The word hung in the fetid air above Arras.
It carried the stench of the sepulcher with it.
It answered the shrill screams of the helpless young women of the town as they hurled themselves against the heavy ropes and chains which held them.
Its hideous letters were scrawled in blood on the sweating slime encrusted walls of the dungeons of Arras.
Pierre le Brousart rolled it around on his tongue, sampling it, savoring it, treating as if it were a rare vintage wine.
Jacques Du Boys heard it and his legal mind turned to orgiastic images of its own. The visions did not concern themselves with the nubile bodies of those who awaited his tender mercies. They turned instead to gold and precious gems - mountains of them piling up in his own coffers, making him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
Deniselle heard the word spat at her with the venom of an asp as she was shoved roughly into a large basket and the lid secured over her head.
Pierre le Brousart watched with mounting agitation as the huge basket was placed on the stone floor before him.
"Are you sure her feet did not touch the ground at any time after you arrested her?"
"And you were able to keep her from returning to her room in order to secret a magic charm on her person?"
"She was not out of our sight for a moment."
"Good. Then open the casket and stand her with her face to the wall. It is imperative that I view her first without having the vaudoisie's eyes encountering mine. One cannot be too careful. These witches can summon fearful powers to their aid."
The two deputies bent to their work. The muffled groans which came from inside the basket grew in intensity. Pierre le Brousart watched the tableau before him. He felt that peculiar sensation which ran through his arteries - a sensation of anticipation and sexual desire which was insane in its perversity.
Le Brousart's memory conjured up the self-righteous image of Jacques Du Boys. Even now he could hear the older man's voice droning on.
I charge you, my dear, le Brousart, these vaudois - these witches - must be scourged from the land. They must be made to confess. They must lead us to others. Their property must be confiscated and they must be committed to the stake.
"I understand," le Brousart had answered even though the full impact of Du Boys words were lost upon him. All le Brousart knew or cared about was that he was to be given free license to do what he wanted in the underground vaults.
But Du Boys had been in an expansive mood. A sly smile had played at the corners of his thin lips. "Such devotion to duty will not go unrewarded," he said in a low voice. "Certainly the authorities would want us to keep a portion of what we confiscate as payment for our efforts. Don't you think so, mon ami?"
"They could not wish otherwise," le Brousart giggled.
It hadn't seemed like a big thing at the time. An old hermit by the name of Robinet de Vaulxt had been tried as warlock in the winter of 1459. Under stringent torture, he had confessed to having attended a Sabbat. He had implicated the young and beautiful Deniselle, accusing her of having participated in unprintable abominations with Satan.
However, the erudite Du Boys had realized that as the joints blackened and cracked and the blisters formed on the seared flesh of a victim, he - or she- could be made to recite the most bizarre account and make it believable. Robinet de Vaulxt had implicated Deniselle.
If placed under the same type of torture, who might Deniselle implicate? And in turn, who would they betray? Indeed the destitute recluse could unlock the vault of a king's ransom in confiscated fortunes if Du Boys and le Brousart played their hand well.
"Issue a warrant for the girl's arrest. Put her to the question. Let destiny take us where it may," Du Boys had intoned.
And now the first step had been taken. The basket had been sent for Deniselle. Her soft body had been shoved into its tight confines. The cruel manacles had been locked about her wrists. By heavy chains, the cuffs had been attached to the hobbling leg irons which encased her tender ankles.
Now as she stood quivering before him, her face pressed against the blood flecked stone wall of the torture chamber, he set Du Boys' plan into motion.
Summoning up all her courage, Deniselle glanced at her captor over her shoulder. Her long blonde hair fell in soft waves over the delicate frame of her face. Her white teeth imbedded themselves in the fullness of her soft lips. A violent shuddering suffused her body as the inquisitor moved forward.
"Merci!" Deniselle moaned. "Peur Dieu, I beg your mercy."
"Vaudoisie!" le Brousart spat back. "You have the nerve to demand mercy. You who have lain with Satan, who have sold your immortal soul to his work. You will know mercy from me only when I have reclaimed you from your compact."
"I have made no compact. I am innocent of what you say!"
"You dare to call me a liar? You dare to offend the office I hold? And you expect me to believe you are not possessed?"
Le Brousart gripped the struggling girl in both of his arms. Her flesh was firm in his grasp.
The inquisitor dragged the chained girl around the room. He forced her to view the various instruments arrayed against her. Here he was following the manual as prescribed for any inquisitor. "Let the prisoner be aware of what treatment she might expect. Often the sight of the scourges, hoists, racks and irons will be enough to loosen her tongue. A confession exacted under threat of torture is no less valid than one which comes later."
For a scant moment as he studied the terrified Deniselle's quivering face, le Brousart was afraid that she would wilt under the pressure.
He needn't have feared. Deniselle's body stiffened in his grasp. "I have nothing to confess," she said.
"Then we will proceed," le Brousart answered. He didn't try to mask the note of exultation which came into his voice.
Minutes later, Deniselle was bound securely hand and foot to the dread tresteau or examining table. Le Brousart carried out his examination for hidden protective charms upon the girl's body in a manner so brutal that it can barely be hinted at. Deniselle's shrieks bounced off the walls and ceiling of the vaulted chamber. Her clawing nails dug into her palms until they drew rivulets of blood.
But the horrors of the physical examination were nothing compared to the torment she was about to undergo. Satisfied that the Devil had given her no special charms, le Brousart now felt free to continue his interrogation.
Deniselle could not know for what purpose she was cut free from the tresteau. There had been whispers of women being placed on the rack, their limbs elongated to the breaking point by the gradually tightening ropes. Some inquisitors favored whipping, having been schooled in the exorcism of Satan by the flagellants of the middle ages. Others leaned heavily to the water treatment.
Under the water torture, a woman would be bound face upward to a short ladder. A metal clamp would be inserted in her mouth behind her teeth, holding the jaw just short of dislocation. A loose cloth would cover her face. While water was being pored over the cloth, sticks would be inserted under cords which had been looped above her thighs and elbows.
The struggling woman would have the cloth carried deep into her throat by the weight of the water. The tightening cords around her limbs would cut off her circulation. Just short of a combined drowning and heart failure, the woman would be retrieved.
Another favorite trick was the hoist. This was diabolically simple. Here the girl would have her wrists bound behind her back and attached to a long rope which ran up to the ceiling. She would be lifted from the floor until all of her weight was born by her outraged shoulders. If she proved stubborn, added weights could be attached to her ankles or toes. Or she could be dropped and stopped short at the end of the line.
But le Brousart prided himself on his inventiveness. As Deniselle writhed in his arms, he half-carried, half dragged her to a huge infernal engine which stood waiting in the corner. The device looked like a large door which had been designed to work from suspending chains in the manner of a draw bridge. It had been fitted out with gyves to imprison the victim's wrists and ankles.
Deniselle moaned and struggled as le Brousart forced her back against the cruel, splintery boards of the device. Her delicate fists pounded at his shoulders, as he stooped before her and secured her spread-eagled ankles to the leg irons. But an instant later even this small defense was denied to the pitiful girl as her wrists were drawn high above her head and locked into place.
Now Deniselle stared with horror etched on her lovely face at the sight which lay before her feet. The bed of sword-sharp spikes began to turn a glowing red as le Brousart worked at the bellows which fanned the wood fire under them to new intensity.
"In the name of heaven!" Deniselle screamed.
"Confess," le Brousart intoned.
"I have nothing to confess," the blonde girl gasped.
Her word were drowned out by the rattle of chains. She felt herself slowly tipping forward. The swirling heat of the fire bathed her sweating body. The sharp stakes rose inexorably to meet her quivering flesh. For a scant moment Deniselle prayed she would quickly be impaled on the stakes. But it was a forlorn hope. She would not die for a long time.
The spikes merely touched her, digging little furrows in her skin.
"Confess!" le Brousart shouted over the crackling fire. Even had she wanted to answer, Deniselle couldn't have found the strength.
Hours later at the moment when she knew she must die, le Brousart cut Deniselle free. But the question did not end that day - or the next - or the one after that. The horrors of the torture chamber became the only world Deniselle recognized. Even during the night when she lay chained to the matted straw of her dungeon cell, the dreams of her torment would plague her.
Then Du Boys stepped in. He came to her in the night and offered her solace and comfort. "My child, I am not without influence. I am a noted lawyer. I can see that you go free. You will be sent to a convent. There you will re-gather your strength. Then you will be free to go. I will see that no further harm comes to remember about the Sabbat. Tell me the names of everyone you saw there."
The change of pace was too much for Deniselle. After the eons of horror, she was betrayed by one moment of professed kindness. The words flew from her mouth. She gasped out names of anybody. When she thought that Du Boys was not satisfied, she searched her battered memory to add suspects to his list.
The following morning they came for her and she rose to meet them, thinking they were to conduct her to the convent. But a gasp of utter horror suffocated her as she saw the waiting pile of faggots and the stake from which the waiting chains dangled.
Deniselle had time for one cry of outrage before they placed the gag in her mouth.
She heard Du Boys say to the smirking le Brousart, "It is better if no one hears her words. They might place some faith in my promise to her. This is a business where it is well that one keeps his own council. Do not fear, my good le Brousart. There will be many beautiful women for your engines. My list is practically endless."
Du Boys strained forward as le Brousart touched the flaming torch to the high pile of faggoting which surrounded Deniselle's knees. Although the girl's mouth was still gagged, he read the message in her eyes. In spite of himself, he couldn't fight back the shudder of fear which ran through him.
But the terror did not stop him from acting. The list of suspects betrayed by Deniselle were like a wild fire themselves. Le Brousart's tender mercies unlocked other tongues. Soon Arras was a town of uncontrolled terror. The women of Arras were shuttled from their homes to le Brousart's horror vault and to the stake. And each one left behind a new list of suspects.
The population of Arras began to resist the two murdering administrators. They even grew bold in their defiance. A typical example is the following poem which lives even until today. It was dedicated to le Brousart:
"Then the Inquisitor, with his white hood,
His shining nose and his repulsive mazzard,
Among the foremost in the game has stood
To torture these poor folk as witch or wizard
But he knows only what he has been told,
For his sole thought throughout has been to hold
And keep their goods and chattels at all hazard."
Le Brousart grew restive. His own cowardice overcame him. With Du Boys calling for more and more blood and urging him to attack more and more prominent members of the community, le Brousart began to fear for his own life.
"Why must we go after the rich? They have friends in Paris?" le Brousart wailed.
"Because they are rich and I will confiscate all they have. I am beyond Paris. I am the law!" Du Boys countered.
But no man is beyond the law forever. And Parlement soon began to hear of his excesses. They sent word that a hearing would be held in which Du Boys' prisoners who still lived would be given a chance to exonerate themselves in open court.
This was too much for le Brousart. He could not face Parlement with his blood soaked hands. Under cover of night he disappeared from Arras and was never heard from again.
For his part, the senior partner of the slaughter scheme became a raving maniac and had to be confined to his bed under restraint. Call it poetic justice or what you will, the rigors of having been bound to his bed for a great length of time, turned the lunatic lawyer's emaciated body into a misshapen, bloated mass of festering bed sores. It was the agony of his own tortured flesh which finally killed him.
Little is remembered today of Du Boys, Deniselle and le Brousart. But there was a word coined in Arras. It was:
And it has come down through the years to us. Since this was the derivation of the word voodoo; the supernatural witchcraft superstitions of the Caribbean Islands where the French settlers came and left their heritage with the impressionable natives.