The pub was downright jovial when Vicar Price and Richard walked through its doors. He saw Hopkins sitting along the wall. The old women sat on either side of him with their heads bowed, their ugliness masked. Several of the townspeople were standing in front of his table, exchanging kind words with smiles plastered on their faces.
“Hopkins!” Vicar Price yelled.
Everyone in the pub looked toward Price. He walked toward Hopkins.
“Vicar,” Hopkins said.
“You tortured her!”
Hopkins rose from his seat, and the women raised their heads.
The whole pub held its breath.
“I did nothing outside the law, outside of sanctioned procedure. You heard she confessed, yes?” Hopkins said.
“What else could she do? You tortured her.”
“Careful, Vicar.” Hopkins looked around at the other tables. “Does anyone else believe that under pressure they too would confess to being a witch? Would any of you?”
The room was silent. He turned back toward Vicar Price.
“Pain is like alcohol, Vicar – it peels back the layers and reveals who you truly are. It never makes a liar of anyone.”
“That’s not true,” Vicar Price protested.
He stepped away from his table and walked towards the Vicar, the women rose to their feet.
“She gave details of seances and meetings with the devil in the woods.”
“What has you so attached to this sinner’s fate?” Hopkins asked, his eyes narrowing.
“I would be this devoted to any member of my congregation. I wouldn’t let any of you hang for a baseless accusation made for who knows what end! Subjected to torture!”
Hopkins stopped just in front of the Vicar.
“You pretend like we had options. Who else could we interrogate? It’s not as if the devil would confess,” Hopkins laughed.
“It should be evident from the cries of our own conscience – we all know this is evil.”
“Do we?” Hopkins asked, looking around at the other people in the pub. He looked back toward Vicar Price. “You speak from your own ignorance.”
“I speak from my heart, from my faith. This doesn’t come from God!” Vicar Price shouted.
Hopkins’ face contorted.
“How dare you question the Lord’s work!” Hopkins barked, “If there is any chance to save the poor woman’s soul it is this! It is only after confession that there can be any repentance. Only after confession that there can be any forgiveness. The witch was brought to her darkest hour, and in that hour turned back to God. She cried to him for mercy!”
“To beg for mercy from your sadism!”
“What you call sadism is another soul’s salvation,” Hopkins growled, then began to pace the floor. “How often do you preach the truth about the eternal damnation of hell fire? You know how this works. Show people the consequence of their sins. Let them taste what is to come if they do not repent! And how many souls have been saved because they were rightly afraid? Yes, she begged for mercy – screamed for it. But God can still hear her prayers on this side of life, versus on the other after heaven’s doors are closed.”
He looked around at everyone.
“Suffering in the body is to be counted as nothing if it saves the soul.”
Vicar Price looked around in dismay, seeing several people nod their heads in agreement with him.
“You cannot do this!” Vicar Price shouted. “None of you can!”
“We have the authority to do God’s work. What authority do you have to say otherwise?”
“I am a man of God – I serve Him and this town.”
“Is that why they stand with you now?” Hopkins drew closer to the Vicar. “And am I not also and even more a man of God than you? I fully intend to have you investigated over the obstacles you have created for me here. If you continue this madness I will have you defrocked immediately. This town is ready to hang you next to her.”
Hopkins turned and walked back toward his seat.
“As it was written by the apostle,” Hopkins said, raising his voice, “‘to him who has, more will be given, and to him who does not have, even what he has will be taken.’”
Hopkins reached his chair, extended his arms and leaned his weight against it.
“You have nothing, Vicar, and even what you have can be taken from you.”
“I am not afraid,” Vicar Price said. “God’s will be done.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, he caught his breath. John had used those exact words not two hours before. He could feel the heat of the whole town watching him, but more he could feel Richard’s eyes burning holes in him. He heard his words from before – Mary is going to die.
Hopkins turned to him.
“You trust God is in control?”
“Of course,” Vicar Price said, his voice quiet.
Hopkins sat back down.
“You have made your opinion known, and you have done all you can. Let it rest in God’s hands now.”
Vicar Price stood, unsure what to do. He looked at all the other faces watching him.
“This will never find rest on your consciences. This will haunt us all until our deaths.”
He was met with silence, then turned to leave.
Hopkins called out after him.
“Pray, Vicar. Let God arbitrate between us and direct our hearts so that only His will can be accomplished here.”
Richard laughed. Everyone looked at him.
“I’m curious about something, Hostens,” Richard said.
“Are you addressing me?” Hopkins asked.
“You suspected enough to ask,” Richard smiled, then walked toward Hopkins.
“And who are you?” Hopkins asked.
“You talk about the witches,” Richard continued, “but what about the devil himself? Why do you let him roam free?”
Hopkins hesitated as Richard stood in front of him.
“Such a foe is not for us to fight, only resist. As the Scriptures say in Jude, ‘the Lord rebuke you Satan!’ Not even the angels attempt to bring a charge. God Himself declares that vengeance is His alone, He will repay.”
“But …if you are truly making a difference and thwarting the devil – then wouldn’t it be inevitable that he would come for you? Do you truly believe in god to protect you? Or do you actually believe none of this – in neither god, devil, nor witches?”
“I obviously entrust my soul to the Lord God, and count my life forfeit in His service.”
“A sacrifice that costs you everything … and if I understand correctly, costs each town a humble fee.”
They stared at each other.
“What are you driving at?” Hopkins asked.
“Nothing in particular, just curious,” Richard said. “One more question…”
Richard leaned in close. He looked at each of the old women on either side of him.
“You talked about how Mary’s soul might be saved. How she was brought to beg for mercy,” Richard looked directly at Hopkins, “Will you beg for mercy, when that moment comes for you?”
“There would be no one to ask mercy from. I am the Lord’s – and the devil is not one to spare life.”
“The man of god speaks truth,” Richard said, then nodded, stood up straight, and turned back to Vicar Price.
They walked out of the pub.