Oyer and Terminer

The Anglo-French legal term ‘oyer et terminer’ translates as ‘to hear and determine’. It was the one of the commissions whereby a judge of assizes sat in days of old, also known as ‘audiendo et terminando’ or ‘soc and sac’, a system of ad hoc ‘justice’ that enabled the witch hunts of the 17th century.

Richard Stanley - oyer and terminer

in 1645 a Commission of Oyer and Terminer chaired by Matthew Hopkins, self-proclaimed Witchfinder General, claimed 18 lives in Bury St Edmunds. 16 of the 18 ‘witches’ who died by hanging were women. On May 27th, 1692, Massachusetts Governor William Phips convened the court of Oyer and Terminer that presided over the Salem witch trials. More than two hundred innocents were accused. Thirty were found guilty. 14 of the 19 who died by hanging were women. Five more unfortunates perished in jail and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to testify.

My lifelong study of the ‘old religion’ and the persecution suffered by its adherents had familiarised me with the Witchfinder’s process, the system of interrogation and coercive control Matthew Hopkins and others of his hateful ilke applied in the remote, gossip ridden 17th century communities where barely repressed pagan instincts and murderous mass hysteria smouldered behind the bucolic facade of rural life, constantly threatening to tear asunder the fragile fabric of their world.

I never expected to have to apply those techniques, nor find myself in the witch hunter’s boots.

“What do you mean he doesn’t remember?”

I narrowed my eyes, trying to see through Grendel’s bland, baby faced exterior in the hope of determining what was really eating him. The accused gazed back at me from where he sat at the far end of the long table, attempting an apologetic smile. He looked very different from the unkempt figure that had smashed the front window of the Maison Bethany the night before, entering my headquarters with intent to rob or kill. He had taken the time to at least shave and comb his hair before the Duke’s ’dogs’ brought him in and was cleanly dressed in a grey tracksuit. The ferals, the so-called ‘dogs’ who’d escorted young him back across the river after locating him in the Spring Cave, stuck around to make sure justice was done.

The Maison Bethany’s kitchen-dining area had been converted into an impromptu candle-lit court where we sat to determine Grendel’s fate. We like to take care of our own business in the high valleys, the nearest gendarmerie being too far away to matter. Since the onset of the pandemic any residual faith that the uniformed cops were actually here to protect the community had crashed, leaving the villagers to resort to old fashioned methods of resolving conflicts and maintaining peace in the valley.

The flickering, unsteady candlelight fell across the avid faces of the ferals, braided hair and grubby imitation buckskin making them look like figures from another world as they flanked the accused’s chair. I sat slouched in my customary position at the far end of the table, petting Doozie, my purring first familiar who was still feeling skittish after the break in. Brother Pyke was seated to my left, examining the documents submitted for our consideration, Grendel’s ID card among them. JC, had taken on the role of translator and ad hoc council to the accused, his unkempt ginger beard and dreads contrasting oddly with the black tailcoat he’d donned to give the proceedings an appropriate sense of gravitas. It wasn’t the 17th century anymore and Grendel knew we couldn’t hang him. He had that going in his favour and it made him a wee bit too cocky for my liking.

“He says he can’t remember anything after leaving the hot springs,” insisted JC, turning in a semi-circle behind Grendel. “He doesn’t know how he ended up in your kitchen.”
“That’s mighty convenient,” I glowered, not buying one bit of it. “And I suppose he doesn’t remember any of the threats he made?”
“Désolé.” JC blinked. “Can you say that again?”
“Les menaces. The threats against my life?”

Grendel shook his head, smiling gormlesly.

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“Your blood,” I reminded him. “Your blood in Hell. Les enfers. You kept repeating that. I don’t suppose you minds telling us why?”
Grendel’s smile faded. Assumed a baffled, hurt expression, he muttered something to JC in French.
“He doesn’t know,” translated JC as if this needed any translation.
“We’re getting nowhere with this line of questioning,” brother Pyke shook his head. Pyke and his fellow ‘guardians of the Zone’ had more pressing matters on their plate, having recently been informed that the local Masons and the mairie of Sougraigne intended to foreclose on the property at the head of the Salz river, a portal area if ever there was one. Accordingly Pyke was under pressure and in no mood to waste his whole evening dealing with this headlong malarky.
“He was probably so off his face yesterday he’s still in some sort of fugue state,” I mused.
“From what you said, he sounded possessed,” offered Pyke.
“So what should I do? Perform an exorcism?” I sighed, appraising the evidence. “The question remains, why did he come here? Why did he choose this house? I don’t believe he chose it at random.”
“The witches,” interceded JC. “Évidemment! Les sorcières gagnent en puissance. The witches sent him here. ”
“And I don’t believe that either,” I hissed. JC looked a little taken aback, a shadow crossing his face as the room fell silent. We all heard the night wind rattling at the boarded up window and Doozie mewed, turning in my lap.
“Everyone knows the witches are back in the Zone,” JC insisted, as if this sudden gust of wind somehow proved his point. “ They’re here. Even as we speak, the Norwegian witch, Madame ’T’, is working her vile necromancies at the chateau of Puilarens. She’s receiving support from the Magdalenians in Alet and the OTO. The witches are gathering for the final conflict and you’re wasting your time on a broken window and some damaged furniture?”
“And what if this has nothing to do with the witches?” My gaze tightened on JC, mindful of the Duke of Dog’s warning. “Do you honestly believe a single one of these self-proclaimed ‘witches’ has any real supernatural power? Anyone who knows them or claims to have taken part in their rituals agrees, they couldn’t conjure a canteloupe, let alone wield the power to take control of this young idiot’s senses and direct him to attack the house. What if there’s another perfectly logical explanation?”
“Logique?” JC scowled as if I too had taken leave of my senses. “Since when did logic apply? This is the Zone. Tu devrais savoir ça. Sometimes you have to trust. Trust in your intuition.” He made a curious, almost indescribable gesture towards the shuttered window. “Trust in what the Zone is trying to tell you.”

I gathered my thoughts, listening to the soughing of the wind in the unseen trees. It was more than just surreal. It was pathetic. Our frail, mendacious human attempts to impose our beliefs upon the Zone, to bring order to the night. All the bullshit we bring to this place is amplified, exposed and turned back at us. Heaven and hell. Paradis et les enfers. It’s all tight here, just a millimetre apart.

“Yeah. Le caprice de la Zone. Its the only thing you can trust in,” I muttered, fixing Grendel with my gaze. “Even chaos has an order after all. And it’s telling me one thing. This has nothing to do with the war against the witches. This is a side show. Some other force sent this boy to my door.”
“Why don’t we take him in to the station tomorrow morning,” suggested brother Pyke. “Let the gendarmerie deal with him. Make an insurance claim on the window.”
“He’s got one previous – for robbing that supermarket in Limoux,” I returned my attention to the evidence. “If I press charges, he’ll do time.”
“Otherwise?” Pyke shrugged.

For a moment everyone in the room seemed to be looking at me, even the cat – as if I were the only one with any control over the lunatic circumstances.

“Bind him over to keep the peace and make him pay to fix the glazing.”

I subsided back into my chair, spent by the proceedings. Brother Pyke translated as JC busied himself with fetching a tape measure and pricing the damage. Grendel looked relieved, his former goofy smile returning as he offered his hand. His grip was clammy and somehow unconvincing.
“Just fix the window. Then get out of here.” I told him. “I’ve got enough on my plate at the moment and don’t need the karma.”
“Karma?” Grendel blinked. “Pardon. Je ne…”
“I know. You don’t understand.” I shook my head, gathering my cigarette lighter and other vital oddments. “I got that from the top. The Zone takes care of its own. You stay away from me and my cat in future. Comprendre? We’ll let the karma deal with itself.”

Grendel nodded slowly as if finally figuring out I was doing him a favour.

“Thank you,” he offered, but I wasn’t listening anymore. Opening the front door, I stepped out to check on the moon. The rising wind was beating back the clouds and She was there alright, blazing down at our world through a rent in the thunderous curtain.

JC was right about one thing and one thing only. There were forces rising in the Zone. Dark forces that would need to be countered carefully…

The Zone - oyer and terminer

Thank you for reading the Richard Stanley blog, Tales from the Zone, a journal that will give outsiders some small insight into our day to day lives in the valleys of French Occitania. Please NOTE these entries are meant to be experienced in order. If you only just found this blog, you can begin reading from the start: Halloween. You can also find Richard Stanley on Twitter, and Facebook. However, Tales from the Zone are only published here.

1 thought on “Oyer and Terminer”

  1. Sounds like the influence of too many drugs not witches! The lad can’t take his shit.
    Use them dont abuse them… or, utilisez-les n’en abusez pas (as google translate informs me)

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