Ramon enters the Black House, and closes the door quietly behind him. Not quiet enough. Inquisitor Tomaso appears, as if from nowhere.

“Where have you been?” he asks, his voice not more than a whisper. His long, twisting neck suddenly reminds Ramon of a great snake with a forked tongue, those placed in great wire cages and hauled around to market squares, to earn their keepers a copper coin as the crowd stares and the snake writhes.

“My time is my own. Especially after the sun sets.” He wants to say more. To say that he was appointed by the Pope, not by Tomaso, and the Pope certainly knows how to use his leisure time.

Tomaso clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth in disapproval, and leads Ramon deeper into the building, until he opens the door to a small room, stone walls, a table and two chairs. A shadow lies in the corner. Tomaso points.

“You are to interrogate him.”

“The accusation?”

“Wizardry. I shall call a scribe to record each word.”

Ramon nods. He sits down, catches his breath. There is an odor in the room, and the chances are that it comes from the wiz—

He catches himself. He does not yet know if the accusation has any basis.

He raises his voice. “When is the last time that you washed?”

There is no answer.

The door opens. Ramon looks up. A scribe — his scribe, the young man he meets in the tavern when he has dinner there — slips inside. The scribe sits down at the desk and readies his pen.

Ramon looks at the shadow and sighs. He casts his mind back to the inquisitorial manual he studied aboard the ship. There was a section about witches, magic, sorcerers. Such people must be stopped, and punished, for they contravene the Bible’s prohibition against magic.

He clears his throat and directs his question to the corner of the room. “Have you, or has anyone you know, fashioned a wax object?”

“Of course.”

Ramon motions to the scribe to begin transcribing the interrogation.

He is about to ask further, but then remembers the advice he has read on interrogation: Do not ask many questions in quick succession, but incorporate pauses that the accused may offer his information freely.

He waits.

The scribe looks at him, then puts down his pen. The shadow in the corner shifts. But still Ramon maintains his silence.

Eventually, the man begins to speak. “Do you have lanterns? For we have candles. But they are fashioned from tallow, not from wax. So perhaps I did not give you the correct answer, after all. Though I wonder, who can have wax candles but the wealthy merchants?”

He does not move, this shadow, does not change position. But he continues to talk. “Is that what you use here?” The man gives an exaggerated sniff. “For I do not smell the hint of tallow, the animal smell. Though I also do not smell the sweetness of wax. Only damp. Which is not a good omen — and you can write this down, for it will be good for the higher authorities to hear it — for damp in a building in the middle of a blistering summer can only mean that you are built upon a patch of marshy ground, or perhaps a well. Why else would the water seep up to the walls? If they do not fix it, the walls will soon start to crack and crumble. I have a cousin who could dig deep under the foundations, and investigate — interrogate the earth, if you will! — and then you will have the answers that you seek.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 591)