Once, in times of great sickness, there was a girl accused of witchcraft, condemned to die by men, she was brought to a holy place to be burned at the stake. They had burned many before her, but this time they were sure: her sacrifice would finally end the great plague. Among her captors were two knights: one strong in his believes, yet rotten in his soul, the other kind of heart, yet a traitor in his comrade’s eyes. When the day came to end the girl’s life, one lit the fire underneath her bare feet, the other drew his sword to protect her. One lived to swear the oath of a holy order, still believing in his righteous wrath, the other died, a sword to his heart, knowing he had done right by the young girl. What became of the girl, no-one knows.
Every last full moon of summer the witch put fresh flowers on his grave, picked from the fields soaked with ash and blood, where the fires had burned, and hope had died.
The witch travelled far to come and see him, his ghostly shadow still clad in chainmail and armor was hanging over his grave, faint in the moonlight, unmoving and quiet. Not like the others who screamed in anguish, not like the furies for whom there had been no grave, no place to bemoan their untimely death. The witches were still burning long after the fires had gone out.
She put down the flowers in silence, one tear she shed each year, seventeen in total, just as many as the age she had been when the devils had condemned her to die, and he had saved her from a flaming death.
She stayed silent till morning, but before the sun could rise, she would mutter her first words, facing the island she repeated the curse she had spoken so many years ago: ‘May you never find peace,’ she said, picturing the faithless man who dwelled at the monastery offshore, and hatred poured into every syllable of her renewed curse. The ghost nodded and continued his silent watch. One more year.
When the witch felt her own death approaching, she returned to the knight’s unmarked grave and in a moonless winter night she laid herself on frost-covered ground where she suspected his feet to be. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Your watch is finally over, my dear friend.’ This time she spoke without tears but with a smile on her face. She laid herself to rest where she had once left her heart, safely protected by a promise never to be broken: to protect the weak and defenseless, and at all times to speak the truth. A knight’s oath.
The other, though, the one who had lit the fire beneath her naked feet, still wandered restless through hallways of stone, searching God, searching the peace she had denied him for so long, this malicious girl, this devil’s servant. That night he heard her sigh in the wind. The curse was sealed. The witch was gone. His God, his faith forever lost. He wept that night; bit is own fist so he would not scream in anguish. ‘Jesus, Lord, why did you betray me so?’
There would be no heaven, no hell for the lost crusader, just endless wanderings while his world crumbled around him. Even when the last monks left the cloisters, his now bodyless soul was still bound to this place, howling like the wind over a deserted island. Later visitors would come, men and women without faith, children who believed in fairytales, ghosts, and witches, but never in an almighty God. Sometimes they smiled at him, the little ones that could still look behind the veil, and then they cried the tears he could no longer weep.
He was not the only one who could not find eternal rest. Even centuries later, in late summer wanderers returning from the island after the sun had set, would speak of a cold wind and sadness in their hearts, of two ghostly figures standing between ivy and deadly nightshade – a knight with a broken sword and a lady with fiery hair, both staring silently towards the sea. There was a strange happiness in their sorrow.
Witch Fires is based on a TTRPG session. I’ve borrowed some of my co-players’ characters to continue their story after they thankfully did not burn the witch I played.