They came for Annie at daybreak. The night was uneventful. There were no demons sent to torment her, but she lay awake listening to every sound. Her mind reached out to Meg and Rose, but she found nothing. She was beginning to believe they were dead. Strangely she was beyond tears. There came instead, a dreadful acceptance that all was lost, and she would die.
Now, she followed her jailors without struggle back to that awful room and sat unmoving in the chair into which they tied her. The Dark One entered followed by Hugh O Brien, but she refused to meet their eyes.
“Good morning, cousin,” Hugh called to her.
She sat straight and proud. His hand gripped her hair forcing her head back, and he hissed into her face.
“I said, good morning, cousin.”
She could smell the stale beer on his breath and his spittle flew against her face. Tears stung her eyes from the pain, but still she did not answer, but returned his hate-filled gaze with one of her own. She gritted her teeth to keep from screaming when his hold tightened, and she felt the hairs being ripped from her scalp.
“Enough,” The Dark One roared. “There is work to be done.”
Hugh pushed her away with a snort and she banged her head on the wooden wing of the chair. The ropes on her hands made it impossible for her to reach up and rub at her throbbing temple, and she blinked trying to clear her vision of the flashing lights dancing before her. She was so intent on this; she never heard the door open and was surprised to hear her name being called.
“Dora, dearest,” Annie tried to smile. “Tell these men whatever they ask of you.”
“They said you are a witch, Annie, but I know you are not.”
“That does not matter, just pretend I am.”
“No, Annie, I cannot.”
“Because it is a lie.”
“But it is just a little lie and God will not mind.”
“Oh, but he will, Annie. He told me.”
“Told you, when?”
“Last night when I was asleep. He told me I was going to heaven to be with Ma and Da, because I was a good girl.”
“Yes, but not now, dearest, not so soon.”
“Yes, Annie, he promised me.”
The Dark One snarled and dragged Dora to the wall. Her clothes were ripped from her until she stood naked and shivering. Annie begged him to let her go, but he ignored her pleas and set about his task with relish. Dora was chained with her face towards the wall, her arms and legs spread-eagled.
“Now you will witness what I do to those who disobey me.”
Annie looked at Dora’s frail white body. It was as delicate as a willow branch and would break as easily. Hugh walked towards her sister, swishing a thick stick.
“No,” Annie’s scream mingled with Dora’s as he brought the rod hard across her naked back.
Annie saw the flesh open and blood glowed against the whiteness of the skin. Dora withered in agony calling out to Annie to save her. All the pent-up fury she caged within her was released, as Annie searched out for Hugh’s heart and closed her fingers around it. He groaned, clutching at his chest and the stick clattered to the floor.
“No.” The Dark One slapped her. “Guards take her away.
Hugh struggled to stand up, as Annie fought like a tigress with her captors. The blood pounded in his ears driven there by his wildly pumping heart. Staggering across the floor, he confronted her. Her hands were being held and she was helpless as he struck. The first blow stunned her, opening the flesh above her left eye.
“Bastard,” she shrieked. “I will kill you. I will tear you to pieces.”
The second blow was dealt with such force her head snapped back knocking her unconscious.
She awoke bruised and battered on the floor of her cell. Dried blood caked on her eyelashes and she picked at the crust that formed, marring her vision. Her face felt swollen and bruised, and she felt a large bump on her forehead. She could not have been unconscious for long, as the sun was still low in the sky and shadows wreathed the cell. Using the bars, she hauled herself up, gasping as the pain shot through her body. Her ribs felt sore, and fortunately she had no way of knowing Hugh kicked and punched at her helpless body.
It was quiet within the mill, nothing stirred. Annie reached out with her mind, searching for Dora, for any life sign. It was there, but very weak. She called out to the guards until she was hoarse and sobbing from the effort. Finally, one appeared.
“What do you want?”
He was younger than the others, and while he avoided looking at her, she felt a struggle within him.
“My sister. What news of my sister?”
“I know nothing.”
“For the love of God have pity.” Annie reached through the bars and grabbed the sleeve of his tunic.
“What does one such as you know of God?”
“I am no witch. I am a healer. If I were in league with the Devil, don’t you think he would have saved me by now? Think, you are not as easily fooled as the others.”
“I do not know,” he looked at her. “I have no stomach for these things.”
“What happens in there,” he nodded towards the darkness.
Now, he was willing to listen, she asked.
“Have you sisters of your own?”
“Aye, three sisters and four brothers. That is why I took the job here. They take some feeding.”
“Yes, indeed. I have two sisters and they are all I have in this world. If I should lose them there would be nothing for me.”
They stood in silence for a moment. Annie was sure he heard the beating of her heart, but she could not rush him. From somewhere outside came the sound of children’s laughter, such an ordinary, everyday sound, now seemed from another time. The only real thing within Annie’s prison was the pain.
She realised the guard was listening and she smiled. He blushed and looked down at the floor, kicking the toe of his boot on the flagstones. Annie held her breath.
“Are you in pain?”
“Yes, a little, but the hardest pain of all is not knowing what has become of my sister.”
“They have all left,”
“Master Tanas and the others.”
“And my sister. What has become of her?”
“She did not leave the room.”
“Then she is still there? Please,” she begged. “Take me to her.”
“I dare not.”
“I swear by all that is holy if you take me to her, I will not try to run. I will remain you prisoner.”
“No, it is impossible.”
“Think if it were your sister. She is only six years old,” Annie sobbed. “I cannot bear this separation.”
He wiped at the sweat that formed on his upper lip and looked around him before asking.”
“You would give me your word not to run?”
“Anything, I swear on the love I have for my sisters.”
“Very well,” he took the keys from his belt and opened the door. “Come quietly now. I am not sure when the others will return.”
Annie stumbled a few times on their walk to that room. She was weak from pain and hunger and her head felt light.
“You go in,” the guard whispered. “I will keep watch.”
“Thank you,” Annie slipped in and searched the room.
The fire burned fiercely, and the room was stifling. The rack, where Dora was tied, was empty. Blood streaked down the wall turning it black. The corners of the room were in shadow.
“Dora,” Annie whispered, “Dora, are you here?”
There was a movement from one of the corners. At first it seemed like a bundle of clothes. Then a moan signalled her sister was lying beneath them and she pulled them aside. Dora lay on her stomach, her back, from shoulders to buttocks was crossed with the marks of the stick. Her flesh was a bloody mass with strips hanging from her bones. The floor beneath her was saturated with blood and she groaned when Annie tried to touch her.
“Dora, dearest,” Annie sobbed, as she ran her hand above the cuts, praying the flesh would mend. She worked fervently for a while, but nothing happened, and she knew this was because Dora’s life force was fading.
“Dearest,” Annie covered the wounds with Dora’s dress and managed to pick her up. She cradled her in her arms and brushed the sweat-soaked hair from her face.
“Annie,” The child looked up with eyes filled with fever. “Hugh hurt me.”
“Yes, dearest, I know he did.”
“Do not cry, Annie. It did not hurt so much after the first few hits.”
“Oh, Jesus help me,” Annie rocked the child. “Forgive me, Dora.”
“It is not your fault. I love you, Annie.”
“I love you too.”
“Will you come and find me in heaven?”
“Yes, I promise.”
The child suddenly turned from her.
“Can you hear Ma calling?”
“No, dearest, I cannot.”
“I can. Ma, I am here,” Dora held out her hand to an unseen presence, and Annie watched, as her small fingers seemed to curl around another hand before falling to the floor.
“Dora, no,” Annie stared down at her sister’s lifeless body. “Do not leave me.”
It was quiet within the room except for the crackling and spitting of the fire and Annie’s anguished sobbing. She carried her sister to a table and laid her down, covering her with her torn dress. Dora’s hair fanned around her, and Annie crossed her small hands across her chest.
“All the pain is over now, dearest,” Annie kissed her lips. Already she felt cold as marble.
“Miss, come away,” the whisper from the doorway startled her.
She walked towards the guard without looking back.
“Oh, Jesus,” he whispered, when he saw the blood on her arms and cast a fearful glance into the room. His eyes widened when he saw the child’s body and he slammed the door shut. Annie walked in a trance back to her cell and stepped inside. The jangling of the keys seemed to go on forever as the guard’s hands shook so badly, he had trouble locking the cell.
“I am so sorry, Miss,” she could hear the tears in his voice.
All was lost. Her family were dead, and God had deserted her. She walked to the wall and laid her head against the cool stones. The cold eased the pain in her head somewhat, but the pain she felt inside would never heal. The guard slunk away, and she allowed herself to sink down onto the straw. Hugh O Brien’s face swam before her, his evil grin taunting her. That fiend was worse than any Devil, but she would make him pay. There had to be some way she could have her revenge. Please God, she prayed, if you are still listening help me to avenge my family. There was no answer, no whispered promise, no voice on the breeze, nothing. Then she did something she had never imagined doing. She prayed for death.