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'His enthusiasm for it must have exceeded even Bloody Mary’s,’ she answered. ‘He’s notorious for his cruelty against those he accuses. He’s hounded countless men and women to death without mercy.’

‘But why is it still going on, h’mm? Queen Elizabeth, as a Protestant herself, cancelled her late sister’s orders when she came to the throne last November, did she not?’

‘Snaith is totally obsessed by his crusade against heretics. He ignored the changes in London and has continued to select victims for his fires. We’re in the country, a long way from the capital, and so far nothing has been done to stop him. His unquenched appetite for the burnings has aroused disgust even amongst the Catholics here.’

Bishop Snaith addressed two burly young men, his own servants, who stood on either side of the doomed girl: ‘You may prepare this poor creature, so lost in her wickedness and sin and undeserving, it may seem, of God’s mercy, for her purification,’ he declaimed in ringing tones. ‘There shall be mercy when her heresy has shrivelled in the purifying flames together with her wretched body and Alice Marsh’s purged soul is taken by the Lord unto himself.’

But as the two underlings moved to do their master’s bidding, Dr Who stepped forward.

‘My Lord Bishop, of your charity, will you not reconsider this poor child’s case? She is but young, and may have been led astray,’ he said boldly, choosing his words carefully and resisting the temptation to rail against the fanatical and pitiless cleric before him.

Snaith’s eyes came to rest on the Doctor. There was menace in them, but his voice sounded regretful. ‘Alas, only the flames can liberate her soul,’ he declared, shaking his head sadly.

‘Did she not recant?’

Snaith hesitated. ‘She did, but she dissembled to save her earthly body and does not truly reject her heresy.’

‘Perhaps, with further tuition, she may yet see the light and embrace the true faith,’ persisted Dr Who. 

‘She will not, for with God’s guidance I, his representative, perceived the true depths of her determination to follow the dark path of Satan. The fire must consume her.’

Snaith tendered the outspoken old man a forbidding stare. It was an unmistakeable warning not to continue his attempt to interfere and reluctantly the Doctor heeded it. He was well aware that he shouldn’t have intervened even as far as he had. If a horrific death at the stake for this poor girl was part of history then it had to take place.

‘You see?’ said the woman he had been talking to.

The Doctor nodded sombrely. He always felt at his most helpless at times like this.

‘You did your best,’ she told him grudgingly, ‘but perhaps the time has come to take the bull by the horns.’

Before he could say a word or move to prevent her, she strode forward. In a voice that nobody present could fail to hear, she effortlessly engaged the attention of the crowd. ‘Will you all stand by and let this servant of the devil wreak his evil on yet another of our number?’ she demanded.

Bishop Snaith fixed her with the piercing stare that could terrify the bravest of people. ‘Hold thy impious tongue, Annie Goather,’ he rasped, ‘that you shall not prove your own soul in need of the fire’s balm.’

‘Our gracious Queen Elizabeth herself has forbidden the kindling of fires for the burning of her subjects.’ Her fierce stare swept across the gathering and she waved a hand towards the Bishop. ‘Yet the Derbyshire Satan here still follows the orders of Bloody Mary that he may feed his own appetite for the blood of good English folk.’ She pointed a long, bony finger directly at Snaith. ‘I say this priest is a murderer and a traitor besides, and that no true servant of God can in good conscience abide the affront of his presence.’

‘Secure the heretic to the stake,’ ordered Snaith, glaring sternly at his two servants, who were staring incredulously at Annie Goather. They hastened to do so, but paused again as she walked right up to them.

‘Obey one more order from your infamous master and share the punishment that will surely be his,’ she warned.

The two men exchanged glances in a joint agony of indecision.

‘We shall surely burn ourselves if we hinder His Grace, Mistress Goather, as will you...’

‘It’s true,’ wailed his colleague.

For a moment, as Dr Who remembered afterwards, the scene appeared to freeze into a tableaux. Total silence reigned.

It was then that Alice Marsh, perhaps brought out of her trance-like state by the goings-on around her, spoke up, her voice slicing incisively through the temporary quietude.

‘Not if our ‘holy’ Bishop Snaith himself be the next, and the last, to burn. I ask you, could he then feed more innocents to the flames?’


artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
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