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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1954857-Sophia
Rated: ASR · Short Story · History · #1954857
A young child loses her mother to a witch hunt in France in the early 1600's.
Header image for my poem


“Burn the witch!  Burn the witch!”
Low echoes of the chant slithered across the dirty cobblestones and under the badly warped door of the small townhouse where Sophia and her mother sat on rickety low stools at the kitchen table mending Sophia’s ragged clothes, trying to squeeze just a little bit more life from the faded rags.  Sophia's eyes widened at the noise and she glanced fearfully to her mother looking for reassurance. 

"Another one, Maman," she whispered.  "They are angry again."  Her mother's lips compressed and Sophia felt herself mimic the expression. 
"Do not fear, my sweet, there are no witches in this town," her mother said, her green eyes sparking with fury at the injustice of the persecutions sweeping the small towns and rural areas of Europe.  "They are fools, angry, murderous fools.  Dieu, I wonder which poor soul they attack this time," her voice lowered in sympathy for the victim.

They both sat in tense, still silence, their mending forgotten as the crowd drew closer, the hysterical roar chilling them both.  A sharp cry escaped Sophia as sudden thudding blows on the door made them both jump, and Sophia's mother leapt to her feet, knocking her stool backwards. The door jumped on its hinges and rattled violently as whoever was on the outside continued to pound against it.

"Jeanne Durant, you are charged with witchcraft!" came the call from the other side of the door.  Sophia saw her mother go deathly pale, her mouth open and her fingers gripping the edge of the table.  Sophia slipped off her stool and wrapped her arms tightly around her mother's waist, burying her face in her mother’s dress as she willed the crowd to go away.  "You will come with us now to stand trial on these charges!" continued the voice.

After a moment of deathly silence, Sophia felt her mother's hands grasp hers, and her mother leaned down to look her in the eyes, the familiar green gaze breaking through her fear.  "What will happen, Maman?  Madame Leblanc never came back after they took her away."  Fat tears stung her eyes, but her mother reached for her shoulders and shook her gently.

"We don't have much time.  They will break down the door soon.  Listen to me, Sophia.  Listen carefully.  You must run.  We have seen that children are not always safe when the crowd gets angry.  No one will dare to ally themselves with you after this.  You must go."  She tugged Sophia by the hand, urging her into the bedroom.  Reaching into a drawer, she withdrew a small cloth bag and pressed it into Sophia's hands, the metallic clink of the coins inside revealing the contents .  "Take these.  Don't show anyone you have them."

Her mother opened her mouth to add something else, but the front door shuddered under another bout of insistent knocking that echoed throughout the small house.  Both mother and daughter glanced fearfully in that direction.  Sophia saw her mother take a deep breath, then she continued, speaking very quickly.  "Hide, until everyone is gone.  When it is all quiet, take these coins and as much food as you can easily carry.  Run.  Run, then hide.  Run then hide.  Until you are in a different town, then maybe you can buy a ride even further away.  When you are far enough away, perhaps three or four towns away, try and find work helping some old woman with her chores.  You are a good girl.  I love you so much, Sophia."

"I love you too, Maman," Sophia sobbed, hugging her mother close.  "I don't want you to go!"  She could barely breathe beneath the tight embrace her mother suddenly gave her, but it didn't matter.

"I don't want to go either, but it is more important to keep you safe.  Now hide!  Now!  Do not come out until everyone is gone, then remember - coins, food and run!  Never forget I love you. I will watch over you, even if you can't see me.  I love you.  Now hide!"  Sophia was pushed towards a small cupboard, while her mother leaned over and yanked the door open.  A fast kiss was pressed to her cheek, then she was sitting in the dim light of the cupboard, listening.

**********************************************


Sophia's foot was tingling with pins and needles, but there was little room to move inside the cramped confines of the cupboard.  She tried to listen, but heard nothing.  It had been quiet for a while now,  was it safe to come out yet?  She sniffed and used the sleeve of her dress to wipe her eyes.  Cautiously she edged the cupboard door open, alert for any noise.  There was none.  She crept out and stood in the bedroom she had shared with her mother, her teeth worrying her bottom lip as she wondered what to do next.  What had Maman said?  Coins, food, run.

She looked down at the small bag of coins she clutched in one hand.  She was to show no one.  She slipped the small bag into the pocket of her dress, and tiptoed to the doorway.  Peering into the kitchen, she saw no one, and made a dash for the sack of vegetables sitting in the corner. 

Armed with a bag containing several carrots, half a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese, Sophia ventured out the front door.  The cobblestone street was unnaturally void of people, and she knew from experience that if they weren't at the trial, they were hiding inside their homes.  That was what she and Maman had done last time, not daring to venture outside until the furore had died down.  She whimpered, wishing she could do the same this time, but her maman had been taken away.

She straightened her shoulders.  It was time to go.  At first she crept from house to house, but seeing no one she gathered her courage and started to run.  The bag of food banged against her legs, but she ignored it.  She continued until her breath was heaving in and out of her lungs, and her bare feet were aching, then she simply kept putting one foot in front of the other.  She no longer recognised any of the houses she passed.

When it was too dark to keep going, Sophia found a small hiding place behind some boxes at the back of a dwelling.  She was exhausted, but found it difficult to sleep.  The night was cool, but it was loneliness that really chilled her.  “Maman,” she prayed, “I miss you.  Oh Maman, I miss you so much.”  There was no answer, and she hadn’t really expected one.  She was alone now.  Who knew what the morrow would bring?  She nibbled at the cheese and wished she'd thought to bring a blanket with her.  After a small meal, she pulled her knees up to her chest and leaned her head on her folded arms.  She wept, then finally, she slept.


1,163 words
Written for "Quotation Inspiration: Official Contest.  The story had to be set in the early 1600's and inspired by Louis XIII's quote "I have lost my comforter and support."

Note: 10,000 people were tried for witchcraft between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries in France alone.  France's last execution for witchcraft was in 1679. (Source: http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/351/351-21.htm)
The children of adults accused of witchcraft were often guilty by association, being deemed to have 'inherited' and learned witchcraft from their parents. If a parent was found guilty, the family could be deemed to be guilty without requiring a trial. (Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchcraft_accusations_against_children)
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