“You won’t be leaving this town alive.” Someone spat, his voice rose above the rumble. They circled, shoulder pressed to shoulder. She couldn’t be sure who’d spoken. A work-roughened hand pushed her into the eye of the rumbling crowd. She caught herself, hands scraping the dirt before she looked up at the gathering mob.
The crowd cast long shadows in the evening light. Cleared of carts and homemade stalls, the town square was empty except for the quickly erected gallows. It loomed like a monstrous skeleton over them all.
No one stepped forward to condemn her, no target presented itself. They were a querulous sea of twisted faces. Their voices flowed together in a mess of muttered accusations. “One of them.” “Witch.” “Dog of the Sorcerer King.”
She stood and the crowd flinched back. Their fear straightened her spine and she faced them with eyes the color of storm clouds. “That isn’t true. Listen to me. I am here to help against the –”
“Liar, snake!” A woman cried. A stone caught her shoulder and she stumbled, hissing in pain. Emboldened by her suffering more cries went up. “Deceiver, don’t listen to her!” “She pulls our strings.” “Kill the witch!”
Finally one of their number stepped forward. The grey bearded elder towered over her small frame.
“No more lies.” He said, like father to a fibbing child. She glared up at him, but he did not tremble or flinch like the rest. “Its over, you’ve lost witch. Your body will be a message to your unnatural King, his lies and puppetmasters can not overtake honest folk.”
“Idiots.” She spat, temper broken open to spill. “I am not his!”
“Enough.” The elder raised his hand to stop her words and the irate burble of the crowd. They stilled as the elder continued. “His abomination or your own, it doesn’t matter.”
The gallows creaked behind them, wood shifting in the cold evening air. Over the wind’s soft howl and gallow’s grate, the sound of hoof beats beat soft against the town’s road. The elder’s mouth opened with a question, unease sloping his great shoulders.
She lowered her chin, staring at the shying crowd from beneath her delicate brows. “What? Have the other people you’ve killed not had friends?” She asked lightly.
Across the square the hoof beats rode to a halt. A cloaked and armored figure swung down from the saddle, pulling a shining long sword from its sheath. The crowd scattered, the elder blinked with fear, and the witch smiled.
“Were the theatrics necessary?” Anna finally let their winded mount slow to a walk. Normally the beast could easily bear their combined weight, Kira being so slight, but the town was remote and she’d pushed the horse hard to find it.
In the distance specks of torchlight moved like water through the town. Kira watched the river of flames flow down into the fields, as her shoulder throbbed. They couldn’t stop tonight, zeal like that didn’t sleep.
“They started it.” Kira said after a moment. She could not see Anna’s expression in the dark, but she could hear her friend’s sigh.
More often a thief, this week I am the target. I challenged the Legal Theft Project to steal my first line. See if anyone rose to it here.