I’d grown accustomed to the stocks, being put on watch in front of my master’s property to show what an unruly servant I had been. It never got better. Chafing wrists, impossible to rest, men and boys, occasionally even young girls, groping me. Thirst was horrific in the summer, and cold in the winter. Not to mention the humiliation. It was a normal punishment, though, even mild compared to some of the alternatives.
For three years, I’d belonged to Master Hargrave, a plantation owner. Apparently, he’d been a lawyer once, and an unsuccessful one too, from what the slaves had said. So he switched careers. So much the better for me.
The stocks had a different meaning this time, though, and as the sun rose to its highest point, master Hargrave came out with the Town’s sheriff. I had to dig my neck into the rough wood of the stocks to look up at them as the stopped before me. Master Hargrave had his nose so high in the air, I could barely see his eyes. His mouth, though, was curled down in fury and grief. The sheriff had a bored expression on his face. He was used to this.
“Hullo boys. Come to set me loose from my unfortunate predicament?” I asked.
“I see what you mean, Mister Hargrave. No guilt at all. Such an unfortunate she-beast.”
“What she has done…” said Hargrave, shaking his head. His voice actually cracked a little as he trailed off.
“I understand, Mister Hargrave. If you would rather remain at your home for the afternoon, I would fully understand. The loss you’ve endured…”
“No!” shouted Hargrave. “No, I will see this bitch punished for what she did to my poor sweet Lucy.” He deigned to spare one furious glance at me. I looked back as cool as I could, which I guess wasn’t very. It’s hard to look cold when you’re burning and shackled under the sun, but I refused to spend my last moments doing anything but spiting the perverted, slaving, opulent, fat, sack of shit in front of me.
“She was very weak at the end there,” I said.
“You‒” Hargrave shouted, his face turning bright red as he dove at me.
The sheriff grabbed Hargrave, holding him back. “Mister Hargrave, I assure you that she will be severely and publicly punished for her crime, I must implore that you hold your aggressions.”
Hargrave stopped fighting, straightening his petticoat. “Of course. Of course.” He grabbed a key from his pocket and unlocked the stockade, and the sheriff grabbed me roughly and shackled my hands. He began shoving me down the street.
I didn’t bother fighting the sheriff, he was bigger and stronger, and it wouldn’t have meant a thing, but I didn’t stay quiet. “You know, I thought it’d be hard, really. She always seemed so strong, the way she liked to bark at me. I thought, ‘surely I won’t be able to kill the cunt, heartless witch that she is,’ but sure enough, all it took was a bucket to the head and a good grip around her neck.” Hargrave worked his fists, his face screwing up at the effort, but he managed to contain himself, at least until I finished. “You’ll be pleased to know, Master Hargrave, I got that nice strong grip from holding the mops so much. Got plenty practice swabbing those floors after all the slaves you had to force down to get inside. Blood doesn’t come out of nice mahogany quickly either, oh no, you have to scrub hard. Gave me nice strong hands, you see?” I said, holding the shackles up with a little smile.
I saw from the corner of my eye the judgement on the sheriff’s face. The thought of fornicating, forced or not, with one of my people was, after all, disgusting to him. He didn’t say anything just then, but I hoped I’d planted a seed. Hargrave, however, only ever had so much self-control. He punched me hard in the face, groaning as the force of it snapped a couple fingers. My head was spinning as I hit the ground, falling from the sheriff’s grip. For good measure, Hargrave kicked me right in the belly. “You shut your lying whore face! You piece of vile, soulless, filth! I gave you a home and food and a bed! Lucy cared for each and every one of you, made sure you were fed and watered, and you! You just shut your whore mouth. I’d never touch one of your iniquitous kind!”
While he screamed on, I puked. There wasn’t anything in my stomach, except acid. I was groaning from the pain and the vomit, but I managed to say, “Seems you just have, Master Hargrave.”
“Alright, alright. We’re almost there, Mister Hargrave. Save your strength, you shall be given rights to cast the first stone, for the personal atrocities committed against you,” said the sheriff. Hargrave took a few steps away as the sheriff hauled me to my feet. “You know,” he growled into my ear. “You really are a vile creature.”
“I’m just a product of my home, master sheriff,” I said, but my heart wasn’t in it. The pain of my head and my stomach was blooming.
We reached the pedestal after a few more minutes walking. A crowd was already assembled, some of the faces had been by my stock to pay their final “respects”, but mostly it was just excited folk who’d not heard until that morning what was to come.
I was shackled to the platform so I couldn’t run, and then my arms were shackled to a pole above me, so that I was spread wide for the coming storm. The shackles dug in worse than the stocks. A basket was passed around the crowd by one of the law officers.
The crowd was excited, milling about and discussing the gossip. A few children were mixed in, mostly looking somber and confused, though a few had bright grins. There were too many faces and too much fear to notice much, though. These were to be my last moments.
The sheriff pulled a piece of paper from his coat and, after clearing his throat, began to read it loudly to the crowd. “The servant in the possession of Mister Wilem Shork Hargrave shackled her has been found committed of the following crimes: disobedience, disrespect, allusions above her station, unusual cruelty towards a Soulful White, raised hand against her master, and, in the most cruel and heinous crime, an act only possible from the Soulless, demon touched beasts of which she is, she is found committed of the crime of murdering the kind and much beloved Lucy Delo Hargrave. This act was committed through means of brute force and strangulation. For this and other listed crimes, she has been sentenced to public stoning. Let he whose life has been most deeply wounded by these crimes cast the first stone.” The sheriff stepped down and far away from the platform as the crowd cleared to make space for Master Hargrave.
The moment had come. I stared him down, on lid swollen from his fist as it was. The crowd was silent as we met each other’s gaze. It’s hard to say whose held more contempt, but only one was free to act upon it.
As loud as I could, with my last words, I shouted to the crowd. “My name is Belica bri’Cavicci, and I was a free woman before I was a slave!”
Master Hargrave’s arm pulled back, a fist sized stone in hand. I closed my eyes. And then came the screaming.
But it wasn’t my own screams. When I opened my eyes, it was to chaos in the crowd. On the ground, Hargrave lay screaming, his arm blown clean off his body. Blood was pouring everywhere. The crowd was in chaos at what had happened, the law officers were panicking, trying to figure out what had happened. As she looked about the crowd, she saw a women in such finery there was only one sort of person she could be.
Velvet gloves reached past the woman’s elbows, and a sleeveless dress of lace and silks hung around her body. Her black hair was done up in such intricate braids, it was impossible to trace them all, and a silver and sapphire ringlet crowned her head. A matching necklace hung round her neck. Most striking of all, though, was the soft blue glow pouring from the center of her chest, just underneath the light fabric. Somehow, though, no one else had seen her, even though there was no one else that could possibly be responsible for the act. She stared at me, though, cool blue eyes, and with little flicks of her fingers and the mutterings of words on her lips, more people fell suffering. A man puked up so violently it seemed mostly blood. A woman began to scream as she realized blood was dripping from her eyes. The sheriff himself fell down as his throat collapsed, eyes bulging before he lay still. The woman looked singularly unaffected, and she climbed onto the platform, breaking my chains with a flick of her fingers and a single word that I couldn’t hear over the screams.
It was only then people seemed to notice the sorceress, me, the freed slave, behind her as afraid as anyone else. At first people didn’t seem to care, more terrified at the suffering around them, but then she raised her hands. She began to speak in a voice smooth as her dress. It was loud and smooth and commanded attention, as enchanted as the violence she’d invoked. “I am Carissa de Sindrakelt, and I name this town guilty of treason against her fellow Man.”
Carissa de Sindrakelt grabbed my hand, and in a quiet instant, I was somewhere else. Wherever it was, it was stone, a unicorn tapestry hung from a well, and the place looked like an entrance hall to somewhere fairly big. As I tried to recover from it all, Carissa bent over on her knees and violently emptied the contents of her stomach. She began gasping and choking, rolling over onto her back with vomit dribbling down her front.
I knelt down beside her. “What’s wrong? What can I do?”
Carissa kept coughing, shaking her head. She had been pale, but she’d turned white as a cloud, and her eyes were cast over. She croaked out, just barely, “Nothing to do. We shall see if I survive.”
One of the doors leading from the chamber burst open, and from out of it came a man dressed as finely as Carissa. He wore velvet pantaloons and a silk shirt covered in embossed leather patches. Fine leather boots with curled tips and a wide brimmed feathered had adorned him. He ran over, pushing me aside. “Carissa! I told you, don’t make too much of an example. Oh by the gods. Don’t die for this one. We can‒ Oh by the gods.”
The man grabbed Carissa’s hand, kissing and stroking it. “Do not succumb, my beloved. Do not, I beg of you.” Carissa’s eyes had closed, though her labored breathing continued. The man looked about wildly. “You!” he shouted at me. “She’s just saved your bloody life! Go get help! Through that door, third door on the right! Go!”
I ran through the door the man had come through, finding myself in a long hallway. Behind the third door was a horrifically dressed woman, cutting some beast open at her desk. She wore a shirt of patchwork hides, teeth and bones and scales sewn into it. Her pants were veined with red and blue, covered in feathers. Her hair was green and braided around bony spikes which jutted from her head. “Who the demon are you? How did you get in here?”
For a moment, I’d lost my tongue. The shocking sight, the whole day really. But I managed to stutter out, “Carissa, She—needs help. Told to—to find someone.”
The sorceress nodded, rising from the desk. “The entrance hall?”
“Yes,” I said, hoping that was right. The sorceress was immediately off, rushing down the hall.
The sorcerer was still beside Carissa, when we returned, gently weeping.
“She not‒ no, she’s still breathing. Get it together, Geldin. She’s not gone yet. Come help me.” Geldin nodded, and they picked Carissa up together.
“You, woman, get the door,” said the sorceress.
I opened the door, not exactly having any better an idea how to address all the insanity. We rushed down the hall. “Open it,” said the sorceress as they reached a door like all the others. Inside were shelves stuffed full of bottles, herbs, tinctures, and potions. Some glowed and others hummed. There were three beds and a couple of tables inside to populate the room. They lay Carissa on the middle bed. Geldin sat beside her for a moment, stroking her hand and muttering to her. “Geldin, think for a damnable moment. Go get the coldest water you can and come back quickly.” Geldin looked confused and then he ran out of the room in a flurry of movement.
“What can I do?” I asked.
“I do not know you, so I do not know. Go sit in the corner and wait for now.” I sat and watched. The sorceress flitted to the shelves, pulling down some milky white liquid and a jar of bark. She quickly ground up a few strips of bark with mortar and pestle before pouring it into a small glass. Then she put a few drops of the white liquid in the glass and grabbed a corked bottle. In to the glass she poured some water, stirred it all together, and brought it to Carissa. “You come, hold her up,” she snapped.
I held Carissa in a semi-upright position while the sorceress opened her mouth and poured the liquid in. There was a little bit of coughing before Carissa’s body accepted the concoction.
“Lay her back down,” said the sorceress.
As I did, I noticed that Carissa’s right arm was swollen and mottled a purply black. The sorceress saw my gaze and nodded gravely. “Hopefully she’ll keep it.” Geldin came barreling back into the room at that point with a bucket of water. The sorceress wasted no time, grabbing cloths and dipping them in the water. First she wiped the vomit from Carissa, then she laid one cloth on her sweating forehead, one upon her still faintly glowing chest, and wrapped the longest around her right arm. “Right then, that’s all there is to be done for now,” said the sorceress, standing up. Geldin nodded, returning to Carissa’s side in order to take her left hand and continue muttering into her ear. Carissa’s breathing seemed slightly less ragged, at least.
“It seems you received a bit of a beating yourself. Let’s address that. Can’t have you passing out from concussion.” I had a dozen questions I wanted answered first, including why I’d been brought here, but there were too many to voice them all, so I just nodded. The sorceress pulled a chair up to me, inspecting the spot on my face. “Follow my finger,” she said, moving a finger from side to side. “That’s good. Do you have a headache at all?”
“Splitting,” I admitted.
“Not necessarily a bad sign, certainly warranted. Did this happen during the stoning?”
“How did you know — wait, forget it. I don’t think I can handle answers yet. No, I mouthed off to my master.”
“Good. Did he hurt you elsewhere?”
“Yeah, in the gut. Hurts, but…”
The sorceress lifted my shirt up without asking, and we both saw the bruise there. It was purple and yellow, like a sunset painting, only disgusting and painful. Prodding it a few times, the sorceress asked, “Does that hurt?”
“I’ve had worse.”
“And you’ve survived that. Good.” The sorceress grabbed a jar of ointment from a shelf and began dabbing it onto the bruise on her stomach and then around her eye. When she was done, she asked, “Would you like some rest? You’ve had quite the day.”
“I’d like some water,” I said.
“Ah yes, of course.” The sorceress poured some water from the corked bottle into a glass. “Here.”
I drank three glasses, and then the exhaustion started tipping. I hadn’t slept in two days. “I think I’ll have that rest.”
“Take a bed,” said the sorceress, gesturing.
I did as instructed, taking the bed beside the window. The sun was streaming in, but I was too tired. The sorceress watched. Geldin kept muttering and quietly weeping. Carissa stayed unconscious. I knew this whole place was dangerous after the power display I saw. I didn’t know what the place was. I didn’t know the name of the woman who had treated my injuries. It was all just one great mystery, but when you’ve faced down your execution, a mystery troupe of violent mages doesn’t seem quite so scary. I slept long and well.
When I woke up, there was moonlight instead of sun. It was the closing of the door that had woken me. The mystery sorceress and Geldin were both gone. Carissa was sitting up in bed, looking considerably worse for wear, but awake.
“You’re alive,” I said.
“Of course,” said Carissa de Sindrakelt. “I would not be otherwise, if in my power.” She smiled, just barely, though the pain was clear around her eyes.
“Thank you for saving me,” I said, not really sure what else there was to say.
Carissa didn’t respond, only looking down at her own lap. Then she turned back. “Tell me your name.”
“Belica bri’Cavicci.” I smiled, letting the name spread out. I hadn’t been allowed to utter my name out loud in so long. I did wonder, though, why Carissa had to ask. Surely she’d heard me yelling it at the execution.
“I have known that name for a long time, and soon many others will too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Belica, I have not saved you. You, though, you may save us all.”
“I don’t think I understand.”
“No, not yet. The hour is late, and my state is not that of recovery just yet. We’ll speak more on the morrow, dear Belicca. And for now, I wish you more rest. You look near as haggard as I must.”
I was still tired, so I rolled over and closed my eyes, and before long I was back to sleep in the mysterious castle of mysterious mages.