Summary: As Jane burns at the stake convicted of witchcraft; she vows vengeance upon her accuser. Once she joins the Volturi, Jane’s sweet revenge is within reach.
WINNER of the TwiFic Indies First Time Writer Challenge for Best Canon. NOMINATED for a 2010 Eddie Award for Best Short Fiction
Category: Books » Twilight
Rated: M for extreme violence
Chapters: 1, Words: 10,851
Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
I can quite easily recall the putrid stench of horse manure and rotting refuse that always tainted the air of the Volterra Square in those days. I can clearly recollect the distinct scent of burning pitch as the cypress wood blazed under me with creaking groans. Even more so, I can hear the echo of the screaming, faceless mob whipped into an ignorant frenzy encouraged by their Church. But above all else, I can remember feeling the hellish inferno of hungry, lapping flames that savored the taste of my bare toes and legs with greedy expectation, hissing cruelly while the smoke swirled relentlessly around my head.
I can recall all of this, despite the veil of obscure dark human memory and a seemingly endless universe of time.
The sky was hidden by an ominous cool mist. If it would simply rain in earnest I would be granted a reprieve, if only for a few hours. I dreaded the short minutes of agony that I knew awaited me. And yet I was relying on an oath. A pledge made to me, and one that I returned devoutly. I would have promised anything to save Alec, to save myself.
It had begun as the day of my doom and before the sun set, I would be reborn.
Practically all of the loathsome villagers crowded the square, their careworn faces dirty and their rags filthy with the usual grime that defined the stinking peasantry. They had all assembled to eagerly participate in the demise of the reputedly evil twins. The maddened mob collectively relished the spectacle of my brother, Alec, and I tied to the stake in the center of the square above a massive pile of dry tinder. And for all their lowly ranking, they appraised us with superior condescension, convinced that our banishment to Hell was near.
The mob was eager. These peasants had been stripped of all humanity and compassion and clamored excitedly for more wood. The Church had brainwashed them, and like mindless sheep they obeyed with absolute unquestioning acquiescence. They shrieked with frenzied enthusiasm, enraptured with the imminence of our gruesome death. Their cheers were the only sound I could discern over the loud crackling of the tinder quickly burning to ash beneath my feet.
“WITCHES!” One somehow managed to scream louder than the others.
“Heretics!” They spat with hatred. It was a word I’d grown exceedingly impatient with as of late.
“Murderess!” They shrieked at me. I merely pushed my chin out in defiance.
Hypocritical heathens, every last one of them. I scowled as I peered out at them through the increasingly thick smoke. Retribution would come. Especially to Sister Isabella, whom I spied standing off to the side, her soft white hands clasped together reverently while her pale drawn lips moved in a hurried and fervent silent prayer for our souls. It was because of her contemptuous ignorant suspicions that Alec and I were tied to that stake, her fault that we had been convicted of crimes we didn’t even know the meaning of.
She’d always hated us, me in particular, and I vowed to myself that if he made good on his promise, I’d come back for her.
The flames climbed higher, flirting with the tattered hem of the flimsy broadcloth rag they had attired me in. The sickening smell of burning hair wafted to my nose, and I retched uncontrollably. The smoke stung my eyes; I cast them to the heavens in search of relief, and threw one last, desperate and silent prayer to the God that had forsaken me long ago. Their God. I glowered and returned my eyes to the crowd. I needed to see, I had to watch for him.
I scanned the horde through the haze frantically, the flames finally causing a delayed sense of panic as I coughed and choked with every breath I drew. Time was running out and he had promised.
Finally my frantic gaze fixed upon his face. He stood on the fringe of the crowd, his pale arms crossed over his chest and the hood of his black cloak drawn up to shield him from the damp air. He was flanked by two very large and pallid men. He was watching, waiting for his moment.
The smoke was increasing rapidly, swirling around Alec and me in an angry vortex that whipped my brown hair around my face and into my mouth. Alec began coughing violently. Blindly, I grasped for his hand tied to the stake between us but couldn’t find it.
“Alec!” I screamed, but got no answering reply. I wrenched my head trying in vain to see him, but I was tied too tightly to the sturdy wooden pole and my torso was unable to move.
The flames leapt higher, fueled by the horrid garment I wore. The ropes around my ankles burned through and fell away, pulling pieces of my cracked blackened flesh away with them.
I wanted to scream as pain had finally taken over my senses, but I had solemnly vowed to remain silent. I refused to give these insolent dregs the satisfaction of voicing my suffering. I refused to be their entertainment. Nor would I give them the vindication of begging for mercy either. Mercy was coming for me, but not from their God.
I looked out into the crowd, and my eyes flew to his.
Out of Time…Out of Time… my mind repeated hysterically, hopelessly wishing that he would be able to hear me.
Smoke engulfed me.
I couldn’t breathe. I gasped for air, but the flames reached down into my throat and stole the oxygen from every frantic breath I attempted to draw. Burning soot seared my lungs instead, and I was choking.
It will be over soon, he will come, he will come, he had promised. I repeated the mantra over and over while the flames lapped up my legs in excruciating randomness.
I glanced at Heaven in contempt and gasped a desperate raking last breath before I feebly succumbed to asphyxiation.
I’d kept my promise to myself. I never did scream.
I was still burning. I could feel my bones being slowly incinerated. But I knew this was not the pathetic bonfire they had roasted me upon. This could only be the work of Satan himself. Excruciating agony unlike anything imaginable seared every part of me. It was an inescapable black void of torment that blocked out all of my senses. I was burning, and he hadn’t come.
He’d failed me.
He’d failed us.
And I was in Hell.
After an eternity, the burning began to change. Still mind numbingly intolerable, but I had somehow gained the ability to distract myself with other thoughts in a futile attempt to block out some portion of the pain.
Through a foggy haze, I recalled the day I was first introduced to him.
Sister Isabella had found me on that stormy day at the abbey’s well behind the cathedral. Near the garden shed, I had come upon a tiny black kitten with white paws and a bedraggled white tipped tail. I picked him up and held him to my chest, cooing to him and softly stroking his head. He didn’t like my petting him and made his displeasure known with an injurious swipe across my nose. So I carried him toward the well, where I intended to teach him a lesson for his insolence.
“Jane!” Sister Isabella screeched in shocked distress when she saw me leaning over the side of the well, my arms extended over the deep pit and the kitten struggling to break free from my grip. I pulled my arms back and released the kitten to the ground at once. It bounded quickly away and into a nearby shrub.
“Yes Sister?” I asked sweetly.
Her eyes narrowed. “What were you doing?”
“Fetching a drink of water.” I smiled angelically and cast my eyes down at the cobbled path.
She examined me skeptically with her beady rat eyes and her fat sallow cheeks trembled.
“Come,” she muttered, abruptly spinning on her heel and returning in the direction from whence she came. I followed silently behind her.
Inside the cathedral it was very dim; the light coming from the tall white candles illuminated the alter in an ethereal golden glow. Two men sat in the front pew. The first was very regal, in a flowing black robe that set off his pale skin and his face was framed by long, straight, black hair.
The other man was not as pale, but still had a sickly cast to his tawny complexion. His deep brown hair was shorter, and his robe was a shade of dark grey.
Their heads turned to look at us when the creak of the cathedral door’s iron hinges announced our arrival. The good Sister pushed me between the shoulders when my courage failed and I stopped just inside.
The one in black smiled. They both had red eyes, like rubies glistening in the candle light, and I was instantly reminded of the ancient Stregoni legends.
“Come here, my child,” the one in black murmured with a voice like soft singing.
I walked forward; intrigued not only by their uncommon beauty, but also to see if they truly were the men from stories I’d been told. Sister Isabella was close at my side, her hand protectively resting on my shoulder.
“Jane, this is Signore Aro and Signore Eleazar,” she began. “Unfortunately, Signore Aro’s health prevents him from attending Mass, and yet he is a devout patron of the Church and a pious servant of Christ. He insists on meeting all the orphans that stay at the abbey,” she explained with unmistakable reverence.
I curtsied as I’d been taught. “How do you do, Signore?” I said meekly.
He unexpectedly took my hand in his. It was cold and smooth, like the weather worn headstones in the cemetery behind the Abbey where I liked to sit. His eyes glazed over for a moment and then he smiled.
“How long have you been here at the convent, Jane?” he questioned.
“But a few days, Signore.”
“And what is your age?” he asked gently, while his eyes burned with curiosity.
“She is but a maid, not yet fifteen, Signore,” Sister Isabella replied for me. Signore Aro shot her a look of annoyed contempt and she stepped back nervously. I smiled at him, wishing I too were able to inspire the same kind of fear in her.
“Have you any family Jane, aside from your brother?” he continued.
“None, Signore. Our mother died in childbirth. Our father -” I began.
“I know of your father,” he murmured with significance, and my narrowed eyes shot from the floor to his.
I didn’t offer a reply.
“Would you do me the honor of introducing me to your brother, Jane?” he requested after a moment with sweetly perfected manners.
I grimaced sadly at him before answering, “He is unwell, Signore,” I whispered.
He looked at Sister Isabella with concern. “Oh?”
“Yes,” she confirmed nervously. “But he is recovering.”
“In that case, perhaps I shall introduce myself,” he eyed the Sister expectantly as he touched the hand of the other man. They rose in unison and waited for the Sister to take them to Alec.
He looked at me. “It was delightful to have met you, Jane,” Signore Aro simpered.
“Remain here,” Sister Isabella ordered me before leading them away toward a side door behind the altar.
As they departed I caught a few of the words that passed between them, words like “badly bruised” and “broken ribs.” I sobbed and fumed at the same time, hating my father just as much as I always had, even though he couldn’t hurt us anymore.
The burning continued. I was being slaughtered into innumerable pieces, those pieces were then spitted and set to roast, spinning slowly and tortuously over thousands of tiny fires. Glowing red hot nails were being pounded into my organs with the force of a blacksmith’s hammer. My head swam at the same time that it seemed to expand.
And incrementally, my senses began to return.
I could hear voices.
His voice in particular.
Was it possible that I wasn’t dead, that he had saved me?
“How are they faring?” I heard him ask. The sound was so clear and crisp I could discern his lips moving against his teeth as he spoke.
He’d said they.
Alec had been saved.
He hadn’t failed us.
This was my rebirth.
At hearing his voice, I knew the end of the agony was within reach, and yet, amazingly, there was still more to be endured. And while I laid there and suffered on, I recalled the oath I had made to him, the oath that would be my duty from this day until the very ending of time.
He returned to the church late one evening with Signore Eleazar and requested my presence again.
The good Sister fetched me from the cemetery where I was sitting next to my favorite headstone in the graveyard, the one with the angels carved on it.
“Jane, why are you here in the dark, sitting in the dirt?” she muttered and pulled me roughly to my feet, spinning me around so that my back was to her. She tugged and swatted at my frock to brush the offending dirt away. I ignored her question.
“Signore Aro has come to see you, and you must oblige him with any request he may ask of you.”
“Why?” I asked apathetically. Why should I care about Signore Aro?
“Do not question me,” she huffed with annoyed impatience, “The Signore has taken a liking to you,” -she almost shuddered at the notion -“and you mustn’t disappoint him.”
I quickly decided that I could be obliging to the Signore, if he could help Alec and me escape the Sisters, Isabella in particular. She was always watching me now, suspicious because of the talk that I had overheard the groundskeeper spreading like a vile pestilence.
She led the way to the cathedral for my audience with Signore Aro. After presenting me before him, he dismissed the good Sister with a bored wave of his hand and turned his exquisite scarlet eyes on me.
He took my hand and led me to the empty space on the pew beside him.
“Come and sit with me, Jane. I wish to speak with you.” The pleasant drone of his voice laced with the divine scent of his breath was extraordinarily soothing.
Once I was seated he continued, “I met your brother and-”
“Oh,” I cried anxiously. “Is he better? They won’t let me visit him.”
“Do not interrupt your elders, dearest,” he scolded gently. “Yes, he is convalescing, but not yet well enough for visitors. His injuries were quite severe,” he explained.
My cheeks burned and my eyes fell to the floor. I remembered the last time our father had beaten Alec. Beaten him so badly that I was convinced Alec wouldn’t be able to pull himself out the miserable black hole his mind had created to protect itself. The sight of Alec curled up wretchedly on his cot, unresponsive and utterly defeated strengthened my resolve to act. The day after the beating, I took it upon myself to end all of our suffering.
Father needed help gathering kindling in the woods. I followed behind him silently, like a proper child should, as he had beaten me for not doing prior. We were crossing the clear shallow stream that divided the golden wheat field from the Cypress wooded hills. The stones that lined the stream were green with slick algae and Father, being a portly man, lost his footing and slipped into the water.
I didn’t hesitate to seize my opportunity.
I bent over and picked up a heavy rock. He tried to stand, but his short little legs couldn’t get his wormy body in balance, and he fell again into the water with an enormous splash. I laughed as his hat fell off and started to float away. He glowered at me. Finally he managed to get one foot under him.
I chose my footing carefully as I came up to him. Behind my back, my fingers twitched with anticipation as they held the rock at the ready.
He extended his hand to me, requesting my help to stand.
I put out my empty hand halfway, and grinned before I lifted my foot into the air and kicked his knee in with all the strength in me. He screamed out in agony and I sneered, my fingers resolutely clutching the cold wet stone in my grasp.
He fell back into the water bellowing like a stuck pig and clutched at his knee.
I came up in front of him and smiled. “Goodbye, Father,” I said pleasantly.
I raised my crude weapon high over my head and struck him soundly in the skull above his ear.
Exhilaration coursed through me. I reveled in the completely foreign and deliciously elicit sensation that began to tingle deep inside me. The sight of his fear-stricken eyes, wild with uncomprehending panic and betrayal as he tried to crawl away, dragging his injured leg like a dead cat while blood tricked down his neck, was intoxicating.
He didn’t get far.
I didn’t let him.
I followed him lightly as he feebly attempted to escape me. I came up behind him, raised my weapon and bashed his skull again and again, until the stream ran red with his blood and little white bits of his brain floated gently down the stream.
Once the deed was done, I dropped the bloodstained stone into the water. I was out of breath and trembling with absolute euphoria. At last, I had become the powerful one as I reaped my vengeance upon my lifelong tormentor.
I stood above him and watched his florid face fade to a sickly ashen color while his head oozed, turning the water pink for several feet downstream. The sight was morbidly fascinating, and I took a step forward to examine my handiwork more closely. With a curious finger I felt the jagged broken edge of his skull. It was sharp where the bone had fractured and broken away, leaving a hole the size of an egg. I ventured my finger further and gave his brain a curious prod. It was soft and warm and disgustingly enthralling as it squished against my finger.
I extracted my finger dripping with blood and brought it to my nose. The scent was metallic and repulsive and yet, curiosity made me bring my finger to my lips and lick cautiously. My face soured; it tasted as bad as it smelled.
I rinsed my finger in clear water and then stood with a sigh of satisfaction as I looked at the dead corpse of my father. I’d tell Alec that he fell and hit his head. Everyone would believe that, no one would suspect that a girl of my size could cause the demise of a man of his stature.
I heard a low dark chuckle beside me and it was only then that I remembered where I was, and that my hand was still encased in Signore Aro’s.
I quickly pulled it away from his grasp.
“There is talk, Jane. People know,” he whispered. “I cannot blame you, seeing as how poor Alec’s condition was quite serious.” He gave me a knowing look.
“But Signore, I’ve done nothing wrong,” I pleaded innocently.
“A hole in the skull that large is not the result of one slipping on wet river stones,” he cooed, and I turned to him in amazement. He knew.
“What is going to happen to us?” I asked terrified of what his reply would be. If he knew the truth of what I had done, then other adults must know as well.
“I cannot say, but I would like for you and Alec to become part of my family,” he offered with sincerity.
“Do you know of my family, Jane?” He asked, and his red eyes bored into mine, causing a thrill of fear to wash through me. Whispers and rumors of the Stregoni were rampant around Volterra. Some said the Stregoni were kind, dedicated to the church and giving to the poor. But Father had told Alec and me stories of those who had gone missing in the woods, taken by the red eyed Stregoni. I had always thought Father was simply trying to frighten us.
I knew that the only monsters that existed were the human kind.
“Yes,” I replied meekly.
“And if you are a part of my family, you must also become like the Stregoni,” he explained carefully.
That was the least of my concerns.
“You won’t punish me for what I’ve done?” I whispered. I stared at the floor, unable to meet his gaze.
“No, no punishment,” he promised.
I smiled genuinely at him. This was quite unexpected, but welcome.
“Yes, Signore, we’d like that very much.” I accepted his offer with earnest gratitude.
“Excellent,” he exclaimed and then lowered his voice. “There are a few requirements I ask of my family, Jane. Most importantly and above all, you must be loyal. The family always comes before anything or anyone else. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Signore,” I replied readily.
“Secondly, you must always do as I say.”
This request was much more difficult to agree too. But Sister Isabella had told me to be obedient to him and, really, what other choice did I have? The Sisters were growing suspicious of me.
“Yes, Signore,” I agreed somewhat reluctantly, which elicited another quiet laugh.
“I will come for you soon, when the correct time has come,” he said.
I eyed him doubtfully.
“I promise, Jane, I will free you from the rat-eyed Sister,” he whispered conspiratorially and winked at me. I couldn’t hold back a giggle that he thought the same thing I had about her beady black eyes.
He and Signore Eleazar then rose gracefully and exited the church. I stared after him in consternation. He’d better keep his promise.
Over the days that followed, I noticed that my freedoms became more and more restricted. My play was confined to the courtyard, where a close eye could be kept on me. I was not allowed to play in the cemetery or sit by the angels any more. I was not allowed to visit the well or the cathedral. And I became bored very quickly.
The abbey, like most of Europe at that time, was besieged by rats and mice. There were never enough predators to eliminate the vermin, so I decided to help. The rodents were stealing grain and vegetables from the abbey’s kitchen and garden, and I hoped that doing this good deed might absolve my character in the eyes of the Sisters.
I had devised a trap and caught several of the little brown field mice and a few rats, making them my prisoners in an old discarded wooden crate I had found behind the kitchen. The tedium of my confinement had convinced me that today, my prisoners would face their sentence.
I went to my room and retrieved a candle, a match, and my prison containing its inmates.
Gathering all my implements, I took them and the crate to the courtyard and deposited them in a dark corner where the bricks were cool and moist.
Quickly I dashed to the stable, knowing I was breaking the rules by leaving the courtyard, and grabbed a large handful of hay. I raced back to my dark little corner, arranged the hay neatly around the crate, and lit my candle.
At first I was intent on setting the hay ablaze and burning the criminal mice alive, but as I led the candle over the top of the crate, a large droplet of wax fell between the slats and landed on the furry back of one of the mice.
It screamed out in unexpected pain.
I smiled, and to my surprise, that strange, foreign tingle that I’d felt at the stream that day returned to my center. The feeling was not as powerful as before, but there, nonetheless.
So I let the wax drip through the cracks of the crate’s lid and made sure each of my inmates received his share of the scalding wax.
I wanted to hear each individual scream.
And when they did, the tingle deepened, expanded, and spread its warm electric fingers throughout my body.
I moved the candle toward the dry yellow hay and let the flame catch. I blew gently, urging the flames to spread all around the base of the crate. The rodents screamed louder, reacting instinctively to the smell of smoke as they clamored violently to escape and scratched their little claws feverishly at the wood.
I watched in fascination, mesmerized by their panicked paws desperately reaching between the slats and their red eyes rolling in fear.
A tiny little moan of ecstasy escaped me.
Then, out of nowhere, I felt a hard heavy hand strike me across the back of my head. I doubled forward from the force of it and fell into the ground; my face only inches from the miniature inferno.
“JANE!” Sister Isabella yelled and yanked me violently to my feet by the collar of my frock.
Another of the Sisters extinguished the fire with a bucket of water while Sister Isabella dragged me across the courtyard and toward the cellar where they kept the wine for the sacrament. I pleaded with her that I was only trying to help, that I just wanted to get rid of the thieving rodents.
She refused to listen. Her face was a mask of indignation as she gripped my arm tightly.
“They are also God’s creatures,” she retorted tersely.
“They are vermin, vermin who eat our grain and nest in our beds,” I argued vehemently.
“That does not mean that you can torture them to death by burning them alive,” she spat while pushing me into the cellar. Before she shut me in, she turned to glare at me in disgust.
“You are a very cruel, mean-spirited little girl, Jane therefore I can only conclude that you have been bewitched,” she exclaimed with cold superiority, and shut the heavy wooden door. The iron key turned in the lock with a final metallic clink, and I was once more alone.
My nightmare began then. Sister Isabella had spoken the word that would be my death knell.
I was stripped of all my possessions, even my clothes were taken from me, and I was left in that miserable damp cellar with nothing more than a flimsy black broadcloth rag to wrap around me. For days I waited in the blackness hoping for some sign that I would be released. If Satan had appeared in my little black hole to offer me freedom in exchange for my soul, I would have happily agreed. I would have agreed to anything in order to escape that wretched cell.
Days passed and no one came to check on me, no food and hardly any water were brought to me, and I had absolutely no word of Alec.
My ignorance was my torture.
Eventually she came for me, and her beady rat-eyes watched me with mistrusting hatred.
She didn’t speak as she opened the heavy door to the cellar, but she had a set of heavy shackles at the ready. Another Sister came to bind my wrists and ankles in the iron cuffs while I seethed with bitter hatred and glared at Isabella.
“You are to appear before the Bishop,” she said coldly.
“Why?” I demanded.
“You are accused of incantation, diabolism, and murder. You are to stand trial.”
Fear clutched me instantly. I wasn’t sure what incantation and diabolism were, but I was well aware that being convicted of murder would result in the strictest of punishments. They would kill me, and Alec would be left alone.
“And what of Alec?” I asked frantically. I could face my consequences, but he was innocent of everything.
“He will stand trial with you, Jane,” she replied and sneered as she watched my face whiten to ash.
“You will live to regret this, Sister,” I said and smiled blackly at her. If her death would be my final act on this Earth, I would see to it that she suffered beyond anything that Satan could contrive.