“You have been accused of promoting the Roman religion and conspiring to lead a rebellion against King Charles the Second in the year of Our Lord 1679. You have been charged with high treason; how do you plead?”
The words stumbled through the rancid air, carried upon the plumes of the unhealthy, the unwashed, and the unclean who pushed and murmured behind the accused.
Archbishop Oliver Plunkett stood straight-backed, fettered hands clasped as though in prayer, eyes clear and blue and fixed upon the Judge.
“I, conspiring?” he answered. “It is you who have conspired against me in this sham of a trial. You have refused to try me in my own country, you have denied me of my own counsel, you have allowed brigands and delinquents to testify against me.”
Excitement tremored among the onlookers, each one shifting to get a better look, a fresh stench of stale sweat perfuming the air. Plunkett bowed his head, rings of dark matted hair falling across his face.
“Silence!” the Judge ordered, bringing a captive hush to the hall. The flames of torch light flickered and danced, casting shadows around the walls.
“Mr. Plunkett,” he sneered, narrowed eyes glinting in the fire. “Do not misspend your time. The more you trifle in such nonsense, the less time you have for your defence.”
“I offer no defence.”
“No defence?” Lips curling, silence weighted. “Do you not know that I have the power to condemn you?”
Plunkett chuckled, raising his blue eyes. “It has been said that you would have no power over me, were it not given from above.”
The Judge’s decadent smile vanished. “But it has been given. And do not dare to compare yourself with Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Let me assure you, there are no similarities.”
Plunkett offered no return, eyes low, lips moving noiselessly.
“Strike all of what he said from the record,” the Judge decreed to the clerk, who tore the page before him. “Do you deny promoting your false, Roman religion?”
Plunkett cocked an ear. “I do not hear any crowing, so I shall not deny it.”
The hammer of the Judge’s fist upon the dock cracked the stagnant air.
“You have heard it! We have no need for any more witnesses or evidence! Go now, jury, and make your decision.”
Fifteen men arose, exiting to an antechamber, chatter filling their place amongst the crowd. The Judge and Plunkett remained unmoved, one staring down at the other, who stood with head bowed and hands joined.
Fifteen men took fifteen minutes.
The Judge grinned as he placed the black cap upon his head, his face falling into shadows, eyes still glinting in the flames.
“You have dishonoured God with your treason and your false religion, to which there is nothing more displeasing to Him or more pernicious to mankind. I sentence you to death. You are to be hung, drawn and quartered. What say you?”
Plunkett smiled and raised his eyes. “Deo gratias.”