County Durham, Autumn 1642
“This is witchcraft!”
The man they called ‘Dutch’, which was strange as the furthest east he had ever been was Whitby, picked up the gruesome object and studied it. The dead eyes of a ginger cat stared back at him from its severed head.
“You are certain, Master Fanthorpe? There can be no mistake?”
Dutch looked from the cat’s head to his dead sheep and sighed.
“So we have feared, Master Fanthorpe, though we have prayed it was not so – I mean to think that in our community we have such a person… I -”
“You never find a witch alone!” Fanthorpe said sternly, sounding like the Puritan preacher he had been until recently. “There will be a coven here. All the signs are plain.”
Privately, Dutch thought Fanthorpe looked like an overgrown crow. Clad in fine, black wool from head to knee, his sharply angled face, gaunt beneath close-cropped grey hair and a black hat. The only concession to ornament was an oddly shaped buckle on the front of his hatband. Even the linen of his cuffs and collar was plain, unadorned by any lace – strangely at odds with the quality of his dress. He also looked the kind who would enjoy pecking at dead things.
“A coven?” Dutch echoed the words, doubtfully.
“Of course. This is the third case you tell me – so there must be a coven. But do not fear Master Sawyer, the Lord is watching over us and has us in His keeping. Let us pray for deliverance from this evil”
Dutch bowed his head and let the sonorous drone wash over him, his mind entirely elsewhere. The loss of the sheep was going to be another blow to his struggling small farm, one he could very ill afford. The family had clung to the land against the odds over the last two generations, now it was a struggle to make ends meet enough to keep food on the table. But serious as the loss of livestock was, in that moment another matter clouded close upon his thoughts. He was wondering how he was going to break it to his youngest lass that her favourite ginger tom, the one she had raised from an orphaned kitten, had died.