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Authors: Jennifer Jane Pope

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Cauldron of Fear

BOOK: Cauldron of Fear
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CAULDRON OF
FEAR

 

by

 

JENNIFER JANE
POPE

 

Cauldron of
Fear first published in 2001 by Chimera Publishing. Published as an
eBook in 2011 by Chimera eBooks.

 

ISBN
9781780800646

 

www.
chimerabooks.co.uk

 

Chimera (
ki-mir'a,
ki-
) a creation of the imagination, a wild
fantasy.

 

New authors
are always
welcome, or if you’re already a published author and have existing
work, the eBook rights of which remain with or have reverted to
you, we would love to
hear from you
.

 

This work is
sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or
otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated
without the publisher's prior written consent in any form of
binding or cover other than that in which it is published, and
without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent
purchaser. The author asserts that all characters depicted in this
work of fiction are eighteen years of age or older, and that all
characters and situations are entirely imaginary and bear no
relation to any real person or actual happening.

 

Copyright
Jennifer Jane Pope. The right of Jennifer Jane Pope to be
identified as author of this book has been asserted in accordance
with section 77 and 78 of the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act
1988.

 

This novel is
fiction - in real life practice safe sex.

 

 

Author's
Preface

 

The
seventeenth century was a time of great change in Britain. The
Elizabethan Age came to an end at the century's beginning and a
Scottish King, James VI of Scotland, son of the ill-fated and
tragic Mary Queen of Scots, came to the English throne as James
I.

When the
autocratic and headstrong Charles I succeeded him, it quickly
became clear that the country was heading for confrontation of the
worst kind - civil war. The eventual victory of the Parliamentary
forces and the subsequent execution of a king who refused to
concede one iota of what he considered his God-given rights,
brought to power Oliver Cromwell, who, although he refused to
accept the crown, ruled the country with a rod of Puritan iron.

Eventually,
following Oliver Cromwell's death and the short-lived period of
hapless misrule under Cromwell's son, Richard, the late King's son
would return from exile in Europe as Charles II, and a new age of
enlightenment and scientific reasoning would begin.

However, at
the time our story begins, the country and its inhabitants are
still steeped in superstitions and lore that even the Church has
been unable to penetrate fully; in fact, with its witch hunts and
executions, particularly the excesses of Matthew Hopkins, the
notorious Witchfinder General, the Church played more than a small
part in ensuring that fear and ignorance continued.

Some might say
that this was deliberate and that the Bishops and their minions had
a vested interest in ensuring that the largely uneducated populace
remained as unenlightened as it had for centuries; certainly,
Britain was a country of largely two extremes: the rich and
powerful were very rich and powerful, whilst the poor were
generally little better off than the animals they tended.

As for the
rights of women, they simply did not exist, but then the same could
be said of the rights of at least nine out of ten of the male
population, too.

Few people
will not have heard of the Great Plague and of the Great Fire of
London that is generally accredited with finally cleansing the
streets of the capital of the virus that was responsible for
decimating the population, but the Great Plague of 1665 was nothing
more than what many had been predicting would happen over many
years previously.

Sporadic
outbreaks, mostly in London, but also in Oxford, Derby and in one
or two other large cities, had been killing people for decades,
though the authorities did little about this. In fairness, there
was probably little they could have done, short of levelling entire
cities and rebuilding them on a far more modern and hygienic
scale.

The
'Commonwealth' period, as the years of Cromwell's virtual
dictatorship are generally referred to, was the worst period of
flux in an age when the so-called civilised world was evolving at a
rate faster than at any time since the days of the Roman
Empire.

It is easy,
with the precise science of hindsight, for us to look back and see
how easy some of the answers could have been. However, for those
who lived in the times, efforts towards progress were fraught with
seemingly insurmountable problems and the fact that the government
of the country had now fallen into the hands of a man who brought
new depths of meaning to the word incompetent.

The privileged minority, looking down from the top of the
pile, saw only the potential seeds of revolution and their own,
eventual, deposition. 'Give them an inch, etc' was never more
soundly an echo of blinkered insecurity than it was then. Fear at
the top, fear at the bottom - a guaranteed recipe for a society in
which the avaricious, particularly the truly cunning avaricious,
could wreak their own particular brand of havoc and insanity. The
whole country had become a cauldron - a
Cauldron of Fear
.

 

 

Chapter
1

 

The girl was
young, fresh and virginal, even her shaven skull unable to disguise
her basic, innocent prettiness. Jacob Crawley, standing in the
shadows at the far end of the vault from where she hung chained
against the rough stone wall, licked his thin lips in
anticipation.

Quietly, with
a lightness of step that belied his fifty-something years, he moved
closer, until he hovered at the very edge of the pool of orange
torchlight that illuminated the captive wench, his black hair and
the long black cape he held about his tall frame blending with the
darkness behind him and rendering him all but invisible. He saw her
eyes were closed and guessed that she was probably fallen into a
light sleep of sheer exhaustion, despite the pain her enforced
position would be growing in her shoulders and arms, and in the
stretched muscles of her calves and thighs as they tried to take
some of her weight via the tips of her toes that barely touched the
cold floor.

Her breasts,
distorted somewhat by her stretched posture, were small and firm,
the nipples prominent and deeply coloured, as yet unmarked, per
Crawley's strictest instructions. He grinned maliciously to
himself, knowing they would not remain thus for much longer.

Between her
taut thighs, her shaven pudenda pouted alluringly, the chains at
her ankles holding her legs apart just sufficiently to prevent any
attempt at modesty, and Crawley felt a cold shiver of lust crawl
slowly up his spine. This one, he thought, was far too good to
waste on the scaffold, far too sweet a fruit to plant in the chill
earth beyond the consecrated ground of the churchyard. No, he
chuckled, this one would not be broken, though he knew she would
probably require a taste of his own peculiar skills and more than a
modicum of bending before she would be totally satisfactory.

Not that the
process would take that long; it seldom did. Two days, three at the
most - three days that would to her, however, pass like a
millennium, so that when Crawley finally granted her even the
smallest measure of relief and the chance to avoid the fate to
which she would by then have consigned herself and probably even
craved, she would take it gratefully, no matter to what level of
degradation she must surely know she would sink.

Crawley
shuffled his position, the muscles in his right thigh having
stiffened in the damp air, and the slight sound brought the girl
immediately awake again, her wide brown eyes flickering from side
to side in alarm.

'Who - who's
there?' she cried, her voice thin and wavering in her terror of the
unknown. 'Please,' she wailed, when Crawley made no reply, nor
moved to reveal himself, 'please, whoever you are, take pity. I am
no witch; surely you must all know that by now. Ask in the village,
as I said, everyone will tell you.'

'Oh, people
always tell me what they think I will believe,' Crawley replied,
breaking his silence at last, though still remaining back from the
light, 'at least, in the beginning.' His voice betrayed his north
country roots, though many years had softened the harsher edges of
his accent. 'Satan woos his brides to proliferate his evil lies,
but the Good Lord has bestowed on me the gift of cutting through
them.'

'Sir!' Tears
welled up in the girl's eyes and began trickling down cheeks that
were already stained. 'Sir, I am no bride of the devil, nor do I
lie. I fear God and worship our saviour and a more devout girl you
will surely never find.'

'You are
Matilda Pennywise, of the Parish of St Jude?' The girl nodded,
swallowing hard. Crawley inched forward, so that his outline was
now visible to her, but only as a deeper shadow. 'Speak girl,' he
commanded. 'Are you, or are you not, Matilda Pennywise?'

'Yes!' Matilda
gasped. 'Yes sir, indeed I am... sir,' she added, as an
afterthought.

'That's better
wench,' Crawley cackled, 'you seem to be learning something at
last.' He coughed, clearing his throat. 'Then, Matilda Pennywise,'
he continued, after a carefully judged pause, 'you stand accused of
several counts of witchcraft, sorcery and consorting with unholy
forces.'

'No!' Matilda
shrieked. 'No, it's all lies, as God is my witness—' Without
warning Crawley leapt forward, his right arm swinging in a wide
arc, the open palm of his hand slapping into the girl's unprotected
cheek with such force that she would have been knocked off her
feet, were the chains not holding her upright. She let out a howl
of pain, not least because the full weight of her body had
momentarily been transferred to her already tortured upper
limbs.

'Silence!' he
roared. 'Heresy, to invoke the name of the Lord God you have
betrayed.' Matilda was struggling to regain her balance and clearly
scarcely heard him, but Crawley knew his words would sink in
eventually.

'You are all
the same, you Devil's spawn harlots, every single one of you,' he
intoned. 'Yet I shall save your unholy soul, mark my words. You
will return to the arms of the heavenly master cleansed of your
foul wickedness, else my name be not Jacob Crawley!'

 

Harriet
Merridew pushed the small window of her bedroom as far open as the
creaking hinges would allow and leaned out over the cill, breathing
in the crisp, early morning air and looking up at the pale blue sky
above. She smiled, shook her tangled mane of fair hair, and let out
a deep sigh. The fourth fair day in succession and the harvest now
three-quarters gathered in. If the weather held another forty-eight
hours...

The previous
year's harvest had been a near disaster, half the crop ruined by
rain and unseasonable hailstones, so that Harriet had been forced
to sell off from an already dwindling livestock in order to pay
bills and taxes and to keep herself and her almost permanently
bed-ridden father through the ensuing twelve months. It had been a
close-run thing, especially after four of the remaining cows had
taken sick and died from the rot disease, rendering them worthless
as meat and fit only for burning.

And when one
of the sows died giving birth to a troublesome litter, only many
weeks of salted pork and Harriet's grim determination to retain
their independence prevented her from finally accepting yet another
of Thomas Handiwell's proposals of marriage. She shivered at the
thought now, for the prospect of a lifetime sharing Handiwell's bed
was more than she could believe she had ever contemplated, no
matter how desperate their situation might have been.

Not that the man was unpleasant to look at: he was, after all,
a fine figure, with broad shoulders, strong back and good legs, his
black hair long and thick, if slightly greasy. And he had means
that might attract many another female, for his inn, the
Black Drum
, stood
alongside the main highway between London and the busy naval centre
of Portsmouth, down on the south coast, and he had twice built
extension wings to it in order to accommodate the constant influx
of weary travellers seeking rest and replenishment for the
night.

He was also
not an unpleasant fellow. Slightly terse and given to the odd oath
at times, true, but not unkindly and with an even disposition and
definitely in love with Harriet, as his eyes and gauche manner
betrayed whenever he was in her company. No, Harriet reflected, as
she withdrew back inside the room, Thomas Handiwell would make a
good husband again, as he had clearly done for his long dead first
wife, but for someone other than Harriet herself.

BOOK: Cauldron of Fear
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