AN: This is part of a completed book, edited to be less swear-happy. I always enjoyed writing and reading on these sorts of sites, and so I thought it would be nice to put some stuff on here again, since why not? I'm planning on putting up 71 pages, which will hopefully work well as a sort of complete episode, or a mini-story in and of itself. I'll be uploading a new chapter every week for the next while. Hope you have fun reading!
It was a grey day. It was fitting.
The wide bronze wheels of the wagon waded through muddy ruts and puddles, never really meant for such unlevelled wilderness roads. Creaking and cracking, the carriage jolted from side to side on its axis, though its occupants betrayed no hint of discomfort. A young woman stared blandly out the window at the passing trees. Precisely how young was hard to say; in one light she looked little more than a girl, while passing under the shadow of an oak she appeared closer to thirty. The others scrutinised her as though she might still pose some danger, chained to her seat as she was. She paid them no heed.
The wind was strengthening. It made the carriage's rocking worse, slowing their progress even further. Unhappy whinnying came now and then from the horses. Gusts whipped branches back at the side of the road, sending showers of droplets to the ground in flurries. Many hit the woman's face. Eventually she raised a hand to wipe them off. It could have been fancy, but a sound seemed to be growing on the wind. A rumble. Distant thunder, going on too long.
One of those watching the prisoner, a woman, glanced out the window nervously, holding her ivory shawl close against the wind. She looked back at the captive quickly. "Don't you go thinking of trying anything," she warned. "If you do…we will make sure there is no country left to remember your tale."
The younger woman blinked, as though only just remembering she had company. Her dark hair spun in the breeze untended. "What makes you think I care?" she asked in an even, low voice.
Her captor raised her eyebrows. "You do," she answered.
The woman shrugged ambiguously, as if she herself was unsure.
Time and trees passed as the sound on the wind grew louder, clearer; definitely not fancy. It no longer sounded like thunder. It resembled it still, but the ragged timbre of voices could be distinguished now. Thousands; perhaps tens of thousands.
The woman's captors, three women and two men, began to exchange an increasing amount of glances the louder the sound became. Squeezed onto the small carriage's two benches, their fingers tensed wherever they let them rest. And with each bump and jump of the wagon, the roar swelled. It expanded until it reverberated in the wooden box of the carriage, reaching the occupants' ears from every angle. The jailors' jaws clenched. The captive stared blankly out the window.
The wagon rounded a bend in the dirt road, and suddenly the scene had changed. Gone were the trees and briars. The small road had dwindled into a barely discernible track, surrounded in all directions by featureless grass fields and low hills. Featureless except for the enormous mass of people a small distance to one side of the track. The young woman turned in from the window to look flatly forward. Some of her captors wore small smiles now, though their fingers were still tensed.
Wheels struggling through the sodden ground more than over it, the wagon made a half-circle around the crowd. That had to be twenty-thousand people, all in the one place. Rarely had such a thing been seen. Their eyes followed the wagon as one, and they were screaming. A howl of bloodlust they were determined should be heard if it cost them their voices for a year. Slowly, the wagon neared a wooden platform set in front of the mob. More guards awaited there, these ones dressed all in black.
The wagon came to a stop. The carriage doors were opened from the outside, and four of the young woman's captors unlocked the short chains binding her to her seat. They took hold of one each, attached to both of her wrists and ankles. She rose from her position against the wall, out of view of the window, and they cautiously led her out of the carriage, her torn grey dress catching in the doorway. The roar reached a peak at the sight of her. Hoarse throats protested as faces twisted in primal anticipation of violence, barely human. Or perhaps very human.
The jailors stood there a moment looking at the crowd, as though savouring the scene, before they began to pull the young woman towards the platform. The other black-clad guards followed as they led her up the steps, and finally brought her to a halt in the middle of the platform, at the front, presenting her to the crowd. But the watchers could summon no more rage than they'd already mustered. The wind flung the captive's unkempt hair and ragged dress about her. "The woman who dragged your country through war for her own gain!" bellowed the bulky man who held the chain binding her left ankle. "The woman who took your sons, your husbands! She will pay today!" The fists of every spectator, even those who couldn't possibly have heard, pounded the air again and again.
The woman surveyed the mass of faces impassively. They swore and spat back at her. All except for one. A man, a small way back, whose face matched hers for blankness, or at least what could be seen of it beneath the hood of his cloak. Though he was an oddity in the mob, no one else took notice of him, caught up as they were in their fury. The woman's eyes paused, not looking at him, and the muscles in her face clenched. The hooded man took a good look at her…and then he turned around to begin pushing his way past people, people who did glance at him now. Suspiciously. But he moved too fast for any to challenge him, and their expressions soon regained the thoughtless bestiality of their companions'.
The prisoner's face cleared and she turned to one of her captors, the woman who had threatened her. The woman stared at her, sneering, before summoning one of the others who had been in the carriage with a wave of her hand, a tall man in a blue robe who was now carrying a thick axe. She started to haul the prisoner backwards with the aid of the others who held her chains, to where a thin stone slab lay fixed to the platform. "Kneel," she commanded.
"Willingly?" the captive mused, glancing around at the myriad guards as though considering them, before fixing the blue-robed man with a look that set his jaw. The woman hissed and began to drag on the chain she held. The three others joined her; struggling, they pulled the condemned to her knees. Another, younger woman from the carriage grabbed her hair and forced her neck down over the slab. The roar from the crowd changed momentarily to a cheer. "Quickly!" the older woman spat, as the man with the axe stepped up to the prisoner. He lifted his weapon into the air. And, just before the blade descended on her neck, she smiled.
She had done her job well.