrument around her thumbs, and stared at him in disbelief. How did any of that prove his accusations were true? She lived alone, yes, but that was hardly by choice; she lost her eldest brother to a hunting injury, her other brother to a fever, and her dear father simply succumbed to tiredness.
Her knack with herbal remedies was something else entirely; no one had complained when she had used them to save lives. Now they marked her as a Satanist because of it.
As for the cat? That mangy creature wasn't hers. It was nothing more than a stray that she had taken pity on; ever since she fed it a small bowl of Sally's milk the cat had been a frequent visitor. As far as she knew she'd never spoken to it, and even if she had she certainly wouldn't have expected an answer.
"One of your neighbours even swore on the holy book that you once clicked your fingers and summoned fire in your hand."
Jane vehemently shook her head.
"B-But no one can do that!"
It was nothing short of ridiculous. Ridiculous and terrifying, for she was going to be severely punished for the sake of a few fabricated stories.
The miniature vice was tightened, nipping her skin and putting uncomfortable pressure on her bones. Jane gasped through the pain, eyes welling with tears which she refused to shed. The tips of her thumbs began to turn purple, and the realisation that the pain wouldn't stop until her bones had snapped hit her with startling reality.
"Admit your guilt, and the pain will stop!" He attempted to plead with her, though any empathy was lost in the delighted smile that was pulling at his lips. "If you do not you will be put on trial!"
"I. Am. Innocent, sir!" Jane ground out, eyes narrowed in determination.
The bones in her thumbs gave way with a nauseating crunch, and she could no longer hold back her tears.
"I trust you have settled in nicely, Mr Allerdice?"
Fingal looked up from his bookshelf and turned to face the entrance to his study. There stood Charles Grimes, Lancaster's inquisitor and judge. He ran a soft hand through his slick, grey hair and offered the Scotsman a smile. If Fingal weren't so cheerful a man, he might have noticed the slimy edge to that smile.
But he didn't.
"Forgive me, I hope I'm not disturbing you," Grimes continued, stepping further into the study, "your front door was open."
"No, no, not at all, Mr Grimes. I need to start remembering to close the door," Fingal kindly replied, crossing the room to shake the inquisitor's hand; unfortunately it was the hand he had just used to run through his hair, and Fingal quickly wiped the grease off on his breeches with a grimace when Grimes' eyes darted around the room.
"I trust you have settled in well?" He repeated.
"Yes, very well thank you," he smiled, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, sir, I'd offer you something to drink but-"
"Not to worry, not to worry. I am simply stopping by," he said, idly running one of his soft fingers along the fireplace and rubbing the layer of dust from his fingertip with his thumb. Fingal gently scratched the back of his ginger head and pulled a face; he'd have to make sure the place was clean before he next had visitors. "Isabella is looking forward to her first lesson."
"Oh good, I'm glad; I'm very much looking forward to teaching her," the Scot smiled.
Fingal had a lot to thank Isabella Misseldon for; not only was she Grimes' young ward, but she was also his new student. If it had not been for the inquisitor's employment, he may have had to stay among the heretic hunters in London.
"Not only that," Grimes said, wetting his lips with the tip of his tongue, "but I thought I should inform you of an event in the morning. It is my job to seek out the undesirables of our community and punish them accordingly," Fingal swallowed, and resisted the urge to glance at his bookshelf and check that his Lutheran texts were hidden. "Unfortunately, I have to oversee a witch trial in the morning and, despite the circumstances, I think you should come along; it is likely that the majority of our community will be there to see the harlot pay for her misdeeds, and it will be a chance for you to get to know them."
"O-Oh," Fingal uttered, clearing his throat. His smile had faded, and he resisted the frown that pulled at his brow.
Witch trials. He had seen them for himself in both Scotland and London; poor women who were picked on by the rest of their community and ultimately punished for something which they had not done. There had been witches and wizards in the stories Fingal was told by his parents, but that's all they had ever been: stories.
He had no desire to watch another woman face condemnation for fairy tales.
"Even my dear Isabella will be there; you can meet her before your lessons begin," Grimes suggested with a smile that Fingal was fairly certain wasn't friendly.
Oh yes, he sarcastically thought to himself, because that's how every fourteen year old wants to spend her morning.
He was more than a little tempted to say that he couldn't make it, but then he met the inquisitor's eye. Grimes was watching him with an expression that was almost predatory.
This is a test. If I don't show up he's going to become suspicious of me very quickly. The last thing I need is the local inquisitor on my tail.
"Well, in that case, I'll make sure I'm there," he replied with a nod, forcing a smile, "I look forward to meeting Isabella."
"Excellent." Grimes grinned, observing him with a piercing stare which, to Fingal, lasted a little longer than was necessary. "Well, I shall leave you to your business, Mr Allerdice, and I will see you bright and early in the morning."
"Y-Yes, of course. Thank you for stopping by," Fingal said, following the inquisitor to the door.
"Not at all, it was a pleasure," he said. The two men shook hands before Fingal held the door for him, and the inquisitor strode giddily down the path.
He would have to be wary of Charles Grimes.
The Scotsman closed the door and sighed, guiltily rubbing the back of his neck as his thoughts drifted to the 'witch' awaiting her trial in the castle. He closed his blue eyes, and said a silent prayer for the poor soul.
Jane woke with a soft cry from a fitful slumber after only an hour or so of sleep. She wrinkled her nose in the hope of snuffing out the stench of excrement, vomit and decay and timidly used the grimy stone walls beside her to rise to her unsteady feet and ward off the cramp in the back of her leg.
The tip of her thumb pressed against the wall and the broken bone protested with a fresh ache. She inhaled sharply and brought the injured appendage to her lips; softly blowing warm air onto what she was certain was now black and bruised skin in an attempt to rid herself of the pain.
A moment later, she realised it was the faint wail of another prisoner that had woken her. She shuddered.
Her trial was today. At least she thought it was; down in the dungeons there were no windows and one dark day bled into the next.
Her stomach growled painfully and, with a wretch, she spat bile into the corner. She had hoped that her eyes would eventually grow accustomed to the darkness, but as she straightened up she was once again reminded that no such thing had happened.
She was encompassed by the ghosts of past prisoners.
Her wrist brushed against something cold, and it clinked at her. She grasped it and fondled the metal in her fingers, relishing in something which grounded her to some extent; she was beside the door. Oh, how she longed to be on the other side of that door.
Jane's life had taken such a surreal turn, and she was still waiting to wake in her bedroom, as though from a terrifying dream. Her hand, wary of its broken thumb, tentatively ran along the hard wood of the door until it came across a group of thin welts. She tested them with her fingertips and gently dug her nails into the splinters.
They're... She pulled her hand away as though it were on fire and cradled it close to her breast, backing away from the door while panic clenched her heart. Scratch marks.
There were those who had inhabited this cell before her, those who had been so desperate they had seen fit to try and claw their way out of their prison. Jane didn't need to wonder, she was almost certain that whoever had left those marks was now dead; rotting in an unmarked grave beneath grass she used to lie on.
Soon that'll be me.
The realisation hit her like she had been struck, and she scurried backwards into the corner with a whimper, clutching her dirty hair in her hands.
Jane Ask sat in that corner, and she sobbed.
It was early in the morning on September 10th when Fingal left his new home, resting the handle of his satchel on his shoulder, and headed for the river with a heavy sigh.
Grimes was already there when Fingal arrived and the two shook hands; as far as he was concerned, the inquisitor's handshake was far too vigorous and his smile far too wide for someone who was about to chuck a woman into the river. He glanced at the water and his heart sank.
"Mr Allerdice, I'm so glad you could make it," Grimes exclaimed, positively gleeful. He pulled away and stepped aside, reaching his hand out to the young girl stood nearby. "Isabella? Do come and meet Mr Allerdice."
A small, gloved hand obediently latched onto his and stepped forward. Isabella Misseldon was the epitome of youth and beauty; she wore her yellow hair in ringlets, and above rosy cheeks were a pair of doe-like eyes. Grimes eyed her like she was his next meal.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," she said, graciously holding her spare hand out to him. She reeked of floral perfume that almost made him sneeze, but he managed to bestow a polite kiss upon her gloved knuckles by holding his breath. "I look forward to our first lesson."
"The pleasure's all mine," he replied, straightening up with the friendliest smile he could muster so early in the morning. He felt he already knew the answer, but still he asked, "will you be staying for the trial, Miss Misseldon?"
"Of course she is," Grimes proudly stated, patting his ward's hand, "I like Isabella to see with her own eyes what happens to the wicked."
Of one thing Jane was certain: she was going to die today.
That was the cruellest thing about the witch trials. She would drown in the river if she were to sink; even though sinking would prove her innocence. If instead she floated to the surface she would be found guilty, and escorted to Gallows Hill where a noose waited for her. Her impending death hung above her head like a black cloud, and she trembled beneath the weight of it.
Her heavy shackles were as unforgiving as the guards who escorted her downhill from the castle; she had grown used to the sting each time the metal reopened the pink wounds on her wrists. Sallow-cheeked and weak, her bare feet scuffed on the cobbles while all around her the townspeople who were once her neighbours emerged from their homes to hiss their accusations at her.
She was numb to them now. She was numb to it all; the wind against her cheek, the cobbles beneath her toes, the burning hunger in her stomach and the pain in her bent, misshapen thumbs.
The castle guards led her past The Three Mariners, where she would be taken for her last drink if she was pronounced guilty, and its customers jeered. A stray bone was flung at her and smacked her cheek. She looked at it as it clattered to the floor; there was still a little meat clinging to it. Her stomach growled at the sight. Humiliated, a blush coated the bridge of her nose.
Before long Jane had an entire crowd behind her. Their insults tuned out into a dull monotone when the river, and those already stood on the bank beside it, came into view. Her breath caught in her throat and she stopped in her tracks, moving onwards only when the guard behind her gave her back a firm shove.
She stumbled, stubbing her big toe on a loose cobblestone, and carried on.
The guards led her through people she had once helped and a cold stab of anger struck her insides. How could they do this to her? What had she ever done to any of them?
She passed Isabella Misseldon, whose pretty little nose wrinkled in disgust. Not that Jane could blame her; if there was one thing she was glad of today it was that her nostrils had long since grown accustomed to her unwashed scent.
As she neared the river cobbles gave way to grass which was still damp with early morning dew; it was something of a soother for her sore feet, and she held onto that comfort as tightly as she could through all the jeers, pokes and prods.
Jane, what have they done to you?" She looked up from the grass into the familiar, wrinkled face of sweet Mary Collins. Despite her old age she had managed to muscle her way through the crowd; that was the women of the North for you.
There were tears running down her leathery cheeks now, and she tried her best to smile through them. Jane didn't care that she was crying, seeing at least one friend was enough to melt away the anger in her stomach.
"I'm praying for you, love. I'm praying for you," Mary sniffled, getting shoved back into the crowd when she tried to reach for her.
And then, quite suddenly, there was Grimes. Grimes and his smug, detestable face.
The guards parted, leaving her stood before Grimes like a naughty child who was due a scolding. Every fibre of her body begged her to look down at her feet, but she stared into the inquisitor's eyes; if he was going to condemn an innocent woman, then he could do it while looking her in the eye.
Then we will truly see who the heathen is.
Grimes raised his hands and the crowd fell silent, as though he were a composer and they his instruments. In that brief moment of silence Jane's green eyes happened to glance over his shoulder, where she met the gaze of a man she had not seen before. He merely gazed back at her with an expression she couldn't name.
"Jane Ask," Grimes began, once again stealing away her attention; for this Fingal was a little grateful, for that haunted green gaze had looked into his very soul. "You have refused to acknowledge your guilt in the eyes of the law," the murmurs started up again until an icy glance from the inquisitor silenced them. "As such, we are now forced to leave it to the eyes of God to judge you; just as He shall judge every one of us when our time comes to be in His almighty presence." His voice rang out, so self assured, that Jane could have sworn even the water fell silent for a moment. "You do not have to go through this, Miss Ask. Admit your guilt now and you will not enter the water."
Jane merely stared back, clenching her fingers.
"I will not admit to something I have not done, sir. You may put me through whatever you like; my conscience is clear."
Once again the crowd had to be silenced with a wave of Grimes' hand.
The inquisitor clicked his soft fingers and two guards approached Jane. One of them unceremoniously lifted her up from behind and sat her beside the river as though she were a ragdoll. She eyed the murky water with a heavy heart, and her soul trembled.
She was drawn from her foreboding reflection in the water by a sharp throb in her broken bone as the second guard tied her right thumb to her left toe. She hissed in pain, what was left of her dignity leaving her as she was forced to hunch over her own knees, and felt a fearful blush creep down her neck.
They did not remove her shackles.
So if I do sink, there really is no chance of me getting out of this alive. God have mercy on my soul.
The air was alive with anticipation, and Jane just had a moment to suck in a deep, desperate breath before the guards lifted her up and tossed her into the water.
Fingal watched, horrified, as Jane Ask's body disappeared beneath the water and failed to resurface. A thick silence hung over the crowd while they waited for her to bob back up, but all that appeared were a few measly bubbles.
"God bless her."
The Scot could think only of that green eyed stare, and the woman it had belonged to waiting for death in a dark, watery grave.
His satchel slid from his shoulder and onto the grass with a careless thud; he left it there as he sprinted towards the water, the crowd parting with a collective gasp, as he burst through them and leapt, fully clothed, into the river.
Beneath the surface, Jane saw a pair of clear blue eyes, and then nothing.
Jane wretched and coughed until dirty water was running down her chin. She shivered, teeth erratically chattering, and looked up into blue, blue eyes.
"You're alright, lass," her rescuer assured her in a gentle, Scottish brogue. His arms steadily cradled her like a newborn babe, and she could feel them shivering through her clothes.
She nodded as though he had asked her a question and gulped in air. Somewhere along the line her thumb and toe had been separated, and she clutched tightly at the grass beneath her despite the throb it caused in the broken bone. She was on land and grounded; she was alive. The air had never tasted sweeter, and it was all thanks to the kindness of a stranger.
Her eyes fell shut, and she tiredly rested her cheek against his wet shoulder.
"Mr Allerdice. What are you doing?" Grimes' voice jolted her into reality, and she opened her eyes to glower at him. He barely noticed her; he was too busy glaring at her Scottish saviour.
Mr Allerdice? Thank God for you. You're an angel.
"Saving an innocent soul, Mr Grimes," Fingal replied, flicking a lock of ginger hair from his freckled face and spraying the bridge of Jane's nose with water. She didn't mind. "She sank. You, sir, and everyone else here saw it with your own eyes. I wasn't about to let the poor lass drown when she was innocent."
She felt his arms tighten their hold on her. She didn't mind that either.
"It's not your place to interfere with a trial, Mr Al-"
"It's not your place to wrongly condemn God's flock, Mr Grimes," the Scotsman stated, earning a few gasps and murmurs from the crowd, "only the guilty."
Grimes, for a moment or so, was incapable of words. He and Fingal stared at one another, and the Scot refused to relinquish his stern gaze.
The inquisitor forced a smile which Fingal now knew to be fake, and took a step back. He waved his hand and a guard stepped forward to remove Jane's shackles, once they were free she brought her stinging wrists close to her chest.
"God certainly works in mysterious ways," he finally said, meeting her eye. She swallowed the bile at the back of her throat and met his gaze with as much courage as her exhausted eyes could muster. "You're a lucky woman, Miss Ask."
I don't need you to tell me that you greasy bastard.
Grimes swiftly turned from them and marched through the parted crowd with Isabella on his arm. Mary hurried to her side as quickly as her knobbly legs would allow and wrapped the younger woman in her shawl.
"Oh, God bless you, Mr Allerdice!" She said, holding Fingal's face in her wrinkled hands so that she could kiss his forehead, and the two of them helped Jane to her feet.
Trembling, she looked at Fingal with a pair of tearful eyes and tried to find words any words that could even begin to express her gratitude. Shaking his head with an understanding smile, he gently took her arm.
"You don't have to say a word, Miss Ask."
It wasn't raining in Lancaster on September 3rd 1565, for if it was neither Thora nor her little brother would be playing outside; their mother always hated it when they covered the floor with wet and muddy footprints. Today there was no chance of that, for the grass was soft and dry, laced with the faint, fresh scent of crispness that promised the swift onset of autumn.
"Why was mother yelling so much?" Roland asked his sister, pink tongue sticking out from between his teeth in concentration as he helped Thora with her daisy chain.
"Because," Thora said with all the worldly knowledge that came with being seven, "babies always make you yell. It's so you get used to loud noises, then when they're born and they start crying it's not as bad."
The two children looked back towards their house when a prolonged wail from their mother escaped from their parents' bedroom window. Roland shifted uncomfortably, the daisy chain forgotten, and moved closer to his sister. If they listened closely they could hear their father's nervous footsteps pacing the length of the drawing room.
Inside, with a final push and a breath of relief, Jane gave birth to her third child. The infant unleashed a healthy, throaty cry and took his first breath.
Later, while she cradled the newborn to her breast, her husband kissed her clammy brow and proudly smiled at their new son.
"He's going to be handsome, like his father," Jane softly replied. Fingal grinned back at her.
For nine years now Jane and her rescuer had been happily married. After two years of trying, they were blessed with a daughter, Thora, just five days before Christmas in the winter of 1558. The year that Elizabeth I, a Protestant, became the Queen of England.
Now neither of them had to worry about hiding their books beneath the floorboards. Their faith was free.
"Peter," Jane uttered as Fingal kissed her nose, counting each of the newborn's pink fingers while he slept. "I think we should name him Peter."
"Peter," her husband echoed, tasting the name on his Scottish tongue. "Peter Allerdice. I like it," he kissed the baby's brow and rose to his feet, "shall I fetch the children?"
Fingal descended the wooden staircase with a jump in his step, his giddy feet anticipating each familiar creak, and practically burst through the door to their back garden. Both red haired, green eyed, freckled children turned to look at him, and he grinned.
"Thora, Roland, come and meet your little brother," he said, holding the door open for them. The children grinned.
"A brother? Yes!" Roland happily cried, fist pumping the air as he ran towards their father. Chuckling, Fingal ruffled the four year old's vibrant hair and ushered him inside.
"Thora," he softly called, watching his daughter set her daisy chain down on the grass.
"I'm coming now, father," she replied, rising to her juvenile feet with a seven year old's attempt at elegance. He held his hand out to her, and together they followed Roland up the stairs.
The witch trial was forgotten, merely a nightmare from long ago, and they were happy.
That night, while lying awake in her bed, Thora clicked her fingers. A flame sparked to life in her palm, and she smiled.