He found the boy huddled in the battered wooden closet, trembling at the sight of naked steel he held in his hand.
‘What is your name, boy?’ Juan asked of the boy. Bare-chested, with only a pair of patched-up breeches clasped around his thin waist, the boy looked not more than ten years of age.
Terrified, the boy opened his mouth, but no words came; his eyes still lingering on the long sword Juan wielded. All that managed to come out was the doomed sound of a hunted animal. Juan sighed and sheathing his sword, squatted besides the boy. “What is your name, son?” He reiterated.
The boy’s lips quivered, ’H..Henry, m’lord.’
“Ah, that is quite the regal name you bear, Henry.” Juan smiled kindly.
Henry responded with a sniff; the terror in his eyes had somewhat waned. The smile never left Juan’s face – it was a smile of persuasion, a smile to put the boy at ease. After several moments of silence, mustering his courage, the boy finally spoke.
‘Are you one of them?’
Juan who had been looking around at the shabby room, fixated his attention back on the boy. His stoic eyes stared into the innocent eyes of the child. ‘Yes,’ he replied tersely.
‘I saw it. She forbade me, but I still saw it,’ the boy said, his words echoing a strange detachment.
Juan said nothing.
‘They dragged her out and tied her to the pole. And then they set fire on it. She burnt and they laughed. A witch, they said, she was. A witch,’ the boy uttered in a hollow voice. ‘She had asked me to hide in the cabinet and not come out. But I wanted to see. And so I sneaked out and saw what they did to her. She forbade me, but I still saw it.’
The boy’s eyes held no emotion, neither of grief nor of fear; his countenance indifferent, except for a lone tear that streaked down his sunken cheek. Never had Juan seen such a pitiful, defeated existence. It was as if the boy knew what treachery fate had played with him.
Juan hesitated. He knew what he must do. Vermin cannot be allowed to live, he remembered the edict that was stamped on his mind. Yet he hesitated. He would have gladly slit the throat of a sorcerer, but this was just a boy.
Silence reigned for a while.
‘Do it,’ the boy whispered.
Juan was shaken out of his preoccupation.
‘Do it,’ he repeated; the boy no longer slurred his words, a curious boldness had swept across his frame.
Juan understood and unsheathed his sword.
The boy was the witch’s son, after all.