JULY 2024


This month's Chapter of the Month comes from early in the first instalment of the Souls Series. Our story has only just begun when things quickly start to hot up as Ben experiences 'awakening' and begins to learn about his past. But what starts out seeming like an interesting way to pass the time soon takes on a darker aspect.

Awakening comes from Trinity of Souls, first instalment in the Souls Series, available at https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/fantasy-and-horror/trinity-of-souls/ amazon.co.uk, and selected bookshops.

Del Rivera came every day for the next week. Each day, he put Ben into a trance, or ‘kaetchemo’, as he called it, and took him to a different time and place. At first, Ben’s visits to the past were brief, lasting only a few minutes. But, as the days passed, the experiences seemed to last longer, although the time elapsed in the real world remained the same.

The sensations were astounding. It truly was, as Del Rivera said, like seeing a replay of a previous life. Not just seeing it though, Ben could hear, smell, and sense the world around him just as in normal life. The only thing he couldn’t do was change anything. The events played out in their immutable way and, although he was part of those events, he was powerless to alter them. And there was a great deal he’d have altered if he could.

He found himself in England in the 1600s, dressed in the drab clothing of the puritan era. His name was Barnaby Robbins and he was in a tavern, talking to the girl serving him and his companions. “Good day, Mistress Parsons, do I find you keeping well?” he enquired.

“I am well thank you, Master Robbins, and how are you keeping yourself?”

They talked for some time and then the scene shifted. Perhaps a few days or a few weeks passed, it was hard to tell. He was waiting outside a church in glorious spring sunshine, pacing up and down in nervous anticipation.

The same girl emerged from the church. She too was dressed in drab puritan clothing, but this did not detract from her natural beauty. He felt his heart flutter with excitement.

“May I walk you home, Mistress Parsons?” he asked.

“Why thank you, Master Robbins, I should like that very much.”

He was hugely relieved; he’d feared she might reject him. Samantha Parsons was by far the prettiest girl in the village. But more than that, she had an infectious smile and a warm personality; she seemed to sparkle with life. In short, as Barnaby Robbins, he wanted to marry this girl.

In his trance, Ben witnessed many scenes from Barnaby and Samantha’s courtship. It was more than witnessing them though; he was participating in them, experiencing them the same as real life. Months passed in Barnaby’s seventeenth century world while only minutes passed in Ben’s hospital bed. He got to know Samantha better and learned she was an orphan, working in the tavern in exchange for room and board until she finished her training with Mistress Gibson, the midwife in the next village. Once her training was over, she could practise herself. “It is all I have ever wanted to do,” she told him, “I just want to be able to care for people, help them whenever I can.”

The seasons turned. Spring was almost upon them again before Barnaby plucked up the courage to propose. Once again, he was a bag of nerves. What would he do if she refused? He loved Samantha so much, she was so bright, so lovely, she was the centre of his world, being with her was all he wanted from life. If she said no, he’d be heartbroken. This was the most terrifying thing he’d ever done.

“Yes, of course I will marry you, Barnaby,” she responded. He wept with joy. They both did.

In keeping with local regulations, they had to seek permission from the parish magistrate. They were both nervous. Matthews was a stern, forbidding, character, with a reputation for finding the most bizarre reasons why couples couldn’t marry, or should have to wait several years; reasons that only made sense to him. Still, as his word was, quite literally, law, they had no choice but to approach him.

“I understand you have almost finished your training with Mistress Gibson?” he asked Samantha.

“Yes sir, I have just three months left.”

“Excellent, then I shall allow you to marry a month after you complete your training.”

They were disappointed by the delay, but it was only a few months. They knew Matthews had recently told a couple they were to wait three years, simply because he felt it would be appropriate. He had refused another couple permission altogether because the boy was slightly lame in one leg and the girl had a wart on her hand. “I do not feel it would be wise to risk propagating such deformities,” he had declared.

Throughout the spring, Barnaby and Samantha prepared excitedly for their wedding. Samantha finished her training at the beginning of June and they went together to the little village church to book the date for their union a month hence, in accordance with the magistrate’s instructions. As they spoke to the minister, Barnaby could not help noticing how he stared at Samantha, running his eyes over her.

“Yes, indeed, Mr Matthews told me to expect you,” the minister said at last; “he and I both feel somewhat dismayed by the haste with which many young couples rush into marriage. We agreed you should wait a little longer.”

“How much longer?” Barnaby frowned.

“Mr Matthews suggested the last Saturday in August.”

Barnaby sighed in frustration, “But Matthews said we had only to wait a month, I do not understand why...”

Samantha took his hand and smiled softly at him, “Do not fret, my love, it is but a few more weeks, we have the rest of our lives to spend together.”


There was a week left until the wedding when Samantha was called upon to put her skills into action. That afternoon, Matthews had visited an expectant mother in the village. She hadn’t been due to come to term for at least a month but, shortly after he left, she began suffering labour pains. Samantha worked through the night as the poor woman endured an agonisingly difficult childbirth. Her struggles continued into the next day, the next evening, and on into the following morning. Finally, the exhausted mother delivered the child.

Samantha gazed down at the cold little bundle and sighed. She had done everything Mistress Gibson taught her, and she knew she’d done it right. She knew her craft and she couldn’t have worked any harder. But, sadly, the child was still-born. Clearly, it was deformed. It never stood a chance.

Suddenly, the door to the bedroom burst open. Samantha looked up to see Matthews in the doorway, two yeomen behind him. The magistrate strode across the room and looked at the pathetic little corpse. Samantha was struggling to understand why he was there, or how he could have arrived so quickly; it was hard to think straight after working non-stop for a day and a half.

Matthews sniffed. “Witchcraft,” he declared. He turned and pointed at Samantha, “Seize her.” The yeomen grabbed her by the arms. Bewildered and exhausted, she staggered along between them as they marched her to Matthews’ house and locked her in a dark, basement cell.


News of Samantha’s arrest reached Barnaby later that day. He rushed to the magistrate’s house and demanded an audience. Matthews kept him waiting over two hours before a servant ushered him into an ornate office.

“What is this nonsense, this is crazy. Samantha’s not a witch, surely you can see that?” Barnaby’s emotions were running wild, the fear inside him at fever pitch.

Matthews beamed with all the benevolence of a friendly uncle, “Calm down, dear boy, this is all routine procedure. She will receive a fair trial and I am certain the truth of the matter will soon emerge. She is a charming girl, absolutely delightful, no-one wants to see any harm come to her. But you must understand, in my position, I have to follow procedure. Procedure, dear boy, that’s the thing.”

“So, you agree she is innocent?” insisted Barnaby.

“Well, my boy, that’s not for me to say, is it? That’s what the trial is for. Nonetheless,” Matthews winked, “I am pretty sure she will be acquitted. Just go home and relax. I will see you in court in the morning.”

“The morning?”

“Yes, we start proceedings at ten o’clock in the forenoon. I expect you will want to be here to see her cleared of this unfortunate business.”

“Can I see her now?”

“Ah, sadly, no, I am afraid that is not allowed: procedure again, dear boy. But you will see her soon. After all, you have a big day together on Saturday, do you not?” Matthews patted Barnaby on the back as he walked him to the door and showed him out.


Word of the trial spread quickly and, by nine o’clock the next morning, the great hall of Matthews’ house, which doubled as the local courtroom, was packed with people from the village and surrounding area. Barnaby was lucky to get one of the last remaining seats.

At ten o’clock, Matthews entered through a side door, followed by a clerk and two burly yeomen. A hushed silence fell over the crowd. “Bring the prisoner forth,” he ordered, and the yeomen left to carry out his command. A minute later, Barnaby heard the sound of laboured footsteps and clanking chains. Slowly, Samantha appeared on the steep spiral staircase leading up from the cells. Her hands shackled in heavy iron manacles, she was struggling to mount the steps under their weight. She blinked uncomfortably as she adjusted to the sunlight streaming through the windows. As she regained her focus, she stared around the crowded courtroom. From the back of the hall, Barnaby could see her eyes were sunken and dark, the rest of her features pale. When she reached the top of the stairs, he saw her bare feet were cut and bleeding. It broke his heart to see her in such distress, but he felt sure her ordeal would soon be over when she was proven innocent.

The yeomen pushed Samantha into the dock, where she would have to stand throughout proceedings. They took up position either side of her, and the trial began.

It was a sham from beginning to end. Matthews was prosecution and judge. There was no defence. The first witness was the woman who’d given birth to the still-born. “Can you please tell the court what types of witchcraft the accused used?” Matthews demanded.

“Begging your pardon sir, but I didn’t see nothin’ at all, I was in a good deal of pain.”

Matthews turned and faced the woman with a steely gaze, “That is a great shame, madam, because in my experience of these matters, only another witch would fail to speak up in court when she has witnessed witchcraft in action.”

The woman blinked, her face turning pale. She shot a sympathetic glance at Samantha, looked down for a moment, and then spoke again, “Well sir, I don’t know what it was she did, but I know it was witchcraft, sir, I swear it.”

“Thank you, madam, the witness is excused.” The clerk ushered the woman out of court. As she went, she looked back at Samantha with a terrible, guilty, pity in her eyes.

Next, Matthews called a series of women who’d known Samantha as a child. He encouraged them to relate tales of her talking to animals and having an unnatural interest in matters girls should not be concerned with, like the true nature of the stars and how children were created in their mother’s bellies. Barnaby watched with an increasing sense of foreboding. But he hung on to the belief justice would prevail. Matthews knew Samantha was innocent, surely? He wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to her, was he?

Finally, Matthews brought the show to a close, “It is clear there can only be one possible verdict arising from these proceedings. Samantha Parsons, this court finds you guilty of practising witchcraft and it is my solemn duty to pass sentence upon you. I hereby decree you shall be taken from here to a suitable place of execution, where you will be burned at the stake.”

Samantha stood in silence, a single tear rolling down her cheek. Barnaby stared at her, unable to believe his ears. He was reeling from the shock, like a prizefighter taking a punch to the head. He took a moment to recover his wits then leaped to his feet, “No, you can’t, it isn’t true; you said she would be cleared. Please, I beg you, you can’t do this.”

Matthews turned to face him, “Master Robbins, you forget yourself. This is a court of law. Restrain yourself or I will have you arrested for contempt.” One of the yeomen took a step forward, his hand gripping the hilt of his sword.

Barnaby felt the strength drain from his legs. There was a horrendous ache in the pit of his stomach, a dreadful feeling of emptiness, as if someone had reached inside and pulled out his guts. He collapsed back into his seat in despair as the awful realisation began to sink in. Samantha’s fate was sealed; there was nothing he could do.

Matthews made a show of consulting a few documents, “Well, by good fortune, it appears the church will now be free on Saturday. Better still, I do believe the tavern is prepared for a celebratory feast. We will dispose of the witch in the churchyard then repair to the tavern to toast our deliverance from this diabolical scourge.

“Take her away,” he ordered the yeomen, and they led Samantha back to her cell.


Samantha was woken early on Saturday, before it was light. A group of women, the wives of the most prominent men in the village, burst into her cell, pulling her from her bed before she was fully awake. They began roughly stripping off her clothes.

“Please, I can undress myself, I...”

The largest woman slapped Samantha across the face and held up a knife, “Silence, witch, or I will take your tongue.” Samantha recognised her; it was Mrs Wishbone, the minister’s wife. She’d helped Mistress Gibson deliver their first grandchild a year ago.

The women marched Samantha down the passageway, to where a cold bath was waiting for her. They forced her into the icy water and scrubbed her until she bled. Pulling her from the bath, they took her back to her cell and made her kneel on the rough, stone floor while they shaved off her hair. She watched her pretty, blonde curls falling onto the grey stone and began to cry. Wishbone threatened her with the knife again, “Stop bleating; it is your vanity that led you here, witch. You think you are better than the rest of us because you have a young body and a comely face; because men look upon you with desire in their loins.”

“No, I do not think that, I...”

“Silence!” Wishbone slapped Samantha hard with the back of her hand, splitting her lip; “God gave your beauty and He will take it away again. He knows how wicked you are. He will punish you for your sins before He sends you to the Devil.”

When they had finished shaving her, the women dressed Samantha in a shift of coarse sackcloth and bound her hands with rope. “Stay there on your knees, and keep your head bowed, do not look at us with your evil witch eyes or I will cut them out,” ordered Wishbone.

Samantha stared at the ground. She still couldn’t believe what was happening; she felt like she was being swept along by a river of unstoppable madness, powerless to save herself from the lunacy of it all. It had to be some horrible nightmare. She’d tried so hard to help that poor mother and her baby, done her best, done everything she could for them. How could this be, why was she being punished? 

The stone floor was cold, hard on her knees. She started to lose the feeling in her legs. The sun rose, casting a thin shaft of light into the passageway outside the cell. She watched it move slowly across the wall, marking the hours, until the messenger came and spoke to Wishbone, “All is ready, my lady, you may bring the witch now.”

The women tied a rope around Samantha’s neck and pulled her, staggering, to her feet. They led her upstairs, through the empty courtroom, and out onto the street. Jeering crowds lined the way as the women led her barefoot through the village. One in front held the rope, two others followed behind. Wishbone remained close by, knife in one hand, a heavy club in the other. Many of the crowd spat at Samantha as she passed, some threw stones, rotten vegetables, or animal waste. By the time she reached the avenue leading up to the church, she was covered in filth.

For the first time, she saw the stake in the churchyard. She could see the platform at its base, the firewood stacked around it. Until this moment, she had clung to the hope this was just a ghastly mistake, there would be a reprieve, the villagers would see reason, realise she was innocent. But now, with the vicious mob around her, and her gruesome fate before her, she finally accepted the truth. They really were going to burn her alive.

She went numb from top to bottom, as if emptying of normal feelings, having them replaced by a terrible, cold dread. “No, no, you can’t,” she moaned, trying to pull back. The woman holding the rope pulled her forwards while the two behind prodded her with sticks. “Please, no, I don’t understand, I’ve done nothing wrong. Please, you can’t,” she was trembling as she shuffled along between her captors. “I wanted to help, to care for people, for mothers and their children, it wasn’t my fault. Please, give me another chance. Please, I beg you, no...”

Wishbone clubbed Samantha on the side of the head. Stunned, she fell to her knees and almost lost consciousness, until the woman in front jerked on the rope, dragging her back to her feet. Wishbone brandished her knife in Samantha’s face, “Be quiet, or you will know more pain than you ever thought possible. The fire will be nothing after I am finished with you.”

Samantha stumbled onwards, shivering in fear and confusion.


For three days, since the trial, Barnaby had tried in vain to see Samantha, but the yeomen had barred his way. He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep; his mind was a whirling hurricane of horror and bewilderment. He arrived at the churchyard on Saturday looking like a haggard old man. The yeomen tried to keep him out, but Matthews said, “Let the boy in. All good Christian souls must be allowed to witness God’s work.”

He waited for Samantha to appear, hoping that, somehow, she wouldn’t, but knowing that, undoubtedly, she would. He didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to see her die; but he had to be here to see her while she still lived... and for her to see him.

At last, he saw the procession coming up the avenue. To begin with, he didn’t recognise the figure in the centre, but slowly it dawned on him the sorry, shaven-headed creature, coated in blood and dirt, was his beloved Samantha. Watching her suffering was more than he could bear. He forgot the armed yeomen beside him and, before he knew it, he was rushing down the avenue towards her.

The yeomen swiftly caught him and knocked him to the ground. Still, he struggled and managed to break free. Again, he rushed down the avenue towards his fiancée, but again the yeomen caught him. One held him down while the other tied his hands behind his back.

“Bring him here,” Matthews shouted, “I want him to see justice at work. Make sure he has a clear view.”

The yeomen dragged Barnaby back to the churchyard and threw him to the ground, a few yards from the waiting stake. The larger man sat on top of him, pinning him down. He squirmed beneath the burly yeoman, trying to escape. But it was hopeless, he couldn’t move. He was powerless to intervene.


Every inch felt like a yard, every yard like a mile, her feet hurt more with every step. She could hardly see; there was blood running into her eyes from a cut on her forehead. Her back ached where the women behind were constantly prodding; the rope around her neck was tightening, threatening to choke her; the coarse shift rubbed harshly against her skin. She longed for the torment to be over... but she knew there was worse to come.

Eventually she reached the platform. The women led her up the steps and tied her to the stake. Each of them spat in her face as they left; concluding with Wishbone, “Burn, you filthy harlot.”

Matthews faced the crowd, putting a bitter twist on the ceremony that, only a few days before, had been scheduled to take place in the same church, at the same time, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the union of this vile witch with her lord and master, Satan. May he take her soul to his bosom and continue her punishment in fire that we good people begin today.” He took the waiting torch and lit the pyre.

The fire spread quickly through the dry wood. Samantha felt the temperature rising. She would soon feel the flames licking her flesh. She had never known terror like this. She was shaking uncontrollably, the tears rolling down her cheeks evaporating in the heat. She tried to prepare herself for the pain to come, but could not even begin to imagine what it was going to be like.

She could feel waves of hatred coming from the hysterical crowd, the very people she’d wanted to care for. “Burn, witch; burn,” they clamoured. They genuinely believed she was evil; every one of them wanted to see her die. She felt so alone; shunned, abandoned, deprived of any human kindness, just so utterly alone. The loneliness was almost more unbearable than the heat.

But then she saw Barnaby. Through tears mixed with the blood and filth running down her face, she could see him weeping, struggling beneath the hefty yeoman, trying to reach her, his cries lost in the mad baying of the crowd. Helpless as he was, he was here for her. She wasn’t alone, after all. A strange calm settled over her. She stopped shaking, looked him in the eyes, and whispered, “I love you.”

She tried not to scream, she didn’t want Barnaby to hear it. But, as the pain rose to a crescendo, there inevitably came a point when she could hold out no longer.


The screaming seemed to go on for hours, the horrifying sound tearing through Barnaby’s soul; Ben’s soul: it was more than he could endure. Finally, it stopped. The agony was over, she was gone.

The crowd drifted away and the yeomen released Barnaby. The heat held him back for a long time but, eventually, he managed to get to her. He cut her down and sat on the ground, her blackened corpse cradled in his arms. He held her tight, rocking back and forth, as if he could ease her suffering. “My love, my love, oh Samantha, my love,” he repeated over and over again, his wailing punctuated by deep, painful sobs.

He was still there the next morning, holding her, rocking back and forth, moaning softly to himself, when the yeomen came. They had to prise her from his grasp. If he hadn’t been so weak from days without food or sleep, they would never have got her from him.

They carried her to the village cess pit, and threw her in.