Thursday 26 November 2020

Extract: The Drop of the Hammer by Mary De Gruttola

Here is an extract from The Drop of the Hammer by Mary De Gruttola, is a novel based on true events that took place in the Ban of Spa (now part of Belgium) around 1600. On August 23, 1581, Kramer and Springer’s ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ ushered in a reign of terror in the area. Life was no longer just hard for the women of Spa and Creppe—it was also terrifying. This novel tells the story of a young widow called Françoise Mathieu, who is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be garrotted and burned.  

The beating sound is closer. The glow of the fire and the regular beating completely dominate her. 
She needs to get there.
The constant beat she hears keeps pulling Françoise, pressing her to go quicker and quicker.
There’s a group of people walking in a circle. Moving always at the same steady, rhythmic pace.
Her heart starts beating loudly.
The people gathered in the field are now silently walking along a single circular path.
She is sure she is close enough for them to see her. They don’t seem to see her. Unexpectedly, one of the men holding a particularly bright torch cries out and points at her.
They have seen her.
They are pointing at her. Soon she is able to make out individual words, but not entire sentences.
The crowd is walking in a circle again, but now she is in the middle of the of the circle.
An old woman shakes a fist menacingly.
“Burn her. She made a pact.”
Françoise puts her hands over her ears to block out the sounds and hatred coming from the people circling around her. Her feet buckle under her. (…) rough hands hold her up and drag her to the center of the field where she is thrown onto the ground.
Panting, she finally manages to stand up on her own two feet.
Remacle Le Rosy walks out of the crowd and floats up to her.
One moment he is practically upon her and the next he is part of the crowd.
The herder, suddenly, swoops down on her.
The need to scream becomes intolerable.
Her breathing becomes rapid and her legs turn to jelly. Her legs buckle under her.
Remacle holds her up, grabs her by the hair and presses his mouth to hers.
Her stomach heaves and she pushes him away.
He puts his rough hand behind her head and forces her face up towards his.
Françoise tries to keep her lips shut.
He manages to part them and slides his tongue in, exploring her mouth as he had earlier explored her body with his hands.
Françoise can take it no longer. She puts all the strength that is left in her into one last push and wrenches away from him.
She looks around and there no longer is any sign of Remacle. A feeling of dread engulfs her. Is she awake? Is she dreaming?
She senses rather than sees a figure kneeling beside her. Françoise’s body tenses, unsure of what is going to happen next. She expects pain or Remacle’s obscene groping---instead her face is touched by soft, gentle fingers.
A strong smell of lavender fills the air and a strange peaceful feeling comes over her. In spite of what Remacle and the crowd have done to her, Françoise feels safe. Looking up she sees a young woman kneeling by her side. She instantly knows who it is.
“Jehenne! Jehenne Anseau!”. Françoise remembers when Jehenne was burned for witchcraft. It wasn’t so long ago. Jehenne was smiling at her. Françoise wipes tears away from her cheeks and smiles back.
“Do not fear little Françoise. Do not fear.”
I’m so scared, Jehenne.”
“Don’t give up. They can’t do anything to you.”
“But I’m so scared.”
“You are strong, little one.”
“No, Jehenne I’m not strong. I’m not as strong as you are.”
“The strength is there, Françoise. Trust me. All you have to do is ground yourself and the strength will move up your spine like the strength a tree extracts from the soil.”
Jehenne puts out her hand again and caresses Françoise’s cheek. “I remember you, Françoise. I will always remember you. You of all the people who were out there that day--- you are the only one who cried when they executed me. Of all the people there you were the only one who cared. Don’t give up. You are not alone. Not alone.”
Françoise puts out her hand but only meets empty space. Jehenne is gone.
Françoise swings around as another figure comes out of the crowd. He is holding a torch straight in front of him. She cannot see who it is. “Who are you?”, she cries out. “Leave me alone.”
He doesn’t bother answering her. From time to time he steps closer and plunges the torch towards her.
The crowd starts to chant. The sound itself frightens Françoise, but when she realizes what they are chanting she is petrified.
“Burn! Burn! Burn!”
She begins to shake. She puts her hands up to her ears and starts screaming.
She wakes up in the damp, cold cell at La Boverie.
The dream has exhausted her and she nods off as a gentle voice consoles her, “Don’t give up, Françoise. They can’t do anything to you. You are strong, little one.”

You can view The Drop of the Hammer on Amazon.


Jane said...

Tried to order this book, but it's only available on Kindle. Sounds really good - if only it were a real book made of paper!

Badwitch said...

I prefer paper books too, although my Kindle does mean I can store more than I otherwise would and is very useful when travelling. I've got a Kindle Fire, so I also use it as a tablet when I'm out and about.