Note: To fully understand and enjoy this story read ‘The God I Pray To‘ and ‘The Devil I Fear‘ before reading it.
I had always believed that there was only one God. We might know Him by different names or worship Him in different ways, ultimately it was the same God we all prayed to. That’s right, I did believe that the universe had only one true religion. I always thought how odd it was that no one had figured this out. It was probably because people tended to focus on the differences rather than the similarities of things. If they ever bothered to focus on the parallels of various religions, they would realize that they converged to one point, to one God. Then what were we really fighting for?
Sofia read aloud and then said, “you know I even found a picture of her. My mother was such a beautiful woman. She lived here, in this very cottage.”
“I’m glad that you found the truth about your mother.”
“Are you really? Doesn’t this scare you?”
“How many times must I say this? I’m not afraid of you, Sofia. I know you. We’ve lived in the same orphanage for most of our lives. I know who you are and nothing will change my opinion about you.”
“I’m so happy that you came to find me. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone about my past. Being a witch is not something I could accept easily.”
“I have to say though, you are learning very quickly. The way you levitated right in front of my eyes, it almost gave me a heart attack.” He chuckled.
“Don’t be absurd. I know how strong your heart it. It wasn’t going to fail that easily.” She also smiled. It was the first genuine smile she had given anyone in a long time.
“I still don’t understand though. What happened between you and the head priest? How did you end up in this cottage?”
“You know, I have always felt like an outsider. I had felt it in my very soul. I knew I wasn’t like everyone else and there was something missing from my life. I wanted to find my birth parents and hoped that it would bring my soul the peace it desired. Anyway, I had been making inquiries, very discretely I might add, unfortunately, no one knew much. All I could find out was that the head priest had brought me to the village when I was a child and left me at the orphanage. The old man Ji, only knew that my parents had died in some kind of accident and the priest had found me somehow.”
“So, no one knows who they were?” It was a little strange to be sure. They lived in a small community where everyone knew everyone so how come no one knew her parents.
“No, no one I talked to at least. Every clue led me to the head priest. I didn’t want to ask him. I hate that man and always have.”
“He makes me uncomfortable too but he is not a bad person. He cares about the villagers. He loves us all and only wants to help save our souls.”
“I can’t believe that you still think that, Nadir. I’ve told you so much and you can’t seem to understand one thing.” She was a little annoyed at him. After all, she had shown him her mother’s grimoire and read him passages from her diary, yet he was sticking to his belief that the priest wasn’t a crook. She knew that man was the devil incarnate.
“Look, I know that he is not God. He is also a man like us. Maybe he didn’t know anything about your mother. He must have misunderstood your intentions.”
“You’re so naïve if you actually think that. He knows everything. He knew that my mother was a witch and that I might be too. He hid it from me and from everyone else. I don’t know what his end game is but he isn’t who he says he is.”
The more Nadir listened the more he questioned everything. This was not something he could accept without doubt. “Ok, then what happened?”
“In the end, I had no choice but to ask the priest. He told me about this cottage and how it belonged to my mother. I asked him if I could come here. He didn’t say anything and the next thing I knew I was being accused of faithlessness and was banished to the woods. I didn’t know what else to do or say so, I just left quietly to find out the truth.”
“That’s it?” Nadir was shocked by her revelation. To be fair, it sounded a little absurd. He had been so worried thinking she was all alone in these dangerous woods, while all along she was safe in her mother’s home and the head priest knew that. Why would he deceive everyone like this though? His mind was churning with questions that only the priest could answer.
“My lord, Nadir never came for work. It has been three days now. I went by his house and he isn’t there either.”
“That is unfortunate, I feared he would go after Sofia. That child has a heart of pure gold,” the head priest said with a sigh.
“What should we do?”
“Nothing. I’m afraid he won’t be coming back. The day I dreaded is upon us. We must prepare.” The head priest looked sad.
“I don’t understand.”
“I know, I know. It is time, to tell the truth. I wish things had gone differently. I did try.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Gather everyone, I want to say something,” the pries said after a long pause.
“Yes, sire. I will gather everyone at once.”
The whole village was abuzz. This was the first time they had been gathered like this. Everyone was wondering what the head priest had to say and also, afraid to find out.
“Good people of Rayet, I must warn you of the evil that exists among us.” Everyone was listening aptly. “Sofia, that child has the devil in her. I had known this for a while now. I had hoped that in her exile she would find peace but Nadir’s disappearance has made me think otherwise. She is beyond redemption and we must do something about it before it’s too late.”
His words were met with silence. No one said anything and waited for their priest to continue. The priest wiped his tears. It was obvious that he was saddened by whatever that had happened. Witnessing tears in their priest’s eyes had impressed upon them the direness of the situation. They would do anything to make things right.
“She is a witch and must be burnt.”
After this unexpected declaration, everyone started talking at once. “A witch?” “Magic?” “What is the priest talking about?” “There is no such thing as magic or witches.”
“Silence!” The priest shouted in his most authoritative voice. Silence once again reigned supreme. No one dared utter another word.
“I know that I have hidden the truth from you but it was for everyone’s own good. I had hoped that Sofia was different than her ancestors. I had hoped that she hadn’t inherited her mother’s magic but I was wrong. She must be stopped before she hurt someone else. It’s our duty to protect the world from her evil. She was one of us, we brought her up, we cared for her, we gave her a home in our village and now we are accountable for her actions. God forbids magic. It is written in the books and all witches must be burnt as this is the only way to destroy their magic.”
“If I may be allowed to speak, my lord?” Someone asked fearfully.
“Yes, speak up.”
“But how did you know that Sofia is a witch or that she had done something to Nadir?”
“I have always known that Sofia is a witch because I knew her mother. Her mother was burnt too. She was an evil woman who did unspeakable things. I brought Sofia to the orphanage. As I said, I had hoped she was different than her mother. Alas, I was wrong but to be human is to err. I made a grave mistake in bringing her to our peaceful village.”
“But what about Nadir?” Someone else said.
“He has a kind soul, the kindest that I know. Unfortunately, he was bewitched and chose to follow Sofia into the darkness. I am not sure if we will ever find the truth as to what happened to him. But I suspect he followed her willingly and we might not be able to get his soul back from the clutches of that witch.”
There were murmurs all around. The people were equal parts shocked and equal parts astounded. A witch had been living among them and no one had known. Nadir, poor soul. He was well-liked and everyone would feel the loss. The real question, however, was whether they could find and burn the witch or not. When they had banished her to the woods, they had prayed for her, they had wanted God to protect her and bring her back to them. Now, there was no hope left and the dreadful task of bringing justice was heaved upon their shoulders.
“Does anyone oppose this?”
No one said anything. They were taught to follow the head priest’s orders without question. They believed in him and knew that he would not lead them astray. He was the man of God after all. Who better to guide them than him? If they started doubting him now then what else would they have left? He had saved them from the evils of the world many a time and he would do the same now. If Sofia must die, burnt alive, then so be it. If they were unable to save Nadir that is something they would have to live with. It was better to sacrifice one soul to save many. Thus, Sofia’s fate was decided and villagers were ready to enter the woods they had always feared and stayed cleared off. No one bothered to ask why the woods were dangerous or why it was suddenly okay to enter?
There was a proverb often repeated by my mentor, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. She was such an intelligent child, unfortunately, she did not fear God. She saw more than she should have and understood more than she needed to, but wasn’t good at taking instructions. Sofia, was an exceptional young woman, no doubt in that, and it wasn’t that I hated her or anything of the sort, rather I despised the thought of what she could become. She had no idea who she was but I knew and I had always been afraid that one day she would find out the truth. I was probably the only one in the village who knew the whole truth. People thought of me as their savior. I never wanted this position but they had insisted on making me their head priest. I was trying to be the best leader I could but there were things in this world, scary things that people didn’t need to know about.
Our small village wasn’t always as isolated as it was now. There was a time, long before me, when it was very much a part of the world. People were happier and things were better. Unfortunately, darkness arose that engulfed this quaint village from nowhere. A witch was born and later destroyed everything. She shook the beliefs of people and made them question their reality. It was the first time anyone had encountered such evil. She said God was a myth. She said religions were all a lie. She used the very earth people treaded on against them. She killed people in the name of mindless rituals. Some feared her while others worshipped her. For a long time, she had ruled this part of the world. Until the day she was defeated by the grace of God. She perished but the fear lingered and there was no better way to control people than to use this fear.
That was around the time when I came to this village and decided to stay. All I wanted was to help these people save their souls and be rid of the evil running through their veins. The witch was gone but her magic remained, in the form of Sofia. So, who better to take responsibility for these people than me? After all, I knew the truth and I had been trained for this very thing. I became their head priest and I taught these people how to worship God and earn their place in heaven.
I was living in the bliss of ignorance and then she came along and decided to shatter my illusion and show me the truth. There were things in this world that we were better off not knowing. Sometimes even when our eyes were wide open, we still couldn’t see the truth until we opened our minds too. It was one of those things and I wish I could go back, unfortunately, once seen these things could not be unseen. It wasn’t death that scared me, it was the thought of living without purpose, without reason. In the end, the choice was taken from me and change became inevitable.
“Did you hear that?” I said brought out of my deep thoughts by the noise outside.
Sofia was sitting in one corner and going through her mother’s things. “It sounds like people, but who would come to these parts of the woods?” She said.
“Do you think people have finally come to find us?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s find out then.”
We both stood up at the same time and went outside to investigate. It had been a few days since I came here to find Sofia. Perhaps, others had decided to follow us. The sight that greeted us wasn’t a welcoming one though. Sure, people had followed us and even the head priest was there with them. It was obvious that their intentions were nothing good. They were caring canes, hammers, torches, and all kind of weapons.
“Nadir, you are safe then. Thank God! Come join us,” the priest said as if relieved to see me alive, “the witch must atone for her sins.”
“And what sins might that be?” I asked as calmly as possible. I was beginning to think that this man is really the devil Sophia believes him to be.
“You don’t understand my child,” he said, “the witch must be dealt with before her magic destroys us all.”
“The witch is standing right here, father,” Sofia said shocking us all.
The priest didn’t look so shocked though. “So, you know,” he said and smile wickedly, “I suppose the ruse is over then, daughter.”
“What are you two talking about,” I said, bewildered. Every villager’s eyes were filled with the same question.
“I found it in my mother’s things,” Sophia was holding a diary and a few photos, “she has written about a man who charmed her with his words and she fell in love with him. The very man who then turned people against her and planned to destroy her very soul.”
“Come now, Sophia,” the priest said, “I am not all that bad. Your mother was the one killing innocent people for her rituals. I only saved them.”
“Was she really?” Sophia challenged him, “or was it you all along?”
“Don’t be absurd. Why would I kill anyone? I am a religious man who fears God above all.”
“You can’t fool me, father,” she was angry that much was obvious, “I know your true face. You fear what you don’t understand. Only if you had tried to understand her powers you would’ve realized that they were not dangerous at all. Instead of killing people and framing her you should have helped her.”
“Witch must be burnt,” apparently the priest didn’t want to hear more and ordered people to charge at us.
“My mother loved you and that is the only reason you got away with it,” Sophia said, eyes blazing with the fire of her hatred, “I won’t be defeated so easily.”
I am not sure how she did it but every torch help by the villagers extinguished. Suddenly, it got cold and we were all frozen into statues. We could see what was happening but we could not interfere. She killed the priest and then released us from her magic. People were too shocked to do anything.
“You killed him,” I said astounded. I never thought she would do something like that. Even though I believed it when she said that her father was evil.
“It needed to be done,” she said matter-of-factly, “people needed to be set free of his magic.”
“Yes, Nadir,” she gave me a soulful smile, “he was a wizard too.”
Sophia was right and the priest was indeed a wizard. It turned out that he had used his magic to fool people and as soon as he died, they began to see the truth of things. It took them a while but they did forgive Sophia and welcomed her back into the village. Since then she had been using her magic for the good of everyone. No one fears the woods anymore, people venture out into the world without anything holding them back. The village of Rayet was once again a prosperous place and a home of happy people. We had a witch to protect us. These days people tended to ask more questions, they didn’t believe things without doubt anymore, they were curious and became used to finding their own answers rather than taking things on face value. Our small, quaint village was now far ahead of the rest of the world when it came to new discoveries and inventions. We had learned a hard lesson and we had come to cherish our past while working towards a better future. To me, she was an angel and I loved her.
© 2019, Fizza Younis. All Rights Reserved.