Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter Two

A dull throb pestered Sethyr back into consciousness. The pain played a slow tattoo behind her eyes, the steady beat of her heart leading the rhythm. Feigning unconsciousness, Sethyr took careful stock of the sensations surrounding her. Sun shown on her face, telling her that she had been knocked out for more than a few seconds. She lay on soft grass, still slightly wet from morning dew. This told her that an hour or perhaps two had passed. The gathered voices of many people and the strong smell of wood smoke meant she was probably in the village of her attacker. Tight bonds around her wrists and ankles dashed her hopes of quick escape.

Resigning herself to helplessness for the moment, Sethyr concentrated on the nearby voices, hoping to catch some information that might be of use. Most of what she heard could be categorized as babble. However these people were their accents could be most courteously described as rural. Some conjectured on where the ‘lizard beast’ had come from. Others bemoaned the anticipated coming of a horde of her kind, intent on defiling their woman folk and eating their babies.

One particular snippet of conversation pricked her interest.

The voice said, “that burley knight is still dead ta the world. The lizard and his brutes surely done deep harm to him.”

She wondered if they had found Brayden. If they had, then at least he was safe, no matter her fate. It seemed that whoever had knocked her on the head had summoned help from some nearby village. Now the villagers had her, trussed up like a goose on Harvesttide.

Sethyr pondered what her next move should be. She doubted the villagers would listen to reason. Perhaps if she could forestall her fate long enough for Brayden to regain his senses he could intervene on her behalf.

Testing to see if her muzzle had been bound as well, Sethyr gently tried to open her mouth. She felt some sort of cord tighten as she tried. Somehow these buffoons had made the decision to gag her as well. Sethyr cursed silently. With one lucky stroke her abductors had stripped her of one of her most potent weapons; her glib tongue.

The sound of approaching voices intruded on her thoughts.

“Get that thrice damned lizard on his feet,” a basso voice roared.

Rough hands grabbed her by the arms and pulled her upright. Sethyr decided in a flash to feign continued unconsciousness and hope this would dissuade the villagers from immediate action. The hands holding her kept her upright, but she let her head loll back. Whoever was holding here nearly lost their grip, sending her to her knees. This time she let her head pitch forward.

“If the beast can’t at least acknowledge its crimes then I suppose we have to just kill it now…trial or no,” the deep voice bellowed once more.

With few other choices, Sethyr stood on her own and slowly opened her eyes. She cast a contemptuous gaze at the man standing before her. Among the shabbily dressed peasants crowding around, his well-made clothes marked him as prosperous man. He was also above average height for a human and built like a barrel of lager. The man’s round, child-like face belied his burly frame. He glared down at her with.

“Well, I’m glad you decided to wake up. We can’t have a proper trial with you unable to answer the charges. You and yours nearly killed that noble knight. He lays, even now, insensible and in our good care.”

Sethyr cocked her head, contempt showing in her eyes. “My good sir, I doubt you would know a proper trial if one of them dropped on your head and danced a jig.”

The man moved forward, his hand poised to strike. He stopped with an obvious exercise of will. “Listen here beastie, just because you come from a land of uncivilized brutes doesn’t mean we will treat you as one. Here in Hedgewise we abide by the law…and it even applies to the likes of you.”

“Uncivilized brute?” Sethyr hissed. “It seems that you are the one who tied me up, not the reverse. What evidence have you that I am responsible for Brayden’s injuries.”

“Brayden?” The man asked, looking confused.

“Yes, Brayden, the noble knight, as you so described him. He is not my enemy, but my companion. He received his injuries defending me from several canids,”

Anger and uncertainty mingled in the man’s eyes as Sethyr spoke. “that seems a lie. There’s no way a man like him would suffer the likes of you.”

“A man like him? How can you possibly know what kind of man he is?” Sethyr asked.

“He…well…he wears the mark of Chanti.”

Sethyr hissed a laugh. “So, a bit of cloth with a symbol on it is enough to sway your feeble mind? And simply because I am one of the Cairnfolk you are ready to condemn me in an instant.”

The man nervously ran a hand through his thick, curly hair, no longer seeming so confident.

Sethyr sighed. “I suggest you give Brayden time to wake up and he can clear this all up.”

The man looked concerned, watching Sethyr with more than a bit of skepticism. “I’d like to wait, beast, but this mob’ll never have it. It need’s to be fed and I’m sorry, but it’s not going to be me who’ll burn to sate it.”

Sethyr nodded, "The mob, you say? I thought wolves hunted in packs, not monkeys."

"That is no way to get help out of me, lizard," Ernst said irritably.

"My deepest apologies. At times my serpentine nature gets the best of me," Sethyr hissed sardonically. Please just make sure they do not burn me. My people consider it a sin to be consumed by fire. If given a choice, I would rather be drowned…if I must choose a fate.”

The man nodded earnestly. “Yes, yes, I’m sure I can at least convince them of that.”

Ernst turned without another word and strode into the milling crowd. After a few moments Sethyr head his booming voice cut through the babble of the mob.

"Folk of Hedgewise, pray attend my words!" Ernst bellowed.

The noises subsided to a hushed grumbling.

"I have questioned the beast and it claims innocence." The mob responded with shouts of disbelief and dissent.

"Please, good folk, let me speak." Once again, the crowd quieted.

Ernst continued. "The beast claims friendship with the Chantite. We must wait for him to recover before we pass judgment."

The crowd transformed back into a mob carried on a wave of shouted curses.

The chant "burn the lizard" rose from the mob filling the village with the sounds of hate and anger.

Sethyr squirmed in her bindings, trying desperately to wriggle out somehow and flee from the raw hatred of the villagers. Despite her best efforts, the leather thongs would not budge. She watched the mob, filling with panic at her seemingly inescapable fate.

Ernst emerged from the mob, parting it with sheer might of muscle. He approached Sethyr and kneeled down as if to check her bindings.

"I am very sorry, but you can see that this rabble won't be satisfied with anything less than blood. All I can do is promise that you won't burn...and that much might cost me dearly." Ernst paused for a moment, shaking his head.

"You must think us savages. I wish you could have seen these folk at their best instead of their worst." He finished his pantomime of checking her bonds and rose to his full height, turning to face the mob.

"Good folk, I have reached a judgment!" Ernst's rich basso voice cut through the surrounding clatter of voices. All eyes turned to him as a tense silence descended.

"As I said, I have reached my judgment. The beast must be punished. It will pay with its life for the harm done to the Chantite protector."

The mob roared, the gathered voices showing a sharp edge of bloodlust.

"Burn, burn, burn," they chanted.

One particularly unkempt villager emerged from the mob with a burning torch, rushing past Ernst and jabbing it at Sethyr. Ernst cuffed the villager like a bear swatting a bothersome dog. The man fell to the ground, stunned. Snatching up the torch, Ernst waved it in the direction of the mob. Cowed by his great size and the flaming torch, they retreated a few steps, watching Ernst with eyes full on anger.

"I am the headman of this village," he shouted. "If any here object than speak up. You all know I am fair-minded and honest. I decide what the law says and today it says there will be no burning. I say deny the beast the purifying fire of Chanti and drown it. Today the pond will be the sword of justice."

Ernst's eyes burned more brightly than the torch he held.

Like some huge beast cowed by a smaller, more ferocious one, the mob settled itself with Ernst's decision.

Satisfied that he had made his will the law, he kneeled near Sethyr, again making a show of checking her bonds.

"I am very sorry," he whispered.

Sethyr saw tears welling up in his eyes, but he quickly wiped them away with a beefy hand.

The mob roared in agreement once again and streamed past Ernst to snatch up Sethyr and carried her toward the pond near the outskirts of Hedgewise.

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