In the summer months in Ribe, Denmark, the Night Watchman waits with his lantern and mace in hand. He sings a song that Night Watchman have sung since the 1400’s.
Master, maid, and boy,
would you the hour know
It is the time that you
to rest should go
Trust in the Lord with
faith – and careful be
of fire and light, for ten o’clock has struck.
At eight and ten o’clock, the Night Watchman takes to the narrow cobblestone streets telling stories about witch trials, fires, floods, vikings, and royal feuds.
It was these stories that inspired the following chapter in Divine Intervention:
The sun had already begun to dip in the grey sky. A murder of crows squawked noisily to one another from the bare branches of a large beech tree. More of the black birds settled along the ruined walls of the moated castle, Riberhus, that lay on the outskirts of the medieval town of Rÿpen—to spy on the throngs of townspeople gathering. Brightly painted canvases hanging from the crumbling castle walls portrayed a bent, warted hag being burned at the stake, her eyes piously turned upwards, while the exalted townspeople looked on.
“I don’t see Brünnhilde,” Louisa whispered.
She and Rhadamanthus were carefully hidden along the parapet wall, observing the assembly.
“She is yonder. Though, you may not know her. She is, perhaps, not many seasons older than you, my lady.”
Cheeks stained with grime and tears; a young woman, with a proud fair face, was thrust into the centre of the mob, where preparations for a bonfire were hastily being made. A ladle was lifted to her mouth. She drank from it and then spit at the leering townspeople.
“Burn, witch!” a sour faced woman called out. Others echoed her call.
“Rhadamanthus, do you know what they are saying?”
“Aye, my lady, though, I will only say that ’tis ill tidings for Brünnhilde.”
A bag of gunpowder was strapped to Brünnhilde’s back and a man wearing a black clerical hat, stepped onto on a platform that stood high above the throngs of townspeople.
“The Magistrate has arrived!” the same sour faced woman proclaimed.
“’Tis he.” Rhadamanthus’ voice was a gruff whisper. “Belthazzar has fopped us. He is no friend. Nay, he is our gravest foe.”
Belthazzar stood tall and cruel over the assembly; his somber face predicted doom. He produced a scroll and then read aloud from it. “By order of his Majesty, the righteous King Clovis XV, you Brünnhilde Grumm are sentenced to burn for the practice of black magic, against Didrik the Tailor.” Belthazzar motioned towards a stooped, green-eyed man, with an oily, jealous face. “Didrik claims to have been awoken in the night by you Brünnhilde and three other witches, who held him to his bed while you poured a potion into his mouth.”
At Belthazzar’s cue, a ladder was dragged into the clearing. The fire was lit, and the mob stepped back as the flames crackled to life.
Brünnhilde screamed at the sight of it. “It is a lie,” she pleaded. “Tell them Didrik, how you have lied. You have always been envious of my husband who is a successful businessman, but you—you are a wretch who drinks from morning to night in our tavern and cannot pay. Tell them the truth, you vile, black-hearted man!”
Didrik shifted nervously from foot to foot. “Say what you will, woman,” he sneered. “These things always end in the same way—fire.”
The villagers stood tightly packed together, swaying shoulder to shoulder, with eyes greedy for what was soon to come.
Belthazzar continued his sentencing. “Cursed by Brünnhilde during the night, the following day Didrik fell ill! From that time forth, his luck steadily dwindled, until he was forced, just last week, to close his workshop.”
There was a gasp amongst the townspeople and Brünnhilde was roughly thrown down onto the ladder. Her wrists and ankles were tied to its rungs. “It is you who will burn, Didrik!” she cried. “You and the others who have stood by and done nothing while an innocent woman dies.” Brünnhilde was lifted high into the air, her silhouette black against the smoky sun. A tense silence fell over the townspeople. Only the crows could be heard cawing to one another. And then, with a boisterous cheer, the ladder was tossed forward.
As the ladder tilted towards the fire, it began to bounce, ever so slightly, in a way that suggested someone was climbing it. The rope binding Brünnhilde’s hands and feet sprung apart, as if on its own accord. The sack of gunpowder dropped from her back into the flames. The fire emitted a screeching noise when the sack of gunpowder lit and then exploded with a CRACK! There was a brief flash of light, just before the ladder fell into the blaze—empty.