Prologue: Salem, Mass., December 1692

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Salem Village, Massachusetts
December 1692

The fire has always mystified them. An unimaginable power from God, its form unknowable. An infinite source of light and heat. Of destruction.

The Reverend Samuel Parris had never understood why they hadn't burned the witches, like they had in Europe. He hated that they'd all been hung — save for Giles Corey, who'd been pressed to death by stones — on Gallows Hill. Such a human execution seemed to lack to the fervent justice that such heretics needed. Witchcraft had no place in his town, let alone his home. His poor daughter, Betty, had been afflicted for over a year. Their kin, Abigail, had been the first accuser. Their slave, Tituba, the first accused.

His hatred of the witches, of the hysteria, of the madness in his church, had mounted, its form crystallizing. Just the way the humidity in the New England summer air had a way of solidifying in the winter into ice in the lungs, so too had the Reverend's hatred of the witches formed into its own kind of ice: Clear. Sharp. Deadly.

The fire mystified them, but the witchcraft tortured them. Reverend Parris paced in his modest home, a team of horsemen awaiting his instructions.

"How far?"

The horse captain answered him with confidence."Far enough that they could never return to Salem. They are likely not to survive the journey as it is."

Parris looked at Massachusetts Governor, Sir William Phips, who'd ordered him to entertain this asinine compromise. "If they shall die by God's hand in the wilderness, then why shan't we bestow upon them justice ourselves?"

Phips growled. "We have discussed the matter at length, Reverend." He and Parris both knew it was imprudent to ignore the allegations but outrageous to condemn them all to death. Still, Parris had a stronger taste for blood — or perhaps for burning flesh — than the governor. "Enough is enough. I will not hang another unless His Majesty says so, and he does no such thing. We are already impugned for our crimes against the other nineteen."

The captain and his horsemen waited silently. They knew the instructions they had received, but they also knew they had to wait for Parris and Phips to come to the same conclusions on their own.

"How long is the journey?" Parris asked.

The captain paused. "We are not certain. We have heard only rumors that we can go so far west. I expect we may return when this winter gives way to spring. At worst, we may return with the summer sun." He swallowed uncomfortably at the falsehood, his conscience guilty. None of the six would survive the journey ahead of them.

Finally, Parris obliged. Addressing the captain, he said, "We are decided then. Take them before the night has passed. Gather whatever you need and leave now."

Without another word, the captain and his horsemen left the Reverend's home. In the street, thirty-two horses waited: one for each of the six, and twenty-six more, each with an accused shackled to it.

The horsemen were as prepared as they could be for the journey ahead. Their only regret was taking so many of the small community's horses with them when they knew they'd never return. But they dared not question their purpose. They had made peace with risking their lives. Witchcraft had no place in Salem, no room for it in God's world at all. But they were quiet vigilantes, these six, who could remain complacent no longer. They were charged with keeping their town, their religion, from murdering any more than it already had.

Many in Salem could not bear to witness the massacre that would result if these children were put on trial, but these six men were motivated not solely by beneficence. Instead, they were driven by purpose, acting as if God Himself had sent the word to them to remove the accused from Salem and bring them to safety.

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