Chapter Twenty Seven
In Which Lucia Is Chased By An Angry Mob
The man who had initially spotted her had very few teeth remaining, and those that still clung to his mouth were darkened by years of ale and tobacco. His decaying grin contributed to the menacing look on his angry face, which, had he been in better health, would still be terribly frightening. He raised one arm and pointed at Lucia as he marched towards her.
"You," he barked. "I know who you are."
Frozen on the spot, Lucia could only watch as the townspeople behind him fanned out, creating a half-circle around her. Amidst the crowd, Lucia could scarcely pick out several different faces, for each one was dirtier and more furious than the last.
"Please, please. I think you are mistaken."
A hand fell on her upper arm. It was grimy, black under the fingernails, and large enough to nearly encircle her upper arm entirely. Lucia gasped and instinctively pulled back, but lacked the strength to pull away. Her gaze flew up along the hand's dusty sleeve and met the fiery eyes of a man from the edge of the fan formation.
"The mistake was yours, wench," he growled. He jerked his arm sideways, forcing Lucia to stumble around to his other side. His grip slid from her upper arm to her wrist, and he held her hand high above her head as though he were offering it to a crowd of farmers bidding on livestock.
"Yo ho! What say we take justice into our own hands?"
The townspeople roared. One of them cried, "We'll teach you to murder our king," and another said, "You'll pay, you little witch."
Lucia twisted and struggled but could not free herself. As the townspeople closed in around her, she squeezed her eyes shut. Time stood still. Lucia became acutely aware of all her senses; the rotting smell of the townspeople, their inexorable footfalls on the gravel road, and the heaviness of the glass bottle and apple in her apron pocket. In that moment, she got an idea.
Summoning all her courage, she forced a stoic expression onto her face. She stood straight and made herself – with great difficulty – to relax her arm. The villagers took no notice of her sudden change in demeanor, so she even laughed to further the illusion that she felt no fear. This caught their attention.
"Foolish peasants," Lucia said, fighting to keep her voice steady. She thought of Claudette, of all people, and tried to emulate the horrible old hag's manner of speaking. It was a poor imitation, but it was enough to convince the townspeople that she was responding to their threats in a most unexpected way.
"How funny that you would call me a witch," she told the crowd, "for that is precisely what I am indeed."
One of the men stopped in his tracks, although there were still another five or six who continued to close in around her. Lucia smirked and forced herself to laugh again. She let her eyes meet those of the man who was holding her and she gave him the most awful stare she could muster. Pretending as though she really could summon magic, she imagined a blazing fire in her heart and pretended to shoot it through her eyes into his. The effect was powerful, Lucia decided, because although the man did not loosen his grip on her wrist, he did indeed look away.
"If you're a witch," said a gruff voice from behind her, "then we should burn you."
"And if you're a murderer as well," said another equally unpleasant voice, "we should burn you twice."
Fighting to maintain her composure, Lucia forced herself to scoff.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you…"
She debated growling and hissing like an animal, but she felt odd about taking the act quite so far. It seemed doubtful that the townspeople were convinced thoroughly enough yet, and Lucia was none too confident in her acting skills. Instead, she reached into her apron pocket with her free hand and grabbed a hold of the apple.
"Aha!" She cried, whipping her hand into the air. The suddenness of the gesture caused several of the townspeople to jump back.
"Behold," said Lucia, adding a touch of madness to her voice. "This is the apple of… of death!"
She held the apple up for all to see. Its colour, light red with spots of pale yellow, looked none too eerie, but Lucia's acting seemed to lend it power. She held it by her fingertips, keeping her finger joints bent at uneven angles. That is how she always imagined a witch should hold an apple. Then, she turned again to the man who held her by the wrist and sent another fire stare into his eyes. This time, he did not look away.
"What are you doing to me?" He demanded. Lucia laughed in earnest, gleeful at the prospect of such a foolish plan actually working.
"You'd best let me go," she said. "Or else I shall throw this deadly apple to the ground, where it will leach its poisons into the earth, destroying your land and giving ten years' bad luck to your families."
Upon hearing this, the crowd of townspeople looked at one another. Two of the men at the back of the fan formation whispered to one another in frightened tones.
"I hear you!" Lucia shouted at them. "I can hear you and I will indeed do it!"
That was enough to make the two whispering men break formation and race away down to the main road. Another man from the crowd looked over his shoulder at them as they disappeared, yet he himself remained rooted to the spot. He then refocused his gaze on the man who still held Lucia by the wrist.
"Perhaps we should leave the witch alone, Edward."
"And forgive her crimes?" Edward spat. "Never."
Although she had hoped it would not come to this, Lucia had to resort to drastic measures.
"Unhand me, Edward, or I'll do it. I will! I warn you…"
Edward did not say a word to her. He only raised an eyebrow, as if challenging her. Failing to think of any other options, Lucia accepted his challenge. With a shout, she flexed her free wrist and threw the apple to the ground. It landed in the gravel unimpressively, and caused only a small amount of dust to rise up around it.
No one moved.
"I wouldn't go near it if I were you," said Lucia.
"And why not," said Edward. "It's nothing but an ordinary apple."
"Right," said Lucia. "If you're so sure, then, have a look for yourself."
Letting go of Lucia's wrist, Edward walked around to her other side and crouched in front of the apple. He leaned in close and examined it as thoroughly as he could without touching it.
"It is," he said deliberately, "an ordinary apple."
"She tricked us?" said one of the townspeople.
"Seize her!" shouted another, who was pointing at the empty space where Lucia was standing a short time ago. Not too far off into the distance, Lucia ran along the path, back to the safety of the nearby apothecary.