Angry voices filled the courtroom, drowning out the testimony of the man on the stand. Not this his shouts were any different. He hadn’t been there, of course, hadn’t seen it happen himself. But I was alone. I was different. I was other. The bodies had been found in the forest, and I lived near the forest. I was a loner, not a friend.
The men of the village were arrayed in a half circle around me, penning me in as if to keep me from leaving the table before my judgement. Not that I could run away. They had taken my legs to teach me a lesson: “You can’t run from your sins.”
They hadn’t waited long to teach me that. When the hunters found the broken bodies, the dismembered limbs, the seemingly ritualistic sacrifice, all attention had turned to me. I barely spoke their language. I didn’t believe in their gods. I had come from elsewhere. Probably fleeing some depravity I had committed before.
I shifted uncomfortably as another man rose and took the stand. Two of my accusers dug their fingers into my shoulders, as if I would rise and strike the man. Not that I could fight back. They had taken my arms to teach me another lesson: “You can’t take back your sins.”
Anger and shame burned my cheeks as he described strange books he had seen me reading. Weren’t normal books, he says. Probably demon symbols. Probably the same demons I had sacrificed those kids to.
I wanted to shout, to explain, to tell them they were merely the symbols of the language I had learned as a boy. One of the few possessions I retained of my childhood home. Not that I could speak. They had taken my tongue to teach me a third lesson: “Lies will not save you from your sins.”
All of these lessons, they reminded me, were merely them doing to me what I had done to their children.
Then, I heard the courtroom doors open and shut. Murmurs broke out among the crowd as a man walked in. I turned and saw him, blood stains on his shirt. He was with a group that had gone out to see if they could find more of the village’s missing children. And they had. A cabin in the middle of the forest, miles in.
There was a man there when they arrived. He had confessed to everything.
With horror the crowd turned and stared at me. After a pause the judge spoke, softly.
I wept then. I wept with no arms to wipe my tears, no legs to stand a free man, no tongue to express my relief. They couldn’t take back their sins.
You can’t take back your sins.