“YOU STAND ACCUSED OF MALEFICIUM, malicious sorcery: aspiring to beguile, seduce, or enchant your enemies, and to make them soul-sick with lust, thereby perverting them against God. Do you confess to these allegations?”
“I do not, your godly bishop.” Ciaran cast a stricken glance at Lionel, crushed by the magnitude of the man’s betrayal.
“Your detractor swears on the Scriptures you worked demon-magic on him, inflicted him with unnatural desires and lecherous cravings and he claims your devilry has caused both sleep and appetite to desert him. He declares he is incapable of defending himself against your black magic.”
“My Lord, I swear I did nothing to elicit such depraved conduct on the part of anyone, friend or foe.”
“You have also been cited with the abduction of the Lord’s bride; do you gainsay this testimony as well?”
“Your Grace, if you will allow me, the Lord’s contest of arms became mired in bloodshed; I sought only to keep the lady out of harm’s way. This all happened, I might add, before the marriage vows could be consummated.”
“Very well. He does not dispute you on that point. However, one thing you cannot deny: you are a direct descendant of the line of beings known as the Gwyllion?”
Ciaran swallowed. “My mother was rumored to be of that ancient race, my Lord.”
“By your matrilineage, therefore, you acknowledge your blood is impure, and that you are heir to mysterious, Otherworldly powers and inhuman traits?”
Ciaran bit his lips, resisting the urge to lower his head in shame. He answered quietly, “I regret I must, Your Excellency.”
“Then as a representative of Holy Christian Church, I am obliged to advise you that by the curse of your birth, you will be found guilty of the complaints brought against you, and for your inherent godlessness, you are to endure the purification of your soul by fire.”
Stunned speechless, Ciaran’s mind raced with disturbing, nightmarish images. Unable to pull a coherent thought from the roiling chaos, he stood mute, unnerved and immobilized.
“Can you name any who have incited mortal hatred against you?”
For a split second his eyes flashed to Lionel; he immediately averted his eyes, but not before witnessing the searing terror, and perhaps remorse, in the man’s face.
“If your accuser is among those named, you will be set free and the complaint against you will be dismissed.”
Blood pounded through every vein; anger and fear rushed together in fire and frenzy. Why not point the finger of condemnation? he thought, outraged at Lionel’s duplicity. Call to account your betrayer, the one to blame for this travesty! Save yourself, for the love of God! Do what you must to avoid an unimaginable death.
“And if I name someone?” he heard himself say, though the voice, small and frail and distant, scarcely resembled his own.
“In that case, the plaintiff will suffer to take your place at the stake,” came the simple, devastating answer.